Biden/Sanders education task force distances itself from Obama.

Arne Duncan looks for his ass.

The Biden/Sanders policy task force has come out with a final report on a range of issues, including education.

Of course, the Sanders wing made concessions. And the Biden wing was also forced to put some distance between itself and the Obama/Duncan education era.

It appears that progressives succeeded in getting some good stuff in the final report. The same thing occurred in 2016 but because Clinton lost to Trump, we were not able to see how that would have manifested itself in actual policy.

There was agreement on less testing for purposes of accountability.

The task force calls for greater control over charters, a plank which was advocated by both Sanders and Warren during the primary.

Sanders had advocated universal free tuition at public four-year colleges during the primary. The task falls short of that. It calls for families earning under $125,000 per year and community colleges should be free for all.

While the task force report and the final Democratic platform are far from actual legislation, and far from what I would have wanted – and we still must defeat Trump and elect Democratic majorities and then some – it has caused the corporate education reformers some heart burn.

Democrats for Education Reform National President Shavar Jeffries released a statement expressing its disappointment over the task force’s positions on testing and charters.

That’s a reason to be happy.

Guaranteed salary. Start school when we’re ready and in a way that is safe.

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I’m pretty sure that no matter what school districts decide about remote, hybrid or in-school learning, by mid year it will all be remote.

Every medical person and scientist I read says that as bad as some states have gotten, we are still in the first wave.

The trend line in Chicago, which before the reopening of whatever phase we are in was heading in a good direction, is now trending in the wrong direction.

I have two questions.

What is the hurry to start school if we don’t know what it should look like? It’s just an arbitrary date on the calendar.

What if we wait?

Ah, you say. Businesses are depending on a date specific so people can come back to work. Parents want to know too.

That is, if the parents have a job to go back to.

So, here is question two:

Why don’t we have a guaranteed income like Europe?

That would address the problem of question one.

What’s the rush? We are in the middle of the worst public health disaster in our history.

Schools could open when we have a fully safe plan and when teachers are ready for delivering quality remote instruction and support for all of our students.

I’ve served on many school planning committees. Better to focus on the worst case scenario.

I’m not thinking of a paycheck protection program where the government sends the money to businesses. I’m talking direct payments to workers.

Of course, we won’t get this out of the present Trump administration in time for school, or ever.

I guess I’m directing this at the Democrats.

It’s times like this when we should ask big questions. And I’m retired and quarantined and have time to think about these questions.

 

The millions who depended on employer-based health insurance are screwed.

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In Houston, all the hospitals are full.

Medicare for All was a central issue of debate during the Democratic presidential primaries. Bernie supported it. Nearly all the others opposed it.

Joe Biden promised to veto it even in the unlikely event it passed a Democratic Party Congress.

National union leaders like the AFL CIO’s Richard Trumka and the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten also opposed national health care on the basis that the health insurance bargained by their affiliated unions was superior to any government system.

With millions of workers in states that ban collective bargaining, it was always a foolish argument.

Even in states with collective bargaining rights, only a small percentage of workers are covered by a union contract that includes quality health insurance.

And now the shit has hit the fan.

The numbers of people who have lost employer-provided health insurance since the start of the pandemic is not exactly clear.

It is millions. That we know.

 

Biden’s solution is to expand the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has gone to the Supreme Court to overturn ACA entirely.

Even if Biden is elected, any Congressional action would be months into 2021.

Those without coverage and get infected by COVID19 are facing financial and a life-threatening health emergency now.

A post-pandemic vision of teaching and schools.

 

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 11.53.51 AMThe conversations I’ve been having with parents, teachers, substitutes, staff and retirees have been heartbreaking.

Here we are in mid-July and few know what school will look like just weeks away.

Like most things connected to the pandemic where our political leadership is failing, as far as schools are concerned, students, their families, teachers and staff will be the victims.

Poor kids. Black and Brown kids. They will pay the heaviest price.

Yet in talking to parents and teachers, the stories are not the same.

Some parents tell me that their children have thrived with distance learning.

Others say their kids struggle.

Educators talk about the impact of the loss of social and emotional development that comes with being in a physical school.

Although I wonder how this can be accomplished if all the safety recommendations are actually followed.

The current pandemic will end and we need to remember this discussion when it does end.

I’m hoping the experience can be instructive for a post-pandemic world of education.

Students and teachers thrive or struggle in different learning environments. It seems obvious and yet we have gone through decades of standardization and one-way, same page on the same day, one curriculum accountability.

Maybe getting through this pandemic will give birth to a different vision of public schools, one which looks at students as individuals.

The banned CDC report on the risk of school openings.

“The good news is, this is very thoughtful and complete. The bad news is, it’s never been released,” said Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president of the American Council on Education. His organization  represents 1,700 college and university presidents and higher education executives.

The New York Times got hold of the CDC report that warned of the risks of opening schools. Basically, the report said that the risks are high.

So, under orders from Trump, the report was banned and a new report ordered up that aligned with Trump’s demand that schools either open or be denied federal funding.

What is an acceptable level of risk for your child?

School opening plans without teacher input.

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“We don’t know anything,” a 4th grade teacher told me this week about his school district’s plans for the start of school at the end of August.

The district had sent out an update in their online newsletter.

“Exactly how school will look when classes begin has not yet been determined. The administrative team is currently working on plans based on guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, recommendations from building leaders and the input of parents. The COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing requirements have left us with the unique challenge of fulfilling our mission as a school system while maintaining public health and addressing the needs of families.”

Translation?

We have no idea.

And we have no intention of involving the union or asking teachers.

Another teacher, a local union president, told me that parents had been sent a survey, but nothing to teachers.

