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Former NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Lands Job With Ed-Tech Company

former nyc schools chancellor richard carranza lands job with ed tech company
Richard Carranza

Richard Carranza, the former chancellor of the New York City schools, is joining the ed-tech sector less than one month after leaving the nation’s largest school district. 

Carranza, who departed his position with NYC schools in mid-March, will become the chief of strategy and global development at IXL Learning, a Silicon Valley-based online personalized learning platform, the company announced in a statement.

The move marks a particularly high-profile hiring for IXL at a time when ed-tech sector growth and visibility — not just among school districts but within the investor community —  is exploding as a result of COVID-19 remote learning.

For his part, Carranza said he’s excited to make the shift to the private sector. IXL did not say when he will start the position.

“Education is undergoing a profound transformation where teachers are utilizing technology to close learning gaps and provide every child with the tools to build lasting knowledge,” Carranza said.

Carranza abruptly stepped down as chancellor of NYC schools, saying at a press conference that he needed to take time to grieve the loss of 11 loved ones and close friends to the coronavirus. The New York Times noted that Carranza’s departure followed clashes with his boss, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, over desegregation policy in the district.

In his new role, Carranza will “advise IXL Learning on meeting the growing needs of school systems around the world,” the company said. 

Aside from running the New York City schools, Carranza is also a former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, one of the 10 largest school systems in the country, and the San Francisco Unified School District.

IXL Learning CEO Paul Mishkin said Carranza’s hiring will give the company a new advantage by being able to tap into someone who has worked at the highest levels of public education at three of the biggest school districts in the country. 

It’s not uncommon for high-ranking school district administrators to leave public education for the private sector. (In some cases, they end up returning to public education.) Carranza is also not the first ex-NYC schools chancellor to make the move. Joel Klein, a former NYC schools chief, left his post several years ago and later joined Amplify, a digital learning company that at the time was invested in heavily by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Photo: New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, right, at a September news conference at the Mosaic Pre-K Center while Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, listens on the first day of school. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)


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4 Ways Schools Can Support Students and Educators as We Return to In-Person Learning

4 ways schools can support students and educators as we return to in person learning
MB BLOG Art Mar25

School districts nationwide have done their best to adapt quickly to evolving public health concerns during COVID, while not compromising the safety of students, families, and faculty.

Still, the return to “school” in the form of in-person classes, virtual coursework, and hybrid models has proven no less chaotic than the abrupt transition to virtual learning we experienced last spring. While academic learning and lesson plans are important, our priority when it comes to getting back to school needs to be clear. There is a childhood mental health crisis sitting just under the surface for an entire generation of children who are not getting what they need developmentally, emotionally, and otherwise.

Throughout remote learning, we’ve seen missed opportunities for adults to check in in-person on students’ emotional and mental wellbeing, leading to an inability to prevent violence, suicide surges, or bullying. There’s been a lack of socialization, especially for younger students, meaning missed opportunities to practice the social and emotional skills that come from play that will serve them for a lifetime, such as waiting turns, managing impulses, active listening, and empathizing with others.

Once we return to the classroom at full capacity, students will have a new set of challenges to overcome. Beyond decreased in-person interaction, the racial and economic disparities that the virus presents are also exacerbating the mental health crisis. Children in marginalized communities often experience high frequencies of trauma, grief, and loss.

Schools are the safe havens that provide an escape — and critical supports. Schools provide mental health resources, support for families in crisis, regular hot meals, a safe place to be, and adults who are qualified to care for children’s safety and wellbeing after experiencing trauma. During the pandemic, access to resources has been limited and students’ wellbeing has suffered as a result — even in scenarios where academic gains have not been compromised. 

