Remote Learning Takes Predictably Highest Toll on Virginia’s Most Vulnerable – There are Villains

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.  

The Facts

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.   

Accountability

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 GeneralArticle 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.

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34 responses to “Remote Learning Takes Predictably Highest Toll on Virginia’s Most Vulnerable – There are Villains

  1. “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.”

    Perhaps they are too busy working with the Virginia Attorney General in their effort to blow up the Academies of Loudoun.

    • I still don’t get it. I have gone through all of the possibilities in my mind, and the only thing I can come up with is a single-minded focus on dogma vice people. But many of the leaders of these advocacy groups have kids of their own. I am mystified.

      • Perhaps many of them have their kids in private schools already? Not intended as a joke — one very Woke Twitter type I know well did that early. We had the story the other day about the superintendent in a NoVa system putting one of his in Bishop Ireton.

        • The rich buying their way out of education problems is at the top of my list for why private schools shouldn’t exist.

          • Lol. And private universities? Lexus cars? Compulsory military service during time of war (or “police actions”)? Should Obama have set a good example by sending his kids to DC public schools?

            The failures of education are not due to “the rich” and will not be solved by forbidding rich people from sending their kids to private schools.

            The failures of public education in America are from a decades long pattern of mismanagement by the liberal Edutocracy.

            In Virginia our problems are exacerbated by a lack of restraints on campaign contributions and an education bureaucracy only too happy to make large campaign contributions. The net result is a lack of school choice that would be widely welcomed by a majority of Virginians.

            If you want to improve education in Virginia – don’t ban private schools, ban or seriously limit campaign contributions to our state politicians.

          • Let’s look at Fairfax County Public Schools, headed by an administration and school board that proudly consider themselves extremely woke and committed to the underdog. First, it failed to update its distance learning software for three years, causing a multiple week delay in starting distance learning this last spring. Second, it failed to succeed with its outreach and support program to help minority (excluding the honorary “white” Asian-Americans, of course) and low-income students with math and science interest and aptitude get into TJ. Third, it cannot provide an in-person instruction for special ed kids, most especially those with the most severe disabilities. Fourth, it cannot provide any in-person instruction to kids taking vocational education. Learn how to do autobody work online. Fifth, it’s fallen behind on its plans to open schools to part-time in-person instruction for the youngest students.

            Yep, let’s protect our public institutions against competition.

          • I simply don’t believe you mean that.

  2. “the only thing I can come up with is a single-minded focus on dogma versus people.”

    I think you’re on to something with that idea. What else might explain their failure to urge their constituency to be responsible fathers, and to marry their kids mother to best accomplish that task, instead of abandoning her and their kids? Why can’t these “leaders” even admit the problem, much less try to solve it, but blame other people of different skin color instead?

  3. “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.”

    What’s new? Unless he’s said something recently I haven’t heard anything from Northam about the 70,000 Virginians waiting for delayed benefits checks.

    I guess it’s easier and more fun to huff and puff about Confederate statues and implement anti-Asian-American policies than to actually address the nuts and bolts of the problems.

    • Says more about the voters than it does about him, sadly. You can’t get the attention of any Republicans now, either. They are too busy hunting up and shooting anybody who disagrees this election was stolen, and plotting Trump’s return. Talk about issues? Boring….

      • Voters, RPV, Republican politicians, The Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, liberal Democrats in Virginia … Where is Kirk Cox, Amanda Chase or Pete Snyder

        But most of all … the media!

        While there has been some coverage it has been “below the fold” as they used to say. Where is the outrage from the Washington Post or even the Richmond Times Dispatch.

        And what about our national politicians? Where are the calls for action or executive terminations from Kaine or Warner, Jennifer Wexton, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly?

        70,000 is a lot of people.

      • If Republican candidates do not campaign on this, they deserve to lose.

      • “You can’t get the attention of any Republicans now, either. They are too busy hunting up and shooting anybody who disagrees this election was stolen…”

        Mr. Haner,

        Don’t blame election issues on Republican’s lack of action. Their timidity and incompetence didn’t start this November. Additionally, they should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

        The integrity of U.S. elections is no trivial matter. What happened this election is a cancer that threatens the republic. If we don’t raise the important issues now, there is a good chance that what happened this election will become the norm.

        There are numerous substantive issues involved. If you have not taken the time to examine them in sufficient detail to understand the importance, then you should. Here’s just one.

        http://www.pahousegopnews.com/AttachedFiles/12.04.20%20Congress%20Election%202020.pdf

  4. As I pointed out last time you did this dance…the CDC and the AAP are not the only two organizations offering guidance on this. The rundown from AAMC was good: https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/kids-school-and-covid-19-what-we-know-and-what-we-don-t

    The major takeaway is that kids can and do spread COVID but not like adults, which means that school outbreaks (which do still happen) are caused by community outbreaks, but schools are very rarely the origin for an outbreak. Money quote: “You can only open your school safely if you have COVID under control in your community.”

