April 2020
  • Photo Diary: What a Socially Distanced School Day Looks Like in Denmark, Where Students Have Already Returned to Class Amid Coronavirus

    By Meghan Gallagher | April 27, 2020

    As governors, mayors and school district officials across America debate a possible reopening of the nation’s schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, students half a world away have already returned to the classroom with social distancing in mind.

    Younger grade-school students in Denmark returned to campuses earlier this month, as the country begins to ease its lockdown restrictions; the children must adhere to strict guidelines concerning hygiene and social distance. As classes returned to session at Ringsted Lilleskole, a private school about 50 miles southwest of Copenhagen, photographer Ole Jensen shadowed students to capture a photo diary of what school looks like amid a pandemic. Here’s a brief glimpse of how education looks now across several schools in Denmark:

    Children at Ringsted Lilleskole in Ringsted, Denmark, receive open-air lessons as pupils are welcomed back to school on April 20, 2020, after closing for five weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak. Only pupils up to fifth grade are currently permitted to return to school as Denmark begins to ease restrictions; those in higher grades must stay at home. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    Bjarke Jon Jensen, vice headmaster at Ringsted Lilleskole, welcomes pupils back to school after it was closed for five weeks. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    Teacher Louise Sjoestein gives out hand sanitizer as pupils are welcomed back to school after it was closed for five weeks. The children must adhere to strict rules regarding social distance and hygiene. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    Ringsted Lilleskole students receive open-air lessons as pupils are welcomed back to school. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    A sign at Ringsted Lilleskole instructing the pupils about the new rules they must adhere to in order to avoid spreading coronavirus while at school. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    Vice Headmaster Bjarke Jon Jensen shows a special sign designed for parents of schoolchildren instructing the parent driving their children to school to kiss goodbye in the car, to stay there and not to follow the children inside the school in order to avoid spreading the coronavirus among other children. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

    Schoolchildren have their lunch during their lunch break at the Korshoejskolen public school in Randers, Denmark, on April 15. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

    Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks with pupils as she participates in the reopening of Lykkebo School in Valby in Copenhagen on April 15. (Philip Davali//Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

    Students are washing their hands during a break at Korshoejskolen in Randers, Denmark, on April 15. (Bo Amstrup /Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

    Teacher Rebekka Hjorth has music lessons with her 5.A class outdoors at the Korshoejskolen public school in Randers, Denmark. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

    Parents with their children stand in line waiting to get inside Stengaard School, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 15. (Ólafur Steinar Gestsson /Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

    A welcome-back flag made by kindergarten children, captured as pupils are welcomed back to school in Ringsted, Denmark, on April 20 after it was closed for five weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Ole Jensen/Getty Images)


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • FCC Chair, Kansas Governor and Khan Academy Founder Wrestle With Federal Role in Closing the Homework Gap During Coronavirus Crisis

    By Zoë Kirsch | April 26, 2020

    The homework gap — the lack of connectivity preventing some students from finishing their assignments online — has never been a more pressing disparity than it is now, as some 55 million students learn from home.

    The news site Axios explored how COVID-19 has widened that aspect of the digital divide during a series of three quick-fire, virtual interviews Thursday with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan.

    “There’s no way that [online] education is the same as being physically located in a building,” said Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei during the livestreamed event. “Then you think about those kids who don’t have [the] technology … it might be a lost year of education. I think that’s sobering … There’s still a lot of communities out there in rural America and inner cities that don’t have that type of connectivity.”

    Some 15 percent of American homes with school-age kids don’t have a high-speed internet connection, according to the Pew Research Center, and low-income, black and Hispanic children are disproportionately affected. Kids living in low-income households are about five times as likely to lack a high-speed internet connection as their counterparts in middle-income homes.


    Offline and Underserved: New Study Shows ‘Homework Gap’ Most Affects Students Already Likely to Fall Behind

    The interviews were conducted by Kim Hart, who covers cities and tech for Axios, and the event was sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. Here are some highlights from the three conversations.

    Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai

    Ajit Pai and his FCC colleagues have faced mounting pressure from members of Congress and education leaders — including former U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan — to remove the barriers still preventing some low-income families from accessing the internet.

    “More than a month into this crisis, we have seen no movement from the administration on these relatively simple changes,” Duncan wrote in an April 21 op-ed in The Washington Post. “But there is still a chance for Pai and this administration to show that when they say they want to keep Americans connected, they truly mean all Americans.”

    While the commission has taken some steps, including encouraging broadband providers to sign the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which asks, among other things, that companies waive late fees incurred due to economic circumstances related to the coronavirus, advocates are asking that the FCC take further action now.

    Pai has yet to do two important things, according to education advocates and school leaders. He could update the Keep Americans Connected Pledge so that internet providers commit to waiving families’ prior debts, which are currently stopping some of the country’s poorest students from accessing free Wi-Fi programs. An online petition addressed to Pai demanding as much has racked up 13,000 signatures.

    The chairman could also let schools and libraries use the billions of dollars already set aside through the FCC’s E-rate program to buy Wi-Fi hotspots and devices for families that don’t have internet.

    When asked by Hart to grade the FCC on how it’s doing in terms of closing the digital divide, he defended the commission, saying that it has “made substantial progress” on that issue over the past three years. He later cited a step that he took early in the pandemic: relaxing the “gift rules,” which prohibited service providers from offering — and school districts from accepting— free Wi-Fi and devices.

    Pai made no mention of internet providers waiving low-income families’ prior debts, and he said that FCC regulations prohibit him from opening up the E-Rate money, though Duncan and other leaders maintain that doing so falls within the agency’s purview.

    While Pai acknowledged the importance of bridging the digital divide, he spent most of his time touting longer-term internet access programs the FCC was working on prior to the pandemic’s arrival, like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20 billion investment to expand broadband in rural communities, which has yet to kick off.

    “While a number of preexisting broadband programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will help close the broadband gap in the long term, I encourage you to take action that can enable expanded coverage now,” Senator Mark Warner urged Pai in a letter he sent last week.

    Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly

    Kelly has spent most of her career making education a top priority. She spent 14 years as a state senator pushing to restore funding for public education throughout her state, and under her tenure as governor, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that school funding had finally met constitutionally required levels.


    EDlection2018: Democrat Laura Kelly Projected to Win Kansas Governor Race, With Promise to Fully Fund Schools

    The Kansas Association of School Boards recently asked Pai, himself a Kansas native, to open up E-rate funds for low-income students at home. During her interview with Axios, Kelly didn’t press on that request, instead bringing up a broadband expansion strategy that her administration had been developing before the coronavirus struck, which the feds had been helping to fund.

    “We used whatever we could,” she said of the federal contribution. “That’s something we will use in our broadband strategy going forward. In the meantime, we’ve had some great partners step up to help.”

    Kelly was the first governor in the country to close schools through the end of the school year last month, a decision that at the time drew some controversy. But that early call won her time, she said, which she used to get input from educators and create a sense of solidarity among her leadership team. At the time, schools were halfway through spring break.

    After extending vacation for another week, Kelly said, she convened 40 teachers virtually, along with administrators and counselors, to create a game plan. The choice to shutter school buildings for the year also eased families’ minds about what was to come, she says. “We wanted to give our parents, children and teachers certainty about what was going to happen.”

    When it came to planning the support that families would need while kids were away from school, Kelly said she and her team brainstormed holistically. They took action to help families not only with their kids’ academics but also with basic needs like child care — particularly for frontline workers — and food. The state got a waiver from the Department of Agriculture, allowing it to extend the school nutrition program to include feeding children from 1 to 18, regardless of their free or reduced-price lunch status.

    Like other states, Kansas faces looming budget shortages; revenue estimates show that it’s looking at a $1 billion hole over the next two fiscal years, Kelly said. While Kelly told Hart that she hasn’t ruled out making cuts to state programs if necessary, she’s hoping that the federal government will step in.

    “We know it’s likely [they’ll] provide a stimulus package for state and local governments, and we’re waiting to see what that looks like, and how we can use it to fill some of the budget shortfalls we’re experiencing,” she said. “I will work like the devil to continue to fund our schools. I consider education an essential service … I will do everything I can to make sure they have adequate resources to continue to serve our kids.”

    Kelly told Axios it’s “way too early to call” if Kansas schools will reopen this fall. That’s partly because she’s already anticipating the second wave of coronavirus, which could arrive around that time.

    “We’ll do dual planning,” she said. “Planning to open, and planning to have [schools] shut.”


    Recap: The Governors’ Most Memorable Education Observations at Our Axios #EDlection2018 Town Hall

    Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan

    Sal Khan founded Khan Academy in 2008 after the lessons that he created to tutor his cousins started to gain attention. The nonprofit offers free online lessons and quizzes, and it has historically focused on math, an area where American students are notorious underperformers.

    Since the pandemic, Khan Academy has seen users increase threefold, and Khan said he has made more resources available to help them, including shutdown-specific schedules for students in different age groups.

    “We set it up, so what could a day look like for students,” Khan said. “And not just the academic part of it, but also how do we make sure they get enough physical exercise, how do we make sure they have enough time for play?”

    The schedules were so well received that parents and teachers started asking for more, and Khan released free week-by-week math learning plans for third grade through Algebra II.


    How Khan Academy Used a Successful Experiment With California’s Long Beach Unified to Launch District Partnerships Across the Country

    Although Khan reiterated the importance of connectivity in his Axios interview — “In order for Khan Academy to do its work, you do need online access. That’s step one” — like Kelly, he didn’t focus on the federal government’s responsibility to deliver it. Instead, he praised the districts and telecom companies that have distributed laptops and expanded broadband access in support of students.

    Khan highlighted a study done recently by one of his partners, the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which found major impacts on students from school closures during the coronavirus, especially in math. The research indicates that when students head back to school next fall, overall they are likely to retain about 70 percent of this year’s gains in reading, compared with a typical school year, and less than 50 percent in math.


    Researchers’ Urgent Message for Schools: Start Planning Now for a Precipitous ‘COVID Slide’ Next Year

    Khan says that parents who are feeling overwhelmed — as many have reported they are — should aim for half an hour a day of the basics with their kids.