So what can we do? Here are 4 ways schools can prioritize the mental health of students and educators as we prepare to return to in-person schooling:

  1. Prioritize deliberate, sequential, evidence-based social emotional learning programs for students and training for staff. In math and reading we learn the basics first and build on those tools to eventually master more complicated skills. Similarly, we base our social and emotional health on foundational knowledge we are taught as young children, and we continue to strengthen and practice these skills as we grow. 
  2. We have to put on our own oxygen masks prior to taking care of others. Be cognizant of educator wellbeing broadly, and understand the systemic impact this has on students. As we return to classrooms, teachers must be guaranteed access to mental health resources and their own social emotional support programs, PPE and safety equipment in their classrooms. Longer term efforts to improve educator wellbeing should include providing benefits like health insurance and a living wage. In too many states, this is not the reality for educators.
  3. Focus on ways to keep schools open, while protecting public health. In Europe, positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise, but schools remain open with limited incidents of spread. Their prioritization of both the near-term physical health of children as well as their long-term mental and emotional wellbeing is an example that we should emulate here. Recently the U.S.’s largest school district, New York City, closed in-person learning in an effort to prevent COVID from spreading. Like our friends in Europe, we should instead be prioritizing advancements and protocols that allow school doors to remain open in a way that protects the health and safety of our educators and students.
  4. Lead with trauma informed, anti-racist practices. For many school communities, the pandemic has compounded the economic and racial inequalities that affect our children. Trauma-informed, anti-racist practices not only support our students through this challenging year, but build safer, more equitable school communities for all of our children. We can learn from educators like Mathew Portell, principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary and 2020-21 Elementary School Principal of the Year at Metro Nashville Public Schools who shared the trauma-informed practices of his school in a recent episode of the Saracast: Conversations in Social Emotional Learning

As vaccines begin to be distributed, the light at the end of a very long tunnel is finally starting to show. However, it won’t be just this year that looks different for educators, families and students — it will be every year moving forward.

And maybe that’s a good thing. The reality is that our educational system wasn’t built to adequately support educators and students at a time as pivotal as this. In fact, these times have exposed that the system has been lacking for a long time. Let this be a catalyst for us to reprioritize how we think about education and how we can best serve students. The strides that we will need to make to account for the regression of an entire generation are significant, but not insurmountable. There is innovative, effective, life-changing teaching happening right now — but the system as a whole is too rigid to adapt to the 21st century, much less a global pandemic.

We can no longer ignore this, and the work starts now. We owe it to our future generations to make up for lost time and come out of this pandemic working toward a stronger, more innovative, more adaptable education system that supports our youth to navigate life’s inevitable challenges and stressors with resiliency and confidence. 

Image by iStock/Getty Images 


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Bipartisan Legislation Would Allow E-Rate Funding for School Bus Wi-Fi

bipartisan legislation would allow e rate funding for school bus wi fi
MB Ben Ray Lujan BLOG
Ben Ray Lujan

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Congress would make make E-Rate money available to support Wi-Fi on school buses, the latest of several recent recent efforts to expand student internet connectivity outside school hours.

Sens. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have introduced the legislation, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations to make Wi-Fi access on school buses eligible for support under the E-Rate program no later than 180 days after enactment. Under the bill, schools would be reimbursed for equipping buses with Wi-Fi.

The E-Rate program is funded at $4 billion annually, and allows schools to receive reimbursement for certain internet services provided on campus.

If policymakers provide more financial support for off-campus wireless services, it could increase the ability of students to make use of companies’ ed-tech tools, apps, and platforms, including on long bus rides where students have access to laptops and other devices, if this bill gets enacted.

The bill is aimed, in part, at promoting digital equity for rural and tribal communities in states like New Mexico, according to Lujan’s office.

Approximately one-quarter of New Mexico’s over 350,000 students don’t have affordable internet, according to a statement by the New Mexico Homework Gap Team, which describes itself as an ad hoc group of professionals who support narrowing the digital divide for K-12 students in the state.

A December study by the Alliance for Excellent Education estimated that almost 17 million students nationwide lack home internet access to complete school assignments.

“For rural and tribal students who travel hours to and from school, these commutes can be valuable time accessing the internet, completing assignments, and conducting research,” Lujan said in a statement. “Empowering our schools to equip buses with Wi-Fi is an opportunity to uplift our students, tackle the homework gap, and help alleviate the financial strain that too many families are experiencing at home.”

