Putting Rivalries Aside, Media, Education and Tech Giants Come Together to Offer Free Lessons, Activities During Pandemic — All in One Curated Place
Under normal circumstances, companies like Time for Kids, Scholastic and Khan Academy are competitors; after all, each provides educational content, and teachers can bring only so many apps and websites into the classroom.
But these are not normal circumstances.
So instead, those big names and many others across education, technology and media came together over the past two weeks to create a free, one-stop-shop site for education resources for K-12 students, teachers and parents.
Launched last week, WideOpenSchool.org was created by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit known for rating education and entertainment content based on its suitability for kids, with help from dozens of partners. The site brings together content from a diverse group of companies to help students, teachers and families find free, reliable resources while school buildings are shuttered.
On the site, students will see an interactive daily schedule customized to their age range, a list of live virtual events like story times and concerts, and links to materials for every school subject, all available for free and vetted for quality by Common Sense. The suggested schedule is updated daily with new activities and lessons, and the developers will continue to add to the site as they discover more content and new partners join the project. Some materials are also available in Spanish, and organizers said they are working to add more non-English resources.
Wide Open School also links to resources for finding affordable devices, internet service and food. For teachers, there is information about using Apple, Google, Zoom and other tools with students as well as free content for everything from math and reading to social-emotional learning and physical education.
A team at Common Sense started reaching out to some of the biggest names in education in mid-March. More than 25 organizations are participating so far, and more were reaching out to sign on after the site launched, said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.
“Everyone has agreed to participate. Even if they’re, in many cases, big competitors with each other,” Steyer told The 74. “But they all agreed to play ball. … They saw the magnitude of the crisis and the magnitude of the problems facing particularly low-income families and schools … that don’t have the same resources to do the distance learning and to do schooling from home.”
More than 55 million students are out of class because of the coronavirus pandemic, and at least nine states have said schools will remain closed for the remainder of this school year, according to a running tally by Education Week. Some districts have already implemented robust plans for continuing to teach students from a distance, while others are not offering any academic instruction. Many advocates are concerned that the closures will exacerbate education gaps, especially for already vulnerable students.
Reaching ‘Our Most Invisible Population’ During a Pandemic: How Schools Are Scrambling to Protect Homeless Students as Coronavirus Disrupts Lives
Common Sense is curating the content and working with tech companies, such as Zoom, Google and Apple, to make sure families and teachers are aware of and have access to the resources. Organizations with direct ties to school communities, including the American Federation of Teachers (one of the nation’s largest teachers unions), Head Start and the Boys and Girls Club, have also signed on to help.
Millions of students in both urban and rural communities still lack internet service, which is a barrier to online education efforts like Wide Open School. In addition to sharing resources that can be used offline — such as packets that districts can print and distribute — the site and most of its partner sites are accessible on cell phones, which many families have even if they don’t have broadband at home. Additionally, as part of the initiative, the Southern Education Foundation will document the transition to online learning in a few districts in the South to see what inequities and solutions emerge.
Amplify, a company that provides K-8 English language arts and science curricula and supplemental resources for teaching reading, built the site and has made most of its content free, both through Wide Open School and via its own site.
Part of the motivation for creating the platform was just getting materials organized so teachers and families could find them, said Amplify CEO Larry Berger. Companies from National Geographic to Khan Academy to public television stations were promoting their online lessons, activities and videos in an effort to help teachers, students and families — but they were overloading people’s inboxes at an already chaotic time, Berger said.
How Khan Academy Used a Successful Experiment With California’s Long Beach Unified to Launch District Partnerships Across the Country
Additionally, having so many major players working together could help shine a light on what’s still needed and give them a chance to step up and solve the problems. Other organizations, including the Center for Education Reform and ISTE, are also curating resources on their own sites to help families and educators.
“America needs some signs of everyone coming together to do something great. And I think this is not the only one of those happening right now, but it is one of them,” Berger told The 74. “Moments like this can fragment [people] politically into us-against-them moments, but this should be a place where it’s people coming together to do great things around common needs.”
As an example, Berger cited a video on the site that shows an elementary school gym teacher and NBA player Mason Plumlee teaching a virtual gym class. Like the students, Plumlee, a forward for the Denver Nuggets, is stuck at home and doesn’t know when his season will resume.
“He’s as eager to replace [playing in the NBA] with something as kids and parents are to get a workout in the middle of their day,” Berger said.
Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to Common Sense Media and The 74.
How a News Site for Kids Is Providing Comfort — and Free Educational Content — in a Time of Uncertainty and Anxiety
North Carolina teacher Sabrina Spada and her students found comfort in an unlikely place when their school shut down because of coronavirus: Newsela.
Logging on to the online education tool, known for providing news articles and short quizzes tailored by grade level, was something familiar her students could do amid all the uncertainty and chaos, said Spada, who teaches fourth grade at Foust Elementary School in Greensboro.
A few days after school shut down, but before the district’s formal distance learning platform was set up, Spada signed into Newsela and saw that some of her students had been completing work there without being asked.
“I was very proud of them, and it gave me some comfort” to know they were taking responsibility for their learning, Spada told The 74. “They were out of school, they didn’t know what to do — but the one thing that they could trust was, ‘Well, I know how to log on to Newsela and read articles, so I should probably do that.’ And they did.”
Forty-six states and many individual districts have closed schools because of coronavirus, according to a rolling count by Education Week. That has left more than 54 million kids out of class — and many teachers and parents scrambling to find ways for students to continue their education from home.
In response, Newsela has made all its materials free and is offering teachers virtual training sessions that are typically available only to schools that pay for a subscription. In addition to articles about current events adapted from traditional news sources like The New York Times and the Associated Press, Newsela offers content at various reading levels for science, social studies, reading and social-emotional learning. Some articles are also available in Spanish.
In addition to its website, Newsela offers easy printing options and a mobile app that allows users to download articles when they have internet service and read them offline later.
Before their school shut its doors, Spada and her class used Newsela every day. She usually assigned articles for students to read on their laptops and then led a group discussion about the day’s reading. Her district, Guilford County Schools, is working to make sure all students have a device they can use for online learning while schools are shuttered.
How Schools Are Approaching Coronavirus Plans: Lessons and Advice From One District in Devising ‘a Collaborative Process’ in Drafting a Preparation Guide
In the days before Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools to shut down on March 14, Spada’s class read articles about what a virus is, how the COVID-19 outbreak started and proper handwashing techniques. Getting accurate information from a source they trust was “huge” in curbing students’ anxiety, she said, especially when many were seeing misinformation on social media.
“Talking about all of those [coronavirus articles] and dispelling any myths, right there in the classroom, I think gave [students] a lot of comfort, because they felt much more comfortable talking about it, not only in the class to me but when they went home, too,” Spada said.
In February, Newsela published a Science News for Students article with the headline “Your most urgent questions about the new coronavirus” at five reading levels. A section about how the illness spreads explains it like this in a version for fourth-graders: “The new virus is spreading from person to person. It probably spreads between people similarly to other respiratory diseases, the CDC says. Respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can carry the virus to someone new.”
The version for second-grade readers is simpler: “The virus spreads from person to person. An infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets carry the virus to someone new.”
After announcing on March 13 that the site would make all content available to anyone who requested access, the Newsela team worked through the weekend to get accounts set up for thousands of schools, said co-founder and chief academic officer Dan Cogan-Drew. Parents can set up free accounts as well.
“It does feel like there’s a sort of calling and responsibility we have” to help educators and students at this time, he told The 74. The potential financial fallout was not a primary concern for the company or its board, Cogan-Drew said, because of the challenges schools are facing right now.
“It’s like wartime, you know?” he said. “You don’t charge people for … bread and eggs and flour. You say, ‘Here, what do you need? You’re my neighbor; how can I help?’”
Coronavirus Must-Reads for Schools: A $2 Trillion Stimulus Ignores ‘Digital Divide,’ More Cities Launch Remote Learning Plans, New Concerns for Students With Disabilities & More
This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here.
It may have taken a forced quarantine brought on by a deadly pandemic to do it, but the nation’s eyes have finally turned to the inequities facing online instruction. Whereas early coverage of the crisis spotlighted harried teachers and parents suddenly turned into homeschoolers, the focus has turned to the large numbers of students and families who lack any access to Wi-Fi at home. Whether you call it the “digital divide” or the “homework gap,” the issue is crucial now that the pandemic has closed more than 124,000 school buildings, leaving more than 55 million children without face-to-face classroom instruction.
In a rare education-focused editorial, headlined “Locked Out of the Virtual Classroom,” The New York Times put the matter in stark terms: “Internet-savvy school systems that serve connected populations appear to be moving ahead relatively smoothly with the new order of business. At the same time, some districts that lack infrastructure and serve heavily poor populations have given up altogether on remote learning. Still others are hesitant to pursue online instruction out of fear they might be hauled into court for offering course materials to which broadband-deprived families cannot gain access.”
The problems are urban: New York City, the nation’s largest school district, is struggling to acquire internet-connected devices for the estimated 300,000 students who lack them. But they’re also rural: In Culberson County, Texas, about a two-hour drive from El Paso, just 4 percent of the population uses the internet at broadband speeds necessary for online instructional tools that rely on streaming, according to Microsoft. A new analysis of 46 districts, released by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, found that only a third had plans to deliver computers to students and none had figured out how to ensure that “100 percent of students have a … device and reliable, long-term access to the internet.”
Thus far, a concerted federal push to address the issue has been lacking. The same day the Times published its editorial, President Trump signed the largest stimulus package in American history. Despite offering $13.5 billion for K-12 schools, the bill did not heed the call to provide specific relief for the nation’s online infrastructure. Advocates and politicians are still hopeful that the idea could be resurrected in a future broadband stimulus bill. “K-12 leaders have been calling on Congress to address these problems for years,” said Reg Leichty, a founder and partner at Foresight Law + Policy. “Low-income students are at a disadvantage if they don’t have broadband at home. The public has awoken to this issue all of a sudden because it’s not just poor kids, it’s all kids.”
