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  • State Budget Cuts And School Districts With Pre-Existing Conditions

    by Matthew Di Carlo on July 16, 2020

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published projections of state budget shortfalls due to the pandemic. The total estimated shortfall for fiscal years 2020-2022 is $555 billion. This includes $290 billion in FY2021 alone, a deficit over 25 percent larger than that in the worst year of the Great Recession (2009). 

    Compared with the sickness and death caused by Covid-19, state budget shortfalls are just collateral damage (though remember that states spend a lot on healthcare). But it could be a lot of damage. Unlike the federal government, virtually all states are required to balance their budgets every year. They cannot spend more than they raise in revenue, which means any deficits must be balanced out by cuts. Suppose we take these CBPP projections at face value, and subtract from them existing federal aid forthcoming and total state budget reserves. That, according to CBPP, still leaves states about $400 billion short for this past fiscal year and the next two (and there could easily be shortfalls in subsequent years).

    Virtually all public school districts will feel this pain, but it will not be felt equally. Higher poverty districts are more dependent on state revenue, since more affluent districts generate more revenue from local sources (mostly property taxes). But the situation is even worse: higher poverty districts are already spending far less than they need to be. In a sense, the pandemic is going to be particularly harsh on districts with pre-existing conditions.

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  • Remote Learning: What Helped A Network Of Progressive Schools

    by Ann Cook on July 9, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Ann Cook, executive director and co-founder of the New York Performance Standards Consortium and formerly the co-founder and co-director of the Urban Academy Laboratory High School, a New York City public school. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    On Sunday, March 15, 2020, New York State and City officials announced the closure of all schools. By the end of that week, most NYC city public schools had moved to educate their students remotely. By the end of May, in city council hearings called to assess the effect of remote learning on the 1.1 million New York City school children, Education chair, Mark Treyger, was expressing concern.  

    Across the nation there were dire reports of the impact of ‘missed time,’ of a widening achievement gap, the inequities of the digital divide, concerns about privacy and the emotional fallout of screen time. Students weighed in. In a letter to the Times, one NYC student commented:

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  • For Students, The "Good Ole Days" Are Not Good Enough

    by John Jackson on July 7, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Dr. John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity). 

    In America, the “good ole’ days,” meant prevalent systemic racism, a widening achievement gap, and scarce resources for our students and teachers. Rather than longing for “back to normal,” our public school system has the opportunity to once again move us forward towards creating a more equitable and just “new normal” for students, parents, and families. There are three common sense places where, post-COVID, we can give birth to a transformative “new normal”:

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  • Post Pandemic Ethics

    by Peter Consenstein on June 30, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Peter Consenstein, a French professor in the department of Modern Languages at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and in the Ph.D. Program in French at CUNY Graduate Center. He is a translator and publishes critiques of contemporary and experimental French literature and poetry. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Although intellectuals, educators, teachers and professors may be viewed as essential and/or frontline responders to the ongoing pandemic, we must admit that we intellectuals are not on the real front lines, ours are virtual. The difference between real and virtual spaces distinguishes life from death and sickness from health, a social situation at the heart of what it means to teach and learn through a pandemic. The students I taught were often real first responders. On real front lines, they faced sickness and death. They worked in grocery stores, they delivered food and medicine, they cleaned surfaces, they continued to take public transportation. They delivered services directly and indirectly to people like me. They kept me safe and fed. 

    On March 19, 2020, all of the campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) closed and we moved to online or remote learning. Normal life routines ceased for 275,000 students on twenty-five campuses spread far and wide throughout the five boroughs of New York City, for 12,000 adjuncts and more than 7,500 full time faculty members, for the HEO’s (Higher Education Officers), the Professional Staff Congress (our faculty and staff union, representing 30,000 people), for most members of buildings and grounds crews, for all food service workers and for most members of the campuses’ security staff.' This was of course true for almost the entire City of New York and unless you were here, you cannot understand the isolation, desolation and strangeness we felt to see our entire city turn into a ghost town.

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  • Can It Happen Here? Donald Trump And The Fracturing Of America's Constitutional Order

    by Eric Chenoweth on June 29, 2020

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. 

    “The main thing is, they’re talking about us.”
    Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1932-34

    Comparing Trump’s presidency with past fascist regimes, and particularly that of Hitler’s Germany, is generally seen as partisan hyperbole. Past warnings of a Nazi-like leader taking hold in America — like Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled It Can’t Happen Here — were belied by history. America’s constitutional system can withstand even Trump. Can’t it?

    The Trump presidency is certainly not the emergent Third Reich. Adolf Hitler, once handed power, acted swiftly to supplant the existing constitution by emergency decree, directed widespread repression against political opponents, purged Jews from state institutions, and held elections and referenda under conditions of mass intimidation to cement Nazi rule. By contrast, America saw three years of generally unhindered political opposition, media criticism, and free (if flawed) elections in which an opposition party made serious gains. 

    Yet events keep giving resonance to the warnings about Donald Trump’s rise to power. In response to national protests and unrest over brutal police violence against African Americans, Trump had peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House attacked and ordered the military to “expand the battlespace” to U.S. soil. What is happening here?

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  • Marie Kondo The Curriculum

    by Jal Mehta & Shanna Peeples on June 25, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples. Mehta is Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the author, most recently, with Sarah Fine, of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Peeples is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year and the author of Think Like Socrates: Using Questions to Invite Wonder & Empathy Into the Classroom. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    As we turn our eye towards next year, there is increasing concern about “catching students up,” particularly those students who are presumed to have done the least learning during quarantine. This might mean summer school, double blocks of reading and math, and high doses of remediation.

