A disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.
The kitchen table will once again serve as a makeshift desk for millions of students when they head “back to school” in the next few weeks. Seventeen of the nation’s 20 largest school districts have said that they’ll reopen with zero in-person instruction. Nationally, only about 40 percent of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another ten percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction).
In short, close to half the nation’s K–12 schools may begin the new year remotely, a figure that will be far higher in the systems serving the most students. This painful reality, combined with teacher resistance to reopening and parental concerns about student safety, has prompted districts to work overtime promising that remote learning will be much better this fall.
While we’re big fans of making the best of a bad situation, we fear that this misplaced optimism has made it easier than it should be for school leaders to keep the doors locked this fall and has undermined commitment to the contractual arrangements, training, supports, and instruction needed to ensure that remote learning is more than an oxymoron. To be clear, remote learning is wholly in order where the public-health situation has rendered classrooms untenable. But it’s critical that parents, teachers, and school administrators in those locales proceed with no illusions.
This spring’s virtual-learning experiment was underwhelming, to say the least. Researchers at NWEA, Brown, and the University of Virginia have estimated that students will begin the coming school year already woefully behind, with just two-thirds the learning gains in reading and as little as half of the gains in math that we would normally expect. This is hardly a surprise, given that nearly a quarter of students were truant and that, even as the spring semester ground to an end, only a fifth of school districts expected teachers to provide real-time instruction.
Despite assurances from district officials that this fall’s remote instruction will be much improved, there’s a lot of cause for skepticism. For one thing, the evidence is pretty clear that, for most learners, virtual learning today is significantly less effective than classroom instruction. Research suggests that is likely to be particularly true for disadvantaged students.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that school systems worked out the kinks of virtual learning over the summer. Consider New York City’s dismal experience with summer learning. In the nation’s biggest and biggest-spending school district, despite New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza’s pledge that the city’s summer learning plan would get kids “ready to hit the ground running come September,” the program was plagued by the same problems that befell schools last spring — from technical glitches to poor curricula to sky-high truancy rates.
Less than half of districts offered any sort of professional development to their teachers over the summer, and just 20 percent have plans to provide support to teachers in a remote-learning setting. Parents have expressed frustration about the dearth of communication or guidance from their schools, and educators themselves have fretted that they’re not sure, after a lost spring, how they’ll convince students that this fall’s remote learning should suddenly be taken seriously. And, however tough it was for teachers to connect with students this spring, they’d already had six months of in-person instruction to build from; things are going to be exponentially tougher this fall for those teachers who know their students only as pixels and email addresses.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have served as another impediment. Even when the concerns sometimes seem exaggerated, one can appreciate why teachers may be hesitant about in-person schooling. Extraordinarily troubling, however, is that — once schools have gone fully virtual — more than a few union locals seem to be intent on pursuing provisions designed to hinder remote teaching and allow teachers paid as full-time educators to operate as part-time employees.
In Los Angeles, the “tentative agreement” between the district and the union stipulates that teachers will only need to deliver one to three hours of live instruction a day, with the exact amount determined by a complicated distance-learning schedule that incorporates grade level and, weirdly, the day of the week. In San Diego, the tentative agreement between the union and the district calls for three hours of live instruction a day, one “office hour” a day, and two hours of prep time for teachers (during which students are supposed to be doing “asynchronous” work, i.e. watching videos or filling out worksheets).
All of this leaves parents in a tough spot as they contemplate another lost semester, knowing their kids need more than the two hours of Zoom calls and busywork that many schools are offering. Some parents have been found a solution in “learning pods,” small, parent-organized classrooms led by a tutor or teacher that deliver a lot of the benefits of in-person schooling while minimizing risk. Others have turned to virtual charter schools with more purposeful, robust online programs. Still others have sought to transfer to smaller private schools offering some form of in-person learning.
Yet far from celebrating these attempts to do what many schools won’t, the nation’s scolds have apparently decided this a good time to upbraid and obstruct parents who dare to do more than sit and fret. Parents who form learning pods have been lambasted in the New York Times for choosing “to perpetuate racial inequities rooted in white supremacy” and criticized in the Washington Post for “weakening the public education system they leave behind.” Those trying to move their kids to virtual charter schools have been fought by union leaders who, in Oregon, pressured state officials to block such transfers. And in Montgomery County, Md., parents who’d turned to private schools found local officials striving to shutter these options just weeks before the start of school.
