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My Pandemic Classroom

Due to the complications associated with living life during this pandemic, my blogging frequency has taken quite the plunge this past year. Our school district has been in session full time, in person, since September. Faculty reported to school late August. In order to adjust for a delayed school year, our district cut many of our holidays even as the school day itself became longer to keep students from congregating. Desk cleaning happens with each change of class, and conveniences such as wooden hall passes cannot be used, so that means writing a pass on paper every time a student needs the restroom. For quarantined students, there’s Google Meet happening simultaneously as class meets in person. More than once I have had my class at a standstill because a quarantined student needed extra assistance via the bumbling that can easily happen when people are trying to work out an issue without the simplicity of being together in the same physical space.

In short, I am tired. Long-term tired. However, I have also accomplished a major goal: To date, and by God’s grace, I have not missed a single day of school. My only premature exit was two hours early one Monday to bring my mother to the dentist. As of this writing, my seniors have only three weeks to go (which is both a relief and pressure to get our work done and graded).

In my classroom, I have masked; I have distanced; I have cleaned; I have made careful decisions with my personal time so that I minimized the likelihood of being quarantined. I have strategized my bathroom breaks so that I could also clean desks between classes. I have packed lunches easy to eat on the fly (our lunch period has been reduced from 27 minutes to 21 minutes to minimize the time students can congregate). I have limited my wardrobe to accommodate incessant cleaning. I stopped polishing my nails (again, all of the cleaning, and frankly, I became too tired to keep up with the task).

Along with my colleagues, I have learned the ins and outs of a new-to-us online platform, Google Classroom, over the past summer and into the new school year– and that without having school-issued Chromebooks for faculty until the second quarter.

On the fly, on the fly.

This has been a hard year, but not my hardest year. Know why?

Because I have three decades of teaching experience and five decades of life experience to draw from.

Therefore, I quickly realized that the most important task I faced this year was to teach my seniors to write a research paper.

Common Core did not have to tell me so. I consulted no student test scores to determine this truth, just teaching and life experience.

And common sense. The pandemic blindsided our nation just as these seniors were to write their junior research papers. It fell by the wayside. 

I don’t want to hear a word about “learning loss.” Career teachers will do what career teacher do, and that is find where students are and move them forward using the resources at one’s disposal.

In devising a research assignment for my students, I faced the incredible obstacle of the ease at which the internet makes it possible for students to avoid learning. Just buy a paper. Cut and paste and call it writing. It’s not cheating if I change every fourth word, right?

The internet enables incredible ignorance. Yesterday, I asked my students to write haiku, and some struggled to divide words into syllables. One student told them not to bother, that there was a website that would do it for them. Absolutely not, I said. I will not allow you to be saved from figuring out what a syllable is.

I do not want my students to be rescued from their own learning. Therefore, for their research assignment, I created a research proposal assignment. Not a paper. A proposal. 

There is no website that provides some pre-fab proposal to fit the six specifications in the assignment I created. (Forgive me for not posting it at this time.)

I issued the assignment in late January. Then, for the next nine weeks, every class period, every day, beginning with how to format the document and then proceeding one section at a time, I consulted with individual students about their writing. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. And all while being cognizant of social distancing (i.e., by taking a student’s Chromebook to my stand in front of the room and discussing aloud; by being mindful of how long I was standing near a student, both of us masked).

In the end, my students learned how to write a research document formatted to fit MLA 2016 specifications, and there was no way that they could cheat. Some tried. They tred to cut an paste from other works, but the words did not fit the assignment, and out the window such efforts went rather quickly.

I watched my students write their own research-based work. Enough with “learning loss.” They learned how to improve their writing, at a reasonable, guided pace, and next week, I will let them know what my grading criteria are for the unified, final document. Proofreading will now be on them.

But there is more. Each proposal section was its own small grade, and so long as a student was willing to hang in with revising, that student was eligible for maximum points possible. I proceeded thus for three reasons. First of all, I did not know if our school year might again be cut short and if we would be able to finish the assignment. So, giving smaller grades along the way provided me with grades if school fell apart for a second year in a row. Secondly, students learned tenacity– hanging in there until the work was done. And thirdly, in awarding maximum points, I did not want to penalize students who might have finished later than others for waiting on me to get to them in any given class period.

In this case, the proposal is the final assignment. We are running out of school year, and I am out of energy. That noted, students understand that they now have a proposal ready to go and possibly of use to them in transforming proposal to full paper in a future college class.

At Teach for a Career, this is how its done.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: If It’s Publicly Funded, We Want to Kill It.

I have been reading in Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s excellent book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, the chapters, “Teaching Gigs” and “Education à la Carte,” which only solidify in my mind the end game of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the likes of ALEC associates, billionaire Koch brothers, former US ed sec Betsy DeVos, and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal:

Privatize all public entities, including schools. To the greatest degree possible, abolish professions by replacing said professionals with minimally-trained, temp workers who move from gig to gig and have no leverage in their own right (no unions, no expectation of benefits like health insurance or retirement plans).

