Education Update – March 17, 2021

From ASCD’s Smartbrief

March 17, 2021

Kindergarten enrollment down nationwide

Data shows a decline in kindergarten enrollment nationwide — as much as 16% by NPR’s research. Some experts now are concerned about students’ readiness for school because of the wide variety of alternatives families are relying on for kindergarten-age students, including online charters, for-profit schooling and paid tutors.
Full Story: The Hechinger Report (3/17)

March 18, 2021

Summit planned on school reopening, $10B for testing
The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced $10 billion for states to use on coronavirus testing for schools along with the education funding included in the federal coronavirus relief package. The Department of Education also said it will hold a summit to focus on “best practices” to help schools reopen.
Full Story: The Associated Press (3/17), The Wall Street Journal (3/17)


March 19, 2021

Survey: Students’ mental, emotional health declining

The coronavirus pandemic along with remote instruction are affecting students’ academic progress, as well as their overall well-being, according to a CDC study. Of parents surveyed, 25% of those whose children are learning remotely said their children’s mental or emotional health had worsened — compared with 16% of those whose children are learning in person.
Full Story: Education Week (3/18)


Study: Reading fluency suffered when schools closed
Oral reading fluency stalled for many second- and third-grade students last spring, according to a study by researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Ben Domingue, assistant professor at the graduate school and first author on the study, says an increase in fall reading assessment scores failed to fully bridge the gaps.
Full Story: The Examiner (San Francisco) (3/16)


Test-score averages to be dropped by Fiske Guide
The Fiske Guide to Colleges has decided to stop reporting average SAT and ACT test scores, citing “inaccurate and misleading data.” Data shows that just 44% of college applicants using the Common App through Feb. 15 submitted an ACT or SAT score, compared with 77% who did so last year.
Full Story: Inside Higher Ed (3/18)


March 24, 2021

Analysis considers teacher education in reading

Licensure tests for teachers in 20 states evaluate their knowledge of the “science of reading,” according to an analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The findings show 32 states require elementary-school teachers be taught five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Full Story: Education Week (3/23)

Survey: Parents worried students are falling behind

Sixty-nine percent of parents are concerned the coronavirus pandemic could cause learning setbacks for their children, according to a poll from The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Of those surveyed, 64% of parents also said they are worried that in-person learning could lead to a spike in cases.
Full Story: The Associated Press (3/23)

Data shows disparities in students’ tech access
Students from lower-income families were less likely to have access to technology at home and less live contact with their teachers, according to a study by researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Data shows that overall access to devices has improved, but internet access improved only slightly.
Full Story: T.H.E. Journal (3/23)


March 25, 2021

Hearing held for deputy secretary of education

Cindy Marten, President Joe Biden’s nominee for US deputy secretary of education, said during her confirmation hearing Wednesday that there is a “clear path forward” for reopening schools following CDC and other health guidance. Marten discussed the importance of summer-school programs in helping to re-engage students during the coronavirus pandemic.
Full Story: The 74 (3/24)


House Dems want FDA to ban all flavored e-cigarettes
More than 40 House Democrats sent a letter to Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, urging the agency to ban all flavored e-cigarettes as well as premarket tobacco applications and e-cigarette marketing that targets minors, and stop the exemption for disposable and methanol e-cigarettes. “We strongly recommend that FDA’s premarket review process require manufacturers to provide convincing evidence that their products do not increase youth use of nicotine and tobacco in ways that increase the risk of abuse and addiction among youth,” the lawmakers wrote.
Full Story: The Hill (3/23)


March 26, 2021

Data: 6.8% fewer high-school grads enroll in college

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data shows a 6.8% decline in the number of 2020 high-school graduates enrolling in college — a less significant decline than the 22% decrease predicted in an earlier report. Data shows the greatest decline among students from more diverse and low-income high schools.
Full Story: Higher Ed Dive (3/25)


Districts tap rainy day funds during pandemic
Unexpected expenses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic have caused some school districts to dip into their rainy day funds or rely on federal and state reimbursements to stay afloat. An Education Week analysis of districts in North Carolina and Michigan show that districts overall were less prepared for this economic downturn than they were for the Great Recession.
Full Story: Education Week (3/23)


Biden: School reopening is on track

The majority of US elementary and middle schools are expected to open to full-time, in-person learning in his first 100 days in office, President Joe Biden said during a press conference Thursday. Yet, data from schools that already opened shows that while 42% of students attend schools offering in-person learning, only 33% of students returned to that schedule.
Full Story: National Public Radio (3/25)


