Reopening schools pits teachers against parents

Ordinarily, teachers and parents share similar views about the health and safety of children.  But these are not ordinary times (“The Coming Showdown over Schooling,” Commentary, July 13).

Two-thirds of educators polled by EdWeek’s Research Center wanted to keep schools closed indefinitely. In fact, a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that one in five teachers would refuse to go back to school if their classrooms reopened. Although public opinion seems to favor in-person instruction, teachers and their unions said the risks are too great.

Which side is right?  Only parents can decide if the harm of keeping schools closed outweighs the risks from Covid 19. There is no way to guarantee that schools will be totally safe from Covid 19.  Catholic schools so far have been more willing to reopen than public schools, but that may change.

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Early retirement for teachers because of Covid-19

Teachers, who ordinarily would not retire until age 60, which is the sweet spot for maximum benefits, are now considering packing it in (“With No End in Sight to the Coronavirus, Some Teachers Are Retiring Early Rather Than Going Back to School,” Time, July 8).  That’s because some 20 percent of teachers feel their health is worth more than reduced pension benefits.

I completely agree with them.  Older teachers and those with preexisting health issues are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.  It’s a matter of survival.  No matter how hard they try, schools can’t guarantee them protection.  If the threat were not so severe, I doubt early retirement would be on their radar.  But what good is a full pension if it can’t be enjoyed in good health?

When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, several teachers at my high school took early retirement because of the protracted stress they were under as a result of the changing student population combined with the new standards movement.  None of them regretted doing so.  I submit that more and more teachers will retire early when they calculate the risks.

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Rescinding admissions offers is draconian measure

When at least a dozen colleges and universities rescinded admissions offers to students who posted racist material, the step was hailed as wholly justified (“Colleges Rescinding Admissions Offers as Racist Social Media Posts Emerge,” The New York Times, July 3).  I maintain that the punishment does not fit the crime.

I say that because in all cases the students apologized.  Who has not said something that they later regret?  Moreover, the decision to handle the matter was largely the result of whether the institutions were public or private.  Private schools are not bound by the First Amendment, while public schools are.  I fail to see why such a distinction is made.  That’s because both teach the same students.

Young people in particular can be rehabilitated.  The attitudes they held at one point in their lives often change with the passage of time as they mature.  Unfortunately, when it comes to racial issues we forget this.

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The arts are not frills to cut

With state revenues plummeting in the wake of the pandemic, school districts are forced to trim their spending.  If the past is any guide, the first to go will be music, dance and other performing arts (“NYC kids need the arts desperately: Wynton Marsalis says the city must not cut music, dance and visual art education,” New York Daily News, June 30).  That’s because they are seen as non-essential.

I understand the importance of the 3 R’s, but I submit that the arts can make the difference between students dropping out or graduating.  I say that based on my experience teaching English for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  I vividly remember students carrying their art portfolios and musical instruments to class and proudly showing off their achievements to others.

The theory of multiple intelligences makes it clear that the arts in all their forms are no less cognitively demanding than other academic subjects.  Yet we persist in treating them as frills.  It’s a big mistake.

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Caution on adopting open textbooks

In an attempt to engage students, the New York City system is considering the use of open educational resources, which are referred to as open textbooks (“Open textbooks, in more ways than one: Save money and increase educational diversity with high-quality, up-to-date, learning options,” New York Daily News, June 29).  The idea is that when students see themselves reflected in their textbooks, they will be more likely to succeed.

I understand the intent, but I wonder if using open textbooks at this time is going to serve as indoctrination.  Let me explain. When young people are exposed to instructional material that hasn’t been properly vetted, they have no basis for evaluating what they read, see, or hear.  Social media are the best example.  There is no context – only opinion.  Traditional textbooks for all their faults at least have been reviewed before being adopted.

Open textbooks will likely present only one side of current issues.  That’s not education; it’s indoctrination.

