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Senate Passes Coronavirus Bill With $13.5 Billion for Schools, DeVos Waiver Power – Politics K-12


See full coverage of the coronavirus and schools here

Senators have passed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes $13.5 billion in dedicated funding to shore up K-12 education budgets, as well as additional aid for student nutrition and child-care services. It also gives U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos new waiver power to grant states and schools flexibility under the main federal K-12 law. 

The $13.5 billion earmarked for K-12 schools is included in the bill’s Education Stabilization Fund, which also contains $14.25 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for governors to use at their discretion to assist K-12 and higher education as they deal with the fallout from the virus. The legislation also states that any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”

In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 96-0, would provide the following funding:

  • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
  • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
  • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
  • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities. 

The $13.5 billion in stabilization fund money, which would be distributed to districts based on their Title I aid, could be used to provide K-12 students internet connectivity and internet-connected devices, and a separate item in the bill for rural developemnt provides $25 million to support “distance learning.” 

However, the Senate bill does not include dedicated funding through the federal E-Rate program to provide students with internet-connected devices and internet connectivity at home if their school buildings have closed. Dedicated aid for remote K-12 learning is something that several senators and educators have asked for in the last several days. 

In order to access the state education stabilization fund in the final Senate bill, states would first have to agree to provide funding to education in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 that’s at least the same as the average of their education over the three prior fiscal years. However, DeVos could waive that requirement for states. 

New Waiver Authority for DeVos

There are two processes for waivers identified in the bill: 

1) Through a streamlined waiver process, states and Indian tribes could get significant waivers from accountability and testing requirements. These waivers would relieve states of mandates on publicly reporting various indicators under their accountability systems. States and tribes could also get waivers from reporting on progress toward their long-term achievement goals, and interim goals under ESSA. (DeVos has already allowed states to start applying for waivers from having to give ESSA-required standardized tests, which underpin ESSA’s accountability system.)

Essentially, states could get waivers to freeze in place their schools identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year, under this expedited waiver process.

2) States and school districts could also apply for waivers from sections of ESSA dealing with several funding mandates. For example:

  • They could seek to get waivers from ESSA’s requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds. 
  • They could seek a waiver to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools. 
  • They could seek flexibility from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices. 
  • Districts could seek to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there’s a 15 percent limit. 
  • Finally, they could seek waivers from adhering to ESSA’s definition of professional development. 

DeVos would have to approve or reject state and local waiver requests within 30 days of receiving them, and in general they would be good for the 2019-20 school year.  All approved waivers would apply to traditional public schools and charter schools, in accordance with states’ charter school laws. And the secretary would be prohibited from waiving “any statutory or regulatory requirements under applicable civil rights laws.”

Within 30 days of the bill becoming law, DeVos also would have to tell Congress if she thinks any additional waivers are necessary from the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act—the federal law governing special education— as well as ESSA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, in order to provide schools with “limited flexibility.”

Although school districts are seeking significant flexibility from federal education mandates, that provision requiring DeVos to share any recommendations for new waivers from IDEA has concerned special education advocates.

Short of Education Groups’ Hopes

The House was expected to take up the CARES Act shortly after Senate passage.

The Senate’s roughly $31 billion education stabilization fund also falls far short of what major K-12 advocates asked for late last week—the two national teachers’ unions and other education organizations wrote to Congress last week asking for at least $75 billion in education stabilization money.

See: Education Week’s Map of Coronavirus and School Closures

Last week, an initial version of the “Phase III” Senate coronavirus stimulus bill would have given DeVos much broader power to waive the Every Student Succeeds Act, along with two other laws governing higher education and career-technical education, but no dedicated emergency funding for K-12.

A subsequent version of the bill, released before the Senate passed revised legislation, would have created a $20 billion program to shore up state education budgets, with at least 60 percent of that money earmarked for K-12 schools, a dollar figure that went up by more than 50 percent in the bill the Senate passed Wednesday

Earlier this week, House Democrats introduced their own coronavirus stimulus legislation that would provide $50 billion to an emergency state education fund, with at least $15 billion earmarked for K-12 schools.

The House bill would also provide $2 billion to a new E-Rate program to provide internet and internet-connected devices to students without their services who are forced to learn remotely, as well as $1 billion for Head Start. 

Photo: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington. –Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

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Daddy School, Week One – Education Next : Education Next

Since publishing “Daddy School,” I’ve gotten a ton of emails.

“How is the homeschool schedule working, and what have you changed after a few days?

Usually, they attach a meme like this one.

As always, there’s important truth in a meme: Don’t try for an A in this situation! That’s nuts. Aspire to a B− as a parent teacher.

After three days, here were my ratings on a scale from one to ten, from my nine year old and eleven year old:

Day 1: 5.0

Day 2: 8.5

Day 3: 7.0

So I’m hitting my second goal, which was the following:

The kids will remember it fondly five years from now. “Remember when we had Daddy School for a few weeks? That wasn’t horrible!”

