The Weekly Connect 12/7/20

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

City Connects shows how schools can systematically help students during the pandemic.

Students are falling behind in math.

Schools are working hard to provide meals for students.

Teaching mindfulness skills to help students cope.

To read more, click on the following links.

City Connects

Opinion: To the Rescue– The Schools We Need Now Are Community Schools
The Hechinger Report: When America’s schools shut down as a result of Covid-19, community schools responded rapidly because they already had strong existing relationships with providers of community resources. Community schools work in well-planned partnerships with local organizations that offer resources like medical, dental, and mental health services; after-school programs; and housing and employment assistance to parents. City Connects, an organization that integrates student support services in more than 150 urban schools, saw the coronavirus pandemic highlight its value. “Having a systemic and systematic strategy for supporting every student made a huge difference when Covid closed the curtain,” said Mary Walsh, executive director of City Connects. “We were able to avoid ‘random acts of student support’ and to ensure that every student had their needs met and their strengths supported.” See related article: The 74 Million “How Schools Are Keeping Families Afloat During the Pandemic: COVID Shut Cleveland’s Classrooms, But Not the Wraparound Services So Essential For Both Parents and Students.”

Research & Practice

Low Income Families Struggle More With Remote Ed
Education Dive: Though 77% of parents in New Jersey feel their child’s school is handling the coronavirus situation well, only 42% consider remote learning a success, according to a recent survey. Of those responding, 66% said remote learning is better this fall than in the spring, but the study indicates low-income Black and Latinx students are struggling more than their White peers. Parents of color are more likely to say their students are learning in a fully remote environment, which equates to 70% of Black, 61% of Latinx, and 72% of low-income students who are fully remote compared to 52% of students statewide. Low-income parents and parents of color are also more concerned about their child contracting the virus. See related article: The Hechinger Report “Rundown Schools Forced More Students to go Remote.” 

Study: Students Falling Behind in Math During Pandemic
Associated Press: A disproportionately large number of poor and minority students were not in schools for assessments this fall, complicating efforts to measure the pandemic’s effects on some of the most vulnerable students, according to NWEA, a not-for-profit company that administers standardized testing. Overall, NWEA’s fall assessments showed elementary and middle school students have fallen measurably behind in math, while most appear to be progressing at a normal pace in reading since schools were forced to abruptly close in March and pick up online. The analysis of data from nearly 4.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8 represents one of the first significant measures of the pandemic’s impacts on learning. See related article: K-12 Dive “One School District’s Strategies to Reverse Learning Loss.”

Policy

DeVos Calls on Congress to Postpone Federal Standardized Exams Until 2022
Washington Post: The national standardized test regarded as a crucial barometer of student achievement could be postponed until 2022 due to the coronavirus, the Education Department recently announced. Federal officials said that too many students are participating in virtual learning or are attending schools that prohibit outside visitors, making it impossible to administer the exam. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called on the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Education Department responsible for the federal tests, to stop any further spending in preparation for the January exam. She also wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that removing the mandate to take the test should be an act of Congress and called on legislators to postpone it.

How Schools Are Navigating Meal Logistics During Pandemic
K-12 Dive: Feeding students can be a logistical challenge even under normal circumstances. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to close or operate modified schedules, food service directors are running multiple programs to meet students’ needs, including curbside pickup, on-site meals in classrooms and gymnasiums, and packaged items to take home for “off days” in a hybrid model. With food insecurity increasing and the challenges of rapidly changing school environments, school leaders and food service directors alike are also redesigning cafeteria programs and involving students in the development of plans as well as partnering with the community to ensure all students are fed. See related article: The Hechinger Report “Coronavirus Means School Food is Free Across the U.S. What if it Stayed That Way? 

New Requirement to Publish Per-Pupil Spending Data Could Help Schools Direct Funding to the Neediest Students. But Even in the Face of Budget Cuts, State Implementation Lags
The 74 Million: The Every Student Succeeds Act required states to add per-student funding to their school report cards for the first time. The requirement, which went into effect this year, “has created a whole new lens into how money is spent and allocated in schools,” said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. It allows parents to see, for example, whether a school with more special education students or English learners receives more resources. The problem is that not all states are displaying the data in “ways that are meaningful and actionable to communities,” according to a recent report from the Data Quality Campaign. For example, allowing per-student spending comparisons between multiple schools makes the data more meaningful.

N.J. Governor Wants Schools Open. Local Officials Have Other Ideas.
The New York Times: As New York City was reeling from the mayor’s decision to close the nation’s largest school district, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey joined with six other governors in the Northeast to release a public statement about the importance, and relative safety, of in-person instruction. Following the statement, many N.J. districts still announced plans to return to all-remote learning through all or part of the holidays. The tensions point to the difficulty governors across the Northeast have had in persuading districts to reopen more fully, decisions that often require school boards to buck powerful teachers unions and to live with the inherent risk of outbreaks as the virus surges. See related articles: K-12 Dive “Decisions to Stop or Start In-Person K-12 Learning Aren’t Getting Easier and The New York Times “Why School Districts Are Bringing Back Younger Children First.”

Around the Nation

How Grief Training is Helping Educators Manage Pandemic-Related Trauma in Schools
NBC News: Students are coming to schools bearing tremendous amounts of grief, from deaths of loved ones to the loss of continuity and certainty in everyday life. A recent survey found that only 15% of nearly 700 educators said they felt comfortable addressing students’ emotional needs, including anxiety, grief, and trauma caused by the pandemic. While support staff, such as social workers and school psychologists, have helped alleviate some of the emotional load from the pandemic, there’s a high level of cumulative grief, and teachers are finding a need to be more equipped. Many school districts and professional organizations have offered grief training for educators, including the American Federation of Teachers, which has trained almost 250 educators. See related article: The New York Times “Teaching in the Pandemic: ‘This is Not Sustainable’. 

Schools Bring Mindfulness to the Classroom to Help Kids in the COVID-19 Crisis
The Hechinger Report: Mindfulness, an umbrella term for a range of practices, is about observing your emotions and state of mind, without judgment. This can be done during sitting meditation, walking meditation, activities such as yoga and even while eating. Many public schools have been introducing mindfulness in the classroom since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered buildings. Some teachers are integrating discussions about emotions into daily lessons or starting class with a short mindfulness practice to help everyone feel centered and prepared to learn, while others are sharing mindfulness apps and using online mindfulness videos. Organizations that produce free and low-cost mindfulness videos for kids and educators, such as Headspace, have seen huge increases in views and subscriptions. 

‘It’s a Battle With Yourself’: Michigan Students Struggle to Manage Mental Health in Troubling Times
Chalkbeat: School counselors and educators said they’re seeing more students who are struggling with mental health issues related to online learning and the pandemic. Students are experiencing more stress, anxiety, and depression — challenges that can lead to poor grades, higher chronic absenteeism, and dropping out of school. The impact of these difficult times is felt by teenagers across the country. To combat the growing problem in Michigan, schools are ramping up efforts to support student mental health. School officials hope students recognize districts’ efforts to support them. Officials are conducting wellness checks, at-home visits, classes on coping and resilience skills, and more mental health training for teachers.

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