The Weekly Connect 2/8/21

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

Students with historically higher absentee rates have struggled most during the pandemic.

California schools are considering an extension of the school year.

Despite efforts to close the digital divide, 12 million students remain “underconnected” to broadband Internet services.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Pandemic Has Changed Main Challenges of School Counselors
T.H.E. Journal: A study from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) using results from an October 2020 survey of 110,000 U.S. K-12 school counselors found that many respondents indicated that the biggest obstacles in their day-to-day work were getting access to students in a virtual environment (68%) and providing counseling and lessons to students in a virtual environment (62%). Just a little over half said managing a high caseload was either “challenging” or “extremely challenging.” And 51% said it was a continual challenge to close “opportunity and achievement gaps.” This diverges from similar findings prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, when school counselors overwhelmingly identified high caseloads as their biggest challenge. See related publication: Child Trends “A National Agenda for Children’s Mental Health.” 

Students with Historically Higher Absenteeism Rates Struggle Most During COVID-19
K-12 Dive: A report from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center found that the groups of students with the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in 2017-18 — English learners and students on free meal programs and those with disabilities — are also the groups most impacted by the pandemic because of economic hardship, unequal access to school, and poor health. Determining what counts as attendance during remote and in-person learning, and consistently collecting and publishing the data, can help school leaders and other stakeholders determine the extent of the challenges and determine best approaches for interventions, the two organizations say. See related article: Chalkbeat Chicago “A Troubling Trend in Chicago’s School Reopening: More Students Disengaged.” 

New Answers to Old Questions About Special Education
The Hechinger Report: More than 7 million students (14% of all public school students) receive special education services. A recent study evaluated the effectiveness of these services by looking at 24,000 students who were diagnosed with a specific learning disability from 2006 to 2012 in New York City. They compared the kids’ academic performance before they were diagnosed and after they started receiving services. Test score improvements for students with learning disabilities were generally stronger after diagnosis, equal to 18% of the usual disparity in math achievement between students with disabilities and those without disabilities. In reading, the benefits of special ed were equivalent to 16% of this achievement gap. 

Policy

Ed Department Investigating Special Ed Failures During COVID-19
Disability Scoop: The U.S. Department of Education is investigating multiple school districts across the nation over concerns that they have failed to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic. The federal agency said that its Office for Civil Rights recently launched investigations looking at the Indiana Department of Education, the Seattle Public Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Officials said they are examining “possible discrimination against students with disabilities by failing to provide them with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.” See related article: The 74 Million “Federal Probes into Lack of School Services for Special Needs Students Reflect Nearly a Year of Parental Anguish, Advocates Say.” 

With Former Top-Ranking Education Staff as Key Biden Advisers, Will White House and Ed Department Be on the ‘Same Page?’
The 74 Million: As President Joe Biden assembles a team of educators to lead the U.S. Department of Education, he’s also made key appointments to the White House that bolster his pledge to make education a major focus of his administration. But the presence of Catherine Lhamon and Carmel Martin, who held high-level positions at the department during the Obama administration, at the top of Biden’s domestic policy team, could raise questions over who’s in charge of his education agenda. For now, reopening schools is at the top of that agenda. And education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona, whose confirmation hearing is Wednesday, said on that issue, there shouldn’t be any confusion. Speaking last week on a radio program, he said it will be important “to make sure there is consistency in messaging, to make sure there is one message, one plan.” 

California Schools Consider Extending Next School Year While Mental Health Remains a Concern
EdSource: As COVID-19 infection rates continue to delay the reopening of many schools across California, some education leaders have floated the idea of extending the school year by 10 extra days to address learning loss among students at risk of falling behind and to provide additional support and enrichment. For Los Angeles schools, an extended school year could mean an earlier start date, a shorter winter break, a shorter spring break or a later end date for the upcoming school year. Many education experts, however, caution that the mental health of students must be prioritized by focusing on re-engaging students and addressing their mental health needs.

Around the Nation

3 Summer Program Strategies to Address Learning Loss, Support Emotional Health
K-12 Dive: Interest in offering summer instruction and enrichment programming for greater numbers of students is building amid pressure for school systems to address students’ learning loss and social emotional health, said National Summer Learning Association CEO Aaron Dworkin. While there are logistical and funding hurdles to running summer programs during a pandemic, districts are getting creative by testing out unique strategies, forming new partnerships and applying lessons learned during the school year to make opportunities equitable and fun. Examples include combining academic content with social-emotional learning and physical education, partnering with parents and community organizations to increase access, and building long-term strategies to strengthen summer programming. 

Missing in School Reopening Plans: Black Families’ Trust
The New York Times: Even as President Biden joins the chorus of those saying schools can safely resume in-person education, hundreds of thousands of Black parents say they are not ready to send their children back. That reflects both the disproportionate consequences of the virus on people of color and the lack of trust that Black families have in school districts, a longstanding phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic. It also points to a major dilemma: many of the families that education leaders have said need in-person education the most are most wary of returning. This is shifting the reopening debate in real time. In Chicago, only one-third of Black families indicated they are willing to return to classrooms, compared to 67% of white families. In New York City, about 12,000 more white children have returned to classrooms than Black students, though Black children make up a larger share of the overall district. See related articles: The Washington Post “How to Start Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline — By An Educator Just Elected to the U.S. House” and New America “Ending Harsh Discipline Against Girls of Color Online and In-Person.” 

12M US Students Remain Disconnected in Digital Divide
K-12 Dive: Though efforts to close the digital divide during the pandemic reduced the number of K-12 students without broadband service by 20% to 40%, as many as 12 million students remain disconnected, according to a report released by Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group, and the Southern Education Foundation. However, the efforts to close the gap did reduce the number of students without access to e-learning devices by 40% to 60%. The key findings of the study show: closing the digital divide is an equity issue, long-term solutions must address the needs of 15 to 16 million students who were impacted by the divide when the pandemic began, and the measures to fix the problem have so far been temporary with more than 75% set to expire in the next one to two years.

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