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August 2021
  • Poll: Across Political Spectrum, Appetite for Change in Education is Down; Half of Parents Favor Vaccines for Kids, Many Want Online Option

    By Beth Hawkins | August 31, 2021

    In its first public opinion poll on education policy since the start of the pandemic, the journal Education Next finds that support for a number of highly visible school reforms is flagging. Between 2019, the last time the survey was conducted, and this past spring, backing for increased school spending, academic standards, public charter schools and most forms of vouchers fell by statistically significant increments.

    “The public seems tired of disruption, change and uncertainty,” the journal said. “All in all, the public appears to be calling for a return to the status quo.”


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    The softening support this year spans the political spectrum, though — as in most years — respondents overwhelmingly looked more favorably on their own schools than on education at the national level. In its 15th year, the EdNext poll also found stronger support falling along lines of political affiliation among lawmakers.

    Following up on a spring 2020 canvass of families, the journal also surveyed more than 2,000 parents among the 3,156 adult respondents to learn their views on student safety, the likelihood they will have their children vaccinated when they are able and their satisfaction with their children’s experience in the 2020-21 academic year. Slightly more than half, 51 percent, plan to have their kids inoculated, while 34 percent say they will probably or definitely not.

    Black and Latino parents are more likely to seek vaccinations for their children than white families, Democrats more likely than Republicans and homeschoolers least likely, at just 32 percent.

    Two-thirds of parents surveyed want an online option for their high school-aged child, as do 48 percent of families with elementary pupils. Mask-wearing is favored by 47 percent, while 35 percent are opposed.

    On the policy issues, the pollsters posed questions in a variety of ways to probe whether the interviewer’s framing changed respondents’ answers. Writing in the journal’s winter 2022 issue, researchers Michael B. Henderson, David M. Houston, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West found a change of 5 points or more to be statistically significant.

    While overall support for increased school spending fell significantly, it plunged by 11 percentage points, from 50 to 39 percent, among respondents who were told their local district’s current per-pupil expenditure. Among those asked without that context, the number favoring increased spending fell from 62 to 57 percent.

    Support for increased teacher pay fell from 56 to 53 percent among those informed of their state’s current average, and from 72 to 67 percent among those not told average pay.

    Overall backing for charter schools fell 7 points, from 48 to 41 percent. As in past polls, support is much stronger among Republicans than Democrats, at 52 percent and 33 percent respectively.

    Education Next

    More than half, 55 percent, of respondents gave their local public schools a grade of A or B — down from a 2019 peak of almost 60 percent but well above the 40 percent who gave these high grades in 2008. In contrast, just 23 percent of those surveyed this year gave As or Bs to public schools across the country.

    The number of Black respondents who rate schools in their community highly rose sharply, from 24 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2021. The number of whites assigning their schools As and Bs rose from 44 percent to 57 percent, while the number of Latinos rose from 39 percent to 60 percent.

    All groups were much more likely to say the nation’s schools deserve neither an A or a B, with just 24 percent of Blacks and 18 percent of whites assigning top honors. At 59 percent, the number of Democrats giving local schools an A or a B remained the same between 2019 and 2021, while Republican support fell from 62 percent to 51 percent.

    The number in favor of private school vouchers for all students fell sharply over 2019, from 55 percent to 45 percent, though less so for publicly funded scholarships for low-income students, which fell from 49 percent to 43 percent.

    Education Next

    Support for tax credit vouchers, where businesses and others receive tax credits for donating to private school scholarship programs, gained traction with Democrats, with support increasing from 56 to 61 percent between 2019 and 2021. The idea lost ground among Republicans, meanwhile, with backing declining from 65 to 53 percent. The researchers speculated that the partisan reversal might in part reflect President Joe Biden’s success at persuading Congress to pass expanded tax credits for families with children.

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    In terms of whether teacher unions helped or hindered efforts to reopening schools during the first 18 months of the pandemic, the public “seems reluctant to draw strong conclusions,” the pollsters say. Half of Americans say unions made it neither easier nor harder to reopen schools.

    Still, just 15 percent of survey takers say that unions made it easier for local schools to reopen, while 35 percent say they made it harder. Nationwide, 48 percent of respondents say unions made school reopenings harder.

    Teachers were more likely than parents to opine critically, with 43 percent saying unions made it harder for local schools to open, versus 34 percent of parents. Of parents, 22 percent said unions made it easier for schools to reopen, an opinion held by 18 percent of teachers.

    Seventy-two percent of Democrats and Republicans alike back statewide testing of students in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school.

    The differences in the public’s and policymakers’ appetites for change should give education advocates across the ideological spectrum food for thought, the researchers say. “In the political sphere, expectations for large-scale innovation are running high,” they note.

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  • Education Department Launches Civil Rights Probes Into Five States Banning District Mask Mandates

    By Linda Jacobson | August 30, 2021

    Following through on prior warnings, the U.S. Department of Education is opening civil rights investigations into states that prohibit local districts from requiring masks for all students.

    The department’s Office for Civil Rights on Monday sent letters to five states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — explaining that their policies prevent districts from protecting students that might be at higher risk of health complications from COVID-19 because of a disability.


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    “It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

    The OCR letters, sent to the superintendents in each state, are the latest development in an ongoing, three-way standoff between the Biden administration, Republican governors and districts trying to respond to rising numbers of students testing positive for COVID-19 because of the Delta variant. Districts, especially in Florida and Texas, have moved ahead with mandates regardless of governors’ threats to withhold funding.

    “Local leaders are not being given the freedom that they want and need right now as those closest to the ground,” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, adding that universal masking, “buys us time to finish the job on vaccination. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so critical right now.”

    Related

    ‘Waiting for Someone Else to Blink’: Next Move DeSantis as Florida Districts Refuse to Rescind Mask Mandates

    The organization includes superintendents such as Chad Gestson of the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona and Pedro Martinez of the San Antonio Independent School District who have defied state laws banning the mandates.

    Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hofmeister anticipated the OCR’s action, saying in a statement that officials were not surprised by this civil rights investigation spurred by passage of a state law prohibiting mask requirements in Oklahoma public schools.Her department, she said, will “fully cooperate.”

    The U.S. Department of Education said OCR did not send letters to Texas, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona. Governors in those states have also banned local mandates, but the courts have intervened, temporarily suspending the bans on universal masking.

    In Florida last week, a Leon County county judge ruled for a group of Florida parents that sued over Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on local district mask mandates. And in Texas, a judge has ruled that Gov. Greg Abbott overstepped his authority and that some districts should be allowed to require masks. But the state’s attorney general quickly appealed, leaving districts in further limbo.

    Related

    Conflicting Legal Rulings Leave School Districts in Texas With Choice: Flout Gov. Abbott and Mandate Masks For Students — or Wait For the Dust to Settle

    On Tuesday, the South Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two lawsuits filed over the state’s ban, and Superintendent Molly Spearman has urged the legislature to reconsider it. On Aug. 18, she sent districts a letter stating that mandates might be necessary for those teaching or coming in contact with medically fragile or immunocompromised students.

    “The [department] is particularly sensitive to the law’s effect on South Carolina’s most vulnerable students and are acutely aware of the difficult decisions many families are facing concerning a return to in-person instruction,” according to a statement.

    Cardona has said publicly that he’s concerned some parents might not send their children to school if masks aren’t required, and President Joe Biden on Aug. 18 authorized the secretary to use the “enforcement authority” of OCR.

