After Years of Underfunding, Now Public School Teachers Are Supposed to Save the Nation’s Economy?

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Yves here. This piece on the difficulty and risk of reopening public schools covers a lot of ground, but a couple of additional points. First is that China and other countries that got their infections down have reopened their schools, and they have stringent processes to protect teachers and students. Obviously specifics vary but they include sanitizing shoe bottoms and sometimes backpacks and clothing (with a disinfectant spray), temperature checks, issuance of new masks or face shields, plastic barriers at each desk and seat in the lunch room, required hand washing or sanitizer use when changing classrooms, cleaning of the desk and doorknobs between classes (often by some students supervised by a student monitor). It is easy to see snowflake American parents objecting to having backpacks and clothing sprayed with disinfectant.

A second problem in the US is that a big rationale for school reopening is free parents from daytime child-minding so they can go back to work. But what happens when a student fails a temperature screening and should be sent home? Or a child has been in close contact with someone at school who tests positive for Covid-19? My understanding of the normal practice in countries that do contract tracing well is that they require the exposed person to quarantine until a Covid-19 test comes back. It’s not hard to imagine some parents rebelling when schools refuse to allow children who’ve been exposed and haven’t yet gotten test results to come to class.

A dirty secret of the old normal is kids would regularly go to school when somewhat sick because their parents would have trouble at work if they skipped out to tend for an ill child, and some parents don’t think a mild ailment justifies missing a school day. So the US hostility to sensible policies like paid sick leave results in pressure on teachers to instruct children even when it would be better from a public health standpoint to send them home. And that is going to produce yet more contagion risk.

By Jeff Bryant, a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm. Produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute

“After 9/11, New York City police and firefighters were hailed as heroes,” said Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of the New Mexico affiliate of the National Education Association, when I spoke with her about how educators have responded to the pandemic in her state. “After this, I hope teachers will be viewed as the community pillars that they really are,” she said.

Parr-Sanchez may get what she wished for.

In the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, the nation relied on health care and grocery store workers for survival, but that labor force couldn’t possibly turn around a crashing economy. Then, conservative governors across the nation, particularly in the South and West, thought bringing back the leisure and hospitality workforce would revive business and commerce. That didn’t turn out so well. So now a broad range of policy makers and political actors are turning to school teachers to get the economy humming again.

In May, as the pandemic was just about to explode from hotspots in the Northeast to a nationwide contagion, Forbes contributor Nick Morrison argued, “Until children go back to school, parents will have to remain at home looking after them, and it will be impossible to fully restart the economy.”

New York Times op-ed writer Spencer Bokat-Lindell, marveling at how European countries were able to reopen schools, wrote, “Restarting classes is essential not only to parents’ mental health and children’s development, but also to reviving the economy.”

“We cannot have a functioning economy, or any hope of reducing economic inequalities, without a functioning educational system,” wrote Paul Starr for the American Prospect in June.

“A consensus is emerging among top economists and business leaders,” reported Heather Long for the Washington Post in July, “that getting kids back into day cares and schools is critical to getting the economy back to normal.” She quoted chief executive of JPMorgan Chase Jamie Dimon saying, “If schools don’t open, a lot of people can’t go back to work.” Those pronouncements on the need to reopen schools in order to save the economy have turned into a drumbeat in the halls of government.

At a June hearing on Capitol Hill, senators and federal health officials called for “schools to resume some form of normal operations in the upcoming academic year, due in part to concerns about a weakened economy and the long-term welfare of children and families,” according to Education Week.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway declared, “[W]e know that opening our schools and getting our children back to their normal routines and their structural support is really the key… I think it’s the essential nervous system to this nation, and then people will be able to go back to work,” the Washington Post reported.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have submitted the Reopen Our Schools Act that would prohibit Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from providing funding to public schools and universities unless they return to in-person instruction, Fox News reported. “Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy,” said Indiana Representative Jim Banks, one of the authors of the bill, in a press release introducing the proposal.

A first cousin of these calls to reopen schools for the sake of the economy is the genre of commentary demanding school buildings be open full-time for the sake of parents who want to go to work after the economy fully reopens (if that ever happens).

In an article for the New York Times, Deb Perelman, a food writer, reacted in exasperation to the news that her children will physically attend school only one out of every three weeks by writing, “[M]y family, as a social and economic unit, cannot operate forever in the framework authorities envision for the fall.”

Also in the Times, columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in an op-ed, “Even for parents who can work from home, home schooling is often a crushing burden that’s destroying careers, mental health and family relationships. And online school has had dismal results, especially for poor, Black and Hispanic students.”

What’s sadly ironic about all this sudden newfound appreciation for teachers as essential to the economy is that government leaders and policy makers, from both major political parties, have spent years attacking the economic well-being of public schools and teachers.

School districts have never recovered from budget cuts states imposed during the Great Recession that started at the end of 2007. In an article for the Progressive, Nicholas Johnson from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, “School districts have never recovered from the layoffs… [states] imposed back then. When COVID-19 hit, K-12 schools were employing 77,000 fewer teachers and other workers—even though they were teaching two million more children, and overall funding in many states was still below pre-2008 levels.”

Teachers now make 4.5 percent on average less than they did more than 10 years ago, according to the National Education Association, and public school teachers earn 17 percent less than what comparable workers earn, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

International comparisons show classroom teachers in the U.S. work longer hours with less financial return than in practically all other countries in the industrial world.

