Education Update – March 1, 2021

From: The Washington Post

March 1, 2021

Senate confirms Miguel Cardona as education secretary, capping his rise from teacher to nation’s top schools chief

Cardona, 45, was born into poverty to Puerto Rican parents before becoming a teacher, principal, administrator and, in 2019, Connecticut’s education commissioner.
As education secretary, he will be tasked with helping to reopen schools, addressing long-standing equity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic and managing the federal government’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio.

From: ASCD’s Smartbrief

February 16, 2021

Survey: Remote learners more likely to be stressed

High-school students who have at least some amount of in-classroom learning are less likely to report stress and worry than their peers who are learning fully online, according to a study from NBC News and the nonprofit Challenge Success. The survey of 10,000 students at 12 high schools also found that remote students were more likely to worry about their grades and less likely to have an adult to speak with about a personal issue.
Full Story: NBC News (2/15)

CDC guidelines to reopen schools get mixed reaction

The CDC is facing criticism from some families and public health experts over its guidelines to safely reopen schools. The guidelines, which were released Friday and tie reopening schools to community disease rates, were welcomed by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, as being based on facts and evidence.
Full Story: The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (2/14)


February 19, 2021

Survey: More seniors change college, career plans

About 25% of high-school seniors report changing their postsecondary plans during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey of students in the fall of 2020 by the nonprofit YouthTruth. This marks an increase from a spring survey that found 18% altered their plans.
Full Story: The 74 (2/17)

February 22, 2021

FAFSA applications decline 9.4%

Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid dropped 9.4% in February from one year ago. The applications are viewed as an indicator of future college enrollment, and data shows 39% of the class of 2021 have completed FAFSA — about 150,000 fewer students than typically would have applied at this point.
Full Story: The Hechinger Report (2/22)


February 24, 2021

White House: Testing to go forward this year

President Joe Biden’s administration will require students to take standardized tests this year, but the results will be used only to gauge students’ needs. Given safety concerns related to the pandemic, Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant education secretary, says closed schools should not be reopened for the purpose of testing students.
Full Story: Chalkbeat (2/22), USA Today (2/23)

Social media may affect teens with depression differently

Researchers studied 60 adolescents who abstained from social media use for 24 hours or longer and found that those with depression had significantly higher salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase levels after 20 minutes of social media use, compared with controls. The findings in the Journal of Psychiatric Research “present a framework for future studies and provide evidence that even brief [social media use] increases the stress response in adolescents with depression,” the researchers wrote.
Full Story: Healio (free registration) (2/22)


February 25, 2021

Experts urge caution on standardized testing data

Testing experts predict many students will opt out of standardized tests this year and caution officials to consider that when analyzing results. At issue, officials say, is that students from low-income families and students of color, who are more likely to be learning online, may be more likely to not participate in the exams.
Full Story: Chalkbeat (2/24)

February 26, 2021

Data: Fewer K-3 students on track in reading

Achievement in reading among students in kindergarten through third grade has declined this year, according to data from the DIBELS assessment of about 400,000 students in 41 states. The largest declines were seen in kindergarten, where 37% of students are on track but that’s down from 55% the year before, and first grade with 43% on track versus 58% the prior year.
Full Story: The 74 (2/24), K-12 Dive (2/25)


From: Smartbrief on Special education

February 18, 2021

Pediatric immunization schedule issued for 2021

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in Pediatrics updating the recommended childhood and adolescent immunization schedule for 2021, including information regarding administration of quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine and antiviral medication use. “As schools and communities open back up, children will need the protection that vaccinations give them,” said AAP president Dr. Lee Savio Beers.
Full Story: Physician’s Briefing/HealthDay News (2/12)


February 19, 2021

Pediatric immune response to COVID-19 examined

Researchers examined blood samples from 70 adults and 48 children who were infected with, or exposed to, COVID-19 in Australia and found that children had a stronger immune response to the coronavirus, compared with adults. The findings in Nature Communications showed that “coronavirus infection in children was characterized by activation of neutrophils, the specialized white blood cell that helps heal damaged tissues and resolves infections, and a reduction in first-responder immune cells such as monocytes, dendritic cells and natural killer cells from the blood,” said researcher Melanie Neeland.
Full Story: HealthDay News (2/18)


February 22, 2021

Districts report drop in kindergarten enrollment

Data shows that some families are opting out of sending their kindergartners to school during the coronavirus pandemic, with some districts reporting enrollment in kindergarten has dropped by as much as 40%. Some parents have opted to have their students attend online school or are being homeschooled, leading some observers to predict potential long-term implications, including varied readiness among next year’s kindergarten and first-grade students.
Full Story: USA Today (2/21)


February 26, 2021

Report sparks debate over schools’ unspent relief funds

As the US House of Representatives moves toward passing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package — with $129 billion for K-12 public schools — it has prompted officials to consider how funds in previous packages were spent. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that the bulk of previous funds have not yet been spent.
Full Story: Education Week (2/24)

From: Education Week’s EdWeek Update

February 18, 2021

White House Unveils New Money to Aid COVID-19 Testing in Schools, But Says More Is Needed
Federal agencies will use $650 million to expand testing in schools and “underserved communities” such as homeless shelters.

