Maskachusetts Teachers Consider Returning to Work

“Reopening and Reimagining Our Public Schools”, from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (a.k.a. “teacher’s union”), describes a theoretical world in which those who are paid to teach actually have to work more than an hour or two per day and may have to commute to a physical school.

Do you send out one email every Monday morning and then host a couple of group video chats later in the week? You’re a hero!

Educators will continue their heroic efforts from this spring and will work hard to make our schools ready for our students this fall. Educators, through their unions and in collaboration with students and families, must play a central decision-making role in the return-to-school plan, district by district. Ultimately, we will decide if these directives have been met by the state and the districts.

Everywhere that the schools previously had a rainbow there will now be a double rainbow:

We cannot go back to the status quo, which was actively harming many of our youth, families, and educators of color, as well as people from other marginalized groups, including our LGBTQ+ students. We must instead be bold and create free and equitable schools where education liberates and empowers our youth so a brighter future is possible for all of us.

[among the “Key Directives”] Curriculum must reflect and affirm our LGBTQ+ students.

This is a bit odd when you think about it. LGBTQIA+ students weren’t being reflected and affirmed previously. I am sure that we will all agree that this was a terrible situation. But who created that situation if not the very unionized teachers who now say that the situation must end? What was stopping them from reflecting and affirming LGBTQIA+ students six hours per day every day?

There is one Key Directive that is worth putting in bold:

Eliminate MCAS and reevaluate the ways our public schools are assessed.

In other words, the only objective test of student learning has to be tossed out. (Admittedly, the raw MCAS does not measure school performance that well since the children of well-educated parents tend to score highly even if their teachers don’t teach anything.)

Teachers should be hired and promoted based on skin color:

We must prioritize hiring, retaining and promoting educators of color.

But will the older white teachers resign or subject themselves to firing in the event of poor performance in order to make room for educators of color?

Here’s a principle that I can support wholeheartedly:

Every student — and every educator — deserves access to the basic tools of a modern society: a computer and reliable internet access.

Would someone please tell this to Comcast?

As soon as the first person anywhere in the state gets a fever in November and a positive coronavirus test, the teachers will go back home to their pets and gardens:

Educators must be supported with … effective practices for crisis learning remotely.

Districts must provide support … if we are again forced to return to crisis learning remotely.

One fact that I learned about a private school was that they have already wired up every classroom with video cameras so that students who need to stay home for any reason can participate remotely and see what is going on in the physical class.

A related document from the same union: “Facing the Coronavirus as a Just Community: An Agenda for Our Public Schools and Colleges and for the Common Good”. Some excerpts:

The MTA is a union of 116,000 educators … We are entering a dangerous and unknown peak period of this pandemic. … We present these demands of local and state officials …

Keep schools closed statewide for as long as necessary to ensure the health of students, faculty, and staff. No educator should be required to come to work when schools are closed for students. Any vulnerable staff should be able to stay home with no loss of pay or benefits.

All educators – full-time, part-time, hourly and per-diem workers, including teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and substitute teachers – must be fully paid during this time,

Guarantee that pay and pensions are not affected by the pandemic.

Declare a moratorium on all educator evaluations

Based on the above, I don’t think my friend is going to get that property tax refund he had been expecting based on the fact that his middle schoolers did not receive any education after mid March.

[Our own town of Lincoln, Massachusetts will presumably be one of the last to reopen its schools due to the fact that the square footage is going to be dramatically reduced via a $110 million construction project that moves children into cramped trailers with minimal windows and doors from 2020 through 2023:

They couldn’t find a place to build a new building on the 70-acre campus (above) while continuing to use the old building.]

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We’re gender-neutral, but all children are either girls or boys

Our town is building what is, on a per-student basis, the most expensive school ever constructed in the United States. Thus, when it comes time to do sex ed they need to rely on materials from Procter and Gamble. The conservative Midwesterners try to be up to date regarding the irrelevance of biological sex:

But notice that they commit the sin of gender binarism. The school population falls into just two categories: girls and boys.