While teachers work longer hours for less pay, they do this in schools that are often falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which issues a report card every three years to assess the nation’s infrastructure, graded the nation’s education system D+ in 2017, ASCE’s most recent national assessment.

During the Obama years, teachers became increasingly subjected to new evaluation systems that placed a heavy emphasis on student test scores that were fed into a computer-driven algorithm purported to calculate how much a teacher has contributed to student-achievement growth. The theory was never based on evidence, but these systems had a huge negative impact on teacher morale as teachers missed pay raises and even lost their jobs due to these erroneous evaluations.

While teachers endured these work-related hardships, politicians often lambasted educators for being “part-time workers” who get “full-time pay” and undermined teachers’ job security by challenging their collective bargaining rights, taking away seniority privileges, and working to end due process rights when teachers are threatened with being fired.

In the past two years, teachers across the nation have walked off the job to protest their appalling work conditions and poor pay. Their labor actions have won teachers some concessions, but there is always a backlash, as government leaders continue to ignore teacher demands for higher salaries, reduced class sizes, and increases in school support staff including more nurses, psychologists, librarians, and program specialists.

So now teachers are expected to save the nation’s bacon?

Many of the pleas to reopen schools held aloft guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that calls for students to go back to schools for in-person learning as soon as possible.

The AAP rightly acknowledged that schools and teachers “are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.” They concluded that the harm to children from not having in-person education outweighs the risk posed by the infection.

The AAP guidelines are based on a “preponderance of evidence” that shows young children and adolescents have much lower incidences of being infected by the coronavirus.

Indeed, there is research to support this—for example, scientists in Iceland have found that children under 10 are far less likely to get the disease and transmit it to adults. But there is conflicting evidence about how reopening schools, even for young children, impacts the spread of COVID-19 in practice. For instance, reopening schools has led to new increases in infections in the UK and Israel. And one of the worst hotspots for the virus in Texas is child care centers.

It would be one thing if demands to bring back teachers and students into school buildings were accompanied by proposals to come up with the money to pay for the steep cost of reopening schools safely. But they aren’t.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has estimated the funding required to reopen public schools safely is at least $116.5 billion.

In a conversation with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, AFT President Randi Weingarten said she agreed with the pediatricians that getting kids back to school is an important goal, but she cautioned that reopening needed to be “religious about the precautions that are needed to safeguard against the transmission of a virus in school.”

The precautions she outlined included a “hybrid situation” in which students rotate in and out of in-person and online learning, physical distancing, protective gear for students and teachers, deep cleaning of facilities, and added ventilation. She called herself a “big believer” in reopening schools under these conditions and claimed three out of four AFT members are too.

But she derided Republicans in the Senate, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for a “dereliction of duty” in not providing the funding schools need to reopen under these conditions. “Everyone says that we want to open schools… and yet they’re still not giving us the funding to do that.”

While Republicans in Congress shortchange the needs of public schools, the Trump administration is doing all it can to divert federal aid for public education to private schools.

In June, Secretary DeVos rewired guidance on how states can spend federal emergency aid for schools so that local education officials would face a Hobson’s choice of either limiting the funds to only those schools designated as high needs (Title I) or, if they choose to use the money to help all schools, diverting a share of the funds to private schools based on their total student enrollments. Critics of the guidance said this would “hamstring” local education officials, and they called the two choices “not a real alternative,” according to the Washington Post.

Then in July, the White House announced it would demand Congress set aside 10 percent of any further stimulus aid for grants to private and religious schools and approve $5 billion in federal tax credits for state-administered school voucher programs that are funded by donations from private individuals and businesses.

Only 18 states have these tax-credit programs, according to school voucher advocate EdChoice, but the Trump administration’s proposal would require any states that have not distributed their grant funds by March 30, 2021, to have their funding reallocated to states that participate in a tax-credit program. So the proposal not only fattens voucher programs with new funding; it incentivizes states to create new voucher programs.

State lawmakers are also complicit in harming schools at a time when they need government support most. Even before the costs of reopening schools were being considered, state governors from both parties—including Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine—announced deep cuts to school budgets.

Some teachers already see the impossible place they are about to be thrust into.

Teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the nation’s largest school districts, have refused to follow the district’s “return to school” plan that includes an option for in-person learning because of arbitrary deadlines and lack of details in the plan, according to a statement from the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

When Texas state lawmakers made available a draft plan to reopen schools for in-person learning without stringent safety precautions, the president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers toldReform Austin the union would consider a strike if the state goes forward with any plan that lacks adequate safety precautions.

It’s understandable that business owners and employees want to go back to work, and it’s more than fair for parents to ask schools to reopen so they can return to some semblance of normalcy. And Senate Democrats have introduced a bill calling for $430 billion in new federal spending for schools and child care.

But during all the years of teachers and schools being harmed by underfunding and “school choice” schemes, where were these folks? And will they step up now and demand the government fund our public schools?

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68 comments

  1. Noel Nospamington

    Until there is a vaccine available, all essential workers including teachers which are forced to work with the public must be freely (at no cost) given all of the PPE they need including N95 or equivalent grade masks. Schools and daycare must also upgrade their HVAC systems with advanced filtering, sterilisation, and airflow before they can reopen. All children/students must also be spaced out at least 2 meters apart, and all surfaces disinfected multiple times a day.

