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September 2021
  • ‘An Immediate Threat’: National School Board Group Calls on Biden to Combat ‘Domestic Terrorism’ Toward Educators During Pandemic Turmoil

    By Mark Keierleber | September 30, 2021

    The Biden administration must act to combat a surge in threats and violence toward education leaders amid volatile tensions over schools’ pandemic response and lessons on systemic racism, a 90,000-member national school board members’ group wrote in a letter Wednesday.


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    In the letter to President Joe Biden, the National School Boards Association said the country’s schools and educators are “under an immediate threat” and urged the federal government to “investigate, intercept and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against public school officials through existing statutes,” including the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the PATRIOT Act. The group called for a “joint collaboration” between local and federal law enforcement agencies to halt what it referred to as “domestic terrorism” carried out at school board meetings, through the U.S. Postal Service and on social media.

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    “As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult time,” which includes tumult around mask mandates and classroom instruction on critical race theory. The group cited more than 20 instances of threats, harassment and intimidation during school board meetings that targeted education officials in recent months.

    “Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula.”

    The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

    School board meetings have become ground zero for political unrest in recent months as conservative groups and former Trump administration officials have sought to capitalize on angst against school officials as a campaign strategy. Though news articles have highlighted outrage that include divisive and at times violent rhetoric, it’s unclear if any education leaders have been injured.

    In one incident, police arrested an Illinois man on aggravated battery and disorderly conduct charges for allegedly hitting a school official as he was being escorted out of a school board meeting. In Ohio, a school board member was mailed a letter that warned “we are coming after you” and threatened that the school official would “pay dearly” for requiring students to wear masks. In a recent story for The 74, school leaders discussed how they faced online threats and vandalized campuses. Candace Singh, who leads a school district near San Diego, said she was threatened with warnings like “You better watch out” and “Watch your back.” Such language, she said, has become “accepted in the public discourse, where it never would have been tolerated before.” Some districts, like the Rockwood School District in suburban St. Louis, resorted to hiring private security earlier this year to protect staff.

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    Earlier in the month, the National Association of Secondary School Principals called on federal officials to “do more to protect school leaders from rampant hostility and violence that disrupts our schools and threatens the safety of our educators and students.”

    In a joint statement last week, the school boards association and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, called on the public to stop using violent threats to express their opinions about pandemic-era school reopening decisions.

    “We oppose the increasingly aggressive tactics creeping into board and community meetings, and we cannot let frustrations and tensions evolve into name calling and intimidation,” Daniel Domenech, AASA’s executive director, said in the statement. “We will never back down from the importance of freedom of speech, but we cannot — and will not — tolerate aggression, intimidation, threats and violence toward superintendents, board members and educators.”

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  • New Report Gives Low Grades to Most Teacher Retirement Systems

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 29, 2021

    If you’re a mid-career teacher thinking about what to do when your career winds down — don’t move.

    Seriously, don’t relocate across state lines, K-12 finance experts warn. Along with changing careers, it’s one of the easiest ways to lose out on your retirement savings. In all, only about one out of five teachers receive their full pensions, while roughly 50 percent don’t remain in a single pension system long enough to qualify for minimum benefits at the end of their service.


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    Those dreary findings come from a report on teacher retirement systems released last month by Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit research and consulting group. Ranking each state retirement system on an A-F scale, the authors find that only a handful can claim to serve both teachers and taxpayers well: Twenty states received F grades, while none received an A.

    Andrew Rotherham, one of Bellwether’s founders and a co-author of the paper, noted that a wide variety of states earned spots near the top and bottom of the list, with both Democratic- and Republican-leaning political environments scattered throughout. But across the board, he observed, the status quo in too many states punishes a wide swathe of educators.

    “One of the ways this system is sustainable is that it creates millions of small losers and a much smaller number of big winners,” said Rotherham.

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    Chad Aldeman, a former Bellwether analyst who now serves as policy director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, said that there had been some “slow movement” in a few states to offer public employees more choice and portability in their retirement benefits, but that the intertwined issues of back-loaded pensions and colossal debts owed by states were generally going in the wrong direction.

    “I would say, in broad strokes, the financial problems keep getting worse,” said Aldeman, who worked on a previous version of Bellwether’s rankings and consulted on this publication. “And the related problem about the way the benefits are structured — it’s moving in fits and starts, but it’s also getting worse.”

    Bellwether’s newest report evaluates states on a “comprehensive” basis that rates how each system performs for four separate constituencies: short-term teachers (those who teach in the system for less than 10 years), medium-term teachers (those who remain within the system for 10 years but leave before retirement), long-term teachers (those who spend their entire careers in the system), and taxpayers within each state. Retirement systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia were ranked in terms of their performance for each category, and they all received an overall score.

    Grades were determined through the use of 15 separate variables, including overall funding levels, the length of the vesting period, whether teachers in the state are eligible for Social Security, required teacher contribution rates, and investment returns averaged over 10 years.

    South Dakota earned the top score, 88.4 percent, while Tennessee and Washington were the only two other states to notch even B grades. Among the lowest-rated jurisdictions were a litany of red, blue, and purple enclaves: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts, and more than a dozen others.

    Those summative scores can conceal significant variation within systems, however. West Virginia, for instance, earns an overall grade of D, partly because it is one of the worst states in the country for short-term teachers (its 10-year vesting period means that huge numbers of educators won’t stay in the job long enough to earn benefits). But it lands just outside the top ten systems for taxpayers because it participates in Social Security, nets fairly high investment returns, and makes relatively high state contributions.

    Among all four constituencies, short-term teachers clearly make out the worst, with 33 states and the District of Columbia earning F grades in the category. Of the rest, only five (South Dakota, Oregon, Washington, Florida, and Michigan) even rated a C or higher.

    Aldeman said that the policy moves that have contributed to that reality — lengthening vesting periods, slashing benefits for newer teachers, and raising teacher contributions — can sometimes improve a given state’s budgetary picture, but they also tend to disadvantage younger employees and those who don’t stay their whole careers.

    ​​”When states historically have seen a big-budget bill for pension obligations, they have tended to cut benefits for new workers,” he said. “The cuts mean that newly hired workers have to stay longer to qualify for any benefit at all, have to contribute more of their own salary toward the benefits, and have to wait longer to retire and receive a lower benefit.”

    Citing a recent report from the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, which found that 39 percent of the education funding disbursed by Illinois for the coming school year will be used to pay down the state’s huge debt obligations, Aldeman professed himself “amazed.”

    “I mean, you can see the trend; it just keeps going up and up. At some point, will leaders say, ‘That’s enough, we need to do something else about this’?”

    ‘Life happens’

    Teachers in 36 states and the District of Columbia are enrolled in defined benefit pensions programs, through which they make regular contributions to their plan and receive guaranteed payments in retirement. Fourteen states have created “defined contribution” systems, often resembling 401(k) plans, which tend to vest over a shorter period of time and offer greater portability across state lines.

    Rotherham argued that education policymakers should not focus exclusively on plan type in debates over how to improve their systems. Defined benefit packages — often caricatured as “gold-plated” vestiges of the mid-20th century, when many employees could expect to retire early with enviable financial security — are not necessarily financially irresponsible for states, he said, and alternative systems can sometimes fail the test of adequacy for the retirees who depend on them.

    “This debate has often become very reductionist, and it’s become a debate over what should be the form of the plan — is it defined benefit or defined contribution? — rather than which elements would make it good or bad,” Rotherham said. “And that’s what we need to be talking about because for the plan participants, it’s those elements that affect their lives, not these ideological debates between 401(k)s and pensions.”

    Whatever specific structure a state commits to, he said, leaders can no longer condition their retirement benefits on career-long tenures within a given system; any expectation that employees will stay in place for decades is “not a match for our labor market,” Rotherham added.

    “If you know you’re going to teach in one place for 30 years, the pension plan works for you, and you should do that. The problem is that people decide they don’t like teaching. They get sick, they have to move, they fall in love with someone whose job requires relocation, they need to be a caregiver. Life happens, people make plans that don’t work out, so these structures have to have some flexibility.”

    Disclosure: Andrew Rotherham is co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and serves on the board of directors of The 74.

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  • Watch: Education Experts Talk the Science of Reading, Pandemic Learning Loss and the Need to Close Literacy Gaps in a Post-COVID World

    By The 74 | September 29, 2021

    The headlines have been relentlessly bleak. Across the nation, standardized testing has found an alarming decline in reading proficiency because of the ongoing disruption from the pandemic. Now enterprising educators are trying to come up with ways to reverse these declines.

    Today at 1 p.m. Eastern, The 74 is honored to partner with the Progressive Policy Institute to present an online panel discussion: “The Science of Reading and Closing Literacy Gaps in a Post-COVID World.” Joining the conversation will be:

    • Dr. Kymyona Burk, early education policy director for ExcelinEd
    • Mary Clayman, director of the D.C. Reading Clinic
    • Cassandra Gentry, a parent leader with DC PAVE
    • Dr. Michael Durant, chief academic officer of Academy of Hope Adult Charter School
    • Rep. Allister Chang of the D.C. State Board of Education
    • Christina Grant, Acting State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C.

    You can register for free and get the Zoom viewing info here, or watch the Wednesday livestream by refreshing this page at 1 p.m.  You can also stream directly on The 74’s Facebook page.


