“We have learned that two High School students, two High School staff members, three Middle School students, six Elementary students and one Elementary staff member have tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts have been identified and notified. Thank you.”
What does it all mean?
One thing’s for sure – we aren’t taking this pandemic very seriously.
Judging by the emails in the last week and a half, alone, there have been at least 60 people in my small western Pennsylvania district who tested positive for Covid. That’s 17 in the high school (10 students and 7 staff), 22 in the middle school (17 students and 5 staff), and 21 in the elementary schools (16 students and 5 staff). And this doesn’t include close contacts.
However, with the new CDC guidelines that people who test positive only need to quarantine for 5 days, some of these people are probably back at school already. Though it is almost certain they will be replaced by more people testing positive today.
I have a student who just came back a day ago who’s coughing and sneezing in the back of the room with no mask. And there’s not a thing I can do – except spray Lysol all over his seating area once he leaves.
I love inspiring kids to write. I love coming up with creative and interesting journal topics and poetry assignments. I love explaining the far out concepts – hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia. I love jamming to Blackalicious’ “Alphabet Aerobics,” sharing “Whose Line is it Anyway” videos and trying to write paragraphs to the melodies of Miles Davis.
I love reading books with my students – both together and separately. I love going to the library and helping them find something suited to their tastes – try a Ray Bradbury classic; maybe a new anime; and when you’re ready, a deep meditation by Toni Morrison. I love reading “The Outsiders” with my classes and experiencing Ponyboy’s story anew every year – feeling the highs, the lows, the losses, the victories. I love seeing the look on children’s faces when the realization dawns that they can no longer honestly say they hate reading, but only that sometimes it’s hard. I love catching them with a book in their bags or the same book on their desks being read over and over again because they love it so much.
He was content to speak in a smarmy tone and make a pretty lame joke about what a racially biased test question might look like.
In fact, that’s probably why he (and his staff) picked my piece in the first place. They saw it as an opportunity to make a joke and whiffed at it pretty terribly.
Here’s the relevant bit of his monologue:
“In 2010 the New York Times used the term “White Supremacist” on 75 occasions. Last year, over 700 times. Now some of that to be sure is because Trump came along and emboldened the faction of this country that is truly white supremacist. It is of course still a real thing. But it shouldn’t apply to something like – as more than a few have suggested – getting rid of the SAT test. Now if we find the SAT test is slanted in such a way as to stack the deck in favor of Caucasians, if there are questions like Biff and Chip are sailing a yacht traveling at 12 knots to an Ed Sheeran concert on Catalina – if Catalina is 12 miles away, how many White Claws should they bring? Yes, then maybe. But of course the SAT doesn’t have questions like that so it becomes a kind of ludicrous exaggeration that makes lovers of common sense roll their eyes – and then vote for Trump.”
Queue audience laughter and applause.
Funny stuff I guess.
Not the comedy staff’s fake SAT question but Maher’s assurance that “The SAT doesn’t have questions like that.”
It’s a real SAT question famously discussed in the infamous 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray – a book that tried to use discrepancies in test scores to prove white people are smarter than black people.
The answer is C, and it relies on a test taker’s knowing the meaning of regatta – something more likely to have come up in the daily lives of affluent white students than in the lives of less affluent minority students. If you don’t live by a body of water and/or don’t have much experience with rowing, you’re probably going to fail this question.
It’s the same kind of question Maher’s comedy team came up with – find something white people are more likely to know than black people – but the Real Time writers just pilled it on over-and-over.
It doesn’t take five repetitions of something to make it biased. All it takes is one.
To be fair, my example is from the SAT analogy section, which was removed from the test in 2005. However, that doesn’t mean they got rid of the bias.
They are literally trying to make up for how biased their test scores are.
Total SAT scores range from 400 to 1600 – or from 200-800 in both Math and Reading respectively.
According to 2018 data, combined SAT scores for Asian and White students average over 1100, while all other groups average below 1000. Meanwhile, students with family income less than $20,000 score lowest on the test, and those with family income above $200,000 scored highest, according to 2015 data. And the difference is significant – a 433 average Reading score for those with the lowest family incomes compared to an average Reading score of 570 for those with the highest family income. That’s a 137 point difference!
And it holds for racial groups, too. The average Reading score on the SAT was 429 for black students – 99 points behind the average for white students.
However, the College Board is trying to justify this by saying the discrepancy is because poor and minority students are more disadvantaged than white, affluent ones. In other words, it’s not the test that is unfair, but American society in providing better resourced schools with lower class sizes and more resources for white kids than children of color.
