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July 2020
  • DC Public Schools Is Latest District to Announce All-Virtual Start Despite Federal Pressure in Its Own Backyard to Reopen. 10 Things Families Need to Know

    By Taylor Swaak | July 30, 2020

    D.C. Public Schools’ 52,000 students will start the 2020-21 year entirely virtual, city officials announced early Thursday.

    With the announcement, which came a day earlier than expected, DCPS is the latest school district to temporarily forgo in-person learning as COVID-19 cases this month increased in the region — despite pressure in its own backyard from the White House to reopen.

    Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, two of the largest school districts in the country, made similar announcements earlier this month.

    Related

    D.C. Public Schools Will Announce on Friday Whether It’ll Offer In-Person Learning. A Look at What’s Happening on the Ground as Decision Looms

    Mayor Muriel Bowser indicated Thursday that the decision was informed not only by health data but also in wanting the support of staff and families. Many had vocally opposed starting the school year with any form of in-person learning. Although virtual learning in the spring wasn’t seamless, officials said it’ll be more robust and interactive this time around, with multiple hours of live instruction a day depending on grade level.

    “[We want to] make sure that when we do have an in-person option that we can maximize the attendance of our teachers and our kids,” Bowser said.

    Here are 10 things families should know about the decision:

    1. Virtual learning will be in effect through Term 1

    Students will be fully online from Aug. 31, the first day of school, through Nov. 6.

    When pressed if that time frame will apply to every student — including those with more personalized needs, like students with disabilities — DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said, “We will start the school year in an all-virtual posture. But we will continue to explore all pathways … that could be some form of in-person instruction.”

    2. There will be ‘predictable’ class schedules for families

    Virtual learning will include a mix of interactive lessons and independent learning time, with the amount of live daily instruction increasing depending on grade level. As of now, here’s how daily live instruction breaks down by grade:

    • Pre-K: 30 minutes to an hour
    • Grades K-2: 2 hours
    • Grades 3-5: 2 to 3 hours
    • Grades 6-12: 4 to 5 hours

    Sample breakdown of middle schoolers’ day. (DCPS/ Mayor’s Office)

    Canvas will be the main platform for accessing curriculum materials, Ferebee said.

    3. Many students still need laptops and Wi-Fi. Officials say they’re ‘committed’ to providing that

    Forty-four percent of respondents in an ongoing tech survey, which has garnered more than 13,000 responses, said they have a student who does not have a device, such as a laptop. And 18 percent have a student without access to a hotspot or reliable Wi-Fi.

    Preliminary results of ongoing tech survey. (DCPS/ Mayor’s Office)

    The district has 36,000 devices, many pre-enabled with Wi-Fi, to distribute next school year “based on the feedback we get from families through the survey,” Ferebee said.

    Related

    Parents and Teachers Want Clarity on Technology Needs as D.C. Delays Reopening Plan by Two Weeks

    4. Attendance will be taken daily

    This was emphasized several times by officials. Ferebee said attendance will be “primarily done” by students logging in through Canvas. No further information was provided at that time.

    5. Grading protocols will reflect DCPS’s approach in the spring

    Elementary school children will receive a grade of 1, 2, 3 or 4. Middle and high schoolers can receive a grade of an A or a B; if the grade is below a B, students can either have the grade they received — like a C — reflected on their report card, or they can opt for a “Pass/Fail” designation.

    Across grade levels, Ferebee emphasized that grading will weigh heavily on completion of practice materials and student engagement — not just assessments.

    6. Summer bridge program, extra days planned to fill learning gaps

    When asked how DCPS intends to recoup learning loss, Ferebee pointed to the district’s already-planned “summer bridge” program starting virtually Aug. 10 for grades 3, 6 and 9, which Ferebee has called key “transitional years where students need additional support.”

    There are also extra instructional days sprinkled in throughout the 2020-21 year that were normally staff-only work days. The exact number wasn’t immediately clear.

    Teachers will monitor students’ performance and understanding of materials with regular “check-ins” as well, Ferebee said.

    Related

    74 Interview — D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee Talks COVID-19 Recovery Plans, With an Eye Toward Returning to In-Person Instruction

    7. Special ed, English language services will continue

    Learning from home could include “co-taught and/or small group or individual lessons with a special education teacher or ESL teacher,” according to Thursday’s presentation.

    Ferebee noted that any students with an Individualized Education Program will have a “distance learning plan addendum” added, too.

    8. There is new material to help students process recent events

    Ferebee noted that on top of working this summer to make curriculum more “user-friendly” online, the district has also added some new material, including a “Living Through History” Cornerstone. Cornerstones are lessons that every DCPS student in every grade takes.

