A Post-Pandemic Dream

School Board member Emily Masters has a dream. It’s a dream of a Nashville that actually values public education. With actual money. Like dollars. Lots of them. She writes about this dream in a recent blog post.

Here’s some of what she has to say:

Shouting “kids need to be in school” is about as helpful as shouting “this virus needs to go away.” As of September 10th, children accounted for 9.2% of the 166,587 positive Covid cases in Tennessee. 208 of the 7,444 Covid-related hospitalizations in the state were children. Of the 1,931 deaths from Covid in Tennessee, .02% were children. Statistically insignificant, right? Probably not to the friends and families of the 5 children who died.

Simply insisting “kids need to be in school” and hoping for the best won’t eliminate the risk that teachers, family members, and even some children may become seriously ill or even die from the virus.

For more than a decade Nashville schools have not received full funding, yet now the additional costs for virtual school technology and Covid-related safety measures must be covered. If schools, families, and the entire community can work together to get through this, then perhaps the stage will be set for a real change post-pandemic: a Nashville that places value on education above all else and recognizes that the benefits of fully funding and resourcing schools will resonate throughout the entire community for years to come.  

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Gross Misrepresentation

That’s how one school district leader described Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s recent statements on learning loss as a result of school schedule changes related to COVID-19. Chalkbeat has more:

Pre-pandemic test data analyzed by national researchers — not recent back-to-school test results from Tennessee students — was the basis for state projections this week that proficiency rates will drop by 50% or more for third-grade reading and math due to schooling disruptions during the pandemic.

Schwinn had said her estimates were informed by back-to-school testing data that was voluntarily shared by some Tennessee school districts, combined with national study and analysis by two groups. But asked later for details, members of her staff referred only to “national researchers using historical, Tennessee-specific data.” That data dates from 2014 to 2019, before the coronavirus emerged in the U.S.

Numerous superintendents said Schwinn’s comments were misleading in suggesting that recent homegrown data was taken into account in formulating the state’s projections.

“This is about doing your homework,” said Leah Watkins, superintendent of Henry County Schools in West Tennessee. “Before the state releases numbers to millions of Tennesseans, let’s make sure it’s accurate and shared with appropriate context.”

She called the presentation a “gross misrepresentation” that left out important facts.

“It sends a message to the public of gloom and doom — that what we’re doing in our public schools is not adequate,” Watkins said.

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Perhaps Commissioner Schwinn is borrowing from the McQueen playbook when it comes to her relationship with the facts.

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Of Teachers and Lamar Jackson

Nashville education blogger TC Weber makes an apt comparison of teachers during COVID and Lamar Jackson.

Here’s more >

It needs to be recognized that once again, teachers are doing what they always do – rising to the challenge. Less than two month into an unprecedented cultural revolution, positive things are happening.

And once again, we are doing what we, always do – demand more while giving less.

Time to break out a sports metaphor. If I have Lamar Jackson on my team – Baltimore’s superstar QB for those unfamiliar – do I let him focus on just being a QB, or do I say, “Hey you are pretty good at that QB thing, now I’m going to need you to coach special teams, fill the water coolers for the team, and if you could, take up tickets from fans before the game.”

It sounds ludicrous, yet that’s what we do with teachers every year. Instead of allowing them the ability to focus on what they do best, we invent new responsibilities for them. This year we are asking them to be navigators, IT specialists, data entry specialists, video stars, and whatever else we can throw on the plate. Name me the teacher prep program that prepared them for any of those roles. Meanwhile, we conveniently forget that they are also parents and spouses themselves.

Going back to Lamar, if the Baltimore coaching staff finds him sitting slack on the locker room bench, eyes glazed over, clearly mentally and physically exhausted, do they say to him, “We know you are really tired but we really need you to learn this new playbook by tomorrow because we are switching strategies. The fans in the box seats, don’t like the way we are doing things, so we are going to put a little razzle-dazzle in for them. But make sure you get all that other stuff too.”

Or do they say, “Damn, you are our team leader and we need to let you work your magic. We need you fresh and sharp. Let’s get somebody else in to take these added responsibilities off of you. in order to make sure that you get the proper rest and nutrition. We need you to be able to perform at peak level, so we are going to offer supports.”

READ MORE from TC >

The current situation reminds me of what Peter Greene wrote over the summer:

It would be great—absolutely great—if elected officials responded to the current situation by saying, “There is nothing more important than our children’s education, so we are going to do whatever it takes, spend whatever is necessary, to make sure that every single schools has every single resource it could possibly need to make its students and staff safe and secure and able to concentrate on the critical work of educating tomorrow’s citizens. We will spare no expense, even if we have to cut other spending, raise taxes on some folks, or spend more money that we don’t actually have.”