If passed, the legislation would give schools more flexibility in terms of figuring out how they can best use ed tech to promote equity, said Amina Fazlullah, equity policy director for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting safe and effective technology use for children.

“Every community has different layers of barriers to equitable access to education related to technology,” she said in an interview. “Having that flexibility ultimately in the E-Rate program will be incredibly useful for schools where students have long commutes.”

But Fazlullah suggested that the ed-tech funding expansion outlined in the Lujan-Graham bill shouldn’t substitute for other potential federal initiatives to support costs for students’ home connectivity.

It remains to be seen whether the FCC will act decisively on some lawmakers’ and education advocates’ calls for a long-term, dedicated funding source to support students’ home connectivity.

The COVID-19 stimulus package approved earlier this month allocated $7 billion to the FCC for the creation of what is being called the “Emergency Connectivity Fund,” separate from E-Rate, to pay for high-speed internet and devices used off campus.

The commission also recently announced plans for a policy that, among many other things, would allow school districts to apply for reimbursement for costs they have paid for students and teachers to access broadband at home.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in an interview with Education Week this month, said the agency remains in the “process of evaluating how we can update the current E-Rate program to meet the moment students and families find themselves in.” She spoke after the agency in February issued a request for public comments on whether E-Rate funds could be used to support remote learning during the pandemic.

In 2018, then a U.S. congressman, Lujan became familiar with how Wi-Fi operates on a school bus when he attended a “Rolling Study Halls” event. Hosted by Santa Fe Schools and funded by Google, the event took a Wi Fi-equipped bus to a Native American pueblo in New Mexico, Tom Ryan, chief information and strategy officer for the district, noted in an email.

In addition to Santa Fe, the Albuquerque district is one other school system that has outfitted school buses with mobile Wi-Fi units, installing hot spots on 80 buses across the area as of October.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has introduced legislation similar to the Lujan-Graham bill in the House.

The legislation has picked up endorsements from the National Education Association, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge, School Superintendents Association, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, National Rural Education Association, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Photo: Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is pictured on June 29, 2018, visiting the Kewa Pueblo, a Native American settlement southwest of Santa Fe, N.M.  The program was called “Rolling Study Halls” which was funded by Google.


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The FCC’s $7 Billion Fund to Address the ‘Homework Gap’: 6 Key Issues to Watch

the fccs 7 billion fund to address the homework gap 6 key issues to watch
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advance placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays a wifi hot spot that are being handed out to students in Dallas, Thursday, April 9, 2020. Dallas I.S.D. is handing out the devices along with wifi hotspots to students in need so that they can connect online for their continued education amid the COVID-19 health crisis. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Federal Communications Commission has a new $7 billion pot for schools to recoup the costs of paying for student and teacher access to broadband at home — and now the agency must figure out how to distribute the money.

Since the money came through, the FCC has started the process, recently announcing that it is formally requesting public comment for the new program aimed at addressing the so-called “homework gap.”

The COVID-19 stimulus package approved earlier this month allocated $7 billion to the FCC for the creation of what is being called the “Emergency Connectivity Fund” to pay for high-speed internet and devices used off campus.

The agency has 60 days from enactment of the relief measure to get final rules in place. That means school districts could start applying for money as early as mid-May or early June, said Reg Leichty, founding partner of the education consulting group Foresight Law+Policy.

School systems looking for help covering the costs of keeping students connected earned a major win with the federal funding, said Leichty, but it won’t serve as a long-term solution for remote learning since the money isn’t permanent.

“It’s not a comprehensive plan,” he said, “but it is a huge leap forward.”

The FCC’s request for comments about the new policy surfaced a number of key questions. They include how the $7 billion in funding can be distributed equitably; whether it should create broadband adoption goals, benchmark speeds and data thresholds; what type of devices qualify; if services and equipment can be used for educational purposes only; and what the bidding process should look like.

The answers to those questions have implications for companies across the ed-tech market — not only those focused directly on providing connectivity to schools and homes, but also those whose digital products would benefit from students being able to connect more easily.

Here are six critical issues that companies keeping track of the FCC program should watch for:

While some questions remain unanswered, this much is clear: Wi Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine a modem and router, along with laptop and tablet computers all qualify for funding.

