In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“All over social media, teachers are sharing stories tinged with both frustration and fear for students who haven’t logged into learning platforms, participated in threaded discussions, completed an assignment, or returned texts and e-mails… The informal check-ins that schools typically rely on – a teacher, coach, bus driver, or cafeteria worker who would normally be alert to a child in distress – have been disrupted. There are just fewer eyes on children right now.”
Stephen Sawchuk and Christina Samuels in “Where Are They? Students Go Missing
in Shift to Remote Classes” in Education Week, April 10, 2020, https://bit.ly/2wT5jMh
“We’re about to see what happens when we turn up the volume on families and turn it down on schools.”
Paul von Hippel (quoted in item #3)
“Imagine you just got your driver’s license. You’re starting to date. Your team finally clinched the playoffs. Prom is right around the corner. But now you’re stuck all day at home, within 100 feet of your parents, for conceivably months on end… Although adolescents are not considered high risk from a medical perspective, they are still facing very real social and emotional challenges… It is essential that we all look out for adolescents, be sympathetic to their frustrations, and make sure that they have the resources and supports in place for optimal development.”
Leah Lessard and Hannah Schacter in “Why the Coronavirus Crisis Hits Teenagers
Particularly Hard: Developmental Scientists Explain” in Education Week, April 15,
2020, https://bit.ly/2yyAzjV; Schacter is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Should We Worry About Kids Getting Too Much Screen Time?
In this New York Times article, Andrew Przybylski (University of Oxford) and psychologist/author Pete Etchells say that with most schools closed, children’s screen time is going through the roof. That can be a blessing for parents cooped up with their kids 24/7, but wait a minute: isn’t this video game binging and smartphone indulging harming young people? In the last few years, say Przybylski and Etchells, we’ve been hearing that excessive screen time “melts our children’s brains, shrinks their attention spans, and weakens their social skills.” Digital abstinence for young children was the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics until quite recently.
Worries like these have a long history, with parents fretting about each new wave of entertainment technology – radio, movies, TV. But is viewing time all that damaging? For starters, say Przybylski and Etchells, “the evidence linking screens to harm is, in reality, paper thin.” Recent studies have downplayed negative effects, including on adolescents’ sleep. In fact, they say, “a couple of hours of screen-based leisure is associated with improved peer relationships and increased sociality. Gaming meets our fundamental needs for exploration, competence, and social connection. And games often improve rather than undermine our reasoning abilities.” As for concerns about kids getting isolated, the Internet “is the world’s best tool for distanced socializing.”
So parents and educators needn’t fret too much during the coronavirus lockdown, conclude Przybylski and Etchells. But they should monitor what kids are watching and playing, sometimes playing and watching with them, and steer kids toward “brainy games,” age-appropriate educational videos, documentaries available on streaming services, cooperative and team-oriented video games, and timeless films “that don’t just entertain, or distract, but teach ineffable lessons about life, love, and family.”
“Screen Time Isn’t All That Bad” by Andrew Przybylski and Pete Etchells in The New York Times, April 7, 2020, https://nyti.ms/2KkHYGw; Przybylski can be reached at email@example.com
2. Putting the Pandemic in Historical and Epidemiological Perspective
In this New Yorker article, Michael Specter describes the scientific events that have shaped the career of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Since 1984, he’s been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and he’s currently at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. Specter’s article lists some previous epidemics that wreaked havoc through history:
– In 430 BC, Athens was struck by a plague that killed as many as 2/3 of its residents.
– Beginning in 165 AD, smallpox contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire.
– In the 14th century, the Black Death killed more than half of Europe’s population.
However, by the middle of the 20th century, improvements in antibiotics and sanitary conditions led many scientists to believe it was possible to eradicate, or at least control, infectious diseases. Fauci, who had specialized in this field at the start of his career, worried that he’d chosen an area that was going to become a sideshow.
Then several deadly diseases changed the game. AIDS has killed more than 30 million people, and tuberculosis infects about a quarter of humanity, killing 1.5 million people in 2018 alone. “But the greatest threat that humanity faces, by far,” says Specter, “is a global outbreak of a lethal virus for which no treatment has been found.” And indeed, COVID-19 has forced billions of people into lockdown, and another pandemic like this will inevitably appear – maybe next year, maybe in a decade, maybe in a century.
“We live in evolutionary competition with microbes – bacteria and viruses,” said Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg. There are countless viruses in animals and humans, most of them harmless. For a virus to pose a worldwide threat, it has to meet three critical conditions:
– It emerges from animals and humans don’t have immunity to it.