Social Distancing — ‘This is a Health Hazard’: New Jersey Parents Stand Together in Long Lines to Get School Materials for Their Children (Read at USA Today)
Recession — What the Great Recession Tells Us About the Pandemic Downturn to Come: Expect Declining Student Performance, Widening Achievement Gaps (Read at The74Million.org)
Attendance —15,000 L.A. High School Students Are AWOL Online, 40,000 Fail to Check In Daily Amid Coronavirus Closures (Read at the Los Angeles Times)
Child Abuse — Out of Sight, Child Abuse in Texas Thought to Be on the Rise (Read at The Texas Tribune)
Liberty University — What’s It Like on One of the Only University Campuses Still Open in the U.S.? (Read at ProPublica)
‘Social Distance’ Learning
For Better or Worse, Coronavirus Puts Cyber Charters in the Spotlight (Read at EdWeek)
No Online Learning? With Schools Closed from Coronavirus, These Teachers Air TV Lessons (Read at USA Today)
Here’s a First Look at Chicago’s New Remote Learning Plan, Which Will Include 100,000 Devices for Students (Read at Chalkbeat)
While Educators Promote Online Learning as Coronavirus Spreads, Some Illinois Students Aren’t Equipped With the Broadband to Even Notice (Read at ProPublica)
Broward Schools Online Education Platform Crashes on First Day (Read at Palm Beach Politics)
Parents and Families
Parents Created Kid Schedules After Coronavirus Closed Schools. That Didn’t Last. (Read at The Wall Street Journal)
I Home-Schooled My Kids for 3 Years. Here’s What Parents Need to Know Now (Read at HuffPost)
Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus (Read at NPR)
Current Events, Science, Politics — National Geographic Opens Up Learn-at-Home Resources for Grades K-12. 2 Students Check Them Out (Read at The74Million.org)
When Teaching and Parenting Collide: As Schools Shift Online, Many Educators Manage Two Roles (Read at Chalkbeat)
Many Substitute Teachers Are Going Without Pay During School Closures (Read at EdWeek)
Teachers of Newcomer Students Try to Keep Them Connected as Schools Close, Routines Shift (Read at Chalkbeat)
Fierce Debate as DeVos Weighs Schools’ Obligations to Students With Disabilities (Read at EdWeek)
‘It Feels a Little Hopeless’: Parents of Kids With Disabilities Worry Coronavirus Quarantine Will Mean Regression (Read at The Hechinger Report)
Students With Disabilities Could Lose With COVID-19 Stimulus Package (Read at The Hill)
As Schools Close to Coronavirus, Special Educators Turn to Tele-Therapy (Read at EdWeek)
Equity and Activism
She’s 10, Homeless and Eager to Learn. But She Has No Internet. (Read at The New York Times)
Detroit to Increase Meals Sites for Students, Filling Gap Left When the District Scaled Back (Read at Chalkbeat)
Essays and Reflections
Rotherham: Why America’s Schools Should Stay Open This Summer (Read at The74Million.org)
COVID-19 Is Exposing the Gaps in Our Education System. Let’s Start Fixing Them (Read at Education Week)
Remote Learning Can Be More Than a Bandage (Read at Real Clear Education)
Can Schools Avert the Coronavirus Cliff? (Read at Flypaper)
Pondiscio: Studying Current Events Boosts Literacy and Civic Engagement. And It Probably Fits Into Your Learning-From-Home Routine (Read at The74Million.org)
“The first question is how do we survive between now and the end of June. But we really need to start talking about what this looks like a year from now.” —Michael K. Barbour, education professor at Touro University California and an expert on virtual learning. (Read at Education Week)
“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life.” —Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., whose school is staying open during the coronavirus pandemic. (Read at ProPublica)
“If, next year, the kids can’t go back to school, and on top of that, school budgets are being cut by 10 or 15 percent, how those schools are going to implement the virtual learning systems when they’ve had to lay off a significant portion of their teacher labor force is a completely unknown quantity. That has never happened before — kids having to work from home, and schools having to deal with massive layoffs at the same time.” —Pennsylvania State University professor Kenneth Shores, on the coming economic downturn. (Read at The74Million.org)
“We know that additional strain and stress on families during this crisis puts children at an increased risk of abuse.” —Sophie Phillips, chief executive officer of the advocacy organization TexProtects. (Read at The Texas Tribune)
“[Betsy DeVos’s] assumption is that everybody sits with the same opportunities with the internet, with all the resources supporting technology, and thinks everyone is well supported with access. And that is just so narrow-minded to think that everybody is in that same shape.” —Troy Kilzer, director of schools for rural Chester County Schools in southwest Tennessee. (Read at Education Dive)
With schools across the country closed because of the coronavirus, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged Congress on Friday to provide “microgrants” to disadvantaged students whose schools have “simply shut down.”
But to longtime DeVos followers, the proposal may sound familiar. Though she gave few specifics about the proposal when she announced it during a White House coronavirus briefing, her comments generally fell in line with her many years of school choice advocacy — in particular, her support of taxpayer-funded private school tuition.
In an email, an Education Department spokesperson said the proposed “Continue to Learn” microgrants would allocate federal funding for students to receive “educational services provided by a private or public school.”
“I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident,” DeVos said during the briefing — comments that resembled her pre-pandemic push for “Education Freedom Scholarships.” That proposal would provide federal tax credits to people who donate to school scholarship programs for private school tuition and other education expenses.
With campuses across the country shuttered as the virus spreads, many schools have transitioned to remote instruction, mostly through online learning. In six states, all public schools have been closed through the end of the academic year, according to Education Week. As of Monday, the virus had resulted in 2,405 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But some education leaders have resisted the transition to remote learning. In Philadelphia, for example, the district prohibited remote learning that counts toward students’ grades because of concerns that it was unable to provide equitable instruction to all students. Last week, city school officials approved a plan to buy 50,000 computers for students in order to offer remote instruction by April 17.
The Education Department spokesperson said the microgrants would allocate funding for disadvantaged students whose schools have been closed for at least a month, with an emphasis on children who receive special education or are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which supplies food stamps. Recipients could use the federal money to buy computers and software, internet access, and instructional materials like textbooks and tutoring. For children with disabilities, the grants could be used for educational services and therapy.
The proposal would also provide money to teachers to help them “pivot to supporting all of their students in a different environment than they’ve been used to,” DeVos said.
The proposal has already received pushback from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who accused DeVos in a tweet of making “our lives harder.” Though she said federal grants for schools is crucial, she pushed back on how DeVos characterized education leaders’ response to the crisis.
“I don’t know any district that ‘simply shut down,’” Weingarten tweeted.
DeVos didn’t specify how much money she’s asking Congress to allocate or offer a timeline for when the grants may be available. But she did commend school leaders who have innovated to teach children during a time of unprecedented upheaval.
“It’s an important moment to realize that learning can and does happen anywhere and everywhere,” DeVos said, noting a recent conversation with Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction. “She told me, ‘School isn’t a building. It’s students, teachers and families working together to advance learning.’ She’s right, and that’s our shared mission.”
‘We’re Doing School in a Different Way’: One Nonprofit Took Early Lead in Preparing Districts for Distance Learning During Pandemic
When she read in late February that the coronavirus could infect as many as 70 percent of Americans, Emily Freitag was “primed” to prepare for its effect on schools. She grew up near New Rochelle, New York, one of the first U.S. hot spots of the virus, and her husband, who analyzes international hotel data, saw the effects of the looming pandemic early.
Freitag is a cofounder and CEO of Instruction Partners, a nonprofit that works with 106 school systems around the country to ensure “equitable access to great instruction for students in poverty, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.” Under normal circumstances, the organization helps small school systems, where teachers and staff are often stretched thin, deal with what the organization calls “the unglamorous stuff that is often overlooked” — coaching models, curriculum design and professional development.
Back in February, Freitag remembers thinking, “If this [pandemic] actually happens, this is just going to be so seismic for schools.”
Freitag and her team began preparing their response Feb. 27, starting with a blog post with guidance for school leaders bracing for school closures.
“It is time for schools to seriously think about their learning resiliency plans to guarantee that illness closures do not prevent them from fulfilling the mission of advancing student learning,” Freitag wrote.
In the following days, Instruction Partners created a COVID-19 Resource Hub on its website that offers guidance on best practices for transitioning to distance learning and specific resources for schools to use when teaching students. Instruction Partners is updating and adding to the hub as districts experiment with distance learning.
Helping Small Districts Tackle Big Changes, Instruction Partners Focuses on the ‘Unglamorous’ Basics of Teaching and Learning
Since then, 47 states have shut down all public schools, leaving more than 55 million students out of class, according to a rolling count by Education Week. For many educators, the first step was to make sure students were safe and had access to food. Meanwhile, Instruction Partners was working to make sure schools would have relevant resources for remote learning available when they were ready to focus on academics. Some districts launched online learning programs right away, while others took a week or longer to make plans.
To help districts plot a path forward, the organization created a “school hierarchy of needs” that ranges from getting organized and making a plan for distributing student meals to helping students learn from home and planning for regular school to begin again.
Here are some of Freitag’s tips for educators trying to make distance learning work during the pandemic:
- Make sure every student has a point of contact — a go-to adult who can act as a “virtual homeroom teacher” — and try to keep caseloads for those adults as small as possible.
- Establish a system of daily communication between students and teachers.
- Create weekly routines for teachers, who might be working remotely for the first time
- Send the message “We’re doing school in a different way” rather than “School is closed.”
- If you have devices at school, get them home to students who need them to access online learning.
- Take it one week at a time: Plan for one week, then readjust for the next week.
- Design solutions for the most vulnerable students, such as those in special education, first — and then apply them to all students.
- Project calm and be solutions-oriented. Focus on health, safety, wellness and learning for all students.
Freitag said there are three general ways school systems are doing distance learning: digital, analog and hybrid. The digital model, which is likely most common in high school and in classes where all students already had their own devices, resembles an online course in which students log in to digital classes and receive and submit assignments through an internet learning platform. Some school systems might choose to go analog, relying on hard-copy packets and textbooks, with teachers making regular phone calls to check in on students and collecting all the work when school reopens. Finally, a hybrid model combines the two, perhaps with teachers holding class on a video platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts and students submitting work using a range of tools from Google Docs to text messages.
The hub includes various resources, including templates for meeting notes for educators gathering — virtually or in person — to plan for distance learning, sample student schedules for specific grade levels for each type of distance learning, and a template for educators to use to evaluate online lessons and worksheets. The hub also links to specific ready-to-use resources, such as Curriculum Associates, which offers free printable math and reading worksheets for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The support from Instruction Partners proved valuable for Allison Leslie, chief academic officer at Compass Community Schools, a charter network in Memphis, Tennessee. Leslie, whose school system has been an Instruction Partners client since it opened last year, first spoke with Freitag about potential closures March 11 and has used the Resource Hub to guide the network’s response to school closures.
