Nancy Bailey’s Education Website: Selling Charter School Class Size as “Innovative Medical Experimentation” During Covid-19

Nancy Bailey’s Education Website: Selling Charter School Class Size as “Innovative Medical Experimentation” During Covid-19

Efforts to destroy public schooling in America have not disappeared during the pandemic. While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos displays her hatred for public education, especially with Fairfax County public school teachers, DC Charter Schools are advertising innovations during the pandemic. They’re promoting smaller class sizes as innovative medical experimentation. Their innovations, however, are not ingenious.

While most of Washington’s 52,000 public school kids are dealing with computer screens and Zoom rooms in a remote learning environment, about a dozen charter schools have essentially chosen to become medical-educational experiments, offering in-person instruction for select groups of students.

Smaller and more nimble than the D.C. Public Schools system, the charters have been able to adapt and modify practices on the fly, trading information and pushing the limits of pandemic-era education. 

“This is our attempt to redesign school. Our size is our best asset.”

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, a public school teacher interviewed in a CNN report mentions that she’s teaching 42 third-graders remotely.  She’s uncomplaining, smiling, and forging forward positively.

It’s wrong to showcase charter schools as innovative due to class size when public school teachers across the country are juggling huge numbers of students under serious conditions to help them learn.

Where’s DeVos? Of course, never having been a teacher, she cannot understand what it’s like to manage 42 students remotely or in-person. It’s not in the job description she has been permitted to design for herself.

Nor does she care. DeVos’s goal is to privatize. The pandemic gives her a chance to falsely make the public think that charters, private, and religious schools are on the frontline of the disease, and real public schools and their teacher unions don’t have what it takes.

But the pandemic doesn’t discriminate between schools, and the charter school report is problematic. Lowering class size is hardly an innovative experiment. It’s a choice. Those in charge make those choices.

Charter schools, we’re told, are free to devise their safety protocols. Shouldn’t all schools have guidelines? We aren’t talking about a reading curriculum. Covid-19 is a disease.

Charter operators know that parents value smaller classes, and social distancing with smaller classes is necessary now. They’re claiming it’s innovation, but educators everywhere have been trying to lower class sizes for social distancing.

Educators must rely on safety protocols, but having children and teachers return to school during Covid-19 is a crapshoot, no matter how many students appear in class. And no matter what kind of so-called practices educators try.

Many schools are working to make schools safe with in-person classes. But public schools have more students. Public schools have difficulty lowering class sizes because those numbers have been higher throughout the years. A third-grade class size of 42 is proof. Dedicated and compassionate public school teachers like the teacher in Baltimore make it work because they must. They aren’t given a choice because of people like DeVos.

Schools across the country are attempting to open with social distancing and a variety of other safety protocols. It’s a struggle, of course, and it should not be a medal of competence to claim you’re experimenting with class size during a pandemic.

What are some of the other innovations the charters claim to do, mostly due to lowered class sizes? Not anything other schools are not trying to do as well, despite larger class sizes.

They hold some classes outside. Teachers teach in person while also on Zoom, so everyone is on the computer together. A charter school operator calls this the school’s ethos of equality. Public schools call it teaching simultaneously or hybrid.

That DeVos and her ilk lead the charge for schools to open no matter what and play these games of comparison with schools, is divisive and dangerous.

As far as class sizes go, we’ve known for years that lowering class sizes is critical for good instruction to occur in or out of a pandemic, in-person or remotely. Class size is not innovation attributable to charter schools or Covid-19, no matter how charter school operators and Betsy DeVos  try to spin it.

October 29, 2020

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