The Weekly Connect 12/6/21

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:

Researchers find more first graders are behind in reading because of the pandemic.

Most states are investing American Rescue Plan funds in education

Minnesota schools are focusing on students’ growing mental health needs

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

‘The Reading Year’: First Grade is Critical for Reading Skills, But Kids Coming From Disrupted Kindergarten Experiences Are Way Behind
The Hechinger Report: In classrooms across the country, the first months of school this fall have laid bare what many in education feared: Students are way behind in skills they should have mastered already. Children in early elementary school have had their most formative first few years of education disrupted by the pandemic. According to Amplify Education, Inc., 40% of first grade students were “well below grade level” in reading in 2020, compared with 27% in 2019. While experts say it’s likely these students will catch up in many skills, the stakes are especially high around literacy. Research shows if children are struggling to read at the end of first grade, they are likely to still be struggling as fourth graders.

New Data Show School Staffing Shortages Disproportionately Hitting High-Poverty Districts During Pandemic
The 74 Million: During a school year marked by fears of K-12 labor shortages, a new analysis from the state of Washington quantifies the depth of disparities in school staff vacancy rates between high- and low-poverty schools. The recently published research by the Center for Education Data and Research combed through the job postings listed in three-quarters of Washington school districts, which account for 98% of all students in the state. Poorer districts were in need of paraeducators and transportation workers at roughly twice and three times the rates, respectively, of their more affluent counterparts, the analysis revealed. They were also seeking a higher share of nurses, special educators, and ELL teachers, among other roles, posing yet another setback for economically disadvantaged students.

Fewer Teens Appear to Be Vaping. How Schools Can Keep the Momentum
Education Week: A handful of studies suggest that adolescent e-cigarette use dropped substantially during the pandemic. This year, 11% of high school students and 2.8% of middle school students reported currently using e-cigarettes in the National Youth Tobacco Survey. That marks a significant drop from peak use in 2019 and from 2020 when the survey found that nearly 20% of high schoolers and 5% of middle schoolers were vaping. Factors that may have contributed to the decrease include changes in adolescents’ views about the dangers of vaping and stay at home orders. Tips to help educators keep this momentum include: not relying on scare tactics or discipline, taking an educational approach, educating adults, having clear policies and plans, and creating a community-wide approach.

Policy

States Supplement ESSER Funds With Additional Federal Aid
K-12 Dive: Thirty nine states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have appropriated over half of their federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan, using the aid largely to replace state revenues, including for education budgets, a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows. As of early November, states had appropriated $105 billion, or 53% of the total $198 billion. Twenty-four states have dedicated a portion of funds toward education in addition to the ARP funds allocated specifically for that purpose. Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia allocated between 1% and 16% of their funds toward pre-K.

Staffing and Compensation Are at the Heart of Building a Better Early Childhood System
Brookings: When COVID-19 hit, the work of being a child-care teacher—already challenging and low paying—became even more demanding, dangerous, and emotionally challenging. Prior to the pandemic, teachers left child-care sites at extremely high rates (more than twice as high as those of K-12 teachers), and the pandemic has exacerbated this issue. These staffing challenges have real implications for young children, who benefit from consistent relationships with the adults in their lives, and for the working families who rely on child care to do their jobs. Child care site leaders report low wages as a key driver of staffing challenges, stating that they cannot compete with higher-wage, lower-stress jobs. See related article: Brookings “The ‘Real’ Economic Advantage of Investing in Families This Holiday Season.”

Around the Nation

School-Community Partnerships: Solutions for Educational Equity Through Social and Emotional Well-Being
MDRC: Schools and school districts are being asked to provide more and more services to students while being given few additional resources. School districts can use partnerships with outside organizations and agencies to help provide those additional programs and services, build and strengthen healthy learning environments, and provide additional opportunities for schools to connect with families and other local community members. Studies show that school-community partnerships can lead to: stronger social and emotional skill development, enhanced student engagement, and improved academic outcomes.

Minnesota Schools Work to Respond to Growing Student Mental Health Needs
Star Tribune: Co-president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association, Becky Mendoza is hearing counselors from all over the state echo the same message: The mental health needs of students this year are more acute than ever. “The coping skills and strategies students used to survive the last two years outside of the school building may have worked for them there,” Mendoza said. But they don’t necessarily work within a classroom. That’s led to a rise in bullying, explosive outbursts, and an increase in forms of insubordination, school social workers and counselors say. Schools are using federal funds to hire counselors, offer more professional development aimed at supporting student needs, and invest in programs, such as EmpowerU, to help students develop their resiliency and coping skills. See related article: Education Week “Social-Emotional Learning and the Perils of Teaching as Therapy.”

How One Chicago Public School is Changing Its Culture Now That the Police Are Gone
WBEZ Chicago: The School Council of Curie Metro High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side voted to remove police in the summer of 2020 with support from students and parents. The transition started about six years ago as more staff decided the police presence was hurting the school and the students. Since then, Curie officials have been putting more weight on social-emotional support and improving relationships between students and staff. They came up with alternative safety plans and received funds to pay for more resources, such as restorative justice coordinators, in lieu of police. The school’s security guards were trained in how to talk to students and ask the right questions. Since returning to in-person schooling, many students report feeling more supported and listened to when there is conflict.

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