Send the money to the top, and provide CEOs with bloated salaries and abundant perks at the expense of workers.

Package it all as favoring consumer individualism and worker freedom–

–all while encouraging those scraping-by workers to file for public assistance and telling the “empowered” public in the fine print that beyond what turns out to be a token of public money, the brunt of funding their empowerment rests with them.

Of course, the irony of this privatization push is that in destroying professions and minimally paying workers in the name of cost cutting, ultra-billionaires like the Waltons are able to cash in handsomely on public assistance like food stamps.

So, what is really happening is that the ultra-conservative, public-entity busters do not want public services that serve the public; they want public money to subsidize their corporate exploitation of starvation-wage workers.

Regarding efforts to dismantle public school systems in favor of scores of disjointed, unregulated education products and businesses, Schneider and Berkshire point out that school systems serving families of means are not likely to be chopped up into ed-business scraps. Better-funded school systems serve constituents who want continuity, and stability, and in-person learning, and extracurricular activities, and in-the-moment, teacher-student, student-student, human-relationship educational experiences for their children– and who have the means to adequately fund such schools.

Certainly parents of lesser economic means want the same for their children. However, school systems that already suffer from inadequate funding because of a sparse tax base become sitting ducks for edu-product, gig-teacher, burn-and-churn destruction.

Inequitable funding is a tremendous problem in American public education.

Inequitable funding. Not test scores.

As for busting school systems into fragments of edu-business and declaring war on the idea of the career teacher:

If the fiscally-situated are not clamoring for this à la carte mirage for their own children, then don’t buy into the idea that this is good for anyone’s children.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

John White and Co: What Are They Up to Now?

John White’s time as Louisiana state superintendent officially ended on March 12, 2020, after eight years of his wreaking opaque, ed-reform havoc on Louisiana public education.

Two years prior to his exit, in June 2018, White co-founded an education nonprofit, Propel America. However, according to the April 30, 2019, Advocate, he never mentioned to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that he co-founded a nonprofit– even as his nonprofit was piloting its career path product in Louisiana.

Propel America has the following mission statement:

Propel brings together high schools, community colleges, and employers in a unified system of skill-building, job placement, and ongoing planning for young adults. The model includes a “core course” in or directly after high school, in which students determine their job pathway and begin to prepare for it. Propel then covers the cost of job training, pays a modest stipend, provides mentorship and support, and guarantees a job interview for any “Propel fellow” who successfully completes their training. This process empowers recent high school graduates with the skills, credentials, experiences, and social networks to attain a well-paying job within one year, with opportunities for advancement and higher education. 

That’s a lot of effort to drop the ball with a promise of only a single job interview, but it sure reads impressive if one glosses over this critical, weak link. But back to White and some other “fellows,” if you will. 

On December 17, 2019, Lousiana Department of Education (LDOE) assistant superintendent of policy and governmental affairs, Erin Bendily, left LDOE to go work for White’s nonprofit. The LDOE press release downplayed White’s role (“a volunteer board member for the organization”) and did not mention that White co-founded the nonprofit and was by that time listed on its 2019 tax filing as chariman of the board. 

According to that 2019 tax filing, Propel America reported $2.7M in total revenue, with only $237,000 of that total generated by the services the nonprofit offers, and the rest– just shy of $2.4M– generated from “contributions and grants.”  (By its sixth tax year, at least 33.3% of Propel America’s revenue must come from governmental entities or public support organizations and not “gifts, grants, contributions, or membership fees.”)

The Propel America site lists the following “supporters”:

  • John and Wendy Cozzi (John sits on the Propel America board)
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Baton Rouge Area Foundation
  • CambiarEducation.org
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
  • Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
  • Fournier Family Foundation
  • Lumina Foundation
  • Mai Family Foundation
  • NewProfit
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Martin and Mistie Eltrich
  • Susan and Thomas Dunn

Even though Propel America reported its 2019 end-of-year net assets at almost $1.4M, in April 2020, the organization received $119,200 in coronavirus bailout money for “payroll.”

Propel America’s 2019 tax form indicates that as chairman of the board, White received no compensation. One of White’s Teach for America (TFA) cronies employed by him at LDOE, former assistant superintendent of academic content Rebecca Kockler, was paid $147K for “program consulting support.” Another former TFAer, Rebecca Blackall, received $113K, also for “program consulting support.” (Propel America paid other consultants as well, totaling $617K, but only those paid $100K or more need to be named.)

Kockler left LDOE for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) the same month that White’s Propel America happened to receive nonprofit status (June 2018). LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner secretly planned to divide LAUSD into 32 decentralized, “portfolio districts” like all-charter New Orleans. Beutner’s plan was discovered and publicized, and the short of it was that by November 2018, Kockler left her job as Beutner’s chief of staff.

