"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Helping Students Heal

The education blogosphere, as well as the general media, is full of articles dealing with opening schools in the fall, keeping students safe, social distancing by lowering class size, doubling the number of buses, and other, expensive fixes. Additionally, schools will have to take into consideration the mental and emotional health of students and deal with the multiple traumas they will carry with them.

As of this writing (June 3, 2020), the death toll from COVID-19 in the US is over 105,000 which has left hundreds of thousands of Americans grieving for their lost loved ones. Many have had to postpone or forego funerals and memorials in order to stay safe themselves. Among those who have lost family members are thousands of children who, already traumatized by the fear of illness or the loss of contact with their friends and teachers, are further hurt by the very real loss of parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, or friends.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused economic trauma, too...and with economic trauma comes social upheaval as families living from paycheck to paycheck start to panic when the food runs out...when the rent or mortgage is due...when the insurance coverage ends.

And we can't talk about social upheaval without acknowledging the excessive number of deaths of Black Americans and the damage to communities of color by the racism present in Amerian society...racism which is exacerbated by economic trauma and political cowardice. The current political upheaval around the country will also traumatize students before they return to school in the fall, no matter how much their parents try to protect them from it.

Public schools have always been a stable force in students' lives and when the next school year begins -- whenever that is -- they will have to take on the additional role of helping students heal from multiple traumas.

How can teachers and schools help their students and likely their families, too, heal after the pandemic and the societal upheaval?


First, cancel the state (and other) standardized tests. We already know that standardized test scores reflect the economic conditions in which a child is raised. We can just as easily rank schools and children using their family income if ranking must be done; the results will be the same. In any event, subjecting children to the added stress of standardized tests which for some determines whether they go on to the next grade is too painful to even consider.

Why shouldn't high stakes testing be abandoned next year?
It would also waste precious instructional time, waste resources, and provide meaningless bad data. Look-- if testing really worked, if it really told us all the things that guys like Toch want to claim it does, don't you think teachers would be clamoring for it? If it were an actual valuable tool, don't you think that teachers, struggling with spotty resources against unprecedented challenges, would be hollering, "If I'm going to try to do this, at least find a way to get me those invaluable Big Standardized Test!"

But no-- in the midst of this hard shot to the foundations of public education, a lot of professional educators are taking a hard look at what is really essential, what they really need to get the job done. The Big Standardized Test didn't make the cut. We don't need the "smart testing," especially since it isn't very smart anyway. We just need smart teachers with the resources they need to do the work.
Note the last sentence, "...with the resources they need to do the work." Canceling the tests will save money, too...millions of dollars. With the likelihood of budget cuts coming, that's money that we can't afford to spend on wasteful tests.


Second, build the new curriculum around healing...and that starts with recess and free time.

A proposal for what post-coronavirus schools should do
Play is urgently relevant to the new education world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. “Play can mitigate stress,” Dr. Yogman tells us. “The executive function skills that kids develop through play can promote resilience, and play can restore safe and nurturing relationships with parents, teachers and other children, which also promotes resilience. That’s got to be our goal when kids get back to school. At every level, in our schools, homes, and communities, our social structures have to acknowledge the magnitude of stress all families, especially those with young children will experience, and design programs that mitigate that, including lots of physical activity and play.”
Schools should focus on developing good relationships between teachers and students. My 2020 Teachers New Year's Resolution #4 was Develop Positive Relationships. In it, I quoted Educational Historian Jack Schneider,
But what policy elites don’t talk about—what they may not even know about, having themselves so little collective teaching experience—is how much relationships matter in our nation’s classrooms. Yes it matters that history teachers know history and chemistry teachers know chemistry. But it also matters that history teachers know their students, and that chemistry teachers know how to spot a kid in need. It matters that teachers have strong academic backgrounds. But it also matters that they can relate to young people—that they see them, hear them, and care for them.
Now, more than ever, students need consistent, caring adults in their lives. Teachers can be among those adults.

To paraphrase Schneider, above, yes, it matters that we teach reading, math, science, and history. But it also matters that teachers know their students and can spot children in need. It matters that teachers can relate to young people -- see them, hear them, and care for them. Learning improves when teachers and students form personal relationships.