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    See some recent coverage of literacy and equity from The 74:

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  • Pfizer Sends Vaccine Data for Kids Ages 5-11 to FDA, California Gov. Newsom Orders Shots for All Eligible K-12 Students

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | September 28, 2021

    Updated, Oct. 1

    Pfizer-BioNTech has submitted initial data to the Food and Drug Administration that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for 5- to 11-year olds, the pharmaceutical company announced Tuesday.

    The development represents another key step toward shots for young children, but Pfizer has yet to formally submit a request to the FDA for authorization to inoculate the roughly 28 million Americans under 12 years old, which it must do before the federal agency can fully begin the weeks-long review process.

    Though younger children are not yet cleared for the vaccine, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday ordered COVID shots for all eligible K-12 students in the state, marking the first such statewide move in the nation. The mandate could take effect as early as January, but depends on when vaccines receive full FDA approval for young people ages 12 and up, the Los Angeles Times reports. Currently, Pfizer shots have full FDA approval for use in individuals 16 or older.

    “This is just another vaccine,” Newsom said. Coronavirus shots will be added to “a well-established list that currently includes 10 vaccines and well-established rules and regulations that have been advanced by the Legislature for decades.”


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    Pfizer’s submission for emergency use authorization among kids under 12 will come in a matter of days, CEO Albert Bourla told ABC News on Sunday.

    If Bourla’s company sticks to that timeline, young kids should have access to COVID shots before the end of next month, said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    “I would imagine in the next few weeks [the FDA] will examine that data and hopefully give the OK so we can start vaccinating children hopefully by the end of October,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

    An anonymous source familiar with the authorization process, however, told The Wall Street Journal that if Pfizer delays its submission to the FDA, clearance for young children to receive shots may not come until mid-November.

    Dr. Jennifer Shu (Children’s Medical Group, P.C.)

    Either way, it’s big news for schools, says Atlanta-based pediatrician Jennifer Shu. Though classrooms have not proven to be the locus of viral spread through the pandemic, circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant this fall has spurred outbreaks forcing some 2,200 school closures already since buildings opened. In late September, minors made up more than a quarter of all new COVID cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports, though the risk of severe outcomes remains small, doctors say.

    “Once kids ages 5 to 11 are eligible for [the] vaccine, attending school during the pandemic will be safer,” Shu wrote in a message to The 74.

    The Pfizer data included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11 who were each given a two-dose regimen of the vaccine 21 days apart. Children were given a 10 microgram dose, smaller than the 30 micrograms administered to older children and adults, which the drug company said was a carefully selected dosage for safety, tolerability and effectiveness.

    In an internal review of the results last week, Pfizer reported that one month after the second dose, the shots produced a “robust” antibody response, including immunity and side effects comparable to that delivered by the larger dose in 16- to 25-year-old patients.

    The FDA said that it will analyze those data as soon as possible, the New York Times reports.

    In the Atlanta pediatrician’s practice, patients are eager to have youngsters inoculated — though Shu’s clientele may be the exception, from a nationwide perspective.

    “I’m mostly seeing families that are all in,” she said. “​​Children are telling me they can’t wait until they can get the vaccine, since they are often the only ones in their family who haven’t even gotten one dose yet.”

    Youth ages 12 and up have been eligible for doses since May, but only 45 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, according to the AAP. By that measure, inoculating those under 12 years old may prove a challenge.

    A Kaiser Family Foundation national poll from mid-August found that only 26 percent of parents of 5- to 11-year olds would want their child to receive the COVID-19 shot right away after it’s cleared, while another 40 percent said they would “wait and see.” That attitude may be changing, however, as 55 percent of U.S. parents surveyed in a Gallup poll published Tuesday indicated that they would have their children inoculated against COVID-19 if shots were available.

    Getting children under 12 vaccinated “will be an uphill battle,” Rebecca Wurtz, professor of health policy at the University of Minnesota, told The 74. “I think parents are even more protective of their younger kids (than their older children).”

    In the Kaiser survey, an additional 9 percent of parents said they would get their youngsters vaccinated only if the shots were required. Meanwhile, momentum is building for schools to do just that.

    Last week, Oakland Unified School District in California joined Golden State counterparts Los Angeles and Culver City, as well as Hoboken, New Jersey, in requiring that all eligible students receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend in-person school.

    Los Angeles Unified School District officials chose not to comment when asked by The 74 last week whether they would extend their student vaccine requirement to learners ages 5 to 11, should shots be approved for that age group.

    Whether or not student vaccination mandates continue to expand, Shu believes the real-world outcomes from COVID shots should encourage parents who may be on the fence.

    “More than 5.5 billion doses of COVID vaccine have been given worldwide,” she points out. “I hope that builds confidence for parents to give it to their children.”

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  • New Research: Security Report Finds Ed Tech Vulnerability That Could Have Exposed Millions of Students to Hacks During Remote Learning

    By Mark Keierleber | September 28, 2021

    Updated, Sept. 28

    A student monitoring company that thousands of schools used during remote and hybrid learning to ensure students were on task may have inadvertently exposed millions of kids to hackers online, according to a report released Monday by the security software company McAfee Enterprise.

    The research, conducted by the company’s Advanced Threat Research team, discovered the bug in the Netop Vision Pro Education software, which is used by some 3 million teachers and students across 9,000 school systems globally, including in the U.S. The software allows teachers to monitor and control how students use school-issued computers in real time, block websites and freeze their computer screens if they’re found to be off task.


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    This is the second time in less than a year that McAfee researchers have found vulnerabilities in Netop’s education software — glitches that hackers could exploit to gain control over students’ computers, including their webcams and microphones. It’s unclear whether the software had been breached by anyone other than the researchers. In a $4 billion deal over the summer, McAfee Corp. sold off the business-focused McAfee Enterprise to focus on consumer cybersecurity.

    “This speaks to the power of responsible disclosure and ‘beating the bad guys to the punch’ in terms of providing vendors insights to the flaws in their products and an appropriate time period to produce fixes,” Doug McKee, McAfee’s principal engineer and senior security researcher, and Steve Povolny, the company’s head of advanced threat research, said in an emailed statement.

    “We do believe this bug is highly likely to be exploitable, and a determined attacker may be able to leverage the attack” to breach the system.

    Netop, which bills its products as a way to “keep students on task, no matter where class is held,” did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    While the research comes as many U.S. students return to classrooms for in-person learning, cyberattacks targeting K-12 school districts — already an issue before the pandemic — have worsened throughout it. In the last month, educational organizations were the target of more than 5.5 million malware attacks, according to Microsoft Security Intelligence. In fact, educational organizations accounted for nearly two-thirds of such attacks globally. Publicly disclosed computer attacks against schools hit a record in 2020.

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    To conduct the research, McAfee relied on a free trial of Netop to analyze the program’s underlying code using an automated testing technique called “fuzzing,” in which they provided the software with malformed data to cause a crash. As a result, they found a bug in the way the program transmits digital images of students’ screens to teachers that could be exploited to attack children with malware, ransomware, collect their personal information or to access the computers’ webcams.

    In March, McAfee researchers uncovered four “critical issues” in Netop’s monitoring software that allowed hackers to “gain full control over students’ computers.” Among the issues, researchers discovered that communications between teachers and students through the service were unencrypted, meaning they weren’t protected by a code that blocks unauthorized access.

    In a blog post, McAfee explained how the Netop vulnerabilities compromised student privacy, noting that while the company’s monitoring software “may seem like a viable option for holding students accountable in the virtual classroom, it could allow a hacker to spy on the contents of the students’ devices.”

    “If a hacker is able to gain full control over all target systems using the vulnerable software, they can equally bridge the gap from a virtual attack to the physical environment,” the blog post explained. “The hacker could enable webcams and microphones on the target system, allowing them to physically observe your child and their surrounding environment.”

    Multiple education technology companies have experienced hacks and other digital vulnerabilities during the pandemic. In July 2020, for example, hackers targeted the company ProctorU, which provides a live proctoring service to help prevent cheating, and published the personal information of more than 444,000 students to an online forum.

    Privacy and civil rights groups have raised concerns for years about the risks posed by student surveillance tools, including issues related to cybersecurity and privacy. Perhaps most famously, a suburban Philadelphia school district reached a $610,000 court settlement in 2010 after educators used computer webcams to surveil students at home without their knowledge.

    Earlier this month, The 74 published an in-depth investigation about how another student surveillance company, Gaggle, subjects children to relentless digital surveillance as it monitors students’ online activity — both in classrooms and at home — in search of keywords that could indicate problematicor potentially harmful behaviors. Among other concerns, privacy advocates argue that schools’ broad collection of student information could make youth vulnerable to data breaches.

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    McAfee says it notified Netop of its initial findings in December 2020 and the company rectified “many of the critical vulnerabilities” by February 2021. The security giant alerted Netop to the latest bug in June and the company has worked “towards effective mitigations,” according to McAfee, but has not yet announced a permanent fix.

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  • The Gifted Gap: Best and the Brightest among Black & Low-Income Students Fall Behind Their Whiter, More Affluent Peers, Study Finds

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 28, 2021

    Efforts to improve the quality of American education often focus, implicitly or explicitly, on students who are achieving at levels far below their peers. That emphasis is reflected in equity debates about kids who are tragically under-equipped to thrive as adults, as well as policy remedies that target “failing” schools for their low test scores and rates of high school graduation.

    But research released today suggests that access to educational opportunity is also unequally distributed among children at the top of the academic heap, and that even some of the brightest young students are at a high risk of being overlooked within their schools and districts.


