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March 2021
  • First Phase of Biden Infrastructure Plan to Include Billions for Schools, Child Care Centers and Broadband

    By Linda Jacobson | March 31, 2021

    Updated

    President Joe Biden unveiled half of his massive infrastructure proposal at a Pittsburgh carpentry training center Wednesday afternoon —  a $2 trillion American Jobs Plan that includes building and upgrading schools and child care facilities as well as extending broadband service to all Americans. 

    While calling on Republicans to support tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy to get the plan through Congress, he also hinted he expects the proposal to face strong opposition.

    “Critics say we shouldn’t spend this money,” he said, but added, “There’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan.”

    The plan to spend $100 billion on K-12 facilities includes $50 billion in direct grants for facilities and $50 billion in construction bonds. Another $45 billion in Environmental Protection Agency funds would be used to reduce lead exposure in schools and early-childhood facilities. In addition to expanding broadband, Biden’s plan would seek to lower the cost of internet service.

    “Infrastructure was not strong enough even before COVID,” John King, president and CEO of The Education Trust and a former U.S. education secretary and, said Tuesday during a webinar on early-childhood education hosted by New America. “Even before the pandemic, we were underinvesting in the systems and people that are essential in keeping our country running.”

    Related

    Five Ways Biden’s $4 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Help Kids and Schools

    Biden is scheduled to unveil the rest of the full $4 trillion package in the coming weeks. It’s expected to include funding for universal pre-K, lowering the cost of child care for many families and free community college. But it’s unclear whether the plan still includes a permanent increase in the child tax credit, considering that’s a piece likely to see the most opposition from the GOP.

    All of these areas — high-quality child care facilities, safe and modern schools and reliable access to the internet — impact children’s ability to learn. And experts have noted for years that major upgrades to the nation’s schools are long overdue. The average school building was constructed 50 years ago, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many families with young children, particularly in rural areas, live in so-called child care deserts, where the demand for services far exceeds the supply. And spotty access to high-speed internet over the past year has hampered students’ ability to stay connected to school during the pandemic. 

    In a statement, Chiefs for Change urged Congress to support the package and said it gives “children from historically disadvantaged backgrounds more equitable access to the tools, programs and facilities they need to learn and succeed in the 21st century.”

    But the president’s plan, which calls for a corporate tax hike, won’t be an easy sell. Some Republicans oppose the emphasis on green energy and say Biden should stick to traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.

    Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, a nonprofit advocating for modernizing the nation’s schools, said upgrading the nation’s schools is part of preparing the future workforce to design and build those highways and bridges.

    “School facilities are just like other infrastructure when maintenance and repairs are deferred,” she said. “Operating costs are high, modernization and replacement costs increase, and the hazards to health and safety become more direct.”

    But Biden’s plan relies more on bonds than a bill the House passed last year. Sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott, House education chair, the plan would have used the Title I formula to distribute $100 billion in grants for construction and provide subsidies for interest payments on another $30 billion in bonds.

    Deteriorating school facilities, advocates say, are an equity issue. School districts serving low-income students are more likely than those in wealthier areas to report their schools are in poor condition, Filardo’s research shows. But Biden’s plan “does little to nothing for the poorest districts,” she said. Lower-income communities are less likely to pass bonds or have the tax base for repayments.

    Students in high-poverty communities and rural areas have also had the hardest time staying connected to their classes since schools closed last year. While districts have distributed mobile hotspots and formed partnerships with service providers, many of those solutions are temporary, according to a recent report. In addition to expanding broadband, Biden’s $100 billion proposal includes lowering the cost of internet service.

    Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, said Biden’s plan “provides the resources necessary to close the broadband infrastructure gap once and for all, and sets the stage for addressing the affordability gap that is responsible for two-thirds of the digital divide.”

    Related

    12 Months After Pandemic Closed Schools, 12 Million Students Still Lack Reliable Internet

    Rural areas lack adequate child care facilities as well, but some middle class communities also qualify as child care deserts, according to research from the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Biden’s plan calls for Congress to spend $25 billion on building and upgrading child care facilities and expanding a tax credit as an incentive for businesses to build onsite child care centers. Employers would receive half of the first $1 million they invest on a new facility.

    In the coming weeks, Biden is slated to introduce the American Family Plan, which is expected to include universal pre-K and lower child care costs for many families. Biden has proposed increasing Title I funding to pay for pre-K, but it’s unclear how he plans to reach universal access.

    On Wednesday, the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University released a federal and state cost-sharing plan that would expand access to pre-K for 5 million additional 3- and 4-year-olds by 2040. About 1.8 million preschoolers are currently enrolled in publicly funded programs.

    In the first four years, the plan would cost the federal government $7.7 billion, with state and local governments picking up $13.3 billion. Spending would increase gradually over time.

    “At its current pace and without federal government leadership, the United States won’t reach all children with free preschool before 2100,” Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the institute said in a statement. “This proposed cost-sharing partnership provides a measured and predictable path to universal high-quality preschool within a reasonable time frame.”

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  • Watch Live — 1 p.m. Wednesday: Education Experts Talk About the Urgent Need to Build a More Diverse Teacher Workforce After the Pandemic

    By The 74 | March 31, 2021

    Editor’s Note: This event is set to begin at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday. Please refresh this page then to view the stream 

    Few would question the importance of diversifying America’s teacher corps and ensuring their makeup more closely resembles that of the students they teach. But how? What are the most successful tactics? And how do you attract a more diverse teaching workforce when so many teachers are giving up the profession because of the stresses and health concerns faced by so many educators during the pandemic?

    These are some of the questions that will be on the table today at 1 p.m. Eastern, when The 74 and the Progressive Policy Institute present a panel discussion: “Teacher Diversity in a Post-COVID World.” Experts will include Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality; Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development; Daniel Helena, English language development coordinator for Los Angeles’s Kory Hunter Middle School; and Brienne Bellavita, senior advocacy manager for the Walton Family Foundation and Walton Education Coalition. Curtis Valentine, deputy director of Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, will moderate.

    Click here to register and join the official Zoom, or watch the livestream by either following The 74 on Facebook, or refreshing this page at 1 p.m. ET when we’ll embed the stream in progress.

    Go Deeper — Some important related articles to help shape the conversation:

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  • The Week In School Reopenings: 6 Key Updates On Students’ Return To Classrooms

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | March 29, 2021

    For the first time, the percentage of students in both virtual-only and hybrid learning models went down as schools transition to full-time in-person instruction, a response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s relaxation of social distancing guidelines in classrooms 10 days ago.

    But with continued fear of new, more infectious variants of COVID-19, the debates over how to provide a safe, quality education are far from over.

    Here’s what you need to know about the state of play on school reopenings across the nation, powered by data from the school calendar tracking website Burbio.

    1 The push toward five-days-a-week, in-person learning continues

    Across all grade levels, the share of students attending schools that offer full in-person learning continued to tick higher this week. Up two percentage points from last week, 53 percent of students nationwide now have the option for full-time classroom learning.

    Elementary schools students enjoy the greatest access. Over 6 in 10 youngsters attend schools where traditional in-person learning is available, while 48 percent of middle schoolers and 44 percent of high schoolers have the option to learn in the classroom every day.

    The numbers reflect a transition toward full-time in-person learning, away from remote or hybrid models, said Dennis Roche, founder of Burbio, in an update summarizing the numbers his team crunched.

    “This week represents the first time in our tracker that the percent of students attending virtual schools dropped in a given week and the percentage of students attending hybrid schools dropped as well,” he wrote, “indicating a continued shift to traditional learning being offered by K-12 schools.”

    The percentage of schools offering full-time, in-person learning continues to trend upward, while virtual-only learning models have seen the sharpest declines. (Burbio)

    2 Relaxed distancing guidelines helping schools bring back students

    Schools’ move toward full-time in-person learning, as opposed to hybrid models, may be motivated by the CDC’s relaxation of classroom distancing protocols from 6 feet to 3. With the new standards, classrooms that were previously pressed for space may be able to fit more students at once.

    Grand Rapids, Michigan, Queen Anne’s, Maryland, Yonkers, New York, and other districts referenced the new guidelines as they announced that students would have the option to come back to classrooms for four or five days a week, rather than two or three.

    State governments on the West Coast including Washington, Oregon and California — where remote learning persists at the highest rates — issued approval of the new distancing rules.

    Related

    CDC’s About-Face on Social Distancing Likely to Pave Way for More Children to Return to Class, but Teachers Unions Express Skepticism

    3 High school reopenings emphasize hybrid learning models

    While the number of teenagers attending virtual-only schools continues to drop, many high schools may be transitioning to hybrid learning models rather than returning to the classroom full time.

