Are Governor Cuomo and the Gates Foundation Making Education Policy for New York State? Has the Board of Regents Been Replaced? (I Hope Not!)

The seventeen members of the NYS Board of Regents are unpaid and unstaffed, trek to Albany (well, until now) once a month for an intense day and a half meeting. For the last decade I have also trekked to Albany to attend the meetings. I’ve come to know a number of the members, they are incredibly dedicated. The Board selects a chancellor, a leader from among their own ranks and the Board hires a commissioner who manages P-16 education in the state as well as the professions.

The role of the Board is to establish policy.  New regulations or changes in regulations must be sent out for pubic comment; the Board frequently selects work groups from among the many stakeholder organizations to participate in policy considerations. The board members are retired educators, superintendents, teachers, lawyers, a nurse, a doctor, a parent advocate, a judge: their e-mail boxes are always overflowing, they meet with group after group in their region;  their diversity represents the diversity across our state

The structure of the meeting are long established, a full board, live-streamed, with a current relevant topic, followed by committee meeting: P-12, higher education, the professions, cultural education, etc., with a hundred or so in the audience.  Although the members are “elected” for five year terms by a joint meeting of the state legislatures party politics never enters the discussions.

Monday’s meeting was “zoomed” from the homes of the board members. Among a range of topics Chancellor Rosa announced the board would convene a task force made up of stakeholders to participate in planning for the re-opening.

Tuesday morning I came back from my morning bike ride, beautiful azure sky, too chilly, glorious never the less.  Reading my email, the NY Times, catching up on other reading and the governor’s daily press conference.

I was, well, surprised, shouldn’t have been, the governor has essentially precluded the legislature from any meaningful policy role and now has precluded the Board of Regents.

 Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York State is collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a blueprint to reimagine education in the new normal. As New York begins to develop plans to reopen K-12 schools and colleges, the state and the Gates Foundation will consider what education should look like in the future, including:

  • How can we use technology to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are;
  • How can we provide shared education among schools and colleges using technology;
  • How can technology reduce educational inequality, including English as a new language students;
  • How can we use technology to meet educational needs of students with disabilities;
  • How can we provide educators more tools to use technology;
  • How can technology break down barriers to K-12 and Colleges and Universities to provide greater access to high quality education no matter where the student lives; and
  • Given ongoing socially distancing rules, how can we deploy classroom technology, like immersive cloud virtual classrooms learning, to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments in different locations?

The state will bring together a group of leaders to answer these questions in collaboration with the Gates Foundation, who will support New York State by helping bring together national and international experts, as well as provide expert advice as needed.

I smiled when I read the description above, sounds like the governor’s closest friend/advisor, now the President of SUNY Empire College,
Jim Malatras.

…we helped pioneer non-traditional and distance learning, and we remain at the forefront today.

Whether you take your courses online, onsite at one of 33 locations statewide, or a mix of both, you choose how and when you learn. You also have options to study full-time or part-time.

Our cutting-edge technology and course delivery methods mean you can earn your SUNY Empire State College degree regardless of where you live or when you work.”

Read about “immersive cloud virtual classrooms” here.

The Long Island Opt Out Facebook page (25K members) exploded with highly critical comments.

Gate’s flurries into education policy have been troubling, the implementation of  the Common Core, using student test scores to assess teachers and principals, and on and on.

Gates and company are technology wizards; teachers are at the core of the teaching-learning process.

The melding of technology and education has encountered many bumps in the road.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) have very high dropout rates,

… there is often a lack of active learning or effective instructional design, and a lack of interactivity or scaffolding of the learning experience for beginners

A recent report is critical of college online college courses,

students with weak academic preparation and those from low-income and under-represented backgrounds consistently underperform in fully-online environments.

An hour after the Cuomo presser Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted,

Randi Weingarten

@rweingarten

  • 7h

Hey @NYGovCuomo .. what about the amazing educators .. who are “reimagining education” EVERY DAY during this #COVID19 crisis.. Why not start with the thousands of them… and @NYSUT and the #NYSRegents.. They have wonderful, creative, caring ideas … #justathougt
A few hours later the Cuomo team may have backtracked,

Randi Weingarten

@rweingarten

5h

Just talked to @NYGovCuomo staff.. Glad to hear Gov’s announcement was a first step.. that @gatesfoundation will be helping given their extensive knowledge of public health & technology, but NY’s educators will be key in #reopening NY’s school building. #InItTogether

On this Leonie Haimson’s “Talk About Schools” (Listen at WBAI.ORG) UFT President Michael Mulgrew, to be kind, was unenthusiastic about the proposed role of the Gates Foundation.

