From the Newsletter:
Over dinner last weekend, I asked a friend, who teaches middle school in a middle class community in Westchester, whether schools were back to normal yet. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Between staffing problems, quarantines, mask rules, students who never recovered from 18-month of remote education, and illnesses, her school was definitely not normal, she said.
Parents and teachers alike are telling the same story. The doors of the schools may be open, but inside there is chaos, exhaustion, sadness, and very, very little learning.
Full-time teachers aren’t quitting — yet — but areas that have always been hard to staff, like ELL, special education, and STEM, are struggling more than ever. The lack of low wage substitutes, aides, and bus drivers are the real problem. If teachers are absent, because they’re sick or in quarantine, someone has to watch the students. If there are not enough subs, then other teachers have to cover those classes, which uses up the prep time for their own classes.
Our school district sent out the SOS to parents to become substitute teachers. Because I’m a vocal critic of public education’s response to remote education, I decided to counter that criticism with a positive act and apply for a substitute license. I’m still several steps away from getting the license, because it takes two months, $225, fingerprints, a TB test, and piles of forms in my state to get a substitute license. All that for $115 per day in my district. An issue with the State’s education website held up the process for several days, because New Jersey’s Department of Education only works in the office two days per week. In this time of crisis, red tape, incompetence, and low wages drags the system down further.
Masks, too, have a real hinderance to the return to normal, especially for younger kids and kids with special needs. For a long time, those who pointed to problems with masking small children were written off as lunatics, but the public mood has swung the other way.
It was amazing to watch the speed at which masks became the lead story in every major newspaper this week. One of my tweets on masks went viral. I wrote more about masks in schools on the blog here. I pointed to teachers who hate masks, too. Writers in The Atlantic and the New York Times suddenly came out against masks in schools. It’s whip-lash!
Major media has been been criminally negligent in dealing with the education crisis and the impact on children. And don’t think that people don’t notice. Wide swaths of our country truly believe that those sources are “fake news,” so this negligence feeds that narrative. The real story is that major media neglected this story because education and parenting issues has always been “the rookie beat” at those venues and never taken very seriously by senior editors. Huge stories about kids and families went unreported, because the news industry has always seen education stories as fun fluff. It’s also true that the response to covid has always been more political than rational, and the media got caught up in that mess. So sad.
But major media is paying attention right now. Earlier in the week, 3 out of the 10 top stories in The Atlantic were about schools and children and were critical about the status quo. In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg, who wrote a glowing story about Randi Weingarten not long ago, wrote a piece about ending masks in schools this week. Michael Barbaro, the voice of the New York Times’ podcast, The Daily, has been one of the most staunch defenders of closed schools and union policies, but this week, he acknowledged that the studies show that kids aren’t faring well right now. David Leonhardt pointed out in his newsletter this week that the majority Democrats and Republicans alike are worried about children’s learning and mental health, because of remote education. (Why is this not the lead in this story?)
What should we do about all this? Kids need fixing. Schools need fixing. And not just because the Democrats are going to get destroyed in the midterms over this issue. Without a fix, we’re dooming a generation of children to illiteracy and low income jobs and all the social woes that come from having few economic options.
Yes, the federal government gave billions to the schools to deal with COVID emergencies. But a whole lot of that money was spent on new ventilations systems, masks, professional development for teachers (more money for unregulated consultants! woot!), and other stuff that might have been needed at the moment but didn’t directly help kids.
I have a 19-year old with autism, who is still in the public school system. He has not benefited from one cent of that federal education money, despite the fact that he desperately needs help to deal with social skill and academic regression from remote education. Like every special education student, he needs tutoring and new after-school programs, but hasn’t received any of that help.
Short term vouchers for tutoring, social activities, and wellness programs should go directly to the students to be spent at either at their public school or at approved private programs. Student need to recover what was lost, and I don’t have time to get into a debate about vouchers. If a Kumon Center can tutor kids and the public school can’t handle it, pay Kumon to do the job.
And at the same time, we have to work harder than ever to get schools back to normal with hiring bonuses for STEM and special education teachers, better pay and benefits for substitute teachers, better supports in-schools for students with behavioral or emotional needs, and a place for parents at the decision-making table.
