An American Economic Collapse Has Just Wiped Out 5 Years of Growth!

Dear Commons Community,

The coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the nation’s economy became emphatically clearer yesterday as the government detailed the most devastating three-month collapse on record, which wiped away nearly five years of growth.  As reported by the New York Times.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced, fell 9.5 percent in the second quarter of the year as consumers cut back spending, businesses pared investments and global trade dried up, the Commerce Department said.

The drop — the equivalent of a 32.9 percent annual rate of decline — would have been even more severe without trillions of dollars in government aid to households and businesses.

But there is mounting evidence that the attempt to freeze the economy and defeat the virus has not produced the rapid rebound that many envisioned. A surge in coronavirus cases and deaths across the country has led to a renewed pullback in economic activity, reflecting consumer unease and renewed shutdowns. And much of the government support is on the verge of running out, with Washington at an impasse over next steps.

“In another world, a sharp drop in activity would have been just a good, necessary blip while we addressed the virus,” said Heather Boushey, president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a progressive think tank. “From where we sit in July, we know that this wasn’t just a short-term blip. We did not get the virus under control.”

Data from Europe shows what might have been. Germany on Thursday reported a drop in second-quarter G.D.P. that was even steeper than the U.S. decline. But in Germany, coronavirus cases fell sharply and remain low, which has allowed a much stronger economic rebound in recent weeks.

In the United States, the rebound appears to have stalled. More than 1.4 million Americans filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the 19th straight week that the tally exceeded one million, an unheard-of figure before the pandemic. A further 830,000 people filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which supports freelancers, the self-employed and other workers not covered by traditional unemployment benefits.

Waiting for help with an unemployment insurance claim at an event in Tulsa, Okla., last week. As the pandemic’s economic damage persists, about 30 million people are drawing unemployment benefits.Credit…Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times

In total, some 30 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, a number that has come down only slowly as new layoffs — many of them permanent job losses, as opposed to the spring’s temporary furloughs — offset gradual rehiring. Some economists now fear that the monthly jobs report coming next week will show that total employment fell in July after two months of strong gains. The slow recovery, and signs of backsliding, are taking a toll on consumer confidence, which fell in July after rising in June.”

The adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy were to be expected but this news is not good at all.  The effects were worse than anticipated and we are by no means out of the woods.


More States Are Looking to Consolidate their Public Colleges!

How the 'Students First' college consolidation affects students

Connecticut’s Proposed Students First Community College Consolidation Plan

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a sobering article this morning which reports on the number of states that are moving to consolidate colleges in their public higher education systems.  Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin have mulled mergers or have taken recent steps toward them.

While the article questions some of the savings that can be achieved through consolidation, one conclusion of this piece is worth noting:

“Consolidations may not be easy, but they’re easier than trying to manage the grim financial scenarios facing many public colleges and their systems. With the pandemic putting enrollments further in doubt and sucking away state revenues, and therefore state support for higher education, says Thomas L. Harnisch, vice president for government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, “COVID-19 could very well accelerate the trend toward making structural changes to these colleges.”

I agree fully with the last sentence about COVID-19’s affect on colleges.

For anyone interested in American higher education, this article (see below in its entirety) is must reading. 



More States Are Looking at Consolidating Their Public Colleges. Does It Work?

By Lee Gardner

July 30, 2020

A longtime higher-education buzzword is gathering new buzz: consolidation.

It’s not hard to see the appeal, in the current moment, of combining institutions. Faltering enrollment, shrinking numbers of high-school graduates in the forecast, and feeble state support have compelled public systems — many of them overbuilt for their states’ populations — to explore more, and more ambitious, consolidations. Covid-19 is likely to make those forces even stronger.

Merging underused or expensive institutions seems like a straightforward solution, but it’s rarely simple.

That’s why Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin have mulled mergers or have taken recent steps toward them. The strategy is likely to be considered elsewhere, too. Higher education has an excess-capacity problem, says Ricardo Azziz, chief executive of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a former president of Augusta University, in Georgia, and a co-author of a book on college mergers. College enrollment in the United States is down to 18 million from a peak of 20 million in 2011, and online options have expanded instructional capacity even more since then, Azziz says. While academe doesn’t function like a typical industry, he adds, “every industry that has excess capacity ends up consolidating.”

But “consolidation” isn’t one single process. Its definition can depend on the context. In some cases, like Georgia, it means a wholesale reorganization of the institutions in an existing public system into a smaller number of new ones. In others, like Maine and, potentially, Pennsylvania, consolidations involve merging a few colleges that are part of a larger system. But the strategy can also call for combining institutions under a single accreditation, an approach that is being pursued in Maine but was rejected in Alaska. Or it might be some combination of features, as is being considered in Connecticut.

