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EDUCATION POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Education Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with school choice, student loans, curriculum reform efforts, teacher unions, students with disabilities, affirmative action, minority students, vocational training and higher education. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of Education and state legislatures.

Latest Education Posts

 

Bill S.4112

Brief #44—Education
By Amy Swain
The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities.

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Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Brief #43—Education
By Amy Swain
Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers.

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Education in the Time of Covid — Part 5: How Effective is Virtual learning?

Education in the Time of Covid — Part 5: How Effective is Virtual learning?

The pandemic has forced many educational institutions to move towards virtual learning, or at least some form of distance education, in an extremely short time-frame. While this is not a new method of teaching or learning, school administrators and teachers were not prepared to sift through the resources to find the tools that might work best for E-learning on such a short notice. Nevertheless, as the pandemic moves along, schools are getting more familiar and more successful with virtual learning and Educational Technology. While EdTech certainly has a learning curve and barriers to entry due to associated costs and uncertain effects on student learning outcomes, researchers from the Brookings Institute suggest that “when schools use technology to enhance the work of educators and to improve the quality and quantity of educational content, learners will thrive.”

In a recent study from the Brookings Institute, researchers propose that Education Technology can be an effective tool for learners if three things are considered: context, evidence, and outcome. If technology is introduced into a classroom but other changes are not made, students and teachers may not be able to benefit from the new resources. For example, if teachers are unfamiliar with a certain tool or have not been trained on its uses, it may become a distraction or a burden on them, impacting how effective teaching and learning is for that classroom. Relying on previous studies by education researchers Cohen and Ball, Brookings suggests that in order for Educational Technology (no matter how great it is in theory) to be an effective tool for learning, it must accomplish at least one of four things: “scaling up quality instruction, such as through prerecorded quality lessons; facilitating differentiated instruction, through, for example, computer-adaptive learning and live one-on-one tutoring; expanding opportunities to practice; increasing learner engagement through videos and games.”

Harvard has developed a Remote Teaching site with Best Practices for Online Pedagogy that aligns with the findings of Brookings. Harvard echoes the current research and general sentiment that long lectures just won’t work with online learning, but if one facilitates engagement and provides opportunities for interaction in multiple ways, different types of online learning can be effective for all types of learners (provided they have the equipment and safe place to learn).

Overall, online learning, no matter what software or medium you use to deliver your lessons, should still follow the same principles that a teacher follows in the classroom. Consistency, setting norms, creating clear transitions, and forming discussion groups, are all things that can be done online through a video lesson or separately during specified periods. Furthermore, Zoom, which has become a mainstay for teachers adjusting to virtual learning, has pedagogical tools built in. One can use polls to assess understanding of the lesson, chat to engage students who might not normally speak up, keep an eye on all students with “gallery” view, use the “raise hand” feature to facilitate class-wide discussion, and set up “breakout rooms” for small group work. If done thoughtfully, video-based instruction can be one effective way of supporting learners.

An example of the ineffective use of technology is exemplified by a 2016 study which explored the outcomes of schools essentially replacing textbooks with laptops. Researchers found that there was a similar outcome of learning success as with books, but the costs associated with the new technology are greater. Moreover, the laptops themselves did not enhance learning necessarily — the software used and supervision of the student’s web use was found to play a large role in enhancing the usefulness of the hardware. In theory a laptop could enhance learning, but in practice it wasn’t able to accomplish one of the four things outlined by Brookings. In the push to give every student a tablet or laptop, administrators must not stop there, quality software and a plan for use must be employed to reap the benefits that technology brings.

A major area of technology in schools now is computer-adaptive learning (CAL), something often cited to be an effective learning tool for students. This method of learning uses a diagnostic test (assessment) to address what level of learning students are in, and sets the curriculum accordingly. Preliminary studies show that this can be effective for students’ learning of math and language if used in addition to regular classroom teaching — few studies have been done however, to compare CAL to classroom teaching as a total or partial replacement. One study based in China does consider the effect of CAL as a replacement for small and large group teaching programs. It assesses a program called “Squirrel AI Learning” and suggests that even when compared to students who learn the same content from expert-teachers, the learning gains from AI are greater over the course of the year, no matter what their level of learning or learning style was at the start of the study.

While schools aren’t moving towards a replacement of teachers, some of their duties can be replaced with EdTech. Some useful components of technology and E-learning involve tracking students’ progress and test scores, practicing hands on learning, and gamification which helps to keep students focused and engaged. The innovation of recording students’ homework and test scores automatically, tracking progress, and reporting it to teachers and parents is a huge help, because teachers are not able to be one-on-one with students as often as before. It also can help keep families in the loop. EdTech and computer-adaptive learning also support teachers in implementing individual learning paths for each student simultaneously — which just isn’t possible for in-person classes. This is especially useful for teachers during Covid as they have new issues that they need to focus on.