Anything above a six and I’m happy. That’s B− territory.

What about my first goal? That was the following:

Something reasonably easy for me and sort of fun. I’m not lazy, per se. Okay, I am lazy. I don’t want to do a ton of prep.

My prep has averaged thirty minutes per day. So far, so good.

Finally, my third goal was the following:

Kids learn a little. But in scheme of things, whether they learn a little or a lot doesn’t matter much. A one-month closure is less than 1 percent of their K–12 career.

We’re exceeding this low bar. Learning has gone better than I (and they) expected. Let me break it down.

9 to 9:30: Oversimplified history videos (with lots of pause and cold call)

These videos create a positive start to the day. First, they’re funny. Second, we’re comfy, on the couch. Third, they work, even though each kid starts with a different level of knowledge.

In my “pretest” (“Tell me about the Civil War”), the fourth grader explained it was (ahem) between “the British and the Americans.” She had never heard of Robert Lee, “Confederates,” and so on. So she’s gained lots of basic plot/facts.

The sixth grader knew the basics but gained both facts (Sherman’s March, 13th amendment, Dred Scott, and the definition of “abolition”) and ideas (that a president might need to replace generals, for example, or the tactic of flanking).

I pause the video and cold call on the kids about once per minute. That’s mostly to help the kiddos remember stuff but also to connect to the past to the present (for example, the video describes how Abe Lincoln’s reelection campaign affected his war strategy—a timely concept).

9:30 to 10: Math

Khan Academy Math has productively occupied my sixth grader. Though I want to do more with him one on one, his ability to do Khan solo has freed me to work alongside my fourth grader.

As a side note, I’ve long said that schools mostly have these online math tools backwards: they’re great at helping strong math students, who need little help, but bad at helping weak math students, because the “online tips” can’t get them unstuck. This “solo use case” has the educational advantage of working well but the political disadvantage of expanding the achievement gap, rather than reducing it.

I’d ordered an MCAS Workbook. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon, it arrived right away. The fact that my daughter perceives the book as “official” helps me get her to plod through it.

I have learned a lot about her math skills by “watching over her shoulder” as she works on problems. One thing has jumped out: Although she’s been introduced to fractions, decimals, and percentages, she’s not fluent with them. For example, “What is two-fifths as a decimal?” is a hard question for her.

So I break up our thirty-minute session this way:

• Ten minutes of the workbook, usually solving five questions.

• Ten minutes of me drawing pie graphs, asking her for a fraction and then the decimal and percentage equivalent. I start with a couple questions I know she’ll get, from the day before, to build her confidence. At the ten-minute mark, I’m hitting her limit.

• Ten more minutes of the workbook.

10 to 10:30: Nonfiction book club Silent reading

My book club Idea failed on day one. The kids didn’t agree on a book. The mood declined fast, so I punted.

The nine year old found a nonfiction book she liked in sixty seconds: My Corner Of The Ring. We downloaded it onto Mom’s Kindle. She curled up (and went back to it that afternoon for another sixty pages).

The eleven year old was a little bit irritated. I got him to download a free chapter of The Boys Who Challenged Hitler. That free chapter offer is amazing: easy to convince a kid to “just try it.” He liked it, so he’s off and running.

In hindsight, the silent reading works way better than book club for me. The thirty minutes is now “me time”: a few emails, a few cleared dishes, another cup of coffee. This leads to a slightly more cheerful me, which remains a key driver of the daily rating. Plus, silent reading still accomplishes nonfiction reading and “protects fiction” for afternoon leisure reading (where both kids have a few books going).

10:30 to 10:45: Snack and nerf basketball

Besides a few questionable goaltending calls and running out of “spreadable butter,” this has been smooth.

10:45 to 11:15: Ted Talks (with pause and cold call)

Not bad, but not great (so far). “10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation” dragged a bit, but we managed some good discussion. “A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter” was short and sweet.

This is an area where perhaps I should prep better. If we watch the first minute of three different Ted Talks (like a movie trailer) and they could pick one to watch the “whole thing,” then I bet engagement would rise.

11:15 to 11:45: Science videos

“Why Is The Solar System Flat,” from MinutePhysics, was too abstract. Again, there’s a tradeoff of prep: I could have used this tool if I’d watched it, figured out what background knowledge the kids needed, explained that to them, and then watched the video. You know, like a real science teacher. But that’s a lot of work.

“How This River Made Chimps Violent,” from MinuteEarth, worked better for us. You don’t need much background knowledge, and enough little jokes were peppered in to hold their attention.

Bullet Ants”from The Brain Scoop was snappy but a little scary for one of us.

Mark Rober’s “Feeding Bill Gates a Fake Burger,” found via a link from Mike Petrilli, was okay on the science side but (accidentally) pushed us more on the ethics side: reflecting on our meat consumption.