Mergers may be forged from a strategic vision, or resorted to out of desperation. They are sometimes presented as an alternative to closing campuses, which can seem either unthinkable or reasonable but, in reality, almost never happens. Public colleges are often the economic and cultural lifebloods of their communities, and are sometimes the only postsecondary option for placebound students. And no elected official wants to shut down a campus in his or her jurisdiction.

How do consolidations work in higher education? What is their track record? What can they do, and what are they unlikely to accomplish?

Systems often turn to consolidation to save floundering campuses, or to save money. Both outcomes are possible, but recent history shows that consolidations generally don’t save money in the way people sometimes imagine.

Saving a campus is saving money, in the sense that it preserves a valuable resource for its state. In 2017 the University of Maine at Orono, the system’s flagship, merged with the struggling Machias campus, about 90 miles away, eliminating many leadership positions and taking over back-office functions. Enrollment has continued to slide at Machias — it had only 659 students last fall — but locals still have access to a four-year institution, now with closer ties to the state’s public research university.

In Pennsylvania, five of the 14 four-year campuses that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education were in dire financial straits even before the pandemic, due to a decade of slumping enrollment — a nearly 20-percent drop systemwide from 2010 to 2019. In mid-July, Daniel Greenstein, the system’s chancellor, announced that it would explore merging six campuses into three pairs.

The system can’t close institutions, Greenstein says, but it also can’t continue to support 14 autonomous universities: “Financially, we know where that takes us.” He hopes that the combined universities can leverage scale and new strategic approaches to grow, not continue to shrink. For example, two of the campuses would develop online education programs for learners statewide.

Several of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges are also on the brink of unsustainability, says Mark E. Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and if nothing is done, the system might have to close institutions. In 2017, Ojakian introduced a plan to merge all of the community colleges into one institution, with one accreditation. It’s much better to streamline and find efficiencies, he says, than to limit access for students by shuttering campuses.

Centralized purchasing and office functions may shave off some expenses, but there are still two sets of grounds to landscape.

But consolidating colleges doesn’t save much money in itself. Combined campuses don’t need two presidents, two provosts, or two chief financial officers, and cutting a number of top administrative salaries every year can add up. But two campuses still need professors to teach, administrators to keep offices running, and custodians to clean. Centralized purchasing and office functions may shave off some expenses, but there are still two sets of grounds to landscape, buildings to stock and maintain, and energy grids to run.

The University System of Georgia was not in financial trouble when it merged its campuses, though it did so, in part, to take advantage of economies of scale, and to make its operations more efficient, says John Fuchko III, vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness, who oversaw the system’s last three consolidations.

While savings from redundant leadership positions that were eliminated across the system amount to about $30 million a year, that’s only about 1 percent of the system’s annual operating budget of $2.3 billion for the 2021 fiscal year.

But the millions saved did make a difference at the campus level, Fuchko says, because merged institutions reinvested that money in their operations. The new Kennesaw State University, which merged with Southern Polytechnic State University in 2015 and kept the Kennesaw name, spent more than $6 million of its consolidation savings on additional professors and advisers. It’s not that resources have increased, Fuchko says, “it’s how they’re being used where you see a difference.”

Georgia cited higher educational attainment and improved access among the guiding principles for its consolidations, and early results indicate the effort may be succeeding. A 2019 study by Lauren Russell, who is now at the University of Pennsylvania, found that consolidation had increased student retention by 1.7 percent overall and had raised the four-year graduation rate for students seeking bachelor’s degrees by 4 percent. Studying institutional data, Russell concluded that “increased spending on academic support (advising), made possible by economies of scale in student services, are likely responsible for the gains.”

The course of the consolidation plan for the Connecticut community colleges shows that merging campuses may not always be straightforward or smooth, even when student success is invoked.

The Connecticut plan was hatched, in part, to prevent campuses from closing, but its emphasis on improving education is right there in its name: Students First. It calls for combining all 12 campuses into a single institution of 80,000 students with a single accreditation, and making academic offerings and practices more consistent across the colleges. The combined campuses would share a general-education curriculum, use guided academic pathways to keep students on track, and make it easier for students to take classes across institutions, Ojakian says. “It’s going to allow us to significantly improve our student-retention rates, our student-completion rates, and, equally as important, our equity considerations,” he says. Improved retention and student success should help enrollment, which would make the campuses more financially viable.

