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Funny, but not on point…

In issuing guidance for restarting America, President Trump wisely put most of the decisions on the states, specifically, the governors.  “He’s passing the buck!” some cry, others continue to wail that Mr. Trump is not sufficiently dictatorial.  Have they yet to hear of federalism?  The Tenth Amendment?

In education, local control is vitally important, but works only when people actually care, when they are actively involved with the issues of funding and running public schools.  Tragically, the response to Covid-19 is causing many people to draw tragically wrong conclusions.  Here are a few issues that come to mind:

I’m seeing some citizens around the nation actually demanding teachers not be paid.  They’re not in school, so why pay them?

Primarily because teachers have contracts.  Even though they don’t work during a portion of the summer, their salaries are paid monthly.  Since schools are requiring teachers to essentially work from home, they’re fulfilling the terms of their contracts, so they get paid.  Imagine too what chaos it would be to lay teachers off whenever something like this occurred, with no idea if the next school year would begin on schedule.  Teachers would move, abandon teaching entirely and no one, particularly kids, would be well served.

Refund property taxes on a prorated basis.  Property tax funds can certainly be misused, but they are not “just in time” resources.  The money raised is necessary year round, not only for paying teachers, but for custodial and maintenance work, all of which occurs year round.  In fact, a great deal of that kind of work can only be done when school is not in session.  When the nation is combatting a contagion, that work is even more valuable and necessary.  As with nearly everything made by man, schools deteriorate if they are left unattended.  In addition, school resources and facilities are commonly used by their communities, even when school is not in session.

Let’s just home school everyone.  This is an issue I recently addressed.  I have no argument with parents that want to home school. However, I’m hearing from parents–and teachers–parents have a new appreciation for the many roles public schools play.  For most Americans, public schools are essential, and where they are failing, can be made better, much better.

credit: wikipedia

Buy every kid a computer and do everything on line.  This line of thought makes a great many false assumptions, among them all kids are computer geniuses, all are self-motivated and relentlessly inquisitive, all will do their assignments without direct adult contact and assistance.  Perhaps the worst assumption is no direct human contact is necessary for learning.

As I noted in the linked article, most kids know only what they need to know to do the things they want with computers, things like gaming, social media, how to find porn, etc.  The young are certainly adaptable, but they’re also young, hence easily distracted, and seldom self-motivated.  Given the choice of doing an assignment on the computer, or using it to do what they normally do, few will studiously do their assigned work.

Computers are merely tools.  They have no magic.  All of my years in law enforcement and teaching have taught me kids learn best when they have reasons beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge to motivate them.  Competent, caring teachers provide those reasons.

credit: englishcoachny.com

I’ve often written about the SAT, which is one of the more egregious scams perpetrated on the public.  The Covid-19 pandemic is causing many colleges to reassess the value of that scam, as Fox News reports:

Colleges and universities across the country are considering a ‘test-optional’ policy for 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with some considering a permanent change.

With more states enforcing school closures for the rest of the academic year, students face an unprecedented situation and an uncertain future. The SAT and ACT have cancelled all exams through June, meaning the August exams will be the first time students will be able to sit for a standardized test.

Some schools are not entirely sure they’ll be able to reopen in the fall.

To ease the pressure on students applying to college next year, an increasing number of institutions are waiving any requirement of a standardized test for admissions in 2021.

While not all schools have embraced the policy – with Cornell and Darthmouth, among others, adamant they will not consider it – around 51 schools announced over the past month that they will drop the requirement of SAT or ACT score for admissions next year, including Colgate University, Vassar College, Williams College, Boston University and Harvard University, among others.

Both College Board, who administers the SAT, and the ACT Company are trying to adapt and address concerns of access and availability, even considering testing alternatives such as at-home versions of the exams.

“At-home versions of the exams”?!  As anyone forced to serve as a proctor for those companies knows, they treat the administration of those tests with nearly as much secrecy and aggression as the handling of nuclear weapons.  The idea there could be such a thing as an “at-home” version of the test is laughable.  If that were possible, the mere existence of such a test would reveal the extraordinary and abusive lengths to which the companies go to avoid cheating and dissemination of test materials as farcical lies.

Some believe, though, that the current situation is too much to expect the best out of students.

‘The fact that our nation’s testing has been upended ultimately made the decision to move to test optional next year the only responsible choice,’ Gary Ross, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid for Colgate University told Fox News.

‘We have applicants who are unable to take the test right now, and we do not want them to be excluded from the process. We adjust as needed in our work to ensure that we are enrolling the most academically talented and dedicated students each year. The same holds true with our decision to become test optional for applicants in 2021.’

As I’ve often written, many colleges, for years, have nto required a SAT or ACT test for admission.  Far too many colleges will accept anyone with a pulse and a solvent checkbook.  They admit people they know are not capable of doing genuine college level work, and establish remedial high schools on campus to address the failings they encourage.  The point is tuition money, getting paying bodies on campus.  That many never graduate, eventually leaving deeply in debt and emotionally devastated, means little to them.

There’s ample literature demonstrating that high price test prep can boost scores by hundreds of points on the SAT,’ says Bob Schaeffer, Interim Executive Director at the nonprofit FairTest, who has advocated for a test optional academic landscape for decades.

Having taught SAT prep classes, I can attest to the accuracy of Schaeffer’s assertion.  In those semester-long classes, I did not dramatically increase my student’s knowledge or intellects.  I merely taught them the tricks necessary to do better on that very specific kind of test.  My kids raised their scores from 100 to 300 points.

I’ll leave you with this, gentle readers: in education, and in life, we get in the worst trouble when we ignore human nature, or think we’re so smart we can change it.  When I have kids in my classes, they are far more likely to do their assignments.  I’m there to answer questions, to guide them, to give them ideas, and to refocus them when their attention wanders, as it does constantly at their age.  Learning to pay attention is one of life’s greatest challenges at any age.

To the degree the Covid-19 contagion has sparked interest in educational issues, that’s a good thing.  However, unless we use this opportunity to carefully and rationally examine the many problems inherent in so demanding an enterprise, we’re likely to just make things worse.