    After several months since they start of the this pandemic, domestic and international production of N95 grade masks should have ramped up by now so there shouldn’t be any shortages, and they should also be widely available to the general public at pre-pandemic prices.

    Yes it’s shown that nearly any mask helps to reduce virus spread to others, but N95 grade masks help to also protect the wearer, which greatly incentivize mask wearing.

    Reply
    1. Nakatomi Plaza

      If we’re reckless enough to open schools in the fall this will follow the same dynamic it always does: the schools with money will be able to do a decent job of following the necessary protocols, and the schools without money will struggle. A teacher with a high student-to-teacher ratio in a understaffed school is supposed to keep students two meters apart and disinfect the learning environment in addition to teaching? Teachers were striking a few years ago over pay, but now the money is going to roll in for virus-related equipment and protocols?

      As with low-wage workers and “essential” employees already, most students and the people who educate them will be treated like sacrificial lambs to the economy on behalf of people who would never dream of sending their children to a public school. Then it will all be pitched as evidence of the inferiority of public schools and the superiority of charters.

      Reply
      1. Noel Nospamington

        You make a good argument as to why the additional funding for COVID-19 related expenses in schools and daycares must be fully funded at the federal level, in order to insure that regional differences don’t result in have and have nots when it comes to protection against the virus.

        While on the topic of equality, keep in mind that online learning is deeply unfair to poor households which lack in decent computers, broadband Internet access, work areas, etc.

        If we don’t resume education in the fall, poorer children in households which cannot afford private tutors can suffer long term impacts in their cognative abilities and knowledge base which can last into aduldhood.

        In the middle of a pandemic which is expected to last well into 2021, we have to pick the lesser evil. I think that advocating for opening up schools in the fall with equal distribution of decent equipment and good protocols to prevent infection is better than the alternatives.

        Reply
        1. td

          There are still widespread shortages of PPE, with N95 masks selling for far more than pre-Covid prices for anyone not a health authority and for several times as much if they are. Since dentists and the like are complaining about severe shortages, schools would not be in a great position.

          Based on past performance, most states will try to send children back to school without adequate PPE for staff and with no significant changes to HVAC. Any staff member over 50 years of age would be foolish to work in those circumstances since they can expect minimal support if they get sick.

          It does no good to recommend what should be done if the resources and will are both lacking.

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        2. lyman alpha blob

          Online learning is deeply unfair to all households, because all that technology doesn’t actually help kids learn. Using an ipad for example doesn’t make a kid better at math or reading . It makes them better at using an ipad, which is why Apple and the rest are only too happy to have this tech everywhere in the classroom. Why, they’ll even give districts a discount if they want to buy a few thousand of these things.

          Online learning is a joke. My kid didn’t learn squat in the three months they were out of the classroom, with about 1-2 hours day of instruction and sometimes less. And this is in a good district with enough funds so even the poor kids get an ipad to take home.

          Opening up schools with PPE isn’t going to work either. My state just put out a survey asking us among other things if we thought kids would be able to maintain social distancing, refrain from touching each other, wear masks at all times, etc if schools open in the fall and my answer was a resounding ‘hell no’. If we can’t even get parents to wear a mask, how do we expect the children of those parents to do so?

          Schools should opened when new cases are at a minimum and the proper authorities have declared the pandemic to be over. And if we as a nation had simply paid people to stay home until the pandemic passed (there likely will never be a vaccine), we could be getting back to normal like other countries are already.

          Reply
          1. Otto

            Worked fine with my kids, I guess because they already new how to use an iPad & iPhone. 2 off to the Ivy League. Their choice not mine. The real test is at the end, using either online line learning or just reading the course work and taking the tests is did you learn anything? The data is in, kids don’t even need online learning and many home schooled kids have done very well in life the last fifty years simply by reading and asking questions, like Plato did. You might be surprised to learn you can get up to 60 credits at almost any university in a program called ‘directed reading’. You protest too much.

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      2. rob

        I agree.
        and just like before…
        there will be real shortages in poorer schools.. and the teachers who NEED to be “on the job” will have to buy their own masks and wipes.. most likely… along with pencils and paper , and other supplies. People who are not around the schools assume these are “in a supply closet somewhere”. ready for staff to use, and supply EVERYTHING to the students. But , many teachers have to subsidize what students don’t have…. sometimes out of their own pockets.Because it comes down to “no one else did”.

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    2. Otto

      N95 masks are not good for the user of, in preventing an infection if the wearer has one. If the purpose of the mask is to protect –> “others”, the the N95 is not the mask. In a hospital it is fine, it’s designed to protect the wearer. The valve on the mask releases unfiltered air. Not the best idea if you have cv19.

      Reply
  2. Ignacio

    116 billion is spare change compared with DoD expenses. Wouldn’t be a big mistake for republicans to see this as another chance for de-funding public schools? I think it would be, and the necessary conservative advise in this crisis would be not to push for radical privatization of schools. Not a good moment to try that. Regarding Trump this could kill re-election chances but if he sets a Fed program to grant paid sick leave for those with quarantined children that could be a winning strategy.

    Reply
    1. Shiloh1

      DoD budget is always ripe for sure. Close half of all foreign bases in next 4 years; close all in Western / Central Europe immediately – as in today. The DoD is the owner of the greatest number of golf courses in the world.

      Reply
    2. Otto

      You’re talking about a guy, trump, who cut off medical care of his nephew who had Cerebral palsy, all of it 100%. He doesn’t care about school children, the elderly or anyone else.

