Friday, May 29, 2020

May Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting: later blog

Due to my own schedule and the Board going for a highly unusual afternoon meeting, I missed this week's Board of Ed. Thanks to the wonders of video, however, here is my blog of the meeting, a bit late.

Craven: values are to be as transparent as possible with the members of the public as we move forward, through this remote learning, working to improve the lives of the almost million children whose lives have been displaced 
appreciate the work of all at the Department and stakeholders working diligently towards this summer and fall with keeping kids safe
Will be letting districts know what plans are as soon as they are developed

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Creating the least bad option

The follow-up to last night's post
Let me preface this (again) by noting that I have next to no say over any of this, in any of my capacities.

And let me add (again) that I am speaking only for myself.

I fear that in the entirely legitimate concerns over what kids are losing by not being in school--food, mental health support, physical activity, along with education--we may have lost sight of the overarching concern of the time:
we are in a pandemic

As of today, more than 100,000 American people--that would be, for example, more than half the population of Worcester--have died of this disease, most of them in the past two months. That is almost certainly an undercount. And we are early in this outbreak in the U.S..

Internationally, more than 350,000 people have died. That's as if we lost all of Anaheim.
The highest risk category for coronavirus includes one-third of American teachers, as well as significant numbers of school staff.

Risks are also particularly high if you are Latinx, or Black, or Native American, or poor
Some people who don't die get very sick.
That includes children.
It also includes particular high risk categories, which also includes children.

Antibody testing, as yet, is unreliable, and we don't know yet if you can get it again.
To create herd immunity, 70-90% of a population needs to have immunity; we don't know for sure yet, but most estimates have us in the U.S. at below 10% exposure at this point.
And herd immunity alone isn't a solution

In short, we are putting the actual lives of children and school staff up against their education.
People who gather together share this disease, and then people die of this disease.
We need to not do that.

What then, are we do to?
I've heard several times lately that there is no good option: there are only bad options, and we should choose or create the least bad option possible.

To start: we need to stop and make an actual plan this time. We went flying out of schools in mid-March as if the buildings were on fire. We needed to do that, and some districts and schools managed better than others, but now we have a chance to take a breath.

We're also going to need resources, and thus, if you're reading this, here's your one ask from me: send an email to Congress and tell them we need funds for public education. Only the federal government has the resources to pull off what is needed here.

I've seen lots of citing of "Maslow before Bloom" over the course of the time we've been out: in essence, that people's basic needs of things like physical safety and enough to eat must be met before their learning needs are. It is what was recognized when the first order of business for schools was to feed kids.

And so, first: we feed kids. Right now, we're missing thousands of kids across the state: Multiply that across the country, and we have millions of kids who are missing meals.
First order of business then is do what it takes to make sure kids are fed. There are lots of models out there: deliveries are happening in some districts, some have added adult meals (without reimbursement), and the P-EBT benefit is also designed to help with that. Nationally, food insecurity is growing during the pandemic. The numbers we had for free and reduced lunch qualification in mid-March are bound to be wrong right now; we should update those numbers, as we can.
But above all: Get food to kids who need food, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever their need.

Then, we make sure they're connected, so we can make sure they're well.
We need internet connections to every kid, no matter where they are. This is now a necessity. This isn't only about schools: it's about medicine, jobs, need connection to do it. Some have made the parallel with rural electrification, in it being a matter of public interest and equity to get such access. Obviously, a federal effort on that would be ideal. Lacking that, state efforts, local efforts need to be organized such that families aren't without or dependent on making a cell phone data payment for access.
I would argue that if schools require it, districts should pay for it, but if it is used beyond that, then that could be broader.
This means, by the way, that we also need to have conversations around things like bandwidth, because some families, but also some communities, are maxed out.
Likewise, no more essays on cell phones or sharing devices. We're not sharing slates or spellers in colonial times: every student has a laptop or something of its ilk to do their work on.
We also need to recognize: kids are going to socialize on these, too. That's also part of school.
We find every kid, though, and we connect every kid.

That, of course, doesn't get us too much farther forward than we are now, save fixing some of what's broken. Next we try being actively constructive.
This takes first noting that the pandemic has hit kids inequitably. There are students right now who need more support than others. This is where our taking a breath comes in: What do those students need? How do we meet those needs?

