Wednesday, November 18, 2020

 

Dear Colleague,

A working paper released in October by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform reveals that local politics – not the severity of COVID-19 – is the most important factor in determining whether k-12 public school districts opened for in-person learning in the fall. Political science professors Michael Hartney and Leslie Finger looked at about 75 percent of the nation’s 10,000 school districts and found that counties that voted 60 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016 “were nearly 20 percentage points less likely to hold in-person classes than counties that backed Donald Trump by the same margin.” They also report that districts with strong teachers unions were far less likely to bring students back to the classroom. Very interestingly, the professors note that districts “located in counties with a larger number of Catholic schools were less likely to shut down and more likely to return to in-person learning.”

The study’s results are similar to others on the lockdown issue. In July, Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tracked the reopening plans of over 250 school districts across the country and reported that there was no “no relationship” between each locality’s decision and its number of COVID-19 cases. Valant said that education policy “is just one consideration among many that have been ‘distorted’ by the encroachment of national politics.”

To see the Brown study, go here. To get Valant’s take, go here.

Whatever the reason for the shutdowns, LA School Report’s Linda Jacobson writes that “up to 500,000 students across California and 1 to 3 million kids nationwide – have been missing from schools since March” according to a recent report released by Bellwether Education Partners.

Pulling from news reports and federal data sources, the team of researchers predict that between 10 and 25 percent of students in the most marginalized populations have completely missed out on learning for the past seven months.

“We did this because we know that just 1 percent of our most marginalized kids not coming to school might not seem like a lot in any one district, and many districts might not even be keeping careful count, but that’s more than 230 schools’ worth of children across the country — and we think that’s a big deal,” said Hailly T.N. Korman, a senior associate partner at the Washington-based non-profit who conducted the project with co-authors Bonnie O’Keefe and Matt Repka.

To continue reading, go here.

While many parents of public school families are upset that their schools are closed, Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t have that problem. His four kids are back in the private school they attend, even as public schools in Sacramento County remain closed. In a Politico piece posted on Oct. 30, Mackenzie Mays wrote,

Newsom's children attend a private school in Sacramento County that has a hybrid schedule that alternates remote and in-person education before it will return full-time next month, according to a source. POLITICO is not naming the school for privacy reasons.

"They're phasing back into school and we are phasing out of our very challenging distance learning that we've been doing, so many parents are doing up and down the state," Newsom said Friday when asked about his own children's education.

Sacramento County schools are allowed to open classrooms under Newsom's reopening system. But the county's large public school districts — including San Juan Unified, which serves Newsom's neighborhood — have yet to do so.

To continue reading, go here.

But according to several sources, Newsom has left his Sacramento home, and moved to nearby El Dorado County which is not on any COVID-19 watch list.

To learn more, go here.

As we have mentioned in previous newsletters, many parents are unhappy with the distance learning program offered by their school district and are opting for “pandemic pods,” a form of microschooling. Families work together to educate their own kids, and sometimes recruit professional teachers to help with the process. It’s a way for clusters of students to receive professional instruction for several hours each day. But now the education establishment is fighting back.

The National Education Association has issued an “opposition report” attacking Prenda, a microschool provider in Arizona. Among other things, while Prenda policy says that prescription drugs, alcohol and weapons must be locked and secured at a pod location, the union claims that it is unclear whether Prenda conducts any inspections. NEA also says that Prenda should be taken to task for not providing meals or transportation to the students.

And it’s not only teachers unions that are going after pods. In Massachusetts, state guidelines affirm, “Entities that provide supervision and care of children during school hours without an EEC license or EEC license exemption will be subject to investigation, closure, and fines by EEC pursuant to its statutory obligation to investigate unlicensed child care programs.” In Pennsylvania, if a pod has more than six students, it must develop an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency, and ensure that every space where the pod gathers has a functional fire detection system. In Oregon, the state has asserted that homeschooling pods “need to follow regulations and get the right permits.” A report released last week by Heritage Foundation policy analyst Jonathan Butcher reveals that 19 states have either imposed new regulations or expanded existing ones that can interfere with families’ attempts to gain access to pods.

To read the NEA’s opposition report, go here. To see Butcher’s analysis, go here.

Before the recent election, Mike Antonucci reported on the campaign priorities of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, using the Center for Responsive Politics and its OpenSecrets.org website as his source.

While much of the focus over the years has been on traditional political action committee spending, this is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of total campaign expenditures. Open Secrets gives a comprehensive view of all types of spending, including that made by super PACs and other outside groups not directly affiliated with a particular candidate’s campaign.

