The Weekly Connect 2/1/21

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

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

Covid-related learning loss is worse for students who are younger and for students from low-income families.

President Joe Biden has taken a number of steps to encourage schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Schools are addressing students’ pandemic-related mental health needs.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

‘COVID Slide’ Research Shows Younger, Lower-Income Students Fared Worst
K-12 Dive: A study of pandemic-induced learning loss in 18 California districts reveals younger, lower-income students and English learners were the hardest hit by school closures last spring. Researchers compared 2019 and 2020 test scores from 50,000 students in grades 4 through 10, looking at typical gains from one year to the next, and finding that low-income 4th- and 8th-grade students declined 7% in the usual rate of learning. Their wealthier peers showed a 5% increase in growth compared to the usual rate, which amounts to a 12% learning gap. On the 5th-grade MAP English language arts test, ELL students’ academic growth was 30% less than it would be in a typical year. Non-English learners’ loss was only 10% lower than average, which makes for a 20% learning gap. 

Two Studies Provide Evidence on the New Pre-K Fadeout Phenomenon
MDRC: Pre-K programs improve children’s kindergarten readiness. However, children who do not enroll in these programs tend to catch up to their peers academically and cognitively partially or fully during elementary school. This pattern, described as convergence or fadeout, has led to debates about the value of investing in pre-K programs. Child Development recently posted two studies exploring when and why the benefits of prekindergarten tend to fadeout over time. One study found that enrolling in pre-K was associated with higher literacy scores at the start of kindergarten and that most of the catch-up in literacy skills between pre-K enrollees and non-enrollees occurred during kindergarten. The second study found that benefits from pre-K were more likely to be sustained for unconstrained skills in language and math — unconstrained skills—like vocabulary, problem solving, and critical thinking—are skills that are limitless and continue to develop over the course of people’s lives.

Policy

Biden Announces Executive Actions Meant to Reopen Schools
N.P.R.: President Biden has called reopening schools a “national emergency” and said he wants to see most K-12 schools in the United States open during his first 100 days in office. He recently announced he would sign several executive actions, including measures meant to push the process along. This includes: more personal protective equipment, more testing, vaccines for teachers, and better national data. Biden also signed several other executive actions, including one that affirms the rights of children to access school restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. See related article: Education Week “Biden Launches New Strategy to Combat COVID-19, Reopen Schools.” 

Lawmakers Push $75 Billion for Learning Recovery Among Trio of COVID-19 Bills
Education Week: Congressional Democrats are proposing $75 billion over two years to help schools reengage with missing students, and to help them diagnose and address learning interruptions and other issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Learning Recovery Act, which is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, is one of three bills lawmakers are rolling out to address various K-12 education needs. Taken together, they could become part of the vehicle on Capitol Hill for President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan for K-12 education. However, they aren’t written to precisely match all parts of Biden’s blueprint and could also serve as stand-alone bills.

Around the Nation

5 Ways Schools Are Addressing Pandemic-Induced Mental Health Issues
K-12 Dive: With dire statistics about how COVID-19 is already impacting the mental well-being of students and school staff, as well as the lingering duration of the public health crisis, administrators and school psychologists are assessing their approaches and responses. They’re also finding confidence in their growing capacity to address the trauma their communities are experiencing. Some proactive ways in which schools are addressing students’ mental health needs include: making time for relationship-building and relaxation, understanding students’ academic or behavioral challenges, knowing when a student needs extra supports, creating a schoolwide mental health response plan, and addressing the mental well-being of school staff. The Washington Post: “Partly Hidden by Isolation, Many of the Nation’s Schoolchildren Struggle with Mental Health.” 

13,000 School Districts, 13,000 Approaches to Teaching During Covid
The New York Times: What does it mean to go to public school in the United States during the pandemic? The answer looks so different in different parts of the country, it is hard to tell that this is one nation. In some rural and suburban areas, almost all students have been attending school in-person during the 2020-21 academic year, except for temporary closures during outbreaks. In many cities, the bulk of students haven’t been in a classroom since March. To give a sense of the varying ways the pandemic has affected students, families, teachers, and school staff, The New York Times profiled seven districts across the country (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cherokee County, Ga.; Wausau, Wis.; Washington D.C.; Providence, R.I.; Roosevelt Independent School District, Tex.; and Edison, N.J.), looking at how each responded in differing ways to the challenges of educating children in the pandemic. 

How is COVID-19 Changing School Discipline?
K-12 Dive: Before March 2020, inequitable school discipline practices were a major concern for advocates and educators due to disproportionate discipline rates for students with disabilities and students of color. But like many other areas of education, long-standing discipline practices were impacted by COVID-19. Disciplinary action in a remote learning setting looks different than in-person discipline. For example, teachers are reporting putting students in Zoom breakout rooms as a sort of in-school suspension or muting microphones/turning off students’ videos when they misbehave during Zoom classes. New concerns are arising regarding whether these exclusionary practices are overly punitive and many are calling for increased leniency in remote learning. See related article: K-12 Dive “K-12 Schools Saw 66% Jump in Overall Safety Incidents in Fall.”

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