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How Were TJHSST Commended Students Harmed?

Part II:  (Part I: What’s a National Merit Scholar?)

The two parents driving this story, Asra Nomani, a former reporter and academic, and Shawnna Yashar, a lawyer, would have probably successfully grabbed the media cycle even if TJ’s administration had been error free. They are passionately committted to challenging the admissions changes at the school as leading members of organization challenging the school’s new admission policy..  Both were heavily involved in the election controversy that nearly got the school’s PTSA organization expelled from the national chapter, while Yashar spearheaded the lawsuit against Fairfax County School Board for keeping the schools closed.  I support their right to advocate;  my point here is simply that this entire issue didn’t occur as an organic parent movement but a focused, target effort to criticize the school.

The original story written by Nomani, makes the following accusations:

“For years, two administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have been withholding notifications of National Merit awards from the school’s families, most of them Asian, thus denying students the right to use those awards to boost their college-admission prospects and earn scholarships.”

These charges are all false.

The two adminstrators in question, principal Ann Bonitatibus and director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, have not been “withholding notifications”. They have not been denying the students with National Merit Commended status anything whatsoever. Commended ranking is not considered an award and does not render a student eligible for any scholarships they weren’t otherwise qualified for.

I’m reasonably certain TJ’s administrators simply overlooked notifying National Merit Commended students this year, and this year only.

Fairfax County School District says, categorically, that “each year”, TJ notifies students and that only this year had neither “email nor personal notification” occurred,  probably “a unique situation due to human error”. The district–not the school–is saying that TJ’s Commended notifications happen on time each year. The rest of this piece assumes that the Bonitatibus and Kosatka had to prove this to the district and that this year was, in fact, an error. Which strikes me as likely.

The most likely explanation for human error is that National Merit screwed up and didn’t put enough postage on the huge pack of 240 Commended certificates that were sent to the school, so the package got there late. Instead of arriving in late September, they arrived in mid-October. Given the relentless administrative calendars,  it’s quite believable that to someone, probably Kosatka, had moved onto other date-driven tasks and just forgot to build the email list and notify the students. As I wrote earlier about the life of an administrator, the task is a combination of grinding day to day tasks and

Routine yearly or regularly scheduled events that nonetheless require planning, which at the high school level might look like: the master schedule, state tests, graduation, accreditation.

Add “National Merit Commended notifications” to that list, particularly at a school where over 100 kids make semi-finalist alone. So maybe the director of Student Services, Brandon Kosatka, missed his window because of the delayed delivery and went on to the next pressing item on the school calendar and then six weeks later said oh shit I forgot and sent out the certificates in November.

So there it is. Because the school was late sending out the certificates, commended students who didn’t seek out the information on their own didn’t have the opportunity to list it as a fairly minor honor on their early admissions applications.

That’s….not a big deal.

One thing people need to remember is that TJ’s senior class is still part of the old highly competitive admissions process and even now still a highly competitive high school. TJ admission itself is a rough proxy for top 3-4% of all students. In 2022,  132 TJ students got Semifinalist, 240 got Commended. The remaining 19% of the 2023 graduating class probably had scores that missed the 3% cutoff by a point or two. In that context, Kosatka’s comment that “celebrating all but a few of the students” makes sense. They aren’t worried about low-achieving students resenting the two or three honors students, but rather actively making a big deal out of 80% of the class when the distinction is without a difference, at the TJ level.

Semifinalist is useful to a TJ student. Commended is not. (*Important future caveat below.) Commended wasn’t even that big a deal to the students themselves.  In the November emails written by an angry parent (presumably activist lawyer Shawnna Yashar), she admits that her son didn’t even bother to tell her about his Commended status because it’s not a big deal. The emails also show that the school used to have a National Merit ceremony, but nobody came so they quit having it.

So the only screwup the school made was in failing to deliver relatively meaningless certificates or notification, probably because the certificates arrived late. Not only would this have minimal impact….well, understand that the deparment is called “student services” for a reason, not “mandated responsibilities”. High school counselling departments spend a huge amount of time and money on helping their seniors in college admissions, but high schools themselves have very few, if any, legally required duties regarding the application process.

To put this minor delay in notification in perspective:

If a district deliberately withheld notification of Semi-finalist status–a far more consequential award–or  through incompetence or woke policy refused to complete the required paperwork for students, that school wouldn’t have violated any education law that the offended student could point to. Winning any sort of damages would be difficult.  What would the damages be? They might have made it to finalist status? Cool, but so what? They might have gotten a scholarship? Hard to prove. I’m sure people would have been fired in that event. But in a case far more actively damaging and malicious than what is at hand here, there’s still not a lot of legal obligation students can demand from their school. All responsibilities regarding college admission are on the student. Even if the school screws up.

The strategists driving this media manipulation understand, I think, that the failure notification story wouldn’t hold up–it was almost immediately challenged, although sadly not by anyone in the media reporting on this.  That may explain why they have emphasized that the failure to notify students rendered them ineligible for National Merit scholarships.

This is either a deliberate lie or simple ignorance.

Commended students aren’t eligible for any National Merit scholarships. The only related scholarships they can apply for are called Special Scholarships with corporate sponsorship. (The first link goes through the procedure I’ve summarized below, the second has a list of sponsors and criteria on pages 9-10).

In many cases, corporations offer a specific number of grants to high school seniors of employees (sometimes also in a specific region or seniors with a particular major). In years when they can’t find enough finalists meeting their criteria, they will use non-finalists.  

To qualify for a special scholarship, students have to complete an Entry Form with the sponsoring corporation as well as an application with the National Merit  by mid-December. The National Merit program then compiles a specific list of students that qualify for each particular scholarship. Commended students have no priority over non-commended. If the scholarship goes to non-finalists, the award is not designated National Merit and recipients can’t call themselves National Merit Scholars.

Any student who didn’t apply or didn’t meet the specific criteria would not be considered. Any student whose parents worked for a company offering a corporate scholarship could have filled out an application at any time after getting their PSAT scores the year before. The delayed or even non-existent notification of Commended status is completely irrelevant and oh, by the way, came in long before the deadline for Special Scholarships.

No Commended student was denied the right to earn a scholarship because there are no scholarships for Commended students.

Like I said: lying or ignorant.

The only potential harm done by the delayed notification was in the limited sense that students who weren’t aware that Commended cutoffs could be looked up online and who would have included that information on their early admissions applications. That’s a small group. And that potential harm is being remedied by the school reaching out to colleges to ensure they have this information for the students’ applications.

This whole story is just utter, unmitigated bullshit–so much so that I’ve spent considerable time trying to see if I’ve missed something. Surely someone who gets paid to report would have looked up some of this? But not.

I understand why the activist parents are ginning up the story. They want to create political or even legal sympathy for their efforts to restor TJ’s admissions policies.

I don’t understand why the media–not just the reporters, but the many pundits and policy analysts on Twitter–doesn’t take the time to do even minimal research to understand how asinine this story is. Sure, these are people on both the left and right who despise public schools and consider them incompetent. But they aren’t supposed to be activist hacks.

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*Many colleges are now prohibiting test scores as part of admissions. TJ is also ending its test-based admissions so it will no longer be a given that the students are top 3-4%. The class of 2026 may value Commended status in a way that current TJ students do not. No test-based admissions, no test scores on applications,  top 3% might be useful information. This doesn’t explain why current parents are freaking out, as it would have no impact on current seniors. It might explain why the school took the step of reaching out to the colleges and why they are planning on new procedures going forward.


What’s a National Merit Scholar?

If you know anything at all about the PSAT, then the current conservative media hysteria charging the elite Virginia high school with “withholding announcement” of National Merit awards makes no sense at all. Before I heard about this brouhaha, I knew 90% of everything about the PSAT. Figuring out how to explain that this hysteria is absurd  required me to learn the other 10%, which I’ll now share with you, dear readers.

The PSAT is formally known as the PSAT National Merit, Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT. Back in the dark ages, from 1959 to some point in the 19990s,  the test had a legitimate function as an initiation to the SAT proper. Juniors took the PSAT and seniors took the SAT in October, which was SAT Day. By the time I began tutoring in 2002, “SAT Day” had already moved back to March of junior year, per College Board recommendation. Before the pandemic, competitive students began taking the SAT much earlier in their junior year. So as a practice test, the PSAT long ago lost its utility.

The real value of the PSAT comes from its association with the National Merit awards.  Originally, the Scholarship Qualifying Test was a different entity that identified top students as semifinalists,  who then “confirmed” their SQT score with an SAT. But tests are expensive to write, so in 1971 the two organizations joined forces and the PSAT became the qualifying test.

National Merit qualification is the PSAT’s reason for existence these days. For students, qualification permits recognition that has otherwise been erased from the modern era–and by modern, I don’t mean the current post-Floyd “tests are bad” phase but going back to the 80s or even earlier. All you need for National Merit recogntion is a  really high PSAT test score that puts you in the top 1% of all testers. The SAT has no equivalent. There’s no official SAT 1600 Club, no “Top 1% Score” label students can include in their CV.

So a major point of the PSAT–arguably its only real value–is to identify the top 1% and giving them bragging rights. Since Asian immigrants and months or years of prep broke the tests, the labels aren’t as impactful as they once were. But to Asians, they are particularly important because the scores can’t be gamed by state discrimination. While states with high Asian populations have higher cut scores, the scores themselves are the only way to play. No one is culling out Asians or making them meet a higher standard. The single standard is so essential to the National Merit qualification that, rather than change this, a national recognition category was defined for the lower scoring ethnicities.