But the plan has faced setbacks and opposition. The system presented the plan to the New England Commission of Higher Education for approval in 2019, with an eye toward rolling it out in 2023. The commission, which accredits colleges, responded by asking for more information about how the new system would function, how its academic programs would be comparable and consistent, whether it had sufficient finances, and other issues. The commission asked the system to follow up in a year. The proposal “seemed a little early,” says Barbara E. Brittingham, who retired as president of the commission in July.

“It’s important to note they did not reject the proposal,” Ojakian says. “They said, ‘We think that, because of the magnitude of this change, you need to sort of slow it down.’” The commission has since asked the system to respond to a series of objections by faculty members at the community colleges and state universities.

Professors worry that consolidation will create a bloated system apparatus and draw resources away from colleges and students.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in higher ed, many of the professors worry that consolidation will create a bloated system apparatus and draw resources away from colleges and students, and that central control of academics won’t improve them.

“How can a system that’s going to be this large support the needs of the students in each of the very different communities?” says Lois D. Aime, director of educational technology at Norwalk Community College. “If you make a one-size-fits-all for everybody, then you’re not serving the needs of the students in each particular community.”

Professors also say that they’ve received mixed messages from the system’s leadership.

Consolidation was initially discussed as a possible solution to financial concerns, but early last year, “all of a sudden we were told it’s not really about money — this is about equity,” says Colena Sesanker, an assistant professor of philosophy at Gateway Community College and vice chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the system’s Board of Regents. She remains unconvinced that consolidation will improve equity or student success, and compares aspects of system leaders’ public case for it to “a ShamWoW presentation, where you’re being sold something.”

The professors come by their suspicion of mergers honestly, says Mary Ann Cox. She was vice chancellor of Connecticut’s community-college system in 2012, when Dannel P. Malloy, then the Democratic governor of the state and now the chancellor of the University of Maine system, oversaw an earlier consolidation — combining the state’s community colleges and the four four-year state universities into the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. (Ojakian was Malloy’s chief of staff at the time.) The new system had been hindered by a string of short-term leaders with troubled tenures before Ojakian took over, in 2015.

Ojakian says the Students First plan will mean more resources for students. The community colleges now have one adviser for every 728 students. “How is that helpful to any student?” he says. The plan is projected eventually to save $23 million a year, which can be reinvested in, among other things, enough advisers to bring that ratio down to one adviser for every 250 students. Faculty members who object to the plan are just “pushing the ‘no’ button,” he says. “There has been not one alternate plan offered to get us where we need to go.”

Consolidations may not be easy, but they’re easier than trying to manage the grim financial scenarios facing many public colleges and their systems. With the pandemic putting enrollments further in doubt and sucking away state revenues, and therefore state support for higher education, says Thomas L. Harnisch, vice president for government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, “Covid-19 could very well accelerate the trend toward making structural changes to these colleges.”

Structural change is probably what needs to happen, says Aims C. McGuinness, a senior fellow with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Considering widespread demographic declines and waning state support, he says, “virtually every state has got to think more systemically.”

The deepest and most systematic consolidation is in academic resources, but that option remains underused at public colleges. Rather than offering the same programs on every campus, or competing programs on several campuses, consolidations “allow you to rationalize education across a large number of campuses in a better way,” says Azziz, the former president.

Sharing academic resources across its far-flung, sometimes isolated institutions is of particular interest to the University of Maine system. It is pursuing a single accreditation for its universities in order to give students at smaller campuses better access to a wider range of programs, and to share faculty members, courses, and eventually degrees across campuses. For example, professors at several universities are trying to combine forces to offer a major in geographic information systems.

Greenstein, of the Pennsylvania system, sees academic sharing and cooperation as critical for the future of his institutions, even though they’ve competed with one another for decades. If one university wants to specialize in a particular degree, “others may need to step out of the way to allow them to succeed in that marketplace,” he says. “We can’t let ourselves cannibalize one another.”

Online education has expanded the capacity of colleges to share courses with other institutions, and to serve students far beyond their immediate surroundings. The pandemic has made that capacity more obvious. People are likely to become much more comfortable with online learning, says Azziz. “They’re going to say, ‘Yeah, this sort of sucks in some ways, but wow, I was able to do a lot of stuff at a fraction of the cost.’”

McGuinness thinks public colleges might consider hanging on to hybrid and online learning once the pandemic is over because it will allow them to reach a large number of students throughout even a large state, and to do so more efficiently. There is a considerable downside, though. “That immediately means that probably there are going to be fewer faculty positions,” he says. Because of Covid, that’s already happening.


Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 150,000 in the United States!

COVID deaths: 150,000 dead in US as states battle resurgence

Dear Commons Community,

The death toll in the United States due to the coronavirus surpassed 150,000 yesterday according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. More than 4.39 million COVID-19 cases have been reported across the country.

The grim milestone comes just over two months after the U.S. hit 100,000 deaths, and continues to make the U.S. the country that has reported more COVID-19 fatalities than any other nation. Worldwide, more than 662,000 people have died from the virus.   The United States has approximately 5 percent of the world population and 20 percent of coronavirus deaths.  It is obvious we have done something wrong.  As reported by CBS News.

In the U.S., many states are continuing to battle a surge of new infections. Florida on Wednesday broke its daily virus death toll record for the second day in a row, reporting 216 new fatalities — up from 186 new deaths a day before. The state has now seen more than 6,330 COVID-19 deaths and 450,000 cases in total, according to its health department.

The debate over reopening schools intensified this week as nearly 32,000 Florida educators signed a petition asking Governor Ron DeSantis to nullify his order requiring schools open in just a few weeks.

As the virus rages, CBS News has collected stories of some of the lives lost to coronavirus. Among them are nurses, grocery store clerks, a former White House butler, beloved actors and singers, a mother and son who died nine days apart, a 45-year-old police officer, a 25-year-old master’s student, and many more people from all walks of life.

The CDC reports that at least 574 health care personnel — doctors, nurses and other medical workers in the U.S. — have died due to the virus. 

Twenty-five states have seen a rise in new COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University

This comes as CBS News obtained a government memo from FEMA on Wednesday that said despite a nationwide decrease of cases over the past week, the number of deaths have jumped more than 30% during the same time period.

There is also concern about the coronavirus traveling back north. For the first time since April, two counties in New Jersey have reportedly made the Department of Homeland Security’s emerging hot spot list. In Philadelphia, officials say the city is seeing a second wave of infection.

Health officials worry that young people under the age of 40 who are going back to work or going to bars and restaurants, are increasingly becoming victims and chief spreaders.  

“We know that if we were to stay home, wear masks, wash our hands and take care of our neighbors we would get this virus under control,” Dr. Dara Kass, an ER doctor and Yahoo News medical contributor, told CBSN. “Unfortunately, people don’t really want to do that. Some people just want to take the risk they’re going to get it, take a pill and expect that they are going to get better — and that is not the circumstance we’re going to deal with with this virus.” 

Instead, she warned, recent studies have shown that the disease can have long-lasting effects such as brain and heart damage. “I am very worried about a new generation of chronically ill patients,” Kass said.

The scourge of this pandemic did not have to be as deadly as it is.  Blame for this is shared by officials at the national, state and local levels as well as by individuals who refuse to heed the advice of medical experts to social distance and to wear masks.


Teachers Concerned about Returning to School, and about Remote Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article (see below) this morning that examines teachers concerns about returning to classrooms this fall as well as conducting instruction remotely.  Teacher union leaders are threatening to strike if classrooms reopen without safety plans firmly in place, but they are also pushing to limit live remote teaching.  Given the strength of the teacher unions, their concerns will shape what many school districts will do to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.  With practically no guidance from Washington, D.C., these decisions will be left entirely to states and local school districts. 

The safety concerns that the teachers are raising are valid.  We are seeing elected officials ignoring the science and the medical experts in opening up their states and localities to the detriment of the health of their citizens.  We are seeing horrendous spikes in infections and deaths due to the coronavirus.   Teachers do not want to be exposed to infection from the virus in their schools with hundreds of students congregating in classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, etc.

The  teachers and their unions are also raising issues about teaching remotely especially via the synchronous live video conferencing format with software such as Zoom.  This is a more complicated.  Most teachers accepted the live videoconferencing teaching format in the spring because of the sudden emergency into which they and just about everyone else was thrown as a result of the pandemic. But now that they have had some experience with it, they are reluctant to commit to the time investment in this form of teaching. 

As the article indicates:

“Union leaders point out that many teachers went above and beyond the work hours laid out in emergency labor agreements that were quickly pulled together after schools closed in March. In addition to the time it takes to be in front of the video camera, teachers are also providing  technical support to families and answered emails and text messages from students and parents all day and into the night.”

This issue as well as others raised in this article are well-founded and worth a read.