– The virus sickens and kills humans (the vast majority of viruses don’t).
– The virus spreads efficiently – e.g., through coughing, sneezing, or handshakes.
For years, Fauci and others have been concerned about a virus that would punch all three tickets – new, deadly, and infectious – and that’s what we have in COVID-19.
For most of human history, a virus with all three characteristics would afflict many people in the community where it emerged, but then stop spreading. But as human mobility increased, pathogens could spread more widely. Nowadays, someone can wake up with an infectious virus in China and fly to America, spreading it intercontinentally the same day. According to one analysis, at least 430,000 people have arrived in the U.S. on direct flights from China since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Lederberg and others have advocated for greatly expanded early-warning systems, particularly in the developing world, as well as stronger measures to respond to microbial threats. Unfortunately their alarm bells were almost completely ignored. In 2004, a year after those recommendations were made, a highly pathogenic form of avian influenza, H5N1, leaped from waterfowl to chickens to humans. This time, the world was lucky – it was deadly but not very contagious. Five years later, a new influenza virus, H1N1, infected nearly a quarter of the global population before vaccines were developed – but again we were lucky: it was highly contagious but not nearly as deadly as most strains of influenza. Dodging the bullet twice fostered complacency and made it more difficult for scientists to create a sense of urgency.
A somewhat hopeful development is that genetic engineering has made it possible to respond to an epidemic much more quickly than in the past. After the COVID-19 outbreak began, it took scientists less than a month to sequence the genome of the virus; by the end of February, the instructions were on the Internet and the virus had been recreated in labs around the world so that scientists could seek treatments and vaccines. The problem is that treatments and vaccines will be virus-specific. Each year scientists try to scope out newly-evolving viruses and create vaccines, but it’s hit-or-miss: in the 2017-18 flu season, the vaccine worked for only about one-third of the people who received it. And scientists are playing whack-a-mole with each new virus. “We keep trying to develop a vaccine for one thing – usually the last one – and it’s a waste of time,” says Fauci. “Every time we get hit, it is always something we didn’t expect.”
Fauci has long advocated for developing a universal influenza vaccine that would provide lasting defense against all strains. “Similar to tetanus,” he said, “a universal flu vaccine probably would be given every ten years. And if you get one that is really universal, you can vaccinate just about everyone in the world.” This would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and test, and to date, that money hasn’t been raised. Perhaps that will change now. “To plan a coherent biological future, rather than simply scramble to contain each new pandemic,” Specter concludes, “will require an entirely new kind of political commitment.”
“Annals of Medicine: The Good Doctor” by Michael Specter in The New Yorker, April 20, 2020, https://bit.ly/2KpmZSB
3. Planning for Schools’ (Hopeful) Reopening
In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio predicts that when the current crisis is over, remote learning won’t continue. We aren’t transforming ourselves “into a nation of homeschoolers or ‘unschoolers’,” he says, “any more than passengers thrown from a sinking ship into lifeboats can be said to have taken up rowing.” The online learning being implemented by hard-working teachers is an emergency response. As soon as it’s possible, kids and parents and teachers will be happy to get back to their brick-and-mortar schools. Why? “The act of sending our kids every morning to a place called a school is a cultural habit formed over many generations,” says Pondiscio. “It persists because we value it, not for want of a better idea or a more-efficient delivery mechanism for education.”
There’s no question that this period of school closings will widen learning gaps, he continues, because families are much more unequal than schools: broadband access, devices and books in the home, parents available to help. In the words of Paul von Hippel (University of Texas/Austin), “We’re about to see what happens when we turn up the volume on families and turn it down on schools.” A recent NWEA report predicts that this fall, students will enter school with about 70 percent of the usual reading gains and less than 50 percent of expected achievement in math – and those are averages, masking big differences by social class.
The biggest priority for district leaders right now, says Pondiscio, is getting ready for reopening: “If we aren’t planning for the resumption of schools, and for the foreseeable conditions we will face, we will be caught flat-footed a second time.” His suggestions:
– Plan for different scenarios – fully open, staggered, virtual for a period of time.
– Assign qualified educators from the central office to teach in the opening weeks to improve the student/teacher ratio.
– Plan to accelerate the learning of students who enter the furthest behind.
– The district’s strongest teachers should be working with those students.
– Give special attention to the early grades.
– Assessment-driven achievement grouping may be necessary, especially in the lower grades.
– The primary focus for the early weeks should be on reinforcing the previous grade’s learning.