We still have a couple of weeks before the election, with a lot more spending to come, but the most recent reports show that NEA raised almost $23 million, almost all of which it passed on to its own super PAC, the NEA Advocacy Fund. Contributions to candidates from its traditional PAC, the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, are approaching all-time. These include donations from individual NEA employees or members who identified themselves as such. Of those, $99,077 went to Democrats. Joe Biden got almost $28,000, and his rivals in the presidential primary received funds as well. Only $3,573 went to Republican candidates. President Donald Trump received $40.

To learn more, go here.

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was administered to high school seniors in early 2019, a full year before the COVID-19 lockdowns. The so-called “Nation’s Report Card” reveals that just 37 percent of 12th-graders are proficient in reading and a pitiful 24 percent in math. In fact, the average reading score for grade 12 students was lower than in 1992.

Not surprisingly, many blame the seniors’ abysmal performance on the fact that the U.S. has defunded education. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten groused in a press release about “two decades of austerity.”

But, adjusting for inflation, per‐​pupil public spending grew 39 percent between 1991-1992 and 2016-2017. And as Cato Institute scholar Neal McCluskey points out, “…spending between 2016–17 and the 2019 NAEP administration probably continued to grow as the economy improved.”

To learn more about the recent NAEP, go here. To see Weingarten’s claims, go here.

On the subject of funding, Will Flanders, research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, has an interesting take.  He writes that if education is changing, so should the funding. He writes,

…the largest source of declines came from the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten cohort. Pre-K declined by 15% while kindergarten declined by 5%. Families may simply be delaying the start of school by a year rather navigate the uncertain value of virtual education. But some parents will assuredly come to like the alternatives, and may not return to the public school system they had planned on attending pre-pandemic. 

The predicted result of this disruption will be a pinch in school district budgets. States like California and North Carolina have already implemented so-called “hold harmless” provisions, and superintendents all over the country are asking for similar measures.  However, it would be a mistake to exempt public school districts from the sort of tough decisions this enrollment decline may require.  

The bottom line is that it’s far from clear what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on parental decision-making regarding their kids’ education. It could be that we are on the precipice of long-term seismic changes in education. It may also be the case that many parents choose to send their kids back to school after the pandemic. But if reality is closer to the former, it will be important for schools to make longterm adjustments to their budgets to account for reductions in state aid and property taxes. If the latter proves correct, districts would see a bump in funding in future years, making COVID-related reductions a minor blip.  Giving districts a break now will just delay the inevitable.  

To read more of Flanders’ analysis, go here.

If you have other valuable resources that you would like to share, or you’d like to report on what your school district is doing – good, bad or indifferent – to deal with the “new normal,” please do so by emailing cteninfo@ctenhome.org or, if you prefer, posting on Facebook. The CTEN page can be accessed here, and the CTEN group can be found here.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal - http://www.ctenhome.org/donate.html  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always, and good luck with all the new challenges we are facing!

Sincerely,

Larry Sand

CTEN President

 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dear Colleague,

In a major surprise, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 331 on Sept. 30th. This legislation would have made taking an ethnic studies class a requirement to graduate high school in the state. “There is much uncertainty about the appropriate K-12 model curriculum for ethnic studies,” Newsom wrote in his veto statement. “The latest draft, which is currently out for review, still needs revision.”

But there are other things in the works. In a California Department of Education “Covid-19 update,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond referenced the disease only as a way to rant against Donald Trump.

COVID-19 is not the only virus affecting our society today. The man-made viruses—the ones of racism, hate and bigotry—are also gaining a foothold. Increasingly, I see heartbreaking stories of anti-Semitic behavior, bullying of Asian American students because of our President’s rhetoric, Islamophobia, discrimination of our LGBTQ neighbors, and violence directed at people of color.

As a way to deal with all the above, Thurmond announced an “Education to End Hate” initiative which “includes educator training grants, partnerships with community leaders, and virtual classroom sessions to address hate and bigotry in our schools and society.”

To learn more, go here and here.

One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic is that “Enrollment Is Dropping In Public Schools Around the Country” writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Orange County, Fla., has 8,000 missing students. The Miami-Dade County public schools have 16,000 fewer than last year. Los Angeles Unified — the nation's second-largest school system — is down nearly 11,000. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina has 5,000 missing. Utah, Virginia and Washington are reporting declines statewide.

 

Comprehensive national data aren't available yet, but reporting by NPR and our member stations, along with media reports from around the country, shows enrollment declines in dozens of school districts across 20 states. Large and small, rich and poor, urban and rural — in most of these districts the decline is a departure from recent trends. Over the past 15 years, data from the U.S. Education Department show that small and steady annual increases in public school enrollment have been the rule.