Late in 2019, the New York Times reported on machine-learning programs such as Bakpax and Acuitus. The machine-learning revolution has been a game changer for the E-learning movement — instead of assessing a student’s learning level by moving them along a pre-set decision tree, machine-learning uses large sets of (ever-growing) data to create a “smarter” algorithm that can profile a student’s learning level and set it on the right path. Additionally, simple acts like grading homework and providing the right answers and more practice in certain areas can be automated. But even more importantly, the algorithm can use the data to assess patterns in the class’s lack of knowledge, so teachers know where to focus. While these innovations hold a lot of potential, there are concerns around where this student data goes and how much privacy students and schools can expect. For now, student data is protected and encrypted to ensure students their right to privacy.

Virtual learning might be effective for students if implemented well, but concerns have been raised about Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities, as virtual support is just not effective for everyone. Students deserve education that works for them, they also deserve to be safe and not exposed to a deadly virus — this is a tricky situation to navigate but efforts are being made to ensure that parents are kept in the loop and that students with disabilities are not being deprived of their rights to quality support and education whether in-person or through digital means.

In addition to the quality and measured success of particular E-learning programs themselves for certain subsets of students, some propose that the effectiveness of E-learning might be tied into perspective on E-learning in the first place. If school administrators and families see E-learning as a temporary fix to a temporary pandemic, then efforts to master it will be scarce — instead administrators and leaders must prioritize making it work well for all students and be willing to innovate and make virtual learning a viable option and not just a band-aid until “normal” school starts again.

Virtual Learning must not seek to replace the 7-hour school day and classroom experience, studies show that it just isn’t feasible. What is feasible is school districts prioritizing spending time to assess their situation and resources, using existing data to inform their approach to virtual learning and/or hybrid learning, and choose E-learning methods that have proven results. Additionally, having a plan for every mode of learning is key, as Covid is likely not going anywhere for the rest of the school year.

Resistance Resources

International Society for Technology in Education — Check out ISTE’s site to find resources and background on uses of Tech in Education. Use their action tools to get in touch with your representatives about approving legislation and funding for teacher professional development or technology in the classroom, or share petitions and information via social media.

National Council for Online Education — This group of partners is a collaboration of organizations that advocate for well-planned, research-based, and effective online learning. Get connected with them and their partners to learn more and get involved.

 

Student Voice — This organization brings students and school communities together to fight for student rights under the Student Bill of Rights. Check out their site for resources to organize, learn, and connect with a local group to get involved in fighting to ensure that all students receive quality education in whatever appropriate, effective format during the Covid pandemic.

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Education in the time Covid — Part 4: Higher Education

Education in the time Covid — Part 4: Higher Education

The spread of Covid through our universities has several implications in addition to the life-threatening effects of the virus itself. College campuses are experimenting with various methods of teaching, housing, and addressing Covid in their student and staff populations. Because there is no one-size fits all plan, colleges are following the guidelines of their state — or not — to determine the best course of action while trying to stay afloat financially without increasing the virus’ spread. Universities are facing financial strain due to diminished enrollment and inability to sustain typical channels of revenue. On top of that, students’ financial needs are increasing due to the impact of the pandemic on families in general, which is particularly devastating for students who already have greater financial needs.

A recent study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center estimates that undergraduate enrollment for the Fall semester has dropped nearly 3.9 percent, with community colleges and rural universities having the steepest drop. This is concerning with regard to equity and access in higher education, as community colleges serve more low-income and racially diverse student bodies, so a decrease in college enrollment could have long-term effects on Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income communities. Those who already have financial barriers to college and who aren’t able to access higher education in the coming years could potentially be left out of the changing economy of the future — increasing the wealth gap even further.

Since March 13, there has been a decrease in FAFSA (the federal financial aid program) applications, nearly 100,000 fewer students applied for financial aid, indicating that many low-income students who would have normally applied for aid are opting-out of college this year. Rural and small towns have had the greatest decline in FAFSA applications. Additionally, the US Census Bureau found that students with families making under $75,000 a year were twice as likely to cancel plans to attend college.

With increasing student loan debt over the last decade and dreary projections for universities’ revenue, it is possible that tuition will in fact increase. This possibility is troublesome for rising student debt, leading some universities to take steps to mitigate this effect by freezing tuition so that students can stay enrolled and complete their degrees.

While this is concerning for the future of all students, the financial security of colleges is also at stake. With a decrease in enrollment certainly comes a decrease in tuition — however, as NPR reports, other revenue sources such as campus dorms and sports programs will be absent for many colleges this year, driving further deficits. For example, Syracuse University has already posted losses of $35 million, University of Michigan projects $400 million to $1 billion, and Pennsylvania State University System expects losses of $100 million. Additionally, many small private colleges with small endowments, who traditionally attract first-generation and lower-income students, will be facing deep revenue declines in the coming years, and some have already closed. This will help to fuel the disparity between elite private colleges, and smaller private colleges — leaving students to opt for public university systems or no college at all.

