Friday, April 17, 2020

Shady Leftist Group Weaponizes Consumer Protection Law to Silence Fox News, Network Fights Back

A shady liberal group filed a lawsuit against Fox News, attempting to restrain the network's coronavirus coverage and get Fox News slapped with hefty penalties. The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), which appears not to have a public website, filed a lawsuit against Fox, claiming that when Sean Hannity and Trish Regan condemned the left for using the coronavirus to attack President Donald Trump they had minimized the threat of the coronavirus, endangering viewers and violating Washington State's Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

On Tuesday, Fox News filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, citing the First Amendment right to free speech.

"It’s Constitutional Law 101: the First Amendment protects our right to speak openly and freely on matters of public concern. If WASHLITE doesn’t like what we said, it can criticize us, but it can’t silence us with a lawsuit," Fox News General Counsel and Executive Vice President Lily Fu Claffee said in a statement.

The motion condemns WASHLITE's complaint as a "frontal assault on the freedom of speech" that "flagrantly violates the First Amendment and fails to state a claim."

The WASHLITE complaint cites two examples of Fox News segments that they claim violate the Washington Consumer Protection Act, which bans "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce." The act does not apply to television broadcasting stations that distribute information "in good faith without knowledge of its false, deceptive or misleading character."

When Donald Trump himself condemned liberal attacks against him over the coronavirus as a "hoax," liberal outlets and Democrats falsely claimed the president called the virus itself a hoax, but fact-checkers defended the president. The Trump campaign is now suing a Wisconsin TV station for airing an ad making the false claim. Hannity and Regan were doing something similar, and WASHLITE is trying to weaponize the same false narrative.


A Virus 'Side Effect': Homeschooling
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced public schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus. More mayors and governors will likely make similar announcements, if they have not already done so.

Rather than look upon this as a negative, I suspect some parents are enjoying new relationships with their children that full-time work and day care did not allow. This new bonding experience could lead some to continue the practice of educating their children at home once this crisis has passed and public schools reopen.

At a March 27 Coronavirus White House briefing, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said: “Distance learning is happening. States like New Hampshire and Florida have implemented phased and tiered approaches to meet the needs of students in their states. Other schools and states are implementing creative approaches and working through practical realities to help students continue learning.”

Responding to suggestions that not all children can be reached because they lack internet access, DeVos added: “In remote Colorado mountain towns without internet connectivity, teachers are putting weekly learning packets together and they’re holding office hours by phone to help their students when they’re stuck.

South Carolina is deploying 3,000 buses with mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to help kids in remote areas access learning that way.”

On March 30, Ireland’s RTE television network began showing “Home School Hub,” a one-hour program that homebound primary school children “will be able to watch, download and engage with curriculum-based content, project work, and fun activities that will keep them entertained and learning.”

Some parents might find learning at home to be beneficial beyond additional bonding with their children. Concerns about what is taught in public schools — from sex education, to incomplete or even biased views of American history, as well as their failure to uphold moral and spiritual principles (and in some cases undermining them) have made home schooling attractive to growing numbers of parents.

According to National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), “There are about 2.5 million home school students in grades K-12 in the United States…It appears that the home school population is continuing to grow (at an estimated 2 percent to 8 percent per annum over the past few years).”

The United States is not the only country in which home education is increasingly popular. NHERI reports: “…other nations (e.g., Australia, Canada, France, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Russia, Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom) have also seen increases in home schooling. It says home education cuts across virtually all demographic lines and not just conservative Christians. These additionally include, "libertarians, and liberals; low, middle, and high-income families; black, Hispanic, and white; parents with Ph.D.s, GEDs, and no high-school diplomas.”

A study by Noel, Stark, & Redford (2013) found that “32 percent of homeschool students are Black, Asian, Hispanic, and others (i.e., not White/non-Hispanic).”

The first public school in what was to become the United States was established on April 23, 1635, by Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler. While for boys only, it was thought at the time that instilling religion and the Bible were essential to a well-rounded education. That was true until the 20th century when court decisions, not the popular will, outlawed collective prayer and Bible reading.

Public education remains the single biggest monopoly in America. Most politicians, with exceptions in some states, won’t allow school choice because they fear the wrath of teachers unions and the loss of campaign contributions.

For those who are able, homeschooling is becoming an attractive option. In that sense, the coronavirus might be a blessing in disguise.


School Choice Legislation Update

You may not be surprised to learn that teacher unions and their political stooges are using the Coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to mount a vicious attack against school choice.

Yet, sadly, that’s exactly what is happening.

The opportunism of “Big Ed” and these special interest groups is despicable, while the country (and the world) deals with the socioeconomic fallout from COVID-19.

With your support, Heartland will fight back against this blatant disregard for America’s students.

One of the most powerful weapons we have in this battle is Heartland’s Child Safety Accounts (CSA) program, which allow students to change schools if they are victims of bullying or violence.

We have had many conversations with legislators from both sides of the aisle who are interested in enacting CSAs in their states to increase school choice options.

Shockingly, teacher unions have declared war on CSAs—and almost any other type of school choice program—pushing hard behind the scenes to undermine school choice initiatives in many states.

Reports are coming in that coronavirus is the excuse du jour, but you and I know their real intention is to force America’s children into failing government schools.

Here are two major threats I think you should be well aware of:

Tennessee lawmakers are questioning if the Volunteer State can follow through with the massive school choice program it adopted last year. This program came on the heels of Heartland’s legislative testimony in the state. This year, Heartland also sent Tennessee-specific recommendations on CSAs to all legislators in the state.

Utah’s legislature passed a bill to expand education options for children with special needs, but Gov. Herbert recently vetoed it. Our Government Relations team believes this bill would have been a shoe-in under normal circumstances. But we are not living under normal circumstances.
Although times seem dire, there definitely is light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, our CSA program is the beacon of light that will outshine the darkness that government schools have shrouded upon our education system.

We will continue to promote CSAs, along with other school choice programs, to policymakers throughout the country. But we can’t do it without the help of freedom-loving people like you.

