February 2021
  • One Year into Pandemic, Far Fewer Young Students are on Target to Learn How to Read, Tests Show

    By Linda Jacobson | February 24, 2021

    Twenty percent fewer kindergartners are on track to learn how to read than their peers were at this time last year, and most haven’t made much progress since the fall, according to new assessment data released Wednesday.

    Thirty-seven percent of this year’s kindergartners are on-track in early reading skills, compared to 55 percent during the 2019-20 school year, just prior to the pandemic. Among first graders, 43 percent are on target, compared to 58 percent last year.

    “Teachers are working hard. They’re doing what they can,” said Paul Gazzerro, director of data analysis at Amplify, a K-8 curriculum provider that collected the data from about 400,000 students across 1,400 schools in 41 states. “We’re just not seeing the bounce back that we’re hoping for.”

    While all students are performing worse than they would have in a normal year, the gaps are especially pronounced for Black and Hispanic students. Compared to the prior year, 13 percent more white kindergarteners are considered at-risk, while for Black and Hispanic kindergarteners, the increases are 27 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

    The results provide further evidence of the crushing effect school closures have had on young children’s early reading development — to the point they might not catch up, Gazzerro said. Amplify’s experts, however, said that while teachers tend to resort to lower-level instruction when children fall behind, it’s important to “double down” with grade-level material and that K-1 provides a key window to close the gap.

    “We have a sort of once-in-a-generation chance to catch up these students,” said Susan Lambert, Amplify’s chief academic officer for elementary humanities. She added that providing additional literacy instruction on top of what schools normally schedule could also address “persistent gaps” for students who were already struggling before the pandemic.


    ‘Inequalities Grow Before Our Eyes’: Alarming New Data Show Ohio’s Black Students Have Lost a Half-Year of Learning, Are Missing More School, During the Pandemic

    Leaders of the Kyrene School District, near Phoenix, Arizona, shared their results on Wednesday’s call with reporters, noting that their results mirror the national data, with more students in the “well below benchmark” category than there would have been in a normal year.

    “One of my concerns is budgeting and how we’re going to fill in all these gaps,” said Sharyn Weinheimer, the district’s academic intervention coordinator.

    Teachers used the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills — or DIBELS — assessment to directly measure students’ reading, either in person or virtually, which eliminates the chance that students taking an assessment at home might cheat by looking up the answers or getting outside help.

    Gazzerro said that they saw little difference between students who took the assessment remotely and those who took it in school, adding further confidence in the results.

    This is the second time Amplify has released data showing the impact of the pandemic and school closures on students’ early reading development. In the fall, the company released data from the beginning of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, showing that first graders experienced the greatest drop in scores beyond a normal “summer slide.” The percentage of first graders considered “well-below benchmark” increased from 27 percent in fall 2019 to 40 percent in fall 2020.

    Reading expert Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chi­cago,said one advantage of using DIBELS is that it allows educators to examine the impact of the pandemic on an age group other assessments typically miss.

    DIBELS, based at the University of Oregon, also has a large database for making comparisons between students tested in a normal year and those learning to read during the pandemic.

    The schools in the study were more urban and served almost twice as many Hispanic and half as many white students than schools nationally.

    DIBELS has come in for criticism from some reading experts because it focuses on a narrow aspect of learning to read. In the lower grades, for example, the assessment asks students to read and identify the sounds in nonsense wordslike “kex” or “lat.” The method determines fluency — how quickly a student can identify a word.

    Students, especially those with more advanced skills, sometimes struggle to make sense of the nonsense words, said Rachael Gabriel, an associate professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut. They might turn them into the next closest real word and end up with lower scores, she said. The newest edition of the assessment includes revisions to prevent that confusion.

    In the context of school closures, Gabriel said it’s likely that many“beginning readers missed a lot of beginning reading instruction along with opportunities for one-on-one feedback on their practice.” But it’s also possible some students gained more skills than they would have in a normal year because of being exposed to more vocabulary at home with adults or having more time to read on their own more than they did in school, she said.

    Michael Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, said he’s encouraged by Tennessee’s recent passage of a $160 million package that includes a phonics-based literacy law requiring schools to better identify and provide interventions for students lacking “foundational” skills.

    “One of the things that I think is clear a year into the pandemic is that teaching young children is very, very difficult online,” he said, adding that the Tennessee legislation “combines real dollars and a clear point of view on how to teach reading with a practical understanding that this has been done virtually.”


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  • CDC Study Finds Teachers ‘Central’ To COVID Transmission When Distancing, Masks Not Enforced

    By Linda Jacobson | February 24, 2021

    When schools don’t consistently enforce precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing, teachers can play a “central” role in COVID-19 transmission, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released this week.

    Over an eight-week period that included 24 in-person school days, educator-to-educator and educator-to-student transmission in one district contributed to half of the 31 cases of the virus linked to schools, researchers found. Of 69 additional family members of the teachers and students, 18 tested positive. The study was conducted in six elementary sites in the Marietta City Schools, outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

    While schools employed plastic dividers between desks, students were less than 3 feet apart in the classroom. And even though the district mandated mask use, students ate lunch in their classrooms, which might have contributed to the spread, according to the study. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month that “breaches in mask wearing” can increase spread.


    Inside the New CDC Guidance on Reopening Classrooms: Masks and Social Distancing Key Safety Strategies, Vaccinations Not a Precondition for In-Person Learning

    “These findings suggest that educators can play an important role in in-school transmission and that in-school transmission can occur when physical distancing and mask compliance are not optimal,” the authors wrote. They added that previous studies have shown that even when community rates are high, transmission within schools can be prevented when staff and students implement all of the safety precautions.

    The study strengthens local teacher unions’ argument that educators should be vaccinated before in-person learning resumes and it serves as a warning to districts considering a return to school in areas where case rates remain high. The researchers found that “small group instruction” for students and teachers having meetings or eating lunch together may have contributed to the spread.

    “School buildings can be safe for teachers and kids, but the layered mitigation and testing and tracing must be implemented to curb the risk of transmission, with vaccine availability as another layer of protection,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “We hope school districts examine it closely.”

    Marietta schools Superintendent Grant Rivera was a co-author of the study and the district has already taken additional steps in response to its findings. Teachers are now discouraged from eating together and hold more of their meetings virtually. Staff members relocated large equipment like copiers and moved furniture that took up space in workrooms and classrooms and prevented physical distancing.

    “Masks are required in our district and we remind our students every day to ensure that they are worn properly,” said Jen Brock, a spokeswoman for the district.

    But so far, Georgia is not vaccinating teachers under age 65. Gov. Brian Kemp said last week that teachers may soon be added to the priority list.

    “We continue to hope that all Georgia educators will soon be eligible as the study showed the higher occurrence of adult-to-adult transmission and the vaccine will help reduce this risk,” Brock said.

    According to CNN, 28 states now include teachers among those eligible for vaccines.

    While the study’s authors echoed Walensky’s statements that schools can reopen without teachers being vaccinated, they called vaccination a “critical component” in preventing spread of the disease. They added that even after teachers are vaccinated, schools should continue to follow recommended safety measures because most children are not yet eligible for vaccines and there’s still limited evidence on transmission of the virus after vaccination.


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  • New Pew Research Polling on School Reopening Shows Concerns Shifting From Virus Spread to Learning Loss

    By Mark Keierleber | February 24, 2021

    As the pandemic’s havoc on K-12 education reaches the one-year mark and the death toll tops 500,000, a growing share of Americans believe that learning loss due to prolonged campus closures should be a top consideration in reopening decisions, according to the results of a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday.

    In total, 61 percent of respondents said that education leaders should give “a lot” of consideration to potential learning loss as they weigh whether to reopen campuses for in-person learning. The data represent a sharp increase from July 2020, when just 48 percent of adults said that learning loss should be a top consideration in school reopening plans and a far larger number of respondents said that the threat of teachers and students getting and spreading the virus should be a major concern.

    What has not changed since the summer is that white adults are still far more likely than Black adults to say that schools should reopen sooner rather than later.

    But even while learning loss emerged as a stronger imperative in the latest polling, that doesn’t mean the bulk of U.S. adults are insisting that schools reopen for in-person learning immediately. While 40 percent of survey respondents said that schools should reopen as soon as possible, a majority — 59 percent — said that if campuses are currently closed, they should stay that way until all teachers are offered the vaccine.


    ‘Simply Unacceptable’: Ohio Gov. DeWine Threatens to Withhold Early Vaccines From School Staffers if Cleveland Schools Fail to Reopen Classrooms By March 1

    “It’s not that people are not concerned about health risks and it’s not that people are just saying ‘Let’s just open all schools right now,’” said report author Juliana Horowitz, an associate director of research at Pew. “I think these results, taken together, highlight the complexity of this issue and that people have a lot to consider.”

    Meanwhile, the pandemic’s health risks to teachers and students has become less of a priority. In July, 60 percent of adults said officials should give “a lot” of consideration to teachers getting or spreading the coronavirus, and 61 percent said the same about students. By this month, those figures dropped to 48 percent and 45 percent, respectively. That could reflect more recent understanding that schools, particularly at the elementary level, have not turned out to be vectors for COVID-19 transmission.

    In fact, adults put a larger emphasis on students’ emotional well-being than they did on the risks that students or teachers could become infected if schools reopen — a reality that mirrors growing evidence that prolonged education disruptions have led to a surge in depression and anxiety among young people. In total, 54 percent of adults said that students’ emotional well-being should be a top consideration in reopening decisions, and a similar share said the same about parents’ ability to work if their children are learning from home. Just one-third of adults said that school districts’ financial burden to follow public health guidelines should be a top factor in reopening decisions.


    Youth Suicide: The Other Public Health Crisis

    Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on how to safely reopen campuses, advising that K-12 students can return to classrooms full time in communities with low to moderate spread of COVID-19. Schools that reopen should enforce mask rules and ensure social distancing among other recommendations, according to the CDC, but providing vaccines to teachers shouldn’t be a prerequisite.

    Across Pew’s questions, responses didn’t differ between adults with children and those without them. But partisan divisions were stark, similar to views on other pandemic mitigation measures like mask mandates. While 65 percent of Republicans said that schools should reopen as soon as possible regardless of whether teachers have been offered the vaccine, just 20 percent of Democrats agreed. At the same time, 79 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of Republicans said schools that are currently closed for in-person learning should remain shuttered until teachers are given the vaccine.

    Despite the partisan divisions, both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to say learning loss should be a major factor in reopening decisions than they were last July. The same is true with regard to health considerations. Across the political spectrum, respondents were less likely to say health risks should be given a lot of consideration in reopening decisions.

    “They’re moving in similar directions but the patterns that we see in terms of the differences” between Republicans and Democrats remain the same, Horowitz said.

    The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people of color and those from low-income households — a reality that appears to be influencing adults’ opinions on school reopening decisions. Similar to trends from last summer, Pew found that Black, Hispanic and Asian adults were more likely than white respondents to believe that the potential health risks to teachers and students should be a top consideration in school reopening debates. Just 19 percent of Black adults said that schools should reopen as soon as possible compared with 48 percent of whites. While two-thirds of lower-income adults believe that schools should wait to reopen, the issue was more divisive among their more affluent neighbors.


