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21st July 2021
Advanced Education Research & Development Fund announces new national campaign
The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund has announced a new national effort to analyze and mitigate achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income pre-K-12 students. With a total of $200 million, the fund will support project proposals from teachers, researchers, parents or product developers on how assessment could be done better. Between now and 2023, the program will select about five research ideas to span three to five years with budgets of $20 million to $40 million. Temple Lovelace, director of the Assessment for Good program, comments: “As districts embark on leading-edge, innovative formats for instruction this fall, assessment must also evolve in a complementary fashion. It is time for our assessment practices to foster promise and ignite learning in new and imaginative ways.”
Ed. Dept. issues harassment response guidance
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a Q&A document Tuesday highlighting procedures schools should take when responding to reports of sexual harassment. The document does not specifically address the rights of students who identify as transgender, but it does explain schools’ obligations in responding to complaints of sex discrimination. The resources, which follow policy based on 2020 amendments by the Trump administration, were made public while the department is conducting a comprehensive review of Title IX changes which will likely lead to proposed new rules.
Mississippi districts announce changes to school year start date
School districts in two southern Mississippi counties will start classes at the end of July for the first time ever this year, allowing students to get additional academic help during longer breaks throughout the year. Lamar County schools will start July 22 and Forrest County schools will start July 26, about two weeks earlier than usual, and both districts’ calendars will have two new, two-week breaks, September 27-October 8, and an extended spring break March 14-25. About 77% of nearly 1,100 Lamar County teachers and 63% of approximately 6,100 parents supported the updated school calendar in a survey last November.
Teacher training quality concerns raised
Many aspiring teachers do not pass their state’s licensing exam on the first attempt and almost a quarter of those candidates who fail do not try again. For test takers of color, the rate of those who walk away from their teaching ambitions is even higher, at 30%. The first-time pass rates on elementary teacher licensure tests and the disaggregated data on race and ethnicity were released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a Washington-based think tank. NCTQ underlined significant differences among teacher-prep programs even within the same state, with an average 56 percentage point gap between the institutions with the highest first-time pass rate and those with the lowest pass rate. Six states, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia, have at least one teacher-prep program where not a single test taker passed on their first attempt. “First-time pass rates may be a reasonable indicator of the quality of preparation candidates are getting,” comments Hannah Putnam, a project lead on the report.
Federal charter school funding could be cut
A provision tucked into the hefty federal budget proposal put forth by the House Appropriations Committee would cut money for charter schools by $40 million and could potentially even limit many charter schools from receiving any federal funds whatsoever. Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, has warned that the move would impact a majority of 3.3 million charter school students, who are overwhelmingly children of color and from low-income families. She told CNN that the language could impact schools that contract out for cafeteria services, special education services, or back office staff, some of the same things local district schools also hire private companies for. Without contracting out, schools may not be able to offer the services to special needs students that they are legally required to provide, Rees added.

Houston ISD outlines pandemic recovery plan
Under a wide-ranging plan that would target accelerated instruction to kids who have fallen behind, bolster tutoring and after-school services, and seek to retain and recruit teachers with $2,500 stipends, Houston ISD in Texas expects to spend almost $1.2 billion in federal relief funds to help shore up academic losses from the pandemic. Superintendent Millard House II sent an email addressed to “Team HISD” with a 54-slide presentation attached about how the district expects to use the money during the next two to three years. The plan outlined 11 areas needing attention, including tutoring, college and military readiness, wraparound programs, special education, student engagement, and classroom technology. The money comes from $122 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief funds included in the American Rescue and Relief Plan Act, passed by Congress in March. HISD has been awarded $804 million from that. The district was allocated $358 million from an earlier round of funding this month.
South Dakota Public Schools to allow medical marijuana
The South Dakota Department of Education has succeeded in its second attempt to get legislators to approve rules for allowing medical pot in public schools. The Board of Education struck language that would have made the rules apply to private schools after the Legislature's Rules Review Committee last month rejected its first proposal. The new rules will allow schools and school nurses to opt out of administering medical pot but will allow caregivers to enter schools to do so.
Fauci clarifies updated AAP mask guidance
Anthony Fauci on Tuesday addressed conflicting coronavirus pandemic masks guidance for children returning to school this fall, recommending that parents do what is “locally asked for." Speaking on "CBS This Morning," Fauci was asked about the American Academy for Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendation that all students older than two years old wear masks regardless of vaccination status, which contradicts that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said earlier this month that fully vaccinated students and teachers do not need to wear masks, and that even unvaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outside during gym or recess. He said the reason the AAP issued its guidance is because of the “high degree of infection dynamics,” adding: “If you look at the map of the country right now, there’s an uptick in cases in virtually all the states in the United States, and for that reason they want to go the extra mile to make sure that the children are protected in school.”
Michigan school bus safety bills signed
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed into law four bills designed to raise safety standards for school buses and school bus operators. Among them, HB 4201 prohibits any unauthorized person from entering a school bus without permission, while HB 4202 allows school buses in the state to be equipped with a stop-arm camera system that provides photo and/or video evidence of a motorist illegally passing a stopped school bus when the bus’s red flashing lights are activated.
Alabama school building approval process changes analyzed
A study group is examining concerns that the Alabama Legislature's approval this year of a bill to move the oversight of school construction projects of $500,000 or less from the Division of Construction Management state agency to local school boards has slowed projects and led to increased costs. Representatives of the construction industry and architecture groups, as well as the state fire chiefs association, oppose DCM’s loss of oversight, saying it was an important, independent review of safety and code compliance in school buildings. However, Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, chair of the study group, says local school systems, architects, and contractors should be responsible for making sure buildings are designed and constructed according to code because, if they don’t, "it will cost them money up front and it will cost them in the end in lawsuits." While concerns remain, the study group is at present recommending the restoration of some of DCM’s oversight.
Philadelphia schools' air purifier spending criticised
School officials in Philadelphia plan to consult with more air quality scientists after meeting with an expert critical of the district’s $4.5 million purchase of NASA-originated air purifier technology. Michael Waring, professor of indoor air quality and department head of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at Drexel University, who met with School District Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil this week, warned that such purifiers were ineffective at reducing the spread of coronavirus and even had the potential to create harmful chemicals. The district used federal funding to purchase more than 9,500 devices, which advertise ActivePure Technology, for its 200-plus buildings.
COVID-related reasons see 1m students in England miss school
Official figures show that 1.05 million children (14.3%) in England were absent from the classroom last Thursday due to a COVID-related reason, up from 839,700 the week prior and a record high since schools fully reopened in March. These absences include pupils self-isolating due to a case of coronavirus at school and those absent due to COVID-related school closures. DfE figures show that the overall absence rate in schools is currently 23.3%, rising to 32.7% for secondary school pupils. Parents and school leaders have raised concerns over the confusion surrounding the National Health Service's Test and Trace system.


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