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Schools Briefing: 20 Years of Student Growth Wiped Out by COVID

A weekly roundup of headlines about how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey

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This Week’s Top Story

Two Decades of Growth Wiped Out by Two Years of Pandemic 

  • NCES report / Press release / More via The 74
  • Chalkbeat: “In two years, reading scores on a key national test dropped more sharply than they have in over 30 years, and math scores fell for the first time since the test began in the early 1970s.”
  • New York Times: “The declines spanned almost all races and income levels and were markedly worse for the lowest-performing students. While top performers in the 90th percentile showed a modest drop — 3 points in math — students in the bottom 10th percentile dropped by 12 points in math, four times the impact. In math, Black students lost 13 points, compared with 5 points among white students, widening the gap between the two groups.”
  • 70% of students learned remotely at some point during the 2020-21 school year.
  • Some startling data: Only 26% of lower-performing students say they had their teacher available to help them every day.

The Big Three — September 9, 2022

At Head Start, Masks Remain On, Despite CDC Guidelines

Matt Roth/The Washington Post; Getty Images
  • Via the NYT: “The Biden administration has taken credit for a relative return to normalcy in schools over the last year of the coronavirus pandemic. But in one of the few education programs the federal government directly oversees — Head Start preschools and child care centers for low-income families — mandatory masking rules are still on the books for teachers and children as young as 2 years old.”
  • “That requirement is out of line with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released last month, which recommend universal masking only if there is a high community transmission rate.”
  • “In a written statement, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, acknowledged that the current guidelines contradict those of the CDC but said that centers are not being checked for compliance on masking.”
  • “During the pandemic, the United States was an outlier in ever calling for universal masking for toddlers. The World Health Organization has advised that masks are not generally appropriate for children under 5.”

Biden Administration Partners With Job Search Companies to Help Fill Teacher Vacancies

  • Via USA Today: “According to a White House memo provided exclusively to USA Today, the companies will set up ways school districts can recruit and hire prospective teachers and for teachers looking for jobs to find openings.”
  • “ZipRecruiter is launching an online job portal specifically for K-12 schools. Indeed will set up virtual hiring fairs for educators and other staff across the country. And Handshake, which helps college students find jobs, is creating new ways of sharing job openings with undergraduate students in education, including a virtual event in October for college students interested in the field.”

School Budgets Soar 16% Over 2 Years, But Experts Warn of ‘Bloodletting’ to Come

  • Via The 74: “As federal COVID relief dollars flow to schools across the country, budgets have swollen more than 16% over the last two years, a recent analysis of more than 100 districts reveals.”
  • “The average increase was 10.8% from 2020-21 to 2021-22 and 16.5% from 2020-21 to 2022-23, according to a late August audit of 118 large school system budgets [by Burbio].”
  • “Nearly 1 in 5 district budgets within that group had grown by more than 25% since 2021.”
  • “But with American Rescue Plan money set to expire in 2024, and with U.S. student enrollment projected to drop by more than 5% by 2030 due to slowed birth rates nationwide, [one school finance expert] warns that schools must brace for a period of ‘bloodletting’ by 2024-25, when budgets must adjust back down.”

Federal Updates

White House Signals Annual COVID Booster Strategy

  • Via Stat: “As part of its push to encourage vaccine-weary Americans to get the updated COVID shot, the White House put forth a new selling point Tuesday: to view it as a first annual shot, akin to the annual flu shot.”
  • “ ‘It is becoming increasingly clear, that looking forward with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, we likely are moving toward a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population,’ Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, said at the briefing.”
  • White House Chief of Staff: “The message is simple: If you are vaccinated, and over 12, get the new annual COVID shot this fall.”

City & State News

WASHINGTON, D.C.: District sets new vaccine deadline for students.

  • “The new deadline gives families with children in kindergarten through fifth grade until Oct. 11 to be vaccinated before they will not be allowed to come to school.”
  • “Middle and high school students will have until Nov. 4 after an initial noncompliance notice on Oct. 3.”
  • “For students required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the first official notices of noncompliance will begin Nov. 21, officials say. Noncompliant students will not be allowed in school starting Jan. 3, 2023.”

DELAWARE: The state launched a new fiscal transparency tool.

ARIZONA: Launches teacher residency program to address shortages and turnover.

NEW YORK: NYC school year begins with loosened COVID-19 rules and budget cuts battle.

COVID-19 Research

CDC Signs Off on Updated COVID-19 Boosters

COVID-19 May Have Orphaned 7.5 Million Kids Worldwide

  • According to a new study
  • CIDRAP: “An estimated 10.5 million children lost parents or caregivers to COVID-19, and 7.5 million were orphaned, with the greatest numbers in the Africa (24.3%) and Southeast Asia (40.6%) WHO regions and the least in the Americas (14%), Eastern Mediterranean (14.6%), European (4.7%), and Western Pacific (1.8%) regions.”

Data: Pfizer Effectiveness for Children Under 5

  • Pfizer’s vaccine was 73% effective in protecting children younger than 5 as Omicron spread in the spring, the company announced Tuesday. More via the Associated Press.

Public Opinion: Parent Intentions and Perceptions Toward COVID-19 Vaccination for Young Children

  • Via the CDC: “Among parents of 393 children aged [under] 5 years in this analysis, 64% indicated at baseline that they were likely to have their child vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.”
  • “During a three-month observation period, however, parents indicated decreased intention to vaccinate and decreased confidence in COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness as well as less trust in the government.”

COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Safety Among Children Aged 6 Months-5 Years

  • Via the CDC: “Approximately, 1 million young children have received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The findings in this report are consistent with those from safety data from preauthorization clinical trials for young children.” 
  • “Trial participants aged 6 months to 4 years who received Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 6 months to 5 years who received Moderna vaccine most frequently reported mild or moderate local and systemic reactions; no serious adverse events judged to be related to vaccination were reported in the trial data.” 

Viewpoints

I’m a Doctor. Here’s Why My Kids Won’t Wear Masks This School Year

  • Via Leana Wen in The Washington Post, along with a Twitter thread.
  • “I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract COVID-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, COVID in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging.”
  • “Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.”

School Mask, Vaccine Mandates Are Mostly Gone. But What if the Virus Comes Back?

  • CRPE’s Bree Dusseault in The 74
  • “Schools have been opening up across the country with relatively low fanfare in the first three weeks of August. Our regular review of 100 large and urban districts finds that all those that have started classes are in-person. None have reported closures due to COVID outbreaks. It appears that perhaps students are settling into something like the old sense of normal.”
  • “Our review finds that just 55 have shared updated handbooks or websites that outline health and safety policies for the 2022-23 school year. Of those that have published information, it’s clear that districts are jettisoning many of the protective measures that they endorsed just months ago.”
  • “Fewer districts are also requiring vaccinations this school year, with 10 maintaining strict policies for their staff.”
  • “That does not mean districts can afford simply to return to pre-pandemic ways of doing business. Families, staff and students need continued clear communication about what to expect as schools return to traditional schedules and expectations, and they deserve to know what to expect if rising viral caseloads or other unanticipated events threaten the stability of yet another school year.”

…And on a Lighter Note

Nothing to See Here: Just dogs on a spiral slide.

Uvalde High School: Won its first home football game 34-28. It happened thanks to a miraculous 51-yard run with 36 seconds to go. And then a go-ahead, one-handed TD catch with 12 seconds left.

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s daily briefing via Substack.

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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