Separately, although the materials are targeted at the full rainbow of students, including those who identify as “boys”, the only available role models in the teacher slides appear to be cisgender females:

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Brookline Public Schools approve a book about aviation

Good news and bad news for a friend’s 12-year-old…

Bad: he was sentenced to read a book by his teachers in the Brookline (Massachusetts) Public Schools.

Good: One of the choices was on an aviation theme. Maybe this won’t be a painful distraction from video games and learning about technology. Perhaps it will be Fate is the Hunter?

Reality: the assigned book, Fly Girl, turns out to be more about skin color than aviation.

From the Amazon page:

All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. Her daddy was a pilot, and years after his death she feels closest to him when she’s in the air. But as a young black woman in 1940s Louisiana, she knows the sky is off limits to her, until America enters World War II, and the Army forms the WASP-Women Airforce Service Pilots. Ida has a chance to fulfill her dream if she’s willing to use her light skin to pass as a white girl. She wants to fly more than anything, but Ida soon learns that denying one’s self and family is a heavy burden, and ultimately it’s not what you do but who you are that’s most important.

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  • Bessie Coleman, a non-fictional pilot who identified as a black female
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Why is the Gender Snowperson white?

Lexington, Massachusetts runs what is generally considered the best of the Boston-area public school systems (a task made slightly easier because the typical student there now is the child of Chinese-American PhDs). Unlike our suburb, when they want to build a gold-plated new school building they (a) do it with roughly 50 percent state money, and (b) do it in the parking lot or soccer field of the old school so that nobody has to move into trailers for three years.

Part of being the best: “Public School Uses ‘Gender Snowperson’ to Teach 9-Year-Olds Never to Assume Boys Have Penises” (Pluralist). The best comment: “Why is the snowman white?”

[How good are the best public schools in our state? A Chinese-American PhD friend who lives there says “Most of the teachers are bad.” Fortunately, no matter how bad they are at their job, the union contract guarantees them a paycheck through retirement!]

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Young Americans like to watch?

“Reading Scores on National Exam Decline in Half the States” (nytimes):

Two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Education Department.

The dismal results reflected the performance of about 600,000 students in reading and math, whose scores made up what is called the “nation’s report card.” The average eighth-grade reading score declined in more than half of the states compared with 2017, the last time the test was given. The average score in fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states. Math scores remained relatively flat in most states.

I was praying that this was statistical noise and we would find the the scores went up in half the states. But “Washington, D.C., was the only city or state to have significant improvement in eighth-grade reading, according to a federal analysis of the data.”

[Separately, looks as though Harvard will need to continue its program of race discrimination for at least another 4 years:

White, black, Hispanic, Native American and multiracial students all lost ground in eighth-grade reading, while there was no significant change for Asian students.

(Note how people with heritage from India, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan are lumped together by the Diversity VirtueCorps as “Asians”.)]

Schools are consuming more taxpayer cash than ever. To what can we attribute the decline in performance? Some theories..

Maybe there is no decline in school performance, but the student population has changed as the academically successful have fewer children and the academically unsuccessful have a high fertility rate. Eventually most Americans will be descended from people who did not do well in school and who did not work or worked at jobs that did not require reading. If the parents did not like to read, why would the kids?

iPads, videogames, and smartphones are to blame. As in Being There, students liked to watch TV, but they love to play with tablets, smartphones, and Xbox.

The assigned books are less interesting. Our local K-8 school, soon to be in its $250,000/student new building, has adopted a reading list that concentrates on victimhood. Students are supposed to learn about the struggles of immigrants, people of color, women, etc. Maybe K-8 Americans just don’t care about these particular victims in the way that their adult teachers thought they would.

Readers: What do you think could account for this slide?

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Free coding class from Microsoft for 8th graders

From the email inbox of a reader-parent….

Meany Middle School was invited to an amazing opportunity at Microsoft on Thursday, October 3rd from 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. This event is in partnership with Paramount Picture. The students will have an opportunity to experience a coding class with a surprise special guest.

There is space for 45 – 8th grade students who identify as female. The students must be 13 yrs. old to attend this field trip. Lunch will be provided. It has been described as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Only the first 45 students who return the permission slips and photo release form will be allowed to attend. Permission slips were sent home with students yesterday.