    While the share of high schoolers without access to any in-person learning dropped this week from 23 percent to 19, the number of hybrid learners ticked up from 35 percent to 37. Elementary school and middle schoolers, on the other hand, both saw decreases in hybrid learning.

    High schoolers attend schools that use a hybrid learning model at higher rates than elementary or middle schoolers. (Burbio)

    4 Even as schools reopen, many students remain remote

    Survey data released last week by the U.S. Department of Education reveal that even as schools increasingly invite students back to classrooms, many families are opting to keep their kids remote.

    Over three-quarters of elementary and middle school students have access to at least some classroom learning, according to the survey, but 43 percent of fourth-graders and 48 percent of eighth-graders continue to learn remotely. Health and safety concerns from parents, the numbers indicate, can often linger well after schools open their doors.

    5 Many remote learners at rural schools are getting little to no live instruction

    The survey also showed that while attending school in-person is much more common in rural areas than suburban and urban locales, a full 28 percent of rural middle schoolers continue to learn remotely.

    Of that cohort, more than 1 in 5 are receiving little to no live instruction. Thirteen percent receive no facetime at all with a teacher, and another 8 percent receive under an hour per day.

    Related

    Many Rural Remote Learners Are Receiving Little to No Live Teaching, Federal Survey Reveals

    6 Schools brace for variants and look toward next year

    The landscape of school reopening continues to evolve, of course. Here’s what else to watch in the days and weeks to come:

    • Teacher and student absences from in-person learning may increase in response to the new CDC guidelines, some officials predict. The updated protocols reduce the level of social distancing for classrooms, but maintain the 6-foot rule for quarantining after potential exposure. That means for every young person infected with the virus, more peers may have to stay home if they were sitting closer to someone who tested positive. The new standards, and the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, mean schools may have to contend with increasing student and staff absences.

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  • A Sweet Sixteen — for Social Mobility: If March Madness Celebrated Schools for Helping Students Move Up the Income Ladder, Here’s Who Would Win the Tournament

    By The 74 | March 26, 2021

    Every year, we take the NCAA basketball tournament bracket and recalculate who would win March Madness, if success wasn’t determined by hoops but by the latest research showing which institutions have done the best job in helping students climb the economic ladder.

    To be more precise: Our annual “Social Mobility Tournament” is compiled by Nexus Research and Policy Center President Jorge Klor de Alva and uses the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights dataset to capture a different view of higher education institutions, combining millions of anonymous income tax returns with information on thousands of American colleges. As Klor de Alva explains, he assigns a score to each school in the tournament “using a mobility rate that represents the percentage of its students born to parents in the bottom 40 percent of income distribution who reach earnings in the upper 40 percent of household income by their early 30s.”

    The goal here is a different kind of bracketology — to create “a parallel competition that plots the tournament’s participating colleges on a bracket based on how well each school helps its students reach the American Dream of upward mobility. Over the years, our bracket has served to highlight how well or how poorly colleges in the tournament have managed to place their most disadvantaged students on the road to family-sustaining earnings, as opposed to how well their players have done on the court.”

    With this year’s Sweet Sixteen set to kick off at Saturday afternoon, as the Oregon State Beavers take on the Loyola Ramblers, we’ve taken our full 68-college Social Mobility Bracket and broken out which schools would make our Sweet Sixteen, our Elite Eight, and our Final Four. Here are our 2021 victors for social mobility:

    And for those wondering how the other top schools in the tournament did in serving more than 1.5 million students, here’s a copy of our complete 2021 bracket:

    Klor de Alva has noted several interesting trends and observations from this year’s participants — and results. “The 68 schools participating in this year’s March Madness have succeeded in making the intergenerational income leap possible for about 109,000 students out of their total student population of over 1.5 million,” he noted, “a somewhat disappointing 7 percent.”

    Two years ago, when they last held the tournament, that figure was 11 percent. Read Klor de Alva’s full assessment of the 2021 social mobility tournament — and why such a conversation is essential when we consider the purpose and the payoff of our higher education system.

    Click here to read his complete 2021 assessment:



  • WATCH: Will Pods Outlast the Pandemic? School Experts and Founders Talk About the Education Innovations That Could Endure Beyond COVID

    By The 74 | March 26, 2021

    Propelled by pandemic-related school shutdowns, small groups of students across the country are learning together outside of traditional classrooms. They range from physical settings sponsored by existing community organizations able to provide space for social distancing and adult supervision for distance learning to organic, grassroots collectives created by neighbors with common challenges. A chief takeaway from The 74’s reporting on these “learning pods”: When parents and students decide what they want the learning experience to look like, you end up with a rich kaleidoscope of arrangements.

    The VELA Education Fund has made grants to a number of groups engaging in these learning models and the Center on Reinventing Public Education has taken on the intriguing work of tracking their progress. Together with The 74, the two groups hosted a panel discussion Thursday with three founders to hear about the ways they have worked to meet students’ needs in their community and what innovations they hope to keep when COVID-19 recedes.

    The 74’s Beth Hawkins moderated a discussion with CRPE Director Robin Lake, Engaged Detroit founder Bernita Bradley, Elijah Moses of Wise Young Builders in Buffalo and Washington, D.C., and Green Gate Children’s School co-founder Katie Saiz in Wichita, Kansas.

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to both the VELA Education Fund and The 74.

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  • Reticent Families in NYC, LA Could Prove True Test For School Reopenings, Even As Gallup Poll Reveals Overwhelming Parent Support Nationwide

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | March 25, 2021

    Seventy-nine percent of parents support in-person learning for schools in their communities, according to a Gallup poll from mid-March.

    But as Los Angeles Unified School District prepares to welcome students back to classrooms in April, and as New York City gives families another chance to enroll their children for in-person learning through April 7, parental decisions may prove the true test of school reopenings.

    Currently, just over half of American students attend schools that offer five-days-a-week in-person learning, according to a March 22 update from the website Burbio, which tracks school calendars.

    Many observers expect that figure to increase, however, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed a significant hurdle to reopening Friday. Their updated guidelines now stipulate 3 feet — not 6 — as a sufficient level of social distancing for classrooms practicing universal masking. Schools that had been operating at partial capacity due to spacing limitations will be able to fit more students into each classroom.

    Already districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools in Indiana, Marshall Public Schools in Michigan, and Mashpee Public Schools in Massachusetts, have announced plans to use the relaxed distancing protocols to bring students back to classrooms full time.

    Related

    CDC’s About-Face on Social Distancing Likely to Pave Way for More Children to Return to Class, but Teachers Unions Express Skepticism

    But in Los Angeles, where schools have remained shuttered since the pandemic struck, parental skepticism for in-person learning remains high. A district survey revealed that fewer than 30 percent of families intend to send their children back to school when buildings open their doors in April.

    New York families, too, were largely hesitant to send their children back to classrooms when schools first reopened. The city gave parents one chance in November to select in-person instruction, and roughly 70 percent opted to keep their kids learning from home full time.

    Related

    Spared Debt Over Missing Students, NYC Principals Plan How to Use Money to Ease COVID Learning Loss

    But as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out and cases have fallen from their mid-winter spike, many parents are eager to send their kids back to school. On March 13, parents rallied outside the Department of Education headquarters, demanding a full reopening of New York City schools.

    The new, two-week opt-in period allowing families to select in-person learning will offer fresh insight into parental preferences in the nation’s largest school system.

    In Los Angeles, the second-largest district, reticence to return to in-person school reflects a larger trend in public opinion identified in the Gallup polling data. While 79 percent of parents nationally favored school reopenings, including 90 percent in the Northeast, only 72 percent of those surveyed from the West responded favorably.

    California, Oregon, and Washington all have among the lowest rates of in-person learning, with only 14, 17 and 29 percent of students respectively in those states attending schools that offer in-person learning options.

    The Gallup poll did not break down results along racial lines, but previous surveys have found Black and Latino parents less willing to send their children back to classrooms. When the option was available, Black parents were 19 percentage points less likely than white parents and 11 percentage points less likely than Latino parents to select in-person learning, according to a December 2020 poll from Education Next, a journal published by Harvard. According to reports, a key missing ingredient for Black parents as they choose whether to send their children back to school during a pandemic has been trust.

    Support for school reopenings also split along lines of parental employment, the Gallup poll showed. Working parents were 11 percentage points more likely to favor sending their kids back to classrooms than non-working parents.

