The concerns of a Massachusetts public school superintendent

Email last month from the superintendent of schools in a nearly-all-white suburb of Boston:

The Superintendent’s Bulletin can be accessed by clicking on the link below:

Superintendent’s Bulletin – September 23, 2021

In This Week’s Bulletin:

Letter from the Superintendent

Diversity & Dialogue Series 2: Hispanic Heritage Month

Adolescent Mental Health Free Clinic

Webinar: Anxiety in a Time of COVID

Sustainable Food Parent Survey

October Flu Shot Clinics

Free School Lunch Through June 30, 2022

Employee Benefits Open Enrollment

District Calendar of Upcoming Events

————————————–

Quiz for readers: What topic is missing?

Second question… if typical children are not at risk from COVID-19 (other causes of death being much more common), how did they become anxious about it?

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In-person versus virtual learning effectiveness

Now that the school year is upon us, with periodic coronapanic shutdowns following positive PCR results, it seems like a good time to share the results from our MIT ground school course. We’ve taught this as an in-person class multiple times and once as a Zoom plus prerecorded lectures class (MIT Video Productions recorded the 2019 lectures). Considering only registered MIT students, scores on the FAA practice test were approximately 10 points lower (out of 100) after the virtual class compared to the in-person class.

(Of course, I don’t expect the demonstrated ineffectiveness of virtual instruction to convince the Shutdown Karens to reopen schools! #AbundanceOfCaution and #FollowTheScience)

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Back-to-school anti-racism

Today it’s back to school for students in Lincoln, Maskachusetts. They’ll be fully masked, of course, by local order (from June 2: “We will follow state guidelines in the fall, which indicate that we will not require distancing between students but will maintain all individuals wearing masks while indoors.”), and sitting in trailers because the nation’s most expensive school building (per-student) isn’t ready.

A friend’s son attends private school. Here’s an excerpt from his course list:

  • English I-Honors
  • World History I -Honors
  • Anti-Racism
  • Algebra II-Honors

While, of course, it is great to see that the academic discipline of Anti-Racism gets equal status with Algebra II, I wonder what fills an entire semester (or year?). A search for “anti-racism high school textbook” does not yield an obvious result. Perhaps there is a lucrative market for a textbook? What collection of school administrators will stand up and say “We don’t need a class on this subject”?

The Lincoln public school’s June 2 email, which announced the “masks now, masks tomorrow, masks forever” policy, devoted a single line (out of three pages) to academics:

  • Continued focus on AIDE (antiracism, inclusion, diversity, and equity) and deeper learning for all grade levels.

So there should be demand for anti-racism textbooks at all grade levels!

(Separately, private schools in Maskachusetts usually have at least a handful of non-white students, e.g., Asians. Why are they sentenced to take this class? Surely a non-white student does not need to learn from a (white) teacher how to be anti-racist.)

Related:

  • Florida first impressions (white kids in our neighborhood learn about Black people from talking to their Black neighbors, not from a white teacher delivering an anti-racism lesson)
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Define irony: Private school hosts diversity, equity, and inclusion event at a country club

Garland Greene:

Define irony – a bunch of idiots dancing around on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.

I would like to propose an update to this philosopher’s work. #DefineIrony: We were invited to an exclusive (and expensive) private school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion event… at a country club.

Related, from Saturday Night Live, April 9 1977

Julian Bond: Well, this is the major problem with these studies. The measurements of I.Q. which form the basis of comparison come from tests composed by whites for whites. The tests are culturally biased; it’s not surprising that whites would score better than blacks.

Garrett Morris: Could you give us an example of what you’re talking about?

Julian Bond: Certainly. Here are some questions that have appeared on recent I.Q. tests. Number one: “You have been invited over for cocktails by the officer of your trust fund. Cocktails begin at 4:30, but you must make an appearance at a 6:00 formal dinner at the Yacht Club. What do you do about dress?
A. Wear your blue-striped seersucker suit to cocktails and change into your tuxedo in the bathroom, apologizing to your host for the inconvenience.
B. Wear your tuxedo to cocktails, apologizing to your host for wearing a dinner jacket before 6:00 PM.
C. Walk to the subway at Columbus Circle and take the “A” Train uptown.”

