Boots & Sabers

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Category: Education

What the pandemic taught us about prioritizing education

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

One of the ways we show what is important to us is by where we spend our money. We have seen a great variance in the response by government school districts with some of them utterly abandoning our children. Given what we know about the virus today and the experience with schools that have been open all year, taxpayers should question whether they should continue to fund schools that remain closed to in-person learning. Teachers are receiving vaccines today and the expectation is that every teacher who wants it will be vaccinated within the next month. There is no rational reason for schools to remain closed.

 

If we truly care about education, then we must be willing to put our money where our mouths are and defund schools that refuse to teach our children. In the same thought, we must be willing to shift funds to the schools are, and have been, faithfully educating our kids throughout this pandemic. Throwing money into schools that have been failing our kids is not caring about education. Funding failure is an affront to education.

 

Irrespective of the public policy choices we make, the primary educators of any child remain their parents. Every parent should take a long, hard look at their kids’ school and the education their kids have been receiving. Is it good? Has the school been holding up their end of the bargain in the educational partnership? Have the kids been successful? If not, why not? And if not, why would you continue to send your kids there? Prioritizing education starts at home.

Government Response Harmed Kids More than Virus

This.

As time has gone on, evidence has grown on one side of the equation: the harm being done to children by restricting their “circulation.” There is the well-documented fall-off in student academic performance at schools that have shifted to virtual learning, which, copious evidence now shows, is exacerbating racial and class divides in achievement. This toll has led a growing number of epidemiologists, pediatricians and other physicians to argue for reopening schools as broadly as possible, amid growing evidence that schools are not major venues for transmission of the virus.

As many of these experts have noted, the cost of restrictions on youth has gone beyond academics. The CDC found that the proportion of visits to the emergency room by adolescents between ages 12 and 17 that were mental-health-related increased 31% during the span of March to October 2020, compared with the same months in 2019. A study in the March 2021 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, of people aged 11 to 21 visiting emergency rooms found “significantly higher” rates of “suicidal ideation” during the first half of 2020 (compared to 2019), as well as higher rates of suicide attempts, though the actual number of suicides remained flat.

Doctors are concerned about possible increases in childhood obesity — no surprise with many kids housebound in stress-filled homes — while addiction experts are warning of the long-term effects of endless hours of screen time when both schoolwork and downtime stimulation are delivered digitally. (Perhaps the only indicator of youth distress that is falling — reports of child abuse and neglect, which dropped about 40% early in the pandemic — is nonetheless worrisome because experts suspect it is the reporting that is declining, not the frequency of the abuse.)

Finally, the nationwide surge in gun violence since the start of the pandemic has included, in many cities, a sharp rise in crimes involving juveniles, including many killed or arrested during what would normally be school time. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb where school buildings have remained closed, seven teenagers were charged with murder in just the first five weeks of this year.

Teachers Worry About Returning to School

The science is clear, but if this teacher is this concerned about getting COVID, then she should take her healthcare into her own hands and find a different job that allows her to live her lifestyle. It is not a reasonable expectation that an employee dictate the terms of employment based on her personal health risk calculation.

MADISON (WKOW) — As some Madison students prepare to return to classrooms next week, teachers in the district are split about the reopening plan.

 

“Some people are really ready to come back, but lots of people are scared of being back,” an MMSD Kindergarten teacher who’s opposed to reopening told 27 News. She requested to stay anonymous because she fears backlash from the district and community members who support a return to in-person learning.

 

“I’m feeling scared for my safety and my family’s safety because we have been 100% COVID-free all year because we’ve been so strict about making really hard choices to stay safe,” she said. “I’m feeling really heartbroken now that my employer is forcing me to put my family at risk.”

 

MMSD’s slow return to in-person instruction is set to start when kindergarten students return to classrooms on Mar. 9.

Non-Partisan School Board Races

The race for School Board is on in West Bend and, once again, we have some conservatives trying to unseat the lefty-leaning incumbents. I was amused by this letter to the editor in the Washington County Daily News. 

Here we go again. A partisan request to vote for a “conservative” for a School Board position. There are two problems with this request: (1.) School boards are nonpartisan for good reason. Members must be able to work with everyone for the good of the students, community and taxpayers — not represent a particular viewpoint or push an agenda. And (2.) there is no universally accepted definition of what being a “conservative” is.

