Meghan Gallagher at The 74 Million gathered photos that capture some of the effects of the pandemic year when schools were shuttered and then slowly reopened. I have selected a few of them for this post. All 52 can be seen here.
Category Archives: raising children
Black and Smart: Stop Using Black Children as an Excuse to Open Your Schools (Gloria Ladson-Billings)
From the National Academy of Education: “Gloria Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was the 2005-2006 president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students.” This post appeared February 4, 2021 on the National Education Policy Center blog.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. The Corona Virus has forced me to address so many things virtually, that the last thing I’ve had the energy for was sitting down in front of the computer for yet another thing. I didn’t even want to think about an Op-Ed. However, the current chatter about returning to schools has me thinking about how Black children are once again being used to serve the needs of Whites. This is not a new slight-of- hand—claim something serves the needs of “the least of these” but in reality, the rich continue to get richer.
The current conversation regarding re-opening school is all about how closed schools are hurting the most vulnerable students—Black students, Latinx students, English Language Learners, poor students, and students with disabilities. But, in truth the parents clamoring the most about opening schools are the parents of the most privileged children. They are concerned that their children’s resumes are being tarnished by missing all of this school. They are comparing their children’s progress with that of their private school peers who they perceive to be moving ahead of them. They are concerned that their kids’ inability to participate in varsity sports and athletics may be hurting their scholarship chances. They are recognizing that having their kids at home and having to plan for each and every hour of their school day or perhaps having to sit beside them and assist with their virtual learning does not help one climb the corporate ladder. Actually, none of these reasons for wanting schools to be opened is a bad one. Just say that’s why you want schools to open!
Don’t pretend you have some deep conviction to the education of Black children. If that’s your motivation, where was it last year when school was in session? Weren’t Black children struggling then? Weren’t they over identified for special education placement? Weren’t they more likely to be suspended and expelled? Weren’t they least likely to be placed in honors or Advanced Placement courses? Weren’t their high school graduation rates lower than other students? The rush to open schools “for Black children” is disingenuous and merely a way to cover up the desires of the more privileged students.
I decided to write this blog because I was contacted by 2 different reporters who said they heard that Black parents were leery of sending their children back to school and they wanted to understand their rationale. The first reason Black parents are reluctant to have their children return to school is health and safety. More Black children are likely to live in multi-generational homes. This means that even though children are less likely to manifest COVID-19 symptoms, they can still contract and shed the virus and infect a grandparent or parent with underlying conditions. Given the high rate of COVID infections and death in the Black and Brown communities, Black families are not willing to take the risk of transmission. Also, many of the schools our children attend are in buildings that have problems with their HVAC systems. What evidence do Black families have that their children’s schools have been retrofitted with upgraded filters and proper air circulation systems? What is the evidence of improved cleaning and disinfecting in the buildings? Who is monitoring PPE in the schools?
Second, Black families are keenly aware that school was not the haven of comfort and safety that some professionals try to pretend they are. Yes, some children live in unsafe and unstable homes, but rather than solve their problems, some students find that school exacerbates their problems. School is the place some students are stigmatized by standing in the “free lunch” line or being pulled out of class for special services. School is the place where their academic struggles are magnified and what they don’t have (i.e., two parents at home. new clothes, fancy school supplies) is on constant display. School is a place where adults yell at them for not knowing an answer or not completing an assignment or project. No, school can be a place of a special kind of violence.
I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages students to return to school to address their social emotional needs. However, what has your local school said or done that suggests students’ social emotional needs will be a priority? How have Black students’ teachers conveyed that to them? Indeed, I have heard from a number of Black parents that their children are less stressed and less anxious in virtual school. Some Black parents indicate that the school has reached out to them more during the pandemic than they ever did when students attended face-to-face school. Many Black parents are finally having a school year that does not involve constantly running up to the school to deal with school personnel.
The decision to return to in-person school is deeply personal. We all have our own reasons for why we think it’s a good idea (or not). Just don’t pretend you want schools opened for those “poor Black kids” when what you want is school opened for your own kids!
Stay Black and Smart!
The second day of school, Rainey came home with a story. Four times he found egg in his mouth. He hadn’t placed it there himself; instead, his most hated food made its way past his teeth by the hand of the fearsome Teacher Chen.
‘ She put it there,’ Rainey told me, mouth wide, finger pointing inside. Then what happened,? I asked.
“I cried and spit it out.”
Then what. She did it again,” Rainey said….”I cried and spit it out again.”
Rainey is three years old and enrolled in one of the best Shanghai kindergartens in the city. Lenora Chu, Mom, journalist and author of Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve,(2017) from which this incident is taken, decides to meet with Teacher Chen to discuss force-feeding egg to her son. Chu describes the conference with Teacher Chen:
“We don’t use such methods of force in America,” I blurted in Mandarin, my son clutching my hand. (I was born and raised in America but grew up speaking Chinese at home.)
“Oh? How do you do it?” Teacher Chen challenged.
“We explain that egg eating is good for them, that the nutrients help build strong bones and teeth and helps with eyesight,” I said, trying to sound authoritative. “We motivate them to choose…we trust them with the decision.”
“Does it work?” Teacher Chen said….
“Well, not always,” I admitted.
Chen nodded. “Rainey needs to eat eggs. We think eggs are good nutrition, and all young children must eat them….”
Later, Teacher Chen pulled me aside for a lecture. “In front of the children, you should say, ‘Teacher is right, and Mom will do things the same way,’ OK?’ ” (pp.22-24, 27.)
