An EdWeek Market Brief survey asked district officials what kinds of strategies they anticipate using to take on student academic losses during the pandemic — the so-called “COVID slide.”
Many school systems applying for E-rate funding this year are focused on a new set of needs, and their shifting priorities have implications for ed-tech companies.
The Biden administration’s recent guidance for how states should carry out federally mandated tests is likely to have implications for the testing industry, potentially affecting everything from the work required to design the exams to scheduling them to companies’ bottom lines.
In a letter to states, the U.S. Department of Education this week informed states that they won’t be allowed to cancel federally mandated standardized exams this school year — unlike last spring, when they were given the right to shelve end-of-year exams.
But the agency gave states the right to propose shortened versions of state exams in English/language arts, math, and science, and is allowing them to delay the assessments, potentially even until next school year.
Typically, test scoring is done over a three-week time period, but a longer testing window increases the chances that the process becomes less efficient, which could raise test providers’ costs, said Barry Topol, managing partner of Assessment Solutions Group. His organization provides assessment cost, management and state accountability systems analysis and consulting to states and other entities.
“The big costs of scoring are the variable costs of monitoring those [test] raters and readers, and training them and having them score,” he said in an interview with EdWeek Market Brief.
Though the department’s letter to states said it won’t invite state requests for blanket waivers of assessments akin to the broad waivers issued by the department last spring, the agency did say it will allow states to seek waivers from federal requirements for school accountability, which would include a waiver from the requirement that states test 95 percent of eligible students, as my Education Week colleagues reported Monday.
And despite the department’s decision to not invite applications for broad assessment waivers, states could still seek them.
For instance, Pennsylvania state lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to waive assessment requirements this year because of the pandemic.
If states take advantage of the administration’s permission to delay this year’s assessments, that could increase logistical and hiring costs for assessment providers.
Asked whether longer testing windows would make it more difficult to efficiently hire test scorers for this cycle, Cambium Assessment President Steve Kromer said the scenario is one that the company can adapt to meet. Scorers are generally receptive, he said, to offers to extend their contracts if necessary.
Cambium Assessment currently has 27 different contracts with states for summative types of assessments, and provides mostly computer-based tests, he said.
As there were last year, there could be contract renegotiations between Cambium and its customers as these states explore the possibilities of delaying or modifying aspects of this year’s tests, Kromer said.
“We would need to understand what the impact of a change would be, in terms of how we adjust our capacity based on our anticipated volumes of helpdesk calls and volumes of computer-based tests,” Kromer said. “We’re going to — as any business — look at adjustments to our capacity.”
If assessment providers are administering tests remotely, an extended test window could place additional cost burdens by requiring extensions of leases for test facilities and computers, Topol said.
On the other hand, if states desire shorter assessments, it could challenge companies to quickly compress the length of these exams while still ensuring the tests are still robust, Topol said.
“One way to do it would be to eliminate those constructed response items, but then you’ve got some issues with are you providing adequate content coverage?” he said. “The later in the school year… that you do that, the faster the vendors have to respond, the more expensive it is, and the more you introduce more chances for human error somewhere in the process.”
Cambium Assessment’s revenue took a hit when standardized tests were canceled last year. The company could sustain some revenue impacts this cycle as well, potentially associated with longer testing windows and modifying test structures, Kromer said.
But other costs could fall, Kromer said.
“You may not have to pay the cost to have [physical test books] taken to one of the states and have all those test books delivered and pick them back up,” he said. “There are costs that would go away.”
A number of governors have called for boosting education spending for the coming year’s budget, betting that the economy will lift their states’ revenues. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed an ambitious increase of his own, one that hinges not on economic conditions, but rather an overhaul of how the state funds schools.
The second-term Democrat says his plan would result in $1.3 billion more in aid flowing to K-12 schools across the state, through a combination of tax increases and a reworking of Pennsylvania’s school finance system.
Even strong supporters of the plan, however, say it faces tough odds in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, at least in its current form.