To continue reading, go here.

As we have mentioned in the last two newsletters, many parents are opting for what are called “pandemic pods,” a form of microschooling. Families work together to educate their own kids, and sometimes recruit professional teachers to help with the process. It’s a way for clusters of students to receive professional instruction for several hours each day. Just a couple of weeks ago, Cato Institute scholar Jason Bedrick and EdChoice fellow Matthew Ladner released “Let’s Get Small: Microschools, Pandemic Pods, and the Future of Education in America,” a report on the phenomenon. In the summary, they write that COVID-19 has

…spurred the dramatic rise of microschools and ‘pandemic pods’ as school districts’ reopening plans (or lack thereof) drove desperate parents to explore alternative education options. For many microschooling or podding families, these options are merely temporary, intended to get them through the pandemic. However, given the considerable growth in microschooling in recent years, there are reasons to believe that the pandemic accelerated a growing trend that could significantly reshape K–12 education in the United States.

The 74’s Bekah McNeil agrees that we are in the midst of a pandemic homeschooling boom. She writes that many families have discovered that their children need something other than what is offered in public schools, and find success using different curricula than they use.

To learn more, go here and here.

While many parents are embracing pods, the teachers unions are not happy with them.

Pods are a divisive trend. NEA president Becky Pringle agrees that these new arrangements help teachers earn money. But she worries pods will become more widespread and damage a public-education system already reeling from budget cuts and struggling to fund Covid-19 safety measures. This could open the door for more inequity, segregation and unsafe workplaces, since pods are expensive and unregulated, she says.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says while learning pods highlight the need for more small-group teaching in schools, she believes they’re a “pandemic Band-Aid” instead of a long-term, viable career option. 

But there are teachers who have a different opinion. Unhappy with the way her school district handled the pandemic, Salem, MA special ed teacher Krissy Rand put out her résumé.

Eight groups of families contacted her within three days. She now makes more money teaching six first-graders from six families in Wellesley, Mass. They are following their public school’s curriculum, and she’s added cooking, yoga and earth sciences, with lots of hands-on experiments. She loves that there are no rules and administrative red tape, and no sitting through long meetings.

“It’s a teacher’s dream,” she says. “The day flies by.”

To learn more, go here.

Many parents who haven’t abandoned their local public school are not happy with the way online teaching has been going. In Los Angeles, nine parents have filed a class action lawsuit.

The parents are claiming that teachers in Los Angeles are offering just a fraction of the instruction time seen in other large school districts. The inadequate instruction puts Los Angeles students at a disadvantage and violates their right to a basic public education under the state constitution, according to the suit. The lawsuit comes at a time that the nation's second largest school district grapples with the pandemic and the logistics of distance learning when most students are living below the poverty level.

The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, announced during a news conference at the County Courthouse, also alleges that minority students, particularly Blacks and Latinos, are disproportionately impacted.

To learn more about the case, go here.

In any event, parents are justifiably concerned by the disruption to their children’s education. According to a report issued on October 1st by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), on average, students in 19 states had an estimated loss from 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and from 136 to 232 days of learning in math in the spring of 2020 due to the lockdowns.

"In the absence of any actual assessments, these results serve as scientifically grounded estimates of what happened to students since March. It will take extended broad-based support from all corners to address the current deficits and the ripples they cause into the future," said Dr. Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University.

Raymond adds, "For us, the bigger concern is the variation in loss estimates across schools. The students who would have been at the back of the pack if regular assessments had been used are the students that have the deepest rates of "COVID Slide."

To read more, go here.

The American Federation of Teachers’ yearly financial report has just been released, and as Mike Antonucci notes, “the precipitous loss of members unions feared has not occurred, AFT did indeed lose working members in 2020,” but at the same time the union gained 22,000 new retired members. Politically, AFT’s spending is, as always, a one-way affair.

AFT gave seven-figure grants to four national Democratic Party super PACs:

Six-figure grants went to organizations and campaigns such as Emily’s List, the Opportunity to Learn Action Fund and the State Innovation Exchange, including an eye-opening $400,000 to help elect Jackie Goldberg to the Los Angeles Unified School District school board.

To learn more about AFT’s finances, go here

If you have any valuable resources that you would like to share, or report on what your school district is doing – good, bad or indifferent – to deal with the “new normal,” please do so by emailing cteninfo@ctenhome.org or posting on Facebook if you prefer. The CTEN page can be accessed here, and the CTEN group can be found here.

Best of luck to all of you, your families and your students during these very trying times. 

Sincerely,

Larry Sand

CTEN President