Public Schools vs The Public

The pandemic seems to have broken the social contract.

In a TIME op-ed, former Charlottesville, Virginia mayor Michael Signer warns, “Democrats Lost Virginia By Ignoring Parents. Snow Days Show They Still Are.”

For those, like myself, unaware of his credentials, context is in order. He’s a Democrat. He graduated magna cum laude in politics from Princeton and received a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He has a law degree from the University of Virginia and is or once was a board member of the Truman National Security Project. He’s been married for a decade to Emily Blount, a former press secretary to Rep. Jim Moran (D, VA) with a Ph.D. in History and Iranian Studies from the University of St. Andrews. He is anything but a Republican, much less a Trumper.

Yet he very much voices the frustrations that seem most associated with Trumpers but are in fact much more widely shared.

Schools may be a local issue, but how they are run—especially during the pandemic—can stoke the outrage politics that define many state and national races. Democrats, to their grief, learned as much in November when Republican Glenn Youngkin thumped a former Democratic governor by harping on the disastrous performance of the state’s schools when COVID-19 hit. And I got a refresher on a snow day.

My wife and I are the proud parents of twin second-grade boys enrolled in a great local public school. We both went to public schools and deeply believe in their mission. When I was mayor of our city, Charlottesville, my proudest achievements included allocating higher budgets to them.

But we also shared in the miserable experience of how schools have been run in Virginia during COVID-19. One day in early 2020, we got the message that the schools would be closed the next day. And they were. No messages, no instructional materials, nothing other than an email with a list of web resources we could access and schedule on our own (think ABC Mouse). Eventually, teachers scheduled optional weekly Zoom calls, but those calls were just sessions where students aimlessly said hello to each other for 30 minutes. When schools came back in-person in the spring of 2021, they were inexplicably closed every Friday.

We learned about the effect of these decisions last fall during parent-teacher meetings, when our beloved teachers told us the vast majority of kids in Charlottesville’s schools were behind in basics like reading, writing, and math. A national study found the closures led to a greater risk of widening educational disparities among poorer families and children with disabilities, and increased anxiety, loneliness, child stress, sadness, frustration, indiscipline, and hyperactivity.

The confounding illogic of the “shut-down” approach and the deterioration on kids’ learning, drove thousands of independent and even Democratic parents to vote for Youngkin over former governor Terry McAuliffe,

To be clear, McAuliffe was speaking about policies that would allow parents to pull books they found objectionable from schools. But his comment was swiftly interpreted as a broader indifference to Virginia parents’ frustration with schools in general, as seen in a post-election CNN interview of four suburban moms who had voted for Youngkin, three of whom had previously voted for Joe Biden. One described how Democrats dismissed any mention of schools as “phony, trumped-up culture wars” as “very tone-deaf, very dismissive.” Another said, “We were really concerned about our kids’ education, and the Democrats were not listening to that,” and warned, “You’re going to keep losing unless you pay attention.”

Now, in fairness, Youngkin’s win was overdetermined. While Virginia has morphed from a reliable Red State when I moved here just shy of two full decades ago to a reliable Blue State, having voted Democrat for President the last four cycles and with two Democratic Senators, the fact of the matter is that the off-off-off year gubernatorial election almost always goes opposite the way the state voted for the White House for a variety of reasons we don’t need to rehash here. (Steven Taylor touched on some of them in November).

Still, there’s no doubt that Virginians, myself included even though held my nose and voted for McAuliffe over the Trumpist demagogue Youngkin, became very frustrated with the way our public schools handled COVID. It wasn’t just that the schools delivered subpar online instruction. They did so after taking several weeks off, ostensibly to prepare. That they just gave themselves Fridays off for no apparent reason certainly didn’t help.

My oldest’s (then in 5th grade) teacher decided to go on vacation at the beach during the pandemic and mysteriously had WiFi outages every other day that precluded her from conducting online classes. Too bad. A shame, really.

They constantly announced the resumption of in-person learning, months after the state was otherwise open for business, and then pulled the football away—sometimes with little more than a day’s notice. When, at long last, the state legislature had enough and finally ordered them back to work after more than a year, they shifted to partial days. (Except for the kids of the teachers themselves, who were able to attend in-person every day to relieve the childcare burden, as if taxpayers didn’t have similar issues.) And still gave themselves a day off!

All the while hectoring parents for daring to question their decisions.

Which brings us to January, a punishing winter storm, and power outages that extended schools’ scheduled three-week winter break, in Charlottesville, by four days, even though schools had power after two.

The very idea of a “snow day,” when the entire school system shutters (along with its core mission) is as antiquated and counter-productive as the agrarian-era summer break. And if you’re a family with two working parents, a snow day isn’t just the kids having fun outside. It’s a 10-hour expanse of time where, inside, you want your kids to have their brains stimulated, but you have to work, and you have no idea what their education should be that day—because that’s what their schools and teachers are for.

It didn’t have to be this way. Prince William County outside D.C. had adopted a “code orange” snow day policy to ensure education continues on snow days. The superintendent explained that COVID-19 had “impacted student learning significantly, and we must maximize the time available to provide instruction for our students…”

It was actually worse here in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County schools closed the whole week, despite no power outages. And no instruction, period, during this window.

They returned this past Monday only to announce at noon Wednesday that they would close Thursday because of snow in the forecast. This, despite the forecast showing well-above-freezing temperatures with little chance for accumulation. And, of course, the snow never came—it was 40 and drizzling when the school bus would have come. To add insult to injury, even though school was remote and no one needed to drive there, there was inexplicably a two-hour delay to the start of instruction. Which, naturally, was on a day they had already decided to give themselves two hours off in the afternoon, followed by a whole day off the following Monday, to facilitate end-of-quarter grading. (Somehow, I’ve always managed to do my job and grade papers—which, it turns out, is also part of my job.)

I innocently took to Twitter to suggest that Charlottesville’s schools follow such models and provide at least some educational connection on snow days.