Freedle says this is because SAT questions likely reflect the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people.
This makes sense if you examine how test questions are selected for the SAT. In his book How the SAT Creates Built-in-Headwinds, national admissions-test expert, Jay Rosner, explains the process:
“Compare two 1998 SAT verbal [section] sentence-completion items with similar themes: The item correctly answered by more blacks than whites was discarded by the Educational Testing Service, whereas the item that has a higher disparate impact against blacks became part of the actual SAT. On one of the items, which was of medium difficulty, 62% of whites and 38% of African-Americans answered correctly, resulting in a large impact of 24%…On this second item, 8% more African-Americans than whites answered correctly…”
In other words, the criteria for whether a question is chosen for future tests is if it replicates the outcomes of previous exams – specifically tests where students of color score lower than white children. And this is still the criteria test makers use to determine which questions to use on future editions of nearly every assessment in wide use in the US.
But if all this isn’t enough to convince you that standardized tests really are a tool of white supremacy, consider their sordid history.
They are literally the product of the American eugenics movement.
Modern testing comes out of Army IQ tests developed during World War I.
These assessments were based on explicitly eugenicist foundations – the idea that certain races were distinctly superior to others. In 1923, one of the men who developed these intelligence tests, Carl Brigham, took these ideas further in his seminal work A Study of American Intelligence. In it, he used data gathered from these IQ tests to argue the following:
“The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it.”
Is it ridiculous to describe the century long racial and economic discrepancy in test scores as something that supports white supremacy – especially when these results are shown time and again to be a feature of the tests and not just an artifact that recreates economic inequality?
Is it going too far to call out the racism of the SAT and other standardized tests like it when even the College Board admits its own scores are biased?
Does it devalue the term “White Supremacy” to point out real world white supremacy?
But Maher apparently isn’t interested in these questions.
After a few moments he moved on to another example of the left gone wild.
But I can’t do that because this isn’t just a bit for me.
Today I was forced to leave my class of 8th grade students with a sub so an “expert”from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit could lecture me and the rest of my school’s English department in using DIBELS as a gatekeeper assessment for all students.
That way we can group the students more easily based on their reading deficiencies.
I literally had to stop teaching for THAT.
I was bopping around the classroom, reading students’ writing, helping them organize it, helping them fix their explanations and craft sophisticated essays on a short story.
However, you’d need a classroom teacher to explain that to you. And these are more business types. Administrators and number crunchers who may have stood in front of a classroom a long time ago but escaped at the first opportunity.
They look at a class full of students and don’t see human children. They see numbers, data.
My students are desperate for attention – any kind of attention – and will do almost anything to get it.
They’d prefer to be respected, but they don’t understand how to treat each other respectfully. So they aim for any kind of response.
To a large extent this is due to a disruption in the social and emotional development they would have received at school. But robbed of good role models and adequate consequences, they’re somewhat at sea.
Districts that aren’t experiencing a shortage may require a teaching certificate as well, but beggars can’t be choosers. In districts where it is hard to get subs (i.e. those serving poor and minority kids) you can get emergency certified for a year.
And many states are lowering the bar even further!
Not only would lawmakers have a chance to look over teacher’s lesson plans, but they’d get detailed instructions from the absent teacher about how to actually teach the lesson!
They’d get to interact with principals as they’re told which additional classes they have to cover in their planning periods and which extra duties they’d be responsible for performing.
They’d get to do things like monitor the halls, breakfast and lunch duty, watch over in-school suspension, and – if they’re lucky – they might even get to attend a staff meeting and be front row center for all the educational initiatives being conducted in the school!
If our representatives took this opportunity, they would learn so much!
I mean, sure, we encourage kids to stand for the pledge to the flag and things like that but when it comes to telling them how to think – that’s not a public school thing. That’s a private and parochial school thing.
They’d see that public school lessons give students information on a subject but then ask them to come to their own conclusions about it.
In fact, this would be such an educational experience, I think legislators on both sides of the aisle should take advantage of this unique opportunity.
And not even just those in Harrisburg. What better way for school directors to understand the institutions they’re overseeing than to volunteer as subs? What better way for the mayor and city council to understand the needs of children than putting themselves in the classroom when the teacher can’t be there?
It could make them better public servants who craft legislation that would actually do some good in this world and not – like Lewis – just showboat to enrage partisans and stoke them to vote for people willing to feed their fears and prejudices.
