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  • Higher Grades, Higher Earnings: New Study Ties In-School Mentoring with Huge Benefits for Students

    By Kevin Mahnken | 2 days ago

    Schools mold their students in ways so numerous and varied that some remain almost entirely ambiguous. Experts have long studied how teachers impart knowledge and prepare young adults for the workforce, and a flood of more recent research has examined the value of developing patience, persistence, and other social and emotional skills. But the informal relationships that school staff form with kids, one of the most familiar conduits through which they receive life guidance and prepare for adulthood, are comparatively obscure.

    New research being released today aims to change that by focusing explicitly on the effects of in-school mentoring. The study, circulated as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, finds that high school students with mentors tend to earn better grades, stay in school longer, and make more money than peers who are otherwise similar to them. Unfortunately, the lower-income students who seem to benefit the most from mentoring at school are also the least likely to receive it.


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    The paper builds on existing research that has detected significant benefits from providing mentors to kids. But that work has usually looked at structured and well-known programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which draws together adults and children who are both expressly looking to establish connections. Matthew Kraft, an economics professor at Brown and one of the study’s authors, said that the webs of “natural mentoring” in school environments represent a much more common phenomenon that needs to be investigated in its own right.

    “Natural mentoring — when students and adults in school buildings develop relationships that go beyond the formal role of the teacher in the classroom or a coach on the athletic field — happens far more frequently than the ways in which we offer formal mentoring,” Kraft said. “So we need to understand the degree to which that matters for kids, where it’s happening, and where it’s not happening.”

    Related

    Commentary: Mentoring Can Be a Powerful Force in Kids’ Lives. Here Are 3 Ways Mentorships Benefit Students — and 3 Benefits for Teachers

    But Kraft and his co-authors, University of Virginia psychologist Noelle Hurd and Anneberg research analyst Alex Bolves, faced a problem. Natural mentoring is, if not random, organic and difficult to replicate: You can’t design a research trial that will offer identical doses of care and attention to kids in schools and then compare them with a control group.

    To help overcome those issues, the team turned to a huge data set, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Commonly called “Add Health,” the project was launched in the 1994-95 academic year to track a nationally representative sample of over 20,000 middle- and high-schoolers as they aged into early adulthood. Waves of in-home interviews with participants have revealed countless details of their home and social lives over nearly three decades, including their relationships with adults. All told, over 15 percent identified a teacher, coach, or school counselor as an important mentor, with 80 percent of those saying that their mentorship persisted past high school.

    Determining the effects of all that mentoring required the researchers to use a variety of statistical methods. They studied the academic records of students from before and after they connected with their mentor; examined similar pairs of adolescents including 1,213 twins and triplets, 1,378 students who named one another as best friends, and 548 students who engaged in romantic relationships with one another; and they controlled for a host of demographic factors including race, gender, disability and immigration status, family structure and household income.

    In the end, the data pointed to a clear, wide-ranging set of benefits resulting from mentorship. Students with mentors gained between .06 and .48 points of grade point average, were between 18 and 35 percent less likely to fail a course, and were 10 to 25 percentage points more likely to attend college. Turning to workplace outcomes, the authors estimate that mentorship may boost the annual earnings of students by between $1,780 and $5,337. Those effects compare favorably to some of the most effective education interventions that have been studied, including high-quality pre-K and lower class sizes.

    Kraft cautioned that these associations between in-school mentoring and improved short- and long-term circumstances should not be regarded as clear causal evidence. But they offered the “most robust empirical evidence to date” of the importance of school-based mentoring, he said — and they fall in line with existing evidence, both from formal mentoring programs and the lived experience of many people.

    “None of our methods are gold standard, and we can’t definitively say without a doubt that natural mentoring causes the outcomes we observe to improve,” Kraft said. “However, we are able to leverage multiple approaches to account for the biases we think might be present. And across all the approaches, we can’t make what appear to be the benefits of natural mentoring go away.”

    Related

    Balfanz & Basile: Emergency Aid Won’t Last Forever. Using Some to Create a Corps of Coaches, Coordinators & Mentors to Support Teachers Would Ensure Long-Term Benefits

    ‘Size of these effects is amazing’

    Unfortunately, the Add Health data was equally clear that not all K-12 students benefit to the same extent from strong relationships with adults at school. Roughly 15 percent of white participants and 20 percent of Asian -American participants said they had experienced in-school mentoring; roughly 12 percent of African -American and Latino males, and about 10 percent of African -American and Latino females, said the same.

    Class was also a noteworthy factor: Over 17 percent of students from more affluent families reported the existence of an in-school mentor, compared with just 12.5 percent of students from less affluent families.The divergence is especially damaging because the apparent effects of mentoring, including reduced course failures and greater college attendance, are significantly larger for children of lower socioeconomic status.

    In this aspect, the study’s findings closely coincide with those of another recent working paper, this one examining a more formal mentoring system in Germany. That experiment looked at over 300 high schoolers from 10 cities who were paired with university undergraduates through a program called Rock Your Life! The younger students were drawn from schools in each city’s lower academic track, making them much less likely to attend college. But after years of collecting data, researchers found that receiving mentoring had delivered substantial improvements to their math grades, social skills and declared willingness to attain a workplace apprenticeship.

    Ludger Woessmann, a professor of economics at the University of Munich and one of the study’s co-authors, told The 74 that those positive effects accrued almost exclusively to poorer students; in contrast with Kraft’s work, which found the benefits of mentoring to be universal, if weighted somewhat toward the economically disadvantaged, the German experiment showed that more affluent participants received almost no benefits.

    “The size of these effects is amazing,” Woessmann said. “It’s somewhat hard to quantify exactly what they mean, but they are huge. And I think it’s a very gratifying result because we really see in all these dimensions — some of these are subjective things, but school grades come from official data — they are really improved, big time. So what we learn is that the life outcomes [of disadvantaged students] are malleable.”

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

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | 3 days ago

    If you’re the parent of a child under 12 years old, you may feel like you’re in a tricky spot right now.

    The most recent vaccine timelines say your child won’t be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations until mid-winter, but with shots widely available to adolescents, teens and adults, it seemed the country was returning to something resembling normalcy: Restaurants are full, movie theaters are open and professional sports are back in full swing.


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    At the same time, however, rampant spread of the more infectious Delta variant spurred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday to reverse course on masking recommendations in schools, now urging all students and personnel in K-12 settings to cover up whether vaccinated or not.With COVID cases up more than 200 percent in the past month nationwide, and with especially rapid transmission in under-vaccinated areas, the risks of the pandemic to kids has not faded.

    “The Delta variant resets the COVID clock back to March 2020 for people who are not yet vaccinated, including children,” Rebecca Wurtz, professor of health policy at the University of Minnesota, told The 74 via email.

    That leaves many parents wondering how to safely navigate the fast approaching back-to-school season. With misinformation about the virus and the vaccine in wide circulation, we spoke directly to health experts to offer some clarity.

    Here’s what they had to say:

    1 Is the Delta variant more dangerous to my child than previous strains of COVID-19?

    Short answer: yes and no.

    The level of danger to kids includes two important dimensions: 1) how likely is it that a child will contract the virus, and 2) how likely is it that, once testing positive, a child will suffer a serious outcome like hospitalization or long-term symptoms.

    On the first front, the Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than other COVID strains. With the mutation now the predominant strain in the U.S., there is an elevated risk that anyone unvaccinated, including kids, will catch the virus, doctors told The 74.

    But on the second front, there is no indication, says UCLA professor of pediatrics Ishminder Kaur, that when young people test positive, even for the Delta variant, they are getting sicker than they would with previous strains.

    “We might see an increase in number [of cases], but we’re not seeing an increase in severity,” the infectious disease expert told The 74.

    That’s extremely good news, says Janet Englund, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

    Consistent across all strains, the COVID expert told The 74, “children who get infected with the virus, even a variant, are less likely to get very sick than an adult.”

    A rare but severe condition, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, does appear to be linked to COVID-19 in children, and between 2 and 10 percent of pediatric virus cases also include months of “long COVID” symptoms like brain fog and tiredness. But recent numbers from the United Kingdom put the absolute risk of death from the coronavirus in children at approximately 2 in a million.

    2 Is in-person learning safe this fall?

    While of course there are exceptions, droves of academic studies show that, for the majority of students, learning in the classroom is linked to positive academic and socio-emotional outcomes.

    Last school year, a collection of 130 studies found that schools were not the locus of community spread, and could safely reopen as long as safety measures like ventilation, masking and distancing were in place and infection rates in the surrounding area were not raging.

    “Children should return to school in person this fall to make avail of all the benefits of in-person learning,” encouraged Amruta Padhye, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Missouri. On Friday, the White House officials said schools should be “100 percent” open this fall.

    But a safe reopening is predicated on schools implementing measures to mitigate spread of the virus. So what combinations of protocols actually makes a school “safe?” Read on.

    Related

    64% of Top Districts to Hold Virtual Academies this Fall, Option May Entice Families as Delta Variant Concerns Mount

    3 What if my child’s school doesn’t require masks?

    On Tuesday, the CDC changed its K-12 guidance to say that all students, faculty and visitors in schools should wear masks, in alignment with previous recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. But that hasn’t made the question of masks in school any less political.

    Seven states still bar school districts from requiring face coverings in the classroom, while another six mandate that all schools enforce universal masking, according to Burbio’s mask tracker. Most other states leave the decision up to individual school systems.

    In light of super-heated debates, and quickly changing guidance that represents just how rapidly the Delta variant has changed the COVID safety landscape, parental uncertainty on how to navigate face coverings in school is extremely valid.

    The research, however, is clear: “Masks have been proven to reduce transmission of virus and protect those who are still unvaccinated,” Padhye wrote in an email to The 74.

    Even if your school does not require masks or your state bans face-covering mandates, you should still put one on your child when they go back to school, said Kaur.

    “It’s still an extra barrier in place,” the UCLA health expert advised.

    Related

    Updated CDC Guidance Relaxing Mask Requirements for Some Students, But Not Others, Puts School Districts in Tough Spot

    4 Beyond face coverings, what other strategies stop the spread in school?

    In addition to masking, the California pediatrician points to the importance of “layered” virus mitigation strategies — or “using multiple strategies together and using them consistently,” she says.

