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USA
14th September 2021
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THE HOT STORY
Schools look to rebound after pandemic drives down test scores
Schools across the country are looking to bounce back from declines in recently released standardized test scores that underscored the challenges of remote learning during the first full school year of the pandemic. The size of the decreases varied across states, but in general included big drops in math compared to language arts.  In states like Michigan and Tennessee, some of the sharpest declines were among minorities, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students. Experts are also sounding the alarm over plunging participation rates, saying that with many statewide tests canceled in 2020 and fewer students taking the annual exams last spring, educators might not know until around this time next year just how much progress was lost after the coronavirus disrupted in-school learning 18 months ago. “Non-participants tend to be more of the at-risk groups,” said Marianne Perie, an independent consultant who advises states on student assessments. “We're seeing minority, low-income and students with disabilities to be less likely to come into school and take the test, particularly in states where they weren't already in school.” Even as test scores have slipped, advocates and experts say educators’ efforts to adapt to remote learning helped mitigate the declines. “It wasn't a completely lost year,” said Abby Javurek, the vice president of future impact and growth at NWEA, a not-for-profit assessment creator formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association. “Our students did grow. They didn't grow as much as we would hope and we would expect in a normal year without all these crazy circumstances, but they did grow, and there is hope in that.” But she added that the scoring disparities underscore longstanding educational inequities among at-risk groups.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Majority of U.S. schools yet to meet White House demand for testing and vaccines
For schools to stay open and safe, President Joe Biden said 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,” said 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, said 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.”
LA school board approves vaccine mandate for students age 12 and up
Los Angeles USD will be the first major district in the nation to require eligible students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend school in person after its school board on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of the policy. The plan requires students 12 and older who participate in in-person extracurricular activities to be fully vaccinated by October 31st. All other students in that age group must be vaccinated by December 19th to attend school in person. Newly eligible children would have to get their first dose no later than 30 days after their 12th birthday, and their second dose within eight weeks of that. Board member Mónica García said it wasn’t an easy decision. While she acknowledged the hesitancy that some parents may have, she said the board is simply doing their job to keep students safe. “L.A. Unified is leading because we must,” García told her fellow board members. “Our community cannot wait.”
ED TECH

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


 
WORKFORCE
Arbitrator backs New York teachers' vaccination requirements complaint
Teachers in New York City who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and have documented medical or religious exemptions must be offered non-classroom assignments, the United Federation of Teachers said Friday, following an independent arbitrator's decision. Other staffers reluctant to get vaccinated must be offered unpaid leave, until September 2022, that maintains their health coverage or be given a severance package. If a teacher does not get vaccinated and return to their job at that time, the system would assume they resigned. Staff who decline to take unpaid leave as an option would be given a severance package that included payment for unused sick days, along with health insurance, until the end of the year.
STUDENTS
Tens of thousands of students in Louisiana could be out until October
At least 45,000 students in Louisiana could be left out of the classroom until next month, as the state grapples with the remaining damage and loss of power following Hurricane Ida. Around 250,000 school-age children in the state cannot at present return to classrooms. A superintendent for the school system of one parish told NPR that the district was still grappling with damages from last year's hurricanes. Though Calcasieu Parish Public Schools said it so far had received $116,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it is dealing with damages that add up to around $400 million.
Glasses lead to school improvement for short-sighted kids
A U.S. study has found that giving glasses to children who need them can result in "half a school year's worth of improvement". Lead author of the three-year Johns Hopkins University study, Dr Amanda Neitzel, said: "For students in the lowest quartile and students participating in special education, wearing glasses equated to four to six months of additional learning". Dr Megan Collins added: "The glasses offered the biggest benefit to the very kids who needed it most." However, academic improvements seen after one year were not sustained over two years, with researchers suggesting this could be due to children wearing their glasses less, or having broken or lost them. 
LEGAL
Justice Kagan sides with California district on right to remove student
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan denied a California high school student's petition to return to his school in San Ramon Valley USD after the school's principal, also the Title IX coordinator, authorized the student's emergency removal. The representative of John Doe, the 15-year-old accused of multiple sexual assaults, argues the defendant was receiving "no instruction – either live or remote” and is being "deprived of his educational opportunities." Doe denied his ex-girlfriend's allegations of sexual assault, saying they ended their relationship after approximately one month of dating. In April, the district notified Doe it "has undertaken an individualized safety and risk analysis and has determined that you pose an immediate threat to the physical health or safety of a student or other individual arising from the allegations of Title IX Sexual Harassment." David Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College‚Äč in New York, described the case as "a relatively routine matter," with Kagan showing "appropriate deference to the district's factual determination." Mr. Bloomfield added while it's unlikely the case will make its way to the Supreme Court docket, "anything can happen."
TRANSPORTATION
National Guard to tackle Massachusetts' school bus driver shortage
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has announced that 90 members will begin training today to assist four communities help offset the impacts of the now nationwide school bus driver shortage. Gov. Baker is activating up to 250 National Guard members to help bring students to and from school in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn. “These Guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans known as 7D vehicles to address staffing shortages in certain districts,” the Baker administration said in a statement.

 

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