Education

Briefly Stated: April 14, 2021

April 13, 2021 8 min read

Biden Survey Reveals Remote Learning Still Rules for Students

More schools may be opening for full-time learning. That doesn’t mean students are breaking down the doors to get in. So finds a survey released last week by the Biden administration.

Nearly 46 percent of public schools offered five days a week of in-person learning to all students in February, according to the survey, but just 34 percent of students were in the classroom full time. There were early signs of a shift, however, with more 8th graders moving from fully remote to hybrid learning.

With the new findings, President Joe Biden came no closer to meeting his goal of having most elementary schools open five days a week in his first 100 days.

The findings are based on a survey of 3,500 public schools that serve 4th graders and 3,500 schools that serve 8th graders in 37 states. This is the second round of data released from a new survey started by the Biden administration to evaluate progress in reopening schools.

The data capture a month that saw building momentum in the push to reopen schools. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that schools could safely reopen with masks, social distancing, and other precautions. Days later, Biden reframed his goal around reopening schools after critics said his previous pledge lacked ambition.

As in January, the new results showed dramatic disparities based on region and race. Overall, more than a third of students in the South and Midwest were learning entirely at school, compared with less than a quarter in the West and Northeast.

White students continued to be far more likely to be back in the classroom, with 52 percent of white 4th graders receiving full-time, in-person instruction. Less than a third of Black and Hispanic 4th graders were back at school full time, along with just 15 percent of Asian students. The rate of Black students learning fully in person did tick up slightly from January to February, from 28 percent to 30 percent.

The department also reported progress in bringing more students with disabilities back to school.

The survey for the first time collected data on how many teachers have received COVID-19 vaccines, but the findings reveal little. More than half of schools said they did not know how many teachers got at least one shot. Of those with data, just 6 percent said that at least 81 percent of their teachers had received a vaccination.

Eligibility Opening Up for Upperclassmen to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations and Stymie Teen Surge

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Social beings that they are, it’s not surprising that teenagers and young adults are driving new cases of the coronavirus. Now, at least, high school juniors and seniors are starting to be vaccinated against COVID-19—a watershed moment in the pandemic for schools.

Nearly 40 states have already opened vaccine eligibility to those 16 and older, according to a New York Times tracker, and most others plan to do so in the coming days. Educators are now encouraging their oldest students to get the vaccine, with the hopes that it will help normalize school operations and reduce the number of coronavirus outbreaks. In many states, teenagers and young adults now seem to be driving COVID-19 surges.

The only vaccine currently authorized for use in the United States that’s approved for ages 16 and up is made by Pfizer and BioNTech. They recently announced that their vaccine is safe for 12- to 15-year-olds, too, and hope to start vaccinating that age group before the start of next school year, pending regulatory approval. Moderna is expected to release its own trial results for ages 12 to 17 soon. Vaccine-makers are also conducting trials with younger children, but public- health experts don’t expect vaccines to become available for elementary-aged students until early next year.

Just having the oldest students vaccinated this spring will likely help schools’ efforts to resume five days a week of in-person learning. Evidence suggests that teenagers are more likely to spread the coronavirus than young children, and quarantine requirements mean that every time there’s a case, anyone who was exposed has to stay home for up to two weeks, disrupting school operations.

But once people are vaccinated, they no longer have to quarantine if exposed to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Of course, vaccine distribution across the United States has been uneven, and some older adults who are much more likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19 haven’t been able to get vaccinated. Teenagers are at much lower risk from serious COVID-19 symptoms. Still, they can spread the virus.

Districts Coming Up With All Sorts of Ways to Spend Share of Federal Stimulus Funds

So much money. So many ways to spend it.

School districts are just beginning to receive estimates of how much federal money they can expect from the most recent $130 billion stimulus package, on top of $13.5 billion last March and $57 billion last December.

At first glance, there’s no shortage of spending priorities. The K-12 system is only beginning to emerge from its most unusual and difficult year ever. Instructional models were upended overnight; new expenses like masks, personal protective equipment, and laptops for emergency remote learning demanded immediate investment; millions of students have spent little to no time in the physical classroom since last spring.