What about smartphones? The FCC says nope, and has proposed that all eligible devices need to be able to support video conferencing platforms and other software necessary “to ensure full participation in remote learning activities.” And that’s where the FCC believes smartphones don’t make the cut, writing in the public notice that such devices do not sufficiently allow students, school staff, and library patrons to meaningfully participate in remote learning activities.”

And what about desktops? The FCC is asking for folks to weigh in on that one: “Although not specifically identified, should desktop computers be eligible for funding as ‘similar end-user devices’ that are capable of connecting to ‘advanced telecommunications and information services?’”

The FCC also wants to know if it should impose minimum system requirements for eligible devices, and whether it should require devices to be Wi-Fi enabled and have video and camera functions for remote learning. 

The FCC wants to know how far back it should allow applicants seeking funding to recoup costs. In its request for public comment, the agency’s Wireline Competition Bureau proposed that the full FCC allow eligibility to begin on Jan 27. 2020,  the date U.S. health officials determined coronavirus to be a public health emergency. But the agency also asked if  another date should be considered.

There has been some disagreement among school systems on a date, according to public comments the FCC received in a different remote learning inquiry. The FCC noted that it has received comments as part of that other inquiry from the New York City Department of Education advocating for a reimbursement period to begin in March 2020, when most schools switched to remote learning. But others, including the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, have made the case in public comments for a July 1, 2020 date that coincides with the beginning of the E-rate funding year.

Leicthy said this is a big question for the agency to answer since many districts have spent the last full year scrambling to find money to buy Wi Fi hotspots and devices, and don’t want to be “penalized when it comes to being able to offsetting those costs.

“You should be able to look back to cover some costs incurred and one reasonable way to do that is to look at the entire 2020 and 2021 school year,” he said.

Since many districts have already entered into contracts for broadband and devices for students to use at home, the FCC is proposing to allow some school systems to bypass the competitive bidding process for purposes of seeking reimbursement through the homework gap fund.

Instead of going through the formal bidding process, the FCC says it could allow those districts to simply certify that they have complied with state and local procurement requirements. 

And for those districts that have yet to purchase broadband or devices for off-campus use, the FCC is asking in its request for comments whether it should adopt a streamlined competitive bidding process, which could include reducing from 28 days to 14 days the time that a district must wait to enter into a contract with a service provider after posting an RFP. 

There’s also some disagreement among school systems and organizations about this. The FCC has established a benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream as adequate to support remote learning.

But the Los Angeles Unified School District told the agency in public comments in another remote learning inquiry that those speeds are “inadequate for supporting uninterrupted teaching and learning, particularly in households in densely populated urban areas where multiple students are often struggling to stay connected.” The L.A. school district did not specify speeds it thought would be suitable.

However, INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks association, a D.C.-based trade organization, wrote to the FCC recommending that the benchmark speeds of at least 25/3 as the minimum service standard.

So the FCC is asking in its request for comments if what should the downstream and upstream speed targets be? And what Internet speeds are necessary for people with disabilities who use telephone relay service and video relay services?

School districts have been vocal about the need for federal funds dedicated specifically to off-campus connectivity. 

Most were expecting that money to come from an FCC change to its longstanding position that funds from the E-Rate program can’t be used to help with internet access in students’ homes. That was the expectation after the agency initiated a request for public comment on the issue back in February. The general thinking was that the FCC would roll over unused E-rate funds to create an emergency pot of money that districts could tap sometime this spring or summer. 

But Congress all but sidelined that discussion for now by approving the $7 billion as part of the latest stimulus plan.  

So now expanding E-rate to cover off-campus connectivity needs will get put on a back burner of sorts while the FCC works through delegating the $7 billion that Congress has appropriated. The FCC is going to “wait and reassess the situation before making a decision on E-rate,” said Leichty. 

FCC Interim Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, in an interview with Education Week this month, said the agency is still reviewing comments, and remains in the “process of evaluating how we can update the current E-rate program to meet the moment students and families find themselves in.”

