The Latest Gossip on Schools (Plague, Day 56, April 29, 2020)

Will schools open? When? Will colleges open up in the fall? I don’t know. But here’s the latest gossip.

The Early-Opener governors are starting to talk about opening schools, because it’s clear that that the entire economy depends on schools to act as childcare for working parents. No schools, no workers.

Side note: It’s really inefficient to have teachers act as child minders. Do we really need a specially certified and compensated, college educated person to keep kids safe outside the house? If teachers only teach for half the day, and the other half of the day, they’re really doing child care — couldn’t we split up those jobs between two different people — babysitters and educators?

The teachers’ unions are fighting going back into the classroom. Many of their members are in the 60s, so those concerns aren’t crazy. Kids might not get super sick, but they could certainly infect the adults in the building.

Of course, it isn’t going to be possible to keep everyone from getting sick forever. At some point, adults will have to go back to work. It’s hard to imagine the impact on kids, if their schools stay closed for another year.

I’ve been predicting major hits to public education since the beginning of this crisis. It could happen in different ways:

  • State budgets are going to be destroyed. They’re not going to be able to fund pensions, nevermind maintain their basic expenses. Teachers may be laid off.
  • Parents are starting to get really annoyed. Taxpayers are getting annoyed. If businesses in Open States don’t have child care for their workers, they’re going to get annoyed. A fight between teachers and everyone won’t end well.
  • For the past two months, parents and children have been told that they can learn just fine on the Internet. Some like it. Some have found new outlets to learn. A future of closed or semi-open schools won’t be attractive, so maybe they’ll stay at home or find new educational outlets. Public schools will remain for lower income and special ed kids.
  • Schools are bracing themselves for having to provide compensatory education for lots of kids. Paying for the teachers, buying air conditioners, maintaining the buildings over the summer is going to be super, super expensive. If the federal government doesn’t bail out schools, there will be big problems.

Higher ed has many of those same concerns, but are more dependent on parental preferences and have even shakier finances. I think 10 percent of all colleges will close this year. Even if colleges open their doors in September, college life will be so constrained that affluent students are going to skip it for a semester. Other students may have to skip forever, because of constrained family finances.

The poor adjuncts that teach the majority of classes in colleges are going to be totally screwed. They’re all going to be fired and won’t even get unemployment, because the colleges consider them to be part-time temporary workers.

I want to end on a positive note before I run out to Home Depot for gardening supplies. (I’ll add links to this post later.) I think parents — well, at least the super motivated parents — are getting better at managing their family’s needs. We are.

The priority has been stabilizing the stress levels of Ian, who was struggling with the removal of all routine and structure. School left his life, and we filled the vacuum. Now, meals happen at 7, 12, and 7. Yoga at 11:30. He takes a solitary walk at 2:30. He and Steve read together at 4:30. He has Sylvan at 6. It’s rigid, for sure, but he likes it.

Next, we’re going to focus on his academic needs. I saw an webinar today, where an education expert said that every kid should be getting 1/2 hour of math, 1/2 hour of writing, and 1/2 hour of reading every day. So, I’m checking with his teachers to see if that’s happening. If not, we’ll do it at home or with a tutor.

Getting parents involved with their children’s education is a good thing. Having people think creatively about providing services, like education, is a good thing. Innovations only happen during periods of economy crisis, so I think we’re going to start seeing major (and good) changes soon.

22 thoughts on “The Latest Gossip on Schools (Plague, Day 56, April 29, 2020)

  1. As a teacher, I am very curious about what will happen in my state in the fall! We are closed for this year and I’m sure that won’t change, but it would be nice if they announce fall in time to plan for it! For now I’m happy to wait and see what the summer brings.

    We have a good family balance with my son learning at home (mostly not with the school provided material honestly) and me preparing materials to teach online. I’m still going to be happy when school ends for the year and I have less to juggle.


    1. Do you have resources that you would recommend for others?

      I chatted with teachers today, who thought school wasn’t going to happen normally in September. But they didn’t know for sure.


      1. No special resources but my son is on the spectrum too. He has very different strengths and weaknesses compared to most kids. Why try to force him into a generic program of study when I can actually focus on what he needs the most? His teacher was totally fine with it. It’s been good for him, although adjusting to regular school in the fall will probably be brutal. I’ve warned his principal to be ready.


      2. So interesting, Dana. Yes, I wonder how Ian will adjust to regular school again. Mine is getting more and more independent. In a good way, mostly! But he might be less interested in going along with doing things that he considers dumb.


  2. “For the past two months, parents and children have been told that they can learn just fine on the Internet.”

    I’m not telling anyone that, and no one has told me that.

    I read this somewhere: We are not working from home. We are doing our jobs at home the best we can in the middle of a crisis.


    1. Wendy said, “I’m not telling anyone that, and no one has told me that.”


      I think it gets a lot touchier as an issue with regard to college, especially if kids aren’t getting the full “experience” because of closures and restrictions. If there are further closures for 2020-2021, people are going to feel that they are not getting full value for their money.

      (Hometown U. is planning to be open as normal for 2020-2021, but who knows.)


  3. Why would adjuncts not get unemployment (for what it’s worth)? It is not my understanding that having had a temporary job disqualifies a person from getting unemployment if the job ends and no other is available.


    1. As an adjunct, you are hired for three month blocks at one time. It’s not a PT job, but a three month contract, so that’s why they aren’t eligible. (I think.) I never got unemployment in between adjunct gigs, except in one case where it was a long term deal and an administrator fudged the paperwork for me.


