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30th July 2021
President Biden calls for full school reopenings in fall
President Joe Biden has called for all schools to open this fall for in-person learning. He pointed to funding through the $1.9tn American Rescue Plan from March that allowed schools to implement improved ventilation systems, and he noted teachers were prioritized through the Department of Education when COVID-19 shots first became widely available in the spring, with almost 90% of educators and school staff now vaccinated. "We can and we must open schools this fall, full-time," he said. "It's better for our children’s mental and emotional well being, and we can’t afford another year out of the classroom. Every school should be open, and we’re giving them the tools to be able to do so safely."
U.S. sees surge in home schooling
Since Spring 2020, when the pandemic began to seriously disrupt life across the U.S., the number of families opting to homeschool their children has continued to increase. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in March that the rate of households homeschooling their children had risen to 11% by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4% just six months earlier. Black households saw the largest jump; their homeschooling rate rose from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall. Joyce Burges, co-founder and program director of National Black Home Educators, said the 21-year-old organization had about 5,000 members before the pandemic and now has more than 35,000. Many of the new families experienced difficulties, including lack of internet access, that limited their children’s ability to benefit from virtual learning during the pandemic, Ms. Burges said. “It got so they didn’t trust anything but their own homes, and their children being with them,” she said. “Now they’re seeing the future, seeing what their children can do.” For some families, the switch to homeschooling was influenced by their children’s special needs. That’s the case for Jennifer Osgood of Fairfax, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Lily has Down syndrome. Having observed Lily’s progress with reading and arithmetic while at home during the pandemic, Osgood is convinced homeschooling is the best option for her going forward.
Summer schools working to rescue third graders from declines
As the United States invests billions of dollars into education to help children recover from the pandemic, students across the nation are attending summer school like never before. From San Diego to New York City to Miami, hundreds of thousands of children are attending programs this year, some for the first time. In Guilford County, N.C., the school district which includes Greensboro, summer school enrollment has soared to 12,000 from just 1,200 two years ago. The Biden administration has identified summer learning as one key strategy, allocating at least $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money for it, however strategy, not just money, will be crucial to schools' success. Research shows that students who do not learn to read proficiently by the beginning of fourth grade are likely to remain poor readers in high school and are at higher risk of dropping out or failing to graduate on time. Summer school can be one effective strategy to help students make academic gains, says Catherine Augustine, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who has studied such programs in depth, "but it takes time." Programs should last at least five weeks, she insists, and also include at least three hours of academic instruction each day.
District officials in dark over this year's kindergarten enrollment
Public school enrollment dipped across the board in the last school year, according to preliminary federal data shows, with the largest changes seen in the youngest grades, as kindergarten enrollment fell 9%, and pre-K enrollment fell 22%. District leaders are now preparing for a year of unknowns, faced by factors such as a surge in numbers if those missing students show up anew.  "Are we expecting those kids to return this fall? And if so, what is that going to do to this next cohort?" asks Beth Tarasawa, executive vice president of research at the education nonprofit NWEA. Some leaders say it is too soon to tell if this will happen. Although in Portland, Oregon, officials say early enrollment is higher than average, in Indianapolis, officials report preliminary numbers aren't significantly higher than a normal school year.

Black students face outsize harm from pandemic
A new study of hundreds of Black educators, students and parents found that Black students will be returning to the classroom this fall with disproportionate amounts of trauma and heightened mistrust of education. The Black Education Research Collective at Teachers College, Columbia University, conducted online surveys and focus groups from January through May in six major U.S. cities to map the impact of the coronavirus on the education of Black youth. They found that governmental and institutional responses to the coronavirus, police brutality, anti-Black violence and uprisings like the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol have caused further “erosion of trust in schools and institutions” by Black Americans. In order to rebuild trust, the study’s authors wrote, leaders should begin to view students, parents and educators as “equal partners in education.” The report recommends using funds allocated to schools by the American Rescue Plan to respond to the academic and mental health needs of Black students, improve school infrastructure, and hire more Black teachers to update school curriculums to better understand Black history in the U.S.
Congress gears up for debate over charter school law
In early July, House Democrats released their legislation for funding the U.S. Department of Education for the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers who wrote this fiscal 2022 bill proposed cutting the $440m Charter School Program, which aims to help successful charter schools replicate and expand, by $40m next year. The bill also includes a section stating that no federal funding can go to a charter school “that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school." Supporters of charter schools argue that this would essentially bar all charter schools from contracting with any private entity for a wide variety of services, from meals to backroom office work. In a July 26th letter addressed to House and Senate leaders, more than 60 national, state, and local groups said that “Separating out and dividing public school students - treating their funding differently based on the type of public school they choose and then punishing students who choose to attend one type over another - sends a message that the federal government doesn’t believe all public school students are equal." In response, Democrats say they are targeting charters run by for-profit management organizations; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-CN), the chairwoman of the House appropriations committee, called the letter's rhetoric part of a “well-funded misinformation campaign” that distorts the actual, narrower purposes of the bill. A Democratic staffer said lawmakers are open to improving the bill's language to clarify its intentions.
Chicago school transportation officials struggling with recruitment
American School Bus Company driver numbers in Cook County, Chicago, are down from 192 before the pandemic to 133. The company serves school districts in Orland, Matteson, Homewood-Flossmoor, Chicago Heights and Frankfort as well as a handful of Catholic schools. At the federal level, the national association is pushing to create a separate CDL for bus drivers that would eliminate the requirement to spend time under the hood learning bus maintenance. The maintenance provision need not apply to bus drivers because they do not repair buses and must remain with children in the event a bus breaks down, explains John Benish, Jr., chief operating officer of Cook-Illinois Corporation and president of the National School Transportation Association. Companies will likely coordinate with school districts, parents and students to reduce and consolidate routes, he adds, asserting: “It will take a lot of cooperation on everyone's part.”


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