Congress weighs school nutrition mandates

The School Nutrition Association is advocating that Congress extend flexibility for school nutrition standards, including whole grain and sodium requirements. Jessica Gould, director of nutrition for Colorado’s Littleton Public Schools and SNA’s representative at Thursday’s hearing on child nutrition reauthorization, said if flexibility is not granted, many of students’ favorite dishes — including scratch-made items — would be taken off menus.
Full Story: Agri-Pulse (tiered subscription model) (3/25)


From: Education Week’s EdWeek Update

March 17, 2021

CDC to Reconsider 6-Foot Student Spacing Guidelines in Response to New Studies
Growing U.S. and international evidence suggests schools could use 3-foot rather than 6-foot spacing in classrooms without risking COVID-19 outbreaks.


March 18, 2021

Cardona Keeps Tough Stance on State Tests as He Focuses on School Reopenings
The education secretary’s comments came as the Biden administration announced $10 billion for K-12 COVID-19 testing and a summit on reopening schools.


March 23, 2021

Appeals Court Rules for School Resource Officer on Role in Police Interrogation of Student
A federal appellate panel says an SRO had only a “minimal” role in escorting a high school student to be questioned by other officers.

March 26, 2021

Legislation Would Allow E-Rate Funding for School Bus Wi-Fi
A bill introduced by Sens. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proposes expanding the eligibility of the federal E-Rate program to cover the use of Wi-Fi on buses.


From: Whiteboard Advisors’ WHITEBOARDNOTES

MARCH 19, 2021

Study: Demographic Changes Mean White Students Are No Longer the Majority in Suburban Schools: A study published this week by the EdWeek Research Center and Penn State University education professor Erica Frankenberg, analyzing enrollment trends in approximately 30,000 public schools across America’s 25 largest metropolitan areas between 2006-07 and 2017-18, has tracked the diversification of America’s public schools over that time-span. Among their findings are that, among districts in America’s 25 largest metro areas, white students now account for 48% of student enrollment, a drop of nearly 20%, the share of hispanic students rose by 7%, to just over 27%, the share of Asian-American students rose by 17%, the percentage of students on free and reduced price lunches rose by 10%, and the share of students attending schools with at least 90% white students fell by 10% to a low of 6%. [Education Week]


Cardona Maintains Stance on State Testing: Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday that the Department of Education is maintaining its position against entertaining requests to cancel standardized exams for this school year. His comments came as the Biden Administration continues promoting the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $122 billion for K-12 schools to utilize in reducing class sizes, enhancing social distancing, installing ventilation systems, and purchasing personal protective equipment. It also can pay for more nurses, counselors and janitors, and summer school. Cardona said he expects schools to return to in-person learning by the fall, but he declined to take a position on whether federal guidance about social distancing in schools should be changed in response to a recent study that shows three feet of social distancing may be adequate if students consistently wear masks. [Education Week, subscription required; The Associated Press]


March 26, 2021

Biden Announces $81 Billion for Schools As Part of COVID-19 Relief Law; Cardona Unveils Summer Learning Partnership: Ahead of the agency’s National School Reopening Summit on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the release of $81 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to states (about two-thirds of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding). Biden called on states to take the next steps: a department letter says that states must submit a plan describing how ESSER funds will be used to safely return students to in-person instruction in order to access the remaining third of their allotted ESSER money. Secretary of Education Cardona also announced the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative to assist states and school districts in planning how to use new funds, including the $1.2 billion earmarked for summer enrichment in the American Rescue Plan. This partnership with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers is set to launch in April. [CNN; Education Week, subscription required]


CDC Eases Social Distancing Guidelines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its recommendations for social distancing in K-12 schools last Friday, saying 3 feet of space between mask-wearing students is a sufficient safeguard in most classroom situations. The change relieved many who feared the more rigid guideline of 6 feet could affect schools’ ability to return to full in-person operations by the fall, while others raised concerns that other layers of protection must be strengthened. [Education Week, subscription required]


First Federal Survey of Pandemic Learning Finds Nearly Half of Students Taught Remotely: Newly released federal data offers the first national picture of the proportions of learning models that schools are offering. As of January, 47% of grade 4 schools and 46% of grade 8 schools nationwide offered full in-person teaching, but – because many schools are small, remote, or offering students flexible options – only 38% of fourth-grade students and 28% of eighth-grade students were attending fully in person. When hybrid learning is included, more than 75% of schools offer at least some in-person instruction. Officials say enrollment patterns are probably similar for other elementary and lower secondary grades. [Education Week, subscription required; NPR]


From: The National Superintendents Roundtable’s Roundtable News

March 19, 2021

The digital gap

Digital gaps in the U.S. are so wide that European journalists are commenting on them. Linda Jacobson, reporting in The Guardian, writes that an estimated 12 million students still lack sufficient connection to the internet in order to participate in online schooling.

