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  • Charter Advocates Raise Objections to Biden’s Pick for Number Two Spot at Education Department

    By Linda Jacobson | Today

    President Joe Biden’s nomination of Miguel Cardona for education secretary has been largely well received. But his choice for the number two spot at the department is prompting some objections from education interest groups.

    Charter school leaders and some members of the Black community have sounded alarms over the nomination of Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, to be the department’s deputy secretary — a post that traditionally has not attracted controversy.

    While Marten has an enthusiastic support base, advocates for charter schools said she has embraced the unions’ hard line against charter growth. “Cindy Marten is a curious pick for a deputy secretary of education nominee, given the Biden administration’s call for unity, racial equity and support for working families,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

    Like Cardona, she has K-12 classroom experience and has been hailed as a leader in closing achievement gaps. But while Cardona has expressed a more neutral position on charter schools, Marten hails from a state where charters and traditional schools frequently clash. She played a role in reaching a truce in that fight and has argued for judging charter schools based on their financial impact on traditional public schools. With confirmation proceedings for agency officials already underway, her views could lead to questions from Congress.

    Related

    For the Second Time In Less Than Two Years, Miguel Cardona is Set to Prove Himself on a Much Larger Stage. Is He Ready for the ‘Political Headwinds’ He’d Face as U.S. Education Secretary?

    Charter advocates say they are most troubled by her alignment with the California Teachers Association. In 2018, she held a press conference to highlight a report from In the Public Interest, a think tank, which estimated that the San Diego district loses nearly $66 million a year when students enroll in charters. In the Public Interest is part of the Partnership for Working Families, a union-funded coalition of progressive organizations.

    Jed Wallace, a former CEO of the California Charter Schools Association who now authors the CharterFolk blog, said it was surprising that a superintendent would tout a report that he called “a complete and utter hit job.”

    He respects Marten as an educator. When interacting with her, he said, “It feels like she was in the classroom just yesterday.” San Diego, he added, was among the first districts in the state to include charter schools in a facilities bond issue, which contributed to a good relationship between charters and the district.

    For Ian Pumpian, CEO of Health Sciences High School and Middle College, that relationship started 14 years ago when he showed up at Central Elementary School, where Marten was principal, to discuss how they could work together.

    “She was genuinely intrigued to hear my thoughts on how charters could serve as R&D [research and development] for school districts and traditional schools,” he said. “To this day, Cindy and I discuss continuing to reinvent the types of collaborations that are possible between charters and traditional schools.”

    But it was Marten’s participation on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s charter school task force in 2019 that Wallace said gives him “a deeper sense of concern than optimism.”

    She argued in favor of districts being the primary authorizers of charters, limiting the ability to appeal denials and giving districts the right to deny applications based on lost student funding — all positions espoused by California’s teachers unions.

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    “As someone who has had to balance a $1.3 billion budget every year, I can tell you this matters a lot,” she said on a radio program about the debate. She added that allowing county boards of education to overrule local school boards that deny a charter application “hurts students.”

    The Biden administration had “a beautiful opportunity to not pick a fight,” said Margaret Fortune, who leads a network of nine charter schools in California serving mostly Black students and worked on the task force with Marten. She added that the administration has undone “whatever good will they accomplished through the Cardona nomination.”

    The district defended Marten’s record, noting that four of the 78 charter schools up for renewal over the past seven years were approved, and this year, five of the six up for renewal have been renewed.

    Mixed reviews

    Charter advocates aren’t the only ones who object to Martin’s nomination. In a statement, the NAACP San Diego Branch called Marten an “ineffective leader when it comes to the academic advancement of African American children in San Diego public schools.”

    In the state, however, Marten is largely viewed as an effective superintendent, one who has made strides in addressing both achievement and discipline issues among Black students compared to similar large urban districts in the state.

    The Learning Policy Institute, for example, featured San Diego Unified in 2019 as one of seven “positive outlier” districts in which black, Latino and white students are earning higher-than-predicted English and math scores on state assessments, after considering socioeconomic status. Linda Darling-Hammond, who heads up the institute, led Biden’s transition team for education and is a friend and colleague of Marten’s.

    On discipline, 2017 federal civil rights data showed that Black students accounted for over 20 percent of suspensions despite comprising only 8 percent of the district’s student population. But the suspension rate is the second lowest among large districts in the state, according to a study from San Diego State University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

    The San Diego school board renewed Marten’s contract in 2019, but one member voted no, citing persistent problems with safety and academics at a predominantly Black and Hispanic high school. The district also has 14 schools on the state’s low-performing list.

    Other members of the Black community spoke more positively about Martin’s nomination. Frank Jordan, a former NAACP leader in San Diego and at the state level said, “Just think, we’ll have someone from this area that knows the needs of a district.”

    Marten’s district is not among those that have reopened schools since the onset of the pandemic — a goal for the Biden administration’s first 100 days. Marten is one of seven California superintendents to argue that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to begin reopening schools by Feb. 15 is unrealistic and lacks the funding needed for COVID-19 testing.

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  • With an Eye Toward Equity, Biden Unveils Plan to Reopen Many Schools in First 100 Days

    By Linda Jacobson | 1 day ago

    Moving toward his goal of reopening most K-8 schools in 100 days, President Joe Biden spent his second day in office signing executive orders that direct multiple federal agencies to work together to get schools to resume in-person learning.

    During a press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci also said the nation could be close to a return to normal by the 2021-22 school year, but that’s only if at least 70 percent of the population is vaccinated. “The concern I have, and something we’re working on, is getting [to] people who have vaccine hesitancy,” he said.

    As part of Biden’s national strategy, he directed the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a hub for information on school reopenings and closures.

    The information, according to the administration, will help schools understand how closures have affected students of color, low-income families, English learners, students with special needs and others who have experienced the worst effects of being away from the classroom. For those who have been doing such work since last March, the announcements were welcome news.

    “We need a national effort, one that builds consistency in the data collected and the viable conclusions that can be drawn from it,” said Annette Campbell Anderson, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who has been tracking state policies on school reopening. “Up until now, it has been a hodgepodge of responses of data collected, and most parents, especially those in urban centers, won’t feel confident in returning their children to in-person schools until there is some reliable longitudinal data to consider.”

    With the 100-day clock now ticking, educators are hopeful about the organized federal response to the pandemic. The National Education Association called the executive order “an important first step to ensure the protections and significant resources are in place to support the safe and just return to in-person instruction in school buildings and on campuses.” The orders signed Thursday also cover issues such as reimbursements for masks and other supplies and creating a handbook to help guide reopening strategies — tasks many states and districts have been managing themselves. Experts, however, see room to build on what they’ve done before.

    The school reopening order directs the education department to create a “best practices clearinghouse” so schools can share what they’ve learned in their efforts to safely reopen.

    It requires the future assistant secretary for civil rights to produce a report “as soon as practicable” on the unequal impact of the pandemic on students.

    And it directs the Federal Communications Commission to “increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband.” To support that goal, Biden on Thursday named FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel acting chair of the FCC. The ranking Democrat on the commission, Rosenworcel has been an outspoken advocate for extending an internet discount program for schools to cover at-home service for students.

    Related

    Biden Expected to Make Narrowing Digital Divide an ‘Early, Urgent Priority’ to Help Students During Pandemic

    Another order on governors’ use of the National Guard directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fully reimburse schools for what they spend on masks and other protective equipment. FEMA will work with the education department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give schools access to funds for sanitation products and improving ventilation systems.

    In September, district leaders got conflicting messages when FEMA said it would stop reimbursing schools and other nonemergency sites for cloth face masks while on the same day, the Department of Health and Human Services said it was disbursing millions of masks to schools.

    Multiple education groups expressed support for Biden’s actions. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said the plan responds to concerns district leaders expressed to Biden’s transition team, but also leaves them in charge of decisions at the local level.

    While districts such as Los Angeles Unified have asked for schools to serve as vaccination centers, the Biden plan doesn’t call for schools to be included on its list along with stadiums, conference centers and retail stores.

    Some experts provided additional feedback on how the federal government can be helpful, particularly around data collection.

    Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, said it would be useful for states to report whether their schools are open or closed. The center’s tracker on district closures and reopenings has been a widely-used source for experts looking for patterns as well as successful models.

    She said it would also be helpful to know the number of COVID-19 cases among adults and students, the health and safety measures districts are implementing and the assessments and strategies districts are using to help students recover from learning loss.

    “The administration should not start from scratch. We and others have a start on this,” Lake said. “It will be important to build on that. We can’t waste time.”

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  • On His First Day in White House, Biden Dissolves Trump’s 1776 Commission on U.S. History

    By Kevin Mahnken | 2 days ago

    On a historic day for American democracy, Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president on the same Capitol steps that were held by rioters only two weeks previously. And in a move that will help to frame U.S. history in classrooms, the new chief executive eliminated the 1776 Commission as one of his first official actions.

    Before the inauguration began Wednesday, Biden announced that he would sign a host of executive orders and proclamations aimed at unraveling some of the most prominent work of his predecessor across a range of issues from immigration to environmental protection. The mandates will reverse Trump-era orders banning travel from majority-Muslim countries, authorizing construction on a border wall with Mexico, and withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization. The new administration also announced it would “restore and fortify protections for Dreamers,” the beneficiaries of the DACA immigration program who were brought illegally to the United States as children.

    But education observers will especially note the dissolution of the 1776 Commission, assembled by former President Trump just five months ago in the midst of a furious reelection effort to mobilize voters behind issues of race and American heritage. At the same time he announced the panel’s creation, Trump also ordered federal agencies and contractors to halt diversity training sessions.

    The commission’s charge, to promote patriotic U.S. history instruction, was widely seen as a response to the immense success and rapid spread of the 1619 Project, a special issue of the New York Times Magazine that argued the American founding occurred when the first African slaves arrived in colonial Virginia. In a September speech, Trump said that the project “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom,” and complained that a wave of summer riots were triggered by left-wing indoctrination in schools.

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    While the commission included no experts on American history or K-12 education (one member, Victor Davis Hanson, is an accomplished military historian focusing on the ancient world), it was long on conservative activists and Republican politicians. Its roster was only announced in December, long after Trump’s loss in the Electoral College was sealed, and it held its first meeting on January 5, the day before an assault on the Capitol that many attribute to the president’s own incendiary language about election theft.

    In that short span, the group managed to produce a report earlier this week denouncing liberal activism in American schools and alleging that anti-American revisionism “tramples honest scholarship and historical truth.” A link to the report on the White House website now seems to have been rendered inoperative.