    “If, at a minimum, you can focus on the basics—the math, the reading, the writing — that’s a start,” he said. “And then you can layer more on top of that.”

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to The 74.


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • In School Finance Discussion, Experts Warn That Economic Damage From COVID Could Force ‘Unheard-of’ Cuts

    By Kevin Mahnken | April 26, 2020

    On April 16, 74 Senior Reporter Kevin Mahnken moderated a webinar for education journalists hosted by the Education Writers Association. The discussion, titled “What Does the Coronavirus Recession Mean for School Finance?,” was intended to assist reporters as they cover the incipient economic downturn triggered by the COVID pandemic.

    In a public conversation last week about the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on education budgets, two school finance experts voiced concern about the extent of the economic havoc unleashed by the disease — as well as uncertainty around how various states and districts will manage the fallout.

    The finance-focused webinar, hosted by the Education Writers Association, included guests Karen Hawley Miles, president of the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies, as well as independent financial analyst Michael Griffith. The duo, who have spent years studying educational spending and advising school districts on financial management, took questions from reporters on the likely impact of a coronavirus-induced downturn and extracted lessons from the experience of the Great Recession.

    Griffith outlined the latest round of federal assistance for public education included within the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in late March. The colossal relief package offered $16.2 billion in funding that could be used for K-12 schools (though nearly $3 billion of that is left to the discretion of governors, who could use it to buttress public universities). By Griffith’s calculations, that sum amounts to $286 per student, or a roughly 2 percent spending increase.

    While helpful, he said, that level of aid isn’t commensurate with the scale of the fiscal distress facing states, which are seeing revenues from income and sales taxes fall through the floor. Just a few weeks ago, Griffith said that he was predicting the resultant budget cuts to fall within the range of 10-15 percent; that number has since grown exponentially.

    “Now I’m hearing states that are talking about a 30 percent cut,” he said. “That’s unheard of. To put this in perspective, the revenue cuts that we saw in education from states during the last recession were about 7.5 percent, so this could be four times the impact of the last economic downturn.”

    Within the past few weeks, a coalition of education advocacy groups has circulated a proposal calling for an additional $200 billion in emergency education funding, an amount that Griffith said would come closer to meeting the budgetary challenges that will arise in the next few years.

    At the same time that tax receipts are collapsing, Hawley Miles added, students’ academic and social-emotional needs will undoubtedly grow as the pandemic continues. Many children will begin the 2020-21 school year far behind in their studies, and some will have incurred lasting psychic damage as well.

    “The impacts on need will be unequal across students, families and communities,” she said. “And schools may need to plan for [further] temporary shutdowns, which adds additional cost.”

    While local policymakers look for every opportunity to keep costs low, Hawley Miles observed, a sizable number of schools are also continuing to pay sidelined hourly workers “because so many of these districts know that they are the major employers in their cities, and many [school staff members] are the parents of students in their schools. So there’s a huge ripple effect.”


    Half of All School Employees Aren’t Teachers. This Recession Will Endanger Their Jobs

    One difficulty during economic downturns for both journalists and financial officers is helping school communities understand the cost of budgetary shortfalls in terms more urgent than credits and debits, Griffith said, noting that he wished analysts had better communicated the human cost of slashed educational spending during the Great Recession.

    “For the public, when we talk about dollars in budgets, or percentages, that doesn’t really mean much to them,” he said. “When we talk about programs that are eliminated, when we talk about things like kids now having to walk two miles to school because busing has been reduced, that kind of stuff people understand.”

    Asked what kinds of economic questions education reporters should ask of local officials, Hawley Miles pivoted from finance to technology. As public education transitions from in-person to online learning, unfair disparities abound between relatively more and less affluent schools and districts, providing an opportunity for journalists to tell a story that might have otherwise been obscured.

    “We’re learning a lot of great things, and a lot of negative things, about distance learning right now. There’s huge [inequality] across districts and states, and even within districts, in access to technology, engagement with it and support from teachers. This seems like an incredible time to be writing stories about this and collecting data to try to understand what’s working and what’s not.”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Coronavirus Must-Reads for Schools: Educators Eye ‘Great Reopening’ During Time of Distancing, Remotely Reaching Troubled Students, More Equitable Distance Learning & More

    By Andrew Brownstein | April 22, 2020

    This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here

    Last week, Denmark became the first major industrialized nation to reopen schools during the pandemic. There were some clear rules: Desks, for instance, had to be two meters (about 6.5 feet) apart, leading to once-luxurious teacher-student ratios of 10 to 1 in many classrooms. Students had to wash their hands once an hour. And parents weren’t allowed inside. “It is a new world,” said Tanja Linnet, the head teacher at Copenhagen’s Logumkloster District School. “We used to make plans for if there was a terrorist attack here — but never this kind of attack.”

    Is Denmark a harbinger of things to come? It will take a while to find out. Most European countries aren’t ready for such a bold move. In Spain, for instance, most children haven’t been outside in five weeks. Schools throughout Asia remain closed. In China, where the pandemic originated, schools have yet to reopen in most parts of the country; the capital, Beijing, will see high school seniors return to class next week.

    For most of the U.S., that reality is likely months away, and in one of the world’s more famously decentralized education systems, it will entail adjustments that were once unthinkable. “If you think you’re going to keep kids six feet apart during the course of a school day, you’re dreaming,” Dan Domenech, executive director for the American Association of School Administrators, told USA Today. In Denmark, the increase in classrooms necessary to facilitate social distancing has translated into teachers doing more. What will this mean in the United States, which was facing a dramatic teacher shortage before the pandemic? Will states ease restrictions to licensure, for example, perhaps setting up confrontations with teachers unions?

    If schools require students to wear masks and gloves, there are national shortages to contend with, and many states cut back on school nurses in response to previous budget cuts. Finally, many school buildings were simply not built for the rigors of social distancing. The West Contra Costa Unified School District, near San Francisco, has no unused classrooms; gym classes often have more than 50 students, and schools stagger lunchtimes so students can sit eight to 10 kids to a table. “We can’t just build new schools overnight,” Tony Wold, the associate superintendent, told the Associated Press. “Even if the state gives us more money, where will the teachers come from?”

    In keeping with America’s decentralized ethos, the Great Reopening will likely be highly regionalized. President Trump, in his three-phase plan to jump-start the economy, said that sending children back to school is a decision that will be largely left to governors. Already, that plan has sparked confusion: It calls for reopening schools but also maintaining physical distancing and banning groups of 50 or more. California Gov. Gavin Newsom stepped into the breach early, offering up ideas such as staggering school schedules, with some students arriving in the morning and the rest in the afternoon, while rethinking how to handle school mainstays like assemblies and gym. Most state leaders predict that they won’t be ready to move until at least the fall. But officials in two largely rural states — Idaho and Wyoming — have not ruled out opening classrooms this summer.

    Top stories

    Equity — Philly Students Without Internet Can Do Remote Learning in Parking Lots, District Says (Read at Billy Penn)

    Teen Jobs — Children Take to the Fields Following School Closures (Read at Idaho News)

    Unions — Online School Demands More of Teachers. Unions Are Pushing Back (Read at The New York Times)

    Pensions — Report: Teacher Pension Debt Is ‘Crowding Out’ Funding for Education (Read at Education Dive)

    Mental Health — Distanced by Pandemic, School Psychologists Improvise Ways to Connect With Struggling Students (Read at

    ‘Social distance’ learning

    Technology Shortage Hits Schools: As Remote Learning Jolts Demand for Chromebooks and iPads, Districts Warn Communities’ Needed Supplies Could Take Months (Read at

    Most Illinois School Districts Did Not Have Approved E-learning Plans Before the Pandemic (Read at ProPublica)

    Over a Million California Students Still Lack Access to Remote Learning (Read at Calmatters)

    Analysis: A Month In, Districts and Charters Make Progress on Online Instruction and Monitoring Student Progress, Lag in Grading and Attendance (Read at

    Teachers Need Lots of Training to Do Online Learning Well. Coronavirus Closures Gave Many Just Days (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    Parents and families

    What Will Summer in NYC Look Like for Kids? Camps, Pools, and other Programs Face Cuts (Read at Chalkbeat)

    School Counselors Have a Message for Kids: ‘It’s OK to Not Be OK’ (Read at NPR Illinois)

    New York Parents Are Stressed Out About Their Children Falling Behind, Survey Finds (Read at Lohud)


    Denied a Diploma, April Dunn Made Sure Other Students With Disabilities Had Options. She Died of COVID-19. (Read at The Washington Post)

    ‘An Unknown They’ve Never Experienced Before’: As Coronavirus Death Toll Grows Among NYC Teachers and Staff, Union Support Team Ramps Up Its Efforts (Read at

    See How Videos Are Bridging the Divide Between Students and Teachers (Read at Connecticut Insider)

    Teach New Content or Review Familiar Material? A Tough Call During Coronavirus Closures (Read at Ed Week)

    Unable to Complete Student Teaching Requirements, Prospective Teachers May Soon Get Reprieve (Read at Ed Source)

    Special education

    Some Kids With Disabilities Can’t Learn at Home. Parents and Advocates Want to Know: What’s the Plan? (Read at The Connecticut Mirror)

    California Should Push Harder for Special Education During School Closures, Disability Rights Groups Say (Read at EdSource)

    Equity and activism

    Many Trans Students Have Been Forced to Hide Their True Selves Because of College Closures (Read at Buzzfeed)

    For Homeless Students, School Provided More Than an Education. Here’s How They Are Coping Now (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Schools Transform Into ‘Relief’ Kitchens, but Federal Aid Fails to Keep Up (Read at The New York Times)

    For NYC Students Learning English, Remote Learning Can Come With Steep Barriers (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Homeless Families Face High Hurdles Homeschooling Their Kids (Read at NPR Illinois)

    Essays and reflections

    The Risks of Homeschooling (Read at Harvard Magazine)

    Forced to Throw Out Their Old College Admissions Standards, Higher Ed Institutions Should Seize on the Crisis to Create Better Ones for the Future (Read at

    Taking Attendance During Coronavirus Closures: Is It Even Worth It? (Read at EdWeek)