She was apparently fiscally rescued, so to speak, by chum John White.

And there are other LDOE-TFA pals of White poised and ready to make an ed-gig living via their continued association.

Consider TFAer Kunjan Narechania, who was chief of staff under White during his brief time as superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) in 2011. In 2012, Narechania followed White to LDOE, where she was chief operating officer, then assistant superintendent of school improvement, and then (while still asst super) chief executive officer of an RSD that was now being phased out according to state law but still good for resume padding for Narechania, who in characteristic TFA-ladder-climbing fashion is light on actual classroom teaching experience (3 years in NC) and top-heavy on high-profile, ed leadership positions.

Even so, once RSD was over, Narechania, having no new elevated place to land, chose a seemingly popular option for ed reformers between gigs– she formed a limited liability company, Ingleside Consulting LLC (filing date 03/31/20). Narechania is listed as both registered agent and the only officer. The address of Ingleside Consulting is 3436 Magazine Street #158 in New Orleans, which is little more than a mailbox at Packrat Shipping

Like Narechania, the former assistant superintendent who hoped to replace White at LDOE, Jessica Baghian, formed her own post-LDOE LLC, Roxton Strategies (July 2020), and billed herself as “chief executive officer.” Roxton Strategies has its address in a residential area.

One week prior to his March 12, 2020, exit as Louisiana state superintendent, on March 04, 2020, White, too, formed his own LLC, Coliseum Square, which is “not in good standing for failure to file an annual report.” White advertises both Propel America and Coliseum Square on his Linkedin bio, where he also calls himself a “visiting scholar @UVCurry,” which could mean he is an adjunct or has a fellowship. (White is not listed among UV faculty.) 

However, one LLC in particular promises to funnel money into former LDOE assistant superintendent pockets:

Watershed Advisors.

On February 3, 2021, another LLC took residence at Narechania’s Packrat Shipping box #158: Watershed Advisors, which lists as its principal officer yet another former LDOE TFAer, Catherine Pozniak, who was assistant superintendent for fiscal operations under White. John White is listed as “manager, member” of Watershed Advisors. 

On her Linkedin bio, Kunjan Narechania lists herself as a “principal” at Watershed Advisors and as working “full time” for the LLC, which only seems right since she had that Packrat Shipping box first.

What is curious is that an LLC formed only one month proir to this writing can afford any full-time employee.

But there’s more.

Former LDOE TFAer assistant superintendent Hannah Dietsch is *also* a “principal” at Watershed Advisors, as is Baghian. Ahh, but former LDOE TNTP (The New Teacher Project) deputy assistant superintendent of strategic data, analytics, and accountability, Jill Zimmerman Pinsky, is only a *director* at Watershed Advisors.

Still, Pinsky is another who indicates that she is working “full time” at Watershed Advisors. She also publicized this notice on her Linkedin page mid-February:

I’m excited to share that several of my former Louisiana Department of Education colleagues and I are launching a new organization, Watershed Advisors. We match visionary ideas with investors seeking social impact and bold governmental leaders at the state and local level. We then embed teams of experts within government agencies to implement, communicate, finance, and evaluate those ideas, impacting generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity. And, we’re hiring!
Watershed Advisors Analyst $60K/yr – $75K/yr

So, what we have here is a fresh, new LLC that is a hub for former LDOE-TFAer assistant superintendents under John White, *and* of which White is a “manager/member,” *and* that has cash enough at startup to pay an analyst at least $60K on top of presumably paying the likes of Narechania and Pinsky at least that much, *and* that wants to “embed teams of experts (presumably themselves)… [to impact] generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity.”

What seems to be the real *opportunity* here is that White-managed Watershed Advisors could somehow draw upon the cash in the coffers of White-chaired nonprofit, Propel America.

For so many former, career-inflated, LDOE TFAers who cannot seem to snag the next taxpayer-funded, golden gig, that would be quite the *watershed* indeed–

 — so long as ed-reform-friendly millionaires and billionaires are willing to subsidize the venture.

John White

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

The Brief, Distressed Life of a Virtual School

In July 2020, my school district unveiled its “virtual school” as one means of educating students during a pandemic.

At the time, I was surprised to read that the district had planning to open a virtual school anyway. The pandemic just sped up the process. From the July 11, 2020, Nola.com:

The St. Tammany Parish Public Schools system already planned to unveil its new online school this year to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world. But the surge of coronavirus cases has the program on a fast track. …

STPPS Virtual School is a software platform that allows teachers to work directly with students via an online connection. The school will adhere to the same educational standards of the district’s 55 brick and mortar campuses….