    The fact-finding process will focus on what is known as Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which protects students from discrimination because of their disability and guarantees them the right to a free and appropriate public education. The agency will also look at whether the states are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires public buildings, including schools, to accommodate those with disabilities.

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  • Watch: Education Experts and District Leaders Talk Reopening Schools (and Preserving Student Learning) Amid the Delta Variant

    By The 74 | August 26, 2021

    The school year has barely begun in many parts of the U.S., and already the COVID-19 pandemic is creating chaos for students, parents and educators. In some districts, hundreds of students have been infected, and thousands are being quarantined. The Governors of Texas and Florida have banned mask mandates, but some school boards are rebelling. What IS the best way to get children back in the classroom, safely, and begin recovering from the past two years of pandemic learning loss? That’ll be the question on the table Tuesday when The 74 and the Progressive Policy Institute host their next panel discussion: “​​Brilliance and Resilience: Going Above and Beyond to Educate America’s Students.” You can register here and get the Zoom link, or refresh this page at 1 p.m. Eastern to watch live.

    If the video isn’t playing, click here to watch via Facebook.

    The panel will hear from two guest speakers, Tariq H. Butt, MD, President of the Chicago Medical Society, and Michael Mandel, Chief Economic Strategist for the Progressive Policy Institute. Panelists include Michael Hinojosa, Superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, Dr. Rosalind Osgood, Chair, Broward County Public School Board, Priscila Dilley, Chief Officer of the Leadership Academy Network Schools, and Maritza Guridy, National Parents Union, Northeast Regional Organizer. Asher Lehrer-Small, reporter for The 74 and Tressa Pankovits, co-director of PPI’s Reinventing America’s Schools project will moderate. 

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  • ‘Waiting for Someone Else to Blink’: Next Move DeSantis as Florida Districts Refuse to Rescind Mask Mandates

    By Linda Jacobson | August 25, 2021

    The Florida Department of Education is considering its next move now that two districts, targeted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for defying his ban on universal masking of students, say they won’t back down even if it means losing salaries.

    “Everyone is waiting for someone else to blink, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for parents and principals,” said Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a law firm specializing in education.

    On Friday, the state board sent the Broward County and Alachua County school districts in Florida a letter saying they were out of compliance with a health department order that requires districts to allow parents to opt out of having their children wear masks. The state gave the districts 48 hours to either comply or turn over the salary figures for school board members who voted for a mask mandate.


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    “We don’t believe we have done anything inappropriate,” Broward County school board President Rosalind Osgood said Tuesday, adding that the district is seeking “legal avenues that we can challenge those things that we believe are unlawful and out of line.”

    Broward’s detailed response pointed to the circumstances in which a student would not have to wear a mask and did not provide salary information.

    Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon’s letter listed salaries, but also stressed that the district was in compliance with the health order. She said the number of positive COVID-19 cases is “growing every day.”

    The Miami-Dade County Public School is among the other districts in the state requiring masks for students, but the district has not yet received a similar letter, a spokeswoman said.

    Related

    Biden Ratchets Up Pressure Against Governors Banning Mask Mandates, Threatening Ed Department ‘Enforcement Actions’

    The responses from Broward and Alachua were the latest move in a three-way chess game involving several Florida districts, DeSantis and President Joe Biden. The administration has said the districts can use federal relief funds to cover any salary costs that the state withholds and that parents can file civil rights complaints if they think a ban on universal masking means their child is missing out on learning. U.S Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona suggested in a Sunday interview on “Meet the Press” that the department doesn’t plan to withhold funds from Florida or any other state banning local mask mandates because it “adds insult to injury to these students who are trying to get into the classroom.” But in a letter last week to North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, ranking Republican on the House education committee, he said states standing in the way of districts “adopting science-based strategies” are infringing on districts’ ability to follow federal law.

    Martin added that using the civil rights route is a slow process that could drag out for months. The virus might be less of a threat by the time an investigation is complete.

    On Monday, a lawsuit over DeSantis’s mask order went before a circuit court judge in Leon County, where pro-mask parents argue local school boards have the authority to set their own policies while the attorneys for the state say districts are out of compliance with a parents’ “bill of rights.”

    In her letter, Foxx asked whether districts had to require masks to receive relief funds. Florida is among the states that have not yet submitted a proposal for how it would use American Rescue Plan funds for K-12. Arizona, another state banning universal masking, has submitted its plan, but the department has not yet approved it. The department released $81 billion to the states in the spring — two-thirds of the relief funds — and requires states to submit a plan to receive the remaining third.

    Related

    ‘Buried’ CDC Guidance Emphasizes Universal Masking in Schools, Says Properly Protected ‘Close Contacts’ Needn’t Quarantine

    Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the state’s plan notes the June 30 state law banning districts from mandating masks, but that the state “has not yet received feedback.” Since the state submitted its plan, Gov. Doug Ducey has launched an additional grant program, using federal relief funds, that awards an additional $1,800 per student to districts without mask bans. But the U.S. Treasury Department said the state can’t use the relief funds to discourage districts from following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

    In Florida, education department spokesman Brett Tubbs said he was unaware of any discussions over whether the mask controversy could impact approval of the state’s plan, once it’s submitted. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out,” he said.

    The department has already approved plans from other states with bans on universal masking — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. But officials have a couple options if they decide not to approve Florida’s or Arizona’s, Martin said.

    They could say that the states’ plans don’t adequately consider CDC guidance, or that the state is not considering feedback from parents and school employees who want everyone to wear masks. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday finds 54 percent of Floridians think schools should require masks.

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    What’s tricky, Martin said, is that the rule regarding the relief funds was written in April before the Delta variant sparked another wave of positive cases and increased hospitalizations.

    “We’ve gotten into a situation where all the documentation was in the spring,” Martin said, “and we have a very changed landscape now.”

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  • New Vaccination Mandates for Teachers as FDA Grants Full Approval to Pfizer; NYC Announces All Education Employees Must Get First Shot By Sept. 27

    By The 74 | August 23, 2021

    Eight months after the Food and Drug Administration first granted emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, the agency announced full approval Monday for all Americans 16 and older.

    “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement.


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    “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

    Surrounding the approval were several announcements of new vaccine requirements across the country from school districts, colleges, corporations and government agencies. In New York, school officials announced that New York City will require all 148,000 department of education employees to receive a first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27. In Washington, D.C., the defense department will be mandating vaccinations for the nation’s 1.4 million service members.

    The FDA published a full news release Monday (see below); the agency also livestreamed its morning conference call with the media:

    The Pfizer vaccine also continues to be available for younger students between the ages of 12 and 15 through the emergency use authorization approved last May.

    A few of our recent reports on student vaccines and school safety going into the fall:

    —Bringing Vaccines to Schools: How NYC is aiming to make it easier for teens to access COVID vaccinations (Read more)

    —CDC Changes Definition of ‘Close Contacts’ in Classrooms: Health experts now say properly protected students needn’t quarantine (Read more)

    —Fact-Check: Are 90 percent of teachers really already vaccinated? The numbers say otherwise (Read more)

    —College COVID Safe Zones: Open letter from former government officials — How higher education leaders can accelerate America’s vaccination push (Read more)

    Click to read Monday’s full guidance from the FDA:

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  • California District Becomes First in Nation to Require COVID Vaccine for Students 12 & Up, But Experts Expect Legal Challenges

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | August 20, 2021

    Culver City Unified, a 7,000-student district on the outskirts of Los Angeles, is requiring all eligible students and staff attending in-person school to vaccinate themselves against the coronavirus — the first public school system in the nation to do so amid a surge of cases due to the Delta variant.

