Substandard Schooling for All!

by Kerry Dougherty

File this under “You just can’t win.”

Parents of Fairfax County school children have had enough. For decades these folks were accustomed to excellence in public education. They proudly sat atop the Virginia educational heap. Shoot, Fairfax is home to Thomas Jefferson High School, widely considered the best public high school in the country:

“Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a Fairfax County public magnet school so competitive that its 17-percent acceptance rate is identical to Georgetown University’s. Since 2008, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have both ranked it the number-one high school in the country three times,” according to Washingtonian Magazine.

So, imagine parents’ chagrin when they found that the county was completely unprepared for distance learning when the governor ordered the schools closed last spring. Fairfax County’s experiment in virtual education was a complete disaster.

This is not what families in one of Virginia’s wealthiest counties expect or will tolerate.

To make matters worse, militant teachers groups in Northern Virginia — including a bona fide union, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers — made their opposition to in-person learning abundantly clear earlier this summer.

“Virtual Until Vaccine” became their mantra. The teachers say they don’t want to go back to the classroom until COVID-19 is gone. The superintendent stopped short of that level of nuttiness — barely — but he’s declared that school will be 100% online for at least the first quarter.

That left parents fretting about how to do their own jobs while essentially homeschooling their kids.

So, some clever moms and dads joined with other families to form “Pandemic Pods.”

These are small groups of kids who will quarantine together with a few others to be privately tutored to augment whatever thin gruel the county serves up this fall as virtual learning. The parents will pool their money to pay the tutor, who may or may not be an actual Fairfax County teacher. Teachers there are allowed to moonlight. (Apparently teaching in private little pods for cash is not nearly as scary as entering an actual classroom.)

Are these parents being applauded for taking extraordinary measures to make sure their kids actually learn something this year?

Of course not.

Public school mentality rarely rewards parental innovation. These public school zealots loathe private schools and don’t support any program that isn’t under firm control of the pros, such as charter schools.

In fact, Fairfax County brass issued a stern memo to parents admitting that although they can’t outlaw Pandemic Pods — you get the feeling they wish they could — they may not hire their child’s actual teacher as a tutor. And they warned these pod parents that no effort would be made to put their podsters into the same virtual class this year.

Too much trouble.

Oh, and there’s this:

While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students. Many parents cannot afford private instruction. Many working families can’t provide transportation to and from a tutoring pod, even if they could afford to pay for the service.

Ah, equity. That was the reason given in Virginia Beach last spring for the brilliant no-grades policy that resulted in kids checking out completely and embarking on a six-month rumspringa.

Looks like the people charged with educating the children of Fairfax County would rather every child receive a deficient education than have some kids get ahead.

Perhaps the Fairfax County school motto ought to be “Substandard schooling for all!”

I hesitate to point this out, but life isn’t fair and neither is education.

There will always be parents who make sure their kids do better than their peers. They buy books rather than junk food, for instance. They read to their children at night, instead of turning on the TV. They pay for tutors to help a child struggling in a particular subject or put them in summer enrichment programs. They take their kids to museums instead of amusement parks.

Equity fanatics haven’t figured out a way to stop all of that out-of-school education. But they know they really don’t like these Pandemic Pods.

Well, there’s one way to get rid of them: Reopen the schools.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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52 responses to “Substandard Schooling for All!

  1. Kerry nailed this one. If she hadn’t written about it, I would have. Some people are so concerned about “inequity” that they would rather drag everyone down rather than let some get ahead. The situation we face is terrible. But don’t blame parents for providing the education that the county cannot or will not.

  2. The rich will hire tutors or for some just continue with their tutors they have had all along.

    Homeschoolers that also have pods will continue as before also.

    Those two groups are well able to weather the pandemic.

    Pandemic Pods are the next level down and I would think such pods could easily be based on neighborhood churches and even for lower income.

    I would have hoped that public schools like Fairfax would be more supportive but also recognize that given Kerry’s tendency to accentuate the negative and exaggerate, the actual situation may not be quite the way she has portrayed it. So might do a little more reading to verify.

