How Do We Make Students Whole?: Newsletter Excerpt (Plague, Day 45, April 17, 2020)

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As the virus spread through Northeastern Jersey in early March, I began stocking my pantry, finishing work obligations, and preparing the house to become headquarters for work, college, and high school. I logged onto local newspapers every morning and reported to Steve about which towns had a reported case, until an email from the mayor announced, “it’s here.” 

My kid’s high school closed early on Friday, March 13th, so teachers could begin preparations for virtual education, which would start the following week. 

So, the morning of March 13th — five weeks ago — was the last day that my son was educated in any real way. Since then the teachers had an understandable learning curve translating their lessons into a virtual format. Rather than creating online virtual classes, using platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or WebEx, his teacher posted daily assignments on Google Classroom. He answered seven questions about a YouTube video about history, filled out math worksheets using the teacher’s notes as a guide, and practiced for the ACT using Khan Academy — a lot of busy-work, in other words. 

Occasionally, I would complain. My college student was getting live classes, why couldn’t my high school kid get them, too? I was told that teachers were home-schooling their own children, so they couldn’t run virtual classes for students.  

If we don’t consider worksheets as a proper education, then my son has missed a whole lotta school since early March. To date, without including April’s spring break, my son missed 120 hours of education (typical school day = 6 hours of instruction). Some form of virtual online classes instruction will begin next Monday. With only four hours of online classes planned, every week will add another 26 hours to his total deficit. 

If a highly-motivated kid in a highly-privileged home with a well-resourced school is owed time, what is happening in homes where families still don’t have access to the Internet? What is happening to students who don’t have parents who can supplement the education gap? What about students, who attend schools that are unable to even upload worksheets? 

In the legal world, the “make whole doctrine” holds that a party who suffered a loss as a result of a broken contract must be compensated for that loss. “Being made whole” is actually a really ancient concept with references in the Bible. 

In this case, students have suffered a loss. They have been deprived of an education that was promised and paid for. Even without these legal obligations, the impact of having millions of kids enter school in September with such a massive education deficit is a disaster. Something has to be done. 

Back in the early weeks of school closures, I wrote an op-ed saying that students, particular those with special needs, should have the option for full time schooling during the summer months. Since then, some have made more ambitious proposals, such as a full year of extra school, while other have weaker plans, such as giving all students A’s and walking away

Policymakers and administrators are debating these choices right now. The best plans will involve more money and concessions from the teachers’ unions. Please offer your voice at your local school board meeting and to your elected representatives and advocate to make students whole in a meaningful way. If Congress can bail out large corporations, they can also restore months of an education for America’s children. 

Be well! Laura

29 thoughts on “How Do We Make Students Whole?: Newsletter Excerpt (Plague, Day 45, April 17, 2020)

  1. Laura wrote, “So, the morning of March 13th — five weeks ago — was the last day that my son was educated in any real way.”

    Ours was March 6 (6 weeks ago), as that’s when our spring break started. We got a second week of bonus spring break and just finished our 4th week of homeschooling.

    The TX governor plans to do some phased reopenings starting April 20, when state parks will reopen (with masks required). But schools are closed until the end of the school year.

    Laura wrote, “He answered seven questions about a YouTube video about history, filled out math worksheets using the teacher’s notes as a guide, and practiced for the ACT using Khan Academy — a lot of busy-work, in other words.”

    Upper grades may be different, but I’m afraid that teachers of little kids are going to have a heck of a time introducing new material. My 1st grader has sat in front of a number of 12-20 min. math videos made by her teacher, and I can’t say that anything has sunk in. Aside from her spelling videos (where she follows along copying words written in exquisite elementary teacher handwriting), the videos have been largely a waste of time.

    We’ve been relieved that our school has chosen to do almost everything asynchronously (very little Zoom) because of the difficulty of arranging schedules and electronics.

    The excellent Spotted Toad tweeted, “The online schooling facade exposes the communitarian heart of the suburban social contract: we fight with our kids to do their damn zoom assignments not because we think they’ll learn anything but because we don’t want their teachers to think our family is lazy,antisocial,stupid.”

    Yep.

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  2. “Even without these legal obligations, the impact of having millions of kids enter school in September with such a massive education deficit is a disaster.”