Teachers will use instructional videos and modules to teach students and will monitor their progress through daily interaction. Classes will be held on an online platform such as Zoom. The counselor will ensure older students are taking the right classes to graduate and help them with necessary transcripts and other paperwork as they prepare for college. …

Students who enroll in the virtual school will be asked to remain enrolled for the entire semester.

As for remaining enrolled for the entire semester:

Not so much.

During the first quarter of the school year, I began receiving students who were transferring from the virtual school, often with low or failing course averages, and I was not alone. Students were arriving on our doorstep near the end of a grading period from what appeared to be an ill-functioning virtual situation, and it seemed that we were expected to salvage the situation in the eleventh hour, so to speak.

One student who arrived in my class admitted to never having logged on even once to complete work in the online version of my course. I formulated a plan with this student to complete a number of assignments for me in short order so that this student’s first-quarter failing grade would be closer to passing, in hopes that averaging it with a healthier, second quarter grade might yield a passing average for the semester.

Near the end of the first quarter, the district publicized that students did not have to wait until the end of the semester to return to brick-and-mortar schools and could switch at the end of the first quarter. But the changes did not start with nor did they stop at the clean break of a grading period.

On January 23, 2021, I wrote about our virtual school’s whopper enrollment loads per teacher. An excerpt:

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).

Yowsa.

First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

Making teachers responsible for so many students is problematic on its face.

Add to that the likes of my student who did not log into online class even once and you end up with something like this as part of an email announcement from the superintendent seven months later, in March 2021:

We are also making plans to close our STPPS Virtual School. The virtual school and online learning platform have served their purpose this school year in response to COVID, but it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible. Our virtual school students will return to the physical schools in their attendance zone at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

There was no mention of keeping the virtual school in operation “to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world,” as the Nola.com put it in July 2020.

Whether or not the virtual school actually “served it purpose” a matter for debate.

What is certainly true, however, is that “it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible.”

STPPS Virtual School, we hardly knew ye.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

My Complete, Unedited Review of Doug Harris’ Book, Charter School City

In January 2020, Commonweal Magazine asked me to review Doug Harris’ book about New Orleans charter schools, Charter School City.

I completed my review in February 2020, but with the pandemic, my review was not published until November 2020.

As so often happens in publication, the review I submitted was pared down considerably, which editors reserve the right to do though the result might make the review seem shallow or incomplete. In this case (and to my dismay), the edits in one section involved a splicing that altered the meaning of my words. (For the backstory on that error, see this email exchange.)

According to the terms of my contract with Commonweal, I needed to wait 90 days before publicizing my originally-submitted, unedited review. And so, since those 90 days have passed, I offer below my complete review of Harris’ book.

Book Review: Douglas N. Harris, Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education, University of Chicago Press, April 2020.

***

My family is from New Orleans. My father and his siblings grew up in a white neighborhood, intentionally zoned, and attended all-white schools in the 1920s and 30s, also intentionally zoned. In the 1950s, my family relocated to neighboring St. Bernard Parish, as did many former white residents of New Orleans. My mother also grew up in New Orleans and relocated to St. Bernard, where she attended an all-white high school in the early to mid-1960s. Around the time my mother was a freshman in high school (1960), just as Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend New Orleans’ all-white William Franz Elementary school,St. Bernard opened a school on the St. Bernard-Orleans Parish line expressly to allow white residents of New Orleans to use school vouchers to escape federally-mandated integration of New Orleans public schools. Though the voucher school was forced to close a year later, the virulent anti-black sentiment in the white communities of New Orleans and St. Bernard lived on.

In the 1966-67 school year, under pressure from the federal government, St. Bernard officially racially integrated its public schools, but not before the school board separated its middle and high schools by gender, to prevent adolescent black boys and adolescent white girls from attending the same public schools. In 1985, I graduated from an all-girls public high school. That same year, the St. Bernard school system was sued for not fully and completely integrating its schools, thereby depriving girls of the same extracurricular opportunities as the boys. My sister graduated in 1988; hers was the last graduating class from our all-female public high school.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, white flight continued, either by white families outright moving to suburbs or by enrolling their children in New Orleans’ parochial schools. The governor, legislature, and Orleans Parish school board actively worked to suppress the economic advancement of New Orleans’ black citizens by limiting job advancement, educational opportunity, and housing options. As whites fled New Orleans, the tax base for public services and public maintenance shrunk, and, thanks to the ugly, ingrained, suppressive methods of whites in power, New Orleans had no solid, black middle class to serve as a sufficient tax base to support and maintain public services, including New Orleans’ public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, generations later, the public education situation in New Orleans had become dire.

I have yet to hear any authoritative, white voice from New Orleans publicly assuming responsibility for the horrid, nasty oppression that generations of white citizen resistance wreaked upon black citizen advancement in New Orleans, in, among other venues, its schools.

As I began reading Douglas Harris’ book, Charter School City, I wondered if its pages would include such an acknowledgement.

The answer is no.

