by James C. Sherlock
The most predictable (and predicted) crisis in the history of the nation’s public schools has come to pass. The education and thus future prospects of millions of poor children have been destroyed by weak governors and mayors, aggressive teachers unions and feckless boards of education who not only should have known better, but did know better.
I wrote in June in this space:
Every study has found that in the past few months K-12 schools have had very little success in teaching large groups of children remotely. Remote learning is much harder, inherently much less successful, and exacerbates the differences in outcomes between those with a lot of support at home and those with less.
Ignoring for a moment the daunting challenges at the teacher end, remote learning in K-12 generally works only for children whose families provide a stable and supportive learning environment, are motivated to learn, undistracted and have access to the tools necessary to do the work.
If school boards require remote learning, they will do so knowing it won’t be effective.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in its final revision to its back-to-school guidelines coordinated with the CDC wrote in August:
…the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. (The AAP’s bold lettering, not mine).
Having been browbeaten by the CDC, the AAP followed with a caveat for areas with “current widespread circulation of the virus.” The AAP then added:
The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families. The disproportionate impact this has had on Black, Latinx, and Native American/Alaskan Native children and adolescents must also be recognized.
Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.
The AAP thus wrote that the default position should be kids in school, with as few COVID shutdowns as necessary. That is the policy that Catholic schools in Virginia are following.
The AAP spoke for the children. It turned out that they were virtually alone in that.
The Virginia Education Association and other teacher spokepersons, most prominently in but not limited to Northern Virginia, have pressured school boards for the opposite solution. They have pressed for the schools to remain closed to in-person instruction until the virus is completely under control.
Some school boards, trying to be inoffensive to as many people as possible, tried to split the difference with hybrid instruction 2 days in school and three days at home. That turned out to be the worst possible solution.
It resulted in some near-suicidal teachers having to create hybrid lesson plans and be in school with children in front of them and children at home on Zoom.
But many places in Virginia, the VEA and similarly thinking teachers associations have won.
As Albert Shanker, the President of the American Federation of Teachers once famously said,
“When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
That matches the world view of some elected school board members about representing the people who can vote. Virtually everywhere the support of teachers organizations is crucial to school board elections in those low-turnout contests.
Hannah Natanson wrote on November 24 in the Washington Post:
A report on student grades from one of the nation’s largest school districts (Fairfax County) offers some of the first concrete evidence that online learning is forcing a striking drop in students’ academic performance, and that the most vulnerable students — children with disabilities and English-language learners — are suffering the most.
Experts have warned since the beginning of the pandemic, and the unexpected national experiment in online learning, that remote schooling would take a serious academic toll on children.
At this phase of the pandemic, (an expert) said, the United States has reached a tipping point: The damage done to schoolchildren with scarce resources is likely to be irreparable.(my bold)
On November 26, she wrote:
Sophia Sanchez, age 9 and stuck in perpetual Zoom school, is crying a lot lately.
Her mother and sister rush in and ask what went wrong. Did the Internet go out again? Is her computer plugged in? Is the math too confusing? Sophia can’t really answer. She’s too upset, wondering whether she’ll ever learn new things again, fearing she’ll fail the fourth grade and, more than anything, missing her friends. She hasn’t seen a single friend since March, when she was in third grade.
The damage is indeed done.
I offer my initial list of accountable persons and organizations:
Governor Northam and his Department of Education. While carrying high the banner of equity, diversity and inclusion, the Governor and his education bureaucracy have irreparably damaged a generation of poor minority kids. The hypocrisy is utterly breathtaking.
A couple of interesting requirements for the Board of Education from the Code of Virginia are worth tracking. I will.
§ 22.1-17.02. Definition of “student with limited or interrupted formal education”.
The Department shall develop and adopt a common statewide definition for the term “student with limited or interrupted formal education” and shall require local school divisions to report the number of students who fall under such definition as part of the required data collection and reporting on average daily membership for the purposes of documenting any changes in such numbers over time.
§ 22.1-18. Report on education and standards of quality for school divisions; when submitted and effective.
By December 1 of each year, the Board of Education shall submit to the Governor and the General Assembly a report on the condition and needs of public education in the Commonwealth and shall identify any school divisions and the specific schools therein that have failed to establish and maintain schools meeting the existing prescribed standards of quality. Such standards of quality shall be subject to revision only by the General Assembly, pursuant to Article VIII, Section 2 of the Constitution of Virginia.
Virginia Attorney General. Article VIII of Virginia’s Constitution, Section 1. states:
“The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”
Title 22.1 of the Code of Virginia provides the laws the General Assembly has passed to implement public education. Many of them have been violated. The Attorney General has shown no interest in that whatever.
Strikes by government employees are punishable by mandatory dismissal in Virginia. The widely reported strike threats by organizations representing teachers in Northern Virginia should have been of concern to the Attorney General. Those threats worked just like a strike. He should recommend making strike threats against the government a criminal offense. (corrected Dec.4, 2020)
Yet Attorney General Mark Herring has plenty of time to sue the federal government over differences in policy preferences and to investigate Loudoun County Schools for lack of diversity in outcomes of school programs designed for competitive entry.
General Assembly. The Democrat-led Virginia General Assembly had ample time to legislate on this matter, the biggest education crisis at least since massive resistance, in August, but did not.
School boards. § 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives.
“Local school boards shall develop and implement programs of prevention, intervention, or remediation for students who are educationally at risk.”
If this tragedy has illustrated anything, it is that we must have as high a turnout for school board elections as we do for presidential elections and that voters must familiarized themselves with the candidates. As a rule of thumb, vote against any candidate endorsed by any teachers organization.
Teachers unions. The Democrats who control Richmond made one of their first priorities the repay of the nearly 50 million dollars in direct campaign contributions they have received from unions in the past 25 years. That does not count indirect contributions through dark money sources.
The first step was legalizing direct union contract negotiations with local governments by local option. Any locality voting to authorize such direct negotiations has seen the outcome of union threats of illegal strikes without any reaction by the Attorney General. They deserve what they get.
Teachers. Teachers need to consider who represents them. Those who think they were well served by the VEA/NEA or other organizations who claimed to speak for them should pay their dues. Those who do not should quit those organizations.
Advocates for the poor. Where, exactly, have the advocates for the poor been while all of this has been going on? NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, Advocates for Richmond Youth, Virginia Poor Peoples’ Campaign, Black and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, General Assembly Black Caucus?
I never read one word from any of them as the kids and their parents they claim to champion were having their lives destroyed. I quite honestly don’t understand this. I really don’t.
Voters. If we don’t pay attention, this is what we get. Someone needs to speak for the children.There are currently no comments highlighted.