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July 13, 2020 8 min read

Graduation Events Spread Virus, Despite Emphasis On Safety Measures

Don’t drink and drive. Add another piece of graduation advice from high school principals these days: Keep your distance.

Health officials in at least a half-dozen states have traced coronavirus clusters to high school and college graduations. In several of those outbreaks, school and district leaders found their creative efforts to provide a virus-safe ceremony may have been thwarted by students and guests abandoning social-distancing rules soon afterwards.

Christine Ackerman, the superintendent of the Chappaqua district in New York, said her district planned with the local health department and “repeatedly provided clear guidance and protocols for families” on how to stay safe and socially distant during the graduation ceremony for Horace Greeley High School. “Unfortunately, at the event, and despite police presence, numerous individuals failed to follow our protocols.”

On the weekend of June 20, a student returned from a visit to hotspot Florida to attend the commencement, followed by days of private parties and a large, multi-community graduation celebration that included juniors and seniors from Horace Greeley and surrounding schools. That student became the first of a still-expanding cluster of at least 19 coronavirus cases in Westchester County.

Elsewhere, fully half the new coronavirus cases in Lane County, Ore., have come from a 20-person cluster following a college graduation and another 11-person cluster following high school graduations.

In both the New York outbreak and another following postgraduation house parties in New Orleans, witnesses told health officials that students packed inside private homes without masks. The Crescent City’s health director, Jennifer Avegno, called the private parties “superspreader events” in a city struggling to contain new outbreaks.

The independent Lovett School in Atlanta honored seniors with a car parade in mid-May, but several students tested positive for COVID-19 in the days that followed. School officials later learned about several social gatherings after the parade but did not know whether guests at the off-campus events followed health recommendations.

Department of Education Prediction Comes True: States Sue Over COVID-19 School Funding

Who knew U.S. Department of Education officials were soothsayers?

Jim Blew, the department’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, told reporters during a conference call last month that he expected the department to be sued over the rule that, essentially, requires public school districts to share federal coronavirus aid with all private school students—poor or wealthy.

His prediction came true last week when attorneys general from five states—California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia sued to over-turn the recently published rule.

The rule says districts that share CARES Act funds with all their schools, including those that didn’t get federal aid for low-income students in the last school year, must reserve money to provide certain services to all local private school students.

“The Trump administration is undermining the rule of law” and defying Congress, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press conference. “It’s not just sinful. It’s against the law. ... Ultimately, it’s a shakedown of public schools across the country.”

In April, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released non-binding guidance telling districts to reserve a portion of CARES Act funding to provide equitable services, like tutoring, to all private school students. But critics argued that the law only directs districts to provide equitable services to low-income students.

On July 1, the department published an interim final rule that gives districts two choices for equitable services. In one scenario, they can limit equitable services just for low-income private school students, but then they have to send CARES aid only to public schools that got Title I aid for disadvantaged students in the last school year. In the other, they can provide equitable services to private school students in general and then have the freedom to provide CARES relief to public schools regardless of their Title I status.

The attorneys general seem to have Congress’ research arm on their side. In a report published earlier this month, it said the evidence suggests DeVos’ approach to equitable services does not match the law.

Even With More Experience, Black Administrators and Women Less Likely to Be Promoted to Principal Than White Men

Who’s more likely to get promoted to principal: a) a white man; b) a Black man; c) a Black woman; or d) a white woman?

No surprise here. The answer is: a) a white man. But dig a little deeper into new research by Lauren P. Bailes, an assistant professor of education leadership at the University of Delaware, and Sarah Guthery, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, and you will find some revelations.

In their study, published in AERA Open, the pair found that Black men got that promotion faster than women of any race and that Black and white women were similarly situated in attaining that goal. What’s more, men in the study sample had, on average, less experience—as much as 20 months less—than women, despite being more likely to be selected for a principalship.