    Student Voice: Two Weeks, Five Siblings and One Working Laptop. How I Navigated the Nation’s Largest School System in Search of an iPad and What It Taught Me About America’s Digital Divide (Read at

    Hey FCC, Step Up and Make Sure Internet Reaches the Families Who Need It Most (Read at Education Post)


    “It is so nice to see my best friend again!” —Maja Petersen, a 7-year-old first-grader, on schools opening in Denmark. (Read at The New York Times)

    “There’s a lot of fear now of a different type of unknown, an unknown that they’ve never experienced before.” —Tina Puccio, director of the United Federation of Teachers’ Member Assistance Program in New York City, where more than 60 school teachers and staff have died from the coronavirus. (Read at

    “It almost shows a disregard for the safety of kids, because what seems to be the most important element here is that schools be open to serve their child care function, so that parents can get back to work.” —Dan Domenech, executive director for the American Association of School Administrators, on President Trump’s plan to restart the economy. (Read at USA Today)

    “Everybody says we hope we return to normal. It’s not going to return to normal anytime soon because the new normal is going to be different.” —Robert Hull, president and chief executive of the National Association of State Boards of Education. (Read at The Associated Press)

    “Isolation has been really hard for me. It feels like many things that gave me joy are now gone.” —Jada Bromberg, 16 and a sophomore at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. (Read at


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Coronavirus Could Deliver Disastrous Setback to Public Pre-K, Study Warns

    By Kevin Mahnken | April 22, 2020

    As the economic damage wreaked by coronavirus becomes more severe, prominent advocates for early childhood education are urging the federal government to send more funding to state pre-K programs. Unless national assistance is equal to the economic and medical threats posed by COVID-19, they say, the damage to young children could be lasting.

    The warning is embedded in a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research, released today. The research and policy group, operating within Rutgers University since its founding in 2002, offers widely circulated analyses aimed at improving early childhood initiatives around the United States. Its annual State of Preschool dispatches include state-by-state profiles of publicly funded pre-K programs, along with recommendations for heightening quality and expanding access.

    This year’s State of Preschool, measuring developments in the 2018-19 school year, comes at a time when thousands of public and private pre-K and day care programs have been shuttered thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. As state and local tax budgets are battered by the collapse of income and sales tax revenues, and as demand for public assistance like unemployment insurance grows exponentially, some worry that cuts to state-funded pre-K will inevitably follow.


    What the Great Recession Tells Us About the Pandemic Downturn to Come: Expect Declining Student Performance, Widening Achievement Gaps

    Rutgers economist Steven Barnett, a founder and co-director of NIEER, told reporters on a media call that state policymakers must heed the lessons of the Great Recession, when abrupt fiscal shortfalls led many states to slash funding to public education at all levels. Some had only begun to emerge from their periods of austerity when COVID made its presence felt.

    “We know that in the last recession, enrollment, spending and quality standards were cut, and that spending impacts continued well after the economic recovery was underway,” Barnett said. “In fact, the impact of those cuts continues: Pre-K’s long-term growth rate remains lower than before the Great Recession, and some standards reductions have not been fully reversed.”

    Forty-four states and the District of Columbia maintain public pre-K initiatives that enroll some 34 percent of all American 4-year-olds, though the programs vary greatly in eligibility and funding. Ten different jurisdictions — including big states like Texas, New York and Florida — provide publicly subsidized preschool to at least 49 percent of their 4-year-olds, with Washington, D.C., topping the list at 87 percent. Another nine states serve at least 10 percent of their 3-year-olds with public pre-K.

    But access continues to thwart even well-intentioned and generously funded programs. According to the report, roughly 2 in 5 children from families making less than $10,000 per year do not attend any center-based preschool before kindergarten, though they are all eligible to participate in the federal Head Start program.

    Quality is a problem as well: Almost 40 percent of all public preschool students are enrolled in states (Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Alaska and Washington, D.C.) whose programs met fewer than half of NIEER’s quality benchmarks around curriculum, professional development and early learning standards.

    “Pre-K needs to grow and improve, not just hold on,” Barnett observed. “It’s not like K-12, a mature program where every child is entitled to go … When pre-K quality is low, it’s not because agencies and programs don’t want to do better; most are doing the best they can with what they have, but that’s already too little, and our data make that clear.”

    Those issues could be exacerbated by a prolonged recession that closes thousands of pre-K programs nationally. Already, reports have surfaced of respected pre-K providers struggling to make ends meet and avoid laying off longtime educators as their incomes shrink during the COVID shutdown. While some states have allowed preschools to remain open throughout the crisis, many have elected to shut their doors out of fear of the disease’s rapid spread.

    To combat the possibility of a long-term shrinkage in the early education sector, the NIEER report recommends that Congress provide states with dedicated funding and stepped-up federal-state coordination as the shutdown continues; that state preschool programs build out new policies to rapidly provide emergency education services, particularly to low-income students; and that each state proactively develop realistic game plans to expand pre-K to include all children.

    While K-12 school systems have adopted virtual learning out of necessity during the past month of coronavirus shutdowns, Barnett warned that younger children are more likely to flounder in the absence of personal contact with their teachers.

    “Technology is one important tool for early education, but computer programs are not a substitute for real preschool any more than the wooden puppet Pinocchio was a real boy. Young children learn best through hands-on activities engaged with adults and other children. We need to figure out how to make that happen, even with remote preschool.”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • As Impacts From the Coronavirus Shutdown Multiply, State & District School Chiefs Demand Boost to ‘Woefully Insufficient’ Federal Funds

    By Zoë Kirsch | April 21, 2020

    As educators around the country continue trying to keep students engaged during the coronavirus shutdown while also bracing for what could be the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, 29 state education commissioners and district superintendents have a message for federal officials: Schools need more support.

    The group — eight state education commissioners and 21 district superintendents — comprise Chiefs for Change, an education reform advocacy organization that, since its inception, has shifted its agenda from promoting Common Core standards to focusing on big urban school districts. Its constituency includes the superintendents of Chicago Public Schools, the Philadelphia School District and New Orleans Public Schools.


    74 Interview: Pulling All the Levers — Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson on Getting More Students to and Through College

    Last week, Chiefs for Change published “Schools and COVID-19,” a document that makes some pointed requests of the federal government while also spotlighting the ways that some of its members are helping local communities.

    In Guilford County, North Carolina, for instance, where 22 percent of families fall below the poverty line, Superintendent Sharon Contreras has turned 75 school buses into hotspots for kids who don’t have internet access at home. In Washington, D.C., Superintendent Hanseul Kang has opened six emergency child care facilities for the families of hospital workers, and on the other side of the country, in the state of Washington, the Highline school district outside of Seattle has given 10,000 devices to students who need them.

    But significant challenges still remain for school leaders moving forward, and Chiefs for Change says the federal government should step up.

    “[They] must give districts the financial resources and regulatory clarity to get through the months and years ahead,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools. “We need much more help.”

    For starters, the report points out that the $13.5 billion allocated to K-12 schools in the recently enacted stimulus package is paltry compared with the $80 billion doled out in the 2009 stimulus package after the Great Recession. The help being given by federal officials today is “woefully insufficient,” the authors write, adding that it’s “not nearly enough to meet the extraordinary needs of schools, students, and families struggling to cope with the wide-ranging effects of COVID-19.”


    What the Great Recession Tells Us About the Pandemic Downturn to Come: Expect Declining Student Performance, Widening Achievement Gaps

    The request follows on the heels of an April 6 letter sent from a dozen other education groups, including two national teachers unions, to congressional leaders requesting $200 billion for schools to help manage the coronavirus. State revenues supporting schools are expected to plummet due to the economic collapse; on Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that state funding for schools could be cut in half.

    The report also asks the FCC to pressure telecommunications companies to commit to suspending policies requiring that families pay off outstanding balances prior to restoring the internet services children need to learn remotely. Chiefs for Change CEO Michael Magee addressed a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai — and another to telecoms companies — in March requesting as much, and he raised the issue on an end-of-month call with Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the leaders of other education groups.

    “Many families can’t take advantage of free Wi-Fi programs being offered because they have old, outstanding balances on accounts, which are prohibiting them from signing up,” Magee said. “Enormous numbers of low-income families are affected. That’s a policy that the FCC could waive now.”


    Laurens: 12 Million Kids Lack Internet Access. Now Is the Time for the Government to Step In and Close the Digital Divide

    Chiefs for Change hasn’t received responses from anyone at the federal level — not about the funding, not about the telecoms policies — but as time passes, and educators start turning their attention toward plans for next year, the need for more federal support will only grow, according to Magee.

    “Depending on the guidelines issued by states and the CDC, districts might have to dramatically reconfigure school buildings,” he said, referring to rules about social distancing between students. “That cost is unclear.”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Must-See: 20 Inspiring Chalk Creations to Emerge From 2020’s #ChalkYourWalk, the Viral Campaign That’s Giving Students a Colorful Escape During the Pandemic

    By Meghan Gallagher | April 20, 2020

    Fun, creative and inspiring for teachers, students and parents alike, #ChalkYourWalk is the colorful social media trend that’s spreading positivity — and a good dose of community pride — via neighborhood sidewalks. You can read more about the initiative from reporter Debra West — and also enjoy this coast-to-coast highlight reel assembled by video director James Fields:

    In search of a little uplifting art, we took a spin through Twitter and Instagram ourselves over the past week. Below, an unforgettable gallery of brightness and positivity that offers a brief respite from the grim daily headlines — from artistic masterpieces to hilarious jokes, surprising math problems and memorable messages of perseverance:

    Dana Bennett-Tejes (@BennettTejes / Twitter)

    MyKidsFoodAllergies (@kidsfoodallerg / Twitter)

    Montour School District teacher Sarah Brallier, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania (@MSDHearing / Twitter)

    Arlie Cooper, science teacher at Richmond Hill High School, Richmond Hill, Georgia (@arliecooper2 / Twitter)

    Ms. Tran, teacher at Conrad Schools of Science, New Castle County, Delaware (@tran_science / Twitter)

    Jazmin Hubbard (mrsjhubbard / Instagram)