The core of Wolf’s proposal is a change to the method through which Pennsylvania funds schools. The state currently has a funding formula that was designed, in theory, to support underfunded districts. But only a small portion of the overall money flowing to K-12 systems, about 11 percent — by the governor’s estimate — goes through the formula, and the remainder is allocated separately, through a method that school officials say is tethered to antiquated school enrollment counts.
Wolf’s proposal would route all of the state’s basic education funding, which now stands at $6.2 billion per year, plus an additional $200 million he’s proposed for next year, through the funding formula.
The governor says the existing funding approach has punished tax-poor school systems and does not allow most of them to account for changes in enrollment and other costs that have spiraled over time. He has vowed that “no school will lose a single dollar” in state resource as a result of the change.
But it would require new revenue, and Wolf is calling for an increase in the personal income tax from 3.09 percent to 4.49 percent. It would shift the tax burden away from lower-income earners and increase them on those with higher pay, by adjusting exemptions.
“Pennsylvania’s school funding system is unfair to students, teachers and communities,” Wolf said in a statement. “The state still largely funds schools based on student enrollment from 30 years ago, which underfunds growing districts from our small towns to our big cities. My common sense plan restores fairness to school funding to ensure every community can provide the quality education students need to succeed in life.”
GOP legislators, however, appear to be lining up in opposition to Wolf’s plan, arguing that it will hurt businesses and a state economy attempting to recover from the pain of COVID.
“The pandemic hit Main Street. More than anyone else they had to deal with the governor’s draconian shutdowns and now he wants to put more burden on them the largest tax increase in Pennsylvania history,” said Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, according to the Tribune-Review.
“The mom-and-pop stores will bear the brunt of this proposal,” Corman said. “Small employers and middle-class families are what drive economic recoveries. Governor Wolf has put yet another target on their backs.”
Mark DiRocco, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said he did not expect Wolf’s proposal to make it across the finish line in its existing approach, despite Republican opposition.
“This has been an historic ask, and we don’t know where it’s going to go,” DiRocco said.
But many of his organization’s members – mostly top K-12 district administrators – are convinced that a change in the funding system is long overdue. Many districts across the state struggle to keep up amid a raft of costs that rise, year after year – in serving populations such as special needs students and English-language learners, and in shifting enrollment. The current funding scheme, he said, does little to help.
Emergency federal aid to schools, the latest round of which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump in late December, has bolstered Pennsylvania’s districts, and so would additional aid proposed by President Joe Biden if it comes through, he said.
But much of that aid has supported one-time purchases, such as COVID-related safety equipment and laptops. Changing the funding formula would get at districts’ underlying, core expenses, particularly around paying for personnel, said DiRocco. His organization’s 900 members say they have a particular need for mental health specialists, such as school psychologists and counselors, as well as staff who can address learning loss.
Wolf’s plan “starts the conversation,” he said, “and most of our members want to be part of that conversation.”
Photo: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf at a news conference in November, by AP Photo/Julio Cortez.
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Do you know people who are still concerned that homeschooled children aren’t well socialized? Who believe that homeschoolers don’t know how to get along with others, have friends, and deal with real life? Or maybe you feel strongly about it, but your husband does not support homeschooling.
I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t true that homeschooled children aren’t well socialized! In fact, the truth is that many homeschooled students are extremely well socialized. (I hate the term socialized! But because that’s the term commonly used to refer to how well children and teens do in social situations, I’ll use it here.)
Over my 20+ years of homeschooling, I’ve come in contact (both in real life and online) with many homeschooling parents whose relatives and friends are concerned that their homeschooled children aren’t properly socialized. They worry that these students won’t know how to get along with other children. That they’ll be awkward teenagers. (Imagine that!!) That they won’t be able to go to college and get married and have jobs in the “real world.” But it’s just not true.
The strange thing is that the majority of homeschooled students are extremely well socialized! In fact, I know more children who go to public or private schools who are socially awkward, extremely shy, don’t have many friends, and aren’t able to carry on a conversation with other students (much less with adults) than homeschooled students who fit this description. Many homeschooled children, in fact, are socialized in ways that are much more beneficial to them (both now and in the future) than students who are socialized by public or even private schools. In fact, part of the reason many people homeschool is to protect our children from the world’s standards, and that can be a very good thing!