 New York Times

Teachers Are Wary of Returning to Class, and Online Instruction Too

By Dana Goldstein and Eliza Shapiro

July 30,2020

As the nation heads toward a chaotic back-to-school season, with officials struggling over when to reopen classrooms and how to engage children online, teachers’ unions are playing a powerful role in determining the shape of public education as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.Teachers in many districts are fighting for longer school closures, stronger safety requirements and limits on what they are required to do in virtual classrooms, while flooding social media and state capitols with their concerns and threatening to walk off their jobs if key demands are not met.

On Tuesday, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union raised the stakes dramatically by authorizing its local and state chapters to strike if their districts do not take sufficient precautions — such as requiring masks and updating ventilation systems — before reopening classrooms. Already, teachers’ unions have sued Florida’s governor over that state’s efforts to require schools to offer in-person instruction.

But even as unions exert their influence, they face enormous public and political pressure because of widespread acknowledgment that getting parents back to work requires functioning school systems, and that remote learning failed many children this spring, deepening achievement gaps by race and income.

With the academic year set to begin next month in much of the country, parents are desperate for teachers to provide more interactive, face-to-face instruction this fall, both online and, where safe, in person. But many unions, while concerned about the safety of classrooms, are also fighting to limit the amount of time that teachers are required to be on video over the course of a day.

The unions are “really on the backs of their heels on this,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and advocacy group that sometimes takes positions contrary to unions. She is concerned that the urgent needs of children who have not physically attended school for many months are getting lost. “I feel like we are treating kids as pawns in this game.”

Pressure from President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who are distrusted by many educators, has hardened the opposition of many teachers to returning to classrooms, even in places where the virus is under control. They contend that political leaders are putting the needs of the economy above their safety and pushing schools to reopen without adequate guidance or financial support.

“It’s been a terrible disservice to parents, to kids, to educators, who basically are left holding the bag and trying to figure this out,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which voted to support its members who choose to strike while stressing that such actions should be a “last resort.”

About 70 percent of American teachers were union members in 2016. Educators have enjoyed significant parental support in recent years during a series of walkouts, including in Republican-led states, in favor of higher wages and more school funding.

But now, with the economy sputtering and many parents struggling to balance work and child care while overseeing remote learning, teachers who resist demands to appear over video or to work in classrooms where it is considered safe risk fraying those hard-won bonds.

Some critics see teachers’ unions as trying to have it both ways: reluctant to return to classrooms, but also resistant in some districts to providing a full day of remote school via tools like live video — the kind of interactive, online instruction that many parents say their children need after watching them flounder in the spring.

Union leaders point out that many teachers went above and beyond the work hours laid out in emergency labor agreements that were quickly pulled together after schools closed in March. Their members provided technical support to families and answered emails and text messages from students and parents late into the night, leaders say.

Now, those representatives must balance the concerns of an often-feisty membership against the urgent needs of vulnerable children and the often-competing demands of local and federal officials. Complicating matters, parents disagree sharply on what they want from schools during the pandemic.

A July poll found that 60 percent of parents supported delaying school reopenings until the virus is under control. Polls show that Black and Latino families, who have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic, have expressed more concern about returning to school than white parents have, but are also more worried about the academic and social impacts of online learning.

In New York City, where the coronavirus caseload is now relatively low, a June parents’ survey found that most respondents were at least somewhat willing to send their children back to physical classrooms, despite teachers’ fears.

Dionn Hurley, who lives in the South Bronx, said her 18-year-old son, who has autism, “regressed by a year in a month” after schools shuttered. “Our kids need in-person learning,” she said.

She and her husband are both essential workers who have been commuting across the city to their jobs since the pandemic began. She contends teachers should do the same, with adequate safety precautions.

“We all know there’s a pandemic. It’s affecting everyone,” Ms. Hurley said. “You can’t just keep saying you’re scared. We’re all scared.”

Union representatives said they were aware of those sentiments, and the very real needs behind them. That makes the job of negotiating for their members especially difficult.

“I would not say that being a teachers’ union leader is a job most people would want to have at this moment,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, the largest local teachers’ union in the country.

Pressure from California’s politically powerful teachers’ unions helped push Gov. Gavin Newsom to announce guidelines this month that will require many of the state’s districts, covering more than 80 percent of its population, to start school remotely, opening classrooms only once new infections and hospitalizations decline sufficiently in a region.

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, had already made the decision to start the year online because of soaring infections. Now the union and administrators are engaged in long negotiating sessions via Zoom, with one of the stickiest points of contention being how many hours per day teachers should be required to teach live via video.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, said she understood the benefits — she watched her own son engage with teachers online during the spring shutdown — but she argued that a full school day over video would not be feasible for either students or teachers (although some private schools have embraced it).

