Media Mentions

Madison School District should improve communication between 4K, kindergarten teachers, report finds

October 29, 2020   |   By Scott Girard

From The Cap Times

Better communication between 4-year-old kindergarten teachers and their 5-year-old kindergarten counterparts in the Madison Metropolitan School District could improve student outcomes in transitioning to kindergarten, a new report found.

A Madison Education Partnership research brief released this month outlines some of the challenges facing teachers during student transitions from 4K to elementary school and offers a host of recommendations to improve.

The district has 56 4K sites at a mix of school buildings, early care and education centers and Head Start programs around the city. Those sites feed the 26 elementary schools, providing a mix of relationships between staff at the two levels and limiting what information is normally shared as a student moves from one level to the next.

“It really blatantly shows some of the issues with a large school district and the difficulties with coordinating 56 sites of 4K across 26 elementary schools,” MMSD director of early learning Culleen Witthuhn said. “The dynamic of kids moving from one place to another is really, really clear when we talked about this transition report. We have some things in place, but I just don’t feel like that’s enough.”

Researchers spoke with 20 kindergarten teachers at six school sites and 13 4K teachers at seven sites in January and February to collect feedback on a variety of questions. It showed a lack of understanding from teachers in 4K and 5K at what their counterparts taught in the classroom, disagreements over what information would be most important to share and a lack of trust in how other teachers would use sensitive information.

Beth Graue, one of three authors of the research brief, said “4K and 5K still tend to operate in parallel lanes.”

“We aren’t taking advantage of the deep knowledge that could be shared across 4K and 5K, so people aren’t learning how to best support kids and families,” Graue said. “That doesn’t mean that great things aren’t happening, it means that I think we need to be more intentional in the way we set up equal opportunities for sharing information.”

Witthuhn agreed that it was important to learn from the research and come up with some sort of document to facilitate communication between 4K and 5K teachers.

“It’s not like the 4K and 5K teachers are right next door,” Witthuhn said. “You can’t do those techniques when you’re across so many sites. This research study, and then the creation of some type of transitional document that we would be able to… implement across the district in order to be able to share that information, is so important.”

The study found that 4K teachers located at elementary school sites generally had better relationships with their 5K colleagues and the information shared between the two was often deeper.

“In all the sites where 4K/5K shared the school, teachers spoke about the important relationships they developed with each other and their frequent informal conversations about children and families they knew would be staying with the school for the upcoming year,” the brief states. “5K teachers in various schools discussed how these partnerships were important in helping them connect with students and families, and better understand the 4K experience.”

Those 4K teachers at off-site locations, however, had a much different experience, with the brief saying they reported “little to no communication with MMSD 5K teachers, although many of them discussed their wishes to connect.”

The study recommended creating a “prototype” for sharing information about students, but stressed that even with a report of some kind, “4K and 5K teachers should engage in more interactions and opportunities to build trust and share sensitive information appropriately.”

“If the district chooses to provide opportunities for teachers to spend time with one another, it also will need to address the issue of compensation,” the report noted.

Another sticking point between teachers at the two levels was how to handle sensitive information. Some 4K teachers were hesitant to share some details about family background or health issues, as they worried about violating privacy laws. Some 5K teachers, meanwhile, said they did not want information that could create a bias in their mind before they got to know a student — even if it would inform their interactions with a student in the classroom or a family outside the school building.

Graue said those teachers should instead seek that information, while verifying it themselves as they observed the student in their own classroom.

“To me that’s like a doctor saying, ‘I don’t want to see your file, I’m going to diagnose you in this time we have in this office,’” she said. “I think that’s short-sighted.”

Witthuhn added that it’s important for 4K and 5K teachers to understand what lessons the other is teaching, especially the importance of play-based learning for young students. She’s hopeful that one lesson from the pandemic has been the importance of social-emotional learning, which is a focus at the 4K level while the 5K level is perceived as “very academic.”

“Get us back on the same page about this trajectory of 4K to 5K to first-grade, even second-grade,” she said. “When we talk about early education, it’s about birth through third-grade, it’s about how are we engaging students with all of their learning that they’re doing in order to keep them wanting to learn?”

Graue is hopeful that methods like teachers visiting students’ homes can expand and allow teachers to know their students and families better as the year begins.

“I think teachers are very used to using the (Ready, Set, Go conferences) as a telling, describing what the kindergarten was like … but it’s more about acclimating the family to the experiences of kindergarten,” she said. “What the home visit did was it asked teachers to use that first visit as a listening experience.”

While they evaluate the lessons from this report, Witthuhn and Graue are both appreciative of the relationship between MMSD and UW-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which partner to form MEP.

“We wouldn’t have that information to improve what we’re doing if we didn’t have that partnership,” Witthuhn said. “Then the district can take that information and say, 'how can we incorporate this into our day-to-day positions, careers, jobs to improve what we’re doing for students and families?'”


Americans with lower education levels suffer more pain than people with more education

October 29, 2020   |   By JEFF RENAUD

From Western News

Americans with university degrees or higher level of education endure substantially less pain than those who are less educated, according to an international study led by Western University.

With more than half of U.S. adults reporting chronic pain, the study will help health-care professionals and policymakers better target relief, the researchers said.

“Pain affects quality of life of individuals and their families,” said Western sociology professor Anna Zajacova. “It is an incredibly important health condition that we must try to understand better. And like many other seemingly personal issues, there are powerful social forces driving pain in society. Education is one of those forces.”

Using data from the 2010-2017 U.S. National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that half of Americans aged 30 to 49 report pain in at least one of five key sites in the body – the lower back, joints, neck, face/jaw, or headache/migraine.

But when exploring the educational levels of those hurting, more education did not always mean less pain: One important exception was the strikingly high amounts of pain reported by Americans with an incomplete college education or with a GED (a high-school-equivalency certification for adults who dropped out of high school). A second exception was that Hispanic adults don’t have this educational pain “penalty” within the context of this study.

Adults with a GED reported the highest level of pain (61.8 per cent), followed by those with some college (56.4 per cent), vocational/associate degrees (53.3 per cent), high-school dropouts with no credentials (51.5 per cent), and high-school graduates (50.9 per cent). Adults with a university degree reported considerably lower prevalence of pain (45 per cent among BA recipients and 43.9 per cent among those with an advanced degree).

Previously ignored by population-health research, pain has recently emerged as a key area of study due to its outsized impact on individuals, families and economies around the world.

“In pain we are talking about an incredibly important indicator of health,” Zajacova said. “As the number one reason we go to the doctor, chronic pain afflicts more people than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined.”

The financial costs of pain are huge – economists estimated that $100-billion worth of productivity is lost each year in the United States alone.

While the reasons behind the high-school/college dropout anomalies are complex and largely unknown, Zajacova said these two groups have proven to be the exception in other health characteristics as well.

“It could be psychological characteristics we couldn’t capture,” she said. “Maybe it is a combination of dashed hopes. Maybe it is feeling stigmatized for being a high-school or college dropout. But this is largely speculation. We don’t yet know why they have more pain than would be expected, but it signals an area of further study.”

The research also highlights the need for further investigation into the causes of these complex inequities in chronic pain among US adults.

The study, The Relationship Between Education and Pain Among Adults Aged 30-49 in the United States, was published in a recent edition of The Journal of Pain.

Zajacova was co-author along with Richard G. Rogers of the University of Colorado Boulder, Eric Grodsky of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk of the University at Buffalo/State University of New York.


Wisconsin Partnership Program awards $6 million in community impact grants to health equity programs

October 16, 2020

From UW School of Medicine and Public Health

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has announced its 2020 Community Impact Grant awards for initiatives that aim to advance health equity and improve health and well-being throughout Wisconsin.

Initiatives that address the health of Black men and women, prevent suicide among Wisconsin farmers and promote economic stability and restorative justice are among the six award recipients.

Grants of $1 million each, over five years, support community-academic partnerships designed to improve health outcomes by addressing the social determinants that influence health and well-being over the course of a lifetime.