– Use teacher leaders and master teachers to design curriculum and control quality.
– Press new college graduates and non-professionals into service for several weeks or months of targeted, high-dosage tutoring in high-need schools.
– Don’t overcomplicate things for teachers.
“Keep it simple,” Pondiscio concludes. “Keep it focused, intense, achievable, and time-limited. The most attention should be on those who have fallen the furthest behind.”
“No, This Is Not the New Normal” by Robert Pondiscio in The Education Gadfly, April 14, 2020, https://bit.ly/3cBSzsH
4. Is This Looping’s Moment?
In this article in Education Drive, Texas first-grade teacher Mark Rogers says that every year, the two months after spring break are precious – “an opportunity to crystallize an entire year’s worth of human connection, learning, and special classroom memories.” But not this year, with almost all students and teachers deprived of in-person connections. Rogers sees the transition from this year to 2020-21 as the perfect time for looping – teachers keeping their students for the next grade level. Here’s why he believes principals should support looping:
– Teachers bring into the next year all the human connections from this school year;
– With high-need students, teachers can carry forward the trust that was earned this year, again saving time and emotional energy;
– Teachers hit the ground running in the fall by saving the time normally spent learning names and family information and establishing classroom routines;
– Teachers know exactly what wasn’t covered in the previous year and will be able to more quickly fill in those gaps;
– Teachers are in a better position to decide what can be skipped as they merge the 2019-20 curriculum with 2020-21.
“This year, more than any other, our kids need continuity,” says Rogers, “our kids need their teachers to know them, and, as a result, our kids need their same teacher next year.”
“Why Students Need Looping Now More Than Ever” by Mark Rogers in Education Drive, April 17, 2020, https://bit.ly/2RRR9Co
5. Teachable Moments During the Crisis
In this Edutopia article, Sarah Gonser says COVID-19 “offers teachers the unique instructional opportunity to tap into students’ innate curiosity about the virus and deliver lessons that are timely, prompt kids to dig deep, and – ideally – provide a modicum of comfort during a time of alarming headlines and copious misinformation.” Gonser suggests six possible areas and highlights the work of teachers in each one (see the link below for details):
– The math behind pandemics – Rates of change, including exponential growth, calculus, and modeling;
– Virology and biology – How a virus affects the human body, especially the lungs;
– Journalism – Teaching students to find and compellingly relate their unique stories of the pandemic;
– Makers of history – Journaling as a powerful tool and an outlet for students as they create a daily first-person account of their lives as history unfolds around them;
– Asking hard ethical questions – For upper-grade students, this is a time for empathy, self-reflection, critical thinking, and debate about moral choices and next steps;
– Media literacy – Discerning what’s true and what isn’t with online information (see the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart linked below).
“Innovative Ways to Make Coronavirus a Teachable Moment” by Sarah Gonser in Edutopia, April 3, 2020, https://edut.to/3as4XtE
6. Accurate Teaching of Slavery
Th“America was conceived in liberty and born in shackles; this is the Great Contradiction at the heart of our nation’s story,” says historian Kenneth Davis in an article in Social Education. “Let’s be clear, American slavery was not a minor subplot in the American drama, but one of the central acts in its history.”
The problem, Davis believes, is that U.S. history teachers and textbooks have not done an effective job teaching this part of the American story; a recent study found that only eight percent of high-school seniors identified slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. And there are deep racial and ideological divisions on what, and how much, should be taught: 85 percent of African Americans say there’s not enough black history in schools, while only 32 percent of whites agree. Republicans are 30 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say schools are teaching too muchblack history.
As John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things,” and Davis is on a campaign to improve the way slavery is taught in schools. For starters, he suggests five key components that need to be in the curriculum:
• Enslaved people were in America before the Mayflower Pilgrims. The first shipload of Africans arrived in Jamestown in 1619, slavery was permitted in all of the 13 original colonies, and most of them passed laws that cemented racial slavery as a long-lasting feature.
• Thomas Jefferson condemned slavery in drafting the Declaration of Independence, but the Continental Congress scrubbed his language from the final document. Why? At least 40 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence (including Jefferson) either enslaved people, participated in the slave trade, or profited from it.
• Slavery was “baked in the cake” of the Constitution. Although the words “slavery” and “slave” did not appear in the completed document, the compromises that allowed slavery to continue (including the three-fifths formulation) were essential to states’ ratification of the Constitution. Even after the foreign slave trade was banned, the internal slave trade was America’s most valuable financial resource, and cotton its most valuable commodity.
