Archives for category: Teachers

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, has a beef with “experts” and pundits who criticized teachers and teachers’ unions for refusing to reopen schools when it was not safe and uncertainty was the rule.

He writes:


The Guardian reports, “Los Angeles is becoming the center of America’s out-of-control coronavirus pandemic in these final days before the new year.” Its “meteoric rise in infections is crushing the healthcare system.” Hospitals have set up triage tents, and “doctors will have to make agonizing choices to ration care.”

Reports about L.A.’s “horrific” super-surge stand in stark contrast to the commentaries of a month ago. On November 20, when it should have been obvious that Thanksgiving was coming and would start a series of “surge on surge” spreads, Alexander Russo continued to compile journalism that attacked teachers for excessive caution in reopening for in-person education, and to urge more attacks on their unions. His focus that week was New York City school closures illustrating the meme, “Never before in my experience has the strength of teachers unions been so clear — or so woefully under-reported — as these past few months.” He then expanded his challenge for journalists to focus on unions pressuring Democrats and the incoming Biden administration.

At the same times, Politico reported, “California’s major cities never even opened their public schools this fall, under pressure from powerful teachers unions.” Without evaluating the danger of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, it described the “wave of pushback,” even by liberal Democrats, against supposedly excessive caution regarding reopenings that create “crisis-level inequity.”

In October, one of the most vocal critiques of schools’ caution, Emily Oster, explicitly criticized Los Angeles, as well as Houston and Chicago, for not returning to in-person instruction. She continued to claim “the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.” But she didn’t seem to acknowledge the problem with her data not being representative of the situations in large urban districts. And as late as November 30, she persisted in her calls for reopenings, even though it was inevitable that the Thanksgiving surge would by followed by the subsequent Christmas and New Years’ surges.

Even as public health experts predicted the Thanksgiving surge, Nicholas Kristof ramped up criticism of Democrats who he claimed “instinctively lined up” in opposition to President Trump’s calls to reopen schools. In  “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong,” Kristof charged, “Joe Biden echoed their extreme caution, as did many Democratic mayors and governors.” So, he claimed, “Democrats helped preside over school closures that have devastated millions of families and damaged children’s futures.”Kristof also quoted L.A. Superintendent Austin Beutner, who is hardly an objective source about the teachers union, who said, “Students are struggling.” But Kristof didn’t balance criticism of the teachers’ position with the evidence against reopening at such a dangerous time. 

As the latest COVID crisis unfolds, don’t Russo, Oster, and Kristof, et.al owe an apology to teachers, families, and all the other people in Los Angeles?  

Of course, they were right when calling for the closures of bars before schools, but why didn’t they consider the decisions that educators had to make in cities where those closures were off the table? Even if the evidence didn’t say that schools are proven super-spreaders, why was that an argument for opening buildings that would clearly become contributing spreaders? Finally, shouldn’t they apologize for ignoring the predicable effects of the holidays so they could double-down on criticizing Democrats and unions?   

Zelene Blancas, who taught in the public schools of El Paso, died of COVID-19. She was 35.

She taught first grade, and she emphasized kindness. Her 2018 video of her children saying goodbye with a hug at the end of each day was viewed more than 22 million times.

Blancas tested positive for coronavirus October 20 and days later, she was hospitalized, her brother, Mario Blancas, told CNN. After weeks of showing signs of recovery and taking steps on her own, her oxygen levels dropped, and she was intubated November 22.

The otherwise healthy 35-year-old never came off the ventilator, her brother said. She spent two months in the hospital before dying of complications from Covid-19, her family said.

Kentucky teacher and activist Randy Wieck writes on Fred Klonsky’s blog about the renewal of the Republican legislators’ efforts to raid teachers’ pension funds in Kentucky.

He begins:

At a time when the Republican super majorities in the Kentucky Legislature would seem to have more pressing issues to face – Covid-shuttered schools and businesses, unemployment supplements, eviction waivers, universal Covid testing and tracing – they nonetheless carry on with a new drive-by attempt at teacher pension “reform” which, once again, is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle (let us be honest and use the proper term – gut) the Kentucky teacher defined benefit pension plan; kill it once and for all.