“The award recipients address issues that are key to our societal well-being: health disparities, including those directly worsened by COVID-19, and the impact of racism on health,” said Amy Kind, MD, PhD, chair of Wisconsin Partnership Program’s Oversight and Advisory Committee. “By addressing the building blocks of health—including social connection, employment, economic stability and access to care—these initiatives have the potential to forge new and innovative paths that dismantle barriers to achieving health.”

The grants were awarded by the Oversight and Advisory Committee, following a multi-stage competitive application and review process.

2020 Wisconsin Partnership Program Community Impact Grant recipients

Economic Justice Institute, Inc. (UW-Madison Law School), Legal Interventions for Transforming Wisconsin (LIFT Wisconsin) (LIFT Racine) (LIFT Dane): Advancing Health Equity Through Legal Interventions for Low-Income Wisconsinites

The goal of this initiative is to improve population health by reducing health problems that are fueled by civil legal injustices. The initiative’s approach combines technology and community-based programming to address legal problems that are barriers to employment, economic stability and health and well-being.

Civic legal issues like child support, consumer and medical debt and evictions, influence economic and employment stability, housing access and poverty, and chronic stress, and impact families and individuals who often don’t have the resources to address these issues effectively. This grant team aims to transform the legal aid system, court procedures and the policy environment through community-driven policy and a technology response to make legal services more accessible to Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Dane County (LIFT Dane), Racine County (LIFT Racine) and statewide (LIFT Wisconsin). By addressing issues that can be resolved with a legal intervention, through a system that is modern and accessible, this initiative will work to improve health and well-being for people throughout the state.

Academic partners: The Center for Patient Partnerships, UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty

Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness: Accelerating Health Equity for Black Women in Wisconsin

Through the creation of the Well Black Women Institute (WBWI), the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness will connect, train and empower Black women to reshape the conditions in which they live, work and play. Through this Institute, the Foundation will prepare women as health equity leaders to address the persistent health and birth outcome disparities plaguing Black women in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, Black women face higher death rates, lower life expectancy and some of the highest rates of infant mortality. Black families experience chronic stress caused by systemic racism and economic instability. These health challenges have been further exacerbated by COVID-19 and racial unrest. The WBWI will harness the talent and experience of Black women and provide them with the tools and training to become systems change leaders who can inform and promote policies and solutions to change how Black women experience health and well-being.

Academic partner: Population Health Institute

McFarland School District: Supporting Social Emotional Health in K-12 African American Students

This project is designed to make a substantial and long-lasting impact on the social emotional health of African American/Black students enrolled in the McFarland School District both now and into the future. While McFarland consistently ranks high among districts academically, their African American/Black students are not meeting critical health indicators as compared to their White counterparts. To address these disparities, this initiative will implement and expand the Natural Circles of Support program, in close partnership with student, school leaders, teachers, and families to change the conditions that perpetuate racial disparities and create a learning environment that ensures equity.

The project, with plans to expand beyond McFarland, will work to increase engagement and belonging, expand equity and improve teacher support and relationships with Black students to create conditions that support all students’ ability to reach their full potential.

Academic partner: Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Rebalanced Life Wellness Association and the Urban League of Greater Madison: Black Men’s Mental Health and Well-Being

This initiative, designed for and by Black men, aims to improve the mental-emotional health and well-being of Black men in Southeastern Wisconsin in order to achieve higher quality of life and longevity.

In Wisconsin, African American men have a life expectancy seven years shorter than white men and are more likely to report serious psychological stress and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Black men face health equity issues including low mental health literacy and education, stigma around mental health problems and lack of access to mental health support services. Their stress has been further heightened by the dual crises of COVID-19 and racial injustice. The initiative will normalize and destigmatize mental health issues in the Black community, improve access to mental health supports and help men address the historical and current health inequities they are experiencing.

Academic partners: UW-Madison School of Human Ecology; University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, UW School of Medicine and Pubic Health

Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program: Addressing Stressors, Preventing Farmer Suicide: Social Connectedness and Health

With this grant, the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program will address the urgent mental health needs of Wisconsin farmers and work to reduce suicide risk in this population by developing a comprehensive range of interventions to create a system of support designed to foster farmer resilience. The grantee will work to strengthen the social connections in rural communities, educate farmers about farm diversification and financial stabilization and work to make mental health services more accessible and acceptable for farmers and their families.

In Wisconsin, farmers, families and farmworkers face health inequities due to challenges in rural communities including lack of healthcare providers and services, lack of insurance and often a stigma around mental health issues. Stressors like farm foreclosures, weather events, supply chain breaks and the COVID-19 pandemic threaten their health and well-being. This work responds to the mental health crisis facing farmers, and to their growing awareness and willingness to seek support and help from trusted resources within their farming communities.

Academic partners: UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, UW-Madison Division of Extension; Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies

YWCA Madison and Wisconsin Department of Corrections: Building Tech Skills, Opportunities, Health and Wellness for Returning Citizens

This grant aims to support citizens returning to their communities post-incarceration by providing technology skills, employment training and networking opportunities critical for achieving economic stability while fostering healing and dignity. Investing in individuals to create positive change in their lives and the lives of their families is at the heart of this effort. Providing access to long-term earning potential and career growth opportunities while addressing the diversity gap in the tech industry by helping to provide qualified candidates to area employers is a critical component of this grant.

According to Healthpeople.gov, men and women with a history of incarceration are worse in mental and physical health than the general population. The added hardship and adversity created by COVID-19 and the country’s health crisis of racism adds to their health challenges. This grant will work to improve health and health equity for returning citizens by providing support as they transition to life back in their communities. The initiative will engage returning citizens in the YWeb training program, and incorporate restorative justice into its approach and process, to help support and heal individuals and families.

Academic partner: Center for Community and NonProfit Studies

“COVID has shown us that the challenges we face go far beyond what the health sector or academia can address alone. These challenges require inclusive partnerships that depend on leadership and action at the community-level. As a longstanding member of the OAC, I have seen firsthand the value of community experience and engagement,” said Katherine Marks, OAC’s representative for urban health. “I look forward to seeing these partnerships progress over the next five years.”

“Since its inception, the Wisconsin Partnership Program has been committed to reducing health disparities,” said Kind. “This year’s awards recognize leadership from across our state’s communities. By supporting these teams and listening to their ideas, we can continue to make strides toward advancing health equity and resolving the health disparities facing our state.”


Cap Times Idea Fest: COVID-19 is a chance to reimagine education, panelists say

October 14, 2020   |   By Ben Farrell, Special to the Cap Times

From The Cap Times

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, residents of Dane County, like all Americans, have been forced to rethink how they carry out even their most routine daily tasks. Nowhere has the transition from pre- to post-pandemic existence been felt more acutely than in schools. Since schools went online due to COVID-19 in March, parents, students and teachers have been left to improvise in an environment nobody saw coming. At a recent Cap Times Idea Fest session, education reporter Scott Girard led a panel discussion with three Dane County educators to consider a question looming in the minds of many: How will the next few months shape the future of education, even after pandemic restrictions are lifted?

Panelists Gloria Ladson-Billings, a retired University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor who taught for 26 years and is now the National Academy of Education president; Carlton Jenkins, the newly hired Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent, and Mary Lee McKenzie, an educator at Clark Community School in Middleton shared their insights on how the crisis can — and perhaps should — lead to a drastic reimagining of what education looks like. Even in the pre-pandemic landscape, educational equity, and how best to provide it, have been a massive issue in Madison. According to the 2013 Race to Equity Report, Dane County has one of the largest achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers in the nation. This theme of progress toward a more equitable vision of education underscored the entire discussion.

From the outset of the conversation, one major point became clear: nothing of the past seven months has been easy, for students or for teachers. McKenzie described in stark terms the unique nature of the transition to online schooling.

“There’s nothing about this where I’ve been like, ‘Oh, this really makes my life easy,’” she said. “At the same time, the amount of growth and learning we’ve been able to do as a staff has been incredible.”

McKenzie also mentioned that while this experience has been taxing for both students and teachers, her school district is positioning itself to make “some bigger changes down the road.”