      Reply
  3. Ignacio

    Could it be the case that now that many have lost revenues or their jobs would prefer to change and next year send their children to a public school?

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      It depends. I’m not sure the effects have reached the private school class yet. I think the more marginal private schools are at greater risk from dips, so those kids might be loosed. My old catholic school closed after 140 years (great job guys!; the particulars were set in motion in 2000ish) before the pandemic, gross mismanagement and lack of long term planning. Anyone limping along without good leadership is probably in real danger.

      Next year or next semester, but I’m not sure there will be a large trend of kids going to public schools quite yet.

      Reply
  4. dbk

    None of what “needs” to be done to reopen schools with any degree of confidence will be done; there is neither the will nor, frankly, the means. The U.S. is once again in danger of shortages of PPE for front-line health workers due to the massive resurgence of the virus in the majority of states, and as for N95 masks – it’s just impossible for the U.S. to produce the numbers needed now. That $116.5 billion requested is mostly for PPE + other products + additional cleaning staff – even if it’s awarded (by no means guaranteed), states/districts won’t be able to procure what they need to reopen with a modicum of safety.

    And that’s without considering the added costs from staggered classes split into two or three smaller groups to maintain social distancing. Or the fact that many of, e.g., NYC’s 1,800 schools are over a century old – new ventilation systems simply can’t be installed by late August (no money to do so, anyway); janitors currently have their hands full trying to pry open windows in many schools to provide minimal ventilation. That D+ has repercussions, and means that our school building infrastructure cannot possibly be upgraded in six weeks.

    Thirty years of deliberate disinvestment, denigration and direct political attacks on the teaching profession have resulted in severe teacher shortages in many states; there won’t be enough to assume responsibility for second and third sections of classes (NYC has many schools with 40 students per class; they’ll have to be split into three sections); once teachers start getting ill, there won’t be substitutes available (my own home state depends almost exclusively on retired teachers as substitutes, and exactly none of them will return to schools in 2020-2021). And then there are the 25-30% of teachers who will be given health exemptions from teaching onsite – that means that de facto, at least 30% of teaching will remain remote for the foreseeable future.

    Yes, of course it’s far better for children to be in school with their peers, and online/remote teaching is but a pale substitute. But countries which have started up K-12 again had a robust infrastructure, ample protective gear and other equipment, and a sufficient number of teachers to accomplish their mission. The U.S. doesn’t, and we have to accept that hard reality. Given that there were 60,000+ new cases diagnosed yesterday, opening schools in many states would be criminal negligence – and I don’t use that characterization lightly.

    Reply
    1. marym

      But countries which have started up K-12 again had a robust infrastructure, ample protective gear and other equipment, and a sufficient number of teachers to accomplish their mission.

      This is a crucial point.

      In addition to the cost and availability of PPE and sanitizing supplies, it seems unrealistic to think that even the most conscientious school or business adult personnel would be able to keep up with the extra workload of “reopening” protocols that I’ve seen.

      In any case, however effective such protocols may be in theory (and in places which have generally controlled the spread far more than the US, and reopened with adequate testing), a Fox personality said this morning that schools must reopen be cause life has risks; and Trump just tweeted that the CDC guidelines are too expensive and impractical.

      Reply
      1. Otto

        What protocols have you ‘seen’? Also as opposed to what other countries? It’s not so much life has risks it’s that life can be hard. This is hard not impossible.

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  5. Adam1

    Early on Trump declared he was a wartime president. It was a correct view of how to attack the virus, but beyond making that statement he & most of the government has done little to actually mobilize people & resources to effectively combat it. If you look at the states with exploding cases you’ll also notice they’ve reopened much of their economy but have massively insufficient tracking & tracing in place. Any safe reopening of any part of the economy will require effective tracking to keep the virus contained. If we cant get sufficient tracking in place with sufficient ppe as well the body count come November is going to be a massive liability as the economy will be shut down by large amounts of revolt.

    Reply
    1. jackiebass

      Tracking is an effective too for something not real common. Because we have so many cases I believe it is impossible to do accurate tracking. If you have an isolated case where the population is small tracking will work.If its a large city, I think accurate tracking is impossible. NYC is a a good example. I’m assuming tracking is a tool to prevent the spread of a disease. It will only work if it isn’t overwhelmed by a huge number of cases. We aren’t even close to this.

      Reply
      1. Adam1

        Exactly. We went into lockdown because we couldnt do tracking, but then many placed reopened before they could do tracking. We are right back to square and in no better of a position in most of the country.

        Reply
          1. rob

            I would quibble that tracking is just a numbers problem. If there is an exponential increase in volume in the system… it becomes a “time” problem… or those numbers you just tracked… are in the “rear view mirror”.
            I agree with jackiebass…. the system could be overwhelmed,considering the deficiency in follow through,so far.

            Reply
  6. jackiebass

    To reopen schools so they are even close to normal will require huge amounts of money.States, because of the virus, are broke. The money would have to come from the federal government. I don’t see that happening. Unless safety precautions are implemented, many students and staff will get sick.Do we want to make our children Guinie Pigs in an experiment? A big road block is convincing parents to send their children back to school. You need leadership to accomplish this, and we have none. The UK ,which blundered in handling the virus, is going full steam ahead to reopen schools. They are threatening parents with fines if they keep their children home. Reopening schools without proper safety precautions is a recipe for a big disaster. People pushing opening schools lack an understanding of how children behave. Student behavior is a big problem. It is impossible over the long run to have students practice safety. At first students will cooperate. In a relatively short time enthusiasm and cooperation will go by the way side. I’m speaking from 35 years as a secondary teacher. A safe temporary system can be developed but it take good planing. Something I don’t see happening in most places.