And just like when we watched history videos, my antenna went up a bit as I realized our fourth grader didn’t know the solar system. For months, my wife and I have channeled Hirsch in intent—we might say while out for a stroll, “Hey, we really should get D to learn more knowledge”—but haven’t done much about it. Corona-schooling is making me hyperaware of this shortcoming.

“11:45 to 11:55: “Test for treats”

I’ve mixed questions about our lessons with team challenges  like, “Make this putt from ten feet” and “How many free throws can the two of you make in thirty seconds?” They get “sweet treats” every fifty points—gummy worms and ice cream sandwiches—and they’re earning roughly twenty points per morning.

11:55 a.m. to noon

Kids rate the day of Daddy School. It’s been helpful! Sometimes attending to the smallest of details can make a big difference. I want to generate some satisfaction gains in the coming days, to save up for a rainy day: I suspect time will erode their buy in, as the weeks at home perhaps turn into months.

Bonus: For more on balancing structure and buy in see Maia’s blog here, the “Pandemic Parent.”

Mike Goldstein is the founder of Match Education in Boston.

This post originally appeared in Flypaper.

For more from Education Next on Coronavirus and Covid-19, please read:

Closing Schools To Slow a Pandemic

Covid-19 Boost to Online Learning May Backfire

Searching for Precedent in Pandemics Past

Coronavirus Closing Your Kid’s School? One Parent’s Plan for Daddy School

The Dos and Don’ts of Distance Learning in a Pandemic

Covid-19 Closed Schools. When Should They Reopen?

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‘Bright Star’ Principal, 36, Dies From Coronavirus

Dez-Ann Romain was the principal of the Brooklyn Democracy Academy in New York, a school for students who had fallen behind in earning high school credits. She’s believed to be one of the first K-12 educators to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Dez-Ann Romain was the principal of the Brooklyn Democracy Academy in New York, a school for students who had fallen behind in earning high school credits. She’s believed to be one of the first K-12 educators to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

—Courtesy of Brooklyn Democracy Academy

A Brooklyn principal who led a school for students who had dropped out or are in danger of not graduating on time has become one of the first K-12 educators in the United States to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Dez-Ann Romain, 36, was the principal of the 190-student Brooklyn Democracy Academy in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.

Romain’s death, which was announced Monday by the New York City union that represents principals, sent shockwaves through the city, in part because Romain was so young. New York City—which has become the largest epicenter of the virus in the U.S.—had closed schools to students on March 16, and teachers and principals continued to come to work for a few days after the closure. On Tuesday, a second Brooklyn principal whose school shared a campus with Romain’s school, was hospitalized with pneumonia, possibly stemming from coronavirus, the New York Post reported.

Educators Are Vulnerable

Several educators in the country have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including a principal in Loudoun County, Va. Last week, a substitute teacher who worked in California’s Sacramento Unified school district died from the virus. But Romain is thought to be the first full-time, front-line educator in K-12 to die from the disease.

“I am sorry to say, I think there will be a lot more educators falling ill,” said Ernest Logan, the president of the American Federation of School Administrators, the national union that represents principals, assistant principals, and other administrators across the country.

Though he did not know Romain personally, the news was difficult for Logan, a former New York City principal who worked in the Brownsville neighborhood.

It “takes a special person” to commit to leading a school that offers a second chance to students who have missed out on educational opportunities– often through no fault of their own, Logan said.

“We know one thing, they have to be extremely compassionate and caring, and above all, flexible. Stern but flexible,” he said. “That really requires additional strength,”

“You have to have it in your heart that these students can succeed,” he said. “And you have to have it in your heart that you would do anything to help them succeed when you run those schools. You have to live it; you have to truly live it.”

“Every job as a principal is a tough one, and there are some places where it’s tougher than others,” he added.

Principal Was a Problem Solver

Brooklyn’s Democracy Academy serves older students who are behind in credits and those who’ve dropped out. The school is “committed to providing an interesting, challenging, educational program that helps students overcome obstacles and attain their goals,” according to its website.

The school helps students graduate with a high school diploma, build life skills and explore their interests, according to the website.

Photos on the school’s Instagram account show students enjoying the mundane activities of high school life—college tours, Valentine’s day celebrations, Career Day, and prom. The school also has a hydroponics farm, where students grow vegetables as part of an urban farming program.

“She was really a bright star,” Logan said of Romain. “She had this passion.”

Courtney Winkfield, who coached Romain when she was an assistant principal at the school, told Chalkbeat that Romain took time to speak to every student she met in the hallway and that she saw her school as part of the larger Brownsville community.

“She gave her entire self to that community, and it did not matter how incredibly complex a problem was, she was always rolling her sleeves up to do whatever she could to solve it,” Winkfield told the news outlet.

New York City Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a statement that the city’s education department would help the community through the loss.

“This is painful for all of us, and I extend my deepest condolences to the Brooklyn Democracy Academy community, and the family of Principal Romain,” Carranza said. “We’re all experiencing a deep sense of confusion, uncertainty and sadness and it’s more important than ever to provide support to one another. We’ll be there for the students and staff through whatever means necessary during this impossibly difficult time.”