If, as I claim, that’s the primary feature of the PSAT, one might wonder why other kids not in the top 1% would bother taking the PSAT at all, given the wide range of SAT test prep and the complete lack of value the PSAT has in their lives. Hard truth: Most kids are only taking the PSAT to provide a decent-sized mountain for the winners to sit atop.

To keep the PSAT tradition alive despite the fact that the nearly three hour tet has little benefit for the other 96%, the College Board gives complete control to high schools.  Students don’t register for the PSAT with the College Board (as they do for the SAT). High schools administer and own the PSAT. They decide what day to run the test (Tuesday or Saturday). They decide if the test will be limited to their students or if they will sell seats to kids from other schools. They decide whether or not they will require their students to take it.The scores and notifications are sent to the schools, not the students–these are precisely the circumstances that created the TJ hysteria currently in the news. While the SAT registration fee increases almost every year, the PSAT is just  $18–very affordable to states who might want to pick up the tab.

In short, we still have the PSAT because the College Board uses the National Merit awards  to increase their cachet and in exchange gives control and affordability to high schools, who have various reasons for wanting their student population to take college admissions tests, from bragging rights about national merit to ensuring they aren’t missing bright unmotivated kids to..whatever, I haven’t gamed out all the advantages. Otherwise, it’d be long gone.

The essential category achievement in National Merit  ranking is “semifinalist”.

National Merit Semi-finalists are, roughly, those receiving the top 1% of PSAT scores. Designation isn’t an exact science, because the finalists are apportioned by state. Different states have tighter (California, Virginia) or looser (South Dakota) cut scores, but it’s basically the top 1%.

Most semifinalists go on to be finalists.  Not all do–for example, I was a semi-finalist whose school didn’t even bother to tell me there was paperwork to apply for the next step because my GPA was a 3.3 and I had something like 4 Ds so didn’t have a shot at finalist. But most.

The scholarships themselves aren’t all that big a deal. There are three categories of scholarships: NM corporate, NM university, and National Merit itself. Awards are far more subjective. The corporate scholarships are usually limited to students whose parents are employees, or living in a particular region. The university scholarships aren’t even offered by most schools but are used by less prestigious schools to offer full-rides to smart kids if they commit. The NM-sponsored scholarships are for $2500. So not that much money and–crucially–determined in late spring, long after college offers have been made. No application gloss factor.

So for all practical purposes, semi-finalists are the ball-game. They’re declared in September, and are a pretty reliable indicator that the student was in the 99th percentile for his state.

Prior to the TJ story, that’s what I knew.

The TJ story has various iterations but makes this charge:

Last fall, along with about 1.5 million US high school juniors, the Yashar teen took the PSAT, which determines whether a student qualifies as a prestigious National Merit scholar. When it came time to submit his college applications this fall, he didn’t have a National Merit honor to report — but it wasn’t because he hadn’t earned the award. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a nonprofit based in Evanston, Illinois, had recognized him as a Commended Student in the top 3 percent nationwide — one of about 50,000 students earning that distinction. Principals usually celebrate National Merit scholars…

To those of us generally familiar with the PSAT, there are two unfamiliar terms that immediately jump out: Commended Student and National Merit scholar.

The other fact that jumps out is the 3%. Remember, semi-finalist is top 1%.  So Commended Student is way downstream from the only important category. Basically, a participation trophy. I thought the term might be relatively new, but I found mention of it going back 30 years, so it’s not new–just unimportant. In fact, I think my own son must have qualified and DAMN NO ONE TOLD ME EITHER.

Then I dug into “National Merit Scholar” and learned that it is the formal term for kids who make it all the way through to a scholarship from the organization.  No one uses the term “National Merit Scholar” for anything less. And as I said, the actual scholarship winners aren’t as big a deal as the semi-finalists, which is why I hadn’t heard the term. (On the Advanced Placement side, AP Scholar has far more significance.) Here’s a University of South Florida campus celebrating the presence of eight National Merit Scholars on campus. USF Petersburg gives each student a full ride on tuition and board in exchange for the student openly committing to the school. This is not a list of semifinalists, even, as can be seen by the declaration of major.

So again: Semi-finalist status is coin of the realm. Commended is also-ran, Finalist is status too late to matter, Scholar is more status too late, but also some money.

So that’s nearly 1300 words on the National Merit and PSAT.

In Part II, I’ll explain why the l’affaire TJPSAT is not just nothing, but a really embarrassing nothing. Hint: everyone retweeting this story either genuinely thinks or is perpetuating a lie “commended” is “scholar”.


Post-Pandemic Update

This is me:

Wednesday morning my phone rang and instead of the usual “scam likely” (thanks, T-Mobile!) it was the medical center. I picked up, apolozing to my class for taking the call but I was having surgery soon.

“You have been assigned a surgery time tomorrow at 11:00 am.”

“Tomorrow? No, Friday.”

Pause. “Uh, no. December 22nd.”

I went to my google calendaar. For Thursday it  says “Surgery.”  For six weeks I have been telling everyone, including myself, that my surgery is on Friday.

“Um. Could we schedule it later in the day?” The scheduler is very nice and promises to call back.

“Your surgery is tomorrow? Will we be able to finish our final?” I don’t know why Ahmad is concerned about anything; I’m the fool who doesn’t know what day my surgery is. My answer is forestalled by the phone again, it’s the scheduler with an offer of 1:00.

“Oh, that’s perfect. Thanks so much.” Thursday was a half day and half days end at 12:30. I’m about 20 minutes away from the medical center. Plus, no covid test! My record is pure.

“OK, guys, it’s good. I’ll be here tomorrow. Just have to jet out at 12:30 when school ends.”

“School ends at 1:30 tomorrow.”

“What?”

“Yeah, it’s some new schedule.” This is the 9th half day this year.

“Fucking fucking fuck.Ignore me.” Just as my calendar said Thursday, the posted bell schedule says school ends tomorrow at 1:30 for the first time in thirty years. I have to get coverage for fourth block.

So I go see the principal’s secretary to confirm procedure. Teachers accrue ten days a year. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and have 120 days. Time off is rare and I usually screw it up so I check with her first.

“Yes, you have to enter an absence record, no sub, get coverage.”

“Why an absence record?”

“You’ll be gone for three hours.”

I look at her. “Tomorrow’s a whole day?”

“No, but you’re contractually obligated to be here until 3:30.”

“This campus will be a ghost town at 1:30. In fact, the only person who would be here tomorrow after 1:30 would be me, if I weren’t going to be gone.” (I’m routinely at school until 6 or 7.)

“Doesn’t matter.”

Fuck that. I enter an absence record of an hour. If she wants to prove I’m not here, she can wait around.

For teachers, there’s a big difference between contractually obligatated hours and actual time worked. You can’t shift the hours. All the extra hours in the world don’t get teachers out of contract hours. I get that. But this is bullshit. Probably the most irritating part is that the secretary knows full well how rare my absences are and how jackassed it is to tell someone who’s never absent that the bill will be for three hours instead of one.

Anyway. I get coverage and in the process notify several other teachers that we’re out at 1:30. Wasn’t just me who didn’t know. That, at least, is comforting.

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You might think that since I’m never absent,  I might be intolerant of kids taking time off. Or you could more accurately conclude that people who mangle their own surgery dates are tolerant of all sorts of hiccups.  But this year has taken a toll on my approach.

The first post-pandemic year the problem was first-bell tardies. We had literally 300 or more kids showing up more than 15 minutes late every day. I’d have fourteen kids out of a class of thirty by the tardy bell, and four kids still missing after 30 minutes.

This year, the tardies are limited to five or six kids, but the absentee rates are stratospheric.I’m not fussy about occasional absences. But I have thirteen students with more than twenty unexcused absences thus far, out of 77 days in school, and most of them had excused absences as well: mental health days (two a month. really.), flu, covid, monthlong trips to India. Three kids didn’t bother to show up for finals. Another kid said “I’m going on vacation next week so I won’t be here. What can I do to make up the work?” Nothing, I said. You’ll probably fail the class.

I told one girl the first week of school to drop precalc when she explained she’d had to leave early every day to go to a college class (I still don’t know how this was allowed). She didn’t. Then she had a crisis with her mother’s health. Then her car got totaled. And in between all these absences, she took her two mental health days every damn month and then, after promising to be in class, spent three days in a row talking to her counselor. Then complained when she got a D, which was a gift. (Great Roger Sweeney joke: Student asks why she got a D. Teacher says because I like you.)

Sing me no sad songs about kids’ emotional health. Most of them are fine. But even if some of them are not, the batshit tolerance is just begging for exploitation, and getting it good and hard.

School’s wonderful. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write, plus the Mounjaro tends to wipe me out (22 pounds! although it’s a lot more expensive now).  But this year has been even more joyful than last, when just being in the classroom again was a jolt of happiness, masks notwithstanding.

Achievement is up. Last year my trig and algebra 2 classes were hideously behind as these were kids who’d had two years of cheating with photo-math. This deficit is reflected in my precalc class, which is just….not fun. The juniors are ready to go, but the seniors are comatose. My algebra 2 class has by far the worst absenteeism–nine of the +20 absences are in this class–but the rest of the kids are good to go. Not quite up to pre-pandemic skills, but well on their way. I’m teaching a freshman algebra class for the first time since my traumatic all-algebra year of terrors and it’s marvellous. Terrific students, hardworking, ready to face the world.  Another thing: last year, most kids wore basically pjs to school. Way more jeans this year.