    Thirteen percent of working parents reduced their job hours, and 7 percent quit their jobs to help a child with remote learning, the poll revealed. Though Gallup did not publish the gender breakdown of those results, previous reporting has found that childcare obligations during the pandemic have taken a disproportionate toll on working mothers.

    Financial stress during COVID-19 has also forced many teens to take jobs themselves. Some clock into work — and simultaneously attend class via Zoom.

    Related

    ‘A Lot of Them Choose Work’: As Teens Pile on Jobs to Help Their Families, Schools Strive to Keep Tabs on Students They Haven’t Seen in a Year

    The Gallup poll, which was conducted online in late February and surveyed 860 adults with children ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, provided a more optimistic picture of parents’ views on school reopenings than previous reports. A FiveThirtyEight review of two recent surveys found 53 and 57 percent support for school reopenings. And polling from YouGov and HuffPost found only 27 percent of respondents in favor of a complete reopening, with another 29 percent in support of hybrid models that combine in-person and remote learning.

    Both surveys were conducted in January, when coronavirus case rates were near their mid-winter peak and vaccinations were just becoming available, which could help explain the lower rates of support for school reopenings. But the emergence of new, more infectious COVID-19 variants has also been a cause for worry.

    In March, health experts told The 74 that schools operating in-person should be prepared to “pivot quickly” as a more transmissible strain, first identified in Britain, doubles its total cases in the U.S. every 10 days.

    Related

    As U.K. Variant Spurs Lockdowns Abroad and Takes Hold in U.S., Schools Should Be Prepared To ‘Pivot Quickly,’ Experts Say

    In Los Angeles, the reopening developments come after the teachers union voted 89 percent in favor of return after reaching an agreement on safety protocols and hybrid instruction. Nationally, however, teachers unions continue to be some of the greatest skeptics of — and barriers to — in-person learning.

    Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, both pushed back on the CDC’s announcement relaxing distancing protocols in classrooms.

    “[W]e are not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time,” Weingarten wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday.

    Related

    Bailey: What’s the Difference Between 3 and 6 Feet When it Comes to COVID-19 Spread? Not So Much, New Summary of 130 Studies Shows

    A collection of 130 studies, however, reveal that the difference in COVID-19 transmission is minimal in classrooms with 3 versus 6 feet of physical distancing, as long as other safety protocols, like masking, are strictly enforced.

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  • Marten Faces Tough Questions on Reopening Schools Before Senate Committee, But Few Obstacles to Nomination as Deputy Education Secretary

    By Kevin Mahnken | March 24, 2021

    A Wednesday hearing on the nomination of Cindy Marten, President Biden’s pick for deputy U.S. secretary of education, was an overwhelmingly cordial affair. Senate committee members steered away from questions about her record as San Diego schools superintendent — with one exception.

    Roughly midway through an afternoon of mostly gentle questioning, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney clashed with Marten on the issue of prolonged pandemic-related school closures. Under her leadership, San Diego Unified School District has remained shuttered throughout the 2020-21 school year, with plans to begin reopening in a few weeks.

    But the district’s year of remote learning — especially when contrasted with the reopening policies of more affluent districts elsewhere in San Diego County — provided fodder for the most tense moment of the hearing. In an exchange that was later tweeted out by his office, Romney asked Marten repeatedly to explain why schools in San Diego and elsewhere remained closed “given the fact that scientific data doesn’t suggest that there’s additional risk for teachers or students or the community by having them open.” Speaking elliptically, he wondered aloud whether teachers’ unions were simply “insistent on not going back to work.”

    After Marten referred to the team of local health experts that the district relied on for guidance, Romney appeared to grow frustrated.

    “I certainly hope that at the Department of Education, that you’ll be able to provide guidance that helps the entire nation as opposed to saying to every school district, ‘Hey, why don’t you get your own experts to figure this out?’ Because we do have experts at the national level who said to us, ‘It’s OK to open schools,’ and yet the schools remain closed.”

    Marten, who would become second-in-command to recently confirmed Secretary Miguel Cardona if her nomination succeeds, has faced an unusual amount of resistance from activists and press in her hometown. Much of the friction stems from lawsuits around unfulfilled public records requests and a mishandled investigation into allegations of sexual assault by a teacher. The local NAACP has loudly complained of high suspension rates for African-American students, and charter school advocates maintain that she has aligned herself with national teachers’ unions against school choice.

    Related

    Biden’s Pick for Deputy Ed Secretary Faces Senate Panel Amid Unusual Scrutiny of her Tenure as San Diego Chief

    But those issues were raised only fleetingly before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee Wednesday, in the introductory remarks of ranking committee Republican Sen. Richard Burr. While questioning Marten’s qualifications for the job — noting that she had little or no experience dealing with the higher education financing and grant-making that she would oversee as deputy secretary — Burr argued that some of the criticisms that have attached to Marten would have triggered more outrage had she been tapped by former President Donald Trump.

    “I don’t believe my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would support a Republican nominee who was superintendent of a school district with large disparities on how minority and white students were disciplined,” he noted.

    Even those barbs, however, were more directed at Democratic committee members than the nominee herself. And over the two hours of questioning that followed, members of both parties generally signaled openness to Marten’s candidacy. Led by the committee chair, Sen. Patty Murray, Democrats said they looked forward to working with her and the department to reverse the learning loss inflicted on K-12 students by a year of pandemic-related school closures.

    “We still have a lot of work ahead to end this pandemic, support our students in recovering from the academic, social, and emotional impacts of it, and help our nation rebuild stronger and fairer,” Murray said in her opening remarks. “It’s going to take all hands on deck, which is why it’s so important we confirm Cindy Marten, who has a lifetime of experience that makes her well qualified to serve as Deputy Secretary of Education.”

    Members’ questions ranged freely on departmental issues, from dyslexia to career-technical education and STEM subjects. Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy both asked about the possibility of using funds from the recently passed American Rescue Plan to provide summer learning opportunities for students who have spent the 2020-21 school year in virtual classes.

    Related

    States Target Learning Loss with Summer School and Extended Days, but Some Parents Want Option to Hold Kids Back

    In response, Marten detailed a $22 million initiative to offer in-person and virtual summer school across the 100,348-student San Diego Unified School District, California’s second largest.

    “I think summer school is incredibly important, and … this historic investment, gives us an opportunity to do some very powerful recovery as we re-engage students being with each other after they’ve been apart for so long,” Marten said. “So I do believe that we’ve learned, following the science, following the CDC guidance, we have a clear path forward. And I think that we can learn from one another the best practices across the country to put these summer school programs in place.”

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  • Video Replay: What President Biden & Secretary Cardona Had to Say at March 24’s National Safe School Reopening Summit

    By The 74 | March 24, 2021

    Updated

    The National Safe School Reopening Summit kicked off at noon March 24, and featured remarks from President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, as well as several recent case studies surrounding reopening classrooms at specific schools across the country.  Prior to the event, we published new details of announcements expected at the summit, surrounding new emergency funding and learning initiatives. Get our latest coverage of school reopening efforts delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

    Watch a video replay of the summit: 

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  • Just In: Ahead of School Summit, Biden Announces Delivery of $81 Billion to Aid States in Reopening Classrooms, Launch of National ‘Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative’

    By The 74 | March 24, 2021

    Earlier this month in a USA Today column, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona laid out plans for a National Safe School Reopening Summit, to “bring students, teachers, families, community organizations and school leadership together — not only to get the critical feedback we need to make reopening as seamless as possible for students and staff, but also to work together to solve problems.” 

    That gathering is now set to kick off at noon eastern today, and to feature President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris among other presenters, along with several case studies from specific schools across the country. (We’ll be livestreaming the three-hour event via The 74’s Newsfeed right here, and reporter Linda Jacobson will be livetweeting the proceedings

    Ahead of the summit, this morning the government has released key details behind several announcements that will be discussed — including the immediate disbursement of relief funds to all 50 states to aid in reopening classrooms for in-person instruction, the creation of a new summer learning and enrichment “collaborative” and the launch of a national tour during which Secretary Cardona will visit reopened campuses.

    Here is this morning’s announcement in full from the Education Department: 


    President Biden will announce $81 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to be released  today to states for school re-opening

    Today, at the National Safe School Reopening Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, President Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will announce additional steps  the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to help schools safely and quickly reopen and meet the needs of  all students.  

    President Biden will announce that $81 billion of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds will be released  today to all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support their  efforts to get students back in the classroom safely for in person learning, keep schools open once  students are back, and address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students.

