In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Without preparation or permission, we’re participating in the greatest social science experiment of all time.”
Andy Markowitz (see item #3)
“Districts must hold teachers harmless from the challenges unique to the coronavirus environment, but they also have a public obligation to make sure students are being taught as effectively as is practical to expect.”
Kency Nittler and Patricia Saenz-Armstrong in “Teacher Evaluations and Support
During Covid-19 Closures,” National Council on Teacher Quality, May 1, 2020,
“Influence isn’t what you say; it’s what you skillfully do.”
Dan Rockwell (see item #9)
“We are in the midst of an exciting shift in education research and practice. As a result of increasing frustration with the dominant ‘What Works’ paradigm of large-scale research-based improvement, practitioners, researchers, foundations, and policymakers are beginning to favor good practice over best practice, local proofs over experimental evidence, adaptations over faithful implementation, and a focus on practitioners’ problems over researchers’ solutions.”
Maxwell Yurkofsky, Amelia Peterson, Jal Mehta, Rebecca Horwitz-Willis, and Kim
Frumin in “Research on Continuous Improvement: Exploring the Complexities of
Managing Educational Change” in Review of Educational Research, March 2020 (Vol.
44, pp. 403-433), https://bit.ly/3dyQPAF
1. As the World Warily Opens Up, Details on Virus Transmission
In this online article, Erin Bromage (University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth) presents some key facts about Covid-19:
• How this very infectious virus moves from person to person – For Covid-19 to take hold in your body, you need to be exposed to an infectious dose – estimated to be at least 1,000 viral particles – and that can take place over time; the key variables are virus particles and exposure time. You can ingest 1,000 particles in a single breath, or by inhaling 100 particles in 10 breaths, or by inhaling 10 particles in 100 breaths. To get a sense of how many viral particles might be floating around, consider these statistics:
– A cough releases about 3,000 droplets traveling at 50 miles an hour. Most fall to the ground, but some can stay in the air and travel across a room in a few seconds.
– A sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets traveling at 200 miles an hour and can easily get across a room, as well as falling on surfaces (as can cough droplets).
– The droplets in an infected person’s cough or sneeze may disperse as many as 200 million virus particles into the surrounding air.
– Talking releases about 200 virus particles per minute.
– Breathing out through one’s mouth releases fewer droplets because they’re not coming from the lower respiratory tract. Most move at low velocity and fall quickly to the ground. Breathing out through one’s nose releases even fewer droplets.
The bottom line: sneezing and coughing are highly efficient ways to infect people nearby. You can enter a room where a person sneezed a few minutes earlier and quickly inhale the viral load needed to get Covid-19. If you are talking face to face with an infected person, it takes longer to get to the 1,000-particle level – roughly 5 to 10 minutes.
These figures are the reasons for mask wearing, physical distancing, adequate testing, and contact tracing – and why infected people need to quarantine themselves.
• Asymptomatic transmission – At least 44 percent of all infections come from people who don’t yet have active symptoms, with increasing viral shedding as they get closer to being symptomatic. A person can be spreading the virus into the environment up to five days before symptoms appear.
• Risks of infection – The worst environments for transmission, says Bromage, are prisons, workplaces where people work shoulder to shoulder (meat packing plants, call centers), religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and face-to-face business meetings. In one restaurant (see the diagram in the link below), an asymptomatic person breathed out low levels of the virus during a 90-minute dinner and infected half of the people at that table, three-quarters of the people at tables downwind (the air conditioning system moved air across the room), and two people upwind (probably due to turbulence in the flow of air). Nobody at two other tables out of the airflow were infected. Workplaces can carry similar risks as viral particles spread through an office or cubicle area. Choirs are particularly risky since energetic singing releases more droplets from the lower respiratory tract. Energetic indoor sporting events are similar.
The key principle is viral exposure, even if the viral load is low but there are droplets in the air for an extended time – and even if you are 50 feet away from an infected person.