“You’re not going to see people engaged,” she said. “Kids will turn off to that.”

The union’s priorities, Ms. Myart-Cruz said, include ensuring that remote mental health counseling is available to students, and that teachers are reimbursed for work-from-home expenses such as upgrading their internet connections.

In the Sacramento City Unified School District, a history of mistrust between the union and administration has led to a series of repeated breakdowns in talks during the pandemic.

The district will open in a remote-only mode on Sept. 3, and has proposed that lessons delivered live over video or audio should be recorded for families to access at times that are convenient for them. But the union has objected, arguing that recording lessons could be a violation of privacy for educators, students and families because their likenesses could be posted and viewed without their explicit permission.

In the spring, the union argued in favor of providing more paper materials to students, making the case that it was unfair to lean into high-tech learning when some students lacked laptops and internet access.

Across the country, it is likely that most students will experience a mix of online and in-person education this academic year, sometimes during the same week. That means teachers will need to do two very different jobs: teach in classrooms and online.

Districts without collective bargaining, like Marietta, Ga., have more flexibility over assigning teachers’ roles, and plan to staff their remote learning programs with educators who have demonstrated skill in engaging students online.

But unions elsewhere, including in Miami-Dade County, the nation’s fourth-largest district, are resisting that model, saying teachers with their own health concerns should be the first to get the opportunity to work online from home.

On Wednesday, the district announced that it would delay the start of the academic year by a week, to Aug. 31, and that schools would open online. It hopes to begin bringing students back to classrooms by early October.

This spring, when classrooms closed because of the coronavirus, an emergency agreement between the district and union required Miami teachers to interact with their students for a minimum of three hours per day, which could include making phone calls or responding to emails.

Parents have since made it clear that was not enough, according to Alberto Carvalho, the Miami superintendent. “One of the biggest concerns was how much of a difficult time they had in terms of time management with their children,” he said, adding that the district expects teachers to provide something closer to a regular school day this fall, with live instruction over video.

The local union president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, said her members were willing to follow a more traditional schedule, but many teachers have expressed anxiety about how they and their homes would look on camera during live teaching.

“If a teacher does not feel comfortable, and the teacher is not secure in the modality, they are not going to flourish and give the best of themselves,” she said.

In Orange County, another large Florida district that includes Orlando, a major concern for the union is that teachers working in schools might be expected to simultaneously broadcast their lessons live to students at home and respond to children both in-person and virtually.

“You can’t keep track of people remotely and in front of you at the same time,” said Wendy L. Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

New York City, the nation’s largest district, is one of the few big systems in the country planning to reopen schools even part time this fall. Mr. Mulgrew, the local teachers’ union leader, helped officials settle on an approach that would allow children to report to classrooms one to three times per week.

But in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, Mr. Trump’s push to reopen classrooms has magnified growing alarm among educators about returning to work, and some have threatened to stage a sick-out.

In a town hall with members last week, Mr. Mulgrew threw the plan he helped create into disarray, telling teachers he does not currently believe it is safe for schools to reopen physically in September, absent a major funding influx to pay for more nurses and upgraded air filtration systems.

“I am preparing to do whatever we need to do if we think the schools are not safe and the city disagrees with us,” Mr. Mulgrew said on the call.

City officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Mulgrew backed away from reopening, in part because the city had already agreed to a number of safety measures, including requiring masks and social distancing in the classroom, and to allow teachers over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions to work remotely.

Some New York City teachers are encouraging their colleagues to apply for medical exemptions that would allow them to teach at home, even if they are not eligible, and asking parents not to send their children back.

Still, educators hardly present a monolithic view.

“I’m a public servant, and I’m ready to serve wherever I’m needed,” said Carlotta Pope, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn. Ms. Pope said she had some lingering questions about safety but was hopeful they would be resolved before September.

“I’m excited to go back, if that’s what’s decided,” she said. “I miss my students.”


Chris Cuomo on Trump’s “Nobody likes me”!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday during a press briefing, Donald Trump responded to a question about the coronavirus pandemic and commented about his relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci.  He concluded that the pubic appears to like Fauci and that “Nobody likes me.”

Chris Cuomo last night analyzed the “Nobody likes me” comment  as a reflection on Trump that he thinks too much about what is good for him personally and not what is good for the country or its people.

The video is eight minutes long and is worth a listen.