Stop sending needed public funds to unaccountable private institutions. We can't afford to support three competing school systems (public, charters, and vouchers) with one pot of public funding. It's time we direct our focus on investing in our public school system.

Research | Public Funds Public Schools
A wide range of research shows that private school voucher programs are an ineffective use of public funds...

Private School Vouchers Don't Improve Student Achievement...

Private School Vouchers Divert Needed Funding from Public Schools...

Private School Voucher Programs Lack Accountability...

Absence of Oversight in Private School Voucher Programs Leads to Corruption and Waste...

Private School Vouchers Don't Help Students with Disabilities...

Private School Vouchers Don't Protect Against Discrimination...

Private School Vouchers Exacerbate Segregation...

Universal Private School Voucher Programs Don't Work...
Charters, as well, have proven to be an experiment that has not lived up to its promises.

Student Achievement in Charter Schools: What the Research Says
The evidence on the effectiveness of charter schools in raising student achievement is, at best, mixed. There is no consistent evidence that charter schools are the answer to our education problems. A research literature that focuses on finding and studying "high-quality" charter schools naturally misleads the public about the average impact of all charter schools and demonstrates that academic performance in most charter schools is underwhelming.
At best, charters do no better than real public schools. It's time to move the funding back to public schools where it belongs.

And yes, this means that there needs to be a change in leadership in Indianapolis and Washington. In order to divert public funds back to public education, and make sure there's enough money for our public schools -- aka our future -- we need to throw out the anti-public education politicians. Elections matter.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tuesdays, Twice a Month

“I don’t like eating,” he often said. "I only eat because I have to."

I ordered quesadillas. He ordered a tuna salad sandwich that came with a dish of fruit and a big bowl of chicken soup. He always ended up packing half of his meal in a take-home box because it was too much. He didn't like eating.

When the food came he would pull out his syringe and give himself a shot of insulin. He was proud of how well he did in managing his medication. The need for insulin had come later in his life, but he studied, learned how to take care of himself, and felt confident that he knew what he was doing.

We changed restaurants every now and then. The last change was because he had moved and the previous places we had gone to were too far away from his new home. We also switched from breakfast twice a month to lunch twice a month. He did “stuff” in the morning.

We talked while we ate...often about how the technology that we had understood so well in the mid-80s had passed us by. He’d pull out an index card with questions on it. “How do I fix this?” “Why isn’t that working the way it’s supposed to work?” More often than not I’d have to Google the answer, and I always reminded him that he could do the same and figure it out that way. Still, I’d get the answer on my phone and he’d write it down on his index card to take home. The next day he’d email or text me with another question...or tell me how my idea worked...or didn’t work. Sometimes we'd talk on the phone. Now and then a problem would come up that needed immediate attention and I would help him over the phone. Every couple of months I’d go to his house after lunch and we’d work together on his latest tech problem. Other times he'd tell me that he figured out what was wrong and we'd just sit and browse the net together.

We’d also talk about religion, economics, politics, world peace, or personal issues. We both agreed that the world would be a much better place if we made him our benevolent dictator. He promised to make health care available for everyone. That got my vote.

Our politics and philosophies of life were similar. His quirky sense of humor would be the catalyst for jokes about certain public figures. We laughed so we wouldn’t cry.

We were friends for a long time before we adopted the routine of eating together twice a month which only began after I retired. Before that, while we were both still teaching, we talked less often... usually through email.

We'd meet each other at the full system staff gathering at the beginning of each school year and find a place to sit together...now and then we’d spend the time backstage watching the speakers from there. We traveled to the state teachers union Representative Assembly together. The ride to Indy was like the lunches we were to have years later...uninterrupted time to share. During the Assembly, we'd comment about the speakers, have lunch, and enjoy the ride home.

We discussed our students and shared what we did in our two, very different classrooms. If something entertaining happened in his classroom I'd read about it in an email the next day. If I needed help of one kind or another I would email him. There was a period of time in the early 2000s when I needed help fairly often. I could always count on receiving his insights and suggestions.

In later years he would frequently remark on how much he liked working with his students. We both liked being able to help kids “become human.”