If Tennessee and Utah continue on this path, it could set a very dangerous precedent that other states likely will follow.

Via email from

Coronavirus Australia: Mass exodus of older teachers and pregnant women likely to be enforced

A mass exodus of older teachers aged over 60 and pregnant women from the nation’s schools is likely to be enforced for the next six months under a back-to-school plan being considered by political leaders.

As the national cabinet meets today to consider a battle plan to make schools safer for teachers, the Prime Minister has ramped up his call for teachers to return to the classroom.

But the push will come with some conditions, including guarantees that at-risk teachers can work from home, free COVID-19 tests for educators, more soap and hand sanitiser and a phased return to classes.

The ban on at-risk teachers may include pregnant women, over 60s and even teachers aged over 50 with asthma and heart disease, who will be encouraged to work from home.

But it could also spark teacher shortages with up to one in five teachers likely to be in an at-risk category.

Federal and state officials have told mandatory temperature checks had not been proposed in official health advice to national cabinet.

Futuristic handheld scanners were deployed across Singapore in recent months allowing for contact-free temperature checks in schools and for classes to remain open.

That prompted calls for similar checks in Australia. But officials don’t believe it’s an option here. One reason is that young children’s temperature can often spike when dropped off by parents and childcare and preschool.

“It is fraught. Only non-contact laser type thermometers would even be considered from a health perspective and finding more than 2000 for every school in Queensland would be a challenge,’’ Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said.

“Singapore was checking every child and have still had to move to close schools as infection rates got out of control. Many of our members would like it but we would probably prefer to rely on parents monitoring their children’s health and not sending their children to school if unwell.”

After cases spiked again this month, Singapore has now joined Australia in effectively closing schools.

Mr Bates said teachers remained frustrated with the mixed messages that large gatherings were safe for schools but not for adults who were banned from eating in restaurants and pubs.

“What we have heard over and over again is that kids don’t give it to other kids and that’s great. But what about teachers?’’ he said.

“Our concern is that schools could become hot spots for the spread of the disease.”

When school returns on Monday in Queensland, COVID-19 safety rules will require a ratio of just 12 students to each teacher to allow for social distancing.

But Victoria is standing firm that it will not consider any return to classes until at least July 12.

“My advice to the Victorian Government was and continues to be that to slow the spread of coronavirus, schools should undertake remote learning for term two,’’ Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said.

“This is because having around a million children and their parents in closer contact with each other, teachers and other support staff has the potential to increase cases of coronavirus not just in schools but across the community.

“Schools are not ‘dangerous places’ and parents should feel comfortable sending their kids to school – if they need to. But the mix of onsite and off-site learning supports better physical distancing overall, reducing risk as we drive new cases down. As risk changes, we’ll reassess.”

Teachers and parents remain sharply divided over whether it is safe to return children to classrooms.

According to a survey with more than 40,000 respondents, 44 per cent of parents believed it was safe to return to school while 56 per cent disagreed.

Scott Morrison revealed this week he would send his two daughters Abigail and Lily back to school in a “heartbeat” if they were going to be taught by teachers, complaining the distance learning model was “childminding”, not education.

The Prime Minister’s daughters have relocated with his wife Jenny to live the Lodge in Canberra during the COVID-19 crisis so he can attend daily briefings with heath officials and staff.

But the PM said he would not send his kids back to their Sydney private school until it went beyond “looking at a screen”.

“I kept my kids in school till the last week because they weren’t getting taught in school in that last week, they were looking at a screen. That’s not teaching; that’s child minding,” he told 6PR radio.

“It isn’t just about that kids can go along and sit in a hall and be minded; we want them to get educated.

“We’re on school holidays in NSW so the kids are at home but I’d have them back in a heartbeat if they were getting taught at school. At the moment we’re lucky they can have a learning environment at home.”


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Already, universities are planning for a fall without students on campus — just in case

Colleges and universities in Massachusetts and across the country have begun planning for what was once an unthinkable scenario but now may be a real possibility: a fall semester without students on campus.

Boston University, Brown University, the University of Massachusetts system, MIT, and Harvard University are among those discussing potential scenarios for a dramatically different start to the upcoming school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

University officials say they hope to welcome students back on campus in late August, but much will depend on the public health outlook, the availability of COVID-19 testing, and state rules about large public gatherings. And even if students are allowed to return, international students may be blocked from entering the United States or have trouble getting their visas on time.

“If the virus is still around and we don’t have testing capacity, reopening becomes very, very difficult,” said Brown president Christina Paxson. “You always hope for the best and plan for the worst. It’s irresponsible not to plan for it.”

While September is still months away, universities with thousands of students, hundreds of faculty, and tens of millions of dollars in contracts have to get organized soon. In the coming weeks, they will have to start making budget plans and informing students and staff who have to make their own decisions about travel, renting apartments, and other logistics.

In the Boston area, where higher education is a key economic engine, the decision by universities is likely to have a ripple effect for myriad businesses from restaurants to apartment rental companies.

University officials said they are trying to figure out how to re-open safely, how much public health testing is needed for students and staff to be on campus even if there’s no coronavirus cure, whether large lecture classes should be held, how many staff to employ, whether to augment their online capabilities, even what to charge students for online classes.

“We’ve got to be prepared for 100 percent online and virtual and 100 percent on campus and everything in between," said University of Massachusetts president Martin Meehan. The UMass system lost more than $100 million this school year due to COVID-19 and the refunding of student room and board fees.

The public university system is trying to figure out how many students will be enrolled in the fall and whether it will need to lay off or furlough employees, Meehan said.

“There will be nothing easy about this,” Meehan said. “Everything is going to be on the table.”

But just like everybody else, universities are hampered from making long-term decisions because they don’t know what the public health situation will be in the fall.

Harvard on Monday said that it had moved its summer programs online and that it was freezing salaries, foregoing new hires, and looking to delay some capital projects to deal with the current financial impact. But president Lawrence Bacow in a letter to the community acknowledged that questions abound about the fall.