Simple, Inexpensive Test for Alzheimer’s Within Reach!

Alzheimer's research reset | Science | AAAS

Dear Commons Community,

While most of the attention in medical testing in recent months has been on finding effective diagnosis and vaccines for coronavirus, another medical testing breakthrough appears to be on the horizon. A newly developed blood test for Alzheimer’s has diagnosed the disease as accurately as methods that are far more expensive or invasive, scientists reported yesterday, a significant step toward a longtime goal for patients, doctors and dementia researchers. The test has the potential to make diagnosis simpler, more affordable and widely available.  As reported by the New York Times.

“The test determined whether people with dementia had Alzheimer’s instead of another condition. And it identified signs of the degenerative, deadly disease 20 years before memory and thinking problems were expected in people with a genetic mutation that causes Alzheimer’s, according to research published in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

Such a test could be available for clinical use in as little as two to three years, the researchers and other experts estimated, providing a readily accessible way to diagnose whether people with cognitive issues were experiencing Alzheimer’s, rather than another type of dementia that might require different treatment or have a different prognosis. A blood test like this might also eventually be used to predict whether someone with no symptoms would develop Alzheimer’s.

“This blood test very, very accurately predicts who’s got Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, including people who seem to be normal,” said Dr. Michael Weiner, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. “It’s not a cure, it’s not a treatment, but you can’t treat the disease without being able to diagnose it. And accurate, low-cost diagnosis is really exciting, so it’s a breakthrough.”

Nearly six million people in the United States and roughly 30 million worldwide have Alzheimer’s, and their ranks are expected to more than double by 2050 as the population ages.”

Really good news for those who might be vulnerable to this horrific disease!


Majority of Colleges and Universities Planning for Remote Learning!


Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has been keeping track of the reopening plans of colleges and universities for Fall 2020.  Up until this past Monday, the majority of the plans indicated that the students would be taking classes primarily in-person.  That has changed and as of Monday (July 27th), most of the colleges will now reopen with remote learning or some form of blended/hybrid courses. Above are pie charts showing how the percentage of plans shifted from May 8th to July 27th.

This makes good safe sense.  As I have said in earlier posts on this topic, colleges that re-open in person are only one keg-party from a health disaster.


Anthony Fauci Gets His Own Baseball Card While Trump Lies About Being Invited to Throw First Pitch!

Dr. Anthony Fauci isn't the Nationals' new ace, but he's cemented his place in baseball lore with his own best-selling card.

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump’s dark, envious side was apparent when he mentioned that he was invited to toss out the first pitch for a Yankee game on August 15th.  Like many notable events of his presidency, last week’s bizarre back-and-forth between Trump and the New York Yankees reportedly began from a place of personal hostility.

On Thursday, hours before noted Washington Nationals fan Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening pitch to inaugurate Major League Baseball’s pandemic season, President Trump stood at the podium of the White House briefing room and informed the press that he would have his own on-field ceremony next month in the Bronx. “Randy Levine is a great friend on mine from the Yankees,” Trump said, of the team’s president. “And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I’m doing that on August 15 at Yankee Stadium.”

According to the New York Times, Trump broke the news because he was frustrated by Fauci’s time in the stadium lights — perhaps the pettiest moment yet in the president’s tiff with the public-health official he sees as competition for the nation’s attention. But when he made the announcement, no actual date had been set. Though White House officials had called the Yankees to make good on a standing offer from the team’s president, neither party had confirmed that Trump would throw out the first pitch that Saturday night in August. The announcement reportedly alarmed both the Yankees and White House staffers — resulting in aides scrambling “to let the team know that he was actually booked on Aug. 15, although they have not said what he plans to do.”

Then on Sunday, the president declined the RSVP for his self-invite, citing his “strong focus” on dealing with the pandemic.

Trump must of really really went berserk when he saw that Anthony Fauci had a Topps baseball card (above) of him throwing out the first pitch to start the baseball season last Thursday.  According to CNN, the Topps baseball card with a masked Fauci mid-pitch just became the bestselling card in the history of ToppsNow, the company’s collection of limited-edition cards. 

Poor Donald, he can’t stand a person like Fauci who is so honest and straight-forward with the American people.


Good News: Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Begins Testing!

Fireman Wade Bardo of Erin , New York, Receives Coronavirus Vaccine Shot

Dear Commons Community,

A little good news on the coronavirus pandemic yesterday as final-stage testing of a vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., began with 30,000 Americans. 

