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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:
NAEP scores show how devastating the pandemic has been for the education of the nation’s 9-year-olds.
School district leaders ask for more time to spend federal Covid relief funds.
As the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., shows, schools have to be ready to cope with emergencies that could become more common as climate change continues.
To read more, click on the following links.
Research & Practice
New Federal Achievement Data Shows Grim Trajectory for Country’s 9-Year-Olds
US News & World Report: Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) highlight how devastating school disruptions have been, particularly for those already the furthest behind. Average math scores declined seven points since 2020, with the lowest performing students posting a 12 point decline compared to the highest-achieving students, who posted just a three point decline. Meanwhile, average reading scores for 9-year-olds declined five points from 2020 to 2022, with the lowest-performing students posting a 10 point decline compared to the highest achieving students, who posted just a two point decline. See related articles: Education Week “Digging Deeper Into the Stark Declines on NAEP: 5 Things to Know” and K-12 Dive “7 Charts Highlighting the Pandemic’s Impact on 2022 NAEP Scores.”
Learning Through ‘Guided’ Play Can be as Effective as Adult-led Instruction
University of Cambridge: Teaching younger children through ‘guided’ play can support key aspects of their learning and development at least as well, and sometimes better, than traditional, direct instruction, according to a new analysis. The research by academics at the University of Cambridge gathered and assessed data that documented guided play’s impact on the learning of around 3,800 children aged three to eight. Guided play broadly refers to playful educational activities which, although gently steered by an adult, give children the freedom to explore a learning goal in their own way. Overall, the study found that this playful approach to learning can be just as effective as more traditional, teacher-led methods in developing key skills: including literacy, numeracy, social skills, and essential thinking skills known as executive functions.
Taking Neuroscience to School: Brain Scans Reveal the Hidden Shape of Thinking and Predict Students’ Learning Better Than Test Scores
Georgetown College: The traditional tests and grades that educators have long used may measure learning less accurately than scans of the brain, according to a new study. Researchers studied a “spatially-enriched” science course offered at public high schools in Virginia that emphasizes spatial thinking skills, like building maps and planning how cities can be reconfigured to reduce energy consumption. MRI scans showed changes in students’ brains as they learned the course curriculum, and these changes were compared to the ways that learning is traditionally measured (e.g., changes in test scores). The brain changes were far better predictors of learning, especially a kind of learning called “far transfer,” which is so deep that it helps students succeed at tasks they weren’t even taught to accomplish.
Task Force Recommends Universal School Meal Program Ahead of White House Conference
K-12 Dive: The Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health — formed by an independent group of professors, advocates, and food industry executives — recently advised the White House to bring back universal school meals. The task force released this guidance in a report ahead of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The Biden White House has set an ambitious goal to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 to reduce the number of Americans with diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Congress approved pandemic-era meal waivers in 2020 that permitted all U.S. schools to serve free meals to students, regardless of income. That provision expired June 30 and has not been extended.
District Leaders Plea to Feds: We Need More Time to Spend COVID Aid
Education Week: The American Rescue Plan is intended to help districts launch programs to facilitate academic recovery from the pandemic, but district leaders are already looking to cut such programs when the federal COVID aid runs out, AASA, the School Superintendents Association warns. Forty-eight percent of district leaders who responded told the AASA that the federal COVID-19 relief’s December 2024 funding cliff is an obstacle. Fifty-seven percent of more than 500 district leaders plan to shelve funding for summer learning and enrichment programs, and 53 percent will let contracts with specialized staff like social workers, reading interventionists, and school counselors expire. The plans to cut funding and the anxieties district leaders feel about getting the most out of funds make a clear case for extending the American Rescue Plan’s spending deadline, said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director for AASA.
Around the Nation
Emergency Readiness Lessons From a District’s Water Crisis
Education Week: After two years of pandemic-related interruptions, students in Jackson, Miss., once again returned to remote learning due to a failure of the aging local water system. The school system is one of many across the country that has started the school year with emergencies like failures of power grids, heat waves, and flooding. Climate scientists have suggested such interruptions will become more frequent as climate change spurs new weather extremes. District leaders offer the following advice for coping with crises that threaten school operations: 1) rely on neighboring school systems 2) keep an eye on everyone’s social/emotional needs 3) recognize schools’ roles as community conveners 4) back up key data 5) secure crucial documents, and 6) communicate clearly and frequently.
Gas Cards, New Start Times and Rotating Schedules: Districts Get Creative to Solve Bus Driver Shortages
K-12 Dive: In Missouri’s Saint Louis Public Schools, district officials provided free public transportation passes or $75 weekly gas cards to families whose school bus routes were temporarily suspended due to bus driver shortages. As national school bus driver shortages continue to hamper districts’ efforts to bring students to campuses for in-person learning and activities, school systems are trying creative — and sometimes unpopular — solutions. Nationally, one of the most common bus driver vacancy solutions is to increase driver pay and benefits. A RAND Corp survey released this summer found 30 percent of district leaders said their school systems increased pay and benefits for bus drivers in 2021-22. That number rose to 46 percent for high-poverty districts.
How 2 Districts Use Community Partnerships to Ensure Students can Walk Safely to School
K-12 Dive: In most schools, up to 10 percent of students walk or bike to school on an average day. The National Center for Safe Routes to School has found the barriers preventing more students from walking to school include distance, traffic-related dangers, weather, crime, and school policies. To address some of these roadblocks to student pedestrian safety, working with community stakeholders is critical. In Missouri, a community partnership called the Harrisonville Cares Coalition was formed to improve pedestrian safety around schools and the surrounding community. The coalition includes the school district, the local police department, the city government, the district’s bus company, the Missouri Department of Transportation, and others. Similarly, Charlottesville City Schools in Virginia has placed a major focus in the new school year on student pedestrian safety. Over the summer, the district expanded walk zones to include about 800 more students because of a years-long school bus driver shortage.
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