Thursday, December 17, 2020

The path towards safe school reopenings

Chicago has plans for a phased school reopening starting in January if the spread of the virus stabilizes, but the local teachers’ union says cases remain too high. Credit...Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

I don't see any pathway to safe urban school reopenings without first classifying teachers and school staff as essential, frontline workers, and putting them near the top of the vaccine priority list. This should be part of a national campaign championed by the incoming Sec. of Education. Schools should also become centers for mass community inoculation. 

Two things are clear to me. Schools can't open without support from a critical mass of teachers and teachers aren't going to be bullied back into the classroom without evidence that those classrooms are reasonably safe. 

The nation’s roughly three million full-time teachers are already considered essential workers by the C.D.C., which means that in states that follow federal recommendations, they are already eligible to receive the vaccine after hospital employees and nursing home residents.

But, says the New York Times...

The essential worker group is huge — some 87 million Americans — and states will have flexibility in how they prioritize within that population. Many more people work in schools than just teachers, including nurses, janitors, and cafeteria workers, and it is unclear how many of them would be included on the high-priority list.

Last month, more than 10 educational organizations, including the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, wrote to the C.D.C. asking that school employees be considered a priority group.

But even after educators are inoculated, lots of other measures will need to be put in place before city classrooms can be truly considered safe learning places for both teachers and students. Even after being vaccinated, Teachers could still be silent spreaders. Schools will likely need to continue requiring masks and distancing students for many months until community spread has sharply dropped. 

Public school educators and outside experts need to consider radical school redesigns to meet community needs in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. But that kind of project will require massive federal and state resources and an effort to find common ground between school boards, big-city mayors, and the unions. Either on the national from or here in Chicago, I don't see that happening for the time being.

Certainly not without Democrats in control of the Senate, and even then... 

Cardona & Fenwick

CHOOSING HIS ED SECRETARY...It looks like President-elect Biden is finally close to naming his education secretary. His people just dropped the names of two short-listed candidates to the Washington Post -- Howard University emeritus Ed School Dean Leslie Fenwick and Miguel Cardona, the commissioner of schools in Connecticut.

I don't know much about either one. So I'll go by WaPo's description of each:

Fenwick is a Black woman, and Cardona is a Latino man. Both have experience as classroom teachers, though Fenwick has worked as a dean and scholar in higher education for many years...

...Fenwick has criticized education programs such as Teach For America — a nonprofit that for years recruited only new college graduates, gave them five weeks of summer training and placed them in high-need schools — and the move to inject competition and corporate-inspired management techniques into schools. She’s also spoken against for-profit charter schools and taxpayer-funded private school vouchers.

... Cardona sees an urgency to in-person school and has pushed districts to offer that to parents, said spokesman Peter Yazbak.

“His position has been that in-person learning is the way that we best address the educational crisis caused by the closure of schools last spring,” he said. “A lot of people who are not from Connecticut assume that Connecticut is just Greenwich. But we have a lot of urban districts with students who have social and emotional needs as well as academic needs. The best way for them to get the services they need is in school, with counselors and their teachers.”

Even though they bring different perspectives to the table, they both sound pretty good to me, especially considering the misleadership we've had atop the D.O.E. for the past two decades. I wonder if there's a way to combine the two of them in one cabinet post?

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