Some colleges are struggling to stay afloat, yet Harvard and its counterparts have recently posted endowment returns in the billions. The cushion that old, private, and capital-rich universities sit on only deepens the divides in the university system, which disproportionately impact less wealthy students.

Over the course of the pandemic, colleges have been making headlines with virus numbers increasing and a rapid spread to the greater local communities. Despite UNC at Chapel Hill shutting down after a week of in-person classes, and universities in Georgia deciding to remain open with thousands of cases throughout the state, other universities such as Cornell and Northeastern are taking precautions so they can remain open or open sooner. Namely, mass testing, diluted dorm rooms, and hybrid classes are keeping the numbers lower, but the struggle to keep infection rate down is ongoing and could change at any moment.

A group of researchers recently estimated that there were 3,200 new Covid college cases per day during the first two weeks of the fall semester. This is alarming because with each new case comes community spread and a chain of virus transmission. Moreover, the impact that small, rural colleges have on the economy of local communities could also be factored into a college’s decision to reopen — many people who rely on students to drive commerce and rent properties will be facing financial strain as long as they stay closed. But allowing students to return has in some cases increased community spread, so there is a delicate balancing act to perform in order to keep everyone safe and financially secure.

With all this in mind, students and families are now considering how much money the traditional college experience is worth. Remote courses might be better for some students and families, but does that mean tuition should decrease to account for the lack of the college experience? Concerns around financial aid will be different this year as well — as the FAFSA will use 2019 tax returns, aid packages won’t consider changes in a family’s situation due to Covid, so there is an extra burden on students and families to navigate more bureaucracy in order to pay for college.

With tuition costs looming over an uncertain financial situation for many students, some student activists are taking action by protesting, filing lawsuits, and threatening a tuition strike. While many colleges aren’t budging, it is notable that Georgetown, Princeton and Northwestern University have responded by reducing fall tuition by 10%.

In a recent letter to the House of Representatives, the American Council on Education on behalf of 45 higher education organizations urged legislators to pass at least $120 billion in aid to higher education in order to “partially mitigate the challenges that students and institutions are facing.” In response to universities’ increase in costs, the $46.6 billion initially requested has proven to be not nearly enough.

A new House Proposal allocates $39 billion for higher education, a far cry from the $120 billion in estimated need. Nevertheless, the bill would disburse $27 billion for public colleges, with states focusing on schools with more Pell Grant recipients to ensure money goes where it is most needed.

With safety at the forefront, colleges have an uncertain path going forward. What is clear is that funding is needed to address the gap in wealth that disproportionately affects individuals from low-income families and colleges that serve low-income communities. Unless there is a concerted effort to save these institutions and encourage students with barriers to entry to still pursue college, we could potentially see the past decades of work to address equity in higher education begin to fall apart.

Resistance Resources:

  • National College Attainment Network — NCAN works to empower communities to close equity gaps in attaining postsecondary education. Visit their advocacy center to write letters to your Congress Members and get informed about relevant state and federal legislature.
  • Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust — This nonprofit works to make affordable college a reality for all students. Check out their action center, their research on college tuition and flow of money, and their database of officials who determine tuition and fees in higher education institutions across America.
  • American Council on Education — A member organization that convenes university leaders across the country, ACE is very involved in federal policy discussions around higher education. They provide a platform for higher education leaders to connect, discuss issues, and take action, in addition to providing detailed resources on higher education policy and activism toolkits.
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators — NASFAA performs research and policy advocacy to remove financial barriers and create equitable access to postsecondary education. Check out their action center to send letters to your senator, share your story as a student or educator, or find out how and where to volunteer to support better access to and more robust funding for college student tuition.

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Education in the time of Covid — Part 3 (Food and Nutrition)

Education in the time of Covid — Part 3 (Food and Nutrition)

America’s schools are first and foremost centers of education, but for millions of students and families they are much more. Schools are sources of nutritional foods, healthcare services, and many also act as a resource hub for various community support services. As the pandemic rages on educational centers are finding ways to maintain these functions despite a general strain on funding. Since the school year has commenced however, CARES Act, State, and local funding have been limited in their scope and ability to support the other functions of schools due to the budget measures that don’t account for decreased attendance or enrollment, and the challenges that come with the absence of in-person classes. This has left students and families unable to meet one of their most basic needs — nutritious and sufficient food.