Through the seven years that Rainey was in public Chinese schools, Chu uses his experiences in kindergarten and public primary school grades as a template for describing and analyzing Chinese education in Shanghai and the rest of the nation over the past decade. And it is a fascinating, eye-opening journey that she captures in an easily read, clear, description of children, schooling, and a top-down, state-directed system deeply anchored in the Confucian tradition of teaching and learning while exerting strong political control of what and how teachers teach.
Every country’s system of schooling mirrors the basic values in the culture that both the state and parents want to see in the behavior of, and school outcomes for their sons and daughters. Where in the U.S., a core value is the individual’s growth and development and belonging to a community comes second, in China, the collective comes first. And so does obeying the teacher.
The 28 kindergartners in Rainey’s class learned this song the second day of school:
I am a good baby
Little hands always in place
Little feet refined
Little ears listening well
Little eyes looking at the teacher
Before I speak, always raising my hand (p.64)
The principal granted permission to Chu to observe her son’s class. With three year-olds, incidents invariably occur. She describes what she saw occur during a lesson. Teacher Wang had difficulties with a little boy a head taller than the other children and filled with inexhaustible energy. For observer Chu, it was easy for her to remember Wang Wu Ze because the two teachers had yelled his name repeatedly over the first week of school:
Wang Wu Ze, sit down! Wang Wu Ze put your two feet side by side! Wang Wu Ze, what is wrong with you? Do you want your mommy to come and get you today?
One day, while Teacher … was talking, three-year old Wang Wu Ze left his seat and wandered over to a few toys in a corner . Chu writes that the teacher “lost her temper.” Teacher Wang said: “Wang Wu Ze, you don’t get a chair. YOU WILL STAND!” Chu describes the teacher moving quickly to where the boy was standing and “swatting his chair away. It fell over, clattered against the floor a few times, then lay still….” The boy looked at the “toppled chair and tears came to his eyes….” He went to the teacher and threw his arms around her waist and she said: “Bu bao–I won’t hold you…. Do you want a chair now?”
“Yes, yes, I want a chair.“
“Then you sit in it,” Wang said. “If you don’t sit in it, I won’t give it to you. And your mom won’t come get you after school.” (pp. 66-67)
Conformity to the group, obedience to the teacher, and constant attention to mastering content, skills, and behavior begin early in both how and what teachers teach, according to Chu.
Consider the curriculum standards, the Ministry of Education sets for learning to read Mandarin.
Chu reports that:
“First- and second-graders should recognize 1,600 characters and write 800 of them from memory. By fourth grade, the level is 2,500 characters, and by the sixth grade it’s 3,000 characters and writing almost as many….Full literacy requires an astonishing 3,500 frequently used characters to be committed to memory, according to the Chinese curriculum standards for full-time compulsory education.” (p. 86)
And competition within and across classes is both fierce and public. Testing is constant and student-by-student scores on tests and performance of tasks are publicly displayed. Chu describes the large bulletin board outside Rainey’s kindergarten classroom.
Big Board might post teachers’ assessment of each child, a report card displayed for all to see. Who clocked in timely arrivals at school? Which child greeted the teacher with a smile? Who finished every lunchtime grain of rice? Star stickers and happy faces were pasted next to the name of each child who’d made the grade….As the months passed into the first year of school, Big Board began to display information that directly compared performance and ability…. With each presentation, parents gathered eagerly. and I could always tell when Big Board posted new information by the number of bodies gathered around, heads bobbing with anticipation.
The following year, the Big Board would display prowess at recorder play [a small woodwind musical instrument] for all to see:
The ring finger of Student No. 20 is not stable
Student No. 30 doesn;t cover the old hole while changing to a new one.
Student No. 16 doesn’t blow out enough air.
Student No. 3 doesn’t cover the holes properly.
Chu says that Besides Rainey’s number, No. 27, the teacher had scrawled the same punishing diagnosis as that for No. 8
Doesn’t follow rhythm. (pp. 98-99)
Chu visited schools elsewhere in China including rural schools, and describes their classrooms. She speaks with education experts at universities and Ministry of Education officials. Yet China has over a quarter-billion students (yes, over 260 million) taught by over 15 million teachers housed in more than a half-million schools (2014). The numbers stagger the minds of non-Chinese educators. *
Obviously, Chu can only include so much in a book that focuses upon her son, two Shanghai teenagers in secondary schools, visits to a handful of schools, and interviews with various teachers and educators. Fortunately, Chu provides the necessary context for the Shanghai and rural schools that she visits by describing the state-directed system of schooling
As a centralized state where policy is controlled by a Ministry of Education imbued with Communist doctrine, top down curricular and instructional mandates provide a constant flow of regulations to each province’s schools. Ministry officials are well aware of the internal criticisms of rote memorization, disciplinary norms, and inequalities between rural and urban schools insofar as available resources, teacher experiences, and difficulties in getting teachers to alter their daily lessons. Top officialas have looked to other countries, including the U.S. for reforms to improve Chinese education.
Part 2 will take up some of these reforms as Chu identified them and difficulties of implementation.
*OECD, “Education in China: A Snapshot, 2016”, p. 9
As More Students Head Back, Here’s What We Now Know (And Still Don’t) about Schools and COVID Spread (Matt Barnum)
This article appeared in Chalkbeat, October 22, 2020. Matt Barnum is an education journalist.
Two months ago, Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was something of a school reopening skeptic. In places with relatively high COVID rates, like Florida and Texas, K-12 school buildings should stay shuttered to protect the health of teachers, students, and their communities, he argued.
Now, his view is changing.
“The evidence so far suggests that we can likely open schools — especially K-5 — pretty safely in most parts of the country,” he said, as long as those schools take precautions like requiring masks. “I’m getting slowly but surely persuaded that I may have been too cautious.”