    Three-foot distancing is one key measure, she says, but staying apart can be tricky in classrooms cramped for space.

    When masking is not required and proper distancing is not an option, parents can advocate for an array of other approaches, experts say, including:

    • Smaller groups of students working together: Kaur recommends parents ask their district, “What is the expected class size for my child?”
    • Outdoor activities, whenever possible: “You want to have a school that, for example, has outdoor recess as opposed to indoor recess,” said Englund.
    • Avoiding large functions held inside: “I would discourage ‘all-school’ indoor events, like pep rallies and assemblies,” advises Wurtz.
    • Maximizing airflow: “Urge your child’s school to improve ventilation in classrooms by opening windows (as long as the weather allows) and providing in-classroom HEPA filters,” Wurtz added.

    Related

    Parents Want Better School Ventilation This Fall. But the Devil is in the Details — and the Expense

    5 How useful are symptom checks?

    Containing the coronavirus in classrooms also means making sure the most virulent spreaders don’t walk through the schoolhouse door.

    Of course, there will always be asymptomatic cases among children, but according to a recent study co-authored by Englund, COVID patients who exhibit symptoms experience a significantly higher viral load than those who don’t have symptoms.

    “If you’re symptomatic, if you’re sick, you have more virus,” said the Seattle infectious disease expert. “One could infer that you’re more infectious.”

    In other words, using screens such as temperature checks to aggressively keep students and staff who are experiencing COVID symptoms out of the school building could go a long way toward reducing transmission, even if a few asymptomatic carriers slip through the cracks.

    “Screening sick kids to keep (them) out of school makes sense,” Englund said.

    Related

    How an AI App That Detects COVID Carriers By Their Cough Could Help Reopen Schools

    6 What else can I do to protect my child?

    Vaccination has proven to be a strong defense against the Delta variant, even with the now-likely possibility that a third shot will be necessary as a booster for the elderly and immunocompromised.

    While children under 12 years old still lack access to even the initial COVID shots, parents can work to ensure that those in their immediate circle are immunized, limiting kids’ exposure.

    It’s a tried and true public health technique known as “cocooning” — often used for infants — Wurtz explained, where caretakers of those too young for immunization make sure their own shots are up to date to provide a level of buffer to protect the vulnerable child.

    “Since children below 12 years old are not yet eligible for vaccination, it makes it even more imperative that family members who are eligible get fully vaccinated,” said University of Missouri’s Padhye.

    Related

    When Parents Disagree Over Doses for Kids: How Mothers’ Caretaking Instinct May Be Slowing Youth COVID Vaccination

    Beyond family members, Wurtz says, the cocooning technique can include “encouraging your school district to encourage or require all of its personnel … to be vaccinated, as well as encouraging other children’s activity providers … and extended family members to be vaccinated.”

    Combining available safety strategies, Kaur hopes, can allow families seeking to return their children to classrooms to feel comfortable with the move. After all, she says, “the best learning environment for a child is in person.”

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  • Cardona: Schools Will Need to ‘Work Twice as Hard’ to Convince Some Families to Return This Fall

    By Linda Jacobson | 4 days ago

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    U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona doesn’t expect to see more enrollment loss in public schools this fall, but said educators must “work twice as hard” to rebuild the trust of some families after a year of remote learning and reopening delays.

    “I am confident that everyone wants to return back to school and that schools are doing their best to get students back in. I know in some places it wasn’t quick enough for some families,” the secretary said last week in a brief conversation with The 74. “What we have to ensure is that we’re following the guidelines to make sure that our schools are safe and that we’re engaging our students and families in ways that we haven’t in the past.”

    Related

    New Federal Data Confirms Pandemic’s Blow to K-12 Enrollment, With Drop of 1.5 Million Students; Pre-K Experiences 22 Percent Decline

    Cardona said he recognized the challenges districts are facing in trying to make up for lost instruction. While he’s encouraged by what he’s seen during his recent visits to summer learning programs, he added that some districts will need to work harder to strengthen connections with other organizations so students can get the “accelerated support” they need to overcome the pandemic’s impact.

    “I’ve seen examples of it already — where schools are really stepping up to give students a good opportunity to engage socially and academically,” he said. “I’m expecting with full, in-person options for students that the sense of community and the sense of family that our students and families are longing for, that they’re going to get it.”

    Schools, Cardona said, also need to be specific with parents about what safety precautions they’ll be taking this fall.

    Related

    Parents Want Better School Ventilation This Fall. But the Devil is in the Details — and the Expense

    “I know some schools had major issues they had to address in terms of ventilation systems or ensuring that the environment was safe,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a health pandemic. We want to make sure that schools are safe for our students and our staff.”

    And they should be clear about the opportunities they’re offering to help students make up for instruction they missed last school year, he added.

    But the pandemic and learning loss aren’t the only reasons some parents have grown dissatisfied with schools over the summer. Surveys suggest some parents want to see different learning options for their children when school starts this fall. And others are outraged over how districts are addressing issues of race and equity in the classroom, with debates dominating school board meetings from coast to coast.

    Reiterating what he’s told House members during recent budget hearings, the secretary said the topic has become politicized. But he sympathized with administrators facing pressure over the issue and said he wants to shift attention to the resources schools now have to make school improvements.

    Related

    Twitter Breaks, Meditative Walks, Security Guards: How School Leaders are Responding to an Unsettling Season of Public Outrage

    Superintendents, “have shown tremendous leadership reopening schools during a pandemic,” he said. “They did their best to make sure that our students got the support that they needed. I don’t just mean a laptop and broadband access, which is in itself a challenge, but making sure our students were fed, making sure that they had the social and emotional support. We owe it to our education community to stand behind them.”

    In recent weeks, the secretary has visited summer learning programs in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Oregon, and said even though some districts have struggled to find enough staff to work over the summer, he said he’s seen strong examples of schools and nonprofit organizations sharing the responsibility for summer learning.

    At the virtual reopening summit Cardona held in March, he said he “jokingly” warned educators that he didn’t want to see students doing any “ditto” sheets this summer and that he hoped for engaging programs that interest students while shoring up some of the academic skills they’ve missed over the past year.

    While he said he saw some students writing words on a whiteboard in a classroom in Portland, he said he was happy to report, “I have not seen any worksheets.”

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  • New Study Finds No Asian American Discrimination in Admissions at Elite Colleges

    By Cheryn Hong | July 22, 2021

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    The argument that admission to the nation’s most elite colleges is discriminatory against Asian Americans has been deemed inaccurate in a new study by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center of Education.

    The study, “Selective Bias Asian Americans, Test Scores, and Holistic Admissions” found the current holistic admissions system, which looks at many aspects of a student’s application beyond their GPA and test scores and is used at many selective colleges, benefits Asian American applicants more than an alternative test-only system.

    Critics have claimed holistic admissions and affirmative action conceals illegal practices of racial quotas and as a result, Asian American applicants are being denied to maintain a range of other ethnic groups.

    But the study found that at the nation’s 91 elite colleges, Asian American enrollment has remained stable for the last 20 years.

    The study also found that only a small number of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) would be admitted under a test-only system. Under the holistic admissions system, AAPI students typically gain nearly 14,500 spots in a year, while a test-only system only results in a mere 3,000 student gain.

    The study explained the higher rate of Asian American students being rejected as a result of the higher proportion of Asian American applicants who apply to selective colleges regardless of their test scores.

    Dr. Anthony Carnevale, the primary author in the Selective Bias Study, believes the debate over Asian Americans and affirmative action reflect a larger issue with college admissions.

    “I firmly believe, as it shows in all our other work, the argument over Asian Americans, in a sense, misses the point. The real question here is what should we be using as metrics and other kinds of standards for admitting students?” said Dr. Carnevale. “This study begs the question of what should we do? What should colleges do, in terms of their admissions policies?”

    Here are they key findings from the report:

    1. Enrollment of Asian Americans at the Most Selective Colleges Has Remained Stable Over the Past Decade

    In the past 20 years, Asian American enrollment increased to match changes in demographics of college’s incoming classes. Between 1999 and 2018, enrollment of AAPI at the most selective colleges grew by 4 percentage points; while their enrollment at other four-year schools grew by 2 percentage points.

    (Selective Bias Asian Americans, Test Scores, and Holistic Admissions)

    2. Asian American Students are More Likely to Apply to Highly Selective Colleges Regardless of Test Scores than other Racial Groups

    Asian Americans applicants with below average test scores are more likely than students from other ethnic groups to apply to selective colleges driving up the number of AAPI applicants, according to the study.

    Of the Asian-American students who scored a 1300 and above on the SAT, 65% applied to the selective colleges in comparison to 50% of non-Asian American students. For students who scored below 1300, 12% of Asian American students applied to those schools compared to 5% of non-Asian American applicants.

    (Selective Bias Asian Americans, Test Scores, and Holistic Admissions)

    3. In A Test-only Admissions System Would Produce Marginal Gains for Asian American Applicants 

    Advocates have long pushed for a test-only, race-blind admissions system in their arguments against affirmative action. Advocates point to California schools, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA as examples of elite institutions with high numbers of Asian Americans students.

    But in the study’s simulation of what would happen if college admissions did not use “race, legacy status, athletics, extracurricular activities, academic interest, ability to pay,” instead basing admission solely based on test scores, Asian American enrollment would only result in a mere 2% increase.

    (Selective Bias Asian Americans, Test Scores, and Holistic Admissions)

    4. Many Asian American Applicants Already Benefit from Holistic Admissions

    The simulation also showed that without holistic admissions, 21% of Asian American students and 39% of non-Asian American students would not have received acceptances, with their spots going to students with higher test scores.

    In a solely test based approach, Asian American students who would have been denied overall do have higher test-scores, however, they are also “twice as likely as their non-Asian peers to have the lowest scores in the application pool.” This is because Asian Americans are not monolithic, as 40% of AAPI college students have test scores below than average.

