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Biden, in Stark Contrast to Trump’s Threats, Issues Roadmap to Reopen Public Schools Safely As COVID-19 Rates Surge

Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, in contrast to Trump, has issued a roadmap to reopen public schools safely as COVID-19 cases continue to surge (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Demonstrating yet again the stark contrast between the malevolent ineptitude of Trump and the competence, care and concern of Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president has issued his own plan to reopen schools safely in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. Trump’s only plan: damn the science, bully public schools to reopen or lose federal funding, impede testing and keep COVID-19 cases and fatalities secret from the public. This is from the Biden campaign: –Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Joe Biden’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools Safely

Educators, students, and families have done an incredible job in difficult circumstances over the last four months. Everyone wants schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction. Creating the conditions to make it happen should be a top national priority. Joe Biden believes that the decision about when to reopen safely should be made by state, tribal, and local officials, based on science and in consultation with communities and tribal governments. It should be made with the safety of students and educators in mind. And, it should be made recognizing that if we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back.

The challenge facing our schools is unprecedented. President Trump has made it much worse. We had a window to get this right. And, Trump blew it. His administration failed to heed the experts and take the steps required to reduce infections in our communities. As a result, cases have exploded. Now our window before the new school year is closing rapidly, and we are forced to grapple with reopening our schools in an environment of much greater risk to educators, students, and their families than there would have been if America had competent leadership. 
 
Over a month ago, Biden identified key steps that Donald Trump needed to take to reopen our schools safely. Trump has taken none of them. In fact, he’s done the opposite. He has threatened to force schools to reopen for in-person instruction without the basic resources they need to keep students, educators, and communities safe. If Trump had actually done his job as President, the decisions facing our schools would look fundamentally different.
 
Joe Biden has a simple five-step roadmap to support local decision-making on reopening schools safely and to help students whose learning was interrupted: 
 
Get the Virus Under Control: Months into this crisis, infection rates are spiking across the country, personal protective equipment (PPE) is still in short supply, and hospitalizations and deaths are unacceptably high. We have only weeks to go before the school year begins, and we have no plan, no leadership, and no additional resources to fight this crisis. We do not have sufficient testing, adequate contact tracing, or reliable supply chains. It is outrageous that Trump forced educators, parents, and caregivers into this situation. If we want to reopen schools safely, we need to get cases down in states and communities across America. Now. That means mask wearing and appropriate social distancing guidelines that match the virus trajectory in a community. In addition, Biden has laid out comprehensive plans on March 12April 27, and June 11, among others, to:

  • Implement nationwide testing-and-tracing, including doubling the number of drive-through testing sites;
  • Establish a sustainable supply chain for PPE, including fully utilizing the Defense Production Act to ensure enough masks for every school in America every day;
  • Protect older Americans and others at high risk;
  • Provide small businesses with the resources they need to reopen safely.

Set National Safety Guidelines, Empower Local Decision-Making: The Trump Administration’s chaotic and politicized response has left school districts to improvise a thousand hard decisions on their own. Schools need clear, consistent, effective national guidelines, not mixed messages and political ultimatums. Biden would task the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies with establishing basic, objective criteria to guide state, tribal, and local officials in deciding if and how reopening can be managed safely in their communities, including:

  • Decisions on reopening have been tied to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in the community. Biden agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, that “schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgement of local experts.”
  • Emergency funding needs have been met so that schools have the resources to reconfigure classrooms, kitchens, and other spaces, improve ventilation, and take other necessary steps to make it easier to physically distance and minimize risk of spread.
  • Schools have taken necessary precautions to foster a culture of health and safety and protect educators and students, including reducing class size, limiting large gatherings, and providing safe environments for eating.
  • Schools have ready access to enough masks and other PPE for every student and educator every day, if they need it. 
  • Reasonable accommodations have been made for at-risk educators and students, in collaboration with educators, their unions, parents, and caregivers.
  • State and local officials have shared a plan for regularly communicating about school decisions and resources with parents, caregivers, educators, and the community.
  • The federal government has issued reopening guidelines, free from political interference, in greater detail to answer basic questions that schools have, including: How low does the community infection rate need to be to reopen and at what point should schools shut down again if cases rise? What are safe maximum class sizes? If schools cannot accommodate everyone, who should return to the classroom first? The current lack of clarity is paralyzing for schools.

Provide Emergency Funding for Public Schools and Child Care Providers: Schools urgently need emergency financial support, but what they have gotten from Trump is bluster and bullying and, worse, threats to further slash their funding. As a result of Trump’s failure to lead, states could face drastic budget shortfalls totalling $555 billion over state fiscal years of 2020-2022. Left unaddressed, these shortfalls could result in significant layoffs. According to one analysis, just a conservative 5% decrease in state education funding would result in the loss of almost 28,000 school positions, including teachers, counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. 

