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January 2021
  • Biden’s Rescue Plan Includes $130 Billion for K-12, But Some Members of Congress Might ‘Balk at the Size’

    By Linda Jacobson | Today

    Education groups and Democrats in Congress are applauding President-elect Joe Biden’s $130 billion proposal to help schools reopen with safety procedures in place and to target the needs of students hurt most by the pandemic. But some experts noted that even with the Democrats in control, Biden might struggle to get the package through Congress.

    The total $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan backs up Biden’s earlier statements that he viewed the relief package that President Donald Trump signed in December as only a “down payment” on recovery.

    Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, expected to be the next chair of the education committee, agreed.

    “When we passed a relief bill in December, I was clear that we needed to double down in the year ahead on fighting for policies that truly reflect the depth of the crisis we’re facing, and help us dig out of this pandemic and come back stronger and fairer,” she said in a statement.

    The education portion of the package that Biden will present to Congress includes $130 billion that schools would be able to use for initiatives ranging from lowering class sizes to allow for social distancing to providing tutoring and summer school. The plan also includes a $5 billion “hardest hit education fund” for governors to spend on K-12, higher education or early childhood. The plan notes that Black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities have missed the most learning while schools have been closed.

    In his comments Thursday night, Biden reiterated his goal to reopen most K-8 schools in the first 100 days of his administration.

    “We can do it if we give school districts, communities and states the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they will need that they can not afford right now because of the economic crisis we are in,” he said.

    ‘A starting point’

    John Bailey, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute said in a summary of the plan that even with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on hand to break a tie in the 50-50 Senate, the full plan might not win approval.

    “It’s difficult to see how this gets 60 votes in the Senate or even 51 if done through reconciliation,” he wrote in his analysis. “A number of members will balk at the size given that December’s funds haven’t even begun to be used.”

    But he added that it took nine months between the March and December relief packages, so the “Biden team is starting the discussion now understanding that it may not pass until the Spring or later.”

    Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, said in a statement that the president-elect’s plan closely matches the organization’s earlier recommendations.

    “This will ensure that the educators and school board members with the best knowledge and awareness of community needs have the tools to serve their students,” she said.

    Following calls from Chiefs for Change on Wednesday to prioritize schools as part of the vaccination rollout, the COVID-19 response will include $50 billion for tests in order to provide them for free and, in part, to “ensure that schools can implement regular testing to support safe reopening.”

    In her response, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said schools want to be part of the vaccination effort. “The AFT will join them to distribute the vaccine, scale testing, expand healthcare, maintain public services and safely reopen school buildings within the first 100 days,” she said.

    The plan also includes a $25 billion stabilization fund for child care providers and $15 billion to help families afford child care costs, particularly women who had to leave their jobs because they could no longer afford care or their centers shut down. The December relief bill included $10 billion for child care.

    In keeping with his campaign promises, Biden is also asking Congress to approve a child care tax credit of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children for families earning less than $125,000 annually. Families earning up to $400,000 would receive a partial credit.

    “Stabilizing the child care sector that has been decimated — and prioritizing the needs of parents, providers and the workforce — is essential to stabilizing the economy and sustaining families,” said Julie Kashen, the director of women’s economic justice and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

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  • Superintendents Call for ‘Faster Rollout’ of Vaccines; But Object to Delaying School Reopenings Until Children Get Shots

    By Linda Jacobson | 2 days ago

    Schools should be at the center of efforts to get teachers and other community members vaccinated against COVID-19, a group of superintendents said Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean students will be part of those initial groups, added San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

    “We don’t expect our children to get vaccinated,” Martinez said, noting that no vaccine has yet been approved for students under 16. “But if we can take care of the at-risk adults, we take a lot of things off the table. We take deaths off the table.”

    The comment over testing students follows confusion this week over whether the Los Angeles Unified School District would require students to be vaccinated before returning to in-person learning.

    The media widely reported that Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner would make vaccination a requirement after he said in his weekly message that it would be “no different than students who are vaccinated for measles or mumps.”

    But on Tuesday, the district published a letter to the Los Angeles Times in which Anthony Aguilar, chief of special education, equity and access, wrote, “We are working to provide vaccines to all who work in schools and, when vaccines are approved for children, to extend that opportunity for our students to receive the same protection. There is no vaccine currently approved for children so the actual vaccination of students is likely a ways off.”

    Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for those 16 and older, and Moderna is testing a vaccine for children between 12 and 17, but it could be 2022 before a vaccine is widely available for children.

    Organized by Chiefs for Change, the media call on Wednesday was a plea to prioritize teachers for vaccinations as a way to help schools reopen.

    “We need a much faster rollout of the vaccine,” said Michael Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change. “Many districts have not received the support they need from the federal government or from their states.”

    Washington’s Highline Public Schools is preparing to bring students in the elementary grades back into schools March 1. But currently, Superintendent Susan Enfield said her biggest challenge is “helping people move away from information that was accurate two, three months ago. Our teachers are inundated with conflicting information.”

    Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Broward County Public Schools in Florida, added that school nurses are prepared to participate in community-wide vaccination programs.

    “We could train them and have them be part of this network of delivery,” he said, adding that because the district is the county’s largest employer, vaccinating teachers and staff would “reach a critical mass of our community.”

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  • Study: Exposure to Desegregated Schools Often Made Whites Less Tolerant As Adults

    By Kevin Mahnken | 3 days ago

    School integration, long part of the unfinished business of the civil rights movement, has been the subject of revived interest for several years. Parents, advocates, and the media all warn of a gradual resegregation of K-12 students, and district leaders have implemented radical plans to assemble racially and socioeconomically mixed classrooms.

    But new evidence casts doubt on one of the most ambitious promises underlying Brown v. Board of Education and the decades of work that followed: that America’s prejudices might be alleviated through the mingling of children from diverse backgrounds. In a study of racial and political attitudes between the 1990s and 2010s, one scholar has found that exposure to desegregated schools led white people to view African Americans more negatively and decreased their willingness to support policies like affirmative action.

    The study, released in November as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, was authored by Mark Chin, a doctoral student at Harvard. Examining multiple strands of data, Chin found that the unintended consequences of integration were especially evident in areas where resistance to it was strongest, such as the South.

    In an interview with The 74, Chin said his research shows that whatever the benefits of mixed schools — a wealth of research suggests that Black students perform better academically when they learn alongside children of other races, while white students perform no worse than they would otherwise — we cannot assume that they will improve race relations or produce more liberal-minded adults.

    “We have a pretty good sense of [the ways in which] desegregation improved outcomes for Black youth, and a lot of them don’t necessarily require that schools integrate,” he said in an interview. “So if we’re going to go down the path toward integration, which is very controversial policy-wise, we should also know what the positive or negative spillover effects are.”

    WATCH — 74 Explains: How School Integration Made Racism Worse Among Whites

    At issue is our understanding of the “contact hypothesis,” one of the landmark ideas of 20th-century social science. Chiefly promulgated by the psychologist Gordon Allport, the theory held that relations between distinct groups could be eased through interpersonal contact under suitable conditions.

    The hypothesis gained steam after the integration of the U.S. armed forces, and Allport’s highly influential book on the subject, The Nature of Prejudice, was published the same year that the Supreme Court considered Brown v. Board. But more than a half-century of investigation has found little in the way of causal evidence demonstrating its effects vis-a-vis race. A 2018 meta-analysis conducted by Princeton professor Betsy Levy Paluck addressed only a handful of randomized experiments that specifically focused on school environments, and found that different forms of prejudice were mitigated to dramatically different degrees.

    Chin sought to address gaps in the research by looking at how the racial integration of schools affected white people later in life. To do so, he used responses to the General Social Survey, a long-running sociological survey collected since 1972 by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The GSS poses a number of questions pertaining to race and politics, asking participants to define their partisan allegiance, rate their openness to more spending to benefit African Americans, and characterize members of different racial groups with respect to qualities like intelligence and laziness. Chin compiled the various testing items into composite scores for each respondent.

    Chin’s sample included nearly 11,000 white participants across 159 counties that came under court-ordered desegregation mandates between the 1950s and 1980s; the differing timelines for each such order allowed Chin to track if and when racial attitudes had changed in response to the process of school desegregation. In particular, he differentiated between respondents who were plausibly school-aged (i.e., 17 and younger) when their school district first came under its desegregation mandate and those who were somewhat older.

    Strikingly, whites who were exposed to desegregated schools were more negative in their appraisals of African Americans and social programs, and less likely to describe themselves as politically liberal as adults. The trend was especially pronounced in areas where the drive to desegregate met with greater obstinance, Chin found. That included Southern counties that integrated following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which applied stiff legal penalties against school districts that attempted to stall the process; it was also true in counties that saw declining support for Democratic presidential candidates between the years 1960 and 1968, when the party prominently associated itself with the civil rights movement.

