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The Education Disaster

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What COVID is doing with education, both K-12 and higher ed, is bringing neoliberalism’s chickens home to roost. Decades of decreasing state investment, the encouragement of private fundraising and “entrepreneurship,” and a focus on profit over the public good has left all of education reeling even before COVID hit. And now, college administrators are forced to pretend like they can bring students back in person safely so the university doesn’t close since they are dependent on tuition dollars for thousands of jobs, including mine. At the K-12 level, poor facilities, a lack of planning, and teachers rightfully scared for their lives is creating complete chaos, even in relatively responsible states. Here’s this story from New Jersey:

After cutting the rate of transmission to one of the lowest levels in the country, the state was preparing to reopen all its schools for in-person instruction.

Then Gov. Philip D. Murphy gave districts the option to open remotely — and things began to fall apart.

Districts that educate the state’s poorest children, including most of the large city school systems, were the first to pull the plug on face-to-face instruction.

Now, with less than two weeks before the start of school, growing numbers of affluent districts are following suit, citing teacher shortages, ventilation issues, and late-in-the-game guidance from the state on how to manage virus cases.

The frenzy of last-minute decision-making underscores the extreme challenge of reopening schools, not only in the United States, but worldwide, as shown by an outbreak in Israel after it was one of the first countries to bring students back into class.

On Wednesday, the superintendent of a regional district in Monmouth County, N.J., criticized Mr. Murphy’s fluctuating reopening strategy — what he called a “haphazard approach” — as he announced that schools would not reopen in spite of a summer-long effort to make that possible.

“He opened the door to a cascading series of events that placed intense staffing pressures on schools committed to opening,” the superintendent of Freehold Regional High School District, Charles B. Sampson, wrote in a letter to parents explaining the abrupt shift. “This poorly developed plan has had the distinct impact of forcing many districts to adopt a remote option regardless of community sentiment.”

I find it hard to really blame anyone here. The problems are very real and they run deep. There are no good options. This all should wake us up to the massive changes we need to make in our society, including pushing back all the neoliberal ideology that has so changed our education systems and created the structural issues that COVID has infected. But I doubt we will.

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