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He is holding his gut and rocking back and forth in cries of wordless emotional pain as the rest of the class looks on in bewilderment.
Students from other rooms start to cluster around the door until a security guard makes them go away.
I close the door to my own classroom and try to settle my students down – but we can still hear him through the walls.
“Why don’t you make me!?”
Believe it or not, this is not what teaching middle school used to be like.
Eighth grade students were never perfect angels, but at least by then they used to know how to talk to one another. They could usually interact without constant sniping. They knew what was expected to get respect from each other and at least tried to do it.
But things have changed.
After 18 months of a pandemic, even when they aren’t infected with disease, children still are suffering tremendously from the effects of Covid-19.
Adolescents are dealing with higher rates of anxiety, depression, stress, and addictive internet behaviors.
When Covid-19 swept our shores last year, much of the benefit of formal education fell through the cracks.
Consistency went out the window. Many schools went to on-line learning or a hybrid model of in-person and on-line offset with increasingly common periods of quarantine.
These were often necessary to keep kids and their families safe – and in some cases still are. As a society, we could have done more to blunt the blow such as paying parents to stay safe at home as well as supervise their children, but economic concerns took precedence to human ones.
My students are not suffering from a lack of academics. They’re suffering from a lack of social and emotional development.
I teach Language Arts and, sure, my kids may not have been exposed as deeply to certain concepts as those who came before them. They may not have written an acrostic poem or read Dickens or had as much experience writing. But that doesn’t mean they’re deficient.
Teachers know this. That’s why we scaffold our lessons. We get to know our kids and where they are before we can gauge what they still need to learn.
My students may not have read the play they would have in 7th grade, but I can help them understand the components of drama when we read a play in the curriculum for 8th grade. They may not have written a particular type of poem last year, but we can still read one and understand it this year.
I was in and out of the hospital all last week and the district had great difficulty finding an adult to sub for me.
For two days they resorted to hiring parents from the community to watch my classes. I’m told that one of them reported to the office at the end of the day and promptly told the secretary not to call her tomorrow, that she was never coming back.
It’s hard for professional educators, too.
According to a 2020 survey by the New York Life Foundation and American Federation of Teachers, only 15% of teachers feel comfortable addressing grief or trauma tied to the pandemic.
But in each of these disasters, the majority of people thought they had somewhere to turn for knowledge and advice.
We had trusted authorities to tell us what to do, to counsel us how to handle these seemingly insurmountable disasters.
Today many of us face the Covid-19 pandemic feeling there are few sources to believe in – and that more than anything else – is why we are having such a difficult time coming together to overcome this crisis.
The media, government, science, religion – none hold a central place of confidence in most people’s lives. So when tough decisions about health and safety come into play, many of us aren’t sure what to do.
When we entered the fray, the US government organized new research initiatives targeting influenza, bacterial meningitis, bacterial pneumonia, measles, mumps, neurotropic diseases, tropical diseases and acute respiratory diseases.
And because there was an immense trust in government – after all, as a nation we had been attacked together as one at Pearl Harbor – there was enormous trust in these initiatives.
Before World War II, soldiers died more often of disease than of battle injuries. The ratio of disease-to-battle casualties was approximately 5-to-1 in the Spanish-American War and 2-to-1 in the Civil War. In World War I, we were able to reduce casualties due to disease through better sanitation efforts, but we could not protect troops from the 1918 influenza pandemic. During that outbreak, flu accounted for roughly half of US military casualties in Europe.
Much of the groundwork for innovation in vaccinations had already been laid before WWII. However, it was the organization of the war effort and the trust both the civilian and military population had in government that catapulted us ahead.
I’m not ignoring that some of this trust was misplaced. The US government has never been fully trustworthy – just ask the Asian American population forced into internment camps. However, the general feeling at the time that the government was a force for good, that we were all in this together and we all had to do our part had a vast effect on how we handled this crisis.
Today that kind of trust is gone.
In some ways that’s a good thing. It could be argued that “The Greatest Generation” put too much faith in government and the following years showed why too credulous belief in the good will of our leaders was unearned and unhealthy.
From Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal to Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct to George W. Bush lying us into a war of choice to Barack Obama’s neoliberalism to Donald Trump’s gross mismanagement and blatant racism – we can never go back to a WWII mentality.
Skepticism of government is kind of like seasoning. A certain amount is a good thing, but the inability to trust even government’s most basic ability to take care of its citizens and function in any meaningful way is hugely detrimental.