There’s this thing called impact bargaining, but she’s been told that she must wait for the plan from the board before she can bargain it.

I asked her what happens when the conditions change again.

Which they certainly will.

Presently the infection rate in Illinois is running at less than 3% of those tested. What happens in October if there is a spike like we’ve seen in other states.  I mean, her district may try to open with some kind of hybrid plan? No way will one plan work for the unknown circumstances of a year of the coronacrisis.

Her IEA Uniserv director has told her she should demand to bargain every scenario.

Sure.

I keep thinking about the fact that there are 600 school districts in Illinois and they are all going through this madness.

Multiply by 50 states.

Her board took months to a respond to a simple request to roll over the existing contract for one year that was set to expire last July 1st.

Trump may scream to open schools for the sake of the economy, but he’s nuts.

Every teacher will tell you it’s crazy and that they have no idea what’s going on.

And nobody is asking them.

Just ask them.

 

Taking a radio break.

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My brother and I have been doing our radio show, Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers for over three years.

We started doing our hour-long show every Friday morning at 11am in February of 2017. The studio at Lumpen Radio in the always sunny neighborhood of Bridgeport on Chicago’s south side made for a welcoming home.

In early 2017 our friends at Lumpen were just starting broadcasting a few months earlier. We asked if they were interested in having a couple of old guys who had been in the Movement our entire lives host a show of political talk.

They didn’t say yes right away. We had to audition. They asked us to do a pilot.

I guess it went well because we kept going every week with activists, progressive politicians, radicals and revolutionaries, film makers, artists, poets, singers, alderwomen and aldermen, communists, socialists, some nationally known, others we introduced,  future mayors, aspiring congresswomen, union presidents and rank and file organizers, intrepid reporters, and old friends coming on as guests.

We tried looking at the whole world through the lens of two veteran Chicago activists.

And we had fun doing it.

Like everything else, it all changed with the coronavirus. We couldn’t do the show in-studio at Lumpen anymore. We tried doing our shows on Zoom, but it didn’t feel right, despite the best efforts of station manager Jamie Trecker and our great producer, Annie Klein.

We always liked the idea of a group of activists and thinkers sitting face to face in a room having a conversation like we were hanging out, unscripted and certainly not some Q&A interview show.

We hated doing it on Zoom. It just never felt right.

After taking a four week break this summer while the station ran some of our old shows, we have decided to extend the break longer.

All our shows – except the first four are archived. 

Maybe we will do some more podcasts now and then. Just not on the radio.

Both of us will remain as a constant presence on social media with our blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

We will continue making what contributions we can to the movements for social justice.

The folks at Lumpen have made it clear that we are welcome back when we get on the other side of the pandemic.

Thanks to Ed Marszewski, Jamie Trecker, Annie Klein, Logan Bay and all the producers we’ve had over three years

I will continue to remember the friendly advice that station manager Jamie always gave at the start of the show as he was leaving the studio. “Don’t fuck up, Fred!”

Elite colleges go remote.

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Harvard courses will be online in 2020-21, but about 60 percent of colleges surveyed are planning to bring all of their students back.

As the debate continues over the safety of Fall school opening it is instructional to note that America’s elite Universities are nearly all going remote.  60% of schools are opening with in-person or a hybrid of online and in-person instruction.

For the wealthiest of institutions of higher ed it appears to be a no-brainer. The safety of their students, faculty and staff is their ultimate concern and they can afford it.

Harvard is going all online.

So is Princeton.

And Stanford.

With ICE threatening foreign students with the loss of their student visas if they take online courses, these elite institutions are fighting back.

But White House pressure on less elite colleges, those without the huge endowments that Harvard and Princeton have,  may be more successful in pressuring colleges to put students, faculty and staff at risk.

On the other end of the eduction spectrum, I spoke with a friend of mine this morning who teaches in a local Chicago suburban school district.

His school year starts at the end of August but the district has not shared any opening plans with him or his colleagues.

Of course, he would prefer to be in his classroom with his students, but the logistics of doing that keep him up at night.

He’s seen the protocols, but can’t imagine how they could be implemented and still keep students and staff safe.

What is the acceptable level of risk and acceptable to who?

He wonders about older teachers who have health issues. Will they be terminated?

We discussed the likelihood that schools might open and then have to return to full-time remote teaching and learning if there is a case of a student or teacher reporting positive.

“But what if that is at one school in town. Does that school shut down, but not the others?” he asked.

It’s a good question, of course.

But that he doesn’t know and that he hasn’t been asked about any of this is a big part of the problem.

From Illinois Teacher Retirement System. No uptick in retirements from COVID.

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From the Illinois Teacher Retirement System (TRS):

One question prompted by Illinois’ response to COVID-19 has been whether the virus’s effects on schools has led to a greater number of teacher retirements in 2020.

The answer: It doesn’t look that way. The number of TRS members beginning the retirement process is up this year compared to 2019. But the increase is not large enough to suggest that the ongoing struggle with the coronavirus is pushing more eligible teachers into retirement.

Between January and June in 2020 – the traditional “retirement season” for TRS – 3,505 members started the retirement paperwork. That’s 194 members more than those who initiated the process during the 2019 season.
Undoubtedly, some members this year will cite the coronavirus effect as the main reason they are retiring. Individual health concerns, the uncertainty over the spread of the virus and the disruption of traditional classroom learning will probably help some teachers decide on retirement.
But statistically, the number of TRS members deciding to retire through June this year is slightly less than the annual average number of retirees for the last three years. Between 2017 and 2019, an average of 3,525 members started the process between January and June. That’s only 20 members more than the total for 2020.

If the coronavirus is affecting the decisions of TRS members, it’s not reflected in the numbers.