Commentary

Editorial: Measles outbreak reveals willful ignorance of anti-vaccination movement

The lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits the nail on the head this morning when it rightfully decries recent measles outbreaks in this country and one of the key reasons for them. This is from “And now, measles, a disease that’s a threat to all”:

Not long ago, measles was virtually extinct in America.

Now the disease is back and spreading fast, and we have our own willful ignorance to blame….

Measles cases have surged to a 25-year high in the United States. As of May 3, there were 764 reported cases in 23 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles is highly contagious. A quarter of those who contract it require hospitalization. Approximately 2 of every 1,000 people who are infected die. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles County, Calif., more than 1,000 students and staff members at UCLA and California State University, Los Angeles were quarantined on campus or sent home after measles cases began to surface.

Part of the problem is a fear of vaccinations, fueled by a viral myth that getting the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, shot can cause serious side effects, including autism. That myth is rooted in a thoroughly discredited 1998 British paper that was so flawed that it was withdrawn by its publisher.

But some people hold fast to the misinformation and have used religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations.

When these trends are combined with the surge of the disease globally, the editorial notes, we’ve got a big and unnecessary problem on our hands.

And while we’ve yet to have an outbreak here in North Carolina, it would seem likely to be just a matter of time. Here’s the conclusion to the piece:

….we have seen what happens in this state when parents resist vaccinating their children. An Asheville school last fall saw the worst chickenpox outbreak in the North Carolina since 1995. Thirty-six students contracted the disease at the Asheville Waldorf School, where nearly 75% of the 152 students were unvaccinated.

Nineteen of the 28 kindergartners who enrolled in the school for the 2017-18 school year had an exemption to at least one state-required vaccination, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported. In fact, Buncombe County leads the state in religious exemptions for vaccinations for kindergartners with a rate of 5.7 percent.

That county’s chief medical officer now worries about the threat of measles, given that cases have been reported in nearby Atlanta, Spartanburg, S.C., and most recently, eastern Tennessee.

Ironically, those who hew to the anti-vaccination fictions are typically well-educated and well-off financially, and they cross party lines. We can only hope their better judgment, if not their better angels, eventually prevails.

They are placing themselves and their loved ones at risk by avoiding immunization.

Not to mention the rest of us.

Commentary, Education

NC schoolteacher: What I want for Teacher Appreciation Week

Anca Stefan — Image: Twitter

For Teacher Appreciation Week I don’t want candy and dollar-off coupons. I don’t want apple-shaped lapel pins and cutesy symbolism about superheroes. I don’t want automated corporate emails that use my profession as a marketing scheme to sell me quick fixes in glossy covers.

I want a career that feels solid.

I want a daily schedule that feels sustainable — that allows me to plan and teach and reflect and learn.

And rest.

And live.

I want the opportunity to offer meaningful, ongoing, prompt feedback to my students, and the ability to form meaningful mentorship connections with them. I want them considered and referred to as whole people, not as a series of digits in a never-ending graph “lookbook” compiled by showy data management companies who don’t even know their names. I want to know their parents, to attend their recitals, to know and help them reach their dreams.

When we parent three children, achieving all this is immeasurably challenging.

When we teach 50 students per day, doing this well is possible.

When we’re tasked with teaching 120 students every day, and are interrupted by drills of Scantron bubbling and checkbox checking, it is impossible.

I want class sizes that are reasonable, and I want a fitting fleet of competent, well-trained, well-cared-for professional colleagues to raise our kids into their infinite potential with the best possible care and tools.

I want a physical classroom and building that don’t flood, or mold, or rust.

I want a beautiful, clean space to work where architects and planners have invested their science and artistry into the daily learning experiences of students. I want shady trees and patches of grass to lay a blanket on in the spring and fall, and outdoor classrooms where we can study and observe and discuss ideas in peace and with leisure. I want natural light in every classroom, I want collaborative spaces, and large work tables, and well-resourced libraries and laboratories, and art performance spaces with lighting and ladders and sound equipment, and play spaces for games and team-building and fun too. I want the gardeners and groundskeepers and building maintenance staff to be treated, and trained, and paid as mentors, and experts — as educators.

I want cafeteria halls with locally-sourced food, and accompanying classes where students can learn to grow, and prepare, and serve their peers healthy food with pride in themselves and in their culture, and community. I want us to teach and practice sound ecological practices. I want us to prepare a new generation to care for a convalescent planet that is too hurt to continue being neglected and abused. We know better, and we owe it to our students to prepare them to do better by teaching them what we’ve learned from our mistakes. I want farm and cafeteria staff to be treated, and trained, and paid as mentors, and experts — as educators.