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    The study, commissioned by the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, points to clear disparities in the prospects of high-achieving students along lines of race and class. Black and low-income elementary schoolers in Ohio who scored well on state exams were less likely to be classified as gifted and talented than comparable white and high-income children. Into middle and high school, they achieved at lower levels on standardized tests, Advanced Placement exams, and college entrance exams, and they were less likely to enroll in college.

    Scott Imberman, the report’s author and an economist at Michigan State University, said that it wasn’t certain whether the lower rates of gifted identification exacerbated the performance gaps between student populations. Beginning in 2017, Ohio mandated more comprehensive screening for gifted status in the early grades, but historically, even some students who received that status have gone without gifted services.

    “The main thing here is that there was, and probably still is, a problem with these gaps,” Imberman said. “These higher-achieving minority and disadvantaged students were not performing as well, over time, as high-achieving students who were advantaged, and they were also less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs.”

    To study the long-term trajectories of academically promising students, Imberman sought student-level records from the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive, which included third-grade performance on Ohio’s state standardized test for over 900,000 participants between the 2005-06 and 2011-12 academic years. Imberman focused on students of all backgrounds who scored in the top 20 percent statewide — a sample of roughly 180,000 — and matched those results with scores on the ACT and SAT, as well as college enrollment figures from the National Student Clearinghouse.

    In terms of both short- and long-term academic performance, poor and African American students who scored in the top 20 percent fell behind their peers. Subsequent standardized test scores from grades 4-8 revealed that high-achieving students generally lost ground to their classmates in the bottom 80 percent, principally due to improvement among lower-performing students in late childhood and early adolescence. But in both reading and math, the relative performance of high-achievers who were white, Hispanic, Asian American, and higher-income held up significantly better than their economically disadvantaged and African American classmates.

    High school assessments showed evidence of the same persistent differences. Black and disadvantaged students who were high-achievers in the third grade were less likely to take the ACT test and AP tests, and scored lower than other high-achievers when they did. The average AP scores for more affluent students (3.2 on a five-point scale) and white students (3.1) were notably higher than less affluent students (2.6) and African Americans (2.3).

    Finally, 57 percent of white high-achievers later enrolled in a four-year college, compared with 53 percent of Asian Americans, 30 percent of Hispanics, and 26 percent of African Americans; among students who weren’t classified as economically disadvantaged, 58 percent later enrolled in a four-year college, compared with 35 percent of high-achievers who did receive that classification.

    In a separate set of conclusions that may offer a partial explanation for those sharp divergences, Imberman found that students from different demographics were identified for gifted and talented services at vastly different rates. Black and low-income high-achievers are less likely to be identified in the third grade than other student groups, and the gaps substantially grow by the time they’ve reached the eighth grade.

    In fact, the report finds that simply being identified as gifted may carry some achievement benefits: Receiving the gifted classification in math led to a modest increase in reading scores of .02 standard deviations and a boost to math scores of .03 standard deviations — equivalent to a performance boost of roughly one percentile annually. What’s more, those effects were relatively larger for African American and Hispanic students than white ones.

    The findings echo those of a 2016 paper published by economists David Card and Laura Giuliano, which found that when a large urban school district adopted universal gifted screening for second graders, it led to large increases in the number of minority and low-income students who were classified. A 2018 study from Fordham found that just 61.5 percent of K-12 schools in Ohio offered gifted programming, and less than 8 percent of students enrolled at those schools received access to them.

    Imberman called the effects on achievement “plausibly causal,” noting that social factors other than gifted identification might play some part in explaining the effects.

    “I’d say that this provides some prima facie, suggestive evidence that expanding access to gifted education among minorities, in particular, could be a way to help reduce these gaps among high-achievers,” he told The 74.

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  • CDC Director OKs Booster Shots for Teachers and Other Frontline Workers

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | September 24, 2021

    Updated, Sept. 27

    In a highly unusual move, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday overruled a recommendation delivered by an advisory panel of her agency — paving the way for teachers to receive booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

    Teachers and other school workers inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine may now receive third doses at least six months after receiving their second shot. Those under 65 years old should make their decision based on the “individual benefits and risks,” the CDC said.


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    “If … you’re a frontline worker, like a health care worker or a teacher, you can get a free booster now,” said President Joe Biden in remarks on Friday.

    In addition to essential workers, senior citizens and adults with underlying health conditions are also eligible, meaning a total of some 60 million Americans will soon have access to third doses, including 20 million already eligible because six months have elapsed since their second Pfizer shot.

    Walensky’s decision comes as the final play in a days-long drama between the Food and Drug Administration, which on Wednesday included frontline workers in their list of groups recommended for boosters, and the CDC, whose Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted on Thursday to leave those in high-exposure occupations off the list.

    The CDC director then broke with her agency’s recommendation early Friday morning, endorsing third doses for those working in high-risk fields.

    “As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a statement. “I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19.”

    President Biden delivers remarks on booster shots and his administration’s COVID-19 response from the White House Sept. 24. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

    But while some educators may soon line up for third doses, others are resistant to even get their first or second shot.

    An Education Week survey from the summer found that 11 percent of teachers nationwide do not intend to get vaccinated, while 87 percent reported that they had already been immunized. More recently, a Sept. 24 poll from the American Federation of Teachers found that 90 percent of its members are vaccinated and that 67 percent favor a vaccine requirement for all school staff. The exact nationwide totals of vaccinated school personnel remain unclear.

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    In New York City, where teachers had been expected to provide proof of vaccination by Monday, Sept. 27, many schools have dozens of teachers who have not yet complied with the mandate, including some sites with up to 100 staff without proof of immunization, said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, in a Friday press conference.

    “Principals and superintendents have been reaching out consistently to tell us that they are concerned about not having enough staff come Tuesday morning, Sept. 28,” he said.

    A federal appeals court judge on Friday temporarily blocked New York City’s vaccine mandate for Department of Education staff, delaying its enforcement. But late Monday, the federal court lifted that injunction, Chalkbeat reported, clearing the way for the city to require staff to provide proof of vaccination or be placed on unpaid leave.

    Alongside New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, the second- and third-largest districts in the country, are also requiring teachers to be immunized without providing regular testing as an alternative. The same is true for Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia. Seven other states require educators to choose between COVID vaccination or regularly undergoing testing for the virus, according to an EdWeek tracker.

    But even where mandates are supposedly in place, enforcement has been sluggish, meaning that many unvaccinated teachers remain in the classroom, often teaching students who themselves are not yet eligible for shots. Students aged 12 and up are authorized for COVID vaccines, and children aged 5 to 11 may gain access by Halloween.

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    Further still, data from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education show that the majority of school districts do not require teachers to be vaccinated, said Director Robin Lake.

    “That is a major unresolved problem,” she wrote in an email to The 74. “Why do we keep giving teachers priority access to the vaccine without requiring they all do their part to protect kids?”

    President Biden urged the more than 70 million Americans eligible for shots who have still not received immunizations to reconsider their choice.

    “We have the tools to beat COVID-19,” he said. “Get vaccinated.”

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  • Four-Day Work Weeks, Big Signing Bonuses and Paid Moving Expenses: See How Districts Across the U.S. Are Luring Subs, Special Ed Teachers

    By Marianna McMurdock | September 23, 2021

    Confronting classrooms without permanent teachers, school administrators across the country are turning to an assortment of incentives — many of them financial, some unprecedented — to fill widespread vacancies.

    Some districts are offering thousands in signing bonuses, others adapt to four-day work weeks and many are easing the way for college students or other would-be teaching candidates to get quickly certified.


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    In 2018, the National Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 270,000 teachers would leave the profession annually through 2026 — a number that did not take into account the pandemic’s effects on teacher retention and retirement. A 2020 poll of educators revealed that almost a third nationwide would likely retire early or leave the profession because of the pandemic. Yet the bureau’s recent job data shows that actual teacher turnover levels are similar — and in some cases lower — than pre-pandemic levels. The estimated outcomes from alarming polls, suggesting that teachers everywhere would imminently leave the profession, have not necessarily come to fruition.

    Retirement and attrition do vary greatly by county or state — Arizona saw about 200 more teachers leave by the end August 2020 than in 2019 or 2018, while Minnesota experienced the opposite effect — and there’s still much to be understood about the full scope of how the pandemic has affected the teaching force. At the same time, we do know that fewer adults are heading into teacher residencies and degree programs.

    The lengths that some school and state leaders are going to to fill current vacancies, especially for special education and substitute teachers, does demonstrate that districts are seeing urgent staffing needs and are getting creative to meet them.

    Accelerated licensure programs and alternatives for state teaching exams are popping up across the country to urgently meet students’ needs. Houston, for instance, had over 400 teacher openings as of mid-August; some may be filled by candidates still earning certifications.

    Though places like metro Atlanta aren’t experiencing the same levels of staff scarcity, they are still offering a $5,000 sign-on incentive for special education teachers. Greater Atlanta’s DeKalb County Schools are also recruiting parents for full-time positions.

    Out West, a bill in Colorado aims to transform the educator pipeline by recruiting high school students into teacher programs, former military personnel and adjunct professors. Nevada’s Carson City Schools will hire retired public employees to fill special education vacancies, and others in California are adopting the strategy of recruiting teachers where they’ve grown up, incentivizing staying in-state for higher education or pursuing teaching residencies in their home districts.

