Posts Tagged ‘Public Schools’

Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

August 25, 2021

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Carter Mecher was head of a White House task force charged with making a plan to prevent pandemics.  He was contacted by Robert Glass, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, who’d been running computer simulations of pandemics.

Glass’s models indicated that kindergartens and schools were potential petri dishes for the spread of contagious disease.  I don’t think this would have been surprising to most parents and teachers.

At that time, there were more than 100,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., with 50 million children in them.  There were 500,000 school buses in operation, compared to 70,000 in the regular U.S. transportation system.  On an average day, school buses carried twice as many passengers as the entire public transportation system.

Michael Lewis, author of The Premonition, told what happened next.  Becher decided to visit schools. He found school classrooms were more crowded than any other public space.  Chlldren sat, on average, three and a half feet apart; they could touch each other.

In hallways and at bus stops, young children crowded together.  They lacked the adult idea of personal space.  School bus seats were on average 40 inches wide, just wide enough for three children close packed together.

School bus aisles were narrower than aisles of regular buses. Paramedics used special stretchers for school buses because regular stretchers wouldn’t fit.

Becher made videos of homes where the ratio of children to floor space was the same as in public schools.  They looked like refugee prisons, Lewis wrote.

Glass had concluded that closing schools and reducing contacts among children were the key to controlling pandemics.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the present situation, because teachers and children over 12 can get vaccinated.  Many schools try to practice social distancing, although this doesn’t protect from an airborne virus in an enclosed space.  Glass’s model assumed no vaccines and no treatments.

But vaccines don’t eliminate the danger.  They suppress the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t necessarily kill the virus.  Vaccinated people can still be spreaders of the disease.  And vaccines may not be 100 percent effective.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were a parent, except listen to the teachers rather than the politicians or the CDC.

Children in families with a lot of books in the home, who watch educational programs on TV and talk about current events and books around the supper table—the education of these children would not suffer all that much from school lockdowns.

But children in families without books in the home, children with parents who work multiple jobs and don’t have time for suppertime conversations, children who depend on school lunches for their main nourishing meal of the day—these children would be hurt a lot by long-term school closing.

Wearing masks can help some.  Good ventilation can help a lot.  Vaccine mandates for teachers and staff might help, but regular tests for the virus would help more.


Guantanamo ratio vs. public school ratios

April 10, 2017

Prison staff at Gitmo: 1,750

Prisoners at Gitmo: 41

Average teacher/student ratio in US public schools: 1 : 27

Source: Jeffrey St.Clair | Counterpunch

The passing scene – August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015

Here are some links to article I found interesting, and perhaps you will, too.

How Close Was Donald Trump to the Mob? by David Marcus for The Federalist.

Maybe there are innocent explanations tof Donald Trump’s business connections with known Mafia bosses in New York City and Atlantic City.  If such exist, we the voting public deserve to hear them.

Katrina Washed Away New Orleans Black Middle Class by Ben Casselman for FiveThirtyEight.

Black homeowners and business owners lost the most in Hurricane Katrina.  Black professionals such as physicians and lawyers have moved on.  And black school teachers are losing their jobs to supposed school “reform.”


Hat tip for the following to Bill Harvey—

The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor? by Alan Nasser for Counterpunch.

The United States was the first country in which a majority of the people were taught to think of themselves as middle class.  In Victorian English novels, the middle class are the doctors, lawyers and other professionals who aren’t working class, but not truly upper class.


51% of public school students are low-income

May 19, 2015

Percent-of-Low-Income-Students-in-PS-2015-01More than half of students attending public schools in 2013 were low-income, the first time they were in the majority since these figures were tracked.

That is, they are not necessarily poor (according to the federal definition), but they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Students can get free lunches if their parents’ incomes are 135 percent of the federal poverty threshold or less, and reduced price lunches if their parents’ incomes are 185 percent or less.

A child of a single parent could get a free lunch if the parent’s income was $19,669 or less.  The child could get a reduced-price lunch if the single parent’s income was $27,991 or less.   The reduced-price limit is $43,568 for a family of four.