The CARES Act offered funding for schools to provide lunch to all students throughout the summer, which had some success. Additionally, Bill H.R. 6201 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act), passed in March but previously set to expire September 30th, gave the USDA added flexibility for school lunch waiver programs — permitting meals to be picked up by parents, served outside the required group settings and times, allowing meals to be served at no cost to everyone, and waiving meal pattern requirements. Upon calls for an extension and a brief debate on who has authority to extend the waivers, the USDA has continued the flexible lunch waiver program until December 31st so that administrators have time to plan for the normal school-year food services whether they be back in the classroom or still remote. Once the new year begins however, the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs will revert to a less flexible model, which relies on students who pay for meals in full, requiring paperwork and eligibility to be verified, and having parents pick up meals from each student’s individual school, which can be a transportation burden for parents whose students are not attending school in-person. The logistics of planning school meal distribution outside of an entirely in-person school year take time, staff, and money, not to mention the time it takes to file paperwork, register eligible students and find new meals appropriate for grab-and-go systems.

In response to growing food insecurity for low-income families and the major burden schools face in addressing this alone, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) proposed the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act (Bill H.R. 7887) in late July. The bill states that all students get free meals for the entirety of the 20-21 school year. Similar to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, this would extend the ability and funding for all public schools and non-profit educational centers to provide meals without determining eligibility or following the other Breakfast and Lunch program requirements. It would be critical in ensuring that the 30 million students who receive school food have easy access to meals whether or not they are going to classes in-person. With districts already strained due to fewer students paying for meals — in May, school food “program directors reported a median estimated loss of $200,000 per district…as much as $2.35 million in larger districts” — this bill would reduce administrative burdens and provide districts with more robust meal reimbursements so they can focus on instructional and reopening plans.

The extension of the USDA school food waiver program and the potential new legislature are good signs that our lawmakers are taking child hunger seriously. The current loss in meal reimbursement revenue and inability of districts to manage and pay for safety measures and Covid-compliant grab-and-go meals still leaves many behind. Districts across California are struggling to come up with funds for meals and staff to distribute or package them, despite there being a drop in demand. Many districts across the nation are now using state-allocated emergency funds, requesting money from FEMA, or calling on their city to distribute CARES Act discretionary funds to meal programs. While schools are scrambling to connect students with food, surveys indicate that families are still in need — about 17% of mothers with kids under 12 are cutting down on or skipping meals, and over 30% of families have cut spending for food due to lack of income.

Despite critics suggesting the universal free school meal programs are a drain on resources, they are a critical source of food for families out of work who just aren’t able to meet their needs through other aid programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has provided families with increased benefits to account for the extra meals children are missing out on while they are distance learning. Nevertheless, the demand for grab-and-go meals and the survey results demonstrating that a large portion of families are not able to financially provide meals for their kids indicates that the SNAP programs and unemployment are not enough to keep kids full.

Until students are back in school and unemployment rates decrease, there will continue to be food insecurity for school-aged children, particularly affecting families of color. A more streamlined school meal distribution system, funding addressing school food, district collaboration with food banks or local non-profits, and multi-layered approaches to addressing food insecurities on the family and student level are key to keeping students adequately fed and their nutritional needs met so they have the best chances of succeeding in school.

Resistance Resources:

School Nutrition Association (SNA) Action Network — The SNA is a group of school nutrition professionals who advocate for policies and research topics related to school nutrition. Check out their Action Network website for a list of advocacy tools, from petitions to sign, to fill-in templates to send letters to your Congress Member, to resources for state school nutrition policy and grassroots organization.

Feeding America — An advocacy organization working to end hunger in America, Feeding America has an Action page that connects you to various resources to help end hunger for children and adults. See their page for fill-in templates to write to your congress people, petitions to sign, or food banks in your area to get connected with.

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) — FRAC researches, analyzes and advocates for food security and healthy food for all. They have a breadth of research on the impact of school food and the National School Lunch Program. See their page to get connected with the agency that runs the program in your locality, connect with congress people, or get involved with their legislative action center.

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Education in the time of Covid  — Part 2 (Technology in Schools)

Education in the time of Covid — Part 2 (Technology in Schools)

Now that the nation is well into the school year, educators are grappling with the new reality of educational technology (EdTech) in and out of the classroom in order to provide quality, safe education for all students. There are several aspects of technology in schools to consider: access to devices and internet; efficacy of online-learning or technology-assisted teaching and administration; use of technology to monitor and prevent the spread of Covid in schools that have opened or are preparing to; and of course the planning and administration of a new teaching order amidst myriad of teaching models and uncertain budgets.

For many of the schools that have reopened, technology likely played a role in some part of classroom learning before Covid, and now teachers must implement new uses of and regulations on technology in the classroom to ensure safety. For students fortunate to have access to technology in the classroom, or are on a borrowing system for hybrid or virtual learning, concerns about spreading germs are being addressed and planned for by school administrators. In the past students may have shared devices, headphones or styluses due to lack of sufficient devices for everyone, but educators are now working on ways to tether such things to devices, clean them regularly, and provide one for each student to prevent the spread of germs. Although a one-to-one model for technology use in and out of the classroom would be ideal, and is happening very gradually, it is just not a reality for millions of students across America.

