“Studies in the US and around the world have found that student learning suffered when classes were remote, and many teachers were no fan of the system either, with educators ranking the challenges of virtual instruction among their top pandemic stressors in one recent study. At the same time, some fear that in-person school during omicron may simply become untenable. Sheikh’s school has one nurse for 2,500 students, making it nearly impossible to do any real contact tracing. “There’s no way to contain these Covid cases,” she said.”
“Republicans across America are pressing local jurisdictions and state lawmakers to make typically sleepy school board races into politicized, partisan elections in an attempt to gain more statewide control and swing them to victory in the 2022 midterms.
Tennessee lawmakers in October approved a measure that allows school board candidates to list their party affiliation on the ballot. Arizona and Missouri legislators are weighing similar proposals. And GOP lawmakers in Florida will push a measure in an upcoming legislative session that would pave the way for partisan school board races statewide, potentially creating new primary elections that could further inflame the debate about how to teach kids.
The issue is about to spread to other states: The center-right American Enterprise Institute is urging conservatives to “strongly consider” allowing partisan affiliations to appear on ballots next to school board candidates’ names, as part of broader efforts to boost voter turnout for the contests. A coalition of conservative leaders — including representatives of Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and Kenneth Marcus, the Education Department civil rights chief under former Secretary Betsy DeVos — have separately called for on-cycle school board elections as part of sweeping efforts to “end critical race theory in schools.”
In Florida, school boards are among the last elected officials who blocked policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Republicans succeed in pushing the state to strip school board elections of their nonpartisan status and gain more representation on school boards, they could break the last holdouts who regularly defy the governor.”
“Making school board races partisan could make an already heated political landscape even more contentious”
““I do think party labels would produce more informed voters,” West said. “But, at the same time, it would likely accelerate emerging trend of nationalization of local education politics.””
“Earlier this year, schools around the country received more than a hundred billion dollars from the federal government—American taxpayers, in truth—in order to recover from the pandemic and finally get back to the task of teaching kids.
The feds stipulated that 20 percent of that money be put toward addressing learning losses during the pandemic, but the bulk of it can be spent at schools’ discretion. Which means, of course, that many schools are using this sudden injection of cash to make improvements that have nothing to do with keeping COVID-19 at bay.
“Some districts are investing big money in initiatives that don’t appear at first glance strictly COVID-related,” notes Education Week. “Miami-Dade schools plan to spend $30 million, or $86 per student, on cybersecurity. Raleigh County schools in West Virginia lists a $9 million effort—more than $800 per student—to expand an elementary school, adding nine classrooms, upgrading the library, expanding the kitchen, and separating the cafeteria and the gym. The Newport News school district in Virginia is spending $840,000 for a new student information system to help teachers catalog students’ academic progress.”
An unnamed school district will use some of its COVID-19 relief funds to install vape detection devices, purchase new student ID cards, and build a tennis court.
Indeed, many districts seem to be spending significant chunks of money on upgrading athletic facilities and expanding stadiums, according to Education Week. Athletics can be an important part of many students’ lives, and letting kids get back to sports was a good reason (among many) to move away from the soul-crushing farce of virtual learning and get everybody back in school. But a slightly nicer football field probably isn’t going to improve students’ test scores or make them safer from COVID-19, which after all are the two primary justifications for all the spending.”
“By many accounts, teachers have been particularly unhappy and stressed out about their jobs since the pandemic hit, first struggling to adjust to difficult remote-learning requirements and then returning to sometimes unsafe working environments. A nationally representative survey of teachers by RAND Education and Labor in late January and early February found that educators were feeling depressed and burned out from their jobs at higher rates than the general population. These rates were higher for female teachers, with 82 percent reporting frequent job-related stress compared with 66 percent of male teachers.
In the survey, 1 in 4 teachers — particularly Black teachers — reported that they were considering leaving their jobs at the end of the school year. Only 1 in 6 said the same before the pandemic.
Yet the data on teacher employment shows a system that is stretched, not shattered. In an EdWeek Research Center report released in October, a significant number of district leaders and principals surveyed — a little less than half — said that their district had struggled to hire a sufficient number of full-time teachers. This number paled in comparison, though, with the nearly 80 percent of school leaders who said they were struggling to find substitute teachers, the nearly 70 percent who said they were struggling to find bus drivers and the 55 percent who said they were struggling to find paraprofessionals.