Yes, there are some homeschooled students who are socially awkward and shy. However, there are also some public and private school students who fit the same description. In other words, people generally blame the awkwardness or shyness of homeschooled students on the fact that a particular student is homeschooled, yet when students go to public or private schools, they don’t blame those students’ social awkwardness on the fact that those students attend public or private school.
After having met and gotten to know homeschooling families all across the United States and in my local area, it is my experience that the majority of homeschooled students are able to get along with, talk with, and otherwise interact with people of all ages–not just those in their own peer group.
Think about it this way: Most students who go to public or private schools interact with students of the same age/grade level all day. This isn’t the case with homeschooled students. When we homeschoolers get together for field trips, co-op classes, sports, play days, book clubs, and so on, we usually bring all of our children with us. And of course we parents are in attendance too. This means our children are exposed to babies, toddlers, young children, older children, tweens, teens, parents, and grandparents on a regular basis.
It’s not unusual to see children of all ages chatting and playing with other children who are older or younger than themselves. They don’t think they can only be friends with other children who are the same age and grade level. One year at a family reunion, I actually heard a pre-teen girl complain repeatedly that she didn’t have anyone to play with that day. I looked around and saw ten or twelve other children there, so I pointed out that fact. She quickly let me know that she couldn’t play with those children because none of them were in fifth grade like her. But many homeschoolers, on the other hand, could comparatively be called socialization geniuses!
It’s not unusual to see tweens and teens helping to look after the toddlers and young children when we have a get-together. And it’s also quite common to see children and teens talking with parents or grandparents–their own and others’ too! Why is this? Because this is real life!
When our students graduate from our homeschools and go to college or get jobs, they won’t go to college or to work with only other people of the same age! They’ll be expected to be able to work with people of all ages. They’ll be expected to get along with and communicate with others of different ages.
In fact, I have to share some examples from my own family with you. My youngest child (who has been homeschooled since the beginning) is now 18 years old. From the time she was about 12 until she was 17, she served as an assistant to an art teacher in classes for children from kindergarten through about third grade. My daughter is a bit of an introvert, but she loves art and she loves children, and the combination of the two made her look forward to helping in those art classes for quite a few years! In fact, the art teacher was sad to see her go when she started her first “real” job and was no longer available to help teach the art classes.
And yes, that’s right. My poor unsocialized homeschooler started working at her first real job. (Haha!) She now works a couple of days a week at a locally-owned health food store. Because it’s a small store, she often has to work alone. She’s had to learn about many products, their uses, and where they’re found in the store. She has to talk with customers to find out what they need and to show them where to find products. She helps customers of all ages from teenagers to adults to elderly people, and she handles all of them very well.
She also works in the sound booth at our church with a couple of other teenagers, babysits on a regular basis, and fills in for the youth Sunday school teacher. And the truth is, being homeschooled is what allows her to do many of these things! Homeschooling allows her to build time into her schedule to handle these responsibilities.
It makes me proud that she’s able to get along with children and adults of all ages. It makes me happy that she enjoys the company of many other people–not just those of her own age/grade. And it’s fantastic that she has so many opportunities to build social skills in so many real-life situations. This should be the goal for all children–whether they homeschool or not!
What I really want you to take away from this article is that, even though the choice to homeschool sometimes leads people to (mistakenly!) worry that our children won’t be well socialized, the truth is that they usually are. They are being prepared for real life in a world with people of all ages. And as parents, that’s what we’re here to do–prepare our children to live their lives as adults. So next time a well-meaning friend or relative expresses concern that your children aren’t well socialized or you find yourself being criticized for homeschooling, remind them that you’re preparing them for real life. And you’re doing a great job of it!
P.S. – If you’d like to see some research-based data about homeschooling, please take a look at our article Updated Homeschool Research by NHERI. You’ll be happy to find that there is research-based information supporting the effectiveness of homeschooling and the real-life success of adults who were homeschooled.
As homeschool moms, we tend to look at everything as a teaching opportunity, and starting a business is no different! We recently took the Rainmakers 7-day challenge to start an e-commerce business. We loved it so much we also joined their mastermind group! Want to find out more? You can take their 7-day challenge too. We believe you can start a business and teach entrepreneurship at the same time!