Jenkins, who was superintendent of the Robbinsdale Area School District in Minnesota before taking the helm of Madison schools in July, sees potential for improving education through strengthening ties with the community. Jenkins stressed the need for an open dialogue between families and schools. “We need to do a better job of trying to engage not only the children, but the families,” he said. “This went from just totally child-centered to the whole family, whole community. COVID-19 made us pause and say, ‘Let’s check on the socioemotional well being, the mental health aspect.’” Jenkins also emphasized that these changes of perspective are applicable to life beyond the pandemic.

“The hierarchy that we’ve known must be flipped upon its head right now. That has not even worked during the traditional, (in-person school) for all children ,” he said. “We’re working on having additional communication for students who have been most marginalized prior to COVID and now during COVID.”

Ladson-Billings agreed with the other panelists, and went into greater detail about what these pedagogical adjustments could look like. “I think that we’re having a totally different relationship with our IT departments,” she said. “They’ve moved to the center, which is the way it should’ve been… I think we’re learning a lot of how to improve education as a result of this.”

Later on in the conversation, Ladson-Billings brought up the idea of an educational “hard reset,” as one does with a faulty smartphone. “When they give you that phone back, all your contacts are going to be gone, all your pictures are going to be gone,” she said. “You’re going to have a phone like it was when it came from the factory.” That said, Ladson-Billings isn’t advocating a return to pre-pandemic “normal.” “Normal, for the kids I’m most concerned about, was a disaster,” she said. “Normal was they weren’t reading. Normal was they were being suspended at a disproportionate rate… Normal was they were being expelled.”

Quoting novelist Arundhati Roy, she cast the pandemic as a “portal” through which the currently broken American educational system might travel to find repair. She also cited former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s famous statement that you should “never allow a good crisis to go to waste.”

“We’ve got a good crisis here,” she said, “We need to take advantage of it.”

McKenzie, echoing those sentiments, expressed her support for a rehaul in the structure of education in Dane County. “This is a massive shift, to shift away from what we’ve been doing, to what we can do,” she said.


Savvas Learning Company Launches Culturally Responsive Learning Initiative

September 24, 2020   |   By Savvas Learning Company

From Cision PR Newswire

Savvas Learning Company, a next-generation learning solutions provider for K-12 education, is proud to announce the launch of its Culturally Responsive Learning (CRL) Initiative that will focus on supporting teachers in making real changes in their classroom practices to foster student voice and improve achievement as well as using curriculum that opens minds and allows students to see themselves reflected in what they learn.

Building on the national movement for social justice, the Savvas CRL Initiative seeks to cultivate a more inclusive culture at Savvas that elevates different perspectives and increases diversity within its workforce, vendors, and editorial content. As part of its effort, Savvas is developing professional learning to support teachers in setting high expectations for all learners and creating classroom environments that welcome individual voices, provide safe spaces for challenging conversations, and promote student agency by empowering students with choices in how they learn.

“Culturally responsive learning is critical for increasing student engagement by encouraging student voice. We want our curriculum to be a tool to inspire that student voice in an authentic way, and to create opportunities for students to share their rich, cultural backgrounds,” said Bethlam Forsa, CEO of Savvas Learning Company. “As an extension of our core values of expanding equity and empathy, culturally responsive learning must be woven into everything we do at Savvas: from the curriculum we build and the professional learning we offer teachers, to the training we provide our employees, who are the heart and soul of our organization.”

To help guide Savvas in advancing culturally responsive learning within its products and services and throughout its organization, Forsa created a Culturally Responsive Learning Advisory Board comprised of prominent education scholars, researchers, former teachers, and advocates. This diverse group of experts brings a depth of knowledge and viewpoints on a wide range of culturally responsive topics. Its role is to provide insight and expertise that informs the efforts by Savvas to develop and deliver on culturally responsive learning through a holistic, research-based, and real-world approach. The board members include:

Cati V. de los Ríos, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of literacy, reading, and bi/multilingual education at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former ESL, Spanish, and ethnic studies public high school teacher in California and Massachusetts.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D., a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the original author on culturally responsive education and currently writes about culturally relevant pedagogy and critical race theory.

Ernest Morrell, Ph.D., is an award-winning literacy education scholar and the author of two core Savvas programs, myView Literacy™ and myPerspectives® English Language Arts.

Theresa Santos-Volpe is an LGBTQ+ family advocate and consultant, journalist, and children's book author with 28 years of educational publishing experience.

Kate Seltzer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociolinguistics and ESL education at Rowan University, and a former New York City ELA teacher.

The Savvas CRL Initiative will impact all facets of the organization, including the design and development of its editorial content, the recruitment and professional development of its employees, the selection of its vendors, and the marketing of its products and services. As part of the initiative, Savvas and its advisory board have already begun a comprehensive review of the editorial guidelines used by Savvas across every educational discipline. Savvas will also provide training to its employees around diversity and inclusion.

Another key part of the Savvas CRL Initiative will be the creation of a scholarship program that annually will award five Black and Brown students a total of $50,000 each toward tuition for a four-year college degree. In addition to the financial support, Savvas will provide mentorship opportunities and career-planning workshops, as well as sponsor and facilitate internships inside and outside Savvas.

“Simply writing a check is not enough,” Forsa said. “We want to be able to help mentor these young scholars, who will come from some of the most marginalized and underserved populations in our society. We have a vested interest in helping these scholarship winners get the resources and skills they need to succeed in their careers and in life.”


Why Reading Is Fundamental to Racial Equity

September 15, 2020   |   By Stephanie J. Hull

From T74

America is finally waking up to the full scope and severity of its oldest illness: racism. We cannot afford to hit snooze. And yet this awakening comes at a time when coronavirus-related school closures are exacerbating racial inequalities in our education system, even as the virus and the recession disproportionately hurt communities of color.

Our schools are the very place where racism does perhaps its deepest and most lasting damage to the body politic. As schools begin to announce their fall semester plans, we must do all we can to make sure that remote learning and part-time schooling do not continue to leave Black and brown children behind.

It has been 66 years since Brown v. Board, and public schools are still not the equalizing institutions they should be. Even before the inequities of this pandemic hit, children of color, particularly those from under-resourced communities, faced serious barriers to education. In 2016, the national graduation rate was 84.1 percent, an all-time high. Yet the graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students were 76.4 and 79.3 percent, respectively. Educator Gloria Ladson-Billings refers to such unequal outcomes as the “education debt” that results from our society’s systemic and historic racism.

Repairing the race gap in schools would take significant political will even in the best of times. Teachers need to be trained on implicit bias and on the impact of trauma on student behavior and learning. Overly punitive discipline policies need to be replaced with restorative justice practices — as it is, Black girls are seven times more likely than white girls to be suspended and four times more likely to be arrested at school. But most communities are a long way from implementing such reforms. Not only are schools strapped for the resources they need to adapt to the pandemic, most have not even been able to deliver equitably on the fundamentals of learning.

Take something as basic as literacy: Reading is the foundation for all future learning. It is vital for critical thinking, problem solving, writing and math. While the national average for reading proficiency among all U.S. fourth-graders is at a low 36 percent, just 18 percent of our nation’s Black fourth-graders were proficient in reading in 2015. Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade graduate from high school on time at four times the rate of those not reading proficiently, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

These disparities are not only due to economic inequality, although there is a strong correlation between income levels and reading proficiency. Still, the link between poverty, low reading proficiency, and race is also clear: About 31 percent of poor Black students and 33 percent of poor Hispanic students who did not hit the third-grade proficiency mark failed to graduate, as compared to 22 percent of poor white students with weak reading skills.

This is not only a civil rights issue, but also an economic one: The lifetime cost of a student who leaves school without graduating is $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. Students who complete associate’s degrees earn on average 18.7 percent more per week than those with a high school diploma alone, while those with a bachelor’s degree earn 44.7 percent more than high school graduates.

A good start would be expanding access to high-quality early education and afterschool and summer learning opportunities. Such programs — once appropriate safety measures were identified and taken — would also help parents get back to a normal working schedule. It has become crystal clear that the U.S. economy simply does not function when children have no daytime care, yet in 2017 only 47 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide were enrolled in preschool programs of any kind. State-funded programs remove the financial barriers many families face, but six states still have no public preschool programs.

