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Why Pandemic Pods are ‘the Ultimate In Parent-Driven Education Innovation’

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Reason.com - Free Minds and Free Markets

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“It’s a big mess,” says Hollie Gesaman, a mother of two young children in Streetsboro, Ohio. She was talking about the upcoming school year, and what parents would do with their kids. “A lot of people are on the fence about a lot of different things. Our school hasn’t given us any idea of what they’re going for. They have ‘potential’ plans, but the bottom line is that there’s really not a 100% good choice.” Send the kids to school? There’s a health risk. Keep them home, and what about socialization? Homeschool? Unschool? Let them watch cartoons and learn the entire ACME product line? “There’s a negative consequence for each possibility,” Gesaman sighs. “Just pick a punch in the face.”

The punch suddenly getting the most play is the “pandemic pod.” “Pods went from, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting?’ to ubiquitous in about 72 hours,” says Robert Pondiscio, a former Bronx public school teacher who now works at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

A pod is a small group of families who approve of each other’s quarantining habits and whose kids will spend the next few weeks, months, or God-knows-how-long learning together away from the school house. These may be kids who were going to the same school already, or they may be neighbors, cousins, or play-group buddies. They may be the same age, or not. They may hire a tutor, a babysitter, or a bona fide teacher. They may tune in together to the school district’s online lessons, or they may choose a totally different homeschooling curriculum. Their parents may or may not pitch in with the teaching. And they may or may not strive to include a kid or kids from a different income level, race, or neighborhood, to create more equity. (That last one is a big issue in the Facebook chats.)

In other words: Everything is up for re-imagining. “These pandemic pods are the ultimate in parent-driven education innovation,” says Kerry McDonald, author of Unschooled. “Parents were forced into COVID homeschooling last spring. But now they are willingly taking the reins of their children’s education.”

Amy Evans, a writer with two kids in Montclair, New Jersey, is one of them. She thinks she will probably have her daughter attend whatever online/offline hybrid the local high school puts together, because it has (or had?) a lot of specialized classes her daughter wants to take. But for her son, an 8th grader, she’s less sure. Is the risk and weirdness of a socially distanced classroom worth it, especially if there’s no gym class? And what if a lot of time is spent repeating the online lessons not every kid paid peak attention to last spring? Evans says she may not send him back “if it’s a whole lot of reviewing and handwashing and still potentially unsafe.”

Instead, she might formalize an ad hoc group her son and a couple of his friends threw together in March, when students were first sent home. They did their homework together, remotely. In a way, says Evans, “Our kids beat us to it.”

Gesaman, the Ohio mom, also organized an informal gathering at her home in the spring. She had four first graders do math and art projects together in, essentially, a pod. “Some might say I invented the whole concept,” she says. “Just kiddingabsolutely no one is saying that.” Furloughed from her job the same moment schools closed, she read up on the first grade curriculum and taught the class herself. She found the kids grasped the concepts, and now she is ready to do it again.

Does having a parent who can teach, or having a home with enough space for a class, or even confining a pod to people who can quarantinethereby excluding the children of essential workerscreate inequity? That’s the question plaguing a lot of parents. Understandably so, says Pondiscio, “Because everything in education causes inequity. It’s like the old Joe Jackson song: Everything gives you cancer.”

He’s not being flip. As the author of How the Other Half Learns, and he wants more equity between the halves, too. One idea that he, McDonald, and Corey DeAngelis, Reason’s own director of school choice, have been thinking about is giving education dollars directly to families. Could this cataclysmic time of school closures and remote learning be the time to experiment with redirecting school money to the parents? They could use it to hire a personal part-time tutor, or create a local pod where everyone is pooling their stipends.

“I call it ‘Universal Basic Education Income,'” says DeAngelis. Like food stamps that can be used at any grocery, or Pell Grants that can be spent on the student’s college of choice, these education dollars could be spent wherever the family thought best, including at the local public school. When life returns to normal, the experiment could be studied, including any unintended consequences and whether it helped create more equity.

To Beth Isaacs, a music teacher in the Lexington, Kentucky, public schools, that sounds like a recipe ripe for the very worst inequity. The public school system takes students across the economic, educational and ethnic spectrum and gets them all interacting and learning together. “In my school, we are 100 percent free and reduced lunch, and 15 percent refugee,” she says.

Each teacher crafts the students into an assortment of, well, pods: Four kids at a table, learning together. The pods are shuffled all year long, so all the kids develop relationships and learn from each other. She worries that giving the education budget directly to parents means that some would choose to avoid any kind of mixing. She also stresses the possibility that a tutor would not be well-trained, and she argues that draining the ed budget would starve what Isaacs calls an already stretched-thin, “duct tape-and-Velcro” system.

“You’re not draining the system,” counters McDonald. “You’re redistributing it to students and allowing for the freedom of choice we have in all other areas of our lives.” As for hiring sub-par instructors, “Parents have the utmost interest in insuring that their children are highly educated,” McDonald says, and will choose wisely.

Clearly this is a fraught moment. Parents are reeling, students are waiting, and school districts are punting. Everything is up for grabs, including whether there’s about to be a giant teachers strike. But no matter what happens, this is going to be a year of educational changes, pods, no pods, or, given how things have been going, maybe even Tide Pods.

 

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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