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The Shift to Online Teaching

K-12 teachers across the country have been asked to undertake a daunting task: take the classroom and culture they’ve been building since August and move it into a virtual space. For some, tools like Zoom, Google Classroom, or even Slack are relatively new or haven’t been used as anything more than a homework tracker.

For educators thinking about how best to begin the shift to online learning, Usable Knowledge has compiled practices and strategies from higher education institutions (which have previously offered online instruction) that can translate into the K-12 classroom.

Let your pedagogy inform the technology you choose to incorporate.

  • Consider the way you teach and your values as an educator in order to choose your platforms. Do you find that lecturing is the best way to transmit information? Or do students need to be able to collaborate and talk to one another? Are you teaching to an end-of-the-year final? Or do you want your students to demonstrate a certain skill set by the end of the semester? There are no wrong answers, but certain virtual formats are likely better equipped to handle certain pedagogical style.

Rebuild your classroom community in a digital space.

  • Know your students and what their limitations are in terms of technology — send out a questionnaire to gather the information you need about each students’ learning environment.
  • Let students take the initiative in designing the class format. How do they want to use their time? Is it easier to do the reading on their own time or watch a prerecorded lecture and use virtual meetings for questions? Allowing students to have agency over learning is especially critical now that so many other aspects of life are in flux.
  • Reestablish norms. Should students express their questions in a chat or discussion board, or should they use the “Raise Hand” feature available in some group video chats?
  • Allow time for students to socialize and even to be silly — after all, they’re not getting much interaction outside of their homes. Incorporate things like icebreakers before easing into instruction.
  • Establish expectations clearly and early on. Make sure students know what they can do to succeed — whether that’s participate on discussion boards or complete a project. Also be willing to be flexible in success metrics as this is new for many and what works in a classroom may not translate to online learning.

Develop new ways of encouraging engagement.

  • Think about value-added technology. Many technologies offer a whiteboard feature or the option to share your screen.
  • Arrange breakout sessions where small groups can meet virtually to discuss a text or work on a problem together, then reconvene with the whole class.
  • Keep lessons brief — around 10 minutes. This is especially critical if students are working in an environment where they can be easily distracted or have other tasks that require their attention.
  • Consider using polling features in the software as a way to check in and monitor what students are learning.

Other things to consider

  • Get in touch with parents and let them know what your expectations are for their children. Let them know how they can support learning.
  • Think about closed captioning and prerecording to make content accessible to all — and that includes parents who will be partners in this work.
  • Use a calendar feature to outline due dates and class meeting times.

Overall, flexibility and iteration are key to ensuring student success. Be willing to let go of something if it’s not working. Communicate clearly and often with students to let them know you are in this together with them and you are there to support their learning.

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Amid Confusion, Feds Seek to Clarify Online Learning for Special Education Students – Politics K-12

The U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet Saturday in response to complaints that previous guidance left school districts unsure of how to provide services for students with disabilities amid the extended closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The five-page fact sheet aims to clarify that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering online learning opportunities to all students, including those with disabilities.

“It was extremely disappointing to hear that some school districts were using information from the Department of Education as an excuse not to educate kids,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement accompanying the fact sheet release.

“Nothing issued by this department should in any way prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. We need schools to educate all students out of principle, rather than educate no students out of fear. These are challenging times, but we expect schools to rise to the occasion, and the department stands ready to assist you in your efforts.”

The Council of Chief State Schools Officers, National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, and other organizations had called on the department to clarify how districts should proceed. Districts face the potential loss of federal funding if they fail to provide accommodations for students with disabilities.

The fact sheet reaffirms that federal law mandates that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in everything schools provide, including online learning, but assures districts they will have flexibility in reaching that goal.

“Although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies,” the fact sheet reads. “The department encourages parents, educators, and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities.”

Here’s a look the fact sheet, which is also linked above:

   Supple Fact Sheet 3.21.20 FINAL by corey_c_mitchell on Scribd

Related Reading

How Will Schools Provide Education During the Coronavirus Crisis?

Most Classroom Teachers Feel Unprepared to Support Students With Disabilities

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The Dos and Don’ts of Distance Learning in a Pandemic

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic has produced a cascade of school closings. Yesterday, the governor of Kansas announced that the state’s entire public school system will be closed through the end of the school year. Many schools suddenly must shift to distance learning. To help schools and school systems navigate that transition, FutureEd Director Thomas Toch explored the new education landscape with Brad Rathgeber, the head of school and chief executive of One Schoolhouse, a highly regarded, nonprofit online school that partners with 160 public and private schools worldwide to supplement their school-based instruction and to provide professional development for faculty members working in the online space.

Toch: How should school leaders think about the massive task they’re facing?

Photo of Brad Rathgeber

Brad Rathgeber

Rathgeber: There are three overriding principles that can help school leaders as they figure this out, and they’re really super simple.