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    One Texas superintendent framed staffing challenges as a human capital problem, not a financial one. To aid schools’ pandemic recovery, millions in unprecedented federal relief funds are on their way to states. Only a handful included teacher recruitment or retention strategies in their budget proposals; nationwide, priorities for the relief funds are expanding academic tutoring and mental health care.

    And critical shortages go beyond the classroom — hundreds of schools are hard-pressed to find bus drivers, after many have retired or decided to not risk COVID-19 exposure. Up to 250 National Guard service members will drive students to school in Massachusetts, and school leaders in Philadelphia are encouraging their governor to consider the same. Efforts to engage the National Guard in New York were rejected by Gov. Kathy Hochul; a spokesperson for her team said school transportation was “outside [their] current scope.”

    In Chicago, where drivers are leaving en masse after the district mandated staff vaccines, some families of students with disabilities were given two days to find alternative transportation for the first day of school.

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    Students and families across the country are feeling the impacts of missing critical staff as the 2021-22 school year and quarantines get underway.

    We’ve compiled some of the special education and substitute teacher recruitment efforts currently in effect:

    Special Education Teacher Recruitment

    All but six states reported teacher shortages in special education in the 2020-21 school year.

    “We beg, borrow and steal wherever we can to find some good quality special education teachers for our district,” said Carson City Schools Superintendent Jose Delfin. The schools chief spoke during a school board meeting where the district designated the labor shortage as critical, enabling the hiring of retired public employees.

    And while advocates have sounded the alarm on a declining special education force for years, states like Alaska have just established recruitment and retention task forces.

    Click here if you cannot access the interactive version of this map.

     

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    Substitute Teacher Recruitment

    Schools across the country employ between 500,000 and 600,000 subs annually, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. School administrators in central Massachusetts say substitute applications have trickled to a stop. For smaller districts in California with teachers heading into COVID-19 quarantines, declining substitute teacher pools could force school closures.

    In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little is encouraging workers statewide to fill shortages, “I urge Idahoans in a position to serve as a substitute teacher or other classroom support staff to contact your school district and get signed up. Idaho students and our communities need you.”

    Click here if you cannot access the interactive version of this map.

     

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  • ‘We Left Those Students Behind’: 1.9 Million Low-Income Youth Boxed Out of Afterschool Programs, Despite Surging Parent Interest in STEM Offerings

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | September 22, 2021

    Every year, millions of students nationwide participate in afterschool and summer programs that help them gain skills in science, technology, engineering and math — also known as STEM. But even as student interest surges and the programs continue to expand, financial and transportation barriers have boxed many young people out of these pivotal learning opportunities, particularly students from low-income families, a new report reveals.

    From 2014 to early 2020, just before the pandemic, the U.S. saw a 1.3 million-student drop in afterschool STEM participation, falling from 7 million learners to 5.7 million, according to the paper, which was published by the nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance.


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    Those drops were starkest among poorer students, who were already underrepresented in STEM fields. In that timespan, the number of young people from low-income households participating in afterschool programs, STEM or otherwise, fell from 4.6 million to 2.7 million — meaning 79 percent of afterschool attrition came from less wealthy families despite such students making up only 38 percent of all participants in 2020.

    “We left those students behind,” said Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO of the California-based nonprofit Techbridge Girls.

    Simultaneously, however, the share of afterschool programs offering STEM opportunities grew. Nearly 3 in 4 young people learning outside of school hours have science and technology programming available to them. That’s up four percentage points from 69 percent in 2014.

    “The inequities are troubling and must not continue,” said Jodi Grant, Afterschool Alliance’s executive director, in a press release. “We need to increase access to afterschool overall, because even though parents report a greater percentage of programs are providing STEM, fewer children are in afterschool programs today than in years past.”

    Even as the share of afterschool programs offering STEM learning increased, overall participation has fallen precipitously since 2014. (Afterschool Alliance)

    Data for the report come from a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of U.S. families, including a total of more than 31,000 phone interviews, making the report the most comprehensive look at out-of-school learning to date.

    The interviews revealed that, even amid drops in afterschool program participation, more parents than ever before would like to see their children get involved in such opportunities. For every child in an out-of-school learning program, another three are waiting to get in, according to the study. The parents of some 24.6 million students said they would enroll their child in afterschool programming if the offerings were readily available to them.

    Cost and transportation appear to pose key barriers. Fifty-seven percent of parents said afterschool opportunities were too expensive and 53 percent said they weren’t sure how their kids would get to and from activities. STEM programs may be particularly pricey, with a $107 mean weekly reported price, compared to $74 per week for other offerings.

    Cost and transportation are key barriers to afterschool program participation, parents report. (Afterschool Alliance)

    Despite barriers, however, science and math opportunities are an increasing priority for parents. Some 72 percent of families, up from 53 percent in 2014, told researchers that STEM and computer science learning were important factors in their selection of afterschool and summer programs. Rates were especially high among Black, Hispanic and Asian families.

    STEM-related occupations tend to be more lucrative than non-STEM fields, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the former will grow by 8 percent in the next decade, while the latter will only grow 3.4 percent. STEM fields, however, tend to employ a more white and more male workforce than the general population.

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    Collins-Puri’s organization, Techbridge Girls, works to counter that trend by providing STEM learning opportunities to low-income girls of color and gender-expansive individuals.

    Widening access to STEM programs, she said in a briefing held on the Afterschool Alliance report, means eliminating potential barriers to participation for underrepresented groups. For example, young women more so than young men tend to shoulder caregiving responsibilities, the CEO pointed out — which for many families only increased during the pandemic.

    “When girls have the responsibility to take care of their younger sibling, to take care of their elderly family members, or even take on some of the economic responsibilities to support the household, that is a direct impact to their participation in afterschool programming,” said Collins-Puri.

    “You have to make your afterschool programming flexible,” she continued. Adults should encourage students to come to activities, regardless of their home responsibilities, by telling them, “Make sure you bring your younger sibling so they can be part of the learning experience,” the Oakland afterschool leader advised.

    CLICK TO WATCH: Experts, including Nikole Collins-Puri (above), comment on Afterschool Alliance report findings. (Afterschool Alliance via YouTube)

    Programs may soon have additional resources at their disposal, Grant, of the Afterschool Alliance, pointed out thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan, which could allow some organizations to subsidize program costs, bolster transportation options or make other adjustments to meet families’ needs.

    Even amid persistent disparities in access to afterschool programming, gaps have never been due to any deficiencies among individuals who belong to underrepresented groups, Collins-Puri reminded viewers.

    “Our girls lack nothing. Our girls are capable. They’re ready and they’re willing to be in the STEM revolution.”

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  • As the Pandemic Set In, Charter Schools Saw Their Highest Enrollment Growth Since 2015, 42-State Analysis Shows

    By Linda Jacobson | September 22, 2021

    Charter schools experienced more growth in 2020-21 — the first full year of the pandemic— than they’ve seen in the past six years, according to preliminary data released Wednesday from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

    In contrast to traditional public schools, which saw a significant, 1.4 million drop in student enrollment during the tumultuous year, charter schools in 39 states saw an influx of 240,000 new students — a 7 percent increase over last year, the Alliance’s review showed.


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    Of the 42 states covered in the report, only Illinois, Iowa and Wyoming saw declines in the charter school population. While ​​Tennessee, Kansas, Puerto Rico and Guam also have charters, data was unavailable for those states and territories.

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    The analysis further confirms that a large segment of the nation’s students changed where they attended school last year, prompted by school closures, job loss and dissatisfaction with remote learning. Parents looking for in-person learning, however, weren’t the only ones driving the shift toward charters. In a few states, such as Oklahoma, enrollment increases in full-time virtual schools — those that operated remotely even before the pandemic — accounted for much of the nearly 78 percent growth.

    It’s too soon to know whether some families have returned to traditional public schools this year, but Nina Rees, president and CEO of the Alliance, predicted the trend is not a blip.

    “Families are sending a clear message. They want more public school options,” she said. “From the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South, the pandemic forced families to rethink where and how education could be delivered to their children. And now that they know what’s available, why would they go back to an option that never really worked for them in the first place?”

    Growth in the charter sector ranged from less than 1 percent in Washington, D.C. and Louisiana — cities that already have a strong charter presence — to the 78 percent jump in Oklahoma. Alabama saw a 65 percent jump in enrollment. The state only had five charter schools in the 2020-21 school year, one of which was new, enrolling 413 students and increasing charter enrollment from 1,115 students in 2019-20 to 1,841.

    The report, however, doesn’t offer further details on whether overall growth nationally was due to students leaving district schools or new schools opening. Some, such as Gem Prep in Idaho, added more grade levels, which contributed to a 24 percent increase in that state.

    The authors, who draw on data from state education agencies, also provided some additional context from a few states, such as Arizona, where 20 percent of public school students now attend charters, and California, which saw growth in charter enrollment among nearly all racial and ethnic groups.

    In 2019, the state passed a law — considered a compromise between charters and the teachers union — that gave local districts the authority to consider whether the opening of a new charter would negatively impact their own schools. Lawmakers attempted earlier this year to impose additional financial and enrollment restrictions on virtual charters in California — known as nonclassroom-based — but parents lobbied against the bill and the sponsor withdrew it. There is already a moratorium on new virtual charters in the state.

