You Can Have Both: Excellent Public Health and Excellent Pizza

Frank Bruni in The New York Times writes about a business that practices excellent public health and provides excellent food at the same time.. Let’s spread the word so that more restaurants will do the same. Read Frank Bruni’s opinion piece here:

i

September 16, 2021
Ben Wiseman
I can rage about the number of Americans who refuse to get Covid vaccines and who, as a result, have prevented this country’s vaccination rate from rising to the level where people are as safe as possible and the economy less encumbered. And I’ve raged, believe me.
I can get depressed about the situation. I’ve done that, too.
Or I can get a pizza. That’s my strategy going forward.
Pizzeria Mercato, a much-loved Italian restaurant just five miles from my house in Chapel Hill, N.C., requires not only that all of its employees be vaccinated but also that any customer who wants to dine inside provide proof of vaccination. No jab, no grub (at least not at a table). That’s the deal, one that trumpets the importance of vaccines and provides a vaccination incentive to boot.
I love that. I want to support it. And I wonder: What if more restaurants did likewise? (Some do, including Danny Meyer’s, but not enough of them.) And more hotels and sportsfitness and entertainment venues? (Ditto.) And airlines? (Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, just announced such a policy.)
What if the willfully, proudly, stubbornly unvaccinated — people who have access to shots and no rational medical exemption but still won’t get them — were ever more frustrated as they sought their pleasures and ever more inconvenienced as they ran their errands? Would that wear down the resistance of at least a few of them? Isn’t it worth trying?
My impulse isn’t punitive. It’s practical. The new vaccination mandates that President Biden announced last week — a warranted measure, in my opinion, that he took in response to dire circumstances — won’t cover tens of millions of Americans, and it needs to be part of a broader, more coordinated campaign to lead, nudge and, yes, shove Americans toward sanity. That would help make the effort bigger than one man and one political party, for whatever that’s worth in these madly partisan times.
But even leaving that aside, requiring that customers be vaccinated is a way for businesses to better protect the workers who come in contact with those customers. It additionally allows business owners to communicate their values and take a stand.
It grants customers the same opportunity. Where to nosh: the eatery that barely enforces whatever local mask mandate may exist or the one that demands a jab? Disregard who has the tastier tostada. Choose the more principled citizen (and the safer place). Then pick the airline that requires that its employees be vaccinated.
Pizzeria Mercato was closed for all but curbside takeout for more than a year of the pandemic. In early August, shortly after its dining room reopened, its owner, Gabe Barker, announced that diners would have to provide proof of vaccination before being shown to their seats.
His decision was informed by data about the efficacy of vaccines and by conversations with his wife, a registered nurse who works at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, where, he told me, an overwhelming majority of people hospitalized for Covid-related reasons are unvaccinated.
“I’m not telling people how to make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies, and I’m not here to politicize a global health crisis,” he said. He’s just doing what “allows me to come to work every day and mitigate risk,” he added.
He also wants to try, however he can, to lessen the burden on health care workers. On top of being physically drained, they’re “mentally defeated,” he said. “They believe that this round of Covid was avoidable.”
After word of his policy got out, he and his restaurant confronted some vicious posts on social media and the restaurant’s phone lines were jammed with nasty calls. “There was a lot of inconsiderate commentary that my decision was relatable to policies in Nazi Germany,” he said. “My mother is Jewish.”
There was also, rightly, praise. Three weeks ago, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, held a news conference at Pizzeria Mercato to thank Barker and praise his example.
Barker said that his bottom line hasn’t been hurt: Some people are making it a point to patronize Mercato.
It’s where my food tomorrow night will come from. Some neighbors are having me over for dinner on their deck and they’re getting takeout from Mercato. That delights me not just gastronomically but also ethically. It’s good eating in more ways than one.

The End of the SAT

Educators have long known that what SAT scores most reliably tell us is the family income of the testtakers and that every hour spent on test prep for the SAT is an hour away from helping students to grow as learners and thinkers. So we celebrate the precipitous decline of the SAT.

In the late 1980’s, fewer than three dozen colleges and universities did not require SAT or ACT scores from their applicants. Today, 1700 colleges and universities are not requiring SAT or ACT scores from applicants. Alleluia!

Below is a press release from FAIR TEST, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing:


For immediate release Thursday, September 9, 2021

1,700+ BACHELOR-DEGREE-GRANTING  COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES DO NOT REQUIRE ACT/SAT SCORES FROM FALL 2022 APPLICANTS

An updated list of ACT/SAT-optional and test-blind schools released today by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) shows that more than 1,700 colleges and universities will not require admissions exam scores from applicants seeking to enroll in fall 2022 applicants. That is more than 73% of all U.S. bachelor-degree granting institutions.

“Test-optional and test-blind policies are the new normal in higher education admissions,” FairTest Executive Director Bob Schaeffer explained. “The vast majority of four-year institutions, including nearly all of the nation’s most-selective schools, no longer rely on ACT/SAT scores to evaluate applicants.”

“A big question is whether the 2022 U.S. News “Best Colleges” guide will reflect this new reality,” Schaeffer continued. That publication will be released on Monday, September 13. Last year’s U.S. News guide was the first to include institutions with test-blind or score-free admissions policies. According to FairTest’s new tally, 84 schools are now in that category

In recent years, U.S. News has punished ACT/SAT-optional schools by reducing the scores used to calculate rankings. “Because of arbitrary policies like this, FairTest was an initial signer of a petition calling on U.S. News to eliminate any use of test scores in its rankings,” Schaeffer added.  “We are watching closely to see whether this upcoming U.S. News guide continues this unjustified, punitive policy.” The Fiske Guide to Colleges, the best-selling admissions handbook, recently announced that it will no longer include test scores in its annual school profiles.

FairTest has been the leader of the U.S. test-optional admissions movement since the late 1980s when the non-profit organization published a report titled “Beyond Standardized Tests: Admissions Alternatives that Work.”  At that time, fewer than three dozen colleges and universities did not mandate ACT or SAT score submission from applicants.

– – 3 0 – –

–  FairTest’s frequently updated directory of test-optional, 4-year schools is available free online at https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional — sort geographically by clicking on “State”.

–   A chronology of schools dropping ACT/SAT requirements with details about the duration of those policies is at:http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Growth-Chronology.pdf

–  A sub-list of 84 campuses with test-blind, score-free or test-free policies (ACT/SAT results not considered if submitted):  http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Test-Blind-Admissions-List.pdf

Time To End Our National Obsession With Test Scores

By Diane Ravitch

Nancy Flanagan is a retired teacher with decades of experience. In this post, she remembers when she used to take standardized test scores seriously. Then she went to a state board meeting in Michigan, where the topic of discussion was setting cut scores. Cut scores are the lines that determine whether students scored “advanced,” “proficient,” “basic,” or “below basic.” 

What she learned was that the cut scores are arbitrary. There is no science involved in setting the cut scores. It’s guesswork. The cut scores can be moved up or down to produce good news or bad news. 

She writes: 

Here’s the (incendiary) headline: Test Scores Show Dramatic Declines!

Here’s the truth: this set of test scores tells us nothing for certain. The data are apples-to-oranges-to bowling balls muddled. If anything, if you still believe test scores give us valuable information, the data might be mildly encouraging, considering what students have encountered over the past 18 months…

The problem is this: You can’t talk about good schools or good teachers or even “lost learning”any more, without a mountain of numbers. Which can be inscrutable to nearly everyone, including those making policies impacting millions of children. When it comes to standardized test score analysis, we are collectively illiterate. And this year’s data? It’s meaningless.

Bridge Magazine (headline: Test Scores Slump) provides up/down testing data for every school district in Michigan. The accompanying article includes plenty of expert opinion on how suspect and incomplete the numbers are, but starts out with sky-is-falling paragraphs: In English, the share of third-graders considered “proficient” or higher dropped from 45.1 percent to 42.8 percent; in sixth-grade math, from 35.1 percent to 28.6 percent; in eighth-grade social studies, from 28 percent to 25.9 percent.

These are, of course, aggregated statewide numbers. Down a few percent, pretty much across the board. Unsurprising, given the conditions under which most elementary and middle school students were learning. Down the most for students of color and those in poverty—again, unsurprising. Still, there’s also immense score variance, school to school, even grade to grade. The aggregate numbers don’t tell the whole story–or even the right story.

The media seemed to prefer a bad-news advertising campaign for the alarming idea that our kids are falling further behind. Behind whom, is what I want to know? Aren’t we all in this together? Is a two-point-something score drop while a virus rages reason to clutch your academic pearls?

It’s time to end our national love affair with testing, to make all Americans understand that educational testing is a sham that’s harmed many children. Testing hasn’t ever worked to improve public education outcomes, and it’s especially wasteful and subject to misinterpretation right now

CNN: What the data reveals about children and Covid-19 in the US

By Daniel Wolfe and Priya Krishnakumar, CNN

Updated 10:57 AM ET, Wed September 1, 2021

(CNN)As students and staff return to school, the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 has caused cases, hospitalizations and death rates to soar across the country.

Children under 12 are particularly vulnerable to infection as they are not yet eligible for vaccination, including the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine.Contrary to research early in the pandemic, children are just as likely to become infected as adults. According to the CDC, Covid-19 infection rates for adolescents aged 5 to 17 were as high as in adults 18 to 49, and higher than rates in adults over 50.

There have been 4.8 million cases of Covid-19 in children since April 2020, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, making up about 15% of all documented cases in the United States. In the last month, the number of new weekly cases has surged to near-peak levels.

Areas across the country with lower than average vaccination rates are experiencing higher increases in Covid-19 cases among children. In Mississippi, where only 37.7% of residents are fully vaccinated, there has been a 29% increase in cumulative Covid-19 cases in children over the past two weeks

lTotal hospitalizations are also climbing to rates not seen since before vaccines were readily available. Average hospitalizations for children with Covid jumped in early 2021 and have remained high. This is to be expected, said Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the American Association of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. “This is a reflection of both the infectiousness of the Delta variants and what happens to unvaccinated populations as infections continue,” he told CNN.As the pandemic continues, and vaccine eligibility remains on hold, children are increasingly experiencing the ramifications. Available data shows that child hospitalizations as a share of all hospitalizations are on the rise.

This can be attributed in part to vaccine availability in people 12 and older, but in cities like San Francisco, where vaccination rates are 19.6% points higher than the national average of 52.4%, children admitted to hospitals fit a consistent profile.”We are finding that our older pediatric patients have not been vaccinated. In the case of younger pediatric patients, their parents have not been vaccinated,” said Suzanne Leigh, a representative at UCSF Benioff’s Children Hospital.As total hospitalizations have surged across the country, health care facilities are overburdened and facing familiar shortages.

lMany pediatric units are at capacity as they see an influx of child Covid patients on top of an unseasonable epidemic of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).Hospitals often plan for extra staffing during the winter flu season, but a late-summer onslaught of Covid-19 cases has caused unexpected health care staff shortages in many areas of the country. “[Hospitals] have all kinds of plans to make sure they’re properly staffed. And so when there’s a curveball, like an RSV season in the summer, that by itself creates a problem,” said Dr. O’Leary.

Dr. Sarah Combs, an emergency physician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., is optimistic about the effectiveness of safety measures: “I think it’s understandable that there’s anxiety, but in some respects I think we should embrace the anxiety,” she said. “It’s very easy to get fatigued and get sick and tired of doing the same old, same old [precautions], but that’s when we let our guard down… We are going back to school with eyes wide open.”

As students return to school, proven mitigation measures are needed to protect children who remain vulnerable to the pandemic and are shouldering the impact of decisions out of their control.

Our 5-11 Year Old Kids Can’t Wait For A Vaccine

A day after I wrote a post advocating that unvaccinated 5-11 year olds not attend in-person classes, Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times about another solution to the problems of unvaccinated children. Her solution is to vaccinate the children. Michelle Goldberg’s solution is good one. Please read her opinion piece which is below.

Julie Swann, an engineer who studies health systems and models infectious disease at North Carolina State University, leads a team of researchers who recently tried to simulate how the Delta variant of the coronavirus could move through schools in various scenarios. The results, which The Washington Post published over the weekend, were alarming.

Absent masking and testing, the study said, more than 75 percent of susceptible students would become infected in three months. Even with masking and testing, the simulation found, kids in environments with low immunity — which includes virtually all elementary school classrooms — had a 22 percent chance of getting Covid within 107 days.

As a parent of two elementary-school students, I found these figures harrowing. It already felt like a gut punch when, last week, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said he didn’t expect a pediatric Covid vaccine to be approved before the end of the year.

I live in New York City, where school staff members must be vaccinated and mask mandates are relatively uncontroversial. But the calculations by Swann’s team made it look as if my family’s chance of getting through this fall without either of our kids coming down with Covid was almost a coin flip.

After talking to Swann, I realize it’s not that simple. Her team didn’t factor in the effect of quarantining students who test positive, and it assumed imperfect mask usage. For many schools, she expects the number of infections to be lower than what the model showed. That’s unlikely, however, to be of much comfort to parents who take Covid seriously but are surrounded by people who don’t. With school just beginning and pediatric hospitalizations already higher than ever, they are in an especially intolerable situation.

That’s why we need the Food and Drug Administration to move quickly. “I can tell you almost certainly there will be data available in September to present to Pfizer,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford professor of pediatric infectious diseases and a lead investigator at the Stanford site of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric vaccine trial, told me. She thinks Pfizer will be able to file for emergency use authorization in October.

So why is Collins saying the end of the year? It’s unclear. One question, which even well-connected people are having a hard time getting an answer to, is whether the F.D.A. is going to demand extra data for the kids’ vaccine. In July, the agency asked Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to double the number of kids in their clinical trials to have a better chance of detecting rare side effects. The F.D.A. also said it wanted four to six months of follow-up safety data, as opposed to two for adults.

Most experts don’t think this data is necessary for the F.D.A. to authorize the vaccine on an emergency basis. But we don’t know if the F.D.A. will insist on waiting for it. “That is probably one of the decision points that is affecting the various predictions,” said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two weeks ago, 108 members of Congress, worried about how long approval for a pediatric vaccine was taking, wrote to the F.D.A. seeking some visibility into its timetable. On Monday, the F.D.A. responded, but without offering specifics. “We understand that it is essential that the public have full trust in the F.D.A.’s review process, complete confidence in whatever products we approve or authorize, and faith in F.D.A. and our commitment to protecting public health,” the agency said.

Personally, I’m losing that trust. I fear the F.D.A. knows it will be blamed if anything goes wrong with the vaccine, but not necessarily if kids get horribly sick for lack of it.

Even with Delta, kids are far less likely to die than adults. But it’s hard to take comfort in that while children’s hospital beds are filling up. In a letter to President Biden, the chief executive of the Children’s Hospital Association recently wrote, “With pediatric volumes at or near capacity and the upcoming school season expected to increase demand, there may not be sufficient bed capacity or expert staff to care for children and families in need.”

Many parents, convinced that Covid is more dangerous to their children than the vaccine, are going to great lengths to try to get shots for their kids. Some whose younger kids can pass for 12-year-olds are simply lying about their ages.

I’m one of many who has tried, unsuccessfully, to get my pediatrician to give my kids an off-label inoculation, which is technically legal now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been fully approved by the F.D.A. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against this, partly on the grounds that doctors shouldn’t be calculating dosages and dosing schedules on their own.)

In addition to modeling diseases for a living, Swann has a 10-year-old who is returning to school. She told me that if her pediatrician agreed to vaccinate her kid off label, she would do it. “Parents are desperate for it,” she said.

The F.D.A. can minimize risk to itself by taking its time. Families don’t have that luxury.

Protecting The Defenseless

The University of Virginia recently disenrolled 238 students because those students are not vaccinated. They will not be allowed on campus and are not able to enroll in any classes due to their vaccination status. The UVA President said that the vaccination of the student body ” will allow classes and events to continue as usual.”

Similarly, colleges and universities in Connecticut are mandating vaccines for all of their students due to the surge of the delta variant. Also, two major insurance companies in Hartford were planning to bring their employees back to their offices as of the beginning of September but now have told their employees to remain working from home due to the surge of the delta variant.

However, students in kindergarten through grade 12 in Connecticut are returning to in-class learning even though half of those students are too young to be vaccinated, and the delta variant is prevalent among young children. It doesn’t add up. Since working adults and college age adults are being protected from Covid-19, so too should unvaccinated students in our public and independent schools who are between 5 and 11 years old and, therefore, now ineligible for the vaccines.

We are putting our youngest school age population, unvaccinated children between 5 and 11 years of age, at risk.

More than 4.1 million children have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, accounting for 14.3 percent of all cases, according to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. From July 15 to July 29, that percentage rose to 19 percent of weekly reported cases. Because the delta variant is so contagious, the increase in cases clearly shows the virus’s potential in young children.

So what is the solution for this school year? We should do what the University of Virginia has done with their students who were not vaccinated: Keep those students from gathering in school buildings. We should protect those students who are between 5 and 11 years of age and have them participate in remote learning from home.

There is no way unvaccinated children can be safe congregating with other unvaccinated children. We should not wait for tragedy to strike and then move to remote learning for children 5-11 years old. Now is the time to be preventative and move to remote learning for children between 5 and 11 years of age. We should take as good care of our youngest students as the University of Virginia and Connecticut colleges and universities are taking of their young adult populations.

No one prefers remote learning to in-person learning, and plans will have to be formulated for those children who have no adult in the home during the school day. But this is the time for safety first. We must protect the defenseless, protect the children who do not have the defense provided by the vaccines.

The Safety of the General Public Demands It

Ruth Marcus has the answer for saving us from the next round of sickness and deaths from the corona virus. Please read her compelling argument in her recent Washington Post opinion piece.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/30/require-vaccine-its-time-stop-coddling-reckless/

After you read her argument, if you agree with her, please send a copy of the piece to your Senators, Member of Congress, and President Biden.

Miguel Cardona, Who Are You?

President Joe Biden has nominated Miguel Cardona, the current Connecticut Commissioner of Education, to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. Anyone he nominated would be better than Trump’s Secretary of Education. But who is Miguel Cardona and what is the vision that he brings to the U.S. Department of Education and to the teaching and learning in all of the schools in this nation? 

When I ask Connecticut teachers about Miguel Cardona, those who know him or have worked with him say that he is really nice guy who knows what the challenges in our classrooms are, knows how to help teachers to improve their teaching, and respects public schools. All good.

The majority of Connecticut teachers who don’t know him personally say that he has been largely quiet as Commissioner and are critical that he seems more interested in keeping schools open than in caring about public health, including the welfare of teachers, students and students’ families during the pandemic. 

But what is his vision for teaching and learning that he will bring to the U.S. Department of Education? When appointed Commissioner of Education in Connecticut 19 months ago, he stated that his goals would be to:

  1. Make a positive impact on graduation rates.
  2. Close the achievement gap.
  3. Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.

It is reasonable to assume that the goals he had for Connecticut 19 months ago will be goals that he will now bring to the country. Those goals, however, are “old hat” and don’t have a record of being successfully accomplished.

The goals themselves are worthy ones, but they need a new interpretation which would give rise to a dramatically new vision and radical new actions. The questions are: What would that new vision and new actions look like? And is Dr. Cardona open to that vision and those actions?

New Vision for Increasing Graduation Rate

The first step in reinterpreting those goals would be to change the term “graduation rate” to something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

Increasing the number of students graduating is now often accomplished through something called “credit retrieval”.  “Credit retrieval” allows students to make use of often dubious computer programs that, in no way, equal courses in academic subjects, yet the students get credit for the academic courses. In doing so, students increase the graduation rate for their schools but do not have adequate learning experiences.

Charter schools have another way to increase their graduation rates. They “counsel out” students who are likely to not graduate before the students get to be seniors which leaves only a pre-selected group as seniors and, unsurprisingly, they all graduate. And, lo and behold, the charter school has a high graduation rate. For example, one year at Achievement First’s Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut, 25 students out of 25 students in the senior class graduated, but 64 students had been in that class as ninth graders.