    The hate and discontent from the partisans continues no matter what… no big surprise on that.

    • The quote is verbatim from FCPS Larry.

      https://www.fcps.edu/blog/message-parents-tutoring-pods

      Perhaps instead of personally attacking the author you could research first and question later.

      • Yep, Kerry got this one right. Prohibiting teachers from tutoring the students (for pay) who they teach makes sense. Refusing to try to maintain some logistical cohesion among children in a Pandemic Pod does not. The teachers and administrators in Fairfax County are refusing to work in-school while teachers and administrators in other public school systems (and many private schools) are going back to class. One would think that Fairfax County’s BigEd bureaucracy would do whatever it could to help parents who take the initiative to support the “hell no, we won’t go (back to class)” attitude of Fairfax County’s teachers.

        • It’s evident the squeaky wheel gets the grease, while it probably wasn’t all the teachers. It was the ones who held clout and therefore made the decision for all. Sounds similar to what happens in a unionized teaching environment, the only group hurt is the students.

  3. Lowest common denominator — I saw it in the 1970s when I was bused in 7th grade.
    My mom got a tutor [a retired teacher] to teach me diagramming as it was not taught in school because too many students couldn’t even write a sentence.

  4. Here in the Richmond ‘burbs, the YMCA will be running programs INSIDE THE CLOSED SCHOOL BUILDINGS where students are supervised while doing on-line programs, etc. Pray tell, if the YMCA employees can be inside those buildings with groups of children for full days of instruction, why are the schools actually closed? The absurdity of all this is growing fast. Day care has operated through all this, and plenty of summer day camps, with minimal (I wouldn’t claim no) problems. This is just a political game — schools will reopen Nov 4 if the teacher unions get their candidate in…

  5. My hometown in Pittsburgh had originally decided Full Time/online mix. Virtually every parent and student opted for the full time option. Citing inability to social distance with ALL students back, as well as the Pa. Gov’s guidance, the new plan is now 100% online.

  6. The forethought has been so lacking regarding the employment of the parents and who can be at home for this instruction. I can understand concerns and wanting to be virtual, however learning doesn’t occur through that medium as displayed last spring. It doesn’t appear that there has been any dialog between the BoE, the districts or the parents as how to accomplish meaningful learning via continued remote instruction. The fact that there has been zero planning (which should’ve started the moment Gov. Northam closed the schools) is rather telling about the lack of leadership we have as a state.

    In the military MDMP (Military Decision Making Process) follows the adage of 1/3 – 2/3. Where 2/3 of the time is devoted to planning and 1/3 of the time is to execution. This is a process that Gov. Northam as a former officer and cadet should’ve been aware of and practiced in.

    Even the very basic idea of remote learning requiring internet was disregarded, half of Louisa County doesn’t have internet. That’s just a single instance in a very large state.

    The children’s education has been doomed and the 2nd and 3rd order effects will not be felt for 5 to 10 years from now.

  7. Well, I’m glad you at least dropped the attacks on the teacher’s professional associations. So you must have done some research, i.e., looked at a website, to determine that the Fairfax Education Association and the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators are not the boogeymen. Or, most likely, just took my word for it the last time you attacked teachers.

    I assume you’ve a degree and have heard of volunteerism, or are you of the chicken hawk variety, e.g., DeLay did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War pointing out “So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself.”

    • Who exactly where you addressing?

      If it was myself, than you’ve engaged in a strawman argument, as I never attacked the teachers. I’m the child of a teacher, from a unionized state. My disdain for some is rooted in the fact that junk teachers are protected by the Union and the mass suffer for their deeds.

      Furthermore, I have a degree in Electrical Engineering, ROTC cadet and finally and Army Officer.

      “I assume you’ve a degree and have heard of volunteerism, or are you of the chicken hawk variety, e.g., DeLay did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War pointing out “So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself.””

      Outside of my bonafides your comment says absolutely nothing.