That’s because where schools have reopened, things have gone relatively well, as least as far as scientists and public health officials can tell right now. Many European countries have reopened schools with apparent success, too. That consensus is pushing more schools to reopen buildings, even as case counts rise across the country, and is driving increasingly confident claims that there is little or no relationship between schools and COVID spread.
It’s also true, though, that the existing evidence is still limited, and some epidemiologists say it’s simply too soon to reach firm conclusions.
There has been no effort from the federal government to systematically track school openings and COVID outbreaks. That means we are often relying on data from those who volunteer it, and lack good information about how schools that have reopened might differ from those that have not.
Then there is the inherent difficulty of the project: It’s tough to isolate the effect of a single factor like school reopening on community COVID spread, particularly when testing data is also limited.
That tension — more data, but all of it limited — is at the heart of the school reopening debate right now, several epidemiological and education researchers suggest. Jha, for one, is optimistic.
But, he cautions, “The strength of the evidence here is shaky.”
The case for school reopening
As more and more schools across the country have reopened their buildings, many local officials say they haven’t seen a strong connection to COVID spread in their communities and that outbreaks have been relatively rare, unlike what’s happened at many universities.
In New York City, random tests of over 16,000 staff members and students turned up only 28 positive results.
In Colorado, 43 schools — out of more than 1,900 in the state — have experienced outbreaks in which public health officials documented transmission within the school building since schools began reopening in late August.
Nationally, among over 1,000 schools voluntarily reporting data, test positivity rates are very low: 0.14% among children and 0.36% among staff.
“A lot of people expected, oh, we would have 100 cases of COVID day one — and places aren’t seeing that,” said Preeti Malani, the University of Michigan’s chief health officer, referring to K-12 schools. “They’re not closing down. They’re able to find a way to continue on.” That’s pushed her to believe that schools generally can and should reopen.
A national study of childcare providers showed that those who continued working were just as likely to say they had contracted COVID as those who stayed home.
Reopenings seem to have gone well in many European countries, too. In Germany, one of the most rigorous studies on the question found reopening schools was actually linked to lower, not higher, rates of COVID spread.
It’s also clear that children are less likely to suffer severe symptoms from COVID, and deaths among children are very rare (although Black and Hispanic children have been disproportionately affected).
A recent overview of research from around the world concluded that “widespread transmission can occur among school-age children, but that there is very little evidence, at least in the context of relatively low community transmission, that schools have been a driver of transmission.”
Jha says the growing collection of data points has swayed his opinion. “I’ve got eight or 10 pieces of data, every one of which is super weak — but they’re all pointing in the same direction,” he said.
There is also largely undisputed evidence that school closures do major harm to students, academically and otherwise.
“Not only are there benefits to being in school, there are also risks of not being in school,” said Sarah Cohodes, an education researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University.
Instances of child neglect have likely gone unreported. Children are more socially isolated.And they have missed months of in-person instruction, with uneven remote learning. One recent study out of Belgium, using actual student test scores, showed sharp declines in learning.
“The evidence in terms of learning is clear — that learning is better in person, especially for younger children,” said Cohodes, who has compiled research on a number of aspects of COVID and education.
Alicia Riley, a postdoctoral scholar in epidemiology at UC San Francisco, goes further, noting that some prior research has even found that more education helps people lead longer lives. In other words, keeping schools closed may have its own long-term deleterious effects on health.
“Our concepts of safety — we’re only calculating in the COVID risk,” she said. “But if we’re thinking about the real long-term health harms, schooling is protective for health.”
The case for reopening caution, and better data
Some epidemiologists view the same data with more wariness.
“I think it’s premature to say that school reopening has been successful. For a start, it’s an ongoing process linked to what’s happening in the community generally,” said Zoë Hyde, a senior research officer at the University of Western Australia. “If community trans mission rises, then you will see outbreaks in schools. This has become very apparent in Europe as they battle their second wave.”
A number of experts are concerned that we’re not getting a full picture because of incomplete testing. “While we know we are only seeing part of ‘the iceberg’ of all infections, we don’t know exactly how much of that iceberg we are seeing,” said Kim Powers, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina.
That may be particularly concerning with children, who are often asymptomatic and thus less likely to be tested. “It’s quite likely that we’re not spotting a lot of the infections which are occurring in children,” said Hyde.
“If we’re just doing symptomatic testing and we’re only counting cases in which kids are symptomatic, it’s kind of impossible to trace this adequately and to really understand what’s going on,” agreed Riley.
Meanwhile, there’s general agreement that existing data is insufficient, and that it can be difficult to generalize the conclusions.
The tracker of COVID test results from schools being compiled by Brown researcher Emily Oster and others, for instance — the most comprehensive national database available — is only able to include the fraction of public schools that voluntarily provide information, with results that may not be representative. The study of childcare workers was also based on an online survey that the researchers described as “not fully representative.”
Other international research acknowledges that it simply cannot disentangle the effect of school reopenings from many other factors. Pinning down how outside factors — low rates of community spread, many students staying home, mild temperatures allowing for open windows and good ventilation — might have contributed to success stories could guide school officials elsewhere.
There is also some evidence on the other side of the ledger, though it comes with its own caveats. Data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that the number of children with new COVID cases has been rising slightly in recent weeks, though that doesn’t mean cases are necessarily linked to schools.
Idaho has seen upticks in cases among children and adults, with the governor saying reopened schools has been one factor. In suburban Salt Lake City, a school district saw cases rapidly emerge at some of its schools, forcing a shutdown of three high schools and a middle school. In different parts of the country, reported COVID cases in schools or among school staff have continued to tick up, though the numbers appear relatively low overall.