Here’s what came back to me:

The head of the local teachers’ union, who is also a former co-chair of Charlottesville’s local Democratic party, replied that this was “astroturfing outrage about closures when the real root cause is lack of money for schools. Learning loss and gaps from the Great Recession predate anything from COVID.”

The progressive New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, who lives in Charlottesville, tweeted I needed to “get over” myself and that the snow days weren’t “that big of a deal.”

A local progressive activist who’s married to a Charlottesville public school teacher wrote, “I think you’re way overthinking this. Schools close for weather often… Connecting it to broader political trends is a stretch to say the least.”

The last of these, actually, is fair. The problem is that context matters. Parents have come out of the COVID period with the distinct impression that the schools were being run in the interest of the teachers and their unions, not the parents and their children. They’ve flipped public service on its head and we’ve noticed.

A week later, the schools closed down—another snowstorm. I advocated again for policy that could provide, at base, something like a morning conference call, assignments, worksheets.

This time, the reaction was even harsher. A teacher in neighboring Albemarle County tweeted, “Until you teach in a classroom, plug your pacifier back in your mouth, tuck your comments back in your diaper, and let the actual educators handle education.”

Until you teach in a classroom. If I wasn’t a teacher, I wasn’t entitled to an opinion.

A member of the Albemarle County planning commission went further, writing in one tweet that I was an “a—hole” and to “kiss off and stop your stupid nonsense forever more” and in another “No one cares about you and you are absolutely worthless.”

Having been in public life, I have a thick skin. I also know that, on Twitter, otherwise good people say things they don’t mean.

But as a window into the outright condescension by many toward the parents who are bearing the brunt of today’s inflexible and outdated education policies, the exchanges speak volumes.

I’m not sure that we can take some mean tweets as evidence of much of anything. But, again, the relationship has been permanently altered. The social contract between the parents and teachers has been violated, trust no longer exists, and things—like snow days—that otherwise would have seemed normal are taken as more evidence that the schools are not here to serve us. And people are hopping mad about it.

Our family is more fortunate than most. My wife and I both make a decent living and have salaried, reasonably pandemic-proof, jobs with considerable scheduling flexibility. Indeed, she’s been essentially full-time telework for two years now. We’re much more able than most to be able to absorb these disruptions. But I honestly don’t know how single parents or those with less flexible schedules are supposed to navigate this. Moreover, it’s crystal clear that the people running the schools don’t care.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    From where I am in the Philly suburbs, parents seem more upset that snow days don’t exist anymore, as the schools have virtual classes and the kids don’t get the day off to play outside (or earn money shoveling snow).

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  2. CSK says:

    And then, on the other side, a woman in Luray, Virginia has been charged with threatening to bring loaded guns to school if her children are required to wear masks.

    http://www.cnn.com/2022/01/21/us/virginia-school-board-threat-gun-loaded/index.html

    Presumably she intended to shoot up the place.

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  3. Mikey says:

    It was actually worse here in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County schools closed the whole week, despite no power outages.

    Fairfax County had tens of thousands of outages, some for days. Many schools were affected.

    But even so, a big driver (no pun intended) of that week-long extended break was bus transportation. Fairfax County is huge, and some parts are difficult to get a bus into with perfect weather, as I know you know. A storm like this one can mean it’s unsafe to transport students for several days. Parts of the county get snow cleared quickly, others do not. It’s not just snow, either–a lot of trees came down on, and even across, streets (including mine, blocking the only entrance to the cul-de-sac). Those took time to clear. And 1500 buses needed to be shoveled out and nearly a foot of snow cleaned off their tops. I helped with this–it took us (me and several drivers) nearly four hours to do this for only eight buses. And we couldn’t even start until three days after the storm because it took that long to get all the bus parking areas plowed out. There isn’t one big place the buses go at night, most are parked at schools, and there are 198 schools in FCPS.

    To the larger issue, complaining about the existence of snow days while also complaining about remote instruction leaves me wondering what exactly you’d have the schools do that doesn’t involve the possibility of a bus sliding off Wolf Run Shoals Road and injuring or killing students.

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  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    Counterpoint, what the parents really wanted was the schools to be open in-person the whole pandemic, but somehow magically no COVID transmission would occur, and some of the anger at schools is anger that no one will give them a unicorn even though they REALLY want one.

    The Republicans, on the other hand, are happy to promise unicorns and then blame the teacher unions when the schools are ordered back in-person and become major spreaders of the disease.

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  5. Dude Kembro says:

    But Republicans are in charge of Virginia now. Youngkin’s magical Day One executive orders should solve these problems, right? Lol

    Teachers — many of whom are also parents — are hopping mad, too. About being smeared as teaching hate (they do not). About the “outright condescension” towards their workplace safety concerns. About the violent threats on their lives.

    What’s missing here is appreciation for and empathy towards teachers, who do a thankless, underpaid job.

    Some parents think teachers are their personal indentured servants. Reality check: no one *has to* make educating other people’s kids a career. The same folks who promulgate toxic anti-teacher rhetoric are now shocked, SHOCKED people are shirking from this job.

    Seems to me Republicans and ‘Youngkin Democrats’ are mad they won the argument. Drove down Biden’s approval and given Republicans wins. Blocked BBB investments in healthcare, education, and childcare. Forced society to shrug off Omicron and let it spread. Banned books by black authors and insulted teachers with anti-CRT race baiting.

    The result: sick and quitting school personnel and teacher shortages at a time of inadequate healthcare and childcare. I wouldn’t expect a Princeton and Berkeley educated Ph.D to relate to lowly, working class teachers, but he should be able to think past the media’s fallback intellectually lazy “Blame the Democrats” reflex.