The FCC’s public notice cites research from a nonprofit organization that estimates it would cost between $6 billion and $12 billion to cover costs for broadband and devices in the first year. So it’s not immediately clear how long Congress’ $7 billion infusion will meet the connectivity needs of schools and families.

Demand for reimbursement is expected to be high through the first funding window, according to the FCC’s notice. But if there’s leftover money, the FCC is suggesting that a new application window be opened the second quarter of every year until the money’s gone.

Once that happens, future funding remains uncertain to help curb the cost of providing mobile Wi Fi hot spots and broadband for students. 

“This emergency connectivity fund would be the driving factor for any change over time, and if the FCC decides they need more funding they could follow up and roll over unused E-rate funds at that time,” said Leichty.  

Photo: A teacher in a Dallas high school last year displays one of the Wi Fi hot spots that were being given out to students so that they could connect online during COVID-19. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)


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COVID 19 Slows the Tide of K-12 RFPs, But Rebound Expected in 2021 and 2022

covid 19 slows the tide of k 12 rfps but rebound expected in 2021 and 2022
RFP image

The number of published solicitations in K-12 declined sharply in 2020 — dropping to the lowest in almost a decade — but the education sector is poised to return to pre-pandemic levels for RFPs faster than many other government markets that buy products and services, according to GovWin from Deltek. 

Last year’s dip in solicitations was due primarily to a tectonic shift in school district spending and purchasing priorities as a result of COVID-19 and the mass move to remote learning.

Districts typically rely on RFPs and bids as part of the procurement process, but in many cases last year did not want to wait through the long process involved with those traditional purchasing vehicles. School systems also relied on sole-source (non-competitive) procurements or turned to cooperatives last year to purchase goods and services quickly, according to GovWin from Deltek, which tracks published solicitations. 

The company estimates that K-12 RFPs and bids fell off by 18.5 percent during 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to its recent “State and Local Procurement Snapshot – Q4 2020” report

Source: GovWin's market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.
Source: GovWin’s market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.

The report, which analyzed RFPs and bids from all public school districts with an enrollment of more than 500 students, says that K-12 solicitation volume is expected to grow by 13 percent this year and then almost another 5 percent in 2022 as spending and purchasing conditions normalize further. 

“Education overall is one of the markets that’s going to rebound most effectively through the next two years,” said Morgan Parkin, a research analyst for GovWin at Deltek. 

That rebound, said Parkin, has already started, fueled in part by several rounds of federal emergency dollars. 

She is forecasting that soft demand in a broad swath of K-12 spending categories should begin to reverse, and vendors could “start to notice those changes as early as now.” At the same time, solicitations for some “high priority purchases” have remained strong in recent months, according to the report. 

Two big areas Parkin said she’s noticing an uptick  for published solicitations is STEM curriculum and career-technical education programs. 

She also expects to see an increase in school districts issuing bids for assessment programs. Moving forward, districts could be issuing solicitations for a broader mix of assessment tools “coming from all types of vendors, large and small,” to better understand achievement gaps caused by the pandemic,” according to the report. 

“A major contract might get split up into smaller ones so more vendors can get in on it,” Parkin said, noting that districts might be less willing to sign with a big assessment provider for multiple years. “There’s going to be more work in assessments, but it will look a little different going in 2021 and 2022.”  

Demand should also stay steady for digital textbooks, small-scale remote learning tools, and computer equipment — all tools needed in case of another move back to distance learning. 

Rising Interest in PD, and Consulting

The report notes that vendors should “continue to watch for opportunities across all aspects of education, as this market involves a vast amount of services, supplies, systems, software, construction and maintenance. “ Districts not only have more money at their disposal now than at some points in 2020, as a result of a new federal stimulus, but more time and increased flexibility in how they use those funds. 

“Spending has returned already at the start of 2021,” Parkin said. 

Bids and RFPs issued by independent school districts rose from about 45,000 in 2014 up to 53,864 in 2019, for a compounded annual growth rate of 3.6 percent.

In 2020, the total was 43,903, which was the lowest since 2012, according to data from GovWin from Deltek. 