More concrete jobs data suggests that school employees have largely stayed put. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer public-education professionals quit their jobs between the months of April and August the past two years than did so during that same time immediately before the pandemic.”
“Still, plenty of teachers are quitting — and they’re quitting at least in part because of the pandemic. According to a survey by the RAND Corporation, almost half of former public school teachers who left the field since March 2020 cited COVID-19 as the driving factor.”
“some local districts are hurting. Sasha Pudelski, the assistant director for policy and advocacy for the School Superintendents Association, has spoken to school leaders around the country who are facing teacher shortages, sometimes at crisis levels. But her sense is that these shortages are uneven depending on a district’s resource level and how well they’re able to pay. Based on what she’s heard from school-district leaders, she suspects shortages are more acute in low-income communities with a lower tax base for teacher salaries, potentially causing a further shortage of educators from underrepresented groups, who disproportionately teach in these areas.
Indeed, a fall 2021 study of school-staffing shortages throughout the state of Washington shows that high-poverty districts are facing significantly more staffing challenges than their more affluent counterparts. In some places, there are significant numbers of unfilled positions.”
“On November 23 and 24, seventh and eighth graders at the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School—a public middle school in the borough’s highly coveted District 2—are scheduled to begin their mornings by organizing themselves into racial identity “affinity groups.” This intentional act of segregation is being conducted in the name of undoing “the legacy of racism and oppression in this country.”
The New York Post reports that in an email to parents, Principal Shanna Douglas outlined five possible affinity groups the students could choose to join: Asians (who are 44 percent of the student population), whites (29 percent), a combined caucus of Hispanics and African Americans (15 percent and 8 percent, respectively), those identifying as multiracial, and people who wish to opt out of such classifications altogether.
“This optional program was developed in close coordination with both the School Leadership Team, PTA and families,” New York City Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told the Post. “[It is] abundantly clear to both students and parents that anyone can opt-out of this two day celebration if they desire.”
“Celebration” seems an odd word choice to describe a racial sorting exercise for pre-pubescents. “How disgusting to divide 11 year old friends & classmates by race in 2021 NYC,” tweeted former District 2 Community Education Council member Maud Maron, a noted critic both of pandemic school closures and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. “Segregating kids is wrong. (Even if some expensive DEI consultant, who has run out of real racism to battle, tells you to do it.)”
New York City’s education system is no stranger to race-based affinity groups. In June 2020, the DOE’s Early Childhood Division held an “Anti-racist Community Meeting” at which 700 employees were given the option to join breakout sessions in one of the following groups: “blacks or African-American, Latinx, Middle Eastern and North African, multiracial or mixed, Native and Indigenous, Asian Pacific Islander American, White Allies.”
That same month, the principal of a public elementary school in Queens instructed teachers that they needed to become “interrupters” of racism, then sorted staff into three groups: “Latino/a/x/Hispanic; White/Asian/Other; and Black.””
“How do advocates handle the cognitive dissonance of segregating in the name of anti-segregation? Like this, care of an email from a friend of mine’s private school principal:
“Affinity groups allow people with a shared identity to meet with one another in an emotionally safe and brave space. Unlike legal racial segregation which was a tool to maintain white power and control, racial affinity groups are anti-racist spaces in which participants can build their skills and capacity to unlearn and dismantle racism.” (Emphases in original.)”
“The initial practical problem, whose obviousness should nevertheless give affinity-promoters pause, is of classification. Why should African American/Hispanic be a single category? Or white/Asian? What do we do with the ever-elusive “white Hispanic” category? Don’t naturalized immigrants have far more in common with one another than they do with fifth-generation natives who may happen to share their skin pigment?
These definitional sorting questions point to a truism routinely treated by progressives and educational bureaucrats as false: Racial/ethnic/national identity is inherently fluid, not fixed. Immigrant Greeks and Italians and Jews in the late 1800s and early 1900s would have been shocked to hear that they were “white,” yet that’s what we call them now. Cubans ain’t Mexicans, literal Caucasians (as in, from the Caucasus Mountains) are routinely categorized as Asian, and Hispanics are seceding from their own identity. In a country founded not on nationality but ideas, this fluidity should be considered a feature, not a bug.
And yet we are sending the exact opposite message, in some cases to 11-year-olds. By making them choose their own group (even if one such group is the opt-outs), we are doing two bad things: making them feel as if their narrowly and often inaccurately defined subcategory is stamped upon them like a scarlet letter, and also that it is an important or even defining aspect of their personality.”