A recent Swedish study found evidence that COVID infection rates were higher among teachers (and their partners) whose schools didn’t close this spring, compared to teachers whose schools did close. (Notably, mask use in schools did not appear to be widespread at the time.)
“The overarching message is that the evidence is still evolving and pretty scant,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a health policy researcher at RAND.
Meanwhile, reopening buildings right now comes with its own often unacknowledged trade-offs. Since many districts are still allowing students to learn from home, and some only allow students in a few days a week, teachers have had to divide their attention between students who still learn virtually and those who are in person. It also means time and energy is being spent on building safety rather than improving the online instruction that many students will still rely on.
Ultimately, there is widespread agreement among experts that more and better data is needed to help school leaders make decisions.
Cohodes described it as “absolutely ridiculous” that researchers have been left trying to collect data on their own. “The federal government should have set out guidelines for collecting this and worked with state departments of education,” she said.
“All of this is frustrating to me because we’re in such a weak data zone and we should have much better data,” said Jha.
Just this week, though, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos described this as not her job. “I’m not sure there’s a role at the department to collect and compile that research,” she said.
With the closure of U.S. schools in March of the infamous year of 2020 and the desperation-driven reform of distance learning, Moms have become teacher-in-charge. The cartoon below offers a glimpse of a traditional and familiar style of parenting. Less than a decade ago, a Yale Law professor categorized the Mom in this cartoon as exhibiting one historical patterns in rearing children.
In 2011, Amy Chua wrote an international best seller about her tough-love parenting of daughters in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She must have laughed all the way to the bank at the fuss she kicked up about her tough-love parenting of daughters. Time magazine reported that her Wall Street Journal op-ed garnered over a million readers and 5000 comments.
For educated, financially comfortable non-Tiger Moms, however, the thought of giving up “Baby Mozarts,” chants of “well done” to build self- esteem, and, yes, even sleepovers–was too much. In response to Tiger Moms, Ayelet Waldman says, developing empathy in children, nurturing them, and giving them room to decide things for themselves, while still achieving high grades and gathering awards, are traits that she and other non-Tiger Moms want to develop.
Competing ways of rearing children, of course is nothing new. Since the 17th century, ministers, mothers, and, later, physicians, and psychologists have written manuals to guide parents in raising children. Historians have analyzed these advice manuals. What they have found are basically two child rearing models that are similar to Tiger Moms and Guilty, Nurturing Moms.
I label them Strict Parent vs. Nurturing Parent. Of course, these models span a continuum and are not mutually exclusive. Many parents use hybrids of the two in their families.
Strict parent model teaches children right from wrong by setting clear rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishments, typically mild to moderate but sufficiently painful to get attention. When rules are followed and children cooperate, parents show love and appreciation. Children are not coddled since a spoiled child seldom learns proper behavior. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant by following the rules and listening to parents.
Nurturing parent model teaches children right from wrong through respect, empathy, and a positive relationship with parents. Children obey because they love their parents, not out of fear of punishment. Parents explain their decisions to children and encourage questioning and contributing ideas to family decisions. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being nurtured and caring for others.
No surprise that these competing models of child rearing have entered schools. Parents want their schools to be extensions of what is taught at home. Nor is it a surprise that the ideological and practical conflicts in schools today are anchored in these rival approaches to child-rearing.
In the early 19th century, for example, taxpayers, parents, and public officials saw public schools as proper places for the tenets of Protestant Christianity, steeped in Biblical views of parental authority, where teachers would teach that disobedience was a sin. Thus, raising children to respect authority, be self-disciplined, and know right from wrong–the Strict Parent model– was expected in one-room schoolhouses and, later, age-graded elementary schools. This dominant Strict Parent model of raising and schooling children was viewed as natural and, best for children and society before and after the Civil War.
In the late 19th century, another view (history of progressivism schools PDF) emerged challenging the religious-based popular model of child-rearing. The onslaught of industrialization, rapid urban growth, an emerging middle-class, and massive immigration spurred reformers to advocate a more “progressive” view of how best to raise and school children. Confined initially to manuals for middle-class parents, readers were urged to cultivate the innate goodness of children rather than dwell on their potential sinfulness. Parental love and example, not punishment, would produce respect for authority, self-discipline, and moral rigor in children.
For post-Civil War urban reformers who saw hard-working immigrant parents living in slums, traditional schools were inadequate. They got schools to expand their usual duties and take on nurturing roles that families had once discharged. Schools offered medical care, meals, lessons to build moral character including respect for authority and job preparation. Teachers were expected to develop children’s intellectual, emotional, and social capacities to produce mature adults who acted responsibly. This rival ideology became the progressive model of schooling.
By World War I, then, these competing progressive and traditional ideologies constituted different faiths in the best way of raising and schooling children. These beliefs had become embedded in educators’ language and school programs thus creating a platform for subsequent struggles over what “good” schools were and should be. The “culture wars” since the 1960s over teaching reading, math, science, and other content in schools are variations of this century-long see-saw struggle of ideas over what ways are best to raise and school children.
The media hullabaloo over Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom a few years ago and angry rebuttals from many parents (and grandparents) are at the root of the traditional vs. progressive cyclical conflicts that have ebbed and flowed over what reforms work best in U.S. schools.
Now, in the midst of the pandemic when most schools have re-opened using remote instruction, more Moms than Dads home school their children.
I would guess that under the pressure of children underfoot all day long, there is a scrambling of Strict Parent and Nurturing Parent styles. And when it comes to remote instruction, the very nature of the medium reinforces from afar traditional rather than progressive teaching practices.
Mary Battenfeld is a Clinical Professor of American and New England Studies at Boston University. This appeared in Pocket. Thanks to Hank Levin for sending it to me.