Most of our students are going to need to feel connected. It's going to be hard to have that connection, starting off a new year with new teachers and classmates. Some have suggested looping classes, having students stay with the same teacher and classmates for another year; this gives the added benefit of perhaps having the teacher coming in with an idea of where students are at as the year begins. That won't work for everyone, though, but each student should have an adult (at least one!) who is their link to the school. Some schools have homeroom teachers for this; some have mentoring groups; with buildings closed, it is possible that this could extend beyond teachers. Students need a home base, though, from which to start. This means taking stock of each student before school starts to base the year off those connections.  For the adults: those are their kids. For the kids, this is their link to the school and district.

Some students need mental health supports. Much like everything else, this is harder to even figure out when we aren't seeing students in person. Persistence in who have we heard from and who haven't we heard from is one way, particularly through their connection with the school. Some of this can be over video, but sometimes the connection may be written. Some may be over the phone. In some cases--and this isn't the only time I am going to suggest this--maybe we are finding a way to get students someone in person, but through a glass door.
This is probably going to take more staff than we have now, too, and it's not the last time I am going to make that observation, either. Student mental health needs are higher than ever during the pandemic, and if we're going to get students through this as healthy as possible, then we need to meet that need.
As a note to this: we also know that some kids aren't safe where they are, making those connections with other adults crucial. 

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for students with special needs and their families. This has been a really hard one for schools, and there is no easy answer at all. It is another one, though, where the level of staffing, and the level of connection with families, makes a huge difference. Some of this can be done via video. Some students, though, don't respond to that. How do we get students their connections with staff members? And how to we actually PARTNER with families--who, after all, are doing much of the lifting on this--to meet student needs? Can we send people to porches and windows? I know of examples of aides moving in with families (and thus becoming part of their 'pandemic pod'). Can we somehow directly support families that are most strained by this? 

We have large numbers of students whose first language isn't English and whose families may not speak English at all. First, we've got to stop sending work home to these children in English; that makes no sense! Translation programs, with all due respect to Google, aren't that strong. Here's another staffing issue: we need more people who work for districts who speak the languages that students do at home, and that can connect with families where they're at. It is difficult to do that well if we don't have people working with them and for us who can speak and listen directly.

Not everything can be done on a computer, and families need to not be trying to scramble to get students what they need for school during a pandemic. Students need school supplies: they need paper and pencils and crayons and art supplies and science kits. If students are learning at home, they need those supplies at home. For little kids in particular, learning means hands-on materials. We need to not assume that families have blocks or markers or whatever else is needed for school. 
Note that for gym class and art class and music class, that may mean something different. Nerves would probably be strained unduly if we gave every student a recorder, but music and art should be made as well as studied (it's in the standards!) and keeping students active is essential. Worcester Hearts Connected has made a start on that last, if you're looking for examples.
That last means a renewed emphasis from the state, incidentally, that outdoor time and recess time and gym time are part of school time. School time doesn't mean you've spent hours in front of a Chromebook, home or no.

One of the disparities for students is a quiet space to work. Here is the one place that I would open buildings, but with strict scheduling for those who live together and limited access and lots of cleaning. Giving students and their families, if needed, space that is quiet to work through their math or read, if that isn't possible with limited space at home is part of attempting to make up for equity gaps. 

Little kids in particular struggle to learn remotely, and for them, we should bring our student/adult ratio WAY down, and flood early elementary with people. Unemployment is up; we have everything from students talking about taking gap years to college graduates looking for work to people sidelined by the economic downturn. CORI them all, get them some training, and create a teaching assistant corps.
Note here: assistant corps. I'm under absolutely no illusions about what it takes to teach elementary school, and that can't be replicated short term (regardless of what particular national programs may have done). But what would be stations in elementary school are not something one can replicate well online. Teachers teach; assistants ensure that students are connected to the learning by getting it to them.