    In an Aug. 17 email to parents, Culver City Superintendent Quoc Tran announced that students would need to show proof of immunization by Nov. 19. Families who fail to comply by that date will have to enroll their children in a remote learning alternative called independent study, EdSource reported.


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    Dorit Reiss, vaccine policy expert and professor of law at University of California, Hastings, and Dennis Roche, co-founder of the website Burbio, which has tracked school policy throughout the pandemic, told The 74 that they were not aware of any other school district in the nation mandating COVID vaccinations for students.

    The decision, CCUSD spokesperson Geoff Maleman told The 74, was primarily motivated by concerns for student and staff safety due to the Delta surge.

    “Our goal, obviously, was not just to be the first. It was really to make sure that we kept our staff and students as safe as we possibly could,” Maleman said.

    Related

    Spread of Delta Variant Marks ‘Most Dangerous’ Time in Pandemic for Kids, May Force Schools to Re-Up Safety Measures, Experts Say

    While health experts agree that vaccines deliver strong protection against COVID-19, including the Delta variant, research indicates that coronavirus shots need not be a prerequisite to schools reopening safely, provided that mitigation measures such as universal masking, 3-foot distancing and adequate ventilation are followed.

    Underscoring the shifting ground nationally on the subject of vaccinations, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that high school student athletes and coaches participating in high-risk sports will have to be vaccinated in order to play, meaning some 20,000 individuals will have to receive at least one dose by the first day of competition.

    In Culver City, Reiss thinks the district’s legal grounding may prove shaky: The list of immunizations required for public school enrollment is determined at the state level, she said, and is typically not left for individual districts to decide. Across California, teachers are required to get immunized against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing. The school system will likely argue that the vaccines mandated by the state represent a floor, not a ceiling, for districts’ immunization requirements, she said, but California’s long-standing precedent of dictating vaccine policy statewide may weaken their claim.

    “They’re taking a legal risk here,” the law professor told The 74. “I would be surprised if there’s no lawsuit.”

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    Ask the Doctor: With Delta Variant Rampant, How Can Parents Protect Young Kids from COVID this Summer and Fall?

    Maleman, acknowledging “this is a divisive issue,” said that the decision to require students get the COVID-19 shot was vetted by the district’s legal team.

    Community members in the southern California district, Maleman points out, have largely supported the vaccination rule. Superintendent Tran estimated that some 1 in 20 district parents oppose the mandate, the Los Angeles Times reported. In response to a post announcing the policy on the district’s Facebook page, the vast majority of comments voiced support for the rule.

    “Seeing this makes me feel so proud of being a Culver City alumni,” one Facebook user wrote.

    Related

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    Currently, individuals 12 years old and up are eligible to receive coronavirus inoculations. Children aged 5 to 11 may be authorized for shots as early as the end of this year, according to national health officials.

    Over the summer, COVID-19 case rates in adolescents nationwide have seen a nearly five-fold uptick, from 3.4 cases per 100,000 12- to 15-year olds in June to 14.6 cases per 100,000 in August, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under 1 in 3 adolescents are fully vaccinated, while the same is true for 43 percent of older teens.

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    Outside California, states including Washington, Connecticut and Oregon have also enacted rules requiring educators to receive vaccinations or be tested regularly — in some cases threatening that teachers who refuse could be fired. Other states are mulling similar teacher immunization mandates. In the realm of higher education, more than 600 public and private colleges across the U.S., including the 23-campus California State University system, mandate that students returning to campus this fall must receive the COVID vaccine.

    In Culver City, Maleman hopes other K-12 districts may follow suit in requiring students to receive coronavirus vaccinations.

    “We’re the first but hopefully we’re not the last,” he said.

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  • National Survey: Black Women Worry Most About Children’s Education, Cite Lack of Educational Opportunities as Key Barrier to Economic Success

    By Marianna McMurdock | August 19, 2021

    Safe, high quality in-person schools and access to higher education are top concerns for Black women – nearly as important as protecting voting rights and fighting racism, a new national survey has found.

    Conducted by brilliant corners Research & Strategies, “Our Power, Our Legacy,” a June survey of 733 randomly selected Black women over the age of 18, was commissioned by The Highland Project to identify what priorities Black women identify as critical for future economic success after the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on Black communities.


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    “I want to turn and ask Black mothers, what do they need, and how can we better engage them more authentically in co-architecting solutions?” said Gabrielle Wyatt, who founded the Highland Project in 2020. About 89 percent of Black mothers surveyed say reaching educational goals is a key measure of success; while 85 percent say improving K-12 education is the top priority.

    The report’s sample is geographically representative, with 27 percent of respondents having children under 18; 32 percent holding a higher education degree; and 38 percent married or partnered.

    The findings will inform programming for The Highland Project’s first cohort of Black women leaders and advocacy plans for their local partners, including the education-focused Mind Trust in Indianapolis. Wyatt, Newark Schools’ former chief of strategy, created the nonprofit Highland Project as a coalition of Black women leaders aimed at closing the racial wealth gap via systems-level change.

    Wyatt told The 74 that The Highland Project’s mission was born out of a belief that wealth provides opportunity — to things like home ownership and rainy day funds — yet economic solutions alone cannot solve the racial wealth gap.

    “I think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — our lives and our bodies to be protected and need to be thriving. We need access to incredible health care,” said Wyatt. “We need access to great and nutritious foods. We need access to a community policing model… We also need access to great and incredible schools. When we say wealth, we need to be thinking about pulling multiple policy levers in order to get there.”

    Here are three of the survey’s key findings and their implications for education policy:

    1. Black women worry about children’s education more than anything else

    (The Highland Project / brilliant corners Research & Strategies)

    Fifty-nine percent of Black women say the issue most frequently on their mind — more concerning than retirement savings, healthcare costs, and losing their job — is whether their child or the children around them are “getting a good enough education.”

    Quality education for the younger generation was the most frequently cited worry among all income levels.

    The ability to afford higher education is a top concern for 47 percent, as well. College access and affordability is of greater concern for single Black women across age groups — 55 percent fear that they won’t be able to afford higher education for themselves or a family member.

    Black women also hold disproportionately high levels of student debt as compared to any other demographic group. One year after graduating from 4-year institutions, Black women owe an average of $8,000 more than their white peers, likely due to compounding factors: generational wealth and a family’s ability to contribute to college costs, access to employment and wage gaps.

    “What we have seen and what we have heard, as a culture, is that college is supposed to be the thing that closes the wealth gap for us, with our white peers, and what we’re seeing now is the opposite happening,” Wyatt said. “We’re in an urgent state of affairs in terms of addressing the student debt crisis, and continuing to kick the can on this, via the extension of loan payment relief, isn’t going to get us there.”

    The report recommends eliminating student debt, calling it a “crippling barrier to wealth building.”

    2. Lack of educational opportunities is a top barrier to economic success for Black women

    (The Highland Project / brilliant corners Research & Strategies)

    About 21 percent of Black women cite lack of educational opportunities as a key hurdle to economic success, and more than a quarter of Black women with college degrees believe so. Racial discrimination and lack of job opportunities were the other most frequently chosen hurdles.

    The barriers align with the reports’ central finding of what priorities Black women want leaders to focus on: voting rights, racial discrimination, and access to quality education.

    Wyatt told The 74 that the lack of diversity in educational leadership may be part of why Black women aren’t accessing more educational opportunities. Nationally, 15 percent of the public school population are Black students yet seven percent are Black teachers and about three percent of superintendents are Black women.

    To promote academic and social opportunities, education advocates and researchers suggest strengthening the teacher and leadership pipeline to better represent students.