The first is to just be calm and pause. That sounds like a simple recommendation, but we all understand that school’s not the most important thing right now, safety is.

The second is to be straightforward and clear. People have heightened anxiety and may not be able to process all of the information that we’re throwing at them in the same way that they might otherwise be able to. So the more that school leaders can be straightforward and clear with their guidance and recommendations for families, it’s going to be helpful.

And the third is to try to create simple solutions. In a crisis situation, simple technology is the best technology. So be careful in trying to teach faculty new skills during a time of crisis. They’ll be less able to adapt and less able to process information themselves. So those are the kind of overriding principles.

What are the first steps school leaders should take?

If you’re in a school system that has not shut yet, make sure students have as many learning materials as possible to take home with them. Get them backpack-ready.

Then, for middle and high schools, think about moving to a distance-learning model. I’m choosing those words carefully. We’re moving to a distance-learning model, not an online-learning model.

In a distance-learning model, you’re taking the components of a typical school day and moving them to some type of online or remote-learning equivalent and you’re using the same pedagogy that you use in face-to-face courses. You’re trying to create a remote-learning equivalence of what you would do in school classrooms.

The easiest way to do this is to create a simplified schedule of the school day and have class times and meetings be “conference-room meetings” instead of in-person meetings. They could be video conference rooms, they could be audio conference rooms, they could be app-based conference rooms, or, ideally, use of a platform that allows for all three.

For example, instead of Algebra 1 meeting in Room 123, students are meeting in Ms. Smith’s Zoom classroom or Zoom conference room that’s accessible both from a computer, from an app that might be available on a phone, or a telephone dial-in. Providing different types of access helps reach the greatest number of students possible.

And helps address the digital divide in education between more and less affluent students.

Yes, as best as we can, right? Given the speed of this transition, this is probably the best option, using different types of platforms that the faculty are familiar with.

In online learning, you adopt a different pedagogical approach to use time and space differently. Often, the courses are asynchronous and class-paced. Meaning that kids have great flexibility over the course of any given week to complete the learning and the assignments. Some online classes are totally student-paced, where they have even greater flexibility across the course of a quarter or a semester or perhaps even a full year. So you are really rethinking the learning environment from a much broader perspective.

That obviously would be a bridge too far under current circumstances.

Yes. It takes us six months to train faculty members who are pretty competent coming in to do online instruction well. So we think that that’s a bridge too far right now. And I will say at the same time, it’s also some skill set that you should be thinking about for the future, building into your faculty professional development programs.

So the distinction between distance learning and online learning is super important and one that will help put teachers at ease. There’s a lot of anxiety related to moving to an online learning model. Distance learning is less complicated, and that’s what we should be focusing on as schools close in the face of the coronavirus.

Schools should in effect try to keep the school day intact? First period, second period, third period, lunch.

I would, but perhaps make it a little simpler than what we might do in a physical school. School schedules can tend to be complex. The more we can simplify things in this situation, the better. I also don’t think that we should underestimate or under-resource social-emotional checkpoints for kids. So maybe you have an all-school meeting on the video platform to start the day off. Maybe you have times for teachers to meet with an advisory group or a grade-level meeting or other types of social-emotional checkpoints.

Would you do that every day?

Yes. I’d try to build in one social-emotional checkpoint, one type of community checkpoint at least once a day. It could take various forms. It could be just a teacher meeting with 20 kids, checking in to see how life’s going for them or checking to see how the technology is working for them.

Does that mean you teach fewer courses or you do away with electives?

That depends in part on the contract that you have with your teachers and the flexibility they have built into those contract requirements. But you may think about not offering elective classes for some period of time, especially as you’re getting going. It’s easier to make things more complex later. So in weeks one and two, you’re trying to create a super, super simple schedule for your teachers and students to follow. And you may add some complexities back in week three or week five or week six, when everybody’s kind of settled into a rhythm.

The other thing that schools should be cognizant of is that teachers may get sick, and you may need a large cadre of substitute teachers. And it may be easier to draw upon those substitute teachers from your elective teaching corps. That’s another reason why I would pull back from trying to do everything online from the start, to boil things down to an academic core to start.

Elementary and secondary schools seemingly will have to respond differently. How are you thinking about that challenge?

The model I’ve been describing is suited to a high school experience and almost certainly a middle school experience. When you’re getting into lower grade levels, you’re probably thinking about things a little bit differently.

Elementary teachers want to be thinking about creating a weekly packet of learning activities for students to do with their parents or other caregivers, resources that students will have access to at home from their backpacks. And perhaps thinking about other online resources that students may already regularly use within their classrooms. Of course, that’s going to be school-by-school or district-by-district dependent.

We also would encourage schools to do some type of weekly synchronous check-in with elementary students and their families, using that same type of platform that we were talking about at a middle school or an upper school. And making sure that you’re focusing on social-emotional wellness and community building rather than instruction during that time.