Despite the best efforts of schools last spring to remain relevant and connected, many of those that served low-income communities and students of color were not able to maintain their connection with and support for students. School districts partnered with internet service providers to increase connectivity, distributed laptops to students, loaned wireless hotspots, and strengthened Wi-Fi connections at schools to narrow the digital divide for nearby families. If schools are to continue remote learning in any capacity, these efforts will need to continue and even increase.

Parents have a major role to play as well. Evidence shows that spending time together reading — at whatever level and in any language — makes a big difference to a child’s educational outcomes. Nevertheless, parents cannot be expected to shoulder this burden alone, especially given the challenges of the current environment.

Closing the achievement gap means being intentional about creating environments that affirm the inherent potential of every student. Equipping students to be strong readers, engage in school, and graduate from high school will not achieve racial equity alone. But if we do not get this right, the gap will only grow. This is not the moment to abandon children to remote-learning solutions that are ineffective at best, and at worst serve to exacerbate the inequality between white and Black children.

Our social and political systems are not race-neutral, so our education efforts must create not only parallel learning environments, but also equitable ones that will ultimately allow all students to enter the classroom — and their adult lives — on equal footing.


Making Science Multilingual Partnership works to change the way we teach science

August 20, 2020   |   By Jesse Stone, Nevada Today

From Nevada Today

Yerington Elementary is trying something new. They’re working towards implementing teaching science in every classroom as part of their school improvement program. This year, the school is participating as a pilot of brand-new ideas and principles made by Making Science Multilingual that make science teaching more effective not just for students that learn English as a second language, but everyone.

“All the teachers have had to learn how to teach science and teach science in a fun and interactive way, not the boring way you might’ve learned in school,” Professor of Science Education and Director of the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education David Crowther said. “They put stuff out on the tables and the kids have to learn how to interact and solve these problems.”

Crowther co-leads the Making Science Multilingual project along with Rita MacDonald, an Academic English Language Researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The Making Science Multilingual project was created after the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) approached WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) to discuss a partnership in 2016.

“I think this project has the ability to substantially change classroom instruction in science to be more equitable and to reach the needs of language learners,” Crowther said. “And not just language learners but for all students. The strategies that we’re talking about, they work well for people whose first language isn’t English, but they work really well for everybody.”

Crowther said that WIDA has programming in over 10,000 schools across 40 states, and the organization has shifted Making Science Multilingual into a large-scale capital project.

“Ultimately, that’s going to change the way we teach science and the way we test science,” Crowther said. “That in itself could change the face of education and work with language learners in the U.S.”

Making Science Multilingual has drafted a set of Pedagogical Principles, which serve as a summary of the beliefs of the organization while potentially being a resource for educators. One example of one of these principles is re-examining how academic vocabulary is emphasized while teaching science.

“There is an importance for the academic or the specialized vocabulary of science, but we don't think that it should be the first thing that we should do,” Crowther said. “We think that you should engage with a phenomenon, you should observe that phenomenon and you should build some inquiries that would allow you to try to figure out why that phenomenon does what it does.

Yerington Elementary wanted to implement other subjects into their science and STEM instruction. After a partnership with Making Science Multilingual was born, a pilot and mixed-methods study utilizing some of Making Science Multilingual’s principles was conducted through the 2019 school year and early 2020.

When Crowther was the president-elect of the NSTA, the organization surveyed science teachers across the country to understand the issues they were having. The survey demonstrated that the primary issue many science teachers had was not understanding how to work with students who didn’t speak English as a first language.

“We got a pretty good idea that we need to build some actual resources, programming, training so that people can work with the students they’re not trained to work with,” Crowther said.

The NSTA looked towards partnerships with other organizations to shore up skills in teaching English Language Learning. The NSTA partnered with WIDA, a large organization operating out of the University of Wisconsin specializing in these skills, even having to change some of its bylaws to do so.

“We partnered with them and it seemed WIDA was the right place to partner with,” Crowther said. “We knew how to do the science. They knew how to do the language learning.”

In addition to the eight design principles Making Science Multilingual has made eight design during their process to restructure how to teach science not just to multilingual students but all students within a classroom. The organization has created these design principles, hosted webinars, hosted Twitter chats and presented at over 30 conferences across the country.

“We’re creating a whole new road,” Crowther said. “We’re excited that WIDA is behind this, that NSTA is behind this, that Wisconsin is behind this, that the University is behind this, and we’re meeting the needs not just of Nevada but a national need.”


Many rural Wisconsin school districts don’t have full-time nurses. Some don’t have any at all.

August 18, 2020   |   By Naomi Kowles

From WSAW-TV

Across Wisconsin in small, rural districts made up of just a few hundred students, full-time school nurses are a scarce commodity. It’s not a new issue, but the implications of a school year unfolding mid-pandemic with incomplete access to medically-training staff is one that’s concerning to district administrators as they plan for an uncertain, and often in-person, return to school this fall.

About 150 K-12 students are served by the White Lakes School District, buried in the heart of rural Langlade County and 25 miles from the county seat, Antigo. There, district administrator Glenda Boldig says they’re fortunate to have a nurse in their building four hours a week, where she catches up with students, families, questions and paperwork while also working elsewhere in the community’s health care. When she’s gone, she’s reachable by email and text, and Boldig is grateful for how well she’s served them. But for the daily, on-site decisions that she anticipates having to make as the school year unfolds, she’s worried about the gap.

“Making those daily decisions sometimes is going to become more important, to be responsive to the situation that’s happening in my building and in my district,” Boldig noted.

In Clark County, Greenwood School District has none, serving about 350 students.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” administrator Todd Felhoffer noted, adding that the gap was just one of a lot of components he was concerned about. “We’ve got a very good relationship with our county health officer.”

In Loyal, Superintendent Chris Lidner says he’s concerned about their school nurse situation. Sometimes they might bring a local nurse in for a one-off check-in, but otherwise rely on the Clark County Health Department.

“There is a concern,” he explained. But like so many districts strapped for funding or other constraints—”We’ll make it work.”

Statewide, the data on school nurses through the Department of Public Instruction is incomplete, as only nurses employed directly by the school district are reported. However, many districts (in central Wisconsin, including Merrill and Stevens Point which both have multiple school nurses) contract for their nursing services, meaning they have full-time nurses on site that are (typically) employed by the local health department and contracted to the school.

“Many school districts – and I would say most school districts in Wisconsin—do not have a full time school nurse,” DPI school nurses consultant Louise Wilson explained. “What people in districts do is they have to rely on people who have no medical background to take care of students.”

In Neillsville, district administrator John Gaier says they’re extremely fortunate to have their contracted certified nursing assistant through the Marshfield Clinic Health System—something that isn’t always shared by other similar-sized districts.

“As school budgets get tighter districts are forced to make difficult decisions, and school nursing positions were often cut, because there is no additional funding for that type of service,” he told 7 Investigates in an email. “In order to pay for those services the district has to take money from the same funds that are used to educate children, so many districts have had to choose between funding educational programs or school nursing positions.”

For the 2018-2019 school year, 260 schools reported school nurse data of any kind in a survey, Wilson said, out of 420 districts. In an independent survey conducted this summer by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance (WiRSA), 18.5% of the 70 rural districts responding said they had no school nurse at all. About 37% of responding districts reported a full-time nurse; about 44% reported a part-time nurse or other forms of health services. Where a gap exists, districts say they usually rely on local health departments, health care facilities.

Some school districts are moving forward with plans to bring on school nurses, according to that survey and districts 7 Investigates spoke to. (Colby School District just had a 80%-FTE school nurse position approved by their board.) But where a willingness to hire exists, funding or personnel availability can become a roadblock.

“Trying to find a school nurse in some of our rural areas is sometimes very difficult,” WiRSA executive director Kim Kaukl explained. In an environment nationwide where nurses are (and have been) in high demand, district administrator Glenda Boldig says hiring for them in areas where few social opportunities outside of work exist can be a challenge.

Additionally, while the National Association of School Nurses recommends at least one nurse per school building, the state of Wisconsin only requires by law that a registered nurse assist with developing the school’s policies—not that a district has one on-site.