    Navigator Schools, with 1,405 students at three sites in central California, is among those that saw growth at the network’s newest campus in Watsonville last year. The others were already at capacity, with waiting lists. Kirsten Carr, director of engagement and partnerships, believes the on-site distance learning program — for families that didn’t have internet service and needed child care — was one feature contributing to the growth. The schools serve a large farmworker community.

    “Our families went back to work before a lot of other industries,” Carr said. “They had to have a place for their kids to go to school.”

    She added, however, that growth for charters can be a “double-edged sword.”

    “We do have pressure from our families to grow,” she said, but added that districts, which have lost enrollment, are increasing efforts to hold on to their students.

    Some charters might have experienced growth last year even without the pandemic. In the Seattle area, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy — formerly part of Green Dot Public Schools network — has done an “about-face” since 2020, said CEO Baionne Coleman. The school has gone from a predominantly white leadership team under Green Dot to having a mostly Black administration and a racially diverse teaching staff as an independent charter. Its target enrollment for 2020-21 was 125 students; they hit 159 and are now at 176.

    “Families were actually coming from all across Seattle, some as far as Olympia,” she said. “They were looking for teachers who looked like their kids, being able to learn their own histories along with the history of America.”

    ‘Didn’t have much choice’

    Parents have generally given charter schools — which are publicly funded, but independently run — higher marks than district schools during the pandemic. One analysis showed charters were quicker than district schools to set up a regular class schedule during school closures and stay in close contact with students and parents. A recent Education Next poll found that charter school parents were less likely to report negative effects of COVID-19 mitigation measures on their children’s education.

    Food service director Guy Koppe, left, of the Bridge Boston Charter School talks with a family last fall while delivering meals in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. The school ran a food program last school year for over 300 families. (Craig F. Walker / Getty Images)

    Parent satisfaction, however, seems to contrast with data in that poll showing declining public support for charter schools — from 48 percent in 2019 to 41 percent now. Brian Gill, a senior fellow with Mathematica who has conducted research on charter schools, said both can be true.

    “The fact that [parents] have a more favorable impression is consistent with the well-known finding from polling that people give their own community’s schools better reviews than they give to schools nationwide,” he said, adding that school quality doesn’t necessarily influence opinions about charter schools. “Opposition to charter schools usually is motivated less by concerns about their quality than by concerns about whether their existence and growth might harm conventional public schools and the students and communities they serve.”

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    Some observers suggest that when given the choice between a virtual charter and a district school shifting to online teaching for the first time, many parents opted for schools with an established virtual program.

    “Parents looking for remote learning options didn’t have much choice in big chunks of the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Despite the low quality of a lot of virtual charter schools, at least they had experience in providing remote instruction and weren’t figuring it out on the fly.”

    Virtual charters, many of which operate as for-profits, have suffered from scandals over enrollment and financial practices in the past, with students faring worse academically than their counterparts in district schools. But one survey of over 10,000 parents published in January this year showed strong satisfaction with how virtual charters responded at the onset of the pandemic, and some charter school supporters argue states and local charter authorizers should support virtual charters instead of seeking to cap their number.

    Petrilli said he suspects many of the families who opted for virtual charter schools will find their way back to district schools — “once things return to ‘normal,’ whenever the heck that is.”

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  • ‘Staggering’: New Research Shows that Child Obesity Has Soared During Pandemic

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 20, 2021

    Since COVID-19 first shuttered schools last spring, American children have been subjected to a kind of natural experiment in inactivity. The last 18 months have seen three school years interrupted sporadically by closures, quarantines, and virtual instruction, during which time children have spent more time in front of screens than ever before. And the physical effects are now becoming clear.

    According to a paper circulated last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, body mass index (a common measure of weight relative to height) in a sample of 430,000 children increased between March and November 2020 at nearly double the rate that it did before the pandemic began. The changes were especially prevalent among elementary-aged children, as well as those who were already overweight or obese.


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    Dietician Michelle Demeule-Hayes, the director of a clinical weight-loss program at Baltimore’s Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, called the trends “staggering.”

    “It’s never been this bad,” she added. “So the research is definitely accurate.”

    The CDC’s findings echo those of other research released in the past few months. A study published last month by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that rates of overweight and obesity have soared among children measured in California between the ages of 5 and 17. Two others — one published in The Lancet and another appearing in the journal Pediatrics — found that the weight gain was greater for certain demographic subgroups, including Hispanic, African American, publicly insured, and low-income children.

    The spate of publications suggests a national spike in pediatric weight gain as kids have been restricted in their movements outside the home.

    Corinna Koebnick, a nutrition scientist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and a co-author of the JAMA paper, wrote in an email that it was “safe to say” that children have gained weight during the pandemic, and that it was unclear whether opening schools to in-person learning will be enough to reverse the trends that have taken hold.

    “The increase in obesity over the 11 months [we] analyzed compares to the increase seen in national data over almost the last two decades,” Koebnick said. “Children who have social and financial disadvantages, who live in school districts with less money or…less access to parks and meal programs may have additional challenges returning to healthy weights.”

    Koebnick’s study used Kaiser Permanente electronic health records for over 190,000 children whose body-mass index (BMI) was measured during a medical visit both before and during the pandemic. Researchers divided patients into three age groups (those between the ages of 5 and 11, 12 and 15, and 16 and 17) and studied their tendency to be overweight (at or above the 85th percentile of BMI for age) or obese (at or above the 95th percentile.)

    Children in all three age groups gained more weight during the pandemic than they did before. But elementary-aged kids saw the biggest relative gains, with an average increase of BMI of 1.57, compared with an increase of 0.91 for the next-youngest group and 0.48 for the oldest. Adjusted for height and translated into actual weight, those figures indicate average gains of 5.07 pounds, 5.09 pounds, and 2.27 pounds for the respective groups.

    Overall, the portion of 5-11-year-olds who are classified as overweight or obese is now 45.7 percent, up from 36.2 percent before the pandemic. The same figures rose by 5.2 percent among 12-15-year olds and 3.1 percent among 16- and 17-year-olds.

    Demeule-Hayes, said that the wave of research on pandemic-related weight gain reflected the reality she and her colleagues face every day. Some patients referred to her, none older than 17, weigh as much as 400 pounds, and it has become typical to treat children diagnosed with what are typically seen as adult ailments, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.

    Several papers presented earlier this summer already showcased the rising prevalence of type-2 diabetes. In both Washington, D.C., and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, researchers discovered that pediatric diagnoses of the dangerous and chronic condition approximately doubled in the year after school closures began. Among children diagnosed during that period, one study found that 60 percent required hospitalization for complications like severe hyperglycemia, compared with just 36 percent in the year before COVID emerged.

    But Demeule-Hayes said that another common health complication of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, poses particular risks for K-12 students.

    “There are a whole lot of sleep disturbances with these kids because they’re tired, they’re not getting good-quality REM sleep,” Demeule-Hayes said. “So they’re coming home and taking naps, which just perpetuates that sleep-disturbance cycle — they can’t get to sleep later because they’ve taken a three-hour nap after school.”

    Experts are still investigating how the coronavirus changed the lifestyles of both children and adults. Consumer figures have shown that sales of packaged and processed foods shot up in the early months of the pandemic, and survey evidence from Europe suggests that consumption of fresh foods declined. Demeule-Hayes pointed to the monthslong stillness that followed school closures, during which she watched her own young children learn from inside the house.

    “Having them be on a computer literally all day, not having any of the recess or the steps outside or even just walking up and down the halls — they’ve been so, so sedentary,” she lamented. “Pre-pandemic, even if they were getting driven to school, they were still at least walking around the school and walking up one or two flights of stairs to classrooms.

    According to tech firm SuperAwesome, the time children spent on screens each day went up by as much as 50 percent after COVID-related closures began; 40 percent of kids aged 3-9 said they spent “much more” time on screens. Respondents to a 2020 survey of Canadian youth reported lower levels of physical activity, less time spent outside, more sedentary behaviors, and more sleep than before the pandemic.

    As school districts around the country reopened for full-time, in-person learning, educators have welcomed back students whose lives were meaningfully — and perhaps permanently — altered by COVID. The extent of the academic damage is thought to be extensive, and hospital records suggest that many children may have suffered prolonged abuse while separated from their schools. On top of those severe setbacks, the bodily changes that some have undergone may prove long-lasting: Obese children and adolescents are vastly more likely to be obese as adults.

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    Koebnick recommended that parents limit screen time and encourage their kids to exercise and drink lots of water. Demeule-Hayes said that she recognized that some parents might still be leery of outdoor play given the dangers of the Delta variant. Still, she said, there was much that families and educators could do to combat further weight gain.

    “As much as teachers and administrators can work [movement] into school time, they should. For parents, it’s taking walks as a family, after dinner, whenever you can work it in. Our message is always to make changes as a family so there’s not a stigma around a child’s ‘weight issue’; it’s really about making healthy changes for the family.”

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  • COVID Vaccine Authorization for Children Ages 5-11 Possible Within Weeks After Pfizer Trials Find Shots Produce ‘Robust’ Immune Response

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | September 20, 2021

    Updated

    In a pivotal development for school coronavirus safety, Pfizer-BioNTech announced Monday that its vaccine was safe and created a “robust” antibody response for children ages 5 to 11 in trials.

    These are the first such results for this age group in the U.S., and data have not yet been peer-reviewed or submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. The pharmaceutical company plans to apply for approval to use the shot in children before the end of the month, the New York Times reports, meaning that millions of 5- to 11-year-olds could be inoculated before Halloween if the regulatory review goes as smoothly for this age group as it did for adolescents.