 

As the last few years have shown, working to divide the population based on political party has had no lasting benefit to the country as a whole or West Bend in particular. Rather than pushing propaganda and a political point of view, we need to hear why the candidates are able to work with everyone in the community to educate each child to their full potential.

 

I, for one, don’t care what political party you belong to. I want to know you understand how schools work, teachers teach and students learn. And I want a fair hearing of all points of view. You get no points for wearing your political party or religious beliefs on your sleeve.

 

— Joan Thompson, West Bend

“Conservative” is not “partisan.” Conservatism is not a political party. It is a philosophy. And while the definition covers a range of variance, it is a useful shorthand to describe a political candidate. It is very telling that no school board candidate in West Bend ever runs as a “liberal,” despite many of them being just that. And “liberal” also covers a range of variance in philosophy, but nobody wants to use it.

In any case, do you know who constantly gripes about school board races being nonpartisan? Liberals. Because they can’t use their label and they want to take the ability of opponents to label themselves. Liberals running for nonpartisan races in conservative areas like to create a great beige slate of candidates so that they don’t have to explain their own philosophy.

Racine’s Sheep

This made me roll my eyes.

“I would equate it to the Wild Wild West of Wisconsin,” said Angelina Cruz, Racine Educators United president. “There’s no clear rollout plan anywhere that I know of.”

[…]

Cruz said the Racine Unified School District has not shared a formal plan to get teachers vaccinated, so she’s advising teachers to call their doctors.

Are Racine’s teachers so inept that they need their employer or their union boss to tell them to call their doctors to get a vaccine? Were they really sitting around doing nothing waiting for the school district administration to make a “rollout plan?” Why would anyone even think that’s the district’s responsibility? If an adult can’t manage to figure out how to get in line for a vaccine somewhere without their employer or union boss telling them too, then they are too stupid to be teaching.

West Bend School District Advances Activist Environmentalism in Curriculum

I have been receiving a National Geographic every month for my entire life. It is a wonderful publication with magnificent pictures and some very educational content. They have also been hard core wacky environmentalists for more than a decade. I can tell you exactly what is in this curriculum and it is far from a balanced presentation of facts.

February 22, 2021 – West Bend, WI – Proposed curriculum for 6th graders in the West Bend School District will be available for review this week, starting February 22 – February 26.

The proposed curriculum is published by National Geographic. There are 12 books in the series including, (listed in alphabetical order):

 

“Climate Change”; “Energy Resources”; “Food Supply”; “Globalism”; “Habitat Preservation”; “Health”; “Human Rights”; “Migration”; “Pollution”; “Population Growth”; “Standard of Living”; and “Water Resources.”

Click HERE to review what is presented in a brief format on the social studies segment from National Geographic.

UW-Stevens Point Returns to Class

Well done!

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is planning for a return to a more familiar, engaging campus experience in the Fall 2021 semester.

“We are excited to welcome you in fall to the campus experience you expect: One that is engaging in and out of the classroom. One that helps you learn and grow in many ways. One we all crave,” Chancellor Thomas Gibson told students and employees.

This includes:

  • A vast majority of courses in-person
  • A restored sense of community in residence halls
  • In-person student support services
  • A return to live entertainment, including music and theater
  • In-person recreation and intramural sports schedule
  • In-person student organizations, activities and hanging out with friends
  • Athletic competition with fans

Faculty and academic support areas are planning for a full return to in-person teaching. They are working on fall schedules, which will be available in early March for students to register. UW-Stevens Point is committed to student success, which including in the course format that meets students’ comfort

School Board Resigns After Mocking Parents

Disgusting.

Every member of a school board in Northern California resigned on Friday after a video revealed they mocked parents during a virtual public meeting about reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Lisa Brizendine, president of the Oakley Union Elementary School District, resigned with members Kim Beede, Erica Ippolito and Richie Masadas, Fox News reported.

 

Schools Superintendent Greg Hetrick described the comments as ‘truly inappropriate’ and issued an apology on Thursday.

Kerr and Underly Move on to General Election for DPI Head

At least there is a choice.

Pecatonica School District Superintendent Jill Underly and former Brown Deer School District Superintendent Deborah Kerr won the top two spots today in the state schools superintendent primary, moving on to face off in the April 6 general election.

 

According to unofficial returns, Underly edged out Kerr as the two advanced out of Tuesday’s primary. Underly had 27.3 percent of the vote, while Kerr had 26.5 percent.