    “The federal dollars that are at play right now offer huge opportunities for districts to help improve teacher diversity in particular, from recruiting and hiring, to setting up mentorship programs to encourage students of color to become teachers,” Wyatt said.

    3. Black women say the ability to pursue educational goals is a key measure of overall success

    (The Highland Project / brilliant corners Research & Strategies)

    An overwhelming majority of Black women define success in ways that affect their quality of life beyond financial means. Eighty-five percent say that pursuing educational goals is one key way they look at success.

    Educational opportunity and attainment is more important to Black womens’ perceived success than a high-paying job (82 percent), owning a home or raising kids (81 percent).

    For Wyatt, these findings are another indicator that leaders must look to education policy to ameliorate racial inequities, particularly as more data is released from pandemic-era learning.

    “We know that opportunity gaps are widening and we know that students are learning at different rates,” said Wyatt, “and for me that means that we differentiated solutions that are rooted deeply in community voice, deeply in evidence and deeply with equity and justice as our Northstar.”

    Related

    Analysis: How 100 Large Urban Districts Are Wrapping Family & Community Input into Plans for Spending Federal Emergency School Relief Funds

    Other notable findings

    • 83 percent say college needs to be made more affordable
    • 88 percent say they will likely vote during midterm elections
    • 78 percent say quality day care needs to be made more affordable

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  • Biden Ratchets Up Pressure Against Governors Banning Mask Mandates, Threatening Ed Department ‘Enforcement Actions’

    By Linda Jacobson | August 18, 2021

    President Joe Biden increased pressure on governors banning local district mask mandates Wednesday, directing the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to take “possible enforcement actions” if parents are keeping their children out of school because they think it’s unsafe.

    “Some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — [such] as children wearing masks in school and the political disputes — for their own political gain,” he said in comments at the White House. “Some are even trying to take power away from local educators. The intimidation and threats we’re seeing across the country are wrong.”


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    Cardona elaborated on an administration memo in a blog post Wednesday, saying: “the Department may initiate a directed investigation if facts indicate a potential violation of the rights of students as a result of state policies and actions.”

    He noted that the department’s Office for Civil Rights investigates allegations of discrimination against students and the Office of Special Education Programs monitors whether students with disabilities are receiving a free and appropriate public education.

    In a Wednesday interview with the New York Times, Cardona further expanded on the department’s rationale. “The fact that they’re not adjusting based on the illness, and the outcry from medical experts, is astonishing,” he said. “But we cannot sit around. We have to do everything in our power, including civil rights investigations and even referring matters to the Department of Justice for enforcement if necessary.”

    Biden’s memo to the department references Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding children under 12 not eligible for vaccines, saying the agency “has provided clear guidance to schools on how to adopt science-based strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

    While he doesn’t mention specific states, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has essentially been in a standoff with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Abbott, who both refuse to back down from their stance on masks.

    But some districts continue to defy governors’ orders and are instituting mandates anyway. The Florida State Board of Education earlier this week said it will take legal steps against two counties with mask mandates in place. And the Miami-Dade County school board was discussing Wednesday whether to implement a mandate. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has already said he’s in favor of it, despite any retaliation from the state.

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  • Do State Takeovers of School Districts Boost Student Learning? It Depends on Where They’re Tried, Research Suggests

    By Kevin Mahnken | August 17, 2021

    State takeovers of school districts are perhaps the most loathed strategy in education policy. Other K-12 reforms, from school choice to mayoral control, often generate controversy by diluting the power of elected school boards; takeovers dispense with them altogether, replacing community leaders with emergency managers appointed by outside bureaucrats.

    The upside to these shake-ups, which have been implemented in high-profile districts like Detroit and Philadelphia, is that they can lead to better schools by elevating big problems over the heads of local figures who have failed to solve them. But research released this spring raises questions over whether those purported benefits are actually being realized.


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    The study, circulated as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, detects no evidence that takeovers improve student test scores on average, though its authors point to a wide range of other academic effects resulting from them. Co-author Beth Schueler, a professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, said in an interview that the varying outcomes serve as a warning to state authorities considering takeovers.

    “I don’t think anything about this study suggests that takeover cannot ever improve a district,” Schueler said. “I think it just means that leaders should be super-cautious about doing it.”

    The substance of the paper focuses on academic indicators, but some sections address the arguments leveled against takeovers on democratic grounds, most vocally by Rutgers University political scientist Domingo Morel. Morel’s own work has shown that in areas where takeovers have been aggressively implemented, such as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, they have sometimes alienated residents and disempowered non-white politicians. In spite of those ill effects, a flood of research has shown improved school performance in the city, including higher college attendance.

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    The case of New Orleans is notably absent from the set of 35 districts studied by Schueler and co-author Joshua Bleiberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown. That group is restricted to districts that were subject to takeover between 2011 and 2016, which similarly excludes famous — and famously contentious — instances in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey. The districts that were subsumed within state control during that period were small by comparison, enrolling an average of just under 4,000 students (though this figure is itself over twice the size of the average non-takeover district).

    To compare the results of takeovers in different states Schueler and Bleiberg used the Stanford Education Data Archive, a research tool that indexes all state test scores to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Changes to scores in each of the 35 takeover districts were then measured against those in similar districts in their respective states that weren’t under state control.

    Their analysis shows that, on average, districts that underwent takeovers did not see improvements on either math or English scores. In fact, scores in a number of districts declined over the first few takeover years, particularly in English. But as the authors argue, that average includes hugely different results from one district to another. Some districts made significant gains after being taken over, others experienced dramatic declines in achievement, and many clustered somewhere in the middle. A few districts saw progress in one subject but not the other.

    Even in places where takeovers clearly lifted test scores, Schueler said, radically divergent local environments make it critical to study their lessons individually. Comparing the case of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a majority-Hispanic district whose successes have spawned case studies, with New Orleans, an overwhelmingly African American district roughly three times its size, she pointed to major distinctions in state approaches: After the ravages of Katrina, the Recovery School District fired most New Orleans teachers and turned over school management to independent charter organizations. Lawrence did neither but still benefited in the years following its takeover.

    “There are big differences across context and big differences in terms of what leaders did,” Schueler said. “They took two very different routes, and both were able to make big improvements, at least in terms of test score outcomes. So it’s very hard to see patterns in the literature like that.”

    ‘Be in the arena’

    Kenneth Wong, a Brown political scientist who has studied state takeovers for decades, said that specificity was key to understanding what choices and contingencies shape them. Calling the new working paper “really helpful in showing the landscape,” he said the next step for students of education reform was to conduct more qualitative examinations of individual districts, which would allow politicians to compare their own school communities to places where takeovers led to improvement.

    “For researchers, we kind of bundle everything — this is a condensed index of takeovers,” Wong said. “But for policymakers to really benefit from the research, we need to deconstruct that broad bundle of ‘state takeover’ and try to identify the potential effects of certain local conditions.”

    Paymon Rouhanifard speaks at a press conference in Camden, New Jersey, on Aug. 21, 2013. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

    Paymon Rouhanifard, who served as superintendent in Camden, New Jersey, after the district was brought under state control in 2013, agreed that takeovers exist on a “pretty broad continuum” in different legal and political environments. Among the ingredients for success, he argued, was clarity about when and under what conditions the intervention would end.

    “I think minimally you need 5-8 years, but from the very jump, there has to be transparency around what the road back to local control looks like,” Rouhanifard said. “I don’t believe in interventions that have no end in sight, that are about the intervention and just the intervention itself.”