The idea of properly funding the plan, according to relevant GASB accounting standards, and repairing the damage inflicted over several decades of underfunding – is one legislators choose to duck. Better to chisel Kentucky’s way out of the debt it has run up through using funds that should have gone to the teacher pension (known as the actuarially required contribution), and which were instead used for other purposes. Perhaps they are following the lead of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell who refuses to allow federal aid to states beset with heavy, unforeseen expenses during a worldwide pandemic. 

Rather than supply much-needed and adequate funding to TRS, (some $2 Billion per year for the foreseeable future) legislators instead prefer to “reform” the plan, placing new-hires into the old “beating-a-dead-horse” hybrid pension system.

Why not simply begin to pay back the missing funding and repair the damage inflicted by the legislature, and not by teachers who have dependably paid one of the highest pension contribution rates in the country (13%)? 

A music teacher in Meriden, Connecticut, wrote this comment about Miguel Cardona on Facebook. The teacher is a BAT (BadAss Teachers Association). Jake Jacobs, co-administrator of the BATS, circulated this post.

I can tell you this much–he was my principal and evaluator for one year, during a low point in my career. Of the nine principals (and couple dozen assistants) I have worked under, he is the only one who has ever had a conversation with me about my teaching. His is the only formal observation I have ever had that was conducted in a way where the goal was to help me be a better teacher. When I needed something, he did his best to provide it. When he had to say no, he explained why honestly and respectfully. When he moved to central office, he focused on teacher evaluation and had frank and honest discussions with teachers about the state of teacher eval and the different issues and potential pitfalls of different systems. He is thoughtful, open, and kind, and treats everyone with respect and compassion. Most important, while he is ambitious–he made no secret as principal that he got his Ed. D. with an eye toward being a superintendent–he is someone who is more interested in getting things right and in making true improvements than he is in seeing his name in lights. He acts like someone who wants to be in positions where he can make a difference for the benefit of others, not for his own aggrandizement. I can’t speak on his positions on this or that issue. We’re not friends, just former colleagues, and I’ve not said more than “hello” to him in over seven years. But there is no one I’ve dealt with in administration whom I respect more. I am confident that he will approach this job with all the qualities that made him a success at every level along the way.”

Nancy Bailey deconstructs Joseph Epstein’s much-reviled critique of Dr. Jill Biden’s right to be called “Dr. Biden.” She believes that its true message was an attack on teachers, the teaching profession, education schools, and public schools.

She writes, in part:

Belittling University Education Schools

Dr. Biden’s criticism indirectly attacks the University of Delaware and their education school, a public university. Tucker Carlson said, Dr. Jill has an education degree from some school in Delaware, and you’re supposed to find that highly impressive. 

Colleges of Education could always improve, but for years nonprofits like Relay Graduate School of Education, and more, have been jockeying to replace them.

By disparaging teachers’ main producers, our public universities, and these schools are in danger of closing; they promote a privatization agenda cast by corporate America.

Five Weeks of Training v. A Doctorate

These accusations against Dr. Biden are a push to get rid of teachers, a profession dominated by females, or reduce the profession to Teach For America types, a revolving door of volunteers, who, while well-meaning, rarely commit to teaching as a professional career.

TFA involves a five-seven week coaching session, used by those who want to privatize public education. TFA Corps members move into educational leadership positions while never gaining the knowledge necessary to understand children and how they learn.

Parents Want Good Teachers

Cheapening the teaching profession drives down wages and demeans teaching, making it look like little training is required, certainly not a doctorate!

The reality is that the world revolves around teachers and how they teach, which is getting the spotlight, especially now during this pandemic.

In Los Angeles, the UTLA reached an agreement with the LAUSD and superintendent to extend remote learning as COVID surges and every ICU bed is filled in the city. The billionaire-funded “Parent Revolution” complained (billionaires are parents although they have no children in LA public schools).