    The document met with immediate criticism from academic historians, many of whom rejected its claims as shoddy argumentation in service to an unscholarly cause. In an email to The 74, for example, James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, lampooned its comparison between the early 20th century Progressive reforms and the fascist regime of Mussolini.

    “The goal of the report is to discredit government regulation, the accomplishments of those reform movements, and the New Deal and Great Society,” Grossman wrote. “This is part of a political agenda to reverse the legislation and regulatory structures that have emerged over the past century, from the income tax and food and drug regulation to social security, medicare, and civil rights.”

    Sam Wineburg, an education professor at Stanford and head of the university’s History Education Group, also dismissed the commission’s work.

    “The 1776 document doesn’t unify Americans but divides them further,” Wineburg wrote in an email. “It chooses one side in a historical debate and demonizes the other. The document discloses much more about sloganeering than serious historical study.”

    Aside from the report’s contentious claims, a Politico investigation found that a sizable section of the text appears to have been recycled from earlier sources produced by one of its members, the academic Thomas Lindsay.

    Related

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    Jonathan Zimmerman, a historian of education at the University of Pennsylvania, told The 74 that the sometimes vituperative arguments about American ideals and history held a vital place in K-12 classrooms.

    “I’m a historian, so I’m always happy when I see Americans discussing and debating the past. But the most important question is what happens — or doesn’t — in our schools, and whether we allow this debate to enter them. We disagree, essentially and enormously, about what we think America was, is, and should be. Let’s not pretend otherwise when the kids are in the room.”

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  • Biden Expected to Make Narrowing Digital Divide an ‘Early, Urgent Priority’ to Help Students During Pandemic

    By Linda Jacobson | 3 days ago

    Updated January 21

    President Joe Biden named Jessica Rosenworcel — a strong proponent of eliminating the “homework gap” — as acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission. The senior Democrat on the commission, Rosenworcel has pushed for extending an internet discount program for schools to cover broadband service in students’ homes. 

    The education community has strongly supported her promotion because of her focus on addressing the inequities in at-home internet service for students — a position she espoused before the pandemic. 

    “Rosenworcel has long been a champion for closing the digital divide, advocating on behalf of the millions of students left behind because of inadequate internet access,” Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, said in a statement. 

    With millions of students still lacking reliable internet to complete their assignments and interact with teachers, the incoming Biden administration is expected to take multiple steps to address the digital divide, according to sources who have participated in conversations with the transition team.

    Bart Epstein, CEO of the nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange, said he understands naming a new director for the Office of Educational Technology to be “an early, urgent priority” for the administration.

    Biden will also name an acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees an internet discount program for schools. Many education advocates hope the future commission leader will favor a stronger federal role in ensuring that students have reliable at-home broadband service.

    “I am hoping for strong leadership to be appointed to attack this once-in-a-generation problem,” said Epstein, whose nonprofit aims to help educators make smart decisions about online platforms and resources.

    Epstein, who spoke with the transition team about the future of the office in a December meeting, described students falling further behind because they lack internet service or adequate materials as “a slow-motion, persistent catastrophe.”

    The Biden approach would offer a sharp contrast to how the Office of Education Technology has operated during the Trump administration, particularly the 10 months of the pandemic. In keeping with her mission to reduce the department’s footprint, former Education Secretary Betsy Devos downsized the office by at least half, and its current director, just hired last June, is a cybersecurity expert, not an educator. State and local-level education leaders said the office could have provided far greater guidance to first-time remote teachers looking for tools and materials. And with widespread virtual learning expected to continue beyond the pandemic, some are hoping for what Epstein called an “Apollo-type mission” to improve K-12 distance learning.

    When schools closed in mid-March, “I don’t think for a second any superintendent thought there would be direction from the education secretary or the Office of Educational Technology — and we were right,” said Matt Miller, superintendent of the Lakota Local Schools, north of Cincinnati, Ohio. By the time the office issued the first of three “digital learning guides” in October, he said, “we were past that.” Two additional guides were released just last week.

    The department did not respond to a request for a comment.

    The office could be helping states determine the best way to use relief funds for digital learning, said Joseph South, past director of the office during the Obama administration and now chief learning officer at the nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education. He added that currently, “the implementation of ed tech practices across the country is all over the place — from completely dismal to astonishingly good.”

    Doug Casey, incoming chair of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, stressed that like states and districts, the education department was caught off-guard by the pandemic and tried to minimize “a chaotic set of circumstances for students, families, teachers and leaders.” But he acknowledged that the Trump administration “appeared not to have placed digital learning best practices and resources on the top of its list.”

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    ‘A game changer’

    Looking ahead, educators hope to see less chaos and more collaboration across federal agencies to address the remaining gaps in broadband access. Senate Democrats have proposed using the FCC’s E-Rate program to eliminate the “homework gap,” by extending the telecommunications discount for schools and libraries to cover broadband access in students’ homes. Outgoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, has maintained that the Communications Act prohibits that option.

    A report issued last summer estimated that 17 million U.S. students lack the internet service they need to fully participate in online learning. And according to a recent University of California, Los Angeles, analysis, the lack of a device or reliable internet is linked to fewer virtual contacts with teachers and less time spent on learning.

    One of the most outspoken advocates for changing the rules, however, is Jessica Rosenworcel, the senior Democrat on the commission and a leading candidate to replace Pai as chair. Rosenworcel, who has received endorsements for the post from the National Education Association and a communications union, has argued Congress should “modernize” E-Rate to subsidize home internet access and supplement funding for devices.

    The agency “cannot forget the millions of students caught in the homework gap because they lack high-speed service at home and are locked out of the virtual classroom,” she said at the FCC’s monthly meeting last week.

    Related

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    The UCLA report showed that a third of households have limited digital access, with low-income families especially likely to lack devices or an internet connection.

    “E-Rate could be a game changer in this equation,” South said. “Because E-Rate is an existing program, it would be one of the fastest, most reliable ways to solve this pressing need.”

    Kristina Ishmael, a digital learning expert who served on the Biden-Harris transition team, said a partnership between the FCC and the education department could lead to new guidance on eligible E-Rate expenses. One sought-after fix would allow internet providers to invoice districts for service to students’ homes instead of expecting families to submit paperwork for reimbursements.

    Rosenworcel is one of two Democrats on the commission, along with two Trump appointees. President-elect Biden will name an additional appointee to fill the gap left by Pai. South added that if Rosenworcel becomes chair, he would expect “rapid action” regarding the homework gap and “high engagement with Congress to hammer out a sustainable solution.”

    Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testifies during a June 24, 2020 Senate Committee for Commerce, Science and Transportation. (Jonathan Newton/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

    ‘Those last few miles’

    In many rural areas of the country, however, the problem isn’t unreliable internet access — it’s no access.

    “Big companies have not been willing to pay what it costs to do those last few miles to get to the homes,” said Barbara Nemko, superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education in California, which includes five districts. One is completely remote and the others have a hybrid schedule.

    Many teachers in the county are still giving students paper packets or having them download materials while at school so they can work on them at home, Nemko said.

    To address those gaps, it will take more than changing E-Rate. In February, Biden is expected to announce the second phase of his recovery plan, which will focus on infrastructure. Nicol Turner Lee, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is calling for a “Tech New Deal” that includes a “No Child Offline” plan and incentives to expand broadband in “un- and under-served areas.”

    The $900 billion relief bill Congress passed in December included a $3.2 billion temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, especially targeted to families with school-age children. The benefit provides up to $50 per month for low-income households and up to $75 per month for families living on tribal land. An earlier version of the relief bill included $3 billion specifically in E-Rate funding, but that provision was dropped in final negotiations.

    States are also receiving $54 billion — three times the amount they did under the March relief package — and the education department is expected to judge districts on how they use some of those funds to address learning loss.

    Education Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona, who prioritized getting devices and internet service to all students in Connecticut in his role as state commissioner, is expected to continue that push at the federal level. In December, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said the state was the first in the nation to reach that milestone.

    “I have seen firsthand [Cardona’s] passion to ensure equal opportunity for all students,” said Casey, who also directs the Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology.

    Related

    For the Second Time In Less Than Two Years, Miguel Cardona is Set to Prove Himself on a Much Larger Stage. Is He Ready for the ‘Political Headwinds’ He’d Face as U.S. Education Secretary?

    Calling for a ‘well-resourced’ office

    Regarding the previous secretary, Casey said that while his state-level colleagues didn’t expect the technology office to provide all the answers regarding distance learning, “staffing levels do reflect priorities.”

    Under secretaries Arne Duncan and John King — and former technology directors South and Richard Culatta — the office typically had 14 to 15 people, said Ishmael, a former fellow in the office and now director of primary and secondary education at Open Education Global, a network focusing on free educational materials. Miller, in the Lakota district, added that through various technology initiatives, districts and school networks frequently interacted with the department.

    “I knew Arne Duncan. I knew John King. I knew Richard Culatta. I knew Joseph South,” he said. “I don’t know anybody anymore.”

    Nemko added, however, that DeVos’s predecessors also share some of the blame for the department’s lack of preparation for the pandemic. “They were there for eight years,” she said. “This is not a new problem we discovered yesterday.”

    Currently, the technology office has two political appointees and three career staff members. A series of acting directors filled in until Adam Safir was appointed last June. Since the onset of the pandemic, in addition to the three guides, the office published some blog posts and held a virtual summit on tribal broadband access. DeVos also distributed more than $180 million in “microgrants” from the March relief package to 11 states, with an emphasis on remote learning.

    Still, South described the lack of leadership as “a devastating oversight and lost opportunity” and said the office could have helped publicize the best of what states and districts were developing to support virtual learning.

    The federal government has an additional role in conducting research, said Epstein. “I am hopeful the new administration will recognize that educational technology has exploded in volume, potential and use, and it needs to be studied,” he said.

    The term “moonshot,” he said, is overused. So he chose a different analogy to emphasize the need for an ongoing commitment instead of a one-time initiative.

    “One of the biggest challenges is what I would call the need for an Apollo-type mission, because it drove a decade of science and technology,” he said. “We need that now.”

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  • Biden’s Rescue Plan Includes $130 Billion for K-12, But Some Members of Congress Might ‘Balk at the Size’

    By Linda Jacobson | 7 days ago

    Education groups and Democrats in Congress are applauding President-elect Joe Biden’s $130 billion proposal to help schools reopen with safety procedures in place and to target the needs of students hurt most by the pandemic. But some experts noted that even with the Democrats in control, Biden might struggle to get the package through Congress.