• Slavery made the Civil War inevitable. Although Abraham Lincoln and other opponents of slavery were initially willing to allow it to continue where it existed, they did not want it to spread to new territories, which would give slave-owning states greater national power. Long after the end of the Civil War, the “glorious cause” narrative dominated the teaching of that era, which is why there is still controversy around the statues of Confederate heroes.
• The abolition of slavery after the Civil War did not end the stark divisions that plague the United States. In 2019, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pushed back on the idea of reparations, saying, “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African-American president.” But, says Davis, “the slate is not clean. And unfortunately, the subject of slavery is still badly taught, misunderstood, swept away, and overlooked. We don’t like to face the fact that its pernicious impact – socially, politically, and historically – remains at the core of so many American ills.”
In addition to getting the facts right, Davis believes this history needs to be taught in a more compelling way (his article is peppered with vivid quotes and anecdotes). “American slavery can’t be reduced to bullet points of dates, speeches, and proclamations in a classroom PowerPoint presentation,” he says. “The key to teaching this subject, in my recent experience of speaking to thousands of students in hundreds of classrooms, is to give slavery a human face. When I tell schoolchildren about George Washington buying teeth from his enslaved people, they sit up and pay attention. They take note when they learn that Ona Judge challenged the most powerful man in America [Washington] because she chose not to be a wedding present.”
“As educators,” Davis concludes, “we have a solemn obligation to stop the endless loop of willful ignorance that keeps students in the dark. But our education deficit can’t be fixed with Band-Aid solutions. The notion that a month of African-American history each February covers the wound is foolhardy. This is not simply a matter of tinkering around the edges and adding a corrective patch to the problem. It is time to face our flaws and correct them.”
“The American Contradiction: Conceived in Liberty, Born in Shackles” by Kenneth Davis in Social Education, March/April 2020 (Vol. 84, #2, pp. 76-82), https://bit.ly/3akP34p
7. Learning from a Teacher Survey and the Principal’s Self-Assessment
In this article in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Giselle Martin-Kniep (Learner-Centered Initiatives) and Brett Lane (INSTLL) suggest that principals survey their teachers on key leadership actions, rate themselves on the same list, and compare the results. To test this idea, Martin-Kniep and Lane administered the Assessment of Organizational Capacity in a low-performing middle school and worked with the principal over three years to make meaning of the results. Here’s a sampling of the items in the survey, with teacher items on the left and principal self-assessment items on the right (responses were on a 4-3-2-1 scale: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree):
The principal actively engages teachers in promoting the school’s instructional focus.
I actively engage teachers in promoting the school’s instructional focus.
The principal is knowledgeable about the achievement and progress of every student in the building.
I am able to monitor the achievement and progress of every student in the building.
The principal makes his or her expectations for meeting instructional goals clear to the staff.
I am able to communicate my expectations for meeting instructional goals clearly to the staff.
The principal visits classrooms on a daily basis.
I visit classrooms on a daily basis.
The principal is strongly committed to shared decision making.
I have integrated shared decision making into the leadership of my school.
The instructional feedback that I receive from the principal is useful.
I see evidence that the feedback I give teachers leads to changes in their practice.
The principal implements processes and structures to ensure quality instructional practices.
I have evidence that the processes and structures I have implemented promote quality instructional practices.
The principal attends to both the learning and social needs of students and staff.
I attend to both the learning and social needs of my staff.
The principal promotes informal and formal leadership opportunities for staff and students.
I actively promote informal and formal leadership opportunities for staff and students.
The principal values reflective practice for him/herself.
I cultivate reflective practice in myself and others.
The principal is transparent about the reasoning behind his/her decisions and actions.
I am transparent about the reasoning behind my decisions and actions.
The principal collaborates with staff and other stakeholders around quality teaching and learning.
I collaborate with staff and other stakeholders around quality teaching and learning.
Working with the school’s principal, Martin-Kniep and Lane highlighted the high- and low-scoring items and compared teachers’ and the principal’s ratings. For example, teachers’ and the principal’s ratings were very similar on classroom visits (1.47 average from teachers, 2 from the principal), but quite divergent on valuing reflective practice (2.16 and 4) and the principal’s commitment to improving leadership practices (1.9 and 4).
The principal found the divergences “unsettling,” say the researchers. She was struck that teachers didn’t acknowledge her efforts to be reflective, encourage collaboration among colleagues, and set grade-level and school goals – areas where she thought she was doing splendidly. Looking at the data in this way provided insights on why the school’s improvement plan had not been working very well and spurred the leadership team into action.