Whether due to lack of technology access, proper supplies or success during spring closures, classroom and remote-teachers are forced to rethink their class structure and reliance on technology as the only immediate option. While the federal government has allocated billions of dollars over the past six years to their E-rate program — a modernization initiative to provide all schools with broadband internet — experts say an additional  $6-11 billion is needed to close the access gap in schools. According to a recent study from Common Sense Media on the technology gap, an estimated 15-16 million (30%) students are still without either internet access or devices necessary to have success in remote learning. To address this, districts like Los Angeles Unified have partnered with their local PBS TV station to provide educational content via television.Major corporations like Verizon and Comcast have also provided data plans and hotspots to low-income families, and devices like Chromebooks are becoming more affordable for families that don’t have access to them from their schools. But until access for all students is solved, some districts will have no option but to implement some form of in-person learning, tutoring, or assessment to ensure their students are continuing to learn while they wait for schools to fully reopen.

With or without sufficient technology or preparation, many schools and parents have determined the safest route is virtual learning for some or all students. Some experimental studies demonstrate that remote learning is not as effective as in-person, especially for those already struggling with coursework. Nevertheless it is a better option than no school at all for the districts that have yet to open in-person or don’t provide a parent-choice model. As technology, access, and teacher and student ability to use it improves, we may see that online learning can be effective for most students, albeit not the same as in-person. Studies documenting technology use by teachers from the beginning of the shutdown in spring show their ability level has improved greatly due to increased use during remote learning, forcing them to practice technology skills. As teachers learn to navigate new platforms utilized in the new era of education, it’s important to note that one size does not fit all when it comes to technology use for instruction, the context in which a school operates as well as an individual’s teaching style or grade level might be factors to be considered in EdTech’s efficacy.

Fortunately, many higher education institutions and some K-12 schools have already implemented entirely online courses or tech-assisted teaching, so school administrators and educators can build off of their experiences and resources. That being said, with so many products available and being created in response to the pandemic, decision makers might not know where to begin — and planning time is precious. Organizations like EdTech Hub, Learn Platform, and The Learning Accelerator have built search tools and analyzed what EdTech tools schools are already using and how they work. Sites like these aim to assist educators in finding virtual learning resources, platforms, and blended teaching strategies that will suit different school communities’ needs through research and consulting initiatives. In Learn Platform’s analysis of EdTech usage during the pandemic, we see schools are primarily relying on operational tools, mostly for administration and communication, and secondarily relying on tools for remote-learning curriculum during Covid. With teachers out of the office as well, communication and administration via the internet are more important than ever in navigating changing times and comparing remote-teaching notes.

Interestingly, likely due to familiarity and therefore ease of use, Google’s various communication platforms occupy eight of the top ten most used by schools, with Zoom and Clever taking up the remaining two, despite there being hundreds of platforms to choose from. Virtual learning programs for specific subjects and tools to communicate with or monitor students are widely available, but the ones that might work best and for a given school will often come with a price tag and a sharp learning curve, leading administrators to weigh the value of the product over time spent planning its use and cost over the years to come.

Then there is the consideration of internet usage in general, how can we keep students safe online? Services such as GoGuardian allow teachers to monitor their student’s device access remotely — helping to ensure attention and focus without distractions or dangers that come from the web, but this too comes with a price tag. Nevertheless, the investment and research in effective products is certainly the route education is taking in the era of remote-learning as evinced through increased use of EdTech and publication of relevant research over the past few months. The key will be balancing and refining the use of EdTech and concrete materials until students and school staff can get back in the building.

With so many developments in education technology and administrative communication, access to internet and funds, and uses of tech to monitor the spread of Covid, there is an ocean of information for educators to sort through. Although it is not yet sufficient, the access and funding to support EdTech and the inevitable remote-learning for many is improving. Teachers are working harder than ever to support their students. This will take time to perfect. While the education community is doing their best to support the unique needs of each student and school, the key to success will be funds, staff, and time dedicated to planning and researching the efficacy of remote and hybrid learning for all students until we can get back in the classroom safely.

Resistance Resources:

  • Common Sense Kids Action — Advocates for children’s well-being in the digital age. They have specific action areas related to digital safety and equity for children and connect you with even more resources to take action in each area.
  • Consortium for School Networking — A professional association for school system technology leaders, CoSN has an action page that connects you to federal and state legislature related to school technology issues. They provide templates and tools to address letters to your local congress members to advocate for technology access and safety for all students.
  • Everyone On — Works to get internet access and devices to the learners and communities most in need. Get involved with them by donating or connecting those in need to their resources for low-cost or subsidized devices or internet.

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Education in the Time of Covid—Part 1

Education in the Time of Covid—Part 1

By Emily Carty 

August 19, 2020

Update on School Reopenings:

With the school year already underway in parts of the country, we are seeing a range of responses to school reopening and instructional plans. The CDC suggests community and school reopening with social distancing when there is a 14-day downward trajectory of new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, and when the percentage of positive Covid-19 tests is less than 20% and steadily decreasing. They also advise each school to have a detailed reopening and Covid-19 mitigation plan under supervision of the local public health department.

