Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021

October 19, 2021 8 min read
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Many Teachers May See Forgiveness of Student Loans

To err is human, to forgive divine. In this instance, the U.S. Department of Education is trying to fix those errors to produce a divine outcome for tens of thousands of public-service workers—teachers included—who will likely see their student-loan debts forgiven.

Established in 2007, the federal student-loan-relief program has long been the target of lawsuits, government watchdog reports, and a sweeping NPR investigation for its mismanagement. Federal reports found that over the course of a year, 99 percent of applications were denied and that borrowers would spend months making payments only to find they were ineligible.

“The system has not delivered on that promise [of public-service loan forgiveness] to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said this month in announcing changes to the program. “Teachers, nurses, first responders, service members, and so many public-service workers have had our back, especially amid the challenges of the pandemic. Today, the Biden administration is showing that we have their backs, too.”

To qualify for public-service loan forgiveness, borrowers had to be on an income-driven repayment plan with a federal direct loan. They had to make 120 monthly payments toward their loan, and those payments had to be on time.

Now, the department is temporarily waiving many of those requirements and doing so retroactively so that payments that previously didn’t meet the strict criteria for loan forgiveness will now count as long as the borrower was working in public service.

The changes will mean about 22,000 people will be immediately eligible to have their loans forgiven automatically, the department says. Another 27,000 borrowers could also see their debts forgiven if they can prove they previously made payments while working in public service.

That’s a significant increase: Just 16,000 borrowers have had their loans forgiven through this program since its creation, NPR reported.

Altogether, the department estimates that more than 550,000 borrowers who previously consolidated their loans will see some of their past payments now qualify—fast-tracking their path to forgiveness by two years.

Saliva Test May Predict COVID-19 Severity Among Children, Research Finds

A simple saliva test may be able to determine which children are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to early research findings by doctors at Pennsylvania State University.

While the vast majority of children who contract the virus experience only mild symptoms or none at all, early identification of those who are at risk of developing severe cases would help doctors better monitor and intervene before children become critically ill, said Steven Hicks, a pediatrician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and co-author of the study.

Children at greater risk of severe illness could be admitted to the hospital for observation and quick intervention if symptoms worsen, and avoid the most serious complications, such as respiratory failure.

With cases of COVID-19 among children rising, there is an “urgent need” to understand which children are at greatest risk of severe illness, Hicks said.

Children account for about 16 percent of all COVID-19 cases and a fraction of a percent of deaths attributed to the virus. But since the highly contagious Delta variant’s rise over the summer, the number of children under age 4 hospitalized with COVID-19 is up tenfold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Pennsylvania, the number of children with COVID-19 was 10 times higher the first week of September, compared with the same period last year. Between Sept. 2 and Sept. 8, as schools reopened for in-person classes, nearly 5,400 Pennsylvania children between ages 5 and 18 had confirmed infections, compared with 574 children with COVID-19 the same week in 2020, when students were remote, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

In their initial analysis of saliva samples from 150 children, researchers found elevated levels of two cytokines among those who later developed severe COVID-19, compared with those with more mild symptoms.

If larger samples reinforce their early findings, researchers could seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the saliva test to be used routinely as part of COVID-19 diagnosis in children.

After Lull in 2020, School-Based Shootings on Rise as Students Return for In-Person Instruction

The COVID-19 pandemic. Social-justice controversies. Now we can add another plague on the education system: Sixteen school shootings in which someone was killed or at least one person was injured have occurred so far this academic year.

Although school shootings remain relatively rare, data show that the start of this school year has been particularly violent compared with previous years. Gun-control advocates attribute the rise to students’ high levels of anxiety and stress brought on by the pandemic and the fact that 5.4 million children live in homes with an unsecured, loaded firearm.

“It is an absolute formula for a horrible school opening, and that is exactly what has taken place,” said Joe Erardi, a school safety consultant for AASA, the School Superintendents Association. Erardi served as superintendent of schools in Newtown, Conn., after that district’s deadly elementary school shooting in 2012.

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15 of this year, at least 30 instances of gunfire took place on school grounds, killing five and wounding 23, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The gun-control advocacy group says that is the most instances of people getting shot in the back-to-school period since it began tracking gunfire on school grounds in 2013.

Everytown uses a broad definition of school shootings: It counts any time a gun discharges a live round inside a school building or on a campus, even if no deaths or injuries occurred.

Education Week tracks shootings on K-12 grounds that kill or injure at least one person.

Under this more narrow definition, Education Week has counted 24 school shootings in 2021 and 16 since the start of this school year. Six people have been killed—including four children—and 34 have been injured over the course of the calendar year. There have been more school shootings at this point in the year than in 2020, 2019, or 2018.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting shift to remote learning, interrupted the trend of school shootings, the data show, as there were only 10 in all of 2020 compared with 25 in 2019 and 24 in 2018.

Gun violence in the nation is on pace to be worse this year than in decades, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

Student Interest Outpaces Computer Science Classes

Offer it, and they will come.

That seems to be the case when it comes to computer science classes. As it is, far more students are interested in studying computer science than have taken a computer science class.

And that gap is especially pronounced for Black and Hispanic students, as well as those from low-income families, concludes a report by Gallup and Amazon. It is based on a survey of 4,116 students in grades 5-12 in June.

While 62 percent of students in those grades say they want to learn about computer science, only 49 percent had actually taken a course. The difference between children’s interest in computer science and access to courses is particularly striking for students whose families earn less than $48,000 a year. Fifty-nine percent of those students are interested, but only 37 percent have taken a computer science class.

The same is true for Black students, with 60 percent saying they are interested in taking a computer science class, but only 42 percent reporting they had done so. For Hispanic students, 61 percent say they want to learn about computer science, but only 44 percent have taken a class.

This lack of opportunity is a problem because computer science is a fast-growing field with a yawning labor shortage. Jobs in that field also offer students a chance to eventually earn much higher salaries than they would in other fields.

Access to computer science courses also matters because students whose schools offer such courses are more likely to be interested in the topic. Sixty-eight percent of students who say their schools offer computer science also say they want to learn more about the topic, compared with 49 percent in schools that don’t offer the classes.

Gifted & Talented Program to End in New York City

No longer showing: New York City’s gifted and talented program, which critics say favors white and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children.

Starting next school year, the district will stop giving 4-year-olds a screening test used to identify gifted and talented students, according to the plan the school system released this month.

The program currently admits only 2,500 pupils a year out of 65,000 kindergartners citywide.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the change will help tens of thousands get advanced instruction, instead of just a select few.

“The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” he said. “Every New York City child deserves to reach their full potential, and this new, equitable model gives them that chance.”

Instead, the district will train all kindergarten teachers to provide accelerated learning in which students use more advanced skills such as robotics, computer coding, and community organizing on projects while staying in their regular classrooms. The district will also screen students going into 3rd grade to gauge if they would benefit from accelerated learning in various subjects while staying in their classrooms.

Despite being among the most diverse cities in the United States, New York’s public schools have long been derided as among the most segregated. Its gifted and talented program has underscored many of the educational system’s inequities.

About three-fourths of the roughly 16,000 students are white or of Asian descent, while Black and Latino students make up the rest—despite accounting for about two-thirds of the 1 million schoolchildren.

Some Asian American activists have resisted dismantling the program, arguing that it has given their children educational opportunities to get into better schools and lift themselves out of poverty.

New York City currently has 80 elementary schools that offer some accelerated instruction. City officials have not detailed how much it would cost to expand that to all 800 elementary schools.

The plan will require the hiring of additional teachers who are trained to provide accelerated instruction.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Tribune News Service; and Madeline Will, Assistant Managing Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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