    In time, many more examples will be available for study: As Schueler and Bleiberg note, there was an average of roughly six takeovers per year in the period between 2011 and 2016, compared with about four per year in the two decades that preceded it. The most publicized recent takeover has occurred in Wong’s home city of Providence, which was placed under state control in 2019 after years of academic failure and safety problems. Its initial phases have been rocky, with COVID interrupting its first year and brand-new governors and superintendents taking office since January. Wong predicted that the progress of the effort will become an inescapable factor in the 2022 governor’s race.

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    Even while acknowledging the increasing political complexities of takeovers, Wong said that their appeal would likely only grow with time.

    “This shift toward a more executive-oriented reform agenda is not going to go away,” he argued. “And takeover is part of that because it…offers more direct access [to schools],” he said. “Politicians can leverage their political capital, political will, to use this instrument because it legitimizes their involvement to address a particular set of problems.”

    That makes it important for takeover superintendents to engage constructively with schools and families, Rouhanifard argued. Asked to offer advice to someone leading a school district under state control, he said they should think of themselves as “the mayors of their districts.”

    “Be in the arena — the political arena, the community — and be a face of the work, because the distrust runs centuries deep,” Rouhanifard counseled. “So don’t be some technocratic, policy-oriented solution that is happening behind closed doors. You have to humanize it and meet people where they are.”

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  • State of Play: What Researchers Know — and Don’t — about Enrollment Declines and Learning Loss as School Year Gets Underway

    By Beth Hawkins | August 15, 2021

    With the new school year getting underway, researchers are adamant that data gathered during the 2020-21 academic year lends new urgency to warnings they first sounded in the early days of the pandemic. Already behind academically, low-income students and children of color are increasingly disengaged from school and losing ground — especially in math and in early grades.

    More alarming, the most disadvantaged children were also much less likely to take last spring’s assessments, suggesting that educators don’t yet have any idea how much learning loss their students have suffered. Indeed, a year and a half after COVID-19 forced nationwide school closures, it’s not clear how many students have disappeared from classrooms, are now homeschooling or will opt to learn remotely in the coming school year — if distance learning is even an option.


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    Even as the COVID-19 Delta variant and subsequent battles over school mask and vaccine mandates threaten the hoped-for return to normalcy, these mounting — and widely varying — losses in learning and enrollment should top education leaders’ agendas, researchers say.

    “Our mantra, what we were trying to convey as a big picture point in [our recent] policy brief, is that the spending of American Rescue Plan funds should really reflect the disproportionate impact,” says Lindsay Dworkin, vice president of policy and advocacy at the nonprofit assessment company NWEA, which did some of the initial research on likely learning loss. “So we would call on states and districts to spend their funds in ways that support the students who need that support the most.”

    Some key data points:

    • Third-graders in high-poverty schools who scored at the 39th percentile in math on NWEA’s MAP test in spring 2019 lost 17 points in spring 2021; higher-income students, who had averaged at the 70th percentile, lost just 6 points.
    • 22 to 25 percent of students of color and low-performing students did not show up for the test this past spring. NWEA researchers fear their academic losses are even more dramatic than those of low-income students who took the tests.
    • Just 9 percent of students in grades 2 through 8 in Newark scored well enough on the MAP to be considered at grade level, according to Chalkbeat.
    • In Texas, grade-level mastery on the end-of- year STAAR exam fell to 35 percent, down from 50 percent in 2019.

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    • In Indiana, fewer than 29 percent of students passed both the state math and reading tests.
    • In Tennessee, 1 in 5 Black students and 1 in 4 Latinos scored at grade level on end-of-year exams, as did 16 percent of English learners and only 7 percent of students with disabilities.
    • Learning losses were smaller where there was more in-person schooling.
    • Enrollment dropped 3 percent nationally and by 13 percent among preschool and kindergarten students, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, while absenteeism increased.
    • In 33 states, 10,000 schools lost at least 20 percent of their kindergartners, and more than 1 million public school students did not enroll overall.

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    • The number of students homeschooling in Indiana nearly doubled, to 21,000, or 2 percent.
    •  The number of Black families homeschooling increased 500 percent, according to U.S. Census data, rising from 3.3 percent to 16 percent.
    • Wisconsin saw its largest increase in homeschooling since 1984, with 32,000 students now learning at home.

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  • Thousands of Students, Teachers Quarantined as School Year Starts — Many in States With Low Vaccination Rates, Anti-Mask Rules

    By Beth Hawkins | August 13, 2021

    As the new school year gets underway, thousands of students and educators in multiple states are quarantining as COVID cases erupt in schools. Many of the outbreaks have occurred in places with low vaccination rates and no requirement that masks be worn in school.

    In Florida’s Palm Beach County, some 440 students are in quarantine after 51 positive cases — 37 students and 14 employees — were found, according to Superintendent Michael Burke. The 167,000-student district is requiring masks despite an executive order barring such mandates from Gov. Ron DeSantis. More than 6,000 students opted out of masking during the first days of school.


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    In Arkansas’ Marion School District, more than 800 students and staff quarantined after 43 positive cases were identified. The state’s General Assembly reconvened to debate amending a two-month-old ban on mask mandates that Gov. Asa Hutchinson now says he regrets signing.

    In Arizona, where a new law bars mask mandates in schools, a science teacher sued the 28,000-student Phoenix Union High School District for requiring face coverings. A class of third-graders was forced to quarantine in Tempe, adjacent to Phoenix, while 140 positive cases were reported in schools in nearby Chandler.

    During the second week of school in many Mississippi districts, Aug. 2 to 6, 1,000 students and 300 teachers tested positive for COVID-19 in 69 outbreaks. Nearly 5,000 children and school staff quarantined as a result. Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

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    In Richmond, Virginia, an entire fourth-grade class was quarantined after four students tested positive in a county where the vaccination rate is 42 percent. Virginia law says schools must adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The CDC has recommended that anyone age 2 or older wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status.

    Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccines. Though kids generally experience milder symptoms than adults, the number who become seriously ill has risen because of the Delta variant’s higher transmissibility.

    “Now you have a virus that does a big and better job of infecting anybody much more efficiently than the previous virus, including children,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told PBS.

    “And just on numbers alone, when more children will get infected, a proportion of them, a small proportion, albeit, are going to wind up with serious disease, getting hospitalized,” Fauci said. “And that’s one of the reasons why, maybe the overwhelming reason, why you’re seeing children in this particular context of Delta being in the hospital.”

    In guidance updated Aug. 5, the CDC called the return to in-person instruction a priority and is urging “layered prevention strategies” — a high community vaccination rate combined with in-school masking and social distancing.

    In Texas and Florida, a number of districts are defying their governors’ executive orders prohibiting mask mandates. In San Antonio and Dallas, state court judges cleared the way for local officials to require masking in public facilities, including schools.

    States that require masks in schools include Hawaii, California, Illinois, Kentucky and Louisiana.

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  • Senate Takes Next Step in Advancing Biden’s Historic, $3.5T Agenda for Education, Families

    By Linda Jacobson | August 11, 2021

    The U.S. Senate passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution overnight, paving the way for committees to begin writing major legislation that would push historic levels of funding into early-childhood education, school construction and tax credits for families.

    The vote came the day after the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which now goes to the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she won’t introduce the infrastructure package for a vote until she’s assured all 50 Democrats in the Senate are on board with the rest of the party’s agenda regarding social, immigration and climate policies. But to get there she’ll have to balance competing agendas within her own party.