It was harder to see the division in abilities and mindsets last year, but I’m centering on the view that the middle of the bellcurve kids who spent a couple years of high school in remote and are now seniors were the worst hit. The top kids are still on the ball and kept activities going during the pandemic (I ran five clubs pandemic year to aid in this, plus my usual stuff), but kids who were just planning on community college anyway and had no resumes to worry about found it pretty easy to skate by. I’m seeing mostly the top half of the bellcurve of those who spent middle school in the pandemic, but they seem to be doing very well. Yes, I know what NAEP scores say, but people are stupid about NAEP anyway. I’ll yell about that later.

My worst enemy wouldn’t call me a hardass teacher, but I am not aligned with the current obsession with student mental health. Get your ass back to class, kids. (And don’t say “OK Boomer” to anyone born in the early sixties. It REALLY pisses us off. Early gen boomers got free love, the Beatles, and cheap college. We got disco, HIV, AIDS, stagflation and a far more competitive job market.)

We’re supposed to be doing these SEL lessons every week. I did one. Said “This is stupid.” My advisory class of sophomores agreed so we didn’t do them anymore.

When my TA told me he’s still covid+ after two weeks off, I say “then don’t take the damn test. Lie. What the hell. Get back here.”….and well, not entirely kidding.

But generally, I’m having a blast. It’s good to be back. Most kids are doing great, world. Stop worrying.

Surgery is for arthritis. I’m a bit nervous.


The Manchin Ask

(I spent the entire day writing a test. Yesterday I was at school working the entire day. In short, no, I haven’t finished one of four different pieces in draft mode. If you want my thoughts on the education aspects of the midterms, here’s some tweets. This is something I’ve been wondering about and could write up in a couple hours.)

Back in 2020, I wrote:

One last election thought, on the Senate: if the Dems tie  the Senate–or even if they don’t–Mitch McConnell should have a heart to heart with Joe Manchin and Jon Tester. Both of them will face endless attacks by their own party if they don’t go woke. And neither of them is woke. Both probably want to be re-elected, which will be increasingly difficult if the Democrats win the Senate. McConnell could probably promise them various committee chairs, right?

Everyone remembers that Jim Jeffords switched parties. But fewer people remember that Richard Shelby, senior senator from Alabama, did it back in 1994. He’s still around. [leaving this January.]

I was mildly perplexed at the time that no one else mentioned this idea, and unduly cheered to read more recently that John Thune made an offer:

In their book “This Will Not Pass,” a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, Martin and Burns report [that back in early 2021] Thune pitched Manchin on the idea of not formally joining the GOP, but instead becoming an Independent and caucusing with Republicans.

Manchin was not sold on the idea, according to the book, because he did not want to make Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell the Senate majority leader again.

Well, that was kept under wraps, wasn’t it? Probably a coincidence that an number of Republicans are suggesting that they  postpone a leadership vote to see if everyone wants to give McConnell another shot. 

I wonder why the GOP was so quiet about their offer. I’m also wondering why they wouldn’t offer again, very loudly. Winning the house will stop Dem insanity, but it’s a narrow result. Sharing control in the Senate–or winning outright control–is better than the minority, surely.

 Manchin’s Senate term ends in two years. His choices are run to hold his Senate job, run for governor, run for president (I mean hell, he’s a young ‘un), retire. He doesn’t seem to like his current job, although reportedly told donors he’ll run for re-elecction.  His old job as the Democrat governor in a Republican state might hold more appeal. I only included the presidency to be thorough: he can’t realistically run for President as a Democrat and he doesn’t need the money or the career boost.

If Manchin genuinely wants to retire, then the GOP has no leverage. But in any other case, McConnell or Thune or Rick Scott should make the formal offer: caucus with their party either as a member or as an independent. No complaints, no demands. Promise and pinky swear to be much more respectful of his independence than those snotty entitled Democrats. They’d probably have to promise not to primary him, right? Or something along those lines.

If Manchin really does want to represent his voters and their interests, he should take the offer.  He has steadfastly denied any intention of doing this, of course, and may reject such an offer again.

Fine. Just make sure everyone knows it.

I can’t think of a single reason why the Republicans aren’t better off publicly making the offer. West Virginia voters deserve the opportunity to lobby their senator to represent their interests in a party more to their liking. And if he still rejects the offer, why, he’s the reason Democrats either have a majority or the controlling tie, depending on the Walker-Warnock outcome. A state that gave Trump nearly 70% of the vote won’t forget that. 

Party control aside, the Manchin ask forces him to choose between increased or decreased popularity at home. If Manchin rejects the deal, Republicans have reduced the risk, however, slight, of him winning the state as a Democrat ever again.  They have nothing to lose. Stick the shiv in and make a public offer. 

That’s my thinking, anyway. I’d love to know of any practical reason this isn’t an obvious step for Republicans. Sing me no songs of Manchin’s ethics. That’s his bag. I get it. But there’s no reason for the GOP to care about that, particularly after Manchin signed off on the “infrastructure” deal. 

(In 2020, I actually thought Tester was a better prospect than Manchin–younger, with more to lose. But the last two years he’s been a more reliable Dem vote than Manchin, and isn’t as popular in his state. If he wants to retire, sticking with Democrats is probably the best bet.

 

and…WAY under 1000!)


Weight Loss and Mounjaro

I’ve been writing a lot more! But then I got blocked on my last pandemic/schools piece, and found myself in the familiar pattern of starting and not finishing other articles–and not starting articles because it will distract me from finishing the ones I have started. So here’s an attempt to write something non-school related that is hopefully quick and interesting, or at least biographical.

I am ridiculously healthy. My few health problems are chronic and lifelong, but I’m a complier in this area, at least. Apnea: diagnosed in 2019 but given my insomnia concluded to be of long standing. Blood pressure: I was clocking 140/95 when I was an 18 year old athlete and it’s remained high at all weight levels (currently 180/115 unmedicated, which it almost never is).  And of course, my allergies, which are always the first culprit I check with any new health issue.

My weight is not considered a health issue. This despite the fact that my weight, for my height,  is shocking. Fifty pounds below my highest weight would still leave me medically obese. 50 pounds lost moves me at most one or two clothing sizes. I can lose 30 pounds without anyone noticing.

My height and weight suggests a person needing two airplane seats, XXXXL clothing, wheezing, and inability to climb three stairs. In fact I’m in normal clothing sizes, hike and walk frequently, can run a mile if you make me, and only wheeze because of my allergies. I’m not bragging. My weight bothers me. A lot. But I’m grateful that my appearance suggests I need to lose 30-40 pounds, not 100.

My weight history was quite consistent until 2016. I have a big appetite that didn’t make me fat until I was 30. From that point on, I’d have to cut back my intake every five years or so because the same amount of calories wasn’t burning off reliably. I’d ignore my weight gain until something forced me to acknowledge it, then diet to successfully lose weight I’d keep off for five years or more. My methods are a recitation of conventional food wisdom because I always went to doctors to lose weight.

1992: start exercising, cut way back on fat. That rule, I kept as a guideline until 2016. Kept off for five years.

1997: Fenphen,  just in time for the fen to be banned. But phentermine by itself kept working until 2008 or so–that is, slow weight gain but no ballooning. Then my doctor told me I couldn’t have phentermine because of my blood pressure, took me off that and put me on hydrochlorothiazide, which I’ve been on ever since (lisinopril and nifedipine added in 2016).  Ending phentermine kicked off a ballooning that I ignored because I was worried that cutting calories wouldn’t work.

2010: I bit the bullet, just cut calories, and lost over 50 pounds in eight months. At that time, I vowed to monitor my weight and not ignore weight problems and over that time did pretty well. I didn’t keep all the weight off, but keeping a scale kept me from ignoring it and I’d cut back and minimize weight gains, even lose a few pounds.

In 2015, I started renting with my brother, which operated on my eating like an invasive species. His leftovers were my undoing: fettucine alfredo, fried chicken, fried fucking porkchops, fresh baguettes, and he keeps peanut butter on hand. That was when I learned that 30+ years of being solely in control of food purchases had created strictures I didn’t even know existed–like don’t buy it and you won’t eat it. It only took me a year to regroup but that year was a 30 pound weight gain and I was back to my all-time high. Wah.

2016 is when the history pattern changed. I cut calories and didn’t lose weight past a given limit. However, two things occurred that year. First, I got much better at watching my weight. I could gain ten pounds from the low limit and then lose them instead of ignoring the problem. Of equal importance, I decided to cut both calories and carbs, which focused me on carbs for the first time since the 70s and the Atkins plan.

If I were given the choice of (a) abandoning meat and cheese for the Fabulous Four white foods (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes) and vegetables  or (b) abandoning the whites for meat, cheese, and veggies, I’d take (a)  in a heartbeat. But the past six years have made clear that option (b) works better. I’ve cut out all the four whites as well as most corn. Exceptions: sushi rice, the occasional corn tortilla, the occasional slice of bread, and snitched fries. I have had one plate of spaghetti in the past six years–my cousin welcomed me into his home with a homemade sauce and I’m not an asshole and oh, my lord, it was so good. I’ve gone from skim milk to whole to cream in my coffee, which is the only milk I use normally. Sugar hasn’t been an issue for decades. I don’t eat candy enough for it to be an issue. Ice cream is a temptation I avoid by not bringing it home. I haven’t wasted calories on non-alcoholic liquid intake for forty years. If it’s not alcohol it’s sugar free.

Since 2016, I’ve been carefully monitoring my weight, eating under 100 grams of carbs and usually around 1500 calories a day. I put a lot of fat back into my diet in exchange for carbs without consequence. For most of that time I walked 2 miles a day, sometimes more. I was far more at ease about what I could eat and what I would see when I stepped on the scale.

