Archives for category: Teachers

Nancy Shively is a special education teacher in Oklahoma. She is a lifelong Republican. She voted for Trump in 2016. She now knows this was a huge mistake that has put her life and the lives of her colleagues at risk. She has switched her registration to independent and will vote for Joe Biden this time.

Her vote for Trump, she fears, may have been tantamount to signing her death warrant.

She writes:

I live and teach in a small Oklahoma town. It’s not far from the site of President Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally on June 20 that appears, as common sense would have predicted, to be a super-spreader event. About two weeks after the rally, Tulsa County reported a record high number of cases…

I am over 60, with two autoimmune diseases. This outbreak has me worried as it is. Now, with the prospect of schools reopening in a few short weeks, I am terrified.

And I am not the only one. One young teacher I know has chronic kidney problems and is at high risk for complications if she contracts COVID-19. She can’t quit her only source of income. Taking its cue from our governor, who hosted Trump’s rally and has now tested positive for COVID-19 himself, her school district has announced that wearing a mask will be optional, though the state is considering requiring it…

Our country has long devalued and underpaid teachers, refusing to adequately fund the public schools that support our democracy. At the same time, teachers routinely have to use their own money to buy classroom supplies. Now the government is turning to us to risk our health or possibly our lives during a pandemic. My school district has no mask mandate and two nurses for more than 2,400 students in 5 school buildings. How is that going to work?…

Teaching is a calling and Oklahoma teachers are as tough as they come. Some have sheltered their students as a tornado ripped the school building from over their heads. Most of us would do anything to help our students succeed.

So now the man I gambled on to be president is asking us to risk our health and our very lives. The odds are most definitely not in our favor.

A decade ago, Richard Phelps was assessment director of the District of Columbia Public Schools. His time in that position coincided with the last ten months of Michelle Rhee’s tenure in office. When her patron Adrian Fenty lost the election for Mayor, Rhee left and so did Phelps.

Phelps writes here about what he learned while trying to improve the assessment practices of the DC Public Schools. He posts his overview in two parts, and this is part 1. The second part will appear in the next post.

Rhee asked Phelps to expand the VAM program–the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and to terminate or reward them based on student scores.

Phelps described his visits to schools to meet with teachers. He gathered useful ideas about how to make the assessments more useful to teachers and students.

Soon enough, he learned that the Central Office staff, including Rhee, rejected all the ideas he collected from teachers and imposed their own ideas instead.

He writes:

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics.

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon.

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform.

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

The Central Office “reformers” boasted of their accomplishments and went on to lucrative careers.

It was all for show, financed by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and other philanthropists who believed in the empty promises of “reform.” It was a giant hoax.

The most important concern about reopening schools is the health and safety of students and staff. The Trump administration has adamantly refused to provide funding to states and cities to enable them to make schools as safe as they should be.

As a result, Newsweek reports, significant numbers of teachers are quitting. This is a blow to students and schools across the nation.

It was hard to recruit teachers before the pandemic. How will these teachers be replaced?

Veteran K-12 teachers in states across the U.S. are resigning and retiring at higher rates as schools begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall, with educators citing the stress tied to remote learning, technical difficulties and COVID-19 health concerns.

Several teachers who recently resigned, retired or opted out of their jobs ahead of pandemic reopening efforts say leaving their kids has been hard, but remote learning has made their jobs too difficult. One Florida teacher said she became paranoid due to the constant requirement of being live-streamed to dozens of students throughout all hours of the day. And an Arizona high school science teacher said he resigned from a job he loves after his district voted to return students to in-person classroom learning—creating a health risk he and many other teachers say they aren’t willing to take.

In New York State, teacher retirements are up 20 percent from 2019, according to data from the New York State Teacher Retirement System. About 650 teachers filed for retirement between July and early August alone.

A number of K-12 teachers said much of the joy they received from personal interaction with students has been undermined or eliminated altogether by teaching through a computer screen rather than a classroom.

“I had to consider the health of my family. I am a science teacher. We gather evidence and we make decisions. If there is competing data, we look at both and weigh them,” Kevin Fairhurst, who resigned from his teaching position at Arizona’s Queen Creek Unified School District on August 13, told Healthline. “The data from the experts in our health field suggested we should not yet be teaching in person because of the potential for this to cause more outbreaks.”