    In Chin’s view, those findings actually support part of the “contact hypothesis.” In his writings, Allport made clear that he did not believe that contact between different groups would yield friendlier relations on its own. The interactions would have to be conducted within a specific context, he believed, with both groups pursuing similar goals on equivalent footing and with the unequivocal support of political and social institutions. When those conditions were not met — witness acts of “massive resistance” in Southern states, or the riots in response to school busing in northern cities like Boston — contact could actually make matters worse, Allport stipulated.

    “There was a lot of pushback and a lot of controversy around different busing or integration policies,” Chin observed. “That supported Allport’s theory that when there’s limited external support for inter-group contact, you can see worse attitudes. That’s what I think explains the findings here.”

    Importantly, some qualitative research has indicated that undergoing the process of integration led to positive results for students of all racial extractions. When researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College interviewed graduates from six desegregated high schools, participants said they greatly valued the experience as an early and worthwhile encounter with members of communities different from their own. Still, most of them — especially whites — described themselves as living in much more homogenous communities as adults and said that their own children didn’t attend racially diverse schools.

    The study doesn’t necessarily argue against contemporary efforts to break down racial divisions in K-12 schooling, or even against the idea that school integration per se might lead to less racism among white students who participate in it. But the mid-century campaign of desegregation was the among the most ambitious and effective engines of diversification that has ever been attempted, Chin observed — and one of its most hoped-for effects does not seem to have materialized.

    “I’m not convinced that integration always doesn’t work. In my theory of a transformed society, we would all be in more integrated spaces. But there’s a link missing because it’s so hard to get spaces to integrate….We need to improve people’s racial attitudes and behaviors and empathy toward others. But [school integration] is what I thought would have done that.”

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  • Report: COVID Vaccine Data for Youngest Children and Grade-School Students Won’t Be Available Until 2022, Moderna CEO Warns

    By Steve Snyder | 3 days ago

    Go Deeper – Schools and COVID: Follow our latest reporting on the pandemic, remote learning and fears of ‘COVID Learning Loss’ at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC

    Amid the rush to provide educators across the country with immediate access to coronavirus vaccines, (Jo Napolitano reported here last month on states’ decisions to move teachers up the priority list), attention is now also turning to children: How to get a greater percentage of students nationwide both tested and vaccinated.

    Prior to the holiday, the Biden administration unveiled a proposal that would have the federal government cover the multibillion-dollar cost of accelerating COVID testing at every K-12 school. But on Monday, the CEO of one vaccine maker warned that even as testing of students increases, we may be more than a year away from having an effective vaccine for young children.

    As reported by CNBC, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel was speaking at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference when he broke down three distinct timelines for vaccine distribution. The company’s current vaccine has received FDA approval for use in people 18 years and older, which means college students and the oldest high schoolers could be receiving the vaccine later this year. Bancel said Moderna has also already launched a study testing the vaccine for adolescents as young as 12, and that results are expected by the start of the fall semester in September.

    But Bancel warned the company is likely more than a year away from knowing whether the vaccine will work for infants, toddlers and those children attending elementary schools.

    CNBC reports that Bancel said he expects to commence a study for young children between ages 1 and 11 “soon,” but the CEO also warned such a study will take “much longer.”

    “We have to start a lower dose, so we should not see clinical data in 2021 but more [likely] in 2022,” he was reported as saying.

    For parents of grade-schoolers, this may push back hopes of vaccinations to the 2021-22, or even 2022-23 school year.

    Go Deeper – Schools and COVID: Follow our latest reporting on the pandemic, remote learning and fears of ‘COVID Learning Loss’ at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC. A few recent headlines:

    —Where are the Kids?: The concerning case of Cleveland’s no-show students, as more than 8,000 kids go missing from online classes (Read the full story

    —The Cost of ‘COVID Slide’: Study estimates that schools could see annual costs of $2,500 per student to address pandemic-related learning loss (Read the full story

    —The Students Juggling School and Job During the Pandemic: How teens are balancing Zoom classes and fast-food jobs to support their struggling families (Read the full story)

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  • Former Teachers and Ed Advocates to Join Biden’s White House Team

    By Linda Jacobson | 4 days ago

    The Department of Education isn’t the only part of the federal government where former teachers and education advocates will have a role in the Biden administration.

