This Week In School Reopenings: As Biden’s 100-Day Mark Approaches, 97% of Youngsters Have Access To In-Person Classes
With the end of the pandemic seemingly in sight, more and more schools are transitioning toward full-time in-person learning. Now, only 1 in 20 students nationwide are attending remote-only schools.
That’s a pretty good look for President Joe Biden, who has pushed for the majority of schools to reopen by his first 100 days in office. That benchmark comes Friday, April 30, and according to a recent update, nearly two-thirds of students are attending schools that offer daily in-person instruction.
Still, even where schools have opened their doors to students, that doesn’t mean all families have chosen to return their kids. As The 74’s Linda Jacobson reports, critics of the president wonder whether he could be doing more for the students who have opted to continue with remote learning. “There are still a lot of kids sitting at home right now,” they note.
Biden Earns High Marks from Educators on His First 100 Days, But Some Note There Are Still ‘Kids Sitting at Home’
But though students nationwide continue to attend virtual school, the future of online learning appears to be in question. Some school systems plan to continue with remote instruction for the balance of this school year, ditching reopening entirely. At the same time, others plan to drop online school entirely next fall, as parent interest seems to have waned.
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 97% of youngster have access to in-person learning
While rates of virtual schooling dropped across all grade levels last week, the share of elementary schoolers still fully online has reached a notable low — approaching zero. Seventy-two percent of youngsters go to schools with daily in-person instruction, and another 25 percent attend schools with hybrid models. Put together, a full 97 percent of K-5 students have access to some in-person learning.
Rates of virtual learning also fell for middle and high schoolers, though the overall share remains slightly higher. Eight percent of 6-12 graders attend schools that operate fully remote. Sixty-two percent of middle school students and 58 percent of high school students attend schools offering full-time in-person learning.
Across all grade levels, 65 percent of students attend schools that offer daily, in-person learning, 29 percent of students go to schools using a hybrid model and only 6 percent attend schools that remain fully online.
2 A teacher in the White House
As schools have pushed to open their doors, the First Lady has become something of an ambassador to in-person learning, visiting reopened classrooms across the country.
“Teachers want to be back. We want to be back. Last week I said to my students, ‘Hey guys, how you doing?’” the First Lady, who has maintained her job teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, told students during a visit at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut, in March. “And they said, ‘Dr. B, we’re doing OK, but we can’t wait to be back to the classroom•.’ •And I think that’s how we all feel. But we just know that we have to get back safely.”
Here are some of the highlights, captured in 15 images, of Dr. Biden’s nationwide school tour.
Photo Scrapbook — The Teacher in the White House: From Zoom Class Cameos to Campus Visits, Memorable Education Photos from Dr. Biden’s First 100 Days as First Lady
3 The districts that never reopened
While the vast majority of school systems have returned students to classrooms in some way, shape or form, there have been some holdouts.
In California, San Bernardino, Fremont and Santa Ana Unified have all announced plans to stay virtual through the remainder of this spring. Michigan districts such as Kalamazoo, Lansing and Detroit have decided the same. In Richmond, Virginia, students with special needs have the option to attend school in person, but classrooms remain closed to the general population.
4 States and districts plan 2021-22 virtual offerings
Though COVID-19 vaccinations have progressed at a swift rate in the United States, the pandemic rages on abroad, with record daily case totals in India. That means that there are no guarantees about a return to normalcy next fall, and many school systems are preparing to maintain virtual offerings for families who prefer to keep their kids at home.
Richmond, Virginia, Central Dauphin, Pennsylvania and Las Vegas, Nevada will each have virtual academies next year that families can opt into. The Las Vegas model will require a sign-off from students’ principals and an adult at home for elementary students.
Other districts — including Douglas County, Georgia; West Claremont, California; Frisco, Texas and Scranton, Pennsylviania — are opening virtual learning for next fall, but not to their youngest students. Age cutoffs range from third to sixth grade.
In response to widespread demand for remote offerings, some states are rolling out statewide virtual academies for the 2021-22 school year. Iowa, Missouri and Virginia have each launched such schemes.
But in many locales, such as Washington, D.C., internet for remote learning remains a key concern.
What if Washington, D.C. Launched a Free Internet Program For Students But Almost No One Signed Up? 7 Months Later, Initiative’s Reach at 36 Percent of Capacity
5 Other districts abandon remote school next year
At the same time as some districts are planning out their remote academies for the fall, other school systems have decided to forgo virtual learning altogether for the 2021-22 school year.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina, South Washington, Minnesota and Mason City, Ohio each announced that they do not plan to offer online instruction next year, citing state regulations and low interest.
In Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest school district, only 2 percent of students have opted into virtual learning options for next fall. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy stipulated during a coronavirus update in late March that districts in the state will not be allowed to offer remote learning, even for parents who prefer that option.
6 An early start to next school year
According to school calendars, many districts are planning to bump up the start of next school year by anywhere from a handful of days to multiple weeks. More than 40 percent of districts are shifting their start date by over five days due to the COVID-19 disruptions of the prior year.
7 Do 4-day weeks amount to ‘hygiene theater?’
Amid fears of COVID-19 safety, many school districts have adopted four-days-a-week schedules that pause live instruction for a full day to allow for disinfecting of school buildings, researchers at the Center for Reinventing Public Education have found.
But with recent clarification from the CDC that ventilation and masking — not wiping down surfaces — are the most effective ways to mitigate virus spread in schools, The 74 contributors Robin Lake and Georgia Heyward make the case that schools should avoid such schedules.
Closing school one day a week for cleaning is nothing more than “hygiene theater,” they argue — and robs students of valuable learning time.