    I don’t freak out about the loss of the spring. It’s just 9 weeks for us and frankly, I’ve been making a pest of myself to get my youngest’s teacher to chill out. However, the possibility of the almost complete loss of the 2020-2021 school year is horrifying. I was in an ADHD Zoom for school this week where the ADHD parents were just barely hanging in there, motivated by the thought that it’s just a few more weeks–but what if the 2020-2021 school year doesn’t happen in-school?

    “Back in the early weeks of school closures, I wrote an op-ed saying that students, particular those with special needs, should have the option for full time schooling during the summer months.”

    Summer is looking very iffy.

    “other have weaker plans, such as giving all students A’s and walking away.”

    Wow.

    By the way, I hear that in some parts of the country, PBS is making a substantial contribution.

    https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-03/coronavirus-school-closures-pbs-television-learning

    It should also be possible to use NPR for educational programming: music, story time and other educational material.

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  3. I would like this “natural experiment” to prove once and for all to everyone that you cannot park elementary children in front of videos and have them learn substantively. But it probably won’t.

    On our boards people are talking about summer school for sped. But for that money will have to be found.

    Although I also think the summer is iffy, it might be possible to bring in a small number of kids, socially distanced, with 1:1 support. Folks thought that might be available for the subset of kids who qualify for a 1:1 paraprofessional.

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    1. bj said, “I would like this “natural experiment” to prove once and for all to everyone that you cannot park elementary children in front of videos and have them learn substantively. But it probably won’t”

      I think it really depends on the video and the subject.

      For example, my kids got a lot out of the Leapfrog phonics videos (Letter Factory, Talking Word Factory, etc.) and I think that nature videos can be pretty educational. A whole generation of kids learned to read with the Electric Company.

      However, it’s hard to make doing arithmetic on a white board on video engaging if you aren’t a pedagogical genius.

      “Although I also think the summer is iffy, it might be possible to bring in a small number of kids, socially distanced, with 1:1 support.

      That sounds like a decent idea.

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      1. Another thing–as a long-time disgruntled consumer of educational software/videos/etc., I think that a lot more resources have gone into producing good learn-to-read media materials versus good elementary math materials.

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    2. Our kids learned that penguin movies are really sad from videos but didn’t learn how to read or phonics or early math.

      Even now, I don’t think anyone in our family likes to watch videos really to learn (not fans of Kahn academy, and mostly like things like Hank Greene for entertainment). But we are all significant readers. The youngest is most likely to watch a video by choice. The rest of us will actually not watch if something we are interested in turns out to be a video (say at the NYTimes or WaPost).

      So, I guess it’s important to note that different people’s experiences vary.

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      1. “Even now, I don’t think anyone in our family likes to watch videos really to learn (not fans of Kahn academy, and mostly like things like Hank Greene for entertainment). But we are all significant readers. The youngest is most likely to watch a video by choice. The rest of us will actually not watch if something we are interested in turns out to be a video (say at the NYTimes or WaPost).”

        Our high school senior used to watch a lot of Vihart’s math doodle videos, but I HATE HATE HATE when people do video to express something that would be faster and more accessible in print or when people refer to a 10-20 min. video as opposed to verbally summarizing the ideas. In my book, people have to demonstrate that they are worth the video click.

        I was reflecting today, though (while reading a section in a kid’s book with the 1st grader about how ice cream is made) that it would have been a lot better as a “How It’s Made” video.

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  4. The “make whole” doctrine only really applies if there is a party who is at fault. Kids have missed education that was “promised” (although I would quarrel with that word), but it wasn’t the fault of the teachers, so the teachers are not the ones who should have to bear the financial or other burdens of making the students whole. Everyone’s 401(k) has tanked; who needs to make us whole for those losses? The answer is no one, it’s not possible and it’s not going to happen. Look up “force majeure.”

    Laura, for someone who normally writes so sensibly, you recently seem to have a lot of anger (maybe it’s just frustration, but aren’t we all there) about the disrupted schooling. I agree that special ed kids have probably been the most affected students, but doom and gloom predictions about summer school and/or no in-person classes in the fall doesn’t help.

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  5. For me, summer school isn’t doom and gloom. It’s a happy outcome. My kid loves school and would enjoy making up those hours in the summer. It’s not like kids like him have any better plans. There are no camps or summer sports programs for him. For him, it’s school or sitting in the house all day playing video games.