    At least half a dozen individuals recently appointed to positions in the White House include those with teaching experience and others who have worked with education-focused organizations. While several have most recently worked on the Biden-Harris campaign — and didn’t necessarily jump straight from the classroom into government — they’ll still have direct knowledge of issues that matter to both teachers and parents.

    The incoming White House staff, for example, includes Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, who taught fifth grade in the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and spent 2013 and 2014 advising Teach for America “corps members” and interviewing future candidates. Demers has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

    Corina Cortez, once a senior advisor at the National Education Association, will serve as special assistant to the president for presidential personnel. And Dani Durante, who will be the director for leadership and training, was previously the senior director of operations at OneGoal: Graduation, a nonprofit focused on college readiness, particularly for low-income students of color.

    “I think it’s interesting to see appointees with education backgrounds,” said Anne Hyslop, assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education and a former policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education.“That is experience, a point of view they’ll be bringing with them that affects how they think about policy and the role education can play.”

    Charles Barone, the director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform, added that with former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, Biden’s pick to lead the Domestic Policy Council, “having no domestic policy experience, it makes some sense that they would lean to other hires having domestic policy experience, including education.”

    Hyslop noted that future first lady Jill Biden, a teacher, could also be playing a role in tapping those with education experience. “It’s not far-fetched to imagine Dr. Biden may want to devote some of her time to education projects, given her career interests,” she said.

    Related

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    Others, however, suggested the similarities in the resumes of Biden’s new hires could be more coincidental. Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm, said those who worked on Biden’s campaign and transition team are likely joining the administration for their more recent experience, rather than their connections to education issues.

    Teach for America, she added, “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

    Others have more extensive — and recent — scholastic experience. Princeton University’s Cecilia Rouse, who will chair the Council of Economic Advisors, has focused her research on education and was senior editor of the Princeton-Brookings Institution journal, Future of Children.

    Related

    Community Colleges Expected to Have Their Moment in Biden White House. But in Parting Salvo, DeVos Calls Ideas Like Free Tuition ‘Insidious’

    And capturing the new administration’s work as White House video director will be Jonathan Hebert, who was part of the Biden-Harris campaign and previously worked for Our Turn Action Network, formerly named Students for Education Reform.

    At Our Turn, Hebert created videos on opposition to a North Carolina policy requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition and another on the impact of the University of Southern California’s admissions scandal on first-generation college students.

    “In Jon,” said Our Turn CEO Mohan Sivaloganathan, “it is exciting to see a warrior for educational justice in the White House, who has a firsthand view of how young people can and should shape our schools.”

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  • Betsy DeVos Resigns as Education Secretary Following Violence at Capitol, Tells President Trump ‘There Is No Mistaking the Impact Your Rhetoric Had’

    By The 74 | January 7, 2021

    The second member of President Trump’s cabinet announced her resignation Thursday night, following the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol this week. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted the letter Thursday, with her resignation set to become effective Friday, as she pointed to the president’s role in fueling the deadly chaos that descended on Congress. Her full letter:

    Dear Mr. President:

    For more than thirty years, I have fought on behalf of America’s students to expand the options they have to pursue a world-class education. As you know, too many of them are denied an equal opportunity to a high-quality education simply because of where they grow up or how much money their family makes. You rightly have called this one of the most significant civil rights issues of our time.

    Leading the U.S. Department of Education has given me an exceptional opportunity to advocate on behalf of the forgotten students the traditional system leaves behind. We have achieved much.

    We have sparked a national conversation about putting students and parents in charge of education, leading to expanded school choice and education freedom in many states. We have restored the proper federal role by returning power to states, communities, educators, and parents. We have returned due process to our nation’s schools and defended the First Amendment rights of students and teachers. We have dramatically improved the way students interact with Federal Student Aid. We have lifted up students by restoring year-round Pell, expanding Second Chance Pell, delivering unprecedented opportunities for students at HBCUs, and so much more.

    Finally, Mr.President, I know with certainty that history will show we were correct in our repeated urging of and support for schools reopening this year and getting all of America’s students back to learning. This remains the greatest challenge our nation’s students face, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. Millions are being denied meaningful access to education right now, in no small part because of the union bosses who control so much of the traditional system.