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Settling the charter school debate

Whenever the issue involves charter schools, both sides cherry pick data to support their position (“Charter schools are the best way to wipe out educational disparity,” New York Post, June 27).  The best way to settle the debate is to allow traditional public schools to operate under the same set of rules as charter schools with students from the same racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Then compare the results.

I think the outcomes would be most revealing.  Yes, there will always be some who refuse to change their opinions for one reason or another.  They have that right, and I support them.  But I think that most people will get a better understanding of why charter schools on average are able to outperform traditional public schools.

I graduated from a traditional public school and taught for 28 years in a traditional public high school.  But I realize that times have changed.  What was a good fit for me growing up may not be a good fit for others today.  Rather than continue the debate, let’s get better evidence out in the open for everyone to judge for themselves.

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Scapegoating teachers’ unions once again

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have indicated they would consider striking if schools reopen without proper safety protections (“Will Unions Let Schools Reopen?” The Wall Street Journal, June 30).  But leave it to union busters to conflate that legitimate concern with unfunded pension obligations.

With revenues plummeting because of Covid 19, states will be forced to slash spending, which means that unless Washington steps in with additional funding, teachers will likely be asked to increase their pension contributions, have their salaries frozen, or see their colleagues laid off.  So what is really behind the threat of a strike is not safety concerns but financial ones, according to union busters.

Once again teachers’ unions are depicted as the villains who are interested primarily in what is good for them.  But the truth is that teachers have carried out their end of the bargain by contributing to their defined-benefit plans.  The hole exists because state legislators have not done their part.  Trying to link school safety with pension obligations is outrageous.

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Anti-racist curriculum in the classroom

When students return to school in the fall, they’ll be subjected to a newly created anti-racist curriculum (“The ‘anti-racist drive to turn schools into woke propaganda mills,” The New York Post, June 22).  Teachers will be encouraged to incorporate current events into their instruction.  There’s nothing at all wrong with that, unless of course only one side is taught.

We constantly hear about the importance of diversity in education.  The trouble is that diversity of opinion is forbidden.  I guarantee that teachers who try to present a balanced view of current events or worse a view that is politically incorrect will pay a huge price for their heresy. That’s why I maintain the anti-racist curriculum is propaganda masquerading as education.

Real education requires open discussion of all sides of issues.  But how many teachers in K-12 or professors in colleges and universities are brave enough to buck the trend?  If developing critical thinking is indeed an important goal, then what will take place in the fall is a travesty.

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State aid to religious schools ruled constitutional

In an eagerly awaited decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Montana’s ban on state aid to parochial schools is unconstitutional (“Supreme Court Strikes Down Montana Ban on State Aid to Church Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, July 1).  Although the ruling was close, 5-4, I knew the Blaine amendment was doomed in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

I support parental choice because what works for one student doesn’t necessarily work for another. That goes for religious and non-sectarian private schools as well as for traditional public schools. (For the record, I received a solid education in K-12 from public schools on Long Island, N.Y.)

What bothers me, however, is that religious schools operate by a completely different set of rules than traditional public schools.  (That includes charter schools, which are public schools).  As a result, religious, private and charter schools not surprisingly post far better results overall than traditional public schools, which are the schools of last resort.

These schools can’t have it both ways.  They can’t be the beneficiaries of public funding while at the same time be exempt from the rules and regulations of traditional public schools. It’s blatantly unfair.

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Virtual classrooms need to improve

Remote learning so far has been a huge disappointment (“Failure in the Virtual Classroom,” The Wall Street Journal, June 22).  Attendance has been spotty at best and student work turned in even worse.

But before writing off virtual classrooms as a total failure, it’s important to keep in mind that teachers were given little training in how to convert their lessons to the internet.  It’s little surprise, therefore, that the transition has fallen way short of expectations.  Nothing will ever take the place of what transpires when students learn face-to-face with a talented teacher.  That does not mean, however, that virtual instruction should be discarded.

The controversy is over how teachers can be supported going forward.  So much depends on how much money is available to bring teachers up to speed in the use of technology.  In any school, there will always be some teachers who are more savvy than others.  They should be given a pay boost if they are willing to mentor their colleagues.

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