    Rucker Elementary teacher Cindy Parker, Houston, Texas (@parkpete8 / Twitter)

    Nichole, a middle school math teacher, Tracy, California (@iTEACHiLEARN / Twitter)

    Art teacher Sara Ketron, Dublin, Ohio (@SarahKetron1 / Twitter)

    Dina Brady (@ThisIsDinaBrady / Twitter)

    Rosenthal Montessori, Alexandria, Louisiana (@RosenthalRPSB / Twitter)

    Corvian Community School, Charlotte, North Carolina (corviancommunityschool / Instagram)

    2829royalo / Instagram

    Wake Forest, North Carolina (@WakeForest_NC / Twitter)

    Wake Forest, North Carolina (@WakeForest_NC / Twitter)

    Mrs. Krupp, Bowling Green, Ohio (teenteacherla / Instagram)

    Wake Forest, North Carolina (@WakeForest_NC / Twitter)

    Locust Point Families, Baltimore, Maryland (locustpointfamilies / Instagram)

    Daniel Baldassi, Seekonk, Massachusetts (@dmb1077 / Twitter)

    Daniel Baldassi, Seekonk, Massachusetts (@dmb1077 / Twitter)

  • WATCH: As Livestreams Bring Nature to New Homeschoolers, Here Are 5 Bird Cams Worth Bookmarking to Bring a Little Wildlife to Your Weekday

    By Meghan Gallagher | April 16, 2020

    With school buildings closed for the foreseeable future, many families are seeking new activities that align learning with social distancing. Fortunately, we can still connect with — and learn from — the great outdoors even as we quarantine.

    As spring blossoms across the nation, so does a therapeutic activity: bird-watching. Online resources like Audubon and’s live bird cams offer cultivated activities and information to guide bird studies for streamers of every age. The two groups also provide round-the-clock live feeds of birds in their natural habitats.

    We’ve clicked through the different cams and found five unique options to pair with your daily remote studies:

    Mondays: Feasting Tropical Birds

    Begin the week with the tropical birds in Panama; additional information about the weather and the locale are also provided, so viewers know exactly what they’re looking at:

    Tuesdays: Nesting in Montana

    Birds are everywhere, so everyone can take up bird-watching. City dwellers: Audubon has you covered with plenty to learn about pigeons. But live cams are all over the map, so if it’s wide open spaces and frosted mountain caps you’re dreaming of, tune in to observe this osprey nest in Charlo, Montana:

    Wednesdays: The Alligator Swamps of Florida

    Meanwhile, in Florida, meet the roseate spoonbills and their version of a guard dog through a cam overlooking the swamp at the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida. Here you can see the sunbathing gators that keep the spoonbills — and the occasional heron and stork that stop by — safe from their predators:

    Thursdays: The Cranes of Africa

    Log on early and globe-trot to South Africa, where you can see docile, long-legged cranes and herons coexist with everything from hippos to giraffes:

    Fridays: Daydreaming on a Pacific Island

    Spin the globe, and end your school week at a cave’s edge on California’s remote Anacapa Island in the Pacific Ocean. You can try to spy a family of peregrine falcons in the Channel Islands — or any of the other animals or plants, of which 145 are found nowhere else on Earth:

    Other Environmental Resources

    Audubon’s hub for students, Audubon for Kids, aims to “bring together activities from across their national network of environmental educators, including the classroom curriculum Audubon Adventures, plus related DIY activities and content from Audubon’s editors.” They have introduced weekly lessons (there are currently two: Getting to Know Birds and All About Owls, with Migration coming soon), complete with games, crafts and quizzes. You can also download and print the Audubon adventures here.

    Audubon recommends picking a bird that lives near you each week and recording them by drawing and coloring a picture of the bird on a piece of paper. (

    … And Don’t Forget Art Class

    Another option for getting to know birds — while remaining indoors — is drawing them. David Sibley starts with the basics in this step-by-step how-to, bringing a black-capped chickadee to life in under five minutes.

    The student artist can then find their bird subject in Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds, where you can hear their calls and learn everything from diets to nesting. Or, to take it to the next level, try to find them alfresco.

    If you need to tune everything else out, these sites have a lot worth tuning in to. Visit them for videos, crafts and knowledge that can enrich a basic science curriculum — or, at the very least, provide some additional serenity.


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • More Than Half of Students Are Not Tuning In to Online Classes, Informal Teacher Survey Shows

    By Laura Fay | April 16, 2020

    As remote learning ramps up and more states announce that school closures will last through the end of the academic year, a new teacher survey suggests that many students are still missing from their virtual classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Fifty-five percent of teachers said more than half of their students have not been tuning in to remote classes in the informal survey conducted by the social media app Fishbowl.

    From April 6 through April 9, the app asked teachers, “How many of your students are attending your remote classes?” Educators could choose from four responses: 0-25 percent, 26-50 percent, 51-75 percent, or more than 75 percent.

    Of the 5,659 who responded, 35 percent said the attendance rate was 25 percent or less, while just 17 percent reported that at least 75 percent of students were attending class. The survey is not scientific, and not much information is available about where the teachers work. Fishbowl said nearly 97 percent of the self-selecting respondents teach in district schools.


    The Fishbowl team created the poll after seeing that educators using the app were discussing obstacles related to student engagement, including lack of technology and the hurdles faced by working parents, spokesperson Becky Graham told The 74.

    “It really was just based upon some of the conversations that were happening on the platform and some of the challenges we were witnessing [teachers] dealing with firsthand,” she said.


    Student Voice: Two Weeks, Five Siblings and One Working Laptop. How I Navigated the Nation’s Largest School System in Search of an iPad and What It Taught Me About America’s Digital Divide

    Fishbowl is an app-based social network that allows people to anonymously discuss their workplace with others from their industry or company. The app first opened in 2017 to consultants and later allowed people who work in select fields, including education in 2019, to join, according to the magazine Ad Age. The app verifies that users work in a certain field before they are added to its discussion page, which is called a bowl. Graham said tens of thousands of teachers use the app.

    With more than 55 million students out of class, many for the remainder of the academic year, schools and districts across the country have taken a range of approaches to distance learning, with some teachers offering real-time lessons via video platforms like Zoom and others simply handing out paper packets for kids to complete. About 70 percent of schools had a plan in place for remote learning as of April 7, according to data collected by the American Enterprise Institute. How districts track attendance also differs, with some looking for students to sign in to a learning management platform each weekday and others relying on teachers to reach students by phone regularly.


    Analysis: A Month In, Districts and Charters Make Progress on Online Instruction and Monitoring Student Progress, Lag in Grading and Attendance

    A number of issues can disconnect students from school, from homelessness to a lack of internet service or not having enough devices for every child in a family. Moreover, chronic absenteeism — missing a significant portion of the school year — is an issue even when traditional classes are in session, with millions of kids frequently missing school every year.

    Research indicates that frequent absences are associated with lower test scores and increased risk of dropping out of school. Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who studies student attendance and graduation patterns, said he has two levels of concern about students who are not engaged with remote learning. First, those students are missing out on learning opportunities and may fall behind academically. Second, they’re losing their connection to school, which could make it harder to get them to re-engage next year.

    “There’s sort of a double hit,” Balfanz told The 74. If students are losing both learning time and their relationship with the school community, the two will reinforce each other next year, causing those students to struggle more and, if they are older, putting them at risk for dropping out. To improve attendance, Balfanz said educators should try to keep the nonacademic parts of school going, such as by having clubs continue to stay connected or asking students to work on projects together outside of their regular lessons.

    “We’re already hearing a lot that kids can only be online learning for so many hours of the day, but there’s a lot of other hours in the day,” he said.

    Of the nine states where at least 100 teachers responded to the Fishbowl survey, Michigan had the lowest reported attendance, with nearly 62 percent of teachers saying their attendance rate was 25 percent or less. New Jersey educators reported the highest student participation among that group, with two-thirds of teachers saying that more than half of their students were logging on.

    New York, which includes New York City, America’s largest district, with 1.1 million students, was in the middle of the pack, with about 43 percent of teachers reporting that more than half of their students were attending remote classes. Other states that had at least 100 teachers responding were California, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.

    Education Week posed a similar question to teachers April 7 and 8, asking, “What percentage of your students are essentially ‘truant’ during coronavirus closures?” Public school educators reported that an average of 22 percent of students were missing class; those in schools with more students from low-income backgrounds said they were seeing higher absence rates.


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Announcing the Coronavirus Education News Initiative: From Remote Learning to Fears About a “COVID Slide,” Why We’re Going Local in Our Coverage of the COVID-19 School Crisis

    By Steve Snyder | April 16, 2020

    A once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis has led to unprecedented closures of the nation’s schools and a tidal wave of concerns surrounding remote teaching, equitable access to course materials, a lost semester of learning and student data, and what could happen if the coronavirus pandemic interrupts yet another school year come autumn.

    Here at The 74, we’ve spent the past month processing the chaos being wrought on school communities from coast to coast as students have been dispersed, educators have scrambled to reconceive classrooms and advocates have raised urgent concerns surrounding issues of equity, inclusion, curriculum, safety and standards. We’ve so far published more than 50 interviews, articles, testimonials and essays in our growing Coronavirus Series (you can be among the first to see our latest coverage by signing up for the 74 Newsletter). Our two most widely shared articles from this opening chapter: a profile of students with special needs now facing confusion and uncertainty amid the pandemic, and an urgent warning from education researchers about a possible “COVID slide” that could impact students for years to come.

    Today, we’re announcing the creation of a local news initiative to complement and expand upon this national coverage, complete with a new coronavirus vertical that will launch next month at To assist with this project, we are hiring a team of crisis correspondents who will offer city-by-city snapshots of how the pandemic is impacting key municipalities, responses from surrounding school systems, innovations being developed and what it all means for the students and families at the center of it all. The new effort will be overseen by Senior Editor Emmeline Zhao and will continue into 2021.

    One key coverage area already identified for the initiative will be the District of Columbia and surrounding metro areas — from Prince George’s County, Maryland, to Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Other geographies will be announced in the coming weeks. (Want to work with us? See both our senior editor and reporting job listings.)