As a professor who teaches and writes about children’s history, I have studied how schools responded to the 1918 influenza pandemic. Though wary of painting the past with the present’s favorite colors, I see three main lessons today’s educators and policymakers can draw from how schools and communities responded to the last century’s pandemic.
1. Invest in School Nurses
Rather than simply send sick students home, where they would miss school while receiving no treatment, nurses cared for children’s illnesses and provided health information to their families.
After a study showed that nurses cut student absences in half, more and more cities funded them. Within 11 years of the first nurse being hired, nearly 500 U.S. cities employed school-based medical professionals.
In 1919, nurse S.M. Connor, while apologizing for not doing more “owing to the handicap of the influenza epidemic,” submitted a report to the Neenah, Wisconsin school board of her work. Connor made 1,216 home visits, took children to doctors and delivered community health talks, in addition to conducting school-based examinations and follow-up.
In November 1918, New York City Health Commissioner Royal Copeland underscored the role of school nurses. Being under “the constant observation of qualified persons” gave students “a degree of safety that would not have been possible otherwise” and “gave us the opportunity to educate both the children and their parents to the demands of health,” he said in a report titled “Epidemic Lessons Against Next Time.”
2. Partner With Other Authorities
In a version of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” a study of schools in 43 cities during the 1918 pandemic identified “planning that brings public health, education officials, and political leaders together” as key to successful responses.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Rochester, New York, school and health officials combined forces with organizations representing immigrant communities. In Los Angeles, the mayor, health commissioner, police chief and school superintendent collaborated to monitor infection rates, provide teachers additional training, and create and deliver homework for 90,000 schoolchildren.
Such cooperation also helped schools as they reopened.
In St. Louis, while schools were closed, police cars became ambulances, and teachers worked in health agencies. Students returned to school November 14, but by the month’s end the city saw a new influenza surge, leading to another school closure.
Political, health and education leaders designed a gradual reopening that saw high schools open first, followed a month later, once cases in younger children had dropped, by elementary schools. Thanks to these collaborative efforts, St. Louis had 358 deaths per 100,000 people, among the best outcomes in the country.
3. Tie Education to Other Priorities
In 1916 the U.S. Bureau of Education proclaimed that the “education of the schools is important, but life and health are more important.”
Reformers of the period, known as the Progressive Era, took that notion to heart. In addition to school nurses, they established school lunch programs, built playgrounds and promoted outdoor education.
When schools reopened, children could learn in what Copeland described as “large, clean, airy school buildings” with outdoor spaces.
Children playing on a Boston rooftop in 1909. Credit: Lewis Wickes Hine / Library of Congress.
Heeding Those Lessons in 2020
A century after Americans learned the importance of investing in school nurses, fewer and fewer schools employ them. Only 60% of schools have a full-time nurse, and about 25% have no nurse at all. A recent analysis concluded that reopening safely will cost an additional US$400,000 per district, on average, to hire more school nurses.
These figures are higher for urban schools that educate more students of color, poor students and immigrants, and come as the pandemic’s economic fallout is already causing districts to cut budgets.
Even so and despite the federal government’s sometimes divisive response, local communities, as in 1918, are fighting this devastating pandemic with teamwork. In Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Sacramento and elsewhere, city councils, school districts, nonprofits, and labor and business groups are working together to meet their communities’ needs.
And a movement, spurred by anger over the death of George Floyd, police brutality and widespread concerns about systemic racism, is demanding that all jurisdictions spend less on the police especially now, when the challenges brought about by the pandemic make funding for public schools more essential than ever.
This article appeared in the New York Times, June 23, 2020
|Growing up, Ashley Reynolds grew accustomed to marking rites of passage in the shadow of her older brother’s ghost.|
|Her brother, Jeff Jr., named for their father, was shot at a house party when he was 18 and Reynolds was 3. On every birthday and holiday since, Reynolds has felt a sense of grief mingling with her joy, because she knows her parents wish that Jeff Jr. could be there to celebrate too. (He would have now been 33.)|
|But high school graduation was supposed to be Reynolds’s day alone. She would be the first of her mother’s children to cross that stage. She imagined that her parents would be cheering, and she might start to cry. She started counting down the days at the start of her senior year. Then coronavirus came to Birmingham, Ala. — and just like that, her graduation ceremony was in jeopardy.|
|“You ever just feel like giving up?” Reynolds, 18, said, in an interview in early May. “I feel like I’m letting my family down by not walking across the stage because my brother never got a chance to.” Reynolds is one of the 3.7 million members of the class of Covid-19, America’s high school seniors who saw much of their season of festivities canceled because of the coronavirus. Throughout the early months of the pandemic, she was also one of the country’s 24 million front-line workers. |
More than half of the essential work force is female, and more than a third is African-American, like Reynolds. While Reynolds’s senior year was upended, her daily shift as a fast food worker at McDonald’s, working 30 hours a week, remained.
When the stay-at-home order took effect in Alabama, Reynolds watched with disappointment as events were taken off her calendar. School turned to remote learning. Prom was up in the air. The course she was taking to become a certified nursing assistant was suspended. But because she was deemed an essential worker, she could not quarantine, like most of her friends and classmates. She commuted daily for her shift at McDonald’s, sanitizing her hands in the car and showering the minute she got home.
The McDonald’s was at a truck stop, primarily serving drivers making deliveries throughout the state — 300 customers a day during the height of the shutdown and 700 per day as businesses began to reopen. The normal stresses of work — irritable customers, messy co-workers — were all amplified during the pandemic, she said. And many of Reynolds’s customers refused to follow social-distancing guidelines. They came close to Reynolds when ordering, and some of them entered without wearing masks. “They’re not understanding how serious this is,” she said. “Customers do not want to follow directions. They don’t believe in the six-feet rules.”