      It doesn’t take away from Gov. Northam’s pedigree of being a VMI Cadet and having to attend and pass all of the military pre-reqs before attending Medical School. MDMP is taught when you’re a Senior in ROTC (VMI uses the same path to Commission as ROTC programs) and or attending the Service Academies. It’s the last step in your progression to leading troops. It’s fairly obvious that his cabinet didn’t employ this tactic nor did her attempt to instill it’s methods into them (sure sign of a very poor leader).

      • Wow! Egocentric much? Was it attached via “reply” to your thread? Did it have your name on it? Did you publish a piece in BR in the past attacking those two professional organizations as collective bargaining unions?

        • Egocentric? Surely you were gazing in a mirror when you made that statement. Also, egocentric wouldn’t apply by any definition of the word. It would be “conceited”.

          Clearly the only person discussing the Military Training the Gov. Northam acquired was me, therefore my assumption was you were spouting inane trip as always.

          PS: There have been several instances where you and your cabal can’t seem to find that reply hyperlink which nests it to the previous comment. You know, which is why my comment was prefaced with the following:

          “Who exactly where you addressing?”

          Now, we can assume you’re just that aged man out in his yard screaming at the sky begging to go back to the “home”.

          • If you weren’t so obviously self-loathing, then I would have used narcissistic.

          • Again, that would not have applied in context of my comment. Perhaps you are the epitome of Dunning Kruger after all.

            Oh and there is a narcissist in the conversation indeed, but they sport a dog avatar.

            “: an extremely self-centered person who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance”

            Sounds an awful lot like you, doesn’t it.

        • OK, you two, cool your jets.

  8. Meanwhile, from Chairman Jeff McKay’s August 12, 2020 Newsletter. (Not unlike Steve’s comment above.)

    “School Aged Child Care (SACC) – Supporting Return to School (SRS)

    • Following the success of our Camp Fairfax program (see the above video for a Camp Fairfax hand washing song!), Fairfax County is offering a new program with a SACC component for families.
    • The purpose is to support children’s online learning and to engage kids in a curriculum that will support their growth and development.
    • The SRS program will be offered at 37 FCPS locations.
    • Sites are primarily Title I funded schools or are FCPS food distribution sites.
    • Two locations will serve students ages 5-21 with special needs.
    • Program operating hours: Monday-Friday, 7:30am-6pm.
    • An adjusting sliding fee scale will be provided.
    • Program details are still being finalized, registration will be available soon.
    • I recently visited Camp Fairfax to see the safety measures put in place and know that as we move forward with SRS that we need to continue to put strict safety measures in place. Therefore, the program will have limited spots due to distancing protocols. We are also hoping it will help families with no other choice but to go to work and have no way to support their children who may be at risk of falling behind academically.”

    • Yes, TMT, that looks very much like what the YMCA will be doing. I don’t think here it will be limited to Title I schools. That’s all the proof you need that somebody in Fairfax understands who is really getting screwed by all this, so wink-wink-nudge-nudge we’ll take care of those neighborhoods…..and merely inconvenience the middle and upper class parents and damage their educational chances.

      • If I were a cynic, I might point out that it’s more likely that SACC workers are more likely to be racial and ethnic minority employees than are regular FCPS teachers. But since McKay is a D, no reason to investigate that issue.

        Our grandniece and nephew started school today in suburban Indianapolis. Part in class and part online.

  9. Apparently some school systems are supporting pandemic pods:

    https://www.chalkbeat.org/2020/8/10/21362268/pods-for-all-some-districts-and-non-profits-are-reimagining-the-remote-learning-trend

    oh and did Kerry mention this:

    ” Under the terms of their contracts, FCPS teachers
    are allowed to provide tutoring services for reimbursement, but only as long as they meet these conditions:”

    see this is why I cast a jaundiced eye to her posts … they’re clearly biased…

    • There is a single source of bias and it comes from yourself. As your quotation precedes her quotation.

      I’ll break it down Barney style for your (since critical thinking seem to escape even the simplest task for you).

      “We are aware of these tutoring pods, as well as some accompanying community concerns. To be clear, these instructional efforts are not supported by or in any way controlled by FCPS—for several reasons:

      • These are purely private initiatives on the part of parents and families. Families have an absolute right to work together and pool resources to provide instruction or tutoring—just as they do to pool resources and provide private daycare, music lessons, or recreational activities for their children—but tutoring pods are not part of the public school system.