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  6. senyordave says:

    The Republican party seems to run against public education and public school teachers in almost every state they control. It has been one of the most reliable ways to rally the troops for the last few decades. Even in liberal states if there is a Republican governor they go after public schools and teachers (eg. Chris Christie in NJ and Larry Hogan in MD). They have convinced Republican voters that public school teachers are the problem. They think they are overpaid, lazy liberals. Yes, I am biased because my wife taught elementary school for 25 years, and I saw the extra two hours a day she spent on lesson plans, reading papers and coming in 45 minutes early for “The Academy” a program for children who were behind grade level. Thank God she taught in Montgomery county, MD, where there is widespread support for the public schools.

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  7. Mikey says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @Dude Kembro:

    Also, from the perspective of teachers and staff, of whom I know many (including my wife), this is how they perceive parents’ anger over how the move to remote learning was handled:

    “A lot of these parents don’t give a fuck if we get sick and die.”

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: The first day made sense, although there was no reason not to go to remote instruction. Yes, remote sucks compared to in-person. But they’re not going to make that week up; it’s just completely lost.

    But, really, we have two, different issues.

    1. The longstanding problem that FCPS is just way too damn big. We’re a ginormous metroplex larger than several states. We wind up closing in places that are perfectly clear because remote parts of the county are in a very different situation.

    2. As noted in the post, parents are viewing what otherwise would seem like a normal decision differently because we no longer trust the school administrators are working in our interest.

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  9. A few observations.

    1. I think it is clearly true that Covid and various attempts to deal with school during the pandemic have done some damage to public trust and has politicized these discussions in very unfortunate and unhelpful ways,

    2. There are some long-standing underlying issues with K-12 teaching that are coming to the surface. Teacher pay, disciplines issues in classrooms, the increased and sustained pressure over-testing, state funding issues, the lack of professional norms (teachers are often not treated by administrators like they are real professionals), and the list goes on. All of this and then being asked to teach in a classroom stuffed with kids during a pandemic leads to the potential for a lot of tension and conflict.

    Moreover, a lot of times the discussion about teaching during the pandemic has been, understandably, about the kids, but if you are a teacher or staff member, it can be a bit disconcerting and demoralizing to have your health be ignored or downplayed.

    Now, having said that, I am more than persuadable that school shutdowns weren’t a great idea. But it sure would have helped if we could have required vaccinations as we do for a host of diseases.

    I will also note that since my kids are all college-age or above, I didn’t have to deal with (although my wife was a school teacher when the pandemic started–but is no more, partially because of the pandemic).

    3. All of this underscores the degree to which K-12 is a key component of childcare in ways that we never fully admit to ourselves. We treat public K-12 like a public utility and if the power is out, we get mad if it doesn’t work. On the one hand, all well and good. On the other, see point #2 and why teachers might not like being treated the same as a downed power line.

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  10. Andy says:

    Where I live the experience has been much different.

    Schools were shut-down in the spring of 2020 like everywhere else and the attempt to quickly switch from in-person to online learning was, predictably, a shit show. That’s no one’s fault – closing schools for extended periods due to a pandemic simply wasn’t something anyone planned for.

    Our district used the federal money over that summer to invest in remote learning technology. Every kid got a district-issued laptop and those few without internet access could get a mobile hotspot, or the district would help parents sign-up for the federal internet subsidy which made wired service free for most people.

    And in the fall of 2020 we had a two week delay to the start of in-person classes. Then, the elementary schoosl went back to full-time in person, 5 days a week. Middle and high school had three options – self-paced online, synchronous online or hybrid (2 days in person, 2 days synchronous, 1 day of self-paced online as a “catch up” day). There was already an all-online school in the district that did remote learning for several years before Covid – many kids transferred there. And there is also an alternative school that had 4 days in-person learning – we transferred our son there as he simply could not cope with hybrid on synchronous.

    When there was a quarantine, kids had their laptops to attend school virtually and they had access to a classroom system similar to “Blackboard” (which you’re probably familiar with) or the tools to attend synchronous classes.

    There were still a lot of problems and most people hated the hybrid system, but there was a good faith effort to try to provide education as best as possible despite pandemic restrictions and give parents many different options. And when the learning loss became clear, the district provided extra instruction and mentoring for struggling students.

    Then this last fall, everything was back to 100% in person, but those who still wanted to do synchronous or transfer to the all-online school could do that. The district also improved its tech over the summer. Every kid still gets a laptop and now those are used in-class and if a kid is out sick they can attend virtually if they want, or at least get the assignments done since most everything is now online.

    This changed the “snow day” policy as well. Now, only the first two “snow days” of the year will close schools. On other snow days, there is a two-hour delay followed by online learning.

    Overall, I’m generally very happy with how our district dealt with the pandemic. They never lost sight of their primary responsibility and invested federal money wisely in making online learning work as good as one could reasonably expect. When my middle son got Covid in early December, he was still able to get his work done to close out the semester from home.

    As far as Covid goes, the district dashboard, as of this morning, shows that the district has had about 3000 positive cases of Covid over the last two years out of a total student and staff population of around 30k. So 10% total after two years. And we are coming off the Omicron peak here in Colorado and currently there are a bit over 300 isolations, or a little over 1% of the district population.

    We haven’t “moved on” from Covid, but schools here (or in our area generally), are mostly back to normal but with a lot more resilience and ability to continue learning when students can’t or don’t want to attend in-person.

    Our experience is a pretty big contrast from what I read about with major urban districts like Chicago and also Virginia where you live.

    8
  11. Modulo Myself says:

    The guy sounds like a spoiled child. Blaming teachers for not wanting to catch Covid before the vaccines were available is ridiculous. I mean, imagine this being what you experienced when the pandemic began:

    But we also shared in the miserable experience of how schools have been run in Virginia during COVID-19. One day in early 2020, we got the message that the schools would be closed the next day. And they were. No messages, no instructional materials, nothing other than an email with a list of web resources we could access and schedule on our own (think ABC Mouse).

    And people keep on calling him an asshole. No way.