For many working in rural school districts, the gap in school nurses represents an ongoing environment where staff have grown accustomed to a job where their roles may stretch far beyond their official titles. Craig Albers, with UW-Madison’s Rural Education Research Implementation Center, says he hears that from the districts they research all the time.

“Teachers say, ‘One day I could be a bus driver, the next day I’m out on the playground, the next day I’m doing this other activity,” he explained.

“Being in the profession as long as I did, I learned that I’m not just a school administrator or a teacher,” Kaukl noted. “I’m a jack of all trades.”


Coronavirus has upended school plans. It will also worsen racial & economic inequalities,

August 12, 2020   |   By Michelle Fox, CNBC

From: CNBC

Raacial and economic inequities have long existed in America’s school systems, and it’s about to get worse, experts warn.

With coronavirus cases still high around the country, half of U.S. elementary and high school students will attend school only virtually this fall, according to a study by Burbio, which aggregates school and community information nationwide.

That will have grave implications for minority and disadvantaged students, said Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network Consortium at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

The past five or six months have “really brought to light these racial disparities that have persisted for generations,” she said.

More from Invest in You:

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“The nexus of schooling, health care and the nature of this virus are all coming to create this perfect storm.”

Black and Brown families are disproportionately affected by the virus and face inequality in health care, and a lot of families live in multi-generational housing, Hafner pointed out.

When it comes to school, many families use it for services and support, including food, health care and libraries.

In addition, educators agree that virtual learning can’t completely replace in-person learning.

For disadvantaged students, the stakes are even higher: Thirty percent of all K-12 public school students, about 15 million to 16 million children, live in homes that don’t have an internet connection or an adequate device for distant learning at home, a study by Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group found.

I feel anger. I feel frustration. I feel sadness.

Vicky Martinez

PARENT

That lack of access, coupled with inadequate help at home and a quiet place to learn, means lower-income, Black and Hispanic children may struggle, a June report from McKinsey & Company found.

The average learning loss for students is seven months if in-school instruction doesn’t resume until January 2021, the report said. However, Black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year. School closures will also probably increase high-school drop-out rates, according to McKinsey.

“We estimate that this would exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15% to 20%,” the McKinsey report stated.

Not returning to classrooms until January will also hurt earning power, with the average K-12 student possibly losing $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), the report said.

Breaking it down by race, McKinsey estimated White students would earn $1,348 a year less (a 1.6% reduction) over a 40-year working life, Black students would bring in $2,186 a year less (a 3.3% reduction) and Hispanic students would earn $1,809 less (3%).

Podding up

[Tutor and child in masks]

Ruslan Dashinsky/Getty Images

With the pivot to distance learning, many parents are hiring teachers or tutors and creating “learning pods” or “pandemic pods,” which are small groups that meet in-person to study.

Critics call the trend disturbing, since it will leave disadvantaged students behind.

“With great uncertainty about the new school year, wealthier, predominantly White parents are using their resources to secure educational options for their individual children,” Erica Turner, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in her “Equity in Pandemic Schooling” action guide.

“By abandoning public schools or cornering scarce educational resources (while many less-advantaged children cannot meaningfully access school at all), they are engaging in White flight and opportunity hoarding.”

While some learning pods are using their school district’s virtual curriculum, others are offering a private school education — which means kids could be leaving their public school districts. That, in turn, will cause their district to lose some funding.

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What schools will look like in the fall

“It is deeply inequitable,” said said Keisha Scarlett, chief of equity, partnerships and engagement for Seattle’s public schools.

As pods form, they will also not likely be diverse, she said.

“The reality is we, a lot of time, have in-group favoritism, so these pods will likely look like and reflect the people we spend the most time with,” explained Scarlett, who is also part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Guidance for K-12 Schools on Covid-19, which urged districts to prioritize reopening schools full-time.

“These will end up being segregated environments for these students.”

‘I feel anger’

Vicky Martinez, who is raising her family in the same Northeast Los Angeles community she grew up in, is upset that people are thinking of themselves over society as a whole.

“I feel anger. I feel frustration. I feel sadness. It just depends on the day,” said the mother of four boys ages 7 to 15.

“It is something that I’ve seen and I’ve lived and I’ve experienced, but not at this level.”

[L-R: Ivan(14 at the time), Me, Joe(12), Noah(7)in front of Joe, Mario(10), Joe(my husband in the back behind Joe and Mario.]

Vicky Martinez, center, with her husband Joe and four sons: Ivan, Joe, Noah and Mario (left to right.)

Source: Vicky A. Martinez

Martinez, 41, emigrated from Mexico when she was six years old and grew up poor. These days, when she looks at the charts, she said she’s considered middle class.

“I don’t feel like it,” said Martinez, who is an advisor on the parent board for Integrated Schools, which is a grassroots movement of parents enrolling their children in integrating schools.

Her Highland Park school district, which she said has become gentrified, is going all virtual this fall, and that’s how her boys will be learning. Since she is disabled and can no longer work in her field as a respiratory care practitioner, she’ll be home with her kids.

“They are going to be alive, that’s all I care about,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter if they are going to fall behind if people are dying.”

What can be done

While the pod model isn’t necessarily bad, it should be available to everyone, Scarlett said.

Partnerships with community- and faith-based organizations can help by providing space and adults for children who may not have internet access or parents at home to teach them, she said.

“That takes the community-based organization having resources to both financially pay for this — to pay for the space — and having the people that you need in place to be able to help support this effort,” Scarlett said.

For instance, San Francisco-based Outschool, a marketplace of online classes, is putting $2 million into a fund to help families in financial need. Half will go to direct cash assistance for its online learning platform and half will be grants to fund in-person learning centers for low-income communities.

“We know that a lot of school districts and community organizations are, now more than ever, strapped for cash,” said Justin Dent, executive director of Outschool.org.

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Black executives address racial wealth gap in America

“They are also really struggling in terms of their own personal bandwidth and time.”

The organization is also trying to raise an additional $8 million for the effort, said Dent, who was raised in New York CIty’s Harlem neighborhood by a single, Black mother. She instilled him in the importance of a good education, he said. Dent has also witnessed the vast inequities in the country’s education system.

He said he believes we are at a fork in the road.

“We can say we as a society believe that we need to invest more in these communities or we can just say, ‘No, we are going to continue to believe that it is almost every family for themselves and this is only a privilege for wealthy communities,’” Dent said.

For her part, Martinez is optimistic.

“Maybe now there is hope because people are seeing it,” she said. “It’s in your face, so what are you going to do about it?

“I have this hope that this will be a turning point,” Martinez added. “It has to change.”


COVID-19 BACK TO SCHOOL

August 10, 2020   |   By Logan Wroge, Wisconsin State Journal

From: Wisconsin State Journal

When Wisconsin students begin school this fall — regardless of whether it’s online, in person or a hybrid of both — supporting students’ academic and social-emotional needs will be intertwined, crucial components for a successful year, UW-Madison experts say.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put new stressors on students and their mental health, could lead to larger losses of learning, and poses challenges to the social experiences and bonds children gain at school.

“The academic side is not separate from the social-emotional side,” said Gloria Ladson-Billings, a UW-Madison education researcher and emeritus professor. “There is a different kind of temperature taking, if you will, that kids will have to really be able to process this experience. What has it meant to be away from school, to be away from friends, to miss loved ones, to process the fact that some loved ones have passed on?”

As school plans are rolled out, districts are similarly highlighting the dual importance of attending to the traditional learning needs of children while ensuring students form and maintain healthy relationships, understand and manage emotions, and work toward positive goals.

Some Dane County districts, such as Madison, Middleton-Cross Plains and Sun Prairie, are planning all an-online start to the school year. Others, such as DeForest, Edgerton and Verona, are offering some degree of in-person learning.

In his first news conference last week, new Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the social-emotional and mental health of students will be a priority in the fall.

“Trust me, I want our academics to move forward, fast,” Jenkins said. “But not at the expense of harming our children, harming our staff and harming our community.”