18 thoughts on “People Want Normal School Now: Politicians and the Media Scramble To Catch Up”
Some people want normal school now. Some don’t. I don’t have a position in this, because my youngest is over 30. But I think the people who work in schools should have more power in the decision than people who are served by schools, because everyone should have power over their working conditions.
Gelasticjew said: “But I think the people who work in schools should have more power in the decision than people who are served by schools, because everyone should have power over their working conditions.”
I agree, *if* you also support a voucher system, so the parents and children (the people served by the schools) can vote with their feet.
Otherwise, all of the power is in the hands of the school admin/teachers and none in the hands of the parents/children.
There are a whole lot of negative issues with vouchers (which I’m not going into).
But if you have a captive market (parents/children who have no alternative to the local school), then they, as stakeholders, need to have a strong voice in the school operations.
I also think that all teachers should have free job mobility – so that they can freely move between school districts, retaining their seniority and/or pension provisions (I gather that’s not currently the case in the US). So that the teachers, too, can vote with their feet.
There’s also the issue of who and what schools are for.
Are they there to serve teachers? Or are they there to serve kids and families?
“There’s also the issue of who and what schools are for.
Are they there to serve teachers? Or are they there to serve kids and families?”
It has been possible to glide over this issue when the interests of teachers and their organizations were better aligned with those of families and kids. This was a happy equilibrium for the teachers’ organizations until suddenly their misalignment is so obvious. As a Virginian, this looks to me to have been a major reason for Youngkin’s victory.
Tutoring vouchers seem actionable.
Cardona seems to support (in his statement yesterday): https://www.the74million.org/article/ed-secretary-cardona-touts-more-tutoring-extracurricular-activities-as-part-of-vision-for-schools-to-level-up-after-two-years-of-pandemic-disruption/
And the Biden budget seems to have funds for Title 1 and IDEA if they can pass congress.
I usually don’t like vouchers because I worry that they will be grifted by providers (the way that student loans can be). But I’m willing to take chances in a crisis.
What would the vouchers for tutoring look like? how much would a voucher provide? would they be available to any child? children who are behind in some measurable way? would they be means tested? could they be used to pay anyone (say should my kiddo start a tutoring business? could a parent tutor?)
Tutoring isn’t something my kid needs (and, frankly, he needs freedom). He says there’s lots of hiring. He’d benefit from working, I think, but most of all I just want him to revive and rejuvenate and remember.
bj said, “What would the vouchers for tutoring look like? how much would a voucher provide? would they be available to any child? children who are behind in some measurable way? would they be means tested? could they be used to pay anyone (say should my kiddo start a tutoring business? could a parent tutor?)”
I looked into Sylvan tutoring some years ago, and their program was $55 an hour or so. (I bet it costs more now.) I found that annoying, but at the same time, if you could get a kid to have a reading or math breakthrough with several months of that, it would be worth it.
But does the capacity exist?
A while back, you and I were agreeing about the limitations of the untrained volunteer reading tutor…but at the same time, I wonder if trained people exist or are available in the numbers necessary.
I’m willing to give it a go, though I do worry that if people have to buy tutoring on the open market, money will be diverted to the easiest to serve kids (i.e. those with knowledgeable parents and limited needs for expert tutors). Schools should be setting up tutoring, too, and the 75million article said that a third of districts were, and, I’d allow the vouchers to be used at those schools, too.
It’s a time to really not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some kids might just benefit from having someone pay attention to them.
Looking forward to hearing the rest of the substitute teacher journey. I gave up on our emergency certfication when I saw the experience they were looking for, being broad and asking experience on any teaching or supervision and realized that they last time I supervised younger children I said to my kiddo (who was part of the team), “if you give a grad student a project, they go off and research and come back with ideas” and this team just futzes about and she said, “but mom, we’re in fifth grade!”. Harumph.
bj said “Schools should be setting up tutoring, too, and the 75million article said that a third of districts were, and, I’d allow the vouchers to be used at those schools, too. ”
Based on my experience of having a child with learning difficulties, who needed one-on-one tutoring to get onto the learning ladder.