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Can public schools suspend students who go away for a weekend and aren’t able to arrange a COVID test?

Keeping a child from attending public school is a crime. Parents can be arrested and imprisoned for obstructing a child’s access. See, for example, “The Story Behind Kamala Harris’ Truancy Program” (NPR):

In 2019, HuffPost reporter Molly Redden wrote about the families affected by this truancy program, including a Black mother named Cheree Peoples, who was arrested in April of 2013. She came on the show to help explain why this program, which initially launched without much criticism, ended up becoming so controversial, and why it disproportionately affected families of color. Here’s the extended cut of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cheree is a mother in California, and her daughter has a chronic illness. Her name is Shayla, and she has sickle cell anemia, a really painful genetic disease that causes lots of complications. It’s pretty typical for people who live with this disability to miss a lot of school if they’re children. As her daughter missed a lot of school for valid medical reasons, Cheree and the school were in a dispute about how to accommodate and account for those absences.

She was in her house one morning, and the police showed up and handcuffed her. She had time to put on a jacket over her pajamas. And when she was walked by the police out of her apartment where she lived with her daughter, there were news cameras waiting, and she was booked by the police. What she said to me was that she was shocked. She was really floored. And she said to me, “You’d swear I’d killed somebody.” It felt to her like a really excessive show of force for what was essentially a misunderstanding between her and her child’s school.

[Harris] fought for this law, which raised the financial penalty and made it a criminal misdemeanor for parents, up to a year in jail, when their children missed at least 10 percent of school time.

Here in Lincoln, Massachusetts, soon to be home to the nation’s most expensive (per student) public school building, the school bureaucrats decided that students could be excluded from the building (i.e., suspended) if they went away for a Saturday overnight in another state, e.g., neighboring New Hampshire or Vermont, and did not have a negative PCR COVID-19 test result to show. As with the former state governor’s order (one of 69), the test had to be taken within 72 hours of returning to Maskachusetts. So, in a twist that only students of the absurd can appreciate, it was legal to be tested for COVID-19 on Thursday evening in MA as a way of determining if someone was going to acquire COVID by traveling on Saturday morning and returning Sunday evening.

Although the school had a fully remote option, a student kicked out of school for quarantine could not transition into the fully remote option for the period of suspension.

The governor’s order was eventually dropped, replaced by an “advisory”. The school, however, continued with their requirement that, essentially, students be tested prior to departure for weekend excursions. They’d been running a “pool testing” program at the school as well, but the pool test could not be used to meet the travel requirement. So a student who was going to go to Vermont for the weekend would end up needing two COVID-19 tests in the week prior (to see if the student acquired COVID-19 in Vermont?).

Not every family can get organized for these tests nor afford them (we spent a month without insurance and we got billed $750 per child for a test at a “doc in a box” urgent care center). Perhaps a test goes awry and a result is never returned. For whatever reason, a child may end up over the border into another state (almost any of which actually have experienced far less COVID-19 than Maskachusetts; Florida, for example, adjusted for population over 65 is at roughly 1/3rd the MA death rate) and later have no test result to show. Why is it legal to deny this child an education for a two-week quarantine period?

#BecausePublicHealth? Maybe that was a good answer when the governor’s travel order was still in place. Now that the technocrats have rescinded their order, however, what is the school’s justification for denying education to children, a criminal offense if parents had done it?

Related:

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Jew-hatred in the Boston suburbs (school administrators of color to the rescue)

A parent at the Lincoln-Sudbury (Maskachusetts) high school received the following email:

Dear LS Students. Families, and Staff,

It is with profound dismay and disappointment that this past Friday a student reported seeing a swastika scraped into the back of a seat. Today administrators are addressing students in each of the classes who meet in that classroom about what was found to seek additional information and to offer support. Any students feeling in need of counsel due to this incident are encouraged to reach out to their counselors and/or Associate Principal.