When the public-health situation warrants it, remote learning is better than nothing. But, even before we turn to the crushing impacts on working parents and children’s mental health, it’s crucial to appreciate just what a dismal substitute today’s remote learning really is. And, while it’s far from clear that district and union leaders are focused on putting in place the measures that might help, a disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.33
The takeaway is pretty straightforward. In most places, remote learning is going to be a mess this fall. School and system leaders should be doing all they can to reopen schools as rapidly and thoughtfully as their local health context permits. And, in the meantime, educators, community leaders, and policymakers should do all they can to help families find solutions that will work for them.
The pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. This means something else big: Their hard opposition to school reopenings is politically devastating for Democrats.
Prominent Democrat politicians have started making huge concessions on reopening schools. Back in May, Democrats pounced after President Trump supported reopening. Despite the data finding precisely the opposite, it quickly became the Democrat-media complex line that opening schools this fall would be preposterously dangerous to children and teachers.
In July, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to put the city’s 1.1 million school kids back in schools half the week and “online learning” the rest of the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked a public fight with him, saying, “If anybody sat here today and told you that they could reopen the school in September, that would be reckless and negligent of that person.”
Then on Friday, Cuomo cleared schools to open this fall, just a few weeks after making uncertain noises about the prospect as teachers unions breathed down his neck. That same day, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader, joined the Democrat messaging reversal:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tucked the posture shift into a Saturday response to Trump’s latest executive orders, saying “these announcements do…nothing to reopen schools,” as if Democrats have been all along supporting school reopenings instead of the opposite. Just a few weeks ago, Pelosi was on TV bashing Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for encouraging school reopenings, saying, falsely, “Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.”
What gives? For one thing, New York’s richest people have fled during the lockdowns. If their kids’ tony public schools don’t offer personal instruction or look likely to maintain the chaos of rolling lockdown brownouts, those wealthy people have better choices. They can stay in their vacation houses or newly bought mansions in states that aren’t locked down. They can hire pod teachers or private schools.
And the longer they stay outside New York City and start to make friends and get used to a new place, the less likely they are to ever return. Cuomo is well aware of this.
“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house, or in their Connecticut weekend house, and I say, ‘You got to come back! We’ll go to dinner! I’ll buy you a drink! Come over, I’ll cook!’” Cuomo revealed in a recent news conference. “They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking? ‘If I stay there, I’ll pay a lower income tax,’ because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.”
Reopening means swimming against their anti-Trump base and teachers union donors’ full-court press to amp school funding and slash teacher duties. That means the below-surface financial and political pressure Cuomo, Pelosi, and Schumer are under to make this kind of a reversal must be huge. It’s likely coming from not only internal polling but also early information about just how many people have left New York and New York City, as well as interpersonal intelligence from their influential social circles.
This means three things. First, the pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. Second, Democrats’ hard opposition to school reopenings has been politically devastating. Third, all the push polls and media scaremongering promoting the idea that most parents shouldn’t and wouldn’t send their kids back to school have failed.
One of the most significant reasons it failed is that parents’ experience with online pandemic schooling was a horror show. Another is that private schools have clearly outpaced public schools’ response to coronavirus. That’s both in offering quality online instruction when forced to close, and in seeking to remain open as much and as safely as possible, all while teachers unions have been staging embarrassing tantrums over people on public payroll actually having to do their jobs to get paid, even though epidemiologists have noted “there is no recorded case worldwide of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil.”
Public schools have been so clearly shown up by private schools during the coronavirus panic that state and local officials have begun to target them specifically, and have carefully included them in all onerous government burdens on school reopenings, to reduce their embarrassment and bring private schools down to the public school level as much as possible.
The most prominent recent example is in Maryland, where a local bureaucrat in one of the nation’s richest counties specifically banned private schools from safely teaching children in person, and is now battling with the state’s Republican governor over the edict. In North Carolina, many private schools are offering safe, face-to-face, five-day instruction, while most public schools are not.
Part of this is just that government bureaucrats hate individuals making their own decisions based on their own circumstances (a major reason for mask mandates, by the way). But also they’re scared because the coronavirus panic is expanding the massive fault lines inside public schooling. And public schools are a feeder system for Democrat support.
Before coronavirus hit, a near-majority of parents already thought a private school would be better for their kids than public school. People really are not happy with public education. Mostly they do it because they think it’s cheap.
But politicians’ handling of coronavirus has shown that public education is actually very expensive. The instability, the mismanagement, the lying, the public manipulation, all of it has tipped many people’s latent dissatisfaction with public schooling into open dissatisfaction. It’s a catalyst. Now many more people have decided to get their kids out of there, either by homeschooling, moving school districts, forming “pandemic pods,” or finally trying a private school.