    (Selective Bias Asian Americans, Test Scores, and Holistic Admissions)

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  • Stuck at Home, Separated from Teachers, Children May Have Faced More Severe Abuse During Pandemic, Research Suggests

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 21, 2021

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    The most obvious early effects of COVID-19 were the ways in which it shrank the spheres of life, work, and school. Within a few months of its emergence last winter, hundreds of millions of Americans found themselves stuck together in crowded homes, adults often sharing couch space with children stranded from their classrooms.

    It was an atmosphere, many worried, that could drastically increase the dangers of domestic violence. As parents were left to ride out the economic instability brought on by sudden business closures, most K-12 students were no longer in direct contact with teachers, who are among the most common reporters of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse to children. Worries only grew as complaints of abuse plunged during the pandemic’s early weeks, with advocates warning that serious mistreatment was likely going unnoticed.

    More than a year later, researchers are sounding the same alarm. Studies of both local child welfare agencies and national emergency room visits suggest that while total child abuse reports declined significantly last year, the cases that arose were more likely to result in medical exams and hospitalizations. And with more kids set to return to in-person classes in September, the findings raise the question of whether school systems will be prepared to assist large numbers of children who have suffered invisible trauma over the preceding 18 months.

    Jodi Quas, a professor of psychological and nursing science at the University of California, Irvine, is currently studying patterns of abuse in a large, unnamed Southern California county. In an interview with The 74, she said that it “makes sense, when you think about family stress and economic insecurity,” that child abuse and neglect would grow more severe during times of intense upheaval.

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    ‘A Bird Trapped in a Golden Cage’: Amid the Pandemic, One Student’s Story of Abuse During Quarantine

    “We have just one county, but it does look like kids are more at risk,” she said. “It’s the stress and uncertainty. It’s parents either losing their jobs or trying to work at home while engaged with kids in online school. All of those stressors, we’re guessing, contributed to increased anxiety with fewer resources and support systems available.”

    With co-authors Stacy Metcalf, a doctoral candidate, and Corey Rood, a pediatrician, Quas leveraged two sets of data — monthly reports of suspected child maltreatment from the county’s social services agency, as well as records of medical evaluations at a local child abuse clinic — to compare the trends between March and December 2020 with those of the same period in 2019. While their research is still under review and must therefore be read cautiously, the figures indicate that the number of abuse reports fell during the spring (-33.2 percent), summer (-13.1 percent) and fall (-24.5 percent).

    (Stacy Metcalf, J. Alex Marlow, Corey Rood, and Jodi Quas)

    The decline appears to be related to school closures: While one-third of abuse reports in the county came from school and daycare staff in 2019, the data show that just one-sixth did in 2020.

    In most states, school employees like teachers and nurses are mandated reporters of abuse. A 2020 analysis from researchers at Cornell University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that time spent in school increases the likelihood that abuse will be noticed and documented. Educators’ prominent role is illustrated by the fact that reports typically decrease during the summer. Given the swift separation of students from schools during the past year, Quas said, it was predictable that reports were “absolutely going to drop, and you saw that in the first months of the pandemic.

    Though complaints to social services fell, Quas and her team found that the number of children who received medical evaluations at a local child abuse clinic increased by 30 percent. They also measured an increase of seven percentage points in the proportion of children who received examinations once they were referred to the clinic — in essence, a sign that the cases of serious, hard-to-ignore abuse grew as a percentage of total reports.

    ‘What happens in the fall?’

    That finding corresponds with evidence from an analysis of hospital records released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That research found that, in the four weeks immediately following President Trump’s COVID-19 emergency declaration last March, emergency room visits related to child abuse and neglect fell by more than half compared with the same period in 2019. The decline was apparent across all children and adolescents, with visits for kids between ages 5 and 11 dropping by 61 percent.

    But the most concerning of those visits, those resulting in hospitalization, stayed steady throughout September 2020. In total, the percentage of all maltreatment-related ER trips that led to hospitalizations of children jumped significantly, from 2.1 percent in 2019 to 3.2 percent in 2020. That average includes increases from 3.5 percent to 5.3 percent for the youngest children, and a near-doubling (from 0.7 percent to 1.3 percent) for children between 5 and 11.

    Dr. Elizabeth Swedo, a CDC researcher and one of the brief’s authors, warned in an email that because of the massive disruptions to the medical system that occurred last year, the hospital data needed to be interpreted with care. Even in normal circumstances, hospital trips can vary substantially by season, and in 2020, the swings were much larger than normal.

    “Visits for almost all non-respiratory diseases and conditions dropped precipitously in March 2020,” Swedo wrote, “in large measure due to patients being more reluctant to travel or seek medical care during the pandemic.”

    “These denominator shifts presented challenges for interpreting data and communicating complex findings,” she added.

    (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    Swedo said that local research of the kind that Quas and her collaborators are conducting “really help contextualize the findings from our national study,” adding that it would be critical to incorporate future data released by national resources like the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Center and the National Violent Death Reporting System.

    It’s still unclear how the factors that may have contributed to worsening abuse and neglect have responded to the gradual improvement in the economy and public health conditions. Prior studies have shown that quarantines, and particularly lengthy ones, can lead to fear, anger, and symptoms of PTSD. Studies looking specifically at the COVID era suggest that the workers most affected by the pandemic endured damage to their mental health, and living under a stay-at-home order was associated with loneliness and anxiety.

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    Even with COVID cases and deaths back on the upswing in recent weeks, more adults and kids are beginning to resume their pre-pandemic routines. But Quas noted that school districts might need to get ready to identify and provide services to a sizable group of students who spent the 2020-21 school year not just isolated from teachers and friends, but also under threat from adults in their homes.

    “What I’m thinking about is, what happens in the fall? Not that the pandemic is fully over, but by fall, I think more kids are going to really be back in school after a pretty long period. How do you prep for what we think might be an increase in reporting that could happen then, as kids go back to school more consistently?”

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  • Youth Vaccination Rates Plummet, Reigniting Debates Over Masks in School

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | July 20, 2021

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    When teens and adolescents first became eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-May, demand for shots was like a spigot turned on full blast.

    Now, the once-steady stream has slowed to a feeble drip.

    Last week, only 315,000 youth rolled up their sleeves for immunizations, down from a peak of 1.6 million in late May, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics review of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

    “[T]he rate of youth vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks,” Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the AAP, wrote in a message to The 74. That trend poses a grave risk, she says.

    “​​Vaccinating teens and adolescents is their best protection against severe COVID illness. Also, having higher vaccination rates overall can reduce the potential of variants — which may be more contagious — to develop and spread in schools and communities.”

    As of July 14, some 6.8 million Americans under the age of 18 were fully vaccinated, representing 38 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds and 25 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds. Another 2 million teens and adolescents had received a single dose.

    Last week, only 315,000 youth rolled up their sleeves for immunizations, down from a peak of 1.6 million in late May. (American Academy of Pediatrics)

    The slowdown in youth immunization tracks with what Nicolette Carrion, who worked in May and June as a youth vaccine ambassador in her hometown of Nassau County, New York, has heard in conversations with peers about the shot.

    When youth first became eligible for vaccinations, many were eager to get immunized so that they could enjoy events like prom, graduation and summer hangouts with friends, she said. But now the social pressure has eased off.

    “At this point, everyone (who’s) vaccinated, they’ve been done with it, and they don’t want to talk about vaccines anymore. And everyone unvaccinated probably wants to avoid that conversation,” Carrion, a rising sophomore at Georgetown University, told The 74.

    Low youth vaccination rates spurred the AAP on Monday to recommend universal masking for students and staff as classrooms reopen this fall.

    “There isn’t a uniform way to determine who and how many individuals within a school are vaccinated … and therefore [it’s] difficult to enforce masking simply for unvaccinated people,” explained Shu. “So universal masking is the best way to be consistent in protecting everyone.”

    That stance clashes with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which holds that mask-wearing in school is only recommended for individuals who have not received COVID-19 immunizations. The AAP’s recommendation contributes to mounting pressure on the CDC to revise its school guidelines, according to recent reports.

    Related

    CDC to Schools: If You’re Vaccinated, Masks are No Longer Required

    Nationwide, eight states bar school districts from requiring face coverings in the classroom, while nine states mandate that all schools enforce universal masking, according to Burbio’s mask tracker. Most other states leave the decision up to individual school systems.

    Those policies come as experts struggle to understand what exactly is the risk to unvaccinated kids of the new, more contagious Delta variant that has quickly spread across the country.

    Last school year, a collection of 130 studies found that schools were not the locus of community spread, and could safely reopen as long as safety measures like ventilation, masking and distancing were in place and infection rates in the surrounding area were not raging.

    But in June, experts told The 74 that this summer and fall may mark the “most dangerous” time in the pandemic for unvaccinated individuals and young people due to spread of the Delta variant. In the United Kingdom, a new study found that youth were behind the country’s most recent surge, testing positive for the virus at a rate five times higher than seniors.

    Those warning signs should spur officials to revisit school safety policies, says Shu.

    “This pandemic is a moving target and we are constantly adapting and adjusting guidelines including those on masking,” she said. “States that currently ban mask mandates could adapt given new information and recommendations.”

    Related

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

    But while the most recent COVID mutation is undeniably more infectious than previous strains, it is not necessarily more severe. It spreads rapidly, but there is not evidence that the health outcomes for infected individuals are worse than those who got sick from other versions of the virus — meaning kids’ chance of hospitalization and death remains low.

    Earlier this month, FDA officials said that authorization of COVID vaccines for children under 12 is expected to come midwinter.

    In the meantime, vaccine requirements at as many as 500 colleges and universities could help encourage older teens to receive their shots. On Monday, a federal judge blocked a challenge to Indiana University’s mandate that students must be immunized before returning to campus.

    Pop star Olivia Rodrigo spoke to youth about the importance of getting vaccinated on July 14. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stands beside the lectern. (Demetrius Freeman/Getty Images)

    For younger teens and adolescents, the trick may be to rethink the incentives for vaccination, suggests Carrion. Offering video games as a prize, or tapping influencers to speak up about vaccination could help, she says. Bringing pop star Olivia Rodrigo to the White House last week to speak about the shot alongside President Biden she thinks was a good start.

