This Week in Pandemic Education Policy: Data Show Homeschooling Surge Outlasting School Closures, Districts Rush to Aid Student Mental Health & More Key Updates

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

Homeschooling Surge Continues Despite Schools Reopening: Via The AP.

  • “In 18 states that shared data through the current school year, the number of homeschooling students increased by 63% in the 2020-21 school year, then fell by only 17% in the 2021-22 school year.”
  • “The rising numbers have cut into public school enrollment in ways that affect future funding and renewed debates over how closely homeschooling should be regulated. What remains unknown is whether this year’s small decrease signals a step toward pre-pandemic levels — or a sign that homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.”
  • “Minnesota, for example, reported that 27,801 students are being homeschooled now, compared to 30,955 during the last school year. Before the pandemic, homeschool figures were around 20,000 or less.”
  • “Black families make up many of the homeschool converts. The proportion of Black families homeschooling their children increased by five times, from 3.3% to 16.1%, from spring 2020 to the fall, while the proportion about doubled across other groups, according to U.S. Census surveys.
(Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

The Big Three — April 22, 2022

Pfizer Says Its Booster Shot Strengthens the Immune Response for Children 5-11 Years Old: Press Release and NYT article

  • “A third dose produced a 36-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant and a 6-fold increase in neutralizing against the SARS-CoV-2 wild-type strain.”
  • “Pfizer and BioNTech plan to submit a request for Emergency Use Authorization of a booster dose for children ages 5 through 11 in the U.S. in the coming days. The companies also plan to share these data with the European Medicines Agency and other regulatory agencies around the world as soon as possible.”
  • “I think a bottom line is that in order to protect from the Omicron, we know from studies and from adults and adolescents that you need three doses,” said Dr. Kathryn M. Edwards, a pediatric vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.She predicted regulators would authorize the companies’ request.”
Joey Lim, 18, a senior in Los Angeles talks with his school counselor. (Mel Melcon/Getty Images)

As Teen Mental Health Worsens, Schools Learn How to Help: Via Pew.

  • “Last year, 38 states enacted nearly 100 laws providing additional resources to support mental well-being in K-12 schools, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, a Portland, Maine-based policy research group. Dozens of additional school mental health bills became law this year in at least 22 states, according to the group.”
  • “At least 16 states, from Alaska to Massachusetts, plus the District of Columbia, now require K-12 teachers and other school staff to take training courses on how to recognize mental distress in students and what to do when they see it.”
  • “California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington enacted new laws recommending high school students take mental health training courses so they can help their friends, family and classmates.”

Hospitalizations of Children Aged 5-11 Years: New CDC report

  • “Among 397 children hospitalized during the Omicron-predominant period, 87% were unvaccinated, 30% had no underlying medical conditions and 19% were admitted to an intensive care unit.”
  • “The cumulative hospitalization rate during the Omicron predominant period was 2.1 times as high among unvaccinated children as among vaccinated.”
  • “Non-Hispanic Black (Black) children accounted for the largest proportion of unvaccinated children (34%) and represented approximately one third of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in this age group.”

Federal Updates

New ESSER Expenditure Dashboard: From Edunomics that tracks actual federal relief spending by district.

Masks Mandates:

City & State News


Idaho: Students in rural high schools will soon be able to use distance learning technology to access telehealth services, thanks to a gift from Direct Communications.

Maryland: 5 best practices Baltimore schools learned from a 2020 ransomware attack.

New Jersey: Chronic absenteeism plagued schools during pandemic. Includes a database of district data.

  • “The number of students in the Camden City School District who missed 10 or more school days — the definition of chronically absent — jumped to 57% that year, up from 34% during the 2018-19 school year.”

New York: 1 in every 200 NYC children has lost a parent or caregiver to COVID.

Texas: Four-day school week picks up steam in rural Texas districts.

Utah: Students got a chance to try robotic surgery — here’s how they surprised the pros.

  • “The da Vinci XI robotic-assisted surgical systems, which are used for surgeries in American Fork Hospital, include a training game that keeps track of a user’s score.”
  • “The sales representatives consistently score in the mid-90s on the game, but several Lone Peak students scored a 99 out of 100 the first time they touched the equipment.”

Wisconsin: Milwaukee Public Schools reinstates mask requirement after one school day of optional policy.

COVID-19 Research

School Closures and Effective In-Person Learning during COVID-19: When, Where and for Whom: IZA paper and summary.

