Saturday, February 13, 2021

Lab Results and Real-World Disconnects: Covid Vaccinations

edited 12/16/21

'Tis many the slip twixt cup and lip. -- Adage.
Introduction. President Biden wants kids (young or old) back in school. Their parents do, too. Ditto, the many other people who are inconvenienced, even suffering, from school closures. So do I, having been a teacher for some 43+ years. (Older kids likely want to come to school, too, if only to cut classes to hang out with their friends or to enjoy, if only vicariously, other forms of stimulation.)

Should teachers, instructors, and professors go back into their classrooms because the Center for Disease Control states that they all, under certain safety conditions, need no vaccinations to return to school?

Unless certain special conditions were carefully observed and monitored, I would vote, "NO!". I would so insist, not just because President Biden wants it; I agree with him. Not just because some think the vaccines tested by the CDC can't be trusted; I trust CDC( -- so long as its pronouncements are scientifically based.) Not because I don't care about the economy or about the mental health of our populations; I do care.

I would vote NO because there are, especially in education, too many possible circumstances that can block safe access to schools, despite our political leaders trying to raise morale by appointing "Czars," or "special mandates" or "emergency operations." No matter what directives come from on high, educational institutions tend to be very sensitive to local concerns down to, even, departmental levels. It is a rarity, usually a tragedy, that makes a school event broadly "newsworthy." (If it bleeds, it leads.)

Consequently, externally sourced "problem-solving" tends to be late, clumsy and overhyped and only pursued until a more headline-grabbing event occurs. There are many easily recognized "impediments" to "getting vaccines into arms." They might be more or less realistic, for example, realistic: a scarcity of vaccines, or lack of medical resources. Less realistic are: for example, Blaming the bat-boys: teacher unions, or expecting too much from Leadership.

Does Better Science mean Better Practice? Sometimes. Not infrequently, not.

A vice-president of a large electronics corporation once invited me to visit a company warehouse where "amazing" inventions were stored away, not (to be) developed for sale.

He told me that there were many wondrous things to be seen that really worked but unfortunately couldn't be scaled up from their prototypes to items that could be profitably marketed.

Even with vaccines it's a matter of costs and benefits, even though the Federal Government may pick up the expenses. There are two disadvantages with any possible "market" item. The first is that its costs might be greater than the price it can garner from prospective buyers. By "costs" for the producer, here, are meant more than the search costs for and monetary costs of wages and salaries of labor and materials. Also there are opportunity costs: the inability of committed labor to work on other, later discovered, better prospects; and, the costs of materials that may not be recoverable for other purposes.

From some perspectives, such considerations might rationalize a comprehensive national response to the Covid emergency rather than a state-by-state pursuit, likely competitive, for lack of individual state funding. (Which is not to say that such a federal response would be problem-free.)

Promotional Failures
27% of teachers are considering quitting because of Covid, survey finds. -- AJ Hess CNBC Mon, Dec 14 2020 9:34 AM EST
American education has a long history of spending on seductive items for improving education. Such attractive, even "scientific"ideas have often turned out, despite gushes of enthusiasm, to be not even moderately successful.

In addition to production and opportunity costs, there are possible psychological costs, e.g. disappointing prospective customers with products that can't meet promoted schedules or quality.

It's too bad that President Biden has put a time limit (100 days) on the injection numbers for the Covid vaccine. I hope such targets can be hit. However, too many uncertainties have already turned up to make that, already, an iffy projection, particularly, we will see, as it applies to schools.

Already, Feb 13, 2021 3 A.M., there are indications that one-third of our adult population are undecided about getting the Covid vaccine. (But they say they might be persuaded by family or friends.)

In the best of times, the expected job-life of a newly graduated teacher candidate is three years. Each year, 12-13% of public school teachers quit the profession for good. In 2019, 50% of teachers report having considered quitting for various reasons. Teachers who don't quit have likely been long inured to reneged-on promises for resources for school improvement.

Why and how do people get into (public school) teaching in the first place? A reasonable question. With a hardly-to-be-believed answer that describes my experience and that of many teachers -- not all, far from it, I imagine.

The answer is ... by chance. I was a philosophy major with no intention of ever, ever being a public school teacher. I was out of a job after graduation in 1964 and was told that jobs for potential math teachers were going begging in my home town.

I applied with the school system and, in Fall, 1964, had my first, formal teaching experience. It was a disaster.

I had worked three summers, 1961 - 63, as a camp counselor and really enjoyed it. I discovered, Fall 1964 that teaching cooped up with kids in a hot, stuffy junior high school classroom was very unlike being a camp counselor. On that first day, after only an hour, the kids ran out of the room. They did not return. After two hours, I walked out and left the school, despite being told by the school's head secretary that I would never, ever, ever be employed ever again as a teacher, anywhere.

The next day I was called up from Central Administration and asked if I would make another try at different school. I did, and had a wonderful experience. After six months, I was hooked. The next September I reported to work for the school district.

Are "Educational Institutions" Primarily Educational?

Schools, public, private and higher ed institutions are very variable from the perspective of the instructional personnel. One Great American Myth is that their primary focus is on social and/or intellectual development and that supporting such development is the mission of the schooling organization.