Mitchell Nathan, a UW-Madison professor in educational psychology, said it’s too early to know what sort of effect the closure of school buildings in March has had on learning.

While researchers can look at school disruptions caused by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to make projections, there’s no exact match to compare to the pandemic, he said.

Students are normally at risk of losing ground over the three-month summer break — known as the “summer slide” — made worse this year by the hasty move to online learning in the spring.

“There certainly is going to be an experience of a substantial loss of academic progress as a result and combination of the disruption in the spring and on top of that the summer seasonal loss,” Nathan said.

That slide typically leads to a larger loss in math skills than reading, Nathan said, because math is something students need to regularly practice, while reading can happen informally and independently.

And research finds the time out of school inequitably affects students based on socioeconomic status, he said.

Beverly Trezek, an associate professor at the university’s School of Education, said coming out of summer break, teachers typically identify student needs and intensify instruction in those areas. That’ll be especially important this fall, she said.

But a complicating factor, Trezek said, is that mandatory statewide assessments such as the Forward Exam, which gauges how well elementary and middle school students are doing in math and reading, were canceled in the spring. Districts, too, may not have been able to administer their own year-end assessments, she said.

That could leave schools at a disadvantage of not knowing where students left off last year to compare it to how they’re returning in the new year, Trezek said.

Educational partners

Nathan said teachers will need to tailor instruction to children’s specific needs even more than they already do.

“Teachers do this all the time during the normal school year anyways, but I think we can expect these variations are going to be more dramatic in the fall than they have been in prior years,” he said.

Ladson-Billings encourages teachers not to presume because students haven’t been in school they haven’t been learning. But she also “would probably urge educators to not be so quick to just try to pick up where they left off.”

To aid learning, she encourages schools to bring in more educational partners such as community centers, museums and libraries to “complement the education process.”

Madison School District aims to provide 1,000 child care spots during online start to year

Ultimately, Ladson-Billings sees the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity for a “hard reset” to the ways schools have traditionally operated.

“There’s been a lot of discourse about getting back to normal,” she said. “I want to suggest, particularly for the students who are most vulnerable academically, that normal is not where they want to go, because normal was where their problems were.”

Seth Pollak, a psychology professor at UW-Madison who researches child development, cautions schools and parents against sending a message that students need to hurry and catch up. Rather, it’s better to share a message of “let’s get back into it,” Pollak said.

“If we send this message that they have to get caught up, they won’t get caught up really,” he said. “That could just be starting things off for maybe years of feeling because of 2020 they’re spending a lifetime of being behind.”

Supporting students

The social-emotional needs of students can vary by age, Pollak said.

For younger children, a routine provides comfort, he said, and a hybrid class schedule where they’re in school a few days a week and learning online other days may throw off the routine and lead to problems with sleep patterns and mood regulation.

Nathan also said it’s important to keep young children to a schedule as much as possible. For those learning online, the younger children are, the less attention they can devote to sitting at a screen, he said, suggesting breaking up online instruction into “manageable portions.”

Independent Madison charter Milestone Democratic School designed 'by youth, for youth'

For districts holding in-person classes, Pollak suggests schools let students engage in conversations and hold lessons about what factored into the decision to reopen.

“This is an important time. How do we bring together lessons about biology, but also lessons about economics and lessons about individual choice?” Pollak said. “Schools should actually let kids talk about what the rationale was and what the risks are and why they decided to do what they did in a way that’s kind of not biased in one direction or the other.”

Pollak’s biggest advice to parents: Don’t make assumptions about what children are feeling.

A parent could think a child doesn’t like a hybrid model of schooling because of the online lessons, Pollak said, but the child might have concerns unrelated to learning, such as a best friend being assigned to in-person classes on opposite days.

“We really never know what’s going through an individual kid’s head,” he said. “Something that’s concerning us as a parent might not actually be the worry for the kid.”

Ladson-Billings stressed schools will need to strengthen mental health supports, particularly for students who have lost family to COVID-19.

Funerals serve as a way for family and friends to come together and heal, she said, but public health restrictions on gatherings to slow the virus’ spread have also limited how the dead are mourned.

“There’s going to be some trauma that kids have experienced, particularly those kids who have had a death in the family or in the community that did not have the same degree of resolution that most deaths have,” Ladson-Billings said. “That is unresolved for our kids.”


UW-Madison expert on going back to school

August 10, 2020   |   By Gena Kittner

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Beth Graue is a Sorenson Professor of Early Childhood Education at UW-Madison and the director of the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

She’s also a former kindergarten teacher. Her research focuses on how school policies translate into opportunities for teachers, students and families.

Like many students and teachers expecting to be in brick and mortar buildings, Graue was planning to spend a portion of her upcoming sabbatical in classrooms this fall. A reality that she said is a “small price to pay” compared with what others are facing.

Q: All the challenges presented to teachers, staff, parents and students this fall surrounding the return of school are some we’ve never faced before. What is your advice to parents on how to untangle these issues?

A: I think my major advice would be to be willing to accept uncertainty. I think a lot of parents try to figure out how to get the best fit for their child and the pandemic has made it so that choice isn’t necessarily an option.

I think being willing to learn new things to support your child in this very unusual period ... and being kind to yourself as a parent… that you can’t know everything ... are the only things that I think of that are going to work.

Someone working in higher education had a little one and didn’t know about the silly factor in early childhood teaching and learning — making silly sounds, making games and stories — that’s how kids learn. Being free enough to do that is going to be a gift that you’re giving your kids and yourself.

Q: What concerns are you hearing from early education leaders and parents?

A: We heard a lot of stories from teachers that were trying to juggle the technical part with the instructional content they were trying to develop while also keeping things social enough. One of the best ideas I heard was a kindergarten teacher, during play time, put pairs of kids in breakout rooms and had them play together, virtually. That gave them space to have the social interaction that is so important.

Q: What is one advantage to online learning?

A: I think one of the advantages I’ve heard is that teachers who are interested are learning more about the children and their families through this virtual format. They see the dog running around, they see grandma. If that can be an invitation in building a stronger relationship between the teacher and the (student’s) home, that’s a huge plus. It requires a lot of teachers managing relationships. I think also in situations they start to understand the complicated lives that kids have in a way that can (increase) empathy on both sides.

Q: What are some disadvantages to online learning?

A: Rather than trying to build a case for or against it, it just is. This is what we’ve got. Making the best of the very strange situation is the only way we can make it through.

Q: Does a child’s age play a role in the success of online learning?

A: I think this is going to be a different challenge across the board. The needs are different, the stakes are different (for all ages). It’s hard regardless of age. The other piece I hope people will come to value more is the idea of how kids of multiple ages can teach and learn from one another. Children aren’t born in litters. Until the 20th century kids were much more likely to interact with children of all different ages. This could provide an opportunity to provide more cross-age interaction.

Q: Any last thoughts as to what parents should keep in mind this fall?

A: I think just reminding people that both parents and teachers are exhausted. I think some people might see the plans for a 4K or lower elementary teacher for the time she’s doing (online education) and think ‘oh, this is easy,’ but there’s an immense amount of planning that goes into it. And a constant fear that technology won’t work. Make sure any plan has time for people to enjoy each other and recharge themselves.


As school restarts, UW experts say supporting academics, social-emotional health is key

August 10, 2020   |   By Logan Wroge

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

When Wisconsin students begin school this fall — regardless of whether it’s online, in person or a hybrid of both — supporting students’ academic and social-emotional needs will be intertwined, crucial components for a successful year, UW-Madison experts say.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put new stressors on students and their mental health, could lead to larger losses of learning, and poses challenges to the social experiences and bonds children gain at school.

“The academic side is not separate from the social-emotional side,” said Gloria Ladson-Billings, a UW-Madison education researcher and emeritus professor. “There is a different kind of temperature taking, if you will, that kids will have to really be able to process this experience. What has it meant to be away from school, to be away from friends, to miss loved ones, to process the fact that some loved ones have passed on?”

As school plans are rolled out, districts are similarly highlighting the dual importance of attending to the traditional learning needs of children while ensuring students form and maintain healthy relationships, understand and manage emotions, and work toward positive goals.

