A daily round-up of education news and views for the Carolinas.
1st July 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for principals, superintendents, teachers and administrators in North and South Carolina.

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Report: Minimal COVID transmission within NC schools
COVID-19 transmission within North Carolina schools is low and best mitigated by mask wearing, according to a new report. The ABC Science Collaborative analysis found that about 1 in 2,800 K-12 students who were in school buildings became infected with COVID-19 during school. Of the 864,515 students and 160,549 staff members analyzed, 308 pupils and 55 employees acquired COVID-19 from school. The data came from a review of 100 school districts and 14 charter schools that operated under the loosest reopening guidelines — Plan A — between March and June. “North Carolina schools did an outstanding job preventing within-school transmission of COVIDÔÇÉ19,” the report says. Roughly 1 in 127 students and 1 in 138 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the four-month period analyzed. More than 95% of infected students and school workers got the virus from the community, not the school. The report also found that while it was safe to participate in athletics this past year, the activities likely led to greater transmission than activities within the classroom. Students seated closer together in classrooms or on buses did not experience an increased risk of transmission.
SC DHEC calls for COVID-19 vaccines for students before new school year begins
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has stressed it is important for all students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as quick as possible before the upcoming school year. As of now, only the two-dose Pfizer vaccine is authorized for people 12 and older. Those who receive the first dose must wait at least three weeks to get the second one. Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director at DHEC, said: "It takes about five weeks to achieve full vaccination, so students who are eligible for the vaccine don't have a lot of time to spare if they want to protect themselves and their friends during the upcoming school year." The DHEC said that fully vaccinated students will not have to miss school or extracurricular activities if they are identified as a close contact to someone who has COVID-19. But unvaccinated students would need to quarantine and refrain from such activities. The agency will develop guidance for South Carolina schools once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes its updated operations guidance for the 2021-2022 academic year within the next few weeks.
Summer Food Service Program returns with new name
The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) has changed the name of its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to “Summer Break Café.” The program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides free meals for youth and teens 18 and under during the summer months, June to August. South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said: "We believe the new name for our Summer Food Service Program positively reflects our goal, which is to create a welcoming environment where youth in South Carolina can get healthy meals at no cost over the summer break." Over 6m meals were served last summer and the SCDE hopes the fresh, new look of Summer Break Café will give an additional boost to its goal of serving meals to students who need them while school is not in session.
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.
Pandemic 'widened in-person learning disparities,' CDC warns
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the pandemic widened disparities in full-time, in-person learning between white and minority students. While in-person learning increased for all school children in 2021, it increased the most for white students. In-person learning increased to 74.6% for whites from January 2021 to April 2021, to 63.4% for blacks, 58.9% for Hispanics, and 56.9% for all other races. Though the study had a number of limitations, including sampling primarily from larger school districts, researchers found that students in the South had the highest rate of in-person learning, on average, at 62.5%. The rates in the Midwest, Northeast, and West were 37.1%, 16.2%, and 21.8%, respectively. Separately, a survey by the Rand Corp. indicates that the percentage of Black and Latino parents who reported being uncertain about or against the fall return to class was just under 30%, nearly three times as high as the 10% for White parents. Similarly, research from the University of Southern California shows 30% of Black parents and 18% of Hispanic parents surveyed from mid-May through June 22 are planning for remote instruction or are unsure about returning to school for fall, compared with just 12% of White and Asian parents.
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.
HCS announces Fourth of July update for food distribution program
Horry County Schools will continue its food distribution program until Thursday and will resume after the Fourth of July holiday weekend on Monday, July 5, for middle schools and Tuesday, July 6, for elementary schools. Because of low participation in the program, HCS will consolidate to a fewer number of middle and elementary schools. All children 18 and under qualify for meals as a part of the program.
Global study examines how best to help girls thrive in school
A recent study from researchers David Evans and Fei Yuan, published in the World Bank Economic Review, found that gender-neutral programs, such as providing cash aid to families of school-aged children, can be just as effective at improving girls' education as programs designed just for girls. "A lot of the most effective programs are ones that either eliminate school fees, provide scholarships or provide families a cash transfer to cover the other costs of having their daughter in school", Mr. Evans said. "For example, in Ghana, lots of girls and boys pass their secondary school entrance exam, but they don't have the money to pay school fees. So, a program there provided scholarships to students who had already passed the entrance exam. It dramatically increased the high-school graduation rate of girls by 66%."

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. 

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