In an interview with Harvard Magazine, a publication aimed at the university’s employees and alumni, Bacow explained his concerns about timing decisions for the fall.

“My fear is that at the point at which we have to make the choice, there will still be a tremendous amount of uncertainty," Bacow told the magazine.

BU hopes to have plans in place and an answer for the fall for students and parents before July 1, said its president Robert A. Brown on Monday.

BU is developing scenarios and budgets for a range of options, from opening the residential campus in August, to delaying it until January 2021, Brown said.

Brown said he anticipates that the research enterprise and labs at BU will be the first to restart on campus, since they involve smaller groups, and social distancing is less of a problem. The university will also be able to test its safety procedures on this group to make sure they can be applied to larger groups of students and employees returning, Brown said.

But even if universities bring undergraduates back to campus, the experience may be entirely different from what students are familiar with, Brown said.

Students may be able to live in some dorms, but they may have to take lecture classes online, he said.

“It will not be business as usual,” Brown said.

Still, universities are eager to bring students back because empty campuses are a financial drain. For some smaller private colleges and regional public universities that are already floundering financially, being unable to open in the fall could threaten their very existence, higher education experts said.

“For some institutions, if they can’t get students back on campus in the fall, it will become an existential crisis for them,” said Craig Goebel, a principal with Art & Science Group, a consulting firm that works with higher education institutions.

Universities said they expect the next school year will be a costly one for them. Just how expensive will depend on when and how they will be able to open.

Already, many institutions, including BU, Brown, UMass, and Harvard, said they anticipate that they will have to offer students more financial aid for the next school year, cutting into their endowments and budgets. Parents have lost jobs or been put on furlough, and students who are expected to contribute several thousand dollars to their tuition costs, mostly by getting summer jobs, likely won’t be able to earn that money, university officials said.

It also remains unclear whether colleges and universities can charge students the same tuition if they take classes remotely instead of in-person, higher education experts said.

While students grumbled about paying the same tuition for online classes this spring, there may be a full-on revolt if colleges have not developed robust offerings or addressed the problem, Goebel said.

Elite institutions may be able to justify the tuition costs, and students may be more willing to pay it, he said.

But for institutions without the same brand recognition, that calculation for families may be far different. If they reconsider attending, that adds a further strain on college budgets, he said.

The question is, “how much are students and families willing to pay for that markedly different experience,” Goebel said.

Even if they are able to reopen and have coronavirus plans in place, many colleges said they are uncertain how many students will show up this fall. Traditional enrollment models that colleges rely on to develop budgets and course offerings are less useful in this new, coronavirus environment.

More students than usual are seeking advice about taking a gap year or semester off, and potential freshmen are weighing whether to attend a college closer to home or one where they don’t have to live on campus, said Claire Dennison, the chief program officer at uAspire, a Boston organization that helps high school and college students with financial aid.

Every year, some students weigh these questions, but now, "everything is ratcheted up,” said Dennison.


UK schools may reopen before summer holidays - headteachers reveal date schools could open

School bosses said there could be a "window" for children to go back to school for a few weeks before summer after they were forced to close their doors on March 23 to stop the spread of coronavirus. Headteachers at the UK's two biggest headteacher unions said schools could possibly open on June 1.

The UK Government has declined to say when schools will reopen as the nation continues to fight the invisible killer disease, but exams have been cancelled.

But Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools could open around June 1. He told The Sunday Times: “When the decision to cancel exams was made, it was thought that the peak of hospital cases would be in mid-May.

“It now looks as though the pandemic is at its height. That opens a window for schools to reopen before the summer holidays.

“That will not be before the May half-term, so we are looking at around June 1.”

Paul Whiteman, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said schools should open when it is safe to do so. Mr Whiteman told Schools Week: “We haven’t seen any indication yet that the requirements of social distancing are such that things will change for schools in the short-term.

"That said, once the scientific advice is that schools can return safely, they should do so, even if it’s for a very limited period before the summer break, as this will allow young people to reacquaint themselves with the educational environment.

"It can’t be about flicking a switch on a Friday night and then thinking it’s all going to be alright on a Monday morning,”

Mr Barton said he looked forward to an "educational rebirth".

He added: "I feel, quite viscerally really, that if the public health experts indicate that schools can return before the summer holidays, even for two weeks, there will be a sense of educational rebirth, of bringing young people back together.

“We need to think about how you do that, but I think there would be something incredibly cathartic about it.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has previously spoken about when schools could potentially reopen, saying: "In all these instances, we are driven and basing our decisions on the science and what is best for controlling the spread of this virus.


Australian school closures: Scott Morrison issues direct plea to teachers to return to classroom

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a direct plea to teachers to return to the classroom and join the “great heroes” of Australia including cleaners, supermarket workers, nurses and paramedics who are fighting COVID-19 simply by doing their jobs.

Warning parents the education of the nation’s children was “hanging in the balance”, he urged principals and teachers’ unions to hold talks on how classrooms could be made safe.

But he could be picking a major fight with unions despite his message of admiration for teachers, because many educators insist it is not fair to put them on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.

In a televised message to parents and teachers, the Prime Minister has urged schools to work towards a return to face-to-face classes.

“As we confront these crises our nation currently faces, the health crisis of the virus, the economic crisis of the impact it is having on people’s livelihoods, there are people doing just amazing jobs, great heroes,’’ he said.

“Of course, in our health care system, our nurses and our doctors, our pathologists, the paramedics, right across the board, the cleaners in our hospitals all doing incredible work and we thank them for it.

“But there’s another group I want to talk about today, and that is our teachers. I want teachers to know from me, both as a parent and as a prime minister, just how appreciated you are and how important the job is that you’re doing right now and how much you are needed.”

But Mr Morrison added it was vital children did not become the silent victims of the COVID-19 crisis because they were denied an education.

“And at this time, as our nation fights this coronavirus, your role has become even more important. Your students and their families are relying on you more than ever. The education of our children hangs in the balance,’’ he said.