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    “The House will continue to work with the Senate to ensure that our priorities for the people are included in the final infrastructure and reconciliation packages, in a way that is resilient and will build back better,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday.

    Moderate Democrats, however, are pressuring her to take action on the infrastructure bill now and not wait until later this fall when committee leaders in the Senate work out the details of the $3.5 trillion bill. Observers say it could be late fall before the plan passes the Senate.

    “After years of waiting, we cannot afford unnecessary delays to finally deliver on a physical infrastructure package,” moderates said in a letter. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, the American people are counting on us to drive real results for them in every single Congressional district.”

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    Senate Democrats are using a process called reconciliation that allows them to pass the spending package without any Republican votes.

    Sen. Krysten Simena of Arizona, who took the lead on negotiating with Republicans over the infrastructure bill, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another moderate Democrat, have suggested the $3.5 trillion figure is too high.

    But Rick Hess, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he doesn’t think most Democrats will be “treating the fiscal implications of budgetary rules with much seriousness.”

    Manchin crossed the aisle in a long vote session last night to approve an amendment to the budget resolution that opposes allowing federal funds to support the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools, such as hiring consultants for teacher training. Sponsored by Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, the legislation would add to several state laws banning educators from teaching that racism is embedded in U.S. systems to advantage white people.

    It’s the larger $3.5 trillion package that concerns most education advocates. In a letter to Congress Monday, 17 leading organizations urged lawmakers to include at least $130 billion in the reconciliation bill for school facilities — a concern that was left out of the infrastructure bill.

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    “The longstanding neglect of school facilities disproportionately impacts low-income school districts and those districts with particularly aging facilities,” the letter said. “These districts often lack a local tax base that can be leveraged for new school construction, major capital improvements, or building renovations and modernizations.”

    School nutrition advocates want to see permanent funding for free school meals beyond the 2021-22 school year. Over 400 organizations have signed a letter saying such a policy “eliminates the cost barrier for families who do not qualify [for free or reduced-price meals], but who still struggle to make ends meet.”

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    It’s unclear, however, whether Democrats can stretch the $3.5 trillion to cover everything they’d like to deliver, including $200 billion for pre-K, $109 billion for two years of free community college and several teacher education and higher education initiatives. The president’s agenda would also extend an increase in the Child Tax Credit for four more years and include paid family leave.

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  • UNC Emails: ‘Who Are You Going to Believe: Abraham Lincoln or Nikole Hannah-Jones?’

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | August 10, 2021

    In the aftermath of the heavily publicized Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy, emails released by UNC-Chapel Hill reveal the extent to which wealthy donor Walter Hussman labored behind the scenes to dissuade university officials from offering the acclaimed journalist a tenure package.

    In a series of four November 2020 emails to Board of Trustees member Kelly Hopkins, two of which spanned a dozen paragraphs or more, Hussman argued that Hannah-Jones’s telling of the American story over-emphasized the role of slavery and warned that her stance on reparations would be “detrimental” to the university, describing Hannah-Jones’s views as “controversial, contentious, and divisive.”


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    “I do not dispute [Hannah-Jones] having her convictions in favor of reparations, nor do I dispute her right to advocate for it as strongly as possible,” Hussman wrote. “But I believe giving her a platform to argue for this as a tenured professor in the journalism school will not be beneficial, but instead detrimental, to the school.”

    “No one knows exactly what she will say in the future,” he continued. “She could be fired from the New York Times. But as I understand it, she could not be fired as a tenured professor.”

    Hussman, whose name adorns the UNC school of journalism thanks to a $25 million pledge in 2019, the balance of which has yet to be delivered, first shared his concerns with David Routh, UNC-Chapel Hill’s senior development officer in September. Emails indicate that board members Chuck Duckett, Jeff Brown and Richard Stevens were also made aware of the donor’s appeal, in addition to Kelly Hopkins. All four trustees have since left the board after their terms expired July 1.

    Hannah-Jones would have been the first Black Knight Chair since the position was founded at UNC.

    The 74 received the internal emails July 30 after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the university, as did several other media organizations, which have also reported on the communications.

    In another message that included annotations of passages from an 1856 Abraham Lincoln speech, Hussman argued that Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project, a collection of essays from the New York Times Magazine that relates the country’s founding and development through the experiences of Black Americans and earned the journalist a Pulitzer Prize, overstated the role that slavery played in the American Revolution.

    “The country may have committed its original sin,” Hussman wrote, “but it was not what the founders or the colonies were intending at that time, in 1776.”

    “I thought to myself, who are you going to believe: Abraham Lincoln or Nikole Hannah Jones?”

    In 2020, the New York Times issued an update to an essay from The 1619 Project, changing a line to clarify that protecting the institution of slavery was a primary motivation for some, not all, colonists during the American Revolution.

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    In June, Hussman told NC Policy Watch that he never pressured any UNC board members about the incoming Knight Chair’s tenure package, and that the balance of his donation was not dependent on their decision. He did not respond to requests from The 74 asking him to explain his intentions in sending the November emails.

    Text messages also indicate that Hussman and Hopkins frequently spoke on the phone through the fall and winter of 2020, and the spring of 2021.

    (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

    After Hussman sent the series of four email messages, the Board of Trustees, which normally rubber stamps tenure recommendations already endorsed by the faculty, twice delayed Hannah-Jones’s tenure vote, once in November and once in January. In the latter instance, the deferral was due in part to questions over the journalist’s credentials raised by trustee Duckett, according to reporting from the News & Observer. In February, the university offered Hannah-Jones a five-year contract, breaking the precedent of offering tenure packages to previous Knight Chairs.

    In late June, following widespread protests amid reports that North Carolina’s flagship university had caved to political pressure from conservatives, the university reversed course. The board approved tenure for Hannah-Jones June 30.

    After initially accepting the university’s five-year offer, Hannah-Jones, a 2017 recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, reconsidered when it became clear that her tenure process had been marred by what she called “political interference.” The 1619 Project creator eventually turned down UNC’s offer, instead joining the faculty of historically BlackHoward University, alongside author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    Hannah-Jones, an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school, did not respond to The 74’s requests for comment.

    “I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me,” Hannah-Jones wrote in an early July statement published through the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented her.

    Her new initiative at Howard, the Center for Journalism and Democracy, “will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the perilous challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor, and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism,” she said.

    Details on Hussman’s emails below:

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  • Senate Passes Infrastructure Bill, But House Democrats Seek Agreement on Larger Plan for Schools and Families

    By Linda Jacobson | August 9, 2021

    Updated August 10

    The U.S. Senate passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Tuesday, with 19 Republicans joining 50 Democrats in approving the measure. 

    “I want to thank a group of senators, Democrats and Republicans for doing what they told me they would do,” President Joe Biden said. “They said they’re willing to work in a bipartisan manner, and I want to thank them for keeping their word.

    The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the result of a long negotiating process with Republicans, addresses the “clear and present danger” of lead pipes carrying drinking water, reduces transportation costs and increases internet access, Biden said.

    “During remote learning during the pandemic last year,” he said, “we saw too many families forced to literally sit in their vehicles in a fast food parking lot so their children can get on the internet they couldn’t afford and didn’t have access to at home.”

    The bill — the first phase of Biden’s domestic agenda — now heads to the House, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t expected to introduce it until it’s clear that all Democrats will support the second, and larger, social spending package.

    The U.S. Senate is expected to pass a bi-partisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Tuesday that includes funding for electric school buses, eliminating lead pipes in schools and expanding the nation’s access to broadband.