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    The trial included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11 who were each given a two-dose regimen of the vaccine 21 days apart. Children were given a 10 microgram dose, smaller than the 30 micrograms administered to older children and adults, which the drug company said was a carefully selected dosage for safety, tolerability and effectiveness.

    One month after the second dose, the shots produced an immune response and side effects comparable to that delivered by the larger dose in 16- to 25-year-old patients, Pfizer said. A company spokesperson confirmed to CNN that there were no instances of myocarditis in the trial, a type of heart inflammation that has been linked with mRNA vaccines in boys and young men.

    The results come at a pivotal time, as children now make up 29 percent of all new COVID cases and as the highly contagious Delta variant has sent more children into hospitals in the past few weeks than at any other point in the pandemic.

    “Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination. These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO.

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    The trial results are a hopeful indication that shots will be available for young children before the winter months, when low temperatures complicate outdoor activities and ventilation across much of the country.

    “We are pleased to be able to submit data to regulatory authorities for this group of school-aged children before the start of the winter season,” said Dr. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO and co-founder.

    ​​Pfizer said it is expecting to release trial data for children as young as 6 months “as soon as the fourth quarter of this year.”

    Already in the first weeks of the school year, tens of thousands of students have been forced out of class due to infection or exposure to the virus, oftentimes with sparse learning opportunities while they self-isolate. In Mississippi, where the state does not require that masks be worn in school, more than 4,500 students caught the virus in just one week and over 20,000 students and staff were in quarantine.

    Even as quarantines stack up, worst-case outcomes among healthy children — like chronic illness or death — still remain “vanishingly rare,” health experts told The 74 earlier this month.

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    But with schools across the country scrambling to regularly test their student bodies as a screening measure against viral spread, the now-likely approval of shots for elementary schoolers before the winter may provide an alternate route for mitigation, and could open the door for more widespread COVID vaccine mandates for students in school.

    Earlier this month, Los Angeles Unified became the country’s first major school district to require student vaccinations with a rule dangling full vaccination by the winter holidays as a necessary step to remain learning in person for students 12 and up. Culver City, California and Hoboken, New Jersey made similar moves in late August.

    LAUSD officials chose not to comment when asked by The 74 whether they would extend their student vaccine requirement to learners ages 5 to 11, should shots be approved for that age group.

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    In late August, the FDA gave full authorization to coronavirus shots for individuals ages 16 and up. Health experts are mixed on whether schools should mandate that 12- to 15-year-old students, who are currently approved for doses under emergency use authorization, receive the vaccine, according to interviews The 74 conducted in early September.

    Authorization of shots for younger learners “starts to open the door” for wider student vaccine requirements, Benjamin Linas, professor of medicine at Boston University, told The 74.

    “We can and do mandate vaccines (like shots protecting against measles, mumps and rubella) for students all over the place, every day in this country,” he said. “We should treat [the COVID shot] like we treat all vaccines.”

    Without mandates, districts may have trouble persuading their younger children to get immunized. Though youth ages 12 and up have been eligible for doses since May, only 43 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. After a high of 1.6 million pediatric vaccinations per week in late May, the rate has since fallen to 273,000 weekly doses in mid-September.

    “It’s going to be an uphill battle addressing [vaccine] hesitancy in schools,” said Linas.

    Learn more about the vaccine results for 5- to 11-year-olds here:

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  • Florida Governor’s Plan to Nix End-of-Year Tests Might Be Popular, But Experts Wait for the Details

    By Linda Jacobson | September 15, 2021

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered a possible GOP candidate for president in 2024, scored some points with educators Tuesday when he announced the end of the state’s testing program. But some experts wonder whether teachers and administrators will like what the state puts in its place.

    A new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, which the state legislature still needs to approve, would involve three “progress monitoring” tests spread throughout the school year. DeSantis called the plan the “final step to eradicate Common Core from our assessments.”

    Last year, the state dropped Common Core standards, which many Republicans associate with the Obama administration, and is phasing in new standards. To comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and receive federal funds, however, the state would still have to test all students in reading and math, produce end-of-year results and share the data with parents.


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    The “announcement feels like somebody trying to make a point with teachers and parents, but the devil is in the details,” said Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit that focuses on making education data clear to parents.

    The governor’s announcement comes amid growing anti-testing sentiment and complaints from educators that testing takes too long, often offering unhelpful results after students have moved on to the next gradel. With state tests cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, teachers have also been relying more on programs such as NWEA’s MAP assessments to gauge how the pandemic has impacted students’ progress. Federal law doesn’t require states to test in the spring, and under an existing innovation pilot program, some states, such as Georgia, are already trying interim tests throughout the year to minimize emphasis on end-of-year exams.

    But experts say there are downsides.

    “If they take the current test and cut it into three pieces, spreading it out over the year, it’s perhaps not that big a deal,” said Dale Chu, a senior visiting fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank. “But if schools didn’t like the ‘high-stakes’ nature of annual testing, they’ll be in for a rude awakening when the pressure’s on three times a year.”

    Kowalski added that districts might not want to give up “benchmark” tests, such as MAP, Renaissance Learning’s Star or Curriculum Associates’s i-Ready, because teachers find them useful. If the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking — or FAST tests — are layered on top of those, schools could find themselves giving more tests throughout the year instead of less.

    Another possibility is that districts might stop paying for MAP or a similar test, leaving teachers with fewer data points to know if their “kids are on track,” Kowalski said.

    Testing all students once a year in two core subjects sounds like a simple charge, she added.

    ‘But we haven’t been able to nail it,” she said. “How are we going to approach an innovative assessment system that you need a chart to explain?”

    Patricia Levesque, executive director of Foundation for Florida’s Future — part of the Foundation for Excellence in Education launched by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — raised additional questions about the plan. One is whether teachers would be required to teach on Tallahassee’s timetable in order to be prepared for the three statewide tests and another is whether the spring test would simply replace the end-of-year test, giving teachers “less time to cover the full year of content.”

    The testing program DeSantis is ending was a centerpiece of Bush’s two terms as governor.

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    DeSantis’s proposal applies to standardized tests for English language arts and math, but doesn’t eliminate high school end-of-course tests in algebra, U.S. history and biology.

    Teachers unions praised the plan, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho — even though he’s been at odds with DeSantis over his ban on universal masking in schools — applauded the move.

    Chu noted that even though the U.S. Department of Education required states to give tests this year, officials have allowed considerable flexibility with COVID-19 continuing to disrupt learning. Some states were allowed to delay spring assessments until this fall, the District of Columbia hasn’t conducted state tests for two years, and California allowed districts to choose which tests to administer.

    “In today’s environment,” he said, “it’s hard to see the feds pushing back that hard.”

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  • Bus Driver Emergency: Massachusetts Activates National Guard to Help Drive Students to School

    By The 74 | September 13, 2021

    In nearly every corner of the country, from Minneapolis to Philadelphia to schools across Florida, a severe shortage of bus drivers has only grown more urgent with each passing week of the school year. In some cities, parents are being enlisted and paid to help get kids to classrooms; in others, a lack of alternatives has left kids waiting for hours — or stuck at home entirely.

    Today, Governor Charles Baker announced that the state of Massachusetts would be activating the National Guard and committing personnel to operate “school transport vans known as 7D vehicles to address staffing shortages in certain districts.”


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    In an official release, the state said the governor’s order “makes up to 250 personnel available. Beginning with training on Tuesday, 90 Guard members will prepare for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn … As with any school transportation worker, all activated Guard personnel will complete vehicle training to ensure the safety of children and families. Drivers will meet all statutory requirements for 7D drivers. Throughout the mission, the Guard will comply with all health and safety measures.”

    Click to read the the full order:

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  • WATCH: Education Secretary Cardona, CDC Director Walensky Talk Vaccine Mandates, Student Masks and Timelines for Child Inoculations at Today Show Town Hall

    By The 74 | September 13, 2021

    CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona appeared together on the Today Show Monday, fielding questions from journalists, parents and students about school safety and remote learning at a special “Coronavirus and the Classroom” town hall. 

    The issue of vaccine mandates, both for teachers and older students, arose multiple times during their morning appearance. Secretary Cardona said that while such orders should be left to local authorities, he supports moves made by districts like Los Angeles Unified in requiring all students 12 and older to be vaccinated if they hope to remain on campus. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that, across the country, students don’t have to deal with disrupted learning again,” Cardona said. “In those places where they are doing vaccine mandates, I do support their efforts to get the students in, so you know it’s safe.” 

    Both Cardona and Walensky then took questions from the audience in midtown Manhattan during the first day of school in New York City and responded to livestreamed questions from students at schools across the country: 

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  • Janus Round Two? Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear Case of Teachers Who Say Union Dues Violate First Amendment Rights

    By Linda Jacobson | September 13, 2021

    When Chicago teachers went on strike in 2019, Joanne Troesch, a technology coordinator in the city’s schools, and Ifeoma Nkemdi, a second grade teacher, decided they no longer wanted to be part of the union.

    But despite their resignations, the Chicago Public Schools continued to withdraw dues from their paychecks on the union’s behalf. The union argues the deduction was legal because the educators signed a contract in 2017 agreeing to the dues.