“During these times, many students will continue distance learning. It’s a choice that they may have, some more than others. But we know for some families and students this won’t be possible. And their education, what they learn, is at great risk of suffering this year. This will particularly be the case for families who are disadvantaged and on lower incomes.”

This week, infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon told that teachers faced a greater COVID-19 risk from a supermarket than classrooms and urged teachers to return to classrooms with conditions, including excluding teachers over the age of 60 and pregnant women.

But a patchwork of arrangements has emerged with some states returning to school faster than other jurisdictions.

Political leaders in NSW and Victoria privately concede fears teachers would strike if they kept schools open were a major trigger for the decision to defy the medical advice that schools should remain open.

Despite a majority of states including NSW, Victoria and Queensland moving to distance learning, the Prime Minister has never wavered in his insistence that the medical advice maintains it is safe for schools to remain open.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

New York City schools closed for rest of academic year amid pandemic

Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City's public schools will be closed for the rest of the school year as the city struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The mayor made the announcement Saturday. Schools in the nation's largest public system have been closed since March 16.

A massive effort to move instruction online has met with mixed success in the city.

Many low-income students lack Wi-Fi and devices for connecting to their virtual classrooms.

Authorities in some other states including Virginia and Pennsylvania have previously announced that schools will be closed for the rest of the year.


Denmark set to reopen schools amid easing elsewhere

Denmark will take its first steps towards relaxing coronavirus restrictions by reopening schools this week.

Children aged 11 and under will return to schools and day-care centres from Wednesday as the country looks to gradually lift its lockdown. Denmark has had 270 deaths from 6,100 cases, but fatalities and hospital admissions have stabilised in recent days.

Other lockdown measures, such as the closure of bars, restaurants and shopping centres, as well as bans of gatherings of more than ten people, will be in place for at least another month.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen warned the path back to some form of normality will only work if lockdown rules were gradually eased.

She said: ‘This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope. If we stand still we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time.’

Norway will reopen kindergartens next week and junior schools another week after that. Austria will open some shops from today.


Are schools open or closed for term 2 amid coronavirus in Australia?

Australian governments’ positions on whether to send children to school in term two while coronavirus social distancing rules are in force has many parents confused.

Throughout March the Morrison government opposed school closures on the basis of medical advice, but the issue was forced by Victoria bringing forward its school holidays and other states and territories introducing pupil-free days to prepare for online learning.

Now, with the end of school holidays approaching, the national cabinet, states and territories are revisiting their guidance about whether to continue learning at home or send children to school.

What does the federal government say?

On Sunday the federal education minister, Dan Tehan, said the federal government “wants all schools open”. The issue will be revisited at national cabinet on Thursday, with the federal government pushing for a consistent national approach.

Tehan noted states and territories had “put in place different arrangements”. “But what the nationally consistent approach is, when it comes to parents who have to work and vulnerable children, schools have to be open and have to make sure that they provide a safe learning environment for those children.”


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The coronavirus will widen the education gap in the UK

The British lockdown must be reversed.  Australia has decreed that its schools must stay open

Under normal circumstances, it would now be the spring holidays for most schools. But, instead of packing the car to take one of my daughters to visit her grandparents for a few days, I just got off the phone to students who attend my school.

We are more than three weeks into a lockdown in the UK. My school - an academy on the outskirts of West London - serves a wonderfully diverse community, but nearly half of all students are what the UK government determines as disadvantaged.

Their families are eligible for free school meals as a result of being in receipt of Universal Credit, a monthly payment in the UK to help with living costs for those on a low income or out of work.

However, sitting above that group, perhaps a further 20 percent or more of our school population, whose families are not eligible for Universal Credit, are still very much the working poor.

Both of these groups constantly live on the edge of poverty. Their already fragile economic situation is easily tipped by an unexpected expense - a pair of new school shoes, an electricity bill or a broken washing machine.

This situation is now exacerbated tenfold by the ravages of a global coronavirus pandemic. And this is the issue.

While the daily news bulletins bring unfathomable death tolls from every corner of the globe, tales of woefully unequipped hospitals, overflowing morgues, exhausted front-line hospital staff and desperate grieving relatives, there lies beyond that a further crisis of poverty and desperation in Britain.

In 1940, at the start of the second world war, the mass evacuation of nearly 1.5 million British children from the cities to the countryside exposed a chasm in society.

Tales of malnourished and diseased children arriving in the countryside from the inner cities galvanised a team of civil servants, led by social reformer William Beveridge, to work on creating a fairer post-war society that would eradicate evils including poverty and lack of education by bringing in social insurance and equality of education through the 1944 Butler Education Act.

Nearly 80 years on, the lockdown of our nation, including the decision to close schools, has once again revealed huge inequity and inequality.

Currently, 1.3 million children in England are classed as disadvantaged - the number entitled to free school meals. These children are now prisoners in their own homes, many of which are small, cramped flats with little or no outside space.

Here, they are supposed to participate in distance learning. This involves accessing online lessons and resources for anything from two to five hours a day.

But, for many of the 1.3 million as well as the 20 percent beyond them who are not entitled to income support, this learning is not taking place in a quiet corner of a room seated at a desk with books, pens and a helpful, well-educated adult on hand.

Not for these children the accoutrements found in many a middle-class home including access to a device, whether a tablet or a personal computer, or the internet.

Data sourced from TeacherTapp - an app that pings daily questions to more than 6,000 UK teachers - revealed at the end of the first week of lockdown, that 10 percent of students in their schools do not have access to either a device or the internet.

While it is difficult to determine the accuracy of that statistic, I know from my own school that a child's access is likely to be an allocated 60 to 90 minutes on a shared household laptop, personal computer or tablet.

In a number of families, their only access to an online classroom is via their mobile phone, which makes any completion of work and uploading it onto an online platform almost impossible.

The same data set also revealed that teachers working in the most disadvantaged state schools felt that 43 percent of their students were doing less than an hour of learning a day, compared with only 14 percent of students as reported by teachers working in more advantaged state schools. It is a significant difference.