But. I should have been losing weight. Every so often, I’d cut my calories and carbs very low just as a test, but no weight loss beyond my set point. And if I varied from that routine even slightly, I’d put on 20 pounds in a month–which I could lose pretty easily by returning to the routine. Totally different from the previous quarter century when I had to turn weight loss into a project to get serious.

2019: I was back at my high and decided to get below the set point I stalled at. Cut down to 1100 calories.  Painfully lost 30 pounds in 8 months, absurdly slow for my usual effort and barely ten pounds lower than my setpoint. The pandemic hit, I continued the same behavior but upped my walking to 4 miles a day. Still slowly put on weight and was back to the same 20 pound set weight range.

Fall 2021: For some reason the thousandth time I heard the GoLo commercial the message sunk in. I’ve never used the product and have no idea what it is, but I’m grateful for that ad. For the first time, I linked my recent troubles with my brother’s diagnosis of Type II diabetes a couple years earlier to my father’s and uncle’s insulin shots to my just a tad out of the green range A1C and glucose levels, despite my low carb intake. I’m not prediabetic  in the slightest. But maybe I was insulin resistant?

My doctor was intrigued with my theory and suggested I try intermittent fasting, giving me three dictates. Eat only from 10 am to 7pm or some similar window. Do some kind of 15 minute aerobic activity to raise my pulse rate. Finally, if I consumed a lot of artificial sweetener, particularly in diet drinks, stop. There’s some suspicion that sweet things trigger the wrong insulin response, even if the sweetness is calorie-free.

The first was easy. I generally eat from 12 to 7:30. The second was not. I exercised 15 minutes close to daily religiously for four months, then (for reasons I’ll mention in a minute) cut back. I still manage it about 3-4 times a week. The last was fucking brutal. I miss diet Coke and Ice sooooo much. I cannot deal with unsweetened coffee, even loaded with heavy cream. So I add in one packet of stevia, my least favorite sugar sub.

Without any other changes I lost 20 pounds in four months, from the high to low of my setpoint. Calorie wise, probably a wash? I used to eat 400-500 calories after dinner, because I’m a night owl, and those are gone. But I never used to eat lunch, which I do all the time now.  Still low carb. I tried going keto but didn’t like it, so kept carbs under 100, usually 50-75 grams.

I still stopped cold at my usual set point. I cut calories down to 1000 for a while and exercised more, to no avail. Barely two pounds in four months. By now, I was pretty convinced that insulin resistance was somehow involved, so I kept to the fasting, although I hate raising my pulse so I cut back a bit on the cardio.

My doctor agreed the halt was weird and sent me to a weight loss endocrinologist. That’s when  I learned there were a number of weight loss drugs on the market. I’d been out of touch for a while.

I’m on Mounjaro. Originally intended for Type 2 diabetes, Mounjaro is, like other diabetes drugs, making the move to the weight loss market. My understanding is that it is not yet approved by the FDA for this purpose, but is on the FDA fast track.

“It’s really expensive and may not be covered by insurance” said the endocrinologist.

“How much?”

“1400.”

“A year?”

“A month. But there’s a coupon.”

“How much?”

“Twenty five dollars.”

“That’s not much of a coupon.”

“Oh, it’s not $25 off.  It’s $25 total.”

Imagine my confused face. That’s not what I’d call a coupon. Still, it’s $25/month with free delivery at convenient hours. My insurance covers around $400 of the cost anyway.

I increased my weekly dosage from 2.5 to 7.5 so far. I’ve lost 12 pounds in 10 weeks, ten pounds below my setpoint, without any other changes.  In fact, since school started I’m actually walking a bit less because I’ve got so much going on.

Side effects: occasional nausea, usually 3 days after taking. Nothing horrible. At this new higher dosage I might be eating a bit less. Hard to tell. My medicated blood pressure seems a lot lower. 115/80 at end of day instead of 135/80.

The endocrinologist is constantly asking me how my behavior changes, am I eating less, and so on, and is skeptical that I’m dropping weight with no other changes. My internist is much more friendly to my theory that this drug is changing my body chemistry in some way. Various reddit threads have testimonials to how the drug has stopped the taker’s binge-eating and hunger pangs. None of that applies to me. I wasn’t a binger, had no food issues, and my appetite hasn’t changed much.

My own theory is that changing my carb intake in 2016 took me off the Type 2 diabetes path, but that the insulin resistance path is unaffected by diet changes? Keep in mind I have only a vague idea what insulin does. Science is still the one subject I don’t teach. In any event, if this continues to work, my doctor agrees with me I’ll probably have to take it permanently.

Moral: none.

Well, I would point out that the sarcastic nasties who say “Losing weight is done by reducing calories” are just being shitty. Even at starvation intake, people process calories differently. On the other hand, a lot of the people who are really obese ate themselves that way. Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters. I think a lot of permanent weight loss will involve drugs. In writing this history, I’m struck by the much longer gap there is between my weight rebound from 1997 to 2008, the other time I was on weight loss drugs.

Here’s hoping I keep losing.


The Push for Black Teachers, Minneapolis Style

So, the Minneapolis Public Schools hooha reminded me of the Clarence Mumford case, as the murmuration swooped in, retweeting regurgitated reprints of the same original story and then…..sharp veer. Nothing.

In a media world where every wrinkle of every navel is closely held up for inspection, no one ever wonders why,  or how,  a union and district could agree to layoff orders based on race.

Going by outraged but not terribly detailed contemporary media reports, I tried to envision one of the following cases:

Union rep: OK, one last dealbreaker: fire white teachers first.

District rep: Sounds good! Cheaper.

Or

District rep: None of this is happening unless we’re allowed to fire white teachers first.

Union rep: Sure! We’ll be the wokest.

Really? It just came up? Seems odd. So I dug into it a bit.

The first thing I noticed, in addition to the fact that this was a five month old story, was the lack of mainstream news coverage.  Apart from syndicating Steve Karnowski’s AP article, there’s little mention.

“Mainstream media ignoring unpleasant topics”–well, what else is new?

On the other hand, perhaps the mainstream media isn’t reporting it now because they considered it old news.

The layoff clause of the Minneapolis teachers’ contract was extensively reported by local news and education media both before and after the agreement back in March, specifically mentioning the racial firing factor. The NY Times mentioned it when announcing the settlement–not as clearly, perhaps:

….while some details of the deal have yet to be finalized, it involves strengthening job protections for hundreds of employees of color

but still enough information for someone to inquire what specific job protections they were talking about.

None of this was secret. It just boggles me that everyone is retweeting and broadcasting outrage now because a minor (forgive me, I speak as one much *more* minor) conservative state newssite reported what had been common knowledge for months. Education Next, a pro-school choice education reform publication, ran an article on it back in June. As usual, education-centered publications did their jobs and the  media, mainstream and conservative proved once again shockingly weak on actual reporting. They wait for a nudge to rise to their radar–and they don’t read education pubs.

Fortunately, the World Socialist Web is on it, baby. Union solidarity over all for these folks, seniority is the way of the land, color be damned. So they did some reporting. It’s an act worth considering, media folk.

This is how I learned that layoff protections began in the earlier contract cycle of 2019-21. That contract had specific  language designed in part to protect non-white teachers not by specifying their race, but by the schools they were most likely to work in: mps1921

So here’s the big reveal left unmentioned by every other news site:  the race-based protections weren’t new. After generations of LIFO, suddenly, four years ago, the district and union had agreed to protect teachers who were far more likely to be non-white.

The obvious conclusion, which took just a bit of googling, was that the law had changed. 

Sure enough: Turns out that in Minnesota, it has always been legal to lay off teachers by a factor other than seniority. However, district and union disagreed, the mandatory sequence was last in, first out. Then, in 2017, Minnesota passed a law repealing the mandatory LIFO layoff order. So before 2017, unions had no reason to negotiate, since they wanted the default. Not any more.

Almost immediately, Minneapolis district and union management agreed to protect non-white (mostly black) teachers.  I won’t bore you with all the links, but there are all sorts of district memorandums and power points and statistics on this. The 2019 contract was the first one to follow the law change, using wording clearly designed to avoid lawsuits but protect teachers who were far more likely to be nonwhite.

Alas. By creating a roundabout means of protecting non-white teachers, the district incurred the wrath of the unprotected. Say for the sake of simplicity that thirty black teachers are the least senior. The ten most junior work at the racially isolated schools; the other twenty have been teaching in the district for longer and work at non-qualifying schools. Layoffs skip the first ten and target ten of the more senior twenty. So layoff language designed to end seniority and save black teachers results in chopping off teachers who are a) more senior b) black. That is, apparently, what happened in the layoffs earlier this year).

Then consider that in reality some of the junior teachers whose jobs are saved are white, and feelings get very ugly. 

And so, the negotiators focused on wording the next contract to protect more black teachers. 

Back in August of last year–why yes, readers, a year ago–the district and union were working on a Memorandum of Agreement to protect teachers of color, finally signed in December 2021:

mpsmoa22

At this point there’s still no mention of protecting entire groups. Lawsuit avoidance is still a concern.

But this wording doesn’t resolve anything. Exempting one group of junior teachers simply puts the next-least senior group on the block, again with the double irony: black teachers with more seniority would be left unprotected. They were, understandably, very unhappy with this failure  and wanted explicit protection. So during the actual strike, the following maneuvers occurred:

Negotiations about protections for teachers of color stalled when MPS said that it legally could not use race to protect a class of employees from layoffs and excessing. ..[on] March 5, MFT removed its memorandum of agreement about teachers of color from contract negotiations.….. (emphasis mine)

On March 6, the district negotiating team resubmitted its memorandum of agreement proposal on protections for teachers of color. This resubmission was not countered by MFT…..