• What’s less risky – All the transmissions described above were indoors. And indeed, 90 percent of documented infections happened at home, in workplaces, on public transportation, and in social gatherings and restaurants. In countries that have done rigorous contact tracing, only one infection took place outdoors. “The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival all serve to minimize the risk to everyone outside,” says Bromage. Outdoors, there’s not enough time to achieve an infectious viral load, even walking, jogging, or biking near an infected person. The risk of infection is also low in a well-ventilated indoor space with few people nearby.
• Shopping – With masks and social distancing, grocery stores and malls are not very risky because of low density of people, high air volume, and limited time in the indoor space (for store workers, it’s a different story). Shopping has accounted for only 3-5 percent of infections.
• Surfaces – These are an issue, of course, because infected droplets land on them. This makes it important to wear gloves, not touch your eyes, mouth, or nose, and wash your hands frequently.
“The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them” by Erin Bromage, May 6, 2020,
https://bit.ly/2WGYiaa; Bromage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Why Is Covid-19 Hitting Some Areas Harder Than Others?
In this New York Times article, Hannah Beech, Alissa Rubin, Anatoly Kurmanaev, and Ruth MacLean report that the coronavirus has spread to almost every country on the planet, but some areas are faring much worse than others – for example, the Dominican Republic with many more cases than neighboring Haiti, Iran than Iraq, Indonesia than Malaysia, New York City than Bangkok. What explains these seemingly random disparities? Here are scientists’ current insights about areas with lower rates of infection:
• A younger population – Many of the areas that have done better so far have a more youthful demographic profile – for example, Africa is the world’s youngest continent. Young people, say the reporters, have stronger immune systems and “are more likely to contract mild or asymptomatic cases that are less transmissible to others.” But there are exceptions, including Japan, which has an older population and relatively lower infection rate.
• Distancing – In Thailand and India, person-to-person greetings are done at a distance, with palms joined together, and so far those countries have been hit less hard. Wearing face masks has been quite common in many countries well before this pandemic. And in the developing world, the elderly are more often cared for at home rather than being clustered in nursing homes. In addition, some regions are more isolated by geography and sparse public transportation.
• Heat and light – An early theory was that Covid-19 spread most easily in temperate regions like northern Italy and the U.S., but one of the worst outbreaks occurred in the equatorial Amazon region of Brazil. There are advantages to being outdoors (versus in close quarters indoors), and the virus wilts on surfaces exposed to direct sunlight. But the coronavirus appears to be so contagious that it can overpower the slight benefit of a warmer climate if people don’t take proper precautions.
• Lockdowns – Countries like Vietnam, Senegal, Rwanda, and Greece that immediately implemented strict shelter-in-place policies have been able to contain the virus. Countries that had experienced pandemics in the past – tuberculosis, Ebola, H.I.V. – knew the drill and acted quickly, including the suspension of religious gatherings. Iran is a notable exception.
• Superspreaders – Luck has played an important part; in several countries, a single infected person attending a crowded social function was responsible for exponential spread: one passenger infected 634 others on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and one woman in South Korea attended a funeral and spread the disease to hundreds of congregants and then thousands of others. “Because an infected person may not experience symptoms for a week or more, if at all,” say Beech, Rubin, Kurmanaev, and MacLean, “the disease spreads under the radar, exponentially and seemingly at random.”
There’s a broader caveat, says Dr. Ashish Jah of the Harvard Global Health Research Institute: “We are really early in this disease. If this were a baseball game, it would be the second inning, and there’s no reason to think that by the ninth inning the rest of the world that looks now like it hasn’t been affected won’t be like other places.”
“Virus Batters Some Areas. Why Does It Spare Others?” by Hannah Beech, Alissa Rubin, Anatoly Kurmanaev, and Ruth MacLean in The New York Times, May 4, 2020,
3. Will There Be Lasting Changes from the Pandemic?
“Without preparation or permission, we’re participating in the greatest social science experiment of all time,” says Andy Markowitz in this article in AARP Healthy Living. He suggests some ways this public health and economic crisis may influence behavior over time:
– Working from home – Having experienced it, many are taking to the experience.
– Seeing your doctor – Telemedicine was rare before Covid-19, but is widespread now.
– Shopping for groceries – Online purchasing saves time and aggravation.