So you wouldn’t maintain the general contours of the school day for elementary school children. Rather, you’d give them material to work on and let their parents work with them independently?

That’s the baseline idea. Since we know it’s not just parents but grandparents, other relatives and even older siblings who are providing support, it’s probably just not reasonable at younger grade levels to expect a normal school day to continue in a remote situation. But that should be a school-by-school, district-by-district decision, too.

What about teacher training?

Again, we don’t want to be training faculty in a tremendous number of new skills going into this distance-learning experience. Teachers are in crisis mode, too. But doing some simple training in using video platforms would be helpful for middle grades and upper grades teachers. As would some baseline training in crafting assignments that work well in distance-learning environments. And a third thing, depending on the level of sophistication of the school’s learning management system, would be training teachers in the use of online discussion boards to continue class conversations outside of the school day.

Do you envision principals working with their teachers at a distance as well,  team meetings, professional development of some sort?

I would encourage schools to continue those meetings, to have regular check-ins. Again, as much for community building and their teachers’ own wellness as anything else. Teachers are already feeling and will continue to feel a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. Making sure that they have the support of school leaders is going to be super important.

What about assessments, tests, papers?

That’s probably something that you’re working out within your own school a couple of weeks into running the new distance-learning platform. I would encourage schools to put a bit of a pause on tests and assessments during at least the first week, if not the first two weeks. In part because you’re going to want to get your policies straight and consistent across your schools or your school districts. I can imagine in some scenarios school districts thinking about having parents proctor assessments. I can imagine other school districts thinking that’s just not feasible. There could be a wide range of those things. I would put a pause on testing at the start, until school districts can sort out these sorts of issues.

Other thoughts?

Administrators should think about creating a communications schedule with families. So that families can know when they should expect to hear from administrators. And to create some type of feedback loops so that you know what user experience is. You’re designing programs and policies on the fly. It’s important to signal that to families, to send a supportive message: “We’re doing our best. We know we are going to have to change as we go along. So we’re going to solicit your feedback and make changes incrementally as we go through the coming weeks together.”

Thomas Toch is director of FutureEd.

This piece originally appeared on the FutureEd website. FutureEd is an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Follow on Twitter at @futureedGU

For more from Education Next on Coronavirus and Covid-19, please read:

Closing Schools To Slow a Pandemic

Covid-19 Boost to Online Learning May Backfire

Searching for Precedent in Pandemics Past

Coronavirus Closing Your Kid’s School? One Parent’s Plan for Daddy School

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Rapid Deployment of Remote Learning: Lessons From 4 Districts

Austin schools foreman Daniel Webb, right, drills holes in a school bus as Roland Garcia steps down from the engine during installation of WiFi technologies on a school bus. The district is installing WiFi on all school buses so they can be used as wireless hotspots for students during extended school closures.  The crew has installed 20 units since Monday and has more than 100 to go at this location.

Austin schools foreman Daniel Webb, right, drills holes in a school bus as Roland Garcia steps down from the engine during installation of WiFi technologies on a school bus. The district is installing WiFi on all school buses so they can be used as wireless hotspots for students during extended school closures. The crew has installed 20 units since Monday and has more than 100 to go at this location.

—Julia Robinson for Education Week


David Saleh Rauf

As the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold and schools face the likelihood of extended closures measured in months not weeks, chief technology officers at districts across the country are scrambling to prepare and roll out e-learning programs.

It amounts to an unprecedented test of digital preparedness for the country’s school districts. Most are facing a shortfall of available devices and Wi-Fi accessibility for every student and have yet to come up with an equitable way to serve special needs students through online instruction.

Forty one percent of school leaders said they couldn’t provide remote or e-learning activities to every student in their district for even one day, according to data from a new Education Week survey that included 420 principals and 745 other district leaders. Only 22 percent said they could make those opportunities available “as long as we needed to.”

However, a new IT survey from the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, a nonprofit membership organization for K-12 technology leaders, indicates that school districts are making digital progress. Nearly half of districts that responded have one device available for every student, and a quarter of districts support two devices per student, according to preliminary data released ahead of the full report.

The survey highlighted broadband accessibility during the coronavirus outbreak as an issue that will require extra ingenuity to overcome, given that community locations such as libraries and businesses typically serve as Wi-Fi hotspots for low-income or rural students and “may be temporarily unworkable … to implement social distancing protocols.”

Keith Krueger, the CEO of CoSN, said many districts are prepared to deliver e-learning experiences now and some are “not at all.”

“At this moment there are more school districts more ready than they ever have been to do online learning for all of their kids, at least from a technical perspective,” he said. “But they’re not as ready on the teaching and learning side.”

With little and sometimes confusing federal guidance for how schools should provide e-learning during the coronavirus-related school closures, a patchwork of approaches has spawned: Some school districts have virtual assignments and video conferencing up and running. Some are still figuring things out, creating online lesson plans with design teams and outfitting school buses with Wi-Fi. And others have partnered with local PBS affiliates to broadcast learning activities on the television.