    We’re also continuing to source story ideas, opinion articles and first-person testimonials at our new pandemic email address, Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to write in with your thoughts, discoveries, fears and reflections. With the imminent launch of our new team and vertical, we’ll be able to pursue more of your tips, leads and thoughts. Please keep the messages coming; we check the inbox every day.

    Refresh this page, or follow us on Twitter @The74, for further updates on the initiative. For those who haven’t had time to follow our mounting COVID-19 coverage, here’s a handful of our most widely circulated links from the past few weeks:

    Education Funding: What the Great Recession tells us about the pandemic downturn to come — Expect declining student performance, widening achievement gaps (Read the full article)

    Classroom Innovation: How 18 top charter school networks are adapting to online education, and what other schools can learn from them (Read the full analysis)

    Undocumented Families: For undocumented students, coronavirus pandemic brings learning disruptions — and economic panic — with few avenues for help (Read the full report)

    The Gap-Year Generation?: Why 2 college access & persistence counselors say they hope the Class of 2020 doesn’t delay their plans (Read the full article)

    Families: When siblings become teachers — It’s not just parents who find themselves thrust into the demanding role of at-home educators (Read the profiles)

    A Student’s Perspective: We may joke about ‘the Rona’ and virtual graduation, but deep down, we’re scared. Here’s how I learned to manage anxiety in the time of COVID-19 (Read the full essay)

    Distance Teaching: ‘We’re doing school in a different way’ — How one nonprofit took the early lead in preparing districts for distance learning (Read the full article)

    Equity: Today’s crisis could transform education to create a more equitable, student-centered system for tomorrow (Read the full essay)

    Bookmark Our Coverage: Read our latest scoops, interviews, analyses and essays at


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • ‘We’re Doing School in a Different Way’: One Nonprofit Took Early Lead in Preparing Districts for Distance Learning During Pandemic

    By Laura Fay | April 16, 2020

    When she read in late February that the coronavirus could infect as many as 70 percent of Americans, Emily Freitag was “primed” to prepare for its effect on schools. She grew up near New Rochelle, New York, one of the first U.S. hot spots of the virus, and her husband, who analyzes international hotel data, saw the effects of the looming pandemic early.

    Freitag is a cofounder and CEO of Instruction Partners, a nonprofit that works with 106 school systems around the country to ensure “equitable access to great instruction for students in poverty, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.” Under normal circumstances, the organization helps small school systems, where teachers and staff are often stretched thin, deal with what the organization calls “the unglamorous stuff that is often overlooked” — coaching models, curriculum design and professional development.

    Back in February, Freitag remembers thinking, “If this [pandemic] actually happens, this is just going to be so seismic for schools.”

    Freitag and her team began preparing their response Feb. 27, starting with a blog post with guidance for school leaders bracing for school closures. 

    “It is time for schools to seriously think about their learning resiliency plans to guarantee that illness closures do not prevent them from fulfilling the mission of advancing student learning,” Freitag wrote.

    In the following days, Instruction Partners created a COVID-19 Resource Hub on its website that offers guidance on best practices for transitioning to distance learning and specific resources for schools to use when teaching students. Instruction Partners is updating and adding to the hub as districts experiment with distance learning.


    Helping Small Districts Tackle Big Changes, Instruction Partners Focuses on the ‘Unglamorous’ Basics of Teaching and Learning

    Since then, 47 states have shut down all public schools, leaving more than 55 million students out of class, according to a rolling count by Education Week. For many educators, the first step was to make sure students were safe and had access to food. Meanwhile, Instruction Partners was working to make sure schools would have relevant resources for remote learning available when they were ready to focus on academics. Some districts launched online learning programs right away, while others took a week or longer to make plans. 

    To help districts plot a path forward, the organization created a “school hierarchy of needs” that ranges from getting organized and making a plan for distributing student meals to helping students learn from home and planning for regular school to begin again. 

    See a more detailed version. (Instruction Partners)

    Here are some of Freitag’s tips for educators trying to make distance learning work during the pandemic:

    • Make sure every student has a point of contact — a go-to adult who can act as a “virtual homeroom teacher” — and try to keep caseloads for those adults as small as possible.
    • Establish a system of daily communication between students and teachers. 
    • Create weekly routines for teachers, who might be working remotely for the first time
    • Send the message “We’re doing school in a different way” rather than “School is closed.”
    • If you have devices at school, get them home to students who need them to access online learning.
    • Take it one week at a time: Plan for one week, then readjust for the next week.
    • Design solutions for the most vulnerable students, such as those in special education, first — and then apply them to all students.
    • Project calm and be solutions-oriented. Focus on health, safety, wellness and learning for all students.

    Freitag said there are three general ways school systems are doing distance learning: digital, analog and hybrid. The digital model, which is likely most common in high school and in classes where all students already had their own devices, resembles an online course in which students log in to digital classes and receive and submit assignments through an internet learning platform. Some school systems might choose to go analog, relying on hard-copy packets and textbooks, with teachers making regular phone calls to check in on students and collecting all the work when school reopens. Finally, a hybrid model combines the two, perhaps with teachers holding class on a video platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts and students submitting work using a range of tools from Google Docs to text messages. 

    The hub includes various resources, including templates for meeting notes for educators gathering — virtually or in person — to plan for distance learning, sample student schedules for specific grade levels for each type of distance learning, and a template for educators to use to evaluate online lessons and worksheets. The hub also links to specific ready-to-use resources, such as Curriculum Associates, which offers free printable math and reading worksheets for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. 

    The support from Instruction Partners proved valuable for Allison Leslie, chief academic officer at Compass Community Schools, a charter network in Memphis, Tennessee. Leslie, whose school system has been an Instruction Partners client since it opened last year, first spoke with Freitag about potential closures March 11 and has used the Resource Hub to guide the network’s response to school closures. 

    Instruction Partners “really anticipated this in a great way and put together lots of tools and resources that we pulled from the website,” she said. Additionally, Instruction Partners helped network leaders plan professional development sessions about remote teaching and choose which of their existing resources they should use.

    Like many educators and leaders, Freitag is worried about learning loss among those who are already vulnerable, particularly students with disabilities. Many parents and educators are still figuring out how to meet these students’ needs, and the issue has become a barrier to distance learning in some places. For example, Philadelphia district officials worried that remote schooling might not be accessible for all students, so they instructed principals not to attempt it at all.

    “This is absolutely an urgent and significant threat for lots and lots of kids,” Freitag said. “I also believe educators are capable of doing a lot. And I think everyone is reeling right now, but I think if we take this one step at a time together we will find solutions.”

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York provide financial support to Instruction Partners and The 74


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Top Education Leaders Discuss How They’ve Navigated the Coronavirus So Far — and Why Schools Will Never Be the Same

    By Mark Keierleber | April 13, 2020

    When federal lawmakers recently agreed to pump billions of dollars into America’s schools, Daniel Domenech was disappointed. Given the widespread disruptions to schools as they closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic — pivoting to online learning while offering additional supports like free meals — top education leaders say schools need at least 10 times as much funding as they’ve been given.

    Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said schools will need more than $200 billion, a significant hike from the $13.5 billion lawmakers earmarked for schools last month. In a letter earlier this month, AASA and 11 other national education groups called on federal lawmakers to invest in a significant increase in schools, including at least $175 billion in emergency funding to states to stabilize their K-12 education budgets.

    “That’s the amount of money that schools are going to need as we go forward into next school year to deal with the many cost factors that have emerged,” from cleaning schools to buying new technology for the transition to online learning, Domenech said Thursday on a webinar hosted by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners. On the webinar, Domenech and other top education leaders discussed how schools have handled the virus-induced disruptions up to this point — and predicted they may never be the same.

    Under the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus law passed last month, districts can use the funds to transition to online learning and to bolster special education and mental health services. The package included an additional $3 billion for governors to distribute to K-12 schools and colleges.

    During the Bellwether event, Domenech pleaded with lawmakers to fund school employee retention efforts and paid sick leave. He expressed concern about what would happen to employees who are not currently on the job if schools continue with online instruction into the next school year.

    “How do you continue to pay them?” he asked, noting that the last stimulus bill “completely overlooked the needs of government workers and school district employees.” While lawmakers are “taking care of the private sector in terms of allowances for pay and allowances for family leave,” he said, they “did nothing to deal with the needs of public school employees.”

    Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, offered a similar sentiment, though she described the current level of aid as “not insignificant.”

    “This last relief package was seen as a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding around industries that were suffering immediately,” she said. “The amount that we received was not as much as we should have received.”

    Despite what the leaders described as widespread financial need within the education community, school leaders across the country transitioned their approaches quickly during a moment of unprecedented uncertainty. But the shift exposed long-standing inequities, Domenech said. While most schools weren’t ready for the transition to online learning, districts in wealthier communities were better positioned than low-income systems.

    In Baltimore, district leaders moved quickly to address their “essential first steps,” including ensuring that students were fed, said Sonja Santelises, the district’s CEO. The Baltimore City Public Schools offers up to four free meals a day to students who need them. Then, the district sought to innovate. For example, when it came to distance learning, the district turned to public access television, where reading, math and science lessons are being broadcast for students in grades K-8.

    “We knew we could not only rely on Chromebooks,” she said. Because many children lack technology at home, she said, district leaders had to get creative. Some strategies, she said, have been “low-tech.” One high school teacher, for example, used the social media platform Instagram to connect with her students. “We’ve used some of those folks who are far more adept with technology, with connecting, to then help train their peers.”

    Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, also praised a lower-tech learning option: audiobooks. Though school leaders often turn to the “fancy, high-tech things,” she noted that online books are “incredibly cheap,” and free in some cases.

    “If there was only one thing I could do as a school leader — I couldn’t do anything other than one thing — it would be reading,” she said. “Listening to books, even if you cannot read, that has profound educational advantages.”

    School leaders predicted the coronavirus would leave a major footprint on America’s public education system. The nation’s experiment in online education will bring with it lessons that will likely carry into the future.

    “I think we’ve seen that online learning is the future,” Domenech said. “This is a time to move into the 21st century aggressively.”