Analysis: In Thousands of Districts, 4-Day School Weeks Are Robbing Students of Learning Time for What Amounts to Hygiene Theater
Many districts were exploring four-day schedules even before the pandemic, amid fierce debates over the pros and cons. An update from early last year shows that 560 districts in 25 states had at least one school on a four-day schedule. According to Lake and Heyward’s current sample, which finds that over a quarter of in-person schools and nearly two-thirds of hybrid schools now close one day a week for cleaning, COVID-19 seems to only have accelerated uptake of the abbreviated school week.
Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, Florida, was arrested Wednesday on felony charges related to an inquiry into the district’s security actions in the lead-up to the 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, state officials announced.
Runcie, 59, was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents and charged with perjury. Also arrested was Broward County School Board General Counsel Barbara Myrick, 72, who was charged with felony unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings. Both officials face felony charges related to a statewide grand jury that launched a probe into the country’s sixth-largest district after 17 people were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis created the panel in 2019 to investigate possible failures by the district to follow state school-safety laws and to properly manage money earmarked for school safety initiatives.
Runcie’s indictment, provided to The 74 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, alleges that he gave false statements to the grand jury as it was investigating whether the district was following school safety laws, whether officials committed fraud by accepting state school funds while “knowingly failing to act,” whether officials committed fraud by mismanaging school safety funds and whether educators underreported “incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.” The indictment against Myrick, the district’s longtime lawyer, alleges that she disclosed confidential information related to the statewide grand jury proceedings. Information relating to the grand jury is sealed and officials didn’t release additional information about the charges.
The 74 Interview: Jeff Foster Taught Parkland Students the Power of Protests. Now He’s on a Mission to Inspire the Next Generation of Voters
Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina Petty was killed in the Parkland shooting, told The 74 he felt relief at Runcie’s indictment, saying it reflects a “three-year process trying to drive towards some accountability” from district leadership.
In arguing that educators have failed in their obligations to keep students safe, Petty pointed to an $800 million bond program approved in 2014 to update school buildings including security upgrades. As of 2019, 97 percent of district schools were still waiting for repairs, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“The promises had not been kept,” said Petty, who has served on the state Board of Education since last year. “The killer walked through an open gate which should have been locked, through an open door which should have been locked and then began to indiscriminately kill students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, all of which was preventable, all of which was avoidable.”
Inside the $3 Billion School Security Industry: Companies Market Sophisticated Technology to ‘Harden’ Campuses, but Will It Make Us Safe?
Runcie’s lawyers said their client will plead not guilty and called it a “sad day” when “politics become more important than the interests of our students,” and said that the superintendent has “fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout this statewide grand jury process.”
“This morning, we received a copy of an indictment that does not shed any light on what false statement is alleged to have been made,” according to the statement from the firm Dutko & Kroll, P.A. “We are confident that [Runcie] will be exonerated and he intends to continue to carry out his responsibilities with the highest level of integrity and moral standards, as he has done for nearly 10 years in his role as superintendent.”
School board chair Rosalind Osgood said in a statement that the nearly 261,000-student school system will “operate as normal under the District’s leadership team” as the legal proceedings unfold.
Florida’s Post-Parkland Experiment: To Deter Mass Shootings, Some School Districts Are Creating Their Own Police Departments
Runcie and Myrick aren’t the first public officials to face criminal charges in relation to the Parkland shooting. Scot Peterson, a school-based police officer assigned to the campus, was charged with neglect and perjury in 2019 after he failed to engage the gunman head-on as shots rang out.
The district’s school safety and security efforts have been highly scrutinized since Broward County schools were thrust into the national spotlight by the tragedy. Among the most controversial has been the PROMISE program, a diversion initiative that seeks to keep students out of the criminal justice system for committing certain offenses at school. Runcie repeatedly claimed that the suspected Parkland shooter had “no connection” to the program but WLRN, the local public radio station, reported that he had been referred to PROMISE for vandalism in 2013, though it’s unclear if he ever attended. Critics of the program argue it led officials to take a lax position on school discipline.
Remembrance Day: Ivy Schamis Was Teaching About the Holocaust When Shots Rang Out at Parkland, Killing Two of Her Students. Now the Lessons Are Deeply Personal
Runcie has also faced sharp criticism for his response to the shooting and has fended off efforts to oust him from his $335,000-a-year post. His contract, which expires in 2023, allows a majority on the school board to terminate his employment without cause, according to WLRN.
Petty is among Runcie’s toughest critics. Though specifics of the charges against the veteran superintendent and Myrick remain unclear, Petty said he felt optimistic about the grand jury investigation.
“I certainly take no pleasure in seeing somebody indicted, but I can’t help but feel that we’re moving in the right direction with regards to getting accountability,” he said. “Hopefully this will lead to change.”
Read the indictments:
Video Replay: Where Are America’s Missing Students? Education Panel Brings Together Experts to Discuss Displacement & Disenrollment During the Pandemic
How many students in America have disappeared during COVID?
The 74 began asking and reporting on that question back in December, with an extensive series dubbed “COVID’s Missing Students” that looked at the thousands of kids who had vanished from school systems during the pandemic.
We continued that conversation today with an event organized in partnership with the Progressive Policy Institute — the convening of a special panel to look at “Dis-Enrollment in America.”
Moderated by Curtis Valentine, deputy director of Reinventing America’s Schools at PPI, and featuring The 74’s Linda Jacobson who has reported extensively on the issue, the panel also spotlights observations and discoveries from Keri Rodrigues, founding president of the National Parents Union; Colorado State Sen. James Coleman; Hailly Korman, senior associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners; and Ray Ankrum, superintendent of Riverhead Charter Schools.