School-based tutoring just doesn’t work, and is a waste of time and money.
We did try the options available in school, first (because $$$) – but they were a total failure, and just depressed his self-esteem further.
1. They’re using the same strategies which have already failed (for these kids) in the classroom, but are entrenched in the pedagogy of the teachers/schools.
2. They’re using the same staff (or staff who have their attitudes contaminated by the teachers they’re mixing with – and the school they’re being hired by). The school-employed tutors are much more likely to make false assumptions about the kids and their capacity for learning – taking these from the teachers they associate with. I haven’t yet forgotten the teacher who told me that my kid was ‘trucking along’ in his math group (when he was bottom of the class and clearly struggling). She self-evidently didn’t feel that he was achieving way below his capacity. But an outside tutor did, and made a huge difference.
3. Kids are already off-side with the teachers/school. And don’t want to expose themselves to further humiliation. An independent tutor is a safe person for them to give up their defensive prickles, and open themselves up to trying (which sometimes means failing, initially).
[NB: one of the most important things to my kid, when he was learning to open up to his tutor, was that *no* information went back to his classroom teacher without his OK. Not that the classroom teachers made any effective use of the information that we*did* share…]
4. Kids are highlighted as needing tuition support (because they’re leaving class for tutoring) – and are labelled ‘dumb’ by their peers. (This *can* be overcome – but it requires teachers to be on top of the situation – and I expect they’ve got enough on their plates right now). Everyone in the class knows when the kids doing ‘reading recovery’ leave. And, believe me, it gets thrown around as a slur in the playground.
5. Parents don’t trust the school/teachers. They’ve already seen them fail with their kids. And, why should they give up their precious extra-tuition funding for the benefit of the school? I know one of the most frequent conversations I had at the school gate, was where kids were going for additional tuition – where was good, what was a failure.
I can see schools just using this tuition funding to set up a pool of teachers to cover teacher absences. “Oh, sorry, we had to cancel tuition, because Teacher A is sick, and the needs of 30 kids outweigh the needs of 3”
I feel like you can probably get away with the kid’s school for little kids, but yeah, those are important considerations, especially since the affected population is getting older all the time.
That experience with the school-based tutors dates from when my son was 6-8.
So, I really do think that tutoring, even for the younger grades, is *much* better outside the school system. We started the external tutor (who actually came to the school, but was ’employed’ by me, so reported to me, rather than the school system) when he was 9 – and it was the thing which turned the corner for him educationally.
And, yes. Even at 6, the kids going to the school-based reading recovery teacher (who was IMHO pretty useless) were teased about being dumb or stupid, etc., in the playground.
We’ve had no direct experience with the school tutoring system since then. I believe that it has been relatively good for some kids at his secondary school (combination of middle and high schools). But still, I know of kids who’ve fallen through the cracks, where the standard approach just doesn’t work for them. It’s been most effective for kids with a known learning disability (e.g. dyslexia or dyscalculia), with a relatively standard toolbox of strategies for them to work through.
We may find out this year. Mr 14’s magnificent tutor has retired and shifted cities (sob) – so he’s back on his own. She thinks he’s ready to fly solo – but his math is still a little shaky, so he may need a little support there. He’s prone to telling himself he ‘can’t’ which is a self-fulfilling prophecy….
“3. Kids are already off-side with the teachers/school. And don’t want to expose themselves to further humiliation. An independent tutor is a safe person for them to give up their defensive prickles, and open themselves up to trying (which sometimes means failing, initially).”
I’m understanding this better now, hearing stories. As I’ve said before, schools worked really well for my kids. So this tussle of a school that isn’t working isn’t something I’ve experienced personally (with my kids, or myself). Say, my kiddo complained that his counselor was mean to him last week, dismissive, rolling her eyes, and unpleasant. He came home unhappy. But, he got what he wanted (and not what she wanted to do). At most, we tell him, that’s annoying, but not “not working”.