With the CDC essentially taking a back seat at enforcing these suggestions, states, local educational agencies and public health departments are in charge of creating school reopening guidelines or mandates based on the state or region’s Covid-19 cases and capacity to treat more patients. We are seeing that the majority of states allow the region (county, school district, etc.) to decide on a reopening plan based on state guidelines and local health regulations. This has resulted in many districts beginning the school year with either complete remote-learning or staggered, smaller classes at least part-time. A few states — Texas, Iowa, Missouri, and Florida — have taken it to the other extreme, with state-wide mandates for in-person instruction part- or full-time for all students.

Across the nation very different back-to-school plans are unfolding, despite each decision making body having to weigh the same aspects of reopening: funds, access to technology, benefits of school meals, parents who can’t stay at home for remote learning, or parents who don’t want their kids exposed to Covid. While some suburban, small, or low Covid-rate districts are reopening, it is notable that according to Education Week, “17 of the 20 largest school districts are choosing remote learning only as their back-to-school instructional model, affecting over 4 million students.” New York City, the nation’s largest school district and earliest Covid hotspot, will not allow school reopening until the percentage of “positive tests…is less than 3% using a 7-day rolling average.” The California Department of Public Health on the other hand, allows schools to reopen when their “local health jurisdiction has not been on the county monitoring list for 14 days,” which requires decreasing positive tests and hospitalizations. Responding to educators’ request for concrete metrics, Kansas has declared schools can reopen full-time with distancing when positive tests in a 14-day period are less than 5% and when a given school has less than 3% absenteeism. In Georgia, many schools opted to reopen for in-person instruction, as distanced as possible, which backfired  on the second day of school when students and staff of a suburban school district tested positive and schools were forced to close again.

IS the country doing the right thing?

School reopening comes with a challenging set of decisions, especially with funding still up in the air for many school districts, hindering development of remote-learning or alternatives to in-person and full-sized classes. Lawmakers and national leaders have yet to agree on an updated stimulus package for schools, providing minimal support to educational leaders who are uncertain how far their budget will stretch in a pandemic. Nevertheless, school leaders are making decisions on many levels, and we  are seeing this play out differently in districts and schools across the country, none of which have had enough time or resources to completely perfect this unprecedented new era of learning. A report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that across 477 school districts the majority, especially in rural areas, are setting low expectations for teachers to instruct remotely or monitor student engagement and progress — all of which are needed more than ever to ensure students don’t fall behind.

The first week of school provided a few indications of how successful reopening has been: “sick outs” by two Arizona School districts; several schools in Indiana and Georgia closing just hours or days after reopening; clusters of K-12 and university students with positive Covid tests across the nation; and waves of teacher resignations over reopening policies. Clearly this is not the outcome of a thoughtful or successful reopening, these snapshots are telling that something isn’t working right. Moreover, the  the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teacher union, has recently voiced support of all teachers who want to strike in the wake of hasty reopening plans, anticipating a failure of reopening efforts.

Students are also experiencing the failures of reopening plans first-hand, either by being exposed to the virus or by lack of access to realistic remote-learning plans. The New York Times profiled several students during the first week of school — some were scared to go in-person, some were hit with the new distanced reality once they got to school, some reverted to distance learning, some tested positive for Covid. One mom, also a teacher, was skeptical about kids’ ability to contract Covid until her own daughter tested positive at school, prompting her to take her daughter out of school and re-consider the risks.

Several polls concerning parent feelings about school reopening plans show that the majority of parents surveyed have primarily negative feelings about reopening, and prefer to delay an in-person reopening, despite concerns regarding loss of income and remote-learning oversight. While there are mixed-feelings about the potential pathways of a successful school reopening, what is clear is flexibility and accommodation are key factors to the comfort level of families and school staff. In places that have gone remote, like North Carolina, Tucson, and Oakland, the process has been met with technical difficulties, lack of access to technology, and waning attention spans in Zoom classes without a parent present — something that many parents and schools are struggling to solve. Learning “pods” might be a step in the right direction for those who can afford it, but it puts families at risk of Covid and doesn’t help lower-income families. Forced school reopenings by states or districts hasn’t fared any better, reinforcing what many experts and professionals have argued all along: a hasty reopening is safe for no one and leads to increased Covid cases, more research and resources are needed to reopen schools safely and effectively.

There is certainly no right answer to school reopening plans that will accommodate every stakeholder. The schools that have chosen to reopen in-person while community Covid cases are still high are putting lives at risk and causing harm to communities. The local educational agencies and nonprofits using their resources to develop creative solutions to distanced or remote learning and delaying in-person learning for the majority of students are looking to be the safest path for most. Based on feedback and actions from teachers, administrators, students, and families, the right thing to do is to be careful, take the time to develop a reopening plan with local public health agencies, and ensure that schools and families have the necessary funds and supplies to support new safety measures or new day-time care centers for working parents. As the future is uncertain, flexibility, innovation, science, and alternative approaches to normal classroom learning are the key until we can get our students safely back in the classroom.