    “That age group is very impressionable,” said Carrion. “It all matters.”

    ​​

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  • ‘Cruel and Vindictive’: Immigrant Youth Rally Outside Houston Courthouse After Federal Judge Strikes Down DACA

    By Mark Keierleber | July 19, 2021

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    Immigrant-rights activists rallied outside a Houston courthouse on Monday demanding the Biden administration act swiftly to protect them after a federal judge halted an Obama-era program that provides deportation relief and work permits to hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents brought here as children.

    “It hurts deeply that my home state, the place I’ve grown up in and have grown to love, is the one leading the charge against me and my right to live and work,” Susana Lujano, a 28-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, said at the gathering organized by the immigrant-rights group United We Dream. Lujano, who has lived in Texas since she was 2, called the latest ruling — one in a long series that has left the fate of the so-called Dreamers in turmoil — “cruel and vindictive.”

    On Friday, a federal judge in Texas barred any new applications to the DACA program, creating uncertainty for thousands of first-time applicants who sought its protection. While Judge Andrew Hanen of the U.S. District Court in Houston let the status of the more than 600,000 current DACA recipients stand, the George W. Bush appointee found the Obama administration overstepped its authority when it created the program in 2012.

    Referring to DACA as an “illegally implemented program,” Hanen wrote that “the public interest of the nation is always served by the cessation of a program that was created in violation of law.” His position echoed that of the Trump administration, which sought to end DACA under the premise that it was illegally created by the Obama administration without congressional approval. Though polls have consistently found overwhelming support for DACA among the public, immigration reform has stalled in Congress for years.

    President Joe Biden has already announced a plan to appeal the case brought by Texas and other Republican-led states. Under what the president called a “deeply disappointing” ruling, current recipients aren’t immediately affected but the Department of Homeland Security is prohibited from approving new applications. The move is particularly damning for those young people whose applicants were awaiting approval but were snagged in a backlog caused by the pandemic.

    Related

    Biden’s Immigration Plan Would Be a Boon For Undocumented Kids. But the Proposal Faces A Steep, Uphill Battle

    Among them is Andrea Anaya, a Marymount University student who was born in El Salvador and raised in Maryland. Anaya said she applied for DACA for the first time in February but was still waiting on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process her application.

    Friday’s ruling “means I continue to be exposed to the threat of deportation and don’t know if my DACA application will ever be approved,” she said in a media release. “I shouldn’t have to fight to prove that my life and my existence matter.”

    Lujano said she was “heartbroken” that those who applied for DACA protections for the first time this year “won’t be able to have the same peace of mind that I had when I was approved.”

    The administration’s intent to appeal means DACA could make its way back to the U.S. Supreme Court absent congressional action. In a statement, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that provides permanent protection to DACA recipients. Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, urged Congress to include a pathway to citizenship in its upcoming budget.

    “Today’s ruling is evidence that DACA is not enough,” she said in a press release. “The program has always been temporary, leaving hundreds of thousands of lives vulnerable to the next attack.”

    DACA recipients — and young immigrants applying for the program for the first time — have lived in a state of limbo since the Trump administration announced efforts to end it in 2017 and its fate has been the subject of back-and-forth court decisions. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration failed to provide “a reasoned explanation” for its decision to terminate DACA and failed to consider how ending it could affect its beneficiaries.

    Related

    DACA Double Take: A Month After ‘Dreamers’ Cheered SCOTUS Decision, Trump Administration Considers Second Effort to End Program, Halting New Applications

    Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., on Monday, immigrant rights advocates marched to the White House, where they demanded that Biden include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents in the American Jobs Plan.

    Critics of the Obama-era immigration policy were quick to cheer on the Texas ruling. Robert Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports restrictive immigration policies, praised the ruling, but said the judge’s unwillingness to terminate the program for current recipients “neuters the impact of his decision.” The federal judge noted that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and their employers rely on the program and therefore “it is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such a significant reliance to terminate suddenly.”

    “Establishing a ‘reliance interest’ for an illegal program for illegal aliens takes the winds out of the sails of advocates for the rule of law,” Law wrote in a press release. Allowing current recipients to keep their benefits makes the ruling “yet another mostly symbolic victory.”

    As lawmakers in Washington debate the Dreamers’ fate, Lujano made clear at the Houston rally that the status quo is unsustainable.

    “I don’t want to be here temporarily anymore. This is my home. I’ve grown up here, I love this state,” she said, pointing to her pink hat embroidered with the word “HOME” and a Texas illustration. “It hurts to love it so much. It hurts to love it when it seems to hate me.”

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  • With Some Parents Mad Over Issues from School Closures to Critical Race Theory, Leaders Fear Impact on Fall Enrollment

    By Linda Jacobson | July 15, 2021

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    Momentum may be building toward a full school reopening this fall, but some families say it’s too late.

    “My daughter will never go back to public school,” said Michelle Walker of McMinnville, Oregon, outside Portland. She took out a loan to move her fourth-grader MacKenzie into a private school and is working to mobilize families in reopening groups across the country to do something similar.

     Michelle Walker, an organizer with Open Schools USA, and her daughter MacKenzie. (Michelle Walker)

    Nationally, public schools lost 1.5 million students last school year — roughly a 3 percent drop and the largest since the beginning of the century, according to federal data. Much of that enrollment decline was driven by parents holding their kindergartners out a year. The question now is whether the profound frustration over remote learning and mask mandates, combined with recent outrage over critical race theory, could motivate more families to seek other options.

    Experts say it’s too soon to know for sure whether enrollment loss will continue, but some see signs that the downward trend isn’t over.

    Related

    New Federal Data Confirms Pandemic’s Blow to K-12 Enrollment, With Drop of 1.5 Million Students; Pre-K Experiences 22 Percent Decline

    In Virginia’s Arlington Public Schools, officials initially projected that the 2,000 students who left the district last school year would return this fall. But in May, board members said they weren’t so sure and were recalculating the budget based on a lower figure of 28,500 students, down from almost 30,000.

    Some of those families not returning could be homeschooling, according to a recent paper from the Home School Legal Defense Association, which suggested the jump in that population seen last year will continue. And EdChoice’s surveys showed an increase in homeschoolers from 8 percent in 2020 to 14 percent this year

    Walker, an organizer of Open Schools USA, is among those calling for parents to abandon public schools. The volunteer network of reopening advocates plans to announce a “strike” Thursday, with parents pledging to homeschool or enroll their children in pods or private schools this fall. Across various platforms including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and email, Walker said the network has reached roughly 180,000 participants. In Oregon alone, the group’s goal is to see 30 percent of the state’s more than 560,000 students withdraw before October, which would drastically impact state funding for education.

    ‘Attacks on public education’

    Whether the group has the power to follow through on its bold promise or not, one thing is clear: District leaders are worried they won’t make up last year’s enrollment as they watch more students leave for private schools. Some hope to lure families back to school this fall, using outreach methods such as text messages and home visits. And public school advocates are worried about the lingering impact of school board protests over critical race theory.

    Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International, a professional organization that polls the public annually on attitudes toward public schools, said parents value racial diversity in schools. A couple months ago he thought the uproar surrounding anti-racist efforts would blow over.

    “Now I think otherwise,” he said, but added there is not yet reliable data on what “the silent, but reasonable, majority actually thinks” about the theory.

    New data from California voters shows more than half of parents feel positive toward public schools in general and even more positive toward their local schools, with 60 percent giving them an A or B. But Bruce Fuller, an education and sociology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, said “a slice of parents still appear angry over union leaders’ reticence to reopen schools last winter, even after the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] gave its OK.”

    He predicted further jumps in charter and private school enrollment by August, especially if districts don’t allow virtual or more personalized options for families who prefer that.

    Related

    Returning this Fall, By Popular Demand: Virtual School. For Communities of Color, it’s Largely a Matter of Trust

    The California survey didn’t specifically ask about critical race theory — a legal argument that racism is embedded in U.S. systems and institutions. But Democrats and Republicans were split over whether schools should spend more time on lessons about racism and inequality.

    Open Schools USA formed in November over the reopening issue. In March, organizers held rallies marking one year of the pandemic in at least 50 cities. But Eileen Chollet, a Fairfax, Virginia, parent who interacts with Walker’s group through Facebook, said she wondered whether it had enough organizing power to “stage a national campaign.”

    But Sarah Ronchak, an Elk River, Minnesota, parent and another Open Schools USA organizer, said their efforts are part of a broader movement away from traditional schools.“It will definitely take off,” she said. “However, it may take one more year of public school for people that are on the fence to really make a move on it.”

    Ronchak, a full-time youth basketball referee, said she got involved with the group because “distance learning was an absolute nightmare” for her autistic son. And when he returned to school in February, he was bullied for not wearing a mask even though he had an exemption, she said. Minnesota has lifted its statewide mask mandate, but some local jurisdictions haven’t. She said she’ll likely homeschool this fall.

    Walker said the group has members across the political spectrum, but their concerns have expanded to include potential COVID-19 vaccination requirements and universal mask use, issues that more conservatives have opposed. Nonetheless, she added, they recoil at the term “Trumpers.” The leaders ran a GoFundMe campaign to set up their website, but otherwise the group has no outside funders. Walker spends her own money on flyers, posters and graphic design.

    Some organizers of the group are also active in No Left Turn, which has filed litigation over practices in schools related to critical race theory. Founder Elana Yaron Fishbein has become a leading voice on Fox News arguing schools are trying to indoctrinate children, and members of local chapters are behind many of the protests at school board meetings.

    “Parents want children to learn about racism. We don’t want it taught necessarily in the way that it is,” said Walker, a Democrat. “If you’re going to tell the bad and the ugly, you need to tell the good and the beautiful.”

    Related

    Chaos Theory: Amid Pandemic Recovery Efforts, School Leaders Fear Critical Race Furor Will ‘Paralyze’ Teachers

    National Parents Union President Keri Rodrigues said Open Schools USA has sought guidance from her group in the past, but is not an affiliate. Rodrigues, however, agrees more families may be considering other options this fall.

    “We watched a nationwide failure of our public education system,” she said. “I expect to see a percentage of parents that say, ‘I’ve actually found something that works better for my kids.’”