Low-income students were fewer than 32 percent of students in U.S. public schools in 1989 and only 38 percent in 2000, the Southern Education Foundation reported.   Reed Jordan of the Urban Institute said the 51 percent figure reflects rising child poverty, increasing economic instability and possibly increasing number of poor immigrants.   About one in four American public school students are the children of immigrants.

Changes in eligibility rules also could affect the number.  Schools in which a majority of students are low-income now offer reduced-price lunches to all.


The federal role in public education

April 7, 2015

Diane Ravitch wrote a good article in the New York Review of Books pointing out that the federal government’s role in public education from 1965 to 2001 was to provide more resources for under-funded schools in poor communities.

It was the Bush and Obama administrations who gave Washington the mission of sorting public schools into winners and losers.  The old policy was something the federal government was capable of doing.  The new policy is not.  This is an example of Goyette’s Second Law in operation.


GOP turns against No Child Left Behind

January 4, 2015

Republicans in Congress want to repeal high-stakes testing provisions in the No Child Left Behind program.  I think this is a good thing overall, not a bad thing.

MISC_high-stakes-testingProposed by the George W. Bush administration and enacted with bipartisan support, the NCLB program measured teacher and school performance by means of achievement tests.  The idea supposedly was to highlight how schools are failing poor and minority students, but the only remedy is punishment of teachers and schools for low test scores.

The result was to scapegoat teachers, schools and, by implication, public education itself.   All this was called school “reform,” although to reform something means to correct its defects and make it better, which is exactly the point at issue.

testing&teaching642_nI think we the people should watch the details of what is being proposed—specifically in regard to provisions regarding charter schools and privatization of public schools.  But in general I think the push-back against NCLB reflects the experience and justified opposition of parents and teachers.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey, who sent me a link to a Politico article reporting the Republican plan to overhaul NCLB, also sent me a link to a Truthout review of Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty by Jay Gillen, a Baltimore public school teacher and mentor for the Baltimore Algebra Project, which began as an after-school mathematics tutoring program, but evolved into something much more powerful.

If somebody in authority wanted to improve education, especially for poor and minority students, they would talk to people such as Gillen and the other teachers who’ve risked their careers to resist meaningless tests.


The plot to overhaul No Child Left Behind by Maggie Severn for Politico.  [Bill Harvey]

Flipping the Script: Pedagogy, Theater and Radical Organizing in Schools of Poverty by John Duda for Truthout.  [Bill Harvey]

Top Ten Acts of Test Resistance in 2014: the greatest year of revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history by Jesse Hagopian for I Am An Educator. [Bill Harvey]

‘Who controls the past controls the future’

October 2, 2014

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

==George Orwell, 1984 

So many people I know seem to have amnesia about the past.  I think this is both sad and dangerous.

I think history is the key to understanding almost everything—how different things were in the past, but how the present is a product of that past.  If you have that knowledge, you have a grounding that will help keep you from being swept away by the propaganda of Big Brother.

But if you don’t have an independent knowledge of history, Big Brother can manipulate you into believing almost anything.

The Democracy Now video above is about a controversy between the Jefferson County, Colorado, school board, and various public school teachers, about how history should be taught.   It’s an important topic.

The school board says the teaching of history should emphasize citizenship, patriotism, the merits of the free market, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.  I personally agree in principle with all of these, but I suspect my interpretation of these principles differs from the school boards.

What is the free market?  Do they think this is what the United States has now?  Do they advocate respect for all authority, or only legitimate authority?  If you respect all authority, what happens to individual rights?  Is patriotism loyalty to the government, loyalty to fellow Americans or loyalty to the Constitution?

And most important: Are these open questions or is there one and only one officially true answer?

The school board specifically opposes material that encourages or condones civil disorder, social strife and disregard of the law.  What, I wonder, do the members think should be taught about the Sons of Liberty, the Boston Tea Party and the Minute Men?

I think if a nation—any nation—is to exist, its children should be taught to be proud of the good things in their national heritage.  But they shouldn’t be shielded from the facts about the bad things.  And every nation, like every person, has both good and bad things in its past.  If children are only taught the good, they’ll become disillusioned and cynical when they finally learn the bad.