    I think Covid really pulled the mask off and revealed how lame maybe 50% of careerist high-achievers are. Either they’re monotonous scolds who get angry about people trying to have social lives or they’re antisocial freaks whose main idea of life is just expecting it to go exactly as they idiotically planned while in a pandemic.

    11
  12. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: It now seems pretty clear that she was just venting and is embarrassed about it.

    @Mikey: @Steven L. Taylor: @Modulo Myself: Yes, part of it is clearly that schools are a core component of our childcare system and thus the economy. Part of it is that we expect public employees to continue doing their jobs. And part of it is that most of the rest of us had to get back to work, pandemic or no.

    Fully granting that delivering graduate seminars to adults is different from teaching elementary school, we pivoted from fully in-person circa March 17, 2020 to fully online with very little runup and were pretty damn successful. And we’ve been back to more-or-less fully in-person since August 2020. We masked, socially distanced, and took other precautions but otherwise just did our jobs as before. We’re mostly vaccinated now, which has obviously helped, but we didn’t know that was going to happen when we went back.

    @Andy: We implemented most of those measures, just slowly. Remote was certainly better in 2020-21 than it was when they made the abrupt shift.

    1
  13. I will also say this, and it is not at all a defense of any specific choices made by differing districts, but we are all going to suffer from the ongoing strategy of the GOP to demonize schooling (whether it is the phantom of CRT or the whole Covid business). Our main engine of positive change (or, heck, of the economy itself) is education, but a relentless war on teachers (and the bogeyman of the unions) is not, ultimately, good for anybody.

    And there is a real teachers shortage out there (I see that via my day job, given that my university was started as a teacher’s college and in the college I oversee, we educate potential high school teachers, of which there are vanishing few, especially in STEM). This demonization does not help.

    If I have the ability to get a degree in math (for example), what is the incentive for me to teach high school? I can can get paid better (and treated better) elsewhere in the economy.

    15
  14. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    All of this underscores the degree to which K-12 is a key component of childcare in ways that we never fully admit to ourselves. We treat public K-12 like a public utility and if the power is out, we get mad if it doesn’t work. On the one hand, all well and good. On the other, see point #2 and why teachers might not like being treated the same as a downed power line.

    This is a subject that goes back as long as I can remember, I don’t think anyone is failing to admit or acknowledge that parents and schools plan for kids to be in school for most of the year. I think it’s wrong to suggest that any but a tiny minority of parents look at schools primarily in terms of child care with education as a secondary concern.

    As for teachers not wanting to be treated like a downed powerline, well, they can’t have it both ways. If one wants to deny opportunities for school choice, oppose charter schools, and oppose alternative education, and have the public schools be the only game in town, then the result of that is public schools become a monopoly just like the power company except paid for by tax dollars. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the public education system has moral, legal, and social obligation to provide the service they are supposed to provide. And if that isn’t happening, no one should be surprised when parents get upset and seek other options.

    6
  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    The discussion has focused on 2 of the 3 interest groups, here is input from the third.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/01/high-school-student-walkout-covid/621335/

    6
  16. Dude Kembro says:

    @Mikey:

    “A lot of these parents don’t give a fuck if we get sick and die.”

    And they’re right. Some of these parents truly don’t. And some is some too many.

    Pushing antivaxxing and anti-masking, downplaying COVID, advocating for unfettered spread while smearing teachers as Marxist hatemongers and blocking the passage of childcare reforms.

    But when schools have to close due to teacher shortages, mass illness, or work stoppages, and we’re high and dry without childcare options, that’s Democrats’ fault. Make it make sense.

    10
  17. Dude Kembro says:

    @Andy:

    they can’t have it both ways

    Yes, they can. They can quit rather be underpaid to put up with abuse and scorn. We are just now starting to see evidence of the long-feared increase in teacher resignations. And how many potential teachers are reconsidering?

    A downed power line can be put back up, no issue. You can’t force someone to be a K-12 teacher, no matter the disturbing refusal to see teachers as human.

    Now what?

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  18. wr says:

    Airline passengers fly into rages, assault flight attendants… and are hauled off planes and jailed. And we condemn them as assholes.

    Retail customers scream at clerks if asked to wear masks, and sometimes get violent… and are sometimes hauled off to jail. And we condemn them as assholes.

    Restaurant diners fly into rages when informed of mask policies or when certain menu items aren’t available because of supply chain issues… and we condemn them as assholes.

    Parents scream obscenities at teachers, shout that they are not getting the service they deserve as customers, swear that teachers — oh, can’t forget, “and they’re unions” — really don’t care about kids except to throw pornography at them… and we must understand that they are simply concerned about their little darlings’ education.

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  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This demonization does not help.

    Here, here! The world of Our Miss Brooks, never existed and since that time the conditions have gotten worse. The current economy is such that why would anyone take a job teaching, except those who see the career as almost a religious calling.

    4
  20. CSK says:

    @wr:
    Or threaten them with loaded guns, and the police forgive you if you say, “Gee, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

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  21. @James Joyner:

    And part of it is that most of the rest of us had to get back to work, pandemic or no.

    Agreed. But, of course, the issue of work conditions matters. I know that pre-vaccine, I personally would not have been especially interested in being in a typical K-12 classroom all day.

    Again, if the GOP wasn’t blocking vaccine requirements, we wouldn’t be having these conversations. Both vaccinated teachers and vaccinated students would have meant a lot closer to normal than we got.

    Fully granting that delivering graduate seminars to adults is different from teaching elementary school, we pivoted from fully in-person circa March 17, 2020 to fully online with very little runup and were pretty damn successful. And we’ve been back to more-or-less fully in-person since August 2020. We masked, socially distanced, and took other precautions but otherwise just did our jobs as before. We’re mostly vaccinated now, which has obviously helped, but we didn’t know that was going to happen when we went back.

