The Tyranny of Silver Linings: My kids have been promised school on September 1. Please don’t move that football.

From the newsletter

In 13 days, my college kid should step into a classroom for the first time since March 2020. The younger guy will start a job training program run by the school district on September 1; he hasn’t been in a full day program or school since COVID started. I have constant, low-key stress that the rising infection rate of the Delta variants, local officials on a power kick, and vigilant teachers’ unions will yank away the football, and I’m going to land on my back. 

To push back against the “close schools” forces and to get the school board to talk about something other than hand sanitizer and six foot distancing, I am a regular presence at our school board meeting. If I keep talking about learning loss, maybe they will think twice about closing the schools again. 

By now, buckets and buckets of research show that American children learned less during this period of remote and hybrid education, than they typically do in a regular classroom. If the states had not suspended standardized tests, we would have even more information about this. 

Parents know this. I emptied my younger son’s backpack yesterday and sorted out his binders from last year. There was nothing in there – no worksheets or quizzes. He did no work last year and it makes me want to barf. Not only did my autistic kid’s social skills regress, but they wasted the few hours per day that he was actually in a school building. 

Other kids had even bigger problems. Lost students aren’t just an urban problems; we have lost kids in our upper middle class suburb, too. My mom friends tell me that their boys (all average students) in their freshman year of high school had the most trouble. 

So, learning loss is a real thing that researchers and parents know. But administrators and the news sources that cater to the education industry don’t want to talk about it. They cherry pick data. Newark actually covered up some very serious drops in test scores. Or they come up with cute names — “It’s not learning loss. It’s unfinished learning!” They try to find silver linings, ie “The kids might not have learned the multiplication tables, but they sure learned resilience!” 

When administrators point to resilience, I want to ask them if I can have the keys to their cars. I would like smash their cars into telephone poles, because that experience will help them build resilience. And isn’t that great! 

Now, why are educators avoiding discussions about the failures of remote education? Wouldn’t they want to point out that teachers are indispensable? It is more clear than ever that no online charter school can replicate the work of a dynamic in-person educator. 

First, nobody wants to own the fact that kids were harmed for nearly two years. Second, teachers worked hard learning how to deliver content to students through a computer. Older teachers had huge technical learning curves. And nobody wants to hurt their feelings by telling them that they wasted their time AND hurt kids. Third, some parents actually opted to inflict remote education on their kids. Nobody wants to hurt the parents’ feelings either. 

Also, teachers are by nature very optimistic people who like to decorate their classrooms with positive affirmations and rainbows. They love silver linings. It really goes against their nature to say that something sucks. 

So, there are a lot of reasons why schools are trying to deny something that is really, really obvious. What they are doing isn’t exactly gaslighting, but it’s a close cousin. Denying obvious facts is annoying, but not having a plan to address the obvious problems this fall is infuriating. 

So, lately I’ve been showing up at school board meetings demanding that they spend our town’s $1.1M federal COVID education money on after-school tutors and counselors for the kids. Students missed out on school, so they are owed hours. But our district doesn’t want to set up this tutoring service for students. They say that the teachers will get the kids caught up. (Somebody tweeted today that we shouldn’t use the words “catch up” around students, because it will depress them.) 

Administrators here can’t tell me how fourth grade teachers will teach division, when half of the class never learned multiplication tables. They can’t tell me how they’re going to handle the fact that some students were supported by $150 per hour tutors, while others had no help. They can’t tell me what they’re going to do about first graders who never developed the core muscle strength to sit at a desk all day. 

I also really want to know how my town’s schools will spend its $1 million. One million dollars is not enough to revolutionize education, but it is enough to do something interesting. They haven’t released a plan yet, like other schools in this country. Nation-wide, schools are getting $129 billion, but it’s unclear what’s going to happen to all that money. 

If COVID rates rise enough to require sacrifices, schools cannot shut first. Close bars, restaurants, everything else. Mandate vaccines for school employees. Mandate vaccines for students. We have to make every other sacrifice before we demand that kids suffer again. And to prioritize kids, we have to be honest about what they’ve lost.