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EDUCATION POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Education Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with school choice, student loans, curriculum reform efforts, teacher unions, students with disabilities, affirmative action, minority students, vocational training and higher education. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of Education and state legislatures.

Latest Education Posts

 

Democratic Education and Practice

Brief #55—Education
By Emily Carty
Schools are an ideal place to plant the seeds of democracy and cultivate a culture of learning, participation, and will to be informed and take action for one’s rights and ideals. Commentary from a recent Brookings Institute article contrasts the emphasis placed on preparing kids for a modern economy with the lack of resources to prepare kids for a modern democracy. Citing the constant criticisms of schools being unable to prepare graduates for the job market or college, the author notes that a demand for prepared, active citizens is lacking. Conservatives and progressives have their respective fears about civic education in schools — will it be propaganda, whitewashed history, or activist training to make major changes to our country? While those concerns do have their place, no one can deny that basic education around the political process, civil rights, and modern media literacy is much needed in this country.

read more

First Lady Jill Biden Highlights Role As First Professor in the White House

Brief #54—Education
By Linda F Hersey
Twenty-four hours before Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, First Lady Jill Biden was teaching her English composition class as usual at Northern Virginia Community College. The First Lady’s decision to keep her day job as she settles into the White House is symbolic. She said that she likes her job as a college professor, worked hard for her PhD and is committed to teaching. Having a first professor in the White House energizes calls or free college education, which is available in many European countries, including Norway, Sweden and Germany, which have apprenticeships as well. Her commitment and advocacy raise the status of higher education in the Biden presidency. The First Lady is a long-time member of the National Education Association (NEA), which is the nation’s largest labor union and whose members advocated for the Biden presidency.

read more

Outlook for Covid-19 Vaccines in School Communities 

Brief #53—Education
By Emily Carty
Vaccines have been required or recommended in schools for decades now. The CDC urges families to vaccinate their children against chicken pox, measles, and a handful of other illnesses in order to protect their own children as well as the general public. While this is just a recommendation, all 50 states have some laws in place requiring students to be vaccinated against certain diseases and in certain situations. For example, the state might require students of public schools to have certain immunizations while students in private schools are exempt. Nevertheless, there are ways to circumvent these requirements with medical, or in some cases, religious or philosophical exemptions. Forty-five states have religious exemptions, and 15 have philosophical exemptions — California, New York, Maine, Mississippi, and West Virginia only have medical exemptions.

read more

 The Covid-era Classroom

Brief #52—Education
By Emily Carty 
The “traditional” classroom is facing an identity crisis. As teachers throughout the country have turned to remote learning or modified in-person learning, the classroom as we know it is changing. With distancing in the classroom, learning on electronic devices, and everyone in masks, the physical attributes of a modern classroom will certainly be different at least until the pandemic subsides.

read more

Student Loan Debt and the Higher Education Act of 1965

Brief #50—Education
By Emily Carty
The student loan debt crisis has many people across the nation rethinking the university and job training systems. According to Forbes, 45 million borrowers nearly have a collective $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, falling just behind the collective debt of the mortgage industry.

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Democratic Education and Practice

Democratic Education and Practice

Brief # 55 Education Policy

Democratic Education and Practice

By Emily Carty

March 1, 2021

Summary

Schools are an ideal place to plant the seeds of democracy and cultivate a culture of learning, participation, and will to be informed and take action for one’s rights and ideals. Commentary from a recent Brookings Institute article contrasts the emphasis placed on preparing kids for a modern economy with the lack of resources to prepare kids for a modern democracy. Citing the constant criticisms of schools being unable to prepare graduates for the job market or college, the author notes that a demand for prepared, active citizens is lacking. Conservatives and progressives have their respective fears about civic education in schools — will it be propaganda, whitewashed history, or activist training to make major changes to our country? While those concerns do have their place, no one can deny that basic education around the political process, civil rights, and modern media literacy is much needed in this country.

Historically, initial debates in states around the purpose of public education have demonstrated that the priority was placed on civics — preparing kids to protect and defend their rights was put ahead of other necessary things like building a workforce. However that focus has since disappeared as our country’s educational mission become focused on building a modern-day  technology and science-based workforce. The George W. Bush era’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act encouraged schools to place a greater concentration on math and language arts to keep up with the rapidly developing economy — it left civics and the modernization of democracy behind.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015 as a replacement for the NCLB act. It aims to place a greater emphasis on civics education in schools and provide equitable, well rounded education. The ESSA, which has funding through 2021, has several major funding goals, including setting educational civics education standards, and assuring  state accountability for student performance It is the primary policy setting the agenda for civics education.

Researchers informing the act found that students from low-income families and schools were less likely to receive robust civics education, as schools were prioritizing math and language arts — the subjects that made up standardized tests. They also found that better civics education had an impact on student success rates, academic and non-academic, as well as young adults’ perception of the importance of democratic society. Thus, the ESSA has aimed to provide better funding for low-income schools to implement and support civics learning and to support all schools in requiring civics education in their curriculum and testing. The format and content of civics education however, is left up to states and local education agencies.

As funding for ESSA comes to an end, legislators and families across the nation have the chance to advocate for updated legislation that addresses our nation’s disillusion with democracy (as evidenced by the January insurrection).

Analysis

The inattention to teachingn democracy in schools had a turning point with the passage of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). However ESSA serves as a gentle push rather than a driving force. Unfortunately, the act does not require states to implement standardized testing for civics, nor does it allocate fixed amounts of funding for civics education development. Instead districts have been simply encouraged to apply for grants and focus on developing a well-rounded education through creating more robust social studies and civics programs.

The decline in Americans’ faith in our American democracy is evident, in 2016 only 16 percent of millennials felt they could trust our institutions. This distrust could come from many sources, but the lack of education around our institutions, government, and the value of democratic practices is certainly a factor.  A more recent study of the 2020 election results indicates the tides are turning — youth feel that it is their responsibility to participate in democracy and make change. The study suggests the majority of youth were mobilized in response to racial justice, rather than increased civics education or practice in schools. Nevertheless, this is a huge step in the right direction.

Outside of civics education from an academic standpoint, educational leaders agree that democratic practice built into school systems is key to developing an understanding and appreciation for democracy in the US and global context. When students see democracy in action, when they are creators and participants in their environment. From small classroom practices to school- and district-wide engagement, practical democracy teaches children that we all have power to act and to make our voice heard.

Without the demand for robust, relevant civics education and practice in schools, it is uncertain if we will see a more civic-fluent new generation that values democratic principles.

 

RESISTANCE RESOURCES

The Civics Renewal Network –  The CRN is a group of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations committed to strengthening civic life in the US by increasing the quality of civics education in our nation’s classrooms and by improving accessibility to quality, free learning materials. Check out their site for advocacy and teaching resources.

Facing History and Ourselves — FHO is a nonprofit with a mission to promote a citizen body that understands history and the responsibilities of an informed democracy. They encourage a participatory and informed democracy, and inspire agency in all to address issues such as racism and inequity. Check out their resources, webinars, curriculum, and community of educators to start the conversation about civics in your community.

iCivics – This site full of fun and educational activities related to civics education for youth was developed by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Check out their resources for learning about how to participate in democracy and be an effective citizen.