Instruction Partners “really anticipated this in a great way and put together lots of tools and resources that we pulled from the website,” she said. Additionally, Instruction Partners helped network leaders plan professional development sessions about remote teaching and choose which of their existing resources they should use.
Like many educators and leaders, Freitag is worried about learning loss among those who are already vulnerable, particularly students with disabilities. Many parents and educators are still figuring out how to meet these students’ needs, and the issue has become a barrier to distance learning in some places. For example, Philadelphia district officials worried that remote schooling might not be accessible for all students, so they instructed principals not to attempt it at all.
“This is absolutely an urgent and significant threat for lots and lots of kids,” Freitag said. “I also believe educators are capable of doing a lot. And I think everyone is reeling right now, but I think if we take this one step at a time together we will find solutions.”
Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York provide financial support to Instruction Partners and The 74.
Video: DeVos Talks Distance Learning, Testing Waivers and ‘Microgrants’ to Aid Student & Educator Innovation at Coronavirus Task Force Briefing
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared at the White House coronavirus briefing Friday, addressing the waivers that have already been issued to 46 states concerning standardized tests, encouraging districts to urgently develop plans for distance learning, and surfacing a new proposal for “microgrants” that could aid both teachers and students in pursuing new methods and mechanisms for teaching and learning. We’ve recently covered some of these developments and the implications of school being shuttered for nearly half the school year; see all our coverage at The74Million.org/Coronavirus.
See DeVos’s full remarks:
School Finance Expert Warns District Leaders to Prepare for ‘Major Financial Upheaval’ From Pandemic
With a recession on the way, states and localities could be making severe cuts to public education over the next year — and many leaders don’t seem to realize it yet.
That was the message delivered this week by Marguerite Roza, one of America’s foremost experts in school finance, in a public webinar. Her presentation to researchers and state policymakers offered a bearish outlook for school funding and turned on stark recommendations for mitigating the crisis: With sources of revenue plummeting in the months ahead, policymakers should keep costs low, communicate frequently and look for opportunities to settle long-term fiscal accounts.
In a follow-up interview with The 74, Roza emphasized the need for quick and careful measures to deal with what could be a “devastating” economic downturn.
A former economic adviser at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a longtime observer of how money moves through the education system, Roza now serves as the director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab research center, which administered Tuesday afternoon’s online discussion. In the talk, she warned of “major financial upheaval” resulting from the spread of coronavirus.
“Districts are essentially going to have more costs,” she said. “That’s the one-two punch that happens: Revenues will drop while expenses will increase.”
Although funding for the current school year is stable in most areas, the coming months are likely to see incoming funds “plummet,” she explained. The abrupt wave of layoffs, shuttering of businesses and virtual standstill of the travel and leisure industries have put consumption on pause, choking off sales taxes that many states use to fund schools.
At the same time, suddenly reduced teacher turnover — more veteran instructors will keep their relatively secure and high-paying jobs as the labor market goes south — will push up the costs of salary and benefits, she said. Children of newly unemployed and displaced parents will require more social services, and public schools are likely to see a migration of new students previously enrolled at expensive private academies.
These pressures will converge at the same time that state lawmakers are forced to allocate more funding to Medicaid and other programs serving those affected by the recession. All of which argues for a sober approach to budgeting, Roza advised. Hiring should be frozen, promotions delayed.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘Wow, it’s a great time to hire!’” she said. “I would say that it’s horrific to do layoffs, and as much as you can avoid hiring now, I would.”
Cuts are never palatable to teachers or parents, which makes public messaging key. Many constituents, wary of losing popular teachers or favored afterschool programs, “think the district could tap more money if it was just willing to do so,” she said. In fact, special exemptions for some schools always come at the expense of students in another school, a message that often resonates with the public.
In the call with The 74, Roza commented on the federal stimulus, which was still being negotiated midweek. Even a huge relief package would “split the difference, at best,” she remarked, owing to the disparate impact of the coming fiscal problems: Some states will have to cut deeper than their neighbors, and some districts can fall back more easily than others on lucrative local property taxes — but federal funding allocations will be spread evenly across states.
To complicate matters further, influential stakeholders may not understand the challenges they’re facing. Few key players today were in senior positions during the budgetary carnage that followed the Great Recession, when red ink filled district ledgers for years at a time.
“We talk with a lot of financial leaders in school districts, and they weren’t in those positions during the last recession,” she said. “They might have been in grad school or entering an analyst position, and a little more than a decade later, they’re budget directors or CFOs. They don’t have that visceral sense of what’s coming. Somebody asked me what a RIF [reduction in force] was, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s how long it’s been. They don’t recognize the word anymore.'”
One possible upside of the economic shock? It might provide cover to the growing number of districts already dealing with structural resource problems, most related to unfunded obligations around employee pensions and benefits. By starting a dialogue about the long-term fiscal health of school systems, Roza said, leaders could create room for “emergency-like decisions on things that we’re overdue to address.”
“I hear districts all the time say, ‘We have underenrolled schools all over the place, but politically, we can’t [close them].’ But schools are closed right now, and they may be laying off lots of people next year. It’s like, this is the least of your community’s worries, so maybe get that done.”
Coronavirus Must-Reads — Key Coverage for Schools & Communities: How a Pandemic Is Impacting Distance Learning, Student Safety, Equity, Funding & More
This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here.
It’s only been two weeks since Seattle became the first major U.S. district to close its schools due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it may as well have been a lifetime ago. As of Wednesday, all but three states — Iowa, Nebraska and Maine — had required that schools be shuttered; and two, Kansas and Virginia, announced closures for the remainder of the school year.
The changes in those 14 days have been seismic and, for many, profoundly unsettling. With schools employing a patchwork of distance learning systems and parents suddenly put in the uncomfortable role of teachers, this period could become “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home schooling,” said Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at the New America think tank. Along the way, it is introducing a whole new slang (Zoombombing?) and putting under a microscope the enormous equity gap between the digital haves and have-nots.
The pandemic has also exposed fissures between states, districts and the federal government as schools clamor for clear guidance on a host of issues. Even the dilemma of school closures, which district and state chiefs more or less settled unilaterally, appears to be an open subject at the White House. Asked about it this week, President Donald Trump said such decisions are “up to the governors” and that, in some states, “the schools are going to open.” Last week, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a one-year waiver on standardized testing, but large questions remain on issues such as how to provide distance learning to special education students — issues that may be ultimately decided by the courts. At press time, the House was poised to act on a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that could provide substantial relief to parents, teachers and schools. The House needs to reconcile that package with its own version, which proposes significantly more funding for education.
A quick scan of key coronavirus clips for educators, district leaders, students and school communities:
Student Safety — With School Out and Activities Canceled, Community Leaders Confront the Challenges of Keeping Kids Safe (Read at The Washington Post)
Schooling at Home — ‘A Really Big Experiment’: Parents Turn Teachers Amid Virus (Read at The New York Times)
Homeless Students — Reaching ‘Our Most Invisible Population’ During a Pandemic: How Schools Are Scrambling to Protect Homeless Students as Coronavirus Disrupts Lives (Read at The74Million.org)
Federal Policy — How Does Current Law Limit Betsy DeVos’ Power to Waive Education Mandates? (Read at Education Week)
‘Social Distance’ Learning
School Districts Take Unplanned Plunge into Online Learning (Read at The New York Times)
Analysis: How Are Schools Shifting Student Support, Instruction and District Operations Amid Coronavirus? 5 Early Findings From New National Survey (Read at The74Million.org)
The ‘New Reality’ of Coronavirus: Here’s What NYC’s First Day of Remote Learning Looked Like (Read at Chalkbeat)
Teachers Find Many Obstacles as They Try to Keep Kids Learning Amid Coronavirus (Read at Los Angeles Times)
What Is and Is Not Working as Educators Transition to Online Learning (Read at Education Week)
Parents and Families
Need Help Sorting Through the Avalanche of Online Resources for Kids Who Are Now Learning at Home? 11 Sites for Parents to Look At (Read at The74Million.org)
Childcare Providers Are Feeling an Unprecedented Squeeze. Now, They’re Asking for Help (Read at Chalkbeat)
Kids’ Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Stories, Lessons from Home (Read at The Washington Post)
45 Tweets From Parents About Social Distancing With Kids (Read at HuffPost)
A Social Activist in Texas Taps His ‘Coolest Friends’ to Host Afternoon Adventures Online During Coronavirus Shutdown, and Parents and Kids — By the Thousands — Tune In (Read at The74Million.org)
‘Bright Star’ Principal, 36, Dies From Coronavirus (Read at Education Week)
Brooklyn Principal Hospitalized After Another Principal in the Same Building Died from Coronavirus (Read at Chalkbeat)
With Schools Shut Down, What Happens to Hiring (Read at Education Week)
‘Am I Doing Enough?’ As Districts Try Remote Learning for Students with Disabilities, These Challenges Lie Ahead (Read at Chalkbeat)
For Parents Trying to Replicate School for Children with Disabilities, a Confounding Task (Read at The Washington Post)
Despite Assurances of Flexibility, Educators Fear Liability in Online Instruction of Special Ed Students (Read at EdSource)
Equity and Activism
Federal Policy Says Students Must Pick Up School Meals In-person. Families with Susceptible Children Face Wrenching Decisions. (Read at The Washington Post)
NYC Student Activists Can’t Boycott Schools That Are Closed, but as Coronavirus Highlights Long-Standing Inequities, a Chance to Change Policy Emerges (Read at The74Million.org)
Working From Home Reveals Another Fault Line in America’s Racial and Educational Divide (Read at The Washington Post)
Essays and Reflections
Social Distancing Without a Social Safety Net: How Shutdowns Came to My Child’s Fragile School Community (Read at The74Million.org)
How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It) (Read at New York Magazine)
The Stimulus Package Will Help Families, But It Doesn’t Go Far Enough (Read at Education Week)
Coronavirus: Are California Kids Actually Learning Since Coronavirus Closed Their Schools? (Read at the Los Angeles Times)
Student Voice: Part Staycation, Part Home Detention, My Life During Pandemic Is a Study in Contrasts (Read at The74Million.org)
“It’s a really big experiment.” —Roxanne Ojeda-Valentin, a single mother of a sixth-grader in Buffalo, New York, on educating her son during the pandemic. (Read at The New York Times)
“Of course, I’m concerned for the health of my family and community. But as self-absorbed as it feels to say it, I’m also worried about not being able to go to prom.” —Sadie Bograd, a high school junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky. (Read at The74Million.org)
“It is really shedding light on some inequalities in a new way. A lot of people who have highly paid, white-collar jobs that are computer-focused can adjust to this crisis without a lot of pain. And then there’s a much larger group that can’t adjust without a lot of pain to themselves and their families.” —Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist for the Labor Department, now at the Economic Policy Institute. (Read at The Washington Post)
“The friend’s family said, ‘You can’t stay here because people are getting sick,’ and so they asked her to leave. This wasn’t the first time she had spent the night in the car.” —Casey Gordon, who manages homeless-student outreach efforts at the Kent Intermediate School District in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the plight of homeless students during the pandemic. (Read at The74Million.org)
“Zoombombing is no joke. I don’t think we were ready for that. If a teacher wants to hold a review session for 100 kids, you just can’t monitor what kids are screenshotting and what’s going on in the chat.” —Pat Finley, co-principal of Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in New York City. (Read at Chalkbeat)
The Weather Channel Is Now Teaching Kids, at 50 Past the Hour: 8 Things We’ve Learned About Snow, Atmosphere, Planets & More
America’s dislocated students now have an unexpected outlet for science lessons amid the pandemic: The Weather Channel.