GovWin from Deltek provides business customers with market intelligence and leads on federal, state, local, and education government contracting. A recent analysis by the organization of contracting in the K-12 and higher education markets can be found here. (EdWeek Market Brief partners with GovWin from Deltek’s searches as a source for Purchasing Alerts, our twice-weekly breakdowns of education-focused RFPs from around the country.)

Through 2020, schools showed a strong interest in procuring supplies and safety products. But as the year progressed, so did district needs, as more schools issued bids for COVID testing services and there was a stronger focus on consulting and professional development, according to GovWin from Deltek.

Parkin said she expects the trend from 2020 of districts using cooperative purchasing to continue, but that school systems will likely rely on sole-source procurements with less frequency since they have more money and are no longer facing do-or-die timelines for purchases. 

Also, Parkin anticipates that a trend in districts making more contract opportunities available to minority and women-owned businesses will continue. 

And she has a message for vendors: Virtual sales pitches and demonstrations are still in demand, based on RFPs in 2021 that Parkin has analyzed, even as the pandemic subsides.

“Schools will be more willing to entertain the option of a virtual presentation,” she said. “I’ve seen more bids and RFPs that list it as an option, so that won’t be gone completely even as the world returns to normal in terms of spending.” 

Image by Getty


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Teachers Should Not Carry the Weight of Education Alone

teachers should not carry the weight of education alone
SEL

Last spring, no one knew how much chaos the pandemic would impose on our lives, or how long the pain would last. The weeks have stretched into months as COVID-19 continues to spread in many parts of the country. The return to “school” in the forms of in-person classes, virtual coursework, and pandemic pods has proven no less chaotic than the abrupt transition to virtual learning we experienced last spring.  

Unfortunately, very few of the conversations around school reopenings have been about students and what is best for our children, or the families struggling with job loss, illness, or food insecurity unable to meet all of their children’s needs when school buildings are closed. The closures of school buildings are at the core of many challenges families are experiencing that have to do with more than just learning — a clear sign that our schools play a critical social service function for students.

Schools have long provided several social services for students—everything from mental health and nutrition to career guidance. When schools offer these types of wraparound services, students’ achievement rates improve. Conversely, when schools fail to provide comprehensive support, educators are overextended, leading to high burnout rates. 

We have relied too heavily on teachers and schools to provide these various services our children require without providing adequate resources and budget to do so. The stress the pandemic has put on school systems has exposed how untenable this model is, physically, emotionally, and financially for everyone involved. 

Schools Need to Help Teachers Support Student Well-Being

COVID-19 has given us a chance to rethink how many of these essential services, including education, mental health, and nutrition, schools should carry alone.

We now have an opportunity to reimagine what our schools can provide for children. We can do so by tapping into a broader range of community resources to share responsibility. Low-income and special needs children are at the most risk of suffering consequences for a lifetime, as many school districts cannot sustain the temporary relief models used last spring. The ongoing, multifaceted crisis many districts face from COVID-19 continues to threaten the emotional and physical well-being of our most vulnerable children.

In May, a survey reported on by The Conversation found that one of the most stressful aspects of teachers’ jobs during the pandemic is addressing the needs of vulnerable students. The report also cited that teachers need more support from parents and administrators. So what can we do to help?

Here are three immediate steps we can take to expand the help and support we extend to our teachers and students.

  1. Schools must prioritize children who have been impacted the most this fall. School boards, administrators, educators, and community organizations can work together to spread the responsibility of childcare and other essential services across different platforms and services. State and federal agencies, local companies, and nonprofit organizations can all step in to provide additional support, funding, and relief. Pandemic pods have been an example of an immediate solution, and some nonprofits have stepped-up to provide equity in this model for every student, including homeless students. For example, Nevada has created the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy to provide micro-schooling options for those who cannot afford pandemic pods.