 

Assistant State Superintendent Sheila Briggs came in a distant third with 15.6 percent.

 

Behind Briggs, Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams took fourth with 11.3 percent followed by Troy Gunderson with 8.4 points, Steve Krull with 6.3 points and Joe Fenrick with 4.5 points.

From a conservative’s perspective, Kerr is clearly the better choice. It will be an uphill battle, but so vitally important that we try to bend the curve back on education.

Seven candidates vie to lead DPI

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Check it out!

The February primary is upon us. The only race with significant statewide implications is the seven-way primary for superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. Two of the seven candidates will go on to compete in the general election on April 6.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our government schools abandoned education and inflicted true harm on children and families that will be felt for years. That harm is being disproportionally felt by those at the lower end of the economic spectrum and is dramatically increasing the education gap in several areas. The pandemic laid bare the cynical and self-serving behavior of many of those in the government school-industrial complex. This hard-learned lesson makes it even more disappointing that conservatives and Republicans once again failed to field a pro-education candidate to lead the DPI.

 

For years, conservatives and Republicans have ceded the DPI to the leftist government education establishment. The state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, would pick their candidate and that candidate would be placed on top of the state education system to do their bidding. The result has been a steady decline in performance accompanied by equally steady spending increases. The last time an actual conservative ran for superintendent of the DPI was in 2013, when former assemblyman Don Pridemore ran. Wisconsin’s right establishment, then at the apex of their political power after defeating the attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker, chose to stand aside and let WEAC’s puppet skate to re-election. That puppet later used his position as a platform to run for governor. One could argue that had Wisconsin’s right put up a fight in 2013, we would not be suffering under the despotism of Governor Tony Evers today.

 

The seven candidates running this year are all cut from a similar cloth. They all come from the government education establishment. They all advocate for more taxpayer spending even as enrollment declines. They have all spent time in the classroom and all but one of them has been in school administration. Voters can hardly be blamed for having difficulty telling them apart. They all represent points on a very limited ideological spectrum.

 

In light of the pandemic, there are two issues that matter more than any other because they tell us how the candidate views education and the role of government. The first issue is whether every student should be able to return to full time in-person education. The science is clear on this issue. With nominal effort to mitigate the spread of COVID19, it is safe to return to in-person education at all levels. Almost all private and some government schools have done so in Wisconsin with virtually no issues. Other states have completely returned to in-person education and the children are thriving. School staff members and students who are in a higher-risk category can make their own decisions for their safety, but there is no reason not to immediately return to full in-person instruction.

 

Meanwhile, the consequences of not allowing children to return to in-person education are manifest. Student achievement, mental health, socialization, and food security are all suffering by schools refusing to open their doors. Keeping schools closed is doing far more harm than good.

 

Any candidate who does not support the immediate opening of schools is ignoring the science. They are prioritizing the irrational fears or cynical shakedown of the staff over the health, safety, and education of the children. They are also telling voters that they think that schools exist for the benefit of the staff — not the kids.

 

The second issue is how the candidates stand on school choice. Their position on this issue tells the voters whether they think that taxpayers should be supporting education or just the government school establishment irrespective of whether they are actually providing an education.

 

During the pandemic, families with means had choices. If their school closed or was failing to provide viable virtual options, families of means could move their kids to a private school, hire tutors, home-school, or build learning pods with neighbors. They could afford the computers, internet access, and quiet learning environments to make virtual learning viable. But many families, perhaps most families, did not have these options. They were stuck with whatever their local government school provided and many of those government schools utterly abandoned those families.

 

If the purpose of the taxpayers funding education is to provide an education, then our money should go to schools that are actually providing an education. If taxpayers are paying for schools that remain closed, then they are not actually funding education at all. We are simply shoveling money into the pockets of government employees while the kids are discarded. School choice gives the power of educational choice to all families.

 

Of the seven candidates running to lead the DPI, only two of them have expressed views that even come close to the right side of either of these issues — Shandowlyon Hendricks- Williams and Deb Kerr. If either or both of them make it to the general election, let us hope that they are more forceful in advocating for school choice and the immediate opening of schools. Wisconsin’s kids deserve it.

Tommy Thompson Considers Consolidation

A physical and administrative consolidation is long overdue.

Thompson has added another item to his agenda, one that could reshape public higher education in Wisconsin: Exploring the possibility of consolidation between the System’s branch campuses and Wisconsin Technical College System institutions.