The cable network is hitting pause on forecasts and weather maps once an hour, at 50 minutes past, to share student-focused content, ranging from weather phenomena to astronomy to destigmatizing the inner workings of such scary things as thunderstorms and blizzards.
They’re also now identifying for families the best time of the day for “recess,” given the meteorological conditions. In a partnership with Sesame Street, Elmo occasionally accompanies the network’s on-camera meteorologists:
We spent a few days tuning in at the 50s; here are 8 things we learned about the weather:
1 Why snow is white:
Elmo helped introduce the subjects of snowflakes, ice crystals and how light reflects and is absorbed in different structures. After an explanation that white objects reflect light and black objects absorb light, we learn that snowflakes are composed of crystals, which redirect light in every possible direction. As a result, snowflakes look white to the human eye.
2 Atmosphere caps:
Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras landed a more advanced lesson — and a nifty metaphor. Wearing a baseball cap, she introduces the concept of the atmosphere cap: a layer of warm air situated a couple thousand feet up in the atmosphere that stops air from rising and can delay thunderstorms. As the heat under the cap escalates, the cap can break and spark strong storms.
3 The vernal equinox:
Why did spring start last week, on March 19? How does the leap year affect the date? What does “equinox” mean? Jeras, again, has all the A’s to these Q’s. But if you’re dying to know, here’s what we got: The first day of spring occurs when the sun rays are directly over the equator; the word “equinox” essentially means equal parts of day and night; and the leap year played a part in this being the earliest arrival of spring in 124 years.
4 Helping kids cope with thunderstorms:
With strong storms in the forecast, meteorologist Jim Cantore explains to a frightened Elmo what happens during thunderstorms. “If you know what’s happening, maybe they’re not so scary,” Cantore assures. With that comfort comes a glimpse of science behind the rumbling: Lightning occurs when negatively charged particles in clouds collide with the positively charged ground. Thunder comes from the air becoming superheated by the lightning, rapidly expanding and then crashing back together. The lesson wraps up with a helpful catchphrase: “When lightning roars, go indoors.”
5 What are we seeing in the night sky?
At this time of year, it’s most likely Venus, says veteran space reporter Kelly Beatty. (Space.com notes that this month marks the planet’s highest altitude in its eight-year cycle.) He suggests grabbing the family and a pair of binoculars to take advantage of all you can see during this clear time of the year — including the massive craters on the moon — that can be seen with the naked eye. (The next full moon is scheduled for April 7.) He also recommends loading the web application Globe at Night, a “citizen-science campaign” that allows users to upload their observations (and to also gauge the state of light pollution worldwide).
6 The many faces of spring:
Ringing in the new season, Jeras explains to young viewers that spring doesn’t always arrive in full bloom and illustrates its unpredictable variability with two cities in Arizona. Wintry weather remains in a snow-covered town two hours outside of Flagstaff, while a more balmy yet stormy landscape is unfolding just south in Phoenix.
7 What is a blizzard — and how can families stay safe?
Heavy snow + heavy wind = blizzard warnings. And to be safe, you need to prepare for the cold, for a possible loss of electricity and for decreased visibility. Because of this, best advice is to stay home or to keep an emergency kit equipped with blankets, flashlights and extra batteries.
8 The dangers of lightning:
In light of impending bad weather, meteorologist Jen Carfagno explains how and why people are struck by lightning — and notes a few key locations to avoid during thunderstorms. Avoid beaches, golf courses and telephone poles — and remember this one for trivia: Lightning can be five times as hot as the surface of the sun.
If you’re a parent-turned-overnight-homeschooler, these weather whizzes are offering some helpful, regular breaks for your pupils. Chances are some adults could benefit from brushing up on these topics too.
Need Help Sorting Through the Avalanche of Online Resources for Kids Who Are Now Learning at Home? 11 Sites for Parents to Look At
New Database: Dozens of School Districts Share Their Early Plans for Teaching, Learning and Supports During the Pandemic. Here’s What the Top 12 Systems Are Doing
With the vast majority of America’s public schools now shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, more than 54 million children have been told that they won’t be attending class for the next several weeks. In many cases, students may be left learning from home through the end of the academic year.
In response to this unprecedented wave of closures, teachers, principals and district leaders across the country have quickly hatched plans to ensure that students continue learning through online lessons, e-mailed work packets, classroom video chats and other alternatives.
Still, the logistics of getting millions of kids — and also their parents — comfortable with online tools and curricula will be a considerable challenge.
So what are districts doing in the face of this unprecedented challenge? A new and evolving public database compiled by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research center based at the University of Washington Bothell, is capturing specific district-by-district efforts in transitioning to distance efforts:
Click to see the full database. (CRPE)
Analyzing dozens of top plans, including those at most of the nation’s biggest districts, CRPE found most school systems prioritizing student nutrition and child health, while still yet to iron out details of distance learning plans and how to serve special education students in remote settings. (CRPE’s Robin Lake published a detailed analysis of the findings)
You can scan the full database of how districts responded; here’s a closer look at how nine of the top 12 systems stand as of March 23:
New York City
- The nation’s largest district’s closed campuses March 16, and distance learning launched Monday.
- The district is providing specific curriculum and devices. Teachers received training the week of March 16.
- Specific information about special education is not available, but schools are expected to comply with students’ individualized education programs.
- The Los Angeles Unified School District, where the closure started March 16, is offering a variety of optional resources such as Khan Academy and SAT/ACT practice tests, with some schools providing more specific assignments and materials.
- The district is also offering educational content through public television and providing parent training for online platforms, resources for special populations and wifi.
- The district is not providing specific curriculum, teacher training or nonacademic programming.
- The district is not currently providing devices but there is some indication on the LAUSD website that it plans to do so.
- Florida’s largest district, where the closure began March 16, started distance learning the following day.
- The district is providing specific curriculum, teacher support, resources for special populations, nonacademic programming, wifi and devices.
- The district is not providing parent training.
Broward County (Florida)
- Broward County schools closed March 16 and are expected to start distance learning next Monday, March 30. Some initial resources are available online now.
- The district is providing teacher training, specific curriculum, resources for special populations, wifi and devices.
- The district is not providing parent training or nonacademic programming.
- The Houston Independent School District closed starting March 13. Staff were told to be available online Monday for training, but a distance learning plan for students had not been released as of March 20.
Hillsborough County (Florida)
- The district, which closed March 16, started distance learning Monday and is revising its plan to prepare for an extended closure.
- The district is providing specific curriculum, teacher training, wifi and devices.
- The district is not providing parent training, resources for special populations or nonacademic programming.
Orange County (Florida)
- Orange County Public Schools, which closed March 17, will start optional, self-paced distance learning March 30.
- Students can request wifi hotspots if they need them.
- Information and instructions for using the distance learning tools are available for parents online.
Fairfax County (Virginia)
- Virginia’s largest district closed March 16 and will begin mandatory distance learning March 30. Ahead of the 30th, however, the school system has already started offering some optional activities for students.
- The district is not yet providing specific curriculum, resources for special populations, nonacademic programming, teacher training or devices.
- Hawaii operates a statewide school district, which shut down March 19.
- There was no distance learning plan in place as of March 20, but teachers began working remotely March 19 and may be preparing to teach online.
Following the release of a harsh review alleging systemwide failures, education authorities in Massachusetts revealed last week that they would enter into a new governance partnership with Boston Public Schools, the state’s largest school district. While stopping short of an outright takeover, the move will impose new requirements on Boston schools to drastically improve.
The announcement, immediately overshadowed by the escalating nationwide response to the spread of coronavirus, will have profound consequences for the district’s 54,000 students. It also comes at a time of fast-moving reform in Massachusetts, where lawmakers enacted a massive and long-awaited school funding overhaul last fall.
The agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations between state Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley, BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. While the district will stay under local control, Riley will oversee its progress on a set of priorities ranging from transportation to chronic absenteeism — and retains the freedom to intervene if he deems it necessary.
Marty West, a professor of education at Harvard University and a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called the partnership unique.
“I’m not aware of other examples in which a state sets clear outcome metrics for a struggling district, backed by the threat of a takeover, while also committing to provide the district with specific supports,” he wrote in an email. “One of the things I appreciate about Commissioner Riley as a state board member is that he is an outside-of-the-box thinker.”
Amid a flurry of actions taken to slow the coronavirus outbreak — by the order of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, all public and private schools in the state will close for three weeks starting on Tuesday — the novel solution hasn’t dominated headlines. But it may drive major changes to the city’s education system.
The state has not hesitated to initiate full-bore takeovers of local districts in the past, seizing control over chronically underperforming schools in Lawrence and Holyoke. Riley led the Lawrence takeover after being appointed the district’s receiver-superintendent in 2012 and has been credited with launching an impressive academic turnaround; Lawrence is now considered a model for successful takeovers, marked by cooperation between state and local officials.