    It will be “an opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences over the spring and the summer and use that as a learning opportunity,” he said.

    Related

    Lessons From a Global Reckoning: D.C. Looks to Make 14-Year-Old Social Studies Standards More Inclusive as Cities Nationwide Grapple With Re-Engaging Students During COVID

    9. Students will still get meals 

    Ferebee said the district is “positioned to continue to provide meals throughout the summer and school year, and add sites if we need to.”

    DCPS’s website directs users here for information on where to find meal sites.

    10. Charters do not have to follow DCPS’s decision

    The city’s charter networks, serving nearly half of D.C.’s students, are not beholden to DCPS’s decision. But Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said officials nonetheless “have full expectation that all charter schools will follow strict health guidance as DCPS is doing.”

    “We have worked in a very, very collaborative way with charter [agencies] across the city,” Kihn said. He added that many charters will be making their announcement by week’s end.

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  • LISTEN: What Does the Future of School Safety Look Like? New EWA Podcast Interviews 74’s Mark Keierleber About Efforts to Dismantle Campus Policing After George Floyd’s Death

    By The 74 | July 29, 2020

    Student activists have long decried the presence of police in schools, but their demands for campuses without cops had long fallen on deaf ears. That changed rapidly this summer after George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis officer, prompting districts nationwide to sever their ties to local police departments.

    As school districts nationwide reconsider the role officers play in classrooms, The 74’s Mark Keierleber joined EWA Radio, a podcast produced by the Education Writers Association, to discuss his reporting on school policing. Following Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis school board voted unanimously to terminate its contract with the city police department, and many other districts — from Denver to Oakland — quickly followed suit.

    As school leaders in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere face steep pressure to take similar action, Keierleber discusses racial disparities in student arrests and the lack of research supporting their ability to thwart mass school shootings and other campus crime. He also discusses what post-police schools could look like — pointing to a school district in suburban Minneapolis that ended its contracts with local police departments years ago. Instead of stationing cops on campus, the district employed a team of “student safety coaches,” who employ an approach centered on addressing students’ mental health needs and de-escalating conflict — rather than one centered on handcuffs and arrests.

    Listen to the full conversation:

    Archive — Read more of Mark Keierleber’s recent reporting on school policing:

    Police-Free Schools?: This suburban Minneapolis district expelled its cops years ago

    Unions: Teachers unions historically supported campus cops. George Floyd’s death — and a wave of ‘militant’ educator activists — forced them to reconsider

    Bias: ‘The students were the danger’: In racially diverse schools, police were more likely to view students as threats, study shows

    2020 Politics: Biden’s tough-on-crime mantra led to school ‘militarization,’ critics say. Why his legacy on campus cops matters and puts him at odds with progressives

    School Police Departments: Florida’s post-Parkland experiment — To deter mass shootings, some school districts are creating their own police departments

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  • DACA Double Take: A Month After ‘Dreamers’ Cheered SCOTUS Decision, Trump Administration Considers Second Effort to End Program, Halting New Applications

    By Mark Keierleber | July 29, 2020

    The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will not accept new applications to an Obama-era program that offers deportation relief and work permits to some 650,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children, laying the groundwork for a new round of political and legal fights over the fate of so-called “Dreamers.” 

    Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced that his agency would “thoughtfully consider the future” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, including whether it should be terminated. Instead of pulling the plug on the program immediately, the administration announced that it would conduct a “comprehensive review” while imposing a slew of new restrictions. Current recipients are allowed to renew their DACA status for one year, the agency announced. Under previous rules, recipients were required to renew every two years. 

    Whether the government would accept new DACA applications has been a major question since mid-June, when the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s years-long effort to end it. The court didn’t rule on the merits of DACA or the Trump administration’s authority to terminate the program. However, in a ruling on procedural grounds, the court’s majority found that the administration’s justification for terminating the program was “arbitrary and capricious” and that officials failed to consider how ending DACA could affect its beneficiaries.

    Related

    Education Groups Rejoice as Supreme Court Blocks Trump Efforts to End DACA Program — but Warn Decision Is Merely ‘First Step’

    When the Trump administration announced plans to terminate DACA in 2017, officials argued that the Obama administration had acted outside its legal authority. That decision was quickly delayed by a series of legal hurdles as several federal judges ruled against the Trump administration, leaving much of the program intact as the issue weaved its way through the courts. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the government to resume accepting new applications. An estimated 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to recent estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.