Here’s a look at how chief technology officers from four districts are assessing what technologies they have, planning for what they need, and putting together remote learning strategies and tactics.

The Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, Ind.: ‘Really a Challenge to Scale Up’

CTO Pete Just said his 17,000-student district began offering “blended virtual offerings” to students in grades 6-12 on Monday after returning from spring break. District officials started planning for online class contingencies two weeks ago, he said, using the time to plan for everything from how to track attendance to building out instructional design. The district has a deep background in e-learning, launching the state’s first online school in 1999.

“But even for a sophisticated district like us, it’s really a challenge to scale up,” Just said. “We wish we could be better prepared.”

See Also: Coronavirus and Schools

Students in kindergarten to 5th grade will rely on pencil-and-paper assignments, while students in grades 6-12 will use about 12,500 district-issued Chromebooks to handle classwork. (One high school in the district has students use their own personal devices in school, a strategy known as BYOD). The district gave teachers the discretion for how to teach the virtual classwork, and will use Google Classroom tools for video and chat.

Just said gaps in broadband accessibility have largely been bridged for the district’s high school students through a partnership with Sprint, which offered free mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices. But about 11 percent of high school students in the district still lack access, he said.

“The demand has dropped and generally leveled off,” he said. “We’re still seeing statistics that show some don’t have access at home. Apparently, they’re finding a way to cope with that.”

Beaverton School District, Ore.: ‘High Tech and Low Tech’

CTO Steve Langford said his district has put together a mix of “high tech and low tech” resources that parents can use with students. Teachers, he said, are not engaging in “direct instruction.”

“It’s less worksheet driven and more curating resources that already exist,” he said.

Some of the district’s students will have access to online tools for learning such as Seesaw and Dreambox. But Langford said state officials recommended against a wholesale shift to online classes unless schools could meet a list of criteria that included providing equitable services.

“We can’t ensure all students would be equitably served in an e-learning scenario,” he said of the 41,000-student district. “I believe some districts might have started down that road, but the counsel from the (Oregon) department of education said this is not the time to implement an e-learning system and build it from the ground up.”

If school closures are extended and future lesson plans rely more on computers and connectivity, Langford said the district could be “device restrained” for elementary school students. According to the CoSN survey, only 43 percent of elementary schools can provide a device for every student.

“We might have to go into schools, unwire computers from carts and start checking out those computers to students,” he said, noting the district has 15,000 elementary students. “Preparing the computers, checking them, managing the whole process, it’s a big undertaking. But we’re talking about that right now.”

In terms of broadband access for students, Langford said: “Right now the demand exceeds supply.”

Juvenal Landeros takes a break after applying an anti-microbal coating to the interior of school buses. The coating is applied after a thorough cleaning and will last 30 days before it needs to be reapplied.

Juvenal Landeros takes a break after applying an anti-microbal coating to the interior of school buses. The coating is applied after a thorough cleaning and will last 30 days before it needs to be reapplied.

—Julia Robinson for Education Week

Austin Independent School District, Texas: ‘Elementary [Students] the Biggest Challenge for Devices’

Classes are set to resume on April 3, and CTO Kevin Schwartz said district officials are racing to put in place the foundation for a remote learning environment. That includes installing Wi-Fi connectivity on more than 500 school buses, assessing device inventory and working to put the e-learning program in place.

“I feel good about this in some ways. I feel worried about this in some other ways,” he said. “Kids need to be re-engaged in learning on April 3, and from this time now until then is when we are getting teachers ready to do that work.”

The 81,000-student district currently provides a Chromebook for every student in grades 8-12, and is doing an inventory assessment to see how many more students may need devices. Schwartz said the district has 10,000 computers that students don’t currently take home and a shipment of 6,000 devices on its way. That, he said, would provide a 1-to-1 ratio through middle school and high school.

Roland Garcia checks the hotspot signal in an Austin school bus after installation of WiFi.

Roland Garcia checks the hotspot signal in an Austin school bus after installation of WiFi.

—Julia Robinson for Education Week

“That leaves elementary as the biggest challenge for devices,” he said, noting that lesson plans for those grade levels would be paper and pencil. “I don’t see us at this time offering a traditional district computer to every family.”

The district is also benefitting from a grant from Kajeet, a former cellphone company that now works to close the “digital divide” by providing school districts with connectivity tools, such as outfitting buses with Wi-Fi. Those buses will be deployed to low-income neighborhoods to serve as mobile hotspots, said Schwartz.

‘We’re doing an assessment now to figure out where we can get the most benefit from these buses,” he said.

Prince George’s County Public Schools, Md.: ‘We Would Just Have to Get Very Creative’

Chief technology officer Lisa Spencer said her district is currently printing instructional packets and making available limited online resources for students. Schools in Maryland have been closed until March 27, but state officials have signaled that is likely to be extended. If that happens, Spencer said more resources would have to be devoted to e-learning for the 136,000-student district.