If you found this conversation illuminating, you may also want to check out some of our other recent panels:
- Social-Emotional Development: Experts talk about boosting students’ resilience and mental health amid the pandemic (Watch here)
- Learning Pods: Could pods outlast the pandemic? School experts and founders talk about education innovations that could endure beyond COVID (Watch here)
- Teacher Diversity: What does the educator workforce, and our efforts to hire more teachers of color, look like post-COVID (Watch here)
And here’s some additional reading and reporting on disenrollment during the pandemic:
- House Calls: Texas teachers go door to door as kids disappear from remote classes (Read the full story)
- Chronic Absenteeism: The concerning case of Cleveland’s no-show students. More than 8,000 kids are missing as absenteeism rates double (Read the full story)
- Family Transfers: As families face evictions & closed classrooms, data shows ‘dramatic’ spike in mid-year school moves (Read the full story)
- School Funding: Phantom students, very real red ink — Why efforts to keep student disenrollment from busting school budgets can backfire (Read the full story)
- Student Discipline: How missing Zoom classes could funnel kids into the juvenile justice system (Read the full story)
- Family Engagement: Nashville’s ‘Navigator’ tries to keep students in remote learning from getting lost in the system (Read the full story)
- Go Deeper: Special Report — COVID’s Missing Students
Minneapolis Teens Stage Walkout, Observe Moment of Silence for Daunte Wright as Chauvin Case Heads to the Jury
As closing arguments were held Monday in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, students from some 110 Minneapolis-area schools walked out to protest the death of Daunte Wright in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center. Some of the teens, who organized online, gathered outside suburban and exurban schools, while others demonstrated at a downtown plaza not far from the courthouse.
At 1:47 p.m., the time Wright was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop April 11, the students observed a moment of silence.
National Guard and police from other states have established a heavy presence in the Twin Cities, and Minneapolis Public Schools on Friday announced a temporary return to distance learning because of the possibility of unrest.
Though it’s unclear when or whether he graduated, Wright was a former Minneapolis Public School student. He attended Edison High School, where at least for a time, his dean of students was the girlfriend of George Floyd, whom Chauvin is accused of murdering. Since the trial started in late March, teachers throughout the Twin Cities have grappled to help students process the graphic images played repeatedly in the courtroom as testimony has been given.
After Floyd’s death, students were among those who protested on Minneapolis streets for days, demanding, among other things, that the school district sever its ties to the Minneapolis Police Department. Like Floyd, Wright was a Black man who died at the hands of white police officers. Over the weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters of California and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, among other Black leaders, attended vigils in the Twin Cities.
For Years Before George Floyd’s Death, Schools Were Urged to Cut Ties With Police. Inside the Student Campaign That Convinced Minneapolis to Act — and Sparked a Nationwide Trend
mnteenactivists, the group that organized the walkout, posted photos, graphics and videos to Twitter, Instagram and other social media. The Instagram videos appended here were taken at Fridley High School, near where Wright was killed.View this post on InstagramView this post on InstagramView this post on Instagram
“It seems like Minnesota can’t get a break … so proud of you all for coming out here…” at Fridley Senior High:View this post on Instagram
“Since 2020, police have killed 21 young people” … at Fridley Senior High:View this post on Instagram
This Week In School Reopenings: 60 Percent Of Students Now Have Access To Daily In-Person Instruction, But Many Districts Set Sights On Summer To Make Up Lost Learning
For the first time this year, over 60 percent of K-12 students are now attending schools that offer daily, in-person classes, according to a recent update. Only 9 percent go to remote-only schools, down from 12 percent last week.
But even as more and more students return to classrooms, attendance remains a barrier amid fears of COVID-19 safety and more infectious variants. Recently released data from the Institute of Education Sciences show that Black and Indigenous students — who are more likely to go to underfunded schools with fewer resources for pandemic safety measures — have seen absenteeism rates above 10 percent.
Now, as schools mull how to catch up students who have fallen behind, many districts are looking toward the summer to support their young people’s continued learning,
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 Over 6 in 10 students attend schools offering daily, in-person instruction
The number of students whose schools offer full-time, in-person learning nudged above 60 percent this week, with only 9 percent attending virtual-only schools.
For youngsters, the rate of in-person learning was even higher. Nearly 70 percent of elementary schoolers have the option to attend traditional, five-days-a-week classrooms. Only 6 percent go to schools that only offer remote learning.
In-person learning levels remained slightly lower for middle and high schoolers, at 58 and 55 percent, respectively. Eleven percent of middle school students and 13 percent of high schoolers attend remote-only schools.
More ‘Monster Walks,’ Fewer Water Fountains: How Two Cleveland Schools Stayed Open Through the Pandemic With Few COVID Cases and More Learning Opportunities
These figures represent a continued trend toward fully reopened classrooms, in line with an executive order President Joe Biden issued on his first full day in office.
2 California looks toward full-time, in-person learning … next year
Long one of the states most hesitant to reopen classrooms, a number of California districts announced plans to bring students back for in-person learning next fall. Leaders in Oakland, Fremont and San Francisco all indicated that students would have the option to return to full-time, in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year.
However, the Burbio team noted in their update that the messages from Golden State school officials included a level of qualifying language “unique” to California. Many stipulated that their plans hinge on developments in spread of the COVID-19 virus and could be limited by 3 foot distancing policies specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Court Documents Reveal How L.A. Teachers Union Gained Upper Hand in Pandemic Negotiations, Limiting Instruction Time
3 CDC rules reverse reopening progress in New York schools
Though the CDC relaxed its guidelines for social distancing in classrooms, reducing the magic number from 6 feet to 3, recommendations still specify that where levels of community COVID-19 spread top 100 cases per every 100,000 people in a week, the original 6 foot benchmark should go back into effect.