Yet the situation in Boston — an economic powerhouse that commands sizable education revenues and boasts some of the strongest schools in the state — differs significantly from that of the low-income communities that have endured state intervention in the past. Experts have praised its robust charter school sector as the best in the country, and BPS has often been acclaimed as a top performer among big-city districts.
A January report from the Urban Institute using NAEP results offers the latest evidence. When controlling for socioeconomic status, students in Boston outscored those in all other districts participating in the test’s Trial Urban District Assessment.
But the nearly 300-page report filed on Friday by Riley’s team held starkly disappointing findings: Approximately one-third of all students in Boston attend schools that would rank in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Special education was described as being in “systemic disarray,” while “staggering” absenteeism and patchwork access to advanced coursework plagued high schools.
“The district does not have a clear, coherent, district-wide strategy for supporting low-performing schools and has limited capacity to support all schools designated by [the state] as requiring assistance or intervention,” the report revealed.
Going forward, BPS will take the lead on four priority initiatives laid out by the state, including turning around achievement in the district’s 33 underperforming schools, improving the school transportation system and doing more to support students with disabilities. The state, meanwhile, has committed to helping Boston recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce and foster partnerships between needy schools and outside organizations.
In a statement, the pro-reform advocacy group Massachusetts Parents United called the agreement “a beginning step toward improvement” but said its members had concerns that would need to be specifically addressed.
The announcement “does not include specific metrics for improvement, strategies for how its vague aspirations will be achieved, a timeline for when these aspirations will be reached, or any consequences if BPS is unable to improve the academic performance of its students,” the statement read. “Why should parents believe BPS will be able to do these things when it has never been able to do them before?”
Representatives from the Boston Teachers Union said it was “troubling” that the deal was reached when the state was still making emergency preparations for the coronavirus, adding that the district’s dysfunctions had been neglected by the state for decades.
“While the memorandum does not constitute a state takeover, it appears to leave the door open in ways that could be dangerous for students and our communities, given the failed track record of top-down district takeovers across the country.”
Enrolling in Connecticut’s technical high school system increases male students’ earnings by roughly one-third in the years immediately following high school, a study has found. Not only do the schools boost young men’s professional prospects, the authors conclude, they have a substantial impact on their academic performance as well, suggesting that their early success could persist well into their careers. Somewhat mysteriously, female students do not realize the same educational or wage benefits.
The impressive returns to technical education may help explain the sustained demand for trade and vocational schools even during a time when the rate of college enrollment for American students is steadily climbing. According to polling, most of the public agrees that apprenticeships and other workforce training programs provide students with the skills to attain a good standard of living, and some evidence indicates that both revenue and enrollment at postsecondary trade schools have risen significantly since the beginning of the Great Recession. At the same time, most states are dealing with a pronounced shortage of CTE instructors in high schools.
The study, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Connecticut, was circulated last year as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Center. It is a comparatively rare analysis of a statewide career and technical education (CTE) program; much of the existing literature on the subject has focused on individual technical schools or programs.
National data indicate that 90 percent of American students take at least one CTE class during high school, though a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute released this spring suggests that they are not always guided to courses that offer the greatest likelihood for future employment. Seeing the popularity of vocational education — and the benefits realized by those who earn industry-specific credentials in manufacturing or information technology — leaders of major school districts have recently expressed a willingness to expand CTE course offerings.
One-on-One With Lewis Ferebee: New D.C. Schools Chancellor Talks About Why Districts Need to Expand Career & Technical Education for Enrollment, Enlistment, and Employment
Connecticut’s own network of CTE-focused high schools, the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), consists of 16 schools enrolling roughly 11,000 students — more than 7 percent of the state’s total high school enrollment. The population of applicants to the schools is disproportionately male, low-income, and black or Hispanic. Some 31 percent of all CTHSS students come from Connecticut’s five poorest cities: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London and Waterbury.
The schools are oversubscribed, and applicants are selected for seats based on a cutoff score that takes into account their eighth-grade standardized test scores as well as their grade-point average and school attendance.
To investigate the effects of the schools, the research team collected application data on approximately 57,000 eighth-graders who filed an application to at least one CTHSS school between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years. They then matched those applicants to their academic data, provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education, which offered a look into those students’ later test scores, attendance, high school graduation and college enrollment.
Comparing students who narrowly made it into one of the high schools with those who were narrowly turned away, the researchers found significant academic and economic impacts from CTE. Male students who were accepted to one of the schools scored much higher on 10th-grade standardized tests than those who did not. They were also 10 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school (relative to a baseline graduation rate of 83 percent). Over a two-and-a-half-year period after their graduation from high school, their earnings were 31 percent higher, compared with a baseline quarterly income of roughly $6,000.
In an interview with The 74, study co-author Stephen Ross, a professor of economics at UConn, called all the effects “really striking” but focused particularly on the boost to test scores.
“That improvement means you can take a kid who has a certain set of interests and get them into a school that’s going to fulfill those interests,” he said. “And the increased academic engagement that’s created because of those interests means that they’re not just going to do better at becoming a plumber or becoming an HVAC specialist, but they’re also going to accumulate the general skills that people need to succeed in the labor market in the long run. That’s really, really important, and not something that’s captured in many CTE studies.”
The study leaves unanswered the question of why men, but not women, enjoy substantial positive effects from career training. Though the researchers offer no explanations, a hint may lie in the varying CTE disciplines preferred by boys versus girls students: Female CTHSS students often selected into programs focused on guest services, early childhood care, and cosmetology, while males favored specialties like plumbing, HVAC, and welding — which could lead them to excel in those highly skilled, and highly compensated, specializations.
Although the sample of male students was measured as 8 percent less likely to enroll in a four-year college than those who did not attend a CTE high school, Ross said that the effects faded over time, such that the oldest former CTE students were no less likely to have attended college than their non-CTE peers. Meanwhile, he said, the future life prospects for high-earning, high-scoring young men with technical high school diplomas offered much to be optimistic about.
“The bottom line is that this population has higher cognitive skills, has higher graduation rates, and at least in the medium term — looking at these people in their mid-20s — it’s starting to look like there’s no college deficit whatsoever in comparing them with the people who didn’t get into the system. So that suggests pretty strongly that a lot of these earnings effects might persist over time.”
‘Probably the Best News for Federal Accountability Policy, Ever’: New Study Shows No Child Left Behind’s Tough Oversight Led to Big Boost in High School Graduation Rates
America’s skyrocketing rate of high school graduation is one of the biggest puzzles in education policy.
Cheery headlines have announced the news in recent years: Some 85 percent of American students completed high school with a diploma in 2017, up from just 79 percent in 2011. Education commentators, none more prominent than President Barack Obama, lauded the trend as proof of the success of his policies. And it is difficult to argue with millions more young people passing a critical milestone on the way to successful adulthood.
More HS Students Are Graduating, but These Key Indicators Prove Those Diplomas Are Worth Less Than Ever
But a chorus of doubters has emerged as well, warning that schools and districts may have lowered their standards in order to award diplomas to students unprepared for college or employment. Some singled out the vogue for “credit recovery” programs that allow pupils to quickly — many would say too hastily — make up for courses they failed earlier. Others pointed to the disconcertingly long list of schools and districts that have resorted to administrative legerdemain and outright cheating to inflate their graduation statistics.
All of which has led researchers to ask whether the climbing rates of high school completion were simply a form of observer effect. Perhaps the introduction of high-stakes accountability, a product of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, was distorting the actions of teachers, principals and superintendents, who responded by simply waving along kids who should have been retained. If the threat of closure or loss of funding hung over educators, it was reasoned, they were incentivized to graduate their students by any means necessary.
A new study from the Brookings Institution finds some truth in that theory — but also some rather encouraging news. According to its findings, soaring graduation rates are indeed the result of federal accountability mandates, but they can’t be explained away by fraud or slackened expectations. Common manipulations to artificially boost high school completion don’t fully explain the positive trend around the country; instead, the watchful eye of bureaucrats seems to have catalyzed real growth in student knowledge and skills.
Study author Doug Harris, an economics professor at Tulane University and the director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, said he was “surprised” by the discovery, which flies in the face of gloomy news accounts and expert skepticism.
“Going into it, we were motivated by those scandals and anecdotes we were hearing about in Louisiana,” he said in an interview. “I was thinking, ‘This is not going to be good.’ But the more we dug into it, the more it actually seemed like pretty good news. And I think that it’s big news.”
To identify the importance of federal policy, Harris and his co-authors studied the movement of high school graduation rates following the implementation of No Child Left Behind.
Under the law, states were required to set graduation targets for districts to hit, or else face administrative penalties. Using information from the Common Core of Data, the researchers calculated the average freshman graduation rates of every American school district, and compared data from the pre-NCLB years 1999 and 2000 with the post-NCLB years of 2009 and 2010.
As expected, they found that high school graduation increased the most in districts that fell beneath the accountability thresholds set by their states, as well as in states with more districts under those thresholds. Meanwhile, districts already hitting their state benchmarks made the least progress. That indicates that districts and schools were responding directly to the mandates set out in federal policy.
The evidence suggests, therefore, that accountability directly led to progress in getting kids to graduate. But was that progress honestly achieved? To answer that question, the authors looked at various forms of “strategic behavior” — i.e., measures taken to satisfy state requirements that don’t actually improve student learning.
One obvious obstacle to statistical inflation is the presence of high school graduation exams, which are used in more than a dozen states. Since passing the test is a baseline requirement for students to collect a diploma, educators in those states can’t simply massage poor grades or fudge attendance figures. If those types of practices were largely responsible for the uptick in graduation, then the trend would be muted in the presence of exams.
But the study finds that the opposite happened: Graduation rates actually increased more in states with graduation exams.
Next, the team looked at the impact of credit-recovery courses, which have come under considerable scrutiny as easy ways for students to gain credit toward graduation despite failing a given class — often by passing online tests that are vulnerable to cheating. Focusing on Louisiana, the researchers found that in schools threatened with accountability sanctions, students were between four and five percentage points more likely to take at least one credit recovery course. This was especially true in math, for which subject-specific graduation requirements were tightened in the state at the same time graduation accountability was implemented.
