Briefly Stated: June 1, 2022

May 31, 2022 8 min read
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Districts Can Request More Time to Spend COVID-Relief Funds

All that money and no time to spend it. That’s about to change.

Districts will be able to request an additional 14 months beyond the previously understood deadline for spending some of the $200 billion that K-12 schools got in three rounds of COVID-relief aid, according to a U.S. Department of Education timeline laid out in a May 13 letter to AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

A department spokesperson said the agency typically grants deadline extensions for extenuating circumstances only, such as the supply-chain issues that are delaying school construction projects, which will be given priority. Under existing regulations, however, schools could apply to extend the deadline for other types of contracts—such as mental health, tutoring, and other third-party services—as well, the spokesman said.

Schools have until this September to commit funds to specific purposes, from the first round of federal COVID relief, known as ESSER I, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The deadline to commit the second round of funds, ESSER II, is September 2023, and for ESSER III, September 2024.

Previously, schools were under the impression they would have four months from those deadline dates to spend the money. A May 13 Education Department letter cites obscure federal regulations cites obscure federal regulations that had gone overlooked by most district leaders.

Districts still have to obligate ESSER I funds by September 2022, ESSER II funds by September 2023, and ESSER III funds by September 2024. But if they hire a contractor before the deadline, they can get 18 months past those dates, instead of four, to pay the contractor—if their state education department secures a waiver from the federal Education Department.

School district leaders and advocacy groups have been sounding the alarm for months that they might not be able to finish vital construction projects like replacing an HVAC system before the federal support that made them possible runs out.

Soaring materials costs and persistent supply shortages have led many districts to shrink investments in facilities or wait to get started until market conditions improve.

Despite the extension, the department is still urging districts to spend ESSER funds as quickly as possible.

Teacher-Prep Programs Are Requiring Heavier Doses of Math Coursework for Elementary Candidates

If students don’t get a solid foundation in math in elementary school, it can haunt them throughout their educational careers. Question is, do they stand a chance if their teachers don’t have that foundation, either? Fortunately, things are looking up in the way teacher-preparation programs are readying candidates to teach elementary math.

A review of more than 1,100 teacher-prep programs by the National Council of Teacher Quality finds undergraduate programs now require an average of 19 percent more time for elementary math coursework than they did in 2014.

But the Washington-based think tank notes that there’s still a long way to go. NCTQ recommends that programs spend a minimum of 45 instructional hours on math pedagogy and 105 hours on content. On average, undergraduate programs dedicate 49 hours to pedagogy and 85 hours to content.

Even though programs are spending more time on math, NCTQ warns that many may not be devoting it to the best topics, such as algebraic thinking and numbers and operations.

About a fifth of undergraduate programs earned an F in the review for providing less than 60 percent of the recommended math coursework. Graduate programs fared worse: 85 percent earned an F, and just 2 percent earned an A or A-plus.

“We often fall into a trap thinking that everyone who has graduated from high school has the knowledge they need to teach elementary math,” said Heather Peske, the organization’s president. “And that’s not true.”

Across the country, large shares of students struggle with the subject. In 2019, just 41 percent of 4th graders demonstrated proficiency in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The pandemic and resulting school closures appear to have disrupted math learning even further, especially for Black and Hispanic students—creating a new sense of urgency to better prepare teachers, Peske said.

Wyoming’s teacher-prep programs topped the list in terms of math content taught to elementary teacher-candidates with 146 instructional hours. Meanwhile, Florida’s teacher-prep programs ranked last in the country in terms of the math content provided, with just 40 hours.

Native American Children Endured Brutal Treatment at Government-Run Boarding Schools, Probe Finds

Tens of thousands of Native American children were removed from their communities and forced to attend boarding schools where they were compelled to change their names, starved and whipped, and made to do manual labor between 1819 and 1969, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Interior has found.

The report marks the first findings made public after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland commissioned an investigation into federal Indian boarding schools last June following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a Canadian boarding school.