What is clear is that the learning and, therefore, the attainment gap - between those who are disadvantaged and those who are not - that has worried the profession and the government for over a decade will grow exponentially.

As our lockdown looks set to be extended - possibly until the end of the academic year - the impact of more than three months of missed schooling will have long-lasting effects.

Academics who have looked at home/school effects on academic attainment by children often refer to the 1:9 ratio. This means that it is thought that home impact accounts for nine-tenths of the influence on a child's development, habits and behaviour, while school only accounts for one-tenth.

But the reality for those of us working in disadvantaged communities is that the school effect can be a powerful one-tenth. If many already vulnerable children cannot attend school for the duration of lockdown, then that effect and long-lasting impact is lost.

If, for three months or more, the learning habits acquired within the structure and routine of a well-equipped school are pulled away, then without a doubt we will see a huge dip in the learning gap.

The question for us now is how will we plug that gap? The schooling we will need in place for September will need to look and feel very different.

It becomes a much wider question of what the role of school and education is, how schools cannot be the catch-all safety net for wider societal issues, and crucially how schools are held accountable for these things.

Following a decade of government austerity policies causing schools to be underfunded, ministers' obsession with high-stakes testing, and schools then being held to account by inspectorates in the UK, it is no surprise that school leaders have been facing a national recruitment and retention crisis.

The fight against coronavirus has shown us that schools are much more than just education providers.

For more than one and a half million children in the UK at least, school is a place of safety, sanctuary and at least one meal a day.


Teaching Without Schools: Grief, Then A 'Free-For-All'

They thought they'd have more time, teachers say. Many couldn't even say goodbye.

"Everything happened so quickly," remembers Hannah Klumpe, who teaches seventh grade social studies in Greenville, S.C. "Friday I was at school, talking to my students, and they're like, 'Do you think they're going to close school?' And I was like, 'Oh, not right now!'"

That weekend, South Carolina's governor announced the state's schools would close immediately, including Klumpe's Berea Middle School, and she hasn't seen her students in-person since. Her story is not uncommon.

Talking through tears, Jaime Gordon remembers, "our governor just let us know that we will not be returning to school for the rest of the year, and I'm sorry, I get emotional when I say that. It's really hard to say that out loud." Gordon teaches third grade at St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School in Richmond, Va. Like Klumpe, she says she was surprised by the move to close schools. "I didn't get to properly say goodbye to them."

America's schools are in crisis. Most of them have closed, according to a tally by Education Week, and nearly all of the nation's 56.6 million school-age children have been sent home. What began as two- to three-week school closures have crept inexorably into April and now seem capable, even likely, to outlast the school year. Already, more than a dozen states — including Virginia, Kansas and Arizona — have shuttered their schools for the rest of the academic year.

Educators are now shouldering an impossible task: to replicate the functions of school for months without an actual school building. And that means millions of teachers, like Hannah Klumpe and Jaime Gordon, now isolated at home, having to harness technologies new and old to reach and teach every student. America's schools have never had to improvise like this.

For Klumpe, the scramble began the Monday after classes were cancelled. It "was just like a free-for-all. We [teachers] all went to school. We created lesson plans in, like, 12 hours. So 10 days of lesson plans in a day, essentially. And we had to be prepared to launch those lesson plans by Wednesday and to start doing full-on e-learning, which our kids had never really done before without us."

In interviews with teachers and school leaders across the country — about how this vast experiment in remote learning is unfolding — a few important patterns emerged.

The digital divide is real. In many districts, the rush to build a remote learning plan began the old-fashioned way, with paper packets — enough to tide kids over while school leaders take stock. Namely, can they provide hardware and Wi-Fi access to every student who needs it?

The answer for many school leaders has been a dispiriting no.

"I would easily say that less than 50% of our students and families have access to either a consistent learning device and/or Internet access," says Nikolai Vitti, the head of Detroit Public Schools Community District. "I think that's our greatest challenge right now."

According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, Detroit is not alone. The AP found "An estimated 17% of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18% do not have home access to broadband internet."

"There's a huge disparity in accessing Wi-Fi and students having devices," says Cara Godbe, a third grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary School in rural Montrose, Colo. Godbe says her district is not requiring that students work online and is providing paper packets for anyone without a device or Internet access.

"I have a couple of students where, due to their life circumstances, being able to log in every day is not the reality," says Katie Benningfield, a sixth grade teacher at the School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas. She says that doesn't just hurt their ability to connect academically "but also just their ability to contact us and be with us."

Many districts have been handing out as many devices and Wi-Fi hotspots as they can to the students who need them most. Member station WBEZ has reported that Chicago Public Schools is giving out more than 100,000 devices.

In Baltimore, the city's schools have just one device for every four students, says district CEO Sonja Santelises. "I said this to my board and my community, 'You cannot make up a 1-to-4 device-to-student ratio in the matter of a week or two in a pandemic. So we are prioritizing families that have no devices, and we're also, frankly, being creative in the use of our local television stations."

Santelises says, in addition to providing learning resources online for kids who can access them, her district is working with Baltimore's educational cable network to broadcast educational programming.

This tech inequity among students is also widening the opportunity gap, says Paige Dulaney, a first grade teacher at Merino Elementary School in Merino, Colo. "I think it's a gap that we're going to see for a long time," Dulaney says.

"[At school] they go through their entire day at least listening, picking it up and at least having the opportunity to hear English being spoken to them," Baldillez says. "That's not happening right now, and that bothers me."


Australia: Year 12, kindy should get priority when school goes back: teachers' federation

The NSW Teachers Federation has suggested a staggered return to school once health authorities and governments start lifting social distancing restrictions, beginning with year 12 and kindergarten.

As schools prepare to deliver term two online, federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said leaders needed to think about how to ensure an "orderly return" when circumstances changed, avoiding a deluge of students when older or vulnerable teachers were unable to return.

The NSW Teachers Federation says year 12 and kindy should be given priority when schools reopen.
The NSW Teachers Federation says year 12 and kindy should be given priority when schools reopen.