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-12-18/la-teachers-increase-live-online-classes-students

With children mired in distance learning and many struggling academically, Los Angeles teachers will take on more live online interaction with students next semester, under an agreement announced Friday. Also under the deal, school nurses will conduct campus-based coronavirus tests.

The pact between the teachers union and the Los Angeles Unified School District was essential for the nation’s second-largest school system; the agreement’s predecessor would have expired Dec. 31. And, based on current infection rates, a return to campus in January is almost impossible under state health guidelines. 

“This progress in online instruction reflects the shared learning of all who work in schools about the need to maximize the interaction between teachers and students and their families,” Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner said in a statement.

“We are gratified to reach an agreement to extend the distance learning agreement, which is what our students need right now,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “In the face of the upheaval we are all dealing with, educators, students and families need stability most of all.”

The new side letter to the teachers’ contract goes at least part way to addressing complaints from critics — including many parents and some community groups who have called for increased daily live interaction between students and teachers. 

“This agreement still leaves Los Angeles Unified with less learning time, less support for teachers, less partnership with families and less focus on racial equity than other large California school districts,” said Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, a local advocacy group that has provided support for a lawsuit filed on behalf of families who contendthat the district is violating their legal right to an education.

There also are parents who would settle for nothing less than a return to full-time in-person instruction. Others support remaining in distance learning, while some worry that current practices force students to remain online for too long, especially younger ones. No strategy has emerged that offers full academic support and an elimination of risk for school employees and the families they serve. Making strides in that direction has become more complicated as an alarming COVID-19 surge stretches local healthcare resources past their capacity.

The pandemic closed campuses in March, but schools in counties adjacent to L.A. were able to open in the fall, when local infection rates were lower. Campuses that opened during that period can remain open, but not every school system did so. And some districts that reopened have closed their campuses once more.

A recent district survey of employees represented by the teachers union indicated that 24% are prepared to return to schools; 55% said they are able to go back but prefer to remain in distance learning; 18% said an underlying health condition would make it potentially unsafe for them to return; 2% said they are 65 or older and would explore continuing to work remotely; and 1% said they intend to apply for unpaid leave.

The survey was conducted Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, with 26,305 responses, well over two-thirds of union members. The union represents teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses.

Under the new pact, nurses have to help carry out the district’s testing program. They will receive an extra $3.50 an hour for such work completed in person on a campus and additional pay when the work extends beyond normal hours.


The past two decades have been rough times for the two big teachers’ unions. Republicans have demonized them. The Obama administration courted their support but did little to help them as they were attacked by the right in Republican state houses and the Courts. Duncan gleefully promoted the misguided use of test scores to evaluate teachers, despite repeated warnings by eminent researchers that the methodology was flawed. In fact, eligibility for states to compete to get more than $4 billion in Race to the Top funding was contingent on states enacting laws to do exactly that. “Value-added measurement” flopped; it was not only a costly failure but it was enormously demoralizing to teachers. When the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post published the VAM scores of teachers, Duncan applauded them.

As a candidate, Joe Biden made clear that he’s not only pro-teacher, he’s a union man. Whether or not either will be chosen, the names of the leaders of the NEA and AFT have been floated as possible choices for Secretary of Education. This would have been unthinkable at any time in the past 20 years.

Politico suggests that the Biden administration heralds a new day for the unions. Certainly they worked hard for his election. He is listening to the unions in a way that Obama never did. The pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform is not happy with this development.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/18/biden-obama-teachers-union-447957

The president-elect benefits from witnessing the union blowback against Obama, who enraged educators when he publicly supported the firing of teachers at an underperforming Rhode Island school in 2010. The National Education Association — Jill Biden’s union — even called on Obama’s first Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign amid fights over academic standards, public charter schools and testing, though tension faded when Obama in 2015 signed bipartisan legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind.

By contrast, Biden is starting off with a plan that his wife, while pointing to herself, likes to say is “teacher-approved.” He has pledged to nominate a former teacher as his education secretary and told union members, “You will never find in American history a president who is more teacher-centric and more supportive of teachers than me.” 