    Erika Sanzi: Parent-Shaming Is Nothing New, But the Pandemic and the Ugly School Reopening Showdown Has Put It On Display In Ways It Never Has Been Before

    The Pew survey is one in a slew of parent polls in the last year about schooling during the pandemic, a topic that’s brought emotions to the boiling point and has become highly politicized. But poll results on the topic, as FiveThirtyEight notes, can differ widely depending on how the questions are asked. For example, public opinion polls have reached different conclusions about the popularity of distance learning and the degree to which the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on childrens’ mental and emotional health.

    Taken as a whole, the polls — including the one by Pew — highlight how parents are being forced to weigh complex and competing factors before reaching conclusions.

    Pew administered its online survey between Feb. 16 and 21 and included a nationally representative sample of 10,121 U.S. adults. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.


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  • More Lawmakers Are Leading Efforts to Reopen Some Schools By Statute — And Not Just in Red States

    By Kevin Mahnken | February 23, 2021

    Corrected March 3

    As the state approaches the one-year anniversary of its first COVID-related school closures, lawmakers in North Carolina have taken the dramatic step of passing legislation this month that would require districts to offer some version of in-person learning.

    The proposal now sits on the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has found fault with its language but not yet announced whether he will sign it. The episode is the latest public health dispute between a popular governor, reelected only last November, and a Republican legislature that has sought to curb his authority since he first took office.


    Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper Wins Second Term in North Carolina, but Hopes of ‘Trifecta’ Fade

    It is also part of a fast-spreading trend of statutory attempts to open schools from state capitals, even as declining coronavirus cases and the accelerating deployment of vaccines present better conditions for districts to initiate the reopening process themselves. In late January, Iowa passed its own law pushing all schools to offer families at least the option of full-time, in-person education. A bipartisan group of Virginia legislators is advancing a proposal to mandate an in-person option for all students by July 1. And in California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic allies in Sacramento are at odds over how quickly, and under what conditions, to bring students back to their classrooms.

    Under North Carolina’s reopening proposal, school districts would have to reopen fully for special needs students whose families sought that service, while offering either full-time or hybrid instruction for all other students. Teachers in the state are prioritized to receive vaccinations beginning Feb. 24.

    For the moment, schools have been ordered to open in just a handful of Republican-controlled states: Iowa, Texas, Florida, and (for elementary and middle school students only) West Virginia. But with the GOP giddily attacking Democrats across the country over the slow-burning frustration of shuttered schools, there is building pressure to lift restrictions even on bluer terrain.

    Sarah Reckhow, a political scientist at Michigan State University, said that the various strategies adopted by states were a reflection of partisan differences as much as the threat posed by COVID. While President Biden has gingerly nudged both education officials and teachers’ unions to speed the return from remote instruction, she told The 74, states have been left to figure things out for themselves for most of the year-long crisis.

    “We started with the Trump administration not being proactive on this issue in a useful way,” Reckhow said. “We never really had a national approach, and so now we have 50 states, 13,000 school districts,” each developing their own processes.

    Along with several Michigan State co-authors, Reckhow recently released a working paper that illustrates the powerful political dimensions shaping those decisions. As other researchers have found, decisions about how quickly to reopen schools after the first pandemic wave have been much more influenced by politics than safety concerns. Consequently, a given county’s respective preference for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election has been a more accurate guide to whether it reopened in-person last fall than COVID incidence rates.


    Politics, Not Science, is Driving School Reopening Decisions to a ‘Really Dangerous’ Degree, Research Suggests

    But Reckhow’s study further observes that the devolution of authority to local school boards was embraced by Democratic and Republican governors alike, partially as a form of “blame avoidance” — essentially leaving tough calls for someone other than the governor to sort out.

    Concerns over local autonomy

    Debates over public health measures have been a feature of North Carolina political discourse since last spring. Gov. Cooper’s opponent for reelection, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, even filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to strip him of emergency powers to mandate face coverings and limit public gatherings. Now the positions are somewhat reversed, with Republicans in the state house eager to compel local districts to offer live instruction and the governor warning that such a mandate would “hamper” their flexibility in responding to emergencies.

    Ferrel Guillory, a veteran journalist and the vice chairman of the news nonprofit EducationNC, said that the state’s 115 school districts make up a “patchwork of different systems making different judgments” across an education landscape that spans both growing cities like Charlotte and Raleigh as well as rural Appalachian towns to the west. The reopening bill was a sweeping measure in that context, he argued.

    “It’s closer to a state mandate to schools rather than a package that works with local school systems to get schools open,” Guillory said. “The Democrats who oppose this bill have opposed it, in part, on the notion that it takes away some local autonomy … And that’s been part of the governor’s concern too.”

    The legislation passed both chambers of the legislature with enough votes to override any resistance from Cooper, though it is not clear whether the handful of Democrats who crossed party lines to help it advance would still support it if he chose to veto. Regardless of whether it ever takes effect, families have already begun to feel its effects: In Durham, one of the more progressive areas of the resolutely purple state, district leaders announced they would reconsider their existing strategy of continuing with remote instruction through the end of the school year.

    Such changes not only impact families and educators; they also carry obvious weight in the political arena. Last year, many credited Cooper’s well-received COVID response with his relatively handy victory in November. Guillory compared his public profile with that of a “less combative” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, consistently appearing on television to deliver public updates on the situation. Republicans, he added, would only be happy to make a dent in his reelection honeymoon by forcing his hand on reopening.

    “Cooper’s approval ratings remain relatively high,” he said. “I don’t dispute that they have some policy reasons and governance reasons for wanting the schools reopened, but [Republicans] are not unmindful that there’s a political dimension to this. And if they can score a victory over Cooper, they would celebrate it, at least quietly.”

    Partisan divides play into other state-level reopening debates as well. Last week, Republicans in the Minnesota state Senate passed a measure stripping Democratic Gov. Tim Walz of his emergency powers to close schools — a toothless provision, since it can’t pass in the state’s Democratic House, but one nonetheless reflective of the weariness that has accompanied a glacial reopening process in some parts of the state.


    Inside the Fight to Reopen Minneapolis Classrooms: ‘Labor’ Governor Fights to Deliver on $745 Million Wishlist to Teachers as Unions Push Against Returning to School

    Even in Virginia, where Democrats took unified control over state government in 2019, the party is evidently feeling some heat. Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic majorities in Richmond are currently moving on a bill that would require districts to offer the option of in-person instruction, five days a week, beginning this summer. Republicans in the state have been glad to push the issue in a year when multiple statewide offices, as well as all the seats in the state House of Delegates, are up for grabs. One Republican gubernatorial candidate has already released an ad calling for classrooms to reopen faster.

    The legislation would also mandate that school staff be provided access to a COVID vaccine — evidence that political actors are willing to use both carrots and sticks, Reckhow said. But much more than Democrats at the local level, they are increasingly animated by an imperative of both policy and politics: “You need to get kids back.”

    “How they go about doing that varies — whether they have a bully pulpit role versus being able to actually attach funding strings — but that’s generally what I’m seeing,” she said. “It’s really only when you get in the specific, special-purpose governance of schools that you see political leaders stick to the idea that you should be only remote and not plan for any type of in-person at all.”

    Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Minnesota Governor Tim Walz

  • A Pre-COVID Education Study With Big Implications for Remote Learning During the Pandemic: When Parents Take Over, Children Give Up Easier

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | February 22, 2021

    * One lace loops to make the trunk. A squirrel runs around the tree, jumps into a hole at the bottom, and comes out the other side. Pull it though and… huzzah! *

    Teaching a child to tie their shoes isn’t always easy. If you’ve embarked on this painstaking task, watching as little fingers fumble with floppy laces, chances are you’ve fought the urge to jump in and finish the job.

    However, new research out of the University of Pennsylvania suggests that parents may want to think twice before taking over — advice that likely comes as no surprise to mothers and fathers, but goes far beyond shoe-tying.

    The study, published in the journal Child Development, finds that jumping in and completing a task that a child is working on can stifle perseverance and cause them to persist less in the future.

    “If your kid is working on something and you step in and do it for them,” Allyson Mackey, a study co-author and professor of psychology at UPenn, explained to The 74, “then they will learn that you didn’t think they could do it. And they might try less hard in the future.”

    WATCH — Mackey talks about the new research showing kids give up easier if parents step in:

    The experiment, carried out pre-pandemic at a children’s museum in Philadelphia, randomly assigned 90 4- and 5-year olds to one of three groups. One group received patient teaching from a lab technician on how to solve a preliminary puzzle. Another group struggled for just a short time with the puzzle before the experimenter jumped in to solve it. The third was the control group, which received no pre-experiment assignment or instruction.

    All children were then given an impossible task: open a box, secretly glued shut, that had an object rattling inside. If they succeeded, the experimenters told the children, they would be able to play with an exciting toy. The researchers measured how long the kids worked at the task, and compared across groups.

    The results were stark. Kids whose lab technicians took over and solved their puzzles persisted at the box task for an average of 50 seconds — about half as long as children who had received the teaching treatment or no treatment at all.

    Kids whose lab technicians took over and solved their puzzles persisted at the box task for about half as long as children who had received the teaching treatment or no treatment at all. (Child Development)

    The behavior of “trying,” it turns out, is a learned skill. When parents make a habit of jumping in and completing the tasks that their children are working on, it can discourage kids from persisting.

    “If [children] learn from their parents that they shouldn’t try, either because they’re likely to fail, or because someone else will do it for them, then they won’t practice trying,” said Mackey. “That will have long-term implications for reward and motivation circuitry in the brain.”


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    During a pandemic, the lessons from child psychology take on a whole new level of significance. Many parents — including Mackey — increasingly find themselves under the same roof as their kids as they struggle to complete school assignments. And in such cases, resisting the urge to take over becomes all the more important.

    In remote learning, the psychologist mother-of-two tries to help make school work fun. She runs races through the house with her kids and uses games to learn spelling.

    “What brings joy into our house?” Mackey asks. “Because when [my daughter] is feeling happier, she gets less frustrated. Persisting through reading is easier, persisting through math is more fun.”

    The Pennsylvania professor says that she now constantly ponders the messages she might be sending.

    “I think about it all the time,” Mackey said, admitting that sometimes it can be difficult not to jump in. “I try to do it less, but it is just really hard. It is really hard to watch a child struggle.”

    Though it can be a test of patience, giving young children the time to learn new tasks on their own can yield strong benefits, the researcher says. In her own home, budgeting more time for tasks has been key.

    “Building more time into our schedule for practicing, sort of low-stakes tasks, I think has helped quite a lot,” Mackey said.

    She cautioned against taking this tactic too far, however. Parents should avoid the example of “bean dad,” who went viral on Twitter in January for refusing to feed his hungry daughter. The stubborn parent opted instead to let the 9-year-old learn to use a can opener through hours of fruitless experimentation.

    “That is not the right way to motivate kids,” Mackey said. “As soon as children, especially young children, are frustrated, you really can’t bring them back.”

    Her rule of thumb? “Do not step in until your child asks for help,” she advises parents.

    If her daughter is working on a task, say a puzzle or her homework, Mackey will often visibly busy herself with something she knows her daughter will understand — reading a book or washing dishes, for instance. It can make her daughter be less quick to interrupt by asking for help, and can encourage her to persist longer.

