The Weekly Connect 1/10/22

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:

Texting parents about their children’s attendance can reduce absenteeism. 

Omicron hinders schools’ post-holiday reopening plans. 

Michigan schools hiring hundreds of mental health staff members

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Can Texting Parents Improve School Attendance?
K-12 Dive: Texting parents can be an effective and inexpensive way to communicate the importance of student attendance, but to succeed district leaders should evaluate their needs and resources as well as understand the IT infrastructure required to meet their goals, advises a new report and toolkit by IES. The texting recommendations are based on previous research that showed texting about attendance could be more effective if messages progressed to include more information and motivation for parents. This approach lowered expected chronic absenteeism rates by 3.5-7.3% for elementary students with a history of high absences. These findings come at an important time, when the pandemic has heightened concerns about low school attendance rates.

Oster Study Finds Learning Loss Far Greater in Districts That Went Fully Remote
The 74 Million: What are the consequences of closing virtually every American school and shifting to online education for months at a time? It’s a question that education experts have been asking since the emergence of COVID-19, and one whose answers are gradually becoming clearer. A recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that state test scores dropped significantly in both reading and math during the pandemic. Economist Emily Oster and her co-authors also found that learning loss was far worse in districts that kept classes fully remote, and that declines in reading scores were greater in districts serving predominantly poor and non-white students. See related article: The Washington Post “As Schools Decide to Reopen or Go Virtual, Europe’s Short-Term Closures Suggest Long-Term Costs.”

More Screen Time During COVID-19 Pandemic Has Negative Effects on Pediatric Mental Health
Healio News: Youth with more screen time had increased risk for poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to results of a longitudinal study published in JAMA Network Open. “Research by our group provided evidence that stress due to social isolation was associated with deterioration in multiple mental health domains during COVID-19,” Xuedi Li, MSc, of the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, and colleagues wrote. “In addition to high screen use and social isolation, the worsening of child mental health could be related to the displacement of sleep, physical exercise, and other prosocial activities, which were disrupted during the pandemic. The exposure to online bullying, stressful news and harmful advertisements during screen use could also contribute to poor child mental health during the pandemic.”

Policy

Omicron Surge Hinders School Reopening Plans
The Wall Street Journal: Parents of children in K-12 schools around the country were bracing for changes in reopening plans after the holiday break amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. Milwaukee shelved its scheduled in-person reopening while Syracuse, N.Y., canceled school. School-district superintendents are weighing how and when to reopen, a decision driven partly by the availability of tests. The superintendents have different appetites for risk, and the level of teacher enthusiasm for returning to the classroom varies. Regional surges in pediatric hospitalizations for Covid-19 are contributing to differences across the country. In contrast to 2020, there is much broader support to continue school in-person following the poor record of remote teaching on student mental health and learning loss.

With All 50 States’ ARP Plans Approved, Ed Dept to Release Remaining $41B
K-12 Dive: After a lengthy submission and approval process, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have now had their American Rescue Plan spending proposals approved, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The approvals will result in the dispersal of the final third, or $41 billion, of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid withheld by the federal agency contingent on states’ submissions and department approval. That’s in addition to the two-thirds, or $81 billion, distributed to states in early 2021, for a total of nearly $122 billion in ESSER funds sent to schools nationwide. Districts and states have until September 30, 2024, to obligate the funds.

‘A Blessing and a Relief’: How Four Families Used the Child Tax Credit
The New York Times: President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan refashioned tax credit into monthly checks, expanded the total amount parents and other caregivers received, and stripped away all work-related conditions, making more money available to more households. The initiative has now wound down with the last of the checks sent out on Dec. 15 2021. Early data show that the payments of up to $300 per child dropped child poverty to record lows and helped bring down hunger and food insufficiency. Interviews the New York Times conducted with four families revealed other day-to-day expenses they used the funds for — from doctor’s appointments to car repairs — and the joys of a little breathing room for households that may otherwise live paycheck to paycheck.

Federal Judge Blocks Biden’s COVID Vaccine Mandate for Head Start Teachers
Education Week: A federal district judge recently blocked the Biden administration’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in the federal Head Start early education program. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of Monroe, La., in a challenge brought by 24 states, also blocks the mandate’s requirement that Head Start students age 2 or older wear masks while indoors or in close contact with others. The ruling comes as school resumes for many students after the holiday break amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. And it comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a request to block a California school district’s vaccine mandate for students.

Around the Nation

Students Embrace a Wide Range of Gender Identities. Most School Data Systems Don’t
Education Week: The U.S. Department of Education is currently seeking comment on a proposal that would allow districts that collect data on nonbinary students to report such information to the federal government. This change would represent a significant departure from current practice, in which students are labeled either male or female. But some states and software providers are unwilling to wait and have already started down their own paths, which is leading to problems with inconsistency. For example, new gender options available to students range from “nonbinary” in places like California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to “other” in Rhode Island to “transgender” or “prefer not to identify” in Utah. Experts are also concerned that collecting this type of student data in the current political climate could put students at risk based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Extra Learning Time is Helping These Students Catch Up From COVID Interruptions
N.P.R.: Like districts all over the country, Guilford County, North Carolina, a large system of more than 70,000 students, is playing catch-up. They have seen falling test scores after months of remote and hybrid learning and all of the stresses and traumas of the pandemic. Guilford County first opened “learning hubs” last school year during remote learning. They were there to give students access to computers and broadband internet, which 1 in 5 families lacked at the start of the pandemic. Now the hubs offer dinner, transportation, and a space for students to build relationships and get academic help on evenings and weekends. So far about 2,450 students have shown up at least once, and the district is hoping that number will grow.

Michigan Schools Hiring Hundreds of Mental Health Staffers
AP News: Schools across Michigan are recruiting 562 mental and physical health professionals, the governor recently announced as experts said the increase is needed after years of understaffing and overburdening schools. The effort to bolster the number of counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses in schools is being funded by the $17.1 billion state K-12 budget Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed last summer. “The pandemic reminded us that school-based mental and physical health professionals are not luxuries,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Healthy students — physically, mentally, and social-emotionally — are better learners.”

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