    We have a different suggestion. Marie Kondo the curriculum.

    As everyone now knows, Marie Kondo is the Japanese cleaning expert who showed you how to declutter your home by keeping only the items that bring joy.

    The curriculum is as overstuffed as most American houses. Curriculums are often decided by committees, who have different views of what is important, and they compromise by giving every faction some of what they want. The result is a curriculum with too many topics and too little depth. When Jal and Sarah Fine wrote their book on deeper learning, teachers said that district pacing guides are one of the top three factors that limited their ability to engage in deep learning (teacher evaluations and state tests are the others). Conversely, students said that almost every memorable or powerful learning experience came when they had the time and space to go deeper. Thus there are sound educational reasons to thin the curriculum, and some leading jurisdictions around the world, like British Columbia, are already moving in that direction.

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  • School Organizational Practices And The Challenges Of Remote Teaching During A Pandemic

    by Matthew A. Kraft & Nicole S. Simon on June 24, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Matthew A. Kraft, Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University and Research Director at Upbeat, and Nicole S. Simon, director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools across the United States, upending traditional approaches to education. The health threats posed by the Coronavirus, a sudden shift to remote teaching, and added caretaking responsibilities at home have created a uniquely stressful and demanding context for teachers’ work. Major concerns exist about teachers’ wellbeing during the pandemic and their ability to successfully deliver instruction remotely. Teachers have also expressed apprehension about their willingness to return to the classroom when schools are able to reopen. Even more troubling are projections of substantial student learning loss and the likelihood that differential access to technology and learning supports at home are exacerbating longstanding achievement gaps along racial and socio-economic lines. 

    We developed the “Teaching From Home Survey” for Upbeat to support districts in better understanding and responding to teachers’ experience in working remotely. Between April 27 and May 26, 2020, a diverse sample of 7,195 teachers working across nine southern, midwestern and eastern states answered the survey. 78% of teachers responded to the survey, including teachers working across 8 districts and 3 charter school networks in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Our analyses complement and extend recent findings by smaller, nationally representative surveys by USA Today, Educators for Excellence, Ed Week, and RAND. The large and diverse sample of respondents allow us to explore how teachers’ experiences working remotely differ across both individual and school characteristics.

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  • All You Need Is Love (In The Time Of COVID-19)

    by Susan B. Neuman on June 16, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    I know this is a strange title at a time of crisis. But as the Beatles would say, “There’s nothing you can do that can't be done,” and with that spirit in mind, sometimes a crisis, or in this case, crises can give us a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking about an old topic.

    The topic I refer to is reading, which is the subject of an excellent series of articles in the American Educator, the AFT’s magazine. In this series there are articles about the importance of educator knowledge, choosing the right texts for children to read, building background knowledge, bilingualism, and the research base of reading. All important topics. And all related to what is now described as the “science of reading.” The notion is that if we teach the right skills, at the right time, and give children the right books in the right language, then children will read and achieve, right?

    I wish it were so. But after years of pendulum-shifting this way and that way, from skills-based, whole language, scientifically-based, balanced, and now the science of reading, we have made strikingly little progress in closing the reading gap, particularly for those come from economically distressed communities. Today, our children are in more danger of learning loss than ever before, and with the understanding that “nothing you can make that can’t be made,” it’s time to consider a fresh perspective about reading.

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  • The Pandemic And Cultural Scripts Of School-Family Relationships

    by Sherman Dorn on June 11, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Sherman Dorn, director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In the last recession, the federal government used the desperation of states as a lever (or maybe a fiscal piston) to push changes in state-level policy. Money and flexibility on NCLBs mandates came with requirements. That last wave of school reform brought the Common Core State Standards, attacks on teachers and their unions, two giant state testing consortiums, and attempts to tie teacher careers to student test scores. 

    That prior reform wave did not help schools prepare for a pandemic or its aftermath.

    And yet it looks like we have yet another cycle of schools-must-change rhetoric. There is now a little industry devoted to hot-takes about how this is the end of X as we know it,” and there are plenty of entries in education, such as those from Conor WilliamsDavid Mansouri, and Diane Ravitch -- as well as political calls for an education rethink” from federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

    From politicians especially, this rhetoric leaves me with the impression that they are trying to cover wishful thinking of different sorts with the facade of deep thought.

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  • The Pandemic And Federal Education Policy: From The Race To The Top To The Plunge To The Bottom

    by Stan Karp on June 9, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Stan Karp, a Rethinking Schools editor who also taught English and Journalism to high school students in Paterson, New Jersey for 30 years, and is currently Director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey's Education Law Center. This an edited version of a piece posted by Rethinking Schools. The full version is here. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    In 2009, federal intervention during the last financial crisis gave rise to the Obama administration’s signature education initiative: the Race to the Top (RTTT). Created with $4.3 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, RTTT weaponized its forerunner, the No Child Left Behind Act, and led to new levels of assault on unions, the teaching profession, and public schools, and to a decade of damaging privatization. 

    It took years of resistance, pushback, and policy failures to turn the tide. NCLB and RTTT were ultimately unsustainable and failed to deliver on their promises. As the 2018 Red for Ed teacher strike wave and the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign showed, resistance and activism helped shift the focus of national education politics from charters and tests to school funding and teacher salaries. Mobilized, militant teachers became the voices of communities digging out from decades of austerity, and support for public education was again on the rise.

    But now the Trump pandemic and the lethal fiasco of the response by U.S. economic and political institutions have remade the education landscape again. We are back in shock doctrine, disaster capitalism territory and public schools are again in the crosshairs.

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