    Reply
    1. Medbh

      “People pushing opening schools lack an understanding of how children behave. Student behavior is a big problem. It is impossible over the long run to have students practice safety. At first students will cooperate. In a relatively short time enthusiasm and cooperation will go by the way side.”

      Yes! I have 4 kids and volunteer occasionally in the schools. There are far too many kids who can’t manage even basic manners and rules. There is absolutely no chance they will follow behavioral standards that adults struggle to maintain. Young children are disease factories in the best of times.

      I suspect schools will be driven to open by politicians and some parents, but will close again within a month due to an explosion of cases. The defiance, denial, disaster cycle that is currently playing out in Texas, Florida, etc. will repeat in the schools.

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      1. shinola

        “Young children are disease factories in the best of times.”

        Yep – and even IF children are less likely to develop severe symptoms, what about bringing infection home to mom & dad or grandma & grandpa?

        .

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          1. tongorad

            And this German study says otherwise:

            New Reports on Virus in Kids Fuel Uncertainty on Schools –>>

            Children with the new coronavirus may be as infectious as adults, according to a study from Germany that stoked confusion over kids’ role in the pandemic.

            Levels of virus in the respiratory tract — the main route via which the pathogen is transmitted — don’t appear significantly different across age groups, Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, and colleagues found. They advised caution in reopening schools and kindergartens.

            Reply
  7. jr

    My sister teaches in the NYC public system. It’s a mess at the best of times. It is also the City’s babysitter, when COVID hit sis and her colleagues spent precious days watching over rooms full of potential bio reactors and nervously waiting for the word to get the hell out of town while everyone in charge dithered…

    I told her to get away from it all as soon as possible. I’m a firm supporter of any essential worker who drops their tools and walks off the job because they are not being properly supported. It’s a cooking thing, we settle our labor disputes with our feet.

    She’s tempted to stay because retirement, health insurance, etc. The job is a constant battle on three fronts: the students, the administration, and the parents. Guess what cult like, Hall of Wacky Mirrors ideology rules the minds of the mediocre?

    I’ll give you one clue: it’s got blue hair, deep veins of Puritanical righteousness, the epistemology of a children’s cartoon series and intentionally confusing pronoun usage….that’s right! It’s “left” IDpol!! Hard at work building and hardening social boundaries, excusing bad behavior while harshly criticizing others slightest missteps, turning what should be easy decisions into amorphous blobs of ambiguity.

    Two examples she shared with me:

    She had a student, a young man, who was failing 7th grade. This guy was a real problem: he openly sassed the teachers, videoed himself receiving oral and then ruined the young girls rep by showing everyone….including my sister, came and left as he pleased. An agent of chaos.

    So she bombed him, failed. Imagine her surprise when the next year he strides into the 8th grade class in triumph. Sis marched down to the principals office only to be told that the young mans parents had petitioned the school to allow their son to be advanced so as to not fall behind his peers “culturally.” How one benefits culturally by falling behind educationally was never addressed. The young man was of course emboldened by all this and became an even worse problem. This was dumped onto my sisters lap but she has no power to fix it.

    She told me of another boy, a kind of front office mascot, the pinnacle of teachers pets. This individual is of an as of yet undetermined sexuality and has learned to commodify this in the “marketplace” of favoritism and gender fads that flows through the school. He is the winking, leering messenger of the Office and he is not afraid to hide behind it’s robes. He generally comes and goes as he pleases, always with a ready excuse of having to perform some task unrelated to his education. Anyone who crosses him becomes a target. Insinuations of homophobia start to ooze out, critics become “haters” and his gaggle of sycophants begins to whisper and hiss.

    All of this takes place against a backdrop where everything is pushed back onto the teachers. Got a problem? Fix it, don’t bother me. Parents threatening to jump you after school because you failed their kid who never came to class? Welcome to NYC! Pandemic forcing the warehousing of students from communities who didn’t start masking up for weeks after it started, due both to lack of masks and ignorance? You have a duty, you’re a teacher!

    Reply
    1. tongorad

      I’m a firm supporter of any essential worker who drops their tools and walks off the job because they are not being properly supported.

      In Texas, if you strike you will lose your teaching license and retirement.
      Direct labor actions cannot be envisioned through the lens of atomized individuals. We either stand together or die separately.

      Reply
  8. John Beech

    Wife is 64 and a year away from retiring (Special Ed. teacher). I’ve been hospitalized twice in my life for pneumonia (in the ICU both times). This history means I’m at greater risk for dying of COVID-19.

    Absent a vaccine and/or efficacious treatment, our calculus now revolves around her not returning to work next month. Won’t be easy because of health care expenses (quotes are of $1950/month) but honestly, I’m totally unwilling to die for someone else’s children. Especially given the prevalence of morons in Florida – ones who see it as their ‘right’ to get their hair done, or enter grocery stores – absent masks. Screw that!

    Considering I’m the only Republican voter you know who is perfectly willing to pay increase millage for the sake of day care from birth so young people aren’t nailed to the wall financially, this is a sad state of affairs. Too bad our patriotism is expressed as waving a flag and objecting to kneeling for the national anthem (include me) but an unwillingness to pay sufficient tax for our fellow citizens to be educated to a high standard and enjoy good health. Sigh.