RESISTANCE RESOURCES:

Resources for Remote Learning — The Emerson Collective has compiled an excellent, in-depth list of vetted resources for remote learning for students, families, educators, and administrators. From interactive sites, to videos, to toolkits, share with someone in-need or get to know what resources are out there to support you and your community.

Donors Choose — A platform that allows teachers and schools to request money or supplies for specific school-related purposes. Find a local class or project that you want to support, or filter “distance learning” to support students and teachers in navigating new systems of learning.

American Federation of Teachers — Support teachers and students by advocating for policies that will address funding, food security, technology access and more. Their site connects you with a fill-in template that sends emails to your local congress members.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance — A unified voice that supports policy, research, and collaboration to solve the digital divide in schools and beyond. Get involved with them or a local agency listed on their site to help donate, volunteer, or reach out to local government to demand support for internet access and technology for all students.

First Book — Provide in-need students and schools with books through donations and fundraisers for specific funds meant to reach those who need books most.

SOURCES:

The Coronavirus Child Care And Education Relief Act

The Coronavirus Child Care And Education Relief Act

By Emily Carty

August 13, 2020

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.

The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.

In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning —  but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school. 

Policy Analysis:

As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.

CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.

S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools.

Resistance Resources:

NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.

NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.

Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.

Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.

Sources:

Bill S.4112

Bill S.4112

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.

The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.

In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning —  but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school.

Policy Analysis:

As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.

CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.

S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools. 

Resistance Resources: 

NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.

NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.

Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.

Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.

Sources:

Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Summary

Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers. The reopening Trump is pushing for would send students and teachers back to classrooms as early as next month. There has been talk of a resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter months since the pandemic began. The numbers have risen so steadily due to quick state re-openings that it may no longer qualify as a resurgence, but now simply as an increase.

A sixty-nine page file created by the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, marked “For Internal Use Only” was obtained by the New York Times and circulated this week. It was meant to be used by the White House corona virus task force while visiting areas highly impacted by the virus. While most of the file was made up of documents already made public and posted to the CDC’s website, there were some new details that seemingly got the president’s attention. Specifically, it stated that a full reopen of schools put the country on the “highest risk” option.

Analysis

Seemingly in reaction to the documents, Trump began firing off Tweets in favor of school reopenings: “Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning. Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.” He then took his tweets a step further, with a bizarre claim that those opposing school openings are doing so for political reasons, and that there may be financial consequences: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” He insisted that he would put pressure on governors and local governments to reopen.

While federal funding does not account for a large part of school budgets, most of what it does account for is  aid low income families and students with special needs – populstions deemed to be at high-risk for the corona virus. Most education funding is provided by the states and local government, who will ultimately make decisions concerning reopening. Luckily, Trump does not have the authority to cut funding to schools.However his threat displays a lack of concern for American citizens.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been a champion of local and parental school control , has completely adapted her message to echo Trump’s. In April she stated “If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student.” And just days ago, “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them.” DeVos is putting her spotlight onto low-income schools and those in communities of color. She insists they do not have the funds to operate properly remotely but contradicts her concerns by continuing to support the threat of removing federal funding from them if they don’t them if they don’t reopen.

The issue has become so publicly political that families and teachers at the heart of the debate are feeling frustrated and left behind. Appropriate and responsible planning has been pirated by making political choices while lives hang in the balance. As President of the National Parents Union Keri Rodriguez put it, “We have so politicized the situation we don’t know who we can trust, and it’s become very clear that we can’t trust her (DeVos)..”

Resistance Resources:

  • National Parents Union is a collection of 200 advocacy organizations across 50 states representing parents from communities of color. www.nationalparentsunion.org
  • American Federation of Teachers is a teachers labor union fighting for more federal funding in order to accommodate safety considerations within classrooms. www.aft.org
Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed.

Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed.

Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed. Recent events have led districts to second-guess a fresh start this fall: The pandemic’s expected death toll continues to rise as states move to reopen against the advice of scientists; Coronavirus task force advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned against assuming that vaccines and widespread treatments will be available by fall, calling the expectation “a bridge too far”; and in recent weeks, the popular belief that children are “safe” from the virus has been turned on its head by emerging reports of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome.

On May 12th the entire California State University system announced that it will hold the upcoming semester online, and universities around the country are expected to follow suit. As difficult as this situation is for college students, it may be impossible for schoolchildren. Even for those with consistent Internet access, the lack of structure and high stress levels will prevent kids from meeting standard academic milestones. In fact, many analysts are expecting them to lose ground in an intensified version of the “summer slide.”