    I never said it was the fault of teachers. It’s the fault of the system. Their contract is with the system, not the teachers. The system owes them. Colleges are paying students back for dorm space. Some students are even suing colleges for lost tuition money, since online education isn’t as good as in person education.

    And summer school isn’t a dream policy. It’s happening. My administrators have assured me that it’s coming.

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    1. I’m going to climb in behind Tasha and support – we have an enormous blow to the society as a whole. There are a lot of enterprises we were able to go forward with ‘before’ which will have to be altered ‘after’. Commitments which had been made. It’s in some ways analogous (call in your local source of German historical insight) to what the defeated German polities had to deal with after the Great War and after WWII. Obviously, that was better handled after WWII. But some commitments are no longer sensible, some projects will have to be rethought. ‘Make whole’ can’t be done, we’re going to have to rethink. Do we keep paying Social Security at current levels, with the enormous loss of expected revenue? A lot of government commitments have been made based on the expectation that current flow rates of revenue and skilled workers would continue.

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    2. I do think mitigation for the most severely effected students is possible and that we do need to invest in those efforts. I think we will be creating slow moving disasters if we don’t find the political will to share to support those who need it most. We’ll argue about how and who, but although some seem to have nearly wealth to suffer the loss, others are being kicked out of the game of life. That will hurt all of us.

      Summer school for a subset of a students should be something considered, but we aren’t going to be able to do everything that should be done (as, in fact, we haven’t even before the pandemic)

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  6. I was reading the comments on the local newspaper and a town blog this afternoon. I’m in a blue state with a high death rate, so you would think there would be a fair amount of support for the status quo. Instead, I read a lot of generalized anger. There were calls to fire all the teachers and to open the state parks.

    Right now, we’re getting refunds for somethings but not others. Jonah’s college is refunding room and board. Our town isn’t giving refunds for the commuter parking lot.

    When this is all done, we’re going to have to figure out who will get a refund or supplemental services for what government services. Because I’m a schooling fanatic, that’s my obvious pet cause.

    I also think that if there aren’t major efforts to provide some sort education soon, there will be revolts against public education. People are desperate and angry.

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    1. Laura said, “Everything from fire all the teachers to open the state parks.”

      “Open the state parks” isn’t totally crazy. I’ll be able to tell you in about two weeks how it went for us.

      https://www.kxan.com/news/coronavirus/texas-state-parks-to-reopen-monday-as-part-of-gov-abbotts-recent-executive-orders/

      ““Your physical and mental health are important especially in times like these,” [Texas Governor] Abbott said during the press conference. “Going to parks is an effective way to address those needs. So state parks will be reopened beginning this coming Monday.””

      Abbott “said visitors to the parks must wear face coverings, practice social distancing and cannot be in groups of more than five people.”

      So, not exactly the wild west.

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      1. Yes, if it is actually a measured step that will be revised if need be. Florida is doing their own test by opening up the beaches.

        I am watching to see what will happen here, where most models predict we are some days past our peak and looking towards continuously decreasing deaths & positive tests (or at least plateauing). We’re also ramping up to be able to do the testing we need, with the help of UW labs and seropositivity studies for antibodies are starting.

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    2. That’s not my sense, but, I don’t have a pulse of the state of the disaffected. Everyone I know is riding out the storm in relative comfort. Spent some time talking to three doctors recently who are not on the front lines, but are certainly affected and they were very matter of fact about their potential for exposure and mostly focused on serving their patients. One of my son’s teachers (who isn’t playing his best game) has three small children at home, the youngest under six months old and his wife has returned to the hospital as a nurse, called back from maternity leave.

      We’re all saying “in it together” and trying to be gentle. The rules are broke right now and demanding rights rather talking about how to distribute the costs seems to me to create random winners and looser. And, the rights aren’t going to fall the way of helping the most vulnerable.

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      1. So, I TOTALLY disagree.

        This virus is not impacting all people equally. Some groups are taking a much bigger hit than others. We are, actually, in the lucky group for the most part. Steve is able to do his same job, same hours, at home with no hiccups at all. His job is entirely secure. In fact, without his daily 3 hour commute time, we might even be better off.

        Meanwhile, I look at the eyes of the people in the supermarket and post office, every ten days when I venture out of our homes, and I see pain. That hypothetical cafe owner I talked about in a previous post? Yeah, she’s isn’t that hypothetical. She hates everyone right now.