    Reply
  9. Wukchumni

    The biggest hero I know is a friend who is a 7th grade science teacher, imagine dealing with 25+ years of 13 year olds that never age?

    For years he’s been telling me he’s gonna quit, and then a week ago up and did it, and they pleaded with him to change his mind and asked him to think about it for a week, as he’s one of those valuable types who you can’t afford to lose.

    I asked what they could offer him to sweeten the deal and make him stay, and it isn’t as if they can offer more money as he’s in a union and that wouldn’t fly. He’s a goner, with who knows who will replace him?

    Reply
  10. Bob Hertz

    The article cited here is unfortunately a jumble of complaints.

    The tremendous challenge of how to open schools has a lot to do with our social attitudes toward risk. If we demand absolute zero risk, we will never open the schools. We need to find acceptable risk tolerance.

    The issue of teacher salaries is separate. The cash salaries of teachers are indeed lagging, but you must factor in the job security, the pensions, and summers off. See the attached…..

    https://media4.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/teacher-strikes-legacy-costs-disalvo.pdf

    Reply
    1. IMOR

      Thanks for reporting in from 1982. Or 1952. Was wondering what y’all were thinking. about all this. I’ll be happy to drop in on your and the Manhattan Institute(!) staff’s teacher ed classes with a few dos and don’ts on class management. Seriously, you may have noticed the early August return dates in the articles….? May just be ignorant of the increases in instructional days? The minimum mandatory week of ‘training’ right after the school year’s end and minimum four days prior to the next one’s start? Etc….? It’s been 20 years or more since anyone had a summer off yet it’s still part of every canned kneejerk like this response. And the reason for marginal job security (seems equally gnorant of the purposeful charter churn of newer teachers and the structural churn of public school ones) is because no one else who could do the job for the proverbial ten minutes wants it.

      Reply
      1. patrickD

        “… because no one else who could do the job for the proverbial ten minutes wants it.” +++!

        Retired now for 7 years after 25 of middle school teaching in SF, I watch this unfolding disaster with stoical aplomb. More of the same, only worse. From what I hear via older colleagues still in the field, retirements and resignations are on their way. It will be fascinating to see who steps up to teach in “the new normal” and just how long they last.

        Reply
      2. Bob Hertz

        Even if two extra weeks of training are added in the summer, that still leaves about ten weeks off with pay. Add 1-2 weeks at Christmas, up to 1 week at Easter, ML King Day and President’s Day, and it is a lot of time off.

        (I married a teacher. I went into my office week after week for 30 years when she had time off.)

        As for job security: I know there is churn in the first year or two. But at least here is MN, the number of teachers who are fired or laid off after they get tenure is microscopic.

        You did not discuss the defined benefit pension.

        Reply
        1. IMOR

          Which is 100% set off against Social Security, and honestly not great where lumped in with other state employees. And people reading Naked Cap that the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of defined retirement income isn’t to tear it down where it’s still found but to bring it back / extend it to others. And of course the time off is and always has been prorated into proportionately lower salaries. You’re subtly setting me up to swat these out in support of your spouse’s profession, aren’t you? Sorry to be slow getting that. Take care.

          Reply
          1. Bob Hertz

            Seniority systems in education make it hard to compare salaries across professions. When I was doing well in business, I did not begrudge teachers their time off and job security. But when I was doing poorly after age 55, I saw teachers vault way past me in security, paid time off, and base salary.

            Reply
            1. Rod

              I smell your discontent!

              My whole career I was laughed at for working for such a ridiculously low salary relative to Industries where my Vita was appropriate and excoriated for the time off I was given for recovery and, the more Important and Required Professional Development–on my own dime.

              Being inside is way different than being outside–and being married to one inside does not make you an insider.

              Reply
    2. c_heale

      We are nowhere near zero risk. More like maximum risk at the moment.

      Anyone who thinks this article is a jumble of complaints should volunteer to teach.

      Reply
  11. Medbh

    There has been a lot of focus on the politicians and parents who demand schools resume in-person instruction, but less discussion of the impact from parents who are opposed. Our family will not be sending our kids to in-person classes, regardless of the district’s decision. I’d prefer to continue remote learning, but if the district requires in-person attendance, we’ll homeschool instead.

    The “open the schools” contingent is noisy, but the “hell no” side may have equal influence in the end. It doesn’t take many families homeschooling or transferring to have a significant impact on the district finances.

    Although it requires more planning and coordination, I hope districts allow flexibility and choice to accommodate families’ unique needs and risks. That’s generally not a strength of bureaucracies, but maybe survival will get them there.

    Reply
  12. Trick Shroadé

    >for the sake of parents who want to go to work after the economy fully reopens (if that ever happens).

    Ever? So this person really thinks its possible that for remainder of human life on this planet the economy will never fully reopen?

    Reply
    1. juno mas

      I think “fully reopens” means having the same level of GDP/employment as pre-pandemic. Many economists suggest it could be 10 years to recovery. For me that’s for ever.

      Reply
  13. The Rev Kev

    Have seen this same phenomenon for the past few months now in Oz. This demented insistence that schools open because workers cannot get back to work until somebody is taking care of their kids. I have seen a falsified local study done by the government that opening up the schools is totally safe, even if no protective gear is provided. The teacher’s unions were not having a bar of it at first because so many teachers are older and thus more vulnerable to getting sick and this resistance only eases when the cases of this virus cease in a region.

