The fallacy of policymakers: episode 1

This is the first in a series which highlights the failed understanding of policymakers in policy implementation, how schools work, and how to educate.

It’s almost too easy to find examples of the disconnect between policy and implementation. Governor Newsom’s $2 billion reopening plan is just the latest in a failed attempt to address student needs. (Sometimes I wonder if he or his staff have actually talked to a single educator, district personnel, or teacher before proposing policies. Between stating last summer that schools should try to hold class outside or “class assignments that are challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction,” it often seems that he has never been in a school. Or perhaps he intentionally wants the policy to fail, but is hoping that it will look to the untrained eye as if he is actually doing something. Throwing out an impossible policy he can perhaps shift the blame of schools not providing in person classes on teachers in an attempt to deflect his pathetic handling of the pandemic away from constituents’ minds (the push to recall him is gaining steam daily). It’s unclear what his motivations are.

At the end of 2020, Governor Newsom announced a $2 billion plan to reopen elementary schools for in-person learning across California by February 15th. His proposal included extra funds ($450 to $700 per student) to schools who agreed to bring students back to schools with rigorous restrictions. The plan assumes low infection rates in the area of the school (less than 28 new cases per 100,000 people). To put this in perspective, as of this writing Los Angeles was at 70.6 per 100,000 and San Bernardino was at 72.1. San Francisco was closer to achieving this goal with just 28.6 new cases per 100,000 in a rolling 7-day average. Also in the plan is regular testing of students and teachers that even at a discounted rate is expensive. Creating the infrastructure to conduct regular testing may be completely out of reach for most schools. It simply is not what they do. And interestingly absent from the plan was a push to get teachers in the state vaccinated before reopening without which unions oppose.

Newsom’s plan shows a basic lack of understanding of the resources available to schools and the feasibility of implementing his plan. Money is an issue but so is teacher vaccination, updating outdated air systems in many schools, developing a testing system within schools and of course, the covid infection rate in the community, which the schools have no control over. If Newsom had talked to the superintendents and teachers in the largest districts, he could have, perhaps, developed a reasonable plan to get students back to school. Of course, the number one thing he could do is to end the pandemic. Back in March he could have kept the state closed until the virus was all but eliminated or could have developed a shelter in place for the most at risk and continued life for the general public who are not in danger of death and will most certainly need to be exposed to the virus while they are young. He could have prioritized the youth. But he didn’t. So, now he needs to stop wasting time on a wasted year. He needs to get the elderly vaccinated so that schools can safely reopen and not expend time and energy on measures that simply do not help schools do their job which is to educate.

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