Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Education Revolution Will Not Be Zoomed

So much of the debate about how to open K-12 schools next month is based on the effects that having remote school will have on children.

The newest C.D.C. guidance, released on Friday is, quite honestly, another example of this country thinking small, thinking politically, thinking  that teachers will somehow avoid the virus, and thinking that it can get back to some semblance of normal, when it is clear that we need new thinking and new ideas. Of course, none of that will come from either the president or the Secretary of Education, so we're on our own here.

What's so disappointing about what the C.D.C. said was that it assumes that very little will change about American society and education before school opens. Indeed, much of the assumptions that other writers have discussed say that children need to go back to school because they might not have food or computers or the Internet or parental support or emotional and physical safety if they are home. And that, in and of itself, is the indictment of where we are as a country right now.

The decision to open schools full-time, then, must put adults and older students in jeopardy for their lives and force defunded school districts and devastated state budgets to endure more pressure in order to mitigate, not solve, this immoral dilemma that four decades of blame have produced. The simple fact that conservative members of Congress are actually against an economic package that might begin to help schools and states tells you everything you need to know about why we're facing this peril. And it's exactly why many teachers are considering retiring or asking to teach remotely or taking bold actions against their state legislators and governors rather than putting their lives at risk so that we can open the economy.

What the CDC and every other person in this country should be doing is agitating for Congress to make Internet access a regulated utility like the lights and heat so that everybody in this country has access to it. All students should also be given a computer they can use at home. They should make sure that we are spending our money wisely on community programs, public schools, health care, food security, and effective counseling, and stop spending money on military grade weapons to local police forces. That will create instances where the police are protecting more literate, more secure, more educated, more healthy, and more politically and socially involved communities which will be of tremendous help because those are the communities that have the lowest crime rates.

Much of the guidance the CDC recommends is also predicated on the idea that distance learning will look the same as it did in the spring. Much of that was considered a failure, but this lack of imagination is disturbing. Where is Betsy DeVos when we need her to mobilize the country's educational establishment to address the deficiencies of remote instruction? Where is the training and experimenting and exchange of ideas that will lead to more effective classroom methods? Where is the emergency money to support the children that all Americans see as desperately needing to learn? Where is the support for areas of this country--urban, suburban and rural--that are not wealthy enough to obtain these resources?

Where indeed?

Unfortunately, the answers we are getting are full of threats to withhold the very funds schools need if they don't open, which will result in even more desperate conditions for the children the administration and its supporters says they care so much about. Teachers are also being blamed for not carrying their weight as heroes in the same way that medical professionals have been lauded. I applaud and support our medical professionals, but nowhere in my training was there anything about giving my life for my profession. It's unconscionable that every teacher has to withstand Code Blue drills where students have to hide in a classroom as preparation in case someone wants to shoot up the school, then go back to the supportive, protective learning environment when the principal announces the end of the drill. Two years ago, proposals for arming teachers were actually taken seriously by a wide swath of the public. As if there was money to buy guns for teachers while school lunch programs and technology were seemingly intractable political problems.

This pandemic has uncovered what has always been hidden in plain sight about American society and its education system. It is underfunded, it is in many ways ineffectual, it excludes not only based on finances but also in the curricular choices communities make, focusing on an America that exists for Whites, but not for Blacks, it is the last refuge for many children who are starved nutritionally and emotionally, and it is not reflective of the promise and opportunity that form the bedrock of what it should mean to be an American.

We need change and we need it now. For the C.D.C. to base its recommendations on the notion that the country will not change is nearsighted and dangerous. Let's use this opportunity to make our education system responsive to all people.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Reopening School

What to make of the debate on how to open schools?

On the one hand, we have the president and Betsy DeVos, who seem to be ignoring most of the health information contained in a report, which was marked "For Internal Use Only", that had more sensible guidance for schools and even urged districts in communities where the virus was spreading more rapidly to have classes conducted entirely online, who are urging all schools to open five days per week with all students in the building.

On the other hand, we have education and health professionals who are urging caution because,well, we are still in the midst of the first wave of a global pandemic and conditions in the United States are getting worse, much worse, by the day.

Every teacher in this country understands that students need to be in school. It is key for a child's social, educational and emotional development. We all know that. The issue is not that we need to open, but how to open safely and create an environment where every child can learn. The evidence does suggest that younger people are not impacted to the same degree as older people and that they don't spread it at the same rate. We get that too.

What we also know, though, is that enclosed, poorly-ventilated spaces in which people are talking are prime breeding grounds for the virus. Yes, the guidelines call for students to wear masks, but students do not always do what they are told to do, and since they won't be mandatory for the children, there's little a teacher can do if a child refuses to wear one or puts the mask below their nose or chews a hole in it where their mouth is. And parents who need to work might give their feverish child a fever reducer and send them on their way so the parent can go to work. Hallways are crowded places. Teenagers like to hug, and more, in various areas of school buildings.

This is why teachers are pushing back against reopening plans that do not take into account their concerns about workplace safety. Many teachers have complicated health issues or are worried about bringing the virus back to their homes where their children, elderly parents or other adults with health concerns live. Teachers are also concerned that cash-strapped school districts will not be able to fully meet the guidelines that are meant to insure that schools open safely, or to invest in distance-learning software or protocols that will enable all students to thrive whether they are in the classroom or at home. Federal and state governments have been defunding education for decades. We are now seeing a literal struggle over the life and death of schools and their staff.

In short, this is a far more complicated answer than what the president and Secretary DeVos want to hear. The president is concerned about his reelection prospects given that adults can't go back to work if they have to stay home and take care of children who are on alternate day schedules or have decided that their child will stay home rather than go into schools where the danger is real. Secretary DeVos is supporting the president's proposal to strip already cash-starved public school districts of federal funds if they don't fully open, despite the health risks.

America's public school teachers already know that they are not as valued as they should be, are not paid commensurate with their educational levels and value to society, and are seen as union saps who slavishly toe the NEA/UFT line. The president went so far as saying that history teachers especially seek to propagandize students and teach them to hate America. None of this is in any way accurate
but, there is a sizable chunk of people in this country who believe it.

The difference now is that teachers are being asked to put their health and lives at risk. Even in districts that will have students alternate days or weeks, teachers are expected to be in classrooms every day. The best science we have now says that the virus thrives in poorly ventilated, enclosed rooms where people are exposed to each other for lengthy periods of time while talking, coughing, sneezing, or singing. In short, your child's classroom. This is the part of the discussion that the president and Secretary DeVos have ignored or minimized. Yes, school is about student learning, but it's also about teachers who make sure that the classroom is safe and secure.

For all of the planning, my sense is that schools will be shut down again because this virus is not going away. Students will test positive. Teachers will test positive (is this the point at which the lawsuits begin?). Communities will be justifiably angry and scared. Maybe this happens in October or maybe it happens when the flu starts to mingle in around November or December.

We have one chance to get this reopening right. Let's make sure we do just that.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest