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In a twist, de Blasio’s latest screw-up is not his worst

November 30, 2020 am30 1:10 am

Over the last nine months Bill de Blasio has gotten a lot wrong. Almost every announcement has been late, off-base, and off kilter. He kept schools open when they should have been closed, he canceled break when students and teachers needed it, he announced policies without consulting teachers, families, principals, he came up with half-assed “models,” he insisted schools were opening on time, he announced without notice that opening was delayed a few weeks… His pattern – late, without consultation, lacking details, winging it, and – for the most part – wrong, without careful consideration, without real planning, without forethought.

That makes today’s announcement at least a little different. There were a couple of elements that were not completely wrong.

  • Elementary schools come back 12/7. D75 comes back 12/10.

So, those dates are arbitrary. And maybe 3% was a low trigger, maybe not, but all the precents are higher today, and rising. My neighborhood, middle of the pack, is at 4.5%. My school’s neighborhood is over 6%. Announcing return dates now is – I don’t know. Really dumb? But it’s political. He got scolded by the governor and the Times’ education writer, and he’s showing them – full stop. Instead of making the best decisions for our schools, families, teachers, students, he’s showing them. Really dumb.

  • High schools and middle schools are not coming back for now.

Ok, so that is more interesting. Treating different grades differently is something that needed to be considered. I am not taking credit, many people have talked about this, and it’s been done in other countries. But I mentioned it in these pages back in June and July. That’s when it should have been thrown out – not as a directive by fiat, but for discussion by schools and school communities, by families, by teachers, by the union.

There are tricky issues here – equity among families, equity among teachers. In July we could have thrashed them out, talked them through. Now? No discussion, just imposed.

Also, and this is obvious, we are looking in our rear view mirrors at wasted planning time, wasted scheduling time. Organizing schools for remote would have been far easier than what we were forced to do. And the best schedule for remote would NOT have been the same as the schedule we ended up using for blended in many cases. However, when I asked in the programmers group, most programmers (and this is a pretty with-it group) had at least built in a parallel remote schedule, so that when the switch came (and most of us thought it would) we were ready.

There is another kind of wasted planning time: pedagogical planning. Working to organize a solid remote class is different than working on blended. And it is not just methods and content. We need to tailor our teaching to appropriate amounts of screen time. We could have, we should have spent the summer preparing for all-remote, and the fall refining it.

  • In person school gets converted from blended to full-time, as possible.

For most classes, for most students, for most teachers, blended sucks. It is far worse than in-person. And it is worse than remote. So a proposal to drop blended, that’s good, right?

In fact, didn’t I just propose something similar? Less than two weeks ago I wrote a resolution, submitted it, waited my turn, and listened as Mulgrew wasted a few minutes to prevent it from being discussed. What was the key part?

Be it further resolved that the United Federation of Teachers will explore models other than “blended learning” for our schools, including fully in person for certain groups of students and fully remote for all others, and also including fully remote for everyone

Remote for all. Or remote for most, fully in-person for some. Isn’t that what the mayor just proposed?

I proposed “exploring” possibilities – implying that those involved would be part of the discussion. That’s, apparently, not the mayor’s way.

What happens when you act impulsively, make decisions without planning? In this case, two problems emerge:

  1. You confuse people. His message did not say “since so few kids opted for in person school, we think we can move some schools from two cohorts to one cohort and have that cohort in every day while maintaining social distancing” etc. Notice how poorly he explains himself (from 3:15 – 3:55 in this Youtube).
  2. You create gross unfairness and inequity. Five day a week instruction was not on the table this summer when parents chose whether to send kids in or not. Five day a week instruction was not on the table earlier this month when parents chose whether to opt back in. Parents said yes or no, mostly no, to the blended nonsense that de Blasio could not peddle. And now, out of spite, or out of carelessness, de Blasio is taking parents’ – and let’s be clear, mostly Black and Brown parents’ – sensible rejection of blended learning, and saying since you wouldn’t sign up for his blended mishmash, he won’t let you sign up for fully in-person school.

There should have been a process – not rushed – over the summer – where this was worked out. It would have been possible to think about giving families choices. It would have also been possible to think about which grades and which classes should be prioritized.

But fairness and equity go out the window when the mayor responds to political pressure instead of prioritizing the needs of students, teachers, and schools. His plans probably won’t be implemented, but that’s because of the COVID numbers. That’s not a silver lining.



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