Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The Best Equity Money Can Buy

I taught Zoom lessons for three months. I have ideas on how they can be better, but no one asks me what they are. They will never substitute for the face to face teaching I signed up for. That’s the very toughest work I do, but like the overwhelming majority of my colleagues, I love doing it. It doesn’t look like that’s what I’ll be doing in September, though.
This school year, the mayor says he's going to open the buildings. Depending upon whom you ask, that's his prerogative. Let's ignore the sandbox fight between Bill de Blasio and Governor Cuomo for now, and focus on what they're saying. They both say they have authority over city schools, and both are willing to argue it in public. It's undeniable, though, that this announcement is premature. If there’s one thing we know about Covid, it’s that we have no idea what its impact will be in September.
We do know some things, though. We know that the mayor’s preferred model of instruction is a hybrid. I'll have nine masked students sitting socially distanced from one another in my classroom. Where the other 25 will be, or what they'll be doing while I stand masked in front of the other nine and approach none of them, I have no idea. That's for principals and UFT chapters to negotiate, should they happen to be on speaking terms, over the summer. (To me, this sounds like something out of Black Mirror.)
However, not everyone has to utilize hybrid learning. The mayor has specifically stated that anyone who didn't wish their children to travel to school buildings would receive remote instruction at home. After all, which parents want their children to travel on public transportation, thus risking a potentially deadly infection? Which parents want to depend on children to respect masking and social distancing? Which parents want to depend on NYC school cleanliness? (And why didn’t the mayor ask those questions on his parent survey, which I’ll get to in a moment.)
The question, then, becomes this—Who will even be able to take the mayor up on his generous offer? Let's first look at who will not. Clearly, households that don't have access to daycare are out. While it's true that some families may qualify for aid, many of those who don't can't afford to pay. Those people will not be able to take the mayor up on his thoughtful offer. I’m not sure how this represents the equity the mayor’s DOE claims to champion.
Of course, if you've got money, your kids need not travel anywhere. You can pay someone to take care of them. Your kids can stay home and attend classes remotely. No risky bus rides for them. No contact with children or adults who’ve been infected. No depending on sorely overworked school custodians to do so-called deep cleaning in selected areas of the school from time to time. 
Let’s take a look at those parents who send their kids to school. That will solve the child care problem. Except it won’t. Most schools will see students in cohorts. If you’re extremely lucky, your kids will attend every other day. More likely they’ll attend every third day. However, if you’re in a school as popular as Francis Lewis High School, your kid will only attend once every five days. That means, if you need child care, you’ll need it 80% of the time. Despite the mayor’s intentions, that’s not particularly helpful to working families.
The mayor says three out of four who filled out his survey wanted buildings to open. There are a few issues with that. One is that the mayor was not clear what opening entailed. Would people have said yes to, “Do you think it’s a good idea we let your kids come to school one or two days a week, and hope for the best the rest of the time?”
Another is that it was an internet survey, not precisely the gold standard, with no controls whatsoever. Absolutely anyone could’ve taken it as many times as they wished. Were there people at Tweed furiously filling out surveys? Who knows? We should be planning for each scenario. Instead we plan for nothing and hope for the best.
We have no idea what the state of Covid will be in September, but City Hall has some ideas, at least. The chancellor sent a PowerPoint to principals with an entire section entitled, “Preparing for when someone gets sick.” Not if but when. It also suggests staff members and students should stay home when sick. Not must but should. That’s about as definite as it gets with this mayor.
In one way, there is certainly equity. This mayor is failing all of us.
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