The questions the governor raised are worthy of exploration, they are not new; we have been exploring them for years, and will continue.

Technology cannot replace teachers, technology can enhance instruction. Currently teachers are grappling with how to motivate, connect, how to address social emotional learning in a remote environment. The one thing we do not need is the Gates Foundation telling us how to teach, and, I hope that is not their intent,

A suggestion:  the Gates Foundation join the Board of Regents stakeholders task force and work together towards supporting teachers and parents,

UPDATE: Former Google CEO to lead Cuomo’s “reimagine” commission

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-york-gov-cuomo-enlists-ex-google-ceo-eric-schmidt-to-head-commission-to-reimagine-the-state-after-covid-19-2020-05-06

Can NYC Go Bankrupt? Would It Impact Teacher Pensions and Health Benefits?

Every day Governor Cuomo has a press briefing, an update on the data: are the curves flattening? moving downward?  and, muses about the political scene in Washington. Governors and mayors have been asking the feds for another infusion of dollars, this time to the states; after all, teachers, police, fireman, etc., are local and state employees. If you expect states and localities to take the lead in fighting the pandemic you have to support the efforts with federal dollars.

Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), the majority leader  in the Senate, opposed any aid to states, states who didn’t have sufficient resources, McConnell crowed, should declare bankruptcy. Cuomo snapped back,federal law did not allow states to declare bankruptcy, and, New York State was the fifth biggest contributor to the feds and Kentucky 6th in contributing the least.

While federal law does not allow states to declare bankruptcies cities can: Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Law.

The New York Post added to concerns, “New York City is Edging Towards Financial Disaster, Experts Warn.”

A conservative website follows up on the NY Post article supporting the possibility of a New York City bankruptcy.

What is bankruptcy?

What is Chapter 9? It’s the portion of the federal bankruptcy code that applies to municipalities. Created by Congress in 1937, it allows municipalities to seek court protection in the event of fiscal crisis and is meant to ensure that basic government functions can continue while policy makers restructure their debt.

Who can file for Chapter 9? Only municipalities — not states — can file for Chapter 9. To be legally eligible, municipalities must be insolvent, have made a good-faith attempt to negotiate a settlement with their creditors and be willing to devise a plan to resolve their debts.

They also need permission from their state government.

How common are municipal bankruptcies? Very rare. .

What happens once a municipality files for Chapter 9?  … the courts themselves have no authority to make spending or other policy decisions on behalf of the municipality. That power remains with the locality under the U.S. Constitution. Under Chapter 9, municipalities must come up with their own debt restructuring plans, and courts approve or reject it with input from other stakeholders.

What are the risks associated with municipal bankruptcy?
 Local leaders shudder at the notion of bankruptcy, and for good reason.

Public workers worry about slashed salaries or benefits, and all residents could see higher taxes, loss of services or deferred maintenance on necessities such as schools,

What does it mean for states when a municipality goes bankrupt?
 States cannot simply brush off municipal bankruptcies … a bankruptcy can saddle states with significant new responsibilities and the political risks that accompany them.

Local credit problems can have a statewide ripple effect, too. State officials …fear their states’ credit ratings could be downgraded because of individual municipal bankruptcies.

How long do municipal bankruptcy cases typically take?
 It depends on the size and complexity of the case. For large jurisdictions with more debt, the process can be a matter of years, not months.

In 1975 New York City was on verge of bankruptcy, a great deal is different. The Comptroller, the Independent Budget Office, the Citizens’ Budget Commission and the City Council closely monitor city finances, and, since the 2008 Great Recession the city has sharply increased revenues. The pandemic will have significant impacts on the current budget that must be approved by the City Council by June 30th.

The 20-21 budget will contain many, many reductions in services, there is a freeze on new hires even to replace retirees, and, there is a possibility that layoffs could occur.

It is inconceivable that New York State would allow New York City to declare bankruptcy.

