Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

November 25, 2020 8 min read

Mental-Health Crises of Children Skyrocket, CDC Data Show

Teachers and parents can now say, “I told you so,” even though they undoubtedly wish it weren’t true. New federal data reveal the pandemic is taking a striking toll on children’s mental health.

Those data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the proportion of emergency-department visits related to mental-health crises has increased dramatically for the young since the pandemic started.

From March through October, the share of mental-health-related hospital emergency-department visits rose 24 percent for children ages 5-11 and 31 percent among adolescents ages 12-17, when compared with the same period in 2019. While the CDC does not record whether a patient reported a mental-health emergency as a result of a disaster, all the mental-health emergencies included stress, anxiety, acute post-traumatic stress disorder, or panic. The share of mental-health visits for every 100,000 pediatric hospital emergency visits each week rose steadily beginning about three months into the pandemic.

CDC analysts noted that the findings “likely underestimate the total number of mental-health-related health-care visits,” because they did not include urgent mental-health visits in schools or nonemergency-department settings.

Federal researchers also noted that girls were significantly more likely to have mental-health emergencies than boys, though the number increased for both genders. The combination of disrupted routines, fear of sickness or family loss, and economic and housing mobility all have proved to be significant stressors for adults as well as children. But developmentally, the social isolation caused by repeated and sudden quarantines and widespread social inequities may prove the heaviest burdens for young and older adolescents, who are going through a period of growth in social learning now thought to be as intense as the cognitive growth seen in toddlers.

“We don’t know exactly what this pandemic is going to do to kids because it’s unprecedented,” said Deanna Barch, a professor and chair of the department of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University. “But I think the things that are emerging are mostly around social isolation, and that’s contributing to kids feeling depression and anxiety.”

‘One of Your Own in the White House’: Jill Biden To Become Latest First Lady With Teaching on CV

Come January, a teacher will be in the White House—the latest in a long line of first ladies with classroom experience.

Jill Biden, who holds a doctorate in education, has taught for more than three decades at a public high school, a psychiatric hospital for adolescents, and community colleges. “Teaching isn’t just what she does,” President-elect Joe Biden said in his victory speech on Nov. 7. “It’s who she is. For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”

As first lady, “you can bring attention to all kinds of things that are important to you,” said Michelle Gullion, the director of collections and research at the National First Ladies’ Library, an Ohio-based nonprofit dedicated to researching and preserving the contributions of first ladies throughout history. And first ladies have the ear of the president: “You’re telling him about your concerns—those are going to be his concerns,” Gullion said.

Biden will be at least the 10th first lady to have classroom experience, according to the library. The others:

  • Abigail Fillmore (in the White House from 1850-53) taught for more than a decade. Lucretia Garfield (1881) taught French, Latin, algebra, reading, and art.
  • Caroline Harrison (1889-93) taught music, home economics, and painting in Ohio and Kentucky.
  • Helen Taft (1909-13) taught kindergarten and French, as well as teaching at a school for boys in Cincinnati.
  • Grace Coolidge (1923-29) taught at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Massachusetts for about three years. Lou Hoover (1929-33) worked briefly as a substitute teacher.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-45) bought and helped run a private girls’ school in New York City.
  • Patricia Nixon (1969-74) taught typing, bookkeeping, business principles, and stenography at a high school in California.
  • Laura Bush (2001-09) taught 2nd grade, then worked as a school librarian for about five years.

And lest we forget, at least 10 presidents were K-12 teachers, according to the White House Historical Association. Several more taught at colleges or universities.

In Era of Coronavirus, Voters Give Thumbs Up To Bonds for School Technology

What fiscal experts have deemed a no-no in the past when it comes to paying for school technology with bonds seems to have been swept aside in the age of COVID-19. Voters this month gave the nod to bonds that will help pay for computing devices and internet connectivity schools need to continue remote learning during the pandemic.

Take San Antonio, where voters passed a $1.3 billion initiative that includes $90 million to help pay for high-speed internet, student computers, interactive smartboards, and new audio systems. Or Dallas, where voters rejected proposals to issue new debt to renovate athletic stadiums and performing-arts facilities yet approved $3.2 billion for school construction and $270 million in technology upgrades.