    But such is not the case in the US. I think that the government and big business are just going for herd immunity but that they will not admit it in public. Herd immunity is what, 60-80% of a population? Well, based on official numbers of cases in the US and the number of people getting sick daily, that in only a few days more about 1% of the American population will have been infected. So, only 59% more to go. /sarc

    Reply
    1. juno mas

      The herd immunity fan club ignores that, like the flu, there may be NO long term natural immunity forthcoming. So, as uncontrolled infections proliferate the healtchcare system collapses, increasingly wary citizens hunker down (reduced economic activity), and subsequently the state (nation) devolves into disunity.

      There is no alternative to slowing the spread of the virus, as much as possible.

      Reply
        1. Medbh

          “Herd Immunity” persists because it provides a scientific sounding excuse to do nothing. They think we have extra “cattle” anyway, no big deal if we overshoot a bit. The faster the infection rate, the quicker we get it over with and get back to business.

          To be clear, I’m completely opposed to this concept. But based upon their behavior, it sure seems like this is what they’re thinking.

          Reply
  14. Rod

    “A consensus is emerging among top economists and business leaders,” reported Heather Long for the Washington Post in July, “that getting kids back into day cares and schools is critical to getting the economy back to normal.” She quoted chief executive of JPMorgan Chase Jamie Dimon saying, “If schools don’t open, a lot of people can’t go back to work.” Those pronouncements on the need to reopen schools in order to save the economy have turned into a drumbeat in the halls of government.
    This was mr dimon, but it could have been my governor-my congressman-my county manager-my city mayor–all parroting the same sick trope.

    the most revolting, disingenuous reason cited in the article and most pundits is not resuming Education is hobbling the Economy–not hobbling Children and their Future. Total reflection of misplaced priorities by a Sick Society.

    My mother said early and often that there was ” no greater Service than Serving our Society”. I wanted to save the world–so I went where that was possible–Education.
    Had the privilege to teach in Primary/Middle/Secondary/Secondary Vocational/ and finally Community College.
    I moved to the lowest compensating but highest need area of our country to do just that.
    Taught my students for years about Intrinsic-v-Extrinsic rewards in regards to Decision Making.
    Felt very Privileged to do that.
    Felt that most Teachers I knew/respected/admired operated because of this.

    What drives people to accept less across the board–accept this very thing as a lever against your benefit–because you feel that your contribution is way more valuable than the way you are viewed and compensated??

    If this was DECLARED A CRISES–a crises for our future generations–a “All Hands on Deck” CRISES in our Societies Future(not the ECONOMIES) then, imo, you would see response by Educators, current and past, that would dwarf both the Issue of How and When to restart Education Systems.

    Betsy and Donald, Mitch and Nancy(and a sickeningly amount of uncountable others) are not connected to this concept and are incapable getting connected to this because the ECONOMY is how they spell EDUCATION.

    Because, it is commonly acknowledged that Teachers are good at creating a useful something with a bunch of nothing.

    Reply
  15. chuck roast

    “…concerns about a weakened economy and the long-term welfare of children and families…”

    When I was a kid we had a strong economy and June Cleaver and her cohort did not work but looked after the welfare of the children. In my working class neighborhood there were many stay-at-homes moms. My mom had a routine whereby she would work in the mills long enough to be eligible for unemployment insurance. She would then get herself laid-off and collect until her unemployment ran out. Then it was back to the mills. There were a few other moms around who followed this routine. When we were ill she stayed home. Schools were not expected to be care-givers…they were expected to educate.

    There were no second cars in any families, so this method of supplementing the family income depended on available buses. Route trimming and mill closings were forcing changes in this lifestyle when I left home.

    I’m not advocating for a return to this era. Just saying that the relentless pressure forced on working people by the capitalist dynamic has led us to this point. Where public school teachers are expected in addition to their other duties, to monitor the health of children and baby-sit. If the golfer pols and their choreographers were really interested in the “…welfare of children and families…” they wouldn’t continue to ask the wrong questions.

    Reply
  16. Sparagmos

    Not to worry. The President of the United States of America stated this in a recent speech: ‘”We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance. And we’ll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.” (Applause.)’

    If the vaccine will be available “long before the end of the year,” why not wait until then. It could be October, November, or September, so there’s no reason to rush in, right?

    Reply
    1. DHG

      It is highly probable there will never be a vaccine, there is not for any other coronavirus that i am aware of. I am high risk and take all necessary precautions. With health officials saying immunity from may not even last that long if you do get Covid-19.

      Reply
  17. sam

    This discussion just highlights the need for comprehensive political decision making about how to deal with COVID. It can’t just be ‘listen to the experts’ and ‘follow the science’. The experts have undermined their credibility and the science is clouded by reams of often inconsistent or contradictory studies. Even if that were not the case, balancing of competing interests – such as the conflict between the health risk to teachers of exposure to students and the developmental risk to children of years without schooling – is not within the expertise of experts and cannot be reduced to a science. Too much of the COVID debate has been reduced to moralism and absolutes. Maybe it’s time for some compromise.