 

What the consolidation would entail — whether it be physical buildings, academic programs, administrative services or some other combination — isn’t clear. Thompson said all options, including declining to pursue anything, are on the table, stressing that the idea is in its infancy.

 

“We have a lot of buildings, lot of duplication and I want to sit down, discuss it and come up with a solution,” he said in an interview. “I’m not saying one (system) is better or one should be the only survivor. I’m saying let’s discuss it before the problem gets any worse.”

The problem, according to Thompson, is lots of real estate right next to each other. Many of the System’s branch campuses are geographically close to a state technical college campus. Collaboration could help address enrollment decline and save money when budgets statewide are strained.

Open the Schoolhouse Door

Agree.

But it’s hard to fathom how households all over the country can find the time or energy to care about the impeachment of a former president as their kids remain out of school and away from their peers. Every Republican should be hammering this issue right now, everywhere, on every network TV appearance and Twitter feed. Fighting with the media about Donald Trump will not automatically lead to midterm victories next year. Fighting for parents across this country might.

 

Here’s a tip for GOP politicians on how to respond when CNN reporter Manu Raju pulls his ‘chasing Republicans through the halls of Congress’ act to ask them about the nutty tweets of a random House member of whom a majority of Americans have never heard. Look right down the barrel of the camera and tell parents that they have a choice, if they want it — you no longer have to be beholden to the protest and strike whims of teachers’ unions, who have demonstrated that they have been given far too much power and influence by our public officials for far too long.

 

Republican members of Congress should be talking about nothing else. Not Donald Trump. Not impeachment. Not QAnon tweets. Nothing. It is clear that President Biden has abandoned the parents of schoolchildren who voted for him for a little peace and quiet coming from Washington, because that is who Joe Biden is and always has been.

This is something I learned a long time ago with this blog and every seasoned public figure knows… just because someone asks you something doesn’t mean that you have to answer them. You can ignore them or use the platform they just handed you to say what you want. As long as Republicans are in a persistent defensive crouch, they will cede thought leadership on these important issues to the Democrats.

Madison Government Teachers Hold Kids’ Education Hostage Over Politics

SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

In the letter, MTI asked the district and the School Board to provide assurances that the decision to reopen was not influenced by the Republican-controlled Senate Joint Finance Committee’s decision to reward school districts holding in-person classes with additional funding. The committee’s decision affected funding for 172 school districts, which did not include Madison. A district spokesman told the Wisconsin State Journal the decision was not related to the Republican move.

MTI also sought assurances the district would work with health authorities to expedite the delivery of vaccine to educators who have been working in person or who will be returning to classrooms in March and an explanation of the metrics used by the district to determine when it is safe to reopen among other questions.

UW Encourages More Student Debt

Follow the money.

“There really is a crisis and a need for action and a need for change,” said Venable. He noted that state support has fallen from 42 percent of the UW’s budget a few decades ago to only 14 percent today. That decline has been exacerbated by the pandemic economy. “We would be having this conversation without COVID,” he said, “though it’s a catalyst.”

Lyall noted that the state legislature’s decision to freeze tuition over the last 10 years has made it impossible for UW System universities to set a market rate for the price of their services. “I don’t know of any of any other university that has had its tuition frozen for the past decade,” she said. “I don’t know of any business that could survive having its prices frozen for a decade.”

Let’s break down the two major complaints. First, state funding of UW has dropped from 42% to 14% over a “few decades.” TRUE! Why?

I’ll save myself the homework again and just post the same thing I posted a few months ago:

The balance between funding sources is a policy decision. What has happened here is that the UW System has driven up spending despite declining enrollment. State and local lawmakers resisted maintaining the taxpayers’ commitment to the spending and the percentage share declined. For some numbers:

 

In the 2010-11 operating budget, the UW System spent $5.591 billion to educate 178,909 students. That’s $31,251 per student.

 

In the 2018-19 operating budget, the UW System spent $6.349 billion to educate 164,494 students. That’s $38,597 per student.

 

If you want to claim inflation… nope. $31,251 in 2010 inflation-adjusts to $35,988 in 2018. UW is still spending $2,609 more per student for no rational reason at all.

 

The problem here is just that the UW System spends far too much. They can increase the percentage of public support by just lowering their overall spending. But they won’t… because it’s not about the share of public support. It’s simply about the fact that they want even more money to waste.