    We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people. Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business. That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.

    Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgement and model the behavior we hope they would emulate. They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday. To that end, today I resign from my position, effective Friday, January 8, in support of the oath I took to our Constitution, our people, and our freedoms.

    Holding this position has been the honor of a lifetime, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve America and her students.

    Sincerely, Betsy DeVos 


    From The 74 Archive: DeVos on the Docket — With 455 Lawsuits Against Her Department and Counting, Education Secretary is Left to Defend Much of Her Agenda in Court



  • With Senate in Democrats’ Hands, Attention Turns to Ed Committee Leadership, Cardona Confirmation

    By Linda Jacobson | January 7, 2021

    With Democrats now in control of the U.S. Senate following the defeat of two Republican incumbents in Georgia’s high-stakes runoff election, attention turns to committee assignments and the upcoming confirmation hearings for Miguel Cardona, President-elect Biden’s nominee for education secretary.

    Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is expected to take retired Sen. Lamar Alexander’s spot as chair of the education committee, while Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina is in line to be ranking member.

    Murray said in an email to The 74 recently that she will continue to prioritize reauthorization of the Higher Education Act “to make college more affordable, accessible, accountable, and safer while addressing the systemic racism that has plagued our higher education system.”

    She said she was also planning to focus on addressing “all the way systemic racism continues to harm students of color.”

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    Georgia Senate Runoff Will Affect Reach of Biden’s Education Agenda and the ‘Larger Political Dynamic’ in Washington

    Murray is also a strong early-childhood advocate and could push for additional spending on child care in any future relief package. The bill that passed in December provided $40 billion less than she proposed.

    One of the first things on the education committee’s agenda will be advancing Biden’s choice for education secretary. Nomination hearings for Cardona aren’t expected to begin until later this month at the earliest. But as soon as Biden is sworn in on the 20th, Cardona could begin serving as acting secretary, noted Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm.

    The victory for Democrats in both Georgia races gives the Senate a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris ready to step in as a tie-breaking vote.

    With Democrats controlling both the executive and legislative branches of government, some speculate Biden will be able to push for costlier and more controversial aspects of his policy agenda. But with the filibuster — the rule requiring 60 votes for legislative packages — expected to stay in place, he’ll still have to appeal to GOP moderates to pass major legislation.

    Democrats could help him get major tax and spending measures through Congress — bills related to additional pandemic relief, for example — using the budget reconciliation process. Under that fast-track procedure, bills are not allowed to add to the federal deficit or change spending on social security.

    Biden is also expected to pause President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders, particularly the most recent order that directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use Community Service Block Grant funds to issue “emergency learning scholarships” to disadvantaged families. Payments to microschools, pods, and therapy services for students with special needs would also be eligible.

    Trump’s 1776 Commission, intended to “teach our children about the miracle of American history” and blunt the impact of the 1619 Project focusing on the impact of slavery, would also likely be on that list.

    Related

    Trump Issues School Choice Executive Order Allowing States to Repurpose Funds for ‘Emergency Learning Scholarships’; Critics See Biden Swiftly Revoking Pandemic Measure

    In August, Trump also issued a series of executive orders, including one that deferred payroll tax obligations. Democrats argued that action could hurt schools and lead to teacher layoffs.

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  • Parent Poll: Vaccine ‘Absolutely Necessary’ for Sending Kids Back to Classrooms; 6 in 10 Will Immunize Their Children

    By Beth Hawkins | January 6, 2021

    Parents say making a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public is “absolutely necessary” for them to feel safe returning their children to classrooms, and a majority will have their kids vaccinated, according to a new poll by the National Parents Union. But only half of those will inoculate their kids right away, and one-fourth of families won’t do so at all.

    The poll comes as states try to figure out how to comply with a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that teachers, school staff and day care providers be among the next group of essential workers prioritized for vaccination. The process has been complicated by delays in vaccine distribution.

    Overall, 60 percent of parents polled say they will have their kids vaccinated, though only 31 percent will do so immediately. One-fourth say they will not immunize their children.

    Three-fourth of parents who are Democrats say they will have their children vaccinated, versus 56 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of political independents, the December survey found. Half say making a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public is “absolutely necessary” for them to feel safe returning their children to classrooms.

    As ambivalent as they are about the vaccines, 68 percent of parents surveyed expressed concern that their children are falling behind — a rate that has remained relatively consistent since the start of the current academic year.