    The total $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan backs up Biden’s earlier statements that he viewed the relief package that President Donald Trump signed in December as only a “down payment” on recovery.

    Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, expected to be the next chair of the education committee, agreed.

    “When we passed a relief bill in December, I was clear that we needed to double down in the year ahead on fighting for policies that truly reflect the depth of the crisis we’re facing, and help us dig out of this pandemic and come back stronger and fairer,” she said in a statement.

    The education portion of the package that Biden will present to Congress includes $130 billion that schools would be able to use for initiatives ranging from lowering class sizes to allow for social distancing to providing tutoring and summer school. The plan also includes a $5 billion “hardest hit education fund” for governors to spend on K-12, higher education or early childhood. The plan notes that Black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities have missed the most learning while schools have been closed.

    In his comments Thursday night, Biden reiterated his goal to reopen most K-8 schools in the first 100 days of his administration.

    “We can do it if we give school districts, communities and states the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they will need that they can not afford right now because of the economic crisis we are in,” he said.

    ‘A starting point’

    John Bailey, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute said in a summary of the plan that even with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on hand to break a tie in the 50-50 Senate, the full plan might not win approval.

    “It’s difficult to see how this gets 60 votes in the Senate or even 51 if done through reconciliation,” he wrote in his analysis. “A number of members will balk at the size given that December’s funds haven’t even begun to be used.”

    But he added that it took nine months between the March and December relief packages, so the “Biden team is starting the discussion now understanding that it may not pass until the Spring or later.”

    Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, said in a statement that the president-elect’s plan closely matches the organization’s earlier recommendations.

    “This will ensure that the educators and school board members with the best knowledge and awareness of community needs have the tools to serve their students,” she said.

    Following calls from Chiefs for Change on Wednesday to prioritize schools as part of the vaccination rollout, the COVID-19 response will include $50 billion for tests in order to provide them for free and, in part, to “ensure that schools can implement regular testing to support safe reopening.”

    In her response, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said schools want to be part of the vaccination effort. “The AFT will join them to distribute the vaccine, scale testing, expand healthcare, maintain public services and safely reopen school buildings within the first 100 days,” she said.

    The plan also includes a $25 billion stabilization fund for child care providers and $15 billion to help families afford child care costs, particularly women who had to leave their jobs because they could no longer afford care or their centers shut down. The December relief bill included $10 billion for child care.

    In keeping with his campaign promises, Biden is also asking Congress to approve a child care tax credit of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children for families earning less than $125,000 annually. Families earning up to $400,000 would receive a partial credit.

    “Stabilizing the child care sector that has been decimated — and prioritizing the needs of parents, providers and the workforce — is essential to stabilizing the economy and sustaining families,” said Julie Kashen, the director of women’s economic justice and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

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  • Superintendents Call for ‘Faster Rollout’ of Vaccines; But Object to Delaying School Reopenings Until Children Get Shots

    By Linda Jacobson | January 13, 2021

    Schools should be at the center of efforts to get teachers and other community members vaccinated against COVID-19, a group of superintendents said Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean students will be part of those initial groups, added San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

    “We don’t expect our children to get vaccinated,” Martinez said, noting that no vaccine has yet been approved for students under 16. “But if we can take care of the at-risk adults, we take a lot of things off the table. We take deaths off the table.”

    The comment over testing students follows confusion this week over whether the Los Angeles Unified School District would require students to be vaccinated before returning to in-person learning.

    The media widely reported that Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner would make vaccination a requirement after he said in his weekly message that it would be “no different than students who are vaccinated for measles or mumps.”

    But on Tuesday, the district published a letter to the Los Angeles Times in which Anthony Aguilar, chief of special education, equity and access, wrote, “We are working to provide vaccines to all who work in schools and, when vaccines are approved for children, to extend that opportunity for our students to receive the same protection. There is no vaccine currently approved for children so the actual vaccination of students is likely a ways off.”

    Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for those 16 and older, and Moderna is testing a vaccine for children between 12 and 17, but it could be 2022 before a vaccine is widely available for children.

    Organized by Chiefs for Change, the media call on Wednesday was a plea to prioritize teachers for vaccinations as a way to help schools reopen.

    “We need a much faster rollout of the vaccine,” said Michael Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change. “Many districts have not received the support they need from the federal government or from their states.”

    Washington’s Highline Public Schools is preparing to bring students in the elementary grades back into schools March 1. But currently, Superintendent Susan Enfield said her biggest challenge is “helping people move away from information that was accurate two, three months ago. Our teachers are inundated with conflicting information.”

    Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Broward County Public Schools in Florida, added that school nurses are prepared to participate in community-wide vaccination programs.

    “We could train them and have them be part of this network of delivery,” he said, adding that because the district is the county’s largest employer, vaccinating teachers and staff would “reach a critical mass of our community.”

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  • Study: Exposure to Desegregated Schools Often Made Whites Less Tolerant As Adults

    By Kevin Mahnken | January 12, 2021

    School integration, long part of the unfinished business of the civil rights movement, has been the subject of revived interest for several years. Parents, advocates, and the media all warn of a gradual resegregation of K-12 students, and district leaders have implemented radical plans to assemble racially and socioeconomically mixed classrooms.

    But new evidence casts doubt on one of the most ambitious promises underlying Brown v. Board of Education and the decades of work that followed: that America’s prejudices might be alleviated through the mingling of children from diverse backgrounds. In a study of racial and political attitudes between the 1990s and 2010s, one scholar has found that exposure to desegregated schools led white people to view African Americans more negatively and decreased their willingness to support policies like affirmative action.

    The study, released in November as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, was authored by Mark Chin, a doctoral student at Harvard. Examining multiple strands of data, Chin found that the unintended consequences of integration were especially evident in areas where resistance to it was strongest, such as the South.

    In an interview with The 74, Chin said his research shows that whatever the benefits of mixed schools — a wealth of research suggests that Black students perform better academically when they learn alongside children of other races, while white students perform no worse than they would otherwise — we cannot assume that they will improve race relations or produce more liberal-minded adults.

    “We have a pretty good sense of [the ways in which] desegregation improved outcomes for Black youth, and a lot of them don’t necessarily require that schools integrate,” he said in an interview. “So if we’re going to go down the path toward integration, which is very controversial policy-wise, we should also know what the positive or negative spillover effects are.”

    WATCH — 74 Explains: How School Integration Made Racism Worse Among Whites

    At issue is our understanding of the “contact hypothesis,” one of the landmark ideas of 20th-century social science. Chiefly promulgated by the psychologist Gordon Allport, the theory held that relations between distinct groups could be eased through interpersonal contact under suitable conditions.

    The hypothesis gained steam after the integration of the U.S. armed forces, and Allport’s highly influential book on the subject, The Nature of Prejudice, was published the same year that the Supreme Court considered Brown v. Board. But more than a half-century of investigation has found little in the way of causal evidence demonstrating its effects vis-a-vis race. A 2018 meta-analysis conducted by Princeton professor Betsy Levy Paluck addressed only a handful of randomized experiments that specifically focused on school environments, and found that different forms of prejudice were mitigated to dramatically different degrees.

    Chin sought to address gaps in the research by looking at how the racial integration of schools affected white people later in life. To do so, he used responses to the General Social Survey, a long-running sociological survey collected since 1972 by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The GSS poses a number of questions pertaining to race and politics, asking participants to define their partisan allegiance, rate their openness to more spending to benefit African Americans, and characterize members of different racial groups with respect to qualities like intelligence and laziness. Chin compiled the various testing items into composite scores for each respondent.

    Chin’s sample included nearly 11,000 white participants across 159 counties that came under court-ordered desegregation mandates between the 1950s and 1980s; the differing timelines for each such order allowed Chin to track if and when racial attitudes had changed in response to the process of school desegregation. In particular, he differentiated between respondents who were plausibly school-aged (i.e., 17 and younger) when their school district first came under its desegregation mandate and those who were somewhat older.

    Strikingly, whites who were exposed to desegregated schools were more negative in their appraisals of African Americans and social programs, and less likely to describe themselves as politically liberal as adults. The trend was especially pronounced in areas where the drive to desegregate met with greater obstinance, Chin found. That included Southern counties that integrated following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which applied stiff legal penalties against school districts that attempted to stall the process; it was also true in counties that saw declining support for Democratic presidential candidates between the years 1960 and 1968, when the party prominently associated itself with the civil rights movement.

    In Chin’s view, those findings actually support part of the “contact hypothesis.” In his writings, Allport made clear that he did not believe that contact between different groups would yield friendlier relations on its own. The interactions would have to be conducted within a specific context, he believed, with both groups pursuing similar goals on equivalent footing and with the unequivocal support of political and social institutions. When those conditions were not met — witness acts of “massive resistance” in Southern states, or the riots in response to school busing in northern cities like Boston — contact could actually make matters worse, Allport stipulated.

    “There was a lot of pushback and a lot of controversy around different busing or integration policies,” Chin observed. “That supported Allport’s theory that when there’s limited external support for inter-group contact, you can see worse attitudes. That’s what I think explains the findings here.”

    Importantly, some qualitative research has indicated that undergoing the process of integration led to positive results for students of all racial extractions. When researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College interviewed graduates from six desegregated high schools, participants said they greatly valued the experience as an early and worthwhile encounter with members of communities different from their own. Still, most of them — especially whites — described themselves as living in much more homogenous communities as adults and said that their own children didn’t attend racially diverse schools.

    The study doesn’t necessarily argue against contemporary efforts to break down racial divisions in K-12 schooling, or even against the idea that school integration per se might lead to less racism among white students who participate in it. But the mid-century campaign of desegregation was the among the most ambitious and effective engines of diversification that has ever been attempted, Chin observed — and one of its most hoped-for effects does not seem to have materialized.

    “I’m not convinced that integration always doesn’t work. In my theory of a transformed society, we would all be in more integrated spaces. But there’s a link missing because it’s so hard to get spaces to integrate….We need to improve people’s racial attitudes and behaviors and empathy toward others. But [school integration] is what I thought would have done that.”