Like all the rich people leaving locked-down locales, parents removing kids from locked-down public schools have scared public officials. If just 10 percent of public-school kids homeschool or join a private school for two years, that is a watershed moment for the social undercurrent of animosity towards public schools. That is especially true in the government funding era we’re entering, in which government debt and health and pension promises are set to gobble up education dollars faster than ever, a dynamic that was already ruinous before it was accelerated further by the coronavirus.
This is dangerous to Democrats’ political dominance because the education system tilts voters their way through cultural Marxism, and because public education is a huge source of Democrat campaign volunteers and funds. Now Democrats have detached people from their conveyor belt. The consequences will be huge.
Reopening public schools the way Democrats are doing is not going to stave off this tsunami, either. New York City’s “reopening,” for example, includes several days per week of distasteful online instruction, as well as a rule that a school will close for two weeks any time two inmates test positive for COVID. That’s a recipe for endless school brownouts that will drive parents and kids nuts. Humans simply can’t live under this manufactured instability, by the pen and phone of whatever self-appointed petty little dictators feel like changing today.
Democrats are trying to have it both ways. They’ve learned that parents are not going to put up with putting school indefinitely on hold when everything from swimming to climbing stairs is more dangerous to children. But they also want to maintain the fiction that coronavirus is an emergency situation that requires tossing trillions of dollars in deficit funding out of helicopters, keeping people cooped up and restive as an election nears, and purposefully choking the nation’s best economy since before Barack Obama got his hands on it.
Democrats are their own worst enemy. The problem is, the rest of us are so often their collateral damage.
If there is a potential silver lining to the United States' experience with COVID-19, it can be found in the domain of primary and secondary education, where the demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. The pandemic has both laid bare the US education gap and pointed the way to a solution.
STANFORD – After years of rumblings for change in US education, the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a catalyst for improving the system. America’s educational divide – especially in grades K-12 (elementary through high school) – is now clearly visible for anyone to see. Disparities in quality and access to education are a major source of the economic, social, and racial inequalities that are driving so much social unrest from Austin and Oakland to Portland and Seattle. Whether they come from impoverished inner-city neighborhoods or the suburbs, the least-educated Americans have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic effects.
Fortunately, economist Thomas Sowell (my colleague at the Hoover Institution) has offered a solution. In his new book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, he shows that schools with more autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools are closing the educational divide, providing sorely needed choice, opportunity, and competition.
Sowell’s careful analysis of the data, which was available before the pandemic struck, shows that students in publicly funded but privately operated charter schools like Success Academy in New York City score remarkably higher on standardized achievement tests than do those in traditional public schools. The book contains reams of convincing evidence, all of which is explained beautifully and presented clearly in more than 90 pages of tables.
Sowell controls for many factors, including school location: students at charter schools within the same building as a traditional public school perform several times better on the same tests. And he supplements the hard data with simple evidence, such as the long waiting lists to get into the better performing charter schools. But if charter schools work so well, what explains the enemies mentioned in the book’s title? Critics of charter schools would list many reasons, but the main one, Sowell laments, is that public schools simply do not want the competition.
Will the COVID-19 crisis finally change things? There are already positive signs that it has. Last month, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a new, five-year $85 million scholarship fund that will help students from lower-income families in Washington, DC go to schools of their choice. It is part of her department’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded school-choice initiative in the United States. The average income of families in the program is less than $27,000 per year, and more than 90% of students in it are African-American or Hispanic/Latino.
In another promising sign, US Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recently introduced a bill to direct some of the educational relief funding in this year’s US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to school-choice programs. That money would enable lower-income families that are hard-pressed by the pandemic to send their children to alternative schools. Among other things, the legislation would direct 10% of CARES Act educational funds toward scholarships for private-school tuition or reimbursement for homeschooling costs.
But most telling, perhaps, is the fact that many families and individuals are coming up with their own solutions. Consider the sudden blossoming of pandemic learning “pods,” wherein parents get together, find teachers, and form a class for kids in the neighborhood. Learning pods are a natural civil-society response to school closing in many districts in California and elsewhere. When schools suspend services, parents immediately will seek out alternative solutions, especially when they have concerns about their children’s ability to learn remotely.
Of course, learning pods already have enemies of their own, with critics complaining that the practice is unfair, harmful for traditional schools, or available only to those who can afford to hire teachers. But that is all the more reason to make high-quality, effective schools more widely accessible. Quashing new ideas is not the answer.