    A year-old federation of parents and advocacy organizations, the National Parents Union has surveyed families about their experiences and opinions since April and canvassed a representative sample monthly since September. The December poll was administered to 1,008 parents.

    Related

    Mothers of Invention: Frustrated With the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Union

    The first NPU poll to probe families’ attitudes about vaccines, the December survey found acceptance of vaccination rises with parental education and income, and is highest in Western states. Asians were the ethic group most likely to say they will have their children vaccinated, at 70 percent, compared with 64 percent of Latinos, 58 percent of whites and 55 percent of Blacks.

    It’s not clear whether immunizing teachers will quell the debate over how to safely reopen schools. Polls put the number of American adults who say they are likely to seek the vaccine as low as 60 percent, calling into question whether enough teachers will sign up. Regardless, transmission seems increasingly unlikely in schools, provided community case rates are low.

    In a recent interview with The 74’s Zoe Kirsch, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she favors prioritizing vaccination according to school reopening plans, with early immunizations going to staff whose schools are welcoming students back in person.

    Related

    74 Interview: AFT’s Randi Weingarten Talks Tying School Reopening to Teacher Vaccine Rollout, Biden’s Ed Secretary Pick and $900B Relief Bill

    The December survey was consistent with the general findings of the organization’s past polls: Even as concerns mount that their children are falling behind, more than two-thirds of parents worry about someone in their family getting COVID-19.

    A widely available vaccine tops the list of safety measures that would bridge the gap between families’ fears of learning loss and their anxiety about the coronavirus. Asked what factors were “absolutely necessary” for them to be willing to send their children back into classrooms, 46 percent of parents said requiring staff and students potentially exposed to the virus to stay home for 14 days, 44 percent want limited class sizes to facilitate social distancing and 41 percent said case counts in their communities need to be low.

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation and The City Fund provide financial support to the National Parents Union and The 74

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  • Research Shows Students Benefiting From Arts Field Trips, But Will They Recede After COVID?

    By Kevin Mahnken | January 4, 2021

    Parents have worried all year that arts education will be among the casualties claimed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting pressures on local school budgets. Depending on how long districts are forced to cut programs, fire or reassign staff, and cope with remote learning, some advocates warn, little money or instructional time could be left over for activities outside of core academic subjects.

    Those concerns may grow louder following the release of research this fall that shows young students receiving measurable academic and social-emotional benefits from exposure to the arts. Even a few brief trips to cultural institutions can lift engagement, tolerance, course grades, and standardized test scores for participating students, the authors find.

    The study, circulated as a working paper by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, offers the latest round of findings from the first-ever multi-visit experiment measuring the long-term effects of field trips. Lead author Heidi H. Erickson, a visiting assistant professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, said that she and her collaborators were surprised to see the size of the effects generated by a handful of outings during the school year. Previous research had focused on “much more comprehensive” arts enrichment and integration programs that were administered over a longer span of time, she noted.

    “Here, we are able to demonstrate that a relatively simple intervention — and we consider it pretty low-touch; three field trips in a year, maybe six field trips in two years — can actually have some substantial impacts,” Erikson said. “They’re not just limited to social benefits, but it shows that smaller interventions can actually have some significant effects on academics as well.”

    To test those effects, the researchers randomly assigned fourth and fifth graders from 15 Atlanta elementary schools to receive three field trips to an art museum, a symphony orchestra, and a theater production. Those students were compared with a control group that was sent on one field trip, either to one of the arts organizations or another destination in Atlanta.

    Students were asked to complete surveys at the beginning and end of their school year to gauge their interest in the arts, tolerance for others, political tolerance, empathy, and school engagement. The research team also examined administrative data detailing the students’ performance on the Georgia Milestones standardized tests, course grades, and attendance and disciplinary records.

    Survey responses indicated that students who received the arts field trips were more likely to express a desire to consume or participate in arts in the future. They were also more likely to demonstrate tolerance, as demonstrated by their higher levels of agreement with the survey prompt that “different people can have different opinions about the same thing.”

    Those results are somewhat in keeping with prior research, which found that one-off visits to art museums boosted children’s critical and creative thinking. But the effects of the repeated field trips on academic outcomes were more noteworthy still: Two years after going on the trips, participants earned significantly higher combined scores on their math and ELA standardized tests. They enjoyed higher course grades as well.

    Erikson noted that, while it was unclear just how the field trips had improved academic performance, students who had received more exposure to the arts subsequently did better in several measures of school engagement. One year after the trips, participating students had .19 fewer behavioral incidents than those in the control group (an 83 percent decline) and were less likely to be absent from school.

    “As we started to look at measures like disciplinary infractions, attendance, measures of conscientiousness, we started to wonder if maybe there was a school engagement effect happening,” she said. “School is now a little more exciting to students, they’ve had these great experiences with their classes, they feel a little more connected, and they’re just trying more.”

    The authors note that arts field trips like those tracked in the study are sometimes viewed as a liability by teachers and school leaders, who meticulously budget their instructional time. Three days out of a year devoted to art, theater, and music — even if, as in the case of the study, the costs of the visits were covered — can represent a large resource expended, especially given the pressure for schools to perform well on their states’ educational accountability systems.

    During the aftermath of the Great Recession, education observers noted that field trips waned as districts dealt with massive budget cutbacks. Survey data from school administrators indicated that nearly one-third reported eliminating such trips in the years following the 2007-09 financial meltdown.

    While hesitant to point to specific risks from continued school closures and financial retrenchment, Erikson said she worried that perceived “extras” like class trips and arts education would recede in the wake of the pandemic. Given the countless new responsibilities piled on schools during times of crisis, from providing free meals to connecting kids with the internet, enrichment activities may be in danger of being lost in the shuffle.

    “The longer the current education conditions go on, there’s a concern that we short-change students from having a holistic and broader educational experience. Exposing kids to a broader world, connecting kids to their teachers and classmates, connecting them with a world outside their school — that’s where field trips fit in. With the pandemic and so many schools [still] online, I do think there’s a risk of serious negative consequences from being isolated from each other and disconnected.”

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  • Georgia Senate Runoff Will Affect Reach of Biden’s Education Agenda and the ‘Larger Political Dynamic’ in Washington

    By Linda Jacobson | January 4, 2021

    America could know as early as Tuesday night which party controls the U.S. Senate — and possibly the scope of President-elect Joe Biden’s education agenda.

    The outcome depends on Georgia voters, who are casting ballots in a pivotal runoff election. One Senate race pits Republican Kelly Loeffler, whom the state’s governor appointed last year to finish retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, against Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

    In the other, incumbent Republican David Perdue is seeking a second term and facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, a media executive.

    The results could determine how much support Biden will have for the costliest and most progressive parts of his education agenda, such as tripling funding for high-poverty schools, forgiving student loans, and pursuing another pandemic relief package. While the president-elect is expected to use executive powers to bring back some Obama-era policies, experts said with the runoff and the slimmest of Democratic majorities in the House, Biden will need to appeal to GOP moderates in both chambers to move major legislation.

    Republicans, who currently have 50 seats, need to win just one of the two races to retain their majority. If the chamber is split 50-50, Democrats will gain control with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.

    A political trifecta in Washington — when one party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress — is uncommon and usually doesn’t last long, according to Michael Barone, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Since 1969, Democrats have held the White House, the House, and the Senate for a total of only eight years.

    “It’s not as monumental inside the Senate. It’s monumental for the larger political dynamic,” said Bethany Little, principal at EducationCounsel, an education consulting firm. When Democrats control the White House, the House, and then take the Senate, “that’s when the game has changed.”

    While President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia, the latest polls show no clear front runner in either Senate race. According to FiveThirtyEight, Loeffler trails Warnock 48 percent to 50 percent, while Ossoff leads Perdue 49 percent to 48 percent. Perdue is spending the rest of the campaign in quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, but President Donald Trump is planning a Monday night rally for both Republicans, while Biden is expected to travel to Atlanta for the Democrats. Democrats have seized upon early pandemic stock trades by Loeffler and Perdue as evidence of wrongdoing. The GOP senators, however, maintain they’ve done nothing wrong. Leoffler and Perdue describe their opponents as radical leftists.

    The importance of the race is evidenced by the energy and resources Republicans and Democrats are pouring into the state. Some analysts predict spending on campaign advertising could reach a staggering $500 million in an already record-setting year for spending on Congressional races.

    The role of centrists 

    With control of Congress undecided until after the runoff, confirmation hearings for education secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and other cabinet nominees could be on hold, especially if a winner in each race isn’t immediately clear.But with Biden opting not to choose a union leader for education secretary — an option several outlets reported he was considering — he’ll likely have an easier time winning approval from the Senate for that position, even if Republicans retain control.