    The National Parents Union’s most recent poll shows that more than 40 percent of parents would still choose online learning or a hybrid model this fall, but the survey didn’t specifically ask about leaving public schools.

    Walker’s hope is that if districts see more enrollment loss, they’ll pay more attention to the needs of parents.

    “After their numbers drop drastically, our hope is to be afforded a meeting where we can negotiate terms of enrollment,” she said. “It’s insane that no one has represented our children throughout the decision-making process that directly affected them.”

    When the RAND Corp. surveyed superintendents during the winter, COVID-19 health concerns, delaying kindergarten and opposition to virtual instruction were the leading reasons behind enrollment loss, not “politically motivated anti-[critical race theory] reasons,” said Heather Schwartz, a senior researcher at RAND. But she added, “the subject is fast-moving.”

    Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, characterized the protests over critical race theory as mostly a fringe issue, but added “fringe can become mainstream with the right messaging.” She doesn’t, however, expect “large swaths of communities would move their children to private school and explain it as a result of not wanting students to learn difficult yet accurate American history.”

    Some advocates for in-person learning have never strayed from their core issue. They include Chollet, a member of Open Fairfax County Schools. The Fairfax district lost 11,000 students last year, but is expecting to regain most of that this fall.

    Some partisan Democrats tend to “paint all parents in favor of open schools as right-wing astroturf,” she said. “I won’t deny that the reopening groups are probably redder than the surrounding areas, but Fairfax is one of the bluest areas in the country.”

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  • Partisanship Alone Didn’t Determine School Reopenings, New Study Argues

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 12, 2021

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    What made so many K-12 schools stick with remote learning to begin the 2020-21 school year, even as others reopened their doors to in-person or hybrid instruction?

    According to a slew of research that emerged last year, much of the answer boils down to simple politics. Multiple studies from political scientists at Michigan State University, Boston College, and the Brookings Institution suggested that school reopening decisions were significantly more correlated with local political affiliation — as measured by the results of the 2016 election, or sometimes by strength of teachers’ unions — than the prevalence of COVID-19. Like so many other events in American life, our responses to the pandemic were heavily governed by how we vote.

    Related

    Politics, Not Science, is Driving School Reopening Decisions to a ‘Really Dangerous’ Degree, Research Suggests

    But a new analysis complicates that picture somewhat. The paper, released on Monday by Tulane University’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, confirms that politics helped determine how local authorities responded to the coronavirus threat in schools. But reopening approaches were also closely correlated with community demographics, and health conditions played a role as well. What’s more, given the interdependent relationships between all of those variables, it’s extremely challenging to isolate just one as being the most influential on policy makers’ decisions last fall.

    Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane and one of the report’s co-authors, said in an interview that the mix of potential causes yielded “probably the least amount of certainty about what the actual conclusions are of any study I’ve ever done.”

    “In this case, that’s part of the point,” Harris said. “What we thought was certain is actually a little more uncertain, and given the political polarization we’re in right now, we don’t want to overstate the role of politics here.”

    Using data on over 1,100 school district reopening decisions from Burbio.com, Harris and Tulane research fellow Daniel Oliver examined which stayed remote or switched to in-person learning both last fall and in the spring of 2021. Without weighting by state or district size — a small district’s decision counted as much as a large one’s — they then examined the respective racial and socioeconomic demographics of each area, their COVID positivity rates, the county-level vote share won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, as well as factors like local charter school enrollment and broadband access.

    As in previous studies, they found that partisanship was an important determinant of whether schools opted for virtual learning to begin the 2020-21 school year. An increase in Clinton’s 2016 vote by 14 percent was associated with a 10.5 percentage point increase in the chance that local schools stayed remote. Whether teachers were allowed to collectively bargain was also linked to COVID decisions.

    But a variety of demographic factors clearly play a role as well. Black, Hispanic, and low-income people living in a district were all associated with higher likelihoods that virtual learning continued last fall. Those trends dovetail with public opinion research released over the last year, which has consistently showed that non-white parents are more concerned about the return to physical classrooms than their white counterparts.

    Related

    New RAND Survey Suggests Support for Continuing Remote Schooling This Fall is Limited — Among White Families

    Harris said that while 2016 voting patterns were the single strongest indicator of how districts acted, the totality of demographic evidence was equally compelling.

    “You’ve really got one measure of political dynamics — two, if you include union strength — whereas demographics represents a set of factors,” said Harris. “Individually, they all look not as significant as that Democratic vote share, [but] collectively, they may be just as important.”

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    One Fate, Two Fates. Red States, Blue States: New Data Reveal a 432-Hour In-Person Learning Gap Produced by the Politics of Pandemic Schooling

    The effects of most district traits were substantially similar in both fall 2020 and spring 2021. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2016 partisanship was somewhat less significant following the ultra-contentious 2020 election, even while it remained the most predictive single factor. The predictiveness of COVID positivity rates was also reduced, to the extent that it was no longer statistically significant.

    To make matters more complex, Harris added, demographics and politics can’t be isolated from one another. Black and Hispanic voters, along with voters living in poverty, are more likely to vote Democratic; according to public health data they were also much more likely to find themselves at risk from the effects of COVID. All of it, Harris argued, made it necessary to avoid elevating one condition, such as politics, above others.

    “Part of what we were trying to highlight was how connected those things were, and how it makes it pretty difficult when voting patterns are closely connected to demographics — race and income patterns — and those things, in turn, are closely correlated with COVID health risk. Whenever you have a bunch of interconnected factors like that, which are probably all playing some role, it becomes difficult to isolate one.”

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  • CDC to Schools: If You’re Vaccinated, Masks are No Longer Required

    By Linda Jacobson | July 9, 2021

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    Vaccinated students and school staff don’t have to wear masks and schools shouldn’t maintain hybrid attendance plans just to implement social distancing, according to updated reopening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday.

    While the update recommends schools maintain 3 feet of distance between students, that strategy shouldn’t come at the expense of fully reopening, the CDC said. The agency is recommending that schools continue to enforce masks indoors for unvaccinated students and adults, and to continue implementing other practices including COVID-19 testing, handwashing and proper ventilation.

    “Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports,” according to the guidance.

    With some schools opening in early August, the guidance provides districts time to plan reopening procedures, communicate policies regarding masks and encourage more families to vaccinate their children. Meanwhile, some districts, such as the Chicago Public Schools, are facing demands from their unions to hit vaccination targets of at least 80 percent of students over 12. And an agreement between the Los Angeles district and its union includes mask requirements for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Each school would also have a COVID-19 compliance task force.

    Related

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    In a statement, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the new CDC guidance is “grounded in both science and common sense.”

    “The guidance confirms two truths: that students learn better in the classroom, and that vaccines remain our best bet to stop the spread of this virus and get our kids and educators fully back to those classrooms for in-person learning,” according to the statement.

    But she said the union remains concerned about the Delta variant of the disease. Cities such as Los Angeles are beginning to see a spike in cases due to the strain, and Pfizer and BioNTech have announced they are developing a booster shot specifically for that variant. At this time, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are not recommending a booster for those who are fully vaccinated.

    AFT president Randi Weingarten (Getty Images)

    Weingarten added that AFT affiliates are holding vaccination clinics in their communities to get more adults and children vaccinated before the return of school. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have also been visiting communities to promote vaccination. The president has called for a door-to-door campaign to encourage those who are hesitant to get shots, but conservatives raised concerns about government intrusion.

    The new CDC guidance recommends district leaders monitor local transmission rates when deciding whether to relax any prevention strategies.

    Read the full guidance document here.

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  • Dramatic Drop in College Persistence Latest Sign of COVID’s ‘Missing Generation’ of College Students

    By Richard Whitmire | July 8, 2021

    The final piece of evidence documenting the pandemic-driven “missing generation” of college students was released today: a sharp rise in the number of students failing to return to college.

    “We can now add increased attrition of 2019 freshmen to the severe impacts of the pandemic,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

    Related

    College Enrollment Continues to Plunge, Marking the Worst Single-Year Decline Since 2011

    The independent Clearinghouse collects the nation’s most authoritative college-going data. By matching high school graduation records against college enrollment records, the Clearinghouse determines which high school graduates enroll in college, which “persist” through the college years, and which end up earning degrees.

    The data released today shows that of the 2.6 million students who entered college as first-time freshmen in the fall of 2019, 74 percent returned for their second year — an unprecedented two percentage point drop, the lowest level since 2012.

    Not surprisingly, community colleges showed the steepest decline in persistence rates, down 3.5 percentage points to 58.5 percent. Community colleges attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, and they have seen the most dramatic enrollment and persistence drops.

    Persistence and retention rates fell greatest for part-time students in two-year community colleges. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center)

    In most cases, the explanations are straightforward: These students needed to get jobs — even low-skill, low-paying jobs — to support their families. In theory, these students could return to college now that the pandemic has eased, but there’s little evidence in enrollment trends to suggest this is happening.

    Instead, they appear to be forming a missing generation of college students, an unprecedented phenomenon likely to affect the nation’s productivity rate for years. Any country’s international competitiveness is forecast by the skills acquired by young people entering the workforce.

    Before today’s data release, there was ample evidence to suggest a missing generation was taking shape. This spring, overall college enrollment fell by 603,000 students, from 17.5 million to 16.9 million — a drop that is seven times worse than the year before when the pandemic first hit and marks the sharpest year-over-year decline since 2011, the first year the Clearinghouse began keeping track.

    While the pandemic was expected to eat away at college enrollment, many experts were surprised that a quick recovery in college-going never materialized. Today’s data from the Clearinghouse only makes that news grimmer.

    Related

    New Data: Sharp Declines in Community College Enrollment Are Being Driven By Disappearing Male Students

    “These losses erase recent improvements that colleges have made in keeping learners on track early,” said Shapiro. “They will ripple through higher education for years.”

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  • New Federal Data: Almost All Schools Offered In-Person Learning by Spring, But Attendance Varied Widely By Race

    By Linda Jacobson | July 8, 2021

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    Almost all schools with fourth and eighth grades were offering some in-person learning as the end of the school year approached, but more than half of students at those levels remained in hybrid or fully remote programs, according to the final round of school reopening data from the Institute of Education Sciences.