     

  2. Rather than scrambling to support students properly during times of crisis, school districts can coordinate with parents and community partners to proactively provide educators with the budgets and resources they need. For instance, in Minnesota, Belle Plaines Public School District supplemented its mental health support for students by partnering with a community-based intensive therapeutic services center for teenagers. School districts and communities across the country should look to models like this when coming up with their own plans to increase support for students this school year. 
  3. Perhaps the most urgent service we can offer students and teachers right now is social emotional learning. Policymakers, local governments, school boards and districts need to allocate within their budgets so that  schools can implement SEL programs for PreK-12 classes as well as teacher training to implement those programs. Educators ought to offer all students the time and space to process their emotions and build the skills required to persevere through challenges, like the pandemic. To that end, carving out time for SEL in their daily schedules (online and in person), providing reliable resources to both teachers and families, and empowering teachers to put relationships first are important steps to take. Durham Public Schools in North Carolina has been solely virtual for the first 9 weeks of school, and have dedicated Wednesdays to social emotional learning. They call them Wellness Wednesdays, and there is no instruction on those days, just social emotional learning. This is a district-wide commitment to making time for SEL when students and teachers need it most.

We cannot expect educators to manage and support students’ mental health and other needs when their own have been overlooked. As we try to adapt to all of the new challenges of remote or hybrid learning, we ought to be intentional in how we provide both children and teachers resources designed to support them. That’s why we must see districts partner with community organizations, parent associations, and more. 

For most of us, COVID-19 has represented a significant and ongoing disruption in our lives. But we continue to move forward, and our educational system can, too. We have a chance to work with a new generation of parents, educators, and community leaders that has been forever altered by the pandemic — to rethink how to help juggle all the priorities surrounding education and build something better.

We must find creative solutions and work together to build a solid foundation upon which we can layer a series of wraparound services for children that can be implemented immediately and expanded upon over time. By doing so, we can design our educational system in such a way that it can weather a global pandemic while still meeting the long-term needs of students, families, and teachers.

Image by Getty


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Testing Providers Could Be Forced to Pivot Quickly as Result of Biden’s State Testing Policy

testing providers could be forced to pivot quickly as result of bidens state testing policy
Testing Group IMG
Cropped view of a multiracial group of young men and women sitting in a row at a table, writing with pencils on paper. They are taking a test or filling out an application. Focus is on the hand of the young man in the middle in the gray shirt.

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.

Reworking State Contracts

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.”

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Pennsylvania Governor Pitches School Funding Overhaul

pennsylvania governor pitches school funding overhaul
FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa., regarding the counting of ballots in the 2020 general election. Facing a deep, pandemic-inflicted budget deficit, Gov. Wolf will ask lawmakers for billions of dollars funded by higher taxes on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry for workforce development and employment assistance to help the state recover. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

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.”

Eye on Personnel

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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Global Spending on Virtual Reality, AI in Education Poised to Skyrocket, Report Says

global spending on virtual reality ai in education poised to skyrocket report says

Global spending on artificial and virtual reality in education is expected to soar from $1.8 billion to $12.6 billion annually over the next four years, a new analysis projects.

Spending on artificial intelligence in education, meanwhile, will jump from $800 million to $6.1 billion yearly over that same period, according to the report released recently by HolonIQ, a global research and intelligence firm.

The report made several projections for global ed-tech expenditures in K-12, higher education, and corporate training through 2025. Those include forecasts of total education spending, upskilling, spending on digital technologies as a proportion of total education spending, and venture capital investment.

“AR/VR is coming down the stack from workforce into higher ed, and is slowly making its way into K-12,” Patrick Brothers, the co-CEO and co-founder of HolonIQ, said in an interview.

Augmented and virtual reality has seen only modest uptake yet in K-12 because there’s a big learning curve for students and teachers to become familiar with the technologies, and because their use will take some time to catch on, he said.

Other areas of advanced technology figure to see significant growth in expenditures through 2025, include robotics and blockchain, according to the report. It projects that the total spent on robotics will rise from $1.3 billion in 2018 to $3.1 billion in 2025, and that the total spent on blockchain will rise from $100 million in 2018 to $600 million in 2025.

HolonIQ
HolonIQ

The biggest driver for the use of blockchain in education is a desire for secure and scalable credentialing, while the biggest spark behind the use of robotics in education is schools looking for different ways to engage learners in STEM fields, Brothers said.