The struggle over pandemic-era education is quickly moving to statehouses. In June, as part of the new state budget, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 98, which caps per-student state funding for charter and public schools at last year’s funding levels. The point is to limit charter school enrollments at a time when demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. But with those public schools closing and resorting to remote teaching, students from lower-income households will be the ultimate victims.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday
There are already at least 13,000 students waiting to enroll in charter schools in California. But owing to SB98, notes State Senator Melissa Melendez, “if you are in a school that is failing that is really too bad. You are just going to have to stay there and deal with it. That is not fair to the student or the parent.”
In his book, Sowell points out that, “Those who want to see quality education remain available to low-income minority neighborhoods must raise the question, again and again, when various policies and practices are proposed: ‘How is this going to affect the education of children?’”
If we all focus squarely on that question, the pandemic’s long-term impact on education could turn out to be highly beneficial.
It looks the same in all of my local Facebook groups: “Looking for a small group of 1st graders to go in on a homeschool type pod where we hire a retired or not comfortable to go back teacher to facilitate daily learning.”
The volume of these posts led to a spin-off group of almost a thousand members with hardly any advertising. The whole objective of the spin-off is for families to advertise the “pods” they want to build based on age, location, the degree of caution they’re exerting, and study goals. And it’s chock-full of posts like the one above, sharing a theme: Parents are trying to connect with other parents and with teachers to supplement or completely replace the lessons planned in public schools.
With many school districts announcing they won’t return to the classroom until at least winter or late fall, with parents still reeling from the disaster that was distance learning last school year, parents are banding together and forming their own “micro-schools.” This is a grassroots plan not without controversy.
A woman in the Bay Area in California wrote on the phenomenon, which is taking place near her as well. “This is maybe the fastest and most intense PURELY GRASSROOTS economic hard pivot I’ve seen, including the rise of the masking industry a few months ago,” she wrote. “Startups have nothing compared to thousands of moms on facebook trying to arrange for their kids’ education in a crisis with zero school district support.”
She continued, “The race and class considerations are COMPLETELY BONKERS. In fact, yesterday everything was about people organizing groups and finding matches– today the social justice discussion is already tearing these groups apart.”
Government intervention isn’t always the answer. Here’s what the government can do: allow parents and families the flexibility to take the money the state should be spending on their children and allow that money to follow those children to pods, tutors, or functioning online options.
There are countless teachers and teachers’ unions protesting the idea of going back to work. If they aren’t comfortable, there is nobody forcing them back. And it’s time to call their bluff, as President Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers in 1981. When 11,000 of them went on strike, believing themselves to be irreplaceable, the president called their bluff and said, “Tell them when the strike’s over, they don’t have any jobs.”
In a sane world, teachers’ unions would not have outsized power to throw temper tantrums, and this is how we’d handle such a situation. We would fire any teacher not wishing to return to the classroom without a documented medical reason and funnel their salaries into a fund that students could then use to supplement their education.
Garden State Equality claims its curriculum is for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Its teachings, however, result in the exact opposite.
A little more than a year ago, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed, a law mandating the teaching of LGBT subject matter in public school curriculum, beginning in 2020-21.
In response to the law, the activist group Garden State Equality has prepared a curriculum, currently piloted in 12 New Jersey schools and planned to be employed statewide in the fall. This is consistent with Murphy’s vision. At Garden State Equality’s 2019 Ball, he said, “I applaud Garden State Equality for not only leading this effort, but for your continued work in helping to craft this curriculum.”
Garden State Equality (GSE) is an LGBT advocacy organization devoted to instilling its vision of “justice” through an “LGBT lens” in society. Consistent with its vision, GSE’s self-described “LGBT-inclusive” curriculum spans all subjects — math, English, social studies, health, science, visual and performing arts, and world languages — beginning in fifth grade. Having New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students see the world through a LGBT lens is the goal in every class and, thus, now the goal of public education. This is well in excess of the curriculum law’s vague requirements.
In the way it is being implemented, the law is simply an instrument empowering GSE to accomplish its mission and vision, embedding sexual and gender ideology throughout curriculum. GSE envisions its curriculum “as a model that we can bring to every other state in the nation.”
A number of grassroots parent coalitions from across New Jersey, representing the state’s diversity, are raising awareness about and opposing the co-opting of public school curriculum for such ideological purposes. Historically, public schools have been the gateway to American society for immigrant families. But now, immigrant families all over New Jersey are deeply troubled and perplexed regarding the apparent goals of public education and the interests it serves.