Nobody who has been in education longer than a half an hour expects that to happen.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Very Strange and Stressful

That’s how the President of the Metro Nashville Education Association describes the environment students will face with in-person learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s here statement as reported by NewsChannel5:

“We know that online learning is far from ideal, especially for students with the most severe and profound disabilities and early elementary, and so it makes sense to begin in-person classes with these groups. We are concerned, however, that parents may believe their child will be returning to a ‘normal’ classroom, when in fact there will be little that is normal. Students will not be able to move about freely. They may be confined to their classrooms, or even an area of their classrooms. They will not be able to speak, work, or play with their classmates. They will be wearing masks all day except to eat, and their teachers will be wearing masks, face shields, gloves, and other protective equipment. There will be no reassuring hugs, and smiles will be impossible to see. For very young children, this may be a very strange and stressful situation. It is important that parents truly consider what an in-person classroom will look like in the midst of a deadly pandemic before they make the decision of whether to return in person or remain online.”

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A COVID-19 Delay

The Tennessee Education Association is calling for a statewide delay in reopening schools because of the current levels of COVID-19 infection rates.

Here’s more from a press release:

Recent COVID-19 data does not support reopening school buildings and the resumption of in-person instruction in any part of the state. No system should make the decision to reopen school buildings, and where in-person instruction has begun, it should be suspended by the local district.  

The resumption of in-person instruction is a local decision, as it should be. However, directors and school boards who do not have local health departments with expertise in virus transmission rely on the state, and the state has refused to set thresholds when school buildings must remain closed due to new virus infections

TEA references a Harvard School of Public Health research-based guidelines on school building reopening and the resumption of in-person instruction. Any new case rate over 25 indicates no in-person instruction should resume.

Today 55 of 95 Tennessee counties have more than 25 new cases daily over the past 14 daysAnother 17 counties are ­­above 20 cases with increasing rates in new infections that indicate they will be above 25 if current trends continue.

Yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx, chief national advisor on the pandemic, said if there are high caseload and active community spread, federal officials are asking people to distance learn at this moment to get the epidemic under control. Birx also said in Nashville last week that rural infection rates are likely far higher that what is reported. 

“Every school system should delay reopening of school buildings and begin the school year via distance learning, and if school buildings have reopened they should be closed. Unlike other states, the governor and commissioner cannot mandate school openings nor penalize districts for delay. This is a local decision and we are putting out virus data to show there is no sound decision on resuming in-person instruction in Tennessee,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Educators want to get back to in-person instruction. However, it is prudent and not contrary to Tennessee law to delay reopening school buildings for the next several weeks, when hopefully the data shows new infections have slowed. Parents and educators should demand this delay and hopefully can use the framework we rely on to inform their local school officials.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

Gov. Bill Lee certainly is. He signed an executive order today allowing contact sports like football to resume when school does.

He also says schools should reopen for in-person learning except in the most “extreme” circumstances.

No word yet on what the acceptable level of student or teacher COVID-19 cases is… or how many have to be sick (or even die) before the situation is labeled extreme by Gov. Lee.

And then there’s this news:

Back to School, Back to COVID

Alcoa City Schools returned to class last Wednesday and by Friday had announced their first positive case of COVID-19.

WBIR has more:

https://www.wbir.com/article/news/education/alcoa-city-schools-notifies-parents-of-covid-19-case-in-alcoa-middle-school/51-da956a97-1fda-4592-bde8-a584e1182df1

Meanwhile, Wilson County Schools has pushed back the first day of school from August 3rd to August 17th in order to have more time to plan for reopening in light of the pandemic.

Prognosis: Medium

Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden announced today his district will open on August 7th under the so-called “medium spread” protocol for COVID-19. This will be in place for at least the first two weeks.

The medium protocol means students in grades K-2 will report to school campuses while students in grades 3-12 will participate in remote learning. The move comes amid a growing number of cases in Williamson County and the middle Tennessee region.

Additionally, NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams today published data on the number of children ages 5-18 with cases of COVID-19. Six of the top ten counties in the state are in middle Tennessee, and Williamson is among them.

Here’s the breakdown:

And here’s the full story from Williams:

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/7-572-school-age-children-diagnosed-with-covid-19-in-tennessee-new-data-shows

Bill Lee Says NO

Williamson County School Board member Rick Wimberly reports that Gov. Bill Lee has denied the district’s request to #CancelTNReady and to allow flexibility on the length of the school year and the hours in the school day.

The Governor has turned down Williamson’s County’s requests for waivers on state testing, school day length, and school year. I hope he’ll reconsider. #wcsb

Posted by Rick Wimberly Williamson Co School Board, District 9 on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Here’s the story of the original request:

Lives on the Line

Tiffany Crow, a Shelby County teacher, parent, and COVID survivor, shared her story with TN Holler. Here’s some of what she had to say:

     As schools across the nation prepare for the upcoming school year (whether it be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual) teachers and families are writhing in agony with a sense of impending doom. One minute, we hear from superintendents and elected officials that we will be following data and “science” in efforts to plan for the upcoming year, and the next, we are being threatened with reduced funding and told that we will be going back to school buildings, in person, regardless of climbing case numbers, increasing death rates, and individuals being left with lifelong residual health issues from a virus that we still know so little about.

Teachers across the nation are preparing for the worst. We are finalizing wills, upping our disability insurance, and maxing out on life insurance benefits. Many teachers are already purchasing PPE, cleaning products, plexiglass dividers, and other band-aid solutions to the astronomical catastrophe that awaits upon school re-entry.

Read her entire letter>