As President, Biden will always put our children, educators, and families first. He believes public schools, especially Title I schools – should have all the resources they need to safely return to in-person instruction and support all students. Biden is: 

  • Calling on Trump and Senate Republicans to pass the education funding in the HEROES Act, which the House passed months ago. This bill includes roughly $58 billion for local school districts to stabilize public education and save jobs. Over four months ago, Biden called for a renewable fund for state, tribal, and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls and protect that relief from exactly the kind of political brinkmanship we are seeing from Trump and Republicans leaders today. It is past time to get it done. 
  • Calling on the Congress to pass a separate emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19. School officials estimate that districts will need about $30 billion to put in place the changes needed to reopen safely. This package should include funding for child care providers and public schools — particularly Title I schools and Indian schools — for personal protective equipment; public health and sanitation products; custodial and health services; and alterations to building ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class size, and transportation. And, an additional roughly $4 billion is needed to upgrade technology and broadband. Biden has previously announced that, as President, he will ensure schools have the resources to double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools so our kids get the mental health care they need. That’s more important now than ever before, as kids grapple with the stress and trauma of our economic and public health crisis.

Ensuring High-Quality Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic: We are continuing to learn how to best support students, educators, and their families through this challenging time. Biden would mobilize a large-scale U.S. Department of Education effort to work with practitioners to develop, adopt, and share the latest tools and best practices to ensure high-equality learning during this pandemic. This effort would include:

  • Delivering high-quality remote and hybrid learning with a special emphasis on students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students who do not have access to specific technology, such as broadband and devices. This includes dedicated time and resources for our educators to pursue professional development opportunities tailored to the unique circumstances of this crisis.
  • Creating a Safer Schools Best Practices Clearinghouse to help schools and child care providers across the country and around the world share approaches, protocols, and tools for reopening safely.
  • Providing tools and resources for parents and other caregivers to help them make informed decisions on sending their children to school, help their children cope with the stress of this pandemic, and assist them with their children’s remote learning.
  • Ensuring tailored remote teaching assignments and educational plans for educators and students who are at greater risk to COVID-19 or live with a family member who is. 
  • Working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to share with educators and families evolving scientific insights into how COVID-19 affects children. Biden has called for scaling up COVID-19 pediatric research partnerships to address glaring gaps in our knowledge.

Closing the COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap: Despite the best efforts of educators, students, and familiesthis crisis, coupled with long-standing racial inequities, has led many students, especially low-income students and students of color, to struggle and fall behind. New research shows that some students could even lose an entire year of academic gains. As President, Biden would:

  • Direct a White House-led initiative to identify evidence-based policy solutions that address gaps in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated. Biden would invite participation from a dedicated group of health experts, including mental health professionals and neuroscientists; educators, including early educators, and their unions; school technology practitioners and experts; civil rights advocates; Indian education experts; foundations and the private sector; and families, students, and community advocates. Biden would request its recommendations on an accelerated time frame in order to provide guidance to states, tribal, and local governments as quickly as possible. 
  • Launch a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to encourage states and tribal governments – in partnership with the education and broader community – to develop bold plans that adopt evidence-based policy recommendations and give all of our students the support they need to succeed. 
  • Support community schools. Community schools work with families, students, teachers and community organizations to identify families’ unmet needs and then develop a plan to leverage community resources to address these needs in the school building, turning schools into community hubs. They provide holistic services like health and nutrition, mental health, and adult education– services that are especially critical during and after COVID-19 to address the social, emotional, academic, and health needs of students in a comprehensive way. Biden will provide resources to expand this model.

White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Common Core has become one of those boogeymen memes that elicits hysterical knee-jerk reaction against Big Government intrusion into parental authority and local control over schools. However, what is deliberately set aside is that Common Core was developed at the state level. The point of Common Core was to lift standards for public education. Instead, it has been overtaken by the Accountability Movement which uses testing as a weapon against teacher unions and by the Privatized Education Corporatists as a tool to overturn public education in favor of taxpayer funding of for-profit, privatized charter schools and unconstitutional public funding of parochial schools.  The result was over-testing, creating unnecessary stress among public school students (private school students don’t have to take the tests), but a windfall for private testing and tutoring companies. In these waning days of the Obama Administration, which has worked so hard to improve public education for all, the White House has announced new, rational steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” in schools. . – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

 FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

“When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world. To take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential. …

I’ve heard from parents who worry that too much testing is keeping their kids from learning some of life’s most important lessons. I’ve heard from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”

– President Barack Obama, October 2015

When done well, assessments give parents, teachers, and students critical information on whether all students in a community are progressing each year toward college and career readiness. When used appropriately, they also serve as an essential protection to promote equity.  In too many schools, however, redundant or low-quality assessments are being administered without a clear purpose.  These ineffective assessments can consume valuable class time and can take the joy out of learning.

That is why last October, President Obama announced his Testing Action Plan and asked the U.S. Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that tests students take are worthwhile; high-quality; time-limited; fair and transparent to students and families; and one of multiple sources used to understand how students, educators and schools are progressing.  Since then, the Obama Administration has acted to assist states and school districts in ensuring that the tests they are giving are better, fairer and fewer.

The White House and the Department of Education, on December 7, brought state and district leaders together with educators, parents, technologists, developers and philanthropic leaders to discuss the impact of the Testing Action Plan and what more can be done to ensure that tests are better, fairer, and fewer. As part of the event, the Department of Education announced additional resources and guidance for states and school districts aligned with the Testing Action Plan, including nearly $8 million in grants to the Maryland State Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Education to develop new and innovative ways to measure science achievement that can serve as models for other states.