    Troesch and Nkemdi sued, and now are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take their case. Troesch v. Chicago Teachers Union asks whether signing a membership contract sufficiently authorizes unions to continue collecting the money. The plaintiffs argue that states are denying employees’ rights with so-called “escape periods” — windows of time, ranging from 10 to 30 days, in which employees can opt out.

    In 2017, Chicago Public Schools employee Joanne Troesch signed a contract agreeing to the dues deduction. (National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation)

    If employees miss that window — which National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney William Messenger described as a “mandatory subscription service” — unions continue to collect the dues.

    “Employees subject to these restrictions are effectively prohibited from exercising their First Amendment right to stop paying for union speech for 335–55 days each year, if not longer,” the plaintiffs argue in their petition to the court.

    The Supreme Court won’t decide until October whether to hear the Troesch case, but if it does, the outcome would have an impact on 4.7 million members of public-sector unions in 17 states that have escape periods, Messenger said.

    The case is the latest to argue that states and unions are skirting the court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. In a major blow to unions, the court ruled in that case that collecting union, or “agency,” fees from “nonconsenting” public-sector employees is unconstitutional because the money subsidizes unions’ political and policy positions. The justices said unions can’t just presume that employees have waived those rights. Some predicted the Janus decision would seriously cripple the unions’ political power, but their considerable influence over school reopenings shows that hasn’t been the case.

    Making it ‘harder to resign’ 

    Referring to the escape periods, the Troesch petition says, “The Court should not allow the fundamental speech rights it recognized in Janus to be hamstrung in this way.” But so far, the lower courts haven’t agreed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Troesch, as well as the 3rd, 9th and 10th circuits, have upheld the restrictions. Messenger is also asking the court to hear Fischer v. Murphy, in which two teachers from New Jersey’s Ocean Township School District are challenging that state’s 10-day escape period. The 3rd Circuit ruled against those teachers in January.

    An escape period is considered a “maintenance of membership” strategy, explained Michael Hartney, a political science professor at Boston College.

    “The union has an incentive to try to make it harder to resign,” he said. “If people were dropping out like flies every year, they wouldn’t be able to budget.”

    But he added that striking down these union security provisions is less important to right-to-work advocates than overturning a 1984 Supreme Court decision giving unions exclusive bargaining rights. In other words, even employees who don’t join unions in states with collective bargaining laws still can’t negotiate their own salary and benefits, Hartney said.

    Unions argue that they negotiate on behalf of all teachers and other school staff, regardless of membership

    Attorneys general weigh in

    Republican attorneys general in 16 states filed a brief with the court in late July, urging the justices to hear the Troesch case.

    “Across the country, public-sector unions have resisted Janus’s instructions and devised new ways to compel state employees to subsidize union speech,” they wrote. “When constitutional rights are at stake, this Court requires ‘clear and compelling’ evidence of waiver precisely to protect individuals from unwittingly relinquishing their fundamental freedoms.”

    Union leaders argue the precedent is in their favor.

    “The union feels that this lawsuit was correctly dismissed by the federal trial and appellate courts, and believes those rulings will stand,” said Ronnie Reese, a spokesman for the Chicago Teachers Union. The union and the district have until Sept. 27 to argue why the court shouldn’t hear the case. Defendants in the New Jersey case have the same deadline.

    The plaintiffs in both states argue that even though they signed union contracts before the Janus decision, the court’s ruling in that case made the dues deductions unconstitutional.

    But in the 3rd Circuit ruling, Judge Patty Shwartz wrote, “That is the risk inherent in all contracts; they limit the parties’ ability to take advantage of what may happen over the period in which the contract is in effect.”

    Hartney said Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Janus opinion, might want to hear the case because he has “voiced skepticism that union security provisions outweigh First Amendment violations.”

    But Chief Justice John Roberts is known for preferring incremental changes in constitutional law and might not want to take up the issue because the Janus decision was “such a shot across the bow.”

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  • Ask the Doctor: Did We Miscalculate the Risk of COVID for Kids?

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | September 13, 2021

    Not so long ago, it seemed the data on COVID-19 held a degree of comfort when it came to children: not too many of them got infected, fewer still got sick and almost none were hospitalized. As for schools, they were not believed to be super spreaders of the virus, for either adults or students.

    And then came the Delta variant.

    Pediatric coronavirus cases have now surged above 250,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to recently released data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Hospitalizations of children stricken by the highly transmissible strain are reaching alarming levels and some tens of thousands of students across the country last week were quarantining away from schools that had just barely begun. With a swiftness that surprised even health experts, the virus has forced at least 1,400 closures of long-awaited in-person school across some 278 districts in 35 states, according to the website Burbio, a data service that tracks school calendars.

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    As for the adults in schools, at least 13 Miami-Dade staffers have died of the virus since mid-August and a Central Texas district shut down all its schools earlier this month after two teachers perished in the same week.

    The Delta drumbeat of distress is one of the main reasons that President Joe Biden came out Thursday with a new plan of attack, including mandatory vaccinations for some 300,000 school staff members working for federal programs, such as Head Start or schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, and grants for districts confronting loss of funding for implementing mask mandates.

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    It will take some time to tell if Biden’s new strategy will be successful in beating back this latest surge. Right now, many parents and school officials are in a state of anxiety about how to keep their K-12 communities safe and perhaps questioning whether they miscalculated the strength of the COVID-19 enemy.

    Complicating the matter further, decisions to implement basic virus mitigation measures in school have in some cases exploded into ridicule or even all-out brawls.

    Amid the uncertainty and high tensions, and with misinformation about the virus still rampant, The 74 spoke directly to health experts for clarity on how to understand the virus in this critical stage and tips on how to safely navigate the back-to-school season.

    Here’s what they had to say:

    1 We’ve seen a surge in pediatric coronavirus cases. Should we abandon the prior wisdom that kids rarely catch COVID, and when they do, it’s not too serious?

    Not exactly.

    “[The Delta variant] is more infectious, but it’s not a whole new game,” explained Benjamin Linas, professor of medicine at Boston University.

    The variant’s high transmissibility has pushed up case counts, including among children, he told The 74. But serious illness among young people remains “vanishingly rare,” he said — citing a case fatality rate of .00003 for those under 20.

    “This underlying reality that kids are at far less risk of severe COVID-19 than adults remains true, even with Delta.”

    Young people do represent a larger share of infections nationwide now than they did at the outset of the pandemic. But that’s likely because far fewer minors than adults are vaccinated, and many remain ineligible for shots, said Kristina Deeter, professor of pediatric medicine at University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

    In most cases, “[kids] are not as sick as the adults,” she agreed.

    Still, Rebecca Wurtz, professor of health policy at the University of Minnesota, cautions that the risk of infection remains high, particularly for the unvaccinated. The idea that young people couldn’t catch or spread COVID was always silly, she told The 74, and the Delta variant means that transmission is now easier than ever before.

    “Delta will find you if you are not thoughtfully masking and social distancing,” she said.

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    2 Does the Delta variant make kids sicker than previous strains?

    There is no conclusive evidence that it does, according to the experts.

    “The jury’s still out,” said Deeter.

    Studies from Canada and Scotland have found that patients infected with the Delta variant were more likely to be hospitalized than those infected with previous mutations of the virus.

    And while those papers don’t examine virulence specifically among young people, Wurtz believes it could still be “reasonable to extrapolate that to kids.”

    Evidence from the U.S., however, seems to contradict the idea that Delta causes more severe infections among youth. Even as pediatric COVID cases have surged, the proportion of children and adolescents hospitalized with severe disease has remained constant, points out Amruta Padhye, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Missouri.

    The hospitalization rate among unvaccinated adolescents was 10 times higher compared to those who were fully vaccinated, recent CDC data reveal.

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    3 After the Pfizer vaccine’s full approval from the FDA, parents may now theoretically seek “off-label” vaccines for children under 12. Should they do so?

    In short, no.

    Although the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and up means that doctors now have the power to prescribe the shot “off label” to any individual regardless of age, it would be irresponsible to do so, said Deeter.

    The biggest unknown, she explained, is dosage. She prescribes drugs off label every day as a pediatrician, but explained that the COVID vaccine is different because it’s still so new.

    “I don’t feel safe even deciding on what dose I might want to prescribe for a child. I have no idea what’s going to work,” she said, explaining that too much vaccine could elevate risks such as myocarditis, already more prevalent in young vaccine recipients than adults, and too little vaccine might not provide adequate protection against the coronavirus.

    “There’s a reason that we have the approval process, even in the middle of a crisis,” added Linas. “I don’t recommend going out to get your child vaccinated before the vaccine has actually been approved or emergency authorized for kids.”

    Youngsters aged 5 to 11 are expected to become eligible for coronavirus shots as soon as the end of October, experts say. The process has stretched out over months in part due to federal health regulators efforts to bolster confidence in the shots by demanding increased enrollment in clinical trials.

    Once shots are approved for that age group, they will be the most effective way to keep children healthy, said Linas.

    “With the vaccine, you’re very well protected from the bad outcomes.”

    4 Should schools implement vaccine mandates for staff?

    Immunization requirements for school staff have multiplied since the FDA issued full approval for the Pfizer vaccine. ​Washington, Connecticut, Oregon and multiple other states have enacted rules requiring educators to receive the COVID shot or be regularly tested for the virus.

    In his Thursday address, which unveiled new vaccination rules covering two-thirds of all U.S. workers, President Biden called on state leaders to help move the needle on teacher immunization from its reported 90 percent level up to 100 percent.

    “Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new,” said the president.