    Though the move is likely to spur new court challenges, the administration argued that the Maryland court order doesn’t apply because it launched a new review of the program’s fate. 

    “As the Department continues looking at the policy and considers future action, the fact remains that Congress should act on this matter,” Wolf said in a statement. Though Wolf’s statement puts new pressure on lawmakers to tackle immigration reform, Congress has long failed to reach a compromise. 

    Earlier this month, Trump said he plans to sign “a very big bill” on immigration that would give DACA recipients a “road to citizenship,” though it remains unclear what steps he’ll take on the issue before the November election. 

    Immigrant-rights groups were quick to criticize Tuesday’s news. On Twitter, the National Immigration Law Center called the announcement “another cruel and divisive move that puts hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth back in limbo.” In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the administration of replacing DACA with a “skeleton program.” 

    Though DACA has been a divisive issue for years — and Trump made eliminating the program a staple in his bid for the White House — polls suggest overwhelming support for Dreamers. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 68 percent of Republicans — and 69 percent of voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016 — favor the immigration protections. 

    “Make no mistake, the vast popularity of the program, combined with a looming election, prevented Trump from immediately ending the program,” Andrea Flores, the ACLU’s deputy director of immigration policy, said in the release. But Tuesday’s announcement “makes his intentions clear: His next move is a complete end to the DACA program to destroy the lives of Dreamers once again.” 

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  • VIDEO: American Federation of Teachers Authorizes Educator ‘Safety Strikes’ If Schools Reopen This Fall Without Adequate Safety Measures

    By Mark Keierleber | July 28, 2020

    American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced on Tuesday the union’s support for educator “safety strikes” across the country if schools reopen without adequate safety procedures.

    Though she said that teacher strikes should be a “last resort,” Weingarten warned that “nothing is off the table” if public officials don’t do enough to ensure that students and educators have a safe return to classrooms after months of remote learning due to the pandemic. The potential strikes, which the country’s second-largest teachers union announced during its virtual national convention (see the 43-minute mark in the video below), offer a sharp rebuke to lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, who have pressured schools to fully reopen as the virus surges in states nationwide.

    “We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” Weingarten said. “But if the authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve,” the union will consider protests, lawsuits and strikes if necessary. The move was approved by the national union’s executive council, which said in a resolution that local or statewide strikes would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

    The latest escalation comes just weeks before students in some regions are expecting to return to classrooms after months of distance education. The AFT resolution outlines that schools should reopen only if community infection rates fall below 5 percent and the transmission rate is less than 1 percent. The union also demanded “effective disease surveillance” and accommodations for school staff who are at “high risk for serious health problems or death” if they become infected.

    Local unions have already taken measures against lawmakers seeking to reopen campus buildings. In Florida, where the virus has surged in recent weeks, the local union sued lawmakers over a school reopening plan that it accused of being “reckless and unsafe.” Under an executive order, all schools in the state are required to reopen their physical campuses in August.

    Though most educators want schools to reopen if necessary safeguards are put into place, Weingarten said the union is “prepared to fight on all fronts for the safety of students and their educators” if its demands aren’t met.

    Click here to read the AFT’s full resolution:

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  • CDC’s New Guidance on Rapidly Reopening Schools Cites Concerns Over Trauma and Learning Loss and Points to Evidence That Children Are Less Likely to Transmit Coronavirus

    By The 74 | July 24, 2020

    With some districts beginning their virtual school years in a couple weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance, saying that in-person instruction is the best arrangement for most students this fall.

    The revised guidance says that the risks of children transmitting the coronavirus are low — which district leaders already know — and so are the chances that they’ll pass the virus to school staff or family members.

    Learning loss, the absence of opportunities for social-emotional development, and the potential for stress and trauma linked to quarantine are among the reasons students should be in school, the document says. The challenges of continuing school nutrition programs during school closures was another reason cited.

    “School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications,” the CDC concludes. “The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.”

    President Donald Trump highlighted the agency’s latest position on Thursday while discussing his proposal to put $70 billion toward K-12 schools in the next federal relief package. After tweeting demands two weeks ago that schools reopen, he deferred to governors on Thursday, saying, “The decision should be made based on the data and the facts on the grounds in each community, but every district should be actively making preparations to open.”

    Read the full guidance:



  • The School Choice Now Act: Senators Alexander and Scott Introduce Bill to Fund Emergency Scholarships Families Can Use Toward School Tuition or Homeschooling During the Pandemic

    By The 74 | July 22, 2020

    Two members of the Senate education committee, chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, introduced new legislation Wednesday that would provide federal aid to assist families in paying for private school or homeschooling during the pandemic. 

