Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Dear Colleague,

As we mentioned last month, it has been shown that school districts with strong teachers unions – especially in the larger districts – are far less likely to bring students back to the classroom for in-person learning during the pandemic. But there is an emerging consensus from the scientific community that schools should be reopening. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield asserts that “school is one of the safest places” for children. Also, drawing on an assessment of data from 31 countries, UNICEF  maintains that “there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them.” Moreover, the findings of a major British study reveal that it was a mistake to close schools. “The results demonstrate no evidence of serious harms from COVID-19 to adults in close contact with children, compared to those living in households without children. This has implications for determining the benefit-harm balance of children attending school in the COVID-19 pandemic.” In October’s Great Barrington Declaration, world renowned scientists noted that keeping children out of school is a “grave injustice.”

Also, there are parents who feel left out of the decision making process.

“Educators and teachers’ unions are not infectious disease experts or public health officials, and frankly, that’s who parents trust in making these decisions,” said Keri Rodrigues, the founding president of the National Parents Union, an advocacy organization with hundreds of parent groups across the country.

Often, teachers’ unions are the loudest voices at the decision-making table, Rodrigues said.

“The balance of power is off,” she said. “It’s very striking to us as parents and families—we have a group of elected officials who make deals with labor unions and decide what policies we’re going to do, and we’re just supposed to take it and be on the roller coaster ride.”

For more information, go here and here.

Recently, there was an unsettling piece in The 74. “As COVID Creeps into Schools, Surveillance Tech Follows” reports what happened when several children tested positive for Covid-19 in an Ohio school district in October,

Twelve children who came in close contact with the student were instructed to quarantine, and the entire seventh-grade class was pushed back into remote learning.

The disruptions had just begun. By mid-November, almost every student at the Wickliffe City School District was sent back to learning from computer screens in their living rooms. Because of “a significant increase in exposures and confirmed COVID-19 cases among our students and employees” that prompted widespread quarantines, the district’s “ability to appropriately staff classrooms is no longer possible,” Superintendent Joseph Spiccia wrote in a letter to parents.

But future virus outbreaks at the Wickliffe district, which educates about 1,500 students, could look a whole lot different. As part of a pilot project that the district began to roll out before Thanksgiving, officials distributed roughly 100 badges to high school students and staff that allow administrators to track their every move as they travel throughout the day between the schools’ hallways and classrooms. Implemented in the name of contact tracing, the bluetooth badges allow administrators to track students for up to a month and identify children who came into close contact with infected classmates. The district plans to give badges to all 430 high school students when they return to in-person learning early next year.

To learn more, go here.

In California, at the beginning of December, a group of Los Angeles and Alameda County families sued the California Board of Education, the Department of Education, and state Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. They accused the powers that be of not giving students in the state an adequate education due to the long-term remote learning measures taken by schools since the shutdown in March.

According to the lawsuit, remote learning has put an undue burden on parents and guardians, especially on low-income families who have poor internet service or don’t have a reliable computer to use. The lawsuit also charges that parents have had to take up the slack from the schools shortfalls, acting as educators for their children and having to pay for all of the associated extra costs usually provided by schools. The suit argued further that these shortfalls had effected minority students, in particular black and Hispanic students, the most.

“Because of the State’s inadequate response, parents and grandparents have had to become tutors, counselors, childminders, and computer technicians, and they have had to find a way to pay for what are now basic school supplies — laptop/tablets, paper, printing, and internet access,” noted the lawsuit that was filed Monday. “California has offered families no training, support, or opportunity to provide input into plans for remote learning, the eventual return to in-person instruction, or the delivery of compensatory education.

To read on, go here.

While the unions clamor for a teacher to become the next Secretary of Education, Center for Education Reform president Jeanne Allen doesn’t necessarily agree. She writes in Forbes,

Having been a teacher is not a prerequisite for success as Secretary of Education. The emphasis is wrong.  Education is primarily about learning, not teaching, just as having dinner is primarily about eating, not cooking. The process is important, as it can help achieve, and alter, the outcome. But teaching is not the goal of education; it is part of the process. While the two are correlated, and while strong teaching is more likely to yield to successful learning, the unions who are pushing the teacher-as-EdSec notion have argued the opposite holds true—that teaching and learning are not in fact correlated!

To continue reading, go here.

The latest “National Sex Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12” is a 72-page document that describes a “whole new world” of human evolution. Brenda Lebsack, Santa Ana school teacher and former board member in the Orange Unified School District, thinks this is a bridge way-too-far and picks apart the document.

Gender is described as a “social construct,” therefore students are taught that they can reject or modify their “sex assigned at birth” to something that FEELS truer to oneself. (p. 58) Examples of gender include, but are NOT LIMITED to: male, female, transgender, androgenous, agender, gender expansive, genderqueer, nonbinary, two-spirit, intersex, or questioning. Genderqueer means a person can identify as both genders, neither gender, something in-between or BEYOND genders. (p. 59, 61,67). The document informs readers on page 8 that there is a continual evolution of language related to gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sexual identity, therefore this document is only a snapshot in the evolutionary process. 

Students decide their identities through experiential learning cycles where they learn by doing, reflecting interpreting and exploring questions of how experiences could be different in the future (p.58). These “lived experiences” or collection of events become the student’s firsthand validation of their identities (p. 61).  You may ask, “How is unlimited gender ideology based on science or empirical data?” According to the new definition of “Fact” in the Sex Ed glossary (p. 58) empirical data is not required. Hypothesis, opinions, and theories are now considered fact if most experts in the field agree upon it.  In other words…it’s not about science or even common sense, it’s about whose opinions in society matter most. 

You can see the document in its entirely here. To get Lebsack’s take, go here.

With a new charter law on the books in California, charters were expecting rough going in the new year, but they seem to be getting a reprieve due to the pandemic.

Known as Assembly Bill 1505, the compromise between charters and the teachers union gave local districts the authority to consider whether the opening of a new charter would negatively impact their own schools, and it gave charters a new process to appeal rejected applications.

But with the law going into effect in the middle of a pandemic, districts lack key information needed to decide whether existing charters should continue operating — assessment data from 2020.

As a result, some schools that otherwise would have been shut down are being recommended for renewal.

To learn more, go here.

Many in the educational community have been demanding that student testing be halted during our trying times. But Hoover Institution senior fellow Chester Finn insists that this would be a grave error. He writes in The Washington Post,

Honestly, pretty much no one likes them. No one much likes check-ups with the doctor or dentist, either, no matter how useful they might be. Yet, after last spring’s school shutdowns and the forced — and mostly ill-prepared — transition to online learning, U.S. education may never have had a greater need for reliable information about how students are doing.

What have they learned, and not learned, during these difficult past several months? Which schools and districts moved effectively to virtual education? How did achievement gaps change according to family income or racial group?

To read on, go here.

In Los Angeles-adjacent Burbank, book banning is becoming a reality due to concerns raised by some parents over racism. Until further notice, teachers in the area will not be able to include Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Theodore Taylor's The Cay, and Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in their curriculum.

Four parents, three of whom are Black, challenged the classic novels for alleged potential harm to the district's roughly 400 Black students.

To learn more, go here.

Anyone wishing to make a year-end donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal – here. As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!) 

It has been another exciting year for CTEN, and we look forward to an even more vigorous 2021. We are grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!


Larry Sand

CTEN President



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 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 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 -  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!


Larry Sand

CTEN President