13 Thoughts on "School Reopening"
I struggled to limit myself to just 13.
First, let’s stop calling it “school reopening.” Schools are open. School buildings are closed. If Amazon is open while its employees work remotely, the same is true for schools. Semantics matter.
I’m not sure our society actually cares about public education. Casinos opened their doors before schools. Casinos in Pennsylvania bring in $1.5 billion in tax revenues in a normal year. The first CARES act contained $500 billion for corporations and zero dollars for public schools.
I have been in favor of returning to in-person learning for months — all year, really. I think it can be done safely. I’m also not an expert. The CDC is, and we’re still awaiting their new reopening guidelines. Just last week The White House walked back CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky’s comments that vaccinations weren’t a necessary precursor to returning to in-person learning. That makes it hard to build trust among parents and teachers (and principals!).
School buildings in the UK, which had been open for most of the school year, are now closed with no clear timeline for reopening, all because of the new Covid variants. That makes me want to be vaccinated before we return to in-person learning.
Under the current plan in Philadelphia, my school will open its doors to under 40 K-2 students on February 22nd. Because of the hybrid plan — two days in/two days virtual — we’ll serve about 20 students a day for in-person teaching. We normally serve 180 K-2 students (plus 360 in grades 3-8).
Teachers will once again have to reconfigure their teaching. Now they’ll be teaching in 4 dimensions, engaging the small group of students in front of them while also teaching the majority of students still at home watching them through a document camera.
We should be studying the efficacy of hybrid teaching. Hybrid cars are more efficient, and I’m not sure it’s the same with instruction. I’m skeptical it will be more effective than strict virtual teaching, and I’m working with my teachers to figure out how to most efficiently and effectively teach in the hybrid model. We want to avoid the “at-home” kids just passively watching the teacher in the classroom.
I also recognize a return to in-person learning means more than just academic achievement. Parents, especially women, can return to work. Students get to socialize and build relationships. Those are significant — we’re not a NAEP factory.
Cloaking Inequity, a great education blog, has a good piece on schools and covid.
Secretary of Education Cardona pressured Connecticut schools to stay open throughout the pandemic — they continue to offer in-person learning — so I imagine he’ll try to do the same in his new role.
Teacher unions are not the enemy. Their ranks are filled with committed teachers and their asks are not outrageous. If you enjoyed the Super Bowl yesterday, I will refer you to the agreements the NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL players unions demanded before they returned to work: daily testing, full salaries for shortened seasons, etc. In fact, I wonder if we might have had fewer deaths and more justice if all essential workers banded together. After all, it’s the billionaires who got richer during the pandemic, not the Instacart shoppers or Amazon warehouse workers.
The box fans in Philly schools are…not a great look. They might actually circulate air, but in that sense they’re like Trump using a sharpie to extend the path of Hurricane Dorian. Sharpie-drawn paths don’t inspire public trust or confidence.
We blew an opportunity to rebuild urban education infrastructure. Philadelphia schools — like many other aging cities — have $4 billion in outstanding repairs, and the box fan controversy highlighted how woeful our physical facilities are. As a colleague of mine said, “Any system that isn’t universally embarrassed by damn box fans as the solutions to old buildings…only with poor children would this even be presented.” She’s right. It pains me that my school has been vacant for almost a year and the best we could do was paint the main hallway. Our school buildings were outdated and unsafe even before this pandemic. With aging ventilation systems, no air conditioning, asbestos-lined pipes, leaky mechanical systems, and an average age of 73 years (in Philly, at least), many need to remodeled or razed and rebuilt. For years urban schools been at the mercy of an unjust, inequitable, and racist funding formula. If society is desperate to resume in-person learning, let’s fix our schools before we bail out our airlines.