    The School Choice Now Act would use 10 percent of emergency education aid to offer one-time emergency funding for scholarship organizations approved by the state. These scholarships could then be used by families to go toward private school tuition or homeschooling expenses. 

    In a Wednesday statement, Alexander said: “Giving children more opportunity to choose their school is a real answer to inequality in America.

    “All parents, regardless of income or circumstance, should be able to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, whether that school is public or private … the School Choice Now Act provides scholarships to students to have the opportunity to return to the private school they attended before the pandemic — and gives other students a new opportunity to attend private school.

    “Children in all K-12 schools, public and private, have been affected by COVID-19 … Many schools are choosing not to reopen and many schools are failing to provide high-quality distance learning. The students who will suffer from this experience the most are the children from lower income families. This bill will give families more options for their children’s education at a time that school is more important than ever.” 

    See the full text of the legislation right here, or by clicking below. One notable excerpt from the bill, about how — and when — states must used any approved funds:

    “By not later than 60 days after receiving an allotment under subsection, a State without a tax credit scholarship program shall use not less than 50 percent of the allotment to award subgrants to eligible scholarship-granting organizations in the State.

    An eligible scholarship-granting organization that receives a subgrant under this subsection: 

    • “May reserve not more than 5 percent of the subgrant funds for public outreach, student and family support activities, and administrative expenses related to the subgrant.
    • “Shall use not less than 95 percent of the subgrant funds to provide qualifying scholarships for qualified expenses only to individual elementary school and secondary school students who reside in the State in which the eligible scholarship-granting organization is recognized. 

    “A State shall return to the Secretary any amounts of the allotment received under this section that the State does not award as subgrants under subsection (d) by March 30, 2021, and the Secretary shall reallocate such funds to the remaining eligible States.” 

    Read the full bill by clicking below; also see Kevin Mahnken’s recent coverage of President Trump’s support for federal tax-credit scholarships.



  • Survey Provides ‘Moving Picture’ of Pandemic’s Turbulent Impact on Families With Young Children

    By Linda Jacobson | July 21, 2020

    Pandemic-related financial hardships on families with young children are creating a “chain reaction” of negative effects at a time when many preschoolers are preparing to return to child care or enter school for the first time, according to new data from an ongoing study.

    Specifically, parents who struggle more financially are reporting more behavior and emotional problems in their children.

    Those are among the latest findings of a weekly survey of roughly 1,000 parents with young children — a research study capturing the turbulence in families brought on by the pandemic with results published almost as fast as mask requirements change.

    Called Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development – Early Childhood, or RAPID-EC, the work is led by University of Oregon psychology professor Philip Fisher. The researchers began conducting the survey in early April, and since May they have published weekly highlights. Beginning in August, the survey will be conducted every two weeks.

    “There really isn’t a scientific knowledge base of what families are likely to be experiencing in light of a global pandemic,” said Fisher. “We felt like we really needed data that could inform policy decisions.” The challenge, he added, was having a “high-frequency” survey that was also scientifically rigorous and “allows us to get a moving picture of overall well-being.”

    Philip Fisher (University of Oregon)

    With many young children now facing an uncertain beginning to the school year — perhaps starting a new preschool or kindergarten class via Zoom or with a packet of activities — the findings can help educators and program providers gain a better understanding of the conditions in which at-home learning is taking place.

    “Policymakers need to hear what’s happening on the ground right now. The impact of the pandemic has been immediate; the data needs to be, too,” said Bethany Robertson, co-publisher and co-director of Parents Together, a parent-led organization that provides tips and resources to families but also works to make parents’ voices part of policy conversations.

    Fisher’s team partnered with Parents Together to recruit families for the survey. The researchers aim for a sample of no fewer than 1,000 per week. And while parents have the option of participating more than once, Fisher found that a lot of the “repeat customers” tend to be more affluent and white. To capture more diversity, the researchers select a larger sample than needed and invite more diverse families to participate.

    So what are some of the other major findings so far?

    First, conflict has increased among all families in the sample, regardless of income. And more than half of the respondents answered that parent-child conflict is on the rise. Families in lower-income homes said financial relief, such as assistance with rent or other housing expenses, would make their situations better, while those in middle- and upper-income homes said they needed more social-emotional support.

    In another recent post, parents or other caregivers in low-income homes, those with three or more children, and those who have a child with a disability are reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety.