    Most of President Joe Biden’s agenda for education and families, however, is included in a separate $3.5 trillion resolution Senate Democrats unveiled Monday, with plans to pass legislation over Republican opposition.

    Progressive House members have been threatening for months that they won’t approve one without the other, setting up a potential drawn-out battle this fall if Democrats don’t get everything they want in the larger “American Family Plan.” Republican leaders, meanwhile, have urged Democrats to separate the two packages to ensure that their priorities to fix roads and bridges and expand public transportation, among others, make it to the president’s desk. Thus far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted the piecemeal approach, showing a determination to pass as much of the president’s agenda as possible within his first year in office.

    “I don’t believe leadership would move one [bill] without being confident the other is locked down,” said Julia Martin, legislative director of Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm.

    The strategy, she said, is an effort to ensure the larger social spending bill — which includes universal pre-K, free community college and an extension of the Child Tax Credit — would pass despite reservations from moderates over the cost and objections from more liberal members that it doesn’t go far enough.

    With Democrats in control of both houses in Congress, they can pursue a process known as reconciliation, which doesn’t require any Republican votes.

    “If you’re doing a one-party bill anyway, there’s a lot of pressure to pass long-standing and more liberal priorities,” Martin said.

    Some Democrats, for example, want to see the larger Child Tax Credit, which families began receiving last month, become permanent. The one-year increase passed as part of the March relief bill, and Biden’s plan extends it through 2025. House and Senate Democrats are also pushing for universal school meals, but Biden’s proposal doesn’t go that far. He’s calling for free school meals for all students in the highest poverty districts, covering about 70 percent of students in the elementary grades.

    The chance Democrats could lose more seats in Congress is another reason they’re pushing to pass both packages. With midterm elections next year, some experts expect Republicans to challenge the majority on issues such as crime, inflation, and immigration.

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    Democrats “could very likely lose the House in ‘22, so this is the moment,” said Danny Carlson, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the National Association for Elementary School Principals.

    The $3.5 trillion package includes $726 billion for the Senate education committee, which will write bills for pre-K, expanding access to child care, building and renovating schools, and addressing teacher shortages. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, in a letter Monday, asked the committees to submit their bills by Sept. 15.

    He also urged Democrats to “go on the offense” during the upcoming recess “to explain how our budget will lower costs and cut taxes for American families.”

    But Republicans argue it will only increase the national debt. In a tweet, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the package “far-left radicalism” and said on the floor Saturday that budget committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’s “socialist shopping list will make every disagreement we’ve had in landing the infrastructure compromise look like a rounding error.”

    Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released estimates showing the infrastructure bill would increase the federal deficit by $256 billion over the next 10 years. That figure isn’t likely to derail the bill, but is fueling objections to additional spending

    McConnell specifically mentioned the administration’s child care proposal, calling it “government meddling … that would privilege certain families’ choices over others.’”

    Biden’s plan seeks to lower the cost of child care, while still giving parents options, including centers and family child care providers. But some conservatives argue there’s still too much emphasis on group settings.

    Katharine Stevens, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said while she understands that full-time child care is essential for working parents, “it’s not optimal for the majority of children — even harmful for some — during the most crucial period of development.”

    The plan would increase pay for providers, which can allow centers to hire better-qualified teachers, but Stevens said ensuring all programs reach high quality is still “a very big if.”

    When Congress returns in the fall, the Senate will also have to take up the fiscal year 2022 budget. The House has already passed seven appropriations bills, including nearly $103 billion for the Department of Education, a $29 billion increase over 2021.

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  • Board Overseeing Nation’s Report Card Moves Past Equity Dispute, Adopting ‘Forward-Looking’ Plan for New Reading Tests

    By Linda Jacobson | August 6, 2021

    When students take the reading portion of what is known as the Nation’s Report Card in 2026, they’ll be able to view examples of student writing before attempting their own answers — one of several elements designed to let students know what’s expected of them. And the results, for the first time, will break down scores by socioeconomic status within racial groups — a level of detail that will offer a more accurate look at student performance in the post-pandemic era.

    Those are among the updates to a “framework” for the reading assessment that the governing board in charge of the National Assessment of Educational Progress approved Thursday. The unanimous vote represented a significant shift since May, when some members of the panel bitterly opposed a version they thought overly emphasized issues of equity and fairness for students taking the test.

    Over the summer, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, and Alice Peisch, vice chair, brought together members to hash out their differences and finalize what one observer called a “forward-looking” approach to measuring students’ reading skills.

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    “You worked extraordinarily hard to build consensus across an array of perspectives, ensuring an update for NAEP Reading that everyone here can stand behind,” Lesley Muldoon, executive director of the governing board, said during the hybrid meeting, with some members assembled in Tysons Corner, Virginia, and others joining remotely. “It would have been really easy for you all just to sort of hit pause after the May meeting and say, ‘Let’s just keep the old framework.”

    The board passed a compromise document that resulted from those summer meetings, stating its commitment to equity, but dropping some of the lengthy passages on the topic in an earlier draft. Patrick Kelly, a board member and history teacher in South Carolina, who led a committee working on the document, said he felt confident that none of the members feel “the final product is 100 percent reflective of their personal views. That’s also what consensus is about.”

    The board has had a long history of finding common ground despite political differences. Andrew Ho, an assessment expert at Harvard University and former member of the board, said agreement on this issue is “in everyone’s best interest.” Approval of the document means the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the congressionally mandated testing program, can move ahead with developing and piloting assessment questions. With last year’s school closures putting students roughly half a year behind in reading, according to recently released end-of-year results, future tests will also gauge the extent of the pandemic’s impact on learning.

    “I think the gap is going to be wider between the racial and ethninc groups,” Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of NCES, told the board, noting the data showing racial differences in remote and in-person learning last school year. “I think the implications are not good for achievement.”

    In May, the majority of board members were ready to approve a draft with detailed explanations for how elements in the digital test — such as student writing samples and pop-up hints for some words or concepts — could improve understanding for students who might be unfamiliar with those terms because of their language and cultural backgrounds.

    This element in the fourth grade assessment is intended to prepare students for the passage they are about to read. (National Assessment Governing Board)

    But a few members, especially Russ Whitehurst, argued that highlighting those features of the test at a time when the nation has been arguing over issues of race and discrimination would prove divisive. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, even offered his own draft, eliminating most references to “sociocultural” factors that influence how students comprehend what they read.

    The board “itself almost came unglued” over the issue, Chester Finn Jr., president emeritus of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote in his latest update on the saga. But he called the new version “a masterful, praiseworthy piece of work” and “a coherent, forward-looking and intelligible approach to the modern assessment of students’ reading prowess and comprehension.”

    Other changes in the new framework include reporting students’ reading skills within content areas — literature, social studies and science. The existing version only provides the categories of literature and “informational texts.” Kelly said unlike in 2004, the last time the document was updated, literacy skills are now “infused” into academic standards.

    In addition, results will break out performance levels for former, current and non-English learners. This change will “shed light on any progress — or lack thereof — that might be detectable in the group of former English learners,” the document says.

    But even with his glowing review, Finn, a former chair of the board, has some lingering complaints about the issue that led to the board members’ dispute — the purpose of those digital hints and nudges that are intended to motivate students to do their best on an exam that never affects their grade. In the real world, readers don’t get that kind of help, Finn wrote.

    “Keep in mind that reading, that most fundamental of subjects, is not in good shape in America today,” he wrote. “We need to bend every effort to teach reading better and ensure that kids learn it well. We don’t need to conceal their deficiencies.”