        I think that those who are taking the biggest hits right now — supermarket workers, healthcare employees, small business owners — should be given a hand of some sort in the coming months. Hazard pay, extra vacation time, lower taxes, whatever.

        In terms of school, the subject of this post, anytime that I see children losing out, I see red. Furious. Do you know how much these kids will be screwed up with zero formal education until September. The research on the summer slide is airtight. Add, in an extra two or three months of ZERO EDUCATION and a whole generation of kids will be so screwed.

        And it probably won’t be your kid. Again, the research on the summer slide shows that it mostly impacts working class and lower income kids. And anecdotally, I’ve heard that the teachers at private schools are doing a great job. Your kids go to a private high school, right?

        Of course, there are the special ed kids. If you’ve never watched your kid regress in real time, doing autistic ticks that were extinguished ten years ago, well… then… you’re lucky.

        I’m not just spouting off on social media about this. I have been speaking about this publicly at local school board meetings and emails with administrators. This is a full scale disaster for children. If we don’t have a plan NOW for when the curfew lifts, then there won’t be any plan.

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      2. “That’s not my sense, but, I don’t have a pulse of the state of the disaffected. Everyone I know is riding out the storm in relative comfort.”

        Well just to provide a snapshot…I work in martial arts, in an organization with two locations, a formerly-thriving after school childcare business, and a 22 year history, which employed about 40 people. We were poised for expansion, and fiscally very well-managed. We will probably, and rightly, be among the very last businesses to reopen. We currently have zero income; we’re offering video and online classes free right now in order to keep our students engaged and healthy and to learn quickly. We’re not sure what kind of an online business model where we charge would look like. Our landlords are still expecting rent, which is in the 5 digits monthly. On zero revenue. Judging from people finding the time and energy to try out Zoom classes, our revenue picture on online classes might be…difficult. (It’s hard to get your ADHD 6 year old to follow along!) For sure we will try.

        We laid off almost all of our staff, including me (operations manager), although since we’ve pivoted to video and online classes I actually have some expertise in that after a 17-year media career I left 2 years ago to do something more hands-on. Ha ha ha.

        Our staff fall into about three categories: career martial artists, who have spent 15-20 years developing expertise in teaching martial arts. High school and university-aged kids who work for us part time (like lifeguards). And childcare workers and bus drivers, most of our drivers are retirees who need the income. We have some autistic staff that supplement their disability income with us (like the marching band, the rigidity of martial arts can make a great environment, and we pay them.)

        Right now I am most worried about our career martial artists and our childcare staff…they can’t make their rent. The bus drivers might go without food in order to cover rent. EXCEPT…we are in Canada and they are getting emergency benefits.

        For the third group. students, they are at home and have food and shelter. But I also know that many of them are contributing to their family’s rent. They also are saving for school, often at technical/applied colleges, or paying off debt. Again, they are in Canada…thank god. But this will impact their ability to keep going.

        Not to mention our business owner, my boss, whose life work this is.

        Our entire industry is shut down, so investments people have made in certifying with us are not useful credentials right now.

        Despite the fact that we stopped all our members’ payments in March, we have our parents and students contacting us frequently to cancel, to see if they can get any refunds. They are small business owners, car manufacturing workers, security guards, health care workers, teachers, and yes, white-collar workers. They are terrified. They often chose our activity because they have kids who are struggling…if your child can’t sit still and do work, lots of teachers and principals will suggest martial arts, so they have stretched to pay for us even though we are still less expensive than a lot of sports/extra-curriculars. But we know they are not coming back right away when we re-open.

        We’re projecting a best-case scenario where we still will have trouble covering our costs for up to a year after we re-open, depending on who comes back and how well we can cut back. And we have no idea what date that will be and what we’ll have spent on rent by then, because it will cross into the 6 digits. Again, on no revenue.

        Having been through 2008, and 9/11, we all know this is only the start. People who have jobs now in their “relative comfort” which depend on advertising revenue, renovations, new housing starts, new IT projects, tourism, investment, bricks and mortar businesses, etc….those jobs will continue for a quarter or two, but then the layoffs will start. In our area of Toronto there are probably a lot of families with big mortgages. So we’re not projecting a bounce back. We’re projecting a struggle.

