Briefly Stated: February 9, 2022

February 08, 2022 8 min read
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Economic Segregation in Nation’s Schools Has Gotten Bleaker

More division—and not the kind studied in math.

Instead, it’s the segregation of young students from low-income families, brought on by climbing Latino enrollments and the departure of white and middle-class families, which has worsened across the country over a 15-year period and contributed to widening achievement gaps along economic and racial lines, a new study concludes.

In 2000, the typical child from a family living below the poverty line attended an elementary school where 45 percent of the children were from middle-class families. By 2015, that figure fell to 36 percent nationwide, according to a University of California, Berkeley, and University of Maryland study. Researchers compared data for elementary students at more than 14,000 districts nationwide.

“The growing segregation of the haves and have-nots over the past two decades” is particularly concerning in light of other research indicating that students from low-income families make less academic progress as they “come to dominate district enrollments,” said study director Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley.

Other research has offered evidence that learning gaps among students have widened further during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit harder in low-income, predominately Latino and Black communities where families had fewer re-sources to respond and recover.

The study found patterns of increasing segregation 68 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools.

School systems moving in the direction of racial or economic isolation during the period of the study include those in Des Moines, Iowa; Montgomery County, Md.; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; and Akron, Ohio.

Across the nation, forced integration has faded away in court rulings and in legislatures, as have voluntary integration plans based on race.

Researchers found some reason for hope.

“Several metropolitan areas, bucking the national trend, host schools that increasingly integrate children with varying economic means, thanks to shifting housing patterns and proactive efforts by local educators,” say the researchers. And about 800 districts nationwide have rising Latino enrollments with little evidence of white flight.

And sometimes the ethnic shift brings in middle-class Latino families—retaining a measure of economic diversity.

The Academic Slide From COVID Looks Like It’s Going to Be Worse Than Most Expected

Three years later, the COVID slide is still slippery.

New research suggests students have yet to regain the academic ground they’ve lost in the disruptions of the ongoing pandemic, and many high school students will continue to struggle after graduation.

The average junior who took the ACT college-entry test last spring fell from the 50th to the 46th percentile across English, reading, math, and science—equal to about three months of learning—compared with performance in 2020 and 2019. As a result, two fewer students out of every 100 who took the test last spring are on track to do well in college courses after graduation.

High school students lost on average the equivalent of 3.4 months of instruction in reading, 3.3 months in math, 3.1 months in science, and 2.3 months in English even as schools continued to offer remote instruction through the worst of the pandemic. Students of all racial groups and across rural, suburban, and urban schools showed significant declines in test scores, ACT found, based on scores from about 600,000 students from nearly 4,000 schools in 38 states.

“The pandemic disrupted education, which then led to decreases in academic learning, which then led to test-score declines,” said Jeff Allen, a principal research scientist at ACT and the study’s lead author. “But there are other chains of effects. ... We also believe that the pandemic has led to decreases in the social and emotional wellness of students that could also lead to decreases in academic learning.”

ACT’s findings come on the heels of a separate longitudinal look at academic trends released late last month by Megan Kuhfeld, a research scientist for the Collaborative for Student Growth at NWEA, and her colleagues, which finds the pandemic a “seismic and ongoing disruption to K-12 schooling.”

Using data from more than 5.4 million students in grades 3-8 who took the computer-adaptive MAP Growth test, researchers found scores this past fall fell by a fifth to more than a quarter of a standard deviation in math, and .09 to .18 of a standard deviation in reading, compared with scores in fall 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Child Obesity Increased During the Pandemic, But Schools Can Take Steps to Turn It Around

Anxiety? Check. Depression? Check. Stalled social development? Check. Can there be any other troubling developments that research has linked to the pandemic? Unfortunately, yes. Add obesity to that list.

Recent research has found a significant rise in obesity rates among children and teenagers over the course of the pandemic, accelerating an already troubling upward trend.

Schools are positioned to help head off that trend. But efforts to tackle the problem face stiff competition for educators’ attention alongside the ongoing pandemic, staff shortages, and the need to make up for lost academic ground.