    The pandemic also provides an opportunity for policymakers to address long-standing challenges in education. America’s school funding system — which relies heavily on local taxes — has long helped maintain educational inequities, he said. Addressing school funding inequities “needs to be addressed first and foremost,” he said.

    Disclosure: Andrew Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education Partners, serves on The 74’s Board of Directors. Campbell Brown, The 74’s co-founder, serves on the Success Academy Charter Schools Board of Trustees. The 74 and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools receive financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, the Walton Family Foundation and the William E. Simon Foundation. 


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • New Data: NYC Is the U.S. Coronavirus Epicenter, With Thousands of Confirmed Cases. But the School Districts in These 12 Counties Have Been Harder Hit

    By Mark Keierleber | April 9, 2020

    With more than 76,800 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City and more than 4,000 virus-related deaths as of Tuesday, America’s most populous city is considered the pandemic’s national epicenter.

    But while the virus has prompted widespread disruptions in the country’s largest school district, other districts have been harder hit on a per capita basis.

    In fact, 12 counties — home to 197 school districts — now have more cases per 100,000 residents than New York City. Through this lens, the 3,800-student school district in Blaine County, Idaho, has been more affected by the pandemic than any other public education system, according to a new data tool by EdBuild, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on school finance.

    In Blaine County, home to an estimated 22,500 residents in 2018, officials have confirmed 428 cases of the virus and four deaths as of Tuesday, affecting roughly 2 percent of the population. The surge in cases there has been attributed to area ski resorts that attract out-of-town visitors. Despite the area’s high infection rate, some state officials have offered a defiant response to the global threat, encouraging residents to push back against the governor’s stay-at-home order.

    On Monday, the Idaho State Board of Education voted to close school campuses through the end of the school year, though districts have adopted remote instruction. Previous state plans sought to reopen schools by April 20 — weeks or even months earlier than nearly every other state.

    To reach its findings, EdBuild researchers merged federal data on school district demographics with a tally of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths from The New York Times. The tool, which EdBuild researchers plan to update several times a week as the virus spreads nationally, includes data on school district funding, poverty rates and student racial demographics. That context could help policymakers and advocates “understand where communities are already at a disadvantage, where communities are already likely to struggle with a shock,” said Zahava Stadler, EdBuild’s policy director.

    The other regions with higher incidence rates than New York City — where the number sits at 931 cases per 100,000 people — include counties in Georgia, Louisiana and suburban New York.

    Counties with higher incidence rates than New York City include:

    • Rockland County, New York (8 school districts), with an incidence rate of 1,861 per 100,000 residents
    • Westchester County, New York (40 school districts), with an incidence rate of 1,564
    • Orleans Parish, Louisiana (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 1,302
    • Randolph County, Georgia (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 1,273
    • Nassau County, New York (56 school districts), with an incidence rate of 1,237
    • Dougherty County, Georgia (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 1,143
    • Terrell County, Georgia (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 1,107
    • Suffolk County, New York (68 school districts), with an incidence rate of 1,076
    • St John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 973
    • Orange County, New York (17 school districts), with an incidence rate of 970
    • Early County, Georgia (1 school district), with an incidence rate of 953

    The prevalence of cases in these states can be attributed to a number of factors. In the New York City area, researchers have tied cases primarily to travelers from Europe. In the New Orleans area, scientists say the prevalence of underlying medical conditions and high poverty may have contributed to the region’s outbreak. In rural Georgia, several funerals have been blamed for helping spread the virus.

    EdBuild released the tool — and an accompanying data set — to help education officials and advocates explore how the pandemic’s spread could affect schools in their vicinities, Stadler said. As local economies falter, she said, districts should brace for major disruptions in school funding. School districts in areas with high poverty rates that rely more heavily on state funding could be most affected, she said.

    “State revenues are going to just plummet in this crisis because income taxes and sales taxes are going to disappear,” she said, which will disproportionately affect lower-income communities. “They’re the ones that are going to struggle the most with the fallout.”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Coronavirus Must-Reads for Schools: Pandemic Attendance No-Shows Offer Glimpses of Children Left Behind; Keeping Students Fed and Parents Sane & More

    By Andrew Brownstein | April 8, 2020

    This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here

    Taking attendance is one of the more quotidian aspects of education, less remarked upon than perennial issues like yawning achievement gaps or the inability to read at grade level. But there’s an obvious causal relationship: Reading mastery can’t develop and gaps don’t shrink if students fail to show up. Long before the pandemic, experts deemed chronic absenteeism a crisis, with nearly 8 million K-12 students missing 15 or more days of school a year.

    That was before. Now, the blitzkrieg pace of the switch to remote learning brought about by COVID-19 has led to many more students dropping out, not tuning in. As families struggle with health and economic concerns, not to mention lack of Wi-Fi, some teachers are reporting that they can’t reach students by email or phone. Each failed connection is a story of learning lost. Keara Williams told the Los Angeles Times that two-thirds of the juniors in the Advanced Placement English class at her South L.A. high school had not responded to messages about assignments she’d sent three weeks prior — part of the 7 percent of students the district had not made contact with since schools there closed March 16. Patrick Hawkins, a special education teacher in Atlanta, told the Huffington Post that after three weeks, he still had not heard from two of his elementary students.

    In the world of attendance, those are the known unknowns, to paraphrase former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But some systems, like the District of Columbia Public Schools, have completely ceased taking public attendance, and in others, like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, remote learning is optional and teachers are therefore not required to check in with students. It goes without saying, but districts were unprepared to handle a disaster of this scale: American schools have lived through hurricanes and wildfires but nothing that encompassed the entire country or lasted so long. “It’s like a hurricane hit every district in America at the same time,” said Marc Porter Magee, president of the education advocacy group 50Can.

    For educators, it’s not too early to prepare for the effects of the cataclysm on the nation’s most vulnerable students. Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has already unveiled a controversial proposal to keep struggling students in their current grades once the pandemic ends. That could spark pushback from parents. A recent Gallup poll found that 48 percent of parents say that students who complete a formal distance learning program should advance to the next grade come fall, but roughly a quarter say that students should advance regardless. Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, told The New York Times that the dilemma of how to catch children up academically once the pandemic fades is “a serious issue that could have implications for years.” “Many skills build one on another,” he said. “If a child misses out on some key idea, then all of a sudden, additional ideas as they’re introduced just become Greek.”

    Top stories

    Immigrant Students — Miami-Dade Schools Got Ahead on Online Classes, but Immigrant Students Were Left Behind (Read at the Miami Herald)

    Student Meals — Free School Lunch Programs Forced to Choose: Fight Coronavirus or Students’ Hunger (Read at USA Today)

    Virtual Charters — Competitors or Collaborators: Some School Closure Orders Look to Restrict Virtual Charters to Protect Brick-and-Mortar Schools During Coronavirus Crisis (Read at

    Teacher Shortage — Coronavirus School Closures Push Out Student Teachers. Will US Teacher Shortage Get Worse? (Read at the Louisville Courier Journal)

    Undocumented Students — For Undocumented Students, Coronavirus Pandemic Brings Learning Disruptions — and Economic Panic — With Few Avenues for Help (Read at

    ‘Social distance’ learning

    Analysis: How 18 Top Charter School Networks Are Adapting to Online Education, and What Other Schools Can Learn From Them (Read at

    An Unexpected Tool for Remote Learning During Coronavirus: Public TV Stations (Read at Education Week)

    Now More Than Ever, Houston’s ‘Digital Divide’ Puts Children’s Education in Peril (Read at The Houston Chronicle)

    Being Kind Online Takes On New Urgency as Socially Isolated Kids and Teens Find It’s Their Only Destination (Read at

    Parents and families

    How NYC Parents Are Working to Keep Their Kids Socializing (Read at The City)

    Give Yourself ‘Grace’ — and 7 Other Tips From Teachers to Home-Schooling Families (Read at Chalkbeat)

    ‘Why Do I Want Digital Experiences for My Kids If It Looks Like This?’ — Experts Fear Parent Backlash Against Online Learning (Read at

    Child Care in a Locked-Down World (Read at EdSource)

    How Much Home Teaching Is Too Much? Schools Differ in Demands on Parents (Read at Education Week)


    Educators We’ve Lost to the Coronavirus (Read at Education Week)

    Teachers Should Seize This Moment to Connect With Their Students (Read at EdSource)

    COVID-19: Local Educators Miss Teaching Their Students While Schools Are Shut Down (Read at KHQA)

    How Schools Will Overcome the ‘Coronavirus Slide’: Ideas From 5 Superintendents (Read at Education Week)

    ‘A Tremendous Loss’: Brooklyn Third-Grade Teacher Dies From Coronavirus (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Special education

    DeVos Weighs Waiving Special Education. Parents Are Worried. (Read at The New York Times)

    ‘It’s Exhausting’: Illinois Special Needs Parents Struggle With Remote Learning Days (Read at Illinois Newsroom)

    How Children With Disabilities Are Getting Left Behind (Read at HuffPost)

    Disability Rights Groups, School Administrators Spar Over Possible Changes to Special Education Laws (Read at EdSource)

    Equity and activism

    Children May Miss Meals as School Food Service Workers Fall Ill (Read at NPR)

    For Schools, a New Challenge: How to Feed Students During Spring Break? (Read at The Washington Post)

    Essays and reflections

    It’s Hard to Teach Writing Online: A Veteran Educator’s Tips for Reaching Students Remotely (Read at The Atlantic)

    Pondiscio: At This Time of Crisis, Schools Are Improvising, Innovating and Scaling Good Ideas With Love, Loyalty & Care. These Days Will Shape Us Forever (Read at

    Oregon’s Coronavirus Education Lockdown: Teachers Unions Block Kids From Transferring to Virtual Charter Schools (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    The Dying Art of Instruction in the Digital Classroom (Read at The New York Review of Books)

    Bradford: $13B in Stimulus Money for K-12 Schools Is a Good Start. But All Types of Schools Will Need More Help From the Feds in Order to Reopen (Read at


    “It’s like a hurricane hit every district in America at the same time.” —Marc Porter Magee, president of the education advocacy group 50Can. (Read at the Huffington Post)

    “I actually need my teachers, who know me and understand me, to help me, and I don’t have that. I just keep thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I might not pass.’ I’m just really scared for the future.” —Titilayo Aluko, 18, a junior at Landmark High School in Manhattan. (Read at The New York Times)

    “I’d give it about a month.” —Miriam, an undocumented high school student in San Anonio, Texas, on the economic urgency facing her family during the pandemic. (Read at

    “I miss my kids. I miss them so much. I just want to … I want to help them. I want to teach them. I think I’m getting a little emotional. I wish I was in a class and I wish I had my whiteboard and my marker and I wish I had all of them in one room because it is not easy. OK, so. Whew, all right. Should we move on?” —Keara Williams, teacher at a South Los Angeles high school. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    “We’re built for challenging times. Children don’t have the words today to describe it, but the lessons of the pandemic will become clearer in the retelling. It’s about social cohesion, love and loyalty, and how good people step up when we need them to.” —Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (Read at


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Study: Career and Technical Education Yields Not Just Higher Earnings but Higher Test Scores

    By Kevin Mahnken | April 8, 2020

    Updated April 8

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    Enrolling in Connecticut’s technical high school system increases male students’ earnings by roughly one-third in the years immediately following high school, a study has found. Not only do the schools boost young men’s professional prospects, the study authors conclude, they have a substantial impact on their academic performance as well, suggesting that their early success could persist well into their careers. Somewhat mysteriously, female students do not realize the same educational or wage benefits.