        It’s not all bad. We also have a lot of goodwill and people coming together. We have a parent who owns a restaurant business which has been devastated…he delivers food for the two staff making the videos weekly out of gratitude that his son, who has issues, has a regular connection with us via Zoom. We are a community. We are training and strong together…but that doesn’t mean we’re economically okay, we completely are not. This guy, he is so grateful…but at what point does he have to prioritize his mortgage over an extra curricular? Probably right now. We’ll teach his kid as long as we can…just dunno how long that is.

        We are one of the lucky ones because we were so healthy before. I do think we’ll bounce back as an organization but frankly…not by paying me. I’m overhead. I doubt my former/current job will exist for two-three years, if ever.* Since I was in media before…good thing I never got into gambling ehn?

        I’m sharing all this because I think readers of this blog, like me before I switched industries, do not understand what small business is like, what blue-collar-ish work looks like. My staff are great people, but they are not fancy people. They don’t travel far. They live modestly, take public transit, own two pairs of shoes, borrow suits for funerals, splurge on restaurants once a month. They take jobs shovelling snow on the side in the winter to be able to afford a gas grill in the summer.

        Business-wise, it’s not just whether we can cover rent now. It’s that we will need cold hard cash to re-open. When people rant on Twitter that small business owners should just pay people, they don’t understand that our payroll is absolutely unachievable without revenue. They don’t get that our customers are small business owners, childcare workers, bus drivers, airline workers, tourism staff….etc…. too, not just white-collar, secure workers who can afford to keep paying us (but god, if you can, keep paying us.)

        *My husband has a pretty secure job and we’ve been savers so we’ll be okay for a while, plus, CANADA.

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      3. Thank you for sharing, Jenn. I’m really sorry. I hope that people like yourself will also be made whole at some point. I also want stories like yours to be understood by others. So I appreciate that you took the time to write about it here.

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      4. Not sure where we disagree. I also believe that people are being very unequally affected. When one of my doctor friends was thanked, she immediately pivoted to talking about the caretakers at nursing homes. She is a primary care physician who primarily sees geriatric patients, and so has been talking to people at nursing homes. She said the current advice is that nursing homes, especially smaller ones, need to be treated as family homes, with everyone, including the workers sheltering in place. That’s what I meant by saying “we’re in it together”, not that since things aren’t so tough for me and the people I communicate with regularly, that we have to consider everyone and try to allocate resources where need is greatest. My doctor friend should have access to the protective gear she needs, but she doesn’t have specific financial needs. The nursing home caretaker needs both gear and money.

        And, no my child does not attend a private school anymore. He is in a large public high school which has been working well for him. The private schools in our area are providing remote school with 4+ hours of programming. Is that good? I don’t want it and, I know private school parents who are refusing it, too (though it is available).

        But, I do know that my child’s needs are not everyone else’s needs and fully support making what we can available to the kids who need it.

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      5. “When people rant on Twitter that small business owners should just pay people, they don’t understand that our payroll is absolutely unachievable without revenue. They don’t get that our customers are small business owners, childcare workers, bus drivers, airline workers, tourism staff….etc…. too, not just white-collar, secure workers who can afford to keep paying us (but god, if you can, keep paying us.)”

        This would never be me, ranting on twitter that there’s somebody who can just foot the cost (though I do believe that Amazon/Bezos should have to pay a lot more taxes). I fully expect to be one of the people who will have to pay more taxes. I have continued to pay for anything I’ve signed up for already (including our housekeepers, fundraising organizations). I’ve tried to buy from small businesses that are trying to stay afloat.

        If my “we are all in it together” was in any way interpreted as things are OK for me they must be OK for everyone, that is not what I meant to say. I meant we try to do what we can. For me, that is mostly money I can give or spend.

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      6. I was just sharing bj, didn’t mean to make it sound argumentative. My apologies. I am sure you are not ranting on Twitter.

        And thank you for the space Laura!

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  7. Probably not the right thread, but my husband and the kids saw and photographed two armadillos frolicking in a neighbor’s yard yesterday (they’re a bit smaller than a cat).

    In our part of TX, armadillos are primarily something you see dead by the side of the road, and we’ve never, ever seen them anywhere close to our (city) neighborhood. I guess the traffic has gotten low enough that they were able to safely cross six lanes of road.

    Stay safe out there, armadillos!

    In other COVID-19 news, our HEB (that’s the big TX grocery chain) has boxed in all of their cashiers with clear plastic shields and about 50% of the people in the store were masked up (including probably over half the workers). The previous time I was there, it was probably at most 20%.

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