February 22, 2021

Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It’s Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.

Timing of Food Stamps Can Affect Students’ Test Scores, Study Finds
Hungry students don’t test as well, say researchers who found a link between food stamp disbursements and students’ exam scores.

School District Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Scope of Transgender Student Rights
A Virginia district appeals a ruling in the case involving Gavin Grimm’s effort to use a restroom consistent with his gender identity.


February 23, 2021

States Still Must Give Standardized Tests This Year, Biden Administration Announces
The administration says states can seek waivers to give tests in the summer or use partial exams due to challenges related to COVID-19.

Fauci’s Latest on Vaccines for Young Kids: Not Likely This Year

A COVID-19 vaccine probably won’t be ready for elementary students until 2022, said Dr Anthony Fauci, walking back prior comments.


February 24, 2021

Biden’s Testing Stance Leaves States Tough Choices. Some May Still Try to Avoid Exams
Whether to give tests in-person this spring or even test students next school year instead, education leaders confront a complex path.

6 Feet or 3 Feet: How Far Apart Do Students Need to Be?
The new CDC guidelines call for spacing students 6 feet apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But schools elsewhere use a 3-foot buffer.


February 25, 2021

Concern About Unspent COVID-19 School Aid Continues as Congress Moves Toward More Relief

A congressional analysis has spurred discontent about how fast money will be spent, but some warn against over-simplifying the situation.


From: Whiteboard Advisors’


February 19, 2021

CDC Releases New COVID-19 Guidance for Schools: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released revised recommendations Friday regarding the return to in-person learning. CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy noted that the CDC is not mandating that schools reopen but is providing schools with a “road map for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community.” [CDC; Education Week, subscription required]

White House Unveils New Money to Aid COVID-19 Testing in Schools: White House officials announced Wednesday a $650 million effort to create “regional coordinating centers” in order to expand lab capacity. The Department of Health and Human Services will work with the Department of Defense in designing centers that will identify labs with the ability to process more tests and match them with schools and congregate facilities (like homeless shelters) that have unique testing needs. [Education Week, subscription required]

Biden Rejects $50,000 Loan Forgiveness: At a CNN town hall Tuesday, President Biden said he will not use executive powers to cancel student loan burdens of up to $50,000, despite pressure from top Democrats. Biden clarified that he does not believe he has the authority to forgive such a large debt through executive action but added that he is “prepared to write off $10,000 in debt” – the amount he proposed during his presidential campaign. In a joint statement Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., noted that former presidents have used executive power to forgive student loans. [Inside Higher Ed; CNBC]


Biden Says He Wants Many Schools Open Five Days a Week: At CNN’s Milwaukee town hall, President Biden also clarified comments from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week and stressed that his goal is for most K-12 schools to be open five days a week after 100 days – saying he thinks schools will get “close to that.” Biden also proposed the possibility that schools might operate during the summer to help students recover from the pandemic’s effects on the classroom. [Education Week, subscription required]

February 25, 2021

Education Department Offers Flexibility in Testing, But Doesn’t Exempt States: The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that states will not be allowed to cancel standardized exams federally mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. In a letter to states, the department denied requests for “blanket waivers of assessments” similar to waivers states received last spring. However, states will be granted flexibility in administering shorter versions of state exams in English/language arts, math, and science, or pushing exams into the summer or even into the next school year. The department will also accept applications for waivers from federal accountability and school identification requirements, including a waiver from the requirement that states test 95 percent of eligible students. [US News]


Lawmakers Introduce Eagles Act to Target School Violence: A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced the Eagles Act on Tuesday. If enacted, this legislation would expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center to have a greater focus on nationwide school violence prevention. The act, which has previously failed to pass, is named in honor of the 17 lives lost at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. The legislation was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). [Miami Herald]


Biden Legal Team Steps Back From Trump Stance on Transgender Female Sports Participation: The Justice Department and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights withdrew government support this week for a federal lawsuit in Connecticut that seeks to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ high school sports. Connecticut allows high school athletes to compete in sports according to their gender identity. The lawsuit was filed by several cisgender runners who argue they have been deprived of athletic opportunities by being forced to compete against transgender sprinters, and the Trump Administration previously intervened when then-Attorney General William Barr signed a statement of interest in the lawsuit, arguing that the state’s policy violates Title IX. The Biden Administration released a letter Tuesday stating it was withdrawing the previous administration’s stance and cited an executive order signed by President Biden on his first day in office that stressed his efforts to combat discrimination based on gender identity. [Education Week; subscription required]


