Roundtable News, January 29, 2021

We have a lot to cover in this week's newsletter—public perceptions of public schools, ethical concerns about how to ration scarce supplies of vaccines, why we have public schools, and the need for improved civic education, among other topics.

But the safe school reopening debate has burst forth anew, with new accounts from Europe indicating that children can, in fact, be significant factors in the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Who's a superintendent to believe?

  • "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it."      
John Adams
President of the United States (1797-1801)
Public perceptions of public schools
As PDK International began planning its 52nd annual poll on Public Perceptions of Public Education in January 2020, little did it know that a pandemic and a crisis around Black Lives Matter would upend norms and routines across the United States.

Still, in the longest-running policy poll of any kind, PDK wanted to probe key issues around policy priorities, choice, diversity, testing, and problems facing schools in an election year, reported CEO Joshua Starr during a January 21 Zoom briefing for the Roundtable. The 52nd poll included sobering news for school leaders around public support for choice and testing, among other issues, said Starr, who also reported that PDK is reconsidering whether to continue mounting the poll on an annual basis. Here's a summary of the discussion.
Teachers or the elderly: Who gets priority for vaccines?
Who should we vaccinate first? The most vulnerable to COVID? Or people whose work is needed to protect people who are vulnerable in other ways? That's the question explored by The Seattle Times' Danny Westneat (r) in a recent column comparing the different approaches Washington State and Oregon are taking in prioritizing vaccine distribution.

Washington, pointing to the increased death rate of those 65 and older who contract COVID, has decided that those people should be next in line for vaccine protection, after medical personnel, nursing home residents, and first responders. Oregon, meanwhile, is prioritizing teachers and plans to open its schools in a month.

It's a complicated ethical issue, and Westneat does a good job laying out the options.
Civics education gets new attention
The ugliness of today's politics at home and abroad has underscored the need for a renewed commitment to civic education, say experts. Writing in the Toronto Star, Joel Westheimer (l), a University of Ottawa professor who will meet with the Roundtable in Atlanta in November, says the virus of disinformation threatens democracy globally. Since 1995 in Canada, he reports, the proportion of people believing in the military running the country has jumped from one in sixteen to one in five. Education is the cure, he says.

Meanwhile, in a recent edition of the Seattle Times, Alan D. Solomont, a former U.S. ambassador to Spain, complains that civic education has always been shortchanged in American schools and the current crisis in democracy demands addressing this situation.

Both Solomont and Westheimer point to decades-worth of emphasis on math, science, technology, and reading as squeezing social studies, history, and civic education out of the curriculum.
Who's a superintendent to believe?
Can schools safely reopen? It's the biggest question in education—and maybe the world at large—this year, but answers are confusing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is pushing for more reopenings, reports Roni Caryn Robin for The New York Times. Key to that recommendation, however, are findings from CDC researchers that, although schools that follow COVID safeguards like mask-wearing and social distancing don't act as super-spreaders of the disease, infection rates still mirror those of the communities in which they are located. In order for schools to safely reopen, we have to prioritize them while shutting other spreader activities, like indoor dining and gyms.

In Europe, meanwhile, countries that did reopen their schools are now shutting them down again amid a growing consensus that children are, in fact, a considerable factor in the spread of the coronavirus, reports Ruth Bender for The Wall Street Journal. “In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others,“ said Antoine Flahault, director of the University of Geneva's Institute of Global Health.
College Board abandons subject-matter tests
The College Board announced recently that it will stop administering the SAT's subject-matter and essay tests, reports The New York Times. The Board says the subject tests have been eclipsed by advanced placement courses.

Critics of the plan argue that the Board is ending the subject matter portions only as a way to place greater important on advanced placement tests, which the organization also administers, as the SAT is being phased out nationwide. They worry that the shift in emphasis to AP classes—and limited access to these classrooms—would preserve the inequities that are causing schools to drop the SAT.

Speaking of colleges, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) has announced a series of eight virtual college admissions fairs where high school students can meet online with hundreds of college admissions officials. The first admissions fair will be held this Sunday, January 31, from 1:00 to 7:00 pm Eastern time.
Memo to people hanging out in ivory towers and think tanks
Best-selling New York Times author Brené Brown on when to value feedback:

"If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback. If you have constructive feedback you want to give me, I want it . . . But if you're just in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I'm in no way interested in your feedback."
N.Y. Daily News: Spare the tests, support the children
New York State and the rest of the country should dispense with standardized testing regimes during the pandemic, write Ann Cook and Phyllis Tashlik in the New York Daily News: "In this climate, not only would a fresh round of standardized tests lack any validity or reliability, they would be a tragic waste of resources and effort."

Cook and Tashlik, of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, an organization that facilitates performance-based student evaluations, write that only teachers have any chance of an accurate assessment of their students' performance during this odd and trying year.
Proposal to ease child poverty at heart of Biden's economic policy
The new administration is proposing a monthly payment to almost all families with children in the form of a refundable tax credit, writes the New Yorker's John Cassidy. The plan is to provide $250-$300 per month per child to families, which, along with the rest of the implementing legislation—the American Family Act—could reduce the childhood poverty rate from 14.9% to 9.3%.

"The impact on children in deep poverty—those living in households whose income is less than half of the official poverty line—would be even more dramatic," writes Cassidy, citing a Columbia University study. "Among Americans under eighteen, the deep poverty rate would be cut in half, from 4.6 per cent to 2.3 per cent."

In 2018, UCLA's Center on Poverty and Inequality estimated that an annual income of $12,169 defined "deep poverty" for a family of four with two parents.
Why did we create public schools?
We ask public schools to serve a lot of functions. They serve an economic function of course, but they are also engines of social stability, social mobility, good citizenship, meritocracy, and, ideally, virtue and freedom. Below a brief video history of why we have public schools from historian William Goldsmith of Duke University.
Proposal to ease child poverty at heart of Biden's economic policy
The Roundtable invites you to join us, the Learning First Alliance, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National PTA, NSBA, and other supporting education organizations, in celebrating public schools during Public Schools Week, Feb. 22-26, 2021
Good advice in 1918. Good advice today.
Roundtable 2021 Agenda
2021 Agenda
New Members
We are pleased to welcome several new members to the Roundtable for 2021! They include:

  • Anthony Azar, Dighton-Rehoboth RSD, Massachusetts
  • Rob Brown, Lumpkin County Schools, Georgia
  • Jonathan Cooper, Mason, Ohio
  • William Crean, Little Lake City, California
  • Peter Dillon, Berkshire Hills RSD, Massachusetts
  • Heather Griggs, Oro Grande, California
  • Melissa Kaczkowski, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
  • Mary McNeil, Needles USD, California
  • Brad Morgan, North Middlesex RSD, Massachusetts
  • Andre' Ponder, Red Mesa USD, Arizona
  • Scott Rowe, Huntley CSD, Illinois
We want to acknowledge the ongoing support of our work by Artemis Connection, Guide K12, Hanover Research, the Center on System Leadership of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and School Innovations & Achievement. Artemis provides strategic consulting services to profit and non-profit entities. Guidek12 provides geovisual analytics to help guide district decision-making. Hanover Research partners with school organizations to drive student success. The National Institute for School Leadership strengthens the leadership capacities of principals and aspiring leaders. Right at School provides before and after school enrichment. And School Innovations & Achievement focuses on improving achievement by improving attendance.

We are deeply grateful for this support. Thank you!
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