    Lower-income households and Black and Latino families are experiencing more financial hardship, such as lost income and difficulty covering expenses like housing, utilities and food, the results show. With many eviction bans imposed in the early days of the pandemic beginning to expire, researchers predict large increases in homelessness. The findings have implications for school attendance and students’ ability to use technology for learning.

    “Once people can be evicted, we’re going to see a lot of families with young children out on the street,” Fisher said.

    The image shows that families in which a young child has a disability are experiencing more anxiety, depression and stress. (RAPID-EC)

    ‘Mirroring the trends’ 

    Each RAPID-EC post with new data includes recommendations for policymakers and suggested research articles. The project represents a new approach to conducting research. Rather than waiting to publish findings in an academic journal, the team is hoping to provide useful data to state and local leaders so they can respond more quickly to trends. The audience for the results includes officials in education departments, human service agencies and those in nonprofits that work with families. The researchers are also hoping to reach state legislators with their findings.

    In fact, each new release often confirms top pandemic-related news stories of the day, said Joan Lombardi, who chairs the project’s national advisory team.

    The project is “mirroring the trends, but it’s providing more than anecdotal information,” said Lombardi, who led child care and early-childhood development initiatives at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton and Obama administrations. She currently advises philanthropies focusing on early childhood.

    Miriam Calderon, early learning system director with the Oregon Department of Education, said leaders have shifted from approaching the coronavirus as “an emergency that’s going to go away” to thinking about how to adapt early learning programs and other efforts for young children. “All of these services have to coexist with COVID for the foreseeable future,” she said.

    The survey data, she said, have prompted her and others in the department’s early learning division to ask questions about services at the local level, such as whether families are still taking their children for regular checkups, vaccinations and developmental screenings. One of the survey’s national findings was that more than a quarter of families skipped a doctor’s visit for a healthy child this past spring.

    David Mandell, the director of policy and research in the division, added that the results provide a valuable connection to parents as leaders grapple with what it would take to make them feel it’s safe enough to bring their children to school or a center.

    ‘Very basic needs’

    The trends emerging in RAPID-EC echo other surveys of those working within school districts to respond to families’ and children’s basic needs. In a recent survey conducted by researchers at four universities, three-quarters of school social workers responded that at least half of the students in their schools need mental health services, more than 60 percent said at least half don’t have enough to eat, and more than 40 percent said at least half of the families in the schools they serve need support with staying in their homes.

    “There has been much discussion pertaining to online delivery of instruction, services, and education,” the authors of the survey report wrote. “More needs to be focused on how the pandemic has affected the very basic needs for human existence in low-income schools that serve students of color.”

    Students’ mental health and their families’ basic needs are among school social workers’ top concerns. (Opening Schools Safely in the COVID-19 Era)

    And Parents Together, which reaches families with a wider age range of children, released its own survey results last week showing that 45 percent of families are somewhat or very concerned about losing their homes, with more than half cutting back on other expenses, such as food and medicine, to cover rent or mortgage payments.

    “When we first started calling for rent freezes a few months ago, this wasn’t a part of the national discussion,” Robertson said. “Now, as 23 million folks face possible eviction by the fall, we’re seeing some policymakers interested in what we can do to keep families in their homes.”

    Last week, for example, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey extended the state’s eviction ban through the end of October. At the federal level, a bill passed in the House and legislation introduced in the Senate aim to extend eviction bans through early next year.

    Evictions contribute to chronic absenteeism and occur at higher rates in lower-income neighborhoods where schools have higher percentages of nonwhite students, studies show. An analysis conducted in Richmond, Virginia, for example, noted that as housing prices in some areas of the city tilt upward, it can be harder for a family with a past eviction to get a lease.

    The researchers wrote that as the demand for housing increases, evictions create instability not only for families but also for schools.

    Back in Oregon, Calderon said the RAPID-EC data are also guiding Gov. Kate Brown’s new Healthy Early Learners Council, which is focused on reopening child care and early learning programs. Addressing “challenging behaviors” and preventing suspension and expulsion of young children will be one aspect of the council’s work.

    With many programs and schools expected to be operating both in-person and remotely, Calderon said data on how the pandemic is affecting access to child care and family well-being will continue to be important. One finding in the data was that almost half of the respondents said they had lost the child care arrangement they had prior to the pandemic.

    “I don’t think people acknowledge enough that public school is a form of child care,” she said. “When school is closed, someone in the family isn’t working.”

