A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie state. To add a recipient please click here
1st July 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie State.

To add a recipient please click

Former ISBE president sentenced for theft
A former president of the Illinois Board of Education has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for theft. Adam Lopez was accused of stealing more than $1.5m from clients while a financial adviser for the insurance company Country Financial. Under an agreement with the Sangamon County state's attorney's office, three counts of financial exploitation of the elderly and a count of financial exploitation of a person with disabilities were dismissed.
José Torres gets open-ended contract to take over Chicago Public Schools
Chicago Public Schools is to pay its interim schools chief $335,000 a year and contribute to his moving and housing expenses, under an open-ended contract that either side can terminate at any time. Former Elgin superintendent José Torres, a veteran education leader, will lead the country’s third largest school district as it seeks a permanent replacement for outgoing schools chief Dr. Janice Jackson. Mr. Torres, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asserts, is not in the running for the permanent role. Dr. Jackson issued a farewell message Wednesday, in which she said: "My greatest hope is that all of you will continue building on this foundation so that CPS can be a place where every student feels valued and supported, and where a child’s race, zip code, or country of origin will never determine how high they can soar."
PSD revenue expected to exceed spending by $4.7m
Plainfield School District 202 announced its preliminary budget for the 2021-22 school year this week, and expects to have an operating fund surplus of $4.7m. However, the district's debt service and capital projects expenses leave the overall ending fund balance at a $1.2m deficit. The proposed budget puts the district at about $354m in total expenditures, which includes debt service and capital projects, and about $352.8m in revenue. Money spent would be down 3.1% from last year's budget of $365.5m, which factored in about $23m for the construction of Wallin Oaks.
Catholic School Association working to recover
The National Catholic Educational Association will welcome Lincoln Snyder as its new chief executive this week, as the agency seeks to rebound from its biggest one-year enrollment drop since the 1970s. Amid the pandemic, more than 200 schools closed permanently and enrollment at the 5,981 remaining schools fell by 6.4%, or more than 111,000 students, for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to the NCEA, which oversees Catholic schools across the United States. Catholic school enrollment decreased by more than 8% in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Total enrollment was about 1.63m, down from a peak of more than 5.2m in the early 1960s. The overall enrollment drop was 8.1% at the 4,812 Catholic elementary schools, and 2.5% at the 1,169 secondary schools. The reduction in school staffing was relatively modest however, at 2.3%, due in part to the availability of the federal Paycheck Protection Program in the spring of 2020.
Accelerating reading gains in an era of pandemic learning loss
Mark Gozonsky, an English teacher at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles, discusses how his 11th and 12th graders improved their average LEXILE-based reading level from 10.0 in August 2020 to 12.4 in June 2021. Key factors he says, was encouraging students to think about a text as a thing that has been created, with meaning they can discover and interpret for themselves; encouraging almost complete reading independence, while avoiding titles including Go Ask Alice, and A Child Called It; and keeping them up to date on progress made on reading test results.
More than 80 teens and staffers at Illinois summer camp got COVID-19
More than 80 teens and adult staff have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a summer camp in central Illinois that did not require masks indoors or vaccination status.  The Crossing Camp in Schuyler County held in mid-June did not check vaccination status for campers or staffers, and masks were not required indoors at the camp, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). In Illinois, 46.1% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest data. However, officials across the country have are becoming alarmed by the reluctance of young adults to get vaccinated, especially as the more transmissible Delta variant is spreading more widely. "The perceived risk to children may seem small, but even a mild case of COVID-19 can cause long-term health issues," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike .
Robust school cleaning protocols can boost fall returns to campuses
As districts prepare to fully reopen schools this fall, strong cleaning and sanitization protocols can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and alleviate families' concerns. Hand sanitizing stations are especially crucial when sharing devices, and the devices should also be cleaned between each use. Some laptop and tablet storage carts come equipped with ultraviolet sanitization technology, and there are also sanitization services that collect and clean devices. Having several hand sanitizing stations scattered throughout school buildings can make it easy for students to clean their hands frequently, and ventilation systems should also be updated before the school year starts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends schools limit the sharing of pens, pencils and art supplies. If difficult-to-clean items must be used, set them aside for 72 hours before allowing them to be reused. It also recommends staff regularly clean door handles, sink handles, drinking fountains and buses. Additionally, it warns to properly ventilate spaces when cleaning and disinfecting products are used.
Civil rights groups urge Biden administration to place limits on school police
Civil rights group The Education Trust has written to the Department of Education offering a roadmap for shrinking the role of police in schools. The document sets out a vision for a shift in civil rights enforcement, along with a candid accounting of potential pitfalls; it also calls on the Biden administration to warn that the presence of police in certain schools, and police involvement in routine discipline, could violate students’ civil rights. The group says the federal government should discourage police from routinely interacting with students, and discourage schools from putting police in schools that serve higher numbers of students of color, especially Black and Native American students. They want federal education officials to say those actions could constitute a federal civil rights violation.
New research paper offers fresh look at student poverty figures
A new research paper argues that the schools and government agencies basing aid distribution on the proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price meals are using a misleading and outdated proxy for measuring poverty. Co-authors Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, and Eric Parsons from the University of Missouri say that conflating poverty with the number of students getting free or reduced-price meals leads to inaccurate and misleading assertions. Those meal programs, the paper argues, often include students who don’t meet the technical definition of eligibility for the program. As a result, that metric doesn’t provide a granular understanding of which students are actually living in families with severe economic challenges. They found that the number of students in families below the poverty criteria for free or reduced price meal eligibility is lower than the number of students enrolled in free and reduced-price meal programs. Programs that offer free meal programs are particularly “oversubscribed,” the report says. While not entirely dismissing free school numbers as a way of measuring poverty, they suggest that school neighborhood poverty metrics from the National Center for Education Statistics could potentially serve as a more precise indicator of which districts are most in need of aid. 
New coalition aims to improve school district data systems
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Council of the Great City Schools have come together to help make school district data systems more secure and user-friendly. The partnership already has agreements in place with state education agencies in California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, and 20 large school districts, to improve their systems’ interoperability, meaning make it easier for disparate systems to communicate with one another. The goal will be to create a set of tools and processes that any state or district can turn to when looking to tackle incompatible systems and/or secure their data. “We know that having access to the right data and right information is really powerful for educators to make those really informed decisions to support student learning,” explained Mindy Frisbee, the senior director of learning partnerships at ISTE. Funding for the project was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. 
Back-to-school costs for parents set to rise this year
Parents are preparing to pay up this back-to-school season, as prices on items from clothing to notebooks are on the rise, according to new survey data. The average parent’s spending per student is expected to be as much as $270, compared with roughly $250 in 2020, KPMG found when it surveyed more than 1,000 adult consumers across the United States in May. Parents of children in preschool are planning to spend as much as 32% more this year, the survey said, while parents of college-aged students will spend about 13% more. While higher inflation is playing a part in costs rising, demand is also higher than it was a year ago, which means retailers are discounting a lot less, said Scott Rankin, strategy lead of KPMG’s consumer and retail division in the U.S.  “We haven’t quite yet seen the full-court press from the office supply stores and some of the mass merchandisers and the big e-commerce players...but I do think we are going to see less promotionally around [school] supplies,” he added.

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