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15th September 2021
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Government testing demands not yet met by many schools
For schools to stay open and safe, President Joe Biden has said that they need to require universal masking, vaccinations for teachers and staff and regular tests for unvaccinated people. So far, the largest U.S. districts are succeeding at masking but only a minority are implementing the others. Out of 100 large districts, including the biggest urban districts in every state, nine in 10 are requiring students to wear masks, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. A quarter are requiring teachers to be vaccinated, while 15 are regularly testing students. “What seems to be holding back many schools are the political and practical challenges — how do they handle positive cases and false positives, how do they address angry parents who don’t want to see their kids tested, or identified as a positive case, and children who don’t want to be swabbed,” says Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a Pfizer board member. Complicating readiness on issues like testing was officials’ “intense desire to return to normalcy” heading into this year, when it looked like the pandemic was waning, adds Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. As a result, she said, some places were less prepared for another round of intense virus mitigation. “There was in many communities perhaps a false sense of security that masking and quarantining and remote learning wouldn’t be part of this school year. And they’re getting a rude awakening with delta that it is, and it has to be, to protect kids.”
'Pool testing' increases in popularity in Maine schools
As of last Friday, 384 of Maine’s 720 public and private schools had signed up for "pool testing" with Concentric, a branch of Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks. The program calls for student tests to be pooled and sent to a lab in Massachusetts for PCR tests and, if there's a positive test for a school, then individual students will be tested. Separately, an increasing number of districts in California are also turning to pool testing, also with Concentric, whereby nasal swabs from up to 25 asymptomatic students are submitted together for a single PCR test. “Pool testing is a very good screening tool. It saves time; it saves money; it can even be self-administered. Anyone can do it,” says Dr. Karen Smith, former director of the California Department of Public Health under Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Future of EdTech

Dr. Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer at McGraw Hill School Group, discusses the future of education technology and how the pandemic has influenced the role of EdTech companies. He explores an evolving landscape where flexible schedules and nearly ubiquitous blended learning drive the need for increased personalization and robust student learning data. The future of EdTech will empower educators to do more with data, and require that EdTech companies provide teachers with the tools to translate data insights into personalized instruction.
Read More