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  • ‘I Can’t Teach From a Coffin’: Across the Country, Teachers, Parents and Students Hit the Streets to Protest Reopening of Schools

    By Beth Hawkins | July 16, 2020

    With President Donald Trump threatening schools if they don’t fully reopen, COVID-19 ripping through states that rapidly lifted their lockdown restrictions and the new school year as little as a month away, teachers, parents and students from Florida to Missouri to Texas to Arizona and Michigan are taking to the streets to protest their districts’ plans for resuming in-person classes.

    In Detroit, dozens of parent and teacher protesters blocked school buses from leaving to pick up students for summer school, which started July 13. On Wednesday, the activist group coordinating the protests, By Any Means Necessary, sued the district and the state, seeking to halt in-person instruction.

    After visiting some schools as they welcomed students back, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tweeted that he was confident the district had made the right decision. The protests did not deter the school board from a day later approving a fall reopening plan that would include in-person classes, an option a majority of parents surveyed said they would prefer if adequate precautions are taken.

    In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis stands by a June order mandating that schools return to in-person classes full time despite surging numbers of COVID-19 infections, protests have broken out in numerous districts.

    Related

    ‘We Are Being Asked to Do the Impossible’: As Pandemic Spikes in Several States, Parents Brace for Historically Chaotic Return to School

    In St. Petersburg, teachers circled the Manatee County Public Schools headquarters in their cars, waving signs and honking horns. In a video posted to Facebook by NBC affiliate WFLA, a Jeep can be seen with an oversize, blue face mask draped across its front grille.

    With school scheduled to start Aug. 10, the district has been considering allowing full-time in-person instruction for elementary grades and hybrid classes for older students. Teachers protest that it is too soon to do so safely.

    Demonstrations also took place in Hillsborough County Public Schools, which includes Tampa. “I can’t teach from a coffin,” read one sign held by teachers protesting on foot and in masks.

    In the Tampa suburb of Dover, parents and activists from Black Lives Matter and the group People Over PACs used Facebook to coordinate a protest outside Strawberry Crest High School, with some people participating from inside their cars and others on sidewalks.

    “This is part of a larger FIGHT CLUB! legal strategy to stop this dangerous and deadly back-to-school plan,” organizers posted on social media.

    In Austin, Texas, teachers staged a sit-in outside the Texas capitol, demanding assurances and a rule prohibiting in-person instruction until a county’s infection rate is below 0.5 percent of the population. Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott had said schools should operate virtually for the first three weeks of the year but could lose state funding if they did not return to full-time in-person classes after that. Superintendents pushed back, with some saying they would delay the start of school to buy time.

    With virus cases spiking throughout the state, Abbott announced Tuesday that schools can extend the time buildings are closed to students.

    Another caravan-style protest and sit-in at the capitol are planned for Saturday.

    Near Athens, Georgia, a group of teachers and parents protesting the Oconee County School District’s plan to reopen schools without a mandatory mask policy was met with a small counterprotest. A separate action was organized by University of Georgia faculty with children in the district.

    In Arizona, protesters in cars ringed Tucson High School on Thursday morning. St. Louis teachers demonstrated silently outside school district headquarters Tuesday, demanding that instruction remain at a distance until there have been no new COVID-19 infections for 30 days.

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  • New Study Does Not Find Stark Differences in How District, Charter and Private Schools Responded to COVID-19 Crisis

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 13, 2020

    The nation’s K-12 schools reacted to the disruption of COVID-19 in broadly similar ways regardless of whether they were district, charter or private, according to new research released Monday.

    In general, traditional public schools did not lag behind charters or private schools, except for a few days near the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when they were somewhat slower to switch to online learning, according to the study by Tulane University’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH).

    By May, overall scores in five performance areas measured by researchers were comparable for all school types, though private schools lagged significantly in both equity of access and breadth of service.

    Asterisk indicates that the difference for a given group is statistically significant. (Tulane University’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice)

    That finding is somewhat predictable, given that private schools tend to serve fewer students who might require supplementary services like school meals, and they are not subject to the same requirements as public schools when it comes to accommodating special education students or English language learners. On the three other measures (personalization and engagement, both inside and outside of class, as well as monitoring of academic progress), the three sectors are roughly on par with one another.

    That coalescence among different school types defies the notion that public schools were particularly slow or inept in their transition to virtual instruction, said Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane and the director of REACH.

    Harris noted that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently “hammered traditional public schools and [made] allegations about a lack of response during the spring” that were “blatantly false.” In TV interviews this weekend addressing the Trump administration’s push for all schools to open full time this fall, DeVos argued that districts should follow “really good examples that have been used in the private sector.”