Poll: Since the Summer, Priorities Have Shifted Regarding Which Concerns are Most Pressing for Schools to Consider When Reopening: A new Pew Research poll has found that since the summer, US adults are now more likely to say that concerns about students falling behind academically should be given a lot of consideration as schools decide whether to reopen, and less likely to say that risk of student or teacher coronavirus infection should be given a lot of consideration. In July 2020, 48% of polled adults said that students falling behind should be given a lot of consideration, compared to 61% in February 2021. Conversely, consideration of risks to teachers and students fell from 60% and 61% to 48% and 45%, respectively. [Pew Research]


Research Shows Project-Based Learning Increases Student Achievement Across Demographics: According to four independent studies published this week by the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, and the University of Southern California showed that students who were involved in project-based learning programs significantly outperformed their peers across a variety of subjects including English language arts, math, science, and social studies. These results held consistent regardless of students’ race, gender, socioeconomic status or English reading ability. Most of the studies are based on data collected before the pandemic, and educators are working creatively to integrate project-based learning curricula into hybrid and remote learning environments. [K-12 Dive]


Report: Most Childcare Workers Do Not Earn A Living Wage: A biennial report by the University of California Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment shows that the average US early childcare worker made $11.65 per hour in 2019 and saw very little wage growth in the preceding three years. Childcare workers in only 10 states made enough at their childcare job to cover their basic needs. Since the pandemic, wages cuts and furloughs have made the career even more difficult. [CNBC]


From: The National Superintendents Roundtable’s Roundtable News

February 19, 2020

What to make of latest CDC guidance?

The latest guidance on school reopening from the Centers for Disease Control has been called the clearest advice to date from the central federal agency responsible for monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s probably true. The lengthy guidance, issued on February 12, received cautious words of support from AASA, NEA, and AFT. But the guidance still leaves a lot of questions to be answered. Does reopening mean all students? Five days a week? Why no mention of air filtration systems? What happened to demands that teachers and school staff receive priority in vaccination schedules?


Covid-linked symptom in children grows

This doesn’t sound good. A new Covid-linked syndrome in children, potentially fatal, is growing and cases are more severe, reports Pam Belluck in The New York Times.

The condition, which usually emerges several weeks after infection, is still rare, but can be dangerous. “A higher percentage of them are really critically ill,” one doctor said.


Biden calls for “common sense” gun laws

On the third anniversary of the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, President Biden called for common sense gun laws, including banning assault rifles, reports Caroline Linton for CBS News.

Parkland, of course, is just one of the latest school shooting outrages, with one of the first in Columbine, Colorado in 1999 and a particularly shocking development eight years ago in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20 first-graders and six staff members were killed in a matter of minutes at Sandy Hook Elementary.


February 26, 2021


The Committee for Education Funding reports several developments affecting schools this week:

      • The House is expected to vote on a COVID-relief reconciliation package today (Friday). It includes substantial funding for state and local governments and for schools. The Senate will take up the package separately later.
      • President Joe Biden is reportedly considering a number of executive actions to address gun safety, including one that would require buyers of so-called ghost guns to undergo background checks.
      • In an interview with CNN today, Anthony Fauci said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could soon release more relaxed safety recommendations for people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
      • On Thursday, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that for technical reasons (the Byrd Rule) President Biden’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 on June 1, $11 on June 2022, $12.50 on June 2023, $14 on June 2024, and $15 on June 2025 could not be included in the Senate version of the reconciliation package.

Bloomberg Law reports that in addition to such relief proposals as added unemployment benefits, extending a moratorium on evictions, and assistance for renters and small businesses, Biden’s plan includes many provisions likely to help schools:

      • $130 billion to help K-12 schools hire additional staff to reduce class size, modify spaces and purchase resources to help meet students’ academic and mental health needs.
      • An additional $5 billion fund for governors to direct help to schools most hard-hit by the virus.
      • $20 billion to create a national vaccine distribution program.
      • $350 billion in funding assistance for state, local, and territorial governments (some of which might be applied to schools).
      • $40 billion aimed at helping open childcare centers and support essential workers in meeting childcare costs.



Who governs our schools?

Most observers would agree that local school boards are supposed to govern our schools because they represent their local communities. However, a troubling new analysis from the Brookings Institution calls into question the degree to which local boards actually represent their communities.

In an analysis of their work on the Brookings website, researchers from Ohio State and Emory University write that, after looking at districts in four states, they found that most school districts with majority non-white student bodies are governed by school boards elected by a majority white electorate. Moreover, most of that electorate is made up of people without children. The magnitude of this “representation gap” is associated with racial disparities in student achievement, say the researchers.