According to MPS School Board Chair Kim Ellison, the March 16 memorandum of agreement submission was part of the district’s suite of equity proposals and included a change in the language to use the term “underrepresented” instead of its previous language identifying specific categories of teachers, such as those participating in the district’s Grow Your Own program.

So: union added explicit protection by race. District said they’d get sued. Union dropped the language. Black teachers found out and announced their unhappiness in a public letter. District put the language back in, leaving the final contract language that has so incensed the right five months later:

mps2223

The district readily admitted their concerns:

“Educators of Color Retention” …has now been changed to “Recruit and Retain Educators That Reflect Our Students.” When a union bargaining member asked why the title had been changed, claiming the new title was “whitewashed,” a district official admitted, “That was done for legal reasons. The EEOC doesn’t allow it [the MOA as it was originally written] to be based on race. So that’s really the reason; to still be inclusive but to do it with language in which we can legally defend.”

Clearly the district thought that “f)” would result in lawsuits or penalities. Nonetheless, they put the language back in anyway, hoping that using the term “underrepresented” will get them out of jail free.

Perhaps, cynically, they decided to let the courts throw the clause out and get the blame.

Or something else. Reporting is, er, thin.

Race-based layoffs weren’t the primary dispute this round, but rather increasing the pay of classroom assistants.  Which brings up the first questions I had on this topic: really? Union and district were both committed to firing white teachers first?

Moreover, apparently not one reporter wondered what those white teachers thought.  Black teachers’ fury at not getting explicit race-based protection is on full display in every story. But no white teachers are interviewed on this point.

But then that’s not a conversation that would go well.

“Kailee, you have three years with the district. Next layoff, brand new black and Hispanic and native American teachers will keep their jobs while you’ll lose yours. Tell us how that feels.”

{Kailee, not wanting to lose her job now for racist remarks, keeps her mouth shut.}

On the other other hand: union members are overwhelmingly white and they voted for the contract.

Why?

That’s where imagination fails me. The district position makes sense. Not to put too fine a point on it, junior teachers are cheaper. Older teachers cost more. Dumping expensive teachers for lower-paid teachers who also increase the districts non-white teacher ratio: win-win.   So their side is completely sensible… leaving the whole “it’s probably unconstitutional” part of it aside.

What I’m having trouble understanding is why white teachers voted  for something that seems obviously against their interests.

Wesley Yang hilariously argues that white teachers have been brainwashed. He’s not alone. The entire conservative media ecosystem is perfectly primed to believe that white teachers in Minnesota would enthusiastically vote to give up their jobs for black teachers in the name of wokeness, as suggested.  But that’s because the entire conservative media ecosystem believes,  as Yang does, that white teachers are morons.  

Reality is a bit hard to communicate in a world when the entire conservative ecosystem thinks that teachers are wildly radical progressives eager to flip the gender of every public school student in the country. Most of the right ignored Andy Smarick’s explanation that schools heeded parent wishes on pandemic education options, not to mention the Heritage Foundation’s teacher survey that found the average teacher was barely left of center. If Andy Smarick can go on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast to discuss his piece and they spent maybe three seconds on it then return to bitching about schools, nothing this little ol’ blogger can say is going to have more impact than AEI and Heritage Foundation.

Still, I try. And reality says this: Unions’ first customers, all public noise to the contrary, are the teachers. Teachers demand three things from unions: negotiate our pay, keep tenure, maintain the seniority system. After that, union leaders and the fringe can say all sorts of stupid shit because regardless of teachers’ political views, they (and by they I mean we) don’t care. Whatever, man. Most of us don’t even vote in the union elections. All the public bullshit that drives pundits crazy is white noise to most teachers.

Therefore, I don’t readily see why the majority white teachers would vote for this.

Speculation:

  1. They didn’t spot the last minute addition of protecting all teachers by race. Given the long history of identifying protected classes, perhaps white teachers just assumed the protections were still Montessori, racially isolated, immersion et al schools and nothing more. When they realized the expansion….well. Speaking up would be politically dangerous.
  2. There aren’t enough non-white Minneapolis teachers to make this worth bitching about. The raise is hefty.
  3. Maybe the non-white teachers are primarily in schools no white teacher wants. They’d quit if transferred to fill a laid off position, and hey, the raise is hefty.

I have no idea. Perhaps some enterprising soul will ask around.

What I do know is this: the underlying drive here is not wokeness or progressiveness run amok. It’s part of the ongoing push for more black and Hispanic teachers to teach a population that research suggests do better when they have a teacher of their own race. Or, as Dan Goldhaber put it: 

assigning a Black student to a Black teacher is associated with higher learning gains than assigning the same student to a teacher with one standard deviation higher credential test scores or a teacher who is National Board certified. 

Black teachers for black kids get better outcomes than smart teachers do.

This contract language protecting teachers by race seems obviously unconstitutional. But it ain’t woke. And it ain’t entirely crazy.


Am I a COVID “Superdodger”? Novid for me.

Time and again I am reminded that either the media class is abnormal or I am. No, don’t enlighten me.

Apparently the media left all decided simultaneously to wonder why some people haven’t gotten covid. The Washington Post wants us to meet the covid super-dodgers which must have been the impetus for this Josh Marshall tweet, asking people who haven’t gotten covid19 to speculate as to why. Or maybe it was this insane nuttiness by an Atlantic writer trying to make sure her fiance doesn’t get covid. Slate asked every Novid they knew to explain why, and the answer was they gave up life as we know it.

I haven’t gotten covid19. Vaxxed, not boosted. I didn’t really want to get vaxxed, but I’m a teacher and I was certain it would become a thing, a moral demand to get vaxxed, and once that happened I’m so stubborn I’d be like oh, fuck you people and never get vaxxed and either be not allowed to teach or go through testing every week. Ick. So I got vaxxed in March 2021 caring not one bit and mildly irritated at myself for giving in. But my reasoning was sound. By summer, I would have been like oh fuck you people and then I would have been forced into covid tests every week.

I travelled everywhere. Took my dad on a fishing trip. Visited my sister several times. Road and air. The only good thing about the 20 months spent teaching remote was that I could do it from anywhere, and I did. While restaurants were legally take-out only, my sushi bar let regulars eat in and I did so weekly, all through the shutdown.

I wore masks when required and at no other time. Cloth only. My school made the KN95 masks available free, handing them out several times. They sat unused on my desk. “Why don’t you use them? They’re better than cloth,” my students would ask.

“Yeah, I don’t want to wear a mask at all and if I understand the experts wearing cloth is the next best thing.”

The first day my district ended the mask mandate, I was afraid I read the calendar wrong. Everyone was still masked. Maybe four teachers and 20 kids weren’t. Some teachers took a vote in their class to determine whether to require masks in their classroom and I nearly lost my shit upon hearing that from my class. At the sight of my fury, two different students took off their masks.

“Oh, don’t do that! I hate masks. You don’t have to! That’s my point. I don’t want people forced to wear masks but forcing you not to is just as wrong.”

“Naw,” said Jacob. “I was just doing it because everyone else did.”

“Me, too!” said Alison, “I hate masks.”

“Ah. OK. So let me be clear. I’m fine with anyone wearing masks, but if you are wearing masks because you’re afraid people will judge you, then man up, puppies.”

Last day of school, a majority of students were still masking, but increasingly kids took their masks off around me. Not sure what that means.

I have never taken a covid19 test. I have allergy attacks that are bad enough I may as well be sick, but I now take allergy meds most of the year to stop outbreaks and so the bronchial disasters are infrequent. While covid doesn’t worry me, I get sore throats so bad that strep is a possibility and that does concern me.  An allergy breakthrough last December gave me a sore throat bad enough to warrant a trip to urgent care for a strep test. They made me sit outside and wait an hour for a covid test before seeing a doctor. Fuck it, I’ll risk strep. It wasn’t strep. It wasn’t covid, either. I just needed to go back on Mucinex.

At school, we get these automated emails warning us if a kid in the school or the class had covid19. The first was just a notification. The second sent out a list of actions we needed to take if we weren’t boosted. I ignored those emails, as did almost every other teacher I talked to. Students stopped calling in sick with a sore throat or sniffles; parents didn’t want to activate the protocols. Girls had cramps, boys had sprained ankles.

I have several classes of 35 kids and they sit in groups. At no point did covid sweep through my classroom, although many cases occurred randomly. Elmore and Leonid were brothers who sat next to each other and lived together. Elmore got covid, Leonid didn’t–not then and, last I checked he, like me, hasn’t had it.

I am not boosted. I will not get boosted for the same reason I don’t get flu shots. Maybe when I’m older and worried about lung function–at some point, with my bronchial history, it might be a good idea.

The official definition of close contact exposure is six feet for 15 minutes. My friend Bart, who left teaching last year, came back for the graduation and slept on my couch. We ate at the sushi bar, had dinner at my house, talked as I cleaned up my classroom, and traveled in the same car during the 36 hours between his arrival and his taking me to the airport for my flight to Florida.

Four hours later, Bart texted me frantically. He’d felt tired and had a sore throat and took a covid19 test which came back positive. He was so sorry!

Who does that? Who feels mildly sick and says oh, take a covid test! Well, Bart does, obviously. He was pretty obsessive about covid throughout, staying housebound for months. Vaxxed and boosted. Still got covid.

Anyway, I was definitely exposed to covid19. Ate at restaurants, went to the beach, went to a movie. Had a great time. No covid.

