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U.S. Department of Education Daily Digest Bulletin - SAFELY REOPENING AMERICA’S SCHOOLS

ED Review (03/05/21) 

03/05/2021 

March 5, 2021

 

SAFELY REOPENING AMERICA’S SCHOOLS

 

This week, President Biden announced steps to accelerate school reopening nationwide by treating in-person learning as an essential service and prioritizing educators for vaccinations in every state.  Below is an excerpt from his remarks. 

“Th[ere] is a national imperative that we get our kids back into the classroom safely and as soon as possible.  As you know, back in December, I set the goal of having a majority of our K-through-8 schools open by the end of my first 100 days as President…. 

Let me be clear: we can reopen schools if the right steps are taken, even before employees are vaccinated.  But time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents they have anxieties about that. 

So, as yet another move to help accelerate the safe reopening of our schools, let’s treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is.  And that means getting essential workers who provide that service -- educators, school staff, childcare workers -- vaccinated immediately.  They’re essential workers. 

Over 30 states have already taken steps to prioritize educators for vaccination.  And today…I’m directing every state to do the same.  My challenge to all states and territories is this: we want every educator, school staff member, and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March. 

To help make this happen, starting next week and for a month, we will be using our Federal [Retail] Pharmacy Program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-through-12 educators and staff and childcare workers….  Throughout March, they will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them. 

Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week, but our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month…” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with states that have not yet included teachers, school staff, and childcare workers in their prioritization to ensure they have the support needed to make this change.  It is identifying best practices for vaccinating these essential workers, as well as addressing barriers that immunization programs have experienced.  More information will be forthcoming from the CDC in the days and weeks ahead. 

INTRODUCING SECRETARY CARDONA

 

On March 1, by a bipartisan vote, the Senate approved Miguel Cardona as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Education.  He was officially sworn in by Vice President Harris a day later (tweet and video). 

Secretary Cardona spent his first day in office meeting with the Department’s career staff, reaching out to educators and education stakeholders and parents and students, and speaking with the media.  He was joined for a portion of the day by his family (tweet). 

Specifically, he shared a video about the path ahead.  He also penned an op-ed in USA Today, focused on his plan to get students back in schools full-time (building off the President’s announcement above). 

On his second day in office, he traveled with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to visit Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, and Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in Waterford, Pennsylvania.  Both schools have reopened for in-person learning (tweets 1 and 2). 

Meanwhile, the President sent the nominations of Cindy Marten to be Deputy Secretary of Education and James Kvaal to be Under Secretary of Education to the Senate, and the Administration announced a third round of political appointments to fill senior roles at the Department. 

STATE ASSESSMENT GUIDANCE 

Last week, the Department provided guidance to states emphasizing the importance of flexibility in administering assessments this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It supports the use of testing data as a source of information for parents and educators to better target resources and support -- rather than for accountability purposes. 

State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity, identifying student needs, and targeting the resources to address them.  As such, the agency is not inviting “blanket waivers of assessments.” 

At the same time, some schools and school districts may not be able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices, while others may wish to prioritize learning time during limited in-person schooling.  The pandemic requires that states have significant flexibility in implementing this work for the 2020-21 school year, and the agency’s guidance balances these priorities. 

The flexibilities available to states includes:

  • extending the testing window and moving assessments to the summer or fall;
  • giving the assessment remotely, where feasible; and
  • shortening the assessment, making testing more feasible to implement and prioritizing in-person learning time. 

In addition to encouraging flexibility around assessments, the Department is allowing states to request a waiver for the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) accountability and school identification requirements.  This flexibility explicitly includes waiving the provisions related to having a 95% test participation rate. 

DATA STRATEGY AT ED

ED Data Strategy

The Department is at the forefront of federal agencies in executing requirements of the Evidence Act and Federal Data Strategy

In December 2020, its Data Governance Board, composed of senior leaders across the agency, adopted an inaugural Data Strategy.  The strategy establishes the agency’s vision for accelerating progress toward becoming a data-driven organization and fully leveraging high-quality data to advance the Department’s mission of ensuring equal access and fostering educational excellence for the nation’s learners. 

The strategy’s goals are highly interdependent, with cross-cutting objectives requiring a collaborative effort across the agency’s principal offices.  Through a concerted effort to strengthen data governance, build human capacity to leverage data, advance strategic use of data, and improve data access, transparency, and privacy, the Department may utilize education data as a strategic asset to deliver on its mission and support the foundations of democracy. 

DIGEST OF EDUCATION STATISTICS 

The “Digest of Education Statistics 2019,” from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is the 55th in a series of publications initiated in 1962.  Its primary purpose is to provide a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education -- from pre-kindergarten through graduate school -- drawn from government and private sources, but especially from surveys and other activities led by NCES.  The digest has data on the number of schools, students, and teachers in the U.S., as well as statistics on educational attainment, finances, libraries, technology, and international comparisons. 

ODDS AND ENDS 

QUOTES TO NOTE 

“As of this week, during the dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 500,000 Americans have now died from the virus.  That is more Americans who have died in a single year of this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.  On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind.  We, as a nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one nation to defeat this pandemic.” 

-- President Joseph Biden (2/22/21), in a proclamation remembering 500,000 Americans lost to COVID-19 

“If I’ve learned anything in my career as an educator, it’s this: with the right support, students are remarkably resilient.  America’s students have risen to this unprecedented occasion and adapted in ways that inspire me as an educator and a father.  For all the hardship and heartache this year, I firmly believe that we -- and most of all, this rising generation -- can emerge from this challenge stronger.  We can do the most American thing imaginable: forge opportunity out of crisis, draw on our resolve, our ingenuity, and our tireless optimism to create something better than we’ve ever had before.  America’s students deserve nothing less.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (3/1/21), from an op-ed published in USA Today 

UPCOMING EVENTS 

Among other observations, March is Women’s History Month

Pi Day is celebrated on 3/14 (March 14) worldwide.  Pi (Greek letter “p”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant -- the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter -- which is approximately 3.14159.  Pi Day is an annual opportunity for enthusiasts to recite the infinite digits of Pi, talk to their friends about math, and eat pie. 

The next webinar in the Department’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) briefing series, looking at differing abilities in STEM, is scheduled for March 25, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Anyone may watch live or the archived session.  Previous briefings are posted on the agency’s STEM landing page. 

 

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