“Eleven-year-olds should not be told in first period to join an ethnic tribe. Their teachers should not be directed to act along those essentialist lines, either.”
“A working paper published last week by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University and written by researchers at the University at Albany, SUNY and RAND Corporation bills itself as the broadest and most rigorous examination at the school-level of how SROs impact student outcomes. Using national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 collected by the U.S. Department of Education, the paper found that while SROs “do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools,” they do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.
“We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students,” researchers wrote. “These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students.”
The study found that the introduction of SROs to schools did appear to improve general safety and decrease non-gun-related violence, like fights and physical assaults. However, the authors say, those benefits come at the cost of increasing both school discipline and police referrals.”
“The number of police in schools has skyrocketed in schools over the past four decades, first in response to drugs, then mass shootings. Police departments and organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers argue that well-trained SROs act as liaisons between the school and police department. A good SRO, they argue, can actually reduce arrests.
Civil liberties groups and disability advocates, on the other hand, have long argued that increases in school police and zero-tolerance policies for petty disturbances have fueled the “school-to-prison” pipeline and led to disproportionate enforcement against minorities and students with disabilities.
Other recent research has come to similar conclusions as the new working paper. For example, a study published last August by researchers at the University of Maryland and the firm Westat found that increasing the number of police in schools doesn’t make school safer and leads to harsher discipline for infractions.”
“The authors of the new working paper say that school districts should weigh the benefits of safer hallways against the high cost of putting more kids in contact with the criminal justice system.”
“In general, universities should stop caving to students who are unreasonably upset about minor infractions—but this wasn’t an infraction at all. Campus administrators would be well-advised not to put themselves in the position of being responsible for every hurt feeling, no matter how ill-founded or slight. There’s little benefit to making diversity synonymous with absurdity.”
“The federal government sent around $190 billion in aid to public schools across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a lot of money by any standards, but in terms of federal spending on primary education, it is a shockingly large amount: as Reason’s Matt Welch explained when surveying the Biden administration’s weak moves toward promoting public school reopening back in February, that’s more than four times as much as the federal government tended to push toward K-12 education a year in pre-COVID times.
Is the money being diligently used for its intended purpose? Of course not. A survey by ProPublica found, when examining some of the “provisional annual reports…by state education agencies” for about $3 billion worth of the aid from March to September of 2020, that “just over half of the $3 billion in aid was categorized as ‘other,’ providing no insight into how the funds were allocated.”
Over the last school year, 15 states constituting around a quarter of the total U.S. population didn’t even manage to achieve 50 percent effective in-person education, the alleged purpose of all that federal COVID money.”
“”The law places few restrictions on how districts can spend the federal aid, as long as the investments are loosely connected to the effects of the pandemic,” ProPublica explains, while noting that various districts, as reported by the Associated Press, are diverting the cash to athletics. The schools are supposed to spend all the money by 2024. The Associated Press reports that although schools “are required to tell states how they’re spending the money…some schools are using local funding for sports projects and then replacing it with the federal relief—a maneuver that skirts reporting requirements.””
“A joint Stanford Graduate School of Education/New York Times study of 70,000 public schools in 33 states three weeks ago showed that those offering remote-only learning at the beginning of 2020–21 experienced a 3.7 percent decline, while those with in-person schooling went down 2.6 percent. “In other words,” Stanford education professor Thomas S. Dee told the university’s publicity department, “going remote-only actually increased the enrollment decline by about 40 percent.”
New York City, despite being mistakenly held up by Democrats and teachers unions as a model for school reopening, rattled parents’ nerves all 2020–21 with repeated school-year delays, capricious shutdowns, hybrid scheduling, and hair-trigger building closures. Meanwhile, private schools, and public schools as close by as Long Island, remained open all year, without ever becoming “superspreaders.”
It makes intuitive sense that parents with means would seek both greater predictability and better educational outcomes for their kids, whether that means moving to a more reliable school district or shelling out the money for private options.”
“If the New York example plays out nationwide—and keep in mind, the 2020–21 K-12 decline happened absolutely everywhere—then the impact on public education, local and state governance, and politics itself could be profound. About one out of every five state-government dollars is spent on primary and secondary education. Spending formulas tied to enrollment will see major declines; those that aren’t will face political pressure from taxpayers rightly wondering why the bill is so high for a service fewer people want. The trend toward tethering education spending to students rather than school buildings will continue shooting upward.”