Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Education During Covid-19

In an opinion piece entitled ''Math is Racist' Crowd Runs Rampant in Seattle, Portland," Jason Rantz condemns examples he gives of what should be characterized as Critical Race Theory-adjacent policies. In so doing, he makes about Oregon an error- intentional or otherwise- which exposes both a fundamental mistake governments made about Covid-19 and a strategic error commonly made by the Democratic Party.

Rantz writes

the Democrat-controlled Oregon legislature passed a law ending a high school graduation requirement that students demonstrate proficiency in math (along with reading and writing) after minority students failed at high rates.

In pertinent part, no, because 

From 2012 to 2019, in order to graduate with an Oregon diploma, students had to show proficiency in nine “Essential Skills” including reading, writing, math, critical thinking, technology usage, and civic and community engagement. Students showed that proficiency either by passing state standardized tests (mostly the Smarter Balanced assessment, or another approved test) or submitting work samples....

COVID-19 came to Oregon in March 2020, shutting down schools. Every state was permitted to skip standardized testing altogether in 2020 because of the pandemic. In 2021, testing returned, with Oregon receiving approval to scale back its standardized testing.

For both the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, the Oregon Department of Education suspended the Essential Skills requirement....

Senate Bill 744 was signed in July. Former special education teacher Zach) Hudson and his fellow lawmakers, including Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, said the pandemic presented an opportunity to take a look at what Oregon students needed to do to graduate.

“If we’re going to look at our graduation requirements, this is the time,” Rep. Alonso Leon said. “This is the time to really make that assessment, and look at it from an equitable standpoint. I don’t know if that was the lens that was used back in 2007.”

And rather than requiring the Essential Skills proficiency while it’s under review, lawmakers decided to continue the suspension.

“I would not have supported just suspending it in order to study it, but since it was going to be suspended anyway, it seemed like this gave us a good opportunity,” Dembrow said....

Left unmentioned is that suspension of the Essential Skills requirement was a prudent response to Covid-19, especially because it probably resulted in fewer students being held back a grade and thus saved valuable financial resources. However

Hudson and the other legislators point to other states that don’t have testing requirements to graduate. According to the Education Commission of the States, Oregon is one of seventeen states with a non-course requirement to graduate.

Both lawmakers and ODE say rethinking graduation and diploma requirements is a matter of equity, and part of a broader effort to better support students from Oregon’s communities of color.

The state of Oregon therein has committed the classic Democratic error. It implemented reasonable fiscal and educational policy but couldn't resist the temptation to frame it in terms of social equity.  Thus

In an email to the media outlets, Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor, said the new standards for graduation would help benefit the state’s "Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color."

A concern with social equity should not have precluded "black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, and tribal" for the redundant, heavily woke "Latinx," "Indigenous," and "students of color," the latter reminiscent of "colored students." Or perhaps Oregon could have referred to students of "disadvantaged groups."

However, that would have been a de facto admission that not all black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, or tribal students are disadvantaged. Nor would it have acknowledged that the economic/social status of, for instance, Americans of Asian or Pacific Island background typically differs from that of blacks or Latinos. Nor would the State have recognized that even some white (!) students suffered under the Essential Skills requirement.

But economic class can't be considered when color is considered so much more important- which, fittingly, brings us to the terrible response we've made in education to Covid-19, thereby returning us to May 2020 when

As the pandemic forced tens of thousands of Philadelphia students into online-only education, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. asked Comcast and other internet providers to open their WiFi networks so all students could learn through their laptops — but all refused, he said Wednesday.

Addressing City Council as it considers School District funding for next year, Hite said internet access remains a “critical infrastructure issue,” and if public schools require children to use the internet for educational purposes, that access should be free in the way that school meals are free to low-income families.

The School District has distributed more than 81,000 Chromebooks to students in an effort to keep them learning while schools are closed for face-to-face instruction. But just 57% of students are participating in some way, according to the most recent district data, and officials say a lack of wireless access is in part to blame.

“It becomes sort of futile to provide the Chromebooks if we’re not providing the internet access,” Councilmember Cindy Bass said. “We might as well give them a piece of paper and a pencil and sit them down at a table and tell them to figure it out.”

Comcast Corporation, a telecommunications conglomerate based in Philadelphia with revenues of 116,38 billion dollars in 2021. Providing free internet access while schools were closed would have been a boon to online education in a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.  It also would have struck a blow, indirectly but powerfully, against the racial wealth gap in a city in which 90% of students (mostly black) are of minority groups.

Comcast wouldn't go there. But at least Philadelphia tried, while through this epidemic far too little attention has been paid by government to the role Internet providers can play in promoting educational progress. (Probing possible explanations is a subject for a later date.)

Progress- and standards.  If ISP's had done their share, education would have been vastly improved during this pandemic and public schools would have been able to accomplish far more than they have. That might not have satisfied- or even pleased- conservatives such as Jason Rantz, but millions of young people across the country would have benefitted.


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