SOURCES

Brookings – We’ve Built Schools for Modern Economy

Education Commission of the States – Mapping Opportunities for Civic Education

Truthout – Education Central to Democracy

Center for Civics Education – Role of Civics Education

Education Next – Where the Left and Right Agree on Civics Education

Washington Post – Parents Should be Asking for Civics Education in Schools

Washington Post – After Capital Attack Civics Teachers Struggle

The Century Foundation – Putting Democracy Back into Education

ASCD – Teaching Democracy by Doing It

Every Student Succeeds Act

CIRCLE – 2020 Youth Engagement

Democratic Education and Practice

First Lady Jill Biden Highlights Role As First Professor in the White House

First Lady Jill Biden Highlights Role As First Professor in the White House

By Linda F. Hersey

February 8, 2021

Twenty-four hours before Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, First Lady Jill Biden was teaching her English composition class as usual at Northern Virginia Community College.

The First Lady’s decision to keep her day job as she settles into the White House is symbolic. She said that she likes her job as a college professor, worked hard for her PhD and is committed to teaching.

Having a first professor in the White House energizes calls or free college education, which is available in many European countries, including Norway, Sweden and Germany, which have apprenticeships as well.

Her commitment and advocacy raise the status of higher education in the Biden presidency. The First Lady is a long-time member of the National Education Association (NEA), which is the nation’s largest labor union and whose members advocated for the Biden presidency.

The First Lady supports making community college free for all U.S. students.  President Biden has pledged to do just that. He wants to make community colleges and historically black colleges and universities tuition-free for all students. The new president:

  • Pledged as a candidate to promote new policy and enact legislation allowing students to attend community college for up to two years tuition-free. Funds also could be used to pursue training and certification that link students to meaningful employment.
  • Endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ idea to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000 and forgive a portion of student debt for all borrowers.
  • Outlined a plan to invest $50 billion in high-quality training programs that would be administered through community colleges, in partnership with businesses, unions and other organizations.

Jill Biden as the ‘Conscience’ of the President

On Day One of the Biden presidency, the First Lady showed her support for strengthening education. The Washington Post reported that she met with the nominee for education secretary, welcomed the leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions at the White House, and hosted an online forum with 11,000 educators from around the country.  In the Post article, First Lady Jill Biden was described as her husband’s “conscience and confidante.

Higher Education, Training Emphasized

Higher education already is a priority for both the President and First Lady, who describe it as a necessity to stay competitive in the knowledge economy.

Jill Biden’s own background demonstrates that. At 69, she holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate awarded when she was 55 years old. Her doctorate in educational leadership was earned at the University of Delaware.

Her determination to continue as an educator sets her apart from all Frist Ladies who preceded her.

For the first time in 231 years, a First Lady has a career outside the White House. Of course, her dedication has required some logistics with security, such as Secret Service agents dressing as students with backpacks as they trail the First Lady through the halls of academia.

Jill Biden’s decision to continue working and having an independent career beyond the White House marks a shift from the traditional role of the First Lady.

Wives of U.S. presidents historically leave behind careers and professional identity to be the helpmate for the president. Michelle Obama is an attorney but ceased her job practicing law to take a high-profile role on many public health initiatives, including improving school lunch menus and planting a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, with the help of schoolchildren.

Jill Biden’s decision to keep her career is in line with millions of American families.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that in close to 50 percent of married households, both spouses work. “Teaching is not what I do. It’s who I am,” she said prior to the election.

The First Lady says she uses the honorific “Dr.” because she “worked hard” for her advanced degree. She taught writing during the eight years her husband served as vice president. She does not consider working outside the home – even when it is the White House – a departure from the norm.

The First Lady is known for being down to earth and personable. She eschewed having a ballgown to attend post-inauguration celebrations. Her focus was on more practical issues. She likes to tell people to call her “Jill.”

Jill Biden married Sen. Joe Biden in 1977, becoming mother to his two sons, Beau and Hunter, four years after his first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, a schoolteacher, and the couple’s year-old daughter Naomi died in a car accident. Jill and Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, was born in 1981.

As First Lady, Jill Biden has prioritized education, cancer treatment resources and advocacy for military families. The issues have personal meaning and significance. In addition to being an educator, Jill Biden is a military mom. The Bidens’ son, Beau, the former attorney general of Delaware, died from brain cancer, in 2015.

Anita McBride, chief of staff for former First Lady Laura Bush, told the Washington Post that First Lady Jill Biden – after serving for eight years as the Second Lady during the Obama presidency — understands her high-profile role and how to advocate for issues that have personal significant for her family and millions of Americans.

“What this says to me is that [here] is someone who is so comfortable in this role,” McBride told The Washington Post. “It says, ‘I am thrilled and honored to have this position. These are the things I care about. I intend to be active. I intend to be visible and I intend to be a partner in the work of this administration.’  ”

Engagement Resources

Candidate Joe Biden’s Education Plan outlined his ideas for free college and training programs for all U.S. students.

White House Profile of Dr. Jill Biden articulates her interest in prioritizing higher education and supporting community colleges across America.

Washington Post reported on the First Lady’s commitment to teaching paired with her role as wife of President Biden.

Outlook for Covid-19 Vaccines in School Communities 

Outlook for Covid-19 Vaccines in School Communities 

Brief # 53 Education Policy 

Outlook for Covid-19 Vaccines in School Communities 

By Emily Carty

January 26, 2021

Vaccines have been required or recommended in schools for decades now. The CDC urges families to vaccinate their children against chicken pox, measles, and a handful of other illnesses in order to protect their own children as well as the general public. While this is just a recommendation, all 50 states have some laws in place requiring students to be vaccinated against certain diseases and in certain situations. For example, the state might require students of public schools to have certain immunizations while students in private schools are exempt. Nevertheless, there are ways to circumvent these requirements with medical, or in some cases, religious or philosophical exemptions. Forty-five states have religious exemptions, and 15 have philosophical exemptions — California, New York, Maine, Mississippi, and West Virginia only have medical exemptions.

The US has a long history of requiring vaccines for school, with the Supreme Court upholding the requirement as early as 1922. Mandatory vaccinations, with their co-existing exemptions, have proven to be the most important US public health initiative of the past century, nearly eradicating many contagious diseases that used to be commonplace. But the rise of anti-vaccination efforts and biased or misleading information in the media has threatened the success of vaccination programs, with higher exemption rates leading to higher infection rates.

In the wake of  US citizens’ growing mistrust of the media, thriving conspiracy theory groups, and anti-maskers, public health officials have made special efforts to educate the public on vaccines and safety considerations. With Covid-19 being a highly contagious disease, officials seek to gain control of it through vaccinations and other precautions such as face masks. History tells us that schools and children are a major component to reaching herd immunity. While risks are lower for serious illness in kids with Covid-19, they can still transmit the virus to more vulnerable community members, which is why vaccinating school-aged children will be critical in fighting the spread of the virus. Plus, families are already used to childhood vaccinations, and pediatricians are used to administering vaccines.

That being said, what does the history of vaccines in schools and current political climate tell us about how the Covid-19 Vaccine rollout might unfold? For starters, many are asking if it will be added to “required” lists once it is widely available and safe for young children. In the past, vaccines were developed over longer periods of time, so it is understandable that individuals are questioning the safety of a rapidly developed vaccine. Nevertheless, rigorous studies and safety protocols are in place to ensure the vaccines will be safe for children before they are put on any required list.

Moderna and Pfizer are just starting clinical trials of the vaccine in adolescents, and they aim to begin more trials for younger kids later this year. Nevertheless, these results will be slower going than the current vaccine, which was approved under an emergency FDA order. So while we wait until the vaccines are ready, school officials are planning well ahead to confront the issue of mandatory Covid vaccinations.

Los Angeles Superintendent of Schools has been the first high-ranking school official to acknowledge that once youth vaccines are widely available they will be added to the roster of mandatory vaccines. Some public health officials don’t want to rush the requirement in schools, but at the same time they are urging drug companies to include more children in the clinical trials. Once adults get vaccinated, and later once children get vaccinated (voluntarily), we can begin to talk about mandatory vaccinations and address issues of herd immunity, personal choice, and public safety. While we must wait patiently, the most realistic path towards the urgent, safe reopening of schools would be to prioritize teachers and school staff for the Covid vaccine.