    Cultivating persistence, however, is just one piece of healthy childhood development, Mackey explained. Her UPenn colleague Angela Duckworth, a much-lauded researcher, has championed the concept of “grit,” which Mackey said includes not only perseverance, but also a spark of “passionate interest” that compels youth to work toward their goals.


    74 Interview: Researcher Angela Duckworth on Psychology, Parenting and Great Teachers — and Why ‘It’s More Important to Be Honest than To Be Gritty’

    Parents can support their children in many ways: By modeling effort themselves, by cheering on their kids through difficult tasks, by documenting their kids’ progress, and by praising effort instead of ability. One out-of-the-box tactic, tested by research, suggests parents can even encourage healthy decision-making by dressing their kids up as a favorite superhero, Batman for example, and then asking, “What would Batman do in this situation?”

    But beyond any one “do” or “don’t” for parenting, balance is key. Raising happy kids, Mackey says, is the first step to raising kids who persevere.

    “I really believe that general brain health, general well-being is essential for any kind of learning, for any kind of motivation or persistence,” she said.


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  • Survey: Pandemic-Related Stress Tops Teachers’ Reasons for Quitting, But Vaccines, COVID Testing Could Lure Some of Them Back

    By Linda Jacobson | February 22, 2021

    Almost half the teachers who left the field early over the past year blame the pandemic, a new survey shows. But many say they would be willing to return when their schools begin frequent coronavirus testing or when teachers and students have been vaccinated.

    Those who stepped away because of COVID-19 cite stress, child care responsibilities and health concerns as their top reasons for leaving, according to data released Monday from the RAND Corp. In fact, teachers were almost twice as likely to blame their departures on stress (43 percent) than inadequate pay (24 percent).

    “High stress on the job is a marker of teachers who left the profession, and it’s unlikely to go away once COVID fades,” said Heather Schwartz, a co-author of the study.

    Teachers who have left since March reported working longer hours and sleeping less than those who left the profession over a year ago. But Schwartz noted that exhaustion contributed to teachers’ decisions to leave the field before the pandemic, so there wasn’t “much room to grow.”

    While the survey sample is relatively small — about 431 pandemic and 527 pre-pandemic teachers responded — the results underscore challenges states face as they rebuild a workforce that was already experiencing shortages before the pandemic, especially in math, science and special education. Michigan, Arizona and Kansas are among states reporting a pandemic-related drop in the workforce. Policymakers are responding by creating incentives to lure back retired teachers, recruiting college students and proposing pay raises to avoid losing more educators. But some former teachers have already moved into new professions where they enjoy more flexible schedules.

    RAND researchers didn’t explore the actual number of teachers who have left during the past year. A November survey, however, showed that 27 percent of teachers were considering leaving due to the pandemic.

    The RAND survey shows educators under 40 were slightly more likely than older teachers to leave because someone in their household had a high-risk health condition. Those over 40, however, were far more likely to leave because of their own health concerns.

    Technology challenges contributed to some departures, especially among older teachers. They noted frustrations over remote instruction, including inadequate training, lack of high-speed internet and outdated computers.

    Teachers who left early because of the pandemic cited more problems with teaching remotely. (RAND Corp.)

    Teachers in southern states were more likely to leave before retirement than their counterparts in other regions, a trend continued over the past year.

    “We already knew there was a big shortage,” said Stephen Pruitt, a former Kentucky education commissioner who now serves as president of the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit focusing on improving education in 16 states. Megan Boren, a program specialist at the organization, added that states are coping by increasing their use of long-term substitutes and allowing teachers to work with emergency certifications.

    Pruitt said it’s important to understand what’s causing teachers to leave the field so policymakers can improve working conditions. For now, that means putting a premium on ensuring safe classrooms when teachers return to in-person teaching, he said.

    ‘It was exhausting’

    RAND researchers noted a few differences between those who left before and after the pandemic. Black teachers represented a higher proportion of those who left the profession during the pandemic than before — 11 percent compared to 7 percent.

    But early-career teachers were less likely to be among those who left since March — 3 percent compared with 6 percent of those who left before the pandemic.

    Jeanne Maurand, who taught high school chemistry at a private school in Massachusetts, grew accustomed to teaching on Zoom last year and performing experiments involving acid and base reactions on her dining room table. She had planned on teaching at least five more years.

    But when her school initiated a hybrid attendance plan in the fall, the stress of managing cameras, microphones and multiple websites grew overwhelming. She struggled to engage with students on Zoom, including a group dialing in from other countries, while simultaneously managing an in-person classroom where she and students communicated through masks. With windows open for ventilation, the temperature got down to 58 degrees.

    “There were so many things you had to be good at,” she said. “It was exhausting, plus, you’re dealing with the mental health issues of the students. Their whole world was turned upside down.”

    When a couple teachers at her school got the virus, she was further convinced that “the most important thing is to stay alive.”

    More flexibility, less pay

    Those who left education altogether said they now enjoy more flexibility and higher pay. But about half of those who became teachers in small group pods or microschools said they don’t plan to return this fall, even if they’re earning less.

    The survey also found that “more-highly paid teachers are now willing to leave earlier than would otherwise be the case.”

    Educators who took positions at private schools or are working as tutors, for example, cited less standardized testing and fewer work hours as additional perks.

    The authors noted the findings reveal “persistent structural problems that likely will outlast the pandemic unless there are changes to the teaching profession.” They recommend involving teachers in efforts to reduce stress, building more flexibility into the job, and ramping up COVID-19 testing until everyone is vaccinated.

    A third of teachers who left the field early because of COVID-19 said they are “definitely willing” to return when staff and students are vaccinated. Another 27 percent said they would be “somewhat willing” to return. Routine testing would “definitely” draw back 13 percent of those who left early, while 42 percent said they would be “somewhat willing” with testing in place.


    Teachers Unions Say They Need More COVID Tests Before Reopening Classrooms. But Experts Are Warning About the Limitations, Expense and Tradeoffs in Focusing on Swabs

    Pruitt, with the Southern Regional Education Board, said the findings reinforce the notion that job satisfaction rests on more than pay. “I wish people would stop thinking just in terms of salary,” he said.

    But Boren noted some positive signs that states will be able to increase salaries as well after several pay-hike proposals died in state legislatures last year. Some states aren’t seeing the budget shortfalls they expected. In the South, five states have recently proposed teacher pay increases and one, Tennessee, passed a 2 percent hike in a special session.

    While fewer college students have pursued teaching in recent years, “there’s some evidence that trend may reverse,” Boren said, noting there are teacher preparation programs in the South reporting enrollment growth. That could be the result of the economic downturn, she said. “The teaching profession is viewed as a stable career with some job security.”


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  • Raw Video: California School Board Resigns After Accidentally Streaming Meeting Where They Mocked and Derided District Parents

    By The 74 | February 21, 2021

    The YouTube video was uploaded anonymously last Thursday, with a simple description: “This video was taken of the February 17, 2021 meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Oakley Union Elementary School District … I do not wish to conduct any interviews. I only wish for our local public school to be run by better people.” 

    The students of Oakley, located 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, have been learning via virtual classes since last March due to the ongoing pandemic. The comments captured in last week’s video showed school board members mocking and decrying parents pushing for a resumption of in-person classes.

    Board president Lisa Brizendine can be heard saying parents “forget that there’s real people on the other side of those letters that they’re writing … It’s very unfortunate that they want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back.” Watch the full video:

    Some 24 hours later, as the video began capturing the attention of such local media outlets as KPIX TV as well as national reporters at CNN, HuffPost and the New York Times, Brizendine and three of her board colleagues announced their resignation. Superintendent Greg Hetrick announced the moves in a letter sent directly to district families, which included a direct statement from those resigning which said, in part, “we deeply regret the comments that were made in the meeting of the Board of Education earlier this week … We love our students, our teachers and our community, and we want to be part of the remedy to help the District move forward, returning its full focus to students’ needs. To help facilitate the healing process, we will be resigning our positions.” 

    Below, some of the additional coverage that captured the livestreamed remarks, the Oakley fallout, and what is to come next for the district following the resignations:

    —New York Times: Entire school board resigns after members are caught mocking parents on livestream (Read the full story)

    —The 74: Why parents are worried — Survey finds more than half of parents see negative effects in how remote learning is affecting their children (Read the full story

    —KPIX: Oakley school board resigns after president steps down over ‘hot hic’ Remarks (Read the full story

    —CNN: An entire school board resigned after they criticized parents during a public virtual meeting (Read the full story)

    —Erika Sanzi: Parent-shaming is nothing new (Read the full story

    —The 74: Antonucci — Biden set a goal of returning students to classrooms in 100 days, but it’s not the president who holds the real power to reopen schools (Read the full story

  • Your Thursday Virtual Science Class, Courtesy of NASA, Mars & the First Martian Helicopter: Livestream Today’s Perseverance Rover Landing Right Here, 2:30 p.m. ET

    By Steve Snyder | February 18, 2021

    Amid the chaos of remote learning, child care, shoveling and freezing temperatures, I had absolutely no idea that NASA was returning to Mars today until l saw a headline last night. And when I stumbled upon the news it became the one glimmer of fun I could point to, for my science-obsessed first-grader.

    We know what we’ll be doing for our virtual science class today — and it’s a scientific feat that should have more than its fair share of drama, thrills and historical firsts.

    From NASA’s preview of the proceedings: “During landing, the rover will plunge through the thin Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. A parachute and powered descent will slow the rover down to about 2 mph. During what is known as the sky crane maneuver, the descent stage will lower the rover on three cables to land softly on six wheels at Jezero Crater. Perseverance also is carrying a technology experiment – the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter – that will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

    “Among the many firsts with this mission is the agency’s first-ever Spanish-language show for a planetary landing. On Thursday, Feb. 18, at 2:30 p.m., NASA will air Juntos perseveramos, a show that will give viewers an overview of the mission to Mars and highlight the role Hispanic NASA professionals have had in its success.” (Juntos perseveramos will stream at NASA en Español’s YouTube channel)


    The Great STEM Debate: States Can’t Agree on What Those Four Letters Mean, and That’s a Problem

    Livestream begins at 2:15 p.m. ET, with landing expected for 3:55 p.m. My 6-year-old and I will be watching from Brooklyn, and we hope you’ll join us:

    More NASA artist renderings of what we’re expecting today: 

    In anticipation of the targeted landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Feb. 18, 2021, the Empire State Building in New York began lighting its tower red on Tuesday, Feb. 16, starting at sunset. (NASA)

    This illustration shows the events that occur in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey that NASA’s Perseverance rover takes to Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021. (NASA)

    Possible path for Perseverance rover (NASA)

    Illustration shows NASA’s Perseverance rover casting off its spacecraft’s cruise stage, minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere. (NASA)

    Illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars. (NASA)

    Madrid’s radio antennas will take the lead in receiving telemetry from the Mars Relay Network during Perseverance’s entry, descent and landing. (NASA)

    Mars landing sites of previous successful Mars missions and Perseverance. (NASA)


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  • Student Survey: 1 in 4 High School Seniors Had Their Post-Graduation Plans Changed by the Pandemic

    By Laura Fay | February 17, 2021

    COVID-19 is changing what students plan to do after high school, with those more affected by the pandemic more likely to have altered their post-graduation expectations, a new student survey reveals.