Wendy and I have always had a desire to find a way to help homeschool moms supplement their income. Why? Because we often hear from homeschool moms who are struggling.
We hear how many moms are having to work outside the home and the stress it adds to your homeschool experience.
We hear how hard it is to work on somebody else’s schedule and homeschool around it.
We hear how you want to make a living while working around your other many responsibilities.
So we have been hunting for an idea that we believed in and wanted to do ourselves and would want to share with you… and we have found it! We are doing it ourselves! Did you see our diamond painting kits that we just launched this month? Those are due to the Rainmakers challenge! They are offering a new 7-day challenge starting on Thursday, February 25, and we really want to encourage you to join it! It only costs $27, and you will get the tools that very first weekend to make your $27 back, immediately.
Take the Rainmakers challenge. You have nothing to lose!
I know you have lots of questions!! We did too. Each day of the challenge Stephen and Chelsey, the challenge leaders, cover a different topic related to starting an online e-commerce business. If you have teenagers, get them to do the challenge with you! Here’s what you will learn each day:
Here are a few moms who are launching products right now! They are super excited to give away their products and to share their journeys with us. We hope you will:
Now let’s get to the fun part… the giveaways! One thing to note, as new Amazon sellers, these moms will want you to purchase the item you win on Amazon and then they will reimburse you for the entire amount. We are sure they will do it, because we know these ladies… but just in case, we want you to know, WE will reimburse even if they don’t. So no worries about that! And if you love the products, please be sure to leave reviews!! They are the lifeblood of new businesses starting on Amazon and only about 20% of buyers actually leave reviews.
This is us! Wendy and I started Teaching Toys and launched diamond painting kits as our very first products. But they are not just diamond painting kits, we included beautiful unit studies for each African animal in the series. We hope you love them so much, you want to get them all!
Astrid is the creator of the Bookends for Kids. You can learn more about her story in my interview with her on Facebook. (click here)
Emily is the creator of the Animal Alphabet Wall Decor for Kids. Learn more about why she chose this product. (click here)
Shandi is a precious young mom who started the Rohmi brand. The name of her brand means something very special to her. See why she chose this name for her brand and learn about her beautiful Multipurpose Modern Leather Mats!
Falcon is the creator of the Tooth Fairy Pillow, and she is determined for this business to be strictly an Amazon business. I call her aggressively passive… see why!
Diana saw a need for extra-large baskets for toys. Learn more about Diana and her products here.
Mamy created this product for her kids. Where she lives she could not draw hopscotch squares on the sidewalk!! Find out why they couldn’t draw on the sidewalks and more about her product in this interview on Facebook.
Cheri was homeschooled along with her two brothers. All three are now doctors! She married someone who was homeschooled who is a lawyer. Cheri is the only interview where I cried. Cheri is precious, her story is so encouraging, and her mission will touch your heart! Meet Cheri and hear some of her story here.
Kristin saw a gap in the offerings on Amazon for creative craft kits, and her desire is to fill the gap! She has created two so far. Learn about her kits and her story here.
Flore created a fun little Tooth Fairy Pillow as her product. You can learn more about her story here.
Cindy’s husband owns a repair shop, so her products are created from needs she sees every day in that business. All of her products are directed at Ladies Kar Care. Learn about her Amazon journey here.
Rachael was part of the June challenge with me. She has not only launched 7 products, but she is also now a Rainmaker coach!! I love her energy and her story. You can meet Rachael here.
Nicole has an interesting story too. Her story starts with her serving our country in the military. Find out more about her and the Tooth Fairy Pillow here.
Jeni is so creative and organized! I wish I could hire her to help get my house in order! Learn more about her story and how she came up with the idea for her pom pom garland here.
Melissa is a serial entrepreneur!! She has started multiple brands and is really finding her groove already! It is exciting to watch her journey and see what she is up to next. Meet Melissa and learn about how she got started here.
We hope these moms inspired you and that you are excited about starting a new journey… one where you can start a business and teach entrepreneurship at the same time!
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