But within the Democratic party, the spectrum of ideology on education issues is far more complex than “pro-teacher.”

Biden will need the support of teachers and Congress as he tries to meet his goal of safely reopening most schools in the first days of his administration. But he will also need to navigate sharp divisions that remain within theDemocratic party on charter schools and student assessments — both flashpoints during the Obama administration as well.

The president-elect has been critical of charter schools. And the Democratic Party platform — written with input from teachers unions — argues against education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores, stating that high-stakes testing doesn’t improve outcomes enough and can lead to discrimination.

But it’s an open and pressing question whether Biden’s education secretary will waive federal standardized testing requirements this spring for K-12 schools for a second year or to carry on, despite the pandemic. Teachers unions say it isn’t the time, but a host of education and civil rights groups say statewide testing will be important to gauge how much students have fallen behind during the pandemic…

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, said she does not expect the Biden administration to recycle the education policies of the Obama years.

Biden has called for tripling federal spending on low-income school districts, boosting funding for special education, increasing teacher salaries, helping states establish universal preschool and modernizing school buildings. His education plan also calls for creating more community schools, with expanded “wraparound” support for students — a big priority for unions.

“The Biden administration is going to support public schools, which means not only turning away from the policies of Betsy DeVos — that’s a given — but also turning away from Race to the Top,” she told POLITICO before the election.“It’s going to be very different.”

Steven Singer has written eloquently about the rush to reopen schools without heed to the safety of teachers. Trump and DeVos have urged schools to reopen without lifting a finger to supply the funds needed to reopen safely. Others have jumped on any statistic that encourages reopening, without regard to the safety of staff.

Singer says that teachers will remember those who forget about their safety.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic rages out of control throughout most parts of the United States, teachers all across the country want to be able to do their jobs in a way that won’t put themselves or their loved ones in danger.

In most cases that means remote instruction – teaching students via the Internet through video conferencing software like Zoom.

However, numerous leaders and organizations that historically are supportive of teachers have refused to support them here.

The rush to keep classrooms open and thus keep the economy running has overtaken any respect for science, any concern for safety, and any appeal to compassion.

Many Democratic lawmakers, school directors, union leaders and even public school advocates have repeatedly turned away, remained silent or promoted policies that would continue to put educators in danger.

Thankfully, some districts have been accommodating, worrying about the safety of children as well as adults.

But many others have refused to go this route even demanding educators with compromised immune systems and other increased risk factors either get in the classroom and teach or seek some sort of financially burdensome leave.

Affected teachers often wonder where their union is, where their progressive representative, where the grassroots activists who were willing to organize against charter schools and high stakes testing.

Answer: crickets.

As a result, more than 300 U.S. teachers and other school employees have died from the virus, according to the Associated Press.

In New York City, alone, 72 school employees died of the virus, according to the city Department of Education.

And since Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has refused to collect data on how the pandemic is affecting schools and school employees, this count is probably woefully under-representative of the full tragedy.

About 1 in 4 teachers – nearly 1.5 million – have conditions that raise their risk of getting seriously ill from the Coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In my own Western Pennsylvania community in the last few weeks, we buried high school employee Terri Sherwin, 60, of Greater Latrobe School District and elementary school employee Dana Hall, 56, of Jeannette City School District.

The assertion that children cannot get the disease, which was popularized by the Trump administration, has been proven false.

More than 1 million kids nationwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19 according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics .

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says most children who get the disease (especially those younger than 10) are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms but are still capable of transmitting the virus to others. This – along with the lack of a national database – makes it incredibly difficult to accurately trace the source of an outbreak through the schools.

However, in November the CDC quietly removed controversial guidelines from its website promoting in-person learning, and instead lists it as “high risk.”

“As new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools,” a spokesperson said.

Yet there has been no subsequent change in the policy positions of most lawmakers, school directors, union leaders or education activists.