I want healthcare benefits that allow me to get preventive care, to access cures, to see a therapist in order to avoid getting to breakdown or crisis or flight. Read more

Commentary, Education

Virtual Pre-K back in House budget, no funds for expanding legitimate Pre-K

[Cross-posted from from the website “Notes from the Chalkboard”]

This is the post I didn’t want to write.

On Thursday night, a successful amendment to the House budget by Mecklenburg County Representative Carla Cunningham stripped funding from Representative Craig Horn’s Virtual Pre-K pilot program initiative and transferred the money to the Department of Public Instruction’s Students in Crisis grants, which aim to “increase school safety by providing evidence-based and evidence-informed crisis services and training to help students develop healthy responses to trauma and stress.”

It was a short-lived victory.

On Friday, at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations, Representative Lewis’s amendment to restore that funding for Virtual Pre-K passed. Now the ball is in the Senate’s court.

To recap, the Virtual Pre-K pilot program will provide in-home access to online preschool for four year olds who are living below the federal poverty line.

In his impassioned speech to the House K-12 Education Committee last month, Horn vowed that his goal was merely to provide educational opportunities to those who would not be attending a real Pre-K program anyway and that Virtual Pre-K was not in any way intended to be a replacement for high quality Pre-K.  Furthermore, he claimed Virtual Pre-K would be accompanied by continued expansion of access to Pre-K. (You can actually hear him make that claim here.)

Neither Representative Horn nor any of his colleagues proposed expanded access to Pre-K in this year’s House budget.

North Carolina has received national attention for the quality of its Pre-K program, which research has proven reduces special education placement and the likelihood of children repeating a grade between 3rd and 8th grade as well as improving reading and math assessment results in both elementary and middle school.  Unfortunately, that national attention has also called out state funding for Pre-K as being entirely inadequate.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Early Education Research called on North Carolina lawmakers to do a better job of providing young children with the foundation they need to be successful in school:

NC Pre-K now reaches less than half (47 percent) the children it was designed to serve. Significant numbers of young children–almost 33,000–across all races and ethnicities, in both rural and urban areas, are losing the opportunity to develop foundational skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. In fact, 40 counties are serving less than half of eligible children.

While children may be attending other early education programs, those programs do not provide all the quality components of NC Pre-K—so those vulnerable children are less likely to gain the lasting benefits provided by NC Pre-K.

But back to the Craig Horn and Virtual Pre-K. Not only did Horn and his colleagues fail to even propose expanding access to NC Pre-K in the current budget, Horn’s Virtual Pre-K legislation calls for testing the feasibility of expanding Virtual Pre-K ‘to all preschool-age children in the State.’

(ii) test the feasibility of scaling a home-based curriculum in reading, math, and science delivered by computers and the Internet to all preschool-age children in the State.

This legislation opens the door to lawmakers backing away from funding legitimate Pre-K in favor of an approach they can frame as innovative ‘personalized learning’ for young children.

Our children deserve access to a quality preschool education. They deserve to be provided with the opportunity to interact with other children and develop skills of collaboration and communication that will serve as a critical foundation as they transition to elementary school. They won’t get that in front of a screen.

Commentary

Editorial: Supt. Mark Johnson’s new website “lies to and misleads North Carolinians”

Superintendent Mark Johnson – Image: NC School Finances website

This morning’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com reiterates and expands upon the analysis provided by education policy expert Kris Nordstrom last week on the main Policy Watch site (“Superintendent Johnson uses new website to gaslight educators”).

The editorial (“N.C. education ‘transparency’ dashboard misleads, is fatally flawed”) explains how Johnson’s new site is anything but transparent and, in fact, inaccurately manipulates key data.

The website database is part of a larger $6.4 million taxpayer-financed project. There is no breakout of the costs for Johnson’s “dashboard.”

No matter the exact cost, in its current form, we’ve shelled out a lot of money for something that is so significantly misleading as to be worthless. The specific “facts” presented may be in and of themselves accurate. But they are displayed in a way that lies to and misleads North Carolinians.

It must be fixed. Until that is done, the misleading and distorted information should be taken off line.

What’s wrong? Ask North Carolina’s 6th graders (who are required, as part of the state’s “standard course of study” to know the difference between median and average).

For starters, when it comes to teacher pay the comparisons are misleading, and incomplete.