And this earned distrust has seeped into just about every source of possible certitude that might have helped us survive the current crisis.
The media used to be considered the fourth estate – one of the most important pillars of our society. After all, the freedom of information is essential to the free exercise of democracy.
However, the erosion of impartiality has been going on since at least the 1980s when the FCC under President Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Since 1949 this had required the media to present both sides’ of opinions. In 1987 a Democratic Congress passed a bill to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine but it was vetoed by Reagan.
This, along with the rise of talk radio and the insistence that news departments turn a profit, lead directly to the creation of more biased reporting skewed to a particular audience – Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group being the most prominent.
Finally, the loss of local newspapers and the purchase of those few that do exist by large media conglomerates further increase bias.
Few people feel they can trust the news anymore. They turn to the Internet, social media, Twitter and other sources that often are just echo chambers for what they already believe.
The irony is not lost on me that you are reading a blog by a public school teacher, not a professional journalist. But my aim is to use my experience in education to inform the debate.
It’s just too bad that I’m often forced to report the news when traditional news sources drops the ball.
Again skepticism of mass media is a good thing, but we should at least be able to count on the press as a reliable source of facts. However, these days few facts are free from bias, spin and editorial comment.
Another blunder was the guidelines on what counts as “close contact.” It went from “within 6 feet” to “within 3 feet”, and the duration went from 30 minutes consecutively to 30 minutes cumulatively. It’s not so much that the evidence changed, but that political pressure forced the CDC to lower its standards.
World scientific consensus now is that the coronavirus is capable of airborne spread without close contact between two people. Airborne droplets can linger in the air indoors and infect any number of people from one superspreading host subject.
The CDC’s advice on close contact is based on old scientific research that just isn’t as good as modern experiments.
And the organization has misjudged so much more from the importance of masking (at first they said it wasn’t important, now they say it is important), whether children can catch the virus (at first they said this was unlikely and now they admit it happens but is often asymptomatic), whether Covid spreads in schools (they used to say the limited protections in place at schools made this unlikely and now they admit it is happening), etc.
One could argue that these were simple mistakes that have changed as better science comes in. However, in each case they appear to have initially been politically motivated and justified with limited or flawed studies that could not continue to be supported as new data came in.
At first the CDC told us that masking wasn’t important not because it was true, but to hide a shortage of masks that needed to be prioritized for medical staff. These needs are understandable, but hiding the truth and then changing your messaging doesn’t engender trust.
The pandemic is not over – not in Pennsylvania. Covid-19 cases are on the rise in my community and an increasing number of children have gotten sick, been hospitalized or died.
Forgoing masks would risk more. It’s just not worth it.
Only a month ago child Covid cases numbered in the zeroes or low single-digits each day in my home of Allegheny County, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. During the past two weeks there have been as many as 30 to 40 new child cases a day.
Some of these are kids 11 and younger who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Some are those 12 and older who have not been vaccinated. And a few are break-through cases among vaccinated kids, said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, clinical director of infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are recommending everyone in schools – students, staff, visitors, etc. – wear masks whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
As a school director, why would you take a chance with the children in your care?
Dr. Todd Wolynn, CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, an independent pediatrics practice with several locations in the region, put it this way:
“We’re here to ask one question to school districts not doing universal masking: Why is your situation safer [without a mask mandate] than what is recommended by the AAP and the CDC?”
Why is it safer to forgo this precaution?
Wearing a mask is not all that hard. We all did it throughout most of the last year and a half.
Why is it so hard to just continue doing it a little while longer?
I asked a similar question of Bryan Macuga, Assistant Superintendent of Steel Valley School District where I work.
He mentioned at a district wide meeting that the new health and safety plan approved by the school board makes masks optional this year. I asked him why.
He refused to give me an answer. He simply said that’s what’s been decided and would say no more.
Superintendent Ed Wehrer was there at the meeting wearing a mask to – as he put it – “model” that behavior. Wehrer said he was empowered by the school board to mandate masks if it became necessary. He hasn’t done so nor did he find it necessary to answer my question, either.
I can’t imagine it.
If these leaders really think it is better not to mandate masks, why not explain their reasoning. We may agree or disagree with them, but they can’t even show us the courtesy of a straight answer to a fair question.
Whatever their reasoning, most Allegheny County school directors must disagree with it.
The majority of the county’s 43 school districts – 70% – have mandated masks in their schools. It’s heartening to see so many school leaders putting children over politics this way. I just wish I lived and worked in one of their communities.