Teachers and education associations are calling on government leaders to officially add them to the priority list, especially if those same government leaders are pressuring schools to open for in-person learning. If certain grades or classes are officially set to reopen, vaccination plans should prioritize those certain teachers, at least until the general public, including children, are able to get vaccinated. Additionally, the implementation of clear, concrete, and consistent guidance on Federal and State levels will be crucial to decreasing fear and increasing support for vaccinations and school reopening plans in general.

 

A major win for teacher unions and activist groups was President Biden calling on states and counties to prioritize school staff (after healthcare professionals, of course) so we can be one step closer to safe reopening of schools. So far however, inconsistent vaccine supply and confusing rollout plans have left school communities with questions — in California, small counties have already started vaccinating interested school staff, while some larger counties still don’t know when the vaccines will arrive or how they will distribute them to school staff. This uneven vaccine landscape is playing out across the nation, where spontaneous vaccine shipments might alter the rollout plan at a given moment.

As of January 22, 2021 — 13 states are allowing teachers to be vaccinated, 1 state permits teachers over 50, and 7 states vary by county or other eligibility factors. On the same note, while teachers may be eligible for the vaccine, it leaves a grey area for other school staff, who are also likely to be in contact with students. While they might be deemed as frontline essential workers in the eyes of the CDC, they might be lower on the vaccination list than teachers or might not be specified in the priority list, we must encourage public health leaders to take this into consideration when prioritizing workers and when opening schools.

The vaccination of teachers is off to a promising start so far. Activists across the nation are calling on our new President and local leaders to prioritize equitable distribution of vaccines so we can get our country back up and running safely for everyone. With increased education regarding the Covid vaccine, consistent information, and a clear, structured distribution plan, we can all look forward to returning to schools as safely as is possible until Covid-19 becomes a disease of the past.

 

Engagement Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics – This professional association of Pediatricians has a page dedicated to ways to take action to promote healthy living for kids. Check out their resources for an impressive list of policy areas affecting children. Sign petitions and send letters to your congress people for state or federal policy issues.

National Education Association – The NEA’s advocacy page is a great resource for finding policy areas that affect school children and teachers alike. Use their fill-in forms to write messages to your representatives about Covid-19 resources, and support for school communities.

National Association of School Nurses – Check out NASN’s list of ways to take action to support health and wellness for school-aged children. Get involved with their advocacy efforts by signing up for their newsletter, donating, or learning about their policy stances and writing your representatives.

Voices for Vaccines – Voices for Vaccines: Parents Speaking up for Immunization, provides tools to talk about vaccines, learn more about vaccines, and take action to promote immunization in children for preventable diseases in your community. Check out their section on Covid-19 to learn about the vaccine for children.

Learn More

CDC – Required Vaccines for Child Care and School

Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine – Mandatory School Vaccinations: The Role of Tort Law

AMA Journal of Ethics – School Vaccination Laws

US News – No Vaccination, No School?

National Conference of Legislatures – School Vaccine Exemption Laws

Chalkbeat – Biden Promises Guidance, Vaccines

Ed Source – Inconsistent Vaccine Supply

White House – Biden’s Plan

JAMA – Risks Associated with Vaccine Exemption

KQED – School Staff Lines up for Vaccines

Roanoke – 2000 School Staff Vaccinated

The Atlantic – Children and Herd Immunity

KGW8 – Oregon Governor Prioritizes Teachers over Seniors

LA Times – LA Student Must Get Vaccine

Ed Week – Where Teachers are Eligible for Covid Vaccine

Washington Post – When will Teachers get Vaccines?

 The Covid-era Classroom

 The Covid-era Classroom

Brief #  52 Education Policy

 The Covid-era Classroom

By Emily Carty 

January 21, 2021

The “traditional” classroom is facing an identity crisis. As teachers throughout the country have turned to remote learning or modified in-person learning, the classroom as we know it is changing. With distancing in the classroom, learning on electronic devices, and everyone in masks, the physical attributes of a modern classroom will certainly be different at least until the pandemic subsides.

So far teachers have been reporting several new aspects of the modern covid-classroom. The CDC has provided educational centers with guidelines for reopening and arranging classrooms so students and teachers will be safe. Many school districts have added onto those recommendations or have created more rigorous requirements for reopening. These requirements are the, by now, familiar six feet of distancing, directional walking patterns, and limited capacity of students indoors. While teachers are mostly required to wear masks, in some cases it’s up to the teacher to decide if students must wear them in the class. Either way, a masked classroom is a definitive marker that things have changed.

With little control over the space and desks spread six feet apart, classrooms in the Covid-era are literally and figuratively sterile. One resource for teachers suggests we consider if “we have signage that cares for all or produces fear.” Ensuring students feel welcome at school and in the classroom will be key to success. Teachers must work within these space constraints to create a learning environment with choice and safe movement. Educators are familiar with the model that choice and movement within the educational space is beneficial for learning. Providing students with spatial options, while having them remain near or at their desks will be challenging but likely necessary to promote engagement. This might look like mask breaks outside, standing near their desk for a portion of class, or even sitting on their desk. Since reading nooks and close discussion groups will be on hold, new ideas for movement in and outside will be crucial.

When it comes to classroom supplies, teachers worry about the extra costs and time that sanitation practices might require. While teachers don’t necessarily control the ventilation systems, and many are without classroom sinks for handwashing, building in sanitation and hygiene practices will be critical. Things like sanitation stations upon entering the classroom and wipes on desks, or individual sanitation kits instead, could be implemented and systematized for rapid use before instruction.

While these things are doable in theory, the cost of Covid is  proving tough for teachers. The New York Times reported one teacher’s solution to the risk of contracting the virus — makeshift desk dividers from shower curtains. Another teacher spent nearly $2000 of their own money on Covid-related supplies. For one special education teacher and choir teacher, challenges of space, materials, and the physical appearance of the teacher with PPE have already made themselves apparent.

Minimizing contact with other students, and especially other classes or grades throughout the school day are the driving factors for school and classroom changes. Some hybrid-learning models require students to be on a zoom call with their peers at home or even across the classroom. This promotes community, but also ensures distance. Screens in the classroom can facilitate collaboration despite a distance. For schools in session, staggered bell schedules, students remaining in one classroom all day, and classes spread out into new spaces are the norm. Regulating when and where students can walk through the halls is also built into Covid-safe plans. With regard to lunch, some students are sitting six feet apart, on the same side of the table, so they can avoid facing one another. Some recommendations to normalize this new and ever-changing spatial order at school are to focus on routines to give students some sort of structure no matter where they are learning.

Another thing teachers are considering is repurposing existing spaces where possible. If students aren’t to be sitting directly next to one another, purchasing new desks or rearranging seats will be necessary. Additionally, classes might need to be moved so that there is more room. If possible using the gym or an outdoor space could be a way to maximize space between students and minimize the risk of Covid. It has also been recommended that schools use smooth and easy-to-clean surfaces (no more colorful class rugs!) in the near future, as it will make disinfecting surfaces much quicker and easier. Teachers have been doing this throughout the pandemic, but constraints of funding, space, weather, and safety are real. Not every school or teacher has the money, flexibility or weather to create a great outdoor classroom, buy protective gear to deck out the class and students, or replace old materials and decorations with easy-to-clean ones. Nor does every school have ample space for moving around, using empty rooms, or distancing students.