Fairhurst is among nine of 17 science teachers at two of the district’s high schools who have quit in the past few months. Students and teachers at school districts around the country receive daily temperature checks and are required to wear masks—even on recess playgrounds—as administrators are aiming to eliminate the chance of spreading COVID-19.

Lucas Smolcic Larson writes in the Island Packet about the views of teachers concerning the return to school.

The S.C. McClatchy newspapers asked educators if they felt ready to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Over 250 teachers, librarians, coaches and other educators from every corner of the state responded to the survey. The vast majority work at public schools, with about two-thirds reporting they will be required to teach students face-to-face starting this month or next.”

The teachers quoted are anonymous, for obvious reasons. Most are worried. Some are fearful.

Here are a few of the responses:

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. Everyone is confused, overwhelmed and plans are changing daily. Bottom line, I do not feel safe or valued.

Upstate, more than 10 years. My husband and I are both teachers. We have three young children. We updated our will last week. The stress and anxiety we are all feeling is affecting my entire family.

Midlands, 5-10 years. I expect to be exposed and possibly contract COVID. I am attempting to prepare my home and family if this occurs, and I have to quarantine … We have to look to our medical professionals as to how to handle this situation … They could not opt out of not going to work and neither can the educational professionals. Now is the time for us to step up, mask up and do our part to help our children.

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. It’s not a question of if there’s (going to be) an outbreak at school but WHEN. I feel like a pawn for the politicians and administrators. We teach so as to empower students in our classrooms, yet here we are totally dis-empowered as teachers. These cracks were evident before COVID-19, but the pandemic has widened them into canyons.

Arthur Goldstein, a veteran New York City high school teacher, warns that New York City public schoools cannot open unless they are safe for students and staff. He wrote an open letter to staff at his school. The signs and portents of a strike by the city’s United Federation of Teachers are looming in the background.

He writes, in part,

Every time I read someone advocating opening buildings, they have a proviso. They say of course, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go back to remote learning. In fact there are a lot of places where it didn’t work out, and they did just that. There’s Israel, South Korea, multiple schools in the south and southwest, and universities that saw immediate rises in infection levels, while starting below Mayor de Blasio’s much ballyhooed 3% positive level (so much for that). Chapel Hill closed in one week.

There’s a real cost to these openings, and that cost is the health of those who attend. I know some of you who’ve been very sick. I know some of you who’ve lost family members. I’ve had family members sick, and I lost a friend.

The whole country is looking to us as the only major city that can possibly open school buildings. UFT has looked at this, and decided that if we are to open, the only way to do it is safely. We’ve therefore consulted with medical experts, some of whom you can see at Mulgrew’s press conference, and concluded the only way to deal with the virus was to actively test for it and trace it.

We don’t want a single educator or student to get sick. We don’t want any students or employees bringing COVID home to their families. The UFT demands for testing were created in consultation with medical experts. They are beyond reasonable; they are visionary. We’ve looked at the failures and determined ways to preclude them. Our testing demands are based on science. The mayor’s opposition is based on hiding his head in the sand and hoping for the best.

Here is a checklist of what UFT will be looking at as we visit every building in the city. UFT also demands a Covid Building Response Team to create protocols for how students will move when entering and leaving school, and also to map out responses to issues that may occur. Finally, to ensure safety, we demand that everyone entering the school building be tested for the virus. We demand random testing to ensure we stay safe.

UFT will not allow its members or the students we serve to be veritable canaries in a coal mine. Dr. Fauci can talk about how we’re part of a great experiment, but we refuse to be guinea pigs. We refuse to make guinea pigs of our families, our students, or their families. If Mayor de Blasio refuses to make schools safe, we will refuse to work.

In an amazingly alarming move, the state of Missouri plans to lower standards for substitute teachers.

One superintendent of a rural district has floated the idea of bringing in National Guard units as substitute teachers. Matt Davis, superintendent of Eldon, Missouri, schools, made the suggestion to Gov. Mike Parson in a July meeting, according to a report in the Fulton Sun.

On Tuesday, the Missouri board of education made it easier to become a substitute teacher under an emergency rule, although the change was in the works before the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of the previous requirement of 60 hours of college credit, eligible substitute teachers must now hold a high school diploma, complete a 20-hour online training course and pass a background check.