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  • Report: COVID Vaccine Data for Youngest Children and Grade-School Students Won’t Be Available Until 2022, Moderna CEO Warns

    By Steve Snyder | January 12, 2021

    Go Deeper – Schools and COVID: Follow our latest reporting on the pandemic, remote learning and fears of ‘COVID Learning Loss’ at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC

    Amid the rush to provide educators across the country with immediate access to coronavirus vaccines, (Jo Napolitano reported here last month on states’ decisions to move teachers up the priority list), attention is now also turning to children: How to get a greater percentage of students nationwide both tested and vaccinated.

    Prior to the holiday, the Biden administration unveiled a proposal that would have the federal government cover the multibillion-dollar cost of accelerating COVID testing at every K-12 school. But on Monday, the CEO of one vaccine maker warned that even as testing of students increases, we may be more than a year away from having an effective vaccine for young children.

    As reported by CNBC, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel was speaking at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference when he broke down three distinct timelines for vaccine distribution. The company’s current vaccine has received FDA approval for use in people 18 years and older, which means college students and the oldest high schoolers could be receiving the vaccine later this year. Bancel said Moderna has also already launched a study testing the vaccine for adolescents as young as 12, and that results are expected by the start of the fall semester in September.

    But Bancel warned the company is likely more than a year away from knowing whether the vaccine will work for infants, toddlers and those children attending elementary schools.

    CNBC reports that Bancel said he expects to commence a study for young children between ages 1 and 11 “soon,” but the CEO also warned such a study will take “much longer.”

    “We have to start a lower dose, so we should not see clinical data in 2021 but more [likely] in 2022,” he was reported as saying.

    For parents of grade-schoolers, this may push back hopes of vaccinations to the 2021-22, or even 2022-23 school year.

    Go Deeper – Schools and COVID: Follow our latest reporting on the pandemic, remote learning and fears of ‘COVID Learning Loss’ at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC. A few recent headlines:

    —Where are the Kids?: The concerning case of Cleveland’s no-show students, as more than 8,000 kids go missing from online classes (Read the full story

    —The Cost of ‘COVID Slide’: Study estimates that schools could see annual costs of $2,500 per student to address pandemic-related learning loss (Read the full story

    —The Students Juggling School and Job During the Pandemic: How teens are balancing Zoom classes and fast-food jobs to support their struggling families (Read the full story)

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  • Former Teachers and Ed Advocates to Join Biden’s White House Team

    By Linda Jacobson | January 11, 2021

    The Department of Education isn’t the only part of the federal government where former teachers and education advocates will have a role in the Biden administration.

    At least half a dozen individuals recently appointed to positions in the White House include those with teaching experience and others who have worked with education-focused organizations. While several have most recently worked on the Biden-Harris campaign — and didn’t necessarily jump straight from the classroom into government — they’ll still have direct knowledge of issues that matter to both teachers and parents.

    The incoming White House staff, for example, includes Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, who taught fifth grade in the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and spent 2013 and 2014 advising Teach for America “corps members” and interviewing future candidates. Demers has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

    Corina Cortez, once a senior advisor at the National Education Association, will serve as special assistant to the president for presidential personnel. And Dani Durante, who will be the director for leadership and training, was previously the senior director of operations at OneGoal: Graduation, a nonprofit focused on college readiness, particularly for low-income students of color.

    “I think it’s interesting to see appointees with education backgrounds,” said Anne Hyslop, assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education and a former policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education.“That is experience, a point of view they’ll be bringing with them that affects how they think about policy and the role education can play.”

    Charles Barone, the director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform, added that with former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, Biden’s pick to lead the Domestic Policy Council, “having no domestic policy experience, it makes some sense that they would lean to other hires having domestic policy experience, including education.”

    Hyslop noted that future first lady Jill Biden, a teacher, could also be playing a role in tapping those with education experience. “It’s not far-fetched to imagine Dr. Biden may want to devote some of her time to education projects, given her career interests,” she said.

    Related

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    Others, however, suggested the similarities in the resumes of Biden’s new hires could be more coincidental. Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm, said those who worked on Biden’s campaign and transition team are likely joining the administration for their more recent experience, rather than their connections to education issues.

    Teach for America, she added, “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

    Others have more extensive — and recent — scholastic experience. Princeton University’s Cecilia Rouse, who will chair the Council of Economic Advisors, has focused her research on education and was senior editor of the Princeton-Brookings Institution journal, Future of Children.

    Related

    Community Colleges Expected to Have Their Moment in Biden White House. But in Parting Salvo, DeVos Calls Ideas Like Free Tuition ‘Insidious’

    And capturing the new administration’s work as White House video director will be Jonathan Hebert, who was part of the Biden-Harris campaign and previously worked for Our Turn Action Network, formerly named Students for Education Reform.

    At Our Turn, Hebert created videos on opposition to a North Carolina policy requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition and another on the impact of the University of Southern California’s admissions scandal on first-generation college students.

    “In Jon,” said Our Turn CEO Mohan Sivaloganathan, “it is exciting to see a warrior for educational justice in the White House, who has a firsthand view of how young people can and should shape our schools.”

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  • Betsy DeVos Resigns as Education Secretary Following Violence at Capitol, Tells President Trump ‘There Is No Mistaking the Impact Your Rhetoric Had’

    By The 74 | January 7, 2021

    The second member of President Trump’s cabinet announced her resignation Thursday night, following the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol this week. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted the letter Thursday, with her resignation set to become effective Friday, as she pointed to the president’s role in fueling the deadly chaos that descended on Congress. Her full letter:

    Dear Mr. President:

    For more than thirty years, I have fought on behalf of America’s students to expand the options they have to pursue a world-class education. As you know, too many of them are denied an equal opportunity to a high-quality education simply because of where they grow up or how much money their family makes. You rightly have called this one of the most significant civil rights issues of our time.

    Leading the U.S. Department of Education has given me an exceptional opportunity to advocate on behalf of the forgotten students the traditional system leaves behind. We have achieved much.

    We have sparked a national conversation about putting students and parents in charge of education, leading to expanded school choice and education freedom in many states. We have restored the proper federal role by returning power to states, communities, educators, and parents. We have returned due process to our nation’s schools and defended the First Amendment rights of students and teachers. We have dramatically improved the way students interact with Federal Student Aid. We have lifted up students by restoring year-round Pell, expanding Second Chance Pell, delivering unprecedented opportunities for students at HBCUs, and so much more.

    Finally, Mr.President, I know with certainty that history will show we were correct in our repeated urging of and support for schools reopening this year and getting all of America’s students back to learning. This remains the greatest challenge our nation’s students face, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. Millions are being denied meaningful access to education right now, in no small part because of the union bosses who control so much of the traditional system.

    We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people. Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business. That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.

    Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgement and model the behavior we hope they would emulate. They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday. To that end, today I resign from my position, effective Friday, January 8, in support of the oath I took to our Constitution, our people, and our freedoms.

    Holding this position has been the honor of a lifetime, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve America and her students.

    Sincerely, Betsy DeVos 


    From The 74 Archive: DeVos on the Docket — With 455 Lawsuits Against Her Department and Counting, Education Secretary is Left to Defend Much of Her Agenda in Court



  • With Senate in Democrats’ Hands, Attention Turns to Ed Committee Leadership, Cardona Confirmation

    By Linda Jacobson | January 7, 2021

    With Democrats now in control of the U.S. Senate following the defeat of two Republican incumbents in Georgia’s high-stakes runoff election, attention turns to committee assignments and the upcoming confirmation hearings for Miguel Cardona, President-elect Biden’s nominee for education secretary.

    Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is expected to take retired Sen. Lamar Alexander’s spot as chair of the education committee, while Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina is in line to be ranking member.

    Murray said in an email to The 74 recently that she will continue to prioritize reauthorization of the Higher Education Act “to make college more affordable, accessible, accountable, and safer while addressing the systemic racism that has plagued our higher education system.”

    She said she was also planning to focus on addressing “all the way systemic racism continues to harm students of color.”

    Related

    Georgia Senate Runoff Will Affect Reach of Biden’s Education Agenda and the ‘Larger Political Dynamic’ in Washington

    Murray is also a strong early-childhood advocate and could push for additional spending on child care in any future relief package. The bill that passed in December provided $40 billion less than she proposed.

    One of the first things on the education committee’s agenda will be advancing Biden’s choice for education secretary. Nomination hearings for Cardona aren’t expected to begin until later this month at the earliest. But as soon as Biden is sworn in on the 20th, Cardona could begin serving as acting secretary, noted Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm.

    The victory for Democrats in both Georgia races gives the Senate a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris ready to step in as a tie-breaking vote.

    With Democrats controlling both the executive and legislative branches of government, some speculate Biden will be able to push for costlier and more controversial aspects of his policy agenda. But with the filibuster — the rule requiring 60 votes for legislative packages — expected to stay in place, he’ll still have to appeal to GOP moderates to pass major legislation.

    Democrats could help him get major tax and spending measures through Congress — bills related to additional pandemic relief, for example — using the budget reconciliation process. Under that fast-track procedure, bills are not allowed to add to the federal deficit or change spending on social security.

    Biden is also expected to pause President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders, particularly the most recent order that directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use Community Service Block Grant funds to issue “emergency learning scholarships” to disadvantaged families. Payments to microschools, pods, and therapy services for students with special needs would also be eligible.

    Trump’s 1776 Commission, intended to “teach our children about the miracle of American history” and blunt the impact of the 1619 Project focusing on the impact of slavery, would also likely be on that list.

    Related

    Trump Issues School Choice Executive Order Allowing States to Repurpose Funds for ‘Emergency Learning Scholarships’; Critics See Biden Swiftly Revoking Pandemic Measure

    In August, Trump also issued a series of executive orders, including one that deferred payroll tax obligations. Democrats argued that action could hurt schools and lead to teacher layoffs.

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  • Parent Poll: Vaccine ‘Absolutely Necessary’ for Sending Kids Back to Classrooms; 6 in 10 Will Immunize Their Children

    By Beth Hawkins | January 6, 2021

    Parents say making a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public is “absolutely necessary” for them to feel safe returning their children to classrooms, and a majority will have their kids vaccinated, according to a new poll by the National Parents Union. But only half of those will inoculate their kids right away, and one-fourth of families won’t do so at all.

    The poll comes as states try to figure out how to comply with a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that teachers, school staff and day care providers be among the next group of essential workers prioritized for vaccination. The process has been complicated by delays in vaccine distribution.

    Overall, 60 percent of parents polled say they will have their kids vaccinated, though only 31 percent will do so immediately. One-fourth say they will not immunize their children.