I never thought my covid virginity was unusual. My brother, who manages an elite grocery store, also hasn’t gotten it–vaxxed, not boosted. His son and daughter who live with us haven’t gotten it. My sister did get a fairly mild case in January–never vaxxed. Her daughter, a nurse, utterly and wholly obsessed about covid prevention, required every attendee at her baby shower to be vaxxed, boosted, and show a negative PCR test.  She’s had it twice. My mom and her husband never had it. Most of the teachers at school never had it–some obsessive protectors, some more like me.

My explanation is my immune system.. Thank my mutt ancestry. Viruses don’t have much hold on me.  Not colds, not flus, not covid. I personally attribute it to the hyperimmune response of allergies, but my brother and sister have much milder allergies and similar health. It’s certainly not my behavior. From February 2020 on I have openly mocked the cautious. It gets you or it doesn’t. I’m okay if it does. But it hasn’t.

Besides, the article already observed that only 60% of the population has gotten covid. 40% doesn’t seem like it’s worthy of superdodger status. Let me know when I’m one of the 1%.


Baraki, Caldeira, and Foolish Hysteria

(hey,kinda rhymes)

Back in November, Abigail Shrier, a journalist who achieved notoriety by pointing how much of the trans movement involves girls in their early teens,  revealed, with much fanfare, How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids: (Yes. A while back. I’ll explain the delay.)

Two California middle school teachers, Kelly Baraki and Lori Caldeira, of Spreckels Union School District, gave a presentation at an October union conference about their struggles and triumphs running a gay-straight alliance club. Based on the recordings, though, their primary focus appeared to be helping “trans” kids find themselves. Highlights of their claims:

  • They advised finding alternate club names (UBU instead of GSA) that didn’t alert parents to the club’s purpose.
  • They didn’t keep club meeting rosters to keep parents unaware of their child’s participation.
  • They were concerned about club attrition and their efforts to keep the kids motivated and attending the gender awareness clubs.
  • They described “stalking” kids’ online activity during the pandemic to identify students who expressed interest in exploring sexuality.
  • They discussed the best ways to “integrate” their gender preference instruction into their anti-bullying presentations so the students are less likely to mention it to their parents.
  • They mocked parents who complained about their kids being exposed to sex-ed. They crowed that with tenure,  the principal might “flinch” but couldn’t respond to parents’ concerns.
  • In every way they presented their club as a recruitment project, in which parents were to be ignored and subverted whenever possible.

Shrier, as is evidenced by the title of her piece, characterized their presentation as “insight…into the mindset and tactics of activist teachers themselves.”  She saw this presentation as education and instruction.

I read about this at the time and several things immediately seemed obvious, pointing to a real failure on Shrier’s part to do any reporting or analysis.

First, and this is fairly minor but it speaks to the hysteria: Shrier was reading way too much into “union conference”. She clearly sees it as indoctrination. It’s not. Most teachers are required to document seat time for recertification; all of them have to come up with educational credits to move along the pay scale. These union conferences serve as seat time for recertification and, for extra money, can be converted into credits. Plus, Palm Springs! Take the kids, sit by a pool. Nobody–but nobody–sitting in that conference was being educated, advised, or instructed.

Clearly, Shrier didn’t know enough to ask the right questions. Namely, who was paying? Were teachers listening to this swill on district time? Were Caldeira and Baraki getting paid by the district to present? I did some research on union conferences, and am reasonable satisfied that districts don’t pay for teachers to attend. Someone ought to make sure, though.

Regarding the content of the presentation, I was stunned. Tracking kids’ internet activity? Total control over morning announcements? Not keeping attendance at club meetings? Mocking angry parents and gloating that tenure protects them? Smugly talking about the principal “flinching” but being forced to back them?

Why would anyone believe all this?

Teachers can’t hold club meetings and keep them secret. Morning announcements aren’t the personal domain of a teacher. No teacher is stupid enough to think pissed off parents can’t change her existence, especially with a principal who is privately flinching at her behavior but feels forced to comply. Tracking a student’s internet activity…that was so weird I googled and found out about GoGuardian, which freaked me right out, as I teach for one of the 90% of schools who don’t use it. I think it’s only for Chromebooks? And in the classroom I could see it being useful. But either way, I don’t believe any teacher, even one with the worst intentions in the world, could “stalk” kids internet use without singling them out ahead of time or running reports after the fact. No teacher would brag about the first, and there had to be controls on the second, which meant they were lying.

So most of what Caldeira and Baraki were recorded as saying was utter bullshit and obviously, once the tapes came out, these two tearchers were toast. If their presentation was accurate, they’d be fired now that it was public. If they were lying, as seemed likely, they were going to be fired for embarrassing the district.

I commented to this effect on Shrier’s blog. And I was right.

The district, upon learning from Shrier about the recordings, instantly sent out a response, suspending the club, requiring principals to sign off on announcements, and denying some of the claims the teachers made. As I expected, the district emphasized that Baraka and Caldeira were using personal days and not speaking as school representatives. The two teachers were placed on administrative leave while a formal investigation (done by a lawfirm, not the district) took place.

In early July, the lawfirm released the results of a thorough investigation: 1600 documents reviewed, 21 witnesses. The text of the report is very specific on a key point: Baraki and Caldeira made “harmful and disruptive comments” during the presentation that “were not reliable evidence of their actual conduct.”

That is, they lied.

Baraki and Caldeira never put any gender-related comments in the announcements. They didn’t mislead kids during their lessons. While they generated 30 reports of student activity between 2015 and 2019 (which doesn’t strike me as a lot, but I can’t be sure), but all of them had some other purpose. They did notice a student clicking on a link, but never followed up with that student. The only two kids they invited to the club meetings had first approached their teachers about joining.

Baraki and Caldeira resigned and were not fired. They almost certainly would have been, although it might have taken a couple years. But no administrator or district official would forget the shit those two caused by, let’s not forget, lying.

The details were reported sympathetically by the SF Chronicle which talks of the teachers being cleared but glossing over the fact that they lied. Oddly–or maybe not so oddly–Shrier wrote five stories on this in six weeks last winter but hasn’t mentioned this update in three weeks.

Brief aside: this has to be bad news for Jessica Konnen, mother of a former Caldeira student who went through a phase of believing herself transgender while attending the middle school. Konnen was notified by Caldeira and the principal, where the two made it clear that they’d known about this for a long time. After hearing the tapes, she was convinced that Caldeira had unduly influenced her daughter and got lawyer Harmeet Dhillon taking her case against Caldeira and the district, which was filed in June. The recordings were a key part of the evidence and now a law firm investigation has shown the teachers were lying.

What Shrier et al. see as an appalling example of business as usual in our public schools is, in fact, exaggerated or rule-breaking behavior the teachers are bragging about in order to impress their audience.

Of course, that’s still bad.  Baraki and Caldeira are bragging to make themselves look good The dreary reality, in their minds,  is that school procedures prevent them from finding all the potentially confused kids to straighten out. They don’t have the control they claim to have over morning announcements, student clubs. But they want to project a voice of authority to impress their audience–an audience, they presume, who is excited as they are at finding transgender kids who need their help. You want evidence of a polarized country? There you go. Many people support helping kids find their identities, as they think of it. 

But they aren’t the cause! Yes, Baraki and Caldeira want to “find” (convert, to Shrier et al) more transgender students. Yes, they want to run over the rights of concerned parents. Yes, they want to “educate” (indoctrinate) kids by making their club seem exciting, by normalizing gender issues in school, by growing their club. And yes, the union staff setting up the conference see those goals as admirable. All of these are, in my view, horrible objectives and reflect a terrifying mindset.

Except they can’t achieve their goals. School and district policies prevented it. Parents were leery and districts heeded parents. In fact, when the district learned that Baraki bragged about controlling announcements and not keeping a roster, it instantly created policies forbidding that control–policies that normally wouldn’t be needed, because if Baraki had indeed been sliding in propaganda, someone would have noticed. Doesn’t matter. Avoid the risk, mandate signoff. Mandate attendance lists (something common in high school, anyway).

So if the teachers like Baraki and Caldeira have to lie to pretend to have any power, they certainly aren’t the ones preventing parents from being told their kid is transgender. Who’s doing that? 

State and federal governments, that’s who.

I’m in this weird situation where I get reviled by progressives for being a hateful anti-trans bigot and yelled at by conservatives for being a pedophile groomer. I think  “gender dysphoria” is at best a phase and at worst a mental illness.  I am comfortable with finding adults finding whatever gender solution works for them. I am against younger kids taking medical steps. Use of proper pronouns is polite, but should not be required or forced at risk of social and economic obliteration. Any discussion of gender with young kids is wildly inappropriate, whether it’s a doctor, teacher, librarian, or drag queen raising the subject.  Kids should not be actively taught about sexuality….ever, as far as I’m concerned. Let them figure it out for themselves. All of this is enough to get me reviled by progressives.

But the people, whatever their ideology, who are appalled by this radical ideology and the insistence on demands and requirements that seem to violate the laws of reality seem to have no idea of what’s causing it and the wrong idea on who to blame. Once again they focus on unions, teachers, ed schools. 

Smug parents bragging that they homeschool are fooling themselves. Pediatricians think screening kids for gender is a great idea. If it’s not already a state requirement, just wait. Their churches probably won’t comply but why are so many corporations are coming up with DEI initiatives? 

The institutional capture people need to worry about is not teachers and ed schools but state policy makers and legal overreach. If you want to know why schools take a particular action, don’t look to unions but policy, laws, and accreditation–not just of K-12 schools but also colleges, universities, and every organization you can think of.  If states don’t play along, the feds can just devise some sort of mandate to qualify for funds.