    Related

    In New Rule, DeVos Offers Tricky Balancing Act on Private School Coronavirus Relief

    That argument “doesn’t seem very sensible given what we’re finding here,” said Harris. “The responses were actually very similar across sectors. Each sector was focused on different things, but the overall response is very similar.”

    The study, conducted over the past few months, is part of an ongoing effort to chart how the American education system copes with an unprecedented public health catastrophe. The Institute for Education Sciences (IES), a research body within the U.S. Department of Education, helped fund the initiative with a $100,000 grant.

    Categorizing the actions of thousands of schools over the most tumultuous few months in recent memory presented special logistical challenges. Harris said the unforgiving timeline and constant influx of new data made the study “the hardest project we’ve ever had to do.”

    “We had to do it so fast — start to finish, in 17 weeks,” he told The 74. “A report like this would normally take two years, so we had to both maintain the standard that we would normally set for ourselves, but do it 10 times faster than we normally would.”

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    The new report relies on analysis of the public websites of more than 3,500 public, private and public charter schools, a sample designed to be nationally representative across demographics, geography and school type. Harris and his co-authors spent the month of May collecting the information available on each site to develop a picture of how each school transitioned to virtual learning.

    The comprehensiveness of each school’s response is scored based on five performance areas: personalization and engagement of online instruction (i.e., the use of live instruction and various online tools to conduct lessons), personalization outside of class (the frequency with which students and teachers interacted during events such as office hours and morning meetings), monitoring of data like online attendance and grades, continuity of non-academic services such as school meals and student counseling, and equity of access to populations like special education students and English language learners.

    To score individual schools, authors made note of which websites mentioned learning plans for ELL students, for instance, and which carried on tracking attendance and grades even as school lockdowns continued. The data were entered into an index that generated scores, from 1-10, on each of the five domains.

    Out of a possible score of 50, Harris and his team found that the average school’s score was a 9.0. That dismal finding inevitably reflects some degree of under-counting, he noted, given that not all schools keep meticulous track of how they are addressing the coronavirus crisis. Even with the limitations of publicly available data, however, the authors pointed to some important trends.

    First, family demographics did not necessarily predict the quality of educational responses to the coronavirus, with one exception: The level of education of parents and other adults in a given neighborhood was correlated with higher performance scores. Harris called educational attainment “the main driver” in differential responses, though not a surprising one; schools could more readily bring their classrooms online, he said, if they could rely on highly educated parents at home to help them implement virtual lessons.

    Asterisk indicates that the difference for a given group is statistically significant. (Tulane University’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice)

    “All the things that parents with college degrees were doing before, they were doing it even more under the crisis,” Harris observed. “Having more time to spend with kids in their white-collar jobs, being able to be at home and have flexible hours and have economic security at the same time that other high-paying jobs don’t have. If you’re a construction worker or something like that, you might make a good income, but you can’t be at home and be a construction worker.”

    Another noteworthy variable was internet access. Schools located in areas that rank in the top half of the country for home internet access scored almost two points higher than those in areas at the bottom half. That phenomenon argues in favor of expanding high-speed internet access, the authors conclude.

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    One further variable highlighted in the report, though somewhat ambivalently, was geography. Higher index scores were measured in states in the Northeast and Midwest, while Southern states ranked lower.

    No reason is offered in the report for the variations by region, though Harris noted in the interview that schools in the South often end their school years somewhat earlier than those in other regions, which may have presented them with less time to implement a comprehensive COVID strategy.

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  • Government Watchdog Report Finds No Evidence for Controversial Claims That Reducing Student Suspensions Could Benefit School Shooters

    By Mark Keierleber | July 10, 2020

    A federal watchdog report released Thursday found no evidence to support a controversial theory — elevated by conservative lawmakers after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida — that lax school discipline policies play a role in such attacks.

    The Government Accountability Office report, which found “no empirical research” linking school discipline policies and preventing school shootings, offers new fodder for the controversy surrounding the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind Obama-era guidance that sought to reduce student suspensions amid “unexplained racial disparities” in student punishments. DeVos scrapped the discipline guidance after a White House commission report argued that they could have made schools less safe. The commission, which DeVos led, was formed in response to the 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and sought to prevent future carnage.

    The GAO report landed as student activists nationwide demand less punitive approaches to maintaining order in classrooms, including the removal of police from schools. Though school shootings have long motivated demands for school-based police and strict discipline policies, critics have long decried racial disparities in student arrests and suspensions. This summer, those concerns — and outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police — have led districts across the country to sever long-standing contracts with police departments and re-examine their discipline strategies.