    One in four high school seniors said their postsecondary plans had changed since the start of the pandemic, an increase from 18 percent of seniors during a previous survey in spring 2020. Thirty percent of non-white students said their plans had changed, compared to 18 percent of white students, according to the survey conducted in fall 2020 by the nonprofit YouthTruth. Those who said they were personally affected by the pandemic and who report receiving free and reduced-price lunch were more likely to report alerting their plans when compared to their peers.


    The share of students surveyed who said they plan to attend a four-year college or university was 51 percent, which is about the same as in pre-pandemic YouthTruth surveys. However, bigger gaps emerge for other options. The latest results show a significant decline in students expecting to attend a two-year college, 16 percent, compared to 22 percent before COVID-19. The share of students who are unsure about their plans after high school graduation also increased, and there was a slight rise in those expecting to work full time.

    Other data back up the YouthTruth findings. Completion of the federal financial aid application — which is correlated to college enrollment — is down more than 9 percent compared to this time last year, according to a tracker maintained by the National College Attainment Network. Meanwhile, enrollment for low-income high school students declined by nearly 30 percent in fall 2020, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports.

    Mental health is also a challenge. Students reported feeling depressed, stressed or anxious as the top obstacle to learning, with 46 percent of students saying it’s affecting them.

    The findings on mental health and changing postsecondary plans are “heartbreaking but maybe not surprising” given what’s already known about how the pandemic is affecting kids, said Jen Wilka, YouthTruth’s executive director.

    “Not all students are experiencing this time equally, and students are going to need different kinds of supports now and in the coming months and year,” she added.


    YouthTruth surveyed about 85,000 students in grades 3 through 12 from 14 states in the fall and used previous results to compare responses. The survey was conducted online in English and Spanish.

    The report revealed some bright spots, too. While just 39 percent of students said they were learning “a lot almost every day” in the spring, 61 percent now say that is the case, slightly more than before the pandemic. Students who earn high grades are more likely to say they’re learning a lot, and slightly more students learning in person agreed with the statement, compared to those who are in remote and hybrid environments. Of note, hybrid ranked last, behind in-person and fully remote, in the percentage of students reporting they were learning a lot.

    Additionally, students’ sense of belonging in their schools has rebounded, with 49 percent saying they “feel like part of [their] school’s community,” compared to 30 percent last spring and 43 percent pre-pandemic.



    Analysis: Survey Finds More Than Half of Parents Say Their Kids Are Learning Remote — and the Negative Effects Are Hitting Hard

    Some other findings from the most recent YouthTruth report:

    • Male students reported better health and well-being than female students and students who identify in another way. About a third of boys said “feeling depressed, stressed or anxious” is an obstacle to learning, compared to 57 percent of girls and 79 percent who identify in another day.
    • The second most commonly cited obstacle to learning was “distractions at home and family responsibilities,” affecting 44 percent of students.
    • Forty-one percent of remote learners said their “virtual classes are interesting” and 35 percent said “someone usually notices if I’m not paying attention.” Nearly half said they can take breaks as needed during online classes.
    • Sixty-six percent of students agreed with the statement “Most of my teachers are willing to give extra help on schoolwork if I need it,” compared with 58 percent before the pandemic.

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides financial support to YouthTruth and The 74


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  • Report: New Summer Learning Initiative, Launched Last Year as a 5-Week Pilot for Nearly 12,000 Students, Shows Promise For Improving Online Instruction

    By Kevin Mahnken | February 17, 2021

    An ambitious pilot aimed at improving virtual learning last summer has earned high marks from participants, according to a new report. The program, which has since been reconstituted as an ongoing nonprofit enterprise, was rated in surveys as both engaging to students and beneficial in improving teacher performance. Evidence of its academic impact is still to be collected.

    The findings are being weighed at a moment when policymakers are still considering how educators should handle the summer of 2021. In a CNN town hall Tuesday, President Biden suggested that some schools would remain open throughout the season to catch up on lost learning time from pandemic-related closures.

    Released through the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development, the report provides the earliest qualitative evidence related to the National Summer School Initiative (NSSI), which was swiftly designed by a coalition of actors from the education reform world as COVID-19 triggered nationwide school closures. The effort was backed by prominent philanthropies like the Walton Family Foundation and earned a spate of summer headlines in both the national and local press.


    Analysis: COVID Learning & Earning Losses Could Be Huge. But There Are Remedies Inside and Outside Our Schools. Here are 7 of Them

    NSSI was rolled out as a five-week summer offering by 50 schools and school networks, eventually reaching about 11,800 predominantly non-white and low-income students enrolled in grades 3-8. Pupils took part in live, remote math and reading instruction five days per week, mixed with supplemental literacy classes and self-directed mindfulness sessions incorporating activities like dance and yoga.

    To carry out the coursework, 513 “partner” instructors were paired with 15 mentor teachers, many selected from high-performing charter networks like KIPP and Uncommon Schools. Working from the same curricula, mentors provided daily instructional videos for participating teachers to emulate, critique, or simply allow students to watch directly. They also worked with partner teachers to guide their adaptation to remote pedagogy, giving advice on what methods and activities worked or fell flat in their own classrooms.

    Early assessments, gathered both through NSSI surveys and subsequent interviews with partner teachers and mentors, were resoundingly positive. The vast majority of partner teachers reported that students improved their academic abilities over the course of the program and gained greater interest in school and learning. Eighty-six percent of partner and mentor teachers said that participating in NSSI bolstered their view of online instruction.

    Students also rated the experience highly, with 81 percent of survey respondents agreeing that they had grown as readers and 75 percent saying the same for their skills as mathematicians. Three-quarters of parent respondents said that their children had gained confidence in their academic abilities, while nearly two-thirds said that they had discovered a new interest as a direct result of participating in NSSI.

    Perhaps the most heartening finding — especially as school districts have struggled to maintain student interest and attendance in online classes — was that NSSI students generally felt engaged by their virtual lessons. By the final week of the program, 88 percent reported attending the voluntary classes either every day or almost every day, while 65 percent said they were happy to be participating in summer school.


    Analysis: What Does ‘Attendance’ Mean for Remote Learners in a Pandemic? How 106 Districts Are Dealing With Absenteeism, Student Engagement & Grades

    In both survey responses and interviews, instructors expressed high levels of satisfaction with the collaborative aspects of the program. Seventy-nine percent of partner teachers agreed with the statement, “I am learning from my mentor teacher,” including 53 percent who strongly agreed; fully 87 percent believed they would be better teachers in the 2020-21 school year because of their experience at NSSI. For their own part, mentor teachers unanimously agreed that the initiative increased their enthusiasm for teaching.

    Beth Schueler, an assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia and one of the paper’s co-authors, said that the program’s design held some promise as a means of professional coaching and curriculum development. America’s year-long experiment with online learning has largely been seen as a disastrous setback for students, but teachers could stand to benefit from being connected with some of their top-performing fellow practitioners from around the country, she argued.

    “The thing that [partner teachers] really appreciated was that they were just handed all these materials without having to do a ton of lesson planning,” said Schueler. “They could spend the time instead internalizing those materials, getting student feedback, and connecting with students, which seems particularly important right now.”

    Partner teachers extolled the quality of the videos they received from mentors, with one noting that they had never before watched a fellow instructor complete a full, 45-minute lesson. Another, who said they worked in an area with a shortage of math teachers, said they appreciated being able to consult video lessons taught by a mentor who fully grasped the intricacies of Common Core-aligned instruction.

    The enthusiasm for the program from teachers and families stands in marked contrast to the public’s general reception of virtual learning during the pandemic. Polling indicates that large numbers of parents across demographic groups suspect that their children are learning less in online classes and are at risk of falling behind, an impression that is substantiated by early evidence of widening achievement gaps in test scores. Surveys have also shown that teacher morale suffered greatly during the transition away from in-person classes.


    Survey: More than Half of Teachers Felt Less Successful After COVID-19

    After its initial summer launch, NSSI has been rebranded as the nonprofit Cadence Learning, with the aim of extending its reach to new schools. Beginning last fall, the initiative was made available free of charge to districts and networks enrolling fewer than 5,000 students. Districts like Providence and Tulsa, whose enrollments far exceed that number, have been willing to pay up to $50 per student for access to the service, Cadence CEO Steven Wilson told The 74 in an interview. After a substantial round of early philanthropic financing, Wilson added, the organization is “nearly entirely funded from earned revenues.”

    Schueler noted that it would take further quantitative studies to determine whether participation in the summer school actually led to academic growth. In the meantime, she argued, it offered preliminary indications that virtual classes could be used as more than an emergency stop-gap.

    “Obviously, there are a lot of downsides to virtual learning. But I think this is the rare case where you have an organization that was trying to innovate and do something high-quality in the virtual space, and what we’re finding here is that the folks who participated felt like this was a really engaging and positive kind of virtual experience. So engaging virtual learning is possible.”

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


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  • WATCH — Biden Recalibrates Education Goals at Town Hall: Aims to Return K-8 Students to Classrooms in 100 Days, Supports Expanded Summer School, Wary of ‘Cancelling’ Too Much Student Debt

    By The 74 | February 17, 2021

    Tuesday’s town hall in Wisconsin offered President Biden the chance to bring clarity to what had been a confusing series of statements over the past week about the scope of his 100-day pledge to reopen schools, as well as his views on relief spending, teacher vaccinations and student debt.


    In five noteworthy answers Tuesday, Biden clarified and broadened his views on key education issues:

    —What Does ‘Reopening’ Schools Mean?: Biden said it was a “mistake in the communication” when his press secretary said that school reopenings would be measured by in-classroom instruction “at least one day a week.” Tuesday night, Biden “the goal will be five days a week”

    —Prioritizing K-8 Students: “What I am talking about is…opening the majority of schools in K-8th grade, because they are the easiest to open, the most needed to be open because of the impact on children and families having to stay home.”

    —Teacher Vaccinations: Biden said states should be prioritizing educators in the hierarchy of who receives vaccines first.

    —Summer School: Biden predicted that many schools will continue providing instruction through the summer to combat learning losses. While some initial federal relief proposals have included funds that could be used for additional summer instruction, particularly for the most vulnerable students, summer school has not yet been a focus of the conversation.

    —Student Debt: “I understand the impact of the debt and how it can be debilitating,” Biden said, but he rejected the notion of cancelling $50,000 in student debt as some of his Democractic allies in Congress have advocated. Instead, he said he would support relieving $10,000 in student debt and eliminating interest.

    Watch the full town hall via


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  • Growing Backlash to CDC School Guidelines as Los Angeles Teachers Demand Vaccines Before Reopening Classrooms and Florida’s Governor Decries Guidance as a ‘Disgrace’

    By The 74 | February 16, 2021

    Shortly after the Centers for Disease Control unveiled new federal guidance surrounding reopening schools for in-person learning — guidance that prioritizes masking and social distancing as key strategies and outlines a new color-coded system for measuring surrounding community spread — the union representing more than 35,000 Los Angeles teachers pushed back against the suggestion that vaccinations for educators need not be a prerequisite for resuming classroom instruction.

    “We applaud the CDC’s efforts for a national strategy to return to in-person instruction, but the new guidelines released on February 12 do not do enough to address the specific challenges of large urban school districts like LAUSD,” United Teachers Los Angeles said in a statement Friday. “And most troubling is that it does not require vaccinations for school staff, six-foot distancing in all schools, nor improved ventilation as a key mitigation measure.