Johnson uses statewide “average” public school teacher pay (a troublesome number to begin with and we’ll get to that) and then compares it to “median” household income and wages. The figures are then repeated in similarly misleading fashion for every county in the state.

As the editorial notes, when the math is applied properly, things look a little different.

Here’s the truth. Instead of teacher pay running ahead of household income, it is REALLY running way behind. Johnson’s rosy picture of teacher pay wilts – with a $15,548 deficit (average household income is $70,523).

And that deception doesn’t even begin to address the shift-shaping in the calculations of the state’s “average” teacher pay.

The $53,975 figure misses the mark. It is cobbled together with money most teachers DO NOT RECEIVE, to fit into a national association’s effort to look at how teachers are paid nationwide.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers make LESS than the average. Without the local supplement, state-funded average pay is $49,371. And another reality, only 12 of the state’s 115 school districts offered pay supplements last year that were AT OR MORE than the average supplement.

The editorial notes in conclusion:

Educators didn’t flood Raleigh last week because they were having a hard time spending the money General Assembly appropriated for public education.

They understand addition and subtraction. They know the differences between “average” and “median.” They can discern the truth (“I forgot to do my assignment”) from fiction (“The dog ate my homework.”)

They also have the ability to distinguish between propaganda and transparency. Taxpayer funds need to be spent to present information enlightens and empowers citizens – not distorts and misleads to further entrench public officials.

Mark Johnson, take down your dashboard.

Commentary

Humor from Celia Rivenbark: DC talking heads prepare for 2020 “girl” candidates

Kamala Harris

Kirsten Gillibrand

Elizabeth Warren

Amy Klobuchar

MEDIA ROUNDTABLE SOMEWHERE IN D.C.—

Moderator: Ok, everybody, take your seats. I just wanted to huddle up and talk about all this flak we’re taking for not treating women presidential candidates the same as men…

Lou Dobbs: Harpies, magpies, she-devils…

Moderator: Can someone please take Mr. Dobbs out and get him some pudding? Mika?

Mika Brzezinski: Oh, sure. Because I’m the girl. Maybe you need to read my new book: “Women and the Inferior Men Who Steal Their Jobs and Their Futures and Why We Hate Them.” Well, it’s a working title…

Moderator: OK, OK. Brian Williams, can you take Lou out for pudding?

Brian Williams: Sorry, feeling a little stiff this morning. Still have some shrapnel in my elbow from that hit I took in Kabul…

Moderator: No, you don’t.

Brian Williams: Right. Sorry. Old habits…

Bernie: Hey, I brought pudding. Lou! Catch! It’s Hunt’s vanilla snack pack. I get them at the 7-11 off Route 65 in Burlington, three for a buck.

Moderator: Why is Bernie Sanders here? This is media only. Never mind, let’s get started. Now it has come to my attention that we have got to examine the way we talk about female candidates. For example, we need to not make it a big deal if a woman candidate raises her voice.

Mika: Damn straight. Elizabeth Warren is “strident” or “off putting” but Beto can get up there and he’s “lanky” and “handsome” and “walked out of my dreams and into my heart” if we’re being totally honest…

Lou Dobbs: Elizabeth Warren is Satan’s minion, a temptress with a treasury…

Moderator: No, actually, she’s an accomplished, thoughtful candidate with a variety of well thought out plans to better the lives of all Americans.

Tucker Carlson: I wouldn’t diddle her with someone else’s…

Moderator: Now, see! This is the kind of stuff we’ve got to stop doing. We’re better than this. Well, not you Tucker.

Tucker: Point taken.

Moderator: Everyone’s starting to notice how we have a double standard for the male and female presidential candidates. For example, the way we blew up that thing about Amy Klobuchar eating a salad with a hair comb.

Mika: A powerful woman using the tools at her disposal to get the job done….

Moderator: No. It was how we kept talking about how she demanded that her aide wash the comb. That’s very unflattering language and we have to be more circumspect.

Lou Dobbs: I remember my circumspection, back in 19 ought 10 I think…

Moderator: OK, moving on. What about how we wasted five news cycles making fun of Kristen Gillibrand, a highly regarded Senator and scholar, for how she ate fried chicken with a knife and fork? Or blasting Kamala Harris for confusing Run DMC with Snoop Dog? Would we have done that with a male candidate?

Chris Matthews: No, but tonight on my show we’ll discuss a prophetic meeting in the coat room in the Hay-Adams hotel back in 1968…

Moderator: Somebody make him stop.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.