For all students, we always start by finding out where we are. The level of online reaction (to put it mildly) to the not-revolutionary notion that we assess kids as they come back has been...something. Teachers have always need to figure out what kids know and can do before they move forward with teaching them. That is significantly more true than it ever was before this year, as some students will have continued moving forward (and may even have leapt well ahead of what would otherwise have been intended for them), and some have slid during their time away.
I have seen some suggestions, relatedly, that moving to a mastery based system, as Cleveland is considering doing, would be a timely switch. This means each student fully learns the skill or material before moving on. As students are coming in next year in radically different places from one another--always true, but more true now!--they need to start different places. They'll take different amounts of time to get to where they need to be--also always true!--so maybe it is time to make that how this works.

And speaking of teachers and of staff: first, let's get them a break, for sure, as this spring has been exhausting. Then, let's look at their needs, too. Some of them are working from home with their own kids; how do we as districts and as schools effectively work to help teachers and staff balance their home lives while teaching? What does that look like around time and scheduling and planning? If we are going to do this for an extended period of time, we need to actively be seeking solutions to that issue.
Next, what do staff need to be able to do this work well? I've seen a BIG push on tech training, which is understandable, and in many cases, was needed. But we are also talking about a societal trauma on a scale not seen in decades. We're trying to teach students in a way that hasn't been done on this scale ever. We're watching inequities grow vastly right in front of us. We are having to reach students in their homes with their families. What does that mean both for professional development and for staff support? What do staff and teachers need to connect with students, to keep and get students engaged, to actively work to overcome inequities, and to not burn out themselves? That's work that needs to start this summer and continue through the year.
This means that cultural competency has never been more important: knowing and appreciating the strengths of families is crucial to connection.

The above doesn't, of course, solve anywhere near anything. 
It won't, of course, make up for what we're missing by not having school in person. 
As best as I can tell, though, the real push to have school in person is coming less from educators, and more from those who see schools as a way of "restarting" the economy. I'd suggest we need to consider the health and well-being of people ahead of that. 

While the above doesn't fix education, it might, though, keep schools from killing people. 

ASBO roundtable on reopening schools

ASBO (that's the national version of MASBO, thus the international organization for school business officials) roundtable on reopening schools with Mary Filardo of 21st Century Schools as staff to the National Council on School Facilities, and David Sturtz, Executive Director-Assessment Services, Cooperative Strategies
I'm just making notes on the presentation itself

Filardo: reopening plans that are safe, operational, equitable, and affordable
uniform and precise guidance for planning, operation, and maintenance for building, transportation, and school assignments
changing nature of planning
cost as compared to benefit
"the social distancing pieces are really complicated"
Some pieces require long planning period: need for engagement with the community, and procurement may take time

Sturtz: Schools are "intense social environments"
  • main tools of social distancing are space and time
  • improve building hygiene: air quality, cleaning & disinfecting, bathroom improvements
  • personal hygiene
planning staff, community "have to be engaged" in how these issues will play out
community trust and community confidence is "absolutely critical" to how this will play out in the 2020-21 year

capacity for buildings "in an abnormal circumstance" right now; that needs to be determined "quite quickly" to then be able to plan from there; "what would be a reasonable capacity in the room"
ten or less, for example, creates a significant reduction in capacity for face time
Feasibility of staffing at that ratio: what then are the budgetary impacts of that?
Community worries, interests, needs: "making it a dialogue" with the community, further building trust
Capital planning to meet capacity needs
Scheduling for that capacity
Redistricting of students "save that for last"
All of this assumes significant learning loss due to remote learning
the most thoughtful capacity to support safety to allow for face time
"most of them take your capacity and whack by about 60%"
need actual space (not what's on the drawings)
what's the personal space allowance? What are your fixtures? 
how much space does each student need in square footage? (44 to 100 square feet)
what if we spread out further (gyms, cafeterias, libraries) if bumping staff
What about time from 100% online to full in school? 
what are the implications of each? fewer days but longer days?
segmenting groups from groups; mitigating risk between groups fewest number of kids have to quarantine if  exposed
Bein: Facilities driven decisions alongside and interacting with community dialogue

economic impact of the pandemic; states on average 45% of school funding
capital costs for reopening: HVAC systems, window repairs, portable classrooms, sensors in bathrooms, add humidity to air
When buildings reopen, let everything run (water sitting makes people ill, too!)
signage "is actually a really big deal"
outdoor environments are safer
deep clean when there are times of illness
communication is "essential"
nurse for every school on site
before and after care? and cleaning in between and added social distancing
mental health services and counseling to students
added custodial staffing and scheduling across district to allow for coverage
continued support to community feeding programs
Sturtz: important to advocate on the Hill: reopening schools "is not free"

Note: the National Council on School Facilities has been having weekly roundtables to discuss school reopening; you can find them online here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The pit in my stomach

Let me, first of all, note that I do not, in any of my capacities, have any authority over any of this.
And I am, as always here, speaking only for myself.