When he retired I remember thinking how amazing it was that he had taught as many years as he had. And I noticed how the teachers union Representative Assemblies weren’t as much fun after that.

When I retired we started our twice-monthly meals -- the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

We sometimes missed our meal together. I spent some time in the hospital during the last few years, (though I could always count on his visit)...one or the other of us went on a trip...there were doctor appointments and the like. But most of the time I'd email or text him on Monday and say, "Lunch tomorrow?" He would invariably reply, "Can't wait. Lots to share."

Now that he’s gone, the first and third Tuesdays of each month aren’t going to be as much fun anymore.

"Kindness is the foundation for peace and happiness."


Friday, May 22, 2020

2020 Medley #11: DeVos, Cuts, and Online education

DeVos privatizes with pandemic funds,
The cuts have already begun,
Selfish Americans, the Digital Divide,
Real schools are better than online


Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's Secretary of Education said that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans." The test scores of students in New Orleans did improve, though that was likely due to increased funding (by nearly $1400 per student) and the fact that the number of students living in poverty decreased significantly. In any case, the point is that Duncan ignored the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Americans as an excuse to privatize public education.

Not to be outdone by this, Betsy DeVos is all for using the suffering of millions and the deaths of tens of thousands to support privatizing public education throughout the entire country.

Taking Duncan one step further, DeVos has ignored Congressional intent for the millions of dollars set aside to support public schools that serve all children and manipulated its distribution with "guidelines" intended to dump more than originally intended into the coffers of private and religious schools.

Just how much damage can this administration do to public education, and the rest of the country, before they are finally replaced next January?

Betsy DeVos Is Using The Coronavirus Pandemic To Push School Vouchers
Vouchers are a bad policy idea during the best of times, and during this pandemic, they’re even worse. Voucher programs don’t improve student achievement, lack appropriate oversight and accountability and, of course, violate religious freedom by forcing taxpayers to fund religious education at private schools. Public schools need public funds desperately right now. They must pay teachers and staff, provide technology and distance learning, support struggling students, and survive budget cuts. The last thing public schools need during a pandemic is DeVos’ unaccountable, unfair, and ineffective voucher agenda.

Small Things: Secretary DeVos, Twitter, and Teachers Vs. Charters
...I think it's worth highlighting once again that we have a Secretary of Education who is not a supporter of public education or the people who work there, who is, in fact, far more excited about a privately-run system for replacing the institution that she is charged with overseeing. I can't say that it's highly abnormal, because the office has never attracted many people who really support public education, but it's still weird that when public school teachers look up at state and federal authorities, they find people who are lined up against them. It's a weird way to run a national education system.

DeVos Funnels Coronavirus Relief Funds to Favored Private and Religious Schools
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization law to throw a lifeline to education sectors she has long championed, directing millions of federal dollars intended primarily for public schools and colleges to private and religious schools.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, signed in late March, included $30 billion for education institutions turned upside down by the pandemic shutdowns, about $14 billion for higher education, $13.5 billion to elementary and secondary schools, and the rest for state governments.

Ms. DeVos has used $180 million of those dollars to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

Asked whether she is using crisis to support private school choice, DeVos says ‘yes, absolutely’
“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” [Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York] asks.

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos responded. “For more than three decades that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”

The comments are DeVos’ clearest statement to date about how she hopes to pull the levers of federal power to support students already in — or who want to attend — private schools. She has already made that intention clear with her actions: releasing guidance that would effectively direct more federal relief funds to private schools, and using some relief dollars to encourage states to support alternatives to traditional public school districts.


Schools Will Need Help to Recover

States are going to have to make up the money lost during the coronavirus pandemic somewhere, and if past history is any guide the public schools are going to suffer (Indiana schools are still waiting for money promised after the 2008 cuts). DeVos's redistribution of funds intended for public schools is just the first in a long line of cuts to public schools.
The cuts have already begun, and they’re sobering. In April alone, nearly 470,000 public school employees across America were furloughed or laid off. That’s 100,000 more teachers and school staff who lost their jobs than during the worst point of the Great Recession a decade ago. At the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we are closely analyzing state budget gaps because we know the tremendous harm that can result from funding cuts.