It is without question that our society and schools should and can be free of hate symbols of any kind. LS stands for caring and cooperative relationships, respect for human differences and the importance of community. For this to happen when we have only recently been experiencing such joy at the opportunity to be back in school in person on the eve of a memorial day remembering those who died while acting in the service of our country adds greater salt to the wound.

For all who are feeling pained by this incident, be assured that we are way better than this incident might suggest. I have seen it in the many acts of caring and kindness extended toward each other and on the behalf of those needing aid. We stand together in support of the religious freedom of all our students, families and staff to be absent of bias, harassment, and hate.

In deep regard,

Bella Wong

A student who is upset at seeing a symbol of racial hatred will be comforted by talking to a likely white school administrator who made the affirmative decision to work in a nearly all-white town. (Mx. Wong him/her/zir/theirself previously chose to work in the all-white town of Wellesley, MA.)

What about the school bureaucrat herself? From diverseharvard.org:

Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions.

As a person of color I cannot help but have thought about this throughout my life.

What does a “person of color” look like?

(from MetroWest Daily News, 2013)

Meanwhile, just to our south… “Elementary school project about Hitler causes controversy in New Jersey town” (ABC):

Maugham Elementary School in Tenafly says it is now investigating after teachers allowed a student to write a biography glorifying Adolf Hitler. … The assignment included that student dressing up as Hitler as well. “It’s appalling, it should’ve been stopped the minute this girl [c]ame to school,” resident Shimon Avrahami said.

A strong female (“girl”) taking the role of the 1938 TIME Man of the Year is not cause for celebration on the grounds of escaping gender norms?

From the 5-year-old’s kindergarten operation:

Celebrating Pride Month

Please join us in recognizing and celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community! As beautifully stated by our neighbors LexPride, “Every year we celebrate Pride month in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York. Led by transgender women of color, the Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. It helped energize the ongoing pursuit of equality.

While we celebrate with festivities, Pride month is also a time to recognize the impact that LGBTQIA+ people have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally. We honor members of the community who have been lost to HIV/AIDS and hate crimes. And we fight against oppression to make a better world for all.”

LexPride is run by the righteous of Lexington, Maskachusetts, previously featured in Our faith calls us to affirm Black Lives Matter…

Circling back to Lincoln-Sudbury, a follow-up email from Cara Endyke Doran, LS School Committee Chairperson:

It is with profound disappointment that I confirm there was an anti-Semitic symbol found in one of our classrooms. The School Committee was briefed and the LS administration is investigating the incident. The administration has sent a statement to our families and students acknowledging the incident and underscoring that this behavior will not be tolerated. Our associate principals addressed the incident with students affirming our promise to combat intolerance.

At Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, we stand against discrimination and hate in all its forms. We celebrate the dignity of all individuals in our community and are committed to advancing equity and inclusion. Respecting human differences is one of our core values. L-S is “a place that values diversity in style and substance. Human difference includes all forms of diversity, such as racial, ethnic, religious, familial, economic, and sexual orientation. In addition, L-S honors differences of opinion and differences in learning styles.”

Due to open meeting laws, we must discuss this issue in an open forum. We will be addressing this incident during our upcoming school committee meeting.

Economic diversity is good, but an apartment building where people can live without paying $20,000 per year in property tax is bad.

And then another email from Bella Wong, the “person of color”:

I am writing to follow up on my message earlier this week about the discovery of a swastika in school. An investigation has been completed which included interviewing all students seated in the vicinity of where the swastika was found. Most students interviewed did not see the marking and none had any knowledge of how the swastika was created. The only students who saw the marking was the one who reported seeing it and the ones that student told what had been seen. We commend the student who initially saw it and recognized the need to report it immediately to a teacher.