Approval for Idaho ARP plan
The U.S. Department of Education has now formally approved Idaho’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining funds. State officials' three priorities for spending are listed as K-4 literacy, grades 5-9 math, and credit recovery initiatives for high school students.
Districts wary of using ARP funding for construction
A survey by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) reveals that school districts across the country don't plan to spend much of their American Rescue Plan funds on facilities renovations or new construction. Close to half of districts indicated they would spend no more than 10% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements, while 16% of districts said they would spend between a quarter to half of ARP funding on such improvements. About 25% of respondents indicated the 2024 spending deadline was an obstacle in using the ARP funds for infrastructure and construction. ARP funding alone is not enough to remedy the nation's school infrastructure, said Sasha Pudelski, AASA advocacy director, pointing to the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). "We desperately need Congress to pass the Rebuild America's Schools Act, which would provide $100 billion in direct aid for new facilities projects," said Ms. Pudelski. "While ARP money can be utilized for school facilities, we are underinvesting roughly $80 billion a year behind where we should be in school facilities, so we need a significant federal uptick in spending to get us on track."
Native American curriculum planned by more states
Connecticut, North Dakota and Oregon have all adopted measures requiring the teaching of Native American studies, with an emphasis on local tribes. A 2019 report from the National Congress of American Indians, which surveyed 35 states with federally recognized tribes, found nearly 90% of states said they had efforts underway to improve the quality and access to Native American curriculum. While a majority said it’s included in their schools, less than half said it was required and specific to tribal nations in their state. “We are seeing a focus on different races and issues,” said Aaron Payment, first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairperson of the 44,000-member Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan. The Connecticut legislation makes it mandatory for schools to teach Native American studies starting with the 2023-2024 school year. It passed despite concerns raised by teachers unions and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. Cardona, who is now the U.S. education secretary, had said it is important to teach about Native Americans but he was wary of unfunded mandates for school districts that are still working to implement other courses lawmakers and the governor have required them to teach. In North Dakota, a bill became law this year that requires all elementary and secondary schools, public and private, to include Native American tribal history in their curriculum, with an emphasis on tribes within the state.
Social-emotional support could be provided for principals
The pandemic and social justice protests over the last 18 months were clarion calls that principals desperately need social-emotional learning (SEL), too, writes Denisa R. Superville in Education Week. Not just to support students and teachers, but for their own well-being and survival. In the early days of the crisis, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals’ union for the New York City school system, surveyed school leaders in the city, then the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the emotions school leaders said they were experiencing: anxiety, stress, and frustration. Ms. Superville cites Julia Mahfouz, an assistant professor in the school of education and human development at the University of Colorado-Denver, who says knowledge and training in SEL competencies will help principals become better leaders, improve relationships schoolwide, and create stronger bonds with parents and communities. 
Boundary Changes Can Alleviate School Segregation
Schools can fix persistently racially segregated K-12 schools by changing attendance boundaries, according to a new report from nonprofit research organization Urban Institute. Explicit efforts to create school boundaries based on race can reduce inequality between schools not only in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics, but also in regard to staffing, academic programming, student discipline rates and student achievement, the report said. Although redrawing school attendance zones can be one of the most contentious undertakings in school communities, there should no longer be any excuses, said Tomás Monarrez, the report’s author and a labor economist at Urban Institute. In fact, Monarrez added, failure to do so in egregious cases may mean a school is in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974, which prohibits intentional segregation of schools. “It's really not so much policymakers' intention to make these racist lines, but it has been their failure to change the school boundaries,” Monarrez said. “They have all the power to change it.”
Vaccine mandate legality questions remain
Vaccines, and the legality of mandating them, are once again at the center of the debate over public health measures. Opponents already have vowed legal challenges to Los Angeles USD’s vote to require COVID-19 vaccines for all students 12 and older who attend school in person. Some courts have already refused to block vaccine mandates for workers and for college students, ruling that challengers are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims under U.S. Supreme Court precedents. Education Week maps out the legal terrain on vaccines - from Boston, which in 1827 became the first U.S. city to require children entering its public schools to show evidence of vaccination for smallpox, to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's decision last month to refuse to step into arguments involving Indiana University’s mandate that all students must be vaccinated to attend school on campus this fall.
Face mask mandate at Des Moines Public Schools
Des Moines Public Schools will impose a face mask mandate starting today, following a federal court ruling blocking a law banning schools from requiring face coverings. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law earlier this week.
Chicago Public Schools CEO named
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has selected Pedro Martinez to be the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools, according to the Tribune, which suggests that his appointment will be formally announced later this morning. Martinez has led San Antonio ISD in Texas since June 2015 and previously served as chief financial officer at CPS under former CEO Arne Duncan. Martinez will replace Janice Jackson, who announced in May that she was stepping down. José Torres, a former CPS official and former chief of Elgin-based District U-46 has been leading as interim chief since Jackson's departure. By the end of the second week of the school year, more than 5,600 CPS students had been directed to quarantine because of potential in-school exposure to COVID-19, according to new data made public Tuesday. Those quarantines represent about 2% of the 290,000 students at non-charter schools, yet they’re almost double the number of students the district had previously identified that have been exposed to the virus.
Teachers contend with smartwatch distractions
Parents opting to send students to school with wearables like Verizon’s GizmoWatch, and Apple Watches, as a less-distracting alternative to cellphones, are instead creating a new, subtler classroom disruption. Jeanne McVerry, a reading specialist and education-technology coach in Teaneck, New Jersey, said her district doesn’t specifically forbid smartwatches in its tech-use policy but she has taken a hard line on them. “Technology changes so rapidly and in ways we can’t anticipate that we don’t know how we’re going to police every new thing,” Ms. McVerry said. While the children’s smartwatch market is still relatively small, making up about 20% of overall smartwatch shipments, it’s a growing segment of personal tech for young people. According to Pew Research, 13% of teens own a smartwatch. Kids’ smartwatch unit sales grew 12% to about 12 million in the first half of this year compared with the prior-year period, according to SuJeong Lim, a senior analyst at Counterpoint Research. She said she expects the kids’ smartwatch market to grow by double digits annually.
Data released on Canadian education spending
A new report by the Fraser Institute into education spending on public schools from 2014/15 to 2018/19 indicates that Canada has increased investment in public schools contrary to the general perception otherwise. Compensation remains the largest and costliest aspect of education spending in Canada, and has contributed the largest portion of the growth in total education spending. After accounting for enrolment and adjusting for inflation, per-student spending saw an increase of 2.6% nationally from 2014/15 to 2018/19. Per-student spending (inflation-adjusted) increased in seven of ten provinces. Nova Scotia saw the largest increase (9.2%), followed by Quebec (7.3%) and Prince Edward Island (5.1%). Ontario, the province with the highest total nominal spending, saw an increase of 2.8%. Three provinces experienced a decline in real per-student spending Newfoundland & Labrador, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.


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