“Sex and excretion are reminders that anyone’s claim to round-the-clock dignity is tenuous. The so-called rational animal has a desperate drive to pair up and moan and writhe.”
I’ve just returned from taking the dog on her morning walk. Every morning about this time, we traverse through the neighborhood out to the main road and back. This morning, as expected, was another treacherous trek. The roads remain ice and snow-covered, and temperatures remain low. the forecast calls for more snow this afternoon, continuing into tomorrow. It’s pretty clear, most of us aren’t going anywhere until the weekend.
Meanwhile, MNPS teachers remain at home looking for guidance. Tomorrow was supposed to be the reopening of school buildings for 5th and 9th graders. Just to refresh your memory, here’s what the proposed re-entry schedule looked like,
Tuesday, February 9: Grades Pre-K-4 and students with exceptional needs
Thursday, February 18: Grades 5 and 9, transition grades for Middle and High
Thursday, February 25: Grades 6, 7, and 8
Wednesday, March 3: Grades 10, 11 and 12
Since tomorrow is obviously unlikely to happen – teachers need a day at least to prepare classrooms – what’s the plan? This may not seem like a big deal to those of you who view the opening of school buildings as a simple turn-key operation but trust me, it’s a big deal.
Over the last several weeks, since the re-entry plan was announced, high school and middle school administers have realized that elementary school principals learned last Fall, there is a lot of detail that goes into conducting school. Much of it has been done for so long by so many, that it’s become almost rote. With the threat of COVID, that luxury no longer remains. Every detail must be thought out and planned for, at the same time administrators and teachers are running another school system that is open and operating. It’s a hefty, and thankless lift.
Currently 5th and 9th-grade teachers are looking for guidance, should they plan for remote instruction at the end of this week, or should they continue planning to provide in-person instruction? They aren’t the same, not even close. To further complicate matters, many of those teachers will be out next week to get the COVID vaccine, how do they plan for that?
What about everybody else? Is MNPS sticking to the proposed schedule, or will they alter it by a few days? Nobody seems to know, and if they do they are not sharing. This lack of sharing is putting everybody in a bind and raising stress levels that are already at capacity.
Ask and you shall receive. Thankfully, information was released by mid-morning that provides some needed guidance,
As a result of the winter weather, MNPS is adjusting the phase-in of students back into school buildings for in-person learning:
5th and 9th-grade students will return Tuesday, Feb. 23 (originally scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18)
Grades 6, 7, and 8 will return Friday, Feb. 26 (originally scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 25)
Grades 10, 11, and 12 will return Wednesday, March 3, as originally scheduled.
Each day before the return of students will be an asynchronous learning day for those grade levels about to return. This will give teachers and staff time to prepare for the return of students.
Much appreciated but could have come sooner.
Engaging in education policy advocacy over the last decade has left me with a keen appreciation for language, and how effective its manipulation can be in the hands of those who deign to use it so. In the early years of this decade, education reformers were all about “rigor” and the narrative that “all kids can learn”. The implications being that most instruction provided in public schools were not “rigorous” and that any mention of poverty or trauma, was simply being offered as an excuse for children not being provided “rigorous” lessons. It was an exercise too many bought into.
Most of us eventually saw through the manipulation of language, but not before the damage had been done, and public funds had been siphoned off. The last few years have brought forth the usage of the term “high-quality materials” as the latest catchphrase. The argument put forth was that low student outcomes had nothing to do with poorly designed tests and the impacts of poverty, and everything to do with districts failing to utilize “high quality” materials. School leaders embraced the new messaging without realizing that the unsaid implication was of them unknowingly prescribing inferior materials over past years. No explanation was given for the sudden ability to discern “high quality” from “low quality”. It was left to parents to blindly accept and believe.
This year has brought a couple of new phrases, that are possibly more damaging than anything brought forth in the past. The first – learning loss – has been embraced by government leaders across the country at all levels, and put forth unchallenged by the media. Every statehouse in America has legislators arguing the merits of proposed legislation supposedly designed to combat “learning loss”. As such, it has matriculated downward to the level of parents, amplifying fears brought forth by the ongoing pandemic that their children will be relegated to the status of a lost generation. Incapable of the simplest tasks, let alone providing for themselves, due to a lost year of entry into school buildings.
As I previously mentioned, the media is complicit in this urban legend as well. Most education writers have seen the data and understand the measurements supplied by the assessments conducted do not provide evidence of arguments put forth. In private conversations, they will acknowledge that no data supports the supposition being made by politicians and career bureaucrats. But either out of laziness or a subscription to the “if it bleeds, it ledes” mentality, they keep right on regurgitating the half-truths unchallenged. Either knowingly, or unwittingly, the results are the same, increased parental uncertainty.
As a parent myself, I am well versed in the fear that is inherent in the raising of children. I constantly question every action and decision I make. Am I being involved enough or am I being too involved? Every action my child makes is analyzed as a possible predictor of their future success or failure. Every successful accomplishment, no matter how minute, is seen as verification that they are on the right path, and the inverse holds true for the negative. Intellectually, I know that odds are in their favor and that most likely they will be fine, but in my gut, it’s hard to let go of that irrational fear. Even when on the surface I discard implied dangers, the fear of being wrong is never far.
