Report highlights disastrous impact of pandemic on public education in California
The Biden administration is stepping up efforts started under Trump to use the COVID-19 pandemic to restructure class relations, including further dismantling of the public education system. A report released last month by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) titled “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Impacting the Teacher Workforce” highlights the acute attack of K–12 public education in California, the most populous state in the United States.
The study examines the growing shortage of teaching staff, mainly due to difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers in areas of great poverty, as well as problems of teacher burnout, overwork and retirements. anticipated, all of which have been severely exacerbated by the pandemic.
While the study focuses on California, the crisis is universal and affects tens of millions of educators around the world. Data from the state of Michigan shows that from August 2020 to February 2021, there was a 44% increase in mid-year retirements compared to the same period in 2019.–2020, while a separate study by Horace Mann Educators Corporation found that 27% of American teachers are considering quitting due to the pandemic, with similar numbers found in countries around the world.
In fall 2020, LPI interviewed superintendents and human resource administrators from 17 school districts in California, including eight of the 11 largest districts that educate nearly one in six students in the state, as well as nine rural districts. smaller. Among the major districts studied were Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Elk Grove and San Francisco.
The report is limited by the fact that the authors interviewed only administrators and not teachers directly. Nonetheless, the report reflects the horrific stress teachers face due to the difficulties of distance learning and the overwhelming fear of face-to-face teaching in unsafe classrooms, when many have to juggle with having to. looking after their own children at home.
The report highlights the stress teachers have been subjected to as they struggle to adapt to distance learning systems and must involve students, who themselves are often under acute stress. With many districts shifting to the dangerous “hybrid” model, in which teachers teach in person and online simultaneously, teachers must implement two lesson plans, doubling their workload. They are increasingly forced to act as untrained counselors to manage the emotional needs of students and provide technical support to students who may have a spotty internet under a communications infrastructure that is not prepared to offer a high quality learning experience.
A district manager explained how the switch to distance learning has impacted seasoned teachers, who typically draw on a set of lessons and materials designed for in-person learning accumulated over their years. of experience, stating: “The distance learning platform makes this the first year to start all over again.
Even before the pandemic, the ruling class sought to pressure veteran teachers to retire. A 2015 report by Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Michael F. Lovenheim noted: past decade, as states and school districts seek to cut spending in light of tight budgets. “
Commenting on the crisis, John, a college professor in Los Angeles, told the World Socialist Website, “When we return to school sites in April, we will be on the third schedule in 13 months! This is yet another reason why it’s silly that we only come back for five or six weeks to complete the year. On the part of the teachers I tell about it, morale is HORRID! And yes, some people are seriously considering taking early retirement just to avoid what will be yet another different fourth schedule next fall!
The LPI report expresses particular concern that voluntary resignations in some districts may be higher than early dismissals, citing a chronic shortage of teachers in high-need subjects such as math, science, education. special and bilingual education. To fill the shortage, school districts are increasingly relying on substitute teachers and hiring teachers with substandard credentials.
The ruling class, increasingly opposed to funding pensions for full-time teachers, has pushed for the use of lower-paid substitute teachers, most of whom are not entitled to pension benefits. As of May 2019, the average substitute teacher in California was making an average of $ 120 per day. The high cost of living in the state makes it a totally unlivable salary. The Orange County Register noted in 2019 that beginning teachers would spend 85% of their salary, far more than the industry standard of 30%, on a median rental in Los Angeles.
The use of internship and emergency permits is a long-standing trend that has increased since the 2008 financial crisis, in particular, the result of a deliberate bipartisan policy of underfunding public education. The report notes that in 2018–19th school year, the state hired 13,912 under-prepared teachers with substandard degrees, temporary permits and waivers, up almost 300% from the 4,724 such hires in 2012–13. This huge increase only increased during the pandemic.
A rural district superintendent spoke about the challenges of using a teacher with an emergency permit, saying, “She doesn’t have the in-depth math knowledge you have when you graduate. She’s doing it. Kids have a little trouble, but if I didn’t have it we wouldn’t offer it. I don’t know what we would do.
Every district surveyed hired teachers with substandard credentials and licenses this year, eight out of 14 said they hired roughly the same number of teachers with substandard credentials and licenses this year as in recent years , and four districts reported hiring more than in recent years. .
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed last month provides approximately $ 125 billion in funding for K–12 to spend more than two and a half years. This averages out to $ 50 billion per year, or about $ 1,000 per student. Even conservative estimates produced by LPI in July 2020 suggest states will need $ 200 billion to $ 300 billion to stabilize their K-12 education budgets and even cover some of the extra costs over the next year. year and a half.
To put it in a different context, a report from the Watson Institute at Brown University indicates that until 2020, the country had spent or allocated $ 6.4 trillion on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in Iraq, excluding future interest in war loans. . Statista reports that the government spent $ 732 billion on the military in 2019, almost 15 times the amount allocated to K–12 schools in ARPA.
During the first nine months of the pandemic, the government provided almost nothing to help schools, with the CARES Act providing only $ 13.2 billion for K–12 schools, leading to the deliberate sabotage of distance learning. In January, then Education Secretary Betsy Devos implemented a $ 54 billion emergency relief bill to put more pressure on school districts to reopen prematurely. schools before the pandemic was contained. ARPA funding is also explicitly tied to the aggressive and dangerous policy of reopening schools, which quickly escalated under Biden.
Despite everything the LPI report talks about, what it omits is remarkable. Not once has the report mentioned the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 infections of students and school staff or the hundreds of deaths among educators as a result of schools reopening over the past year. While there is still no official tally of teacher deaths during the pandemic, Education week reports that as of March 29, at least 913 K active and retired–12 educators and staff have died from COVID-19, of which 257 were active teachers.
From start to finish, the report takes for granted that any serious steps to address the crisis in public education lie outside of what is possible. He calls on the ruling class to adopt “sensitive” policies to avert a disaster in education, when it is precisely the malicious neglect policies of the ruling elite that have produced the pandemic crisis, which has brought schools down. already strained in a very vulnerable position.
Last July, Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of LPI, noted with approval the policies of New York and California in their rushed plans to open schools when new daily cases were still around. 800. She wrote for Forbes: “States like New York and California that set community health standards for reopening schools, along with clear ground rules for reopening, show a safe and responsible way forward. Darling-Hammond also participated in the Biden administration’s “National Summit on Reopening Safe Schools”, endorsing the reckless campaign to reopen schools.
Over the past year, educators in the United States and around the world have formed grassroots committees to oppose the school reopening campaign being orchestrated by the two big corporations, the teachers’ unions and the media. business. In the coming weeks, the escalation of the pandemic will produce new opposition and growing calls for the closure of schools and non-essential workplaces.
The struggle for the defense of lives must be combined with calls for the expropriation of the billions of billions accumulated by the financial elite, in order to fully fund public education, to significantly expand the teaching staff and to provide learning for all. high-quality distance for all until the pandemic is contained, as part of a larger socialist program advancing all social rights of the working class. We urge all educators, parents and students interested in joining this fight to register today to join and help create the Basic Educator Safety Committee in your area.