– Staying in touch – Zoom happy hours and Facebook Live watch parties will endure.
– Wearing face masks – What was common in Asia is now more accepted in the U.S.
– Movies at home – Streaming Netflix and other platforms have proven themselves.
– Traveling by air – The experience will be different in a number of ways.
– Riding public transportation – Same here.
– Protecting your privacy – People may become receptive to electronic contract tracing.
– Washing your hands – The message is getting through.
“10 Things the Pandemic Has Changed for Good” by Andy Markowitz in AARP Healthy Living, May 4, 2020, https://bit.ly/3dB4cR3
4. Why One Middle-School Student Prefers Online Instruction
In this New York Times article, eighth grader Veronique Mintz says she isn’t missing in-person schooling during the pandemic. Why? Because every day in her New York City middle school, she says that classmates disrespect teachers, blurt out answers during tests, destroy materials, roll around on the floor, and push, kick, and hit one another. Her math teacher seems to spend one-third of every class struggling with discipline. Attending this school for almost three years, Mintz says she’s had “only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms – enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly, and earning their respect.”
Now that the school has to use distance learning, she says she can work at her own pace, isn’t distracted by nonsense, and finds cooperative groups much more productive. Mintz is also enjoying the recorded lessons posted online by teachers, who do better in this medium than in person. Mintz, who admits she struggles with math, can stop, start, and replay sections until she understands. It’s so much better to grasp the lesson the day it’s taught rather than having to try getting her questions answered by the teacher before school the next day. Weekly office hours are also a boon, especially since there are only two or three other students taking part. The school’s experiment with live video teaching, on the other hand, hasn’t been very successful for Mintz; “The same teachers who struggle to manage students in the classroom,” she says, “also struggle online.”
What are the implications for in-person instruction when schools reopen? This forward-thinking student has three suggestions:
– Teachers should video-record all lessons and send them to all students after class.
– Teachers should offer weekly office hours for individual and small-group follow-up.
– Teachers who are good at classroom management should be paid to train colleagues.
“Learning Online Beats School” by Veronique Mintz in The New York Times, May 7, 2020,
5. When Schools Reopen, What to Do With Students Who Are Behind?
In his Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli suggests that the question of how to
catch students up when schools are back in session may depend on the grade level, the subject,
and how far behind students are. He gives two examples:
• A high-school English class reading George Orwell’s novel, 1984 – Perhaps many students don’t have the vocabulary and interpretive skills to make meaning of the book, so one solution is for those students to read The Giverby Lois Lowry, closer to their reading level. But another approach, with no student missing out on 1984, is for the teacher to do focused work to make the book understandable for less-prepared students. This might include watching a movie rendition or listening to the audiobook; and reviewing plot guides or digital editions of early chapters, with embedded vocabulary help and synopses. All this would be done just before the class reads 1984 together, preparing those students for success.
• A sixth-grade math class with most students arriving years behind – Should the teacher teach grade-level content and try to fill gaps wherever possible, or go back and address the unfinished learning from prior years and Covid-19 slide, running the risk of students not being up to grade level for the state test? The latter approach makes the most sense.
Petrilli believes the difference is that in math, there’s a clear progression of standards, with mastery of prerequisite skills very important to success. “No amount of ‘supports’ and ‘scaffolding’ is going to magically make that problem go away,” he says. “So we should encourage teachers to go back and help kids fill in the holes – while also helping students make progress on grade-level material.”
But English is different, he believes. In this area, as well as social studies and science, access to grade-level material should be the default. Once students can decode text, understanding and appreciating material is a matter of building up vocabulary and background knowledge, which effective teachers know how to do – “a mix of well-designed small-group instruction, one-on-one tutoring, online acceleration and enrichment, and whole-class discussions.”
The primary grades are different, says Petrilli. Students who were on the verge of sounding out letters, learning to read, and counting to one hundred have big challenges when schools reopen. Petrilli was heavily criticized online when he suggested keeping younger students back, but he’s worried about automatic promotion to the next grade. For starters, there must be thorough diagnosis using high-quality assessments. For students who are way behind, he believes they need “the gift of time,” which might be rebranded as “a second 2nd grade,” moving up to grade 2.5, ideally looping with the same teacher, spreading out three years of standards to four years.