The central focus of Harris’ work is to compare test score and graduation rate data for New Orleans public schools in years immediately preceding the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina with test score and graduation data from post-Katrina (c.2006) to 2015. Based on these results (chapter 4 of the book), Harris considers New Orleans’ post-Katrina education reform efforts to be a success. Much of the book is devoted to examining possible reasons for improvement in the metrics. In chapter 9, Harris concludes that New Orleans test score and graduation rate improvements are a result of the state’s school takeover process.

Even as I read of New Orleans’ improvement, I could not help but think of the audit being conducted of New Orleans high school transcripts, and of initial findings of missing test scores and class credits, an audit conducted at the request of the New Orleans schools superintendent following a scandal that affected numerous would-be graduating seniors at one high school. I also thought of the numerous lawsuits for the release of New Orleans test data from the Louisiana Department of Education, which is run by a champion of New Orleans reform. Thus, I am not confident in the integrity of the data Harris analyzed.Even so, data integrity is not my principal concern.

In chapter 3, Harris details the state takeover of New Orleans schools in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina, and at the heart of it all is former state school board member and businesswoman, Leslie Jacobs. Harris credits Jacob with drafting legislation to declare most of New Orleans schools as failing, and she and a handful of other white affluent individuals form the core of what Harris refers to as the “reform community.” Harris notes the importance of this reform community coming together in order to effect its reforms, including being offered office space by Tulane University, a private, predominately white institution. Ironically, Harris promotes one community at the expense of another. The reform community intentionally shuts out the predominantly black New Orleans community in its planning, and indeed, this white, affluent reform community notably damages New Orleans’ black middle class by Orleans Parish School Board’s mass firing of its teachers in the weeks following Katrina. Harris views this mass firing as unfortunate but necessary for the success of the reform effort in New Orleans, the ultimate goal of which was to replace board-led, traditional public schools with a portfolio of independently-operated charter schools. One reason in particular that the New Orleans teachers had to go was that they were unionized, and their union contract included such stipulations as teachers being allowed to be tardy to school ten times prior to any corrective action and administrators being forbidden from observing teachers’ classes.

It’s a good thing that the reform community could rely on Teach for America for temporary, predominantly-white, inexperienced, out-of-state replacements, Harris notes.

When I read about the above conditions in the New Orleans teachers’ union contract, for a moment, I was surprised. I am a member of my local teachers’ union, and I have never heard of such conditions. But here is where researcher Harris should have gone further with his query: Why would New Orleans teachers feel the need for such job protections? Could it be tied to the generations of white, racist hostility at all levels of government and experienced by black New Orleans citizens who tried to establish a place for themselves and their families in the middle class? Harris asks no such questions, nor does he posit that including the true community in the reform community’s plans would have presented an opportunity to build a trust that might have resulted in some negotiation to modify that teaching contract, especially given that the contract was set to expire anyway in 2006, a fact that Harris acknowledges.

On the contrary, Harris celebrates Jacobs as a maverick of needed reform, seizing the moment and coming together with other white, affluent New Orleanians to create this charter school city.

In examining the reasons for test score improvement, Harris discovers that New Orleans parents want to have neighborhood schools as a choice option. He seems to nod with furrowed brow as he acknowledges that no such choice exists. Still, test scores are up. Too, in discussing the chartering process, Harris interviews black community members who sought approval for charter schools, only to learn that locals need not apply. Finally, Harris admits that residents seeking to operate charter schools cannot not choose any charter authorizer but are instead restricted to those approved by the state.

In reading Charter School Choice, I often thought, “Let me see where this goes.”So, when I reached chapter 11 and read, “…I am not even arguing that the New Orleans model is best for New Orleans,” Harris had my attention. In this chapter, Harris notes a number of limitations, including the inequity of free markets, the loss of geographic community, and “Jacobs and other reform leaders ma[king] their decisions behind closed doors.” Once I concluded chapter 11, I was satisfied to see that Harris did express concerns, but withholding those concerns until the end of the book made the book read as though it were written by two Harrises, with the first being more clinically distant and the second, realizing that his summations have practical implications and therefore offering clear cautions.

In those summations, Harris acknowledges that in the area of community engagement, the New Orleans reforms were “least successful.” However, he does not consider the intentional exclusion of the community in leading the post-Katrina reforms to be the chief issue that makes New Orleans reforms unsuccessful, period, despite the outcomes of any metrics.

Harris does not understand the impact of generational disenfranchisement on New Orleans’ black community, a point which he brings home in chapter 12 when he again refers to Jacobs and her 2018 “carefully crafted legislation” to “return” (now) charter schools to local board oversight while preventing the board from “impeding the operational autonomy under its jurisdiction” in a number of areas.

Harris just wrote about the need for community engagement, yet he quickly returns to the same white affluence that in 2005 intentionally muted the voices of the black community setting the 2018 legislative parameters affecting the New Orleans predominantly black community and its schools.