Charter schools and the shock doctrine

August 4, 2014

 If a charter school consisted of teachers and parents who had an idea for better educating children, I would be in favor of letting them try.  And I favor supporting genuine educational reformers such as Geoffrey Canada.

Goodness knows there is room for improvement in American public schools, and I can recall when there was considerable support among poor people in American big cities for charter schools.

karp-1But this is not what the charter school movement is about today.   By and large the charter school movement consists of (1) ideological opponents of public services in general and public education in particular and (2) vulture capitalists who see charter schools as a way to make a quick dollar by acquiring public facilities cheap.

Naomi Klein wrote a book, The Shock Doctrine, about how radical privatizers take advantage of emergencies to impose their ideas on an unwilling public.   I don’t think it is coincidence that the two most extensive examples of charter schools are New Orleans and Detroit, where parents and voters lost their voice in public education.

Almost all the public schools in New Orleans were replaced by charter schools following Hurricane Katrina, and about half the schools in Detroit have been made into charter schools by the unelected emergency government.

Charter schools are considered great investment opportunities because they can operate at minimum cost, often using public facilities acquired cheap, without accountability as to the quality of the product.  Privatizing public schools is part of the same movement that seeks to privatize the postal service, privatize public roads and privatize public housing.

A friend of mine who teaches at a community college in Texas told me that one of his freshman students has a day job as a teacher in a charter school.   That’s a lot more cost-effective than paying a trained and experienced teacher—that is, from an investor’s point of view, not a parent’s.


How I’d change the public schools

July 20, 2013

If I were President of the United States, I would convene a commission to advise me on governmental policy toward the public schools.  A clear majority of the commission members would be public school teachers with at least 10 years’ experience, who all had won state “teacher of the year” awards.  The rest of the commission members would be people who attended public schools and whose children attend public schools.

teacher public school Billionaires such as Bill Gates are pushing “reforms” such as charter schools and high-stakes testing, both of which are untried experiments.  The purpose of an experiment is to test a theory, and it is foolish to act on the theory before the results are in.  The billionaire reformers want schools to be more entrepreneurial, but a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs is that most of them fail.  That’s why the successful ones deserve our respect.

They may be right in assuming that educational credentials are no measure of classroom competence, but that’s a different thing from assuming that youngsters fresh out of college know more about teaching than people who’ve been doing it for years.


What Teachers Know by Nancy Flanagan for Education Week.

I’m a proud public school teacher; Here’s a glimpse at what I do by a teacher who posts as teacherbiz.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools by Joanne Barken in Dissent magazine.

An educational reform that seems obvious

July 20, 2013

If I had the power, I’d give public school teachers who teach in high-crime and high-poverty areas the equivalent of combat pay, so that their wages would be equal to the wages of teachers in affluent, safe suburbs.

The problem with value-added testing

September 21, 2012

President Barack Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and billionaire Bill Gates are think teachers should be judged on the basis of how much their students’ test scores improve year by year.

This sounds good.  But there are problems.  One is that when you have students from poor neighborhoods, with high crime and lots of broken homes, you can’t know how much of an individual student’s performance is due to the teacher, and how much due to family, peers, circumstances and the student’s individual ability and motivation.  I know teachers who’ll tell me that this year, they have a really good class, or a not-so-good class.

The other is that neither Obama, Duncan, Emanuel or Gates has ever taught in public schools.  None of them knows what it is that good teachers do that sets them apart from bad teachers.  What they advocate is what the late W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management, called “tampering”—altering a process without knowing how it works.

The way to improve public education is the same as the way the Obama administration is trying to improve medical care—determining the best practices, what works and doesn’t work, and disseminating that knowledge.   It is easier to scapegoat teachers of high-risk students.

The President’s Race to the Top education program and the recent Chicago teachers’ strike shows that Obama and Emanuel are willing to fight for their ideas.  I wish the two of them had been half so willing, when Emanuel was the President’s chief of staff, to take on the Wall Street bankers.  If I had the power, I’d set performance standards for the too-big-to-fail banks and bail out the public schools.

Click on Why Rahm Emanuel and the New York Times are wrong about teacher evaluation for a great article with links on educational research on value-added teacher evaluation.  Hat tip for the link to Diane Ravich’s Blog.