Statistically, however, this phenomenon was much too small to explain Louisiana’s sizable spike in its high school graduation rate. That jump, from 64 percent in the 2005-06 school year to 81 percent in 2017-18, can’t be accounted for by the kind of “strategic behavior” the researchers were looking for.
Aside from schools’ overall improvement in moving high schoolers toward the finish line, another positive recent development is the significant narrowing of the credential gap between black and white students. In the past 40 years, the “status completion rate” of blacks between 18 and 24 (a measure that includes high school graduation as well as GED attainment) has caught up with that of their white peers, according to a January report from the Institute of Education Sciences.
The Brookings study does not disaggregate by student racial groups, but Harris said it was logical to conclude that black students, who are more likely to attend underperforming schools, would derive the most advantage from policies aimed at those schools.
“The districts that were below the threshold were almost certainly disproportionately attended by students of color, so those are the students who benefited more from the policy.”
Harris acknowledged the limits of the research, principally the variations in state accountability practices and the availability of credit recovery, which he said is particularly common in Louisiana. But he said the findings were evidence of the effectiveness of NCLB and its successor legislation, offering “probably the best news for federal accountability policy, ever.”
“All signs point in the right direction: that graduation accountability was a substantial cause of the increase, and that the ways in which the increases have happened [reflect] an increase in real knowledge and skill. It’s nice to see.”
In Coronavirus ‘Hotspot,’ NY Gov. Cuomo Orders Schools Closed. Why the District Superintendent Resisted the Move
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered school closures in a New York City suburb that’s considered the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the state. The one-mile “containment area,” where public places such as schools and churches are required to close for two weeks, includes parts of New Rochelle and neighboring Eastchester.
“New Rochelle, at this point, is probably the largest cluster in the United States,” Cuomo said at a press conference Tuesday. While he called the one-mile zone “fairly constrained,” he said the move is “literally a matter of life and death.”
The news comes a day after Cuomo and the New Rochelle schools superintendent offered competing messages on school closures in the city. On Monday, Cuomo called New Rochelle “a significant hotspot” for the virus and suggested the schools had closed. But the schools remained open Tuesday, and Superintendent Laura Feijóo resisted calls to shut them down. The schools would remain open, she said in a letter to parents Monday, “unless and until we receive written directive to close.” Feijóo told reporters that she opposed closures because they’d be a hardship for families, especially those with low-income children who rely on schools for free meals.
Closures in the area will last through March 25, Cuomo said. The New Rochelle district announced Tuesday that three campuses would close. Tuckahoe Union Free School District campuses and multiple private schools are also affected.
During a press conference Tuesday evening, Feijóo defended her decision not to close all schools in the district but rather to close schools “only when we absolutely have to.”
“We think kids should be in school. We really think the safest place for them both educationally and safety-wise is in school,” she said.
The spat over whether to close New Rochelle schools cuts to the heart of a dilemma school districts across the country face amid fear over the spread of COVID-19, the name of the disease caused by the virus. Though education leaders have come under pressure to close schools as a precautionary measure, doing so complicates other school functions, such as providing food for low-income children.
As of Tuesday, 621 schools have closed or are planning to halt classes temporarily, according to Education Week. Those closures affect more than 430,000 students.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the U.S. surpassed 800 Tuesday. At least 27 people who tested positive for the virus have died. On Tuesday, a 69-year-old New Jersey man who worked in Westchester County at Yonkers Raceway, near New Rochelle, became the first person in the Northeast to die from the virus.
In New York, a total of 173 people have tested positive for the virus, 108 of whom are in Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located.
In New York City, officials said the country’s largest public school system will remain open unless a student or educator tests positive for coronavirus. At that point, schools would close for 24 hours while officials assess the situation. But an online petition calling on lawmakers to close city schools has received more than 100,000 signatures.
In New Rochelle, district officials have “advocated for help from the Governor’s Office to aid in supporting students who are food dependent,” Feijóo said in a note to parents Tuesday, adding that the district “cannot handle this alone.” She said the district needs the state to commit to food delivery for students who need the support.
“We believe students are safest in schools and are eager to reopen as soon as possible,” Feijóo continued. “It is inevitable that one of our students or staff will contract the virus. What is in our control is to be ready, calm, decisive and responsive to any and all circumstances which may arise.”
As new cases are reported, decisions on school closures are being left to state and local officials. But the federal government has attempted to alleviate concerns over school lunches for low-income children. Over the weekend, the Department of Agriculture relaxed school lunch rules so low-income children can access school meals amid closures.
Communities beyond New Rochelle have resisted preemptive school closures, including a district in suburban Seattle. Though thousands of community members signed an online petition calling on officials to halt classes, Lake Washington School District campuses remained open Tuesday.
Local public health officials recommend that the schools remain open “as long as the district can maintain appropriate supervision and adequate services,” according to a statement on the Lake Washington website. However, the district has taken several proactive steps: Activities including field trips, concerts and athletic events have been canceled or postponed through March 18.
On the national level, some public health experts are calling on school leaders to close campuses immediately, arguing that a proactive approach could save lives. Among them is Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, whose research includes a study on U.S. cities’ response to the 1918 influenza pandemic. That pandemic, considered the most deadly outbreak in human history, killed roughly 40 million people globally and more than 500,000 in the U.S.
School closures “turned out to be one of the most effective firewalls against the spread of the pandemic,” Markel wrote in The New York Times.
Though the coronavirus mortality rate remains unclear, officials shouldn’t “wait until it’s too late,” he wrote. In a separate study, on the 2009 H1N1 influenza epidemic, Markel found that most school closures in Michigan occurred too late and were therefore ineffective.
“Schools are community gathering places where large numbers of people are in proximity to one another and respiratory infections can easily spread among young people and adults alike,” he wrote. “Shutting them down can be a key part of slowing the spread of easily transmissible viruses so that hospitals are not overrun with sick people.”
Meanwhile, other research points to the potential drawbacks of temporary school closures, including an economic toll should parents be forced to stay home from work to care for their children. Additionally, if students miss extended periods of school, campus closures could carry negative consequences for academic performance.
Research also backs up an argument by Feijóo, the New Rochelle superintendent. Even with school closures, she said, it’s likely that children will mingle — potentially hindering the benefits of school closures. Even though more than 700 schools in the U.S. halted classes in 2009 to limit the H1N1 outbreak, a survey of Pennsylvania residents found that 69 percent of students visited at least one other public location, such as shopping malls or restaurants, while classes were halted.
“While students are home please remember not to congregate unnecessarily,” Feijóo said in a message to parents on Tuesday. “Keep safe and have students work on educational materials provided to you.”
Correction: Previous versions of this article incorrectly stated that the one-mile containment zone covers most of suburban New Rochelle.
EduClips: Nevada Parents Sue State, Dallas to Require Cameras in Special Ed Classes, L.A. School Board Race Heads to Runoff & More News You Missed From America’s 15 Top Districts
EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.
CALIFORNIA — After Record Spending and an Ongoing Union vs. Charter Power Struggle, At Least 2 Los Angeles School Board Races Appear Headed to a Runoff: Following Tuesday’s primary election to elect four school board members in the nation’s second-largest school district, races in two competitive districts are likely headed to a runoff in November. As Taylor Swaak reports, teachers union picks were ahead in the vote tallies in both those contests as of Wednesday. United Teachers Los Angeles ally Jackie Goldberg is positioned to keep her District 5 seat, though not all the votes are counted yet. Campaign spending, in a show of union-versus-charter advocate might, was at a record-high $8.4 million leading up to the election, with charter advocates spending the vast majority. Ongoing fights over charter schools, nearly depleted savings and stark achievement gaps are a few of the issues the board will face in the next few years. (Read at The 74)
TEXAS — Dallas Poised to Become First Big-City District to Require Video Cameras in All Special Education Classrooms: Dallas Independent School District trustees voted this week to require video recording in all special education classrooms. A recent survey found that parents overwhelmingly supported the measure, which is intended to help school officials investigate situations where students who cannot speak are restrained or harmed. State law already requires districts to install cameras in special education classrooms when parents request them. Most special education teachers and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa opposed the measure, which the board passed 7-2. (Read at The Dallas Morning News)
NEVADA — Parents Sue State, Alleging Failure to Adequately Fund Education: A group of Nevada parents is suing the state for “for failing to adequately fund education, claiming it has harmed its schoolchildren by not providing sufficient resources for their success,” Aleksandra Appleton reports in the Las Vegas Review Journal. The advocacy group, Educate Nevada Now, comprises nine parents whose children attend districts throughout the state. They name the state education department, state superintendent and state board of education as defendants. Amanda Morgan, the group’s legal director, said they are hoping the court will send the defendants this message: “What you’re doing right now doesn’t meet your constitutional obligation. Go fix it.” (Read at the Las Vegas Review Journal)
NEW YORK — ‘Fire Carranza!’: Why Asian Americans Are Targeting NYC Schools Chief: New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza says his vision for integration in the nation’s largest school system will benefit “all cultures and all ethnic groups.” But frustrated Asian-American families in America’s largest district say they feel left out of plans and have protested his appearances in recent months, with some chanting “Fire Carranza!” at a January meeting in Queens. Allegations of prejudice are fueled by a series of issues, including Asian-American parents and politicians not being consulted about plans to get rid of the admissions exam for the eight specialized high schools where Asians currently make up a majority of students. Carranza told The New York Times “he regrets not reaching out to Asian Americans sooner” but will “continue to push for the elimination of the entrance exam,” Eliza Shapiro reports. (Read at The New York Times)
FLORIDA — School Safety Bill Passes Florida House With New Requirements Related to Arresting Kids: In response to the arrest of a 6-year-old girl that sparked widespread outrage last month, Florida lawmakers added a requirement for police departments to have a policy in place regarding the arrest of children under 10. The student who was arrested in the viral video, Kaia Rolle, was watching in the gallery with her grandmother when state House minority leader Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami talked about the amendment on the House floor. The amendment does not ban such arrests but would make sure police have a policy in place to prevent arrests like Kaia’s — she was arrested because she kicked and punched school employees during a tantrum, but she had calmed down by the time police arrived. “It’s rare for amendments by Democrats to be accepted onto Republican bills at such a late stage of the process,” but lawmakers in the House passed the amendment and the bill unanimously, reported Emily L. Mahoney in The Tampa Bay Times. It’s unclear whether the Senate will take up the amendment. (Read at The Tampa Bay Times)
Noteworthy Essays and Analysis
HIGHER ED AFFORDABILITY: Mitch Daniels, the College President Who Simply Won’t Raise Tuition (Read at The Atlantic)
CURRICULUM: Don’t Blame Teachers for Selling Their Lesson Plans. Blame the System That Makes It Necessary (Read at Education Week)
- Related: Meet the Etsy of Education: Online Marketplace Lets Teachers Buy — and Sell — Millions of Classroom Materials and Lessons
CORONAVIRUS: Tyner: What Happens If Coronavirus Shuts Down U.S. Schools? 5 Lessons in Emergency Distance Learning From China (Read at The 74)
RESEARCH: Are America’s Rising High School Graduation Rates Real — or Just an Accountability-Fueled Mirage? (Read at Brookings Institution)
What Else We’re Reading
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Dyslexia Is Not a Bad Word, Advocates Say. Schools Should Use It (Read at Education Week)
STUDENT HEALTH: Responding to Coronavirus: A Downloadable Guide for Schools (Read at Education Week)
EARLY ED: Inside a Preschool That Treats the Youngest Victims of the Opioid Crisis (Read at EdSurge)
EQUITY: Prep for Prep and the Fault Lines in New York’s Schools (Read at The New Yorker)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struck a familiar note at a Senate hearing Thursday morning, arguing for President Trump’s 2020 budget request with a paean to local control and civic empowerment.