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  • As Schools Reopen, Biden Administration Launches Broad Effort to Get More Students Vaccinated

    By Linda Jacobson | August 5, 2021

    Updated August 6

    The Biden administration Thursday stepped up efforts to get more students vaccinated as the school year begins, announcing partnerships with the National PTA, pediatricians and sports organizations to reach reluctant families.

    The effort includes incorporating vaccines into physical exams for school athletes, featuring pediatricians at back-to-school events and supplying schools with resources to host pop-up vaccine clinics, including sample text messages and letters. Saturday will kick off a “week of action” devoted to promoting the vaccine, with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visiting a vaccine clinic in Topeka, Kansas, along with training sessions for parents, teachers and student organizations on how to promote vaccines.

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    “I remember last year. We were reopening schools and we didn’t have the science. We didn’t have the experience. We didn’t have the lessons learned,” Cardona said Wednesday in remarks after visiting a summer enrichment program at Graceland Park-O’Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School in Baltimore. “If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, do it now. This is our number one line of defense.”


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    On Thursday, Cardona told reporters that he’ll also be monitoring how “politics are getting in the way” and whether some families aren’t sending their children to school because they feel it’s not safe without mask requirements.  “To me those are adult actions preventing students to their right of public education.”

    That message comes as less than 40 percent of the nation’s 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated, data shows. And the rate among 16- and 17-year-olds is less than half. Vaccination rates are higher among white children than Black children. The administration, however, is not only facing resistance from some parents toward the vaccine, but is also seeing growing backlash against mask mandates, with some districts at odds with governors over the issue.

    The dissent was clear last week during a virtual town hall for parents where Aaliyah Samuel, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attempted to answer parents’ questions about the vaccine.

    Participants began flooding the chat field with critical comments about the vaccine, remote learning and masks. Others shot back with links to studies on vaccine and mask effectiveness.

    In all caps, one person wrote: “Hesitancy comes from the lies and lack of information. Those that have been vaccinated are the ones that are getting infected yet again, creating new variants such as Delta strain.”

    Another responded: “Trump paid for the vaccine and took it.”

    Samuel eventually jumped in and shut down the chat function.

    “This is not a place for negative comments to attack individuals. It is a place to share information,” she said. “And if you don’t believe in the information, that’s your choice, but we’re sharing the best of the information that we have.”

    At last week’s parent town hall, organized by the U.S. Department of Education, along with two national parent groups, participants clashed over issues including masks and vaccines.  (U.S. Department of Education)

    Thursday’s White House announcement didn’t mention the role of the teachers unions in getting more students vaccinated. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has been on her own campaign this week to encourage parents to send their children to school this fall, while also advocating for a universal mask mandate.

    In comments on SiriusXM POTUS’s “Laura Coates Show” this week, Weingarten called vaccines “the big game changer.” While restating her position that vaccine issues should be negotiated with local affiliates, she said on MSNBC Thursday that she is now more open to mandates for teachers.

    “We want to persuade the holdouts,” she said. “But we’re looking at all the alternatives.”

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  • Changing Minds on the Vaccine One Teen at a Time: This Student-Led Nonprofit is Boosting Youth Vaccination Rates Through Classroom Sessions, TikTok Videos and ‘Youth Appeal’

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | August 4, 2021

    When coronavirus vaccines first became widely available last spring, Etienne Montigny was skeptical.

    “I was part of those people that sort of had their doubts,” the Miami high school senior told The 74.

    He was worried that the development of the shot was too quick, and that perhaps the safety checks were incomplete. He opted to hold off on receiving the vaccine.


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    But soon after, a classmate changed his mind.

    Etienne Montigny, a rising high school senior in Miami, was hesitant to vaccinate himself against COVID-19, but his classmate Abigail Felan convinced him to roll up his sleeve. (Etienne Montigny)

    Abigail Felan, communications director for the student-led nonprofit New Voters, was presenting information on the vaccine to classes at Coral Gables Senior High School, where she and Montigny are students, as part of her organization’s all-new Teens Get the Vaccine campaign. For Montigny, who over the summer would be traveling to France to spend time with his grandmother and was worried about putting her at risk, Felan’s pitch struck a chord. Hearing her speak about the vaccine’s safety and benefits was enough to convince him to roll up his sleeve before going overseas.

    Now, as schools across the country prepare to return students to classrooms after a summer marked by increasing COVID caseloads brought on by the Delta variant, New Voters is re-launching its Teens Get the Vaccine campaign. The group hopes to persuade peers, like Montigny, on the fence over whether or not to get vaccinated.

    Abigail Felan (Abigail Felan)

    “This is such a pressing issue right now,” said Felan, whose state has one of the worst outbreaks of the Delta variant in the nation, with COVID-related hospitalizations breaking records there this week.

    Youth vaccination rates continue to lag behind those of adults. As of July 28, some 7.4 million Americans under the age of 18 were fully vaccinated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 40 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds and 28 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds. Another 2.2 million teens and adolescents had received a single dose. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Americans over 18 have been fully immunized against COVID.

    Down from a high of 1.6 million youth vaccinations per week in late May, rates fell to 315,000 shots per week in early July, before rebounding slightly, with 450,000 individuals under 18 immunized in the week prior to July 28. The uptick may perhaps reflect growing concern for the highly transmissible Delta variant, which more readily infects young people than previous strains. Youth 12 and up are currently eligible for COVID-19 immunizations, and shots for younger individuals are expected midwinter.

    In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an all-out blitz to vaccinate eligible students in the country’s largest school district, including a $1.3 million ad campaign and mobile vaccination clinics stationed in parking lots near youth sports practices, before the district’s mid-September start.

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    Felan’s student-led organization, she believes, has special leverage to persuade teens to get vaccinated because they can empathize with their peers’ concerns.

    “We have that youth appeal to show that we understand,” Felan, also a rising senior, told The 74.

    With misinformation about the vaccine constantly being spread online and landing in teenagers’ newsfeeds, Felan and her team try not to shame students for having the facts wrong, she added.

    “It’s important to show that we are empathetic.”

    From Aug. 6 to Sept. 6, New Voters will double down on its campaign. This spring, Felan reached over 2,000 students by Zooming into classes at her school and speaking about the vaccine. This fall, the group plans to expand its classroom presentation campaign to other locales where the nonprofit has member branches, including California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as other parts of Florida outside Miami.

    The New Voters team on a video call (Abigail Felan)

    The organization also recorded TikTok videos and Instagram reels that together amassed over 10,000 views and conducted a Q&A session with former CDC Director Tom Frieden to answer youth questions on vaccine safety.

    This fall, the youth-powered group plans to continue its information campaign and will partner with various civic engagement organizations such as Pizza to the Polls and Future Coalition. On Friday, New Voters will hold an Instagram live session with Katie Grossbard, a founding member of the nonprofit I am a voter., a nonprofit working to promote democratic participation, says Felan, who is hopeful that the collaborations will help her team’s message reach new audiences.

    “On a national level, I really hope we can double our reach — or triple our reach,” said the high schooler.

    She knows there will always be people who watch their videos and ignore the information. But then again, she says, there will also be people who learn something new or are inspired to have a conversation about the vaccine. After seeing a TikTok clip, “maybe they talk to their sister or their friend about [the shot],” said Felan.

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    The group has already had an international impact. Montigny, inspired by the pitch he received from New Voters, was able to talk his French cousins, who he’s staying with this summer, into making vaccine appointments for themselves.

    When he returns to Miami, he says, “If I have friends that are not [vaccinated], I know that I can try to convince them.”

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