The reality is that “learning loss” is not a real phenomenon and as such we have no way to measure it. That recently passed Tennessee bill called the “learning loss” bill might be just as accurately be labeled the “boogyman bill.”
To be fair, an argument can be made that kids are learning desired lessons at a different pace, but that is not to be confused with “loss” and there is no developmental obstacle that will prevent them from picking up those lessons at a later point. To infer such is disingenuous. Remember grade levels are a social construct, a collection of opinions on what children should know at a certain point. They are not tablets from the mountain.
Also, keep in mind, learning is the natural state of children. They are in a perpetual state of learning, as any parent can attest, though sometimes they are picking up things we don’t want them to. All learning has value, so while they may not be learning one thing you can bet they are learning others. Life is unpredictable, which makes assigning value to lessons impossible. Yes, learning to read is vital, but there is no indication that how fast you learn has a negative or positive effect on the quality of your future life. Kids that learn to read at 7 or 8, can lead just as productive lives as those that learn to read at age 4 or 5, and the opposite also holds true.
Tennessee’s Governor has painted a picture of children losing upwards of a year of education if school buildings are not reopened immediately. Again, what does that mean? I agree, with Peter Greene, he should reprint his piece on “days of learning” every single day to counter the propaganda put forth by others.
But what exactly is a day of learning? Classroom teachers know that a Monday is not equal to a Friday or a Wednesday. Surely it’s not the day that students get out early, or the day that is interrupted by an assembly, or the day that the teacher was pulled out for meetings, or the day that the baseball team was dismissed early for an away game. Certainly not the day that everyone in school was reeling and preoccupied because of a local tragedy. A day in September is not the same as a day in April, and certainly not any day in the season that we’re approaching, because from mid-November until the end-of-year break classroom teachers are extra-challenged to get a day out of a day.
So when is it? When does this proto-typical day, this day on which exactly one day’s worth of learning occurs? Where is education’s answer to Lebanon, Kansas (the geographic center of the contiguous U.S.)? Is it a statistical anomaly like the 1.9 children being raised by the average U.S. family? Can this measure be broken down more precisely? Can we talk about hours of learning? Minutes? Seconds?
In AA, we are encouraged to get out of our heads. To share thoughts that in our mind may sound reasonable and rational, but when exposed to the ear of another, fail to hold water. This seems applicable in this instance as well.
Of course, to those invested, “learning loss” was such a popular trope, that the opposite had to hold true as well. Thus we’ve begun to hear about “learning acceleration”. Apparently, we’ve had the ability all along to speed up how children accumulate knowledge, because the tools being proposed for this endeavor – tutoring, summer school, “high quality” texts – are all nothing new. Which begs the question, why haven’t we applied them on scale in the past? And, is it possible to complete 12 years of learning in 6? Because if so, life would be easier if I could get these kids out earning a living before completely 12 years of schooling.
In the case of summer school, I wonder how many people have looked closely at what recent legislation in Tennessee is proposing. In the past, summer school has lasted half a day, but under new regulations, districts will be required to provide a full 7.5 hours of instruction. In other words, the state is requiring full-time schooling without full-time funding. The legislation is also requiring a 90% attendance rate from students. Good luck with that in the summer months.
As time has progressed, it’s become increasingly clear that the priority of politicians and the economic-minded are focused on getting school building back open in order to satisfy their own agendas. How else do you explain the sudden commitment to equity for black and brown kids by those who’ve never expressed such concerns in the past? My kids spent nearly all their schooling to date in a school that was predominately minority and economically disadvantaged, there were never this many advocates clamoring for their needs.
Unfortunately, for those pushing the reopening agenda, the threat of “learning loss” hasn’t been sufficient to propel things forward at the desired pace. It was time to bring a boogyman in. Since they were already in the recycling business, might as well recycle a boogyman. Cue the ominous music while I introduce the teacher’s union.
Decades ago, when they were fighting for little things like a living wage, tenure, safety in the workplace, teacher’s unions were often painted in a negative light. As if somehow what was good for teachers was bad for children. A concept that has mostly faded away due to a preponderance of contrary evidence. Over the years, unions have helped improve working conditions and salaries for teachers, who in turn were able to better serve students.
Teachers are rightfully concerned with opening schools before doing so can be done safely. Especially in urban districts where schools served those most impacted by the pandemic. That whole sying early and/or forced hospitalization thing is rather decidedly unattrative to most. Since the teachers union is made up of teachers, the unions rightfully pushed back against plans to re-open buildings before safety could be ensured. Notice I said “buildings” and not “schools”. There is a big difference between the two, despite what some advocates for re-entry would have you believe.
Proponents of re-opening like to try and paint a picture of schools being closed and teachers abandoning their charges. Using words and phrases like, “reopen schools” and “fighting to not return to work”. The reality is exactly the opposite. Teachers never abandoned their responsibilities and as a result, most schools have been opened since September, no easy feat.