Only 13 county districts are making masks optional and most of those are clustered on the southeastern border with more rural (and Republican) Westmoreland County.
I don’t understand how ideology makes people risk the lives of their own kids.
Throughout the rest of the state, the situation seems even worse.
Pennsylvania has 500 school districts. Of 474 that submitted health and safety plans by July, only 59 reported plans to mandate masks for the 2021-22 year. This number is certainly higher now as districts changed their plans based on increases in Covid cases through August. But the situation is still incredibly frustrating.
My 12-year-old daughter just had a nightmare, and I was sitting on her bed trying to calm her down.
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?”
“I’m worried about school.”
That’s something with which I can certainly relate.
Even after teaching for 18 years, I always get anxious before the first day of school, and I told her as much.
“Really?” She said.
“Yeah. But I can understand why you might be even more nervous than usual. I’ll be teaching the same thing I’ve taught for years. I’ll be in the same classroom working with the same adults. Only the students will be different. But you will be in a new building with new teachers…. And you haven’t even been in a classroom in over a year.”
“That’s just it, Daddy. What if the other kids make fun of me for wearing a mask? What if I get sick?”
Our local district is reopening in a week with a mask optional policy and no vaccine requirements.
Her question was expected, but I had been dreading it.
I knew my answers and they sounded inadequate – even to me.
I explained how she would be wearing a mask and is fully vaccinated so it will be extremely unlikely for her to get sick. And even if she does, it will be extremely unlikely she’ll get VERY sick.
“And if the other kids make fun of you, just ignore it. You are going to be safe. If they take chances, they’ll just have to suffer the consequences.”
It seemed to satisfy her, but I left her room feeling like a bad parent.
Even in the Pittsburgh region where we live, the number of kids hospitalized with Covid at UPMC Children’s Hospital has nearly doubled in the last week, according to KDKA. That’s 50 hospitalizations in the past month including 20 in the last week.
When you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s not much of an option.
I just don’t understand it.
Don’t my daughter and I have rights?
We hear a lot about the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers. A lot about their rights. What about our right to safe schools?
Why is it that the right NOT to wear a mask supersedes the right to go to a school where everyone is required to wear one?
Because it isn’t – as I told my daughter – a matter of everyone having to deal with just the consequences of their own actions. My daughter and I have to deal with the consequences of everyone else’s actions, too.
Or to put it another way – if one person pees in the pool, we’re all swimming in their urine.
If someone else doesn’t wear a mask, hasn’t been vaccinated and hasn’t taken the proper precautions, they can spread the Covid-19 virus through the air and infect whole classrooms of people.
Everyone else could be wearing a mask. It just takes one person who isn’t.
Is it fair that everyone else has to pay the price for one person’s carelessness?
We talk about rights so much we seem to have lost entirely the idea of responsibilities. They go hand-in-hand.
Yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you like so long as it doesn’t hurt another person.
When your actions do hurt others, you have a responsibility to stop. And if you won’t do that, the government has a responsibility to stop you.
But in this anti-intellectual age, we’ve almost completely given up on that idea.
If people take precautions by masking up and getting vaccinated, the worst that will happen is they’ll be unduly inconvenienced. If my daughter and I are forced to exist in the same spaces with people not taking the proper precautions, we could get sick and die.
It’s not like we’re talking about two equal sides here. This is people who believe the overwhelming scientific majority vs. those who get their answers from YouTube videos and political figures. It’s doctors, researchers and immunologists vs. conspiracy theorists, internet trolls and the MyPillow guy.
I’m not even judging – believe what you like so long as it affects only you. But when it affects me, too, then we have a problem.
The lowest common denominator is allowed to run wild. They can do whatever they like and the rest of us just have to put up with it.
That’s why we’re beginning year two and a half of a global pandemic! Not enough of us got the vaccine by the end of the summer.
Now infections are rising and few policy makers have the courage to take a stand and protect those of us who took precautions from those of us who did not.
And don’t tell me our lawmakers don’t have the power. There is a mountain of precedent showing they have.
On the highway, you can’t just go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are lanes, speed limits, traffic lights.
Even vaccines! To enroll in Kindergarten, parents already have to prove their kids have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and a host of other diseases. Why is Covid-19 any different?
Public safety is a PUBLIC issue not a private one.
It just makes me feel so helpless.
I can’t do anything to protect my students.
I can’t do anything to protect myself.
I can’t do anything to protect my baby girl.
And I can’t wait for the school year to start!
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