    While I am not going to defend the specifics of what you have described, some of which is clearly problematic, I still think (as I noted briefly on Twitter a while back) that you vastly over-estimated similarities between the two levels of instruction.

    For one thing: a lot of this simply doesn’t happen in a K-12 context: “masked, socially distanced, and took other precautions”–the space doesn’t allow social distancing (heck, even at the university, the only way we could social distance was to only allow some the students in class on a given day so we taught in pods in a hybrid format for most classes). And you can’t mask during lunch, and when you are a teacher who has to keep your class in your classroom and non-socially distance have unmasked lunch for 30 minutes in a full classroom, well all those precautions are gone (and this was the case in Montgomery city schools pre-vaccine).

    Before my wife decided to take medical leave, and then took a remote teaching job (and is now out of teaching) I tried to socially distance her classroom. It was impossible. And forget about the ventilation in the 1950s(or older) era building she taught in.

    Hell, when she was teaching remotely she was not provided the tools needed. She had to make a makeshift camera stand for her iPhone to video her math lessons for upload to the LMS. While the district did buy online software and provide computers to students, she received almost no tech support from the district and almost none of the tools one really needs for online teaching.

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  22. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Hell, when she was teaching remotely she was not provided the tool needed. She had to make a makeshift camera stand for her iPhone to video her math lessons for upload to the LMS. While the district did buy online software and provide computers to students, she received almost no tech support from the district and almost none of the tools one really needs for online teaching.

    For clarity’s sake: this is describing remote teaching during the early days of lockdown working in the public schools.

    She taught for a year for a private contractor who provided public school instruction for a remote school. That company provided sufficient technology and software, all of which were more akin to what I have experienced with online education at the university level. That type of context would allow the kind of flexibility that the OP wants to see.

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  23. @Andy: How about we adequately fund K-12 and treat teaching like a real profession and not a “calling.”

    There was a time I would have been more sympathetic to your list of solutions, but I live in a place where there is actually a lot of choice in schools and it doesn’t create that kind of dynamism one would like (and I realize that the counter will be that it just hasn’t been done right yet).

    But also in my experience with higher education, where there is a bigger marketplace, there is nothing that has convinced me that for-profit competition actually enhances educational quality (indeed, it almost universally does the opposite).

    BTW, I suppose part of my point about that analogy (power lines) is that perhaps we need to be a bit more honest with ourselves about the role K-12 and fund it better.

    11
  24. @Andy:

    As for teachers not wanting to be treated like a downed powerline, well, they can’t have it both ways. If one wants to deny opportunities for school choice, oppose charter schools, and oppose alternative education, and have the public schools be the only game in town,

    BTW, the way you have put this, perhaps unintentionally, underscores an underlying problem: the propensity of the public to blame teachers for the systemic problems of K-12 as if they have anything to do with those problems.

    The typical teacher may well, like everyone else, have opinions about charter schools (they may want to work at one) but the math teacher at the local middle school has precisely zero power or influence over whether there are charter schools in the given locale, but you are indicting them as wanting to have it both ways as if this is relevant to what I was saying about treatment during Covid.

    And the power of unions, while real at times and in places, is overblown in my opinion.

    10
  25. Michael Cain says:

    @James Joyner:

    Fully granting that delivering graduate seminars to adults is different from teaching elementary school, we pivoted from fully in-person circa March 17, 2020 to fully online with very little runup and were pretty damn successful.

    Back in the early to mid 1990s (when Zoom and such weren’t even gleams in their founders’ eyes) I was part of a group doing research into multi-person multi-media real-time communication over internet protocols. Education was an obvious use case. We tried our best to reproduce the in-person experience, not looking at the kind of “online education” as has been commonly delivered over the last decade. The easiest to reproduce was the 300-student lecture with a professor with slides who didn’t take questions — for obvious reasons. Second easiest was a small graduate seminar (with a caveat I’ll describe in a minute). By far the hardest, indeed we found it pretty much impossible, was the 25-student one-teacher grade school classroom.

    I was doing most of the prototype implementations. All of the situations were far easier to implement when IP multicast was available. One of the technical arguments that I lost from inside the large telecom companies where I worked was that we should make multicast available to our customers (as well as using it internally). I’ve always felt somewhat like a failure for not getting that.

    Caveat: We had UI/UX people involved, but most of us were STEM people. Online STEM seminars were horribly limited by there not being a good substitute for a whiteboard/overhead projector/pad and pen. When I say good, I mean that it has to be a high-res stylus-sensitive display that can take advantage of the superb hand-eye feedback loop we all have and use when writing/drawing. The new iPads with an iPencil are coming close, and the low-end Wacom One, plus some other companies. Still quite pricey if every student has to buy one.

    3
  26. @Michael Cain: BTW, this hits on an excellent point: subject matters.

    Teaching humanities or social science areas online is radically easier than STEM fields for various reasons. And some, i.e., labs sciences, are largely impossible to teach at a distance.

    Demands to just move K-12 online forget this.

    When my university went 200% online after Spring Break 2020 the history department had minor issues (if any at all). Biology, chemistry, electronic engineering technology, physics, et al., a whoooole different set of problems.

    7
  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    1. I think it is clearly true that Covid and various attempts to deal with school during the pandemic have done some damage to public trust and has politicized these discussions in very unfortunate and unhelpful ways,

    True enough. But I’m not sure the passive voice is entirely appropriate.

    Over at WAPO, Dana Milbank has a column detailing how GOPs and FOX created, from essentially nothing, an issue around Biden supposedly calling parents who speak out at school board meetings “terrorists”. I commented back that CRT was another example of this. That we are able to trace exactly how GOPs made a major education issue out of essentially nothing. Here in FL, along with pandering to the base with bills dictating class content, the lege is moving to make school board elections partisan. Why are they doing all this? They’re making schools and school boards battlegrounds in the Culture War with a goal of driving not only passions but local activism and organizing.