In other words, Missouri doesn’t care about the quality of teachers. Any warm body will do.

Peter Greene turns his attention to Rhode Island and finds that it has been subject to a corporate education reform takeover.
Not only is the governor a former venture capitalist who made her reputation by taking an axe to teachers’ pensions, but her husband Andy Moffitt is a TFA alum who moved on to McKinsey. Not only that, he co-authored a book with Michael Barber of Pearson about “Deliverology,” a philosophy that turns education into data analytics.

Governor Gina Raimondo hired a TFA alum to lead the State Education Department; the new Commissioner immediately joined Jen Bush’s far-rightwing Chiefs for Change and led a state takeover of Providence schools. There is no template for a successful state takeover, so we will see how that goes. Think Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, funded with $100 million from Duncan’s Race to the Top. Think Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, which closed after six of boasts but consistent failure.

Read Greene’s incisive review of the First Couple of Rhode Island and remember that Governor Gina Raimondo is a Democrat, though it’s hard to differentiate her views from those of Betsy DeVos.

Spokespersons for principals, teachers, and nurses have called on Mayor De Blasio to delay reopening and provide more time to prepare schools, reports Gotham Gazette, a publication of the Citizens Union Foundation.

The principals union, the teachers union, and the nurses union have come out against the ​city’s plan to reopen classrooms on September 10 with a mix of remote and in-person learning.

In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators urged the officials to move the start of in-person school to the end of September to give schools more time to prepare, while offering fully remote learning as they do.

​”​Given the lack of information and guidance available at this time, CSA believes that NYCDOE’s decision to open for in-person learning on September 10th is in disregard of the well-being of our school communities​,” wrote CSA President Mark Cannizzaro.

The union is seeking more clarity on essential questions around sufficient staffing, hiring of nurses, PPE supplies, and support for students with special needs, among others. With individual school plans due to city officials Friday, if approved administrators and teachers will have fewer than 15 “working days” to implement them before students arrive, Cannizzaro wrote.

Anthony Cody taught for many years in the Oakland public schools. We co-founded the Network for Public Education in 2012. His blog is called “Living in Dialogue.”

He writes:

Who is Allowed to be Selfish?

Isn’t it a bit strange – our capitalist economy is built on the glorious profit motive. The wealthy are expected to be selfish – they are rewarded for their ability to make more and more, and expected to avoid taxes, military service, and anything else that is unpleasant or risky. But only some people are allowed to be selfish.

Trump can insist that anyone who meets with him be tested. But he demands schools reopen, which means teachers will meet in closed rooms with as many as 160 students a day. Teachers must not put their own health above the needs of their students and the economy that requires they be in school six or seven hours a day.

It is unfortunate that we do not have funds to pay for nurses, counselors or librarians in our schools. But most wealthy people don’t send their children to public schools anyway. They get to make a different choice. But some of us have fewer choices. It pretty much falls along economic lines. Meat workers are essential workers — they have been required to show up and make sure we all have hamburgers. Waiters, restaurant workers, likewise, they can mask up and get back to work. Teachers find themselves in this same boat; they have no permission to worry about their health or that of their families.

So Disney will have their workers open their parks again. School boards and legislators meeting on Zoom will decide to send teachers back to reopen their schools when social distancing is impossible.
If you are a worker, your reluctance to work, your desire to protect your family and community from illness or death is SELFISH. And you, as a worker, must be selfless and willing to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the economy. And don’t even mention that if you are Black, Indigenous or Latino, your chances for getting the virus is greater, and your outcomes likely to be worse.

And the billionaires get tax breaks and government bailouts, and their stock holdings gain value, and that is “the economy getting back on track.” Because the wealthy have the ultimate privilege – the right to be selfish. And working people get a sort of upside down socialism, where they are required to serve the common interests of society, and not allowed to protect even their own health.

Glen Brown taught for many years in Illinois public schools.

This Retired Teacher’s Concerns

This is a letter to retired teachers who knowingly disregard the current crisis that teachers confront this fall and most likely next spring because of the dangerous Covid-19 pandemic.

Let me begin by asking them a few questions:

Where is your concern for current teachers (who, by the way, are funding your pension)? Have you forgotten or lost your love and respect for what teachers do each day? Is it because of your callous self-absorption or self-regard, or is it your indolence and complicity that make you uninterested, disinterested or indifferent?