  • “We match cell phone data to administrative school records and combine it with information on school learning modes to study effective in-person learning (EIPL) in the U.S. during the pandemic.”
  • “We find large differences in EIPL for the 2020-21 school year. Public schools averaged less EIPL than private schools. Schools in more affluent localities and schools with a larger share of non-white students provided lower EIPL. Higher school spending and federal emergency funding is associated with lower EIPL.”
  • ” These results are explained in large part by regional differences, reflecting political preferences, vaccination rates, teacher unionization rates and local labor conditions”

Moderna Says Redesigned COVID Booster Provides Better Protection: Moderna said its modified COVID-19 booster shot, designed to target two strains of the coronavirus, generated a strong immune response against multiple variants of concern, including Omicron. Press release and study.

CDC Forecasting: New CDC team: A weather service to forecast what’s next in pandemic

  • ” ‘We think of ourselves like the National Weather Service, but for infectious diseases,’ said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist and associate director for science at the initiative, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • “About 100 scientists will analyze technical data and communicate policy options to decision-makers and the public about how the virus is behaving and who is most at risk — in user-friendly terms.”

COVID Hasn’t Given Up All Its Secrets. Here Are 6 Mysteries Experts Hope to Unravel: Via Stat

  • How will the virus evolve next?
  • What will future waves look like?
  • If you’ve never had COVID, how worried should you be right now?
  • How, exactly, does the virus transmit from person to person?
  • Will we get a new, better generation of vaccines, therapeutics and tests?
  • How long before we understand long COVID?

The Case for Testing Pfizer’s Paxlovid for Treating Long COVID: Via Reuters.

Upper Airway Infections in Kids With COVID-19 Rose with Omicron Surge: “Rates of upper airway infections such as croup and bacterial tracheitis among pediatric COVID-19 patients, though low, rose after the Omicron variant became dominant in December 2021, with more than one fifth of hospitalized children with both conditions developing severe illness, estimates a study today in JAMA Pediatrics.”

An Omicron Outbreak in a Primary School in Geneva: Study.

  • “Among the children without indication of previous infection or vaccination who were tested, 20 (50%) of 40 were infected. Five (50%) of 10 teachers and one (20%) of five non-teaching staff members at the school tested positive during the Omicron outbreak. Two (13%) of 15 staff members were not vaccinated against COVID-19, and both tested positive.”
  • “We also investigated the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 infections in 24 households of children who tested positive. 52 household members were tested once or twice within the week after their child or sibling tested positive.”
  • “Infections with the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant were found in 15 (63%) of 24 households and 25 (48%) of 52 investigated household members (which increased to 27 [50%] of 54 if including probably cases), a household cumulative infection incidence that was similar to the findings of another report from South Korea.”
  • “In summary, this prospective, school class-based study provides evidence of higher transmission of infections in school settings with the Omicron variant than was reported with previous variants. Children appear to be an important source of extra-household infections and have a key role in community transmission.”

FDA Authorizes First COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Using Breath Samples: The InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer delivers results in less than three minutes. FDA statement.


The Time Has Come for Truly Personalized Learning — With a Navigator to Make Sure Each Child Succeeds: Paul Reville and Geoffrey Canada in The 74.

  • “The concept of navigator has some modest footholds in education. There are guidance counselors who can in theory play such a role but are undermined by unworkable student-counselor ratios. A few schools feature advisories that provide some navigation services.”
  • “Special education students have Individualized Education Programs. But even so, navigation and success planning are rare in schools. Personalization is not the norm as it is, for example, in medicine, where patient navigators — primary care physicians — advocate for the unique needs of each individual and guide families in producing better health outcomes for their loved ones.”
  • “To implement a navigator strategy, leaders must create a system that enables a designated adult to reach out to a particular student on a regular basis to see how they’re doing, with an emphasis on making kids feel seen, heard, understood and cared for. Such an initiative, which could be funded using abundant federal COVID relief funding, meets the urgent, immediate need of providing a quality adult relationship that connects each student and family to supports and opportunities while enhancing their sense of belonging to a community.”

Unlocking Innovation in Schools: Via Transcend’s David Nitkin

Pods in Action: Black Mothers Forum

VELA Micro Grants: New competition is open.

Dubious Research, Vexing Guidance: CDC Struggles to Help Schools During Pandemic: Via Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat

Schools Spend Millions in Pandemic Funds on Tutoring, Often with Little Proof It Will Work: Via WSJ

How You Can Avoid Missing Out on COVID Relief Money: Erin Covington in EdWeek

Has Federal Crisis Spending for K-12 Schools Served Its Intended Objectives?: Asks Brookings

Educating English Learners During the Pandemic: Via New America

Rediscovering “Third Place” Friendships in a Post-Pandemic World: Via Bruno Manno

… And on a reflective note

Love and Underdog: Robbie seeks out the least adoptable dog of the lot.

  • “When Robbie goes to the animal shelter, he gravitates toward the seemingly oldest of the bunch.”
  • “Robbie, who was adopted out of foster care, says he knows ‘how it feels to not be loved or cared for … and I don’t want any pet of mine to feel that way.’ “

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top five stories of the week:

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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