The cameras are always on

An entire school board in California resigned after being caught trashing parents on a live stream. Unaware that cameras were on and that they were streaming live, board members from Oakley Union Elementary School District in the San Francisco Bay area were filmed mocking and cursing parents, even threatening one.

U.S. accounts whitewashed the language used, but it was vile, as this article in The Guardian reports.


National Education Policy Center questions RAND conclusions on remote learning

RAND has issued a report entitled Remote Learning is Here to Stay that calls for more funding to support remote learning. However, its conclusions have been challenged by another prestigious research center, the National Education Policy Center.

The National Education Policy Center concludes RAND’s headline isn’t supported by its own data from a survey of school districts and charter management organizations (CMOs). Respondents were much more concerned about students’ mental health needs, disparities in families’ ability to provide opportunities to learn, and inadequate school funding. “Relative to these concerns,” says NEPC, “remote learning is a minor consideration.”

Finally, critics say the report combines replies from two very different kinds of educational agencies: school districts and CMOs. It is unclear how much of the emphasis in the report’s title and the request for additional funding for remote learning are driven by charter leaders rather than local school districts.


Older students have high rates of COVID infection in Europe

Troubling conclusion. In Ireland, students over the age of 16 have the second-highest rates of infection after health care workers.

Catherine Fegan of The Irish Independent reports that, according to government data, 6.04% of reported COVID cases were students, about half the 13.3% that comprised health workers, while teachers were at 1.62%.


From: ASCD’s Educator Advocates Capitol Connection

February 19, 2021

Miguel Cardona Gets Committee Approval

    • The nomination of Dr. Miguel Cardona to be the Biden administration’s Secretary of Education was approved by the Senate education committee by a bipartisan vote of 17-5.
    • The issue of possible waivers this year from federal ESSA state testing requirements came up several times during hearing.
        • Cardona said he doesn’t favor a one-size-fits-all testing approach or requiring students to come in-person to schools just to take tests.
        • But Cardona also said that assessment results are important to be able to target support to those students most in need.
        • He thinks states should be given the opportunity to weigh in on how they test and how they use the results in accountability measures.
    • The full Senate is expected to vote on his confirmation next week. See ASCD’s letter urging senators to confirm him.


GOP Representative Removed from House Education Committee

      • Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was removed from the House Education Committee.
      • The House vote was 230-199 with 11 Republicans joining all of the Democrats.
      • Greene has denied the Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas school shootings happened or, if they did, were part of a conspiracy to bolster support for gun control measures.

CDC Issues New K-12 Guidance on Covid

  • The CDC issued new guidance on school operations during the Covid pandemic. You can view it here.
  • Key takeaways/changes:
    • Schools can reopen safely if they take appropriate precautions and mitigation steps.
    • Mask wearing and social distancing are key prevention steps (along with handwashing, cleaning facilities and contact tracing with isolation and quarantine).
    • In-person school is essential to education and health equities and should be the last to close and first to re-open in a community – and especially over non-essential businesses.
    • The community transmissibility rate thresholds have been revised upward.
    • Educators should be vaccinated as soon as possible but vaccinations are not a pre-requisite for opening schools


Did You Know
School administrators are the most trusted officials on whether or not to to reopen schools next school year, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult survey. Trailing school administrators (59%) are governors (50%), mayors (48%), school boards (54%), and teacher unions (54%).


From: The Council for Exceptional Children’s Special Education Today

February 19, 2021

Lawmakers make push to fully fund IDEA

Disability Scoop

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced legislation last week which would fully fund two federal education mandates that help students with special needs and high poverty schools. For years states have complained that Congress passed laws requiring school districts to provide additional services to some students — often the most expensive to educate — but has not provided the full funding for them.


How AR can help students with special needs

eSchool News

According to the World Health Organization, around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability or special educational needs—and of that 15%, 2 to 4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. However, the global disability prevalence is thought to be higher than previous WHO estimates, which date from the 1970s. Instead, data from last year suggests a figure of around 10 percent is more accurate, with 190 million (3.8%) who are 15 or older and have significant difficulties in functioning.

February 26, 2021

7 shifts in students’ school experiences from fall to spring

District Administration Magazine

Students felt they learned more this fall, even with COVID’s disruptions, than they did in the immediate wake of the spring outbreak, a new survey has found. 61% of the 85,000 students surveyed said they learned a lot every day this fall, an increase from 39% who said the same in the spring.


Segregation and racial gaps in special education

Education Next

Racial segregation in U.S. schools has been illegal since the 1950s, but school enrollments remain stubbornly separate. About 70% of all Black students attend schools where more than half of students are non-white. By contrast, just 13% of white students attend predominately non-white schools. Such disparate enrollments mirror longstanding differences across racial groups in educational and economic outcomes, including Black-white gaps in educational achievement, wages and economic mobility.