Final-stage testing of the vaccine  began with volunteers at numerous sites around the U.S. given either a real dose or a dummy (placebo)  without being told which.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“I’m excited to be part of something like this. This is huge,” said Melissa Harting, a 36-year-old nurse who received an injection in Binghamton, New York. Especially with family members in front-line jobs that could expose them to the virus, she added, “doing our part to eradicate it is very important to me.”

Another company, Pfizer Inc., announced late Monday that it had started its own study of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and elsewhere. That study also aimed to recruit 30,000 people.

It will be months before results trickle in, and there is no guarantee the vaccines will ultimately work against the scourge that has killed over 650,000 people around the world, including almost 150,000 in the U.S.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines passively attempting to wear our masks and social distance and not go out when it’s not necessary. This is the first step of becoming active against this,” said Dr. Frank Eder of Meridian Clinical Research, the company that runs the Binghamton trial site.

“There’s really no other way to get past this.”

Scientists set speed records getting vaccines into massive testing just months after the coronavirus emerged. But they stressed that the public shouldn’t fear that anyone is cutting corners.

“This is a significant milestone,” NIH Director Francis Collins said after the first test injection of Moderna’s vaccine was given, at 6:45 a.m. in Savannah, Georgia. “Yes, we’re going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise” on proving whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

“We are focusing on speed because every day matters,” added Stephane Bancel, CEO of Massachusetts-based Moderna.

After volunteers get two doses a month apart, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus is spreading unchecked.

The answer probably won’t come until November or December, cautioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH’s infectious-diseases chief.

Among many questions the study may answer: How much protection does just one dose offer compared with the two scientists think are needed? If it works, will it protect against severe disease or block infection entirely?

Don’t expect a vaccine as strong as the measles vaccine, which prevents about 97% of measles infections, Fauci said, adding he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that’s 60% effective.

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month. But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country.

Every month through the fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate, each with 30,000 volunteers.

The final U.S. study of the Oxford shot is set to begin in August, followed by a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and one from Novavax in October.

That’s a stunning number of people needed to roll up their sleeves for science. In recent weeks, more than 150,000 Americans filled out an online registry signaling interest, Collins said. But many more are needed.

NIH is working to make sure that the study isn’t just filled with healthy, younger volunteers but includes populations hit hardest by COVID-19, including older adults, those in poor health and African-Americans and Latinos.

“We really are going to depend upon that sense of volunteerism for individuals from every different corner of society if we’re going to really find out how this vaccine, and its potential to end this terrible pandemic, is go to work in each of those groups,” Collins said.

This is good news.  The United States and the rest of the world can only get back to “normal” with a vaccine for the coronavirus.”



Randi Weingarten on Mitch McConnell’s Proposed Coronavirus Relief Bill!

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten

Dear Commons Community,

Today starts the AFT convention (virtual) and President Randi Weingarten has sent a letter to the membership urging them to write their senators to put pressure on Republicans to act responsibly and to face the reality of what the cornonavirus has wrought on our country.

Her letter is below.




Mitch McConnell finally released his bill today. I’m sure you’re not surprised, but the bill is bad. Simply put, it doesn’t match the scale of the crisis. I’m getting ready for the AFT convention, which starts tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure you heard about McConnell’s bill tonight.

What McConnell is proposing for education is woefully inadequate given the expenses schools will face to reopen safely. It also falls dramatically short by ignoring what schools actually need to reopen safely and, instead, prioritizes the president’s political agenda, tying the funding to in-person instruction and pushing for private school vouchers. And there is no money for states and no protections for healthcare workers.

Can you believe it? The GOP is actually using the pandemic to try to pass vouchers, because they couldn’t get them passed before. To rub salt in the wound, while this proposal includes no protections for workers on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it does include a nice bailout for corporations and other employers to limit their liability if employees get sick on the job.

The Senate needs to hear from you right now. Send a letter to your senators and tell them that McConnell’s bill is bad.

While we’re going to be focused on our convention for the next few days, we still need to keep up the pressure on coronavirus relief legislation.

For those who are interested in our convention, it’s going to be exciting. We’ll have Joe Biden, Lin-Manuel Miranda, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a panel on Black Lives Matter, Diane Ravitch, Anand Giridharadas , and more. You’ll be able to watch the programming on our website. And tomorrow night, I’ll be doing a Facebook live town hall with Dr. Anthony Fauci at 6:45 p.m. EDT.

I know we’re all busy, but I just want to thank you for consistently taking action. We’ve driven tens of thousands of emails and phone calls to the Senate. Let’s keep it going and stop McConnell’s bad bill.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten

AFT President