With a new vision, a way to count the students who receive a high school education is to not count the number of students who receive diplomas but rather count how many of the students who begin as ninth graders complete the coursework necessary for graduation. For example, some innovative public high schools hold Saturday classes with actual teachers instead of plugging kids into computer programs. The applause should be given to high schools who deliver a quality education to all the students who begin their high school education in the school not to the schools who either give credits without the academic content and skills or who dismiss those who won’t make for a good statistic. 

With a new vision, the statistic to calculate is to follow up on the students six years after their high school graduation to see how many are employed and/or have graduated from college. Then we can know how successful their high school education was and how meaningful it was that they graduated from their high school. Increasing graduation rates, as it has been addressed in the past, gets us nowhere.

New Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap

Increasing the achievement gap is a hackneyed expression that needs a new vision. That vision begins with redefining “achievement” and redefining “gap”.  Achievement, since the publication on A Nation at Risk, has meant the attainment of good standardized test scores. 

Standardized test scores are always correlated with the income of the parents of the students taking the test. The test scores tell us nothing about the quality of the teaching and learning in the school. We can raise test scores most efficiently by getting wealthier kids into the school.

The other way to raise those scores is to teach to the test. All commercial test prep courses and online free test prep courses claim that taking those prep courses will improve test scores. And they do. They do because standardized tests measure only one skill: the ability to take a standardized test. But that is not achievement.

A new vision for learning in the 21st century can mean that students are engaged learners who are able to think critically, problem solve, collaborate with others, demonstrate initiative, speak and write effectively, access and analyze information, explore their own questions, and use their imagination as described in The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner of Harvard University. No standardized test has ever, or can ever, measure those skills.

The goal of “closing the achievement gap”, based on standardized test scores, will serve only to highlight the disparity between the affluent and the poor. Even more importantly, the goal of “closing the achievement gap”, as measured by standardized test scores, guarantees that the students who most need a quality education will be relegated to test prep in a school’s efforts to raise its standardized test scores and will continue to suffer from their lack of real teaching and real learning long after they leave our schools.

As for the “gap”, the gap that we should be addressing is not the gap between the standardized test scores of the kids in affluent towns with the standardized test scores of the kids in struggling cities, but the gap between what all kids can do before we teach them with what they can do after we teach them. We should be working our brains full-time exploring how to help each student to reach further, to know more, to try harder, and to accomplish what that student never thought possible. That’s the gap our schools should be closing: the gap between students’ current assumptions about their possibilities as thinkers and learners and their eventual accomplishments. That is a goal with a vision that is worthy of our energy and investment.

That goal can be measured by high quality, teacher-created, and externally-validated performance tasks and can never be assessed by standardized tests.

A New Vision for Creating Equity

And what are those “opportunities and advantages that children need to succeed in life”? We know exactly what they are because they are the opportunities and advantages of many of the students in our affluent, largely white schools. They are the opportunities and advantages denied to other students due to poverty and racism. The new Secretary of Education could take on these underlying problems of poverty and racism that affect children for every minute they are in school and which any school cannot prevail against without appropriate funding, personnel, academic resources, and social services. Looking at the big picture of poverty and racism with its complex causes beyond the classrooms will take vision and strong political action. It will switch the narrative from one of “failing public schools” to one of how can we adults and taxpayers not fail our public schools.

Miguel Cardona

So where is Miguel Cardona with this proposal to rethink his goals and implement the vision and actions suggested here? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will send this post to my two senators and hope that they ask him during his confirmation hearing.  I suggest you do the same with your two senators. We, as a nation, so desperately need a new interpretation of old goals and a new vision and a new plan of action for our schools. Only then can our schools be all that they are meant to be. Only then can our children be all that we know they can be.

Letter from a Teacher to the Incoming Secretary of Education

A highly respected Connecticut teacher has written an open letter to Miquel Cardona, President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Education, and hopes that the letter is the beginning of a state-wide effort to send a petition to Dr. Cardona about improving the teaching and learning in the nation’s schools. Here is that letter:

Dear Commissioner Cardona:

Connecticut is proud that you, our Commissioner of Education, was chosen as the Biden/Harris administration’s Secretary of Education.