Some Dane County districts, such as Madison, Middleton-Cross Plains and Sun Prairie, are planning all an-online start to the school year. Others, such as DeForest, Edgerton and Verona, are offering some degree of in-person learning.

In his first news conference last week, new Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the social-emotional and mental health of students will be a priority in the fall.

“Trust me, I want our academics to move forward, fast,” Jenkins said. “But not at the expense of harming our children, harming our staff and harming our community.”

Mitchell Nathan, a UW-Madison professor in educational psychology, said it’s too early to know what sort of effect the closure of school buildings in March has had on learning.

While researchers can look at school disruptions caused by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to make projections, there’s no exact match to compare to the pandemic, he said.

Students are normally at risk of losing ground over the three-month summer break — known as the “summer slide” — made worse this year by the hasty move to online learning in the spring.

“There certainly is going to be an experience of a substantial loss of academic progress as a result and combination of the disruption in the spring and on top of that the summer seasonal loss,” Nathan said.

That slide typically leads to a larger loss in math skills than reading, Nathan said, because math is something students need to regularly practice, while reading can happen informally and independently.

And research finds the time out of school inequitably affects students based on socioeconomic status, he said.

“One of the things that’s very promising about the projections based on other kinds of disruptions is that it’s not necessarily the case that the loss of progress is irreversible,” Nathan said. “Kids who in the past who have shown the largest loss due to school disruption also subsequently then show the greatest gains when they return to school.”

Beverly Trezek, an associate professor at the university’s School of Education, said coming out of summer break, teachers typically identify student needs and intensify instruction in those areas. That’ll be especially important this fall, she said.

But a complicating factor, Trezek said, is that mandatory statewide assessments such as the Forward Exam, which gauges how well elementary and middle school students are doing in math and reading, were canceled in the spring. Districts, too, may not have been able to administer their own year-end assessments, she said.

That could leave schools at a disadvantage of not knowing where students left off last year to compare it to how they’re returning in the new year, Trezek said.

Nathan said teachers will need to tailor instruction to children’s specific needs even more than they already do.

“Teachers do this all the time during the normal school year anyways, but I think we can expect these variations are going to be more dramatic in the fall than they have been in prior years,” he said.

Ladson-Billings encourages teachers not to presume because students haven’t been in school they haven’t been learning. But she also “would probably urge educators to not be so quick to just try to pick up where they left off.”

To aid learning, she encourages schools to bring in more educational partners such as community centers, museums and libraries to “complement the education process.”

Ultimately, Ladson-Billings sees the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity for a “hard reset” to the ways schools have traditionally operated.

“There’s been a lot of discourse about getting back to normal,” she said. “I want to suggest, particularly for the students who are most vulnerable academically, that normal is not where they want to go, because normal was where their problems were.”

Seth Pollak, a psychology professor at UW-Madison who researches child development, cautions schools and parents against sending a message that students need to hurry and catch up. Rather, it’s better to share a message of “let’s get back into it,” Pollak said.

“If we send this message that they have to get caught up, they won’t get caught up really,” he said. “That could just be starting things off for maybe years of feeling because of 2020 they’re spending a lifetime of being behind.”

The social-emotional needs of students can vary by age, Pollak said.

For younger children, a routine provides comfort, he said, and a hybrid class schedule where they’re in school a few days a week and learning online other days may throw off the routine and lead to problems with sleep patterns and mood regulation.

Nathan also said it’s important to keep young children to a schedule as much as possible. For those learning online, the younger children are, the less attention they can devote to sitting at a screen, he said, suggesting breaking up online instruction into “manageable portions.”

For districts holding in-person classes, Pollak suggests schools let students engage in conversations and hold lessons about what factored into the decision to reopen.

“This is an important time. How do we bring together lessons about biology, but also lessons about economics and lessons about individual choice?” Pollak said. “Schools should actually let kids talk about what the rationale was and what the risks are and why they decided to do what they did in a way that’s kind of not biased in one direction or the other.”

Pollak’s biggest advice to parents: Don’t make assumptions about what children are feeling.

A parent could think a child doesn’t like a hybrid model of schooling because of the online lessons, Pollak said, but the child might have concerns unrelated to learning, such as a best friend being assigned to in-person classes on opposite days.

“We really never know what’s going through an individual kid’s head,” he said. “Something that’s concerning us as a parent might not actually be the worry for the kid.”

Ladson-Billings stressed schools will need to strengthen mental health supports, particularly for students who have lost family to COVID-19.

Funerals serve as a way for family and friends to come together and heal, she said, but public health restrictions on gatherings to slow the virus’ spread have also limited how the dead are mourned.

“There’s going to be some trauma that kids have experienced, particularly those kids who have had a death in the family or in the community that did not have the same degree of resolution that most deaths have,” Ladson-Billings said. “That is unresolved for our kids.”


New program brings learning, interaction for 3rd and 4th graders at Penn Park

August 3, 2020   |   By Scott Girard, The Capital Times

The Capital Times

A group of eight third- and fourth-graders sat around a bucket of water on a recent Wednesday morning, waiting for Richard Jones Jr. to drop in a cantaloupe and watch whether it would float or sink.

Before Jones Jr. made the drop, he asked the students: Sink or float? They needed to make a guess — or, as it’s called in the scientific method process they were learning, a hypothesis. A mix of responses filled the air as they observed the next step in the method — experiment — and eventually the final step: a conclusion about what made certain foods float.

The lesson was one of many the group will learn this summer through the S²MARTLY in the Park summer learning program, sponsored by Mt. Zion Baptist Church and led by a group of educators hoping to help students avoid a “summer slide” amid an unprecedented time in education. The activities are focused on science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — and taught three mornings a week over a three-hour, outdoor class at Penn Park.

They also highlight successful African Americans in STEM and other fields to create a culturally relevant curriculum for the mostly Black students in the program.

“They have science, math, social studies and reading materials that actually reflect back to who (the students) are,” said Andreal Davis, who planned the curriculum. “One of the big things in putting the curriculum together I thought about was they were seeing negative images in the media and wanting to give them that vision of greatness, wanting them to see and learn about people like Booker T. Washington and Sojourner Truth.”

The group is taking safety precautions, including temperature checks for every student in attendance, health screening questions, required masks and regular pumps from a giant hand sanitizer dispenser. The group is limited to 21 participants to keep it at a maximum of 25 people when the four instructors are counted, though attendance fluctuates on any given day.

The program received grants from Dane County in June and another from the Evjue Foundation announced in July. The Evjue Foundation is the charitable arm of the Capital Times Company, but has no control over the editorial side of the paper.

Shortly after finding out about the money from the county, Mt. Zion lead pastor Rev. Marcus Allen called University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Gloria Ladson-Billings about getting something started.

“Like this,” he said while snapping his fingers, “she had a whole acronym and everything ready to go.”

Ladson-Billings said she’s “been thinking about questions of summer slide for a while,” and this was a good opportunity to put some of those thoughts into practice.

“Last year we were saying we were not making use of all the resources that we have,” she said. “It was sort of in the back of my mind all along.”

Before the floating fruit, students sat in pairs at picnic tables, each with a staff person leading them through a reading about physicist Shirley Jackson, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The rest of the morning included a reading about Booker T. Washington, snack time and games in the field behind the pavilion at Penn Park. All of the lessons provide something the program’s leaders say is just as important as any learning that happens: interactions with other kids.

Jones Jr., the program director, leads the teaching along with three staff members. He saw “how devastated” his own daughter, who is in the program, was when schools closed this spring.

“Education is cool and getting them to learn is awesome, but in the end it’s the social-emotional that makes the difference, getting to be with each other in the same place, laughing and joking,” Jones Jr. said. “Seeing them in this setting gives me hope.”

A typical morning

Students arrive between 8:45 and 9:15 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the program, which began July 22, and runs through Aug. 21.

After a health check, students dive in to a Black history activity. On Wednesday, that meant discussing Booker T. Washington’s legacy — with one pair learning about Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Me and Booker T. Washington went to the same school,” one of the staff members told a pair of students.

“You went after him?” Deion, 8, asked in response, prompting a big laugh from the staffer.