    The latest update of the 2021 School Survey, released Thursday, shows the rate of Black and Hispanic students attending full, in-person learning continuing to inch upward, but still falling at least 20 percentage points below that of white students. Asian students were the least likely to attend in-person learning, with 55 percent remaining in remote-only classes.

    “Reopening schools and welcoming back students was the first step, but the hardest work is still to come,” Institute for Education Sciences Director Mark Schneider said in a statement. “We must do all we can as a nation to ensure that all students, especially the most high-need students who have already borne the brunt of the coronavirus and its effects, recover from any learning losses.”

    The Department of Education launched the tracker in March to comply with an executive order President Joe Biden issued on his first full day in office. At the state and national level, the data confirmed that white students were returning to in-person learning at higher rates than Black, Hispanic and Asian students. It also revealed that some students in remote learning were receiving no more than two hours or less of live instruction each day. With many districts continuing to offer remote options this fall, elementary-age students still not eligible for vaccines and rising concerns over whether the Delta variant of COVID-19 could lead to increased transmission rates, a mixture of schooling arrangements will continue this fall.

    In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom is requiring districts to offer families with a medically fragile child a remote, independent study option for the 2021-22 school year. And the latest polling from the National Parents Union shows that a third of parents plan to hold their children out until they are vaccinated.

    “While the positive overall trends continue, and more Black and Hispanic fourth and eighth graders were being offered and enrolled in in-person instruction, disparities remain,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “As a nation, we cannot rest until all students — including students of color and other historically and presently underserved students — have an equal opportunity to receive in-person instruction in school buildings that are fully reopened and safe.”

    While Black and Hispanic students were more likely than Asian students to attend in-person learning in the spring, recent surveys, including one from the RAND Corp., show that preference for online learning is higher among Black and Hispanic parents. A University of Southern California survey shows 15 percent of Black parents plan to keep their children in remote learning, and a survey in Los Angeles shows that bullying, racism and low academic standards, in addition to COVID-19, are among the reasons Black parents kept their children home in the spring.

    “It’s great that more districts are adding virtual options, but they really need to be of consistently high quality,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. “I’m skeptical that will be the case given the struggles we saw last year. It’s critical that districts up their game in remote learning by pursuing creative partnerships and by providing intensive teacher training.”

    Related

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

    The institute will monitor school options and families’ choices with a new survey launching in August. Designed to build on existing data and capture the pandemic’s ongoing impact on students, the School Pulse Panel will track enrollment in 1,200 elementary, middle and high schools and cover issues such as health and safety, special education and mental health.

    Anna Saavedra, a behavioral scientist at the University of Southern California, said spending federal relief funds to make improvements to ventilation systems, air-conditioning and bathrooms are one way to make families feel more positive about the return to school this fall. Communicating COVID-19 prevention strategies could be especially important for Asian families, she added.

    “Asian-American families were more cautious in their behaviors about COVID-19 than other racial groups,” she said. “Asian-American families also experienced more discrimination. So particularly for this group, and especially with the dominance of the Delta strain, communication about COVID-19 mitigation practices and weekly case rates will be important.

    Related

    The Remote Learning Paradox: Some Educators, Parents Want to Keep Online Classes Option Even Though Instruction Suffered

    Using the rest of the summer as a way to rebuild connections with parents and students is also important, she said.

    “Districts and schools need to learn what local parents want and clearly communicate a whole-child focus and benefits for students and their families,” she said. “Parents will need more communication than they’ve ever received in the past and for districts to act upon their input.”

    Other findings from the latest release include:

    • The Midwest saw the highest rate of students attending full-time, in-person learning, with 64 percent of fourth-graders and 59 percent of eighth-graders.
    • The percentage of students enrolled in full-time, in-person learning increased for white, Black and Hispanic students between April and May, but not for Asian students.
    • The survey aimed to capture data from 3,500 schools each at fourth and eighth grade, but participation lagged. The latest results reflect results from 2,100 schools with fourth grades and 2,000 schools with eighth grades.

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  • Unions Go All-In on Critical Race Theory, Promising Money and Support to Members Teaching ‘Honest History’

    By Linda Jacobson | July 6, 2021

    Editor’s note appended

    School district leaders might deny that they’re openly teaching critical race theory, but the nation’s largest teachers union is launching a campaign to have them do just that.

    Delegates at the National Education Association’s annual meeting last week approved a statement calling for a campaign to implement the theory in curriculum and oppose efforts to ban it. Other items approved include researching organizations “attacking educators doing anti-racist work” and naming Oct. 14 — George Floyd’s birthday — as a national day dedicated to teaching about oppression and structural racism.

    On Tuesday, the leader of the nation’s other major teachers union joined the fray. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said critical race theory is not taught in schools, but pledged to back any teachers who address topics the laws seek to exclude from classroom conversations.

    “Mark my words: Our union will defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history. We have a legal defense fund ready to go,” she said at the opening of the union’s annual professional development conference. She added that “culture warriors want to deprive students of a robust understanding of our common history.”

    AFT President Randi Weingarten addressed the debate over critical race theory during her virtual comments at the union’s annual professional development conference. (American Federation of Teachers)

    It’s unclear whether the NEA is encouraging members in states that have already passed anti-critical race theory legislation to violate the law. At the very least, it is arguing that teachers shouldn’t gloss over “unpleasant aspects of American history” according to the union’s adopted statement.

    The theory — bitterly dividing communities across the country — teaches that racism is an integral part of U.S. systems and institutions that purposely disadvantage people of color. The unions’ stance comes as nine states have already banned instruction that references structural racism, white supremacy and other key principles of the theory. More than 20 other states have considered similar bills.

    The union was “forced to some extent” to enter the fray because of how volatile the debate has become, said Bradley Marianno, an assistant education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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    “Their members, particularly those who wish to instruct on elements of critical race theory, want to know that they have a union behind them if their jobs are jeopardized by their classroom instruction,” he said. “This is not a new role for teachers’ unions in the broadest terms but is also somewhat unique in that this one is tied so tightly to instruction informed by a single theory.”

    Like the conflict over reopening schools, the clash over critical race theory is pitting parents who want a say in what schools teach against unions seeking to protect teachers’ autonomy, Marianno said, adding that they “will continue to butt heads throughout this school year.”

    Weingarten, in fact, predicted that this coming school year could be even more challenging than the last.

    “It won’t be easy, and some people will try to make it harder, like those who have disparaged educators, scapegoated our unions and blamed us for things outside our control, like school closures caused by a pandemic,” she said.

    Marianno said the NEA’s action could be an effort to preempt any further bans on instruction related to critical race theory, but that the union has also “opened up the avenue for litigation” in the nine states with existing restrictions.

    Not all teachers, however, agree with the focus on race and racial oppression in the classroom. The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation is representing a Chicago-area teacher in a federal lawsuit, filed last week, that argues antiracist training for teachers and students is unconstitutional. Stacy Deemar, a middle school drama teacher, argues that the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is violating prohibitions on discrimination by race, color or national origin. According to the lawsuit, the district has organized both teachers and students into racial “affinity groups” and required them to participate in “privilege walks” where they are segregated by color.

    Meanwhile, teachers are receiving increasing support from civil rights groups, who are drawing comparisons between the current uproar over critical race theory and the struggles of the 1960s. One group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Legacy Project, a nonprofit seeking to preserve the history of a student-led organization that participated in the civil rights movement, penned an open letter to teachers.

    “We who resisted the laws of segregation by sitting at ‘White Only’ lunch counters, and organized voter registration campaigns among those historically denied the right to vote, stand now in support of those teachers and professors who today defy this new form of McCarthyism by pledging to continue writing, speaking, and teaching about systemic racism, structural inequality, and institutionalized white-supremacy past and present,” the letter said. “To all the courageous teachers who won’t back down from teaching their students the truth, we stand with you.”

    Editor’s note: Reporting for this story was based partly on “business items” that the National Education Association passed at its annual meeting last week, but which no longer appear to be on the union’s website.

    An item referring to critical race theory in curriculum appeared under New Business Item A prior to its approval and reads that the union will support and lead a campaign that results “in increasing the implementation of culturally responsive education, Critical Race Theory, and Ethnic (Native People, Asian, Black, Latin(o/a/x), Middle Eastern and North African, and Pacific Islander) Studies curriculum in Pre-K-12 and higher education.” The news of its passage also no longer appears to be on the union’s website, but was archived.

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  • Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case Over Transgender Students’ Bathroom Rights, Letting Lower-Court Victory for Gavin Grimm Stand

    By Mark Keierleber | June 28, 2021

    The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a high-profile feud over the rights of transgender youth in public schools, letting stand a lower court victory for a Virginia student whose school barred him from using the boys’ restroom.

    The decision comes a year after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Gloucester County School Board discriminated against Gavin Grimm, the transgender student, when it prevented him from using school restroom facilities that align with his gender identity. Instead, Grimm was offered a separate, single-stall restroom, a move his attorneys argued was degrading and stigmatizing.

    The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case lets Grimm’s Fourth Circuit victory stand but it does not establish a national precedent at a moment of heightened contention over the rights of transgender students in schools across the country. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito indicated in the order that they would have heard the case in which the Fourth Circuit found that Gloucester educators had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools, and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

    Related

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    The Supreme Court was set to hear the case in 2017 but instead sent it back to the lower court after the Trump administration reversed Obama-era federal guidance protecting transgender students’ rights to use public school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

    Grimm, now 22, cheered the news on Monday on Twitter after fighting in court for six years.

    “There are just too many people to tag,” Grimm tweeted. “Too many people played integral roles in our success and too many people who loved me so much. I have nothing more to say but thank you, thank you, thank you. Honored to have been part of this victory.”

    “Transgender students belong in our schools,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Grimm, said in a news release. “The court once again ruled that school’s obligation to create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all students includes transgender students.”

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  • Education Secretary Calls on Charter Leaders to Bolster Teacher Diversity, Eliminate For-Profit Operators

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | June 22, 2021

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    As keynote speaker at the National Charter School Conference, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona made the case to school leaders on Tuesday that building a diverse teaching force should be a key component of pandemic recovery efforts.