Educators support your dedication to: increasing graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, and ensuring equity for all students. All educators should be committed to making these goals a reality. America’s children need and deserve this. 

However, educators also know that the regime of profit-driven standardized testing will not improve teaching and learning. They never have.

  • If educators are forced to teach to a test in order to increase graduation rates, students are merely learning how to take a test. This is antithetical to what 21st-century learning should look like: problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, project-based learning, capstone projects, creativity, and more. 
  • If schools are pressured to close the achievement gap, but their only tools are computer programs that hold students hostage to rote “learning”, then students are not experiencing rich and meaningful learning. Only 21st-century learning experiences will increase graduation rates that are credible and that actually prepare students for a growingly complex world.
  • If equity means giving students in impoverished areas less rich and meaningful learning, by continuing the standardized testing regime, the equity gap will only increase. What students in impoverished areas need is much more of what students in more affluent areas already have. Connecticut’s discriminatory per-pupil expenditure disparity tells the whole, sad story. 

Dr. Cardona, what holds schools back from making meaningful progress are ill-conceived federal mandates. These mandates have never improved the quality of teaching and learning. They never will. Test scores may have increased. As well as graduation rates. However, those are meaningless if they are not products of rich and meaningful teaching and learning. 

No standardized test can measure 21st-century skills. Hence, standardized tests cannot cultivate the acquisition of those skills.

We ask you, Dr. Cardona, to recommit yourself to the vital goals you have set by shifting the paradigm. Shift how we achieve those goals. That requires ending the testing regime started with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (2002 – 2015) and continued with Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” (2012 – 2016).

We, Dr. Cardona, are asking Connecticut’s teachers, parents, and students to send a strong message to you by refusing the standardized testing planned for this spring.  

We are also asking all who oppose the standardized-testing regime to sign this petition, which will be delivered to you, Dr. Cardona.

We are all trying to survive a global pandemic. In my 25 years in the classroom, I have never seen my students so stressed, depressed, and anxious. It is unnecessary and insensitive to add to the weight of their mental health struggles by adding the stress of standardized testing. Also, when thousands of stressed, depressed, and anxious students are forced to take a standardized test, will the results be accurate? Were they ever really accurate? Able to capture what students know and can do? Teachers know the answer: No!

Now is the time to end standardized testing

#RefuseTheTest 

#DoNotTakeTestingToDC. 

A faithful teacher,

Jeannette C. Faber – MS, MALS, EdD

Close Connecticut’s Schools Now

Stephen Singer, a teacher, calls on Connecticut to close its schools to save the lives of teachers and to keep students and their families safe.

Hundreds of teachers have died from Covid-19.
More than 1 million children have been diagnosed with the disease.
Yet a bipartisan group of seven state Governors said in a joint statement Thursday that in-person schools are safe even when community transmission rates are high.
Safe – despite hundreds of preventable deaths of school employees.
Safe – despite mass outbreaks among students.
Safe – despite quarantines, staffing shortages, longterm illnesses and mounting uncertainty about the longterm effects of the disease on children and adults.
State Governors must have a different definition of safety than the rest of us.
The message was signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Delaware Governor John Carney, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Only Baker is a Republican. The rest are all Democrats.
We expect such blatant untruth from the Trump administration, and Vice-President Mike Pence was quick to add his voice to the septet.
But the facts remain.
More than 300 teachers and other school employees have died across the country from the virus, according to the Associated Press.
In fact, 72 school employees died of the virus in New York City, alone, according to the city Department of Education.
More than 1 million children have been diagnosed with Covid-19 according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics released Monday.
More than 250,000 people have died nationwide.
More than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease at an ever increasing rate. One million of those cases came about over just six days last week.
In many states like Pennsylvania, hospitalizations have passed their peak in April.
That is not safety.
And it is beyond reckless that these Governors would make such a counterfactual statement.
FACT: It is NOT safe to have in-person schooling in any community where infections are high.
FACT: It is BETTER to have remote education unless the virus has been contained.
But these are inconvenient truths that business leaders, politicians and policymakers are doing everything in their power to ignore.