    The impressive returns to technical education may help explain the sustained demand for trade and vocational schools even during a time when the rate of college enrollment for American students is steadily climbing. According to polling, most of the public agrees that apprenticeships and other workforce training programs provide students with the skills to attain a good standard of living, and some evidence indicates that both revenue and enrollment at postsecondary trade schools have risen significantly since the beginning of the Great Recession. At the same time, most states are dealing with a pronounced shortage of career and technical education (CTE) instructors in high schools.

    The study, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Connecticut, was circulated last year as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Center. It is a comparatively rare analysis of a statewide CTE program; much of the existing literature on the subject has focused on individual technical schools or programs.

    National data indicate that 90 percent of American students take at least one CTE class during high school, though a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute released this spring suggests that they are not always guided to courses that offer the greatest likelihood for future employment. Seeing the popularity of vocational education — and the benefits realized by those who earn industry-specific credentials in manufacturing or information technology — leaders of major school districts have recently expressed a willingness to expand CTE course offerings.


    One-on-One With Lewis Ferebee: New D.C. Schools Chancellor Talks About Why Districts Need to Expand Career & Technical Education for Enrollment, Enlistment, and Employment

    Connecticut’s own network of CTE-focused high schools, the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), consists of 16 schools enrolling roughly 11,000 students — more than 7 percent of the state’s total high school enrollment. The population of applicants to the schools is disproportionately male, low-income, and black or Hispanic. Some 31 percent of all CTHSS students come from Connecticut’s five poorest cities: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London and Waterbury.

    The schools are oversubscribed, and applicants are selected for seats based on a cutoff score that takes into account their eighth-grade standardized test scores as well as their grade point average and school attendance.

    To investigate the effects of the schools, the research team collected application data on approximately 57,000 eighth-graders who filed an application to at least one CTHSS school between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years. They then matched those applicants to their academic data, provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education, which offered a look into those students’ later test scores, attendance, high school graduation and college enrollment.

    Comparing students who narrowly made it into one of the high schools with those who were narrowly turned away, the researchers found significant academic and economic impacts from CTE. Male students who were accepted to one of the schools scored much higher on 10th-grade standardized tests than those who did not. They were also 10 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school (relative to a baseline graduation rate of 83 percent). Over a two-and-a-half-year period after their graduation from high school, their earnings were 31 percent higher, compared with a baseline quarterly income of roughly $6,000.

    In an interview with The 74, study co-author Stephen Ross, a professor of economics at UConn, called all the effects “really striking” but focused particularly on the boost to test scores.

    “That improvement means you can take a kid who has a certain set of interests and get them into a school that’s going to fulfill those interests,” he said. “And the increased academic engagement that’s created because of those interests means that they’re not just going to do better at becoming a plumber or becoming an HVAC specialist, but they’re also going to accumulate the general skills that people need to succeed in the labor market in the long run. That’s really, really important, and not something that’s captured in many CTE studies.”

    The study leaves unanswered the question of why men, but not women, enjoy substantial positive effects from career training. Though the researchers offer no explanations, a hint may lie in the varying CTE disciplines preferred by boys versus girls: Female CTHSS students often selected programs focused on guest services, early childhood care and cosmetology, while males favored specialties like plumbing, HVAC and welding — which could lead them to excel in those highly skilled, and highly compensated, specializations.

    Although the sample of male students was measured as 8 percent less likely to enroll in a four-year college than those who did not attend a CTE high school, Ross said that the effects faded over time, such that the oldest former CTE students were no less likely to have attended college than their non-CTE peers. Meanwhile, he said, the future life prospects for high-earning, high-scoring young men with technical high school diplomas offered much to be optimistic about.

    “The bottom line is that this population has higher cognitive skills, has higher graduation rates, and at least in the medium term — looking at these people in their mid-20s — it’s starting to look like there’s no college deficit whatsoever in comparing them with the people who didn’t get into the system. So that suggests pretty strongly that a lot of these earnings effects might persist over time.”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Putting Rivalries Aside, Media, Education and Tech Giants Come Together to Offer Free Lessons, Activities During Pandemic — All in One Curated Place

    By Laura Fay | April 5, 2020

    Under normal circumstances, companies like Time for Kids, Scholastic and Khan Academy are competitors; after all, each provides educational content, and teachers can bring only so many apps and websites into the classroom.

    But these are not normal circumstances.

    So instead, those big names and many others across education, technology and media came together over the past two weeks to create a free, one-stop-shop site for education resources for K-12 students, teachers and parents.

    Launched last week, was created by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit known for rating education and entertainment content based on its suitability for kids, with help from dozens of partners. The site brings together content from a diverse group of companies to help students, teachers and families find free, reliable resources while school buildings are shuttered.

    On the site, students will see an interactive daily schedule customized to their age range, a list of live virtual events like story times and concerts, and links to materials for every school subject, all available for free and vetted for quality by Common Sense. The suggested schedule is updated daily with new activities and lessons, and the developers will continue to add to the site as they discover more content and new partners join the project. Some materials are also available in Spanish, and organizers said they are working to add more non-English resources.

    Wide Open School also links to resources for finding affordable devices, internet service and food. For teachers, there is information about using Apple, Google, Zoom and other tools with students as well as free content for everything from math and reading to social-emotional learning and physical education.

    A team at Common Sense started reaching out to some of the biggest names in education in mid-March. More than 25 organizations are participating so far, and more were reaching out to sign on after the site launched, said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.

    “Everyone has agreed to participate. Even if they’re, in many cases, big competitors with each other,” Steyer told The 74. “But they all agreed to play ball. … They saw the magnitude of the crisis and the magnitude of the problems facing particularly low-income families and schools … that don’t have the same resources to do the distance learning and to do schooling from home.”

    More than 55 million students are out of class because of the coronavirus pandemic, and at least nine states have said schools will remain closed for the remainder of this school year, according to a running tally by Education Week. Some districts have already implemented robust plans for continuing to teach students from a distance, while others are not offering any academic instruction. Many advocates are concerned that the closures will exacerbate education gaps, especially for already vulnerable students.


    Reaching ‘Our Most Invisible Population’ During a Pandemic: How Schools Are Scrambling to Protect Homeless Students as Coronavirus Disrupts Lives

    Common Sense is curating the content and working with tech companies, such as Zoom, Google and Apple, to make sure families and teachers are aware of and have access to the resources. Organizations with direct ties to school communities, including the American Federation of Teachers (one of the nation’s largest teachers unions), Head Start and the Boys and Girls Club, have also signed on to help.

    Millions of students in both urban and rural communities still lack internet service, which is a barrier to online education efforts like Wide Open School. In addition to sharing resources that can be used offline — such as packets that districts can print and distribute — the site and most of its partner sites are accessible on cell phones, which many families have even if they don’t have broadband at home. Additionally, as part of the initiative, the Southern Education Foundation will document the transition to online learning in a few districts in the South to see what inequities and solutions emerge.

    Amplify, a company that provides K-8 English language arts and science curricula and supplemental resources for teaching reading, built the site and has made most of its content free, both through Wide Open School and via its own site.

    Part of the motivation for creating the platform was just getting materials organized so teachers and families could find them, said Amplify CEO Larry Berger. Companies from National Geographic to Khan Academy to public television stations were promoting their online lessons, activities and videos in an effort to help teachers, students and families — but they were overloading people’s inboxes at an already chaotic time, Berger said.


    How Khan Academy Used a Successful Experiment With California’s Long Beach Unified to Launch District Partnerships Across the Country

    Additionally, having so many major players working together could help shine a light on what’s still needed and give them a chance to step up and solve the problems. Other organizations, including the Center for Education Reform and ISTE, are also curating resources on their own sites to help families and educators.

    “America needs some signs of everyone coming together to do something great. And I think this is not the only one of those happening right now, but it is one of them,” Berger told The 74. “Moments like this can fragment [people] politically into us-against-them moments, but this should be a place where it’s people coming together to do great things around common needs.”

    As an example, Berger cited a video on the site that shows an elementary school gym teacher and NBA player Mason Plumlee teaching a virtual gym class. Like the students, Plumlee, a forward for the Denver Nuggets, is stuck at home and doesn’t know when his season will resume.

    “He’s as eager to replace [playing in the NBA] with something as kids and parents are to get a workout in the middle of their day,” Berger said.

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to Common Sense Media and The 74.


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • How a News Site for Kids Is Providing Comfort — and Free Educational Content — in a Time of Uncertainty and Anxiety

    By Laura Fay | April 1, 2020

    North Carolina teacher Sabrina Spada and her students found comfort in an unlikely place when their school shut down because of coronavirus: Newsela.