    Three-fourth of parents who are Democrats say they will have their children vaccinated, versus 56 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of political independents, the December survey found. Half say making a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public is “absolutely necessary” for them to feel safe returning their children to classrooms.

    As ambivalent as they are about the vaccines, 68 percent of parents surveyed expressed concern that their children are falling behind — a rate that has remained relatively consistent since the start of the current academic year.

    A year-old federation of parents and advocacy organizations, the National Parents Union has surveyed families about their experiences and opinions since April and canvassed a representative sample monthly since September. The December poll was administered to 1,008 parents.

    Related

    Mothers of Invention: Frustrated With the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Union

    The first NPU poll to probe families’ attitudes about vaccines, the December survey found acceptance of vaccination rises with parental education and income, and is highest in Western states. Asians were the ethic group most likely to say they will have their children vaccinated, at 70 percent, compared with 64 percent of Latinos, 58 percent of whites and 55 percent of Blacks.

    It’s not clear whether immunizing teachers will quell the debate over how to safely reopen schools. Polls put the number of American adults who say they are likely to seek the vaccine as low as 60 percent, calling into question whether enough teachers will sign up. Regardless, transmission seems increasingly unlikely in schools, provided community case rates are low.

    In a recent interview with The 74’s Zoe Kirsch, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she favors prioritizing vaccination according to school reopening plans, with early immunizations going to staff whose schools are welcoming students back in person.

    Related

    74 Interview: AFT’s Randi Weingarten Talks Tying School Reopening to Teacher Vaccine Rollout, Biden’s Ed Secretary Pick and $900B Relief Bill

    The December survey was consistent with the general findings of the organization’s past polls: Even as concerns mount that their children are falling behind, more than two-thirds of parents worry about someone in their family getting COVID-19.

    A widely available vaccine tops the list of safety measures that would bridge the gap between families’ fears of learning loss and their anxiety about the coronavirus. Asked what factors were “absolutely necessary” for them to be willing to send their children back into classrooms, 46 percent of parents said requiring staff and students potentially exposed to the virus to stay home for 14 days, 44 percent want limited class sizes to facilitate social distancing and 41 percent said case counts in their communities need to be low.

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation and The City Fund provide financial support to the National Parents Union and The 74

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  • Research Shows Students Benefiting From Arts Field Trips, But Will They Recede After COVID?

    By Kevin Mahnken | January 4, 2021

    Parents have worried all year that arts education will be among the casualties claimed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting pressures on local school budgets. Depending on how long districts are forced to cut programs, fire or reassign staff, and cope with remote learning, some advocates warn, little money or instructional time could be left over for activities outside of core academic subjects.

    Those concerns may grow louder following the release of research this fall that shows young students receiving measurable academic and social-emotional benefits from exposure to the arts. Even a few brief trips to cultural institutions can lift engagement, tolerance, course grades, and standardized test scores for participating students, the authors find.

    The study, circulated as a working paper by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, offers the latest round of findings from the first-ever multi-visit experiment measuring the long-term effects of field trips. Lead author Heidi H. Erickson, a visiting assistant professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, said that she and her collaborators were surprised to see the size of the effects generated by a handful of outings during the school year. Previous research had focused on “much more comprehensive” arts enrichment and integration programs that were administered over a longer span of time, she noted.

    “Here, we are able to demonstrate that a relatively simple intervention — and we consider it pretty low-touch; three field trips in a year, maybe six field trips in two years — can actually have some substantial impacts,” Erikson said. “They’re not just limited to social benefits, but it shows that smaller interventions can actually have some significant effects on academics as well.”

    To test those effects, the researchers randomly assigned fourth and fifth graders from 15 Atlanta elementary schools to receive three field trips to an art museum, a symphony orchestra, and a theater production. Those students were compared with a control group that was sent on one field trip, either to one of the arts organizations or another destination in Atlanta.

    Students were asked to complete surveys at the beginning and end of their school year to gauge their interest in the arts, tolerance for others, political tolerance, empathy, and school engagement. The research team also examined administrative data detailing the students’ performance on the Georgia Milestones standardized tests, course grades, and attendance and disciplinary records.

    Survey responses indicated that students who received the arts field trips were more likely to express a desire to consume or participate in arts in the future. They were also more likely to demonstrate tolerance, as demonstrated by their higher levels of agreement with the survey prompt that “different people can have different opinions about the same thing.”

    Those results are somewhat in keeping with prior research, which found that one-off visits to art museums boosted children’s critical and creative thinking. But the effects of the repeated field trips on academic outcomes were more noteworthy still: Two years after going on the trips, participants earned significantly higher combined scores on their math and ELA standardized tests. They enjoyed higher course grades as well.

    Erikson noted that, while it was unclear just how the field trips had improved academic performance, students who had received more exposure to the arts subsequently did better in several measures of school engagement. One year after the trips, participating students had .19 fewer behavioral incidents than those in the control group (an 83 percent decline) and were less likely to be absent from school.

    “As we started to look at measures like disciplinary infractions, attendance, measures of conscientiousness, we started to wonder if maybe there was a school engagement effect happening,” she said. “School is now a little more exciting to students, they’ve had these great experiences with their classes, they feel a little more connected, and they’re just trying more.”

    The authors note that arts field trips like those tracked in the study are sometimes viewed as a liability by teachers and school leaders, who meticulously budget their instructional time. Three days out of a year devoted to art, theater, and music — even if, as in the case of the study, the costs of the visits were covered — can represent a large resource expended, especially given the pressure for schools to perform well on their states’ educational accountability systems.

    During the aftermath of the Great Recession, education observers noted that field trips waned as districts dealt with massive budget cutbacks. Survey data from school administrators indicated that nearly one-third reported eliminating such trips in the years following the 2007-09 financial meltdown.

    While hesitant to point to specific risks from continued school closures and financial retrenchment, Erikson said she worried that perceived “extras” like class trips and arts education would recede in the wake of the pandemic. Given the countless new responsibilities piled on schools during times of crisis, from providing free meals to connecting kids with the internet, enrichment activities may be in danger of being lost in the shuffle.

    “The longer the current education conditions go on, there’s a concern that we short-change students from having a holistic and broader educational experience. Exposing kids to a broader world, connecting kids to their teachers and classmates, connecting them with a world outside their school — that’s where field trips fit in. With the pandemic and so many schools [still] online, I do think there’s a risk of serious negative consequences from being isolated from each other and disconnected.”

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  • Georgia Senate Runoff Will Affect Reach of Biden’s Education Agenda and the ‘Larger Political Dynamic’ in Washington

    By Linda Jacobson | January 4, 2021

    America could know as early as Tuesday night which party controls the U.S. Senate — and possibly the scope of President-elect Joe Biden’s education agenda.

    The outcome depends on Georgia voters, who are casting ballots in a pivotal runoff election. One Senate race pits Republican Kelly Loeffler, whom the state’s governor appointed last year to finish retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, against Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

    In the other, incumbent Republican David Perdue is seeking a second term and facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, a media executive.

    The results could determine how much support Biden will have for the costliest and most progressive parts of his education agenda, such as tripling funding for high-poverty schools, forgiving student loans, and pursuing another pandemic relief package. While the president-elect is expected to use executive powers to bring back some Obama-era policies, experts said with the runoff and the slimmest of Democratic majorities in the House, Biden will need to appeal to GOP moderates in both chambers to move major legislation.

    Republicans, who currently have 50 seats, need to win just one of the two races to retain their majority. If the chamber is split 50-50, Democrats will gain control with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.

    A political trifecta in Washington — when one party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress — is uncommon and usually doesn’t last long, according to Michael Barone, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Since 1969, Democrats have held the White House, the House, and the Senate for a total of only eight years.

    “It’s not as monumental inside the Senate. It’s monumental for the larger political dynamic,” said Bethany Little, principal at EducationCounsel, an education consulting firm. When Democrats control the White House, the House, and then take the Senate, “that’s when the game has changed.”

    While President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia, the latest polls show no clear front runner in either Senate race. According to FiveThirtyEight, Loeffler trails Warnock 48 percent to 50 percent, while Ossoff leads Perdue 49 percent to 48 percent. Perdue is spending the rest of the campaign in quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, but President Donald Trump is planning a Monday night rally for both Republicans, while Biden is expected to travel to Atlanta for the Democrats. Democrats have seized upon early pandemic stock trades by Loeffler and Perdue as evidence of wrongdoing. The GOP senators, however, maintain they’ve done nothing wrong. Leoffler and Perdue describe their opponents as radical leftists.

    The importance of the race is evidenced by the energy and resources Republicans and Democrats are pouring into the state. Some analysts predict spending on campaign advertising could reach a staggering $500 million in an already record-setting year for spending on Congressional races.

    The role of centrists 

    With control of Congress undecided until after the runoff, confirmation hearings for education secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and other cabinet nominees could be on hold, especially if a winner in each race isn’t immediately clear.But with Biden opting not to choose a union leader for education secretary — an option several outlets reported he was considering — he’ll likely have an easier time winning approval from the Senate for that position, even if Republicans retain control.

    Cabinet member confirmations require 51 votes. But with a 60-vote rule in place to end debates over major legislation, Biden will need more votes for some proposals, such as another COVID-19 relief package.

    That’s why even if the Democrats gain control, they’ll be looking for support from moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — all members of the education committee. Republicans, on the other hand, will continue to appeal to Democrats they view as more bipartisan, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

    “Senators who are willing to vote with the other side will certainly find themselves getting a lot of attention and likely very favorable treatment of any issues that disproportionately affect their states,” said Steven White, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University in New York.

    The last time there was a 50-50 split in the Senate was 20 years ago whenCongress passed one of the most far-reaching education laws in American history — No Child Left Behind. President George W. Bush signed the law about a year after he defeated Democrat Al Gore — another election debated in the courts. But the even split in the Senate didn’t lead to partisan gridlock. NCLB was just one piece of major legislation to come from a Congress united by the war in the Middle East following Sept. 11.

    “People think of 50-50 as polarizing, but it actually wasn’t,” said Little, with EducationCounsel, who worked as chief education counsel to the Senate education committee at the time. “It was very affirming to centrist, moderate, bipartisan work.”

    Then-Senate leader Trent Lott and Democratic leader Tom Daschle negotiated a power-sharing compromise in which committees were also split 50-50, but with Republicans serving as chairs. They even wrote a book about it in 2016, hoping their efforts at bipartisanship would inspire current members.