I want to know where is your protest against the dangers of reopening schools in a pandemic? Where is your outrage? Where is your moral courage? Where is your sensibility and compassion? Where is your sense of community and sense of duty? Where is your responsibility and solidarity with today’s teachers?

I want to believe it is not because you are just too damn busy enjoying your retirement to care about the prevailing and serious quandary that current teachers contend with right now.

Of course, I presume many of you could have health issues, vulnerabilities, or other responsibilities; nevertheless, many working teachers have medical problems, susceptibilities, and other obligations as well.

Now, imagine you are a teacher today.

You are afraid that you cannot teach effectively because you are afraid: You are afraid of contracting the coronavirus and infecting your family and others. You are afraid of your students contracting the coronavirus and infecting their families. You are afraid for students who ride buses and for bus drivers who bring them to school and home each day.

You are afraid that frequent hand-washing is impossible for students to do throughout the entire day. You are afraid there is not enough space in your classroom for proper distancing. You are afraid social distancing and wearing cloth masks for hours is impossible for students. You are afraid of students eating lunches without masks, passing in hallways, and congregating in bathrooms or by their lockers. You are afraid your students cannot safely “socialize” in a pandemic despite the irrational push to send them to school. You are afraid some parents will undermine your safety concerns (“This pandemic is a political hoax”).

You are afraid of airborne transmission of the coronavirus that thrives indoors, especially in closed spaces. You are afraid the windows cannot be opened or will not be opened in inclement weather. You are afraid your school’s ventilation system is antiquated or poor (where “air is not properly filtered, diluted and exchanged”); that the HVAC system has not been upgraded and will easily spread the coronavirus. You are afraid that every surface in your school will not be sanitized every day.

You are afraid your school will have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone healthy and safe, such as portable HEPA air purifiers for each room, N-95 masks, Nitrile gloves, face shields, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers…

You are afraid you will not be able to tell the difference between the symptoms of the coronavirus and the flu, or the difference between the coronavirus and the common cold, or the difference between the coronavirus and common allergies. You are afraid of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

You are afraid your school cannot guarantee everyone’s health and safety through reliable and consistent testing and contact tracing. You are afraid administrators and the school board lack the expertise to determine health and safety measures for students, teachers and staff.

You are afraid of airborne transmission of the coronavirus that thrives indoors, especially in closed spaces. You are afraid the windows cannot be opened or will not be opened in inclement weather. You are afraid your school’s ventilation system is antiquated or poor (where “air is not properly filtered, diluted and exchanged”); that the HVAC system has not been upgraded and will easily spread the coronavirus. You are afraid that every surface in your school will not be sanitized every day.

You are afraid your school will have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone healthy and safe, such as portable HEPA air purifiers for each room, N-95 masks, Nitrile gloves, face shields, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers…

You are afraid you will not be able to tell the difference between the symptoms of the coronavirus and the flu, or the difference between the coronavirus and the common cold, or the difference between the coronavirus and common allergies. You are afraid of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

You are afraid your school cannot guarantee everyone’s health and safety through reliable and consistent testing and contact tracing. You are afraid administrators and the school board lack the expertise to determine health and safety measures for students, teachers and staff.

You are afraid of the blatant incompetence of some of your administrators, the risky agenda of the school board, and the selfish priorities of many parents in your school district. You are afraid for your students’ lives. You are afraid of dying needlessly for the U.S economy.

You would be afraid too.

Until this country has a unified and coherent federal, state and local strategy; until the federal government increases its funding for school health and safety for all schools across this nation; until there is federal funding for parents to assist with their at-home childcare and technology and federal funding to feed disadvantaged children; until business entrepreneurs and the Trump administration (and not the schools!) solve the false choice they have created for parents of school-age children—all schools across this nation should open only on online this fall and not until this pandemic is totally under control!

Furthermore, until the morons among us stop spreading misinformation and conspiracies because of their own gullibility and ignorance; until the Creons among us cease their stubbornness and spitefulness; until the pathological narcissists among us end their gas-lighting, this unabated coronavirus will continue to proliferate, and thousands of Americans will die.

-Glen Brown

Retired Teacher