    GOPs will cheerfully sacrifice you and you’re kids to COVID to retain power. They’re also willing, hell eager, to sacrifice your kids’ education.

    10
  28. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    It now seems pretty clear that she was just venting and is embarrassed about it.

    I suspect she is more embarrassed to be facing consequences for her actions.

    We need to take her guns away and bar her from gun ownership for life* — not because she herself is necessarily a danger, but because we can’t distinguish the “just venting” from the dangerous, and we really shouldn’t have to. Gun rights need to come with gun responsibilities.

    I don’t know what laws are on the books to do that, but I would strongly support putting the laws on the books that make this possible.

    *: maybe she can petition to have her rights restored after N years, to a board that has the some elected official with a veto, always worried that this will be the one who then goes on a shooting rampage and destroys the official’s career.

    13
  29. @Steven L. Taylor: Especially on short notice.

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @James Joyner:..Just venting
    I’m not buying it. She can be embarrassed in a jail cell.

    “My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on,” King told the Board. “Alright? That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready to… I will call every…”
    CNN

    10
  31. Cheryl Rofer says:

    As we see in this thread, conditions and gripes differ from one place to another and from one group of parents to another.

    If they had asked me back in March 2020, I would have said, shut everything down, pay people to stay home. Forget about school, all the way through graduate school. Make remote instruction and materials available to all, up teacher salaries to do whatever is necessary to keep things going to some degree. Stop tenure and other clocks. Allow graduate research to continue if it can be done safely. Understand, and make clear to all, that once things can get back to normal, each child will be evaluated for school classes. Restructure those classes to take those evaluations into account. This might mean that age-segregated classes will no longer exist.

    One of the most damaging things we (as a society) do to our kids is to expect them to win all the prizes, get into the best schools. We are seeing that those motivations are highly destructive during a pandemic.

    And maybe some kids are loving that they don’t have to go in to school and suffer ignorant and authoritarian teachers and can find their education in books and on the internet. Kids that are bullied. Kids that don’t fit in for one reason or another.

    5
  32. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..the police forgive you
    Not that I have the most up to date information, the CNN story referenced above states that she has been “charged with making an oral threat while on school property.”

    4
  33. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Well, according to Luray Police Chief C. S. Cook, Ms. King “immediately contacted law enforcement to apologize because the statement was not intended the way it was perceived.”

    Jeez, it was just a misunderstanding. No biggie.

    4
  34. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    And released on 5000 bond.

    2
  35. Gustopher says:

    @Dude Kembro:

    You can’t force someone to be a K-12 teacher, no matter the disturbing refusal to see teachers as human.

    We currently have states encouraging the national guard and police to fill in as substitute teachers, so I think we are only a few steps away from forcing people into classrooms.

    And, of course, the reason we need so many substitute teachers is that so many are out with covid, both the teachers and the usual cadre of substitutes. I’m pretty sure that not all of them were entirely thrilled to be teaching in person during a wave of a pandemic, and were in fact gently coerced by the threats to their livelihood if they didn’t.

    You know teacher unions aren’t strong enough when they cannot force a rule to switch to online when case counts cross some threshold. Safe working conditions should be a requirement for nearly every job (firemen excluded, since burning buildings are kind of their thing, but as safe as possible)

    8
  36. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..apology…bond…
    I read all that too. I don’t buy her apology either.
    Was the Police Chief obligated to release her statement? I don’t know.

    1
  37. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Her Facebook page, according to what was reproduced of it on Twitter, is festooned with pics of her and her husband grinning and brandishing semi-automatic rifles. The girl’s definitely got firepower at her disposal.

    Jackass.

    11
  38. ptfe says:

    @Michael Cain: Clearly the solution is just to hire 1/10 as many teachers.

    1
  39. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..Jackass
    I’m sure she will be a darling of the right wing if she isn’t already.
    Like I said she can be embarrassed in jail.

    5
  40. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    I think they’ve decided she’s an FBI plant.

    2
  41. Stormy Dragon says:

    Because clearly the real problem is the schools aren’t being responsive enough to the public and not that half of the public has gone insane:

    Yesterday our school system had to send out an email denying they've installed litter boxes in the bathrooms for the students that identify as furries because some local nutter believed an internet headline. How's your day going?— Prozak (@x_Prozak_x) January 21, 2022

    10
  42. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    The first day made sense, although there was no reason not to go to remote instruction. Yes, remote sucks compared to in-person. But they’re not going to make that week up; it’s just completely lost.

    We were just coming out of the holiday break and teachers would have needed to access classrooms to prep for remote learning. But a lot of FCPS teachers live south of Fairfax because they don’t get paid enough to actually live here, and the multi-day disaster of I-95 would have prevented them getting to their schools and back home.

    The longstanding problem that FCPS is just way too damn big. We’re a ginormous metroplex larger than several states. We wind up closing in places that are perfectly clear because remote parts of the county are in a very different situation.

    This is valid. Transportation divides the district into different areas, perhaps they could push the open/close decisions down to area administration (which I think parallels the Transportation administration). But even then there would be challenges because the big secondary schools pull from a wide area themselves–kids in Clifton go all the way to Robinson, for example. So even if the area around GMU is clear but Clifton’s windy roads are icy, Robinson would still have to close.

    Anyway, this discussion is probably a bit too area-specific for anyone who doesn’t live here…lol…

    2
  43. Jc says:

    Parents: we want our kids in school and no masks and damnit do a better job.

    Also Parents: we want to stay working at home if you make us come back to the office we will go find another job that lets us work remote.

    We all think our public education was better in the past….maybe that was because our parents were not as involved as these today, or as”informed”.

    9
  44. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    If they had asked me back in March 2020, I would have said, shut everything down, pay people to stay home. Forget about school, all the way through graduate school. Make remote instruction and materials available to all, up teacher salaries to do whatever is necessary to keep things going to some degree. Stop tenure and other clocks. Allow graduate research to continue if it can be done safely. Understand, and make clear to all, that once things can get back to normal, each child will be evaluated for school classes. Restructure those classes to take those evaluations into account. This might mean that age-segregated classes will no longer exist.

