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Apt. 11D
Laura McKenna's Publications and Posts

Are Public Schools and the Post Office In The Same Leaky Boat?, Apt. 11D, May 29, 2020

I visit the post office every Tuesday and Friday with bubble wrapped envelopes of vintage books; it's one of the chores for my Etsy hobby/side hustle. I push my parcels under a sheet of plastic to the lady who weighs them and slaps on a sticker. Last week, I asked her what happened to the other guys who I used to see there. She said they've all been fired or quit. As the last remaining worker at that branch, she works 60 hours a week. We exchange sad smiles behind our masks. 

It's no secret that the Post Office is in trouble. It's a government bureaucracy, which isn't breaking even and in the crosshairs of Donald Trump. Without a federal bailout, the Post Office will go under. Is this the future for public education? 

Public education is in deep trouble. Straight up, as Jonah says, our kids might not be going back to school even in September. The problems are enormous -- there are hundreds of health/logistical issues, fears about lawsuits, and tensions with the teachers' unions. 

The issue with the teachers' unions has not gotten enough attention in the press. There are a lot of reasons why our kids have not had much live classes this spring. Yes, a lot of kids do not have computers at home. Some teachers don't either. Sure, the teachers need to be trained, but how hard it is to use Zoom? My mother can do it.

The real reason that our kids only get an hour or two of an education per week is because the teachers' unions have told administrators "no." They have to watch their own kids during the day, and teaching online isn't in their contract. That resistance will still be in effect in the fall. 

On top of all those obstacles, schools are about to lose a big chunk of their state funding. My own town is projected to lose between $600,000 to $1 million, depending on who you talk to. If the economy continues to tailspin, local towns won't be able to raise taxes to make up for those losses.

Never mind the challenge of meeting usual expenses with fewer resources, expenses are going to go up big time, as schools spend more on everything from new technology to sanitation crews. Where's the money going to come from? It's not in the current budgets; the lion share of any school budget is allocated towards salaries and benefits. They won't be able to find the money for those additional expenses without layoffs of teachers.

So what's going to happen to all those kids, who have been totally screwed over this spring? Are they going to get extra tutoring and remediation to make up for all this lost time? Are they going to be made whole? 

Nope! A few months ago, I was hopeful that the schools would provide extra schooling in the summer to make up for that lost time. All that talk has ended. It is not happening. I'm still going to push for extra, after-school help for kids in the fall, but I think that's unlikely at this point. Right now, I'm just hoping that my kid will get a few hours in a school building every day. 

So, who is being screwed over the most by this disruption in education? 

First, the little kids. Did you know that your handwriting is set by the time that you are eight? If you can't hold a pencil properly by third grade, you can never learn it. There are five, six, and seven year old kids all over the country who have learned nothing this spring. Even if students have computers at home, even if there's a full-time homeschooling parent in the house to keep those kids glued to the keyboards, teachers are not providing live classes. A typical first grader might be an entire year behind in school work AND classroom behavior in September. 

Secondly, all the special ed kids. I've already talked about their predicament many times. See the USA Today opinion piece that I wrote. 

Thirdly, all those average kids, who get B's in college prep classes and aren't in any special honors classes. They don't have the confidence or the parental pushes to use this time for something profitable, like learning a new coding language or reading all of Shakespeare's Comedies. Instead, they are playing a whole lotta video games right now and are just feeling sad. 

So, let's recap. Almost every kid out there -- your kid, my kid, your neighbor's kid -- is getting royally hosed at this moment. And tempers are starting to rise. My kid gets about an hour or two of online education every week - that's it. Am I pissed? You betcha. 

If kids are not educated for a full day in September, after six full months without any school or camps, parents will have a meltdown. They are tired of seeing their kids suffer. They are tired of helping them with another god-damn worksheet. And now that parents have a close up view of their kids' education, they aren't impressed with that either. 

I don't know how we're going to recover from all this. 

Be well! Laura
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On the blog, we've talked about oatmeal and smoothies. More school stuff hereHikes have become part of every weekend routine. We've talked about how the country is opening up and more here

This week was pretty awful -- not just for school stuff, which is my territory -- but cities are burning right now, and justice has not yet been served. Our president continues to divide the country, make poor choices, and alienate the world. 

I've reached my daily capacity for anger and worry, so instead, I'm finishing off this newsletter quickly. I'm pulling a bottle of rosé out of the fridge, and driving over to my friend's house for a social distancing cocktail hour. Mo, Maribeth, Corinna, and I will share gossip about our kids and share some laughs. Please take care of yourself. 

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Laura McKenna · 861 Bingham Rd · Ridgewood, NJ 07450-2111 · USA

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