The pandemic relief bill contains $7 billion in money for schools to use on internet hotspots and devices, but there is still much to do.


$10 billion earmarked for COVID-19 testing in schools

The Biden administration earlier this week announced it will spend $10 billion to help screen schoolchildren for Covid-19 to help hasten their return to in-person learning, according to David Lim in Politico.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will administer the school-screening program. The agency is giving $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to states and certain cities to set up testing, with the aim of reopening schools in the final months of the school year.
The idea is to repeatedly test students and teachers for Covid-19 to detect those who are infected but without symptoms to limit the spread of the virus. After ramping up, it is hoped that up to 50 million tests per week can be completed in schools.


Great news on school meals!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending free universal meal service to children through the summer, reports Evie Blad for Education Week.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended waivers of some school meal rules through Sept. 30, giving schools more flexibility to feed hungry children during the summer months.


Massachusetts’ educators united in opposing testing resumption

Massachusetts’ superintendents, supported by teachers and school boards, urge the state to cancel the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and language proficiency testing this year. They argue that the spring exams threaten to steal “valuable time away from efforts toward a healthy return,’’ reports Laura Crimaldi for The Boston Globe.

“With the limited time we have, do we want to spend it on testing kids for MCAS?” Thomas Scott, the association’s executive director, told Crimaldi. “The timing of this is not appropriate.”


Federal lawmakers urge cancellation of tests

A group of congressional Democrats from both the House and Senate is trying to convince U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to let states nix standardized tests this year. The lawmakers urge Cardona to provide “all states with waivers for all federal testing requirements for this school year.”

“Taken together, it becomes clear that this pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing inequities in our public education system,” the lawmakers told Cardona. “As such, our response . . . [should focus on] providing the resources schools need to safely reopen and address the learning loss from the past year.”

Despite opposition to resumption of testing from many educators and some in Congress, on March 17 Cardona indicated that his department does not plan to entertain requests to cancel standardized tests this year.


Everything you need to know about the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill

Writing in the New York Times, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard report that when President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan on Thursday, his 50th day in office, he signed into law a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. The benefits included “another round of stimulus payments, an extension of unemployment benefits, and generous tax breaks to low- and moderate-income people.” Robert Neubecker’s graphic for the Times shows a family afloat on stimulus checks surviving a flood of pandemic disasters.

Whether you share the view of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the legislation is, “a remarkable, historic, transformative piece of legislation” or that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that it is, “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen pass here in the time I’ve been in the Senate,” there is no denying the scale and scope of this enactment. It’s hard to get your arms around it, but here, from a variety of sources, are some of the key features of an ambitious enactment aimed at putting vaccines in the arms of the Americans, money into their pockets, students safely back in school, and employers able to safely get their employees back to work:

      • Stimulus payments. Payments of $1,400 for most single recipients with adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 or less; for married couples, with incomes of $150,000 or below.
      • Payments for dependents. For those eligible, identical payments will be made for each of their dependent children, including dependent college students and dependent older relatives. Payments will go to the qualifying taxpayer.
      • Unemployment benefits. For those receiving unemployment benefits, those benefits will be extended through September 6. The weekly supplemental benefit of $300 enacted in an earlier stimulus bill will run through September 6.
      • Health insurance. The federal government will pay COBRA health premiums through September 30 for those who have lost a job. (COBRA permits people who lose a job to buy their previous insurance, while paying 100% of the costs.)
      • Support for children. For one year, the child and dependent care tax credit will increase from $2,000 per eligible child to $3,000 ($3,600 for younger children). Details remain to be worked out, but the intent is for families to receive half the calculated benefit monthly starting in July, with the second half claimed when 2021 tax returns are filed.
      • Housing. $22 billion will be allocated for emergency rental assistance to help those in danger of eviction. Nearly $10 billion is set aside to help homeowners struggling to meet mortgage payments. $5 billion will be used for emergency housing for the homeless.
      • Restaurants and bars. The legislation provides $28.6 billion to funnel aid to independent restaurants and bars with 20 or fewer locations.
      • Pension fund relief. Up to $86 billion will be aimed at extending the life of the existing Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (designed to guarantee pension benefits when corporations fail) through the mid-2040’s. Because of massive demands on PBGC in recent years, the corporation was thought to be facing insolvency within five or six years.
      • Sick leave. ARPA extends through September tax breaks for employers who voluntarily provide their employees with paid sick leave if they need to take time off because of the virus.
      • School staff. $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.
      • Vaccinating school staff. Meanwhile, President Biden aims to have all school staff vaccinated by the end of March, and all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, and hopes we will be able to have typical family Independence Day celebrations on July 4.
      • Vaccine Distribution. $20 billion to create a national vaccine distribution program.
      • State and local government assistance. $350 billion in assistance for state, local, and territorial governments (some of which might be applied to schools).
      • Childcare centers. $40 billion aimed at helping childcare centers and supporting essential workers in meeting childcare costs.
      • Voucher tax credits. Sasha Pudelski, AASA’s advocacy director, reports that tucked into ARPA is a provision punishing states that want to enact or expand new voucher tax credits by requiring them to repay to the federal government an amount equivalent to the tax credits they issue.