    Expecting teachers to be immunized against COVID represents a sound public health policy, says Linas.

    “It’s reasonable for school districts … to say to their educators and staff… ‘We have an expectation that if you’re going to come into our buildings where we have our unvaccinated children, we expect you to be vaccinated. And if you won’t do that, then I’m sorry, you can’t teach.’”

    That strategy also minimizes learning disruptions, pointed out Janet Englund, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

    “When a teacher gets sick, he or she is unable to perform his or her job,” she told The 74.

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    5 What about vaccine mandates for students?

    Very few school districts have extended vaccine mandates to students, as 12- to 15-year-olds remain eligible for shots only on an emergency authorization basis, and those under 12 are still ineligible.

    On Thursday, however, Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves 600,000 students, became the first major U.S. school district to require that eligible students attending school in person be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Students 12 and older in the nation’s second-largest school system will have to receive their second dose of the shot by Dec. 19, officials announced.

    Culver City, California and Hoboken, New Jersey also instituted similar requirements for students in late August. Experts told The 74 that they expect the vaccination rules to face legal challenges.

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    Although Englund said she is a believer in many student vaccine mandates — they helped control diseases such as measles and polio, she pointed out — requiring a vaccine that is approved only on an emergency use authorization may be premature.

    “It’s not quite time,” she said.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, expressed his support for student vaccine mandates while speaking on CNN in late August, and the University of Minnesota’s Wurtz told The 74 that she is “absolutely in favor of mandatory vaccinations for students,” due to the high safety and efficacy of COVID shots.

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    6 How effective are masks and other safety mitigation measures at slowing the spread of COVID in school?

    Experts agree that safety measures to slow the spread of COVID are more effective when implemented in tandem with multiple others than on their own.

    “[Masking] has to be a part of a layered protection strategy,” UCLA professor of pediatrics Ishminder Kaur told The 74.

    That means that classrooms should employ all strategies available to them, she said: universal masking, ventilation, distancing, outdoor activities and rigorous testing to keep infected students out of the classroom.

    Doing so can result in schools effectively containing the virus and keeping case rates below those of surrounding communities, academic studies show.

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    Although quarantining students exposed to the virus can disrupt academics, experts said it is a necessary step to contain transmission. They pointed out that with widespread access to testing, a negative result after five days may allow students to return to the classroom more quickly. On Thursday, Biden announced that the White House will move to make 280 million rapid and at-home tests available using the Defense Production Act and lower the cost of over-the-counter tests from Walmart, Kroger and Amazon.

    Some districts’ quarantine protocols are more stringent than those recommended by the CDC, according to a recent survey of 100 districts from the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education.

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    Some observers have recently made the case that the benefits of mask-wearing in the classroom remain uncertain, but Kaur points out that a recent study from Bangladesh with a randomized design — considered the “gold standard” in causal research — finds that simple surgical masks slow spread of COVID significantly, though it cautions that cloth masks may be less effective.

    And while masking controversy has turned many school board meetings ugly, including in Broward County, Florida where the board chair said “all hell broke loose” when they required face coverings in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order, kids don’t actually seem to mind wearing masks, said Kaur.

    “They’re not fidgeting, they’re not touching it,” she said of the youngsters who come into her clinic. “It’s the new normal for them.”

    Deeter, who works in a sedation clinic and has to ask kids to remove their masks, has observed the same.

    “They get so upset when I try to take it off of them. It’s their buddy,” she said.

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    7 Outside of school, what’s the best way to navigate playdates and other social activities?

    The number one tip, experts say, is to stay outside as much as possible.

    “Outdoor activities were not the ones that were spreading these infections, which remains true even for Delta,” said Kaur, although she recommended avoiding overcrowded locations even outside. For example, coaches calling players into a huddle might ask everyone to momentarily mask up.

    Even when the weather gets cold, Wurtz recommends limiting indoor hangouts. She suggests some compromises: building a snowman outside then coming indoors for hot chocolate at the end, perhaps.

    8 What’s the COVID end-game for schools?

    Once all students have had the opportunity to receive COVID vaccinations, it could be time to consider rolling back virus mitigation protocols, Linas said, and beginning the conversation about how to live with a virus that experts expect to remain endemic within the global population. But that’s still a long way out.

    “We’re not there yet,” he said.

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  • San Francisco Ethnic Studies Courses Produced Major Educational Benefits, Researchers Find as Country Debates Anti-Racist Teaching in Schools

    By Mark Keierleber | September 9, 2021

    Amid a heated political feud over the way educators should teach students about the legacy of issues like white supremacy and slavery, a major new study points to a positive, lasting link between antiracist instruction and improved academic outcomes for teens who struggle in school.

    The study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a ninth-grade ethnic studies course in San Francisco was associated with significant, long-term benefits, including improved high school graduation and college enrollment rates. The results, which were released during a moment of divisive backlash to schools’ use of what’s broadly referred to as critical race theory, suggest that students who struggle in class become more engaged in school when lessons reflect their lived experiences.


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    “That really lifts the curtain for students,” said report co-author Sade Bonilla, an assistant education professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Ethnic studies courses like the one in San Francisco give students a stronger understanding of society, she said, and how long-standing issues like oppression and racism affect their lives and the world around them. The course also offers students tools to combat racism and build more just communities.

    “The way in which these topics are discussed is not just telling students, ‘The world is bad out there and it’s going to be tough,’” Bonilla said, but instead offers lessons on issues like school segregation and housing discrimination while highlighting people who responded to injustices.

    Similar courses could soon make their way to schools across California. On Wednesday, the state Senate approved legislation that would require all districts to offer at least one ethnic studies course and make it a graduation requirement by the end of the decade.

    To reach their findings in San Francisco, researchers examined the high school transcripts and college matriculation records of more than 1,400 San Francisco high school freshmen between 2011 and 2014, including teens who were assigned to the ethnic studies course because they struggled academically in eighth grade. Researchers found that students enrolled in the ethnic studies class were 16 to 19 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than their peers and were 10 to 16 percentage points more likely to enroll in college.

    The ethnic studies course focuses on issues related to social justice, stereotypes and social movements in the U.S. between the 18th century and the 1970s. Many of the lessons are not traditionally covered in typical social studies courses, such as the genocide of Native Americans in California.

    Though the report has been in the works for years, it doesn’t shy away from the reality that anti-racist teaching has been caught up this year in the national culture wars. It acknowledges that some have accused ethnic studies courses of offering nothing more than “politically charged indoctrination” that promote a form of “reverse racism” against white students.

    But the debate over such instruction, which has been loosely characterized under the critical race theory umbrella, is “pretty dishonest” and politically motivated, Bonilla said. “The agenda they are pushing” in ethnic studies classes, she said, is a genuine conversation about the historical realities of racism in the U.S. “Frankly, I think it’s promoting some honesty for students about the historical past.”

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    In California, ethnic studies has been a thorny issue for several years. In March, state education leaders approved an ethnic studies model curriculum that was years in the making and had faced accusations of antisemitism, promoting “woke” left-wing propaganda and sewing further racial division by teaching white children to feel guilty about past injustices. Controversy surrounding the curriculum has been unrelenting. Just last week, three San Diego parents sued the state education department, accusing officials of violating the California constitution’s establishment clause requiring the separation of church and state by including an Aztec prayer in the model curriculum. The model curriculum isn’t a mandate and simply encourages California districts to offer ethnic studies, but that could change under the new legislation.

    The latest research is a follow-up to a 2017 report which found positive short-term benefits for high school freshmen who enrolled in the city’s ethnic studies course. That report found the students had better school attendance, higher grades and passed more classes during their 9th-grade year than those who did not enroll in the course. To measure the course’s long-term effects, the latest study examines the educational outcomes of the same group of students through high school and into college.

    Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and the study’s co-author, has spoken highly of the previous study’s findings, going so far as to say he’s “never been so surprised by a result” in his career. He quipped that “innovative curriculum,” including the San Francisco ethnic studies course, is the “low-hanging fruit of education reform.” The latest study, he said, further backs up that assessment.

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    “It continues to surprise and intrigue me that we see the educational potency of this sort of culturally relevant pedagogy,” Dee said. While many historically underserved students “perceive their classrooms as hostile and threatening environments,” a course that allows them to see the world as they do can change those perceptions with ongoing educational benefits, he said. Emily Penner, an assistant education professor at the University of California, Irvine, also contributed to the report.

    “Pedagogy that engages students, that can promote belongingness within school settings, has the capacity to unlock their motivation,” Dee said. “And I think in particular the fact that we’re seeing these sustained gains is evidence of that.”

    Yet the researchers were quick to highlight the limitations of their research and to discourage people from falling prey to “the common trope of the silver bullet.” For one, it remains unclear how ethnic studies courses affect the educational outcomes of high-achieving students. Additionally, Dee said that San Francisco’s ethnic studies teachers were highly trained and motivated to teach the class.

    “I do worry sometimes a kind of feckless, low-quality rollout of this curriculum won’t generate similar findings,” he added.

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    If California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose education policies are expected to play a key role in a Sept. 14 recall vote, signs the legislation to require ethnic studies statewide, Dee said it’s important that districts are given adequate time to develop robust programs and ensure that educators are carefully trained.

    “Teaching ethnic studies calls for teacher professionalism of a particularly high order,” Dee said. “We’re asking teachers to go into the classroom and have potentially difficult, critical discussions with their students and I think it requires really careful craft to do that well.”

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