    The takeaway – for me at least – is that schools were right to close in the spring when we didn’t have a real firm understanding on how different from flu this would be in terms of spread. Even though I disagreed with at the time – and largely still do – Northam was probably right to let school systems make their own call as to which ones open or close given the information roundup from the AAMC.

    As to whether the schools should open now, the question is – as we trend toward a 9/11 a day of COVID deaths in this country – do our communities have COVID under control? It doesn’t look like it to me, and it doesn’t look like it to me not just for Richmond but for the state (which is why I disagree with Northam). But if you think the disease is under control enough that schools should open I’m curious as to why.

    • I don’t know why you are replying to me with this comment. I agree. The schools should have been closed in the spring and should be open now (for most schools that can afford reasonable social distancing).

      FWIW – I think the disease is under control enough for schools to be open now because of what I have seen in Europe. Wales kept schools open and even under the highest level of alarm in Scotland “Lockdown” – schools remain open. I have not seen the predicted disaster from open schools in Europe that some have heralded in the US.

      https://www.npr.org/2020/11/13/934153674/lessons-from-europe-where-cases-are-rising-but-schools-are-open

    • Another spokesperson for the children.

    • AAMC is perfect. They have the insight born of never having to deal with patients.

    • “The major takeaway is that kids can and do spread COVID…”

      The opening of schools has not been shown to be the primary driver of infections. From the article you linked to:

      “What we haven’t seen are superspreader events” that ignited in schools, says Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke. “The fear that you’d have one infected kid come to school, and then you’d have many other kids and teachers and relatives [at home] get infected — that hasn’t happened.”

      In-person instruction may carry some additional risk, but for those without significant health issues, it’s minimal.

      I would ask you about what blanket school closings say about our society. There was a time when adults made sacrifices and even faced extreme danger for the benefit of the children. Have we now reached the point where what’s best for the children is sacrificed for the potential benefit of adults? That’s truly a sad state of affairs.

      My wife leaves each weekday morning to work in one of the school systems in Virginia that remains open for in-person instruction. She’s doing her job.

      By virtue of my age, I am considered high risk. If I contract COVID-19 through my wife as a result of her working with children, so be it.

  5. “Strikes by government employees are illegal in Virginia. The widely reported strike threats by organizations representing teachers in Northern Virginia should have been met with cease and desist orders and possible indictments.”

    FWIW – It is not a crime for a government employee to strike, so cease and desist orders and/or indictments would not have been appropriate. The way §40.1-55 reads, a government employee is considered to have terminated his/her employment the moment he/she strikes or participates in a work stoppage. He/she is also ineligible to hold a government job for 12 months from the date of his/her termination.

  6. Capt jim,
    I find your comment amusing, not for what you are saying now, which has its points, but go back 10 years and BR was all about promoting MOOC. What happened?

    • I don’t go back 10 years – actually less than one here. MOOC were recommended as a way to reduce the cost of college for those without the resources for full time in person attendance and for universities to make money that they could use to reduce tuition, but I do not remember it being recommended for K-12.

      You remind me, though. It is time for many of the required annual December reports from the VDOE. That includes not only the two I mention above, but also the teacher shortages report. I plan to FOIA them on Monday. Should be interesting.

      Between COVID and the full frontal assault on white teachers as racists, the subject of MOOC may rise again, but this time in the grades 9-12 context. I certainly hope not.

  7. “MOOC were recommended as a way to reduce the cost of college for those without the resources for full time in person attendance and for universities to make money that they could use to reduce tuition, but I do not remember it being recommended for K-12.”

    Your memory is correct. And it was not recommended or even discussed for K-12.

    However, as to now post Covid, I expect very significant growth of MOOC in higher education for an array of reasons that force massive reforms upon today’s bloated, highly inefficient, obscenely expensive and obsolete models of higher education.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    2020-21 academic year is lost. Maybe a few superintendents will be shown the door. School board members are going to get unseated for certain. The rest of the accountable list is going to get a pass.

  9. When the VDH requests school divisions go virtual what are the school boards to do? The liability is probably frightening for board members. I have seen stories of children who are supposed to be quarantined showing up for school.

    • You are correct. I wrote a column urging COVID-related liability protection for school boards and superintendents back in the summer before the special session. It didn’t happen. Ask the Democrats who control both houses and the Governorship why not.

  10. Many school board members and chairs are in the 70 plus age range and are very disconnected from the actual needs of students. These elected officials can’t begin to use the technology they are expecting students to use in place of in person classes.

  11. SWVA is currently battling it out on social media regarding school closures and athletics. School Divisions are divided in response to the VDH requests for virtual classes and no athletic participation.

  12. Pingback: General Assembly Education Bills – What is Missing? – HIPPA

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