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    Discipline reforms in Broward County schools became a focal point after the Parkland shooting, when Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and conservative pundits accused district efforts to reduce suspensions — and the Obama-era guidance — of contributing to the shooting, arguing that lax school discipline allowed the alleged gunman to avoid sufficient police scrutiny. The suspect had been expelled from school prior to the shooting, and a state commission later concluded that the district discipline policy wasn’t relevant to the campus attack.

    Though the watchdog report didn’t find evidence linking suspensions and other discipline approaches to the prevalence of school shootings, research is mixed on how these policies affect campus violence more broadly. The watchdog report doesn’t examine the link between campus police and school shootings in particular, but there’s no evidence to suggest that officers are effective in preventing such attacks, according to a literature review by the WestEd Justice and Prevention Research Center.

    Because school shootings are statistically rare and the motives behind them vary considerably, it’s difficult for researchers to pinpoint how school discipline policies “affect an individual’s propensity toward violence,” the watchdog report noted.

    The report defines school shootings broadly, focusing on events where “a gun is fired on school grounds, on a bus, during a school event, during school hours, or right before or after school.” As such, data could include events that go beyond the general public’s perception of a “school shooting.” Police officers were the shooters in roughly 4 percent of incidents, for example, including occasions when officers fired their guns due to a perceived campus threat and, in one incident, when a school-based officer died due to suicide. The methodology seeks to highlight incidents “where students or staff were at risk,” said report author Jacqueline Nowicki, director of the office’s education, workforce and income security team.

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    Despite the dearth of evidence linking discipline policies to school shootings, the GAO did identify several trends that could help educators respond proactively by crafting policies “that are more tailored to the types of shootings that are more likely to happen in their particular situation,” Nowicki said.

    In the past decade, current or former students comprised roughly half of school shooters, according to the report, and campuses subjected to attacks varied widely in terms of the schools’ racial and socioeconomic makeups. Shootings were more frequent in urban schools with large shares of students of color and those from low-income households. Disputes, such as those stemming from gang violence, were the primary impetus behind these attacks. Students were less likely to be the perpetrators and incidents typically occurred outside the school building.

    But suburban and rural districts with large shares of wealthier and white students suffered a larger share of suicides and “school-targeted shootings,” such as the one in Parkland, the GAO found. Such targeted shootings accounted for more than half of the 166 school-based fatalities between 2009 and 2019. In these schools, the perpetrators were more often students or former students.

    Because of differing contexts, it’s “not enough to look at the frequency of occurrence, but to dig down a little bit and look at what types of shootings are happening in what types of schools,” Nowicki said. “That’s important because what you decide to do about it may be a little bit different.”

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    But conversations about school discipline don’t center entirely on school shootings, and the watchdog report certainly won’t settle the heated debate over how to best maintain classroom order. In its final report, the White House school safety commission argued that the Obama-era guidance “may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe.” The watchdog report doesn’t rule out that possibility.

    Nothing in the report “contradicts the fact that the previous administration’s guidance robbed teachers of control of their classrooms,” Education Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito said in an email. “That guidance may have been well-intentioned, but it was dangerously flawed.”

    However, it’s difficult to draw “bottom-line conclusions” about discipline approaches because research on their efficacy varies widely, the report noted. Evidence on a spectrum of interventions — including suspensions and teaching students to regulate behaviors through social-emotional learning — remains mixed.

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  • WATCH: President Trump and First Lady Lead Tuesday’s ‘National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools’

    By The 74 | July 7, 2020

    The day after President Donald Trump tweeted “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” he joined Vice President Mike Pence, First Lady Melania Trump, Missouri Gov. Michael Parson and other officials at the White House Tuesday to lead a “dialogue on safely reopening America’s schools.” A few of the notable exchanges from the day: 

    • Highlighting falling coronavirus-related death rates, the president indicated Tuesday he would take a hard line against state or local leaders that keep schools closed this fall. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools,” he said. “The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It’s time to do it.”
    • The roundtable featured a principal and a student from a California Catholic school. Reopening schools “means a lot to our emotional health and our mental health just to be out there with our friends,” said student Cameron Vaughn.
    • Some speakers emphasized the extraordinary stress being endured by families after schools shuttered this past spring, as parents found themselves forced to suddenly juggle the simultaneous roles of employee, child care provider and educator. Jenny Beth Martin, a mother and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said thousands of parents, along with 150 doctors, 240 nurses and 300 educators, signed on to a letter calling for the reopening of schools. “Reopening schools is going to stabilize our society,” she said. “I think it’s the number one, most important thing we can do to stabilize our society from top to bottom.” 

    Watch the full dialogue: 

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