  4. Our community college is looking at about 30% fewer students in the fall which is odd to me, since summer is full. So we’re busy trying to cut at least 10% of our offerings, and you’re right, those will be adjunct courses. We’re a union state, so our adjunct to full-time ratio is 1:3, but by college, not necessarily by department.

    What’s really odd to me is that I’m getting extra work to mentor people going online. I was also encouraged to renew my Quality Matters Master Reviewer certification so we can build up a team of internal reviewers. I used to like reviewing other schools’ online classes, but writing the review is boring after the first 30 reviews because the standards are so, well, standard. I have real reservations about reviewing courses at my college.

    My students are great. They always have been and they’re doing their best to get credits out of the mangled semester.

    No big picture insight here. Sounds like your family’s schedule is starting to work for you all.


  5. I’m not a big fan of Seton Hall ordinarily, but this guy has it right: “Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, called the statements “posturing.” What a college announces today really has little relation to what its semester will look like in the fall, he said.”

    It’s a total PR game, and it’s infuriating. Maybe we’ll know something in a few weeks that makes these decisions possible. But it could be June, or we could still be in the dark in July. Of course we hope desperately that students will be able to return in the fall, but no one knows.

    In the meantime, in my small rural college town, we’ve heard about two “outbreaks” in the last three days, one in a retirement home and one in a home for the developmentally disabled. (Another friend reports with confidence a second retirement home with at least one case.) In both official “outbreaks” the people with confirmed COVID are in their 20s, obviously staff. Another recent graduate working private security has it.


    1. You cannot assume that people in their 20s are not patients. A relative recently spent significant time bouncing from care home to hospital to care home, dealing with a persistent infection. In _every_ situation, there were young people who were patients. Often, the roommate in my relative’s shared room was a young person, which led me to believe it is more common than one would expect.


    2. Kelchen is a good guy.

      Sad about the outbreaks. I’ve been wondering about homes for the disabled; they seem just as vulnerable as nursing homes and prisons.

      Stay safe!


  6. “It’s really inefficient to have teachers act as child minders. Do we really need a specially certified and compensated, college educated person to keep kids safe outside the house?”

    I realized I was being bugged by this set of statements. what is a “child minder”? I’m pretty sure my kids have never been in the care of someone whose job is to “keep them safe outside of the house” (which I would imagine as some sort of playpen). True, I’m enormously fortunate and probably in everyone who has cared for my child. But they are all doing more than keeping them safe. True that knowing linear algebra would only be a qualification for a rare child, but I consider the job skilled work and I’ve had many people who do it better than I do.


    1. Don’t we already have non credentialed people doing the non teaching portion of the day? At least in the schools I’ve visited, teachers are not working in the after care programs.
      Or am I missing something?


    2. People who have counted the minutes and time spent learning have that only a portion of the day is spent learning stuff in a typical public school day. The rest of the time, kids are sitting around. That’s a point that homeschoolers make over and over — they can teach their kids everything that a public school kid learns in two hours a day.

      You know how much learning-time that my kid got this week? 2-1/2 hours of live classes in five days. Today, he didn’t even have any busy-work, worksheet crap. He’s sooooooo bored and nobody cares. Out of desperation, I asked the teachers to assign him some worksheets on Khan Academy. I told them they didn’t have to read or grade the work, but I would just like him to have a little more challenge and direction. They didn’t even answer my email. wtf


      1. Oh I have no doubt that you can cover everything in half the time as a homeschooler. But you’re also not dealing with classroom management, or repeating or re explaining something differently to various students who don’t get it the first time or in the same way, or being a part time social worker. I just don’t know any teachers who have half a day of down time. My wife agrees that kids put up with a lot of dead time but she never got the down time herself when she taught.
        I find what’s happening with Ian appalling.


      2. Also, I want to admit here that my friend group are mostly lefty activist types. So the teachers maybe are more dedicated than average. I don’t know.


      3. I haven’t seen any homeschoolers claiming that teachers have lots of downtime. They just say that all that time spent doing classroom management and whatever isn’t a great use of time. Someone else could be doing all the stuff that isn’t teaching. Teachers could parachute into various classrooms giving 30 minute lectures/leading discussion/other teaching methods, and then walk out to leave the rest of the day to someone else.

        That’s happening now. Parents are the child-minders, and the parents parachute into the kid’s lives on their computer.

        It might happen in some way in the fall. Students may only get a half day of school, if teachers insist that classroom size will be cut in half. Or if large number of teachers are laid off, because of budget cuts.


  7. I’m hearing some buzz that there are some issues with doing a distancing version of college here. They would like to space students out in classrooms in the fall…the problem is that there aren’t necessarily enough large enough classrooms to space people out far enough. So they’re figuring that out right now. There’s some talk of mixed online/in-person.

    This twitter thread is interesting:

    @EconTalker asked, “If you have children in K-12 public schools, please reply with how your school is doing virtual learning and your assessment of the effort and the effectiveness”

    There’s a lot of variety in the answers (and some respondents seem to be overseas).


  8. NextDoor is weird lately. One of my neighbors just rescued a baby mouse. Found it and put in under a light to keep it warm and googled how to feed it and is now asking if somebody wants to take the mouse as a pet. Some people don’t have enough to do and are going off the rail. I can’t even make fun of them because my boss just joined.


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