I can see, though, schools where “being off-side” disrupts what can be done in the school (even if the school addressed the other issues, like using a new method when an old one wasn’t working). I saw a kid for whom leaving the K-8 after 5th grade for a large public school was very positive — he had developed a reputation as a trouble maker that started in Kindergarten (and was exploited by other more socially adept mean kids — they knew how to upset him and then get him in trouble, sophisticated bullying) that dogged him and the family and teachers couldn’t snap out of that reputation.
I pay $325 a month each child (=$650) for math, english, and french tutoring to an external kill-and-drill organization. I do that because:
1. For my kids, for whatever reason, they each seem to miss out on the odd unit even though they are rarely absent. Those gaps are almost never addressed in school (I learned this when my eldest, who kind of takes a while to settle into thing, missed the ‘patterning’ unit in math 3 years in a row as it was always the first unit in September.)
2. I like the old school numbers-based curriculum in math and the old school grammar component in english. Marching through workbooks helps my sort of word-adverse kids. (Our math curriculum is soooooooooooo based in verbal ability right now. I get that they are trying to help kids grasp concepts but for a child who doesn’t like to write, ‘explain your thinking in how this pattern works’ is just a nightmare. Also, times tables and basic facts.
3. The tutors here are local and know all the schools and teachers, to the extent that when I walked my eldest in for math, they were able to predict almost exactly where his gaps were based sheerly on which school he had attended.
4. My kids do not believe that us parents know anything, and having a 24 year old tutor explain it to them saves me, not kidding, -hours- a month.
That said, I’m volunteering with an org that’s trying to set up some tutoring (mostly reading) for kids who can’t afford that kind of thing and yeah, it’s hard. We need a more global approach.
Wow, that does sound like a lot (though, I guess, we still pay something like that for guitar lessons for my senior). I’m not sure why we pay for the guitar tutoring, except that he seems to want keeping it.
It’s useful for me to hear how you use the tutoring, because, I have really never understood it.
I also have noticed that there were a few topics my kid seemed to miss out on (though usually he would get it sometime). We saw it when he studied for the SAT, and say, required fast facility with exponents, as an example. For him, The College Panda Math workbook worked perfectly to address those gaps. But, he is pretty disciplined and willing to listen to at least one of his parents and he needed practice more than explanation (but practice is drill, which I do think is wrong to call kill, unless the drill isn’t helping you).
Jenn said “My kids do not believe that us parents know anything, and having a 24 year old tutor explain it to them saves me, not kidding, -hours- a month. ”
Oh, this is sooooo true!
Parents know nothing…..
I became reconciled to this after Mr 14’s Year 1 teacher – who told me that, despite having a Math degree, and being a trained teacher, she had to get a math tutor for her son, as he refused to learn anything from her.
I’ve had the same experience with trying to pass on research skills (I have a Masters in Library and Information Science, for heaven’s sake); or debating skills (secondary schools regional finalist); or even breath control (only 35 years of singing theory and practice).
I do find it frustrating to be paying someone to provide a lower level of knowledge transfer than I can give for free. But, if that’s the only way to get the message across, then you cut your coat to suit your cloth….
” Schools need fixing. And not just because the Democrats are going to get destroyed in the midterms over this issue.” Well, okay, Laura, you are making a nice moral case here. But I think that to the extent that this DOES get fixed, it will because the Dems are staring destruction in the face. I don’t necessarily care that it gets fixed for the wrong reasons!
Samuel Johnson, he said “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” I do seriously hope that Dem minds are being concentrated…
Paper on volunteer college tutoring: https://ideas.repec.org/p/feb/framed/00746.html
The bottom line is that the volunteer tutoring programs, online, during the pandemic produced positive effects but at 1/3 the effect of higher cost tutoring programs previous studied. The effects weren’t significant, but there was a dose-response effect and the conditions (including online) were challenging.
I think it’s worth pursuing more extensive tutoring models, including online models, if chosen by the student.
Laura retweeted Alec McGillis:
“In Germany, even during their rough Delta surge of Nov and Dec, many people were still going to work, going downtown.”
I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that in a lot of Western Europe, “lockdown” meant going to work in person. You just weren’t supposed to be doing other stuff.
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