Meanwhile, they want to lift the tuition cap. What does that do? The kids will still come because borrowed money is still easy to come by. As long as kids can use debt to fund their college ambitions because they are brainwashed into believing that a college education is the only path to financial security, they will. What the UW big wigs are really advocating here is for more kids to shoulder even more student debt in order to fund their irresponsible spending. And where does that spending go? It goes into the pockets of themselves and staff to pay for their lifestyles.

Sure, some of the kids will get a valuable education in return. Some will not. But all will pay.

Madison Schools Think About Maybe Returning to School… Maybe… If…

I’ll bet you a warm bowl of mayonnaise that there is no regular in-person instruction this school year.

In Dane County, the 14-day average to meet and maintain to open Madison schools for grades 4K-2 is 78 new cases per day or fewer for four consecutive weeks. For grades 3-5 the 14-day average must be 63 new cases or fewer for four consecutive weeks, and for grades 6-12 the 14-day average must be 43 new cases or fewer for four consecutive weeks.

 

As of Feb. 9, the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases per day was 102 according to the city-county health department.

DPI Candidates Weigh In

Mark Belling has posted his written Q&A with the two more conservative-leading candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction – Deb Kerr and Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams. Belling asks both candidates specifically about their stance on School Choice and whether kids should be back in school.

I thought both candidates’ answers were… disappointing. Part of this may be because I am hypersensitive to weasel words from politicians. Both questions could have been answered with a simple “yes” but both candidates went to great lengths to elaborate on their answers. Then we get qualifiers like they support choice for “high quality” schools and they support kids returning to school “safely.” Then there’s talk about a “recovery plan” and “equitable funding.” In other words, both candidates would not give a simple “yes” and instead throw up a blizzard of qualifiers, conditions, and road blocks to give them plenty of room to back off of any support of School Choice or a full return to in-person instruction.

Racine School District Looks for Head. Finds it in…

Racine is starting to think about kids returning to school.

Racine Unified’s reopening plan, announced Monday, calls for a phased return of students to buildings by grade level over a three-week span. In addition to the in-person and the remote livestream options, Racine Unified is offering a virtual option through Racine Virtual Learning which uses different curriculum and teachers than the remote option. Families are asked to commit to one of the three options for the remainder of the school year through a survey to be completed by Friday, Feb. 5.

Not to pick on the Racine government schools, but I will. They are just one example of hundreds of schools across the state that are in the same boat.

I will point out, however, that it is FEBRUARY. The kids have been out of school for nearly a YEAR. And they are just now getting to details of a reopen plan? Many government and private school districts have been successfully doing in-person and hybrid learning since last August. Why is taking Racine, and districts like them, so long? What is their real priority? It clearly isn’t educating kids.

San Francisco Schools Remove Washington, Lincoln, Feinstein, etc.

It was just about the Confederates, they said…

The San Francisco school board has voted to remove the names of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dianne Feinstein and a number of other politicians, conquistadors and historical figures from public schools after officials deemed them unworthy of the honor.

After months of debate and national attention, the board voted 6-1 Tuesday in favor of renaming 44 San Francisco schools with new names with no connection to slavery, oppression, racism, genocide or similar criteria.

Coming to a school district near you.

 

Biden Admits That He Doesn’t Know Any Chicago Government Teachers

If he knew any, then he would know teachers who don’t want to work.

Biden wants more ignorant kids in Chicago too. I take that back… going back into those schools might make them more ignorant. Let’s hope that parents flee quickly.

“I believe we should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers and for the help that’s in those schools maintaining the facilities,” Biden said. “We need new ventilation systems in those schools, we need testing for people coming in and out of the schools, we need testing for teachers as well as students and we need the capacity, the capacity to know that in fact the circumstance in the school is safe and secure for everyone.”

 

Biden said he believed every school for kindergarten through eighth grade should be able to open “if we can in fact administer these tests.”

 

“The teachers I know, they want to work, they just want to work in a safe environment,” he said.

Chicago Government Teachers Quit En Masse

They refuse to show up for work. That is quitting. Will the school board accept their resignations and go about hiring replacements that actually give a shit about the kids of Chicago?

CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union said Sunday that its members voted to defy an order to return to the classroom over concerns about COVID-19, setting up a showdown with district officials who have said that refusing to return when ordered would amount to an illegal strike.

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