She was paid $8.25 an hour and was not given hazard pay. “I felt we needed a raise working under the coronavirus,” Reynolds said. “But they didn’t give it to us.” In April, one of Reynolds’s co-workers fell ill and left work early. The facility was closed for the day and sanitized. But Reynolds felt a pit in her stomach all day. She worried that she, too, could get sick and expose her mother, father or younger half sister, who is 7. Reynolds was relieved when she was told her co-worker did not have Covid-19.
Reynolds worries for her parents, because their essential jobs also bring them out of their homes daily, risking their health. Her father is a car salesman, which is classified as essential work. Her mother works as a janitor at a day care system. As the virus was beginning to spread, one facility where Reynolds’s mom works her day job had to close because of a coronavirus case. “She puts her life on the line,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds has closely followed the news on the spread of Covid-19 and its disproportionate impact on senior citizens and black people. Before her nursing course was canceled, she volunteered weekly at a local nursing home, helping the residents bathe and listening to their stories. She worries for them now as the coronavirus sweeps through the country’s nursing homes. In Alabama, 35 percent of the state’s death toll is made up of residents in long-term care facilities.
In a happy twist, Reynolds is back to caring for the elderly: This week she began a new job, making $10.71 an hour as a nursing assistant at the home where she used to volunteer, providing comfort to the elderly who cannot receive family visits because of Covid-19. “It’s horrible for the elders,” Reynolds said. “I can talk to my grandma tonight and if she steps outside tomorrow she can get sick.”
And another unexpected twist: Reynolds did get a graduation after all. As Alabama began to reopen in late May, her school held a ceremony, smaller than originally planned. “It wasn’t the best thing but it was something,” she said. And she did get to celebrate with her family. “Every child deserves a chance to be able to feel celebrated in their accomplishment,” she said.
Now, Reynolds keeps her eyes trained on a post-pandemic future, hoping to tart classes on campus at Talladega College in the fall. She is hellbent on saving money so she can be financially independent, and buy new clothes and dorm furniture for her freshman year. She plans to study social work. But the uncertainty still looms: whether her classes will be remote and whether that will make them tougher because she won’t be able to easily ask teachers questions about challenging material.
Natural disasters have closed schools over the past century. Earthquakes and hurricanes destroyed Christchurch, New Zealand (2011) and New Orleans (2005). The Influenza pandemic in 1918-1919, polio epidemics in the 1940s, and currently the coronavirus-19 have achieved the same result in country after country across the globe.
In a nation were supreme faith in the power of schooling to produce individual success, where getting an “education” is the first item on the to-do list of native-born and immigrant families, sudden and sustained school closures carry huge psychic and social costs for both students and their families.
Short-term effects on children and youth range from “summer loss” in academic achievement to distaste for online instruction to angst and depression from prolonged lockdowns and absence of contact with friends. Effects on students and families are unrecorded for previous epidemics and are just now becoming apparent, particularly for single Moms and families with two working parents.
Long-term effects of these natural disasters remain unknown. And this is why the five year loss of public schooling for black students in Prince Edward County as a result of a man-made disaster–while far longer than school closures flowing from the pandemic–becomes relevant as a historical instance of learning what happens later to children and youth when they have lost five years of their schooling.
In 1951, in rural Prince Edward County, Virginia, Robert Moton high school student Barbara Johns led a walkout of black students protesting the conditions in the overcrowded building (housing 450 students rather than less than the 200 it was built for). This neglected, racially segregated high school in Farmville–the County seat of about 8500 residents–was not only at double its capacity but also lacked a library, science labs, and cafeteria.
“We held two or three classes in the auditorium most of the time, one on the stage and two in the back,” former Moton principal M. Boyd Jones told journalist Bob Smith in 1961. “We even held some classes in a bus.” Some classes met in tar-paper shacks, which the school board funded rather then build a new school. When it rained those shacks leaked, and when it got cold the potbelly stoves failed to keep children warm.
Teacher Vanessa Venable recalled students searching the woods before class for kindling to use in the shacks’ stoves to heat the buildings. In an interview Venable said, “I remember asking the Superintendent for toilet tissues for the outdoor john. He looked at me as if I was crazy and said, ‘Mrs. Venable, they don’t know how to use it anyway. Get a Sears catalogue.'”
The high school was indeed separate but hardly equal to the all-white high school also located in Farmville.
After the walkout, civil rights lawyers convinced the black parents who had sued the all-white County school board to join black litigants in Topeka, Kansas and other jurisdictions in a case that was moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown that state laws establishing separate schools on the basis of race were unconstitutional. While the Court urged states to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed,” many Southern states (including Virginia) where de jure school segregation and Jim Crow laws had been in existence for over a half-century did little to nothing in the aftermath of the decision (see here and here).
Virginia’s response orchestrated by Democratic Senator Harry Byrd’s political machine, a long-time advocate of segregated schools, launched “massive resistance” to the court decision. The Virginia legislature, controlled by the Byrd machine, threatened to stop funding any county or city district in the state that desegregated its schools.
In 1959, federal and state courts declared “massive resistance” to the Brown decision unconstitutional. For the first time, a Democratic governor refused to support pro-segregation bills moving through the legislature. Then a federal district court judge ordered the Prince Edward County school board to move students from the all-black Robert Russa Moton high school to the nearby all-white high school. The all-white County school Board of Supervisors joining the state movement toward “massive resistance” refused to fund the public schools. The School Board then closed all of its schools and funded and built a private all-white academy. On the first day of the fall semester, yellow school buses took nearly 1500 white students to the private academy and left 1700 black students without a school to go to.
