The Weekly Connect 11/23/20

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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

How schools can handle the skyrocketing rates of students’ mental health emergencies that have occurred since the pandemic started.

School districts lack comprehensive plans to address students’ learning loss this fall.

Remote learning makes it harder to fight chronic absenteeism.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Children’s Mental Health Emergencies Skyrocketed After COVID-19 Hit. What Schools Can Do
Ed Week Inside School Research Blog: New federal data confirms what teachers and parents have been worrying about for months: The pandemic is taking a striking toll on children’s mental health. New data from the CDC show the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health crises has increased dramatically for young children and adolescents since the pandemic started. From this March through October, the share of mental health-related hospital emergency department visits rose 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% among adolescents ages 12-17, when compared to the same period in 2019. It is critical for adults to be on the lookout for increases in children reporting feelings of hopelessness and lack of pleasure/enjoyment. Schools should also think about how their mental health supports will work in remote and socially distanced formats. See related article: Edutopia “Extracurriculars Play a Vital Role During the Pandemic.”

School Warnings About Children’s Weight Don’t Work, Study Says
CNN: About 40% of children in the United States live in states where school messages are routinely sent, either as a public education best practice or mandated by law, to parents about the results of their child’s weight measurements (i.e., Body Mass Index) taken at school. According to a new study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics, that message isn’t well-received by parents or children, nor does it accomplish the goal of reducing a child’s weight. The study found that BMI messages to parents had no impact on pediatric obesity and may decrease a child’s satisfaction with their body, although the results were mixed. This may be due to these messages increasing parents’ anxiety, without providing guidance or support for behavioral change or health promotion strategies. 

Training Bias Out of Teachers: Research Shows Little Promise So Far
Education Week: Unconscious biases are a kind of mental shorthand that can lead people to think or behave in biased ways even when they don’t explicitly espouse prejudiced ideology. The biases impact students of color, but it’s not clear from research what kind of anti-bias training works. Several analyses of research on implicit-bias training suggest it more often changes short-term knowledge about the vocabulary of diversity than long-term changes in behavior. Several specific common strategies have all so far failed to show benefits that last even a day or two. In some cases, anti-bias training paradoxically leads to more stereotyping, if participants come to think of biases as common and uncontrollable. Evidence suggests staff training can be helpful, but only as part of a more comprehensive strategy.

Policy

Districts Lack ‘Comprehensive’ Plans to Address Learning Loss This Fall, Analysis Finds
Education Dive: In an ongoing analysis of the nation’s 100 most high-profile school districts, the Center on Reinventing Public Education found slightly more than half of the districts are offering some extent of in-person instruction, an increase from one-quarter at the beginning of the school year. Most districts surveyed (80%) said they had plans to assess students. However, the analysis found fewer offered “comprehensive” and district-wide plans to identify and address learning losses, with 59% lacking transparent plans around what kinds of assessments will be used and which data will be made available to parents or the public. Nearly two-thirds specified strategies like tutoring or small-group instruction for students falling behind. See related article: U.S. News & World Report “Millions of Students Have Limited Contact with Teachers.” 

How Will ESSA Hold Up During COVID-19? Pandemic Tests the Law’s Resilience
Ed Week Politics K-12 Blog: When the Every Student Succeeds Act was enacted in 2015, one thing the people who wrote it didn’t include or consider was how it would be affected by a pandemic. The greatest short-term stress test will involve assessments. Last spring, states got waivers from the department and didn’t have to give ESSA-mandated exams. Whether to waive the tests again will be one of the major questions President-elect Joe Biden’s Education Department will face. Those tests are at the heart of the law, but the law’s accountability mandates stretch beyond them. It governs which schools receive more attention and action from states and districts as well as which students receive intensive academic interventions and what goals states have for student achievement and improvement. 

Many Schools Abandon Plans for In-Person Learning as COVID-19 Cases Spike
PBS: Facing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country spiking to record levels, bus drivers and teachers in quarantine, students getting sick and the holidays looming, school systems around the U.S. and abroad are making the tough decision to suspend in-person learning. Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia are among those that are closing classrooms or abandoning plans to offer in-person classes later in the school year. Such decisions are complicated by a host of conflicting concerns, such as safety versus the potential educational and economic damage from schooling children at home, in front of computers, under their parents’ supervision. The virus does not appear to be rampant within schools themselves. Instead, many of the infections that are proving so disruptive are believed to be occurring out in the community. See related articles: Wicked Local “Schools Explore ‘Pool Testing’ for Virus” and N.P.R. “Lessons From Europe, Where Cases Are Rising But Schools Are Open.”

Around the Nation

School Social Workers Are Begging Us to Remember Their Vital Role
Romper: For many kids, school is their safe haven. It is the place they can get a hot meal, computers for homework, and social-emotional support. As schools across the country weigh options for re-opening fully or partially in person or fully remotely in the face of constantly changing directives and rising COVID-19 numbers, social workers want to make sure schools adapt and reimagine their vital roles so students in need don’t fall through the cracks. While the pandemic has shifted the way school social workers do their work, the heart of what they do remains the same: showing up for their students when they need them and supporting teachers by working with families on issues ranging from food scarcity to homelessness and parental addition. See related article: Education Week “The Pandemic Is Raging. Here’s How to Support Your Grieving Students. 

How School Discipline– And Student Behavior– Has Changed During the Pandemic
EdSource: Student misbehavior still occurs in distance learning, but schools are finding that imposing discipline in a virtual environment is a complicated process, and that current laws don’t neatly apply to online behavior. Teachers and advocates say school discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, is still happening during distance learning, although less frequently than before. Complicating matters, discipline strategies look different when students aren’t in a physical classroom. Instead of teachers sending students to the principal’s office, they’re likely to turn off a student’s audio or video on Zoom or send the student to a “break-out room,” apart from the rest of the class. Those actions aren’t likely to be recorded as formal suspensions, but in a way, they are still removals from the learning environment if they last for significant amounts of time. See related article: New America “School Discipline in the Age of COVID-19.” 

‘Relationships Matter’: Remote Learning Places New Hurdles in Fight Against Chronic Absenteeism
Education Dive: In Brooklyn’s M.S. 50 Community School, remote school coaches take attendance, check-in with students throughout the virtual school day, and contact families when a student is late or drops off halfway through the day. Coaches were introduced due to lessons learned in the spring, when students weren’t engaged and attendance was inconsistent. The approach seems to be working for M.S. 50, which has seen “significantly higher” online attendance this fall, compared to the spring. Several months into the 2020-2021 school year, the principal reported 100% attendance, not an easy feat in the remote learning era of COVID-19, where access to Wi-Fi, technology hiccups, family situations and other factors exacerbated by the pandemic have seen students drop off from participating in online learning. See related article: The 74 Million “‘The Numbers are Ugly’: Chronic Absenteeism Among California Elementary Students Could Be Surging by More Than 200 Percent.

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