"An option could be a staggered return to our schools," he said. "I've advanced a proposition that part of an orderly [process], we could consider a return of year 12 and kindergarten, followed by year seven and year six, and progressively pad that out."

Educators cautiously welcomed the idea, although they said the process would be complicated and schools would need to be consulted.

It comes as Education Minister Dan Tehan said ministers were looking at options to make school systems more flexible and open for some students. "Is there an opportunity maybe to bring year 12 students back one day a week?" he said.

"Or would there be an opportunity for those doing vocational education at school to do some of their practical work at school? Or chemistry students - would they be able to come to school one or two afternoons a week to do the practical side of their chemistry?"

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the government will be using the school holiday period to consider its options for term two and beyond.

“We will communicate this with school communities before school returns. All options will be considered in line with health advice,” she said.

While pandemic experts say children are not believed to drive the spread of COVID-19, teachers have been concerned about their safety, particularly those who are older or have underlying conditions. A 2017 workforce survey found the average age of NSW teachers is 37, but up to a fifth are over 50.

Before they began holidays on Thursday afternoon, NSW schools were not closed but were delivering remote learning to everyone, and parents were encouraged to keep their children at home. About 94 per cent of families did so. By this week, two thirds of the public school teaching workforce were working from home.

Schools have prepared to deliver term two lessons online. But as parents feel the stress of supervising students while working, or students become more restless about learning alone, some predict the number of students attending schools will rise.

Craig Petersen, head of the Secondary Principals Council, said the danger of allowing students to return whenever their parents chose could lead to a situation in which there were more students at school than teachers available.

An ordered return - prioritising high-needs years as suggested by the federation - made sense, but it would be complicated, he said. Year 12 teachers, for example, might have an underlying health condition, while some schools ran a "compressed curriculum" in which years 10 and 11 also did HSC subjects.

"This needs to be carefully thought through," Mr Petersen said. "It introduces a whole range of complexities. What we need is for the principals' associations, for the federation, and for educators to be consulted."

Mr Petersen said parents were already ringing schools, confused about what to expect next term. "We have to have clarity around this, schools cannot be left in this position where we become the target of parental concern and anxiety about decision we have no control over," he said.

"We are extremely frustrated with the lack of consultation and consideration for what's in the best interests of our students."

Jenny Allum, the principal of SCEGGS Darlinghurst, said schools had proven their ability to respond to changing circumstances over the past month. She said a staged return was "certainly a possibility", especially one involving year 12 as a priority.

"You can have 24 [year 12] kids working in three classrooms with one teacher, you can't have a class of 24 kindergarten kids in three classrooms with one teacher," she said. "But we are conscious that it's a significant demand on parents, to be supervising younger kids at home and trying to do their own work."


Monday, April 13, 2020

DeVos reaches settlement in lawsuit over loan relief program

The U.S. Education Department is promising to process student loan forgiveness claims for nearly 170,000 borrowers within 18 months as part of a proposed settlement announced Friday in a federal lawsuit.

The suit alleges that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally stalled a program known as borrower defense to repayment, which promises to forgive federal student loans for borrowers who are cheated by their colleges. When the lawsuit was filed in June 2019, it had been a year since the department issued a final decision on any claim.

Most of the borrowers awaiting decisions attended for-profit colleges, and some have been waiting more than four years for a decision.

Under the settlement, DeVos admits no wrongdoing but promises to issue decisions on all pending claims within 18 months, and to cancel debt for approved claims within 21 months. In court documents, the department said it had paused the program while officials crafted new regulations. The agency says it already resumed processing claims last December.

In a statement released Friday, the Education Department called the proposed settlement “an important win for students and for taxpayers.”

“Rather than have their claims needlessly delayed by unnecessary litigation, students will now have their cases adjudicated promptly,” the agency said. “This proposed settlement is validation of that process and of the department’s longstanding goal to resolve all of these claims as quickly as possible.”

Theresa Sweet, the lead plaintiff in the case, called the deal an “enormous relief.” She applied for federal loan relief in 2016 after graduating from the Brooks Institute of Photography, a now-defunct for-profit college in California. Sweet said the school lied about its graduates’ employment rates and salaries, and left her with a degree that never led to a job in the area she studied.

“For years, people have been paralyzed with debt and forced to put their education, personal goals and financial plans on hold because we didn’t know if or when we might get a decision,” Sweet said in a statement. “Having the Department of Education be forced to put a time frame on making these decisions is vindicating.”

The borrower defense program dates to the 1990s but was expanded under former President Barack Obama to make it easier for students to get loans erased when colleges commit fraud. The update was directed at thousands of students who attended for-profit colleges that collapsed amid accusations that they lied about the success of their graduates.

But DeVos suspended the 2016 rules when she took office and last year issued new ones making it tougher for students to get loans cleared. At the time, DeVos said the previous rules were overly generous and allowed too many students to get loans erased at the expense of taxpayers.

Among other changes, the department has shifted to a formula that provides only partial loan relief for most students whose claims are approved. The formula, announced in December, offers scaled relief based on the financial harm students suffered as a result of their colleges’ fraud. Opponents have vowed to sue, saying federal law entitles deceived students to full relief.

Under the settlement, the department says it will waive all loan interest that has accrued while students await a decision on their claims. If the agency fails to decide a claim within 18 months, officials must cancel 30% of debt for every month they’re overdue. And if the agency garnishes students’ wages or takes their tax refunds while they’re awaiting a decision, it must discharge 80% of the debt.

“This settlement is a very important step that will allow them to finally get a decision and move forward,” said said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University, which represented the plaintiffs. “The Department of Education’s refusal to cancel these loans quickly and in their entirety is a stain on the federal student loan program.”


Some degrees Don’t Pay Off

A new tool released in January by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) reveals which programs give students the most (and least) return on their investment. The tool uses data from the College Scorecard as well as the now-repealed Gainful Employment regulations to determine which programs “pay off.”

TPPF’s website includes this explanation of the rule:

"Gainful Employment (GE) were old regulations that tried to hold colleges accouxntable by establishing cutoffs for two debt-to-income rates…Programs would receive one of three gainful employment scores – ‘Pass’ for programs with low debt relative to earning, ‘Fail’ for programs with high debt relative to earnings, and ‘Zone’ which was basically a probationary rating."

According to TPPF’s new tool, earnings and debt data were available for 28,812 UNC system students who graduated between 2014 and 2016. Of those, 57 percent graduated from programs that would pass TPPF’s “Gainful Employment Equivalent.” About 33 percent graduated from programs that would be on probation (Zone), and 2,891 (10 percent) graduated from programs that would fail. Earnings or debt data were unavailable for 459 UNC system programs.

The website projects, “If these percentages are representative of all graduates, then of the 72,437 total graduates, 41,292 graduated from programs that would pass Gainful Employment Equivalent, 23,877 graduated from programs that would be on probation (Zone), and 7,268 graduated from programs that would fail.”

The tool, “College Earnings and Debt by Major: Which college degrees are worth it?” is available here.


One of Australia's top universities will allow students to use Year 11 results to apply after coronavirus caused disruption to the school calendar

One of Australia's top universities will allow students to use their Year 11 results to apply for courses.

Students can apply to undergraduate programs at Canberra's Australian National University (ANU) for 2021 with their Year 11 scores, due to the school year being disrupted by COVID-19.

The university believes taking earlier results will lighten stress levels for Year 12 students after a tumultuous year of study.

ANU begin making offers in August, with Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt advising prospective students to apply in the upcoming school holidays.

'All Year 12 students who want to study at ANU can focus on completing their studies and preparing for university, knowing that if their marks from Year 11 meet our entry requirements they can join one of the world's leading universities,' he said in a media release.

The Year 11 results offer follows on from further successful alterations to ANU's application procedure, where students are assessed on extra-curricular activities beyond their scholastic achievements to gain entry into the university.

Students who apply with Year 11 results must go on to complete Year 12 for their scores to be valid, with accommodation and scholarships available for successful applicants.

Professor Schmidt said the new application procedures are based on research to ensure the best students are given the chance to go to ANU.

'This change was to help our students,' he said. 'Rather than have them choose their university only a few weeks before term starts, we now assess students on their academic results through Year 11, as well as their extra-curricular achievements and personal circumstances.

'The success of this new approach over the past year means we are well placed to offer thousands of talented school-leavers across Australia the chance to study with us here in Canberra.

'This is particularly important as they are dealing with the stress of finishing their studies during a global pandemic.'

Australian Year 12 students have been told they will be able to graduate this year despite the disruption to their studies caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Federal education minister Dan Tehan on Tuesday confirmed the states and Commonwealth agreed students will still proceed to finish high school this year.

'For all those students out there, for all those parents out there, there will be no year 13, there will be no mass repeating. You will get your leaving certificate this year,' he said.

The announcement followed a phone meeting between state and federal education ministers this week to discuss the impact the COVID-19 pandemic upon studies.

Mr Tehan also said the government did not want those students studying from home for part of the year to be left behind when assessments roll around, and grades may be adjusted to account for the disruption.

'When it comes to how the ATAR is calculated and assessed, the Commonwealth is going to do further work with the university sector, with the vocational education sector and will come back to the Education Council in May,' he said.

'What we all are going to do is to endeavour to make sure that this year's ATAR scores are the same as last year's ATAR scores... But we will take into account those students who have to learn from home, those who might not be able to access the technology like others do.'


Sunday, April 12, 2020

University Researchers Search for Solutions to Coronavirus Pandemic

Here at the Martin Center, we often criticize university research. Rightly so.

We have noted that academic journals are too expensive. We’ve argued that the publishing process itself is incoherent and slow. And that the peer review process fails to adequately vet new research. We’ve shown that the funding process for scientific research often leads to perverse incentives. We’ve also commented on the well-known reproducibility crisis in the social sciences.

We have also pointed out that research, especially in the humanities and social sciences, is often trendy, repetitive, or irrelevant.

But in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, university researchers—working side-by-side with entrepreneurs and philanthropists—have shown that there can be immense value in studying important problems and harnessing expertise in the name of public service.

Here are a few examples of university researchers investigating solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic and the health care crisis it has created in cities around the world:

On March 4, Bloomberg Businessweek profiled a “University of North Carolina scientist who has been chasing viruses for decades [and] may hold the key to a cure.” Ralph Baric is an expert on coronaviruses who works at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. (Baric is also cited in this article in Nature Medicine from 2015 entitled, “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence.”)

On March 19, a Johns Hopkins’ publication, Global Health NOW, highlighted research by Arturo Casadevall, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He and his coauthor, Liise-anne Pirofski of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, are looking into ways to use “plasma (serum) from the blood of survivors until a vaccine and antiviral medications are available.”

On March 26, UF Health shared an invention by Bruce Spiess, MD, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Spiess created a simple respirator mask out of materials that are already widely available in hospitals and medical facilities.

Also on March 26, Extremetech reported that an “MIT team has developed an open-source ventilator called the MIT E-Vent that could get regulatory approval soon.” The ventilator is manual but could save lives in an emergency.

On March 27, Rice University unveiled its own “automated bag valve mask ventilation unit that can be built for less than $300 worth of parts.” The researchers will make the plans for the ventilator freely available online. The ventilator was created in conjunction with Canadian global health design firm Metric Technologies.

Also on March 27, the Triangle Business Journal touted an innovation pioneered at Duke Health to sterilize and reuse medical masks. Duke’s director of Occupational and Environmental Safety Matthew Stiegel says they have been using the technique for years in their biocontainment laboratory.

On April 1, the Economic Times reported on an as-yet-unpublished report by Gonzalo Otazu of the New York Institute of Technology. The report uses evidence from the U.S. and Italy to hypothesize that tuberculosis vaccines could protect against COVID-19.

There are many more examples—too many to list them all here.

Universities are also helping us understand the scope and trajectory of the crisis. By now, many of us are very familiar with Johns Hopkins’ heatmap of COVID-19 cases, created by the university’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

And the models that have guided world leaders as they made decisions about their virus response were created by university researchers. First, the Imperial College of London’s dire coronavirus model prodded reluctant leaders into taking action. (It was later revised to have less-dramatic projections.) A model from scholars at Oxford University suggested that many people in the UK already had coronavirus but showed no symptoms. And now, many states and countries are using a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington to anticipate medical needs. It, too, was revised as more data became available.

Also helpful is the US Health Weather Map by Kinsa Insights, which was created in partnership with Benjamin Dalziel, an assistant professor in the department of integrative biology at Oregon State University. The map is a “visualization of seasonal illness linked to fever—specifically influenza-like illness.”

Science is an iterative, collaborative process wherein various researchers publish, critique, and revise their work—slowly moving the field forward.

Social science and public policy programs have contributed as well, suggesting economic and policy solutions to the problems caused (or revealed) by the coronavirus pandemic. In this working paper, authors from Duke University’s Margolis Center for Health Policy suggested ways in which the FDA can improve its efficiency. And in another paper, they outline a plan for testing and tracing that could be implemented in the U.S.

It’s still unclear which solutions will work and which models will prove most useful. Some may be wrong. Science is an iterative, collaborative process wherein various researchers publish, critique, and revise their work—slowly moving the field forward. Frequent, specific, constructive criticism—which has been available in abundance during this crisis—contributes to the process. Such is the nature of scientific progress.

Nonetheless, universities have shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that when they focus on their core mission—preservation, discovery, and transmission of knowledge—they can provide immense value to society.

When this crisis is over, university leaders will surely face many difficult decisions. I hope they remember this lesson from COVID-19: a university’s true value lies at its academic core. It is not a sports franchise, a real estate developer, or a social club. At its best, a university is a wellspring of ideas, an edifice of knowledge.


Mom rejects ‘virtual classroom’, writes ‘hard email’ to Grade 1 teacher

Homeschooling to a government formula is hard.  Is no formal schooling an option in today's circumstances?

Overworked parents have been given “permission to let it all go” — including homeschooling their children — as responsibilities and expectations pile up and quarantine stress builds.

Mother and world renowned archaeologist Sarah Parcak struck a chord on social media this week when she shared her decision to pull her son out of Year 1 for good.

“We just wrote a hard email,” she explained to her 45,000 followers on Twitter. “I told our son’s (lovely, kind, caring) teacher that, no, we will not be participating in her ‘virtual classroom’, and that he was done with the 1st grade.

“We cannot cope with this insanity. Survival and protecting his well being come first.”

“We both work full time, I also help run my non profit AND manage a complex project in Egypt AND am running a COVID-19 tracking platform. So, his happiness trumps crappy math worksheet management.

“Managing his education is a bridge too far right now. I also cook, manage cleaning, have a garden etc (husband does 50% of housework BTW, we are a team). The thought of homeschooling makes me want to barf. It’s a f*cking joke.

“He reads a lot. Plays outside a lot. We read to him a lot and talk to him a lot. He gets history lessons.

“Our goal is to have our son come out of this happy and not be long term emotionally scarred (lord knows life will do that anyways). F**k worksheets. F**k shitty math worksheets especially.”

She told her followers to “let it all go” because “it doesn’t f***ing matter”. “School doesn’t f***ing matter right now. All your kids will remember is how they were loved. Promise.”


Australia: Free childcare is all very well but what about those who have to provide it?  Who is looking after them?

It seems that no matter who you talk to these days, people are doing it tough. Thankfully, a great many families are still able to eat and celebrate Easter this weekend thanks to the government's recent offerings such as the free childcare plan and Jobkeeper payments.

Just this morning NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian announced that the state will be offering free preschool for all ages for the next six months. And while these latest government schemes will go a long way to helping a great many families, they are also crushing others in the process.

Louise White is a mum-of-two and Family Daycare Educator based in Ryde, Sydney. For many years she's helped care for other people's children within her home and it's a job she's enjoyed since her own children were younger.

Now she'll continue to do so ... while earning only half of what she was earning before.

In a post shared to her Facebook profile, Louise detailed how Family Daycare Educators are being disadvantaged by the government's free childcare scheme.

"What the government has failed to mention is that child care is free for the parents at my expense and at the expense of every Family Day Care Educator who has had her income halved over a matter of days," Louise wrote in her post.

Louise explained that the childcare subsidy works by allowing parents to essentially pay what they can afford, through means testing. So while one family might pay $25 per day, another might pay $50 a day.

So if Louise charges a flat rate of $100 per day (as an example), the government would pay the difference. So on one family that would be $75 and $50 for the other.

"This will cripple us"

Now the government have committed to paying half of all childcare fees, which sounds great on the surface, but as Louise pointed out, she's *no longer allowed to charge the gap*.

So rather than receiving one percentage from the family and the remainder from the government, Louise only receives half of what she was earning previously from the government and families don't have to pay anything.

"As of Monday I will earn half of what I earned last week and I will be working the same hours with the same children, doing the same job," wrote Louise.

"I am taking a 50 percent pay cut so that families who are still working and earning their full pay can have free childcare. My family is not a high income family. This will cripple us."

This QLD centre owner doesn't welcome the free child care news, and why this VIC mum working in childcare is worried about coronavirus.

Louise says she loves all of the children in her care, and trusts their families are all taking the relevant precautions, but she is still opening up her home to six families a week. Caring for four children each day, for five days a week over 10 hours a day.

"I am not given PPE, I am not able to social distance from the children (they are all under five and still need lots of love and cuddles) and I am exposing my home and family every day," Louise said.

"All Family Day Care Educators are in the same position and are now expected to do it for half the income."

Louise pointed out that while Jobkeeper payments may help some, it won't help all Family Daycare Educators and isn't available until May.

"We all have to try and operate at our usual high standards, buying equipment, paying our bills and running our businesses," she said, "while only receiving half our pay."