The researchers made a point of focusing not on why there were these differences but on what actions the principal could take to change teachers’ perceptions. “This conversation,” they say, “contributed to specific principal actions to clarify the connections between her actions, school teaming structures, and roles and responsibilities of coaches, department heads, and teachers.” The principal was much clearer on expectations for teacher teams planning common lessons and looking at student work, visited classrooms more frequently, had other members of the leadership team do so as well, and gave teachers specific feedback after observations.
“If principals truly want to build a culture of trust that leads to school improvement,” conclude Martin-Kniep and Lane, “they need to compare their own perceptions with data on how teachers perceive them… There is great value in conversations that enable principals to identify and reconcile differing perspectives to test their own assumptions and consider their school system through the lenses of others with an open mind. Without the conversation, principals may not be able to take needed actions.”
“Using Parallel Surveys and Reflective Conversations to Tap Perspectives and Promote Improvement” by Giselle Martin-Kniep and Brett Lane in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Spring 2020 (Vol. 17, #1, pp. 16-30), https://bit.ly/2RUwDkt; the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
8. Digital History Projects
A sidebar in this Social Education article by Meghan McGlinn Manfra gives links to several free online digital history projects. A selection:
• Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. Project including the digital recreation of a major 1960 speech: https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu
• Gilded Age Plains City: The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos in Lincoln, Nebraska: http://gildedage.unl.edu
• Race and Place: An African-American Community in the Jim Crow South, Charlottesville, Virginia: http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/afam/raceandplace/
• Spatial History Project at Stanford University including Chinese railroad workers and Mexican immigrants: http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/index.php
• The Texas Slavery Project by Andrew Torget chronicles the spread of slavery into borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico 1820-1850: http://www.texasslaveryproject.org
• Virtual Paul’s Cross Project: A digital recreation of John Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon: https://vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu
“Digital History 2020” by Meghan McGlinn Manfra in Social Education, March/April 2020 (Vol. 84, #2, pp. 118-122), available for purchase at https://bit.ly/3czRvFI
9. Notable Children’s Nonfiction and Poetry
In this Language Arts feature, Cynthia Alaniz, Jane Bean-Folkes, Elizabeth Bemiss, Sue Corbin, Jeanne Fain, Rebecca Leigh, and Jennifer Summerlin share the Notable Children’s Books chosen from among 500 published in 2018. The selection criteria included appealing format, enduring quality, unique use of language, and inviting kids’ participation.
– Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather Montgomery, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley (Bloomsbury)
– What a Wonderful Word: A Collection of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Kane Miller)
– What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Beach Lane)
– Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle)
– The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (Chronicle)
– Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word by Sarah Jane Marsh, illustrated by Ed Fotheringham (Hyperion)
– Bookjoy, Wordjoy by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raúl Colón (Lee & Low)
– I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum)
– With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
– A Bunch of Punctuation selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Serge Bloch (WordSong)
“The 2019 Notable Children’s Books in the English Language Arts” by Cynthia Alaniz, Jane Bean-Folkes, Elizabeth Bemiss, Sue Corbin, Jeanne Fain, Rebecca Leigh, and Jennifer Summerlin in Language Arts, March 2020 (Vol. 97, #4, pp. 259-273), no e-link available
10. Short Items:
a. Khan Academy Breakthrough Junior Challenge – This competition, launched on April 1, deadline June 25, 2020, challenges young people 13-18 to explain a big idea in physics, life sciences, mathematics, or the science of the COVID-19 pandemic in a 3-minute video. Competition and $$$ prize details are at https://breakthroughjuniorchallenge.org.
b. Updated Media Bias Chart – The Ad Fontes chart analyzes numerous media sources by reliability and political leaning: https://www.adfontesmedia.com/?v=402f03a963ba; more important now than ever for students.
c. A Virtual Kid Lit Party – With children’s literature festivals and gatherings cancelled this spring and summer, several authors went to social media and very quickly put together the Everywhere Book Fest https://everywherebookfest.com, scheduled to open its virtual doors on May 1 and 2, 2020.
d. Educational Leadership Special Report– ASCD’s flagship magazine has produced a free online issue focused on ideas and resources for the coronavirus crisis. It’s available at
“A New Reality: Getting Remote Learning Right,” April 2020 (Vol. 77)
“Virtual Kid Lit Party” by K.Y. in School Library Journal, April 2020 (Vol. 66, #4, p. 19)
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