New guidance in New York follows those rules. As a result, schools in Warwick Valley, NY are moving middle and high school students from traditional to hybrid learning. Leaders in Port Washington and Monroe-Woodbury had to put plans to return older students to classrooms on hold.
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
4 Summer learning plans come into focus
North Carolina’s state legislature passed a bill requiring six weeks of summer school for students who have fallen behind during the pandemic, with bonuses for teachers who participate. Florida has also moved to expand summer learning opportunities, along with large urban districts such as Philadelphia and New York City.
Taking a slightly different approach, East St. Louis has extended its school year by five weeks, with mandatory attendance for all but select groups of students. East Baton Rouge is tacking time onto the other end of the year, with plans to start next fall eight school days early.
5 States plan virtual options for 2021-22
Amid growing concern that many parents will not choose to return their children to in-person classes even if schools reopen next fall, Iowa and Minnesota have launched statewide virtual learning academies for the 2021-22 school year.
As remote instruction seems poised to become a long-term mainstay of public education, so too do debates over student privacy. While proponents see a huge upside to “teacher cams” that let students tune into class from anywhere with a Wi-Fi signal, critics worry that cameras could pose a risk to students — and in some cases even violate the constitution.
‘Teacher Cams’ Could Revolutionize Education After the Pandemic Ends, But Some Critics See a Massive Student Privacy Risk
New Poll Shows Nearly Half of American Parents Rethinking Value of Four-Year College; Want Additional Alternatives for Children
Many parents are rethinking the value of a traditional four year college education, opting instead for hands-on experiences for their children such as vocational education programs, joining the military or starting their own business, a new poll has found.
Even without obstacles such as finances, nearly half of parents want alternatives to four-year college for their children, according to the survey which is part of a national report, Family Voices: Building Pathways From Learning to Meaningful Work from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Gallup.
The most recent decline in interest among American parents in college is part of an ongoing trend for nearly ten years, prior polls show. A 2019 Gallup poll found just over half of Americans, 51 percent, believed a college education was “very important,” a 19-point decrease from the 70% of U.S. adults who said the same in 2013.
The most recent national poll of 3000 parents was conducted in November and December 2020, as the pandemic continued, with hopes that “policymakers and education leaders use its findings to build a cradle-to-career education system that prepares all our nation’s young people for the bright futures they deserve.”
LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, vice president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said the message from the data is “clear.”
“While attending a four-year college remains the gold standard for many families, nearly half of parents … wish that more postsecondary options existed,” she said. “We need to expand and strengthen postsecondary pathways so that young people are exposed to the world of work before graduating from high school and have access to a robust array of career-related learning opportunities afterwards.”
Here are six striking stats:
1 Black parents were more likely to prefer their child pursues a bachelor’s degree
Sixty-seven percent of Black parents said they preferred their child pursue a bachelor’s degree, 16 percentage points higher than white parents and 11 points higher than Hispanic parents. Though Black parents were least likely to prefer two-year college, national enrollment statistics show that Black students are more likely to begin their postsecondary education at community colleges than white students.
2 Parents’ political party identifications were strong predictors of college preference
Seventy percent of Democrats said they would prefer their child pursue a bachelor’s degree, compared to 46 percent of Republicans. In a similar sentiment, a Gallup study from 2019 found Republicans to be significantly less likely than Democrats or independents to say that a college education is “very important.” A 2017 Gallup survey found many Republicans were critical of higher education for “pushing a liberal agenda.”
3 Parents who were less likely to prefer their child pursue a four-year college degree were significantly more likely to prefer a skills-training program
These programs include training for a trade or vocation, such as plumbing or automotive repair, specialized technical skills, such as information technology or installing and maintaining solar panels, apprenticeships, or another option that combines classroom-based learning with on-the-job training. Those who were questioned believe “experiential pathways” provide better career preparation than college.
4 About one-third of parents who went to college do not want their child to do the same
Parents’ own experience with college has a significant influence on whether they aspire for their child to follow the same path. For the most part, parents with at least a bachelor’s degree want the same for their child. But one-third who went to college do not want their child to attend. Republican degree holders were less likely than Democrat college graduates degree holders to want their child to go to college.
5 A slim eight percent of parents preferred community college
Despite affordability, just eight percent of parents favored two-year or community college in place of a four-year school. Although community colleges often “offer associate degrees that focus on developing skills specific to a career path, such as paralegal or dental hygienist programs” parents were nearly twice as likely to want their child to complete a skills-training program instead.
The survey found parents did not believe a two-year college delivers the same level of quality that they associate with the training programs offered at the schools.
Manno: The Link Between College and a Good Job Is Even Weaker Since COVID-19. Here Are Some New, More Effective Pathways to Opportunity & Employment
6 Household income was not a significant predictor of whether a parent wants their child to attend college
The survey shows these differences depend more on other factors, like where the family lives. Parents living in cities and suburbs were significantly more likely to want their child to pursue a bachelor’s degree than those who live in towns or rural areas.
‘Urgency is Everywhere’: 2022 Federal Budget Plan Includes Major Increases for Community Schools, Title I
Over the past year, school districts across the country have delivered meals to families, connected them to mental health counselors and served as central hubs for information on rental assistance — operating much like “community schools” that are designed to pull together a variety of services for students under one roof.
Now President Joe Biden hopes to expand federal funding for that approach with $443 million for the U.S Department of Education’s Full-Service Community Schools program in the fiscal 2022 budget— an increase of $413 million, almost 15 times the current level.
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” said Rey Saldaña, president and CEO of Communities in Schools, a national organization that works in 2,900 schools across the country to connect low-income students to a range of support services.
While the president’s plan to more than double Title I funding for schools captured the most attention, the proposed increase for community schools and school-based mental health services further demonstrates the administration’s goal of funding programs district leaders believe will better serve disadvantaged students.
State legislatures have increased funding for community schools in recent years, but an expansion of the federal program shows “we can do school better,” Saldaña said. The program provides funding for wraparound services, such as afterschool programs, mentoring, food, clothing and health care — and staff members to coordinate resources with nonprofits and other community agencies.
“The reason why there is so much promise is because the urgency is everywhere,” said Elena Silva, the director of preK–12 for the education policy program at New America, a left-of-center think tank. “Suddenly everybody is feeling it — schools are the centers of communities.”
The goals of community schools range from improved behavior and access to health services to increased school achievement. As a result, researchers’ efforts to determine whether the model has succeeded often depend on what they’re measuring. Most recently, the RAND Corp. found positive results for New York City’s community schools initiative, including improved attendance, higher graduation rates and improvements in math. But an earlier report highlighted the challenges districts face in implementing the approach, including staff turnover and competition with other reform efforts.
A significant expansion of the program is one priority outlined in the budget proposal the administration released Friday. The plan includes a $20 billion increase in funding for Title I — up to $36.5 billion — for schools serving students in low-income families.
Education groups welcomed the announcement, saying the past year has left many students cut off from services that they would normally receive at school.
“Chiefs for Change has long advocated that schools serving children with the most intensive needs receive resources proportionate to that challenge,” the group said in a statement.
But some already expect the president will have to reduce his request once it reaches Congress.
“I’m sure they will have to scale back,” said Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence. He added that along with the American Rescue Plan and the president’s infrastructure proposals, the administration is seeking a level “of federal involvement that is unmatched since the foundation of the [education] department.”
First Phase of Biden Infrastructure Plan to Include Billions for Schools, Child Care Centers and Broadband
Other programs noted in the preview of the president’s official budget request were:
- A $2.6 billion increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, boosting funding for the program to $15.5 billion and taking, according to the White House summary, “a significant first step toward fully funding IDEA,” — one of the president’s campaign promises. The request would also increase spending on special education services for infants and toddlers by $250 million to $732 million.
- A new $100 million grant program to support diverse schools. “Schools play critical roles in bringing communities together,” according to the document. “However, too many of the nation’s schools are still segregated by race and class, mirroring the segregation of America’s communities.”
- $1 billion for increases in the number of counselors, nurses and mental health professionals in schools.
The Week in School Reopenings: Nearly 9 in 10 Youth Have Access to In-Person Learning, But Some Big City Districts Are Only Now Returning Students to Classrooms
Nearly 9 in 10 students now have access to at least some classroom learning, either through traditional or hybrid models, according to a recent update.
Until recently, however, some prominent city school districts like Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle had never opened their doors. Now they’re bringing back kids, and all eyes are on these school systems as students return to classrooms after more than a year learning from home.
But with the school year mere weeks away from coming to a close for millions of students, and with select districts putting in-person learning on pause amid spread of a more infectious strain of COVID-19, many observers look to the summer in hopes of supporting young people’s continued learning.
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 full, in-person learning continues
Overall, just shy of 60 percent of students across the country are now attending schools that offer full, in-person learning, up from 55 percent of students last week. Every age level saw declines in remote and hybrid learning in favor of traditional models.
Adding in-person learning models together with hybrid, 88 percent of students nationwide have access to some classroom learning.
2 Big city school districts just now opening their doors
Even amid a months-long countrywide trend toward reopening schools, some major urban districts have remained a key exception, sticking with virtual-only models.
Now, many are beginning to open their doors.
In California, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco are each returning elementary students to hybrid classrooms within the next two weeks. Also on the West Coast, Seattle and Portland now have elementary students learning part time in the classroom and plan to return middle and high school students. Newark, New Jersey returns students to classrooms this week for hybrid learning, and Milwaukee opens its doors to younger students the week after.
Reticent Families in NYC, LA Could Prove True Test For School Reopenings, Even As Gallup Poll Reveals Overwhelming Parent Support Nationwide
3 State lawmakers leading reopening push
Many states have begun to enact school reopening mandates, influencing a push toward in-person learning. As reopening laws took effect in New Mexico, the state went from one of the country’s most virtual to one of its most in-person. Massachusetts also saw jumps in classroom learning for youngsters as in-person requirements for elementary schoolers kicked in.
That trend could continue in North Carolina and New Hampshire, where mandates are set to take effect next week and the week following, respectively. West Coast states like Washington, Oregon, and California also have requirements for the return to classrooms this week and next, though they stipulate hybrid models rather than full in-person learning.
Conversely, in Michigan where rates of COVID-19 are on the rise, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has urged high schools to put a two-week pause on all in-person learning and youth sports.
More Lawmakers Are Leading Efforts to Reopen Some Schools By Statute — And Not Just in Red States
4 Over half of high schoolers have the option to learn in-person
Across the country, as schools have embarked on the task of bringing students back to classrooms, high schoolers have tended to be the last in line. This week marks something of a milestone, then, as the share of high school students attending schools offering in-person learning five days a week for the first time this year edged above 50 percent.
5 Nearly half of students done with school by Memorial Day
By Memorial Day, almost half of K-12 students will be on summer vacation, and fully 75 percent will be done by June 12.
With summer break mere weeks away for millions of students, and with many school districts flush with cash from the federal government, some of it earmarked for addressing learning loss, many observers are looking to summer school as the best chance to support young people’s continued learning.
The logistics of in-person learning next fall remain a key unknown. If and when 80 percent of students select in-person classroom instruction, the CDC’s current 3 foot social distancing guidance could pose an obstacle, as it appears to have created issues in some districts around lunchtime, busing and classroom spacing.
The percentage of Black students returning to in-person learning has inched up since January, according to the latest update on pandemic school participation from the Institute of Education Sciences.
At fourth grade, the monthly School Survey shows the percentage of Black students in remote-only classrooms dropped from 58 to 54 percent. While white students are still attending school in person or in hybrid plans at higher rates than Black, Hispanic and Asian students, that’s starting to change.
“We are beginning to see shifts toward full-time, in-person learning for other groups,” Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the assessment division at the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a statement. In addition, the data shows the percentage of fourth graders with disabilities in remote-only classrooms dropped from 38 to 35 percent.
The tracker complies with the executive order President Joe Biden issued on his first full day in office. Based on a sample of 3,500 schools each at fourth and eighth grade — but representative of elementary and middle schools in general — the site includes two new elements that provide further context as the push to reopen schools continues. Average rates of attendance are included as well as teacher vaccination rates. The data on vaccinations, however, lags behind more current numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, showing that almost 80 percent of teachers, other school employees and child care providers have now received at least one shot.
In addition on Tuesday, Biden moved up the date for anyone 16 and older to be eligible for the vaccine from May 1 to April 19.
“We’re in a situation where I believe by end of the summer, we’ll have a significant portion of the American public vaccinated,” he said while visiting a vaccination site in Virginia.
The wide availability of vaccines — as well as further updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that frequent and deep cleaning is no longer necessary — should allow more districts to offer in-person classes five days a week.
On attendance, schools are seeing similar rates, regardless of whether students are learning in person, remotely or in a hybrid plan — about 90 percent on average, according to the IES data.
But rates for Black students are below that, especially for eighth graders, regardless of how they are attending school. Fourth grade attendance rates ranged from a high of 95 percent for Asian students in distance learning to less than 80 percent for American Indian, Hawaiian and other native student groups.
The national data, however, is likely covering up widening gaps at the local level between students with satisfactory attendance and those with “severe chronic absence,” meaning they’ve missed at least 10 percent of the school year so far, said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a national nonprofit organization.
She called average daily attendance a “bad, unhelpful metric” and said even chronic absenteeism rates are not a good measure of missed instructional time.
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The national picture of attendance builds on what some states are already collecting on a monthly basis.
- In Connecticut, attendance rates are comparable to the 2019-20 school year before the pandemic, except for students with high needs, according to a March report from the state education department. Among English learners, low-income students and those with disabilities, rates are “substantially lower” than before the pandemic, especially among low-income students who also have at least one other need, such as a disability.
- In Ohio, districts participating in a student engagement initiative have seen an increase in students who are chronically absent.
- In Rhode Island, the percentage of students with “excessive” absences, meaning they’ve missed between 20 percent and 50 percent of the school year, has increased from 4 percent in March 2020, before the pandemic, to 11 percent as of Feb. 11.
Chang attributes the increases in absenteeism, in part, to the digital divide.
“If you have internet connectivity, it is easier to show up in distance learning and be counted as showing up,” she said. “But if you don’t have decent internet access and you’re highly mobile, then you end up in real trouble.”
She added that because “showing up is easier” in remote learning, the data on chronic absenteeism is likely underestimating how much instructional time students are missing.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, she said, schools have emphasized daily check-ins with students to monitor their well-being. As a result, she said, “attendance became less meaningful as a measure of exposure to instruction.”
There’s an App for That: How Louisiana Students Bounced Back from a Nation-leading Drop in Math Performance — and Kept Going
Since COVID-19 forced school closures last spring, a team of economists at Harvard University has been tracking the progress of students nationwide who use an online learning platform created by the nonprofit Zearn Math. Because Zearn is an app, it supplies unusually detailed and immediate data, allowing researchers to watch in real time.
After schools had been closed for six weeks last spring, it revealed that the steepest academic drop took place in Louisiana, where student progress overall fell more than 50 percent across the board, and more than 70 percent for low-income students.
But when Zearn co-founder and CEO Shalinee Sharma looked to see how students were faring at the pandemic’s one-year mark, she was stunned to see that Louisiana’s had posted some of the country’s largest increases in progress — the biggest overall, if the spring’s post-shutdown slump is factored in.
Compared to 10 percent nationally, Louisiana students’ performance was up 31 percent. And more impressive to Sharma, progress rose significantly in most parishes (the state’s equivalent of counties) and all income brackets. Bucking the national trend of widening inequities in pandemic schooling, students in low-income schools were ahead 11 percent, while their high-income classmates were ahead by 13 percent and middle-income students by 41 percent.
Sharma dashed off an email to state education officials, pointing out the across-the-board gains. “Louisiana… is a real bright spot,” she wrote. “No other state demonstrated higher gains in student progress for as many students as Louisiana did between May 2020 and March 2021.”
Zearn is the lone academic indicator included on a pandemic data tracker created by Harvard’s Opportunity Insights, a project headed by economists Raj Chetty and Jonathan Friedman. By layering in census data, the tracker can sort participation and progress by income. The tracker provides evidence that the pandemic hasn’t just highlighted inequities among students of different demographics, but has actually widened them.
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At the same time, Sharma told The 74, the data has revealed “positive deviants.” “In other states, you’d see a more uneven map,” she says. The consistency of student progress means Louisiana is seeing what she calls “an equitable recovery,” which is tied to policy decisions.
Cade Brumley, who took over as state superintendent of education in June, credits three factors for the progress. First, with one-fourth of households still lacking internet access, his department helped purchase mobile devices that allow students to connect regardless. Second, more than 70 percent of Louisiana students attend school in person, with only 20 percent attending virtually. And finally, his agency was quick to issue very prescriptive guidance to schools on everything from the conditions for safe reopening to doubling down on strategies that had been working, pre-pandemic, to spur student achievement.
Before his appointment as superintendent, Brumley had overseen the state’s largest school system, in Jefferson Parish. When he took the state post, he hired one of his top administrators, Jenna Chiasson, to be assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. At the state level, the two confronted many of the same issues they had troubleshot in the early weeks of distance learning, including getting good technology that doesn’t require an internet connection into students’ hands.
“For the first time ever, we have more devices than kids,” says Brumley.
Still, he says, it’s a stopgap solution, so the state Department of Education also is participating in a state initiative to plug the connectivity gap, bringing internet to the 25 percent of residents who have none.
Over the summer, Brumley hosted a “reopening roundtable” every Friday with education leaders around the state. Half the discussion could be about navigating the pandemic, he says, but half had to be about academics. “We have encouraged school systems to prioritize student learning, even through the pandemic,” says Brumley.
Zearn was already in widespread use throughout Louisiana when the pandemic came, as one of the top-rated programs on a state list of high-quality curricula. Officials offer financial incentives to districts and schools that adopt instructional materials ranked “Tier One,” a hard-to-attain status that means they are backed by evidence of effectiveness and aligned to Louisiana’s instructional standards. Researchers at the RAND Corp. and elsewhere say the strategy shows promise.
As outlined by the Opportunity Insights tracker, student progress nationally on Zearn fell by 29 percent during the week following school shutdowns but had bounced back and was up by more than 8 percent by late April. (Progress is student growth measured against performance in January 2020.)
When she saw the economists’ early work showing participation and progress among high-income students remaining consistent or shooting ahead, while low-income kids disappeared, Sharma “flipped out,” she told The 74’s Laura Fay. In the four years preceding the pandemic, children of different demographics had been equally successful with the program.
During the week that marked the shutdowns’ one-year anniversary, student progress nationwide was up 14 percent overall, with high-income students posting 28 percent, those at middle-income schools showing 20 percent progress and low-income students down 2 percent overall.
Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation provide financial support to Zearn and The 74. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provides financial support to Opportunity Insights and The 74.
Teachers Unions Lift Salaries and School Spending, Research Shows, But Evidence on Student Achievement Is Mixed
Experts have spent decades studying the question of how teacher’s unions influence both the resources provided to schools and the learning that occurs inside them. The events of the last decade — one that began with a clampdown on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, crested in a historic wave of labor militancy, and culminated in the debate over COVID reopenings — have only magnified focus on the issue.
Now, new research has emerged examining whether unions make for stronger schools. In a working paper released last fall, Ohio State University professor Stephane Lavertu and University of Utah professor Jason Cook examined how hundreds of Ohio school districts spent new revenues generated through local tax referendums. Those that allocated the money while engaged in collective bargaining negotiations with teachers unions were more likely to raise salaries and benefits, they found, while those under no comparable pressure from unions were more likely to hire new teachers — realizing significant student achievement gains in the bargain.
Lavertu, whose paper has not yet undergone peer review, said that he was impressed to see the divergence in student performance between districts in various bargaining circumstances. Those under less pressure from union demands, he and his co-author found, saw meaningful academic benefits from spending just $200 more annually per pupil.
“I remember thinking that [the learning gains] were large given that we’re talking about relatively small differences in spending,” Lavertu said. “You see them increase over the course of three years because it’s a cumulative measure, but that’s only if there’s no collective bargaining going on. If there’s collective bargaining going on, you get nothing.”
Those findings represent some of the latest evidence linking the work of unions with the outcomes of students. Researchers have struggled for decades to uncover the ways in which organizing activity — everything from labor pacts to teacher walkouts to political lobbying — influences how schools behave, with most concluding that it tends to push for higher expenditures aimed at improving working conditions. Now they’re working to identify how those activities, often referred to by economists as “rent-seeking,” actually affect what’s going on in the classroom.
Bradley Marianno, an education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, co-authored a study published in February finding that stronger collective bargaining agreements are associated with higher levels of school spending and higher salaries for teachers and administrators, but not with student achievement. In an interview with The 74, he said that advances in research over the last few years have made it easier to study the relationship between union activities and education “production.”
“Unions seek to maximize the gains of their membership,” Marianno said. “That’s their role, they get paid to do that, and they survive to the extent that they do it well. Where the rent-seeking comes in is with this long-standing debate about whether those actions to maximize gains for teachers actually lead to requisite changes in some type of student outcome, the productivity of the education system.”
The effects of ‘rent-seeking’
In organizing their study, Lavertu and Cook took advantage of the consistency of Ohio’s teacher contract negotiations. Districts tend to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreements every three years, with roughly one-third of the state’s districts entering a renegotiation cycle each summer.
But that regularity interacts somewhat unpredictably with another crucial phenomenon: the timing of local tax referendums, which produce new school revenues. Because the two events aren’t synchronized, some districts begin negotiating with their teachers unions shortly after they have raised significant funding for education, while others have already spent that money by the time they reach the bargaining table.
Analyzing nearly 1,500 elections across the state, the researchers found that in districts whose bargaining agreements expired just after a tax referendum passed — and where unions would therefore have a stronger hand in negotiating new agreements — more revenue was directed toward compensation for existing employees. In those districts, teacher salaries at the top of the pay scale increased by as much as $1,000, a greater portion of district revenue was directed toward teacher benefits, and financial reserves declined somewhat.
By contrast, in districts that passed referendums and allocated school funding long before their teacher contracts expired, salaries did not rise by nearly as much. Instead, they hired an average of 12 new teachers in the first year after elections.
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Those differences in spending choices, along with the somewhat better academic results for districts whose decisions about budgeting and bargaining were less connected, presents compelling evidence not just of rent-seeking in action, but also of how it trickles down into classrooms. Marianno’s paper, co-authored with Katharine Strunk of Michigan State University and Paul Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers more: In a study of collective bargaining agreements in hundreds of California school districts, the trio found that stronger agreements (i.e., those that place more restrictions on administrators’ influence over school management) were associated with higher spending on instruction and school salaries, but no achievement gains.
“That question, in my mind, is pretty settled: Unions do, empirically, influence expenditures in meaningful ways,” said Marianno. “But what about student outcomes? I would say that…most of the literature suggests that those gains in expenditures are not associated with improvements in student achievement.”
That finding isn’t universally held, however; another study, published last year, concluded the opposite.
To study unions’ impact on both funding distribution and education quality, the University of Connecticut’s Eric Brunner and Amherst College’s Joshua Hyman looked at the results of school finance reforms across the country between the 1990-91 and 2011-12 school years. During that period, dozens of state legislatures dramatically changed their school funding formulas in order to remedy long-running inequalities between rich and poor districts.
In states with the strongest unions — typically those in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific coast regions — the money sent by lawmakers found its way into classrooms, in the form of salaries and other instructional costs, on an almost dollar-for-dollar basis. In states with weaker unions, usually found in the South, only about 10 cents of every new dollar boosted education revenues; the rest was used to reduce local tax burdens. For the schools involved, that disparity mattered a great deal: Low-income districts in strong union states saw test score gains that were twice as large as those in weak union states.
Brunner said that much of the recent research on union behavior did converge on the observation that collective bargaining drives up school spending. But he said that the academic consequences of that trend were “mixed, and context-specific.”
“Everyone always interprets it as rent-seeking…and I’m not saying it’s not,” said Brunner. “But in this particular context, because they were so strong at advocating for keeping the money in schools versus giving it back to taxpayers, they actually got more money into schools than places with weaker unions. That led to better outcomes for kids.”
Lavertu himself cautioned that it’s important to tread carefully when interpreting the relationship between labor activity and academic results. The relationship between union strength and working conditions is far from random.
“You can imagine that in a district where students are poor and achieving at lower levels, there are other issues in those sorts of districts — discipline and safety, the districts’ ability to afford to recruit teachers — that might compel teachers to have stronger unions and more stringent collective bargaining agreements,” he observed. “So the causal arrow could go in the other direction.”
A ‘natural experiment’
Teachers unions have been a subject of contention since their inception in the mid-20th century. But the past decade has been an era of particular tumult, as political efforts to dilute their power clashed with a resurgent wave of labor activism.
It has been almost a decade exactly since then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a slate of reforms aimed at paring back labor’s strength in Wisconsin, one of the birthplaces of public sector bargaining. The politically incendiary Act 10 legislation led to both long-term cost savings for the state and declining union membership in recent years.
Other states, prodded by Republican leaders and unforgiving budgetary conditions in the wake of the Great Recession, followed a similar course. Michigan became a right-to-work state. Ohio nearly did the same before voters overturned the effort through a ballot initiative. Indiana drastically narrowed the range of workplace conditions that unions could bargain over.
All of which preceded the most significant development of all: The Supreme Court’s ruling, in the landmark Janus v. AFSCME case, to forbid unions from effectively compelling workers to contribute union dues. The decision directly threatened the bankrolls and organizing capacity of teachers unions.
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Marianno argued that the new and rapidly shifting labor environment made for an excellent research opportunity, especially when combined with rapidly improving research tools and access to test score data that has only been easily available since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“We saw this big ramp-up in union strength in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, and for the most part, they’ve been fairly stable in education for quite a long time,” Marianno argued. “Now we’re starting to see state laws that repeal a lot of the protections that unions once had. What it creates is this natural experiment where we can start to leverage the variation we see naturally occurring out there in union strength to understand these more complex relationships.”
It also bears mentioning that predictions of a post-Janus implosion of union viability have thus far been proven quite premature. The 2018 “Red for Ed” movement for higher teacher salaries provoked the widest-reaching wave of teacher strikes in American history. Last spring, newly elected Democratic majorities in Virginia’s state legislature passed a law permitting teachers to collectively bargain for the first time ever. And unions have seen increasing successes in organizing charter school staffers, who have traditionally and overwhelmingly been non-union workers.
The next area of study will be the unions’ response to the COVID crisis, including their participation in reopening debates and their efforts to sway the distribution of relief funds. One proposal under consideration in Congress would earmark almost $130 billion specifically for K-12 schools, much of which would be left to districts’ discretion to use as they see fit.
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But it will be difficult to measure the immediate impact of COVID, or the massive policy response it has provoked, given the uncertainty surrounding federally mandated standardized testing this spring; the Biden administration has announced that it will not grant waivers from testing, but states will be allowed to delay or alter their planned assessments, and given the extraordinary upheaval triggered by COVID-related closures and disenrollment, student results may be especially difficult to interpret. Lavertu, who professed excitement at the recent “mini-explosion” of collective bargaining research, said he was concerned about possible limitations in assessment data.
“The changes in the availability of data have been massive over the last few years, and if testing stops for some reason, we’re in trouble.”