    Secretary Cardona also will announce the launch of a new Summer Learning & Enrichment  Collaborative, a partnership between the Department and the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, to help states use ARP funding to develop high-quality summer learning and enrichment programs for all students, with a focus on addressing the needs of student groups  disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  

    Today’s announcements are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader effort to provide states, schools, and communities with the resources and support they need to return to in-person learning safely  and quickly, and achieve the President’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100  days of the administration. Secretary Cardona also will announce that as part of this effort, he will travel to local school districts over the coming weeks to listen and learn from them, and to help more schools  and districts in their efforts to reopen and stay open. The Secretary will then report back to the White House on what he learns. 

    “It is my top priority to get students back in the classroom for in-person instruction safely and quickly,” said Secretary Cardona. “I continue to hear from students and educators across the country who are eager to get back to in-person learning, and these resources will help schools not only reopen safely, but also to support students who were falling behind even before the pandemic. As states and schools use American Rescue Plan funds to reopen their doors, the Department of Education is committed to helping them build  successful programs that will reach students most in need this spring, summer, and into the fall.” 

    More details about the announcements include:

    President Biden to Announce $81 Billion in American Rescue Plan Funding Available Today 

    President Biden will announce that $81 billion in American Rescue Plan funds will be made available for states today to support their efforts to safely return to in-person instruction as expeditiously as possible  this spring and meet the needs of all students. The American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) fund provides $122 billion in relief for Pre-K-12 schools to  reopen safely and address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of their students. As of today, two-thirds of the funds — $81 billion in total — will be made available to states immediately. The Department of Education is encouraging states to develop and implement plans to immediately utilize that  funding to get more schools opened safely this spring and work to close the gaps in education equity that  the pandemic has exacerbated. The remainder of ARP ESSER funds will become available after states submit the plans they are developing and implementing for using ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen  schools and meet the needs of students to the Department. 

    Secretary Cardona to Launch the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative 

    Too many students have experienced interruptions in learning over the past year of the pandemic and have experienced effects on their social and emotional wellbeing through time apart from friends and community. Summer presents a key opportunity to accelerate learning for students and provide new  avenues for students to safely engage with each other and in fun activities centered around their growth  and development. 

    During the Summit, Secretary Cardona will announce the launch of the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative and call on states to use ARP funding to build effective summer programs to help address  the lost instructional and extracurricular time students may have experienced as a result of the pandemic, particularly for underserved communities. The Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative is a professional learning community that brings relevant stakeholders to the table to discuss how to build  effective plans for high-quality, evidence-based summer learning and enrichment. The Collaborative, in  partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, will  launch in April 2021 and bring education leaders and experts together as they develop their plans for this  summer, with a focus on students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The Collaborative will help build capacity for states and school districts, in partnership with other key  stakeholders, to use ARP ESSER funds to identify and implement evidence-based summer learning and enrichment strategies that meet the needs of all students. The Collaborative will build and deepen partnerships across states, districts, and among educators, parents, philanthropy, and non-profit partners to  scale up and sustain successful programs. More than $1.2 billion of the ARP ESSER funds will be used  by states, school districts, and schools to offer evidence-based summer learning and enrichment programs,  and states and districts may use billions of dollars more for these vital programs.

    Secretary Cardona to Launch School Reopening Tour  

    Secretary Cardona will also announce that he will travel to local communities in the coming weeks as part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to support states, schools, students, parents, and educators as they  navigate returning to in-person learning. In the weeks following the Summit, Secretary Cardona will visit schools that have successfully reopened and stayed open to listen and learn from their experiences; he will  also visit schools that are facing roadblocks and challenges as they work to reopen to provide support and  technical assistance. He will meet with educators, students, and district leaders during the tour and discuss  reopening strategies including implementing CDC’s recommended mitigation measures for K-12 schools,  ensuring reopening efforts are advancing equity, and supporting students and communities most impacted  by COVID-19.  

    Secretary Cardona will share what he is hearing and learning on the visits with other states and districts and across the Biden-Harris Administration to help more schools reopen quickly and safely and reach the  President’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days of his administration. 

    His engagement with schools will help to highlight what’s working in school reopening across the  country, share out key lessons with other schools who are engaged in the same effort, and help to leverage  the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to COVID-19 response to make sure we are rapidly  and safely accelerating toward reopening all schools. 

    These announcements are part of a series of steps the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to help  schools reopen, including releasing Volume 1 of the COVID-19 Handbook, creating a “Safer Schools and  Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse” that will be released next month, calling on states to prioritize vaccinations for Pre-K-12 teachers and staff, and directing billions in funding to states for COVID-19 screening testing for educators, students, and staff in schools.  



  • Five Ways Biden’s $4 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Help Kids and Schools

    By Linda Jacobson | March 23, 2021

    On the heels of Congress passing the American Rescue Plan less than two weeks ago, the Biden administration is expected to soon introduce another major funding package that includes billions of dollars for schools and early childhood education.

    Citing anonymous administration sources, multiple news outlets, including The New York Times and CNBC, reported Monday that roughly half the proposal would focus on domestic priorities that President Joe Biden touted during his campaign for the White House, including universal pre-K and free community college tuition. The Times reported that Biden is hoping the package will draw on longstanding bipartisan support in Washington for an infrastructure bill. But that could depend on how it’s funded. With a total price tag reportedly in the $4 trillion range and an expected call for tax increases on corporations and individuals earning at least $400,000, the plan is unlikely to receive broad support from Republicans. Biden’s advisers are expected to present the proposal to congressional leaders this week, and begin meetings with business and labor groups.

    AASA, The School Superintendents Association, remains “optimistic that a proposal like this can garner the bipartisan support it deserves,” Noelle Ellerson Ng, executive director for advocacy and governance, told The 74. “After a year of the COVID pandemic, it’s clearer than ever that public schools are the backbone to our economy, a critical piece of our societal infrastructure.”

    Here are five ways “Build Back Better Recovery Plan” could impact kids and schools:

    1 Universal pre-K

    Biden has previously proposed tripling Title I funding for low-income schools as a way to finance universal pre-K. While most state-funded programs predominantly serve 4-year-olds, Biden has said his plan would include 3-year-olds.

    “I suppose it would be in the spirit of Title I in the sense of offering states matching funds for children in lower-income families,” W. Stephen Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, told The 74.

    The difference, he added, is that much of the existing pre-K system exists outside the public school system — in child care, nonprofit programs and even home-based centers.

    2 Child care

    Advocates often refer to child care as infrastructure for working families, which is essentially the title of legislation Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, House education chair, introduced last year that limits the amount lower-income families would need to pay. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray introduced companion legislation in the Senate, but neither bill advanced.

    Barnett said he would expect Biden’s package to include provisions from that bill, which aimed to boost the number of children eligible for assistance and increase pay for child care providers.

    3 Child tax credit

    The American Rescue Plan increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 — $3,600 for children under 6 — and extended it to cover 17-year-olds. Experts say the increase is a major step toward addressing child poverty.

    The infrastructure bill is expected to further extend the tax credit for several years. Sen. Michael Bennet, Democrat from Colorado, sponsored legislation that led to the expansion of the tax credit in the relief bill.

    “Investing in our kids is critical to creating an economy that works for everyone, not just the people at the very top,” he said in an email, “and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to make these changes permanent. I’m thrilled to see growing momentum behind this very worthy goal.”

    Related

    Expanded Child Tax Credit Enshrined in Relief Bill Could Substantially Cut Poverty — and Lift Academic Performance

    4 K-12 schools

    The plan is expected to include $100 billion for school repairs and construction, addressing issues such as roofing, plumbing and ventilation — an issue that has stood in the way of some schools reopening during the pandemic.

    Scott sponsored the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which aims to modernize the nation’s school buildings.

    “The inequities we talk about in education include facility inequities, and the data on school buildings consistently highlights how old and outdated they are,” Ellerson Ng said.

    A report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress recommended that any bill also include funding for an audit of districts that lack estimates of repair costs.

    Related

    Biden Signs Sweeping Pandemic Relief Package, with $126 Billion for Reopening Schools, Learning Loss

    5 Community college

    Biden also ran on the promise of providing free community college. Since he took office, First lady Jill Biden, a long-time community college instructor, has paved the way for the proposal with talks to higher education groups.

    Many existing state-level programs pay for the first two years of college through “last dollar” scholarships, making up for the amount not covered through need-based student aid programs.

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  • New Study: 5 Ways Racist 1930s Housing Policies Still Haunt Schools

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | March 22, 2021

    Disparities in education funding, academic performance and school segregation still persist along racist lines drawn in the late 1930s, a new study has found.

    In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the U.S. government mapped out the supposed risk for mortgage lenders in neighborhoods across hundreds of cities — basing their assessments largely on the area’s racial makeup. Zones deemed high-risk, often inhabited by Black, immigrant, and Jewish populations, were coded in red by mapmakers, spurring the policy’s infamous name: redlining.

    In their new study, “The Lingering Legacy of Redlining on School Funding, Diversity, and Performance,” released by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University as a working paper, co-authors Christopher Cleveland and Dylan Lukes, both PhD candidates in education policy at Harvard University, became the first scholars to link the New Deal-era practice to current day school outcomes.

    Nearly a century later, the disparities remain dramatic.

    “The persistence of some of these trends is definitely cause for reflection,” Cleveland told The 74.

    Prior scholarship has traced how discriminatory lending practices allowed white families to access home ownership in newly built suburbs, while Black and immigrant families were largely denied loans — explaining part of America’s racial wealth gap. Author Richard Rothstein, who wrote The Color of Law, described the programs as a “state-sponsored system of segregation.”

    Christopher Cleveland, left, and Dylan Lukes, right, are both PhD candidates in education policy at Harvard University. (Courtesy of Christopher Cleveland and Dylan Lukes)

    “The maps are really old, like 1930s, 1940s,” said Cleveland. “That’s a very different time in our country, and so you would not think that these associations would exist.”

    But they do. The practice haunts education outcomes to this day, the study found.

    “There’s a long history in the United States of racially discriminatory policies and practices,” explained Lukes. “There are things from 90 years ago that relate to modern educational outcomes.”

    To make the connection, the researchers used mapping software to sync over 10,000 current-day school locations with New Deal-era lending maps from 144 cities in 38 states.

    The study examined schools in 144 residential areas. Each locale is represented by a dot on the map. (Christopher Cleveland & Dylan Lukes, via Annenberg Institute for School Reform)

    The researchers compared how schools and districts from redlined areas stacked up against schools in neighborhoods that, 80 years ago, mapmakers had viewed more favorably. Here’s what they found:

    1 Funding gaps top $2,500 per pupil

    Schools in redlined areas face stark funding disparities compared to schools in areas rated more favorably. On average, they spend nearly $2,500 less per pupil than schools in top-rated zones, and over $3,000 less than schools in neighborhoods rated second-tier.


    Differences in home values largely explain that gap. Locally, education revenues come from property taxes. More expensive houses, therefore, translate to more cash for neighborhood schools.

    Because better schools can in turn jack up property values, the pattern often becomes cyclical.

    Those disparities have been persistent and have even widened over time. Funding gaps were smaller in the late 1980s than in the 2017-18 school year.

    Funding gaps have widened over the past three decades. (Christopher Cleveland & Dylan Lukes, via Annenberg Institute for School Reform)

    2 Redlined schools are more segregated

    The study also found schools in redlined areas were less likely to have diverse student bodies, tending instead to have higher percentages of Black, Hispanic and Asian students.

    While schools in neighborhoods the New Deal-era lending program rated as more “desirable” averaged more white students, they also tended to have a greater racial mixture in their classrooms.

    Picking two students at random, it would be 8 percent more likely that the pair would have differing racial identities in schools from top-rated zones versus redlined zones, at 49 percent and 41 percent likelihood respectively, the results showed.

    Related

    Bradford: A Free Education System Bought and Sold on the Housing Market, as It Was Intended to Be

    Like funding gaps, differences in school diversity also emerged over time. Schools from green-rated neighborhoods had the least mixed student bodies in the late 1980s and claimed among the highest by 2017-18. While all school types have trended toward increasing levels of diversity in the past three decades, mirroring population-wide trends in the U.S., levels of school segregation have widened by many measures.

    “Given the rising importance placed on school diversity in schools and districts across the nation,” the authors write in the paper, “it is perhaps unsurprising that those districts and schools with the most available resources … also have the most diverse student populations.”

    Schools from green-rated neighborhoods had the least mixed student bodies in the late 1980s and claimed among the highest by 2017-18. (Christopher Cleveland & Dylan Lukes, via Annenberg Institute for School Reform)

    3 Achievement gaps persist

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, achievement gaps have accompanied funding and diversity disparities.

    “We saw pretty stark differences” in test results, said Lukes.

    “The average is lower for [redlined] schools,” added Cleveland.

    While numbers do not go as far back for standardized test data as it did for funding and student demographics, the researchers analyzed year-to-year learning rates to estimate whether schools from redlined areas were making up ground. Rates were even across groups, they found, meaning that gaps appear set to stay in place.

    Average Math and English scores are higher at schools from top-rated areas than redlined neighborhoods. (Christopher Cleveland & Dylan Lukes, via Annenberg Institute for School Reform)

    4 Federal and state funds can help

    Though funding gaps between schools in redlined versus non-redlined areas have remained persistent, money from the federal and state levels has helped make up some of that ground.

    Because of state funding formulas and federal programs like Title I, redlined schools tend to receive more federal and state money than schools in other zones.

    The stark gap in local education revenues is “offset by federal and state [dollars],” which target underfunded districts, explained Lukes. “But not enough to overcome differences.”

    Redlined schools, on average, receive more federal (left graph) and state (right graph) money than schools in other zones, though not enough to reach funding parity. Christopher Cleveland & Dylan Lukes, via Annenberg Institute for School Reform)

    5 Policymakers must account for historical disparities

    In the face of a historical policy like redlining, Cleveland believes decision makers should consider, “What is an equally intentional response that can undo those mechanisms?”

    Re-examining the relationship between school funding and property taxes may be a place to start.

    “There might be a chance to separate housing from (education) funding, in recognizing that certain schools are located in places where it’ll take a long time for them to get additional dollars” through local taxes, Lukes told The 74.

    The bottom line, the paper concludes, is “education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of past neighborhood inequality on present-day neighborhoods when designing and implementing … interventions that target inequitable outcomes.”

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  • As U.K. Variant Spurs Lockdowns Abroad and Takes Hold in U.S., Schools Should Be Prepared To ‘Pivot Quickly,’ Experts Say

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | March 21, 2021

    As a more contagious strain of COVID-19 sweeps across the United States, infectious disease experts say schools should brace for a challenging spring.

    First identified in Britain, the variant has been doubling its total U.S. cases every 10 days and has already become the dominant strain in Florida, according to reports.

    Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told The 74 he’s expecting the strain to cause a “big bump” in cases toward the end of March and into April — a worry shared by Dr. Fauci.

    With over three-quarters of the American population yet to receive any vaccinations, many remain vulnerable to this possible surge.

    As students continue to return for in-person learning, the rising cases could require schools to strengthen their efforts to keep transmission in classrooms low, experts say.

    As of March 15, nearly 50 percent of U.S. students were attending schools offering in-person learning five days a week, up 10 percent from mid-February, according to the school tracking website Burbio.

    In the face of new variants, schools can still open, but they should be “doubling down” on safety measures, said John Bailey, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in a recent review of 130 studies on COVID-19 and schools.

    Related

    Collection of 130 COVID Studies Aims to Give Schools a ‘Solid Grounding’ to Reopen

    Already in Europe, spread of the more transmissible variant has caused infections to surge, spurring a new round of school lockdowns. Poland imposed restrictions requiring teachers to combine remote and in-person instruction, France is mulling additional closures, and Italy announced shutdowns for more than three-quarters of its schoolchildren.

    Schools in the U.S. that are reopening or preparing to reopen “may have to change and pivot quickly,” said Osterholm.

    The amplified danger of this new strain is caused by an adaptation that allows the mutant virus to bind more easily to human cells, making it about 50 percent more infectious than previous versions.

    “This is just a different bug,” said Osterholm.

    Known by the scientific community as B.1.1.7, the variant doesn’t preferentially infect kids. But as it spreads, children may be more likely to get sick than they would have been previously.

    “It’s not that it’s affecting kids more. It’s just affecting everyone more, including kids,” explained Dr. Phil Chan, associate professor of medicine at Brown University.

    Though past studies have shown schools mostly do not drive community COVID transmission, Osterholm, in contrast to Bailey, fears that schools could become a locus of spread as the UK variant takes over the country.

    In Germany, as community-wide levels of infection balloon, outbreaks have occured in classrooms as young as kindergarten. And in Osterholm’s home state of Minnesota, 68 positive cases of the new strain have been linked to youth athletics since January.

    A brand new study from England corroborates these data points. Using a statistical approach, it finds that young people are making up a greater share of B.1.1.7 infections than they were of the original strain.

    “We’re seeing very dynamic transmission in [young people]. Not only between kids, but between kids and adults,” said Osterholm.

    Related

    What Do Predictions of ‘Herd Immunity’ Mean For Schools?

    Chan, who also serves as medical director for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said safety precautions like masking, ventilation and contact tracing will remain key tools for keeping transmission low for in-person learning. Schools in the Ocean State have been open since September, and have seen minimal spread.

    “The same mitigation measures that we have successfully employed in schools since September should continue to be effective as we see more B.1.1.7,” added Benjamin Linas, associate professor of epidemiology at Boston University.

    Related

    Watch: Dr. Fauci Says CDC Guidance For Schools May Be Changing to Permit 3 Feet Between Students in Classrooms

    The good news amid all the fear related to the more infectious strain?

    “The vaccine absolutely controls it,” said Jeremy Kamil, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport.

    With reports that 10-30 percent of COVID-19 cases can include long-term symptoms, including for young people, Kamil emphasizes the need for inoculating children — which for youth 12 years old and above will likely happen this fall and for youngsters will be in early 2022.

    “Kids need to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.

    Related

    As Adults Move Toward Herd Immunity, Could an Unexpected COVID Side Effect Be Kids Unable to Fight Off Germs Long-Term?

    But despite millions of shots being administered each day, under 13 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and nearly 80 percent have not yet received any vaccine at all. That leaves a lot of people vulnerable to the more contagious strain.

    “I’m really concerned about the next few months,” said Chan.

    Osterholm echoes that worry. Now is the time for caution, he said. And soon, as vaccinations progress, the landscape will be less threatening.

    “By summer it’ll be a different ballgame,” he said.

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  • Video: CDC Director Talks Revised Social Distancing Guidelines For Schools, Spotlights New Studies Showing That, in Many Situations, 3 Feet Between Students Is Safe

    By The 74 | March 19, 2021

    The federal government issued new guidance for schools on Friday, saying that if mask wearing is fully enforced on campuses, three feet of distance between students in classrooms is sufficient in most situations. (Read our complete breakdown of today’s announcement)

    Details started emerging early Friday morning and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky appeared at the midday briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. Here’s what she had to say on schools and distancing, as well as what scientists learned from three new studies from Utah, Missouri and Florida about the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms:

    “In light of the expanded evidence on physical distancing, today CDC is pleased to update our recommendations for physical distancing between students in classrooms,” Walensky said during the livestream.

    Per the new K-12 guidance on the CDC website: “In elementary schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart. In middle schools and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in areas of low, moderate, or substantial community transmission. In areas of high community transmission, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart if cohorting is not possible.”

    Read our full coverage of today’s announcement.

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  • Survey: More Young People Are Depressed During the Pandemic. But They May Be Using Social Media to Cope

    By Kevin Mahnken | March 17, 2021

    Adolescents have experienced a pronounced increase in symptoms of depression during a year of isolation and school closures, according to survey evidence released today. The research indicates that many have turned to digital health resources, as well as social media, to cope with the negative emotions stoked by COVID.

    The survey — administered between last September and November through a partnership between nonprofit organizations Common Sense Media, Hopelab, and the California Health Care Foundation — contacted a representative sample of roughly 1,500 Americans between the ages of 14 and 22 both online and over the phone. To solicit detailed answers, researchers asked open-ended questions about respondents’ personal experiences with mental health and internet use during the pandemic.

    The results, particularly those related to student wellbeing, are largely in keeping with other research that has emerged over the last year. A report conducted last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that younger adults reported “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.” Doctors have also expressed concern that a shocking spate of suicides may be related to the disconnection felt by teens as they navigate months apart from their teachers and classmates.

    In the survey released today, 38 percent of teenagers and young adults reported experiencing symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression, a disturbing increase from 25 percent who said the same in a similar poll administered by Hopelab in 2018. That climb was especially evident in the sample’s older students (aged 18-22), 48 percent of whom reported moderate-to-severe symptoms in 2020. While starting from a lower level in 2018, the proportion of younger children (aged 14-17) reporting such symptoms almost doubled, from 13 percent to 25 percent, over the same period. Overall, the proportion of participants reporting no or very few depressive symptoms fell from 52 percent in 2018 to 37 percent last year.

    Related

    Youth Suicide: The Other Public Health Crisis

    As in the 2018 survey, much of the analysis looks at patterns in internet use among adolescents reporting a variety of mental states. In both studies, participants reporting higher levels of depressive symptoms were more likely to say they used social media “almost constantly” than those with mild or no symptoms; but the gap between those classifications grew significantly in 2020, accounting for more than a third of respondents experiencing mild-to-severe symptoms of depression.

    Study co-authors Victoria Rideout and Susannah Fox make no causal claims about the connection between social media use and mental health problems, though several theories circulated even before the pandemic began. One, advocated by psychologist Jean Twenge and others, postulates that too-frequent use of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram leads teenagers to “compare and despair,” triggering depression and anxiety. Another essentially makes the inverse argument, that the most afflicted people are driven by boredom and inactivity to spend hours scrolling through social media.

    After looking over hundreds of survey responses from students in high school and college, Rideout offered a third possibility: that young people are connecting with peers and health professionals online to “proactively protect their wellbeing.”

    Related

    Student Voice: Facing the ‘Crushing Impact of Isolation,’ Teens Struggling With Mental Health Problems During Pandemic Lean on Each Other

    “They are using technology to find other young people who are going through the same kinds of situations and get support from them, get advice, get inspiration,” Rideout said in an interview. “Especially during COVID, I think social media and other digital tools can be a lifeline for young people who are struggling with mental health issues.”

    Forty-three percent of respondents said that using social media when stressed, depressed, or anxious made them feel better, compared with just 17 percent who said it made them feel worse. That gap has grown by 14 points since 2018.

    In addition, a large majority said that they consulted online resources for information on a range of health and wellness issues, with many also using mobile apps for the same purpose. Nearly 60 percent said they had researched COVID-19, while anxiety, stress, and depression were all among the most commonly researched topics. Among young people who were identified by a screening tool as being at risk of drug or alcohol abuse, 46 percent said they had looked up information about those problems online, while 60 percent said they had connected with health providers. Among participants with symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression, 58 percent said they’d connected with health providers online, and 51 percent said they’d searched online for people with health concerns similar to their own.

    Over a year into the pandemic, millions of teenagers and young adults still lack reliable home access to the internet — a digital divide highlighted in survey responses from several participants, who said they had trouble connecting with therapists and counselors over the internet. Rideout said she was worried that a lack of digital equity could be as damaging to student mental health as it has been to educational outcomes.

    Related

    12 Months After Pandemic Closed Schools, 12 Million Students Still Lack Reliable Internet

    “I think that technology has become a lifeline for education and a lifeline for health for young people. They’re both important and, obviously, deeply connected. When a quarter of the high school-aged students are suffering from moderate-to-severe depression, their learning is probably not going to be optimal.”

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  • COVID Education Time Capsule — March 15, 2020: Remembering the Day New York City Shut Down America’s Largest School District

    By Steve Snyder | March 15, 2021

    It was early Sunday evening on March 15, 2020 when Mayor Bill De Blasio ended the speculation and announced an official course of action amid the spiraling coronavirus emergency: “I regret to have to announce that as of tomorrow our public schools will be closed. In other words, to all parents who are hearing this now: There is no school tomorrow. And we will be suspending our public schools until after the spring vacation.”

    Here’s how it looked on television screens across the city, as the news broke in with the emergency update:

    He then laid out a hopeful timeline for the crisis: “I’m going to say this very precisely: We will make a first attempt to restart our schools on Monday, April 20. But I have to be honest that we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns and a lot of challenges. And we understand how difficult it will be to achieve that goal.”

    School buildings would not open in April, nor for the next several months to follow.

    It’s a bit surreal, to revisit those early press conferences from the spring of 2020, to see just how quickly normal life came to a halt amid a virus that no one knew much about. The March 15 press conference went longer than an hour, and reflected a city just beginning to brace for a wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths to come:

    The morning after, school campuses were deserted as the city inched closer to full lockdown. A few days later we documented the surreal quiet across both New York City and Los Angeles, where schools had also ceased operations on March 16, in a 74 Photo Diary. Here are a few of the images that linger most vividly in our memories…click on any of them to see the full collection:

    Embed first empty hallway photo from here – and then make the photo link to the gallery:

    March 17 – An empty hallway on what would otherwise be a school day at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in Manhattan (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

    March 17 – Teachers and faculty members sit in on a meeting to learn remote teaching and methods for students at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in Manhattan. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

    LAUSD Local District West tweeted about the opening of the Grab & Go Food Center at Fairfax High School. (LAUSD_LDWest/Twitter) 

    8 Weeks Later: A Photo Tour of How Schools Reopened Overseas in May

    Students sit at desks with plastic partitions, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus, during a lesson at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei on April 29. (Sam Yeh / Getty Images)

    …And One Year Later: 52 Weeks of a Surreal School Year (in 52 Iconic Photos)

    See the full photo history.

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  • Watch: Dr. Fauci Says CDC Guidance For Schools May Be Changing to Permit 3 Feet Between Students in Classrooms

    By The 74 | March 14, 2021

    Sunday morning on CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed a new study out of Massachusetts that showed “similar” spread of coronavirus within classrooms when students were separated by three vs. six feet:

    “What the CDC wants to do is they want to accumulate data and when the data shows that there is an ability to be three feet [apart] they will act accordingly,” Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union

    “The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating that 3 feet is okay under certain circumstances.” (See the CDC’s most recent guidance for schools, released Feb. 12)

    A few more details on the Massachusetts study referenced by Jake Tapper (which you can find broken down here): Researchers who examined 251 school districts in Massachusetts serving 537,336 students and 99,390 staff via in-person instruction during a 16-week period found “student case rates were similar in the 242 districts with ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing between students.” 

    You can find more recent data surrounding classroom distancing in our March 12 and March 5 briefings on COVID and education policy. See all our latest coverage of schools and students amid the public health emergency at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC.





  • 2020 Flashback — COVID & Schools: How American Samoa Offered Early Warning Signs About How the Pandemic Would Upend the Education System

    By The 74 | March 14, 2021

    One year ago this month America’s education system came to a standstill, as emergency lockdown orders and skyrocketing hospitalizations led to states, cities and school districts shuttering classrooms coast to coast.

    By early April, The 74 was prepping the launch of our PANDEMIC reporting initiative, where we’ve so far chronicled more than 300 updates on school closures, campus safety, virtual instruction and the push to preserve and accelerate student learning amid the public health crisis. (See our most recent updates on school reopenings, as well as our look back at the last 52 weeks for students in 52 iconic photos from the pandemic)

    Given the anniversary, we decided to take a look back through our archives, to see where we could find the earliest mentions of this new coronavirus that would change so much for America’s students. Most of our initial coverage addressed widely reported issues, such as the mounting anxiety among New York City public school parents who were considering keeping their kids home from class and remote learning growing pains being faced by families in and around the original hot spots in Washington State.

    But to our surprise, the very first mention we can find at The 74 concerned events happening some 5,000 miles west in American Samoa — an early development that foreshadowed the many ways the coronavirus crisis would extend beyond classroom instruction to disrupt every other aspect of school communities.

    In a February roundup summarizing the key education issues facing the states and territories participating in the Super Tuesday primaries, we learned that American Samoa was already dealing with the realities of COVID-19, and what it meant for their imported food supply and the territory’s school meal program: “Following a recent measles outbreak and rising concerns surrounding coronavirus, the availability of food for schools has emerged as a top priority for American Samoa, the U.S. territory in the South Pacific,” we wrote on Feb. 28.

    “Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said he ‘is concerned about the perceived shortages of food items on the shelves of stores, and health care issues — measles and now coronavirus — disrupting shipping schedules to the island.’”

    A week later, we began tracing the spread of the virus, and the resulting school closures, across the continental U.S.:

    March 9 — Seattle: As coronavirus forces schools to go virtual, we must innovate — and embrace learning as we go. How 1 Washington district at the epicenter is doing just that.

    • “Many other school systems in Washington and around the world will soon face a similar emergency situation. It will be critical to learn what it takes to pull this off. What kind of training and support do teachers need? What can parents do at home? How can communities rally to provide additional support to students whose parents cannot stay home? What kinds of safeguards need to be put in place to make sure that students with unique needs don’t get lost in the shuffle? And what happens when life and classrooms return to normal?” (Read more)

    March 10 — New York State: In coronavirus ‘hotspot,’ New York Gov. Cuomo orders schools closed. Why the district superintendent resisted the move.

    • “The spat over whether to close New Rochelle schools cuts to the heart of a dilemma school districts across the country face amid fear over the spread of COVID-19, the name of the disease caused by the virus. Though education leaders have come under pressure to close schools as a precautionary measure, doing so complicates other school functions, such as providing food for low-income children.” (Read more)

    March 13 — New York City: As mayor faced growing pressure to close NYC schools, a smaller change — virtual or by-phone parent-teacher conferences — offered a glimpse into the challenges of going remote.

    • “As NYC officials weather increasing calls to shut down the country’s largest school system amid the coronavirus crisis, a smaller experiment that was launched this week — virtual or by-phone parent-teacher conferences — gives some idea of the difficulties that could lie ahead with parent and online communication, particularly in underserved communities. While Mayor Bill de Blasio this week remained reticent to enact widespread closures in the 1.1 million-student district, he acknowledged at a news conference this week that “the DOE is preparing options for online learning.” (Read more)

    March 23 — Everywhere: In new database, dozens of school districts share their early plans for teaching, learning and supports during the pandemic. Here’s what the top 12 systems are doing

    • “With the vast majority of America’s public schools now shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, more than 54 million children have been told that they won’t be attending class for the next several weeks. In many cases, students may be left learning from home through the end of the academic year. In response to this unprecedented wave of closures, teachers, principals and district leaders across the country have quickly hatched plans to ensure that students continue learning through online lessons, e-mailed work packets, classroom video chats and other alternatives.Still, the logistics of getting millions of kids — and also their parents — comfortable with online tools and curricula will be a considerable challenge.” (Read more)

    See Our Photo History: 52 Photos, 52 Unforgettable Weeks for Students & Schools

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  • Collection of 130 COVID Studies Aims to Give Schools a ‘Solid Grounding’ to Reopen

    By Linda Jacobson | March 11, 2021

    Mounting evidence shows it’s safe to reopen schools and that the risk of in-person learning contributing to the spread of COVID-19 is low, according to a new review of research released Thursday.

    Written by John Bailey, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the report aims to give leaders a “solid grounding” toward reopening, pulling together 130 studies from the U.S. and around the world. The research covers children’s risks of catching COVID-19, rates of transmission linked to schools and whether reopening contributes to the spread of the disease in the community.

    The bottom line, Bailey wrote, is that the harm to students and the community is minimal compared to the educational and psychological damage to children of missing school and the economic impact on families when a parent can’t work. Although the paper acknowledges new variants of the disease that appear to pose a greater risk to children, Bailey argues the answer is “doubling down” on safety measures, not closing schools. 

    The collection of studies — both large and small — present a case that couldn’t be made until now, Bailey wrote. 

    The report includes an Irish study showing that transmission rates in schools were low and a review of research spanning 191 countries showing no consistent pattern between reopening schools and increases in COVID-19 rates. A report from the Netherlands showed that almost 95 percent of cases were linked back to someone older than 18. Children between the ages of 4 and 11 were the source of transmission in less than 1 percent of cases. 

    “I think there is a chance that seeing it all together like this will push some of the last districts [to open], or push some of the last parents to really rebel,” said Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor who works with education groups to manage a national COVID-19 school tracker

    The report includes a chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing case, hospitalization and death rates for 5- to 17-year-olds to those of other age groups. (CDC)

    Bailey notes that research on variants of the virus, such as the strain first seen in the United Kingdom, is limited. In Italy and Sweden children have become especially susceptible to that more serious strain.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, has reported that the available vaccines have so far proven to be effective against the variant, which is likely to become the most common strain in the U.S. But he’s also warned of another surge as states open up more businesses and relax mask mandates, such as in Texas, Mississippi and Iowa. 

    Districts continue to slowly reopen or have announced plans to open in April. According to the American Enterprise Institute’s tracker, just 14 percent of districts nationally remain fully remote, but the rate is higher — 24 percent — in large districts, and teachers unions and district officials remain at odds over reopening in some parts of the country. 

    At President Joe Biden’s urging last week, most states have now made educators eligible for vaccines. A new resource from Johns Hopkins University, however, shows that the availability of vaccines for teachers hasn’t always translated into schools returning for in-person learning. 

    Parents are divided in their support for reopening. Polls show that Black and Hispanic parents are generally more concerned than white parents about returning too quickly. One explanation is that hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have been higher among Blacks and Hispanics. 

    Related

    Bucking the Trend: How 2 D.C. Principals Restored Black Parents’ Trust in Returning Kids to the Classroom

    A school board member in Baltimore recently wrote that reopening schools puts students and families of color at risk. 

    But some of the reasons for parents’ reluctance to return are more complex.

    “Families who were getting calls seemingly every day about their child being a distraction, or being told to come pick up the student for small infractions — they’re not getting those calls, because students are virtual now,” said Autumn Arnett, who leads the Pflugerville Black Pfamilies Network in Texas and decided to homeschool her fifth and seventh graders because they weren’t doing well in remote learning. “Students and families in some cases are appreciating the break from feeling like they’re always the problem.”

    Disclosure: John Bailey, author of the report “Is it Safe to Reopen Schools,” curates The 74’s weekly COVID Policy Briefing. He is a fellow at the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation and an adviser to The Walton Family Foundation, both of which provide financial support to The 74. The Walton Family Foundation provided funding for the report.

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  • FAFSA Applications Fell After COVID — And For Many Incoming Freshmen, They Haven’t Recovered

    By Kevin Mahnken | March 9, 2021

    New research from California shows a sizable decline in applications for university financial aid during the first phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The trend among first-year college students has not reversed itself, the data show, and declines are particularly acute in low-income neighborhoods and those with higher minority populations.

    Financial aid applications are a useful proxy for college attendance, which makes it reasonable to wonder whether fewer completed FAFSA forms today will lead to less college attendance tomorrow. Prior research on the FAFSA process has suggested that its complexity may already undermine efforts to enroll more students in post-secondary programs.

    The new findings point to developments at the state level that groups like the National College Attainment Network and the National Student Clearinghouse have previously flagged across the country. In the spring, analysts saw a year-over-year decrease of over 350,000 returning students renewing their FAFSA aid. Applications from incoming freshmen dropped steeply at the same time.

    Related

    ‘I Am Beyond Worried’: More HS Students Are Applying for Financial Aid — and Enrolling in College as a Result. Coronavirus May Put an End to Both

    But in a brief report published in the journal Educational Researcher, University of Missouri professor Oded Gurantz found that within a few months, aid applications among current undergraduates and graduate students was 8 percent higher than in previous years.

    “For older students — we’re talking about older people who maybe have some prior college experience or are thinking of going to graduate school — we see a decline in March, but it actually rebounds over time,” Gurantz said in an interview. “By June and July, there’s actually more people submitting the FAFSA than there are relative to prior years. For traditional freshmen…there’s actually a pretty big overall decline for FAFSA submissions. It goes down and really never recovers.”

    The findings depart in some ways from patterns observed during previous times of social and economic uncertainty. Traditionally, contractions in the job market lead more people to pursue education as a means of honing professional skills and waiting out the tough times. During the Great Recession, for instance, America’s two-year colleges experienced a 33 percent increase in enrollment.

    Related

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

    But the disruptions imposed by COVID-19 have upended the familiar college experience in ways that administrators and industry leaders have struggled to address. With many two-year and four-year colleges offering virtual coursework and slimmed-down campus amenities, the 2020-21 school year looks like none other in recent memory.

    Gurantz and his co-author, Christopher Wielga, compared total FAFSA filings from California between March and August with those from the past three years. Renewal applications rose during that period for sophomores (1.9 percent), juniors (6.9 percent), seniors (11.8 percent), fifth-year undergraduates (17.8 percent), and first-year graduate students (34.1 percent). But among self-identifying freshmen — which can include students who have completed less than one full year of college — applications sank by 7 percent among those with some college experience and a remarkable 21 percent among those with none.

    Disconcertingly, outcomes also varied according to background. Linking application information to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s long-running American Community Survey, Gurantz and Wielga found that areas with larger proportions of disadvantaged students were less likely to recover from the initial drop in FAFSA requests. In ZIP codes with the fewest Hispanic and African American residents, applications rose by 10 percent between March and August; in ZIP codes with the highest percentages of such residents, applications fell by 5 percent.

    Gurantz noted that younger students may be on especially precarious footing with respect to their future educational prospects. If they miss the transition between high school and college, many will find it hard to reverse course later in life.

    “A lot of students who choose not to go in the short term — that ends up being a long-term decision because it’s very hard, once you’re out in the workforce, to go back to college,” he argued. “Freshman year is often when a lot of students, rightly or wrongly, think of themselves as college material or not. When we see dropout rates in college, it’s often the highest after freshman year. You can imagine that this year is a very different kind of college experience, and it’s just going to be much harder for these students to be successful.”

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  • U.S. Education Department Makes First Move in Bid to Reverse DeVos-Era Title IX Rule on Sexual Assault

    By Linda Jacobson | March 8, 2021

    Updated April 6

    The U.S. Department of Education is asking for input from students, educators and others as part of a comprehensive review of Title IX — an initial step toward writing a new rule protecting students from sexual harassment and violence. 

    In addition, officials will hold a public hearing in the coming weeks to allow for oral comments on issues including sexual harassment in school, sexual violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

    Tuesday’s announcement complies with a March 8 executive order from President Joe Biden and follows a U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division memo released Monday stating that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County applies to Title IX. In that case, the court ruled that employers can’t discriminate against employees for being gay or transgender. 

    Before the end of the Trump administration, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a memo arguing that the Bostock decision does not apply to Title IX. The Biden administration has quickly reversed that interpretation. The article below was published March 8, when President Biden signed his executive order.

    President Joe Biden took a step Monday toward fulfilling a campaign promise to rewrite the Trump-era rule on sexual violence. He announced plans to sign an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Education to review the Title IX policy issued under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    A second order creates a White House Gender Policy Council focusing on equal rights for women and girls. The council will, among other actions, “support gender equity and combat gender stereotypes in education, including promoting participation in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.”

    On Title IX, the order directs Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to consider suspending, revising or rescinding the rule or begin the process of drafting a new one and collecting comments.

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

    Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center called the order on sexual violence “a victory for the many brave student survivors who rose up against the injustice, discrimination and cruelty of the DeVos Title IX.”

    Since DeVos’s Title IX rule was issued last year, Democrats and advocacy groups have called for its reversal, arguing that it favors those accused of sexual attacks and has fewer protections for victims. But DeVos’s rule was issued after a thorough rulemaking process, and experts have said it won’t be easy to knock down. The rule prompted at least four lawsuits. One case was dismissed last year and others are still at the district court level.

    In February, the Department of Justice and plaintiffs in Philadelphia v. Devos, in which 18 states and the District of Columbia sued over the law, asked for a temporary suspension of their case “to allow incoming department leadership to review the underlying rule at issue.” The motion before the U.S. District Court for D.C. is pending.

    Meanwhile on Monday, the Women’s Student Union at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, filed a lawsuit over the DeVos rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

    “DeVos made it easier for schools to avoid their responsibilities to keep kids safe from sexual harassment and assault,” Seth Galanter, senior director at the National Center for Youth Law, which is representing the students, said in a statement. “Sexual harassment has not stopped for the pandemic. We know the Biden administration is looking at this issue, but there’s no time to wait when children are at risk today.”

    Related

    New Civil Rights Data Shows Increase in Reports of Sexual Violence at School

    Last week, more than 100 Democrats in the House sent a letter to Cardona asking that he prioritize reversing the DeVos rule. They argued that it “turns back the clock and erodes hard-fought protections and rights for victims with a ‘boys will be boys’ approach.”

    They also urged Cardona to work with the Department of Justice to pause implementation of the rule and to issue temporary guidance bringing back elements of the “Dear Colleague” letter issued during the Obama administration. That policy urged colleges and universities to investigate all complaints, but critics of that policy said it ignored the due process rights of those accused of sexual assault and led to students being unfairly forced to leave their institutions based on false accusations.

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    LePage: Rolling Back DeVos’s Title IX Guidance on Sexual Harassment Won’t Be Easy. But It’s the Right Thing to Do to Protect the Victims

    Catherine Lhamon, now deputy director for racial justice and equity on Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, served as assistant secretary for civil rights at the department when that guidance was issued.

    Maree Sneed, an education attorney who advises the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, on Title IX issues, said she wants future department policies on the subject to be more explicit about how K-12 differs from higher education on requirements such as formal hearings.

    She expects Cardona’s background in Connecticut to be helpful because in addition to district Title IX coordinators, schools in the state also have staff members trained on the policy. That’s a practice she’d like to see nationally.

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