New teachers reflect on their first year during a pandemic, and while they expect things to be different, most are relatively positive that this era will turn out great because of the passion and love for education that teachers hold. While teachers are remaining strong, many US classrooms will be without the generous support from parents, paraeducators, and other staff who take on myriad tasks to ensure teachers can focus on teaching. With limited adults in the classroom to minimize risk of Covid, some teachers with large classes will have to revise strategies so that lack of in-class support won’t be an issue.

With all of these considerations, students and safety are being placed at the forefront. At the end of the day everyone is working with what they have, or don’t have, with safety being prioritized. As the pandemic rages on, schools will continue to refine their plan, with hopes set on Biden’s support for education. With increased and equitable financial support, schools will be able to do a better job at keeping everyone safe and learning throughout the pandemic.

Engagement Resources

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education — This membership association has resources for teachers and educators to advocate for policy and legislation related to schools, teaching, and professional development. It provides great tools for reaching out to your representatives, learning about relevant policy, and teaching equitably in the Covid-era.

National Education Association – EdJustice — NEA EdJustice provides lots of resources to take action for education justice. It puts students at the center and has a fabulous collection of resources addressing equity, racial justice, social justice, and more. Join their community to get updates on justice initiatives, sign petitions, or find resources for teaching and learning mindfully in Covid times.

Adopt A Classroom — Find a Teacher or School in your area and donate directly to them! This accountable and easy to use platform allows you to find educators in your area who need support and provides you with a way to directly contribute to them.

Learn More

School reopening and parents’ perspectives

School reopening and parents’ perspectives

Brief # 51 Education

Education Brief – School reopening and parents’ perspectives

Emily Carty

December 14, 2020

As of December 12, eleven states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico have ordered schools to partially or fully close. Four state governments (Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, and Texas) have ordered schools open for the families that choose to attend. The rest have no orders in place, so the decisions are up to regional authorities and institutions.

While we have seen schools open and close in a matter of days throughout the pandemic, parents continue to have mixed feelings about when it is safe to send their kids back to school.  With a major surge in Covid cases throughout November, plans to reopen have faltered and the death toll has soared. Although health practitioners know more about treating the virus now, and despite a vaccine on the horizon, some experts warn that reopening for in-person learning has contributed to increased cases of the virus. Others warn that it is overall ineffective at decreasing the spread.

The New York Times reports that one of the “mercies” of this virus has been the smaller risk of  serious illness in children, nevertheless more than 1.4 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. What parents, schools, and governments must consider are the long-term effects of school closures on quality of education, and how that might influence the risk of poverty and health issues later on. Not to mention the effect of remote-learning on access to resources and food in the immediate context.

The CDC has put together a decision making toolkit for families deciding whether or not to send their children back to school. Many school districts are giving parents a choice to send their kids to school once they are open for in-person classes again. And although the risk of children contracting a severe illness due to Covid-19 is lower for younger kids, risk to family members, caregivers, and school staff could potentially be greater — which has put parents in a tough spot.

In California, Los Angeles has returned to distance learning amidst the highest rate of new cases thus far, and Orange County teachers unions are pressuring the school board to shut down all in-person services due to high hospitalizations and low ICU capacity. In San Diego, rival parent groups are protesting to either keep schools open or closed — everyone’s definition of “safe” is different. Just recently, New York City’s Mayor de Blasio loosened restrictions for opening schools. In school districts that have remained open, like in Florida, school-related outbreaks have numbered in the hundreds, yet schools stay open. Meanwhile, parents across the nation are calling on school leaders to look at the science — many families and doctors believe that school is the “essential business” for children and with precautions in place the spread will be minimal, albeit possible.

Families are drawing on the increasing data points which suggest that schools are not the superspreaders we expected them to be. Children and their teachers have certainly contracted the virus, perhaps in the school setting or perhaps outside. However through random testing and case studies across the US and abroad scientists and public health leaders are now seeing that increasing positive cases in school children do not necessarily correspond to spikes at home. Furthermore, when the right precautions are in place, schools can be relatively low-risk, particularly for elementary students. The issues seem to arise with older students and when there are high Covid rates in the general community. This is perhaps due to older students gathering outside of school in sports and extracurriculars. Plus, the added factor of indoor dining, bars, and shopping increases chances that adults will contract the virus and spread it to kids and throughout schools.

That being said, parents are wondering why businesses can open but schools can’t. In California, Pennsylvania, and New York parents have filed lawsuits calling for schools to reopen. Grassroots organizing and protests led by parents are springing up from Oregon to Georgia in the face of more school closures. Groups like The Oakland REACH, Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, Kids First Chicago, and Parent Revolution are putting families at the center of the discussion and empowering families to be part of devising the solution to education during Covid.

Understanding parents’ needs and perspectives should be a major aspect of crafting school reopening plans. In a recent study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Department of Health and Human Services, a survey of 858 parents revealed differences in attitude toward school reopening for different ethnic groups. The survey suggested that more “White” identifying parents (62.3%) wanted schools to reopen for everyone in the fall, whereas fewer “Black” (46.0%) and “Hispanic” (50.2%) parents wanted a fall reopening. Almost all parents surveyed were concerned with their kids’ quality of education during the pandemic, but more (67.3%) White parents responded that returning to school for the experiences it gives is more valuable despite the risk of Covid — 56.5% of Black parents felt that way, and 53.9% of Hispanic parents and 53.4% of “Other / non-Hispanic.” While this is a small survey size and not indicative of the entire country, it is an important perspective to consider, especially with the pandemic exacerbating already present inequities across racial and class lines.

In order to ensure all student and family needs are met and concerns addressed, decision makers must consider how their constituents truly feel so that we can come together and make school reopening transparent, collaborative, and safe. The nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is doing just that. It has recently sent every parent a detailed survey asking their perspectives on reopening, and what makes them feel safe. Nonetheless, even if “safe reopening” plans are agreed upon by parents, part of the issue lies in the school’s ability to create a safe space and pay for the required Covid precautions. Without sufficient data, federal aid, and will to collaborate and communicate with other leaders, schools wishing to open are in a bind.

The CDC recently said that schools need almost $22 billion — nearly $442 per student — to reopen safely. Without that money, precautions against Covid might be futile, prolonging virtual learning and leaving parents frustrated. Newly elected Joe Biden has stated that school reopening is a priority. He strives to open schools within the first 100 days of his presidency, but notes that it is dependent upon congress providing adequate funding.

RESISTANCE RESOURCES

  • Parents Helping Parents – This organization has consolidated a broad set of resources for parents with students of all abilities and needs. Connect with parents and find detailed resources for addressing Covid and remote learning to best help your child and yourself succeed.
  • Parent Teacher Association – The National PTA offers plenty of resources for parents as well as advocacy tools. Take a look at their advocacy page to write letters to your congress people or find tools to be a more effective advocate for the students in your life.
  • National Parent Leadership Institute – This organization provides training for aspiring parent leaders as well as resources and a place to share your story. From a parent centered approach, NPLI seeks to uplift parents’ lived experiences to help them be better activists for their children and themselves.

SOURCES

Democratic Education and Practice

Student Loan Debt and the Higher Education Act of 1965

Summary

The student loan debt crisis has many people across the nation rethinking the university and job training systems. According to Forbes, 45 million borrowers nearly have a collective $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, falling just behind the collective debt of the mortgage industry.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) set the tone for the federal government’s role in higher education funding and oversight. Most importantly, Title IV of the legislation addressed the federal government’s role in ensuring equitable access to higher education through funding. The HEA has been modified eight times and today it lays the groundwork for higher education advocates’ changemaking. Amendments to the HEA have been the basis for higher education reform. In particular, the revisions to Title IV of the HEA have included some of the major policies outlining how the federal government and universities approach equity — policies here dictate how the government allocates money to students with financial need.

