The Great Education Debates of the Week

From the Newsletter.

In a week with some personal drama — COVID exposure at Easter dinnertests, and vaccinations for Steve and myself just an hour ago — I’ve distracted myself by diving into dramas in the wider world, like voting laws, Prince Phillip’s death, and school stuff, of course. 

Even without a fully vaccinated public, rising COVID rates in the North, and very unhappy teachers’ unions, schools are opening around the country. In my town, all students will attend school in-person for five mornings per week starting in mid-April. In September, schools here are slated for regular, full days for all students. That’s a pattern that I’m hearing happening around the country. 

Now that the drama around whether or not schools should remain shuttered seems over, we’ve moved onto the second round of fights. 

Fight #1 – Should we measure learning loss this year? Should we even use the term “learning loss,” because it might stigmatize kids

Right answer – If kids fell behind in reading and math this year, as all studies indicate, then we should not sweep this fact under the rug. It would be like hiding the fact that too many folks in nursing homes died from COVID. Hiding that information would pretty scummy, right? So, why would we try to cover up the fact that kids didn’t learn a whole lot over the computer, unless they had families that could massively supplement their education. 

Also, if we don’t know the scope of a problem, we can’t fix it. I think kids should be offered free after-school tutoring, summer school, and extra enrichment opportunities for five years to make up for this year. Sure, we might have to hire extra staff to run those programs, but that’s an excellent use of federal money. 

Fight #2 – Biden said that 80 percent of all teachers have gotten shots, but there was some pushback on that number on Twitter. Some put that number as low as 40 percent. Others said that the system has no way of really knowing how many have gotten vaccinated, because nobody is keeping track, and because the unions are telling teachers to not disclose that information to administrators. 

Even if that 80 percent number is right, why haven’t 20 percent gotten a shot? I hope they’re not science teachers. Should schools make it mandatory for teachers to get vaccinated by September? What if they refuse?

Right answer – Yes, vaccinations should be mandatory for all teachers and health care workers. 

A commenter on my blog said his mother’s nursing home is now under lockdown, because some healthcare workers there refused to get the vaccine, got infected, and brought the virus into the nursing home. Isn’t that manslaughter? 

While an unvaccinated kindergarten teacher isn’t the loaded missile of an unvaccinated healthcare worker, keeping those folks healthy – even against their will — would seem to be of utmost importance. We already mandate MMR vaccinations, why not this one? If colleges, like Rutgers, can make the vaccination for all their students, then the rules have to apply to the adults, as well. 

Fight #3 – Even though nation-wide college applications dropped this year, particularly for young men, they surged at Ivy League colleges. Too many kids thought that they would have a shot at Harvard, because they dropped their SAT requirements for the year. hahaha. 

So, my friend, Helaine Olen at The Washington Post, and David Kirp in the New York Times, both argued for cloning those top colleges or adding more seats. 

Right answer — I’m not sure why we need Harvard to expand, when we have enough seats in college classrooms around the country. Seats aren’t the problem. The problem is that we don’t have affordable, quality seats for everyone. 

Community colleges, as I’m learning right now, need a major administrative overhaul. All colleges need to provide more support for students, especially those who were deprived of an excellent K-12 education and have complicated lives. 

Despite that influx of applications at Harvard, it’s not clear that parents even want their kids to attend college anymore. 46 percent of parents said they would prefer not to send their children to a four-year college. This is true across all income levels. People want job training for their kids. Again, this is an opportunity for community colleges, but they might not have the ability to rise to the occasion.