For some districts, new federal relief could go a long way in digging out from all those challenges and addressing the pressing concerns that existed long before COVID-19. Here’s an early look at how they just might spend their windfalls.

Making up lost instructional time. Districts are pondering an array of approaches to tackle that issue, such as extending the current—and next—school year, adding more hours to the day, and targeting tutoring programs to students with the greatest needs.

Providing enrichment and emotional support. The pandemic has forced students to forgo the social interactions and new experiences that keep their lives engaging and meaningful. Some districts are planning to double down on social-emotional learning by expanding mental-health resources and crafting summer activity programs to provide students with some joy, not just lessons.

Expanding technology capabilities. Schools have made significant progress on providing students with the technology they need to learn from home. But millions of families still struggle to pay steep internet bills or, even get service at all. Districts are learning lessons from the chaos of early 2020 and bumping technology investments higher on the priority list than ever before.

Building new and safer facilities. The pandemic aid looks substantial enough for some districts to upgrade outdated ventilation systems.

Improving special education services. Several districts say they’re going to hire new staff members and provide more robust training to teachers and aides.

Pandemic Drags Down Rate of College-Bound Students

Add a drop in college enrollment, especially among poor students, to all the other woes the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought.

The annual “High School Benchmarks” report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that, as of Nov. 16, college enrollment dropped by 6.8 percent—more than quadrupling the prepandemic rate of decline. Overall, 56.5 percent of the class of 2020 enrolled in postsecondary school immediately after graduating, compared with 60.5 percent for the class of 2019.

Notably, schools with high populations of poor students of color experienced a much greater decline in enrollment, compared with those from whiter and wealthier schools, a reversal of prepandemic trends. High-poverty high schools sent 46 percent of 2020 graduates to college this past fall, compared with 70 percent of graduates from low-poverty schools. In 2019, high-poverty high schools sent 51.5 percent of graduates to college, compared with 72.6 percent of low-poverty schools.

“If you’re a low-income kid, a kid of color, a first-generation college-going kid, the actual process necessary for you to get from high school to college is incredibly fragile, even in the best of circumstances,” said Derrell Bradford, the executive vice president of 50CAN, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable schools.

The research from the clearinghouse is drawn from about 3,500 public high schools that pay for its StudentTracker for High Schools service, a group that represents 14 percent of U.S. high schools. Low-income high schools are slightly overrepresented in the data.

Experts cite two factors that likely contributed to the uneven decline in college enrollment: Virtual instruction made learning less accessible and engaging, especially for low-income students who may not have broadband access and other resources, and the economic and health fallout of COVID-19 has hit Black and Latino students and their families the hardest.

Violence-Prone Students Share Common Traits

The warning signs are all there.

Students who planned to attack schools showed the same types of troubled histories as those who carried them out. They were badly bullied, often suffered from depression with stress at home, and exhibited behavior that worried others, concludes a U.S. Secret Service study that examined 67 thwarted school plots nationwide.

The study by the National Threat Assessment Center is a twist on the study of school shootings. The group analyzed 100 students responsible for plotting 67 attacks nationwide from 2006 to 2018 in K-12 schools.

All the plots studied were serious planned attacks, and the plotters took at least some steps toward carrying them out or schools had faced a substantial level of risk.

“The study found expelling students doesn’t eliminate the risk,” said Steven Driscoll, one of the authors. Instead, the key is to address bullying, provide mental-health support, and assess the impact of stressors in the home.

Many were planned for April, when the shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School occurred in 1999. Most targeted schools were public high schools, with 37 percent in suburban areas and 14 percent in cities.

Only five of the plotters were female. The youngest plotter was 11, the oldest 19.

In 75 percent of the attacks, the plotters had access to weapons, mostly from inside their own homes. More than half documented their plans through some kind of written justification for their actions.

One-third conducted research into previous school shootings.

Most important, the researchers said, about 94 percent talked about their attacks and what they intended to do in some way, whether orally or electronically, and 75 percent were detected because the plotters talked about them.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Dalia Faheid, Intern; Mark Lieberman, Reporter; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; Madeline Will, Staff Writer; and Karen Diegmueller, Senior Contributing Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 2021 edition of Education Week