Recently, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced plans to cut $300 million in K-12 funding and $100 million in college and university funding for the current year. Meanwhile, Georgia’s top budget officials told the state’s schools to plan for large cuts for next year that will almost certainly force districts to lay off teachers and other workers.


Weekend Quotables

Mike Klonsky, in his Weekend Quotables series, posted this picture. The residents of Flint, Michigan, while the state claims that the water is now ok, and 85% of the city's pipes have been replaced, are still scared to drink their water. Meanwhile, some Americans are more concerned with their appearance than human lives...insisting that wearing masks make them "look ridiculous" or demanding haircuts.


The Class Divide: Remote Learning at 2 Schools, Private and Public (Dana Goldstein)

Dana Goldstein, the author of The Teacher Wars, compares two different schools facing the coronavirus pandemic requirement to close. This is a clear description of how money provides more opportunities for some children than others.
Private school students are more likely to live in homes with good internet access, computers and physical space for children to focus on academics. Parents are less likely to be working outside the home and are more available to guide young children through getting online and staying logged in — entering user names and passwords, navigating between windows and programs. And unlike their public-school counterparts, private school teachers are generally not unionized, giving their employers more leverage in laying out demands for remote work.


Why online education can’t replace brick-and-mortar K-12 schooling

In the Public Interest has gathered research on online education, revealing a track record of poor academic performance, lack of equity and access, and concerns about privacy. Take a look...
Coronavirus has put the future of K-12 public education in question. School districts, teachers, and staff are mobilizing to provide students with online learning, emotional care, meals, and other support. Meanwhile, online education companies—with the ideological backing of right-wing think tanks—are aiming to further privatize public education and profit off of students.

It goes without saying that online education can’t replace the in-person teaching, social interaction, and—for many students—calories that a brick-and-mortar public school provides. However, that isn’t stopping some from arguing that much if not all of K-12 education should stay online after the crisis.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Have you ever met children?

We Cannot Return to Campus this Fall

Harley Litzelman, Oakland public high school teacher and union organizer, has written a piece for Medium that likely echoes the thoughts of the majority of America's public school teachers.

We cannot and dare not return to school this fall.

Read the whole post.

The "reimagining" of public education by non-educators now taking place in board rooms and government offices throughout the country fails to take into account the fact that children are not adults. Trying to force students into social distancing while on the bus, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and on the playground will result in the very worst kind of educational practices.

Litzelman, a high school teacher, tries his hand at explaining how social distancing would likely fail in elementary schools.
No more group seating. No story time on the carpet. No small group stations. Coloring must be strictly monitored to eliminate sharing, probably requiring children to keep their own personal sets of crayons and markers, revealing stark class differences within classrooms and between schools. No fingers in the mouth or nose, and several minutes spent washing their hands after they inevitably forget. They, too, cannot get out of their seats during class, and no longer can they enjoy the couches and bean bag chairs that their teachers have acquired. Again is the time to ask: Have you ever met children?
The preceding paragraph follows a description of how difficult -- and costly -- it will be to double or triple the number of buses needed to transport the kids to school, rearrange classrooms and attendance days, and serve lunches. Young children are physical. Young children cannot keep their hands away from their faces. They cannot keep from touching other people and objects and teachers can't force them to no matter how hard they try and no matter how many times their teachers tell them to. How much time will need to be spent washing hands? To assume that 5-8-year-olds can "social distance" is to 1) assume that their classroom teachers have magical powers and 2) exhibit extreme ignorance about the nature of children.

Where will the supplies come from that high school teachers need to disinfect the desks and chairs between classes? It's insanity to assume that school districts will pay for disinfectant spray or wipes when states are going bankrupt, legislatures have been cutting school budgets, and teachers are already spending their own money on supplies and food for their students. And what about those states that support public funding of three different school systems -- public schools, charter schools, and private/parochial schools?