    It was the first time Cardona had spoken directly to the charter school community since assuming his role as secretary, and he took the occasion to remark on how the White House is working to bolster the pipeline for more Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian educators to enter the workforce — and how charter leaders can help that effort.

    The American Families Plan, part three of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, allocates $9 billion to help schools recover from the pandemic, said the secretary, including money earmarked for educator training scholarships at historically Black colleges and universities, grow-your-own paid teacher residency programs and other strategies to recruit and train teachers of color.

    “These investments will provide a critical pipeline of well-prepared and diverse educators to students all across America,” said Cardona.

    Charter schools already outpace traditional schools in their proportion of teachers of color on staff. The secretary’s remarks were pre-recorded and there was no opportunity for audience members to ask questions or interact.

    While Cardona himself is seen as more neutral toward charter schools, his boss’s recent relationship with them has been divisive. While President Biden served as vice president during the Obama administration, which was highly supportive of charter schools, he then adopted a more skeptical stance during his 2020 presidential campaign when he promised to end federal funding of for-profit charter schools. In May, he became the first president since the federal charter school law was passed in the 1990s not to issue a proclamation recognizing the publicly funded independently run schools during National Charter Schools Week.

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    The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, however, read the secretary’s remarks as something of an olive branch. “We are thrilled that Secretary Cardona took time out of his busy schedule and made a point to talk to charter school teachers and leaders today. His appearance alone sends a strong signal,” Nina Rees, president and CEO of the Alliance wrote in an email to The 74. “Obviously, we would love to know more, but believe the Secretary to be sincere in his commitment to serving the interests of all kids — regardless of the type of school they attend.”

    On the teacher diversity issue, Cardona said charter school leaders can ensure that the sector continues to make further strides.

    “You play an important role in advancing efforts that ensure every child is taught by an outstanding teacher,” he told the audience of charter leaders. “I encourage you to support grow-your-own programs that create a community-based pipeline into the profession by including teaching as part of your career in technical education pathways in secondary schools.”

    While research shows that all students benefit from having teachers of color — with students of color experiencing the largest gains — the nation’s teaching corps continues to poorly reflect its students. While over half of K-12 students are Black, Hispanic, Asian or Indigenous, the same is true for only approximately 1 in 5 teachers.

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    High levels of stress reported by teachers over the course of the pandemic have spurred fears of a national educator shortage, but as of yet those fears have largely not materialized.

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    The education secretary also issued a warning, expressing concerns over for-profit charter operators, which tend to serve lower proportions of disadvantaged students and have a history of poor performance.

    “When it comes to student success, it’s important that we also take steps to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the charter school sector,” said Cardona.

    That means “taking active steps to serve students from diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds, providing meaningful access to instruction for students with disabilities and multilingual learners and assur[ing]… that none of our resources are used to support for-profit operators.”

    But despite the stern footnote — delivered with his usual grin — the former Connecticut teacher and principal stressed his appreciation for educators’ efforts over the course of a trying year and closed on a unifying note.

    “We can only do this work well if we do it together.”

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  • At Ed Dept. Equity Summit, Marten Announces Plans to Address ‘Pressing Needs’ of Students with Disabilities

    By Linda Jacobson | June 22, 2021

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    The U.S. Department of Education plans to make the needs of students with disabilities a higher priority when schools fully reopen in the fall, Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten said Tuesday during a virtual summit focusing on equity.

    The department is preparing a document, coming later this summer, that “will address some of the most pressing needs and the concerns elevated by families, advocates and educators to provide clarity and direction and attention to this community,” Marten said during the event.

    Since the beginning of the pandemic, districts across the country have faced lawsuits and angry parents complaining that students with disabilities missed many of the services they were entitled to receive while schools were closed.

    But some districts prioritized students with disabilities in reopening efforts. Rosemarie Eller, school board president in the White Plains Public Schools in New York — one of several educators featured during the panel discussions — described how her district held in-person school for students with disabilities as much as possible this year to “maintain the continuity of their educational experience.” Leaders held “coffee talks” with parents so they could become better acquainted with administrators and develop trust.

    Denise Stile Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, called Marten’s announcement “welcome news.” The advocacy group, she said, has asked the department to provide schools with information on how to ensure students receive a free and appropriate education under the law even if a parent continues to opt for remote learning.

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    The two-hour event, expected to be one in a series focused on equity, comes as educators continue to confront the uneven impact of the pandemic and school closures on students. Recent test results in Houston, for example, show a sharp decline in Algebra I scores among on Black, Hispanic and low-income students, and hospitals have seen an increase in girls needing mental health services. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, however, said in recorded remarks that he wants equity to be more than a “passing buzzword.” He’s drawing attention to students that have long felt marginalized in public schools, and shared a video last week of a conversation with his transgender cousin.

    “A lot of times, school for these kids, it’s an escape for them,” said Alex Cardona. “And having to escape to somewhere that’s also unsupportive just doesn’t help anyone.”

    In the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, a district prominently featured during the event, counselors and other student service professionals are trained to understand the needs of LGBTQ students and know where they can refer students and their families for support, explained Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. The district has a central office specialist who leads that work.

    “It is 100 percent our responsibility to see our students, to recognize them, to value them,” added Olivia Carter, a counselor at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the 2021 School Counselor of the Year. “It’s our responsibility to humanize students.”

    That includes helping students come to school with clean clothes, said Alejandro Diasgranados, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at Alton Elementary in Washington, D.C. and led efforts to provide an on-site laundry facility for students to reduce absenteeism. He agreed with Marten that the condition of school facilities is an important equity issue.

    “My students have seen the differences between our school and more affluent schools across town — things like other schools have turf fields and schools without bars on windows,” said Diasgranados, one of four finalists for 2021 Teacher of the Year.

    President Joe Biden has proposed spending $100 million for K-12 school construction and upgrades as part of his infrastructure plan, but if the administration reaches a compromise deal with Republicans, that plan is unlikely to be included.

    Diasgranados said he is especially focused on recruiting more educators of color.

    “Teacher diversity is teacher quality,” he said, but added that in addition to providing mentorships, it’s important that black educators aren’t “forced into disciplinary roles,” which can contribute to high turnover.

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    The event included student performances and one student panelist. Rina Stanghellini, part of the White Plains district, said it’s important for students to see reflections of their culture in the curriculum in the early grades.

    “I didn’t get to read books about Asian American characters in culture by Asian American authors until I got to high school,” she said.

    Shantel Meek, who leads the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University, said following the summit that the speakers could have given more attention to early-childhood education. While Miami-Dade officials talked about how the district uses Title I funds to expand the state’s half-day pre-K program to a full day, Meek said equity issues in K-12, such as facilities, mental health services and workforce diversity, apply to the early years as well.

    “Often early ed gets seen as an equity intervention in itself, when in reality it is a system of its own with many of the same challenges as K-12,” she said.

    Some parents noted that this was the second virtual summit the secretary has held without representation from parents. The reopening event the department held in March included student voices, but not those of parents.

    “All this discussion about reforming education needs to be meaningful and include parents in the consultation process,” said Eileen Chollet, a parent whose daughter attends Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

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  • Just In — Secretary Cardona’s Full Remarks For the Department of Education’s Equity Summit: ‘To Advance Equity, We Must Innovate’

    By The 74 | June 22, 2021

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    Below are the prepared remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, recorded in advance of Tuesday’s first installment of the Department of Education’s Educational Equity Summit Series. (We’ll be covering today’s event, sign up here to receive our coverage)

    Remarks as prepared: 

    Thank you, Melito, for the kind introduction, and more importantly, for all you do for the students we serve. You are a shining example of what it means to serve. Eres un orgullo Latino!

    And thank you, Dr. Biden, our First Lady, for your inspiring words – but more importantly, for walking the walk. Despite the pandemic and the transition to the role of First Lady of the United States, you continued to teach your students. Your passion for teaching and ensuring that your students have what they need exemplify what it means to be a great teacher. Thank you for your service to our country as a teacher and for lifting the profession and purpose we have as educators focused on equity.

    And to my Colleagues who’ve signed up for this important equity summit series, thank you for taking the time to join us. We hope that through your engagement, you will hear strategies that match our collective passion to make sure that we look at this reopening through a lens of equity. I don’t have to tell you that the inequities in education have been a constant since we have been collecting data. I don’t have to tell you that the pandemic exacerbated inequities, not only in education, but in other critical areas such as health and economic stability.

    Well, we are here today because we plan to do something about it. This is a moment in education to boldly address the patterns of inequity that have been pervasive in our schools. This is our moment to ensure that we reopen, reinvest, and reimagine our schools differently and better than ever before. If we go back to how it was, we would be returning to a system where you can predict outcomes based on race and place, where the color of your skin and zip codes are better determinants of outcomes than the actual aptitude of our learners.

    This is our moment to have the difficult conversations about how to build back better, how to lead transformatively, and how to use every penny provided by the President and Congress to ensure that those most impacted by the pandemic receive the most support. We have often heard, and maybe even exclaimed ourselves, that education is the great equalizer. Well, now is our chance to prove it. The funding is there, the urgency from the President is there. Are we going to lead through this and come out stronger? Or is the temptation of complacency going to dissipate our call to action?

    I remember growing up listening to hip hop icons Public Enemy and they encouraged challenging the system and “Fighting the Power”. Well, now, we are the system. It’s on us to make the change we need in our country. In many places, small incremental change is not enough. We will need innovative and creative leadership fueled by urgency. The resources are there. At the federal, state, and local level — we must act.

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    These next months and years will determine the trajectory of success for millions of students in our care. This is our moment.

    President Biden and Vice President Harris have made equity a core priority. It’s why the American Rescue Plan is ensuring that schools not only have the resources to re-open for in-person instruction quickly, but that they are also focused on investing in meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of the students most impacted by COVID-19—who are often the same students who were furthest from opportunity before the pandemic.