    Cabinet member confirmations require 51 votes. But with a 60-vote rule in place to end debates over major legislation, Biden will need more votes for some proposals, such as another COVID-19 relief package.

    That’s why even if the Democrats gain control, they’ll be looking for support from moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — all members of the education committee. Republicans, on the other hand, will continue to appeal to Democrats they view as more bipartisan, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

    “Senators who are willing to vote with the other side will certainly find themselves getting a lot of attention and likely very favorable treatment of any issues that disproportionately affect their states,” said Steven White, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University in New York.

    The last time there was a 50-50 split in the Senate was 20 years ago whenCongress passed one of the most far-reaching education laws in American history — No Child Left Behind. President George W. Bush signed the law about a year after he defeated Democrat Al Gore — another election debated in the courts. But the even split in the Senate didn’t lead to partisan gridlock. NCLB was just one piece of major legislation to come from a Congress united by the war in the Middle East following Sept. 11.

    “People think of 50-50 as polarizing, but it actually wasn’t,” said Little, with EducationCounsel, who worked as chief education counsel to the Senate education committee at the time. “It was very affirming to centrist, moderate, bipartisan work.”

    Then-Senate leader Trent Lott and Democratic leader Tom Daschle negotiated a power-sharing compromise in which committees were also split 50-50, but with Republicans serving as chairs. They even wrote a book about it in 2016, hoping their efforts at bipartisanship would inspire current members.

    But such camaraderie might be impossible now. Relations between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and current Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have worsened since McConnell expedited conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and after months of bitter fights over relief legislation.

    If there are few senators working to find middle ground, that could “change the calculus,” Little said. But moderates already demonstrated their influence by pushing for agreement on the most recent relief bill after numerous other efforts failed. “It wouldn’t have happened if centrists hadn’t restarted negotiations,” she added.

    Future of school choice

    Loeffler, also a member of the education committee, is not among those centrists. Loyal to Trump, she has pushed for increased funding for private school choice.

    In September, she sponsored a school choice bill that would give low-income families and those who have children with special needs access to federal funds for private school or home school expenses.

    But Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm, said once President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are no longer in Washington to champion school choice, Loeffler might have a harder time attracting an audience for the issue.

    “Without the secretary in an active role there, you do wonder how she is going to press that point,” Martin said.

    The future of school choice in the courts is another issue that rests on the Senate’s makeup.

    “A Democrat-controlled Senate would appoint more progressive judges who would be less inclined to rule in favor of school choice proponents and those advocating for religious institutions,” said Leslie Finger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Texas. “With Republican control of the chamber, judicial appointments are sure to be held up.”

    In addition to confirming Barrett, the McConnell-led Senate has scrambled to fill federal court vacancies with Trump nominees. There are currently 53 vacancies in the federal court system, with 30 nominees pending.

    Perdue sits on the armed services, banking, budget and foreign relations committees. When he ran for office in 2014, he advocated for “defunding” the Department of Education. Last year, he co-sponsored legislation that would have allowed education pods — small groups of students learning together while schools operate remotely — to receive federal funding, without states and localities interfering. The bill also would have allowed “home educators” to get the same tax deduction for expenses as teachers. Loeffler was a co-sponsor on the bill, which died in the finance committee.

    Perdue was the lone sponsor of the SCHOOL — or Safely Creating Healthy Opening Options Locally — Act that would create a $55 billion grant program to cover COVID-19 testing and expenses related to reopening schools, including cleaning, masks and other supplies. The bill was referred to the education committee, but never went any further.

    Charter school advocates are also closely watching the outcome of the runoff. Ron Rice, senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said even if Warnock or Ossoff campaigned on the idea of charters hurting traditional schools, they would need to “govern like moderates” because of strong support among voters for charter schools.

    During a recent post-election webinar, he counted former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who defeated incumbent Cory Gardner in November, among other Democrats in Congress who have supported charter schools, including Cory Booker of New Jersey, Diane Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

    Biden is expected to be tougher on charters than some school choice experts would like and has said he doesn’t want any federal funding flowing to for-profit operators. But Rice said the president-elect will likely govern as a moderate on the issue.

    “I don’t think there’s a hit squad on charters in the incoming administration,” he said.

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