    That was my thought, too, but aside from some PL 94-142 [in other posts, I have misnamed it as 142-92] clients who qualify for k-12 education through age 21, we don’t have a system very much suited to not throwing the kids out the door at age 18 and seem to be disinclined to think in those terms even as a pandemic rages through our streets killing hundreds of thousands of our neighbors. Part of the problem seems to be a shortage of teachers (especially in STEM, as noted), but in my part of the world, the “shortage” presented itself as a complaint by administrators that “our district is having to hire the ‘straight out of college’ teacher candidates that we have traditionally rejected out of hand,” so color me skeptical. But yes, the plan suggested above would certainly hinge on being able to expand current offerings and time frames in a way that might be more wishful than real.

    As I’ve noted before, I have no idea at all about which is the least-worse choice for the current circumstances. However, I DO know that parents have been second guessing and criticizing teachers and what they do for longer than Covid-19 has been a thing. I suspect that some of the phenomenon evolved out of the fact that when I was young and complained about how unfair or draconian the teachers were, my parents replied, “Good! I’m glad we’re getting what we’re paying for.” I suspect that many of my peers had the same situation and, as youth will sometimes do, learned the wrong lesson from it–saying “well I know that I’LL NEVER take the teacher’s side over my child’s.” And now our children and grandchildren aren’t either.

    1
  45. gVOR08 says:

    @Jc: I don’t know about “informed” and I don’t have kids in school. But my mother taught long enough to see the beginning of the transition from, “Little Johnny brought home a note from teacher, you better sit down with him and straighten him out.” to “Little Johnny brought home a note, you better march down to the school and straighten her out.”

    6
  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “…some kids are loving that they don’t have to go in to school and suffer ignorant and authoritarian teachers and can find their education in books and on the internet.”

    My experience is that there are fewer of these kids than we imagine that there are and that most of them figure out ways to adapt to the authoritarian aspects of the system better than we imagine that they do. Still, there are probably some students for whom the pandemic has been a Godsend intellectually and I wish them well.

    As for the bullies, the solution is for somebody to slam their heads in a locker door, but I am informed that that solution creates more problems than it solves. 🙁

    4
  47. grumpy realist says:

    Maybe if we as a society didn’t use K-12 school as babysitting services with a bit of edutainment thrown in.

    6
  48. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “How about we adequately fund K-12 and treat teaching like a real profession and not a “calling.””

    But if it’s a calling, we can underpay and overwork the teachers, dump half our parenting responsibilities on them, accuse them of brainwashing our children with their CRT pornography, and then if they complain or dare to walk away, we can shame them for abandoning their calling.

    If it’s a profession, then we have to treat them as professionals. And what fun is that?

    10
  49. wr says:

    @Andy: “It’s not unreasonable to expect that the public education system has moral, legal, and social obligation to provide the service they are supposed to provide. ”

    And what service is that, exactly? Apparently it’s not teaching anymore, as just about every Republican state is busy criminalizing the teaching of history and of literature.

    9
  50. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “It now seems pretty clear that she was just venting and is embarrassed about it.”

    Yes, I can certainly sympathize. Often when I mean to say “venti decaf latte,” I find myself saying “if you don’t do exactly what I want I’m going to get all my guns and blow everyone’s heads off.” Really just a slip of the tongue, no need to censure me or put me on a 48-hour psych hold or charge me with making terroristic threats. I just misspoke!

    The nice thing is I’m white so I can do this kind of thing.

    17
  51. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “But my mother taught long enough to see the beginning of the transition from, “Little Johnny brought home a note from teacher, you better sit down with him and straighten him out.” to “Little Johnny brought home a note, you better march down to the school and straighten her out.””

    Although one of my late mother-in-law’s prized possessions was a newspaper clipping about her grandmother marching to the local school with a bullwhip to chastise her daughter’s teacher. So the seeds have been here all along!

    2
  52. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Sorry, STEM isn’t that much of a problem. Labs are a problem, but that’s only 4 hrs a week. The lecture side fits better online since the student isn’t dependent upon the improv performance of the teacher, can repeat, review and even challenge mistakes the teacher makes (with subsequent voice-over corrections).

    But the innovation isn’t going to happen in the university or K-12 classroom. They are Kodak, when confronted with the digital camera and an institution dedicated to chemical film. Or Xerox with the GUI and mouse. Innovation in STEM education is happening organically, from the workshops and people who work in the fields. This guy, Jim Pytel, has innovated the classroom portion of an industrial electrical tech course online (with NSF grant support) on Youtube. So the lab time is better spent. Similarly there are several on the HVAC side, such as AC Service Tech . How many comments about how they learned more from his videos than they did in their paid course before students stop wasting their money?

    These are exciting times. The Industrial Revolution came out of the workshops of England, not the universities. And we now have a way past the university chokepoint again. Universities usually take 30 or 40 years to catch up after current faculty die off or retire.

    1
  53. @JKB:

    Sorry, STEM isn’t that much of a problem. Labs are a problem, but that’s only 4 hrs a week.

    Do you know what I do for a living?

    8
  54. @Steven L. Taylor: I mean, not to put to fine a point on it, but yeesh.

    Were you trying to help sort out moving an entire college of arts and sciences fully online?

    but that’s only 4 hrs a week.

    And if you can’t do it all, that’s more than a problem.

    There are other nuances that can matter, especially when doing it on the fly, which is the context of this conversation.

    2
  55. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    NSF grant support

    Is “not safe for grant support” more or less titillating than “not safe for work”?

    3
  56. @Mikey:

    We were just coming out of the holiday break and teachers would have needed to access classrooms to prep for remote learning.

