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Remote Learning? No Thanks.

2020-07-23 10:33:17

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The coronavirus is so widespread in the U.S. that many schools are unlikely to reopen anytime soon. Already, some large school districts — in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, suburban Washington and elsewhere — have indicated they will start the school year entirely with remote classes. Yet many parents and children are despondent about enduring online-only learning for the foreseeable future.

So it makes sense that the topic of home schooling is suddenly hot.

Parents who never before considered home schooling have begun looking into it — especially in combination with a small number of other families, to share the teaching load and let their children interact with others. Some are trying to hire private tutors. One example is a popular new Facebook group called Pandemic Pods and Microschools, created by Lian Chang, a mother in San Francisco.

Emily Oster, a Brown University economist who writes about parenting, has predicted that clusters of home-schooling families are “going to happen everywhere.”

Of course, many middle-class and poor families cannot afford to hire private tutors, as my colleague Eliza Shapiro pointed out. But there is nonetheless the potential for a home-schooling boom that is more than just a niche trend among the wealthy.

Consider that the population of home-schoolers — before the pandemic — was less affluent than average:

Eliza told me that she thought many families, across income groups, were likely to consider pooling child-care responsibilities in the fall. Children would remain enrolled in their school and would come together to take online classes in the same house (or, more safely, backyard). In some cases, these co-ops might morph into lessons that parents would help lead.

As for high-income families, they may end up having a broader effect if a significant number pull their children out of school and opt for home schooling. “We could see a drain on enrollment — and therefore resources — into public schools,” Eliza said.

As Wesley Yang, a writer for Tablet magazine, asked somewhat apocalyptically, “Did public schools in major cities just deal themselves a deathblow?” And L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a professor at New York University, recently told the science journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer that any increased privatization of education was likely to “widen the gaps between kids.”

It’s too early to know whether home schooling is more of a real trend or a social-media fad. But the U.S. is facing a dire situation with schools: Remote learning went badly in the spring. The virus continues to spread more rapidly than in any country that has reopened schools. And, as Sarah Darville points out in an article for the upcoming Sunday Review section, the federal government has done little to help schools.

No wonder parents are starting to think about alternatives.

How can school districts respond? Jay Mathews, a Washington Post education writer, has a suggestion: Superintendents should abandon trying to devise a single solution for an entire school system.

Let principals and teachers decide,” Mathews writes. “They know their students better than anyone except parents, who would just as soon get back to work.” His column includes specific ideas he has heard from teachers.

The Trump administration announced a nearly $2 billion contract with Pfizer and a smaller German biotech company to produce a potential coronavirus vaccine. The contract is the largest yet from Operation Warp Speed, the White House program to fast-track a vaccine.

The government won’t pay the drugmakers until the vaccine gets F.D.A. approval. “It’s like a restaurant reservation,” explained Noah Weiland, who covers health care for The Times. “You pay for dinner when you eat it, but you’ve got yourself the prime table in the restaurant instead of having to wait in line.” If the vaccine works, individual Americans would receive it for free.

No region of the United States suffered a worse virus outbreak this spring than the Northeast — but few places have managed to bring it under such good control in the last couple of months.

“It’s acting like Europe,” Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said. After cases and deaths surged in Europe and the Northeast, both places responded with aggressive lockdowns and big investments in testing and tracing efforts. Residents have also been willing to follow public health advice — wearing masks, staying out of confined spaces and more.

In other virus developments:

The Trump administration says it will send hundreds of additional federal agents into cities to confront a rise in violence. The plan calls for sending about 200 more agents to Chicago, 200 to Kansas City, Mo., and 35 to Albuquerque.

In Portland, Ore., early this morning, federal officers fired tear gas near the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, who had joined demonstrators outside the federal courthouse. Coughing and scrambling to put on goggles, Wheeler called the officers’ tactics an “egregious overreaction.”

Media watch: Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative pundits have seized on the Portland protests as a pro-Trump rallying cry.

  • After ordering the Chinese Consulate in Houston to close, the State Department accused Chinese diplomats of spying and attempting to steal scientific research.

  • China began what it hoped would be its first successful journey to Mars, launching equipment on a voyage that will last until next year.

  • The House voted overwhelmingly — with 72 Republicans joining the Democrats — to remove statues of Confederate figures and white supremacists. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, is likely to block the measure.

  • President Trump again sought to showcase his mental fitness by repeatedly reciting what he said was a sample sequence from a cognitive test. “It’s actually not that easy, but for me, it was easy,” he told Fox News.

  • Employees of Hearst Magazines — the publisher of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire — described a toxic work environment, including lewd and sexist remarks by the company’s president, Troy Young.

  • Lives Lived: “My analyst told me/That I was right out of my head.” The woman who wrote and first sang those memorable lines was Annie Ross. Best known as a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, probably the most successful vocal group in the annals of jazz, she was also, later in life, a movie actress and a cabaret mainstay. Annie Ross died at 89.

Cervelle de Canut — which translates to “silk worker’s brain” and describes a simple cheese spread — is a mainstay in Lyon, France, where the author Bill Buford researched French cuisine for his book “Dirt.” You can whip up the spread in about 10 minutes by blending fromage blanc with chopped shallots and fresh herbs. Serve with a baguette (or just eat it with spoon).

And Pete Wells recently spent more than six hours on a Zoom call with Buford to learn the art of poaching a chicken.

Zadie Smith — the acclaimed author of “White Teeth” — is back with a timely collection of short essays, “Intimations,” that covers the killing of George Floyd, the class divides exposed by the pandemic and more.

“The virus map of the New York boroughs turns redder along precisely the same lines as it would if the relative shade of crimson counted not infection and death but income brackets and middle-school ratings,” she writes in one essay. “Death comes to all — but in America it has long been considered reasonable to offer the best chance of delay to the highest bidder.”


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