“Federal government spending does not determine everything that’s important to us,” she said before taking questions from members of the appropriations subcommittee on health and education. “Nor is it the only solution when we encounter challenges and opportunities. Instead, we the people overcome challenges and seize opportunities.”
The lines were identical to her opening remarks at a budget hearing at the House of Representatives last week, when she first spoke in defense of a proposal that would consolidate 29 federal education programs into a block grant to be disbursed to state governments. That gathering saw Democrats vent loudly about the administration’s proposal to create a $5 billion federal tax credit that could be used for private school scholarships; one member even called for DeVos’s resignation.
Cooler heads prevailed in the upper chamber, and the top lines of inquiry varied as well. Senate Democrats largely avoided the topic of school choice, instead steering the focus to the scope of DeVos’s requested cuts to the Department of Education. Several members also queried the secretary on the ongoing response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Though striking a measured tone throughout, the panel’s Democrats repeatedly returned to the administration’s proposed spending reductions. Near the end of questioning, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia pressed DeVos on the dissolution of McKinney-Vento funding for students experiencing homelessness.
“I’ve been a governor, so I understand block grants, and I understand flexibility,” he said, nevertheless asserting that the nearly $5 billion in potential cuts to the 29 programs would leave state officials “stymied” when responding to educational problems like homelessness.
“What you’re trying to say [is], there’s 29 programs, and your recommendation is reducing it $4.7 billion,” he said. “You’re saying that West Virginia should look at all these programs, how they service these kids in these 29 areas, and decide what we can do with less money?”
Throughout the morning, DeVos answered by arguing in favor of the new autonomies provided to governors by receiving block grant funding, which would allow them to redirect federal monies as they see fit. That rhetorical tack didn’t persuade Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz, who urged her to separate the issue of block granting from the billions of dollars in lost support for previously funded priorities.
“The fact is, your budget has a $4.7 billion cut, and the answer to the question, ‘Why did you cut education by $5 billion?’ cannot be as though you’re answering the question, ‘Why are you doing block grants?’” he said. “The basic question I have for you is, why cut $5 billion from public education?”
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin pointedly asked about the effects of proposed reductions to Title IV spending on student support and enrichment. That spending, she noted, was often earmarked for student health and safety.
“By cutting funding that schools can use for student health, aren’t you making it harder for them to respond to these new demands, like the outbreak of the novel coronavirus? And have you done any sort of assessment of what those costs are going to be as we look at an all-government response to the coronavirus?”
“I think what the proposal suggests is that those closest to the students are best able to target the resources to the students that are most vulnerable in their area,” DeVos responded.
The coronavirus was a hot topic at the hearing, as districts have considered school closures to protect students and staff from the threat of a fast-spreading epidemic. Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley noted that schools in his home state were “desperate for guidance” on proper methods for ensuring student safety.
DeVos answered by referring to the department’s efforts to disseminate timely updates on public health as part of a cross-administration response to the emergency.
A working group established within the department, she said, “is in regular, frequent, multiple-times-daily contact with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for updates from them on the latest developments.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray, a Democrat from the state of Washington, called the growth of the sickness “truly a serious crisis,” noting that schools in her daughter’s district had already announced lengthy closures. Eleven people in the state have already died from the virus.
“The administration’s response so far, I have to tell you, has not inspired confidence, and there’s a lot more unknowns than knowns.”
Monthly QuotED: 6 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in February, From Literacy to the Coronavirus — and the Value of Teachers Who Grade Tough
QuotED is a roundup of the most notable quotes behind America’s top education headlines — taken from our weekly EduClips, which spotlights headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts. Read previous EduClips installments here.
“A vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling.” —Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America, a think tank, on plans to teach students remotely via the internet in the event the coronavirus leads to school closures. (Read at The New York Times)
“All of these years later, now we know that in communities of color those cops are not there to protect and serve, but they are there for law and order purposes. White kids get protect and serve. Black and brown kids get law and order.” —Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a nonprofit that focuses on racial justice issues, on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s longtime support of school-based police. (Read at The74Million.org)
“I wouldn’t be surprised if other suits in other states follow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some states and jurisdictions take this as a cautionary tale.” —Nell Duke, a University of Michigan education professor, on a settlement in a California lawsuit that directs the state to spend $53 million on better reading instruction at the state’s lowest-performing schools. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)
“In the short run, that makes people’s lives easier. In the long run, that really hurts students. It gives them a false sense of security; it sets them up for failure or at least lower performance down the road.” —Seth Gershenson, an associate professor at American University, on the dangers of grade inflation. His new study shows that students perform better on standardized tests when their teachers are tough graders. (Read at Education Week)
“Basically, if you’re poor, you’ve got second-class remedies available to you.” —Jennifer Valverde, a law professor at Rutgers University who specializes in special education, on the federal guarantee of “private placement” if a public school can’t meet the needs of children with disabilities. (Read at USA Today)
“There’s a lot of forces working to make sure the world doesn’t know how difficult educating kids is and how often people fail.” —Outgoing Louisiana Superintendent John White. (Read at The74Million.org)
EduClips: How Schools Are Bracing for Coronavirus, Florida to Expand Voucher Program, a Big Drop in NYC School Arrests & More News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Top Districts
EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.
NATIONAL — CDC Warning Schools to Plan for Coronavirus, Possible Closures: Federal officials are now warning schools to prepare for “a nationwide surge” in cases of the coronavirus, Mark Lieberman reports for Education Week. Nancy Messonnier, a director at the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that parents ask about schools’ plans for dismissals, closures and teleschool, saying her agency is confident that an outbreak will occur in the United States. In response to the growing threat, with more than 80,000 confirmed cases worldwide, several school trips to China and Chinese exchange programs have already been canceled, and K-12 schools are sending letters home encouraging frequent handwashing and keeping sick children home until they’re fever-free. The AASA — the School Superintendents Association — is prepared to help the CDC share information with school districts if an outbreak occurs. (Read at Education Week)
FLORIDA — State School Voucher Program Headed Toward Expansion: Florida lawmakers appear poised to expand a school voucher program this spring. Committees in the state House and Senate this week advanced bills that would more than double the number of students eligible for the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which provides vouchers for students to attend private school. The vouchers are worth 95 percent of what the state would pay school districts per student. The bills differ slightly, but both increase the number of scholarships by 28,902 vouchers. Current legislation caps the program at 18,000 students and calls for slower growth. But the Florida House and Senate are now both under Republican control; the state party has historically supported vouchers. (Read at WJCT)
TEXAS — Houston Teachers Union Claims Racial Discrimination in State Education Agency School Board Takeover Plan: “A Houston teachers union, making claims of racial discrimination, asked a federal judge Tuesday to block the Texas Education Agency from replacing their school district’s elected board of trustees with a handpicked board of managers,” reports Cameron Langford for the Courthouse News Service. The lawsuit is a response to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath’s announcement last year that the state will take over the Houston Independent School District because of repeated poor performance at one district high school and improper actions by board members. According to the complaint, the agency has shown a pattern of targeting school districts in which most of the students are minorities. A state judge has already temporarily blocked the takeover. (Read at Courthouse News Service)
● Houston Primer: 7 Things to Know About the State Takeover of Houston Schools
NEW YORK — Dramatic Drop in NYC School Arrests Amid New Reform: In the wake of recent reforms that discouraged arrests for more minor offenses, new data show that NYPD officers “made fewer than 150 arrests in city schools between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019 — about half the number of arrests made during the same months the previous year,” Michael Elsen-Rooney reports for The Daily News. “Major crimes,” a category that includes seven serious offenses, also dropped 19 percent compared with last year, but the decrease coincided with a 35 percent increase in “juvenile reports” — a procedure in which no charges are filed but an internal file is kept at a police precinct. (Read at New York Daily News)
ILLINOIS — After Violence Targeting Youth Spikes, Chicago to Expand Program Offering Therapy and Mentorship: Chicago Public Schools is expanding a program that offers “therapy, field trips and mentorship to young people deemed at high risk of experiencing gun violence and trauma,” reports Yana Kunichoff for Chalkbeat. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the initiative after Chicago saw 11 children shot in one weekend. The program will focus on the city’s alternative high schools, whose students are disproportionately likely to be involved in crimes either as perpetrators or victims, as well as students already involved in the justice system and those who are not projected to graduate on time. A study of the pilot version of the program found that it was effective: Students who participated had 32 percent fewer “misconduct incidents” in school than the control group. (Read at Chalkbeat)
HAWAII — Interest in Hawaiian Language Immersion Schools Surges, but Challenges Remain: Enrollment in Hawaiian language immersion programs has increased 40 percent in the past five years, and teachers are mostly writing their own curriculum in a language that not long ago “seemed in danger of disappearing,” reports Suevon Lee for Honolulu Civil Beat. The first immersion programs on the islands began in 1987, but the statewide district hasn’t done much to capture materials and lessons teachers have been creating. “There’s never been a systematic way to gather up the treasure trove of intellectual property and share it on their terms,” one official said. In Hana, a remote town in East Maui, the change has already had an impact, leading more in the community to use the native language, Lee found. “We’re strong in culture,” one school leader said. “But what really lacked for many, many years was our language. And that’s what we’re revitalizing now.” Lee’s coverage is part of an ongoing series called Fault Lines that aims to bridge gaps among Hawaiians. (Read at Honolulu Civil Beat: Part 1 and Part 2)
CALIFORNIA — Anti-Semitism Alleged in L.A. School Board Race as Charter Schools and Teachers Union Face Off: Charter school supporters from L.A.’s West San Fernando Valley have initiated a million-dollar attack campaign against a sitting school board member who is up for re-election Tuesday. They pulled one mailer that was slammed as anti-Semitic for portraying Scott Schmerelson as “greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash” and containing misinformation about the former principal, reports Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times. “Behind the surge of negative mailers in this West San Fernando Valley board district is an intense effort by charter school supporters to defeat Schmerelson and elect Marilyn Koziatek, a district parent who works at a local charter school managing community outreach efforts,” Blume reports. Koziatek distanced herself from the flyer, calling it “another example of the sad reflection of the polarized climate of LAUSD politics that is not good for our kids.” Four of the board’s seven seats are up for grabs Tuesday. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)
● Also happening in California: A look at Proposition 13, the $15-billion school bond on the March 3 ballot (Read at Los Angeles Times)
Noteworthy Essays and Analysis
CIVIL RIGHTS: Katherine Johnson Should Also Be Remembered for Desegregating Higher Education (Read at The Washington Post)
HIGHER ED: The ‘Missing Middle’ at Ivy-Plus Colleges (Read at Inside Higher Ed)
TEACHERS: 3 Misconceptions About Educator Self-Care (Read at Education Week)
PARENTING: The Chart That Reveals Your Kid’s Adult Height (Read at The Atlantic)
What else we’re reading
DEBATE FACT-CHECK: Did 23 NYC Schools Top State Rankings When Bloomberg Left Office? Close. It was 22, and That List Deserves a Closer Look (Read at The 74)
LEAD CRISIS: ‘It Was Everywhere’: How Lead Is Poisoning America’s Poorest Children (Read at The Guardian)
MIDDLE SCHOOL: A Middle School Requires Kids to Dance with Anyone Who Asks. One Mom Is Fighting for Her Daughter’s Right to Say ‘No’ (Read at The Washington Post)
INTERVIEW: Children’s Author Mo Willems on the Lost Art of Being Silly (Read at Edutopia)
IMMIGRATION: Speaking Mam in MAGA Country: Immigration, Education and the Teenage Boy in the Middle (Read at WHYY)
Democratic Debate Fact-Check: Did 23 NYC Schools Top State Rankings When Bloomberg Left Office? Close. It Was 22, and That List Deserves a Closer Look
For someone who has dropped $7 million a day of his own money to become president of the United States, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has often appeared awkward and unprepared on the Democratic debate stage. He’s stumbled over easy-to-anticipate attacks regarding “stop and frisk” policing and allegations of sexual harassment. And the less we say about his “Naked Cowboy” quip, the better.