The public schools did not re-open until 1963.
Part 2 deals with the effects on black students of no public schooling for five years.
Sondra Cuban and I jointly wrote this post.
“Sondra Cuban is a Professor at Western Washington University and an educational sociologist studying the trajectories, aspirations, and struggles of women immigrants. She is the author of Deskilling Migrant Women in the Global Care Industry (2013) and Transnational Family Communication: Immigrants and ICTs (2017).”
One of our greatest social safety nets has vanished in the blink of an eye. Before the pandemic, schools were societal safeguards in having legal custody of children and youth six to 12 hours a day, granting credentials, and providing meals, social and medical services. Now with schools closed, the importance of schools to not only parents but all citizens has become obvious.
This is the first time in a century since the flu pandemic of 1918 that government has decommissioned public schools. They are ghosts standing in our communities, unused, with yellow tape around playground bars and slides. Uncertainty over re-opening dates breeds anxiety as superintendents fumble to communicate with teachers, parents and families during the crisis.
Turn on the television to see the absence of leadership at the very top. The U.S. Department of Education website only has flow charts posted in March for whether schools should close. No one in authority knows when they will reopen other than in the fall, creating a quiet storm in every community about what to do with children and their wellbeing as well as the health of families.
Early responses came from state governors. Because the virus spreads rapidly in crowds, gatherings of 10 or more people were prohibited. Schools, sporting and entertainment events, and businesses closed. The economy ground to a halt. By mid-March, 45 governors had acted shutting down businesses and schools for the rest of the academic year. Yet they’ve given little guidance to school systems or details about what is to happen in the interim. Furthermore, libraries, partners in literacy to schools, are also closed. Another loss.
By late-March, it has become clear that school districts were caught with their pants down. In a recent American Enterprise Institute survey schools in the U.S., less than half (43 percent) of the districts had a plan for shifting from face-to-face instruction to online instruction and home teaching. Two weeks later the percentage had gone to 71. But a PDF plan is far from what actually happens. Individual school (there are 13,000-plus districts with 100,000 schools in the U.S.) principals, teachers, and staff contacted parents and students through email and phone.
Schools in these districts with plans put some version of a remote education program into place. Often, however, no clear instructions were sent telling whether all students had to go online or whether participation was voluntary. For example 35 percent of the schools doing online instruction offered materials and expected students to participate. Nearly two-thirds did not.
With the shift to distance instruction, access to computers and the Internet revealed anew the digital inequities that mirror societal inequalities. Many big cities had to distribute laptops and tablets to students—they were either delivered or picked up at local schools. New York gave out 300,000; Chicago announced 100,000 computers; San Diego. 40,000. But distributing computers does not guarantee teaching and learning in the home because many families lack adequate broadband and WiFi access.
Moreover, computers and distance learning is, at best, a pale substitute for in-person teaching and student learning. Many private schools including those that avoided leaning on electronic devices before the pandemic (e.g., Waldorf) have continued their curriculum delivery online but this doesn’t mean that the quality of education has remained the same or that learning is happening.
Also beyond computers, big city districts fed children and families. San Diego, for example, provided nearly 400,000 meals.
The AEI survey also showed that by the first week of April, 91 percent of the school had plans for feeding students. When the survey asked for specifics beyond plans, results showed that two-thirds of the schools had meals available for daily pick up at the schools. School delivery to students’ homes or at bus stops were occurring in 30 percent of the schools. Mostly in urban districts, these meals are crucial to families when parents have been laid of from their jobs.
As the crisis unfolds and national leadership staggers from one policy to another (forget the U.S. Department of Education providing any direction), governors of large states have filled the vacuum but so much remains to be done before the health of Americans can be securely protected and the economic engine revved up again. And what of schools?
One clear lesson about tax-supported schools that has emerged so far from the response to the pandemic is that public schools are an essential part of the nation’s social safety net for the poor and working and middle class Americans. Public schools, often taken for granted, have become crucial contributors to supporting Americans beyond teaching and learning.
Even with social security, Medicare and the American Affordable Care Act of 2010, ragged holes in the safety net continue to let middle-age and younger working and middle-class Americans slip through. Now public schools, often unnoticed, have become crucial contributors to supporting Americans beyond textbooks, tests, and homework.
If there is one group of Americans who have seen this previously taken-for-granted role for public schools most clearly it is the children’s caregivers, especially working and single Moms. Working mothers do their jobs remotely while being required to organize daily schedules for children to use online lessons or packets sent by the teachers, or they create their own curriculum from the Internet. Ironically, many parents have previously tried to reduce screen time for their young children and now schools require even more screen time to complete lessons.
Juggling their paid work assignments–for those not furloughed by their employers–while monitoring school tasks children are expected to complete easily slides into a three ring circus during the day. “Some days,” one single Mom said, “I feel like I’m melting.” Other parents have to leave children home alone in order to go to work and they worry about them all day.
In districts where schools expect parents, untrained to teach and not compensated by the government, to supervise lessons or figure out how to sustain their child’s attention while the dog yaps for his walk, well, those working parents have come to really appreciate–no, downright admire–what teachers do daily. During this pandemic-caused lockdown, the crucial role of public schools as another part of the national social safety net has becomes all too apparent.
In the economic recession that surely will follow in the months after Covid-19 eases (and we hope disappears), district budgets will be further trimmed even as relieved parents bring their sons and daughters to re-opened schools. Tax-supported public schools have shown how woven they are into the social safety net that is supposed to allow all Americans to not only survive natural and viral disasters but also protect them sufficiently to thrive in the aftermath of such calamities.