March 26, 2021


Three-feet distancing, not six, in schools approved by CDC

Consensus is growing that three-feet distancing is sufficient space in classrooms, according to CDC.

As detailed by NPR, the new recommendations still recommend six feet between adults and students, and between students in common areas like auditoriums. They’re based on a new study that shows no substantial difference in infection rates in classrooms that separated students by only three feet. as opposed to six and where other mitigation measures—such as masking—were used. Of note: the six-foot rule still applies for the general public in settings such as grocery stores.


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

March 19, 2021

Advocacy groups applaud new IDEA funding for special education

District Administration Magazine

Congress passed a new relief bill that includes about $3 billion in additional funding to the IDEA as part of its third relief package affecting K-12 schools. For FY 2021, the U.S. Education Department is expected to appropriate $2.58 billion for grants under the IDEA Part B, $200 million for preschool grants under the IDEA Section 619, and $250 million for programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities under the IDEA Part C. American Rescue Plan Act Section 2014(a).

Learning loss hit K-8 hard from fall 2019 to fall 2020

THE Journal

New research has confirmed that students in grades K-8 are experiencing learning loss in math and reading due to COVID-19 disruptions. Researchers at education technology company Illuminate Education compared screening data in its FastBridge Learning assessment and monitoring application from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and found that losses were consistently bigger in math than reading and largest in late elementary and middle school grades.


Lawmakers want investigation into effects of school closures on kids with disabilities

Disability Scoop

Nearly a year after schools nationwide shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the impact of the closures on students with disabilities. Four Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said that they want to see a bipartisan investigation looking at the effects of the closures on children with disabilities as well as state and local compliance with federal special education law.


March 26, 2021


Cardona stresses equity in rescue funding

Language Magazine

As the Department of Education releases $122 billion directly to states as part of the American Rescue Plan, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is encouraging states to make sure students who have been hit hardest by COVID-19 are provided with the resources and support they need. American Rescue Plan funds can be used by SEAs and school districts to equitably expand opportunities for students who need the funds most, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness and students with inadequate access to technology.


From: ASCD’s Educator Advocates’ Capitol Connections

March 24, 2021

American Rescue Plan for Schools

      • The newly enacted $1.9 trillion Covid relief law provides $129 billion for K-12 schools.
        • $123 billion to states with 90% sent to districts based on their share of Title I funding
          • Districts have to use at least 20% to address student learning loss
        • $3 billion for IDEA special education
        • $2.75 billion for non-public schools
        • $800 million for homeless students
      • Separately, the law also includes $7 billion for the E-rate, $40 billion for higher education, $1 billion for Head Start, and $350 billion for state and local governments.
      • Read ASCD’s statement on the historic investment in K-12 education.


From: The Alliance for Excellent Education and Future Ready Schools’ Federal Flash

March 26, 2021

How the Federal Government Is Supporting Students’ Return to School

The U.S. Department of Education hosted the National Safe School Reopening Summit with health experts, educators, school leaders, and students from across the country to discuss and share guidance, strategies, and best practices to support school reopening. During the event, President Biden announced that $81 billion from the American Rescue Plan is on its way to states to help facilitate school reopening as new, national data suggests millions of students still lack access to in-person instruction. Plus, the Federal Communications Commission is seeking public comment on new emergency E-Rrate funding in the American Rescue Plan for home internet access, and the Senate held a confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of Education nominee Cindy Marten.