New Jersey’s more than 600 school districts are not technically required to adopt GSE’s curriculum, although they are required to comply with the new state LGBT curriculum law. GSE is also substantially involved in drafting the New Jersey Department of Education’s “guidance” to schools about implementing the LGBT curriculum law. However, New Jersey school districts are not required to accept such state “guidance,” allowing districts to take a careful and educated approach to the curriculum law’s implementation.
The sexual and gender ideology advanced through GSE’s curriculum, and through its direct involvement in the state’s guidance to public schools, should be rejected by the boards of education of all New Jersey school districts for at least the following reasons.
The stated goal of sexual and gender ideology is to “get rid of the gender binary.” At public hearings concerning the school curriculum, advocates consistently characterize such a goal as a “must.”
We cannot get rid of the gender binary, however, as humans are a sexually dimorphic species. This reality can be denied, silenced, threatened, and punished. But it cannot be “rid of.” The existence of every person is proof of the union of what is uniquely male and uniquely female. While GSE may reject this most basic truth of humanity, it cannot eradicate it. And New Jersey public schools should not partner with its futile efforts to do so.
Beyond denying the gender binary, GSE insists a biological male who calls himself a woman is, in fact, a woman. If that’s the case, what is a woman? “Woman” becomes a word without meaning — as is the case when a biological female claims she’s a man. GSE’s ideology commands students to use such words. This does not educate, enlighten, or advance understanding. It mandates irrationality within school curriculum.
GSE claims its teachings are for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Those teachings, however, result in the exact opposite. GSE demands giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children, impeding the development of their bodies’ more than 37 trillion cells. It even demands the removal of healthy body parts, which is profoundly evil. These practices are the sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse of children, manipulating their bodies to conform to an ideology.
Teaching and endorsing such practices doesn’t educate, but makes students vulnerable to abuse. I don’t use the words “abuse” and “evil” to be inflammatory, but because they fit the described practices. GSE doesn’t accept the right of anyone to impede the imposition of its will on children’s minds and bodies, preventing even parents from taking actions to protect their own children from abusive measures.
The sexual and gender ideology of GSE and like-minded advocates addresses the most basic questions of life and meaning concerning our humanity. It even has its own language and vocabulary, which it expects everyone to adopt. It is a totalizing and comprehensive belief system, which functions as a religion. Instituting compulsory teaching within public schools effectively establishes such ideology as a state religion.
One of its core convictions is intolerance for any dissent. It mars those who disagree with epithets, such as “haters” and “bigots,” applying these labels to many families and students within every school district in New Jersey who would dare express disagreement. These accusations even include parents who object to giving their own child the harmful drugs commanded by sexual and gender activists.
The ideology insists that every new word or idea must be affirmed. Acceptance of sexual and gender ideology renders a person defenseless to its demands. None of this carries educational value.
The Kelsey Coalition, formed in 2019 by “a group of concerned parents whose children have been harmed by transgender healthcare practices,” can serve as a resource to school districts, allowing them to make informed decisions for educating and protecting New Jersey students. As its website indicates, its membership now includes:
Surely, it would be highly immoral, unethical, and contrary to the educational and health interests of students not to inform them of the severe and irreparable harms that result from transgender physical interventions. Sexual and gender ideology pathologizes puberty, teaching that its suppression is a “treatment.” This article from an endocrinologist would educate students regarding life-altering effects on brain development, bone density, and sexual function, among other harms.
Regarding sex and gender, we are often warned against being on the “wrong side of history.” One day, the story will be told, and a chapter will cover what was done to children’s minds and bodies in the latter half of the 2010s into the 2020s. It will be included among the atrocities in the story of humanity’s inhumanity. It will be regarded with special horror because children will have been victimized in an impossible attempt to vindicate false adult beliefs and behaviors.
This historical moment provides an opportunity for every board of education member of every school district in New Jersey to be on the side of the story in which people courageously took a stand to protect children from such harms and horrors.
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
by Scott Vanatter
The night the Challenger Shuttle exploded, January 28, 1986, President Reagan was due to deliver the annual State of the Union. The White House decided to postpone that speech and instead the president delivered one of the most memorable presidential messages. Reagan spoke from the Oval Office at the White House. The speech was written by Peggy Noonan.
Until that day, he said, “We’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes….. We mourn their loss as a nation together. For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much.” Continue reading