Despite his strongly-worded cautions in chapter 11, Harris ends as he begins, with a celebration of Jacobs and the reform community: “In effect, what Jacobs and the reform community have now done is to create an entirely new type of school district, one intended to entrench school-level autonomy, parental choice and performance-based accountability.”

This disappointing end baffles me.

Harris’ book includes much informative detail on education reform in New Orleans, but on the critical importance of community involvement in all aspects of education decision making, Charter School City fails. I consider it the best off-base book that I have read to date.

–Mercedes Schneider

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

Biden Admin Wants “to Focus on Assessments” in 2020-21

On February 22, 2021, acting ed secretary Ian Rosenblum (formerly of testing-friendly ed reform org, Education Trust) sent this letter to state school superintendents informing them that standardized testing must happen in the 2020-21 school year “to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need” and “to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Anyone with a smidge of critical thought and modest powers of observation could easily make a short list of the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning. Furthermore, the biggest support public schools have needed for years is adequate (equitable) funding not tied to property taxes and not tied to any federal competition.

Surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of US Dept of Ed time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.

But, but, but, according to Rosenblum, as a last-thought, tacked-on reason for administering tests during a pandemic, “parents need information on how their children are doing.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing. They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.

The ridiculousness of administering standardized tests in 2020-21 is further highlighted by the non-standardizing of the entire process. Need to offer a shortened test? Okay. How about a “remote administration”? Sure, sure. How about a testing window that stays open to the “greatest extent practicable”? No problem.

How is one to weigh the meaning of scores on a test that is designed to be administered at a certain length but is shortened this year? Is the shortened test easier because of lessened testing fatigue? Is it more difficult because having fewer items makes getting one incorrect negatively affect the score more than it would otherwise? Who knows. 

And testing remotely: Can we start with who, exactly, is completing the test? Is there any unauthorized assistance being offered for its completion? Are scores affected by spotty internet connections, or distractions in test completion by other activity happening in the home, for instance? Who knows.

What is the effect of having a very wide testing window on testing outcomes? Could those who complete the test later be at an advantage compared to those who complete it sooner, or vice-versa? Who knows.

But Rosenblum reiterates that the point of offering the nonstandardized-standardized tests “to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports.”

In other words, the real point is “to focus on assessments.”

We MUST give tests. Otherwise, we might have to rely on the common sense of asking school officials at the state and local levels what, specifically, they need in order to deliver the best K12 education possible in a pandemic. And we certainly cannot do that.

In the opening of his letter, Rosemblum states, “President Biden’s first priority is to safely re-open schools and get students back in classrooms, learning face-to-face from teachers with their fellow students.”

No test needed to achieve this goal. 

A major step involves formulating and activating a federal plan for vaccinating school personnel. Set aside vaccine doses for this specific purpose, and employ the National Guard, if need be, to enact the plan.

No test needed. Just action, President Biden. Just action.

Joe Biden

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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LOUISIANA TEACHERS, SCHOOL STAFF NOW ELIGIBLE FOR COVID VACCINATION

On February 18, 2021, Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, announced that as of Monday, February 22, 2021, teachers and all other K12 school staff, daycare workers, and others have the green light to receive COVID-19 vaccines:

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has a message that vaccine shipments have been delayed by inclement winter weather:

Vaccine shipments are delayed.

Due to the continued cold weather that is being experienced statewide in Louisiana, this week’s shipments of COVID vaccines have been slowed and delayed. As we learn more information and have greater understanding of estimated times of arrival, we will share that information here.

And from LDH regarding receiving vaccinations:

Patients must contact a participating location and make an appointment at the location. Do not arrive at a location without an appointment. LDH cannot make appointments for residents; only participating locations can. Appointments do not have to be made to receive the second dose of the vaccine. Second doses are given at the same location a person receives their first dose and the appointment for the second dose will be made during the appointment for the first dose.

To view Louisiana COVID-19 vaccination sites, click here.

 

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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If Schools are That Important, Vaccinate All School Personnel in Short Order

I read in the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest guidance for schools that it believes schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen in the pandemic.

I read about how important schools are, how school attendance is critical for students’ well being, and how schools are important because schools feed many children.

I read about how vaccinating teachers is a priority, but not vaccinating should not prevent schools from opening, but that schools need to have a ready supply of substitute teachers because teachers will be exposed to COVID.

I read about how according to the latest research, school infection rates are lower than that of the surrounding community, but I did not read just how every adult who works at a school is supposed to dodge COVID exposure just from being an adult who must, to some degree (and to varying degrees), be among other adults who could expose the teacher to COVID. I also did not read about the impact of more contagious variants upon school-site COVID spread.