The HEA also lays the groundwork for the government’s role in promoting loans and tax credits over outright grants. Modifications to the bill have slashed the prominence of grants by incorporating a growing number of amendments which favor loans. These include: providing families who take out student loans with tax credits; allowing federally subsidized loans to be administered by private companies; lifting the cap on how much money a student can take out in loans.

The legislature was born out of WWII and Cold War era college grant programs which supported soldiers and low-income students with grants based on their financial need (this was the birth of the federal Pell Grant). The grants did not have to be repayed, and the government was not necessarily seeing a tangible return on their money, so the legislature morphed into a mix of grants, guaranteed loans, and tax credits — a move to give the government a pass on providing more money to students and to appease the middle-income families in the face of higher costs of college. In the late 70s the government provided favorable rates of returns and a pathway for private lenders to disburse money to middle- and low-income students. The rising cost of college and shrinking availability of grants for education spiraled out of control throughout the 80s and 90s until student loan debt began to be seen as a crisis. The move away from subsidized education towards private lending, in conjunction with colleges raising tuition because loans existed to cover it, worked to commodify higher education and put millions of students in debt whilst lining the pockets of private lenders.

Plenty of statistics exist analyzing the demographics and concentrations of this debt and who it affects. Currently, the average cost of student debt exceeds $30,000 — a record high. Additionally, more than half of that debt is concentrated among borrowers under 34, and the largest debt is held by students attending for-profit colleges. Those students are also more likely to default on loans. The factors driving rising student debt include increases in tuition, more students going to college, and the skyrocketing cost and attendance rate of graduate schools. Increases in the demand for graduate and professional degrees in today’s job market, in addition to student loans becoming the norm, have allowed graduate schools to increase costs with little risk of a decrease in enrollment. While borrowing and repayment looks different for everyone, it no doubt influences decision making, lifestyle, and opportunity to invest in other types of capital, such as a home, investment property, stocks, or even futher schooling.

Analysis

The impact of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and its various amendments are still felt today. The rise in student loan debt has caught the attention of lawmakers across the nation, notably Democratic Senators and 2020 Presidential Candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It has also garnered attention from the media in the form of celebrity promises to pay off “Class of 20__’s” student loans and student activists’ calls for loan forgiveness.

This form of debt is troubling for society at-large and not just for the individuals who default. The looming debt is a major factor influencing the decisions of this group of young and middle-aged graduates, potentially changing the traditional American paradigm of success: getting a job, buying a home, and becoming independent of one’s parents. According to Federal Reserve researchers, an estimated 20% of the decline in homeownership can be attributed to student loan debt. Some proponents for free college tuition programs argue that free college and reduction of student debt will lead to higher earnings and therefore a better impact on the economy at large.

Although we can’t know for certain how this might change the future of society or our college system, especially with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic still unknown, perhaps a look into the 2008 Great Recession can give us some hints. With job prospects low, many individuals sought higher education degrees to get jobs in the changing economy amid widespread financial insecurity. Although the economy bounced back up until recently at least, the group of 2008 Recession era borrowers still holds a significant amount of debt, with borrowers over 30 more likely to default and those over 40 holding nearly double the amount of debt of folks who borrowed just 5-10 years earlier. Due to Covid-19, job prospects once again aren’t stable and without income the risk of loan default is omnipresent. Moreover, the cost-benefit ratio of college is being questioned. Lessons from 2008 should be a warning that the debt will not disappear even if the economy makes a comeback.

Deciding to take out a student loan is a major, but necessary, undertaking for many — not being able to make payments is a risk that comes with severe consequences, particularly for people of color who already face economic barriers in many forms. One recent federal study, for example, found that six years after enrolling in college in 2011-2012, 13% of white borrowers were in default, yet default rates were 20% for Latinx borrowers and an alarming 32% for Black borrowers. Additionally, students who received federal grants and students with dependents, whether or not they graduated, are much more likely to take out and to default on loans. The result is that many students with lower incomes are either in long-term debt or in default status. This can lead to lower credit rates and inability to take out loans for other financial investments, ultimately keeping borrowerss of color and poor borrowers on the lower end of the borrowing and capital wealth spectrum.

The existence of this debt is troubling for  future generations. How will cohorts of well-educated, debt-riddled adults expect to invest in other financial assets or assist their children in paying for college if they still haven’t paid off their own loans or have already defaulted? There is potential here for the higher education economy to be reorganized through policy addressing access to and necessity of higher education in the modern workforce. There is also room for the goals and aspirations of the generation of adults in debt, and their kin, to shift away from higher education. Finally, there’s potential for the government and university systems to take action to ensure that the value of a college education can be realized by anyone without the threat of decades-long loan repayment.

The slew of recent legislation proposed in the wake of Covid-19, and even prior to the pandemic, is promising, but very little action has been taken legally so far; the President’s federal loan forbearance is a band aid, but it ends on December 31 of this year. Newly proposed regulations around loan forgiveness, loan consolidation, and income-based plans have yet to be voted on by legislators despite a wave of support for amending the Higher Education Act and increasing the federal government’s role in subsidizing education. It seems lawmakers recognize the severity of the current economic crisis and are aiming to protect borrowers, but there is only so much that can be done against private lenders — if the government allows private lenders to set the terms for student loans, the government cannot go in and change their policies on a whim, as the companies have been operating legally, if not ethically. Plus, for those already in default, some of the damage has already been done: the government cannot “fix” everyone’s credit score or reimburse years of loan payments in a thorough and meanigful way.

Additionally, these proposals are only short-term solutions for those already in debt. Large scale systemic change is needed to adequately address the rising cost of the university system and diminishing federal and state subsidies. Otherwise student debt will continue to rise and impact the lives of millions who were attempting to better their lives through education. The complexities of who would benefit from proposed debt forgiveness and reorganization of student grant and loans must be considered carefully. For example, those with the greatest student loan debt often have the highest income upon graduating, repaying the loans is somewhat reasonable. On the other hand, those who take out loans and don’t graduate often default or have too low an income to make significant headway on their debt. The impact on forgiving loans for these two “types” would be drastically different. Work is being done to address this in a thoughtful, equitable way, but legislators need to make informed policies and take action soon in order to ensure everyone who wants to is able to access and benefit financially from quality higher education.

Resistance Resources:

Student Debt Crisis –  They are fighting for reform in student debt and borrowing policies and assisting borrowers with their financial issues and questions. Get involved with them to learn more, assist borrowers, share your story, or contact legislators.

Council for Opportunity in Education – COE provides resources for low-income, first-generation, and students with disabilities to access college, COE advocates for equity in education through its member organizations and outreach. Get connected with advocacy tools and send emails to congress through their site to advocate for equity and funding in higher education.

The Education Trust – This nonprofit organization fights for equity in education through research and policy advocacy. Check out their Higher Education section to take action and get connected with resources to write to your representatives about legislation related to Higher Ed.

 

Learn More Sources:

Education in the Time of Covid — Part 5: How Effective is Virtual learning?

Education in the Time of Covid — Part 5: How Effective is Virtual learning?

The pandemic has forced many educational institutions to move towards virtual learning, or at least some form of distance education, in an extremely short time-frame. While this is not a new method of teaching or learning, school administrators and teachers were not prepared to sift through the resources to find the tools that might work best for E-learning on such a short notice. Nevertheless, as the pandemic moves along, schools are getting more familiar and more successful with virtual learning and Educational Technology. While EdTech certainly has a learning curve and barriers to entry due to associated costs and uncertain effects on student learning outcomes, researchers from the Brookings Institute suggest that “when schools use technology to enhance the work of educators and to improve the quality and quantity of educational content, learners will thrive.”