      • Under the terms of their contracts, FCPS teachers are allowed to provide tutoring services for reimbursement, but only as long as they meet these conditions:

      Teachers must make it clear that the services are being provided as an independent contractor, and not as an employee of FCPS.
      They cannot tutor children for private compensation if the same children are receiving instruction from them in FCPS schools (i.e., the children cannot be in their classes). That’s true for private tutoring or group instruction in any location.
      They cannot engage in outside instruction or any preparation for it during their FCPS work hours.

      While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students. Many parents cannot afford private instruction. Many working families can’t provide transportation to and from a tutoring pod, even if they could afford to pay for the service.”

      They stated we known you’re doing it and cannot legally tell you to stop unless you violate our arcane rules. If you do, we will sue you and fire the teacher, because they are supposed to do nothing between the hours of 0800-1600 during the school week (FCPS time).

    • Also, note Larry. Your link is for Denver not Virginia.

  10. It’s hard to feel all that sorry for the rich parents of Fairfax. Closing schools is a hard choice and likely a needed one. There are always private schools, but many are closed, too.
    If you really want to feel sorry for someone, try some kids on the Northern Neck that don’t have the broadband to study online.

  11. just to again show what Kerry did not:

    Kerry says: ” In fact, Fairfax County brass issued a stern memo to parents admitting that although they can’t outlaw Pandemic Pods — you get the feeling they wish they could — they may not hire their child’s actual teacher as a tutor.”

    here’s what the school said:

    ” Under the terms of their contracts, FCPS teachers
    ARE allowed to provide tutoring services for reimbursement, but only as long as they meet these conditions:”

    so did Kerry mislead ?

    • No more than you Larry, no more than you.

    • No, Larry, she did not mislead. She just lazily researched her subject… again. Maybe there’s good reason she left the Virginian Pile-Up.

      • Well, no, I thought that but then when I read the link to the statement – she obviously chose to not provide that and instead provided this:

        ” they may not hire their child’s actual teacher as a tutor”

        yep – true – but that’s a rule as part of the larger rule that says that
        Fairfax teachers CAN tutor!

        So I’ll put the whole thing here for people to decide if she was misleading or not:

        • Under the terms of their contracts, FCPS

        teachers ARE allowed to provide tutoring services for reimbursement, but only as long as they meet these conditions:

        Teachers must make it clear that the services are being provided as an independent contractor, and not as an employee of FCPS.

        They cannot tutor children for private compensation if the same children are receiving instruction from them in FCPS schools (i.e., the children cannot be in their classes). That’s true for private tutoring or group instruction in any location.

        They cannot engage in outside instruction or any preparation for it during their FCPS work hours.

        https://www.fcps.edu/blog/message-parents-tutoring-pods

        So Kerry takes one of the rules to leave an implication that teachers cannot tutor… when, in fact, if I understand this, Fairfax teachers CAN tutor pandemic pods…

        She and Bader share this same bad habit.

        Why is there such a need to mislead ?

        • No. Not misleading. If you inferred something that was not implied, or misread what the author wrote, then that is on you.

          The author wrote: “…they may not hire their child’s actual teacher as a tutor. ” — “their child’s actual teacher”…

          That statement implies the exact opposite of what you claim it implies. The use of the word “actual” makes the statement imply that OTHER teachers besides their child’s ACTUAL teacher may be hired by a parent to tutor their child.

        • Well, it’s their thing, Larry. It’s like complaining about something, that was never designed to be implemented on such a mass scale, not working when it is first attempted.

    • What’s misleading? Teachers should not be able to tutor their own students for pay. That would be an obvious conflict of interest when it comes time to hand out the official grades in the classes where the students are tutored.

      The real problem is that Fairfax County Public Schools will offer their own pod program at 37 facilities while refusing to even try to coordinate with parents trying to set up pod programs in schools that are not Title I schools or Fairfax County food distribution sites. Because of equity issues. How does that work?