“It is concerning to me and all school nurses because the disease of obesity has some big impacts on the health and learning of children,” said Kate King, the president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses.

While school closures, excessive amounts of screen time, and much less exercise likely fueled the rise in obesity among children during the first year or so of the pandemic, simply returning kids to in-person learning won’t solve the problem, said King.

School health experts say there are small steps that schools can take to help students get more physical activity and better nutrition during the school day.

They should get rid of vending machines filled with candy, chips, and soft drinks and avoid using food as a reward, said King. Schools should also never take away recess from students to punish them for misbehavior.

Plus, lunch should follow recess, not the other way around, said Jessica Shelly, the director of dining services for the Cincinnati public schools. Kids are more likely to eat their food if they have had a chance to run around and play before meal-time.

Teachers can incorporate more physical activity into their classrooms, said Terri Drain, a longtime physical education teacher and the president of SHAPE America, a national organization of physical education instructors.

For instance, they can assign discussion questions for students to tackle as they walk around the schoolyard in pairs instead of sitting at their desks and give homework that re-quires students to go outside instead of spending more time on a screen.

Ban Lifts Holocaust Book Onto List of Bestsellers

How rich is the irony—on so many levels?

A Tennessee school board bans a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the Holocaust, and now that book has hit the bestseller list on Amazon.

The Complete Maus, about the experiences of the author’s parents, broke onto Amazon’s top 20 list and, as of early last week, had held the No. 2 spot. The graphic novel wasn’t in the top 1,000 before the ban.

Written by Art Spiegelman, Maus is set in 1940s Poland during the Holocaust and chronicles his parents’ internment in Auschwitz, depicting Nazis as cats and Jewish people as mice.

The novel was part of the 8th grade English/language arts curriculum in the McMinn County school system, and its removal—sparked by a discussion about how to best teach students about the Holocaust—has drawn international attention.

Minutes from the district’s school board meeting indicate objections over some of the language used, and, at first, schools director Lee Parkison suggested redacting it “to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.” The nude woman is drawn as a mouse.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff ? It is not wise or healthy,” board member Tony Allman said about the book.

Instructional supervisor Julie Goodin, a former history teacher, said she thought the graphic novel was a good way to depict a horrific event.

Spiegelman, 73, called the recent removal “absurd” and “myopic.”

“I think they’re so myopic in their focus and they’re so afraid of what’s implied and having to defend the decision to teach Maus as part of the curriculum that it led to this kind of daffily myopic response,” he added.

Early Masking Prevented Child-Care-Venue Closures

Put on a mask. After all, if youngsters can do it ...

Child-care programs in the United States that instituted child-masking policies in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic were less likely to close in the following year, according to a new Yale study.

The study, published Jan. 27 in JAMA Network Open, tracked 6,654 center-based and home-based child-care professionals from all 50 states during a one-year period starting in late spring of 2020.

Child-care programs that required masking children 2 years and older early on in the pandemic (from May through June of 2020) saw a 13 percent reduction in program closure over the following year, says the study. Researchers found that continued masking throughout the year was associated with a 14 percent reduction in program closure, while controlling for other mitigation measures such as social distancing and symptom screening.

“It’s the disruptions in learning opportunities and care routines that harm children, not the masks,” said Walter Gilliam, a professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and the study’s senior author.

The study, which also controlled for the extent of COVID transmission in the surrounding community, is among the first large-scale longitudinal studies of the impacts of COVID safety measures in child-care programs.

Over the course of the one-year period, 43 percent of child-care pro-grams in the study closed at least temporarily because of a suspected or confirmed case of the disease among employees or children.

Researchers found that among a number of safety measures, from social distancing and staggered arrivals and departures to outdoor drop-off and pickup, child masking was the most associated with reduced rates or program closure. For instance, six-foot distancing policies were associated with a 7 percent reduction in child-care closure—roughly half the rate of reduction associated with child masking.

Masking rates were higher among employees, however.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Arianna Prothero, Assistant Editor; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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