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25th January 2023
Political climate impacting how educators teach race and gender
According to one of the first nationally representative studies of the subject, teachers are changing their lessons amid increasing scrutiny from parents and a raft of state laws and school policies that circumscribe lessons on race and gender. A report published by the RAND Corporation today found that of a sample of 8,000 teachers, 25% said they had revised their instructional materials or teaching practices to limit or exclude discussions of race and gender. The report also found that some teachers were more likely than others to alter their lesson plans — including teachers of color, high school teachers and educators in suburban school districts. And the report found that teachers are feeling direct pressure from parents to shift their teaching habits. Relatedly, a Washington Post analysis found that, as of late 2022, legislators in 45 states had passed 64 laws across the past three years restricting what teachers can say and children can do at school.
Schools' covid-aid spending 'speeding up'
School districts nationwide are spending the $122bn in federal Covid-relief funds nearly twice as fast as they were, according to new data from the Department of Education. Districts have spent about 27% of the education funding that was part of the $1.9tn American Rescue Plan disbursed in 2021, an increase from May when federal data showed 7% of the money was spent. They are now spending $5.1bn in federal relief funding each month, up from $2.6bn a month a year ago, according to estimates compiled by researchers at Georgetown University. Some districts are spending faster than others however. Nevada’s schools have spent about 32% so far, while Arizona has spent 23%. In Chicago, officials have spent about 32% of the funding, with about 77% of the district’s federal pandemic relief money going to salaries and employee benefits. New York City’s school system, the largest in the U.S., has used about the same percentage, spending more than $1.5bn of the $4.8bn it received. New York City is allocating just over 30% of the money for academic recovery efforts such as literacy programs. Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, says the loss of federal relief money when it expires in the fall of 2024, coupled with enrollment declines and the possibility of recession, could create a very challenging financial situation for public schools. “We won’t know, for a while, how all the different variables will shake out,” she cautions.
Strategies for encouraging student engagement
An insightful new survey indicates that building caring relationships, soliciting student perspectives and having high expectations for students were the three most common practices for encouraging student engagement in the 2021-22 school year. After several years of disrupted in-person learning, schools are eager to strengthen engagement initiatives and are devising increasingly more creative ways to get students and families excited about learning. A large proportion of those that responded to the survey, conducted by GoGuardian and the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, said they rarely or never use control or an emphasis on grades to build student engagement. Looking forward, respondents said high expectations, teacher enthusiasm and teacher caring will be the most important practices for encouraging students’ active participation in learning.
Childcare funds going unspent in California
While California has set aside money to expand subsidized childcare to serve more than 100,000 more children, actually spending the money is proving to be a challenge. Last fiscal year, $328.5m that was allocated to three state-subsidized childcare and preschool programs went unspent, state data obtained by The Union-Tribune show. That money represented 17% of the $2bn that was allocated for those programs and could have paid for childcare or preschool for 22,700, according to figures from the state’s education and finance departments. In 2018, $139.9m went unspent from the same three childcare programs, plus the state’s childcare voucher program, according to state figures. “Families across the state are waiting for childcare but we just don’t have the money or the slots yet,” says Denyne Colburn, chief executive officer of the California Alternative Payment Program Association, a network for agencies who contract with the state to provide subsidized childcare.
Uncertainty shadows possible Houston ISD takeover
Houston ISD is in a state of limbo as the Texas Education Agency weighs how to proceed with a possible takeover of the state's largest school system. The Texas Supreme Court lifted an injunction January 13 that had halted Education Commissioner Mike Morath's 2019 move to take over the HISD school board, after allegations of trustee misconduct and repeated failing accountability ratings at Phillis Wheatley High School. The state agency is now tight-lipped about the possible next steps however, saying only that the "TEA continues to review the Supreme Court's decision in order to determine next steps that best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of Houston ISD." While the state Supreme Court kicked the decision back to the lower courts, the Texas Education Agency could take action independent of the court. Experts say a few possibilities could play out; the TEA could appoint a conservator, replace the elected board with a board of managers, or allow the district to remain autonomous. State laws authorizing takeovers started sprouting up in 1970s, with New Jersey implementing the first state takeover of a district in 1989. Now more than two dozen state governments and agencies have taken over school districts 
Cardona champions federal “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has announced the Department of Education's new “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative as a call to "transform education for the better, building on approaches that we know work in education." During a speech at the Department on Tuesday, Secretary Cardona outlined how the nation has moved forward but emphasized it will take everyone working together to produce lasting change in the pursuit to ensure our nation's schools, students, and teachers have everything they need to be successful. Secretary Cardona underlined the initiative's key focus areas, including; achieving academic excellence, boldly improving learning conditions and creating pathways for global engagements. Sub-priorities of those headings include; accelerating learning for every student, delivering a comprehensive and rigorous education for every student, eliminating the educator shortage for every school, investing in every student’s mental health and well-being, ensuring that every student has a pathway to college and career, and providing every student a pathway to multilingualism.

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