    It’s why the President’s American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan, and the rest of the fiscal year 2022 budget provide unprecedented investments in educational equity: Universal pre-K and free community college. Supporting $100 billion in investments in school infrastructure. More than doubling funding for Title I schools through new equity grants that will incentivize states to address inequitable school funding systems. Investing in our educators and building a diverse pipeline so every student from every background can be supported by teachers, mentors, and staff who share and understand their experiences. Doubling the number of school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. Taking a huge step towards fulling funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And just last week, we affirmed that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making clear that every student, no matter who they are or whom they love, have equal access to educational opportunities in our schools.

    Last week I visited Harvey Milk High School in New York City. There I heard from students about what they want to see in our education system. They spoke of wanting a system that is free from discrimination for students who are LGBTQ, students who have disabilities, or students from different racial backgrounds. They spoke about a system where all students had access to tools needed for learning, like broadband and technological devices. We know that many rural communities and poorer communities still do not have that. Collectively, we own the students at Harvey Milk High, and every student across the country, exactly that – a school that promotes equity and access in its DNA.

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    Equity in education is about providing all students, from all backgrounds and all parts of the country, with the resources and supports that they need to succeed and thrive in our society. It’s about providing them pathways to contribute to their communities, and to make the world a better place. Equity is not a passing buzzword, but an ongoing, continuous effort to make sure that every student feels supported in their classrooms and in every educational environment. That’s why this summit isn’t a one-time event for us – but something that will be infused in all of our work at the Department and across the Administration for the next four years.

    To advance equity, we must innovate, share promising practices, and work together to create the education system that all of our students deserve, a system where students are at the center – while recognizing that for far too long, we haven’t lived up to that promise.

    I hope you find that spirit and unwavering support in the Department of Education’s Equity Summit series.

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  • A Year After Espinoza, Supreme Court Accepts New Case That Tests Limits of Religious Freedom in School

    By Linda Jacobson | June 21, 2021

    Updated July 6

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday announced that it will hear Carson v. Makin, a case involving Maine’s tuition assistance program. Following the court’s decision last year in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, plaintiffs in the case argue that excluding religious schools from the program is a violation of their constitutional rights, while the state has said the program is only meant to provide students a public education they can’t access in their own community. 

    School choice advocates celebrated the court’s decision. In a statement, Leslie Hiner, who leads EdChoice’s legal efforts, said, “We applaud the action of the Court in agreeing to hear a case brought by parents in Maine who have been denied the opportunity to send their children to a school of faith using the state’s town tuitioning vouchers.”

    The U.S. Supreme Court will discuss Thursday whether to hear a case that could settle for good whether states can exclude religious schools from publicly funded voucher programs.

    The argument in Carson v. Makin is over Maine’s tuition assistance program, which pays for students in towns without a public school to attend another one of their choice — public or private — as long as it’s not religious.

    In October last year, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the religious exclusion, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court. But earlier this month the 2nd Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that students in a similar program in Vermont can use public funds at religious schools.

    “It is a mess, to put it mildly,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the libertarian Institute for Justice, which is representing the two families in Maine who sued over the state’s policy. The contradiction “cries out for Supreme Court review, and only the Supreme Court can resolve it,” he said.

    This time last year, school choice advocates won a major victory in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, when the court ruled 5-4 that officials could not exclude religious schools from a state tax credit scholarship program simply because they are religious. It was a major setback for states with so-called Blaine amendments, 19th century laws that prevent public funds from supporting religious schools. The Espinoza ruling sparked a renewed push at the state level to expand such scholarship programs, and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested the decision opened the door for religious-oriented charter schools.

    The justices, however, left one issue unsettled. The Espinoza ruling means states can’t prohibit religious schools from participating in a school choice program because of their religious status, but the justices didn’t resolve whether states could exclude schools because they teach students about religion.

    The Institute for Justice addressed this in a brief to the court following the 2nd Circuit’s decision in the Vermont case, referring to “the utter disarray of the law in this area.”

    The court typically schedules conference days when the justices discuss current cases as well as whether to hear or reject appeals. The “order list” is usually released a day or so after justices hold a conference, Bindas explained. That means the court could announce as soon as Monday whether they’ll hear the Carson case, but a quick decision could mean they’re going to pass, he added. If the justices decide to hold it over for a “cleanup conference” next week, that could signal their intention to hear the case.

    Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has said that the state’s law doesn’t discriminate against religious schools because it is “simply declining to pay for religious instruction that would be unavailable in a public school.” Ted Fisher, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Education, said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

    Related

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    Anti-discrimination policies

    If the justices agree to hear it, Carson could be the first school choice case before the court since the confirmation of Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic who served as a trustee for a religious school that participates in Indiana’s school choice program and doesn’t welcome children with same-sex parents.

    The Espinoza ruling was a 5-4 decision, and conservatives now hold a 6-3 supermajority on the court.

    Some legal experts have suggested the court’s decision last week in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia — a case involving a Catholic social services agency that opposes certifying same-sex couples as foster parents — would have an impact on school voucher programs.

    In Fulton, the court ruled unanimously that the city violated the agency’s First Amendment’s religious freedom protections by requiring it to give up its opposition to same-sex relationships in order to receive a government contract. The connection to school choice is that religious schools, such as the one where Barrett served as a trustee, are often opposed to hiring LGBTQ staff or admitting gay students or those with gay parents.

    But the impact of the decision on school choice programs is limited. While the opinion was unanimous, the court focused on a narrow exemption in the city’s contract with the agency.

    “Fulton does not create a right to religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that apply equally to everyone,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “State constitutional prohibitions and laws that prohibit use of public funds to support religious instruction generally do not have any exemptions and so should not be affected by Fulton.”

    The issue is relevant in Bethel Ministries, Inc. v. Salmon, a case before a Maryland district court. The state excluded the religious school from a voucher program because the school’s handbook says it “supports a biblical view of marriage” and that “God immutably bestows gender upon each person at birth as male or female.” The school, which serves low-income students, said these statements don’t impact its admissions process, but the state still declined to admit it to the program.

    The state is expected to submit a brief Friday requesting a decision in the case, with the plaintiff’s request expected in July.

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    Bindas, with the Institute for Justice, noted that the plaintiffs in the Maine case are arguing that families attending any religious school should be able to participate in a state’s school choice program. As it stands, Vermont could try to get around the appeals court’s decision by passing new legislation excluding religious schools because they teach students about doctrine or have a time for worship.

    “Using public funds for religious instruction violates the religious freedom of taxpayers who are forced to subsidize faiths to which they do not subscribe,” said Luchenitser, who has argued that the court should decline to hear the appeal in the Carson case.

    Dave and Amy Carson kept their daughter Olivia at the Christian school she attends but that doesn’t participate in the tuition assistance program. The other plaintiffs in the case, Angela and Troy Nelson, wanted to send their children to a religious school, but instead sent their two children to a secular private school that accepts vouchers.

    “You either forgo the benefit,” Bindas said, “or you forgo the school that you think is best for your child.”

    In a broader sense, the Fulton decision shows the court continues to move toward a “more aggressive” position in favor of religious rights, said Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

    “The reasoning of Espinoza … is hard to square with the 1st Circuit’s opinion,” Dunn said, adding that if the court decides to hear the case, “Maine should be very worried.”

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  • As Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Catholic Adoption Agency and Moves Further to Protect Freedom of Religion, Possible Implications for Vouchers and Religious Schools

    By Linda Jacobson | June 18, 2021

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    The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia Thursday, ruling 9-0 that a Catholic social services agency, which believes marriage is between a man and a woman, has a right to exclude same-sex couples from becoming foster parents and that the city violated the organization’s First Amendment rights when it froze an existing contract due to the policy.

    The unanimous decision, coming one year after a split ruling in the Espinoza case involving religious schools and scholarship programs, reinforced the court’s continued trajectory towards supporting the protection of religious freedoms. The Fulton decision could also have possible implications for the participation of religious schools in voucher programs “because religious schools often discriminate based on sexual orientation or other protected characteristics,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    The Fulton case — and its implications for similar lawsuits now working their way through the courts — became a key talking point surrounding President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. As we reported back in September:

    John Bursch, senior counsel at the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom — which has paid Barrett to deliver a lecture — said that the outcome of Fulton could affect an education case in Maryland. A Baltimore-area Christian school is suing Maryland state Superintendent Karen Salmon, arguing that the state revoked its eligibility to participate in a voucher program because the school lacks a nondiscrimination policy that protects LGBTQ students. “Both cases involve a government entity making false accusations of bigotry against a religious organization because of its beliefs about marriage,” Bursch said. “No religious school should be forced to give up its Biblical beliefs to participate in a government program that provides educational assistance to low-income students.”

    By a decisive 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court this year also upheld the “ministerial exception” that allows religious institutions to disregard the antidiscrimination policies that apply to secular organizations. The decision would be relevant in any future cases involving religious schools with anti-LGBTQ workplace policies that participate in school choice programs. The Fulton ruling could also influence the outcome of cases involving LGBTQ students, such as those in which teachers cite religious objections when not referring to transgender students by their preferred names or pronouns, said Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal.

    See Thursday’s full Fulton ruling:

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  • Ed Department: Title IX Protects Gay and Transgender Students

    By Linda Jacobson | June 16, 2021

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    Title IX’s protections against sexual discrimination and violence extend to gay and transgender students, the U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday in an interpretation of the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County. (The full notice is embedded below)

    Acting on statements Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has made since he was nominated, the department’s notice reinforces that “on the basis of sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The few tense moments Cardona has had in hearings before Congress so far have involved questions from Republicans over whether transgender girls should be allowed to compete against biological girls in high school and college sports.

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    “Today is an important milestone in the struggle to recognize the rights of LGBTQ+ students, one that we mark with pride,” Suzanne Goldberg, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in a blog post.

    Last week, the department’s Office for Civil Rights held a five-day public comment period on a revamped Title IX rule, and stressed that officials were especially interested in hearing from those who have experienced harassment because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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    In a statement, Congressman Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and chair of the House education committee, said “LGBTQ students will have strong and clear legal protections from discrimination in schools, and a safe learning environment.”

    According to The New York Times, it’s unclear how the notice will impact states that have passed legislation banning trans students from competing against girls.

    Today’s full release:

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