HolonIQ forecasts overall global spending on ed-tech to rise from $227 billion in 2020 to $404 billion in 2025.

Currently, spending on digital technologies makes up just 3.6 percent of total expenditures in the areas of K-12, higher ed, and corporate training. In 2025, that percentage is expected to rise to a higher but still small level of 5.2 percent of overall spending.

“While the longer term impact of COVID-19 on education models is yet to play out, over the next few years we expect an upswing of spending on digital infrastructure in education and greater spending over the long term in new digital models,” the report states.

HolonIQ defines spending in the report as governments, companies, and consumers devoting money to a learning product or service. That distinguishes it from education investments, which are characterized by the supplying of capital in exchange for a stake in a company, Brothers said.

The report also notes that global ed-tech venture capital funding has risen from its previous record of $8.2 billion in 2018 to $16.1 billion in 2020, with Chinese companies occupying the largest share of funding compared with other countries.

Investment in educationwill continue to grow, but is not evenly spread across the globe and weighted heavily towards late-stage mega-rounds,” the report says.

Chinese ed-tech companies saw $26.8 billion in venture capital investment between 2010 and 2020, while U.S. companies saw $13 billion invested in the same period.

Overall, HolonIQ projects that total global education spending will rise from an estimated total of $5.4 trillion in 2020 to a total of $7.3 trillion in 2025, noting that education composes over 6 percent of global GDP.

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Congress Eyes Major Expansion of Apprenticeship Programs

congress eyes major expansion of apprenticeship programs
a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A measure moving through Congress would greatly expand apprenticeship programs for students  pursuing careers in areas including computer science, green jobs, and cybersecurity.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a bipartisan measure that calls for more than $3.5 billion in spending on apprenticeships over five years.

It tasks the U.S. Labor and Education secretaries with striking an interagency agreement to align national apprenticeship programs with secondary and adult education.

The bill would authorize an increase in the amount of federal funding provided to states to support the administration of those programs, including businesses involved in career-focused training and the apprentices themselves, said Katie Spiker, director of government affairs for the National Skills Coalition.

It’s unclear whether Congress would actually appropriate up to the allowable amount provided in the bill.

Congress appropriated $185 million to registered apprenticeship programs in annual spending legislation passed in 2020.

Many state and district officials see support for computer science, coding, and other STEM-related studies as an important strategy for long-term job creation. And education companies have increased their focus on computer science training for students.

“These investments will provide more 21st century job opportunities for our kids, more qualified employees for our local employers, and more economic resiliency for our communities,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in a statement. The lawmaker introduced an amendment to promote computer science programs that was ultimately adopted into the legislation.

The National Apprenticeship Act now heads to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.

Senate HELP Committee spokesperson Maddy Russak said committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is “pleased the House has passed this important legislation and is looking at all options to expand apprenticeship opportunities as quickly as possible.”

If enacted, the bill would mark the first time since 1937 that the national apprenticeship system has been comprehensively updated.

Dubbed the National Apprenticeship Act, the legislation also directs the agencies to find ways to inform parents and students no later than middle school of programs under the national apprenticeship system and their value in choosing careers.

In addition, the legislation instructs the Labor Department’s office of apprenticeship to award grants to expand national apprenticeship programs, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, and to strengthen alignment between the apprenticeship system and education providers, according to a bill summary.

Industry Partnerships

The National Apprenticeship Act also charts a process for state agencies to gain recognition as state apprenticeship agencies, which would have sole authority over recognizing and registering pre-apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, or apprenticeship programs in their given states.

These agencies would be charged with determining whether apprenticeship programs are in compliance with federal apprenticeship standards, and providing a certificate of recognition for these programs, among other things.

Under the bill, certain private education entities also could receive grant funding if they provide apprenticeships.

The money can support industry partnerships, trade associations, “a group of employers,” and professional associations that sponsor or participate in a program under the national apprenticeship system.

Organizations backing the legislation include the National Skills Coalition, the Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Urban League.

Photo of the U.S. Capitol by Susan Walsh/AP.


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