Meanwhile, President Trump has been pushing for schools to reopen as soon as possible. He rejected Dr. Fauci’s suggestion to remain cautious in the fall, calling it “not an acceptable answer.” Trump added, “We have to open our schools. Young people are little affected by this.”

Analysis

Despite President Trump’s optimism, the risks of a rushed reopening cannot be understated. Setting aside his apparent ignorance of pediatric inflammatory syndrome, children are not the only ones affected by potential outbreaks in schools; staff and students’ families will also be caught in the crossfire.

There is hope that, like the retail sector, schools can reopen earlier if they do so gradually. The United States could follow the example of Denmark, which reopened schools for the lower grades on April 15th. In addition to increased hygiene measures, children are required to stay six feet apart, and classroom sizes are limited to ten. However, questions remain about the viability of doing this in larger schools. Denmark chose to open primary schools first for good reason: they tend to be smaller, and they’re more likely to be within walking distance. In densely-packed high schools, creating a safe plan would present a significant challenge. The cited NPR article suggests staggering schedules to reduce class sizes, meaning kids could attend on alternating days or in daily shifts.

As with every aspect of public life, coronavirus presents an impossible choice for schools and families. Proposed safety measures can only do so much to mitigate the risk, especially since children have more difficulty understanding and adhering to social distancing policies. However, at some point the suffering caused by missed milestones and social isolation rivals that of the virus itself. The spectre of disease is coupled with that of a mass-scale academic and developmental backslide.

While the fall quarter is up in the air, districts should do more to address the drawbacks of distance learning. Some schools are not offering online instruction due to lack of preparedness and equity concerns. This summer is the time to train teachers and administrators, as well as develop an effective online curriculum — preferably at the state level. Some districts have offered wifi and laptops to low-income students, but the current patchwork of resources is hurting children nationwide. Federal and state support for such programs would go a long way towards making phased reopenings possible. A staggered schedule will be much more viable if kids can learn effectively from home.

Perhaps we’ll get lucky and the situation will improve drastically by August, but we need to prepare for the worst now. Having effective digital options will reduce the rush to return to the classroom before it’s safe.

Resistance Resources

  • Khan Academy
  • Scholastic’s Summer Read-A-Palooza program offers free e-books. This year, they’ve also launched Home Base, where kids can create an avatar, track their reading progress, and more.
Coronavirus Deals a Blow to US Schools

Coronavirus Deals a Blow to US Schools

On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19.

On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19. In the United States, many children will be out for the rest of the year. Virginia, for example, has already announced that in-person instruction will not resume until fall, at the earliest. According to NPR, experts expect it will take current students at least two years to recover academically. In the meantime, drop-out rates will surge.

School districts have scrambled to roll out distance learning programs, although many students lack the resources to access education online. Low-income students may lack internet at home, and those with disabilities are unable to receive the accommodations they need. In an effort to fill the gaps, telecommunications companies have offered discounted service for some consumers, and certain districts have attempted to make WiFi more accessible via hotspots. Additionally, some teachers have chosen to provide printed worksheets and phone conferences. In the midst of widespread panic and disorder, however, it is impossible to scale these measures to meet the need completely.

Providing for millions of students is a job for the federal government, which has unfortunately given a muted response. In the recently passed CARES Act, $13.5 billion of the $2 trillion package was allotted to education. The funds could be used for a wide variety of needs, including distance learning initiatives, upon Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ approval. Even more concerning, the legislation allows states to fund education at a lower level than previous years “for the purpose of relieving fiscal burdens on states that have experienced a precipitous decline in financial resources.”

Analysis

Like every other facet of society, the American education system is struggling to hold itself together during this crisis. Individual districts have made admirable efforts to support students, but this amounts to a confused patchwork of resources nationwide. Yet again, the most vulnerable Americans will find themselves at a disadvantage. Low-income students from poor and rural areas will have the most obstacles to accessing education, while their schools will have the fewest resources to help.

Additionally, the $13.5 billion given to education in the CARES Act pales in comparison to the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave schools $77 billion. The amount allotted in the CARES Act is essentially a pittance given the scale of the crisis; after all, the Obama-era legislation was enacted when schools were operating normally. Not to mention the fact that the oncoming recession may eclipse the 2008 financial crisis, constraining school budgets further.

In the wake of this recession, funding for education should be maintained, not decreased. The federal government’s refusal to guarantee this shows that students, particularly working-class ones, are not a major priority. Wealthier districts, blessed by the neighborhood’s tax base, will continue to provide an education of consistent quality. Meanwhile, poor districts that were already struggling will see their difficulties compounded under CARES Act provisions. In short, the cycle of educational inequality will only intensify, spurred on by the empty gesture of this stimulus package.

Resources

  • The Education Trust is working towards equitable education for low-income and POC students.
  • No Kid Hungry has outlined its response to the crisis and provided additional resources for those looking to help.
  • Khan Academy provides free, high-quality educational resources.
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