    Logging on to the online education tool, known for providing news articles and short quizzes tailored by grade level, was something familiar her students could do amid all the uncertainty and chaos, said Spada, who teaches fourth grade at Foust Elementary School in Greensboro.

    A few days after school shut down, but before the district’s formal distance learning platform was set up, Spada signed into Newsela and saw that some of her students had been completing work there without being asked.

    “I was very proud of them, and it gave me some comfort” to know they were taking responsibility for their learning, Spada told The 74. “They were out of school, they didn’t know what to do — but the one thing that they could trust was, ‘Well, I know how to log on to Newsela and read articles, so I should probably do that.’ And they did.”

    Forty-six states and many individual districts have closed schools because of coronavirus, according to a rolling count by Education Week. That has left more than 54 million kids out of class — and many teachers and parents scrambling to find ways for students to continue their education from home.

    In response, Newsela has made all its materials free and is offering teachers virtual training sessions that are typically available only to schools that pay for a subscription. In addition to articles about current events adapted from traditional news sources like The New York Times and the Associated Press, Newsela offers content at various reading levels for science, social studies, reading and social-emotional learning. Some articles are also available in Spanish.

    In addition to its website, Newsela offers easy printing options and a mobile app that allows users to download articles when they have internet service and read them offline later.

    Before their school shut its doors, Spada and her class used Newsela every day. She usually assigned articles for students to read on their laptops and then led a group discussion about the day’s reading. Her district, Guilford County Schools, is working to make sure all students have a device they can use for online learning while schools are shuttered.


    How Schools Are Approaching Coronavirus Plans: Lessons and Advice From One District in Devising ‘a Collaborative Process’ in Drafting a Preparation Guide

    In the days before Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools to shut down on March 14, Spada’s class read articles about what a virus is, how the COVID-19 outbreak started and proper handwashing techniques. Getting accurate information from a source they trust was “huge” in curbing students’ anxiety, she said, especially when many were seeing misinformation on social media.

    “Talking about all of those [coronavirus articles] and dispelling any myths, right there in the classroom, I think gave [students] a lot of comfort, because they felt much more comfortable talking about it, not only in the class to me but when they went home, too,” Spada said.

    In February, Newsela published a Science News for Students article with the headline “Your most urgent questions about the new coronavirus” at five reading levels. A section about how the illness spreads explains it like this in a version for fourth-graders: “The new virus is spreading from person to person. It probably spreads between people similarly to other respiratory diseases, the CDC says. Respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can carry the virus to someone new.”

    The version for second-grade readers is simpler: “The virus spreads from person to person. An infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets carry the virus to someone new.”

    An article about washing hands from The Guardian was adapted for several reading levels for Newsela users. Clicking on underlined “power words” brings up the definition and pronunciation. (

    After announcing on March 13 that the site would make all content available to anyone who requested access, the Newsela team worked through the weekend to get accounts set up for thousands of schools, said co-founder and chief academic officer Dan Cogan-Drew. Parents can set up free accounts as well.

    “It does feel like there’s a sort of calling and responsibility we have” to help educators and students at this time, he told The 74. The potential financial fallout was not a primary concern for the company or its board, Cogan-Drew said, because of the challenges schools are facing right now.

    “It’s like wartime, you know?” he said. “You don’t charge people for … bread and eggs and flour. You say, ‘Here, what do you need? You’re my neighbor; how can I help?’”


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

  • Coronavirus Must-Reads for Schools: A $2 Trillion Stimulus Ignores ‘Digital Divide,’ More Cities Launch Remote Learning Plans, New Concerns for Students With Disabilities & More

    By Andrew Brownstein | April 1, 2020

    This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here

    It may have taken a forced quarantine brought on by a deadly pandemic to do it, but the nation’s eyes have finally turned to the inequities facing online instruction. Whereas early coverage of the crisis spotlighted harried teachers and parents suddenly turned into homeschoolers, the focus has turned to the large numbers of students and families who lack any access to Wi-Fi at home. Whether you call it the “digital divide” or the “homework gap,” the issue is crucial now that the pandemic has closed more than 124,000 school buildings, leaving more than 55 million children without face-to-face classroom instruction.

    In a rare education-focused editorial, headlined “Locked Out of the Virtual Classroom,” The New York Times put the matter in stark terms: “Internet-savvy school systems that serve connected populations appear to be moving ahead relatively smoothly with the new order of business. At the same time, some districts that lack infrastructure and serve heavily poor populations have given up altogether on remote learning. Still others are hesitant to pursue online instruction out of fear they might be hauled into court for offering course materials to which broadband-deprived families cannot gain access.”

    The problems are urban: New York City, the nation’s largest school district, is struggling to acquire internet-connected devices for the estimated 300,000 students who lack them. But they’re also rural: In Culberson County, Texas, about a two-hour drive from El Paso, just 4 percent of the population uses the internet at broadband speeds necessary for online instructional tools that rely on streaming, according to Microsoft. A new analysis of 46 districts, released by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, found that only a third had plans to deliver computers to students and none had figured out how to ensure that “100 percent of students have a … device and reliable, long-term access to the internet.”

    Thus far, a concerted federal push to address the issue has been lacking. The same day the Times published its editorial, President Trump signed the largest stimulus package in American history. Despite offering $13.5 billion for K-12 schools, the bill did not heed the call to provide specific relief for the nation’s online infrastructure. Advocates and politicians are still hopeful that the idea could be resurrected in a future broadband stimulus bill. “K-12 leaders have been calling on Congress to address these problems for years,” said Reg Leichty, a founder and partner at Foresight Law + Policy. “Low-income students are at a disadvantage if they don’t have broadband at home. The public has awoken to this issue all of a sudden because it’s not just poor kids, it’s all kids.”

    Top Stories

    Social Distancing — ‘This is a Health Hazard’: New Jersey Parents Stand Together in Long Lines to Get School Materials for Their Children (Read at USA Today)

    Recession — What the Great Recession Tells Us About the Pandemic Downturn to Come: Expect Declining Student Performance, Widening Achievement Gaps (Read at

    Attendance —15,000 L.A. High School Students Are AWOL Online, 40,000 Fail to Check In Daily Amid Coronavirus Closures (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    Child Abuse — Out of Sight, Child Abuse in Texas Thought to Be on the Rise (Read at The Texas Tribune)

    Liberty University — What’s It Like on One of the Only University Campuses Still Open in the U.S.? (Read at ProPublica)

    Social Distance’ Learning

    For Better or Worse, Coronavirus Puts Cyber Charters in the Spotlight (Read at EdWeek)

    No Online Learning? With Schools Closed from Coronavirus, These Teachers Air TV Lessons (Read at USA Today)

    Here’s a First Look at Chicago’s New Remote Learning Plan, Which Will Include 100,000 Devices for Students (Read at Chalkbeat)

    While Educators Promote Online Learning as Coronavirus Spreads, Some Illinois Students Aren’t Equipped With the Broadband to Even Notice (Read at ProPublica)

    Broward Schools Online Education Platform Crashes on First Day (Read at Palm Beach Politics)

    Parents and Families

    Parents Created Kid Schedules After Coronavirus Closed Schools. That Didn’t Last. (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    I Home-Schooled My Kids for 3 Years. Here’s What Parents Need to Know Now (Read at HuffPost)

    Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus (Read at NPR)

    Current Events, Science, Politics — National Geographic Opens Up Learn-at-Home Resources for Grades K-12. 2 Students Check Them Out (Read at


    When Teaching and Parenting Collide: As Schools Shift Online, Many Educators Manage Two Roles (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Many Substitute Teachers Are Going Without Pay During School Closures (Read at EdWeek)

    Teachers of Newcomer Students Try to Keep Them Connected as Schools Close, Routines Shift (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Special Education

    Fierce Debate as DeVos Weighs Schools’ Obligations to Students With Disabilities (Read at EdWeek)

    ‘It Feels a Little Hopeless’: Parents of Kids With Disabilities Worry Coronavirus Quarantine Will Mean Regression (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    Students With Disabilities Could Lose With COVID-19 Stimulus Package (Read at The Hill)

    As Schools Close to Coronavirus, Special Educators Turn to Tele-Therapy (Read at EdWeek)

    Equity and Activism

    She’s 10, Homeless and Eager to Learn. But She Has No Internet. (Read at The New York Times)

    Detroit to Increase Meals Sites for Students, Filling Gap Left When the District Scaled Back (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Essays and Reflections

    Rotherham: Why America’s Schools Should Stay Open This Summer (Read at

    COVID-19 Is Exposing the Gaps in Our Education System. Let’s Start Fixing Them (Read at Education Week)

    Remote Learning Can Be More Than a Bandage (Read at Real Clear Education)

    Can Schools Avert the Coronavirus Cliff? (Read at Flypaper)

    Pondiscio: Studying Current Events Boosts Literacy and Civic Engagement. And It Probably Fits Into Your Learning-From-Home Routine (Read at


    “The first question is how do we survive between now and the end of June. But we really need to start talking about what this looks like a year from now.” —Michael K. Barbour, education professor at Touro University California and an expert on virtual learning. (Read at Education Week)

    “I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life.” —Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., whose school is staying open during the coronavirus pandemic. (Read at ProPublica)

    “If, next year, the kids can’t go back to school, and on top of that, school budgets are being cut by 10 or 15 percent, how those schools are going to implement the virtual learning systems when they’ve had to lay off a significant portion of their teacher labor force is a completely unknown quantity. That has never happened before — kids having to work from home, and schools having to deal with massive layoffs at the same time.” —Pennsylvania State University professor Kenneth Shores, on the coming economic downturn. (Read at

    “We know that additional strain and stress on families during this crisis puts children at an increased risk of abuse.” —Sophie Phillips, chief executive officer of the advocacy organization TexProtects. (Read at The Texas Tribune)

    “[Betsy DeVos’s] assumption is that everybody sits with the same opportunities with the internet, with all the resources supporting technology, and thinks everyone is well supported with access. And that is just so narrow-minded to think that everybody is in that same shape.” —Troy Kilzer, director of schools for rural Chester County Schools in southwest Tennessee. (Read at Education Dive)


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

Load More