New Federal Resources to Help States and School Districts Improve Testing

The White House and the Department of Education are announcing new efforts designed to help states and school districts improve their assessments and help them evaluate the totality of their assessments in order to eliminate unnecessary or low-quality tests.  Today’s announcements include:

o   The Innovations in Science Map, Assessment, and Report Technologies (I-SMART) Project, led by the Maryland State Department of Education and in partnership with Missouri, New York, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, will produce innovative science assessments aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards to support comprehensive alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  It will contain multiple measures of student progress over time, develop a science learning map that includes multiple pathways for students to learn science content and reach challenging grade-level expectations, and also deliver score reports that improve the information about student performance that is shared with educators and families.

o   The Strengthening Claims-Based Interpretations and Uses of Local and Large-Scale Science Assessments (SCILLSS) project, led by the Nebraska Department of Education in partnership with Montana and Wyoming, aims to improve the quality of statewide science assessments.  The project will leverage existing tools and expertise to generate more resources to strengthen states’ ability to create and evaluate quality science assessments.  The project will also engage state and local educators to clarify the interpretations and uses of assessments scores and to create tools to improve the usefulness of student performance results.

  • Regulations to Create Better, Fairer, and Fewer Assessments under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):  The Department of Education is releasing two final regulations designed to give states and school districts clarity and flexibility as they implement the assessment provisions under Title I of the ESSA.  These regulations seek to clarify the statutory requirement that states administer high-quality, annual assessments to all students by ensuring that these assessments are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity for all students, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation.

o   Creating Better, Fairer, and Fewer Tests:  The final regulation for state assessment systems under Title I, Part A — which are the result of consensus reached when the Department of Education conducted negotiated rulemaking with a diverse group of stakeholders earlier this year — willensure states continue to administer tests that are valid, reliable, and fair measures of student achievement for all students, including by setting clear parameters for meaningfully including students with disabilities and English language learners in state tests and supporting them with appropriate test accommodations.  The final regulation also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce overall burden, such as implementing computer-adaptive assessments and allowing a district to offer a locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual statewide high school assessment.  Taken together, this regulation will help states and districts implement ESSA to create better, fairer and fewer tests.

o   Producing a New Generation of Innovative Assessments:  The final regulation under Title I, Part B establishes the parameters under which states may take advantage of a new innovative assessment demonstration authority under the ESSA to create, try out, and scale up alternatives to traditional end-of-year large-scale assessments.  This demonstration authority, initially available to up to seven states, allows states to rethink assessment systems and pilot new, innovative approaches to measuring student achievement for use in their accountability systems.  States with demonstration authority will be allowed to phase-in and use a new innovative assessment system in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest of their districts, and use the results from both systems for accountability and reporting purposes under the law during the pilot phase.  States may also apply for flexibility as a consortium, providing a built-in community of practice to share and work through common challenges as they scale their new innovative assessments statewide.

  • Guidance to States on How to Use Federal Resources to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests:  The Department of Education is also releasing non-regulatory guidance for states and school districts, which highlights flexibility in ESSA for how states and districts can use federal funds to support the President’s Testing Action Plan. The guidance outlines how states and districts can use federal funding under the ESSA to ensure high-quality assessments for all students; reduce testing time; eliminate redundant, duplicative assessment; and provide clear, transparent and actionable information on assessments to students, families, and educators.  This ESSA guidance applies starting in fiscal year 2017 (i.e., the 2017-2018 school year) and updates previous guidance ED released earlier this year.
  • Profiles of Districts that are Taking Action to Improve Assessments:  The Department of Education is releasing profiles highlighting the steps taken by two districts, Eminence Independent Schools (KY) and Vancouver Public Schools (WA), to reduce and improve assessments. Eminence saw dramatic improvements in student achievement after implementing a learner-centric education model that focuses on differentiated instruction, personalized learning, continuous growth, and the use of formative assessments and alternative means to assess student progress.  Vancouver Public Schools conducted an audit of its district-required assessments in 2015 and eliminated 105 administrations of district-required assessments allowing the district to return an average of 900 minutes back into the classroom across grades 3 – 8. These profiles build on a report the Department released in April, highlighting the work of leading states and districts to improve assessment and ensure class time is preserved.
  • Information on Technology-Delivered Assessments Supported by the Institute of Education Sciences:  The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) is releasing ablog that highlights some of the technology-delivered assessments funded through IES.  Since its inception in 2002, three IES programs, including the Research Programs at the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and at the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and the ED/IES SBIRprogram have made over 200 awards supporting the development of new technology-delivered assessments.  The awards were made to a mix of academic researchers, entrepreneurial firms, and larger education organizations. All of the projects included a rigorous research and development process with studies to validate that assessments are measuring what is intended and pilots to test the promise of the technologies for improving student learning outcomes.  Later this month IES will release a more detailed report highlighting the technology-delivered assessments and innovations in the assessment field funded through three research programs.