I read about how schools are supposed to set aside resources to promote social distancing, and cleaning/disinfecting, and for necessary supplies like masks and additional personnel, and adequate ventilation, but I know that public education is an underfunded necessity, a make-do overstretching of what is already overstretched, and that it is beyond the CDC to tell schools and districts exactly where the dollars are to come from to fund its COVID-combatting suggestions.

So. Given where we are with vaccine development, and given that the CDC and others expect schools to remain a cornerstone of stability even in the face of a pandemic, I think it is about time for the Biden administration to make vaccinating all school personnel a priority in short order.

If Biden declares vaccinating all school personnel a priority and supplies the vaccine, the manpower, and other resources to make it happen in all states/territories, then schools will truly be in a position to be stable in this pandemic.

If all school personnel are vaccinated, then being exposed to others who have COVID, whether on site or otherwise, becomes a virtual nonissue. COVID infection will notably decrease among faculty and staff; the complications associated with quarantining school-site adults (including amassing that nonexistent, endless pool of substitutes) are wiped away, and schools are in a markedly strengthened position to be the last to close and first to reopen in this time of COVID.

Let’s listen to Dr. Jonathan Reiner’s suggestion about vaccinating teachers and include all school personnel:

Speaking with CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday night, Reiner, who is director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at George Washington University, presented his solution to what remains as one of the most vexing problems of the pandemic.

Both the Biden White House and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky have faced criticism about the CDC’s just-released official guidance about how to safely reopen schools, which calls for numerous mitigations strategies be put in place and community transmission rates be minimized, but does not mandate teachers be vaccinated before resuming in-person learning. However, the agency did recommend states move teachers into higher priority groups for vaccinations. …

[Reiner:] “Look. The CDC put forth this plan to open schools but it requires schools to open in places where the level of virus is low in the community and most parts of the country don’t have that right now. Almost 89 percent of the districts are still in red zones,” he noted. “It requires big, physical distancing in classrooms, six feet between students and, you know, classrooms are cramped… It’s going to be impossible. Plus, the reassuring data about the low level of transmission in schools was acquired in a non-variant environment and with the emerging variants, there’s no data to reassure teachers.”

“So, let’s treat teachers like first responders,” he suggested as an alternative. “Let’s treat them the way they need to be treated and vaccinate them all. Next week, the FDA is going to review the data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is likely to be approved shortly thereafter. Let’s take the first four million doses of that vaccine and dedicate it to America’s teachers. Let’s proactively vaccinate them… Let’s take the vaccine and vaccinate them the way health care workers are vaccinated. You know, bring them all into school over two weeks and vaccinate every teacher in the country. Open schools three weeks later.”

Reiner tweeted his idea in response to CDC director Rochelle Walinsky’s interview referenced above:

And here is Reiner again with his idea to vaccinate all teachers. (Again, I think this idea should include all school personnel.)

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Biden School Reopening Plan Now Has a Survey

In December 2020, President Biden pledged to reopen most schools in his first 100 days in office– dependent upon sufficient resources to protect students and staff during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Months later, in February 2021, the Biden administration is catching flack for a seriously modified version of that pledge– 51 percent of K-8 schools open at least one day per week– which just goes to show that opening schools is complicated. 

Before making promises about opening schools ASAP, it is best to first find out the status of in-person learning nationwide and from that construct an informed plan for moving forward.

To that end, it seems that the US Dept of Ed (USDOE) does (now) have a plan to begin informing its plan, so to speak, which it announced in this February 05, 2021, press release:

ED Announces National Survey to Gather Critical Data on School Reopening

To help safely reopen America’s schools and promote educational equity, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education today announced the largest representative and highest-quality effort yet to gather vital data on the impact of COVID-19 on students and the status of in-person learning.

Currently, there is not enough data to understand the status of school re-opening and how students are learning nationwide. This project, known as the “NAEP 2021 School Survey,” will collect high-quality data from a nationally and state-representative sample.

Today’s announcement follows President Biden’s Jan. 21 Executive Order to ensure “the collection of data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.  These data shall be disaggregated by student demographics, including race, ethnicity, disability, English-language-learner status, and free or reduced lunch status or other appropriate indicators of family income.”

IES’s National Center for Education Statistics – the highest-quality education data source in the nation – will oversee the survey collection, which is designed to collect vital data with the least possible burden on schools. Data gathered in the survey will include:

  • The share of the nation’s schools that are open with full-time in-person instruction, open with online and in-person instruction, or fully remote.
  • Enrollment by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, and disability status.
  • Attendance rates by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, disability status, and housing status.
  • Frequency of in-person learning for students.
  • Average number of hours of synchronous instruction for students in remote instruction mode. And,
  • Student groups prioritized by schools for in-person instruction by selected school characteristics. 

“It’s critically important to get a sense of how students are learning,” said James Lynn Woodworth, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. “NCES will use this data to both provide the most accurate immediate view about school operating statuses and to better interpret the impact of current school operations on the results of the NAEP assessments scheduled to be conducted in 2022.”