Tom Ultican discovered a fascinating study of tech philanthropists and their self-serving gifts. Gates, Zuckerberg, and other tech giants are “giving” in a way that supports their self-interest.

The study that Ultican reviews is “Education, Privacy, and Big Data Algorithms: Taking the Persons Out of Personalized Learning,” by Priscilla M. Regan and Valerie Steeves.

They argue:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

The authors also review Education Week as a model of education journalism that is underwritten by edtech foundations and helps to market their wares. Reporting by Benjamin Herold on Ed tech, however, is exceptionally critical.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has become “a de facto Ed tech sales firm.”

I have been saying for a long time that “personalized learning” is actually depersonalized learning because it attempts to replace human teachers with computer instruction. Education requires human interaction, not a connection between a human and a machine.

Despite my cynicism about the tech billionaires and their relentless pushing of Ed tech, I don’t think they are motivated by greed. When you are already a billionaire, what difference does more money make? I believe they promote Ed tech because that’s all they know. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Actually, I don’t think the tech billionaires have given much thought to their concept of education. They display little or no interest in literature, the arts, or any of the humanities. This reflects their limits and their ignorance. The fact that they have so much money and power threatens the very heart and soul of education. Education is not, should not be merely trading or transactions. It is and should be a way of life. Try explaining that to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or any of the other tech titans—or state legislators or members of Congress.


The New York Times published an article recently by Natasha Singer–one of the best reporters on education issues in the Times–about the toll that the pandemic is taking on teachers. An extraordinary number say the burden of teaching remote classes and in-person classes is not sustainable. Large numbers of teachers are planning to retire, or have retired.

All this fall, as vehement debates have raged over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction, teachers have been at the center — often vilified for challenging it, sometimes warmly praised for trying to make it work. But the debate has often missed just how thoroughly the coronavirus has upended learning in the country’s 130,000 schools, and glossed over how emotionally and physically draining pandemic teaching has become for the educators themselves.

In more than a dozen interviews, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced trying to provide normal schooling for students in pandemic conditions that are anything but normal. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once, because of virus risks or quarantine-driven staff shortages, requiring them to repeatedly switch back and forth between in-person and online teaching.

Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled.

“I have NEVER been this exhausted,” Sarah Gross, a veteran high school English teacher in New Jersey who is doing hybrid teaching this fall, said in a recent Twitter thread. She added, “This is not sustainable.”

Many teachers said they had also become impromptu social workers for their students, directing them to food banks, acting as grief counselors for those who had family members die of Covid-19, and helping pupils work through their feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation. Often, the teachers said, their concern for their students came at a cost to themselves.

“Teachers are not OK right now,” said Evin Shinn, a literacy coach at a public middle school in Seattle, noting that many teachers were putting students’ pandemic needs above their own well-being. “We have to be building in more spaces for mental health.”

Experts and teachers’ unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements, undermining the fitful effort to resume normal public schooling. In a recent survey by the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, 28 percent of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.

That weariness spanned generations. Among the poll respondents, 55 percent of veteran teachers with more than 30 years of experience said they were now considering leaving the profession. So did 20 percent of teachers with less than 10 years’ experience.

“If we keep this up, you’re going to lose an entire generation of not only students but also teachers,” said Shea Martin, an education scholar and facilitator who works with public schools on issues of equity and justice.

A pandemic teacher exodus is not hypothetical. In Minnesota, the number of teachers applying for retirement benefits increased by 35 percent this August and September compared with the same period in 2019. In Pennsylvania, the increase in retirement-benefit applications among school employees, including administrators and bus drivers, was even higher — 60 percent over the same time period.

In a survey in Indiana this fall, 72 percent of school districts said the pandemic had worsened school staffing problems.

“We’ve seen teachers start the school year and then back out because of the workload, or because of the bouncing back and forth” with school openings and closings, said Terry McDaniel, a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University in Terre Haute who led the survey.

I have not quoted the entire article. The point is clear: This nation is facing a teacher shortage of monumental proportions because of the pandemic.