So among edu-watchers, particularly the long-suffering charter sector, ears perked up Tuesday evening when moderator Bill Whitaker of CBS asked Bloomberg about his support of school choice as mayor: “A key element of your response to failing schools in New York City was a dramatic increase in public charter schools. As president, would you pursue that same strategy and seek to expand charter schools nationwide?”
Bloomberg’s response was neither the full-throated defense some might have hoped for nor a Booker-esque walk-back.
“I’m not sure they’re appropriate everyplace,” he said. “I can only tell you in New York, they provided parents with an alternative.”
Bloomberg chose to position his charter record as part of a broader effort to overhaul schools during his tenure. He said that based on math and reading test scores, 23 of the top 25 top schools in the state were from New York City when he left the mayor’s office in 2013, compared with zero when he started 12 years prior.
Nitpicky fact-check: The actual number was 22.
But the list of top schools is worthy of examination, and it raises issues that go beyond the typically binary stances that characterize the 2020 Democratic scrum.
Two of those schools were charters, both part of the much-lauded, oft-criticized Success Academy network. At least seven were selective gifted-and-talented schools, and three were specialized arts academies.
At the time Bloomberg took a “victory lap” of the 22 schools in 2013, The New York Times noted that many “were in well-to-do neighborhoods or were highly selective in their admissions,” including the Anderson School (tops in the state) and the Brooklyn School of Inquiry (No. 18).
Research on Bloomberg’s tenure in New York tends to give him high marks for his willingness to close failing schools but indicates that endemic segregation persisted through, and outlasted, his time in power. Current mayor Bill de Blasio has made that last point a centerpiece of his administration, proposing — but not yet implementing — a plan to overhaul the criteria for admitting students to elite schools, which traditionally have left out many black and Latino students.
The issue is national in scope. The Economist recently declared that “a battle over gifted education is brewing in America,” where whites are 80 percent more likely than blacks to be enrolled in accelerated programs. But thus far, the issues have largely proved to be too in the weeds, or perhaps too incendiary, for the Democratic field — even when de Blasio was briefly a part of it.
Back to Bloomberg’s 2013 victory lap: Seven of the schools that made it to the top-in-state list opened during his tenure, including three that, in the words of the Times, “hew to the administration’s goal of giving poor students more choice”: two Success Academy charter schools in the Bronx and Active Learning Elementary School in Queens.
The former mayor referred obliquely to that legacy during Tuesday’s debate.
“The only way to eradicate the poverty problem is to give people a good education,” he said. “Rather than just talk about it, in New York we actually did it.”
Disclosure: Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support to The 74. Co-founder and former CEO Romy Drucker, who sits on The 74’s Board of Directors, worked at the New York City Department of Education from 2007 to 2012 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She played no role in the reporting or editing of this article.
Q&A — 3 Minutes With Charter School Founder Diana Shulla-Cose: An SEL Curriculum for a Lifetime, & Her School’s Most Famous Alum, Lakers Star Anthony Davis
This is one in an ongoing series of brief conversations with education innovators led by Greg Richmond, founder and former CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. His “Three Questions For” series also appears on Medium. Today’s edition: three minutes with Diana Shulla-Cose, co-founder and president of SEL-based Perspectives Charter School in Chicago.
Richmond: Twenty-three years ago, when you started Perspectives Charter School, many other schools were focusing on raising test scores. You went against the grain by proposing a school based on something called “A Disciplined Life.” What is “A Disciplined Life”?
Shulla-Cose: “A Disciplined Life” is our school culture, and it is created with deep intention. We have a set of 26 principles. We have a set of social, emotional and ethical core practices, and they sit under three buckets: self-perception, relationships and productivity.
We study these principles the way we study algorithms or revolutions and grapple with principles like: “Demonstrate honesty and integrity.” “Demonstrate a hard work ethic.” “Be reliable.” “Love who you are.” “Seek wisdom.” “Be open-minded.” “Respect the differences in others.” “Challenge each other intellectually.”
These are not just on our wall. They are studied by the adults in the building, by our teachers and support staff, our administration, our board members. We take it seriously as adults so we can strive to model and mirror our principles, and study our principles with our kids.
Over the past 20-plus years, we have built out a menu of interesting practices that help us develop social, emotional and ethical learning in our students. These practices are actions that we are trained to implement on a daily basis that build out this culture of trust and curiosity and high quality.
We spend 180 minutes in a class called “A Disciplined Life” every week. It’s very intentional that our kids leave at 18 years old, and our goal is not just to foster young leaders, but ethical leaders.
You can ask one of our 35-year-old graduates, Harold Watson, who is an educator today married with a kid and a dog, and he stands up at an event and says, “‘A Disciplined Life’ is my blueprint for life. Without these principles, I wouldn’t be the person I am.” Our kids leave at 18 carrying values and tools in their pocket to be persistent and to be able to problem-solve and manage challenging situations and make good decisions around the people they are with.
How has Perspectives’s focus on “A Disciplined Life” increased performance on traditional measures?
I think it has helped. When we look at a child holistically, we are truly working to teach that whole child. It’s about the EQ [emotional quotient] and the IQ. Our goal is for students to be intensive thinkers and increase their sense of agency. People who stay at Perspectives from sixth through 12th grade, their GPA is higher and they enroll in college at a higher rate.
It’s about building that trust and building that relationship. I think trust and relationship building are critical for kids to feel safe to be learners. That’s when the magic happens. Kids and teachers have to have that personal connection in the classroom so that remarkable learning and growth can take place. That spills into data looking better.
The other part of “A Disciplined Life” is productivity — get really strategic about how we go about making those scores go up. The idea of being productive is woven in: making sure you are reliable, and that you challenge each other intellectually, and that you are inquisitive. A school that is organized and has a level of respect and love for kids and for the craft of being a teacher really matters. I don’t think that just focusing on test scores gets you that side of the schooling equation.
Your most famous graduate is Anthony Davis. He was the college basketball Player of the Year in 2012. He won an Olympic gold medal. First pick in the NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans and now with the Los Angeles Lakers. Seven-time NBA All-Star. All that, yet Perspectives does not even have a gymnasium. How did that happen? How did Perspectives influence his career?
Anthony Davis came from a family where there is love and high expectations. And when that family realized they were raising the best basketball player in the country, they still would not pull him from Perspectives even though recruiters may not be showing up at his school.
He’s just a good guy. Because you come from that family and have all that support at home and you have a school that supports the same kind of values, it was great. Then he could go be a ballplayer. School came naturally for him. He’s smart. He was a real capable student. He is a thoughtful guy who was always humble. Really well-liked. Solid. Easy-going. Lovely young man who has shown that on and off the court.
When he went down to New Orleans, they did a whole piece on him and “A Disciplined Life.” In the NBA 2K video game, there is a scene of Anthony playing on a basketball court, and it is the “Anthony Davis ‘A Disciplined Life’ Basketball Court.” It is the playground right on our campus. Anthony had given us that court. Remember, this guy graduated from Perspectives and it was a school with no gym. So, he is a cool guy. We love him.
He was with us for seven years, from sixth grade through 12th, and his parents knew Perspectives was going to help him grow, not only as an intellectual but also as a human being. It was going to mirror the values in their home.
Greg Richmond is the founder of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and a senior fellow at the Future Ed think tank at Georgetown University.