      • The implication was that teachers cannot tutor in pods.

        And that’s not true.

        They can.

        Whether or not the schools will actually set up and operate a sanctioned pod program is a different issue.

        The schools COULD have said that as long as the teachers were under contract, they could not engage in outside employment.

        In some respects – NOT having the schools involved in the pods , gives a lot more freedom to innovate and be flexible.

        I can imagine anything that the schools directly control are going to be strictly operated.

        One thing some may not realize is that some/most? school systems already have tutors – on a limited basis – for home-bound kids… but the point is they already operate a tutoring program – already know the logistics… etc…

        • This is what was written, ” … they may not hire their child’s actual teacher as a tutor …” . That doesn’t imply that teachers in general can’t be tutors it implies that the child’s actual teacher cannot tutor a child in his or her class. I just don’t see the deception.

          • That wasn’t even the quotation that Kerry used, she used the closing paragraph from the post.

            “While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students. Many parents cannot afford private instruction. Many working families can’t provide transportation to and from a tutoring pod, even if they could afford to pay for the service.”

            Which while appearing innocuous, smacks of them bring repercussions against those who dare to want to teach or learn.

          • It was deceptive in the context of what was written implying that the Fairfax system was not supportive of tutoring and pandemic pods. They actually do allow it apparently – with caveats.

            I consider NOT providing the full policy and only pulling one part of it out as not telling the whole truth about the policy.

            I realize that some folks think this is as fair game these days but I consider it not being objective and fair.

            If the newspapers did this – they’d be accused of bias.

      • re: ” The real problem is that Fairfax County Public Schools will offer their own pod program at 37 facilities”

        Have you got more info on this?

        • So at the bottom of this big old pile of “getting in the last word” is the main point, which is, if you can’t afford to pay for extra help for your kids, FCPS is going to give you a at least one more semester’s worth of crappy education. Guess the future senior classes are going to be full of 20 year olds. If they keep this up a bit longer, we’ll have high schoolers old enough to by alcohol! Just like the old days!

  12. Don the Ripper is right. What he describes is exactly what went on in the Soviet Union all the time, especially with members who were Party members and had access to foreign goodies.

  13. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Dr. Jeck, Superintendent of Fauquier Public Schools was interviewed on WMAL. It was very interesting. The attempted hybrid model was abandoned at the last minute and moved towards virtual learning. Many colliding factors doomed the hybrid model of 2 days a week and 3 days of virtual. Not enough teachers were willing to work in person, a change in the number of families wanting switch from hybrid to virtual, not enough bus drivers, not enough substitutes, list goes on. Good intentions of in person instruction slammed head on into a variety of factors that could not be resolved. Even virtual is problematic with a large area of the county lacking quality internet access. Meanwhile the community is outraged and they blame the school teachers and the teachers association. Some teachers claimed they would pursue options under the Family Medical Leave Act. No raises for those guys for many years to come. The interview is about 15 minutes long. Fourth one down on the list of interviews.
    https://www.wmal.com/the-larry-oconnor-show/

    • Same thing happened in Spotsylvania – they were set up for hybrid then dropped back to virtual… but are doing in-person for special needs.

    • “Not enough teachers were willing to work in person …” Thank God the cashiers in grocery stores have been willing to come to work in person and deal with hundreds of different people per day, often at a distance of less than six feet.

      Furlough the teachers and all other school employees without pay and cancel the school year altogether. That seems like the most effective option right now.

      • Baconator with extra cheese

        Yep. And in my case my daughter is able enough to get theough a GED this fall and test out. I’d be happy to enroll her in community college in the spring instead of the online 11th grade. Maybe the GS should make that an option. If a kid is 16 plus allow them to just go the GED route and test out if they are capable. At worst that may shrink the size of classrooms in the future. Because like it or not this will be the new norm for Covid which isn’t going anywhere and bad flu seasons to come. The teachers have now found they can pull this card anytime a plague rolls through.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          I like your strategy. This is a good idea. Bump the teens out that can qualify for the GED and move on. I haven’t looked at the GED test in a number of years. It used to be a challenging one. If a kid can demonstrate proficiency here they should be able to at least get by at the community college level.