    But such camaraderie might be impossible now. Relations between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and current Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have worsened since McConnell expedited conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and after months of bitter fights over relief legislation.

    If there are few senators working to find middle ground, that could “change the calculus,” Little said. But moderates already demonstrated their influence by pushing for agreement on the most recent relief bill after numerous other efforts failed. “It wouldn’t have happened if centrists hadn’t restarted negotiations,” she added.

    Future of school choice

    Loeffler, also a member of the education committee, is not among those centrists. Loyal to Trump, she has pushed for increased funding for private school choice.

    In September, she sponsored a school choice bill that would give low-income families and those who have children with special needs access to federal funds for private school or home school expenses.

    But Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein and Manasevit, a Washington-based education law firm, said once President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are no longer in Washington to champion school choice, Loeffler might have a harder time attracting an audience for the issue.

    “Without the secretary in an active role there, you do wonder how she is going to press that point,” Martin said.

    The future of school choice in the courts is another issue that rests on the Senate’s makeup.

    “A Democrat-controlled Senate would appoint more progressive judges who would be less inclined to rule in favor of school choice proponents and those advocating for religious institutions,” said Leslie Finger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Texas. “With Republican control of the chamber, judicial appointments are sure to be held up.”

    In addition to confirming Barrett, the McConnell-led Senate has scrambled to fill federal court vacancies with Trump nominees. There are currently 53 vacancies in the federal court system, with 30 nominees pending.

    Perdue sits on the armed services, banking, budget and foreign relations committees. When he ran for office in 2014, he advocated for “defunding” the Department of Education. Last year, he co-sponsored legislation that would have allowed education pods — small groups of students learning together while schools operate remotely — to receive federal funding, without states and localities interfering. The bill also would have allowed “home educators” to get the same tax deduction for expenses as teachers. Loeffler was a co-sponsor on the bill, which died in the finance committee.

    Perdue was the lone sponsor of the SCHOOL — or Safely Creating Healthy Opening Options Locally — Act that would create a $55 billion grant program to cover COVID-19 testing and expenses related to reopening schools, including cleaning, masks and other supplies. The bill was referred to the education committee, but never went any further.

    Charter school advocates are also closely watching the outcome of the runoff. Ron Rice, senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said even if Warnock or Ossoff campaigned on the idea of charters hurting traditional schools, they would need to “govern like moderates” because of strong support among voters for charter schools.

    During a recent post-election webinar, he counted former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who defeated incumbent Cory Gardner in November, among other Democrats in Congress who have supported charter schools, including Cory Booker of New Jersey, Diane Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

    Biden is expected to be tougher on charters than some school choice experts would like and has said he doesn’t want any federal funding flowing to for-profit operators. But Rice said the president-elect will likely govern as a moderate on the issue.

    “I don’t think there’s a hit squad on charters in the incoming administration,” he said.

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  • Trump Issues School Choice Executive Order Allowing States to Repurpose Funds for ‘Emergency Learning Scholarships’; Critics See Biden Swiftly Revoking Pandemic Measure

    By Linda Jacobson | December 28, 2020

    After failed attempts in Congress to shift more funding to parents wanting their children to return to in-person learning, President Donald Trump on Monday issued an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to allow block grant funds to be used for pandemic-related private and homeschool expenses.

    States would be able to use Community Services Block Grant funds to issue “emergency learning scholarships” to “disadvantaged” families. The funds could also be used for participating in microschools and pods, as well as therapy services for students with special needs.

    “The prolonged deprivation of in-person learning opportunities has produced undeniably dire consequences for the children of this country,” the order said, noting that more than 50 percent of all public-school students in the U.S. began school remotely this fall.

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    The block grant, funded at $775 million for fiscal year 2021, is used for a wide swath of anti-poverty programs in low-income communities, ranging from employment, nutrition, housing, and health care. Education is an allowable use for the funds. Trump, however, actually recommended eliminating the block grant in his budget proposal earlier this year, as well as throughout his administration.

    The order came on the same day that departing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos commented on the $2.3 trillion pandemic relief and funding bill Trump signed Sunday, saying that the legislation “took the same tired approach” by not including provisions in the School Choice Now bill, which would have set aside 10 percent of federal relief funds for scholarships for private and homeschooling expenses. In a tweet, she said, the order “demonstrates our continued commitment to empowering students with the resources they need to find the right fit for their education.”

    The Trump administration hinted in mid-November that the president might make such a move, but observers and public school advocates characterized it as “more bluster for the base” and an executive action that wouldn’t hold up in court.

    They had the same reaction today.

    “It’s super weird,” Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said about the executive order. “This will obviously not go into effect.”

    She said that Biden would be able to reverse the order once he takes office Jan. 20. Biden’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

    Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who has opposed attempts in his own state to use earlier relief bill funds for school vouchers, said, “this move is a day late and a dollar short — a day late because the students have been waiting on federal leadership on the issue of school reopening for over half a year and a dollar short because this random idea to use health and human services funds is very unlikely to move the dial for many families.”

    But school choice advocates celebrated the announcement.

    “This is big, welcome news,” said Leslie Hiner, vice president of legal affairs at EdChoice, an advocacy organization. “Microschools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops are excellent options. Kids need help now; they don’t have time to wait.”

    The order references guidance that the Department of Health and Human Services issued in August allowing federal child care funds to be used during the hours that students would normally be in school. But it adds that “virtual instruction is an inadequate substitute for in-person learning opportunities and this aid is insufficient to meet current needs.”

    Related

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    Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, said she took exception to “deficit mindset perspective” of the order, but said the organization’s polling shows that more parents, especially parents of color “would love to participate in learning pods and other innovative educational approaches if funding and resources were available to them.”

    “The key,” she added, “will be ensuring the equitable distribution of this funding to typically underserved and underresourced children who need it the most.”

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  • Pandemic Brings Long-Sought Admissions Changes to NYC’s Highly Segregated Schools

    By Zoë Kirsch | December 18, 2020

    Officials announced major changes Friday to admissions processes for selective New York City middle and high schools in the nation’s largest school district and one of its most segregated.

    Mayor Bill de Blasio made the revisions — which advocates and integration supporters have long urged him to pursue — seven years into his tenure and one year before leaving office. Disruptions to testing and attendance brought on by the pandemic drove the timing of the changes, at least some of which are expected to outlast the coronavirus crisis.

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    New York City has a greater percentage of screened schools than any other, and selective schools citywide tend to under-enroll Black, Latino and low-income students, who comprise the majority of the system’s 1.1 million students.

    “The COVID-19 crisis has exposed longstanding inequities in our City’s public schools,” de Blasio said in a statement issued Friday. “Now, as we rebuild our city, we are expanding opportunities for all public-school students and doubling down on our mission to provide a quality education for all, regardless of a child’s zip code.”

    Here’s what you need to know about the changes.

    1 They’ll most affect middle school admissions

     
    About 40 percent of middle schools citywide, 196 total, are selective, and historically, they’ve been disproportionately white. The mayor’s update orders middle schools to suspend all admissions-related screens for one year, including grades, standardized test scores and attendance, in favor of a random lottery system. Those familiar with Brooklyn District 15’s admissions overhaul might recognize the idea; in 2018, that district swapped middle school screens for a lottery in order to diversify schools. Families typically submit middle school applications in the fall. This year, they have from early January through early February to do so.

    2 Screening at selective high schools will basically remain the same, with a few major exceptions

    Officials this year are scrapping the geographic priority policy, which has in the past given students living near selective schools first dibs on spots. The change extends to District 2, the oft-cited poster child of schools skewed in the direction of the white and wealthy. That district, which includes the Upper East Side and West Village, has nearly four times more white students than the citywide average. Students citywide are supposed to have access to any NYC high school, according to a 2004 policy issued by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but that change doesn’t apply to certain districts and schools that are among the most sought-after.

    De Blasio’s announcement won’t touch the entrance exam for the city’s eight specialized high schools — something he can’t do without state approval. In 2019, he tried to broach that subject with the legislature, but state lawmakers refused to eliminate the single, high-stakes test that governs admission to top schools like Stuyesant and Bronx High School of Science. Some have speculated that Democratic lawmakers, who recently secured a supermajority in the state Senate, might be willing to reconsider abolishing the test, which yields admissions offers to a very small number of Black and Hispanic students each year. In the meantime, eighth- and ninth-graders hoping to enroll in those schools next year will take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test starting in late January 2021, albeit in middle schools around the city, not just at a few campuses.

    Performing arts high schools will hold virtual auditions this year; otherwise, admissions there will remain unchanged. The traditional and highly competitive audition process has also produced segregated high school enrollments, including at the famed LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts, where 63 percent of students are white and Asian.

    3 The city is taking steps to encourage individual districts to integrate

    The mayor announced Friday that he would add five more grants for districts to craft their own diversity plans, in the vein of District 15’s efforts. That will mean 13 districts are now working on their own strategies, the mayor’s office said. They added that, over the next four years, officials intend to expand diversity planning to include all 32 community school districts.

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    4 Gifted and Talented screens are here to stay

     
    Among the assessments that will remain: the controversial standardized test given to very young children for admission to elementary school Gifted and Talented programs, which is administered by a proctor one-to-one. Eliminating it was one of the recommendations of a task force appointed by the mayor in 2019, and it remains to be seen what the evaluation will look like during the pandemic. The city’s Gifted and Talented programs are overwhelmingly white and Asian.

    Related

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    5 The changes are a result of COVID

     
    The mayor, who has at least nominally centered equity since his campaign days, has always had the ability to change admissions policies. In recent years, pressure has mounted for him to implement relevant revisions: In November, Teens Take Charge filed a federal complaint over high school screens contributing to segregation, and in December, District 2 principals called upon the city to eliminate the policy giving local students privileged access to their schools. But it wasn’t until the coronavirus made gathering the metrics often used in screening impractical — including grades and attendance — that de Blasio moved on the issue. After schools shuttered in March, students in younger grades changed from letter grades to pass-fail, administrators stopped using attendance records to assess student achievement, and state tests were canceled.

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    6 Whether they stick will probably depend on next year’s newly elected mayor

    De Blasio said Friday morning that “the status quo in NYC schools cannot continue.” But only a year of his tenure remains, so decisions about whether these policy changes should endure will fall into the hands of whoever assumes office in 2022. None of the sizable group of mayoral contenders, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn borough President Eric Adams and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, have said much so far about school integration.

    Sophie Mode, the communications director of Teens Take Charge, the student advocacy group that’s pushed for school integration, said Friday she’s already looking well beyond de Blasio to the forthcoming election.