The state has considerable authority over cities and counties within the state. The state must approve any tax that the local authority wants to create. For example, property tax increases are capped at 2%; sales taxes, state income taxes are created/modified by the legislature and the governor.

The state could impose an Emergency Financial Control Board to approve any city expenditures.

State pensions are protected by the state constitution.

After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.  

Has a large city ever gone bankrupt?

Yes, Detroit declared the largest bankruptcy by far in American history. It was not a surprise; it had been in the works for decades.

The loss of the automobile industry, the dramatic loss of population, ineffective leadership and decision after decision that dug the fiscal hole deeper and deeper (Read the sad account here; the bankruptcy petition was not a surprise.). Municipal workers saw reductions in pensions and health benefits that have yet to be restored.

A little deeper into the weeds:  will the federal bailouts, trillions of dollar, burden future generations?

I search out and read commentary and opinion from the most knowledgeable sources, and, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics might be considered a reliable and knowledgeable source.

Public and private debt should not be confused. If you don’t pay back your car loan the car will be repossessed, if you don’t pay back the loan shark you may end up limping. We owe public debt to ourselves.

For each borrower there is a lender.

Krugman and other highly regarded economists explain the differences between private and public debt here and    here.

The decisions of the current administration are political, not economic. Large states are blue states and there is no enthusiasm to assist them in recovering before the November general election.

While bankruptcies are highly unlikely in the short term the length of the recovery will determine future events.

City provided health plans are negotiated by the Municipal Labor Council representing all public employee retirees in the city. The current agreement last until 6/30/21, Read the text of the Agreement here.

The next agreement will be determined in part, by the fiscal situation of the city.

Hope can retires protect themselves?

The unions are our protection.

Are you a COPE contributor? Have you joined teacher union Facebook pages?  Do you contribute to the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?  Do you contribute to the candidate of your choice?

The consequences of four more years of the current administration and their policies are frightful, the most effective way to protect our hard earned benefits is through the political power of our unions, and, we are the unions.

How will school districts determine local budgeting priorities?

Governor Cuomo announced that New York State schools are closed till the end of June, 4800 schools in 700 school districts, CUNY, SUNY and private colleges. Over 4 million students scattered across the state. The decision whether summer schools will be open will be made by the end of May and September openings will be driven by the data as well as whether you can practice social distancing in a school environment. (Watch full press conference here )

Cuomo acknowledged that school opening questions must be addressed: school busing, social distancing in classrooms and the rambunctious nature of kids.

New York City teacher union (UFT) president set a high bar in a Change.org petition,

  • Widespread access to coronavirus testing to regularly check that people are negative or have immunity
  • A process for checking the temperature of everyone who enters a school building
  • Rigorous cleaning protocols and personal protective gear in every school building
  • An exhaustive tracing procedure that would track down and isolate those who have had close contact with a student or staff member who  tests positive for the virus

 National Public Radio (NPR) listed nine pre-conditions for school openings and a 3-minute interview with UFT President Michael Mulgrew. (Read/Listen here)

Chancellor Betty Rosa announced the formation of a task force of stakeholders to guide the decision about the re-opening of schools,

“In the coming weeks we will form a statewide task force made up of educational leaders, including superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, school board members and other stakeholders, to guide the reopening of our schools.  By working together with these partners, we can ensure that our children’s educational, developmental and overall wellbeing is considered during this important discussion.

“We look forward to working with the Department of Health and sharing recommendations with Governor Cuomo’s New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board.”

The people who are never mentioned and are at the heart of school openings are the district budget folks. They may have different titles, Assistant Superintendent for Finance, Deputy Chancellor for Financial Services, or some other title.

New York State has a 2% cap on school district budget increases (except New York City) and the budget must be approved by voters in the district, in the past, at a May district election, at the same time school board members are elected. This year the school budget vote has been postponed until “after June 1.”

In my years “in the trenches” I was the program chairman, I scheduled students in a 5,000 plus student high school, of course, under the guidance of the principal. How many course offerings? Class size? How many counselors? Deans? As budgets changed from year to year the configuration of the school changed. As the district union rep I sat in on budget meetings, the deputy superintendent was a magician, moving dollars from category to category, maximizing direct services to classrooms.