In a recent study from the Brookings Institute, researchers propose that Education Technology can be an effective tool for learners if three things are considered: context, evidence, and outcome. If technology is introduced into a classroom but other changes are not made, students and teachers may not be able to benefit from the new resources. For example, if teachers are unfamiliar with a certain tool or have not been trained on its uses, it may become a distraction or a burden on them, impacting how effective teaching and learning is for that classroom. Relying on previous studies by education researchers Cohen and Ball, Brookings suggests that in order for Educational Technology (no matter how great it is in theory) to be an effective tool for learning, it must accomplish at least one of four things: “scaling up quality instruction, such as through prerecorded quality lessons; facilitating differentiated instruction, through, for example, computer-adaptive learning and live one-on-one tutoring; expanding opportunities to practice; increasing learner engagement through videos and games.”

Harvard has developed a Remote Teaching site with Best Practices for Online Pedagogy that aligns with the findings of Brookings. Harvard echoes the current research and general sentiment that long lectures just won’t work with online learning, but if one facilitates engagement and provides opportunities for interaction in multiple ways, different types of online learning can be effective for all types of learners (provided they have the equipment and safe place to learn).

Overall, online learning, no matter what software or medium you use to deliver your lessons, should still follow the same principles that a teacher follows in the classroom. Consistency, setting norms, creating clear transitions, and forming discussion groups, are all things that can be done online through a video lesson or separately during specified periods. Furthermore, Zoom, which has become a mainstay for teachers adjusting to virtual learning, has pedagogical tools built in. One can use polls to assess understanding of the lesson, chat to engage students who might not normally speak up, keep an eye on all students with “gallery” view, use the “raise hand” feature to facilitate class-wide discussion, and set up “breakout rooms” for small group work. If done thoughtfully, video-based instruction can be one effective way of supporting learners.

An example of the ineffective use of technology is exemplified by a 2016 study which explored the outcomes of schools essentially replacing textbooks with laptops. Researchers found that there was a similar outcome of learning success as with books, but the costs associated with the new technology are greater. Moreover, the laptops themselves did not enhance learning necessarily — the software used and supervision of the student’s web use was found to play a large role in enhancing the usefulness of the hardware. In theory a laptop could enhance learning, but in practice it wasn’t able to accomplish one of the four things outlined by Brookings. In the push to give every student a tablet or laptop, administrators must not stop there, quality software and a plan for use must be employed to reap the benefits that technology brings.

A major area of technology in schools now is computer-adaptive learning (CAL), something often cited to be an effective learning tool for students. This method of learning uses a diagnostic test (assessment) to address what level of learning students are in, and sets the curriculum accordingly. Preliminary studies show that this can be effective for students’ learning of math and language if used in addition to regular classroom teaching — few studies have been done however, to compare CAL to classroom teaching as a total or partial replacement. One study based in China does consider the effect of CAL as a replacement for small and large group teaching programs. It assesses a program called “Squirrel AI Learning” and suggests that even when compared to students who learn the same content from expert-teachers, the learning gains from AI are greater over the course of the year, no matter what their level of learning or learning style was at the start of the study.

While schools aren’t moving towards a replacement of teachers, some of their duties can be replaced with EdTech. Some useful components of technology and E-learning involve tracking students’ progress and test scores, practicing hands on learning, and gamification which helps to keep students focused and engaged. The innovation of recording students’ homework and test scores automatically, tracking progress, and reporting it to teachers and parents is a huge help, because teachers are not able to be one-on-one with students as often as before. It also can help keep families in the loop. EdTech and computer-adaptive learning also support teachers in implementing individual learning paths for each student simultaneously — which just isn’t possible for in-person classes. This is especially useful for teachers during Covid as they have new issues that they need to focus on.

Late in 2019, the New York Times reported on machine-learning programs such as Bakpax and Acuitus. The machine-learning revolution has been a game changer for the E-learning movement — instead of assessing a student’s learning level by moving them along a pre-set decision tree, machine-learning uses large sets of (ever-growing) data to create a “smarter” algorithm that can profile a student’s learning level and set it on the right path. Additionally, simple acts like grading homework and providing the right answers and more practice in certain areas can be automated. But even more importantly, the algorithm can use the data to assess patterns in the class’s lack of knowledge, so teachers know where to focus. While these innovations hold a lot of potential, there are concerns around where this student data goes and how much privacy students and schools can expect. For now, student data is protected and encrypted to ensure students their right to privacy.

Virtual learning might be effective for students if implemented well, but concerns have been raised about Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities, as virtual support is just not effective for everyone. Students deserve education that works for them, they also deserve to be safe and not exposed to a deadly virus — this is a tricky situation to navigate but efforts are being made to ensure that parents are kept in the loop and that students with disabilities are not being deprived of their rights to quality support and education whether in-person or through digital means.

In addition to the quality and measured success of particular E-learning programs themselves for certain subsets of students, some propose that the effectiveness of E-learning might be tied into perspective on E-learning in the first place. If school administrators and families see E-learning as a temporary fix to a temporary pandemic, then efforts to master it will be scarce — instead administrators and leaders must prioritize making it work well for all students and be willing to innovate and make virtual learning a viable option and not just a band-aid until “normal” school starts again.

Virtual Learning must not seek to replace the 7-hour school day and classroom experience, studies show that it just isn’t feasible. What is feasible is school districts prioritizing spending time to assess their situation and resources, using existing data to inform their approach to virtual learning and/or hybrid learning, and choose E-learning methods that have proven results. Additionally, having a plan for every mode of learning is key, as Covid is likely not going anywhere for the rest of the school year.

Resistance Resources

International Society for Technology in Education — Check out ISTE’s site to find resources and background on uses of Tech in Education. Use their action tools to get in touch with your representatives about approving legislation and funding for teacher professional development or technology in the classroom, or share petitions and information via social media.

National Council for Online Education — This group of partners is a collaboration of organizations that advocate for well-planned, research-based, and effective online learning. Get connected with them and their partners to learn more and get involved.

 

Student Voice — This organization brings students and school communities together to fight for student rights under the Student Bill of Rights. Check out their site for resources to organize, learn, and connect with a local group to get involved in fighting to ensure that all students receive quality education in whatever appropriate, effective format during the Covid pandemic.

Sources:

Education in the time Covid — Part 4: Higher Education

Education in the time Covid — Part 4: Higher Education

The spread of Covid through our universities has several implications in addition to the life-threatening effects of the virus itself. College campuses are experimenting with various methods of teaching, housing, and addressing Covid in their student and staff populations. Because there is no one-size fits all plan, colleges are following the guidelines of their state — or not — to determine the best course of action while trying to stay afloat financially without increasing the virus’ spread. Universities are facing financial strain due to diminished enrollment and inability to sustain typical channels of revenue. On top of that, students’ financial needs are increasing due to the impact of the pandemic on families in general, which is particularly devastating for students who already have greater financial needs.

A recent study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center estimates that undergraduate enrollment for the Fall semester has dropped nearly 3.9 percent, with community colleges and rural universities having the steepest drop. This is concerning with regard to equity and access in higher education, as community colleges serve more low-income and racially diverse student bodies, so a decrease in college enrollment could have long-term effects on Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income communities. Those who already have financial barriers to college and who aren’t able to access higher education in the coming years could potentially be left out of the changing economy of the future — increasing the wealth gap even further.