    “I think this is a really important time for candidates to prove they’re committed to an agenda that prioritizes our public schools,” she told The 74, adding of the recent changes, “This is definitely progress. But it’s nowhere near enough.”

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  • In Final Hours of Senate Negotiations, Congress Poised to Approve $82 Billion in New Assistance for Schools, Including Funds to Help Reopen Classrooms

    By Linda Jacobson | December 17, 2020

    Dec. 28 Update: After keeping the nation in limbo over the holidays, President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan COVID-19 relief package Sunday night. “I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” he said in a statement.

    The president said he wanted $2,000 payments to individuals instead of $600. The House is expected to vote on a standalone bill that would increase the payments to $2,000. but it’s unclear whether Senate Republicans would even consider it. The long-awaited relief package includes about $54 billion for K-12 schools and $23 billion for colleges and universities.

    Senate negotiators were closing in on a $900 billion bipartisan relief deal Thursday that would include $54 billion for schools, saying they were prepared to work through the weekend to get it done. That’s four times the amount schools received in the March relief package, but less than earlier proposals from both parties.

    Lacking from the deal, however, is funding for state and local governments, which Democrats and education advocates believe is necessary to minimize cuts to education funding, but that President Donald Trump has called a “bailout.”

    Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on Congress not to leave for the holiday break without passing a bill that included funding for states to help families struggling financially, implement vaccination plans, and spark economic recovery.

    To keep the government running, Congress must pass a $1.4 trillion federal spending bill before midnight Friday or a continuing resolution to buy some more time over the weekend.

    The relief proposal no longer includes language that would make payments contingent on whether schools physically reopen — a provision that would have been nearly impossible to enforce as surging COVID cases has many districts wavering between remote and in-person learning.

    State leaders are concerned about shortfalls in income and sales taxes as well as ongoing costs related to the pandemic. The National Conference of State Legislatures is forecasting revenues to be an average 11 percent lower than earlier projections for the rest of fiscal year 2021, according to Austin Reid, who directs the organization’s education standing committee.

    While specific cuts to education won’t be finalized until state legislatures begin meeting next month, he said at least 10 states have either announced cuts so far or eliminated proposed increases. A 10 percent decline in state revenue generally translates into a 6 percent cut in education funding, he said.

    ‘Digital inequities’ 

    The relief deal — which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly hopes will boost the chances of two GOP senators in a Georgia runoff election — also leaves out liability protections he sought to protect employers, including school districts, from legal claims if employees get COVID-19 at work. The results of the Jan. 5 runoff will determine whether Republicans remain in control of the Senate and McConnell keeps his position as majority leader.

    Those omissions, however, could pave the way for another relief bill in the Biden administration, experts said. President-elect Joe Biden suggested Wednesday that there should be more relief to come. “It’s an important down payment,” he said.

    Without state and local funding and liability protections, both parties would have an incentive to work on another package, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for advocacy and governance at AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

    “I would be concerned if McConnell were to do a deal that moved one, but not the other, because then there is feasibly less pressure for both parties to come back to the table,” she said.

    Negotiators are working on a compromise between two proposals released Monday by a coalition in the Senate that included Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah. One plan totaled $748 billion, but left out state and local funding, while the other included that funding and an additional $160 billion for liability protections.

    Holding up the current deal are decisions about whether to extend an eviction moratorium that expires at the end of this month and the amount of direct payments to families and individuals.

    The plan is expected to use the same structure for education funding as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed in March — an allotment for states to distribute to districts through Title I and a $7.5 billion fund for governors that would include $2.5 billion for private schools.

    The proposal also includes $10 billion for child care — a fifth of what Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, ranking member on the education committee, recommended in May. And it includes $10 billion for broadband, including $3 billion for distance learning.

    While the CARES Act allowed states and districts to direct funding toward distance learning, it did not include targeted funding for broadband access and devices. Still, Ronn Nozoe, CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, suggested the $3 billion is inadequate and that the current proposal “regards that access as a luxury.”

    “The pandemic exposed the digital inequities among our students,” he said. “Sufficient, reliable broadband and device access is an essential condition for high-quality education.”

    Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit, said the inclusion of funding to close the “home learning gap” was encouraging and that $3 billion could meet the demand for internet access for students for the rest of the school year. A permanent solution, however, would involve changing the federal internet service discount program, known as E-Rate, “so that schools have an ongoing source of funds to ensure every student has equal access to educational opportunity.” The program currently doesn’t cover students’ home internet access.

    The $54 billion is roughly a quarter of the amount AASA and the Council for Chief State School Officers have estimated they need to reopen schools on a broader scale. And it’s less than the $125 billion superintendents of the nation’s three largest school districts — New York’s Richard Carranza, Los Angeles’s Austin Beutner, and Chicago’s Janice Jackson — called for in a Sunday op-ed.

    Districts have been using their own funds to cover cleaning, coronavirus testing, contact tracing, mental health support and other expenses, they wrote. On Dec. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report estimating the total costs of recommended cleaning procedures at $3 billion nationally, while the price tag for custodial services would range between $5 billion and $10 billion. Transportation costs could also reach roughly $9.5 billion, the report said.

    The deal in Congress wouldn’t include targeted funding for programs such as tutoring and summer school to help students make up for lost learning — another reason advocates could continue to push for another bill early next year.

    “Budgets are shrinking while needs are expanding from the pandemic,” Nozoe said. “Schools need that funding not just to stabilize budgets shaken by local economies, but to accelerate learning after the pandemic.”

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  • Anti-LGBT Activist Loses Orleans Parish School Board Race to a Gay Educator; 4 Other NOLA Runoff Elections Settled

    By Beth Hawkins | December 17, 2020

    After coming within a hair of winning a third term on the Orleans Parish School Board in November, Leslie Ellison lost a recent runoff in New Orleans’ District 4. Businesswoman Ellison has a history of anti-LGBTQ activism, eight years ago urging Louisiana lawmakers to allow charter schools to deny admissions to gay students.

    All seven seats on the board were up for election this year. In addition to the contest in which adjunct community college professor J.C. Romero, a gay former teacher, bested Ellison, four other races were settled in the Dec. 5 runoff election. In Districts 2 and 7, incumbents Ethan Ashley and Nolan Marshall Jr. were reelected. An open seat in District 5 went to Katie Baudouin, and newcomer Carlos Zervigon won District 6.

    In the runup to the general election, attention focused on some candidates’ desire to weaken the superintendent’s authority over closing failing schools in the nearly all-charter district. The final results of the election suggest such a change is unlikely.

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    Several prominent education groups did not endorse in the District 4 contest, though less than two weeks before the runoff, an 11th hour controversy arose. The Black Alliance for Civic Empowerment Action Fund, which received donations from a political action committee associated with Democrats for Education Reform and from Walmart heir Jim Walton, paid for signs and mailers promoting Ellison.

    It’s not clear that either donor knew the organization was planning to spend in support of Ellison, who is African-American. Romero is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants.

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to The 74

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  • Research Shows Changing Schools Can Make or Break a Student, But the Wave of Post-COVID Mobility May Challenge the Systems in Ways We’ve Never Seen

    By Kevin Mahnken | December 15, 2020

    This article is one in a series spotlighting the broader consequences of families disenrolling their children, students changing schools and children going missing amid the coronavirus crisis. See all our coverage at ‘COVID’s Missing Students.’ (If you or a student you know changed schools or stopped going to class altogether because of the pandemic, tell us your story. On Twitter: #WhereAreTheKids and #IAmHere)

    The closing months of 2020 have brought little certainty to the question of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Through the beginning of a new school year, the drawn-out climax of a disputed election, and even the development of three separate vaccines, coronavirus infections and deaths have surged in a frightening second wave that has left tens of millions of K-12 students stuck in virtual classes for the time being.

    But as 2021 nears, the mystery of when they will return to in-person learning will give way to the question of where they will return to. Whether most districts open their buildings this spring or must wait until next fall, a significant number of children will eventually find themselves enrolled in schools different from the ones they left last March. And the academic consequences of that change in environment may be huge.

    Social scientists have spent decades studying school mobility, the phenomenon of students leaving one school and enrolling in another. Their accounts are complex and sometimes ambiguous. Almost every student eventually changes schools, even if only through grade promotion. The effects of those moves, particularly when they occur intentionally and strategically, can be advantageous to learning as kids embrace new academic challenges and a better social fit. But with few exceptions — military families being the most notable — students who move frequently tend to do worse than those who stay put. What’s more, schools that enroll larger proportions of highly mobile children are typically stressed learning environments where even non-mobile students struggle.

    The tidal movements of school migration accelerated by the pandemic will push and pull various populations of students in radically different directions. Some families, economically unmoored by the shock of the COVID recession, will be forced to move to new school districts. The desperate parents of special needs students will search far and wide for in-person services to replace those their children lost in the spring. And with a number of major districts still debating when and how to fully reopen their campuses, those with the means and inclination will simply opt out of public education altogether.

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    Evidence of the latter possibility has been plentiful in recent months. Interest in homeschooling has exploded since the end of the 2019-20 school year, and an industry group for private schools has said that over half its members saw more inquiries this summer than in the previous year. The wealthy and cosmopolitan-minded have even been willing to leave the country for Canada and New Zealand.

    But for students without international passports, the prospect of switching schools will often be colored by economic necessity and tortured decisions. Stefanie DeLuca, director of the Poverty & Inequality Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University, told The 74 that “the same vulnerabilities that were present before COVID will be exacerbated, especially with respect to housing.”

    “In our work in a number of cities…much of the school ‘choice’ among poor families, especially poor families of color, was reactive — sparked by housing and other instabilities that we know are already increasing with COVID,” DeLuca wrote in an email. Those instabilities mean that parents are forced to seek new places to live and work, she added, “often finding that the neighborhoods where they can get housing have schools that don’t meet their needs.”

    The persistence of American social inequalities, through years normal and freakish, mean that the present wave will unfold in some familiar ways. But COVID’s uncanny hold on our fears — the disease is killing more Americans than ever, even with treatments being rushed for public use — means that it will also uproot masses of children in ways somewhat similar to disasters like Hurricane Katrina, said Syracuse University economics professor Amy Ellen Schwartz. The scope of the changes make it “difficult to draw lessons from the existing research,” she said.