In a normal year the state budget is passed by April 1 shortly thereafter the state provides budget runs, the amount of dollars for each district. Property tax revenue plus state dollars equal district dollars and budgets are allocated among the schools in the district. A budget is created, registered voters cast their ballots.

This year is unique.

I imagine budget directors are planning a number of scenarios: bad, worse and worst.

I would begin: can I staff all classrooms keeping the current class size? If not, ranking cuts from non-classroom services in order of priority: after school programs, including sports, class trips, professional development, etc. Worst case scenario: lay off teachers and increase class sizes.

You can utilize zero-based budgeting, start with zero and add services according to a pre-determined set of principles,  a bilingual aide in a first grade classroom before an after school arts program;  Advanced Placement  classes or a counselor?

The community is going to vote on a budget before a decision is made over whether schools will be open in September: social distancing, daily temperature-taking, over night school cleaning, etc., what is the cost of these required actions prior to opening schools? Later school openings?  How can I budget for the costs without knowing the pre-opening requirements and the costs?

How will the governor’s hundred member re-opening advisory council interact with the yet to be announced Board of Regents stakeholders group?

Will the governor be prescriptive, or, will school districts have attitude?

These decisions can rip schools and districts apart, pitting parent against parent and teachers against parents, non-parents against parents, with national political politics hovering over all the decisions.

One careful, very careful step at a time.

How will the decision to re-open schools be made? What will re-opened schools look like?

“You can’t bring back a life; you can start a new business”

 “There’s no on/off switch”

Sunday morning Mayor de Blasio outlined his “Restart” proposals (See here  on Twitter) and a few hours later Governor Cuomo outlined his “Reimagine” Plan (Read here).

Perhaos, just perhaps, de Blasio and Cuomo could shake hands, virtujally of course, and work together.

Both plans are light on education,

De Blasio appointed a task force that will report out a draft proposal by June 1st, Cuomo spoke in general terms about a phased re-opening based on two weeks of positive data, aka, the curves continuing to decline.

Cuomo mused about the whether schools should open in the summer. Summer schools to make up for remote learning losses, and, acknowledged that we were unprepared for the instantaneous switch from classroom instruction to remote learning.

Some sections of the state have low levels of COVID infections and low rates of transmission: Cuomo proposed a phased re-opening starting with low incidence sections of the state: will schools be included?

School openings must be guided by medical advice; however, the decision will be made by the governor.

The UFT started a Change.org petition with specific requirements before reopening.

The following things need to be in place when buildings reopen:

  • Widespread access to coronavirus testing to regularly check that people are negative or have immunity
  • A process for checking the temperature of everyone who enters a school building
  • Rigorous cleaning protocols and personal protective gear in every school building
  • An exhaustive tracing procedure that would track down and isolate those who have had close contact with a student or staff member who  tests positive for the virus

Will the unions, school boards and parents be involved in the re-opening decisions?

The contradiction is that until the re-start, until businesses reopen the loss of revenues to the state will result in lower and lower revenue to cities: fewer policeman, fireman and teachers.

There is a cry: tax the billionaires.

Thomas Piketty, a French economist, argues, “Billionaires should be taxed out of existence;” others argue that its illusory, billionaires create corporations that create millions of jobs for the middle class.

A lengthier debate …

The state has announced another cut, a 20% cut in the budget, and, the date for school budget votes has not been set by the governor. If the state does not re-open there could be increasing reductions after July 1.

Could the continuing low levels of revenue result in layoffs of state and local employees?

Could it lead to teacher layoffs? After the 2008 Great Recession there were teacher layoffs across the state, not in New York City.

How do you weigh the positive economic impact of  a restart versus an upsurge in COVID infections?

The governor has made it clear that there are specific data points that must be met before businesses can be reopened and the reopening will be phased in guided by “precautions.”

Tourism is a major driver of the New York City economy; under what conditions will tourists return to the city?  Restaurants are also drivers of employment; once again, under what conditions can restaurants reopen?  Without tourism and restaurants it is hard to imagine the return of pre-COVD revenues.

Federal infusions of dollars are a stopgap until the economy can be restarted and it could easily be years before pre-COVID levels of revenues are reached: fewer dollars for schools and economic woes for the city.

Let’s raise a few school re-opening questions?

How will school buses practice social distancing?

In New York City and other Big Five cities, how will public transit practice social distancing?  Will every rider be required to wear a mask?  Will teachers feel safe taking public transit to get to school?

Is it possible to take the temperature of every bus/train rider?

What will classrooms look like?

Can you social distance in classrooms?

Can kids go to school on alternate days to reduce class size by half? And only move to full days if the data moves below medically established data points.

Can secondary schools move to end-to-end sessions?  As a student my high school had end-to-end sessions, as a teacher I programmed a 5,000 plus student high school on three overlapping sessions. My first year of teaching I was on late session – 11:40 to 6:00, some teachers took college classes in the morning, other partied late into the night (without social distancing, in fact, the opposite)

Would all teachers be tested before they could be returned to the classroom?

Can schools reopen and hold regular classes with the provisions in the change.org petition?

Dr Fauci warns about a return in the fall of both the regular flu and COVID.

I agree with Cuomo and de Blasio, every step must be guided by medical evidence, and hovering is the impact economic impact on the citizenry.

Over the next month or two the questions I raised will require answers.

Check out an old labor song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8Jas7J7JLA

Stay Safe.

Does the Economic Crisis Endanger Teacher Pensions?

My phone rings and computer pings, questions: are our pensions in jeopardy?  The inquiries are probably the result of two posts that have been making the rounds,

One post, from the Reason Foundation entitled “New York City’s Pension Debt Could Push It to Bankruptcy (May, 2019)” and the other from the Marron Institute at NYU entitled “The New York City Teachers’ Retirement System Fiscal Issues and Risks (March, 2020)”

Whether its COVID-19 or teacher pensions you always have to ask the source of the information. There are a range of sites that “assess” organizations. Mediabiasfactcheck identifies the Reason Foundation as, “…often publishes factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes,”

The Reason Foundation is an American libertarian think tank…. its largest donors are the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation ($1,522,212) and the Sarah Scaife Foundation ($2,016,000), The Koch brothers are vigorous opponents of unions and climate change deniers.

We can dismiss the “bankruptcy” claims.

New York City did approach bankruptcy in 1975, the city, unknown to all but the insiders, was in serious financial straits and flirted with bankruptcy. I was the kid on the UFT contract negotiating team. Over the summer we met every few days, exchanged bargaining demands; seemingly we were edging closer to a settlement. Days before the opening of school the city laid off 15,000 teachers as well as tens of thousands of other city workers.  The city was tittering on the edge of bankruptcy. The Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) loaned the city millions to pay off bonds and averted bankruptcy; an Emergency Financial Control Board was created that monitored city spending, the loans were repaid and within five years all the laid off teachers were offered jobs.

Nowadays city finances are transparent, with a City Council and a Comptroller closely monitoring all city expenses and revenues.

A number of years ago Detroit did declare bankruptcy and a court approved a reduction in municipal pensions that was sustained in higher courts.

Public employee pensions in New York State are protected by the state constitution.

 After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.  

City pensions are not in jeopardy.

The NYU Marron Institute study is more interesting.

After teachers strikes in 1967 and 1968, in my view, Mayor Lindsay decided to use the “crisis,” the strike, to weaken the union and, to the extent possible, turn over the schools to pacify communities and avert urban unrest, the riots, that were roiling the nation (Read a lengthier discussion here)

Lindsay, a liberal Republican, yes, there was such an animal, set his sights on a presidential run, and, to win back UFT members, the UFT, Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller agreed to change the archaic pension law and created Tier 1, a far, far more generous plan.

(Read a 1964 pension book produced the UFT here; a teacher retiring at 60 years of age and 35 years of service would receive an annual pension of $2500).

Thank Dave Wittes, the father of Tier 1

Lindsay’s run died in the 1972 Florida primary and the legislature began to whittle away at the pension, due to the constitutional provision, only prospectively.

Currently about 25% of teachers are in Tier 6.

In 1970 Congress passed what we refer to as the Tax Deferred Annuity (TDA). Teachers may designate a percentage of their salary, and defer taxation until after retirement, and TRS will invest the funds, the member has a wide range of investment options. As teachers near retirement they can move their TDA funds to an option that guarantees an annual 7% return. The TDA is not a pension, not guaranteed by the constitution and the percent return is set by the legislature.

The NYU Marron study primarily deals with the fiscal impact of the 7% moving forward.

Is it sustainable over time?

The study praises the TRS and the city,

TRS has a strong funding policy that the city historically has adhered to. It pays down unfunded liabilities quickly, primarily because it amortizes investment gains and losses over a closed 15-year period in level-dollar amounts, which is a more aggressive approach than most plans use. This means that the plan faces little risk of deep underfunding if the city continues to pay contributions in this manner. The city’s strong funding discipline coupled with TRS’s conservative amortization method ensures that the TRS-funded status will keep improving if the return assumption is met. However, the tradeoff is that the city faces significant risk that contributions could rise substantially and could be volatile.

 The study takes a deep dive, many charts and graphs, and does an analysis of a how a reduction in the guaranteed return to 5% and 2.5% would impact the viability of the system. The study concludes,

 The analysis in this report does not suggest there is any imminent danger to TRS. However, our simulations suggest that the combination of the TDA guarantee and investment-return volatility mean the risk of severe underfunding—a funded ratio below 40 percent in our measure—sometime in the next 30 years is about 28 percent under a 7 percent expected investment return assumption. This risk rises to 41 percent under an investment scenario that includes 15 years of low expected returns before the expected return rises to 7 percent. Whether these risks are too great or not concerning is for policymakers to decide, but they need to be aware of them and either explicitly affirm the status quo or work to reduce risk.

I am not a pension expert and cannot draw conclusions about the accuracy of the study. Tom Brown, a TRS Board member, in his next column in the UFT newspaper will be responding to the “claims.”

BTW, I am also asked whether the crisis could result in a “pension buyout,” allowing teachers to retire an earlier age and/or with fewer years of service. It is unlikely.

Watch FDR’s First Inaugural Speech, “The Only Thing We Have to Fear”

Stay Safe

How are school leaders planning for September? What guidance can we expect from the Governor, the Regents/Commissioner, and the school district? What decisions will be left to schools?

My last blog explored how parents would make decisions about whether their children would return to school in September. Today, how are school leaders: they have an incredibly complex task; responding each and every day and   thinking about what will September look like in their school.

Of course, a great deal depends on decisions higher up the chain. Remember; before Moses decided to part the Red Sea he checked with the bosses upstairs.

Every few days I check in with a thoughtful school leader.

I asked,

“How did you react when the announcement was made to close schools and move to remote learning?”

The school leader,

“Remote learning was like getting ‘pushed off the end of a diving board’ introduction to the new world. . .

While it was only a month ago it seems like many, many months, I used to greet kids as they entered the building, walk the halls, check in on classrooms, meetings with grade leaders, teachers by grade, dealing with the unforeseen emergencies, responding to parents, and, the never-ending guidance from the central office,  suddenly, a new kind of schooling.”

His new “remote” day: early in the day “meetings” with key personnel, checking in on the online lessons of teachers, and, deciding what’s working, what can we improve on, and creating a list, a list that grows longer and longer.

Remote learning has created a role reversal, experienced teachers mentored newer teachers, with occasional pushback from both, (“She treats me like she’s my mother” “She’s like my kid, she doesn’t listen to me”) now senior teachers may need to be mentored by young, more tech savvy teachers. How do we convince senior, less tech savvy teachers that they have to learn new skills?

Will there be funds to use the summer to plan for September, both in school and remotely? Upgrading teacher tech skills, re-organizing the school, creating curriculum maps to meet new remote instructional models, creating a “library” of U-Tubes, and on and on.

How do we assess student progress?  Should we administer a diagnostic test?  What do we assess? Are there “off the shelf” assessment tools that can be used online? In person?

Do we move towards more project-based learning?  Will we be able to create age-grade appropriate projects?

How do we assess the effectiveness of our remote teaching/learning model?

How do we include parents and teachers in our self-assessment?

Have we run enough parent Town Halls? How many parents participated? How can we increase parent participation?  How can we move from complaint sessions to parent partnerships?

Do we have useful data on student online participation?  Who are the students who are not participating?  How do we increase participation?

How do we grade students?

I asked,

“What’s your most pressing concern?”

He answered, without any hesitation,

“Budget – everything depends on whether we have the funding, I’m afraid that the cuts will be so severe that our school will be running on fumes.”

Outside of New York City school budget votes will be delayed “until at least June 1st”.

In New York City the Mayor has already proposed a range of  reductions; however, the final budget requires the approval of the City Council, it must be in place by June 30th.

At Monday’s press briefing from Governor Cuomo,

New York Governor Cuomo said Monday that hospitals, schools and local governments will face 20% cuts in state aid if the federal government fails to include more funding in the next coronavirus stimulus package.  Cuomo said he is worried about empty promises from Washington, D.C.

“You can’t spend what you don’t have,” Cuomo said about funding state infrastructure. “You would be cutting schools 20%, local governments 20%, and hospitals 20%”

“People are frightened, the kids, the teachers, and they look to me, I wish I had answers, I try and be as supportive as possible, the uncertainty, from day to day weighs heavily on all of us. I wonder about the lingering impact.”

I asked,

“Are there any lessons for September if school resumes?”

With a smile,

“My most intriguing folder, can kids who are absent learn remotely? Should we designate a teacher as the “remote learning specialist?”  Can we connect kids and classes with kids and classes in other schools? in other countries? The teacher union contract has a school-based option clause: how can we utilize the clause to give us more flexibility? How do I deal with the ‘lets go back to the way it was’ attitudes? Or, should we just go back to the way it was and do it better?”

On one side of the coin the medical experts giving advice and on the other side the economic experts giving advice with decisions made by the Governor and down through the ranks.

For schools day-to-day challenges, and hoping that the decision-makers understand that the re-opening of schools must assure safety for all.

If you want to follow up to date research and information I suggest logging in to the John Hopkins site here.

When Will You Feel Comfortable Sending Your Children Back to School?

It is increasingly looking like the powers that be are taking steps, albeit baby steps, to re-open the economy.

The President, reversing himself, has pushed re-opening decisions to the states; the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recommends a phased return to normalcy.

State-by-State Reopening in Phase II. Individual states can move to Phase II when they are able to safely diagnose, treat, and isolate COVID-19 cases and their contacts. During this phase, schools and businesses can reopen, and much of normal life can begin to resume in a phased approach. However, some physical distancing measures and limitations on gatherings will still need to be in place to prevent transmission from accelerating again.

Governor Cuomo, issued another Executive Order extending PAUSE until at least May 15th, and, coordinating decisions with a multi-state consortium of states (NY. NJ, Conn, RI, Maryland, Delaware).

Denmark is the first European nation to re-open schools, with social distancing in schools and a NY Times article reports trepidation among parents.

Parents have tough decisions.

Should I send my child to an out-of-town college? Take a gap-year? Transfer to a college near home? Colleges and parents are mulling the options  and colleges are preparing for returning to on campus classes as well as continuing remote learning.

School districts across the state are facing dramatic budget reductions. How will your district respond to the reductions? Will class size be increased? Fewer course offerings? Reductions in sports and other after school activities?  In New York City the budgeting process is in full swing. The Mayor outlined cuts in school budgets, the Mayor’s budget must be reconciled with the City Council; the budget must be in place by the end of June. School budgets will be available on April 23rd.

The New York Times points to a disturbing study,

The study projects that students who lack steady instruction during the coronavirus school shutdown might retain only 70 percent of their annual reading gains compared with a normal year. Projections for the so-called Covid slide in math look even bleaker. Depending on grade level, researchers say, students could lose between half and all of the achievement growth one would expect in a normal academic year.

 And goes on to suggest specific policies,

A learning reversal of this magnitude could hobble an entire generation unless state leaders quickly work to reverse the slide. Any reasonable approach would include: diagnostic testing to determine what children know when they return to the classroom; aggressive remedial plans and an expanded school calendar that makes up for lost instructional time;

 Long Island Opt Out, with over 25,000 Facebook followers opposes any addition to the testing regimen.

Let’s not forget that little event on November 3rd, the presidential election. The President is pushing as hard as he can to end re-open the economy.  The scientists worry about moving too quickly and watch a “second wave” of coronavirus “hot spots.”

How do you decide? Possibly a life altering decision for families.

In a year or two we should have a vaccine and more effective treatments as well as the ability to test everyone.

I have no advice; every parent will have to decide for themselves.