This article is too long already, but in researching this story, I found a very troubling expansion that may illustrate the real perpetrator. From the most recent Chronicle article on Baraki and Caldeira:

The California Department of Education says that school staff should not disclose information about students’ gender identity without student permission under AB1266, which protects transgender students’ rights and went into law in 2014.

The first link goes to the CDoE policy which is a full page of things California schools must do to support transgender students because of AB1266–including restrictions against telling parents. The second is a link to AB1266 which says that California Education Code 221.5 shall be modified. It’s not specific about the modifications, which necessitates a look back to 221.5 as it existed in 2010 to learn that 221.5 had five clauses, a-e, and AB1266 added one more:

(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

That’s it. 

Well. That’s enough. That’s the wording, undoubtedly enacted in many states, enabling males to compete as females and the bathroom confusion. But there’s no mention of parents. 

So the CDoE is attributing a near total mandate forbidding schools from notifying parents (with a few weasel words for cover) and using as its rationale legislation changes that don’t mention parents at all. 

Now, go back to the CADoE FAQ and it’s clear that all the legal text added in that section is rationale. Someone took this opportunity to interpret privacy laws and create a whole slew of school mandates that were not in the original legislation. You have to wonder if that’s what Tom Ammiano, the legislative sponsor, had in mind. An attempt to recall the legislation failed. 

By the way, this change to California law happened back in 2014. Long before anyone was paying attention. 

Think it’s only California and those wacky progressives? Trump SecEd Betsy DeVos resisted his order to change policy on transgender students and bathrooms. GOP bastion South Dakota legislators passed a law to force transgender students to use the bathroom matching their biology in 2016, but the governor, a Republican, vetoed it. Even today, Governor Noem was willing to kiss any shot at the presidency goodbye by vetoing a ban on transgender athletes.  I see plenty of GOP opinion folks mocking Rachel Levine; far fewer mocking Dierdre McCloskey.

Understand what forces compelled Noem to veto that law despite the overwhelming support in her state and why DeVos resisted ending transgender access to bathrooms. Accept that people who pushed this started things in motion long before most people were paying attention. Remember  that schools, the institutions most subjected to these pressures, still care about parents and political pressure. Push them hard and they’ll close gaps. Ensure minimum compliance with laws and don’t allow overreach.

Untangling this craziness while still allowing self-determination will be a long process and the other side on this has a head start. But there’s an obvious state law that should be made immediately, one that reporters making their bones on transgender outrage should immediately support:

Mandate  schools to immediately notify parents should their child express a gender identity different from his or her biological one. Specifically: student confides as transgender to school employee, school employee notifies administrator, form letter goes out to parent. If the school’s opinion is the child would be endangered by parental notification, school notifies child protective services who takes it from there. Schools are not allowed to keep this information from parents.

This is a no-brainer. And quite apart from the logical reasons to support this change, there’s one additional positive side effect:  ending or at least wildly curtailing the clubs and activities that seem to encourage student gender confusion. It is perversely easier to force teachers to hide secrets from parents than it is dealing with really pissed off parents blaming the school’s UBU club for their suddenly transgender kid. 

 

 


Continuing Teacher Education

I’ve had some thoughts about the Baraki/Caldeira hooha first reported by Abigail Shrier (it will come as little surprise that I am disgusted by the teachers and rolling my eyes hard at Shrier), but one detail of the story caught my attention and it struck me as an interesting topic to discuss. I do plan on eventually responding to the overall story, but for the impatient you can infer a great deal from this article.

The detail in question: Baraki and Caldeira were presenting at a union conference and I’m like what the hell is a union conference? They have the political shindigs every year but this is clearly something different.  So I dug into union conferences to see where they fit into the teacher education universe.

Despite having chosen a career developing human capital, teachers have much the same attitude towards additional education that layfolk have in their own careers–that is, they don’t think much of it. Doctors and lawyers also have recertification requirements. I suspect doctors really feel they need to be updated on current technology, while lawyers probably view it much the same way as teachers do–an annoyance. But that’s just a guess.

Not all states require recertification education, and some districts ensure that sufficient PD is built into the year so the teachers don’t have to do any extra. But in most states, as the excellent Stephen Sawchuk explains, teachers have to drum up a bunch of hours to prove they’ve done some work, er, professionally developing.

Then there’s the practice of paying teachers for education, which began when unified districts wanted a way to pay high school teachers more than elementary school teachers but has morphed into a pay for play practice. Do not imagine, readers, that teachers fondly look for intellectually exciting courses to build their own human capital. Some teachers want to become principals and so paying for an admin degree is worth it. Others just find the cheapest way to get an MEd. Some–a very small number–want a Master’s degree in their topic–sometimes an intellectual challenge, other times to have access to additional teaching opportunities.  But I’m always amused when some education critic says portentously, “There’s no proof that a master’s degree improves educational outcomes.” Did someone get paid to research that?

Anyway. As you can see, there are two large categories of teacher education that they generally have to fund themselves to keep their job and get more money.  It is in this universe that union conferences exist.  The takeaway for the Baraka/Caldeira story: union conferences are cheap–at least for the teacher. They’re probably in fun locations so that teachers can at least hang out by the pool or take the family for a weekend. They are also attractive to progressive teachers who want to brag about the equity self-improvement they are undertaking. TThey are cheap–unions often give grants to attend them and help fund the CEUs. I have to believe the unions are making bank on it somewhere, although I’m uninterested in the details.

But they aren’t well-regarded.  They are unlikely to be funded by tax dollars in any way (and if Shrier were interested in really making a difference instead of getting credulous parents to hyperventilate, that’s what she’d ask about.) Union conferences are in no way evidence that these organizations are “instructing” and “advising” and “educating” teachers in any serious way, as Shrier charges. They are merely are offering seat time for teachers who need something cheap and easy, and are usually taught by other teachers looking for resume fodder (presented at LBTQwhatever Conference on Engaging Gender Clubs). More on that in my next article.

Take away the pesky policy requirements that union conferences exist to fill and it’s pretty tough to get teachers in the classroom. The two other broad categories are conferences for some sort of district or school mandates, which will in almost every case be offered by consultants–remember, folks, Jo Boaler bills. These will not be union conferences. They’ll be some sort of big picture approach. They will always be the new new thing. Teachers are not paid for attending, but they’ll get a few days off, food money, and people to party with if it’s 50 miles away. The conferences themselves will be very expensive.

The last category of teacher education is the summer fellowship, usually offered by research universities or large companies, often funded by NSF or other government grants. These fellowships do what the professional education requirements are supposed to do–keep teachers aware of modern developments in their field and pay them to engage in research, practice, employment…whatever delivery mechanism they think will work. The pay is usually excellent and teachers are often given money for instruction materials. The teacher deliverables apart from hours worked is almost always curriculum, along with presentations to potential donors to show how successful the program is. Examples: Ignited, RET (Research Experiences for Teachers), various Fulbright Grants, and many others. Also, career-technical teachers usually have to take courses to qualify to teach a given curriculum and if they work for a district they’ll be reimbursed a lot for their time (a few thousand dollars, usually).

So at a high level, teacher education looks something like this:

Description Choice Paid to Paid by How much?
Certification courses (required) Required in many states Varies Teacher or districts Not much
Education for pay increase Required Higher institutions Teacher, usually College tuition rates
District Mandates (optional) Usually optional Consultants District always A Lot
($3500-5000 per person in fees, plus stipend or sub for teacher)
Funded research or initiative Optional Teachers Gov’t Grants, Donors A Lot
($7-9K per summer)
CTE training Optional Teachers District A Lot
($1-2K per course)

So I’m hoping this table reveals something important: first, teachers don’t really want to spend time in education, particularly not education they pay for. The price tag for convincing teachers to give up their summers for education and opportunities that far exceed the crap they pay for is pretty significant. 7-9K is far more than summer school pays.

However, there are well-funded programs eager to reach interested teachers, and it’s clear enticing teachers to sign up for genuine intellectual engagement takes a serious chunk of money for relatively few teachers.  Moreover, these opportunities have a hierarchy, with STEM teachers at the top, other high school academic teachers far below, and all other teachers down at the base with limited options.

In a more properly ordered world, we’d can all the required make-work education and create fellowships or research internships that are available to all teachers, not just those in subjects that feds and donors care about. Pay teachers a good chunk of money for….well, what would probably be the equivalent of good ed school seminars. Let participants talk about teaching, listen to lectures about topics in their field, create curriculum and present it, practice delivery, get feedback. Might be fun.  It might even prevent millions of dollars from going to grifters or ideologues for little more than allowing bored teachers to check off a few hours.

Another suggestion I’ve made before is to offer significant recompense for additional credentials, particularly math, science, and career technical. Give teachers coursework or professional experience to build towards hard to find expertise that won’t only increase them along the pay scale but also work towards a second credential that will increase their pay. Make real education worth achieving for significant pay increases, not a few thousand dollars once they reach 25 units.

(The reason teachers aren’t given incentives to get additional credentials:  the pretense that teachers should be subject matter experts . Can’t have an English teacher doing the coursework to teach algebra if needed because algebra teachers should be real mathematicians! Except you don’t find any, and instead it’s a sub with no teaching experience and in that world an English teacher with some algebra knowledge is a huge step up.)

On the other hand, if that option was made too attractive, who’d be left to teach summer school?