    This is a highly underappreciated point. Sure, I can teach my grad seminar on the fly–all I need is a computer, internet, and access to the cloud drive (or, maybe, not even that). But that is not the case for all classes and there is no reason to assume a K-12 teacher is going to have things set up at home the way a university professor likely does in terms of a home office.

    2
  57. @wr: Exactly!

  58. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Do you know what I do for a living?

    BTW: I know that sounds pompous, but Heaven help me.

    3
  59. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’d have been one of those kids who would much prefer remote learning. Ditto the wife and Daughter #1. I think the loss is being exaggerated.

    Think back to an average day in school, 8 AM to 3 PM. How many of those seven hours are actual education once you subtract movement between classes, lunch, time settling in, gym, in-class films, needless tests, and study periods? In my experience it would be generous to estimate half of that time is spent on actual education, with a large percentage of that education actually already taking place at home in the form of hours of homework.

    I don’t believe this level of anger is coming from parents who are worried their kids won’t learn about the Missouri Compromise or algebra. This anger comes from parents who’ve lost their babysitter and actually have to deal with their kids. I sympathize. We home-schooled for a bit and it’s tedious and boring. And parents do need to go to work.

    I’m at a loss to recall anything I learned in my ten years of primary school. No, wait, that’s not quite true. I learned to really dislike school for the same reasons as people dislike home-schooling: it’s boring. So fucking boring. That was my main take-away. Twelve long years, seven hours a day plus homework and extra-curriculars to acquire what usable education? A reasonably bright kid, well-taught, could walk away with all the usable knowledge by putting in two hours a day for half as many years.

    It’s an antiquated, inefficient system and if kids can’t learn on a computer then my question would be why the hell not? Might it be because at no time were they taught to learn independently? Might it be that we are so complacent that we made no effort to invent tools for self-directed learning? Might it be that the system drained all the joy of learning out of kids, leaving them to see education as compulsory tedium?

    If the true goal was education and not babysitting we would not be dragging kids out of bed at 6 AM, which we know to be harmful to attention span and performance, but which just coincidentally, is when most parents have to go to work.

    And really how dare we demand that teachers risk their lives and the lives of their family in the midst of a pandemic? Average teacher salary in California is $84,000, which is not nothing, but it sure as hell isn’t hazardous duty pay.

    3
  60. @JKB:

    And we now have a way past the university chokepoint again.

    It’s a good thing that chemists, physicists, and engineers all emerge organically!

    3
  61. @Gustopher: Just don’t tell him where NSF grants come from.

    1
  62. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I too loathed school, until I got to private school and then college. Public school was a boring place where stupid people made you do dumb things. With a few exceptions, I was mostly contemptuous of the people who taught. And I went to good public schools.

    Unlike Amelia King, I can recall no occasion where I was tempted to bring firearms to a public school and start shooting the inmates.

    5
  63. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist: @Michael Reynolds: It has been, for generations now, compulsory to send kids to school through age 16. For even longer than that, the government has taken huge sums from us in order to fund state schools. It’s simply unreasonable to expect that people not depend on the schools to be in charge of the kids from roughly 8-3. Which, incidentally, doesn’t really comport with the hours most folks work to begin with.

    For parents who were at home during the pandemic, it’s a mere pain in the ass. Rather hard to hold 23 consecutive Zoom meetings while simultaneously serving as a teacher’s aide and lunch lady. But for those who had to go somewhere to work, what we’re they supposed to do? It’s not like there are tens of millions of excess babysitters for hire. Or they got a rebate on their taxes to cover the expense if there were.

    2
  64. Sleeping Dog says:

    School puts litter boxes in lavs for students who ID as furries?

    And yes, an R is behind this.

    The co-chair of the state GOP fueled the rumor on Facebook, writing: “Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.”

    2
  65. Monala says:

    The schools in my daughter’s district also had Fridays off during the spring of 2021, but it wasn’t for some random reason. They were doing hybrid learning, in order to prevent overcrowding in the schools and allow for social distancing. So half the students attended school in person on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the rest were remote, and then they switched on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, at least at the high school level, the students had assignments to do and turn in but no classes.

    The teachers used Fridays for preparation, which they needed more of, because they had to successfully figure out ways of teaching students when half of them were in the room, and half were on Google classroom at home.

    2
  66. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It’s a good thing that chemists, physicists, and engineers all emerge organically!

    We really need organic physics and engineering to catch up to organic chemistry.

    5
  67. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m at a loss to recall anything I learned in my ten years of primary school.

    Here, let me help you remember a single fact:

    In fourteen hundred and ninety-three, Columbus sailed across the sea.

    2
  68. Monala says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: in fact, when they were on remote, the teachers at my daughter’s school all taught from their classrooms. In addition to being where their supplies and equipment were located, it also made it possible for kids who needed in-person school to go there. During the month we were homeless after our house burned down, my daughter attended school in person. She said there were about twenty other students in the building, including other kids who were homeless, kids with learning disabilities, and kids in foster care.

    7
  69. DK says:

    @wr:

    Really just a slip of the tongue, no need to censure me or put me on a 48-hour psych hold or charge me with making terroristic threats. I just misspoke!

    If it was a terrorist insecurrection, why is nobody calling them terrorists and why aren’t they being charged with insurrection?

    The nice thing is I’m white so I can do this kind of thing.

    Oh.

    3
  70. DK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Or they got a rebate on their taxes to cover the expense if there were.

    Ha! So Coal Lieberman was right about those childcare tax credits going to drugs.

    That Americans really believe they’re spending huge sums of money on education explains a lot about American mediocrity.

    2
  71. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: No, it’s okay. We get it. [headdesk]

    1
  72. @Monala:

    in fact, when they were on remote, the teachers at my daughter’s school all taught from their classrooms.

    During the initial lockdown, my wife taught from home. Then when they started remote the next year, they taught from their classrooms–which is a salient point as it pertains to the snow day issue. For snow days to be instruction days, teachers would have to be ever-ready to teach from home.

    1