      • “Furlough the teachers and all other school employees without pay and cancel the school year altogether. That seems like the most effective option right now.”

        Yes, enough of the nonsense. And also the least that should be done. My preference would be something akin to the breaking of the Air Traffic Controller’s strike in early 1980’s. It proved very effective in ending the nonsense and disgruntled employees playing dangerous games with kid’s educations. Kid’s educations are far too important to put at risk with teachers not committed to teaching. Recalcitrant teachers can find other jobs on someone else’s payroll if they refuse to teach in classrooms, and schools.

        • “County that tried to ban private schooling is allowing private, paid ‘learning hubs’ in public school buildings by Timothy P. Carney, Senior Columnist, Washington Examiner, August 13, 2020.

          It’s hard to understand why a county government would try to ban all in-person instruction by public schools and private schools, then turn turn around and rent out public classrooms to private companies to hold in-person classes during the school day.

          Yet in Maryland, that’s exactly what the government of Montgomery County has done.

          The past two weeks have seen the county try to bar in-person instruction at non-public schools while also approving a plan for in-person private instruction for public school students inside public school buildings.

          There was no sensible public health case to prohibit one but allow the other, making it more apparent that the county’s actions against private schools were motivated by something other than public health.

          Here’s the brief timeline:

          After sundown on Friday night, July 31, county health officer Travis Gayles issued an order unilaterally barring all non-public schools from opening for in-person schooling. Gayles would spend all week defending this order, even reissuing it after Governor Larry Hogan struck it down. Eventually, Gayles surrendered when it became clear he would lose in court to the private schools that were suing.

          That same week, the county Board of Education — which was not covered by Gayles’ lockdown order — had voted for all-virtual education through January.

          The following week, the county’s public school system approved a plan to allow companies that run summer camps and after-school daycare to run programs that — from a social distancing perspective — don’t look very different from a private school in a public school classroom.

          The problem isn’t that the county is allowing these in-school “learning hubs”—the companies have taken extensive steps to make their programs safe, including small class sizes, masks, and cohorting. The problem is that a county health officer shut down only private schools, letting public schools make up their own mind, and allowing these quasi-private schools to operate in almost the same exact manner private schools were planning to … End Quote.

          For more of article see: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/county-that-tried-to-ban-private-schooling-is-allowing-private-paid-learning-hubs-in-public-school-buildings?

  14. I know this comes as a big shock but teachers typically have more education and skill than checkers and stockers….

    Before COVID19 – many school systems had trouble actually getting all the teachers they needed.

    Down my way – they spent the whole school year recruiting and nope, Walmart checkers don’t qualify.

    • “…teachers typically have more education and skill than checkers and stockers….”

      Okay. But so what? Are you implying the lives and health of teachers are worth more than the lives and health of grocery store workers?

      • ” Thank God the cashiers in grocery stores have been willing to come to work in person and deal with hundreds of different people per day, often at a distance of less than six feet”

        teachers are not near as numerous and “available” as cashiers…

        you just can’t get rid of them and go get more like you would cashiers.

        • I see. You WERE implying that the lives and health of teachers are worth more than the lives and health of grocery store workers.

          At least now you’ve come right out and said that grocery store workers are expendable.

          • really? Because there are more of them available for the labor force that makes them expendable? Maybe in your book…

    • Baconator with extra cheese

      Funny. A couple of days ago you were touting that kids could effectively learn from free open source software…

      • And I still say that. Why do we insist that ONLY one way works?

        https://opensource.com/education/13/4/guide-open-source-education

        Some kids actually learn quite well from “software”. Others need structure or in-person. All 3 is good.

        But we can’t have all of what we want right now – we have to adapt and improvise… and accept the reality that we cannot have all that we want.

        We’re acting like a bunch of spoiled brats spouting all kinds of hate and discontent towards people we say we want to teach the kids.

        Yep – they’re the worst people in the world – unless of course they change their minds and will teach those little darlings…

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