The Weekly Connect 6/7/21

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

Researchers find fewer but more severe child abuse cases in a county in California. 

U.S. Department of Education explains both the flexible and the limited ways that schools can use Covid relief funds. 

The nation’s already overburdened school mental health network is being tested by students’ pandemic-related mental health challenges.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Miami Data Could Offer Dire Warning of ‘Unfinished Learning’ Nationwide, With 54% of District Students Testing Below Grade Level in Math
The 74 Million: In what could be a bellwether for schools across the U.S., young students in the nation’s fourth-largest school district are doing poorly on basic academics, recent data suggest, a key sign that pandemic schooling is taking a bracing toll. Officials with Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools recently reported that 43% of students who took January diagnostic tests in grades pre-K-3 tested below grade level in reading. And 54% tested below grade level in math. Students in both at-home and in-person settings took the online tests. An assessment expert said the Miami-Dade findings will likely be repeated nationwide as districts assess students more fully, and the findings may actually understate the extent of the crisis.

Child Abuse Cases Got More Severe During COVID-19. Could Teachers Have Prevented It?
Education Week: If teachers see signs of child abuse, they have both a professional and legal duty to report it, to ensure children get help. A year of extreme family stress coupled with more remote learning has highlighted how damaging it can be when teachers can’t fulfill that safeguard role. University of California Irvine researchers found that reported cases of suspected child abuse in one large, unnamed county in the Golden State fell during the pandemic, but the severity of actual child abuse cases rose over that time. The biggest hole in the safety net was d teachers and other adults at schools. Specifically, mandated reporters in schools and day-care facilities made up a third of all those who reported suspected abuse in 2019, but that fell by more than half in 2020 to 16.4%.

The Pandemic Hit Moms Hard, And That Stress Can Trickle Down to Kids
The Hechinger Report: New data show one-third of moms with children birth through age 5 have had to stop working or reduce their hours during the pandemic, according to a report by the Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development- Early Childhood, or RAPID-EC. The mothers who lost employment experienced higher levels of emotional distress — including anxiety, depression, stress, and loneliness — than moms who did not stop or reduce their working hours. Parental stress has been an increasing concern as research has found that the emotional well-being of caregivers can impact young children during a formative time of brain development, something RAPID-EC researchers call “a hardship chain reaction.”

Policy

Ed Department Details Limits, Flexibilities of ESSR Funds
K-12 Dive: A state education agency or state legislature may not limit a school district’s use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief formula funds or limit districts’ access or spending of the funds, according to an FAQ released by the U.S. Department of Education. The FAQ provides details on how funding can help specific subgroups of students, including students with disabilities, preschoolers, and high school seniors. While the ESSER funds give districts broad flexibility for how to spend the emergency money that Congress has approved since March 2020, the FAQ adds that investments should respond to the impacts COVID-19 had on PK-12 students, such as the recovery of lost instructional time, digital equity, and upgrades for safe school buildings.

Forbidding Remote Learning: Why Some Schools Won’t Offer a Virtual Option This Fall
Education Week: School districts across the country are planning a full return to face-to-face instruction next year, a major milestone that reflects a rosier coronavirus picture. But a few districts (like New York City), and a handful of entire states (like New Jersey), are going a step further, eliminating remote learning altogether, or severely restricting its use. Those decisions worry many advocates and experts. They fear that schools are squandering a chance to harness technology to make school work better for students and families. And the experts think schools are being shortsighted, because without a robust remote option, they will be ill-prepared to respond if COVID-19 levels spike again. A few states are advising that districts won’t offer remote as a standard learning option, but can provide it in limited circumstances.

Around the Nation

COVID-19 Pandemic Worsened Access Issues for Minority and Low-Income Youth
Diverse Education: The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened equity and access issues for Black and Latino youth and those from low-income backgrounds, according to a new report. The report also calls for state policymakers to leverage American Rescue Plan funding to close equity gaps in early intervention services. Findings from a national survey of state coordinators of early intervention services in 29 states revealed the pandemic impacted early intervention services, leading to outcomes such as decreased referral rates, increased wait times for services, and fewer children receiving these services, particularly in families who were already underserved. See related article: Chalkbeat “Applications to NYC’s Free Pre-K Programs Dropped 7% This Year.”

Nation’s Skeletal School Mental Health Network Will Be Severely Tested
The Hechinger Report: From loneliness and anxiety to severe or suicidal depression, the coronavirus’ mental health impact on youth has surged into its own epidemic, swelling the number of children’s visits to emergency rooms for mental health problems. As waves of young people return to school, the system of mental health supports that await them remains patchy and overburdened. As of 2018, each of the 37,000 school psychologists in the U.S. was responsible for an average 1,200 students, nearly double the recommended number. The nation’s 43,000 school social workers were responsible for, on average, 1,200 students each in 2018, nearly five times the recommended ratio. School mental health providers are in critically short supply for two reasons: There aren’t enough training programs for those interested and those who obtain credentials can earn more in the private sector. See related article: K-12 Dive “Schools Should Direct Students Toward a Valuable Resource– Their Peers.”

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