Since March 13, there has been a decrease in FAFSA (the federal financial aid program) applications, nearly 100,000 fewer students applied for financial aid, indicating that many low-income students who would have normally applied for aid are opting-out of college this year. Rural and small towns have had the greatest decline in FAFSA applications. Additionally, the US Census Bureau found that students with families making under $75,000 a year were twice as likely to cancel plans to attend college.

With increasing student loan debt over the last decade and dreary projections for universities’ revenue, it is possible that tuition will in fact increase. This possibility is troublesome for rising student debt, leading some universities to take steps to mitigate this effect by freezing tuition so that students can stay enrolled and complete their degrees.

While this is concerning for the future of all students, the financial security of colleges is also at stake. With a decrease in enrollment certainly comes a decrease in tuition — however, as NPR reports, other revenue sources such as campus dorms and sports programs will be absent for many colleges this year, driving further deficits. For example, Syracuse University has already posted losses of $35 million, University of Michigan projects $400 million to $1 billion, and Pennsylvania State University System expects losses of $100 million. Additionally, many small private colleges with small endowments, who traditionally attract first-generation and lower-income students, will be facing deep revenue declines in the coming years, and some have already closed. This will help to fuel the disparity between elite private colleges, and smaller private colleges — leaving students to opt for public university systems or no college at all.

Some colleges are struggling to stay afloat, yet Harvard and its counterparts have recently posted endowment returns in the billions. The cushion that old, private, and capital-rich universities sit on only deepens the divides in the university system, which disproportionately impact less wealthy students.

Over the course of the pandemic, colleges have been making headlines with virus numbers increasing and a rapid spread to the greater local communities. Despite UNC at Chapel Hill shutting down after a week of in-person classes, and universities in Georgia deciding to remain open with thousands of cases throughout the state, other universities such as Cornell and Northeastern are taking precautions so they can remain open or open sooner. Namely, mass testing, diluted dorm rooms, and hybrid classes are keeping the numbers lower, but the struggle to keep infection rate down is ongoing and could change at any moment.

A group of researchers recently estimated that there were 3,200 new Covid college cases per day during the first two weeks of the fall semester. This is alarming because with each new case comes community spread and a chain of virus transmission. Moreover, the impact that small, rural colleges have on the economy of local communities could also be factored into a college’s decision to reopen — many people who rely on students to drive commerce and rent properties will be facing financial strain as long as they stay closed. But allowing students to return has in some cases increased community spread, so there is a delicate balancing act to perform in order to keep everyone safe and financially secure.

With all this in mind, students and families are now considering how much money the traditional college experience is worth. Remote courses might be better for some students and families, but does that mean tuition should decrease to account for the lack of the college experience? Concerns around financial aid will be different this year as well — as the FAFSA will use 2019 tax returns, aid packages won’t consider changes in a family’s situation due to Covid, so there is an extra burden on students and families to navigate more bureaucracy in order to pay for college.

With tuition costs looming over an uncertain financial situation for many students, some student activists are taking action by protesting, filing lawsuits, and threatening a tuition strike. While many colleges aren’t budging, it is notable that Georgetown, Princeton and Northwestern University have responded by reducing fall tuition by 10%.

In a recent letter to the House of Representatives, the American Council on Education on behalf of 45 higher education organizations urged legislators to pass at least $120 billion in aid to higher education in order to “partially mitigate the challenges that students and institutions are facing.” In response to universities’ increase in costs, the $46.6 billion initially requested has proven to be not nearly enough.

A new House Proposal allocates $39 billion for higher education, a far cry from the $120 billion in estimated need. Nevertheless, the bill would disburse $27 billion for public colleges, with states focusing on schools with more Pell Grant recipients to ensure money goes where it is most needed.

With safety at the forefront, colleges have an uncertain path going forward. What is clear is that funding is needed to address the gap in wealth that disproportionately affects individuals from low-income families and colleges that serve low-income communities. Unless there is a concerted effort to save these institutions and encourage students with barriers to entry to still pursue college, we could potentially see the past decades of work to address equity in higher education begin to fall apart.

Resistance Resources:

  • National College Attainment Network — NCAN works to empower communities to close equity gaps in attaining postsecondary education. Visit their advocacy center to write letters to your Congress Members and get informed about relevant state and federal legislature.
  • Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust — This nonprofit works to make affordable college a reality for all students. Check out their action center, their research on college tuition and flow of money, and their database of officials who determine tuition and fees in higher education institutions across America.
  • American Council on Education — A member organization that convenes university leaders across the country, ACE is very involved in federal policy discussions around higher education. They provide a platform for higher education leaders to connect, discuss issues, and take action, in addition to providing detailed resources on higher education policy and activism toolkits.
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators — NASFAA performs research and policy advocacy to remove financial barriers and create equitable access to postsecondary education. Check out their action center to send letters to your senator, share your story as a student or educator, or find out how and where to volunteer to support better access to and more robust funding for college student tuition.

Sources:

Education in the time of Covid — Part 3 (Food and Nutrition)

Education in the time of Covid — Part 3 (Food and Nutrition)

America’s schools are first and foremost centers of education, but for millions of students and families they are much more. Schools are sources of nutritional foods, healthcare services, and many also act as a resource hub for various community support services. As the pandemic rages on educational centers are finding ways to maintain these functions despite a general strain on funding. Since the school year has commenced however, CARES Act, State, and local funding have been limited in their scope and ability to support the other functions of schools due to the budget measures that don’t account for decreased attendance or enrollment, and the challenges that come with the absence of in-person classes. This has left students and families unable to meet one of their most basic needs — nutritious and sufficient food.

The CARES Act offered funding for schools to provide lunch to all students throughout the summer, which had some success. Additionally, Bill H.R. 6201 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act), passed in March but previously set to expire September 30th, gave the USDA added flexibility for school lunch waiver programs — permitting meals to be picked up by parents, served outside the required group settings and times, allowing meals to be served at no cost to everyone, and waiving meal pattern requirements. Upon calls for an extension and a brief debate on who has authority to extend the waivers, the USDA has continued the flexible lunch waiver program until December 31st so that administrators have time to plan for the normal school-year food services whether they be back in the classroom or still remote. Once the new year begins however, the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs will revert to a less flexible model, which relies on students who pay for meals in full, requiring paperwork and eligibility to be verified, and having parents pick up meals from each student’s individual school, which can be a transportation burden for parents whose students are not attending school in-person. The logistics of planning school meal distribution outside of an entirely in-person school year take time, staff, and money, not to mention the time it takes to file paperwork, register eligible students and find new meals appropriate for grab-and-go systems.

In response to growing food insecurity for low-income families and the major burden schools face in addressing this alone, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) proposed the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act (Bill H.R. 7887) in late July. The bill states that all students get free meals for the entirety of the 20-21 school year. Similar to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, this would extend the ability and funding for all public schools and non-profit educational centers to provide meals without determining eligibility or following the other Breakfast and Lunch program requirements. It would be critical in ensuring that the 30 million students who receive school food have easy access to meals whether or not they are going to classes in-person. With districts already strained due to fewer students paying for meals — in May, school food “program directors reported a median estimated loss of $200,000 per district…as much as $2.35 million in larger districts” — this bill would reduce administrative burdens and provide districts with more robust meal reimbursements so they can focus on instructional and reopening plans.

The extension of the USDA school food waiver program and the potential new legislature are good signs that our lawmakers are taking child hunger seriously. The current loss in meal reimbursement revenue and inability of districts to manage and pay for safety measures and Covid-compliant grab-and-go meals still leaves many behind. Districts across California are struggling to come up with funds for meals and staff to distribute or package them, despite there being a drop in demand. Many districts across the nation are now using state-allocated emergency funds, requesting money from FEMA, or calling on their city to distribute CARES Act discretionary funds to meal programs. While schools are scrambling to connect students with food, surveys indicate that families are still in need — about 17% of mothers with kids under 12 are cutting down on or skipping meals, and over 30% of families have cut spending for food due to lack of income.