Let me, second, note that every time I hear from those who are making decisions, I can feel my stomach drop with the fear that they're simply going to send us back without the massive investment it would take to make that anything approaching safe.

Please make no mistake: having our kids out of school is absolutely catastrophic to their education, and, in many cases, to their physical and mental health. In some cases, this has been exponentially increased by the lack of timely response, or mismanagement, or other leadership lacks.
I'm not under any illusions on how destructive this time is to many.

I also spend a good bit of time in and around schools, and schools of different types. I know what it's like in a suburban high school at lunchtime, and what it's like at an urban elementary school at recess. I've been in the closets that pass for offices for speech therapists and myriad of other support staff, the auto bays and shops of a vocational school at work, the flood of students running for buses at the end of the day.
I've also been in a lot of bathrooms.
I don't of course know it all, but know what a lot of that looks like in schools in Massachusetts right now.

I don't know how we do it without kids touching each other and breathing on each other and their teachers. I mean that, genuinely. I have tried and tried to figure out how you'd do it.
  • How do you get the kids on and off the buses? Ok, once they're on, they sit single seat, every other seat. That's going to take...probably three times the buses, I'm guessing? We already had a bus drivers shortage, so where are those drivers coming from? And it takes months to build school buses, so where are we getting those?
    But you also need the kids to not pass each other in aisle, right? So the first ones to get on have to sit all the way in the back, and they have to be the last ones off. And when you load for the ride home, the first ones to get on, who go all the way to the back, have to be the last ones off. If you're familiar with kids, you know that this is going to be both unpopular--kids wait to be the ones for those back seats!--and hard to enforce. So do we need to staff the buses with monitors?
    And still, every single student has to go past the driver, both in and out.
    And loading and unloading in that sequence, with kids having to wait to be six feet apart, is going to take forever.

  • So then they get to school, and we get them off the bus, and they go...where? Little kids usually head to the playground, but they can't share balls or jump ropes; they can't use the playground equipment; they can't even stand together and talk to each other, right?
    And if not, usually they get sent to a gym or something, where they sit as classes. If you take the entire population of the elementary school and make them all sit six feet apart...where is that space?
    Older kids sometimes are allowed to go straight to their lockers. They can't be at their lockers when the people on either side are at their lockers, though, right? And we can't have kids passing along two lines of kids at open lockers, either. So is it sequenced? Have we arranged for every other one to go to their lockers in an order that keeps them from passing each other?

  • Somehow, we have now made it to a classroom. We've seen the photos of the kids sitting every other desk in other countries. How many kids can we have in a classroom to do that? And if it's only them, where are their classmates? Are we switching off days in and out? How did we decide who was in and out? And how does it work if some of the point is for parents to be able to go back to work with students on a 50% schedule? And what about the vocational schools that already had a half and half schedule?
    Those students who are sitting there, though, have brought us back to having students sit in rows...which we were trying not to do anymore. I taught high school English, for example, and I had students move into a circle to discuss, and move into groups to work together, and pair up to exchange ideas, and...we can't do any of that.
    No circle time on the rug, no tables in the elementary classrooms, no lab partners in science class...
    How do we do special education pull asides? Or how does an IA work with an individual student? Can we do anything other than listen in music? Where will we find space enough for art class?

  • And if you've taught or have kids, you know the reminders are going to have to be constant: 
    • Leave your mask on.
    • Don't touch him.
    • Stay in your desk.
    • Don't talk to her.
    • Back up.
    • Six feet apart.
    • ...and on and on
    • ...which just sounds absolutely miserable.
    Add to that the fact that this is enforcing policies and procedures, and our institutions, schools very much included, do so very inequitably. Which kids are going to get in the most trouble for not wearing their mask/staying six feet apart/etc? The same kids who always do: kids of color, kids who are disabled, and so forth.
    Also, how are we doing this for kids who don't speak English?