Deion said he likes “doing fun things” at the program and is glad to be part of it, even though he doesn’t miss school.

“I want the summer to not end,” he said.

Snack time included strawberries on that day. Some students discussed what food they would eat if they could only eat one for the rest of their lives: one said burgers, the other decided on pizza.

Once they regrouped, they played a game in the field and then gathered again under the pavilion to learn about that day’s African American STEM figure, Jackson. Each day ends with an experiment related to that person and a discussion of the STEM topic.

‘Future of education’

Jones Jr. said he sees the outdoor, small-group and hands-on model “as a strong possibility for the future of education,” especially while the pandemic continues.

That future could be coming soon. Ladson-Billings said she’s working on a proposal for this fall to station small groups of students in various places around the south side as teachers move around to teach specific content areas.

“They need the face-to-face learning, but I also don’t want to put people in large schools, because this virus is something we don’t really understand,” Ladson-Billings said.

Ladson-Billings sees the possibility of the summer program scaling up around the city next summer, as well. For now, the group is glad to help students through a tumultuous time.

“It’s something we’re super proud of,” Allen said.

Jones Jr. also stressed the importance of the cultural relevance to the students, and wants to see that “ingrained in education from the beginning.”

“It shouldn’t be something you have to learn in your free time,” he said.

To drive home the students’ connections to their own world, the bags they receive — put together by Davis — include a worksheet titled “Just Like Who?” The sheet features two dozen examples of famous Black people, their accomplishments and a blank line where students can write in someone in their lives who shares the qualities.

“(Blank) is a great communicator. They’ll be great in business just like Madam C.J. Walker,” says one.


Three from Vanderbilt Peabody College honored for education research

July 28, 2020   |   By Vanderbilt University

From Vanderbilt University

A leading Vanderbilt scholar, her doctoral student and a recent doctoral alumnus have been honored with awards by the American Educational Research Association.

Carolyn J. Heinrich, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy and Education, and Jennifer Darling-Aduana, a Ph.D. candidate, received the Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award for their article “A Look Inside Online Educational Settings in High School: Promise and Pitfalls for Improving Educational Opportunities and Outcomes.” Co-authored with Annalee Good and Huiping (Emily) Cheng of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the article appeared in the December 2019 issue of the American Educational Research Journal.

The awards committee noted that it “found the research to be comprehensive in its scope and depth, carefully executed and extremely timely, providing critical policy guidance for districts engaged in online instruction.” The Palmer O. Johnson award recognizes the lifelong achievement of Johnson as a dedicated educator as well as his pioneering work in educational research and methodology.

In addition to research addressing education policy, Heinrich is chair of Peabody’s Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations and a past president of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. Darling-Aduana finishes her doctoral degree in August and will join the faculty of Georgia State University as assistant professor of learning technologies.

Francis A. Pearman, MEd’12, PhD’17, assistant professor of education at Stanford University, received AERA’s Review of Research Award for his article “Gentrification and Academic Achievement: A Review of Recent Research,” which appeared in Review of Educational Research in February 2019. “The author synthesizes evidence from different disciplines—including organizational theory, urban planning, segregation, sociology and education—into a fresh and generative conversation, demonstrating both empirical sophistication and control of complex phenomena,” the award committee wrote.

“AERA is the world’s leading association of scholars examining topics in education policy and practice,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. “These awards signify remarkable achievement, and it is wonderful to see these honors accorded both to one of our senior scholars as well as two who are early in their careers.”

To read more about Heinrich and Darling-Aduana’s research on digital learning, see their study website and forthcoming book, Equity and Quality in Digital Learning: Realizing the Promise in K-12 Education, as well as recent blog posts for the William T. Grant Foundation and Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Expert cautions learning pods could worsen Madison’s achievement gap

July 28, 2020   |   By By Emily Shetler, The Capital Times

The Capital Times

Almost immediately after the Madison School District joined other districts across the country in announcing a return to online instruction instead of bringing students back to the classroom for the fall semester, posts started popping up on Facebook groups, Craigslist, Reddit and the University of Wisconsin-Madison student job board seeking in-home academic help.

Parents taxed by trying to do their own jobs from home while monitoring their children's school work are looking for tutors, nannies, even retired teachers to help them navigate what could be several more months of virtual education.

“I think one of the important things that everyone needs to understand is right now, parents are in just an untenable position, all the way around, every parent,” said Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network Consortium at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Many families are teaming up with neighbors to pool resources and form “learning pods” for the school year. But research indicates when families can afford to do so turn to tutoring and educational services in their homes, it can affect the academic success of all students.

Impacting all families

Even without additional in-home teaching support, children attending advantaged schools have more tools to succeed in online learning.

“If you were in a district that has a very large per pupil expenditure, you've got lower class sizes. You've got higher amounts of money to spend on tech. You've got more resources for supplemental instruction and for educational supports, before school, after school, and that all translates online very seamlessly,” Hafner said. “For some students, especially children living in poverty, I've seen statistics that show if we stay in the cycle we're in right now with unsupported online learning, they can lose up to a year of gains in growth.”

For students without at-home support, it's even more crucial that they learn among fellow students. Hafner emphasized that children learn through their peers, a social-emotional piece that is crucial to understand.

The National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine (NAS) released a report on July 15 predicting long-term academic consequences from virtual-only learning, in particular for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In a statement, Enriqueta Bond, chair of the committee that authored the report, wrote: “This pandemic has laid bare the deep, enduring inequities that afflict our country and our schools. Many of the communities hardest hit by the virus are also home to schools with the least resources and the greatest challenges.”

Parents looking to refocus on their careers by forming neighborhood learning pods and hiring tutors for their children may be exacerbating pre-existing segregation in the community.

“Where people live is generally dictated by housing markets, and demographically cities are segregated by race,” said Hafner. “Because of access to wealth, white families have more access to finances that will get them houses in 'good' neighborhoods. So we live in segregated neighborhoods, where you have, many times, segregated schools. And even when schools are racially integrated physically, they're racially segregated academically. This pattern has emerged where families are podding with families who live close by. And so that creates very real racial segregation.”

She said there is a long history in America of white families leaving integrated public schools for private schools, sometimes even forming their own.

“So that history needs to be in everyone's mind as they're making these decisions,” she said.

Challenges in Madison

Mike, who asked for his last name to be withheld, was initially considering forming a learning pod with a small group of neighbors and hiring a teacher to help with virtual learning through the 2020-2021 school year.

But now he is planning to take his children out of MMSD and renting a house in Columbia County where he can send his children to in-person classes before returning to Madison next June. Otherwise, his family will adopt “some sort of home school curriculum.”

“I don't think MMSD teachers are qualified to give online instruction, and my experience in the spring would confirm that,” he said.

Hafner said moving out of urban districts like Madison will only make matters worse for their ability to fund improvements.

“I think one thing every single parent needs to know — and I don't think every parent does — is if you choose to pull your child out of public school, your school loses funding,” said Hafner. “That's the worst possible thing you could do for a school district, is to remove that funding at this moment in time when everybody needs funding for education. Understanding that has extreme ramifications financially for a school district.”

Lisa Kvistad, MMSD assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, acknowledged that the district learned from the issues surrounding virtual learning in the spring is using that knowledge to inform decisions going forward.

“We learned a lot from the surveys from parents, teachers and staff about how to make virtual learning more robust when we go back in the fall,” she said.

The spread of the coronavirus itself is also disproportionately affecting students of color. As Dane County sees a rise in the community spread of COVID-19 from the actions of young people, there remains an age and racial disparity in those who are most vulnerable to complications and death from the disease. Students are witnessing first-hand the devastation in their communities.

“We have chosen not to support laws and policies that support children, and in particular, don't support Black and brown children,” said Hafner. “We have chosen as a nation not to do that. And this is what happens when families who have resources use them in ways that on the outside look benign, but have these deleterious effects for years on families and students of color and their communities.”

She advised white families who are concerned about racial disparities to consider their actions carefully.

“I think white families need to be very thoughtful in how we proceed,” she said. “I am a white person, and I am mother. I have two very small children. And we all need to understand our choices will have an impact.”