The researchers looked specifically at assistant principals and how they end up shaping the administrative labor force. Black assistant principals had to wait longer—more than half a year—than their white peers to become principals and were 18 percent less likely to earn the promotion than equally qualified white candidates. And at the high school level, it took women of all races more than two-thirds of a year longer to be promoted to the principalship, and they were about 5 percent to 7 percent less likely to be promoted than men.

So who’s responsible for helping to change these patterns? The researchers put the responsibility pretty squarely on the shoulders of superintendents, who have the most control over who ends up leading the schools in their districts.

The findings resonate with the nation’s current conversation over structural racism and how it’s replicated in public institutions, including schools. But the researchers noted that there’s room for optimism, too: Lots of qualified would-be-principals are waiting in the wings.

“If offers a lot of hope to realize there are people in the pipeline who are qualified and are interested in leading schools, and they can choose to really invest in those people,” said Guthery. “And it might be a lot shorter timeline than you would think to close some of these gaps.”

Unlike Boys, Only Top Girls Choose College and Careers in Male-Dominated STEM Fields

Gender gaps in the most male-dominated science fields don’t come from men outperforming women academically in those subjects but from the simple fact that overwhelmingly more boys than girls opt for those careers in spite of lackluster science skills.

Boys and girls with the very highest math and science skills choose to major in physics, engineering, and computer science at roughly the same rates, finds a new study in the journal Science. But the gender gap widens for students at all other achievement levels.

New York University researchers led by Joseph Cimpian, an associate professor of economics and education policy, looked at federal data on more than 6,000 students over seven years, from the start of high school until midway through college.

“Those that are higher in STEM achievement are more likely to go into these math-heavy fields, and you see that for both men and women,” Cimpian said, “but what’s more pronounced is that the women aren’t going into these math-intensive fields unless they are above average—and really oftentimes much further above average—while men start going into these fields even if they are lower-achieving.”

For example, about 10 percent of the men whose science and math performance had been in the lowest 1 percent in high school went on to study physics, engineering, or computer science in college. The rate of women entering those fields didn’t reach that level except among students in the top 20 percent of all math and science achievement.

Among the highest-performing students, much of the gender gap could be explained by lower feelings of confidence and self-efficacy among girls. But the researchers found that among students with lower achievement levels, boys and girls did not show significant differences in self-confidence, interest in science, academic mindsets, or even having a math or science “identity.”

Overall, by college nearly 24 percent of men but only 5.5 percent of women chose to go into physics, engineering, or computer science, and those women had higher-than-average math and science skills.

During Perfect Civics Storm, Students Can’t Demonstrate Savvy on NAEP

Schools, businesses, and other institutions are shut down because of COVID-19. Millions of Americans have taken to the streets pro-testing police violence and other mistreatment of Blacks. Leaders from the White House to statehouses to mayors’ offices are in a tizzy over how to solve these staggering problems. And amid all this, political candidates are revving up for bruising battles to run government at all levels.

What an opportune time to find out how much our children have absorbed about the societal turmoil. Well, that chance has been nixed. Eighth graders were on schedule to be tested on their U.S. history and civics prowess next year, but the overseers of the National Assessment of Educational Progress shot that down late last month. Even the congressionally mandated reading and math tests for 4th and 8th graders may get canned or at least delayed.

The reason for the cancellation: one of those very circumstances afflicting us—the coronavirus. The National Center for Education Sciences, which conducts the tests, estimates they will cost an additional $45 million to safely administer during the pandemic.

“It’s not the money issue,” Mark Schneider, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, said of conducting the civics and history assessment. “It is taking all the machinery and putting it in schools for nonmandatory assessments,” he said, thus increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus virus through people and equipment being moved from school to school, sometimes multiple times.

Not that anyone would be eagerly awaiting the results, if they mirror the 2018 ones released last month: 8th graders’ civics performance was middling, while their understanding of history and geography dropped sharply.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Stephen Sawchuk, Sarah D. Sparks, and Andrew Ujifusa. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2020 edition of Education Week

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