School finance experts have long questioned the wisdom of districts issuing long-term debt to fund the purchase of devices and other equipment that have a short shelf life. But Grayson Nichols, a bond analyst at Moody’s, said districts have adapted by shortening the repayment term on debt for school technology to match the life cycle of the technology being bought. And with poor districts poised to lose millions in state funding because of the coronavirus recession, some see bonds as an appealing option to keep money flowing for essential needs, especially with interest rates at historic lows.

Kenneth Thompson, San Antonio’s chief information officer, said the new funding steam will be essential to meet long-term student needs, as well as continue remote learning through at least the current school year. “This is going to position us for the remainder of this pandemic,” he said. “But it’s also about sustainability.”

Thompson said San Antonio added new audio systems into its plan to ensure that students following live lessons via their devices at home can hear as their teachers move around the classroom. “The pandemic has brought some additional instructional components that we had not originally planned for,” he said. In California, about two-thirds of the 60 bond measures passed, EdSource says, several with big line items for technology. Los Angeles’ bond issue featured hundreds of millions of dollars for technology and passed with 71 percent of the vote.

What Superintendents Want From a Biden Administration

Groups representing the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts are putting out their markers for what they want the new Biden administration to prioritize, raising this key question: Will they have more clout than before?

Both AASA, the School Superintendents’ Administration, and the smaller Chiefs for Change recently put out their “wish lists,” likely the first of many from national education groups.

Here are some of the things they want to see:

Funding. Chiefs for Change focuses on the need for an additional emergency-relief package, comparing the $13.5 billion schools received in the coronavirus package earlier this year to the $100 billion the Obama administration passed as part of the 2008 economic-stimulus. legislation.

The AASA supports a COVID-relief package as well, but its list also includes streamlined Medicaid reimbursements for school-based programs and additional funding for school nutrition programs.

Closing the “digital divide” and supporting school infrastructure. Topping both groups’ lists is federal support to close gaps in access to broadband, which affect an estimated 17 million students during the pandemic.

Reversing or revising regulations. Chiefs for Change calls on the new Congress to enact a comprehensive, bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, noting the uncertainty Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients and others have faced in recent years.

The AASA points to several Trump administration rules it would like to see revoked, including its recent Title IX regulation, which created a more stringent evidentiary standard for claims of sexual assault.

Federal Appeals Court OKs Use of Race in Harvard Entry

In a case closely watched in K-12 and higher education circles, a federal appeals court has upheld Harvard University’s use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions.

“Harvard’s consideration of race is not impermissibly extensive, but considering race is meaningful to Harvard’s admissions process because it prevents diversity from plummeting,” said the unanimous panel.

The ruling sets up a potentially titanic fight in the U.S. Supreme Court over affirmative action in education. In 2016, the high court ruled 4-3 to uphold race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. But the makeup of the court has changed since that decision.

In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the plaintiffs argued that Harvard’s admissions program’s use of race violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They asserted that Harvard’s use of racial “tips” at various points in the admissions process discriminates against Asian American applicants and that a “personal score” Harvard devises can allow admissions officials to enhance the chances of Black and Hispanic applicants and put Asian Americans at a disadvantage.

The appellate court said that Harvard had conducted a searching review of its use of race and had also found that race-neutral alternatives would not achieve the same results. Under a race-neutral plan proposed by the plaintiffs, Harvard would eliminate tips for race but also for legacy admissions and other categories, while increasing tips for low-income status.

“African American representation in Harvard’s admitted class would decrease by about 32 percent” under that race-neutral scenario, the court said, further noting that the proportion of Black students in the admissions class would decrease from 14 percent to 10 percent under the race-neutral model.

For its admitted class of 2024, Harvard reports Asian Americans make up 24.6 percent of students; African Americans, 13.9 percent; Hispanic, 11.8 percent; Native Americans, 1.8 percent, and Native Hawaiians, 0.3 percent. That would leave non-Hispanic white students at 46.1 percent, although Harvard doesn’t specify the white figure on its admissions page “ethnicity” breakdown.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Benjamin Herold, Stephen Sawchuk, Sarah D. Sparks, Mark Walsh, and Madeline Will. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the November 25, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

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