    “You have to leave because your parent moves, that’s an individual experience. You have to leave because your whole school shuts down, that’s totally different. And we can think of lots of examples of that: school buildings destroyed by hurricanes, or wildfires in California. If I had to guess about what will be the impact, I’d want to think about that kind of mobility because it’s a shared experience, and you’ve got a bunch of kids in this boat together.”

    ‘In general, it’s bad’

    The traditional forms of student mobility don’t look much like the kind precipitated by COVID-19 and prolonged school closures. But much of the research around unplanned or involuntary mobility — triggered perhaps when a student’s family circumstances change, or when they are expelled from their school — has shown negative effects, especially for children who move frequently.

    Russell Rumberger, an emeritus professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has published widely on mobility and attempted to differentiate among its manifestations. In a 2015 brief on the existing literature for the National Education Policy Center, he concluded that most research studies had found “consistent and severe” negative effects on test scores and high school graduation rates.

    In an interview, Rumberger gave his overall takeaway: “In general, it’s bad, and the more it happens, the worse it is.”

    “How I look at mobility is through the notion of instability,” he said. “Kids crave and need stability — especially younger kids, but even older kids. You can have instability in your school life, or your home life, or your community, but the cumulative effect of this instability is problematic for a lot of kids.”

    Moves between schools, especially those undertaken in the middle of a school year, can often be traced to destabilizing family events like divorce, eviction, or a parent’s job loss. Among the populations most likely to be chronically mobile are homeless and foster children, with one study of 159 students finding that they averaged eight school transfers during less than seven years of foster care. Because such transfers often allow two- or three-week intervals before students must be present at their new schools, Rumberger said, the moves are often entwined with long periods of absenteeism.

    Even more prosaic changes have the potential to impede learning. Early education specialists have warned recently that the transition from preschool to kindergarten can be accompanied by serious anxiety, with low-income kids needing particular assistance in making the switch.

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    If a change of that magnitude, undertaken by every child in the country, can carry deleterious consequences, the upheaval of the coronavirus could potentially mark students for years to come.

    A 2008 RAND Corporation study of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina offers troubling conclusions. An astonishing one-fourth of Louisiana’s public school students were at least temporarily displaced by Katrina’s destruction, and many were afflicted by setbacks that went beyond the academic, including mental health and behavioral problems. Schools with a high percentage of displaced students saw much higher rates of tardiness, verbal abuse of teachers, bullying, and even robbery.

    Marshall Jean, a senior research analyst at the University of Chicago, said that the logistical difficulties and wholesale unfamiliarity characterizing large-scale mobility (often occurring due to promotional changes, like when a cohort of students moves from elementary to middle school, or when schools close for financial or academic reasons) made it more difficult for both students and schools to cope with the pedagogical challenge.

    “A school counselor will doubtlessly find it easier to provide support for a dozen or two new entering students versus hundreds at a time,” he argued. “I would speculate that any substantial increases in COVID-related mobility will have similar destabilizing effects on academic environments that will exacerbate disruption in learning.”

    Because highly mobile students are often carried on the winds of massive social disadvantage, however, it can be hard to differentiate the causal impact of a move from the circumstances that precipitated it. If a family moves to a new state after a family breakdown that involved domestic abuse, for example, the multiple layers of dysfunction preceding the school switch likely explain far more than the mobility itself. Julia Burdick-Will, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins, said that she considered the isolated effects of moving schools to be meaningful, but “not massive.”

    “The effects of other things, like family changes and economic hardships, are probably larger,” she said. “For kids in those circumstances, if you can provide a stable school enrollment, that would be better. But you also don’t want to take it so far that you think that the school changes on their own are going to be the biggest thing going on.”

    Schwartz agreed.

    “The literature says, ‘These [mobile] kids do worse,’” she noted. “But really, on the whole, we’re unable to fully disentangle the effects of moving from the underlying factors that led to it. And from a policy point of view, I’m not sure it matters: You show me a kid who’s moved three times in the last eight months, I’ll show you a kid who needs special attention.

    Effects on schools

    Entirely apart from the effects of moving schools on individual students is the structural impact on the schools and school systems that enroll them.

    Burdick-Will’s research largely focuses on youth in Baltimore, who are highly likely to move between schools in any given school year. She warned that COVID-19, which has already interrupted parts of two school years, could ultimately result in the kind of “unmanageable churning that makes enrollments really hard to predict and classrooms really hard to teach.”

    “You end up dealing with a whole new population every year,” Burdick-Will said. “And that’s just if you’re talking about year-to-year.” When transfers occur in the middle of the school year, it can complicate teachers’ jobs even more. “Kids just show up in the classroom in the middle of the year, and the teacher doesn’t know anything about what they’ve been doing. That’s a real instructional problem.”

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    The academic losses are even felt by students who haven’t switched schools. In 2011, researchers at the University of Chicago published a study that tracked over 300,000 students who attended the city’s schools between 1995 and 2005. The negative effects of being enrolled in schools with high rates of mobile classmates accumulated over time, they found, contributing somewhat to the district’s mathematics achievement gap between white and African American students. Disturbingly, those effects were felt by both transferring students and stable students.

    Several sources cited the danger that COVID-related transience posed to older students, who will exercise more autonomy than elementary or middle school students. One 2012 study found that high school “switchers” were 6-9 percent more likely to drop out than “stayers” who didn’t change schools. Johns Hopkins’s DeLuca, one of the paper’s coauthors, observed that the social ties tethering adolescents to their classmates, coaches, and instructors “can be what makes or breaks it when it comes to staying in school and staying off the street.”

    “It’s not just about math and reading,” Deluca wrote. “it’s often about the enjoyment, motivation and support [students] receive through interactions with teachers and peers, inside the classroom and during extracurricular activities. Both, but especially the latter, can provide meaning, purpose and escape from the often unstable and difficult homes poor students come from.”

    Given that dropping out is often a gradual process that can be halted by schools through outreach to absent or struggling students, it will be even more incumbent on schools to keep track of comings and goings once they reopen. Burdick-Will compared the data collection challenge to the one facing districts after disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

    “Texas and Louisiana have systems for tracking enrollments and closures due to hurricanes in a way that a state like Maryland just doesn’t,” she said. “Even when kids go back to school, there are going to be two-week shutdowns here and there, and we’re going to need a system to account for those dates and figure out where those kids re-enroll. So it’s not a natural disaster in the same physical sense, but I think it’s going to have the same kind of social disruption.”

    For all the academic and developmental dangers faced by younger students separated from their schools, Burdick-Will said she was grateful that her own children are still in the early grades.

    “Kids in late middle school, high school, they don’t have the time to recover,” she lamented. “The consequences are greater because there are other options: They can just go to college, get a job, whatever. If it’s just temporary, kids are incredibly resilient. But if you’re late in the schooling process, or there’s other kinds of instability on top of it, then there’s no chance to figure out how to make it work.”

    This article is one in a series spotlighting the broader consequences of families disenrolling their children, students changing schools and children going missing amid the coronavirus crisis. See all our coverage at ‘COVID’s Missing Students.’ (If you or a student you know changed schools or stopped going to class altogether because of the pandemic, tell us your story. On Twitter: #WhereAreTheKids and #IAmHere)

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  • 40,000-Person Iceland Study Finds Youth Under 15 Half as Likely to Catch and Spread Coronavirus

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | December 11, 2020

    Updated

    A new 40,000-person study from Iceland has found that children under 15 are about half as likely as adults to be infected with COVID-19 and, when they do catch the virus, only half as likely as adults to transmit it to others.

    As U.S. officials grapple with school closures in the midst of the country’s deadliest surge in coronavirus cases to date, and as failure to control the virus has led to over 316,900 confirmed cases in K-12 schools, the findings deliver the most definitive numbers thus far on youth infection and transmission. The results come from contract tracing and genetic sequencing conducted by Iceland’s Directorate of Health and Reykjavik-based human-genomic company deCODE genetics.

    “[Children] can and do get infected and transmit to others, but they do both less frequently than adults,” Kári Stefánsson, deCODE’s chief executive, told National Geographic.

    The findings from Iceland build on the scientific consensus that age matters when it comes to catching and spreading COVID-19. Some studies, however, put the immunological threshold even earlier, at 10 to 12 years old. As children begin to go through puberty, it appears that their risk of contracting and transmitting the virus increases. Data from a national tracker of school coronavirus cases called the COVID Monitor, which includes case numbers from over 7,000 U.S. school districts, find that the rate of positive cases for high school students is nearly three times that of elementary school students.

    As metropolitan school systems such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and the nation’s largest district, New York City, use these numbers to guide their reopening strategy, many worry that the teachers who share the classroom with younger students are not out of harm’s way. Educators’ fears of being sickened by the virus have at times pitted demands from teachers unions to keep schools remote against the needs of stressed-out and concerned families. Many students’ grades have plummeted and, in extreme cases, entire classes have fallen behind.

    While student infections are far lower in elementary school than in high school, teacher case rates do not vary significantly by grade, national data show.

    “If you’re concerned about staff exposure, then elementary schools aren’t that great,” Rebekah Jones, who runs the COVID Monitor, told The 74.

    Emily Oster, Brown University professor and curator of the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, interpreted the staff case numbers differently, chalking them up to community spread.

    “The reason for [the comparable rates among teachers across grade level] is likely that infections are occurring outside school,” she told The 74 over email. “So it just suggests the outside activities are similar in the two groups of teachers.”

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    States and Cities Lean Into Reopening Elementary Schools First As Data Affirm Lower Risk for Students, But Not Necessarily Teachers

    Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration late Friday approved a COVID-19 vaccine formula from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, a major step toward thwarting the pandemic in the U.S. It remains unclear, however, whether young people under 16 will have access to the shots and whether teachers will get priority in line, meaning the science on school-level transmission will remain critical.

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    As COVID Vaccine Rollout Approaches, States Weigh Whether to Place Teachers Near the Head of the Line

    Scientific studies offer preliminary insight on why youth and adults interact with the virus differently. One potential explanation, based on an antibody study published in Nature Immunology, lies in young people’s dynamic immune system, which uses “new T-cells” that may be able to adapt to COVID-19 as opposed to adults’ “memory T-cells” that rely on exposure to past contagions and are not as effective.

    “School-age children, they’re designed to respond to new pathogens efficiently,” Donna Farber, a Columbia University immunologist and study co-author, told The 74 last month.

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    As Coronavirus Cases Surge, New Antibody Study Shows Young Children May Be Less Likely to Spread Virus; Could Spell Good News for In-Person Elementary and Middle School Learning

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