If Microsoft chooses to expose these young folks to C++, it would be interesting to know how many decide that coding is the best career choice.

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Danish kids absent from school for a month

The two youngest passengers on our Northwest Passage cruise were 13 and 15, public school students in Denmark. I asked the parents what kind of bureaucratic obstacles there had been to taking the kids out of school for a month. “None,” replied the dad. “The teacher said that they’ll probably learn more on this trip than in school.” Hurtigruten’s promise of working Internet on the Roald Amundsen did not materialize due to (a) limited satellite coverage, and (b) inability of the ship’s antennae to point low enough. Had the disconnected children experienced trouble in completing their assignments? “They weren’t given any,” said the father. “The curriculum in Denmark is standardized at the federal level, which can be great, but for children who are stronger than average academically it means they have no trouble catching up if they miss a month.”

[I also learned from this family that Denmark has instituted a busing system for children of immigrants. If a born-in-Denmark child does not speak Danish well, he or she is bused away from the neighborhood school, which presumably will also contain a bunch of children who speak a non-Danish language, to a school full of Danes. Where are these folks from? “Syria, after four straight years as the biggest generator of asylum-seekers in Denmark, lost its crown to Eritrea last year, but this year it is back on course to generate the highest number. … Uffe Østergaard, a Danish university academic specialising in identity history who works for both Aarhus University and Copenhagen Business School, has suggested in a Politiken opinion piece that Europe should build a wall around its perimeter… ” (CPH Post)]

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Improving our dismal public schools with the dismal science

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, by Richard Thaler, has some potentially practical advice for improving our schools:

A good example of a domain where field experiments run by economists are having an impact is education. Economists do not have a theory for how to maximize what children learn in school (aside from the obviously false one that all for-profit schools are already using the best methods). One overly simplistic idea is that we can improve student performance just by giving financial incentives to parents, teachers, or kids. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that such incentives are effective, but nuances matter. For example, one intriguing finding by Roland Fryer suggests that rewarding students for inputs (such as doing their homework) rather than outputs (such as their grades) is effective. I find this result intuitively appealing because the students most in need do not know how to become better students. It makes sense to reward them for doing things that educators believe are effective. Another interesting result comes directly from the behavioral economics playbook. The team of Fryer, John List, Steven Levitt, and Sally Sadoff has found that the framing of a bonus to teachers makes a big difference. Teachers who are given a bonus at the beginning of the school year that must be returned if they fail to meet some target improve the performance of their students significantly more than teachers who are offered an end-of-year bonus contingent on meeting the same goals. A third positive result even further from the traditional tool kit of financial incentives comes from a recent randomized control trial conducted in the U.K., using the increasingly popular and low-cost method of text reminders. This intervention involved sending texts to half the parents in some school in advance of a major math test to let them know that their child had a test coming up in five days, then in three days, then in one day. The researchers call this approach “pre-informing.” The other half of parents did not receive the texts. The pre-informing texts increased student performance on the math test by the equivalent of one additional month of schooling, and students in the bottom quartile benefited most. These children gained the equivalent of two additional months of schooling, relative to the control group. Afterward, both parents and students said they wanted to stick with the program, showing that they appreciated being nudged. This program also belies the frequent claim, unsupported by any evidence, that nudges must be secret to be effective.

Imagine the outcry if teachers got money at the beginning of the school year, spent it on vacations, recreational marijuana, etc., and then some of them had to give the money back at the end of the year due to evidence that their students hadn’t learned much!

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American regulations meet smart immigrants: free college tuition with guardianship

Sadly paywalled, but one of my favorite recent news articles: “The College Financial-Aid Guardianship Loophole and the Woman Who Thought It Up” (WSJ).

A smart immigrant from Bulgaria read the rules for college financial aid written by comparatively dumb Americans and figured out how any child can get a free college education, as long as the parents are smart enough to waltz down to the local probate or family court and transfer guardianship.

Of course, under the “almost everything is a federal crime” system, the government is now planning to make an example of her.

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