Thursday, March 11, 2021

Dear Mike Bloomberg: No

Michael Bloomberg, former NYC mayor, failed Presidential candidate, and rich guy, took to the pages of the Washington Post to argue that Joe Biden should keep schools open this summer

Bloomberg says that we are facing "the greatest challenge to public education" since schools defied Brown v. Board of Education. He says that "the evidence that remote learning has been disastrous for children, especially those from low-income families, could not be clearer." Well, yes, it could. There aren't many teachers, students or parents saying, "This remote stuff is great--we should do it all the time." But we don't have much actual evidence about how disastrous any of this has or has not been (and no, the "research" about Learning Loss doesn't fill that bill). Bloomberg also seems to be nodding at Raj Chetty's highly debatable work when he declares that the "harmful effects" will be "worsening racial income and wealth gaps" for generations.

Bloomberg says to follow the science, which "strongly supports reopening schools," which is not that strong an endorsement, but that's beside the point anyway, because Bloomberg here sorts himself with the folks who always stop that sentence before they get to the subordinate "if" clause-- "science strongly supports reopening schools IF PROPER MITIGATION STEPS ARE TAKE." Sorry. I hate to shout, but some folks just keep skipping that part, and unfortunately, some of those folks are in charge of school districts. 

If that omission isn't enough to clarifying where Bloomberg is coming from, we can also take his note that it's good that Biden prioritized vaccinations for teachers because it "will help persuade more of them to return to the classroom." The vaccination won't provide protection for them--just leverage to push them back. 

He should make it clear to states and districts that the time for excuses is over.

Excuses. This thread keeps emerging, that teachers are just making excuses to avoid going back into the building. What they are trying to make excuses for is never clear. Excuses for wanting to avoid death and disability for themselves and loved ones? Maybe, but is that really something a person needs to make excuses for? Some folks hint darkly that the union is plotting to get twice as much money for doing no work, as if teachers don't actually want to teach, but just got into education as part of a long con to be fat, rich, and lazy. I have an awfully hard time believing this. Well, whatever it is schools are trying to excuse, Mayor Mike says it's time to knock it off.

Bloomberg also notes that there is plenty of unspent CARES money for schools lying around. Biden should have used that and the new money to force schools open, but that ignores the local conditions on the ground, where we find a large number of parents are getting exactly what they want, whatever that happens to be.

But all of this is just a warm-up to Bloombertg's main proposal:

To have any hope of catching up, the school year cannot end in May or June. Canceling summer vacation may not be a popular idea, but it is a national imperative during a historic crisis.

Biden should push states to run a universal summer school. The stimulus funding will help states pay teachers to work over the summer, and to make facility upgrades as needed to ensure socially distanced classrooms and properly ventilated buildings. Buy fans, open the windows, set up tents and serve lots of water — whatever it takes to prevent children from falling further behind. We cannot let a little heat and humidity doom their futures and devastate our country’s.

The grandiosity here is, well, epic. Without summer school, students are doomed. Just buy some fans and open some windows. Buildings with ventilation problems? Just, you know, call in some contractors and renovate them, presumably over some weekend while school is not in session. Bloomberg writes with all the sense of a guy who hasn't met an actual child in years, who is upset that a bunch of widget assembly line workers have been off the line while the corporation falls behind on its quotas of deliverables. Certainly not like young humans in desperate need of a chance to play and run with friends and find their way back to something like a normal life.

As for teachers, Bloomberg gets into scolding mode, much like Matt Bai and his stern reminder to teachers that they are servants and had damned well better start acting like it. 

His first responsibility is to the citizens and children, not the teachers’ unions, and that means it is time for him to say publicly what has been gone mostly unspoken for far too long: Teachers are essential workers. Our children need them in classrooms, and so does our whole country — not just this spring, but this summer, too.

Taxpayers, says Bloomberg, have been footing the bill for "unproductive stay-at-home instruction" (because "productivity" is a thing in education, just as it is in widget assembly lines). 

When it comes to education, Bloomberg stays well-stuck in the neoliberal past. He decries the "achievement gaps that consign so many Black and Hispanic students to dim career prospects," as if economic inequity is solely the result of disparate scores on a single Big Standardized Test. Adn while he demands that those test score gaps be closed, he does not offer any insight into how that feat can now be achieved after twenty-some years of failure to do so.

So Bloomberg wants us to stick students in summer school so we can boost test scores. This is a view of students as test-score generators and not human beings. Those who are actually talking to students are hearing a desperate need to get back to some sort of human normalcy again--not summer school. As laid out by Nicholas Tampio (also in the Washington Post), what students really need is to play.

Or if you prefer a more "grown up" explanation of what's needed, turn to Abraham Lincoln, who famously observed "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." For a full year we have been trying to cut down a tree with an increasingly blunted axe. Mike Bloomberg wants us to keep whacking away with the busted stump of an axe, because if we aren't out there swinging the by-God axe, then no work is being done, no widgets being made, no deliverables coming off the line. But Bloomberg is wrong; what students need this summer is a chance to stop and sharpen their axes. 

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