Administrators tried to recreate what it would have taken to create the marking and found that it could not have been done without being observed if in class. Due to COVID restrictions students do not have free access to classroom space when not scheduled to be in that space. It is therefore entirely possible the marking was created at a much earlier time and only discovered at this time. If anyone has other information that could be helpful to determine how the marking was created please let an Associate Principal or myself know. … I reiterate that hate symbols in school are unacceptable. Thank you to all our students who responded promptly to our request to be interviewed. Thank you to Chief Nix, Town Manager Hayes, and religious and secular community members for your outreach and offers of assistance.

A stated LS core value is to respect human differences. I would like to say that at LS we also stand for the celebration of human differences. Differences enirches [sic] our lives, it inspires where sameness dulls. … To our students, families, and staff I have the utmost faith in all of you and all of us to be able to improve upon our interactions with one another in order for all voices and persuasions to be more freely and respectfully expressed.

I wonder how this “person of color” feels about hearing from “all voices and persuasions” regarding politics? Would it enrich Mx. Wong’s life to hear from someone who says “all lives matter” or that he/she/ze/they thought that Donald Trump was a better choice for president than Joe Biden?

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Public school priorities

From our local education officials, who previously decided to build the most expensive (per student) school ever constructed in the United States ($250,000 per town-resident student, about $110 million for 440 K-8 students).

The May 20 Lincoln (PreK-8) School Committee meeting will focus on strategic priorities for the present school year. The highest priority for the District, aside from keeping our schools open during the pandemic, was professional learning on anti-racism across the district. At next Thursday evening’s School Committee meeting, members of the Lincoln Public Schools Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group (LAAG) will present their findings from surveys, focus groups, and an “equity audit.” LAAG includes 22 students, faculty, administrators, community representatives, and School Committee members. Their report outlines recommendations to be included in a multi-year District action plan. Please save the date.

(If anti-racism is priority #2, how far down the list is quality of education? We may never know! One thing that we do know is that quality of education for gifted students was not even on the list in Maskachusetts, going back to before coronaplague. See “Is Massachusetts failing its brightest kids?” (January 2020): Nearly every other state has a definition of giftedness, and 32 states require districts to identify and/or serve gifted students, according to the state report. In contrast, Massachusetts eliminated its specialized licensing of teachers for advanced learners because of the lack of instructors seeking the certification. Just 69 of the state’s 1,872 schools reported having a talented and gifted program in a 2015-16 survey conducted by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the most recent survey of state policies and practices for gifted students, conducted in 2014-15 by two national organizations focused on gifted education, Massachusetts was one of nine states that didn’t even respond to the survey.)

The school’s email system adds the following signature, in red font, to every email from a 6th grade teacher:

Lincoln Public Schools are united in standing with those who are calling out ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country and calling for acknowledgement of humanity in one another. This is not just an issue for black and brown people, but an issue that impacts all of our futures. We must:

  • Listen to each other, showing compassion and empathy
  • Never turn our backs on senseless brutality
  • Continue to denounce injustices
  • Unify our voices to create systemic change

During this painful time, let us work together to be a light to break the darkness that silence can bring. Let us facilitate education, healing, connection, and let us support each other and our communities. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution and we must work together to ensure that there is justice for all.

My favorite part of the above is that the school stands with “those who are calling out ingrained racism”. They’re not standing with those who are doing something about ingrained racism. So they stand with a white person who puts a Black Lives Matter sign on his/her/zir/their lawn in an all-white 2-acre-minimum-zoned suburb. They don’t stand with a white person who moves to a town with Black and Brown neighbors (anyone in our town who wanted to do this would pocket $1 million, the difference in value between a house here and a house in a diverse community).

What are the priorities for schools in the town (Jupiter, Florida) where we’re moving in August? The school system is run by Palm Beach County:

The Gifted Education Program provides appropriate instruction for eligible students by delivering effective and innovative strategies beyond the basic curriculum. The program is designed to challenge and empower students to produce quality work and to become productive citizens while protecting and nurturing their unique characteristics.

The State of Florida defines a gifted student as “one who has superior intellectual development and is capable of high performance.” Schools have an obligation to identify and provide services for gifted students.

Palm Beach County School District currently universally screens second-grade students for gifted with the CogAT in 33 schools. … Students identified as being eligible to receive gifted services each have an Educational Plan (EP) that is developed to foster both their strengths and areas of need.

Should we abandon all hope that Floridians, despite the influx of the righteous from New York and Maskachusetts, will see the anti-racism light? No! “Palm Beach County school board’s new core principles call for equity, ‘dismantling racism’” (May 4, 2021):

Palm Beach County public schools are poised to adopt a new set of core principles this week declaring a heightened commitment to combating racism and ensuring equity for all students.

School board members have drafted new mission and vision statements and, for the first time, an “equity statement” underscoring the school district’s dedication to “dismantling racism and other systems of oppression and inequity.”

The move reflects the district’s effort to join the growing number of companies and government agencies publicly signaling their support for racial justice in the wake of the protests last year over the police killing of George Floyd.

Children of color make up the vast majority of students in the county’s public and charter schools. Of the 189,000 students, 36% are Hispanic, 29% are white, 28% are Black and 3% are Asian.

The centrality of George Floyd is interesting. He was killed by one government agency (the Minneapolis Police Department) and the solution is not for government agencies to have less power, smaller budgets, and a more focused mission, but rather for government agencies to have more power, bigger budgets, and a more complex and varied mission.

George Floyd is also central here. An email to the town mailing list from yesterday:

I’m a 5th grader at the Lincoln Public School.

I’d like to invite everyone to please join me in commemorating the death
of George Floyd one year after his death. *I’m coordinating students,
families and the community to come to Pierce Park and form a big heart
holding cards that we will be disseminating. The formation will be captured
via aerial photo, with the help of our Fire and Police Departments.

We will have a brief vigil with speakers – especially from the children of
Lincoln, and 9:30min of silence to reflect.

The event details are:
Layers of Love
Tuesday, May 25th
*Pierce Park *
4:30 – 5:30pm

Who will be brave enough to show up and read from “Sex Money & Drugs” off the Blockbleeders album by the rap group of which George Floyd was briefly a member?

Related:

  • “Surprise: Florida and Texas Excel in Math and Reading Scores” (New York Times, October 2015): Florida and Texas look worse than they deserve to because they’re educating a more disadvantaged group of students than most states are. … With the [demographic] adjustments, Texas jumps all the way to third in the 2013 state ranking, and Florida to fourth.
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Irrational for Americans to work unless above-median income can be earned

As we celebrate Tax Day (updated date for coronapanic) and you add up what you’re paying to the Feds and states, it might cheer you up to look back to this 2019 article from a former Senator and a former top executive at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Wall Street Journal article on income inequality:

Official measures of income inequality, the numbers being debated, are profoundly distorted by what the Census Bureau chooses to count as household income.

The published census data for 2017 portray the top quintile of households as having almost 17 times as much income as the bottom quintile. But this picture is false. The measure fails to account for the one-third of all household income paid in federal, state and local taxes. Since households in the top income quintile pay almost two-thirds of all taxes, ignoring the earned income lost to taxes substantially overstates inequality.

The Census Bureau also fails to count $1.9 trillion in annual public transfer payments to American households. The bureau ignores transfer payments from some 95 federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, which make up more than 40% of federal spending, along with dozens of state and local programs. Government transfers provide 89% of all resources available to the bottom income quintile of households and more than half of the total resources available to the second quintile.

Today government redistributes sufficient resources to elevate the average household in the bottom quintile to a net income, after transfers and taxes, of $50,901—well within the range of American middle-class earnings. The average household in the second quintile is only slightly better off than the average bottom-quintile household. The average second-quintile household receives only 9.4% more, even though it earns more than six times as much income, it has more than twice the proportion of its prime working-age individuals employed, and they work twice as many hours a week on average. The average middle-income household is only 32% better off than the average bottom-quintile households despite earning more than 13 times as much, having 2.5 times as many of prime working-age individuals employed and working more than twice as many hours a week.

Condensed version of the above: Your spending power will be roughly the same if you don’t work at all (and therefore don’t have to file tax returns, extensions, estimated tax, etc.) than if you work full time, unless you are a high-skill worker who can command a wage that is well above the median. The article includes a chart from 2017, before all of the Coronawelfare was ladled on top:

Note the flat shape of the “Net income” (i.e., spending power) curve until one is in the top 20 percent. The old sourpusses who wrote the article conclude with a scolding tone:

America already redistributes enough income to compress the income difference between the top and bottom quintiles from 60 to 1 in earned income down to 3.8 to 1 in income received. If 3.8 to 1 is too large an income differential, those who favor more redistribution need to explain to the bottom 60% of income-earning households why they should keep working when they could get almost as much from riding in the wagon as they get now from pulling it.

But, as Cicero noted more than 2000 years ago, “The cash that comes from selling your labour is vulgar and unacceptable for a gentleman … for wages are effectively the bonds of slavery.” Maybe the fact that we’ve created the world’s largest group of humans who don’t work is a feature, not a bug?

(Separately, I don’t see how the above calculation can be done accurately. Many of our brothers, sisters, and binary resisters who receive free housing and/or reduced rent are in private-sector apartment buildings that have been ordered by local governments to provide free or reduced rent. The rent subsidy is reflected in higher rents paid by market-rate tenants, not in a local government’s budget.)

Related:

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Why aren’t Florida schools run from 11-5:30?

Happy First Day of Spring!

In Florida, though, it will feel more like what we in Maskachusetts call “summer”. This gives rise to the dumbest question you will hear all season…

Elementary school in Miami is 8:35 am to 3:05 pm. Given that school buildings are air-conditioned, why not run the schools from 11-5:30 so that the kids can do outdoor stuff during the comparatively cool morning?

Instead of children running around on a soccer field during the hottest time of day, they could be enjoying sports during the most comfortable time of day and enjoying taxpayer-funded A/C during the hottest hours.

Obviously this is a bad idea, but why?

An iPhone snapshot from the Cirrus SR20, flying up the Miami Beach shoreline in January 2021. This proves my hedge fund manager friend’s adage regarding how it is impossible to lose money on a real estate investment: “They’re not making any more condos.”

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Do we need neutral and reliable credential tests for high school and college graduates?

Coronapanic has shut down America’s schools and/or turned them into pale online shadows of their former selves. It is now exactly one year since unionized public schools in Maskachusetts shut down, for example, and they’re not back to fully open. Many colleges remain shut.

Our MIT ground school moved from a three-day in-person class to a five-day online class. We have an objective measurement of student learning: the FAA knowledge test and/or the practice tests offered by companies such as King. Educational outcomes as measured by these tests were lower compared to when the class was in person. Apparently it is not compelling to stare at a screen for hour after hours.

Given that nobody can tell who has learned what anymore, could this be the time to develop and market neutral third-party assessments. From “Universities and Economic Growth”:

I once asked a group of professors at Makerere University in Uganda “How come more people fail the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer test than your most advanced computer science course?” It would seem that the answer is that the MCSE, which tests the ability to do basic Windows administration, is graded by an impartial computer system.

For young people who want to prove that, contrary to appearances, they actually learned something during the Age of Panic and Shutdown, why not a test of the stuff that high schools and/or colleges are supposed to teach?

For high schools, I guess one could argue that we already have AP tests. But not every high school student takes AP classes. The book Academically Adrift describes the use of the Collegiate Learning Assessment. New York State has the Regents exams. Perhaps these could be adapted for nationwide use?

Readers: What do you think? Has the shutdown produced enough uncertainty that this old idea can thrive?

The Southside elementary school in Sarasota, which my local source says is the place that you’d want your kids to go (NYT says Florida schools are generally more effective than the U.S. average).

Will there be a nationwide high school achievement test in place by the time these 5th graders get their diplomas?

Related:

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