“President Biden is committed to the safe reopening of schools and to addressing the educational disparities and inequities that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. “To do that, we need more information about how students are learning during this pandemic – and we simply don’t have it right now. The administration, educators, parents, and education leaders need meaningful data in order to achieve these critical goals and this survey will give them that.”

The survey will collect data from approximately 3,500 schools that enroll fourth-graders and an equal number of schools that enroll eighth-graders. The public will have access to the highest-quality data about school reopenings for in-person instruction and how students are learning. Results will be collected monthly beginning this month and running through June, and key findings will be reported.

The study will maximize the use of federal dollars by utilizing the existing online data collection systems and infrastructure used for the Nation’s Report Card, also known as NAEP.

Gather some data in those first 100 days; use it to inform a reasonable plan that might actually help schools and districts in their varied contexts, and then move forward. It’s not flashy, but this more measured route spares one from any backpedaled, school-open-one-day-a-week media embarrassment.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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About That JAMA Article on COVID Transmission and Reopening Schools

On January 26, 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published this “viewpoint” regarding COVID-19 and in-poerson school attendance, entitled, “Data and Policy to Guide Opening Schools Safely to Limit the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection.”

It seems that in the press, the conclusion of this study has been reduced to the convenient byte, “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” Thus, it seems that many are quick to say, “There you have it. Science says COVID-19 is not a problem at schools, so reopen school, period.”

Not so fast.

The JAMA article, which includes links to a number of studies of COVID-19 spread in school compared to community, both in the US and in other countries, also includes the following information about COVID-19 spread:

While these data are encouraging overall, large outbreaks have occurred with apparent transmission in schools. In Israel, within 2 weeks of schools reopening in mid-May 2020, a large high school outbreak occurred when 2 students with epidemiologically unrelated infections attended classes while mildly symptomatic.Testing of more than 99% of at-risk students (n = 1164 eligible; 1161 tested) and staff (152 eligible; 151 tested) identified 153 and 25 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, respectively (attack rates of 13.2% and 16.6%). Contributing factors to this outbreak included crowded classrooms with insufficient physical distancing (eg, student density in classrooms exceeded recommended values), exemption from face mask use, and continuous air conditioning that recycled interior air in closed rooms during a heat wave.

And:

Preventing transmission in school settings will require addressing and reducing levels of transmission in the surrounding communities through policies to interrupt transmission (eg, restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants).

And:

In addition, all recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance by dedensifying classrooms and common areas, using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals.

And:

Staff and students should continue to have options for online education, particularly those at increased risk of severe illness or death if infected with SARS-CoV-2.

And:

…Some school-related activities have increased the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among students and staff. Numerous media reports of COVID-19 outbreaks among US high school athletic teams suggest that contact during both practices and competition, and at social gatherings associated with team sports, increase risk. On January 26, 2021, CDC released a brief report describing the initial investigation of a COVID-19 outbreak associated with a high school wrestling tournament that occurred in December 2020 and included 10 schools and 130 student-athletes, coaches, and referees. … Paradoxically, some schools have used a fully online model for educational delivery while continuing in-person athletic programs. Even though high school athletics are highly valued by many students and parents, indoor practice or competition and school-related social gatherings with limited adherence to physical distancing and other mitigation strategies could jeopardize the safe operation of in-person education. 

So. This JAMA article is not advising a devil-may-care attitude towards the presence of and problems associated with COVID-19 transmission in schools. Protocols need to be in place, including those for social distancing (which is quite a challenge in may school settings) and mask wearing (also a challenge or simply not a requirement in some schools). Notice also that the comparisons tend to be of school transmission to community spread, meaning that what occurs in the community does affect the schools (no surprise here), and that higher community transmission is still reflected in schools even if it is lower than community transmission by comparison.

And, athletics.

In my own classroom, what I have noticed post-holiday season is that an increasing number of my students (who are mostly ages 17 and 18) are contracting COVID and manifesting symptoms as opposed to just being quarantined for close contact and manifesting no symptoms pre-holiday season. 

I wonder the degree to which the increasing manifestation of symptoms among my ill students is related to the presence of COVID-19 variants circulating in the US and that were not present in the fall.

The JAMA article does not address the impact of COVID-19 variants on in-person learning because, it seems, the studies cited are from the fall of 2020, a time when COVID-19 variants were not the focus of concern that they have become by early 2021.

Potential impact of variants aside, the JAMA article does not offer unconditional, blanket support for opening every K12 school nationwide for in-person learning. I can tell you that I would not feel nearly as comfortable in my own classroom if I were not able to arrange my room to keep myself over six feet away from my 17- and 18-year-old students for most of my instruction; if masks were not mandatory in my classroom, and if I did not have two air purifiers in my room.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog