Test Results Weren’t the Only Data Missing From State Report Cards Last Year, Review Shows. Many Lacked Absenteeism, Grad Rate Info
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States didn’t have student performance data to report from the 2019-20 school year because tests were cancelled. But many also left the public in the dark about how many days of school pupils missed or which students were less likely to graduate, according to a new report on state report cards.
Nineteen states either failed to break down graduation rates by race and ethnicity or didn’t report rates for groups such as special needs, low-income or homeless students, the Data Quality Campaign’s review shows.
“When we talk about the drop in students enrolling in community college, or any postsecondary option, all of those data points start with high school graduation,” said Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the nonprofit organization. It’s important, she added, to have evidence of the pandemic’s higher toll on low-income and minority students. “We just had so little data about what was happening in schools.”
The federally mandated report cards are the primary way states make complicated school-level education data accessible to parents and other members of the public. Each year, the nonprofit releases which states it thinks are doing a good job of making the information easy to find and understand. Leaders say despite the pandemic’s disruption in testing — and waivers from the federal government dropping accountability requirements — states could have used their report cards to give families more insight into why some data is missing or to report on students’ access to at-home internet access. But most didn’t.
“Why do we continue to rely on Congress to tell us what we need to know?” Kowalski asked. “States did not use this as an opportunity to provide more information. They chose not to use it to shine a light.”
According to “Show Me the Data,” just nine states posted the percentage of students missing at least 10 percent of school last year. Another 26 reported chronic absence data from previous years or didn’t specify the year.
Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a research and advocacy organization, said she suspects many state officials felt their 2019-20 data wouldn’t be accurate once students shifted to remote learning or that it wouldn’t be comparable to previous years.
“Districts were really confused about whether to take attendance or not and how,” she said, but added that states could have added an explanation rather than not release it at all.
Almost half of the states didn’t include all of the data required on educators, such as those teaching out of their field or those with emergency credentials. And many states still aren’t reporting results for at least one group of students, which Kowalski said will be important in the future to track which groups of students at each school were most affected by the pandemic and distance learning.
For example, even if they collect it, 13 states still don’t break down data by gender on report cards. Kowalski said teens in general have gone to work or picked up more responsibility at home to help families facing economic hardship. But, she added, it’s not “a stretch” to assume older girls assumed more additional household duties than boys and cared for younger siblings so their mothers could stay in the workforce.
The Pandemic Forced Millions of Women Out of the Workforce. That’s a Problem Not Only for the Economy, But Their Children’s Lifelong Success
Some states provide links on their report card websites that lead to additional information, but Kowalski said those looking for data shouldn’t have to hunt for it.
“To ask anyone, let alone a parent, to dig through and Google multiple websites and cobble together a full, robust picture of what happened in a school is absurd,” she said.
‘A financial footprint’
A few states tried to put the results in context instead of cutting back. Pennsylvania and Iowa used their annual report cards to be upfront about what was missing — and why — or point readers to waivers from the federal government showing which data wasn’t required.
And North Dakota posted the number and percentages of students in virtual, hybrid or in-person learning, long before the U.S. Department of Education started its own tracker a year after the pandemic began.
Ross Roemmich, the North Dakota education department’s director of management information, said all districts in the state use the same technology platform — Powerschool — making the data collection easier.
“When COVID hit, everything changed,” said Roemmich. “We knew that someday, the federal government would probably ask us which schools were face-to-face, hybrid or remote.”
Kowalski noted that just because states couldn’t hold schools accountable for results didn’t excuse them from reporting other data mandated by law — including per-student spending for each school. Several states made progress on that requirement, which went into effect last year. Thirty-six states reported the spending data for 2019-20, up from 19 the previous year.
New Requirement to Publish Per-Pupil Spending Data Could Help Schools Direct Funding to the Neediest Students. But Even in the Face of Budget Cuts, State Implementation Lags
Last year’s report cards likely won’t provide a lot of information on how states are directing federal relief funds. But Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, said going forward, the per-pupil spending data will help the public track whether districts direct funds toward schools serving the neediest students. “There will be a financial footprint to this,” she said.
Kowalski said she’d like to see all states add information on students’ access to devices and Wi-Fi to their report cards.
“We already knew devices were important,” she said, but added that during the pandemic, a computer and a reliable connection “became school.”
New York City Will Not Offer Remote Learning in the Fall: Why Mayor De Blasio Says America’s Largest School District Must Prioritize In-Person Learning
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In a surprise move Monday morning Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that New York City will offer no remote learning option for public school students in the fall, clearing the way for the return to in-person learning at America’s largest school district come Sept. 13.
“One million kids will be back in their classroom in September — all in person, no remote,” De Blasio said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “COVID is plummeting in this city I’m happy to say … it’s just amazing, to see the forward motion right now [and] the recovery that’s happening in NYC.
“But you can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools: Everyone back, sitting in those classrooms, kids learning again.”
Watch his full Morning Joe segment:
Other key details, from De Blasio’s announcement:
—Parent Hesitancy: To address and ease safety fears, parents will be able to visit their child’s classrooms in June to see the safety measures being implemented.
—Distancing: De Blasio said he expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be soon adjusting the guidance on students requiring three feet of distance. (Though he also said the city’s classrooms can accommodate that distance if required)
—Masks: In a later news briefing, Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said face masks will still be required for all students come fall.
—Medical Exemptions: Porter also said there will be no “COVID-related accommodations” in the fall, suggesting all school staff will be required to come to campus to work.
Watch the full video from Monday’s news briefing, featuring both Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Porter:
Soon after the mayor’s announcement, the city sent a mass text message to citizens indicating “All NYC public schools will be back full-time and in person in September with no remote option.”
Chancellor Porter also distributed the below letter to all district families:
A Better Equation: New Pandemic Data Supports Acceleration Rather than Remediation to Make Up for COVID Learning Loss
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As educators plan how they will address lost student learning during the next school year, they should forgo the traditional remedy of remediation in favor of a strategy known as acceleration, a new report recommends. The analysis was performed by TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, and the nonprofit Zearn, whose online math platform is used by one in four elementary students nationwide.
If they are coached on missing skills required, students complete 27 percent more grade-level work than if teachers try to back up and fit in unfinished material from prior years, the researchers found. Yet the children who are likely to return to school in the fall with the biggest learning losses are twice as likely in many instances to get ineffectual remediation.
The researchers hope states and school districts will consider the new data as they decide how to spend their American Rescue Plan dollars, which come with a congressional mandate to use a portion of the money to address academic gaps, both for summer programs and for the 2021-22 academic year.
Teachers are trained that remediation, the practice of focusing on missing, below-grade-level material — covering all lessons in second grade before moving on to third, for example — is the chief method for helping students who are behind catch up. But past research by TNTP and others shows it’s not effective.
Teaching grade-level material, while stopping to supply missing, underlying skills as they become necessary — acceleration — is a strategy some researchers have found promising. TNTP and Zearn say the new data is the most concrete yet to support this notion.
“It’s a counterintuitive difference,” says Shalinee Sharma, Zearn CEO and co-founder. “The simple idea [behind] remediation would be that if a child is struggling, you go back all the way to where everything is easy again and you bring them back gradually.
“Acceleration says, ‘Nope, the human brain is plastic,’” she continues. “You start with something really specific, like how do you add fractions. You drop down and teach that skill and then pop right back up.”
Because it is an app, Zearn’s math platform automatically gathers data every time a student opens it. Because of this, it has drawn the attention of researchers at a number of organizations. The new report analyzed information gleaned from 2 million students in 100,000 classrooms during the current academic year. It’s possible to tell who, in socio-economic terms, the students in any given classroom are and whether they are working on grade-level materials or covering ground lost last year.
The same two-way flow of precise information, complete with demographic data, compelled the economists leading Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights team to incorporate Zearn into their interactive pandemic tracker. At the same time, the platform’s effectiveness has spurred education leaders in Louisiana, Delaware and other places to create incentives for schools to incorporate it in their plans to address learning losses.
There’s an App for That: How Louisiana Students Bounced Back from a Nation-leading Drop in Math Performance — and Kept Going
Zearn and TNTP found that pupils in classrooms where acceleration was used for addressing early pandemic learning losses not only completed more grade-level lessons than their peers, they mostly regained their pre-pandemic success.
By contrast, students in classrooms where remediation took place struggled to complete lessons 10 times as often. And children of color and those in high-poverty schools were often twice as likely to be in classrooms where remediation was the primary strategy for closing academic gaps.
“This is in some ways a field-flipping idea,” says TNTP Vice President Bailey Cato Czupryk. “It feels counterintuitive because we are saying to teachers, ‘The thing we taught you to do isn’t working.’”
When students give an incorrect answer or otherwise show they don’t understand a concept, the Zearn app — without signaling to the students that they are failing — supplies another example or equation, or suggests an alternative means of solving a math problem. If this cycle repeats more than a couple of times, the app sends a “struggle alert” to the teacher, who then has the right information to provide what academic diagnostic experts sometimes refer to as “just-in-time” intervention.
The new research found that even when students of color and those from low-income backgrounds had been successful with grade-level academic content, they were more likely than their white, wealthier peers to experience remediation. In schools with mostly students of color, nearly one in six students were remediated, whether or not they previously had met grade-level standards. At the same time, acceleration was particularly effective for these disadvantaged students.
The new report bolsters existing TNTP research. In 2018, the nonprofit released The Opportunity Myth, a report on the experiences of 4,000 students in five public school systems that found they spent hundreds of hours each year doing work that wasn’t challenging enough for their grade level. The lower their exposure to lessons geared for their grade, the less likely the students were to master the academic material that was being presented, TNTP found.
The Zearn data, the new report notes, “reaffirms our finding from The Opportunity Myth that remediation can become a vicious cycle: as gaps accumulate year after year, students miss more and more grade-appropriate content in favor of review of content from previous grades and become increasingly less likely to ever make it back to grade-level mastery.”
The researchers say the pandemic year findings underscore the need for several fundamental shifts. Teachers need to be brought up to speed on the perils of remediation and trained to let go of longstanding perceptions that missing skills mean a student is not ready for challenging material.
Acceleration also calls for high-quality classroom materials, support for teachers in using those materials and, in some instances, for more instructional or tutoring time that’s closely tied to the strategy. Educators should expect truly catching students up to be a multi-year process, the researchers add.
“With the help of funding from the American Rescue Plan, school systems have an opportunity to invest in the tools, training and support necessary to successfully implement learning acceleration next school year and beyond,” the report notes.
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 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to Opportunity Insights and The 74.
Dr. Fauci Sees Schools Resuming Full-Time, In-Person Instruction By Fall: ‘School Should Be Open Five Days, Full Blast, Just the Way It Was Before’
In the wake of new mask guidance from the CDC, Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN to talk about the emerging science surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations and what Americans can expect as society attempts a partial return to normal.
CNN’s Jake Tapper concluded his interview Thursday with specific questions about the nation’s students and schools: “Both CDC Director Walensky and the president of the American Federation of Teachers are now saying that schools in the fall should be 100 percent open and in-person, five days a week. Do you agree — and if that’s the plan should it be formalized so schools and parents should start preparing?”
“Yeah I agree with that,” Fauci replied. “I believe the schools should be open five days, full blast, just the way it was before — that we really have to do that by the time we get to the fall.”
Tapper also asked about specific safety policies and procedures for reopened schools, including whether vaccinated students should be allowed to remove their masks while in class.
Fauci said he would defer to the CDC on specific school safety guidance, but that that “would certainly be an option, if the children are vaccinated, not to have a mask.”
Fauci further clarified those mask comments Friday, noting that children who are not vaccinated would need to continue wearing masks. Given that vaccines are currently approved only for students 12 and up, this means all elementary school students should likely begin the next school year with masks.
As we’ve previously reported, widespread rollout of vaccines for children younger than 12 is not expected to happen until 2022. Some of our other recent coverage of schools, vaccinations and student safety:
—Accelerating Vaccinations: As FDA approves shots for youth 12 and up, school districts get creative promoting vaccine to teens (Read the full story)
—Mask Policies: One Texas town, two school districts, clashing mask policies: How science and politics collided in New Braunfels’ classrooms (Read the full story)
—Lawsuits: Parents sue to halt school face mask mandates as districts impose health rules to slow pandemic (Read the full story)
—Health Studies: Inside the Massachusetts study that helped change the CDC’s stance on classroom distancing to 3 feet (Read the full story)
Newark Students, Including Special Needs and English Learners, Are Less Likely to Transfer Out of Charters than District Schools, Study Finds
Students who attend charter schools in Newark, including English learners and those with learning disabilities, are less likely to transfer out within two years than their peers at the district’s public schools, according to a new study. Children were also significantly more likely to shed their special-needs classification while enrolled at a Newark charter, the authors note.
The study, released as a working paper this week and summarized in the journal Education Next, offers more perspective on the long-running debate over admissions and retention in the charter sector. Critics of the publicly funded but privately operated schools have alleged that they push out kids with learning, language or behavioral challenges by means of tough disciplinary tools like suspension or expulsion.
Co-author Marcus Winters, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Boston University, said in an interview that he believed individual schools of all kinds “inappropriately” encouraged some students to leave. But the Newark study, along with earlier research looking at schools in Tennessee and North Carolina, has disproven the notion that charters routinely engage in the practice, he argued.
“I do think it’s fair to say that our paper … has now sufficiently debunked the myth that charter schools — at least in these areas that have been studied — are systematically pushing these students out,” Winters said.
Winters and co-author Allison Gilmour, a professor at Temple University, set out to compare enrollment trends in Newark, a city with one of the largest charter school sectors in the country. To do so, they used data from the Newark Enrolls assignment system, which allows families to select among their choice of traditional schools and approximately 70 percent of the city’s charters. (Not all local charters participate in Newark Enrolls, but those that do account for about five-sixths of charter students.)
Several variables in the Newark Enrolls formula determine which students are assigned to certain schools, including each child’s rank-ordered school preferences; individual factors prioritized by various schools (such as sibling preference); and randomized lottery numbers that are used in case a given school is overenrolled. By gathering administrative data between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 school years, Winters and Gilmour were able to compare patterns of school entrance and exit for nearly 14,000 students.
In all, children attending Newark charter schools were 22 percentage points less likely to leave that school within two years than substantially similar students who were instead assigned to traditional public schools. English learners were 16 percentage points less likely to transfer out of a charter, and students with a disability nearly 11 percentage points less likely. The difference for Hispanic students was not statistically significant.
The smaller chances of transfers may be attributable to the system’s format of ranked school preferences. In a model that controlled for families’ ranking of schools, charter students were still less likely to leave within two years, but only by about 10 percentage points; that suggests that a sizable portion of the charter school effect is simply a reflection of students attending the school they wanted to go to in the first place, Winters said.
“You might just be more willing to stick it out with a school that you originally had as a higher preference,” he said. “If you’re attending a school that you went to on purpose, you’re just less likely to leave it. And if you’re going to a charter school in a place like Newark, where several of the charter schools are among the most popular choices … you’re probably going to one of your most highly preferred schools.”
By tracking the same students over time, the study also observes gradual movement within individual subgroups. Specifically, children with a special-needs classification at charter schools are much less likely to still have an Individualized Education Program a few years later — a phenomenon that may help explain why the percentage of students receiving services is lower in charters. The effect is particularly notable for children entering charter schools between kindergarten and third grade (31 percentage points more likely to lose a special-needs classification within three years) and between grades four and six (20 points). Those findings dovetail with research pointing to similar trends in special-needs assignment at Boston charter schools.
New Study of Boston Charter Schools Shows Huge Learning Gains for City’s Special Education Students & English Language Learners
Comprehensive examinations, including a 2012 report from the federal Government Accountability Office, have shown that charters generally teach smaller numbers of kids with disabilities than district schools. More recent evidence indicates that those gaps may be shrinking, though it’s unknown how the huge upheaval triggered by COVID-19 may have shuffled enrollment trends.
If the study raises doubts about the claim that charter schools consistently work to remove struggling or hard-to-teach students from their classrooms, it offers little clarity about how they approach recruitment. At least one study has found that charters in multiple states were less likely than district schools to respond to application inquiries from parents of children with severe disabilities.
Winters concluded that the population differences between sectors could arise from only one of three sources: recruitment of students, mobility of students once enrolled and (in the case of English learners and disabled students) changes in status classification such as those detected in the Newark study. More investigation was needed into how different schools attract families, he said.
“It’s clear to me, at least, that the major driver in these enrollment gaps is who’s enrolling in the first place. We need more information about the enrollment side.”
The Diploma Disparity: Inequity In Higher Education Costs U.S. $956 Billion Per Year, New Report Reveals
Subsidizing college tuition and student loans can be pricey. But how much does it cost state and federal governments to neglect those investments?
As much as $956 billion per year, a new study from Georgetown University suggests.
The report, released Wednesday by the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce in collaboration with the Gates Foundation-funded Postsecondary Value Commission, examines the potential benefits of raising college degree attainment for underserved groups like Black, Latino and low-income white students.
It finds that equitizing college completion rates would come with a steep price tag — $3.97 trillion up front — but that an added $956 billion per year in tax revenues from boosted wages would mean that the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs.
“Economic and racial justice are good for public finances,” said lead author Anthony Carnevale, who directs the Georgetown Center. “Our thought experiment revealed the untapped potential in the higher education system for unrealized public gains.”
The Postsecondary Value Commission published Carnevale’s paper in conjunction with another report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy that examines economic mobility and the return on investment for a college education.
Together, the sibling studies offer a refined picture of who has access to college completion, what jobs those degrees lead to and what those trends mean for society.
Here are six key takeaways:
1 Race, class and gender gaps persist in degree attainment & earnings
Rates of college completion differ greatly along lines of race and class, the papers found, in alignment with significant prior research.
Among the top 60 percent of American income earners, 57 percent have an associate degree or higher, compared to only 28 percent of earners in the bottom 40 percent, according to Carnevale’s report. Only 21 percent of Latino adults and 31 percent of Black adults have a postsecondary degree, compared to 46 percent of white adults.
“Moving through that [higher education] system and getting a decent job is largely race and class based,” the Georgetown researcher told The 74. “And stubbornly so.”
Redrawing NCAA Brackets for Income Mobility: If March Madness Were About Moving Students Up the Economic Ladder, Research Says We’d All Be Celebrating Georgetown
Even once college students earn their diplomas, pay gaps across gender and race remain persistent. Men who completed four-year colleges on average make $14,000 more than female graduates from those institutions, according to the counterpart analysis.
And in the University of Texas system, white students who dropped out of college made almost as much as Latino and Black peers who graduated. Fifteen years later, white dropouts earned average yearly salaries of $60,400 as opposed to $60,700 and $64,800 for Latino and Black graduates, respectively.
2 Closing gaps pays dividends
Carnevale’s team examined what could happen if the bottom 40 percent of income earners attained college degrees at the same rate as the top 60 percent and if rates of postsecondary completion were equal across racial groups.
In that scenario, an additional 10.2 million Latino Americans, 5.9 million Black Americans, nearly half a million Asian Americans and 12.9 million low-income white Americans would have post-secondary degrees.
While the researchers estimate that raising college completion to those levels would require an upfront investment of $3.97 trillion, the ledger would balance quickly they say, contributing an additional $222 billion annually to U.S. GDP while reducing spending on social services like health care and incarceration — for a yearly $956 billion net.
The cumulative benefits of equity in college-going and completion would outweigh the cumulative public costs in approximately 17 years, according to the research team.
3 Beyond budgets, equity in degree attainment yields social benefits
On top of the nearly $1 trillion yearly estimated windfall from boosting college completion to equal levels across race and class, the study also identifies many non-monetary benefits.
Postsecondary education has a positive relationship with health outcomes like longer life expectancy, increased public safety and boosted levels of civic engagement activities like voting and involvement in community causes, the report says.
In addition, in our changing world, ensuring students see college success is a moral imperative, adds Carnevale.
“This is a new age in American education,” he said. “Everybody needs at least some post-secondary [schooling].”
4 Most schools yield positive return on investment — but not all
Of the roughly 2,900 institutions evaluated in the Institute for Higher Education Policy analysis, the majority offered a positive return on investment for graduates.
At over three-quarters of schools, by the 10-year mark after matriculation, students were on a path to earn at least as much as a high school graduate, plus enough to recoup the cost of their higher education.
However, approximately 650 out of 2,900 colleges and universities did not even meet that minimum threshold, with for-profit schools concentrated within that inauspicious cohort. The report does not name which ones.
Thirty-one percent of four-year and 64 percent of two-year for-profit colleges failed to put their graduates on a path toward earnings high enough to offset the cost of their degree, as compared to average high school graduates. Only roughly 15 percent of public universities failed to miss that mark.
5 The program matters more than the institution
High school seniors often spend weeks and months fretting over which college or university to attend. But according to the Center on Education and the Workforce director, that’s not the most important choice — financially speaking, at least.
Though there are differences between schools in average earnings, Carnevale says the key determining factor is a student’s chosen course of study.
“There’s much more variation [in future income] by program than there is by institution,” said Carnevale.
But still, he underscores that money should not be the only factor at play in students’ decisions on their post-secondary pathways.
His advice to learners? Explore, ask questions, figure out what you’re most drawn to.
“You’re going to change your mind a lot,” Carnevale said.
6 What data don’t we yet know?
Not included in this update from the Postsecondary Value Commission is a school-by-school data tool for students and families to explore earnings potentials, broken down by race, class and gender. That resource will be available sometime this summer, said researchers.
Every student deserves to be armed with these numbers, says Carnevale.
“It’s not just completing education that matters, it’s the outcomes thereafter.”
Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides financial support to The 74.
Vaccinating All Students: As FDA Authorizes Pfizer Doses For Teens, Experts Say Kids Younger Than 12 Should Be Able to Access Vaccines By Early 2022
Amid Monday’s announcement that the Food and Drug Administration was extending access to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to adolescents (ages 12-15), experts also shared updated timelines regarding the vaccination of younger children in middle schools, grade schools and early education programs.
“We hope to have some data in the 11-and-under [population] by the fall,” Pfizer’s Dr. William Gruber said Monday, pointing to the ongoing safety trials involving young children.
“Perhaps as early as the end of the year, we would be in a position where that vaccine could be made available to at least 5- to 11-year olds, if not the younger age groups,” he said. “But certainly by the early part of next year.”
But looking ahead to 2022, when nearly all American students will be eligible for a vaccine, issues of access may be quickly overshadowed by parents’ concerns surrounding safety.
The big question going forward for elementary schools: How many families will choose to have their children vaccinated?
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that less than a third of parents say they are willing to get their child vaccinated immediately.
While 29% of parents of children 17 and under said they would seek out vaccinations “right away,” 15% said their child would only be vaccinated if a school requires it and 19% said they definitely wouldn’t seek vaccinations. The remaining 32% said they would wait to vaccinate their child until they had seen how the vaccine was working with others in the community.
More data from the safety trials should be available this fall; here’s some of The 74’s recent coverage surrounding vaccines, parent perspectives and school safety during the pandemic:
Adolescents: FDA studies show Pfizer vaccine even more effective for children ages 12-15 than for adults (Read more)
School Requirements: Why K-12 districts are unlikely to require student vaccinations this fall (Read more)
Immune Systems: As adults move toward herd immunity, could an unexpected COVID side effect be kids unable to fight off germs long-term? (Read more)
Returning to Normal: One Texas town, two school districts, clashing mask policies (Read more)
Restoring Trust: How 2 D.C. principals restored Black parents’ trust in returning kids to the classroom (Read more)
FDA Authorizes Pfizer Vaccine For 17 Million Adolescents Between the Ages of 12 and 15; Studies Show Even Greater Effectiveness For Teens Than Adults
The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it was expanding its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine “to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee has also scheduled a meeting Wednesday to review the data, where the agency is expected to similarly approve this extension of the EUA.
As CBS News reported Monday evening, vaccinations could begin within days of that CDC approval, though recent surveys continue to point to a substantial number of parents who say they’re unlikely to vaccinate young children:
The new age range means that nearly 17 million adolescents are now eligible for the vaccine. Nearly half of that population are children of color, including one in four who are Hispanic, 13.4% are Black and 4.8% are Asian.
Studies conducted by Pfizer showed the vaccine was not only safe for teenagers, but also nearly eliminated all risk of catching COVID-19 — a level of effectiveness that was greater than that of adults.
“This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. William Gruber of Pfizer told the Associated Press. “We actually had higher antibody responses in the 12- to 15-year-olds, so that gives us real confidence.”
In the FDA statement released Monday, the agency broke down the effectiveness data of the recent vaccine trial: “In this analysis, among participants without evidence of prior infection with SARS-CoV-2, no cases of COVID-19 occurred among 1,005 vaccine recipients and 16 cases of COVID-19 occurred among 978 placebo recipients; the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19.”
Read the full release:
This Week in School Reopenings: Students’ Return To Classrooms Slows, 1 in 3 Districts Expand Summer Learning & More Key Updates
As the weather turns sunny across much of the country and students and teachers alike find their minds wandering to summer, school districts, too, are mulling what the warmer months will bring.
Seventy percent of the top 200 school districts nationally have announced their summer learning plans, and over one third include significant expansions from last year, according to a recent update.
Meanwhile, as the academic year winds down, students’ return to classrooms appears to have leveled off, with schools’ attention instead going toward planning what’s to come next fall.
Here’s what you need to know about the state of play on school reopenings across the nation, powered by data and insights from the school calendar tracking website Burbio.
1 School reopenings level off
After steady declines in remote-only schooling since President Biden took office, reopenings have slowed with only slight changes from last week.
The share of schools offering daily in-person learning barely budged, climbing from 67 to 68 percent, while schools operating on a hybrid model notched down slightly, falling from 30 to 29 percent. The proportion of virtual-only schools held steady at 3 percent.
But as has been the case throughout the spring, reopening does not imply a return to in-person instruction for all students, as large shares of parents opt to keep their children learning from home, especially in population-dense urban areas.
In Chicago, for example, when high schools opened their doors last month, buildings remained unusually empty — with as few as one student in some classrooms. And as Los Angeles high schools have returned for in-person learning, just 7 percent of students are attending reopened classrooms.
2 Over 1 in 3 districts expanding summer learning
More than one-third of the districts tracked by Burbio that have announced their summer learning plans will be expanding their offerings.
Washington D.C., for example, is adapting its famed summer jobs program to offer stipends for high schoolers looking to take classes in June and July.
The trend reflects many observers’ hope that as coronavirus cases continue to fall in the U.S. and eligibility for vaccines continues to expand, the summer will be an opportunity for accelerated learning after a disrupted academic year.
Still, some experts remind officials that summer break holds another sacred promise: fun.
LePage & Jordan: Designing Fun-Filled Summer Learning Programs That Students Will Want to Attend
While learning should be a priority this summer, many children are understandably exhausted after a year like no other. Programming should emphasize outdoor activities, socializing and field trips to re-engage kids and set them up for success next fall, researchers at Georgetown’s FutureEd think tank argue.
3 Districts plan virtual school options for fall
In previous school reopening updates, The 74 has tracked states and districts as they launch virtual academies for 2021-22.
More districts joined the list this week, rolling out remote learning opportunities of their own.
Columbus, Ohio announced a K-12 virtual academy that will be able to accommodate 2,000 learners next fall. St. Louis, Missouri will offer a remote option for K-6 in the fall, while older students retain the option to enroll in a statewide online program. And Garden Grove, California will also launch its own virtual school, though like Columbus, officials note that “space is limited.”
While acknowledging the importance of remote learning through the pandemic, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stressed his preference for students to be back in classrooms, cautioning that districts should not over-rely on virtual options next year. That starts with making sure schools meet the needs of all learners, he said while speaking to the Education Writers Association last week.
“What I don’t want, to see to be very candid with you, is a system where students who were underserved in the past select remote learning because they don’t feel that [their] school is welcoming or safe for them,” said the education secretary. “We need to make sure all students prefer to learn in the schoolhouse because it’s a warm place for them, it’s a welcoming place, they see people that look like them.”
4 Ed Department seeks to build trust in reopening by engaging families
Cardona also said last week he wants “families at the table” as schools prepare for the fall, The 74’s Linda Jacobson reports.
The words come as welcome news to parents who have felt shut out of efforts to help their children recover from the pandemic.
In April, Education Department officials met with Keri Rodrigues, founding president of the National Parents Union, a network of advocacy groups that has been critical of distance learning, especially for low-income youth and students of color, and has pushed for schools to reopen.
“They feel like we represent a really important constituency,” Rodrigues said. “We were very clear with them. We’re not here just to be disseminating information from [the department]. We need to be informing policy.”
5 4-day weeks restrict learning
As a pandemic precaution, thousands of school districts — even those that have “fully” reopened — are operating on four-day schedules to leave buildings empty once a week for cleaning. Skeptics, however, believe the sanitation measures may be unnecessary for preventing a mostly airborne virus while robbing students of valuable in-person learning time.
Now the numbers are in, and the results are stark. Schools that cut instructional time by switching to four-day schedules, even pre-pandemic, saw meaningful reductions in student learning, The 74’s Kevin Mahnken reports.
Schools that Switched to a Four-Day Week Saw Learning Reductions. What Does that Mean for the Pandemic’s Lost Instructional Time?
The results indicate that, even amid worry for transmission of COVID-19, schools should emphasize mask-wearing and ventilation, which need not restrict learning time, over school-wide sweeps for disinfection.
“If you’re losing instructional time year over year, that learning loss is growing over time,” said Oregon State University economist Paul Thompson.
“About two-thirds of [adolescent and young adult] e-cigarette users were either quitting or cutting back,” Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, co-author of the study and a developmental psychologist at Stanford University, told The 74.
“That’s really good news.”
Halpern-Felsher and her team surveyed over 2,000 young people aged 13 to 24 in May 2020, asking how lockdown had impacted their vaping habits. More than half reported that their patterns of use had changed.
Out of 776 underage youth who had altered their behavior, 283 said they had quit e-cigarettes outright and another 239 said they had reduced their use by up to half. Young adults aged 21 to 24 reported similar changes.
Those shifts come on the heels of steep increases in teen vape use since 2017, shortly after the brand Juul came on the market with its trademark USB-sized e-cigarette product.
In Halpern-Felsher’s study, youth who had cut back their vape use reported higher awareness of and worry for lung damage caused by e-cigarettes. And data from the National Institutes of Health show more young people than ever before now see vaping as risky or harmful — a sign that typically indicates use will decline in years to come, according to the Partnership to End Addiction.
However, pandemic conditions may have also contributed to the new trend. Concern for lung damage may have sharpened amid COVID-19, a respiratory illness that has infected youth e-cigarette users at up to five times the rate of their non-smoking peers, according to a separate paper from the Stanford researcher. Other young people in the study who had cut back noted that they were vaping less frequently out of fear of being caught by parents — presumably while stuck at home with their families during quarantine.
In addition to damaging their health, Halpern-Felsher says youth should consider the potential academic impacts of vape use. The devices often have a “huge amount” of nicotine, making them highly addictive, she said. If students become dependent, it can have a destructive effect on school performance.
“They can’t concentrate, they’re having headaches, they’re finding that they have to get up to go vape,” said Halpern-Felsher.
In her sample, young people were 51 percent less likely to quit if they were nicotine dependent and 68 percent less likely to quit if they had previously used e-cigarettes over 100 times. Many of those who were most addicted had increased their use due to quarantine stress and boredom.
Those who were determined to get vaping products seemed able to find them easily — despite quarantine and even if they were underage.
Though some respondents noted that they had less access to e-cigarettes, others reported that they could order products online. Over a quarter of underage users said that they did not have to verify their age when they purchased products. Others noted weak checks like requiring an email login or uploading a picture of an ID card.
Those numbers, however, could represent illegal online sellers, says Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a pro-vaping advocacy organization. A December 2020 law, passed after Halpern-Felsher’s study was conducted, bolsters age checks for online e-cigarette sales.
“The online sales issue has been more than adequately addressed by Congress and it is now up to state attorneys general… to actually go after the illegal sellers of vaping products,” Conley told The 74.
Vaping products are not intended for underage users, said the AVA president. He’s glad that youth are quitting amid COVID-19.
“That is a positive thing,” said Conley. “This technology is intended for adult smokers looking to get away from combustible cigarettes.”
That technology has evolved beyond Juul-like products, however. In 2020, disposable e-cigarette consumption from products like Puff Bar and Posh Plus surged, accounting for over 26 percent of all high school users, up from just 2 percent in 2019, according to the FDA.
Even among overall declines in vaping, youth use remains widespread. During remote school, the habit can be hard to catch, says Halpern-Felsher.
“I’ve had teachers tell me that they’re working with young people in a class and they’ll notice a student bring their hand to their face,” she said. “They don’t realize until after that the student is probably vaping.”
But as inconspicuous as Zoom vaping may be, Halpern-Felsher worries that e-cigarette use may spike again as students’ return to classrooms and are once again surrounded by peers.
One principal in rural Maine, whose students have returned to in-person learning, just spoke out on the topic in late April, describing more students who vape than those who don’t — across both middle school and high school grade levels. Dependency is so high, he said, parents write requests to build breaks into the school day so their children can go outside and use e-cigarettes.
To help curb underage use of vape products long term, schools can play a pivotal role, the researcher says, in educating students about the dangers of e-cigarettes. She has published a tobacco prevention toolkit available free online to help teachers lead educated conversations with young people, which has already reached 1.8 million students.
“We need to talk about lung health,” Halpern-Felsher said.
In 2019, pneumonia-like symptoms sent over 2,500 vape users — mostly young men and boys — to emergency rooms and caused 54 deaths, prompting a flurry of regulations at the state and federal level (though some studies link dire symptoms to illegally sold THC cartridges). Then-President Trump, however, eventually walked back his starkest promises, including the abandonment of a sweeping ban on flavored vaping products, which can appeal to young users.
Amid kid-friendly flavors like cotton candy and gummi bear, and sex appeal-laden social media campaigns from manufacturers, the Stanford psychologist hopes that young people won’t miss what she sees as the key truth of vaping.
“It’s not safe,” Halpern-Felsher said.
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It’s hard to find someone who will disagree with the premise that schools need to do a good job educating kids. But how do you determine if a school IS good? What are the right measurements? And who should be making that determination? Parents? States and school districts? Or does it need to be some combination of both?
Those were the questions before a panel of experts in a debate sponsored by The 74, the Progressive Policy Institute and Bellwether Education Partners. Maggie Garrett, VP of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, made the case for public oversight. “This is public dollars,” she said. “Any time you have public dollars you have to be accountable to the public. There has to be oversight, monitoring, minimum teacher requirements. Otherwise we don’t know what we’re funding. We don’t know if it’s working.”
”Public education isn’t just a private consumer good,” she added. “It’s a public good. It benefits all of us, and that’s why all of us — whether you have school age kids, whether you have no kids — we all pay into the system.”
Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor in Chief of Reason Magazine, said the limitations of public accountability were vividly exposed during the pandemic. “The elephant in the room here … is what has happened with public schools, especially in the last year. It’s really, really hard to defend the idea that public accountability is working well for kids in this last year.”
“My kids and so many other people’s kids were completely out of school for an entire year,” Mangu-Ward said, “and I think that is in many cases because of the way that our public accountability systems are built and the ways in which they are broken.”
With what has been learned during the pandemic, she wants to see parents taking a bigger hand in shaping schools. “I want to talk about how we capitalize on a lot of parents’ being forced to take on ownership of their kids’ education… Now we have some momentum there.”
Derrell Bradford, executive vice president of 50CAN, sees parents as the best arbiters of schools’ performance, particularly after a year of pandemic disruption. “For something as complicated as your kids’ education, a parent’s moment-to-moment assessment and self-interest are the magic quantity,” he said. “Because it can change at any time and it is focused on the end goal in a way that no institutional interest can be.”
David Osborne, Director of Reinventing America’s Schools at PPI, noted that he’s been a long-time proponent of school choice, but sees the public sector as the only means of holding public schools accountable for their performance.
“We’ve learned the hard way that we just can’t rely on parents,” he said. “My argument is let’s use both. Let’s give parents lots of choices. And when they move their child let’s move the money with it so the school feels the consequences and is accountable to the parents. But because that’s not enough let’s have districts or authorizers also measure the school performance.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday he wants “families at the table” as schools prepare for the fall, offering welcome news to parents who have felt shut out of efforts to help their children recover from the pandemic.
Last week, his staff took steps to fill up the guest list by contacting the National Parents Union, a network of advocacy groups that has been critical of distance learning, especially for low-income and minority students, and has pushed for schools to reopen.
On April 28, Christian Rhodes, chief of staff for the department’s Office of Elementary and Secretary of Education, met with Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union’s founding president, and Marisol Rerucha, the group’s chief of strategy and partnerships.
Since then, the group’s representatives have been asked to work with the department’s School Climate and Discipline Work Group and the Office of Parent Engagement and Communication, and to be involved in a meeting regarding federal relief funds later this week.
Mothers of Invention: Frustrated With the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Union
“They feel like we represent a really important constituency,” Rodrigues said. “We were very clear with them. We’re not here just to be disseminating information from [the department]. We need to be informing policy.”
The department’s invitation to the organization to be part of its “kitchen cabinet” follows accusations that the teachers unions have had greater access to the secretary and the administration than other interest groups. The National Parents Union represents groups that have largely blamed unions for slowing down the reopening process and say schools have failed their children during the pandemic. Parent organizations were not represented during Cardona’s March 24 reopening summit, and in early April, Rodrigues said she was “furious” that the department had not yet reached out to any groups within the network. With states facing a June 7 deadline to submit plans to the department for spending American Rescue Plan funds, some of those local groups now want to have more say in how districts spend that money.
“States are looking at revisiting what it means to have families engaged,” Cardona said at the Education Writers Association’s annual conference. “This pandemic taught us that we have to be nimble, we have to be flexible and we have to meet families where they are.”
As part of his “Help is Here” tour to local schools, mostly in the Northeast, the secretary has interacted with some parents who don’t represent particular advocacy groups. And Rodrigues said her group is directing the department to other organizations “doing important work.”
Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for the education department, said working with parents is “critical” to addressing academic inequities made worse by the pandemic.
“It’s with parents’ partnership that we can build our education system back better than it was before, and make sure our schools are welcoming environments that work for all students, not just some,” she said.
In his comments to reporters, Cardona added that it’s important to ensure the relief funds are used for students that were the most negatively impacted during school closures.
The National Parents Union is working with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington to create “a checklist” that families can use to track how districts are using relief funds. The materials are expected to be released next week.
“The questions are oriented around whether students are getting the individualized supports they need and whether parents are getting individualized information about their child’s progress,” said Robin Lake, director of the center.
Rodrigues suggested many of the local groups that have been advocating for reopening schools will now become “watchdogs” to track the funding.
“It’s safe to say that until the pandemic, many parents never really gave much thought to how the school system operated, or how they used their funds,” said Christy Hudson, a member of Open Fairfax County Schools, a parents’ group in Virginia. With the relief funds, she added, “it’s more than likely that parents are going to stay involved, and keep an eye on the school systems.”
Founded in early 2020, the National Parent Union receives funding from reform-oriented and pro-charter foundations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the group has polled parents monthly on topics such as school reopening, parents’ preferences for in-person or remote learning, and how prepared they think their children are for the next grade level.
The organization’s most recent results show 58 percent of parents want both in-person and remote options this fall — an issue where Cardona’s expectations and parents’ preferences are likely to diverge.
Some districts and state leaders say they plan to limit or eliminate virtual options this fall, and Cardona said he doesn’t want “a system where students who were underserved in the past select remote learning, because they don’t feel that that school is welcoming or safe for them.”
Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The City Fund provide financial support to the National Parents Union and The 74.
This Week in School Reopenings: Many Students Remain Remote, Despite In-Person Options. Will Opt-Outs Pose Roadblock Next Fall?