Despite critics suggesting the universal free school meal programs are a drain on resources, they are a critical source of food for families out of work who just aren’t able to meet their needs through other aid programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has provided families with increased benefits to account for the extra meals children are missing out on while they are distance learning. Nevertheless, the demand for grab-and-go meals and the survey results demonstrating that a large portion of families are not able to financially provide meals for their kids indicates that the SNAP programs and unemployment are not enough to keep kids full.

Until students are back in school and unemployment rates decrease, there will continue to be food insecurity for school-aged children, particularly affecting families of color. A more streamlined school meal distribution system, funding addressing school food, district collaboration with food banks or local non-profits, and multi-layered approaches to addressing food insecurities on the family and student level are key to keeping students adequately fed and their nutritional needs met so they have the best chances of succeeding in school.

Resistance Resources:

School Nutrition Association (SNA) Action Network — The SNA is a group of school nutrition professionals who advocate for policies and research topics related to school nutrition. Check out their Action Network website for a list of advocacy tools, from petitions to sign, to fill-in templates to send letters to your Congress Member, to resources for state school nutrition policy and grassroots organization.

Feeding America — An advocacy organization working to end hunger in America, Feeding America has an Action page that connects you to various resources to help end hunger for children and adults. See their page for fill-in templates to write to your congress people, petitions to sign, or food banks in your area to get connected with.

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) — FRAC researches, analyzes and advocates for food security and healthy food for all. They have a breadth of research on the impact of school food and the National School Lunch Program. See their page to get connected with the agency that runs the program in your locality, connect with congress people, or get involved with their legislative action center.

Sources:

School reopening and parents’ perspectives

Education in the time of Covid — Part 2 (Technology in Schools)

Now that the nation is well into the school year, educators are grappling with the new reality of educational technology (EdTech) in and out of the classroom in order to provide quality, safe education for all students. There are several aspects of technology in schools to consider: access to devices and internet; efficacy of online-learning or technology-assisted teaching and administration; use of technology to monitor and prevent the spread of Covid in schools that have opened or are preparing to; and of course the planning and administration of a new teaching order amidst myriad of teaching models and uncertain budgets.

For many of the schools that have reopened, technology likely played a role in some part of classroom learning before Covid, and now teachers must implement new uses of and regulations on technology in the classroom to ensure safety. For students fortunate to have access to technology in the classroom, or are on a borrowing system for hybrid or virtual learning, concerns about spreading germs are being addressed and planned for by school administrators. In the past students may have shared devices, headphones or styluses due to lack of sufficient devices for everyone, but educators are now working on ways to tether such things to devices, clean them regularly, and provide one for each student to prevent the spread of germs. Although a one-to-one model for technology use in and out of the classroom would be ideal, and is happening very gradually, it is just not a reality for millions of students across America.

Whether due to lack of technology access, proper supplies or success during spring closures, classroom and remote-teachers are forced to rethink their class structure and reliance on technology as the only immediate option. While the federal government has allocated billions of dollars over the past six years to their E-rate program — a modernization initiative to provide all schools with broadband internet — experts say an additional  $6-11 billion is needed to close the access gap in schools. According to a recent study from Common Sense Media on the technology gap, an estimated 15-16 million (30%) students are still without either internet access or devices necessary to have success in remote learning. To address this, districts like Los Angeles Unified have partnered with their local PBS TV station to provide educational content via television.Major corporations like Verizon and Comcast have also provided data plans and hotspots to low-income families, and devices like Chromebooks are becoming more affordable for families that don’t have access to them from their schools. But until access for all students is solved, some districts will have no option but to implement some form of in-person learning, tutoring, or assessment to ensure their students are continuing to learn while they wait for schools to fully reopen.

With or without sufficient technology or preparation, many schools and parents have determined the safest route is virtual learning for some or all students. Some experimental studies demonstrate that remote learning is not as effective as in-person, especially for those already struggling with coursework. Nevertheless it is a better option than no school at all for the districts that have yet to open in-person or don’t provide a parent-choice model. As technology, access, and teacher and student ability to use it improves, we may see that online learning can be effective for most students, albeit not the same as in-person. Studies documenting technology use by teachers from the beginning of the shutdown in spring show their ability level has improved greatly due to increased use during remote learning, forcing them to practice technology skills. As teachers learn to navigate new platforms utilized in the new era of education, it’s important to note that one size does not fit all when it comes to technology use for instruction, the context in which a school operates as well as an individual’s teaching style or grade level might be factors to be considered in EdTech’s efficacy.

Fortunately, many higher education institutions and some K-12 schools have already implemented entirely online courses or tech-assisted teaching, so school administrators and educators can build off of their experiences and resources. That being said, with so many products available and being created in response to the pandemic, decision makers might not know where to begin — and planning time is precious. Organizations like EdTech Hub, Learn Platform, and The Learning Accelerator have built search tools and analyzed what EdTech tools schools are already using and how they work. Sites like these aim to assist educators in finding virtual learning resources, platforms, and blended teaching strategies that will suit different school communities’ needs through research and consulting initiatives. In Learn Platform’s analysis of EdTech usage during the pandemic, we see schools are primarily relying on operational tools, mostly for administration and communication, and secondarily relying on tools for remote-learning curriculum during Covid. With teachers out of the office as well, communication and administration via the internet are more important than ever in navigating changing times and comparing remote-teaching notes.

Interestingly, likely due to familiarity and therefore ease of use, Google’s various communication platforms occupy eight of the top ten most used by schools, with Zoom and Clever taking up the remaining two, despite there being hundreds of platforms to choose from. Virtual learning programs for specific subjects and tools to communicate with or monitor students are widely available, but the ones that might work best and for a given school will often come with a price tag and a sharp learning curve, leading administrators to weigh the value of the product over time spent planning its use and cost over the years to come.

Then there is the consideration of internet usage in general, how can we keep students safe online? Services such as GoGuardian allow teachers to monitor their student’s device access remotely — helping to ensure attention and focus without distractions or dangers that come from the web, but this too comes with a price tag. Nevertheless, the investment and research in effective products is certainly the route education is taking in the era of remote-learning as evinced through increased use of EdTech and publication of relevant research over the past few months. The key will be balancing and refining the use of EdTech and concrete materials until students and school staff can get back in the building.

With so many developments in education technology and administrative communication, access to internet and funds, and uses of tech to monitor the spread of Covid, there is an ocean of information for educators to sort through. Although it is not yet sufficient, the access and funding to support EdTech and the inevitable remote-learning for many is improving. Teachers are working harder than ever to support their students. This will take time to perfect. While the education community is doing their best to support the unique needs of each student and school, the key to success will be funds, staff, and time dedicated to planning and researching the efficacy of remote and hybrid learning for all students until we can get back in the classroom safely.

Resistance Resources:

  • Common Sense Kids Action — Advocates for children’s well-being in the digital age. They have specific action areas related to digital safety and equity for children and connect you with even more resources to take action in each area.
  • Consortium for School Networking — A professional association for school system technology leaders, CoSN has an action page that connects you to federal and state legislature related to school technology issues. They provide templates and tools to address letters to your local congress members to advocate for technology access and safety for all students.
  • Everyone On — Works to get internet access and devices to the learners and communities most in need. Get involved with them by donating or connecting those in need to their resources for low-cost or subsidized devices or internet.

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