    Reply
  18. Laura In So Cal

    I have a high school student and we just received the tentative plan for next year. We are in Southern California and the school doesn’t have internal hallways. It is buildings with 8 classrooms arranged around a center room mostly used by the teachers for storage. The school has @2500 students. Everyone has an on-line only option. The other option is the “blended” option where the kids are divided in 1/2 by their last name and each group will do a block schedule 2 days/week (3 classes each day) with Wednesdays being traded back and forth between the groups. Other days would be on-line. Class size to be cut in 1/2 so there is greater distance between desks. Temperature checks upon entering campus, hand washing/sanitizing entering each classroom, mandatory mask wearing. School would be 1/2 day only with Lunch being grab and go which will also limit AC use. Sports, drama etc. would be in the afternoon separately. I see logistical problems all over the place.

    Reply
  19. Clark Landwehr

    Like everything else in the US, education is massively over-funded and over-resourced. Cut education spending by 80%.

    Reply
  20. Navile

    My wife teaches academically gifted children at two elementary schools in Wake County, N. Carolina. The district is considering having 1/3 the pupils at school each week, rotating into two weeks of online instruction. We can’t see how a classroom teacher that needs to be with her/his 11 fourth-graders all day is also going to be able to give her/his 22 kids online much meaningful attention.

    Also today my wife said she needs a decent mask for when school starts… the assumption being that they won’t be provided.

    Reply
  21. TimmyB

    The economy isn’t going to come back until people feel safe enough to go back to fully participating in what I call our consumer culture.

    So far, we have had government officials ignore this fact and as a result proclaim the economy open in the false belief that people would return to being good consumers as a result of these proclamations. However, the economy didn’t come back. Not enough people believed it was safe. Moreover, when reopening caused covid to increase, government credibility was severely damaged. So all reopening early did is make things worse for everyone.

    Now with public schools the same thing is happening. Government officials will again put the cart before the horse, this time declaring schools open in the hopes such a declaration will fix the economy. However, such declarations will not fix the economy for the same reasons reopening didn’t. All that will happen is things will get worse as covid cases skyrocket.

    Thinking that government declarations such as “the economy is reopened” or “schools are reopened” is going to fix the economy is same as thinking that a government declaration that “the Sun cannot set this evening” will result in it staying daylight 24-7. Simply put, covid isn’t never going to obey government proclamations.

    Reply
  22. tongorad

    I often wonder if a lot of the animus towards schools and teachers is due to the funding model via local taxes. Imagine if schools were funded like the US military.

    Reply
  23. Ian Ollmann

    A few “modest proposals”:

    If the parents can’t go to work because of kids, clearly the answer is to repeal child labor laws and put the kids to work! Then parents can go to work. That will teach the younguns to not cause trouble, and extra income! Who doesn’t like small paying guests?

    We will probably pay the teachers more shortly after we pay all of the other essential workers that provide food, utilities. etc. more. Don’t hold your breath.

    Another solution to too many workers chasing not enough jobs is a return to more single earner families. This solves the childcare problem too. Wages will of course not increase to compensate. There are 40M people who want your job. Rents will come down to compensate… eventually.

    You can almost trust the iPad to keep them busy the whole day and out of trouble.

    There is a certain incongruity about how we absolutely MUST get kids in school so that parents can work, except that we let them out of school for months at a time every summer. Why wasn’t this a problem before? Clearly we need school most of the year and child menial labor the rest of the year full time!

    There are a lot of other sensible proposals like workplace daycare etc. that just don’t work in a pandemic. Don’t expect to progressive your way out of this one.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      FWIW:

      1. Germany doesn’t agree with this take on transmission risk from kids based on their data, which suggests this isn’t yet well enough studied to reach conclusions

      2. This article misses the point. Even if you accept that risks to kids are low (and a lot of parents don’t care to take even those risks), you have risks to teachers. 20 to 30 kids. In typically not well ventilated rooms. With kids regularly speaking loudly. We know speaking, particularly loud speech, is a transmission booster. So even if kids arguably (all things being equal) carry less virus to transmit (by virtue if nothing else of being smaller), many will be engaging in high transmission activities.

      Reply
      1. Ian Ollmann

        Every parent knows that when school is in session, it is one runny nose after another. Then in summer it all dries up until school is back in session. Every parent also knows that the little ones are atrocious in their hygiene practice, and sometime get you sick too. With something as infectious as coronavirus, it isn’t just the kids and teachers who will get sick. They will bring it home, and you haven’t had this disease already.

        Reply
  24. Fred1

    Here is something about labor market flexibility that people here may find interesting.

    My wife teaches in a rural county bounded by two small cities to the east and west. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive one side to the other, east-west or north-south. Many of the teachers commute from the small cities to their schools.

    The new contract for the 20/21 school year which everyone had to sign six weeks ago specifically states that a teacher is not assigned to a specific school and can be transferred to a different school at any time during the year; that a teacher can be required to teach anything their certificate allows, and that they can be furloughed indefinitely.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      “never let a crises go to waste” is how they roll.

      did anybody ask your wife, or the rest of the teaching faculty, into the ‘Strategies for Reopening” session–or was that just for Administrators/ Content Developers/ or Instructional Developers??

      your wife is probably pretty good at what she does, also–just speculating.

      Reply
      1. Fred1

        The terms in the new contract summarized in my first post made it clear to my wife what the future would hold. It was written solely for the benefit of HR. Also no one asked her or any of her colleagues for their opinions on how to reopen. My wife is 65 with 43 years experience and was planning on only working this upcoming year before retiring. So retirement will come one year sooner. The younger teachers are the ones who will suffer at the hands of HR.

        Reply

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