Sunday, May 31, 2020

Another Virus Is Spreading

Covid-19 has killed hundreds of thousands.

Racism has killed millions.

Only one of them is presently curable, but it looks like we're spending more time and money on the one that isn't, despite the fact that it's only been around for a few months. We are now in the middle of both a pandemic and an epidemic, and there's no national leadership to get us through either one of them.

The death of George Floyd is far more than a reminder of how deeply racism infects the United States. It's an indictment of how some police officers act when allowed and enabled to abuse their power, and how many citizens express their frustrations and anger. I don't want to see any violence or rioting, but when the courts and the police and the power structure and the economy and now the virus clearly demonstrate how prejudiced they are against African-Americans, it's no wonder that many see violence as the only way to get the attention of those who have been willfully and culturally ignorant of their discrimination.

The key will be what happens when the violence ends. Right now it's easy to focus on the immediate events and the terrible images we see hour by hour, but that will eventually stop. That's when the real work begins, and if history is any guide, we are in for a long struggle. The president has spoken to the Floyd family, but at the same time he's sent threatening Twitter messages that hearken back to the bad old days of white resistance to civil rights laws. His past messages and actions have done very little to send a message that he can lead on this issue.

And Joe Biden will need to be more forceful, more specific, and more responsible with his responses and proposed solutions. His record on racial issues is far better than the president's, but Biden has to provide workable policies that move beyond community outreach or complaint review boards, which have shown to be effective when they are given the power they need, but otherwise are forgotten after the tempers cool.

But of course the best solution is for all people who oppose the president's policies to register and vote this November. The first step is to march and let people know that these actions are unacceptable. The second step is to vote. There is no excuse not to.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Pandemic Schools the US

If only the education system would stand up to it. Unfortunately, what we have at the national level is a know-very-little president and an Education Secretary who cares not a whit about anything to do with public education. and who made sure that public money is being funneled to private a religious institutions, to the detriment of neighborhood schools. I certainly understand that parents should have a choice if they don't want to send their child to a public school, but it's their...choice, and public schools should always be the first recipient of public money.

Which makes the public school system the next institution that will need significant reform. As this article says, the very manner in which we fund and organize public schools needs to change. It's been true for a great number of years; the pandemic has simply exposed it. We have too many public school districts in this country, and they all compete for scarce dollars. Worse, though, is the inherent inequality that sits in communities that are side-by-side. There is no reason for this to occur. True, the neighborhood school has been part of American life for more than two centuries, but times have changed and education is a key to future opportunities. To deny anyone a quality education based on artificial lines only serves to exclude children from taking full advantage of what this country has to offer.

What we need to change is the way that we distribute funds. In New Jersey, there are over 550 school districts and each one relies on local tax money for its funding. Districts that include wealthy towns can buy more services. Those that don't have the same resources get less. Many districts get very little. Because of lawsuits aimed at increasing educational equity, many districts receive a great deal of state aid, while others, usually the wealthier ones, have to rely on ever-increasing property taxes for funding. Resentment runs deep when any politician hints at ending this home rule. But to keep it means continued inequities and fewer educational opportunities.

Changing borders and district lines makes sense because then more students will have access to educational resources. Shared services and shared communities might help break down social barriers. There will be pain, too. Some teachers will lose their jobs and some towns might lose schools. It won't be free.

Right now, though, we are living through a time when many children do not have computers or reliable Internet connections. Many are missing meals. Many are not showing up to school because local or state governments can't afford to provide remote services. Parents without reliable, or any, health insurance must continue to physically go to work, facing a choice between their money or their lives. This must stop. This country can afford to provide for its children. We need to political will to actually do that.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Silence on Education

For all of the stories I've read about online schooling and how difficult it is to entertain and engage children of all ages while being quarantined in one's home, I still don't get the sense that we are talking about education, and how profoundly the system must change in a post-pandemic United States.

What this crisis has uncovered is the dire state of education regarding schooling, infrastructure, funding, practice, equity and opportunity. We've always thought of ourselves as a country whose system of public education reflects the democratic values upon which it was founded. Now we can't even guarantee that all students are reporting for the daily or weekly Zoom call that forms the basis of their learning. And it wasn't that before we all went online the education system was running smoothly or meeting the needs of all children. It was not. But now we know that we have gaping holes that will need to be fixed.

The crowd that currently sits in power on Washington will say that education is the realm of the states, and constitutionally, they are right. Education is nowhere to be found in the document and most states were free to create and maintain their own school systems. What that's done, though, is to create 50 separate systems divided into thousands of county and local school systems who are free to set their own policies and to determine what they teach and generally how to teach it. Attempts such as the Common Core Curriculum Standards to tie the states together so they are teaching the same skills and holding students accountable to them lasted for a few years until push-back from the right, because of the loss of state control, and the left, because of the focus on testing to determine student and teacher growth, doomed those standards to irrelevance.

Add in the problem of funding, and you see why we're where we are. Wealthier states and districts can afford to give every student a computer, and generally those towns and suburbs are where the vast majority of homes have an Internet connection. Those wealthier areas can also afford to pay teachers more and to provide them, and their students, with more resources and programs. Those towns also have a higher percentage of parents whose jobs have not been destroyed because of lock downs. They also tend to be whiter.

And so, here we are.

What to do? We need a massive, federal investment in the schools. Every child should be given a computer to use and a reliable Internet connection that will enable them to explore the wider world. Every child should have access to resources such as school trips, enrichment activities, speakers, literacy materials and safe, sustainable buildings. Teachers should be paid a great deal more than they are now so they don't have to worry about getting two jobs to support themselves.

And everybody--everybody--should have affordable, high quality health insurance so they don't have to worry about making a choice between education or food or housing or entertainment and getting medical care.

States cannot do this on their own because they must balance their budgets. Only the federal government can provide the funding and resources to provide what every child, and every family, needs in order to succeed. This is not going to happen under this administration or, I suspect, under any Republican presidency. We need a change.

Are you registered to vote?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest