Open a Window

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has been writing about classroom ventilation for a few weeks now: Update: Dispatch from the Covid Trenches (February 12, 2021), Veni, Vidi, Vici (February 19, 2021), and C’est La Vie (February 20, 2021) complete with pictures.

Not surprisingly, for those who can do so, opening a window will improve ventilation in the sense of mixing outdoor air with the indoor air. Perhaps surprisingly for those who don’t spend their time in schools, many teachers are unable to open their windows, their classrooms don’t have windows, or they are forbidden to open windows because of security concerns.

GOT’s window. There’s another one in the back of the room.

Those open windows improved ventilation in GOT’s classroom such that the CO2 readings dropped by more than half after students had been in the room for three hours. By students, GOT means a full classroom of 30. There’s no physical distancing going on in the classrooms at his school.

Many other teachers are not so lucky. After the CDC added ventilation advice to their Covid guidelines, social media erupted with lots of comments.

The comments were negative, mainly falling along the lines of teachers whose rooms had no windows, the windows were wired, screwed, painted shut or boarded over, the openings were so narrow that students could not jump through them if they were so inclined, etc.

While GOT is critical of the CDC for its constantly-changing guidelines, which, despite their protests, seem to change to meet the political desires of the White House, both current and previous administrations, he doesn’t join those sneering at the advice.

Open a window if you can. It helps. What also helps is being able to keep the HVAC fan on, which necessitates that the adult in the room has access to the controls and can actually change the settings. That’s not always possible because the Internet of All Things has meant that school systems can control the room’s atmosphere from far away, even delegating the job to a third party contractor thousands of miles away.

And now we’re getting to it. Why criticize the CDC for issuing common sense advice? What was also included in that advice was this:

  • Turn off any demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on occupancy or temperature during occupied hours. In homes and buildings where the HVAC fan operation can be controlled at the thermostat, set the fan to the “on” position instead of “auto,” which will operate the fan continuously, even when heating or air-conditioning is not required.
  • Open outdoor air dampers beyond minimum settings to reduce or eliminate HVAC air recirculation. In mild weather, this will not affect thermal comfort or humidity. However, this may be difficult to do in cold, hot, or humid weather.
  • Improve central air filtration:
    • Increase air filtration external icon to as high as possible without significantly reducing design airflow.
    • Inspect filter housing and racks to ensure appropriate filter fit and check for ways to minimize filter bypass.
    • Check filters to ensure they are within their service life and appropriately installed.
  • Ensure restroom exhaust fans are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.
  • Inspect and maintain local exhaust ventilation in areas such as kitchens, cooking areas, etc. Operate these systems any time these spaces are occupied. Consider operating these systems, even when the specific space is not occupied, to increase overall ventilation within the occupied building.
  • Consider portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning (especially in higher risk areas such as a nurse’s office or areas frequently inhabited by persons with higher likelihood of COVID-19 and/or increased risk of getting COVID-19).
  • Generate clean-to-less-clean air movement by re-evaluating the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers (especially in higher risk areas).
  • Consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement to help inactivate SARS-CoV-2, especially if options for increasing room ventilation are limited. Upper-room UVGI systemspdf icon can be used to provide air cleaning within occupied spaces, and in-duct UVGI systems can help enhance air cleaning inside central ventilation systems.

The CDC advice was less telling teachers to open a window than it was telling DISTRICTS TO DO THEIR JOB!

Sorry for the shouting, but GOT needs to cut through the noise surrounding this issue.

Why aren’t school districts sending their maintenance staffs into the classrooms (when they are occupied) to take readings to identify the rooms in need of immediate mitigation measures with the ventilation?

Why aren’t school districts giving control of the thermostat back to the people who are in the room?

Why aren’t school districts using their CARES act money, and there is more coming as the latest relief bill moves through Congress, to purchase portable HEPA-filtering appliances for classrooms? Also, appliances that provide ultraviolet gemicidal irradiation?

Why are school districts failing to be proactive?

That’s where our attention needs to be. Let’s hold our school districts, school boards, superintendents, chiefs of schools, and all other high leaders accountable to make our schools safe.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

At the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, S.C., it ain't so - The  Washington Post
Shoeless Joe Jackson or Clueless Joe Biden?

It’s a part of American sports lore, the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which the Chicago baseball team deliberately lost the World Series as eight key players, the renowned Shoeless Joe Jackson among them, took money from professional gamblers to throw the games.

According to legend and later movie re-enactments, a boy confronted Shoeless Joe as he left the courtroom with the plaintive demand, “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.”

According to the legend, Shoeless Joe replied, “I’m afraid it is, kid.”

Consternation erupted in the education world this week as Ian Rosenblum, Acting Poobah of Whatever in the U.S. Department of Education, issued a letter announcing that the Biden administration would not grant blanket waivers of the ESEA, known as ESSA in its current version, requirements for states to administer standardized tests and report the results to the U.S. Department of Education.

Forgive Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) for what seems like snark, but Mr. Rosenblum is only filling in while the President’s education nominees wait their turn in the Coliseum, a/k/a Senate committee hearings, to prove their gladiatorial worth and a vote on the Senate floor in order to take up their posts. Thus, we can add confusion to the consternation as we are left to wonder if the president was aware of this decision (he has had other priorities to focus on such as the pandemic, border and immigration issues, defense issues, and economic recovery) and approved of it.

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

After all, you did promise teachers during the campaign that you would end standardized testing. You used your wife as a prop that a real teacher would be living in the White House. You promised that an educator, a public school-experienced educator, would be your Secretary of Education.

Two out of three ain’t bad? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

When your people get in, will this decision change? The details are laughable in that Mr. Rosenblum, on behalf of your administration, says that states and school systems will have the flexibility to adapt the tests as needed: delay them into summer or fall, shorten the tests, allow tests to be taken online, etc. Teachers far wiser than GOT have pointed out that, under these guidelines, the tests are not standardized. Comparisons will not be valid.

Tests are still needed? Say it ain’t so, Joe. They are nothing but a distraction from what teachers and schools need to be doing during the pandemic. Some say parents need to know how their children are doing. GOT agrees, but disagrees that the state test which judges children and assigns them a scarlet number, a/k/a achievement level, tells them anything in the gobbledygook that fills the usual report card stuffer that is mailed midsummer.

This math teacher can tell you that he knows within a week of school beginning what the students know and can do. He already picks up on the exact struggles of students who lack an ability to work with numbers and solve simple algebraic equations. He knows, he knows, but not from the test, the one he is not allowed to look at, the one shrouded in secrecy that not even a state law that an exam must be released to public view every three years is a law that his state’s Department of Education will follow.

Accountability is needed, but it does not come from flawed tests that cannot pass muster if independent psychometricians (a fancy word for test experts) review them. They have grave concerns about the validity of the tests (they don’t measure what they claim to) and the reliability (they don’t give the same results when administered at different times and under different conditions.)

Broader measures of school effectiveness, efficiency, and efficacy in providing all the services that we demand of them are needed.

Continuing and encouraging the narrow judgment of schools based solely upon a test given once a year for only two subjects, reading and math, is misleading. Worse than useless, the results mislead the public, politicians, and policy makers into bad decisions.

Is that what you want, Joe? Say it ain’t so.

We teachers, we had hope. We always knew we would be disappointed somewhere down the road, but we hoped to get past the first month, the first 100 days that you are focused on.

Joe, you let us down. Say it ain’t so.

“I’m afraid it is, kid.”

C’est La Vie

Image result for c'est la vie
Such is life. Maybe GOT should have gone with a fiddler on the roof. Comme ci, comme ca.

In the second of three-related pieces, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) continues to think about the classroom that is full of students and what practices actually work to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission. The first one Veni, Vidi, Vici may be found here.

In the 6th installment of her famous series, J.K. Rowling moves Professor Snape into the Defense Against Dark Arts position to the consternation of the students. In one of his first classes, Snape had this to say, ““The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”

He could have been describing the coronavirus that has been spawning new, more contagious, possibly more deadly variants as governments work to get their people vaccinated.

C’est la vie pandémique dans une école.

Covid is changing. We need to up our game if we are to continue to provide the best possible safety in classroom environments. For GOT, that has meant checking on the actual ventilation in the room. How safe is his classroom?

Last week, GOT published an early report. The hypothesis was that the CO2 readings, used as a proxy for ventilation, showed that the classroom air was not being exchanged with outdoor air in a way that refreshed the indoor air to keep it healthy. The CO2 readings themselves were not the concern. It was the increase that took place over three hours, an increase that continued until GOT opened the windows, that suggested that the exhalations of Covid-laden breath would increase in the classroom, which would mean that as the day went on, the probability of people in the room contracting the virus would also increase without stop.

This week, GOT continued to monitor the readings. Tuesday, the 16th, a day when GOT sits alone all day and teaches online, the readings went from 390 at 7 AM to 875 by the end of the day at 3 PM.

The significance of the increase is not the numbers, but the trend. It seems clear that GOT’s classroom does not have enough ventilation to prevent an accumulation of whatever is present in human exhalation.

HVAC unit as seen from inside.

The actual HVAC unit is mounted on the outside of the buiilding. The vent at top is the treated air that is blown into the classroom; the vent at bottom pulls air out of the classroom. The exhaust is mixed with fresh outdoor air. The problem is that this only happens when the unit is working. At other times, the classroom atmosphere is still and uncomfortable.

Prior to the pandemic, GOT had two fans that were set to slow–enough to stir the air and keep the atmosphere from a cloying oppression without blowing papers off desks and being annoying.

But, given the airborne transmission of the virus, the last thing to do would be to blow it all over the classroom. GOT put the fans away.

Wednesday, the 17th, when students would be in the classroom, action was in order. GOT opened the top windows in the classroom to see if they would provide ventilation for the room. That day, the readings increased but only to half the levels of the previous Friday. The readings two days later confirmed the same, in fact, the CO2 reading peaked at less than half of that recorded the first day.

That beige device on the wall is the infamous motion detector that turns the lights out every 10 minutes.

You see how the window is opened. It is screened unlike the lower windows that are the emergency escape route should we need to evacuate and cannot use the hallway door. The advantage of the screen is that it keeps bugs out.

Oh, you haven’t lived until you see the panic and drama when a wasp flies into the room. High school teens think themselves tough, they may be ready to fight at the slightest insult and keep going until blood runs on the floor, but wait until a wasp is in the room! They cower.

Teens seem unable to grasp the principle that if they leave something alone, even a critter like a wasp, it will leave them alone. The wasp doesn’t want to sting. It wants to find a way out of the room without expending so much energy that it dies. Let it alone and let it get about its mission. But GOT digresses.

A new strategy is now part of the mix. Every day, GOT gets on a ladder and opens the top windows to keep the room aired. At the end of the day, he does it again to close them. Upping the game to keep the room healthy and safe as epidemiologists worry about a third surge of sickness and death as the variants take hold.

It seems simple: open the windows. But GOT’s building is over 50 years old–built in the days when even Florida did not have universal air conditioning and architects placed plenty of windows in the designs that could be opened in the heat to catch the prevailing breezes.

These days, buildings are built to stay closed. Energy efficiency dictates that minimal ventilation with outside air take place to reduce the cooling demands upon HVAC equipment. Not every teacher has windows to open.

They deserve better than to hear districts, boards, politicians, and the public say: c’est la vie.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Image result for julius caesar in gaul
Who said it–Caesar or Covid?

It wouldn’t be education if Covid didn’t bring a new front in the wars of reform and conquest, namely whether the reopening of school buildings and campuses are safe for children and employees or whether that should even be a consideration as employers look to schools as taxpayer-funded childcare, whether remote learning is detrimental to student mental health such that the lives of teachers must be risked or whether it represents an opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurs to take over the job of teaching with ed tech products of varying quality.

We are told to follow the science and a new front opens on what, exactly, is that science? Self-designated experts argue, the CDC changes its advice (again! sigh …), and the meme mills go into overtime to produce new propaganda that can best be described as a fortune from a Chinese-restaurant cookie that comes with a picture.

Let’s talk about Covid and the elephant in the room. While states in shutdown argue over when, how, and whether to reopen schools, other states like Florida forced their schools to open in August. Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district reopened under a hybrid model and then went to full-time face-to-face learning October 1.

Quarantining for students exposed to positive cases in the classroom disrupted learning. There were days in November when half of a face-to-face class was home due to Department of Health orders. As we moved into the winter holidays, GOT was sure that when we returned in January, it would only take two weeks before the system would have to shut down due to students and teachers being sick or in quarantine.

It didn’t happen. In fact, after two high schools had to close for a week in October due to careless teen parties, GOT’s district did not close a school again until this week when a middle school closed (meaning the entire school went into remote learning/teaching from home like the spring) for five days including a weekend.

Do not clapback about how unsafe you think opening campus is. It’s a painful debate for those personally involved, teachers, parents, and students, and GOT believes in erring on the side of caution, in this case, only coming into classroom contact when the school environment has been made safe. But it must be acknowledged that his district’s experience suggests that opening the buildings does not have to be a disaster if, the emphasis on IF, effective mitigation of the risk takes place.

CDC guidance resembles more or less the approach to Florida educational standards; everything anyone can think of is put on the list without considering how much can possibly be done in the time given and whether the resources are available to accomplish the task.

We read that safe reopening is possible with social distancing, reduced class sizes, scheduling secondary students (including high school) into small groups that stay together all day long, mask wearing, well-ventilated classrooms, vaccination of employees, physical barriers like sneeze guards on the desks, frequent cleaning of surfaces such as door knobs and desks during the day, microbial barriers sprayed that theoretically shred viral particles upon contact, etc.

Not all of this is possible for many reasons, chief among them that few want to fund school systems to be able to afford all of this. For schools to establish social distancing, they must reduce class sizes that in turn means they must hire more people. Many, many more people. They don’t have the money. They are not going to get the money.

We ought to ask what CAN be done? Let’s start with what is being done and then consider how effective it is.

In GOT’s district, they supply PPE for frequent cleaning of surfaces. Classrooms receive wipes, spray, and towels to clean surfaces like the desks between classes. Because teachers don’t have the time to do this, students are told to do the job when they go into a new class. (GOT teaches in high school.) Gallon jugs of hand sanitizer are provided every quarter. Students are told to sanitize their hands upon leaving a class and entering a new class even if all they did was walk down the hall for 60 seconds. Teachers receive disposable gloves.

GOT doesn’t force students to do any of these things. It’s hard to raise children and teachers, whether they like it or not, play their part. Too much hand-sanitizing done too frequently will dry out the skin. With only two face-to-face classes, first and second periods, GOT deems it unnecessary for the first class to sanitize desks when the custodians already did it the night before. It may seem shocking, but GOT trusts his students to make the right decisions for themselves even though they may need frequent reminding, which he provides.

It has worked. No student has caught Covid from a classroom exposure, the few cases GOT knows about that did and did not result in quarantine, there was no secondary transmission. Without frequent surface cleaning, we are okay.

Generals always fight the last war. One of the reasons that the Civil War had the highest casualties in our history is that the generals on both sides were fighting the war with the tactics of Napoleon. But fifty years had passed. In Napoleon’s day, soldiers had muskets that had a low rate of accuracy. Two opposing lines of soldiers could march within 100 yards of one another and fire. The bullets mostly missed. So the innovation was not to bother with shooting, but to run into each other and fight in close quarters.

By the 1860s, gun technology had moved to rifles that had great accuracy. Then, rifles could be loaded from the breech, not the muzzle (reloading became faster) and that was followed by ‘repeating’ rifles–what we today would call semi-automatic weapons. Running at the opposing line was deadly as they waited, aimed, and fired.

From GOT’s view, that is much of the Covid advice. It is based upon what works with influenza, but they are two different viruses. Flu is big and heavy. A sick person breathes it out, it doesn’t travel far before it drops onto a surface. Flu spreads through people touching contaminated surfaces and then introducing the virus into their bodies.

Covid is different. It is much smaller and light. It lingers in the air and travels on air currents. When people stay a reasonable distance apart outside, the viral particles dissipate and the risk is low. When people congregate in a room with little ventilation, the risk is high because we breathe the air of others repeatedly. What one has, we all get.

It’s not a bad thing to clean surfaces frequently, sanitizing hands throughout the day, and wiping commonly-touched objects like doorknobs. But that’s fighting the last war, the flu. GOT doubts that was the key to keeping his classroom healthy and safe. Rather, he has focused on minimizing the risk from breathing in contaminated air.

From the first day, masks are required and GOT repeatedly tells students to pull them up and keep the nose covered, not only in the classroom and the hallway, but throughout the entire campus. Most of the time, he has only to look at someone not in compliance and they correct the problem. (There is an advantage to being a Grumpy Old Teacher.)

Masks trap viral particles so we don’t breathe them into our lungs. It’s not a coincidence that teachers are experiencing the healthiest cold-and-flu season ever. Children are not spreading those diseases like they normally do. Masks play a big part in reducing the airborne risk of infection.

Physical distancing is not possible, but GOT makes the students conform to the seating chart and not move around the room. This impacts the ability to form and reform groups as well as the ability to provide remediation to targeted groups that need it. It’s not a perfect world. In a pandemic, staying healthy is paramount and alternate learning strategies have to be used.

And that’s it … as far as district-enabled mitigation goes. But the O in GOT is real. In his sixties, GOT understands his risk and goes beyond to provide his classroom with extra equipment. Add to the mitigation strategies an appliance with a HEPA filter (medical grade) that cleans all the classroom air every 30 minutes and a UVC-light appliance that zaps viral particles (think what hospitals do.) While not as efficient, the UVC-light can treat the air every 90 minutes or so.

These were personal purchases. In fact, GOT has spent about $1,000 purchasing pandemic-related equipment to be able to do his job. The HEPA-appliance cost about $270 and the UVC ran $200. But GOT thinks his life is worth more than that.

The sneeze guards don’t do much. They are one factor in the mitigation strategy, but they don’t add much because the students are not showing up sick. The sneeze guards would catch the snot and saliva expelled from coughs and sneezes if students were suffering from a cold or the flu.

Wait, even if a student sneezes, the masks catch the mess. The district spent between two and three million to buy those barriers.

Sigh, we’re always fighting the last war, the last disease. What if, instead, the district had spent the money on HEPA-filter appliances? Hmmm, 7500 classrooms (more or less) at $300 apiece, that’s $2,250,000. Wouldn’t the CARES act money used to buy the sneeze guards have been better spent on air-filtering appliances for the classroom?

But it wasn’t on the CDC checklist. The last war, you know? Meanwhile, the G.I.s in the trenches, we know who we are, are doing what we can to stay alive.

Veni, vidi, vici? Perhaps. Check on me in June.

Update: Dispatch from the Covid Trenches

Dateline: February 12, 2021

It had to happen. The first case of the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant, has been confirmed in the city. It turns out that every test is not being checked because that requires a genetic sequencing of the sample. According to the story, 825,000 cases were detected last week meaning 825,000 test results; of that, 6,000 tests were selected for the genetic sequencing to identify the Covid strain.

Statistics is a powerful thing. It can take a limited sample and detect the trends in the population. While a raw extrapolation of data is inappropriate, it does mean that one case detected represents many more in existence.

When will it turn up in schools?

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When FedEx won’t cut it.

School reopening is the argument of the day as the Biden administration attempts to interpret its stated goal of getting kids back in school within its first 100 days.

For those who are calendar-challenged, that means April 30 roughly.

For those who are BS test (nod to Peter Greene for coining the double-entendre) challenged, that means just in time for all the kiddos to return to the building and take their tests.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is working on a piece for the President’s eyes as well as the good Doctor his wife on what teachers want for their campuses to open in the midst of the pandemic.

But here’s a teaser: ventilation. One of the caveats of reopening advice is that school classrooms be well-ventilated. Think of those Chinese restaurants a year ago, where researchers discovered that early transmission was taking place because the diners were in an enclosed space without adequate ventilation of the indoor air with outdoor air.

GOT read a piece how CO-2 monitoring could serve as a proxy for how well a room–office, home, school–is ventilated. Naturally, he immediately bought a monitor to see what it would reveal about his classroom. While the article warns that readings must be taken over time, the readings in GOT’s classroom today will spark an early hypothesis.

7 AM (before school): GOT sits alone at his desk preparing his materials for the day. (And complying with district mandates regarding standard on the wall, lesson plan template, etc. but that’s a gripe for another day.) One person, CO-2 at 500 parts per million (ppm).

8:10 – 9:40 AM (first period, a face-to-face class): 20 persons in the room, readings rise from 1750 ppm to 2150 ppm by the end of the class.

9:45 – 11:15 AM (second period, another face-to-face class. During the change the classroom door is open to the hallway, but the hallway’s exterior door remains closed–traffic control): 25 persons in the room, readings rise from 2100 to 3600 ppm by the end of the class.

Lunch: GOT opens the windows to air out the room. In the first 15 minutes, readings drop to 900 ppm. In another 5 minutes, the readings fall to 700 ppm. By the time 30 minutes have elapsed, the reading is 410 ppm, equivalent to the outside air.

1:45 PMish: It begins to rain. GOT is teaching his 4th period class, which is a remote learning class. He sits alone, but he has to close the windows. The readings rise to 500 and then peak at 564 ppm as he speaks maskless (GOT is by himself, after all!) to the class. His exhalations alone cause the rise.

Is GOT’s classroom well-ventilated? Isn’t that one of the conditions required to safely reopen the school buildings?

(Because the narrative is flawed. No school system is closed. Many campuses and buildings are closed, but the schools are open and teachers are working more hours to provide online instruction than they would if all classes were in-person.)

GOT will continue to monitor readings in the room and build a database, He will move the monitor around the room to see if the location makes a difference. Expect future reports.

In other news, there is an upswell in student socializing, laughter, and loud noise. Good Guggamugga, how we have missed it. If there has been one consistent note among teachers about this pandemic year, it is how sad the campus is. Kids stayed apart, no one talked in a classroom, it was depressing. As always, balancing health protocols and human needs is tough.

GOT’s district decided to focus on mental health for the month of February. They featured a ‘take off the mask’ campaign to encourage students to talk about their struggles during this time. There were two problems: some people interpreted that to mean that the district would no longer require actual mask wearing and it looked like the district had forgotten that February was Black History month … because they had.

GOT supposes district officials might read this post (hoo-ha, he could only hope! A little fish in a mighty small pond, he is) and object. But the truth is that the district has made no push to highlight Black history as it had in previous years.

Finally, the fall-out from one high school reacting to it all resulted in social media threats. Therefore, GOT’s district instituted enhanced security procedures yesterday and today for high schools. That meant every student had to walk through a metal detector or be wanded and have their bags searched.

Oh yeah, and the district decided that wanding should be extended to employees. A teen issues a threat on a social media platform and one of the district’s responses is that we had better search teachers, too, to make sure they aren’t bringing weapons on campus.

You read that right.

Dispatch ended.

Problem of the Day

As we pass into the second season of the school year … no, in our era that the reason children go to school is not to learn, not to become knowledgeable citizens, or to pass through the development stages of childhood as they grow into adults with support from trained personnel, we don’t have the four seasons of summer, fall, winter, and spring … the second season of the school year is test preparation. It begins every January after the season of instruction ends with winter break.

Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) employer has mandated that math classrooms begin every lesson with a district-provided ‘Problem of the Day.’

Oh, my … it’s been a long time since ed bloggers were offered up such a great straight line, but GOT is running with it before everyone else does, too.

Problem of the Day: Judging teachers and schools by premature district testing. We will soon start testing students with a third round of progress monitoring. For GOT’s subject, it will be a test given over two days, ninety minutes each day, to mimic the state test that will come in May. This year it is earlier than ever. Rather than waiting for late March or early April, the district has set the test for the last week of February or first week of March.

GOT got out the calendar and counted the days. His district is giving a test to cover a full year of learning after only two-thirds of the year has passed!

Problem of the Day: The pretense that such testing has value for teachers. Year after dreary year, when each progress monitoring assessment is given and results are analyzed, GOT is asked what he will do with the results. Given that the tests don’t correlate with actual teaching (it only does for teachers who have no self-respect and blindly follow the pacing guide without knowing the students in the room, their learning styles, and what is really needed), GOT always has the same response: I will carry on teaching the curriculum in a way that best benefits the students. Those areas they performed badly? That’s because we haven’t gotten there yet. Leave me alone and we will. We will arrive at a state of readiness by the time the last season of the school year, TESTING, arrives.

Year after year, the results prove GOT right. Not that the FSA is valid or reliable, but still, the students are up to the challenge on the day they must take it.

Problem of the Day: District testing shows the obsession district officials have with scores and that they are running their school systems to meet the needs of adults, not children. Why else test children before they are ready? Why the compulsive need for data? Is it because we do not trust ourselves? Is data, any data, no matter how flawed, better than having faith in teachers? Bad data always leads to bad decisions.

Problem of the Day: The belief by district officials, caught in the squeeze between sound pedagogical practices and state demands for test scores, that nanomanaging classrooms (we used to say micromanaging, but we have gone far beyond that, a new word is needed) will bring results.

Telling teachers what to write on their whiteboards, the exact way in which every lesson must proceed, the script they must read to their students and to deviate is to risk one’s job, and forcing administrators to inspect classrooms to make sure the edicts are followed has consequences and GOT is not sure that they are unintended.

Teacher morale is low and anyone who can leave is leaving for a new profession. Mental health is a problem and the number of teachers on social media reaching out for help is astounding as are the districts pumping out videos saying that employees should reach out to HR for assistance rather than addressing the issues that they are causing.

Problem of the Day: Comparing the results of a new test to one taken two years ago. We must calculate learning gains somehow, right? Wrong. Learning gain calculations in Florida are absurd. For example, if a student scoring Level 5 previously falls to Level 3, that still counts as a learning gain … unless the Department of Education has changed the rules again. They do that frequently.

Problem of the Day: State tests masquerade as objective measures of learning when in reality they are normed tests. The reason Florida changes its scoring rules is to maintain the narrative they want to report, one in which Florida leads the nation in reform and achievement but has terrible public schools and teachers, who must be punished or driven out of education altogether. It’s not an easy trick to pull off.

It takes a month to get test scores from the state after testing ends. Why? Because the state is reviewing the results and deciding whether to accept them or rescore them. If the scores are too high, the state raises the bar. Thus, if a school is struggling with their scores and threatened with sanctions, they don’t have to merely improve, they have to improve more than other schools.

Florida curves its tests. GOT doubts it’s the only state that does so.

Dispatch from the Covid Trenches

A/K/A Your local Florida public school.

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The flying dog is carrying messages for headquarters.

Masks: Most students and staff continue to comply with mask requirements. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) stopped Friday afternoon to talk to a group of boys congregated in the courtyard because most had pulled their masks down. They respectfully complied when told to pull the masks up and GOT believes (at least he hopes) that they appreciated his message that the new variants of Covid are much more contagious and damaging, “Stay healthy. Stay safe.”

The mask problem is developing. Because of the new variants, advice is to abandon cloth masks and use a surgical or KN95 mask. (To leave the medically-certified N95 mask supply for hospitals where they are needed.) If necessary, wear two. GOT has seen a surge in children wearing surgical masks. He himself has made the change to disposable KN95, which is recommended because of his age.

Contact tracing and quarantine: After the fall, GOT anticipated that the problem of quarantine would continue its adverse impact on student attendance and learning that ultimately sabotages grades.

Despite the accumulated impact of the holidays, careless family gatherings and parties, there has been little quarantining going on. This is because the Department of Health (DOH) has fallen so far behind that by the time they get to the tracing, the time period has expired.

For example, GOT knew from one student that they had symptoms and was waiting on a test result. He looked up the last day the student had been in the room and calculated that even if the DOH contacted him the next day, he would tell them that the recommended time period had already gone by.

Notifications: Due to HIPPA and privacy concerns, the most we learn from administration or the district dashboard is that more cases were reported. We are not told if those cases had been in our rooms or if we had otherwise been exposed. Thus, the PR effort to keep people informed does not inform anyone.

However, GOT and his fellow teachers are not stupid. We see who is not coming to work. Without facts, we are left to speculate. That fuels the rumor mill and that is never a good thing. Years ago, GOT worked in a town that outdid Peyton Place in the daily rumors that spread. Someone said, “If you haven’t heard a new rumor by 10 AM, start one yourself!”

Not good for a school district so imbedded in the test-and-punish culture that they are forcing students learning from home to report to campus at the end of the month for the sole purpose of taking (useless, in GOT’s opinion) progress monitoring tests.

PPE: The district continues to supply classrooms with wipes, cleaning fluids, and hand sanitizer. The old saying goes that the army is always fighting the last war. The PPE is appreciated, but it is more geared toward fighting the last disease, namely the flu.

Schools have not experienced the level of influenza or even common colds that have been routine in previous years. Maybe we will learn a lesson from this and continue our health protocols in future years after the covid crisis is over.

But Covid-19’s real risk is airborne transmission. We receive no protections against that. Those KN95 masks? Yeah, GOT paid for that himself. At the beginning of the year, he spent $500 buying appliances for his classroom to HEPA-filter the air and UVC-light zap viral particles. Despite the poor ventilation, his classroom air is purified 2 to 3 times during each 90-minute class.

But that brings to mind that the HVAC filters are not being changed with the same regularity as past years. Oh well, cash-strapped districts have to take money from something to do the PPE supply.

Social Distancing: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. Don’t even ask. It’s not happening. It can’t. Class sizes are the same as pre-pandemic years.

Remote Learning: Numbers are falling as parents realize that their children aren’t thriving being stuck at home.

Vaccines: Despite the new president’s pledge to reopen schools in 100 days and that means teachers have to be vaccinated, most states including Florida are taking a pass. The CDC says it’s not necessary for teachers to be vaccinated for campuses to open.

Sigh, some things never change. The callousness for the welfare of teachers and the disrespect are ongoing despite Dr. Jill Biden’s Zoom conference for teachers inauguration day. Here’s hoping the pillow talk takes notice of teacher concerns.

Remember that no vaccine is approved for use in anyone under the age of 16. Those trials are ongoing this spring. While there is no reason to believe the vaccines are not appropriate for adolescents, we must have hard evidence before injecting them with it.

Even these trials are for children older than 12. Elementary age school children will remain unvaccinated for a long time.

Testing: In Florida, the beat goes on. The Department of Education is hellbent on conducting their tests in May. Even if the U.S. Department of Education waives federal testing requirements, Florida won’t ask. We must have testing, we must have data, we must issue school grades and evaluate teachers despite all the evidence that has piled up about this bogus endeavor, we must because we must … continue privatization of schools. We must. We must.

We must, we must, we must test because we are FLORIDA!

The Pollyanna Curriculum

The Bolles School of Jacksonville, Florida announced this week that it was halting its implementation of a curriculum written for the purpose of promoting racial literacy in the form of understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The attempt to lead students into considering these issues followed a summer of embarrassment, when former and current black students created an Instagram account titled “Black at Bolles” and posted anonymous accounts of harassment and discrimination based upon their race.

At the time, the school’s leadership seemed apologetic and persuaded to begin attempts to promote understanding and a conversation among its students and staff about these issues.

But now, they have decided to stop because it was creating ‘too much angst among the community.’

That’s the point; until we become willing to be discomforted by hard conversations, we won’t progress.

More on that later. What caught Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) eye was the name of the curriculum–Pollyanna.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter | Audiobook | Audible.com
1915 book about an excessively optomistic child despite reality.

Pollyanna is the title character of a book whose unending sense of optimism leads her to deny tragedy has been made into several movies. While the author meant for readers to conclude that maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adverse circumstances is best, Pollyanna has come to be known as a person who denies the reality of evil by pretending that everything is fine and persisting in that belief even as her world falls apart around her.

The antithesis of Pollyanna is said to be Cassandra, the Greek seer of myth, who warned Troy of impending doom and was killed by sea serpents sent by the god Poseidon, who favored the Greeks in the coming war.

A strange name for a curriculum that wants to guide hard conversations on race between students. GOT had lots of questions, so naturally he went to their website to find out more.

The Pollyanna Curriculum is designed for grades K – 8. Its self-stated goal is to “help students gain knowledge about race as it has been constructed in the United States and aims to help students acquire an awareness of their own racial socialization and skills for engaging in productive conversations about race and racism.”

Quoting the website, the people behind the curriculum hope to:

  • To encourage kindness, bravery, and empathy when exploring and better understanding the cultural and racial diversity of local and global communities.
  • To develop a more inclusive and positive perspective of self, others, and the larger world in regard to race, ethnicity, and culture.
  • To analyze history and other social assertions that fabricate myths of innate racial superiority, in order to dispel myopic, discriminatory perspectives of race.
  • To analyze race as a primary institution of the United States.
  • To critique the biological fallacy of race, while simultaneously unpacking its social truths

Above all, the aspiration is to build connections among children of different races, “to recognize similarities among their peers along lines of race, while also celebrating perceived differences.”

The curriculum comes from a non-profit of the same name, Pollyanna, who incorporated as a 501c(3) in New York.

No wonder that a curriculum with those goals was causing angst in the community. If there’s one thing that causes a problem, it’s having a conversation about race. Very few want it.

It’s easier to pretend that everything is fine. Maybe that is why black students had enough and began talking on Instagram. They couldn’t find support for a conversation in their schools. Too much angst, a word defined as meaning “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general. (from Oxford Languages via a Google search)

It would be easy to go, “Oh, wow, Bolles, really?” After all, an elite private school that caters to the wealthy and well-connected not only in its city, not only in its state, but in the many areas of the world where it draws in the children of those who can afford to pay, presents an easy target.

Oh, that angst! Because the truth is that it’s the same in all schools, including the traditional public schools in a city of broken promises, whose history is often described as a tale of two cities, one white and one black, the city where GOT works.

We want a veneer over the issues that divide us like we want frosting on a cake. The cake might be made of sawdust, but as long as the butter and powdered sugar that covers it looks and tastes good, we eat and pronounce ourselves satisfied.

We don’t want to talk about race. We don’t want to consider the experience and history of others. The Manifest Destiny of the usual history book is the genocide of Native peoples. Two differing perspectives that no one wants to talk about.

It’s too uncomfortable. Pollyanna would tell us to cheer up and look on the bright side. Thus, GOT’s wonderment at the strange choice of name. Even the moon has a dark side. For every 1619 project, an attempt to look at the beginning of slavery and how it grew on this continent, there is a 1776 commission to whitewash history because that is the only perspective that counts.

When the NFL franchise is losing all its star black players due to the racism in its front office, when the mediocre white player got an undeserved contract extension but the talented black players got the stiff arm because it’s business after all, GOT’s call-out was met with scorn. How could a team with a Pakistani owner be racist against its black players?

Long ago, GOT was a staff auditor. One day, he was verifying inventory in a warehouse supervised by a Polynesian woman. Among the conversations about the counts, the supervisor dropped comments about dumb Mexicans.

Wowsers! The toxicity of American racism is seen in how it infects non-white immigrants to its shores.

But that’s a conversation no one wants to have.

Too much angst in the community.

Translation: White people don’t like it. White people don’t want it. White people are uncomfortable.

So, regardless of the name, regardless of the Bolles school saying it was only going to use parts of the curriculum, not all of it, let’s ditch the whole effort and pretend there’s no problem.

As we do every day in the district’s public schools. Do we have a race problem?

GOT has written about this before: here, here, here, and here. He remembers the day he had to put down a near riot in his classroom over issues of race. He remembers how students trying to say Blue Lives Matter riled up those who proclaimed that Black Lives Matter. Heels were dug in, attitudes were hardened, no one would listen to one another.

As February rolls in, we need to do better. This first week of Black History Month is also the week of Black Lives Matter at School. All of us should stop, listen, and then talk about these essential and basic needs of black students:

  1. End zero-tolerance discipline policies.
  2. More ethnic studies/black history courses. (And not just for black students!)
  3. Hire more black teachers. (They have been a casualty of NCLB/RTTT/school-reform test based policies.)
  4. More counselors, not cops.

Hiatus

When last he wrote, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) had not intended to take a month off. The ongoing pandemic alone would provide topics to carry on through the remainder of Winter Break and move into the new year. Speculation about a new U.S. Secretary of Ed, the new policies that might ensue, and the same ol’, same ol’ that will probably result might generate lots of posts and thousands of words.

Then, the events of January unfolded. Education was sidelined for the ongoing drama of an attempted insurrection and overthrow of the United States Constitution. The aftermath dominated not only the news, but everyone’s thoughts.

The unbelievable happened. Betsy Devos resigned, not to avoid a 25th amendment vote, but out of conscience that one would not be held. A departing president was impeached for a second time.

We all held our breath for what might come Inauguration Day, January 20th.

GOT is a reflective blog. Blog writers, unless they are professional members of the press corps, are not journalists. In spite of that fact, a few do a very good job running down stories and verifying facts. But most of us are opining in our areas of interest, hoping to have based our commentary on objective sources (which is why most blog posts link the facts they cite,) as we offer sometimes impassioned points of view about the issues of concern.

For most bloggers, GOT among them, the primary occupation is not the blog. Educational bloggers, in particular, tend to be teachers still in the classroom. That is why our reports are authentic–we are doing the work and the blowback, the criticism, and the we-know-better-than-you attitudes of people whose last day in the classroom was the day before Senior Skip Day of their final high school year fall upon us.

Naturally, we have something to say about that.

But in a month like January 2021, reflection halted as the input, the grist for the blogger mill, poured in faster than thoughts could form about what was going on.

But as January passes into February and the hours of sunlight increase, as houseplants stir and begin new growth as James Crockett, the famous horticulturalist from a previous generation observed, new thoughts with accompanying words come to mind.

Happy 2021, readers. Let’s make it a good one.

Eff This, Eff That! Eff It All!

We should be grateful that Clement Moore lived in the 19th century when certain language was not to be uttered in impolite company not to speak of polite company. Coarse, vulgar, obscene language has become the norm by which our society expresses itself.

Grumpy Old Teacher wasn’t really using–um–strong language in the title. The J key is broken on his keyboard. Yep, GOT is going with that and will stick to it even as he hunts for the naughty wink emoji.

But when the New York Times published an article about a school district in Pennsylvania that disciplined a 9th-grade adolescent for expressing her disappointment about being relegated to the cheerleading junior varsity squad with a Snapchat post that dropped the F-bomb with school, cheer, softball, and everything, it brought to mind these famous lines and how they might be rewritten today:

“Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

(A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore.)

The issue is the First Amendment, outdated precedents regarding how protected student speech is, differing rulings by Courts of Appeal, and the need for the Supreme Court to sort it out.

Given our times of social media, cyberbullying, threats of school violence, sexting, and the resulting mental health issues that include a disturbing increase in suicide, school systems need to monitor what children say when they are not on campus. Many threats of violence are detected over the weekend via social media monitoring and headed off before Monday. Cyberbullying is a serious problem and, like everything else that involves the safety and welfare of children, we look to our schools as the government agency to take care of it.

However, given the nature of adolescence, the late development of the cerebral cortex that checks impulses, it is often the case that teenagers will express themselves inappropriately in moments of anguish, despair, or upset. It is the adults who need to have the maturity to sort out real threats from the hyperbolic “I’m going to kill him/her!” that we all have uttered at least once in our lifetimes.

Often, adolescent angst, high moments of extreme passion, and other normal developmental events pass soon after the triggering event. Far too often, it is the overreaction of adults that takes a minor concern and escalates it into a major crisis.

In this case, the disappointment of a 9th-grader resulted in a moment of exclamation that used obscene language. She issued no threats, she bullied no one, she sent no inappropriate pictures. Does the language justify school discipline?

GOT says no. While students may have curtailed First Amendment speech rights, they do not lack them entirely. Schools may regulate and suppress speech that would cause a disruption to learning and speech that involves lewdness. But let’s be real. In our society today, dropping an eff bomb is not lewd speech. The word has taken on a great number of meanings, including the sense of “I’m done with this.”

That’s all this student did. She expressed her disappointment and, in the moment, said she was done. She didn’t care anymore. That speech ought to be protected even if most of the time it is ephemeral and dissolves in the fresh breeze of a new day.

In moments like this, in his classroom or in the hallway, GOT has had moments of temporary deafness. When another student says to him, “Did you hear that?!” GOT responds, “Sorry, I was thinking about something else and I missed it.”

GOT does not tolerate inappropriate language in his classroom, but the heavy hand of school discipline is not the way to handle infractions. Once, a student tossed a comment about someone’s effing jacket. GOT response: “I didn’t know clothing could do that.” After the student thought about it, he laughed. “You’re right.”

Standard of behavior reinforced. No discipline needed.

Are you listening, Mahanoy Area School District (Pennsylvania?)