We hope that heightened respect, even admiration, for tax-supported public schools, will result from what this 2020 pandemic has wrought. And that added respect for school in this society will morph into political and financial support for a community institution that has too often been a public punching bag.
When Teaching and Parenting Collide: As Schools Shift Online, Many Educators Manage Two Roles (Matt Barnum)
Matt Barnum is a journalist. This article appeared on Chalkbeat, March 31,2020
School buildings are closed, but it’s still been a busy couple of weeks for Noriko Nakada, a Los Angeles middle school teacher.
She’s been attending virtual faculty meetings, receiving district training for remote instruction, and grading student essays online. On Monday, she held a class via Zoom for about 45 minutes, in which she checked in on her students’ mental health and introduced National Poetry Month. About 100 of her 170 students logged in.
Nearby through it all are her own two children, who are out of school as well. Figuring out how to teach online while making sure they’re occupied has been its own challenge.
“At first we tried to make it clear if mom or dad have headphones and are staring at the computer, it means you can’t bug them,” Nakada said. “The 8-year-old can get that, but the 5-year-old has a hard time.”
“Everyone is doing their best, and none of it’s going to be pretty,” she said.
As many schools across the country transition to remote instruction — in the wake of widespread building closures caused by the new coronavirus — Nakada’s experience is the new normal.
A sizable share of America’s teachers have young children. Most teachers are women, who often bear disproportionate caregiving responsibilities for children and other family members. And although many of the country’s large districts say they’re attempting to be flexible with teachers as they move to remote instruction, few if any have policies that explicitly accommodate those juggling work and full-time caregiving.
That’s making for some complicated daily decisions about whose kids are getting attention at a given moment. It’s a challenge that schools will have to continue helping teachers navigate in order to make remote instruction work, especially as it extends for weeks and months.
“The history of teaching, since we’ve feminized the profession, there’s been this emphasis on teachers [as] ultimately altruistic — they love children,” said Judith Kafka, a professor of education policy at Baruch College. “For the vast majority of teachers, that’s true about them. But they’re not usually asked to sacrifice attention to their own children in the process.”
“If you are home alone with your kids, and you’re also trying to meet your students’ needs, something’s got to give,” she said.
About half — 48% — of all public school teachers have children living at home, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero. This includes young children, who need constant supervision, as well as teenagers, who might not.
Among those teachers is Brian Grimes who is now setting up his kids — ages 7, 9, and 13 — to work at the dining room table every morning instead of sending them off to school.
“It’s like the summer, but there’s no fun,” said Grimes, who lives in New Jersey.
Once they’re settled, he starts his own job as a high school history teacher — videotaping lessons, grading assignments, talking to students and their families — a few feet away.
It’s been a dizzying transition. “I put my shirt and tie on and I go to work, it’s ‘teacher Brian,’ and then when I come home, it’s ‘parent Brian,’” he said. “Now everything is merged together.”
Many children, after all, haven’t yet adjusted to the sudden shift. “It’s very difficult,” said Alexis Mann, a Minneapolis teacher. “They don’t understand when mom’s home, that I’m actually working.”
In one respect, though, the fact that teachers are still facing these challenges reflects good news. As millions of workers face layoffs, teachers still have jobs and a steady paycheck.
But the change presents unique challenges for teachers, and few districts appear to have offered specific accommodations for teachers who are also caregivers. “We haven’t seen a lot of policy or explicit guidance on that,” said Sean Gill, a research analyst with the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which has been compiling large districts’ coronavirus response policies. (Many districts are still developing, or have not fully instituted, a remote instruction plan.)
Gill said that most districts don’t seem to be requiring teachers to conduct live instruction at specific times. Miami-Dade County schools, for instance, says it expects teachers to be available for at least three hours every day to students, but gives teachers the freedom to decide on those hours themselves.
Philadelphia’s guidance to educators says that “daily work schedules should remain largely unchanged” but that “reasonable flexibility shall also be used to accommodate employees’ individual needs.”
Gill suggested that teachers collaborate to ease each other’s burdens — for instance, a teacher available during the day could focus on connecting with students, while another teacher videotapes lessons at night that students could watch on their own.
Grimes said his school district has told teachers to monitor their emails during the day and to grade student work promptly, but generally been flexible. “They understand that we’re dealing with a lot on our own,” he said.
Nakada said her school district, LAUSD, hasn’t communicated explicit policies for caregivers. A spokesperson for the district said that teachers are expected to work during the day and hold office hours at least three times a week at flexible times.
That sort of flexibility is essential, teachers say. Mercedes Liriano, who teaches fifth grade in the Bronx, says her principal expects teachers to attend two staff meetings a week but otherwise has been accommodating.
“He knows that we have family, he knows that we have other requirements that demand our time,” she said.
A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Education reiterated this. “We understand that teachers and staff may be caring for others,” said Danielle Filson. “There are no expectations for specific time periods for teachers to be logged in and schools are not expected to replicate a regular school day schedule in a virtual environment.”
But there are challenges. Liriano has two computers at home, meaning she and her two children are one device short at all times. And then she is also trying to help her son, who sometimes struggles in school, get through his lessons.
“I’m having to navigate helping my parents and my students, who are constantly calling, while I’m trying to help my son at the same time,” she said. “But I can’t be on my computer while he’s trying to do his work.”
In any case, trying to get work done while children are at home is complicated — the new reality for millions of parents, teachers among them. For some, the fear and uncertainty associated with the global pandemic that precipitated all the disruption has made it even tougher.
“There’s so much time and mental space that’s being occupied by the coronavirus,” Alex Driver, a New York City teacher who is also the parent of twin six-year-olds. “So much head space is being taken up by that, and then we also have the back and forth of parenting and teaching. And then what’s left?”