    “We reiterate that the path to a safe reopening must include: vaccines for all educators and school staff, multi-tiered mitigation strategies (such as COVID testing, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation/quarantine procedures) and lowered community transmission rates — LA County must be out of the purple tier.”

    California’s “purple tier” refers to regions where the risk of transmission is “widespread.” The CDC guidance would create new categories and color-coded benchmarks, with the top tier being red for areas where there are more than 100 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents during a 7-day period. (Some critics of the new guidelines have also warned of greater confusion among citizens who live in states with existing color-coded guidelines)

    In its statement, UTLA challenged those “who are pushing to reopen in the purple tier and without lowered community transmission rates [to answer]: How many infections and deaths are considered ‘safe?’ While LA educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms, the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County is still too high.”

    Just as the CDC guidance was being labeled too risky in California, it was being blasted as too conservative in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis made it clear that the state’s schools would remain open despite the federal government’s new guidance and color-coded directives.

    “What the CDC put out at five on a Friday afternoon — I wonder why they would do it then? — was quite frankly a disgrace,” DeSantis said at a Monday press conference. “It would require, if you actually follow that, closing 90% of schools in the United States.”

    Florida schools, he said, “are open, we remain open, and we are not turning back.”

    Click on the below PDF to scan the full CDC guidance. Here’s more of our recent coverage of the science and politics surrounding reopening classrooms:

    • Inside the CDC Guidance: New guidelines for reopening classrooms prioritizes masks, social distancing; vaccines not a precondition (Read the full story)
    • Campus Testing: Teachers unions say they need more COVID tests before reopening classrooms — but experts are warning about the limitations, expense and tradeoffs in focusing on swabs (Read the full story)
    • Student Vaccines: Superintendents call for “faster rollout” of vaccines but object to delaying school reopenings until children get shots (Read the full story)
    • Flashback — Election Year Politics: Research suggests it’s not science but politics that are driving school reopening decisions to a “really dangerous degree” (Read the full story)
    • Go Deeper: Scan the full CDC guidance below:


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  • Lead Poisoning Hurts Kids. A New Study Shows How Exposure from an Unexpected Source — NASCAR Racetracks — Lowered Test Scores

    By Kevin Mahnken | February 15, 2021

    The Flint water crisis was, until the arrival of COVID-19, the most frightening recent instance of a public health emergency spilling over into K-12 education.

    Beginning in 2014, thousands of children in the former manufacturing hub drank and bathed in water with dangerously high levels of lead, a substance known to inhibit intellectual development and increase impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and aggression. The aftermath saw hugely deleterious consequences for learning, as parents began reporting strange new behaviors from their children and demanding resources to deal with them. Five years after the catastrophe began, the city’s population of special-needs students had nearly doubled, all before a pandemic year that is still keeping them out of classrooms.

    Remediation efforts, along with legal settlements and lost economic activity, will cost Michigan untold billions, to say nothing of the young lives permanently harmed by the months of poisoning. And those costs may ultimately result in criminal penalties, as nine current or former officials in Michigan’s state government, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, were indicted on charges in January relating to their roles in the Flint disaster. Two could be charged with manslaughter.

    Even if they haven’t always been widely appreciated, the dangers of lead have increasingly been shown in both dramatic news accounts and a host of scientific studies. But while much of the existing research on the subject focuses on confirmed levels of blood lead — as measured in affected students like those in Flint — CDC data indicates that millions of young children and expectant mothers are never screened, and testing plummeted during the early months of the pandemic. Now a new study demonstrates the risks to health and brain function posed by unexpected sources of environmental contamination.

    In a working paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a group of economists found that elementary students exposed to airborne lead simply by attending schools near NASCAR racetracks scored significantly lower on standardized tests than similar children who were not. Those effects were found to be larger in predominantly nonwhite and lower-income communities. But according to study co-author Ivan Rudik, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell, proximity to the tracks was shown to harm learning for students of varying backgrounds.

    “We can see the effect on test scores change…as you get further and further away from the racetracks,” Rudik said. “It’s really strong for the schools that are within two or three miles, and then as you get out a few [more] miles, that’s when it hits zero.”

    (Alex Hollingsworth, Mike Huang, Ivan J. Rudik & Nicholas J. Sanders, via National Bureau of Economic Research)

    The study takes advantage of a natural experiment triggered when NASCAR switched from leaded to unleaded fuel. Along with some other major emitters, including commercial airlines, the multi-billion-dollar racing association was exempted from provisions in the Clean Air Act that banned the use of heavy metals in fuel. The switch wasn’t made until 2007, after pleas from the EPA and the publication of research proving that participants in the company’s premier racing series had elevated blood lead levels.

    Using data from Florida, the researchers examined reading and math scores of elementary-aged children enrolled in schools near NASCAR tracks between 2003 and 2014. They also estimated the amount of lead released annually from races at those tracks — including the racing association’s flagship Daytona International Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway — by incorporating the length of the tracks, the number of drivers competing, and the number of laps completed by each.

    The amount of pollution emitted during that time was significant: In 2006, the average child attending school within 50 miles of a NASCAR track was exposed to 15 kilograms of lead by age nine, decreasing to a still-concerning 5 kilograms by 2014.

    By the authors’ calculations, contamination with as much as 10 kilograms of lead is roughly the equivalent of growing up near an airport — previous research has demonstrated that living within one kilometer of an airport is associated with elevated blood lead levels — and removing that contamination could yield meaningful improvements in student performance: as much as reducing class sizes by 10 students, according to previous economic studies, or replacing a novice teacher with a more experienced one.

    Notably, the impact of lead exposure on test scores was particularly strong in counties with higher poverty rates and higher percentages of African American students. Rudik argued that while families of comparatively higher socioeconomic status were also likely to live near NASCAR tracks, they had greater means to compensate.

    “If parents see their kids are starting to do worse because of the lead exposure — even if they don’t know it’s because of the lead exposure — they can hire tutors and do a bunch of other things to help mitigate these negative effects,” he said. “Maybe they’re more likely to have their kids tested for blood lead, and they’re able to observe that their kid has been exposed, and they can take steps to mitigate it.”

    A further nutritional wrinkle related to dietary choices. The negative testing effects, the researchers found, were largely kept in check in counties that saw rates of milk consumption above the median. That data came from Nielsen Homescan, a wide-ranging panel tracking consumer behavior, and fits with a well-known scientific finding that the presence of calcium decreases lead absorption in the body.

    (Alex Hollingsworth, Mike Huang, Ivan J. Rudik & Nicholas J. Sanders, via National Bureau of Economic Research)

    If nutritional interventions like greater milk consumption can be proven effective at scale, it would provide policy makers another weapon in combating the damage inflicted by lead poisoning. For the last few years, public commentatorshave called for a federal effort to clean up pollutants like lead, mercury, and smog from the vicinity of schools, often the legacy of nearby highways or long-closed industrial sites. While campaigning for the White House, Joe Biden proposed new spending to advance environmental justice by eliminating lead paint and pipes around the country.

    Rudik said his study offered more evidence to an already strong case for the “unbelievable benefits” of a broad-based campaign to strengthen environmental protection.

    “If you look at the recent literature, it basically says that the de-leading of gasoline in the 1900s is one of the most important things we could have done for public health. The nice thing about thinking about these pollution reductions is that it doesn’t just matter for education. It matters for a whole host of outcomes we care about — health, or even enjoying the outdoors — because pollution impacts all aspects of our life.”


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  • Inside the New CDC Guidance on Reopening Classrooms: Masks and Social Distancing Key Safety Strategies, Vaccinations Not a Precondition for In-Person Learning

    By Linda Jacobson | February 12, 2021

    Students — even those in high school — can return to classrooms full time in communities with low to moderate spread of COVID-19 as long as schools enforce universal mask wearing and 6 feet of distance between students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in updated school reopening guidance.

    The agency also recommends handwashing, cleaning and contact tracing for all schools. But vaccinations for teachers, routine coronavirus testing and upgraded ventilation are “extra layers of support” that don’t have to be in place before schools reopen, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

    “The science has demonstrated that schools can reopen safely prior to all teachers being vaccinated,” she said, calling the new document a “long-needed roadmap” that was based on a thorough review of the science as well as input from parents, teachers and school leaders. “There’s more science to rely on, and we’ve learned a lot from that science.”

    For example, while she recommends some cleaning of surfaces, “full fumigation” of classrooms isn’t necessary, she said: “I don’t believe the data suggests there is a lot of transmission that comes from surfaces to people.”

    Grouping students into pods that stay together, using cafeterias and other common areas as classrooms and seating one child per row on a school bus are other highlighted strategies. The U.S. Department of Education released a companion handbook with additional examples.

    “We need to get kids back in the classroom, and to do that, schools and educators need help,” said Donna Harris-Aikens, senior adviser for policy and planning at the department.

    Education organizations, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, reacted positively to the guidance.

    “With the new year, new Congress and new administration, we are greatly appreciative of the deliberate, coordinated and focused federal leadership on both prioritizing the physical reopening of schools and supporting schools in their work to do so,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

    The guidance, which Walensky said was “free from political meddling,” comes after a week of mixed messages from the administration related to reopening schools and questions over whether President Joe Biden would side with teachers unions holding out for vaccines. In addition, the CDC guidance goes beyond Biden’s pre-inauguration pledge of reopening a majority of K-8 schools within his first 100 days in office by outlining guidelines that include in-person attendance for high school students.

    “Infection, hospitalization and test positivity are down sharply. Vaccine distribution is ramping up,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “The science shows that schools are not a significant source of contagion, and the devastating effects of closure have become increasingly clear.”

    Hess was among those this week suggesting the administration had lowered the bar when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “open” means having at least 50 percent of teachers in classrooms “at least one day a week.”

    He called Psaki’s statement “unconscionable” and described the administration’s position as “anti-science foot shuffling.”

    On Wednesday, Psaki elaborated on the issue, noting that the administration was “not planning to celebrate at 100 days” if schools were open only one day a week.

    “That is not the ceiling,” she said. “That is the bar we’re trying to leap over and exceed.”

    According to Walensky, few counties across the U.S. — only about 5 percent — have transmission rates low enough to relax the 6-foot social distancing requirement.

    A new color-coded system organizes schools into zones, ranging from blue for low risk of transmission — where there are nine or fewer cases among 100,000 people in a seven-day period — to red, where there are 100 or more positive cases per 100,000. The agency recommends full in-person learning for schools in blue and yellow zones and hybrid schedules for those in orange zones, where spread is substantial.

    Red zone schools would fall into two groups. Those that regularly test students and staff for the coronavirus could have hybrid learning for all grade levels, but those that don’t should limit hybrid to the elementary grades and have middle and high school students learning remotely full time.

    Only about 5 percent of counties in the U.S. are currently in blue zones, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    John Bailey, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, tweeted that the categories could confuse people who are used to their own state’s colored tiers. In California’s blueprint, for example, counties where the risk of transmission is “widespread” are coded purple.


    Teachers Unions Say They Need More COVID Tests Before Reopening Classrooms. But Experts Are Warning About the Limitations, Expense and Tradeoffs in Focusing on Swabs

    Some districts have already announced that they don’t expect to reopen before the end of the school year. And Robin Lake, executive director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, expects more to join the list “unless parents revolt.”

    For months, parents across the country have lost patience with districts delaying the reopening of schools. Protests, lawsuits and angry outbursts at school board meetings have increased.

    “Parents and families cannot operate in chaos,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, a network of local parent advocacy organizations.

    Biden, in a CBS interview last Sunday, described moms leaving the workforce because their children aren’t in school as “a national emergency.” But parents would need to continue to make child care arrangements or try to work from home if their children attend only school once or twice a week.

    “Parents are looking for a plan, for stability and decision making based on science from public health officials,” Rodrigues said. “We can’t keep moving the goalposts and the metrics based on which way the political winds are blowing for the unions.”

    Leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers say their members want to return to class, but demand testing and vaccines.

    “We remain supportive of widespread testing — especially as mutant strains multiply in areas of uncontrolled community spread — and we urge the CDC to remain flexible as more data comes to light,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “The guidance is instructive for this moment in time, but this disease is not static.”

    Scan the full guidance here:


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  • Senate Committee Approves Miguel Cardona’s Nomination to Be the Next Education Secretary With 17-5 Vote

    By The 74 | February 11, 2021

    Miguel Cardona cleared a pivotal step toward becoming the next education secretary Thursday as the Senate’s education committee voted 17-5 to approve his nomination.

    He is expected to receive a final Senate confirmation vote soon.

    “Cardona has the background, qualification and temperament to serve as secretary of education,” said Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s ranking Republican, in approving the nomination. “He’s stressed the need for students to be back in school, and that’s now, finally, a bipartisan mission.”

    Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray cited Cardona’s “clear qualifications” in advancing the nominee.

    Vowing to “forge opportunity” out of the tragedy of the pandemic, Cardona faced mostly friendly questioning at last week’s confirmation hearing. (Read Linda Jacobson’s full recap of the hearing, which touched on issues of testing, reopening schools and transgender student rights). Click below to watch the full hearing:

    See our rolling coverage of Cardona’s nomination and his previous work in Connecticut:

    • December: Biden to tap Miguel Cardona as education secretary — a ‘big picture thinker’ popular with teachers who will lead 2021 push to reopen classrooms (Read the full report)
    • A Rapid Ascent: For the second time In less than two years, Cardona is set to prove himself on a much larger stage. Is he ready for the ‘political headwinds’ he’d face as education secretary? (Read the full article)
    • School Integration: Cardona’s role in Connecticut’s complex school desegregation efforts becomes focus: Will he give integration a national platform? (Read the full article)
    • Higher Education: How Cardona could reverse college enrollment plunge for low-income kids — and help end the school culture wars (Read the full analysis)
    • Student Voice: Dear Dr. Cardona — Student leaders demand a voice in Biden administration’s education policies as pandemic creates unprecedented disruptions (Read the full report)


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  • Houston Schools to Vote on Dissolving Relationship With Youth Advocacy Group After Survey Shows Majority of Students Oppose Reopening

    By Linda Jacobson | February 9, 2021

    Strained relations between the Houston Independent School District and a six-year-old youth advocacy group have drawn attention to a constituency that some say has been neglected in recent debates over reopening schools — students.

    When the district interviewed parents and teachers on school reopening issues, Student Congress — or StuCon — conducted its own survey. Roughly 3,000 students responded in the summer, when leaders were considering a plan to bring students back to the classroom in October. The results showed most students thought it was safer to continue the fall semester remotely.

    The district is scheduled to vote this Thursday whether to sever its relationship with StuCon and establish a new district-sanctioned advisory council of students elected at each high school.

    Students argue the district’s push to cut ties stems partly from the survey’s results running contrary to the district’s plan to reopen. The district maintains that participation in StuCon has dwindled and that its members don’t represent all of the district’s high schools.

    “We have shed tears over this,” Kristian Salas, a senior at Eastwood Academy, said about the board’s proposal. “I was really surprised, and I was deeply saddened and disappointed that this came up at a time when the safety and mental health of students was very compromised.”

    The future of the group’s relationship with the district comes as students across the country are seeking a greater voice in decisions about returning to school, particularly in places where the debate has pitted teachers against district leaders and parents.

    First-time involvement

    In Montclair, New Jersey, students addressed the school board last week, complaining they’ve been caught between teachers who say it’s not safe to teach in person and the district, which is suing the teachers union over their failure to return. Students in Oregon’s Bend-La Pine Schools used Instagram to post their own demands on COVID-19 safety and students’ virtual access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. And at a rally in Berkeley, California, Saturday, students were among those protesting continued closures.

    In Colorado’s Douglas County School District — where an effort is underway to recall four school board members over shifting reopening plans — a youth advisory group didn’t poll students on the issue until after the board had already made its decision to begin a hybrid schedule. The district held two town hall meetings for students but didn’t conduct its own student survey.

    “The district seems to be paying no real attention to the largest stakeholders — students and teachers — and way too much attention to the opinions of parents,” said Castle View High senior Leigh Walden, who picked up 620 signatures on her own letter to the district in favor of sticking with remote learning.

    Merrit Jones, senior adviser at StudentVoice, a nonprofit group devoted to inclusion of students in school policy, said that like adults, students are split over the issue. But she said it’s important to keep communication with students flowing, whether school is virtual or not.

    “For some students, this is the first time they’ve attended a board meeting or gotten involved,” she said.

    Douglas County School District senior Leigh Walden, bottom right, addresses board members about reopening plans. (Leigh Walden)

    ‘Saddened and disappointed’

    StuCon’s involvement in education policy began six years ago. The group made headlines in 2015 when it submitted a brief to the Texas Supreme Court advocating for more school funding. It has also pushed for improved internet access for students and helped organize youth mental health workshops. But over time, the relationship between the administration and StuCon deteriorated.

    The more recent state of affairs between StuCon and the district, where students now have the option of attending school in person, reflects a series of missed connections and unanswered emails, said Amy Fan, a 2016 district graduate and an alumni adviser to StuCon.

    Fan said students reached out to district officials for help with recruitment, but staff members didn’t follow through. She said it wasn’t until the group released the survey that an administrator, in a post on the group’s Facebook page, asked for “a discussion and collaboration on communications and surveys that go out to the public.” Students were caught off guard by the district’s proposal to dissolve their relationship.

    “They want to restrict what student voice can look like,” Fan said.

    District leaders, for their part, said they’ve done their best and are ready to move on.

    “This recommendation is not to silence our students but to ensure that all of our students across every trustee district and across all of our high schools have an opportunity for their voices to be heard,” Grenita Lathan, the district’s interim superintendent, said last week during a board meeting to review the upcoming agenda.

    Fan conceded, however, that student participation is tilted more toward the district’s popular magnet schools, calling it “a problem that we don’t like and are working to fix.”

    Eastwood Academy senior Kristian Salas joined Houston’s Student Congress to advocate for more funding for the band. (Kristian Salas)

    At the meeting last week, it was clear board members remain divided on reaching a compromise between StuCon and students interested in joining the new district-sanctioned council. While some members questioned whether the district had done all it could to support StuCon, others saw the resolution as an opportunity for broader input.

    “At the core is how do we ensure authentic student voice in our district,” Trustee Sue Deigaard said in an interview. “It’s the kids’ lives that are impacted by our education system. Theirs is a very important perspective that we should be hearing in our work.”

    Feb. 12 Update: The relationship between the Houston, Texas, school district and Student Congress — a youth advocacy organization — hasn’t ended yet. The school board voted 7-1 Thursday night to delay action on a resolution to sever the district’s relationship with the six-year-old group. The district proposed replacing StuCon with a new structure in which students would be elected at each of the district’s 45 high schools.

    Several board members argued it would be a “learning experience” to work with StuCon and a separate group of students to organize a new system for student participation. “We’ve got two very vocal, engaged groups of students,” said Trustee Sue Deigaard The board approved Deigaard’s motion to table the matter until no later than August.

    “We are pleased that they are willing to listen and gather more details,” senior Kristian Salas said, but added that he hopes the board members will “stick to their word as far as them wanting to work this issue out to advocate in the interest of the students.”

  • Digital Stories of Empathy, Entrepreneurial Tips Over Zoom and Beyoncé: Dispatches from 2021’s Black Lives Matter at School Week

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | February 5, 2021

    After a summer in which millions of Americans took to the streets to protest racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd, students and teachers across the country this week took to their classrooms — whether virtual or in-person — to affirm that Black lives matter in school.

    The national Week of Action, now in its fifth year, coincides with the first week of Black History Month. Organized by a national coalition of educators, the movement, according to its website, encourages teachers, students, parents, unions, and community organizations to engage in activities that address structural racism and affirm the identities of Black students.

    “It is necessary to discuss, celebrate and center Black youth, always but now more than ever,” said Shalisa Gladney, coordinator of the Afro-American Cultural Center at the University of Iowa, in a press release published by Black Lives Matter at School-Iowa. “The Week of Action is a start.”

    On Feb. 1, students at Brighter Choice Community School in Brooklyn, NY engaged in discussions of restorative justice and empathy over Zoom to kick off their Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. (Brighter Choice Community School/Twitter)

    The national coalition shares an extensive archive of lesson plans and poster art for public use. Teachers can peruse an open-access Google Drive folder for math problems examining racial disparities in “Stop and Frisk” policing tactics, history lessons recounting reconstruction, or art projects creating afrofuturist worlds like “Wakanda” from the Black Panther movie.

    After modest beginnings as an effort by Seattle educators to raise awareness of racial justice issues, the movement has gone national. This year, after the Black Lives Matter movement saw unprecedented levels of support, events, actions and and lessons took place all across the country, even as many educators were forced to get creative within the constraints of online learning.


    Gladney’s local chapter of the BLM at School movement organized their own slate of virtual gatherings. Conversations ranged from Black mental health to a community discussion of young people’s most pressing needs, according to the organization’s schedule.

    In the evening of Feb. 4, participants logged into a remote career day, and shared, via Zoom chat, their reasons for joining the session. Some had come for tips on the professional world. Others were there simply for the community.

    Panelists included the co-founder of the “Black Enlightenment” app, the owner of a local boxing club, and a professor of gender and ethnic studies at the University of Nevada. As the conversation got underway, one student asked what factors the speakers took into consideration when they applied to college.

    “Go away — wherever you are,” said Professor Valerie Taylor, who vouched for historically Black institutions like her alma mater, Howard University, but also advised students to consider far away options like Bates College in Maine. Those schools’ need for geographic diversity might give Iowa students an advantage when it comes to scholarship offers, she said. “You will grow…. You will meet people who are not from your world,” said Taylor.

    As she spoke, another panelist shot a scholarship link into the meeting chat.


    Howard University is a Center of Black Excellence: Here’s Why I Almost Didn’t Get the Chance to Attend

    Another student on the call asked panelists for tips on how to navigate predominantly white areas and retain their sense of self-image. Iowa City, where the chapter is based, is about 75 percent white. Black students have used social media sites like the “Black at ICCSD” (Iowa City Community School District) Instagram page to document the harassment they endure daily at school.

    A local teacher recalled her experience at a majority-white college where she would look around and think “I don’t see anybody that looks like me.” She persevered, and encouraged students that they could do the same.

    “Just know that it is possible,” she told them.

    Tyler Thorton, co-founder of the Black Enlightenment App, and Ibrahim Funmilayo, owner of Vibe Boxing Fitness in Iowa City were among the panelists at the Iowa BLM at School Week career panel. (blmatschooliowa/Instagram)

    New York City

    In the nation’s largest school district, where 25 percent of students are Black, educators documented their planned events on social media, from “Black Superhero Movie Night” to a “‘You Matter’ Kids Summit.”

    Some teachers, over Zoom, read picture books written by Black authors, such as Jake Makes a World, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, to their classes. Others streamed performances by Black musical artists — one class watched Jamila Woods on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series — on YouTube. One teacher even helped her students use a programming software to build interactive digital stories about empathy and inclusion.

    At Middle School 35 in Brooklyn, students reflected on what education that affirms Black students might look like.

    “We have to come together as a community and stand up against the racial issues that are in school,” said a student who signed as Holiday W.


    Lessons From a Global Reckoning: Students’ Racial Backgrounds Largely Misrepresented on NYC Summer Reading Lists, Exclusive Analysis Reveals

    Rhode Island 

    In Providence schools, the student union set up an event schedule based on the list that the BLM at School national organization suggested. Michellet Brand, a high school senior and student union leader, appreciates that the sessions raise awareness about racial justice issues.

    “It’s this really important time where we highlight Black Lives Matter,” she said. For youth who may not be familiar with concepts like structural racism, the sessions can “really open their eyes to see this perspective and these issues so that they can be a part of the change.”

    In one memorable discussion on “diversity and globalism,” facilitators prompted students to reflect on the forces at play in social groupings. “What does diversity in school look like?” they asked. “Do you mostly spend your time in segregated places?”

    That line of questions was enlightening for many students, said Brand, who is Hispanic.

    “Not a lot of youth realize that, specifically with schools, segregation by law may be illegal, but it still happens,” she said. “It’s still a problem to this day.”

    The Providence Student Union uses their Instagram story to advertise their events to local youth (PSU/Instagram)

    On top of thought-provoking conversations, PSU has included other events in their programming. They hosted a Feb. 4 watch party for the movie Miss Virginia, a 2019 film about an impoverished single Black mother whose struggle to help her son succeed in school leads her into the world of education activism, and plan to host another watch party for Beyoncé’s Black Is King visual album Feb. 5.

    The group has harnessed social media to stay in touch with students. Via Instagram story, the young organizers remind youth about the film screenings. They also spur dialogue. On Friday, their story asked followers to respond by “describ[ing] one or more Black women you are connected to,” Brand said.

    As important as all the “aha” moments may be, for Brand, the connections she makes with other students of color are the best part of the events, despite the fact that they’re on Zoom.

    “Coming together as a community feels really great,” she Brand.

    The Black Lives Matter at School Week schedule that the Providence Student Union followed (Courtesy of Michellet Brand)

    The rest of the year

    Amid calls for schools serving majority-Black and Latino student populations to invest in “counselors not cops” in light of research showing unsettling racial gaps in the way campus officers perceive threats, the Week of Action also lined up with National School Counselors Week. Some staff, such as 2019 national school counselor of the year Brian Coleman, of Jones College Prep high school in Chicago, took to social media repping both.

    In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, teachers across the country have mulled how to best navigate politically charged issues in the classroom. And despite the U.S. Office of Special Counsel having declared in July that support for the national ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is not partisan or political, a Fox News story on the BLM in School week emphasized the website’s inclusion of quotes from social activist Assata Shakur, who the outlet labels an “FBI most wanted terrorist.” After years working in the civil rights movement, Shakur was convicted of murder in 1977 then escaped prison two years later and remains a fugitive. Many observers, including activist icon Angela Davis, believe Shakur to be innocent and consider her case to be an example of the police brutality and racism many Black women suffer.

    On the Black Lives Matter at School movement’s website, the quote from Shakur reads, “We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Alongside the passage, the organization emphasizes values such as “empathy,” “diversity,” and “fostering a queer‐affirming network” in its list of 13 guiding principles for the Week of Action.


    Lessons from an Insurrection: A Day After D.C. Rampage, How 15 Educators From Across U.S. Helped Students Make Sense of the Chaos

    And while Saturday marks the end of 2021’s national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, the organization makes it clear that the work does not end. “A week of action. A year of purpose. A lifetime of practice,” the website’s homepage declares as the movement’s motto.

    Brand, in Providence, agrees: “Black Lives Matter should be 24/7/365.”


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  • Inside the $130 Billion Biden Schools Proposal: Big on Safety and Teacher Retention, But Experts Warn May Not Fully Address Student Learning Loss

    By Linda Jacobson | February 5, 2021

    The $130 billion for K-12 in President Joe Biden’s proposed relief plan doesn’t cover the full price tag of what the administration thinks it will cost to reopen schools, according to a White House breakdown of expenses obtained by The 74.

    The various categories, such as $50 billion for reducing class sizes and $3 billion for school nurses, total $199 billion. With $54 billion already allocated to districts from a December relief bill, that leaves $15 billion not covered by the new plan.

    On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said additional relief packages can be expected.

    “It is not the end of our work or the end of [the president’s] efforts to help bring relief to the American public,” she said. “It is a first step.” (See a full breakdown of the 12 prioritized line items in the spending proposal)

    With the Senate passing a budget resolution early Friday morning along party lines, Congress can now move forward with crafting the Democrats’ relief bill. The document, which refers to estimates from the American Federation of Teachers and a December Centers for Disease Control report, provides more detail on how the administration arrived at its figures and where states and districts will likely direct the funds.

    The bulk of the total — $147 billion — focuses on maintaining and increasing staffing levels of teachers, nurses, custodial staff and other positions, while $9.5 billion is allotted for supplies such as masks and barriers between students.

    The cost estimates match “the needs we’re hearing from principals on the ground,” said Danny Carlson at the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “I think this plan rightly recognizes it’s going to take months for schools to dig out from the challenges induced by this pandemic, which will persist long after schools reopen.”

    While earlier relief bills provided flexibility for districts to spend funds on summer school, tutoring or other strategies to help students catch up, the gaps have only widened with continuing school closures. The Biden plan estimates $29 billion to provide 20 extra days of instruction to address pandemic-related learning loss. That’s less than the $36 billion estimate from the Learning Policy Institute, the Stanford University-based think tank led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who oversaw Biden’s education transition team. But even that estimate, included in a May 2020 report, was made in the early months of the pandemic.

    A recent report from Education Resource Strategies suggested districts would need to add an average of two months of additional instruction each year for the next five years to recover seven to eight months of learning. Many students, however, have now been learning remotely for nine months. The report estimated an average of $12,000 to $13,500 per student over the next five years in large urban districts to make up for lost instruction.

    “This short-term infusion would allow districts to make aggressive in-roads” in helping students make the gains they would have if schools hadn’t closed, Jonathan Travers, a co-author of the report, said about Biden’s plan. “But in our most affected communities, it’s going to take an investment of new resources over several years and a strategic reorganization of people, time and money to tackle inequities and unsustainable underlying cost structures.”


    Caught in a Financial ‘Triple Squeeze,’ Districts Could See Annual Costs of $2,500 Per Student to Address Pandemic-Related Learning Loss

    And with high rates of COVID-19 persisting in some regions of the U.S. and ongoing disputes between unions and districts over when schools will reopen, many students might not return until well into spring.

    Conditions on reopening return

    The line items in the document explain some of the exchanges Wednesday between senators and education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona during his confirmation hearing. Cardona, for example, said he was pleased to see specific funding in the president’s plan for school counselors. The breakdown sets aside $10 billion for counselors and school psychologists.

    Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah referred to the president’s request for a 10 percent increase in teachers. “This would be some 350,000 additional educators,” he said. “I don’t presume that it’s their plan or your plan to fire these educators when COVID is over. Is that right?”

    Cardona answered, “Correct, senator.”

    Other costs spelled out in the document include $14 billion for additional transportation costs, $7 billion for students’ at-home internet service, $1 million for community schools and $2 billion for grants that address pandemic-related educational inequities.

    On Wednesday, the House passed its budget resolution, but will need to vote again on the Senate’s plan. When that occurs, both chambers can move forward with a fast-track “reconciliation” process allowing them to pass the president’s full, $1.9 trillion package — if necessary, without Republican support.

    The majority-led process, however, didn’t stop Republicans from reviving the Trump-administration’s position that schools should reopen in person before they receive more federal funds. Similar disputes are playing out at the local level, with San Francisco suing its school district for not reopening schools and the Montclair, New Jersey, district taking its teachers union to court in an effort to force teachers to return.

    The House on Wednesday voted against Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson’s Reopen Schools Act by a vote of 219-207. Meanwhile in the Senate, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a similar amendment to the budget resolution that would direct federal funds only to schools that reopen. As expected, Democrats didn’t allow the measure into the resolution.

    Go Deeper — Here’s the full $130 billion Biden school funding proposal:


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  • Just In — See the Full Details of Biden’s $130 Billion Schools Proposal: Top 12 Line Items Include Social Distancing, Avoiding Layoffs, Supporting Learning Via Tutors & Summer School

    By The 74 | February 5, 2021

    Get the latest updates on the Biden administration’s education priorities and the continuing impact of the pandemic on our nation’s schools delivered directly to your inbox; sign up for The 74 Newsletter

    With the Senate passing a budget resolution early Friday morning along party lines, Congress will now move forward with crafting the Democrats’ relief bill. A key aspect of the American Rescue Plan is providing additional support for the nation’s K-12 schools.

    The 74 has obtained the current White House proposal with $145 billion in allocated spending; read Linda Jacobson’s full breakdown of current priorities, and her new reporting on how the $130 billion total being discussed doesn’t cover the full price tag of what the administration thinks it will cost to reopen schools.

    Below is the full proposal drafted by the White House (you can scan and share the full PDF below):

    Detailed Explanation of the K-12 Funding Request in the American Rescue Plan

    The American Rescue Plan includes a $130 billion request for K-12 schools to safely reopen. This request is outlined in detail below:

    Context on the CDC estimates cited in the 2/1 meeting

    On December 18, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report to “estimate costs” associated with safely operating during the 2020-2021 academic year. The objective of the report was to “estimate costs in three categories: materials and consumables, additional custodial staff members, and potential additional transportation.” According to the report, “[n]ational average estimates, using the national pre-kindergarten through grade 12 (preK–12) public enrollment of 50,685,567 students, range between a mean of $55 (materials and consumables only) to $442 (all three categories) per student.”

    Critically, the report did not aim to address all costs related to swift and safe school reopening. It was explicitly “not exhaustive,” and did not include significant resources schools need to safely reopen.

    Most prominently, the report did not include:

    —$50 billion for social distancing: CDC’s current guidance for operating schools during COVID-19 recommends at least 6 ft of social distancing, including spacing seating and desks; and modifying learning stations and activities. However, the cost estimates produced by CDC under the prior administration doesn’t include any funding to increase staffing that would allow for such social distancing. Our estimates correct for that omission.

    —$60 billion to avoid lay-offs and close budget gaps: Additionally, CDC was not responsible for estimating the resources needed to avoid lay-offs of educators and staff. Already, local education has seen a decrease of more than 650,000 jobs. Without additional resources, local school districts may have to cut 318,000 jobs over the next year (if estimated budget cuts of 10% go into effect). And if schools do not have the teachers and custodians they need to allow for smaller class sizes, social distancing, and proper sanitation — which requires more staff, not less — they are not going to be able to reopen. During the Great Recession, more than 34 states cut early childhood and K-12 spending, laying off more than 250,000 teachers and education workers in the process. This contributed to state and local austerity creating a significant drag on GDP growth in 23 of 26 quarters from 2008 through mid-2014.

    —$3 billion for health staff: Schools need at least one nurse or another trained health professional in order to operate in the midst of a global pandemic. These staff can support the identification and quarantine of students exposed or who test positive and also support testing efforts which are successfully supporting reopening in many communities.

    —$9.5 billion for PPE and other materials: CDC’s estimate only includes a 1-month supply of face masks. The CDC estimate assumes that teachers and staff members would purchase their own masks, and that schools would add masks to the student supply list. The President’s plan funds PPE for staff, as well as masks for low-income students and back-up masks for a small share of other students, for when they forget their mask.

    —In addition, because it is not their job to do so, the CDC estimate does not account for the learning and social and emotional needs of our children. We estimate an additional $46 billion to meet these needs, including closing the digital divide.

    Full Detail on the President’s K-12 Funding Request

    The President’s proposal covers a broader set of categories than CDC’s non-exhaustive 2020 report. It provides sufficient funds for districts to 1) avoid lay-offs into the next school year and 2) cover the additional costs districts must incur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and necessary for reopening, including supporting the academic, social and emotional needs of students. A breakdown of this funding is provided in the table below. It outlines the total need— $199 billion—in relevant categories and then subtracts the dedicated relief funding for K-12 public schools in H.R. 133—$54 billion—to come to a total additional need of $145 billion.

    These estimates cover the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year and into next school year. Funds are included for next year because we know that in order to invest in safely reopening, districts need financial certainty that they will not have to lay off teachers next fall in order to implement consistent COVID-19 safety protocols. They do not have that certainty right now. Further, school districts that are already open need more support to implement mitigation efforts that protect students, educators, and school staff.

    Regular testing also supports safely getting kids back into school. The American Rescue Plan separately calls for $50 billion to scale up our testing capacity, and we expect a significant portion of that funding to support testing for students, educators, and school staff.

    The table below lists an “Estimate Source” for each funding category. These sources served as a base for analysis. Since sources often estimated only one year of costs, the listed cost is often higher, accounting for both the remainder of this school year and into next school year. Where possible, a link to the source is provided.

    $60 Billion — Avoiding Layoffs: This will be used to close budget holes so districts can avoid lay-offs this school year and next. (Source: Using data from Learning Policy Institute, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, National Conference)

    $3.5 Billion — Materials and Consumables: This will provide funds for physical barriers and other materials CDC recommends to keep students safe. PPE costs were removed and are included in PPE below. (Source: CDC)

    $14 Billion — Additional Custodial Staff Members. (Source: CDC)

    $14 Billion — Transportation: This will support additional transportation investments to provide for social distancing on buses. (Source: CDC)

    $6 Billion — Personal Protective Equipment: This will provide PPE for staff, masks for students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, and back-up masks for other students that forget a mask. (Source: Draws on estimates from AFT, CDC, American Association of School Business Professionals)

    $50 Billion — Social Distancing (Reduce Class Size): This will increase instructional staffing levels by 10% (conservative estimate). (Source: AFT)

    $3 Billion — Health Staff: This will fund nurses at the 25% of schools without a nurse. (Source: American School Nurse Association)

    $29 Billion — Extended Learning Time & Support For Students (Tutors, Summer School): This will provide meaningful academic support (for example, 20 days of additional instruction), for all low-income students, or a similar share of the student population. (Source: Learning Policy Institute)

    $10 Billion — Counselors and School Psychologists: This will fund a proper ratio of students-to-counselors. The pandemic is taking a dangerous toll on students’ mental health, and many have experienced significant trauma. They need support while learning remotely and once back in school. (Source: American School Counselor Association and BLS)

    $7 Billion — Digital Divide: This will fund Wi-Fi hotspots and devices for students without connectivity for remote learning. This cost estimate considers aggressive implementation of HR 133’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program. (Source: Internal estimate, leveraging Census Pulse Survey data)

    $1 Million — Community Schools: This will support community schools, which provide a range of wrap-around services and supports to students and families that have been particularly useful during the pandemic. (Source: Internal)

    $2 Billion — COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant: This will provide states and tribal governments with awarded funds to partner with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to COVID-19 educational equity challenges. (Source: Internal)

    Scan/share the full White House breakdown:


    Inside the $130 Billion Biden Schools Proposal: Big on Safety and Teacher Retention, But Experts Warn May Not Fully Address Student Learning Loss


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  • Cardona, in Mostly Gentle Prodding From Senate, Offers Views on Testing, Transgender Students and Reopening Schools

    By Linda Jacobson | February 3, 2021

    Vowing to “forge opportunity” out of the tragedy of the pandemic, education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona faced mostly friendly questioning from senators Wednesday in a confirmation hearing that focused largely on reopening schools, but also touched on the divisive question of whether transgender students should compete against girls in sports.

    Sen. Patty Murray of Washington presided over the hearing as incoming chair of the education committee. She used the event to not only push for Cardona’s swift confirmation, but to advocate swift passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, which includes $130 billion for schools.

    Cardona, who began school as an English learner living in public housing, has had what some senators called a “meteoric rise” from classroom teacher to Connecticut state commissioner. He addressed the committee in Spanish with the words “in unity, there is strength,” and said that while students have shown resilience during the pandemic, many are still hurting because they’ve lost family members.

    “The funding that’s being considered now is to make sure that we recover,” he said, noting that students’ well-being should be “at the core” of reopening plans. “We’re going to need more counselors in our schools.”

    Pandemic & equity concerns

    Murray also highlighted how the crisis has caused the most damage for students already behind.

    “We know the pandemic is setting back learning for all students, and compounding longstanding inequities in our education system,” she said. “We know remote classes can make learning more difficult — impossible even, for the one-in-four students who have no access to the internet at home, and families of color are significantly more likely to experience limited internet and device inaccessibility.”

    She highlighted his efforts to ensure that all Connecticut students have a device and an internet connection, while Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas asked for Cardona’s “secret potion” in reopening the state’s schools. Cardona emphasized clear communication regarding sanitation practices to prevent spread within schools and working with health officials.

    His approach to reopening may prove more challenging on a national stage. North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, soon-to-be the committee’s ranking member, noted the recent statement from the Fairfax, Va., teachers union president that schools should not fully reopen until all students and teachers are vaccinated, which could take until 2022.

    “Do you agree with the Fairfax Education Association?” Burr asked.

    Cardona appeared to sidestep the question. Instead, he voiced support for increased COVID-19 testing in schools and prioritizing educators for vaccines, but noted examples of schools across the country “that are able to reopen safely and do so while following mitigation strategies.”


    WATCH — CDC Director Says Teachers Don’t Need to Be Vaccinated for Schools to Reopen Safely

    In terms of his overall approach to running the federal department, Burr encouraged Cardona to follow the example of former secretaries Richard Riley and Lamar Alexander and said, “just because you have a good idea doesn’t mean everybody should follow it.”

    Cardona will be the seventh member of Biden’s cabinet if his confirmation goes as smoothly as the president’s other picks.

    His nomination seems assured. The congenial tone among most members of the committee offered a stark contrast to former Secretary Betsy DeVos’s reception four years ago when her responses on issues such as guns in school and special education law showed a lack of familiarity with federal policy. Former Vice President Mike Pence had to break a tie in order for her confirmation to pass, with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting against her.

    Testing and learning loss

    Cardona noted that summer school and an extended school day are key ways to address the gaps in students’ learning because of school closures, but also emphasized the role of strong teaching and curriculum. He urged teachers to use “high-quality materials” to help students catch up, whether they’re teaching in-person or remotely.

    But the best way to help students recover, he said, is to reopen schools. “There is no substitute for a classroom experience for our students, being in front of their teacher,” he said.

    Burr said he wanted to have an “adult conversation” with Cardona about whether states should conduct assessments this spring, arguing that he’s leaning toward pausing the use of tests in state accountability systems for another year.

    His views contrasted with those of Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House education committee. States have a responsibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act to conduct assessments and develop a “credible plan to deal with achievement gaps,” he told reporters Tuesday. “If you don’t do assessments, how are you going to know who needs summer school?”

    Cardona told Burr, “I don’t think we need to be bringing students in just to test them on a standardized test,” but agreed it’s important to collect accurate measures of student performance. He added that he would allow states to weigh in on whether to include assessment results in rating school performance.

    Burr cautioned Cardona against granting waivers from testing in exchange for implementing specific policies, alluding to former Secretary Arne Duncan’s approach under President Barack Obama.

    Transgender rights

    If any senator votes against Cardona’s nomination, it would likely be Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. The hearing’s only tense moment came when Paul challenged Cardona on his views about whether transgender students should compete with girls in athletics.

    It’s an issue he’s faced in Connecticut. The U.S. Department of Education, under DeVos, told the state that its policy allowing such competition violates the rights of female athletes and that it might withhold funding if the practice continued. If confirmed, Cardona would be responsible for implementing a new executive order that seeks to end discrimination based on gender identity.

    Cardona told lawmakers he’s listened to advocates on both sides of the issue and supports all students having opportunities “even if they are transgender.”

    Paul described that notion as “bizarre” and accused Cardona of being afraid to answer his question.

    “I’m disappointed in the answer and I just can’t imagine we’re going to have a policy like that nationally,” he said.

    Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Robert Marshall of Kansas supported Paul’s comments.

    Student debt, school choice

    Other issues covered during the two and a half hours of questioning included career and technical education, school choice and student loan debt.

    While higher education is not Cardona’s area of expertise, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts quizzed him on how he would revamp the federal student aid office to prioritize the needs of borrowers over loan servicers.

    Cardona told Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana that it’s important to highlight universities that are freezing tuition costs and taking other strategies to help students reduce debt.

    Burr, the ranking member, indicated he would be open to some loan forgiveness, but would oppose efforts to “move debt from borrowers to the taxpayers.”

    Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, expressed concerns over the struggles students with disabilities have pursuing higher education and being successful once they’re enrolled. He has sponsored legislation that makes qualifying for special education in K-12 sufficient criteria to receive extra help in college as well.

    Cardona said such a process requires better coordination across K-12 and higher education.

    “That cultural shift is a prerequisite to any technical strategies,” he said, noting that he agrees with holding colleges and universities accountable for how well students with disabilities perform once they’re enrolled.

    In K-12, full funding for special education, as Biden has proposed, would be “game changer,” Cardona said. The law requires the federal government to pay 40 percent of the costs of special education, but currently the rate is about 13 percent.

    Several senators also voiced strong support for career and technical education and changing the law to allow Pell grants to pay for tuition in those programs.

    Cardona, who attended a technical high school where he studied automotive services, emphasized beginning career pathways in middle and high school and exposing students to the “jobs of today.” He voiced pride that his son, a junior in high school, is taking a community college course for-credit, and said more students should have such opportunities.

    The issue of school choice didn’t receive as much attention as some might have expected. As he did in Connecticut, Cardona emphasized his focus on improving traditional schools so there’s not “a system of winners and losers.”

    “There are excellent examples of charter schools. There are also phenomenal examples of neighborhood schools,” he said. “Our public schools can’t be a poor alternative.”


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