Teaching remotely is very different than teaching in person. The challenges are unique to both. As a result, many teachers were ill-prepared to teach students in a remote setting. Per usual though, they dove in and did the best they could, working longer hours without an increase of pay. Let me say that again, in case those in the back missed it…longer hours, no increase in pay.
Where schools were able to open, those teachers also had to adapt. An adaption that once again required long hours with no increase in compensation.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, being a teacher over the last year, hasn’t been a lot of fun. In fact, it’s mostly sucked, the rewards and benefits coming with declining frequency. Still, they have soldiered on, and how do we reward them? By insinuating that they don’t want to work. By insinuating that they are fighting to avoid meeting the requirements of their job. It’s like me giving you a 100 dollar bill every day for a year, and then you call me cheap because I’ve sent it through Venmo instead of dropping it off daily at your house.
I can hear the protestations now, “We love teachers. It’s the unions that aren’t looking out for kids.” or the other familiar refrain, “You know not all teachers support the union.”
Newsflash! Regarding the latter, all teachers may not support the union, but I can guarantee that all have benefitted from the unions. About the former, it’s teachers who make up the union. As such, how do they benefit by keeping buildings closed? I would be loathed to join a union that made me work three times as hard and earn the same salary while denying me the central opportunity for which I chose to pursue teaching as a profession. Teachers teach so they can work with students, as unsatisfying as remote instruction has been for students it has been equally so for teachers. Therefore maybe teachers are actually concerned about being hospitalized or dying.
The current situation has been beneficial to no one, but that’s kind of how a crisis works. It forces us to do things in a manner other than our preference until the crisis is mitigated. In the middle of a financial crisis, you don’t get to keep going to the movies while the mortgage goes unpaid. Maybe you only get to watch movies on Television until you increase your income, even if commercials make the experience less pleasurable.
We might think that since we are tired of it, the pandemic is nearing its end. But if you look at the data, that is clearly not the case. In fact, for the last week, the number of cases has been trending upward. Over the last week, the new cases rate for Davidson County has nearly doubled. An inconvenient truth.
Despite the best attempts by some, it is a mistake to try and compare smaller homogenous districts to those much larger eclectic districts. The populations served by each, make the risks and challenges very different. CDC guidelines are just that, guidelines not tablets from on high. They provide a means for schools to potentially open safely, but only if certain elements are satisfied. Not every district is capable of addressing those elements and meeting those requirements to the level of ensuring safety. Perhaps if we’d invested more money in the past this wouldn’t be the case today, but unfortunately, we didn’t and it is.
Even with all the knowledge around the virus that we’ve gained since the Spring, there is still much we don’t know. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) in children is a troubling complication of Covid-19 infection that can cause heart damage and typically shows up about three weeks after a child has been infected. Many MIS-C cases follow a Covid-19 infection that had no symptoms. News reports come today that indicate these cases are increasing. Personally, I would prefer to error on the side of caution. But some of you may be good with looking at your kids at some point in the future and saying, “Damn, but Dad got that one wrong.” Me not so much.
I suspect rural politicians are in a hurry to get urban districts open because they recognize where the majority of the revenues of the state are generated from. It’s like a university, everybody wants to take shots at the football program, conveniently forgetting that revenues generated by the football program make multiple other programs possible.
Before closing, I’d like to point out one other element that has been revealed by current events. The fight to re-open the building has forced a discussion into who is being serviced by public schools. I’ll admit that, while I was aware of the shift in demographics, I was unaware of the dramatic shift that’s taken place over the last couple of decades. According to the National Center for Education Statistics,
Between fall 2000 and fall 2017, the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 61 to 48 percent, and the percentage of students who were Black decreased from 17 to 15 percent. In contrast, the percentage of public school students who were Hispanic increased from 16 to 27 percent during the same period.
It’s a trend that is predicted to continue through to 2029. I find that concerning because without the public, are we really talking about public education?
In this day and age, we like to believe that little is beyond our control and that we are the masters of our universe. Mother Nature likes to remind us on the occasion of the error in that assumption. We can do various things to influence the pace, but ultimately life works at its own rate. In time the pandemic will fade and the danger will wane. Kids will resume in-person instruction and most will acquire skills required for success either in school buildings or remotely.
Hopefully, we will learn from this time period and continue to take steps to be better prepared in the future. But if the past is any indication, that might just be wishful thinking. Afterall, In the, “can’t make this stuff up” department, the Center Square reported this week that Governor Lee’s administration was signing a $3 million consulting contract with the McKinsey Organization while investigating the company and negotiating a $15 settlement with them for their role in Opioid Crisis. I’m sure this time it will be different.
Or will it, reports are coming out from New York that the global consulting firm accused of having a role in the opioid crisis, helped New York’s health department author a report that was used to absolve Gov. Andrew Cuomo of blame in the nursing home scandal.
Remember, it’s not the words, but rather, how you use them.
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