Biden’s 100-day mark in the White House came and went last week, and most experts agree that the president has made good on his promise to reopen classrooms. Weeks before his January inauguration, which coincided with the mid-winter peak in coronavirus cases, more than half of American students were attending remote-only schools. Now, the share stands at just 3 percent.
But opening classrooms does not guarantee that students actually select in-person learning. In many population-dense urban school districts, a troubling trend has begun to emerge: Even after schools open their doors, a majority of students are turning down the chance to return.
Biden Earns High Marks from Educators on His First 100 Days, But Some Note There Are Still ‘Kids Sitting at Home’
That raises questions about what it will take to bring students back to classrooms not just this spring, but into next fall. How will schools manage distancing protocols if they are met with an influx of students in September? Or if families opt to keep students remote into next school year, how will districts allocate resources to beef up online learning options?
From state mandates against “hybrid” learning next year — stipulating that schools must be either fully remote or fully in person — to freshly minted virtual learning academies, schools and districts are prepping for what is shaping up to be another challenging fall.
Here’s what you need to know about the state of play on school reopenings across the nation, powered by data and insights from the school calendar tracking website Burbio.
1 Share of remote middle and high schools shrinking
Across the country, younger students have been the first to return to classrooms once districts open their doors. As a result, the share of middle and high school students attending remote-only schools has remained a notch above that of elementary schoolers for months.
This week, however, the share of older students in online-only schools nearly caught up to youngsters — each edging toward zero.
Just 4 percent of middle and high school students still lack access to in-person learning, both down from 8 percent last week. Remote-only rates for elementary students fell from 3 percent to 2 percent.
Fifty-nine percent of high schoolers and 64 percent of middle schoolers go to schools with daily in-person instruction, compared to nearly three-quarters of younger students.
2 Opt-out rates remain high in many cities
Even as schools increasingly open their doors, many classrooms remain at only a fraction of capacity.
Between 10 and 30 percent of students continue to opt out of in-person learning outside of urban areas. And in most cities, according to the Burbio data team, rates of virtual learning remain well over 50 percent.
Nearly 60 percent of Atlanta students have turned down the chance to return to classrooms, and in Chicago, which underwent a drawn-out battle between its teachers union and district officials over reopening, under 24 percent of students eligible for in-person learning have opted in. In New York City, the nation’s largest district, 61 percent of students are choosing to continue with remote learning.
3 Roadblocks to reopening in the fall
Thanks to high rates of opt-outs from in-person learning in most cities, many of the nation’s largest districts have not yet had to contend with how to manage full-capacity schools during a pandemic.
That could pose a challenge to schools in the fall. Though the CDC reduced its classroom distancing guidance from 6 to 3 feet, 6-foot recommendations remain in place while students eat, and busing also presents a logistical challenge for many districts. If families choose to return their kids to schools at high rates next fall, managing these protocols could be a tight squeeze, Burbio co-founder Dennis Roche predicts.
“[Many urban districts] haven’t had to manage space as efficiently as they will need to if 90%+ of their student bodies return. It would seem that the current guidance may become an issue in some of these areas at that time,” Roche wrote in his most recent update.
Additionally, districts that have juggled irregular schedules — including shortened weeks, reduced hours, and alternating schedules — will still need to expand instructional time next fall in order to return to the typical school day.
4 States require full-time in-person learning
Amid uncertainty about the return to classrooms next year, some states have taken matters into their own hands.
In Massachusetts, the education commissioner ordered high schools to offer daily in-person learning by May 17, supplementing similar rules already in place for the elementary and middle school levels. The Virginia legislature passed a bill requiring districts to offer full-time in-person learning in the fall. And the state Board of Education in Maryland passed a similar resolution, though with softer, non-binding language.
More Lawmakers Are Leading Efforts to Reopen Some Schools By Statute — And Not Just in Red States
5 Districts plan virtual offerings for 2021-22
As school systems brace for an influx of in-person students next fall, there’s also a chance many parents will continue to choose virtual school. Districts are readying themselves for both possibilities.
In Tennessee, the state Board of Education ruled that school systems cannot offer remote and in-person instruction simultaneously next year, meaning that families selecting virtual learning will have to do so in dedicated online academies. That has pushed Nashville to plan remote school options for grades 4-12, enrolling now for next school year.
6 Over 10 million students still lack option for traditional in-person learning
Despite widespread progress toward fully reopened classrooms, many districts have not yet made the leap to daily, in-person learning and remain in either virtual or hybrid models. Together representing well over 10 million students, these youth have not had access to traditional school in over a year.
These districts will face the largest transitions if they seek to return to full-time in-person learning in the fall.
7 School vaccine mandates unlikely this fall
Youth 12 and up appear poised to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines this summer. But even if many middle and high schoolers are approved for shots, schools are unlikely to mandate inoculation.
That’s because school vaccination requirements are dictated by state laws, and adding to that list involves an intricate — and often lengthy — policy dance between the federal and state government.
Coronavirus vaccines have been given the green light for emergency use by the federal government, but still lack full FDA approval.
“I think a lot of states will wait on full FDA approval to move on this,” Dorit Reiss, professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law and a specialist in vaccine policy, told The 74 in April. “No state has ever added a vaccine that wasn’t recommended and I don’t think they will.”
In the meantime, schools will have to figure out how to safely serve a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated students this fall.
8 Relief funds to find homeless students lost during virtual learning
About 1.5 million school-age children in the United States are homeless, according to federal data. Last fall, researchers estimated that many of those youth were among the 1 to 3 million students potentially missing from classrooms during remote learning.
“No one at the school knew we were homeless,” Portia, a Massachusetts mother of two told The 74 in April.
‘No One Knew We Were Homeless’: New Relief Funds Fuel Efforts to Find Students Lost During Virtual School
Now, funds are going to support families like Portia’s. Under the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in March, the federal government has dedicated $800 million to support homeless students, a commitment that advocates say will go a long way to finding those students and addressing their needs.