And then there are the high school students. They won't all comply with all the new pandemic rules of social distancing because teenagers are a non-compliant bunch. They will expose themselves, their classmates, their teachers, and their families to possible illness.
...it won’t happen. It won’t happen because teachers already spend an average of $479 per year on classroom expenses without reimbursement, and there’s no reason to believe that every school will suddenly be able to provide their staff with millions of antimicrobial wipes and thousands of gallons of disinfectant spray. It won’t happen because students will recognize the ample contradictions between the rules they’re asked to follow and the enclosed spaces they’re expected to fill. They’ll balk at administrators demanding that they separate from their friends while asking them to go to class and sit just as close to their peers. They’ll pinpoint the differences in enforcement, identifying teachers who are “cool” with eating in class and who are not. It won’t happen because the children of shelter-in-place protesters won’t reject their parents’ politics, and they will find teachers and principals who agree with them. It won’t happen because it is a regime that demands students to leave their authentic selves at home, selves that students are prohibited from nurturing in bombastic conversations at lunch and quiet moments of intimacy with their first romantic partners. It demands that teachers forfeit the interactions that brought them into teaching in the first place: working side-by-side with kids until that light bulb goes off, giving queer kids the only space to be themselves. It is a regime that cannot survive, and throughout its rise and fall, the virus will spread...
Adults are fighting about who to believe. Do you believe the President? The doctors? The armed protesters pushing their way into the statehouse? How can we expect students of all ages to trust the school system to keep them safe?

How will the school system treat the parent who doesn't believe that it's safe for their child to come back to school? How will the school system treat the parent who doesn't believe that the pandemic is real?

How can we expect teachers, parents, and students to agree on how to structure our "reimagined" schools when the government and medical communities can't agree on when to open stores, how many people need to wear masks, and how much social distancing is necessary?
We cannot return to campus this fall. We cannot return until the public health community has reached a consensus that physical distancing and constant, obsessive sanitation at schools are no longer necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. If this means that we cannot return until an effective vaccine has been widely disseminated, then that is what it means...
Instead, we need to wait until there is a preventative treatment for the pandemic. We need to wait until there is a treatment for those who become ill.

In the meantime teachers need time to adjust to internet teaching...and we must make sure that all students have access to their internet-based teachers.
This summer, we can give teachers time to do what they do best, but did not have the time to do before: Plan. Collaborate. Share tricks and best practices. Finally figure out how to work Zoom. Debate the ethics of grading and acceptable volumes of work. Fight tooth-and-nail for universal Internet and 1:1 computer access for all students, as Oakland teachers are already doing. We can build the best learning experiences we can under the awful circumstances we are handed because that is what we do anyway.
We must also not give up the concept of live, face-to-face interaction in a classroom. That's where relationships between students and teachers begin. And good relationships between students and teachers is where good teaching begins.
...we must remember that nearly 75 percent of online charter school students are enrolled in programs that graduate less than half of their students within four years. We must learn the lesson of Hurricane Katrina, which Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan called “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” when Louisiana illegally fired more than 7,000 predominantly Black teachers and remade the city into a charter school paradise. We must make it clear that we teachers want nothing more than to see our kids on campus again, but that we simply cannot return until it is safe. Until then, we resist all attempts to exploit this crisis and profit from its misery.

Or we take the other road; we reopen. We begin this grand experiment of bad teaching. We can hope that student rebellion, adult intransigence, institutional failure, and political cowardice aren’t enough to restart the exponential spread of the disease. We can hope that the daily lapses in judgment made every day on every campus, at scale across more than 56 million students herded into 132,000 K-12 schools in the United States, aren’t enough to derail the public health outcomes we desire. We can pretend that school-age children are too young to suffer the worst of this pandemic...
Does anyone honestly think that politicians, especially the pro-privatization politicians who overwhelmingly inhabit state legislatures, will allocate enough money to pay for all the supplies, schedule adjustments, and training needed to accommodate teachers and students in socially distancing classrooms?

The health and safety of our children and the adults who work in their schools depend on our using reason and facts when deciding how to attack the problem of how to educate children during a global pandemic. The politicians, policy-makers, and pundits have already done enough damage to public education because they assume that since they were once students, they "know education."

This would be a good point to mention that any plans we have for the beginning of the next school year must include plans for students who have unique needs. What do we do for students who need translators? How do we include students who might have special learning needs? Public schools are more than just distributors of information.