‘If classes are cancelled for the rest of the school year, we would be in a situation where packets would not cut it,” she said. “Making millions of copies is a bit much.”

Spencer described the plan for now as a combination of blended learning with “a lot of project-based activities.” Some teachers are currently using Google Classroom for online classwork.

“Unfortunately it was not a mandate so not all our teachers have it,” she said. “I’m hoping we’re able to implement Google Classroom throughout the district and get some information and lessons designed to be implemented for all grade levels.”

Implementing a widespread e-learning program could be even more difficult, though, when considering the lack of available devices. Spencer said the district would need about 50,000 computers if the need arose to provide for every student in grades 3-12. Only two of the district’s 208 schools currently equip students with computers to use at home.

“I don’t see us being able to make that take-home device plan work at this point in time,” she said.

Aside from device shortage, broadband accessibility is also an issue. The district did not take advantage of an opportunity to partner with Kajeet for Wi-Fi-enabled school buses, Spencer said, and officials had planned for libraries to provide connectivity for students in a situation like this. Without those community solutions available, Spencer said district officials will have to find new ways to deliver video-based learning instructions, and that could include uploading short videos to a YouTube page.

“Even though our students may not have a home device, most will have access to a smartphone where they can watch a short clip,” she said. “We would just have to get very creative, and that’s not a bad thing.”

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New Modes of Learning | Harvard Graduate School of Education

The temporary shift to distance schooling can be a time for both parents and teachers to reshape their understanding of what learning can be, says Professor Jal Mehta.

As John Dewey famously theorized, education is about “linking the growing web of knowledge in a child’s head with a growing web of knowledge in the world. That means that almost anything can be an opportunity for learning,” says Mehta, whose research explores the benefits of deeper learning. “My suggestion is to look for activities that are fun but have educational value.”

Drawing on his recent experiences with his own children (6 and 9), Mehta had the following suggestions for parent-educators at home:

  • Though without the structure of a physical classroom and teacher presence, kids will still want to do things that are familiar. Try allotting blocks of time for general subjects like math, reading, and writing.
  • If you are the one directing the learning, draw on your own interests. If you’re not invested in the learning opportunity, it likely won’t be sustainable over the course of a few weeks.
  • The learning that kids are expected to do at home does not necessarily have to replicate the learning in the classroom. In fact, this can be a time to experiment.
    • Math can include sudoku and kakuro alongside general lessons on multiplication and division.
    • Let kids read the books that interest them and use that as an opportunity to think about how stories are structured.
    • Writing fiction or telling stories can compliment non-fiction writing assigned as schoolwork, and vice versa.
    • Go for a hike — bring along a compass and a map for some applied geography.

“This is a chance for [children] to find something they love and do more of it than they would otherwise get to,” says Mehta. “Ultimately, you want them to look back at this period as one where they got to spend some happy time with their family, and got to do some learning that they couldn’t do in school.”

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The Gen Z Approach To College

Today’s students, Generation Z, are on course to become the most educated and entrepreneurial generation in history. For our youngest alive, it’s all about employment. In fact, 60% of Gen Z students plan to start a business someday, and 92% expect to work for less than 6 employers throughout their lifetime. 

If this isn’t enough to highlight their advanced ambition, lay your eyes on this: nearly half of Gen Z school students have already earned college credits. Moreover, to stray from the rising student debt crisis, Gen Z spends their extra free time volunteering and doing homework. The average student spends 6.48 hours per week on homework and 2.66 volunteering.

Nearly 9 in 10 Gen Z college grads consider job availability before selecting a major. With unemployment at its lowest since 1969, why is our youngest generation so concerned about employability? Check out the infographic below for more information on the ways Generation Z is reshaping the college years.

If you liked this article checkout our recent interview with: Ava Marie Falco: The Artistic Tik Toker.

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Ireland To Close All Schools, Colleges And Childcare Facilities To Fight Coronavirus

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland will close until March 29 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The new measures will come into force at 6 p.m. local time Thursday until March 29.

On Wednesday, an elderly woman became the first person diagnosed with coronavirus in Ireland to die.

Varadkar said indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor meetings of more than 500 people should be canceled.

Teaching will be done online or remotely. State-run “cultural institutions” will close.

Anyone entering Ireland will be informed of the measures and asked to self-isolate if they are displaying symptoms, the Irish premier added.

Working from home will be encouraged but where people do congregate in offices break times should be “staggered.”

Meetings should be done remotely but restaurants, cafes and other businesses can stay open.

Varadkar said: “People should seek to reduce social interactions as much as possible.”

The announcement comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against the disease.

The prime minister will chair a meeting at lunchtime where ministers are expected to agree to move into the “delay” stage of the process.

Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.

The expected shift in UK policy comes as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, slapping a travel ban on many countries in continental Europe.

The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will last for 30 days starting Friday.

Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.

British Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, but acknowledged the U.S. decision could have a knock-on effect on the British economy. 

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