It may, possibly, be so. It is often not. The overwhelming concern at institutional locations is , commonly, to protect or expand departmental budgets and domains. Anything else is of secondary interest. I found this to be true not only in public education, but in private, religious and university education, also.

Not only leaders but jobholders at many levels focus primarily on what they believe supports their individual continued incumbency. This is universal in almost any kind of organization where output is celebrated and verbally emphasized yet cannot be easily evaluated.

For universities that have them, an education department is often supported as a cash cow. For cash cows all grass tastes good. Committed scholarship is reluctantly appreciated. Obsequiousness is "reinforced" and garrulousness is often accepted as intelligence.

Exposure to such training has an effect on teachers in developing disregard of or passive resistence to administrative undertakings regardless of their wisdom or intelligence. Teachers can be very resistant to change as a group, say, a union, or class or activity sponsor, little matter the rationale for the group's existence.

If they have survived in the profession for more than five years teachers, particularly school teachers, have likely swallowed more than their fair share of disrespect, condescension or disregard from administrators, parents and politicians. Teachers resent, particularly, broken promises which they understand to be lack of concern not only of themselves, but of the children (or older students) they teach.

I worked in one school building for 12 years in which the water fountains seldom worked; the bathrooms had no running water or toilet paper; there were bullet-holes in interior steel doors and where the only air-conditioning to be had -- even in 95+ degree weather -- was to be found in the principal's office. (Parents often really underestimate how deeply concerned teachers can be for the well-being of their students.) Likely to avoid further provocation, in that school, teacher complaints were normally received graciously by administrators and conceded sympathy as to their seriousness. Promises were the made for help and then, ultimately, forgotten. (Except when the presenter of concerns was a building union representative.)

(When I left that school after twelve years, the building was pretty much the same, a few haphazard repairs which quickly disappeared had been attempted.)

Why are teacher (or professorial, in universities) concerns ignored? Because functional differences in organizations produce cultural and ethical differences. Administrators are most often rewarded (or punished) by higher-ups for things having little to do with the development of intellectual or social skills in students (but for the kind of obsequiousness that can be renamed "good citizenship" and treated as an indicator of good "classroom management" or "student relationships.")

Politicians seldom have any idea, if they care at all, what really goes on in schools. They imagine that an official document to delivered to schools magically manifests itself as behavioral changes in students. And many parents have other concerns so long as their kids are kept out of their hair and make B's or A's and don't come home pregnant or bruised.

You shouldn't think that these ills are unique to education. All organizations confront conflicts which set internal groups against each other, as well as outsiders.

Many teachers come to learn that promises from administrators, politicians or parents seldom come to fruition. Recently, the Chicago Teacher's Union has agreed to come be into school provided an independent third party will be available to assure that promises to the teachers from school higher up are in fact being carried out. This is wise. Teachers often can't believe assurances from people not "on the front line."

Overlooked Sub-group Conflicts: disregarding the "elephants in the room."
Once the rocket goes up,
Who cares where it goes down?
That's not my department...
-- T Lehrer, Werner von Braun
Professional differences in a group addressing a "common problem" may produce conflicting interpretations and different claims on group resources. I taught a class in policy analysis some years back at Widener University. One of my students was a Ph.D. chemist whose company was involved with several school districts in identifying students who might be using illegal drugs.
I asked the group, consisting mostly of administrators of schools and of related health professions to come up with a problematic policy they were involved with that we could work on in class. They selected "Testing students for drug usage."

I had them read an article that cautioned about common errors of practice that could produce undesirable results in such things as collecting urine samples for analysis. This is especially problematic because control of the provenance of the samples, how they were collected, identified and passed along to the testing laboratory was laxly supervised.

A major error was a narrow focus and complete reliance on test accuracy, without considering the likely percentage of users in the population.

The results of such error would be a profusion of false positives; that is, student who were not users being identified as users. Such results, the group recognized, would disrupt not only board members, but many other groups in their communities.

There was one person who objected to the analysis: the Ph.D. chemist. He insisted, the 99% accuracy used our simulation was ridiculous. In his labs, he said, his test accuracies were reliable to the sixth decimal place.

I conceded that the tests he ran were really highly accurate. But those tests were to find out whether the contents of the sample bottles he received with contained an illegal drug.

The tests the school personnel were concerned about was whether a sample identified as coming from a certain person was, in fact, from that person. Only then could its contents indicate a drug-user. School people, parents or other community members were concerned with "provenance" or source accuracy; not the accuracy of lab-testing, which is only a small part of establishing provenance.

What "the problem" was, was different for the chemist from what "the problem" was for the rest of the group. This kind of interpretive confusion is not infrequently the cause of many frustrations in addressing problems: plausible alternative interpretation. (This might even cause an original group of concerned participants to break up because some members now feel that their professional authority on group decision has been diminished.)

I reassured our chemist that I understood and accepted that his laboratories did high quality work. But the real problem, often missed, was a contextual one. It required a broadening of perspective.

The chemist grimaced, stood up and left. He never came back

. See Public “Science” Controversy: distrust is not the only issue.

See, also, The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision.

Cordially, EGR February 15, 2021