At the 408 federal Indian boarding schools across 37 states or territories that Native American children had to attend in the United States, children and teenagers were forced to assimilate into Western culture. The schools were supported for more than a century by the U.S. government as well as religious institutions, according to the report, issued last month.

The department identified marked or unmarked burial sites at some 53 schools and expects to find more. Based on initial analyses, approximately 19 schools accounted for more than 500 American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian deaths. The count is expected to rise to thousands or tens of thousands.

“This is not new to us. It’s not new to many of us as Indigenous people. We have lived with the intergenerational trauma of federal Indian boarding school policies for many years,” Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet position, said. What is new is the current administration’s willingness to address the long-running demands of Native Americans to acknowledge and document what went on in the government-run schools, she added.

Because boarding schools relied on students to perform manual labor during school hours, they were ill-prepared to join the mainstream economy and job market by pursuing college or a career, which led to adverse economic impact on Native American communities, the report found.

The impact of the boarding school system lingers. In addition to the trauma and poverty the system wreaked on Native American communities, survivors are more prone to serious health conditions, such as cancer, tuberculosis, and diabetes, National Institutes of Health studies show.

Hackers Breach Records of Chicago Students, Staff

Hacking into school districts’ computer systems is becoming routine. This time, the target was one of the nation’s largest.

The personal information of more than half a million Chicago public school students and staff was compromised in a ransomware attack last December, but the vendor didn’t report it to the district until the end of April, officials said. And it wasn’t alerted to the breach of staff information until May 11.

The data breach occurred Dec. 1, and technology vendor Battelle for Kids notified the district April 26, the district said. Four years’ worth of records were accessed.

In total, 495,448 student and 56,138 employee records were accessed from the 2015-16 through 2018-19 school years. The data included students’ names, schools, dates of birth, gender, student-identification numbers, class-schedule information, and scores on course-specific assessments used for teacher evaluations.

Employee data included names, employee-identification numbers, school and course information, and emails and usernames.

The district said the breached server did not store any other records nor is there evidence the data have been misused, posted, or distributed. It offered affected families a year of credit monitoring and identity-theft protection.

Battelle for Kids was hired to help district leaders conduct the district’s teacher-evaluation program. Those evaluations take into account the growth in students’ academic performance each year.

Battelle for Kids told the Chicago Sun-Times that the company “immediately engaged a national cybersecurity firm to assess the scope of the incident and took steps to mitigate the potential impact.”

The company said it has since put in place stronger security protocols but did not answer why it did not inform Chicago officials of the breach while the assessment was underway.

Students Triumph Over Plan to Cover Yearbook Photos

Chalk one up for the students.

After an outcry from the teenagers and parents over yearbook censorship, a Florida school board has overruled the superintendent’s plan to cover a page showing students waving rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign during a walkout against the state’s so-called “don’t say gay” law.

Superintendent Serita Beamon told the board that the page violated its policy by seeming to endorse a student walkout. Stickers to cover the entire page would be added before yearbooks were handed out, she said.

But Seminole County school board members rejected that plan, voting instead to order smaller stickers that don’t block the text and pictures yet explain that the March protest over the law outside Lyman High School was unauthorized.

The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

More than 30 students, parents, and teachers spoke out in opposition to the sticker plan at the board’s meeting. “It is silencing the LGBTQ-plus community and silencing the journalistic community,” Sara Ward, a student on the yearbook staff, told the board.

“I want to be clear to each and every student that this was not about the Lyman High School administration looking to try and target any student, to try and silence any voice,” Beamon said.

She denied that covering up the entire page would violate the First Amendment or the board’s policy, which she said authorizes prior restraint of school-sponsored publications.

The board wasn’t having it.

“We all make mistakes. ... We own up to it and we try to do what we can to fix it,” board vice chair Abby Sanchez said. “As students, I am proud of you for bringing it to our attention.”

Yearbook staffer Skye Tiedemann summed up the night as a clear win for student speech.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up,” Tiedemann said, “because students, they do have a chance to change things.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Mark Lieberman, Reporter; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Tribune News Service; and Madeline Will, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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