  • Bathrooms. I imagine we send kids in one at a time? Will there be warm water in every sink? Soap and paper towels (bad time for the hand dryers to spread germs)? Are we going to give each kid enough time to wash their hands as often as they should? Are we going to allow that much bathroom access?

  • How are we keeping all of this clean? Do we have sufficient custodial staff? Supplies? Are they basically constantly cleaning?

  • How are we feeding the kids lunch? I've heard that kids are eating in their classrooms to prevent overcrowding in the lunchrooms. They go get their food, I imagine? Six feet apart and then they bring it back six feet apart with no one dropping anything and then they eat that way? And then they can't pass anyone to throw anything away, so someone brings the trash around but stays far away?

And again and again and again: where is the money coming from for the buses and the drivers, for the masks and the soap and the newly repaired sinks and the cleaning supplies and the additional custodial staff and the improved ventilation systems and the signs and arrows on floors and walls and all the paper towels? Ones that work, please.

I mean this absolutely honestly: I do not see how this can work.
Second post tomorrow: Not that anyone asked me, but...

And then this came out today

National NPR loop this morning:The Pandemic Is Driving America's Schools Toward A Financial Meltdown
"I think we're about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history," warns Rebecca Sibilia, the CEO of EdBuild, a school finance advocacy organization. "We are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined ... a year ago."

Monday, May 25, 2020

What I'm reading about what comes next

I feel as though I behind in posting on here about what I'm reading; I'm doing better on keeping Twitter and Facebook updated on that. Here are the latest round of links I've been reading on what comes next for schools during the pandemic:
  • First, a blog post from Oakland teacher Harley Litzelman has rightfully gone viral for walking through what a school day looks like in an urban high school, and what the pandemic means for it. His conclusion is his title: "We Cannot Return to Campus This Fall"
    I’ve often heard teachers respond to suggestions on how to reopen with a common phrase: Have you ever met children? I hope this article leads you to ask the same question in response to politicians’ claims that schools could safely reopen this fall if they implement physical distancing and adequate sanitation. As a high school history teacher, let me show you what it would look like for a school to reopen in the middle (yes, in the middle) of a global pandemic.
    In particular, let me note that I know of many teachers pleading with those in authority to read it.

  • Next, I've backed off linking to EdWeek because their paywalls are rough, but the headline does a lot of the work on this one: "Too Expensive to Reopen Schools? Some Superintendents Say It Is." Note also this piece from Brookings calling for "unprecedented federal aid" for schools.
  • This coming week's edition of The New Yorker has a piece "The Complex Equation of Reopening Schools" which also looks at the challenges of reopening, and adds the equation of the inequities of the system:
    There is a risk that the reopening process will only amplify those divisions, with wealthier districts (and private schools) raising money for infrared thermometers and contract tracers, and poorer ones left to scrounge for bandannas and disinfectant wipes. Before the pandemic, public school teachers spent hundreds of dollars a year of their own money on classroom supplies; they can't just be handed a new, longer shopping list.
  • There are of course countries that run on a different calendar than ours that are sending kids back now. This Learning Policy Institute brief reviews what is being done in China, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, and Taiwan as they reopen their schools. It looks at attendance, social distancing, and hygiene and cleaning. Note that the U.K., where Prime Minister Johnson had announced that schools would reopen on June 1, is now instead having a staggered opening, with only primary schools (more or less our elementary schools) opening then in England, with Scotland and Northern Ireland not opening until August and Wales announcing no date as yet, much of that as a result of a pushback by parents and teachers. Closing note of that article from the Guardian:
    Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools in England, told Sky News that implementing social distancing for children as young as five “is going to be like herding cats, it’s going to be really difficult. But other schools are doing it abroad and we should be doing the same.”
  • Finally, there have started to be some attempts to model what is being lost during the pandemic of student learning; see here for one example. 
More as I have it, and if there are things you'd share, please send them along.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Good discussion in Amherst this afternoon

In case you didn't catch in, on COVID-19 K-12 Edu Impact: Policy, Equity, and Implications for a Generation of Students with Professors Michael Lovenheim (Cornell) and Katie McDermitt (UMass) and Amherst Superintendent Michael Morris.