The Pandemic School Policy Power Differential

I recently realized that the delineation between remote, in-person, and hybrid instruction doesn’t always mean the same thing to parents, teachers, media, and the general public. I don’t know if that’s why a significant power imbalance never got much notice–well. Not notice as such. It got a lot of notice.

Take a look at this table of different instruction models by Edweek, from a November 2020 survey:

hybridmodmain

This is a survey of school districts, and if you add up similar models, 49% offer full-time instruction, 29% offer part-time in=person, and 17% offer remote only.

Notice I say “part-time in-person” when most would simply say “hybrid”. I used to as well–but the “hybrid” definition varies based on whether the focus is on parents or teachers.

Parents define school model based on where their kids are during class-time. Teachers define school model based on where all kids are during class-time.

So using the above table, parents who opted for full-time remote instruction would experience all except the third as full-time remote instruction. Parents who were offered the choice of in-person instruction and accepted it would describe the first and third as full-time, the second and fifth as “hybrid” because their kids were at home some days, at school others.

For a teacher, “hybrid” means they are teaching online and in-person simultaneously: “Roomies” and “Zoomies”. Teachers working in the first, second, and fifth structures would say they were teaching in “hybrid”, even though all the parents in those situations would describe the education as full-time (either remote or in-person).

This could explain why Martin West et al did a survey at roughly the same time and found very different numbers–or seemed to:

Our data reveal that more than half of U.S. students are receiving instruction entirely remotely this school year, while 28% of students receive instruction that is fully in person. Of the 19% of students in hybrid models, in-person instruction varies from one to five days a week.

Was one survey just wrong? Unlikely. Edweek’s  surveys are generally reliable. Martin West’s team surveys are the gold standard, as far as I’m concerned.

I think they’re both correct, but tracking different issues. Edweek is looking at what schools offer. West is looking at what parents accept. The West researchers make this clear later in the article:

As for the range of available choices, the parents of only 41% of students report that their child’s school offers a fully in-person option, suggesting that more than two-thirds of students who were presented that option took it. The parents of 48% of students say that their child has a hybrid option, and the parents of 77% say that their child can attend fully online.

The Edweek graph doesn’t make this as explicit, because different rows are counted in more than one category. All but one of the described options includes full-time remote–and it wouldn’t surprise me if at least of those 100% in-person districts didn’t offer remote. While it’s not mentioned, most schools offering part-time inperson classes had Schedule A, B, and C, with A and B as the alternating schedules and C (or R) as full-time remote.

So once the Edweek values are totalled to include all options available to parents, the comparison looks more like this:

Option Edweek West et. al
Fulltime 49% (34+15) 41%
Hybrid 29% (20+9) 48
Remote 85% (100-15) 77%

Much closer, if not perfect. (Edweek is tracking districts while West is tracking parents, so it’s an imperfect comparison anyway.)

So overwhelmingly, parents had the option to remote instruction if they wanted, but far fewer parents had access to any kind of in-person instruction.

Remember, parents themselves were the primary drivers in determining whether school districts offered in-person instruction (hybrid or full-time being determined by the governor’s choice to follow CDC strictures). So a district decision was primarily influenced by parental majority.

But parents with the minority preference got wildly different treatment depending on which option won.

In rare cases, districts discontinued remote because so few students wanted it and were doing badly to boot; all of these districts seem to be in Texas (e.g., Blanco Independent District). But even when a district refused to continue offering remote, the parents  were supported–allowed to go to another district, hooked up with a virtual charter. Still, schools refusing to accommodate remote instruction were very much the exception.

This is supported by the West survey:

The parents of 84% and 89% of those being taught in the in-person and hybrid models, respectively, say they have a choice in the matter, but parents of only 60% of the fully remote children say they have an option for their children to receive instruction in a different way.

In contrast, parents who wanted in-person schooling in a remote-only district were generally ignored. Overwhelmingly, these parents were in blue states where the governor had insisted on following CDC guidelines, making part-time in-person with full-time remote available the only in-person option.

Why the disparate treatment? Why were parents wanting given remote catered to, while parents wanting in-person were ignored?

Well, for starters, the particular form of hybrid that the CDC regulations required is uniquely horrible.  Michael Pershan’s excellent article does the best at explaining why this form of instruction is terrible for teachers.  I recently described the additional complications that principals faced when their school offered any form of in-person instruction, whether hybrid or full-time.

The West survey and others show that parents didn’t noticeably prefer hybrid to remote.

Many central Florida schools had under half their students showing up for in-person instruction. The teachers’ lives sound miserable, but manageable, and many districts paid teachers more for hybrid. Most importantly, parents were given equal treatment.  But remember, Florida schools were 100% in-person, so even if only fifteen students came to class every day, it’s enough of a classroom experience to be worth it.

That scenario wasn’t the case in many other districts in blue states. The students were forced into alternate day scenario if the state was complying with CDC guidelines.  Moreover, far fewer  parents in these non-white districts were interested in in-person instruction–far fewer, even, than the numbers voting for it.

For example, my district’s survey showed about a third of parents wanted in-person instruction in a late winter survey.

(So first of all, if you are like me and think in-person instruction should have been the norm from the beginning, take a second to stop and think about that. Two-thirds of the parents of a very large district, with all the information they had about the low risk levels for young people, having been stuck in remote for months, voted for continued remote instruction. Realize that my district, close to 90% non-white, is typical of other majority non-white districts and then consider how many majority non-white districts there are. Then perhaps you will think twice about “blame” for remote education.)

When the district asked for signups to get schedules started, just ten percent signed up. That’s maybe 2-3 students per class.   Those are numbers that reasonably cause districts to decide it’s not worth the effort to move out of hybrid, even if it was unfair to the tiny number of parents who wanted it.

So there were reasons why districts didn’t support parents who wanted in-person instruction in high majority remote districts. It’s still unfair. It’s still disparate treatment.

But here’s the part that’s puzzling me: I don’t recall a single parent, much less parent organization, point out this inequity and ask for redress.

Here’s what I mean:

Virginia tracked its counties, which correspond almost exactly to districts, and their education model as of late September 2020. I’ve marked two counties that offered full-time instruction from the beginning of the school year, and two who were almost entirely remote through at least January 2021;.  VASchoolsRemote

Tazewell and Hanover are labeled full-time, but both counties allowed parents to opt for full-time remote education in their local school–oh, hey, see the note at the bottom of the map? All VA districts offered family a remote option. Loudon and Fairfax were full-time remote. There is no note on the bottom of the map saying that all VA districts offered family an in-person option.

But I don’t remember a single Fairfax or Loudon parent asking why they weren’t given the same consideration as the remote parents in Tazewell and Hanover.

Why did no Fairfax or Loudon parent sue the districts and demand equal treatment? Where were their lawyer representatives on Tucker arguing that parents in the minority should both get their choice of instruction? Where were parents with placards saying “GIVE US EQUAL RIGHTS!”

This seems the logical strategy. It might not have worked, but it’s….American.

These parents didn’t suffer in silence, of course. But their strategy was stupid!  They insisted on in-person instruction as logical, “following the science”. They demanded open schools as the only response.  They didn’t appeal for equal rights, they demanded their schools submit.  They argued that their need was oppression, a clear-cut case of government misuse of power. These parents insisted they were acting not just for their own needs but representing countless black and Hispanic children who were being devastated by closed schools and remote instruction.

But in fact, the schools were responding to the demands of the majority–among whom were most of the black and Hispanic children the in-person parents claimed to speak for. (Asians, too, but you know, they’re always left out of the discussion.)

Thousands of Twitter debates with these angry folks has convinced me they were all utterly clueless of their minority status. They didn’t see themselves as a minority. They couldn’t even conceive of the idea. Even today, most people talking about “closed schools and the damage done to our poorest children” are still ignorant of the irony: huge majorities of non-white kids had parents who wanted remote and got their wish.

Surveys repeatedly reveal that 70% or more of parents are satisfied with their schools’ responses to the pandemic. The Understanding America survey is one of a number of surveys showing that just 15% of parents wanted in-person instruction that their schools didn’t offer.

Fifteen percent.

A very loud fifteen percent.

A very white fifteen percent.

A very loud, very white fifteen percent that are, to this day, unaware they weren’t outraged on behalf of an oppressed majority.

This ignorance cost them any hope of victory. I don’t know if an equal treatment argument would have prevailed in court, but at least it would have been an argument that made sense. A quest for equity might have yielded some solutions. Maybe the district could have had one or two in-person schools and assigned willing teachers. (Sure, that would have incurred union pushback, but think of that argument: “the union is blocking willing teachers from supporting a  minority!” Much more effective than blaming unions for all closed schools, since the decisionmakers knew otherwise.)

But they couldn’t see past their bubbles. Most of the parents whose kids were trapped in remote live in highly diverse areas–but enclaved enough that they only think white. Everyone they knew–Republicans, even!–agreed with them. So instead of asking for equal rights, they screamed about government oppression.

Keep in mind: I wanted these parents to win. And yet I found their willful ignorance appalling. So ultimately, despite the power differential, I find it hard to be sympathetic.

Except… the other side was just as bad! Progressives (and here I include teacher union leadership) were dogmatic and obnoxious. Only MAGA delusionals could possibly want in-person instruction. Reasonable, responsible, intelligent parents would understand in-person instruction was too unsafe for at risk individuals. Selfish parents who don’t value the well-being of the community are unworthy of support.

Of course, most of the arguments in the media were between white people–white parents and white progressives opposing them. The non-white parents whose preferences were keeping schools closed didn’t often participate in these debates. No need to. They had what they wanted. Like most public debate, the battle to get out of remote instruction was conducted white on white.

Make of that what you will.