“When It Comes to Catching Kids Up, Let’s Stop with the Generalities” by Michael Petrilli in The Education Gadfly, May 6, 2020 (Vol. 20, #8), https://bit.ly/2YWuo4q
6. Douglas Reeves on Schools That Achieve Excellence and Equity
In this article in Principal Leadership, author/consultant Douglas Reeves describes school practices that produce academic achievement across the board, regardless of student demographics. His article synthesizes the work of several researchers who used different methodologies, producing quite similar findings. Reeves notes that practices resulting in exemplary student achievement in high-poverty schools have a lot in common with practices in elite independent and international schools. Here is Reeves’s list:
• A laser-like concentration on achievement – Highly effective schools sort through dozens of possible initiatives and make wise choices of a few “big rocks” – no more than six. “They are willing to decline well-intentioned offers of help,” says Reeves, “when those offers would lead to fragmentation and a loss of focus.” Trophy cases in the best schools recognize athletic excellence, but also science projects, artwork, musical compositions, and great student essays.
• Collective efficacy – “A critical morale issue for nearly every school,” says Reeves, “is that the teachers in the tested subjects and grades feel as if they are under the microscope, while their colleagues in other grades and subjects can escape scrutiny.” The schools with the best results have a common sense of purpose, ownership, and camaraderie. Educators take responsibility for the factors they can influence and control, versus blaming low achievement on factors outside the school.
• Good teaching – “The most effective schools understand that no one is evaluated into effectiveness,” says Reeves, “but teachers can be coached to become more effective.” This requires frequent observations and specific and helpful feedback. It’s especially important that schools not use widely discredited evaluation tools like value-added measures (VAM).
• Good leadership – Reeves looked at principal evaluation systems in 30 states and found they were “ambiguous, late, and unrelated to the purported goals of the system.” School administrators, like teachers, need feedback that is fair, accurate, specific, and timely, based on a comprehensive rubric that describes all aspects of their jobs.
• Writing instruction with an emphasis on nonfiction – In excellent schools, students write frequently, not just in English classes but also in math, science, social studies, and other subjects – describing, comparing, evaluating, and persuading their audiences.
• The right data – Test scores are often the least-helpful metrics, says Reeves, and outmoded grading practices (averaging final grades, 100-point scales) distort student achievement and produce a host of other problems. Highly effective schools use accurate grading policies to give timely information to students that spurs and supports them to improve.
• Formative assessments – These powerfully influence teaching and learning if they are brief (4-5 items), frequent, immediately scored, and provide feedback to students and teachers.
• Collaborative scoring – A pivotal practice is teachers looking at the same piece of student work and evaluating it against a detailed rubric. Students’ progress is undermined (not to mention their morale) when teachers’ standards are so uncoordinated that the same work can get an A in one class and a C in another.
• Professional learning communities – Teacher teams in the effective schools take responsibility for all students and continuously ask and answer Richard DuFour’s four questions: What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What will we do if they have not? and What will we do if they already have?
“The E-Squared Solution: Equity and Excellence for Every School” by Douglas Reeves in Principal Leadership, May 2020 (Vol. 20, #9, pp. 34-39), https://bit.ly/35Xt2Ik; Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.
7. Reality TV and Formative Classroom Assessment
In this Phi Delta Kappan article, Erin Marie Furtak (University of Colorado/Boulder) says she enjoys certain reality TV shows – especially Top Chef, Project Runway, and The Great British Baking Show – and is always struck by what contestants say when they leave an episode: “I have learned so much.” Furtak wondered what it was in these highly competitive shows that creates such authentic learning. Putting aside the creative razzle-dazzle, artistic judgment, and performance under pressure, she believes reality TV has four key elements that also apply to everyday assessment in K-12 classrooms:
• Clear goals – In reality TV, contestants know exactly what they’re aiming for. In classrooms, it’s important that students see where they’re headed. “Phrasing those goals in ways that are engaging for students,” says Furtak, “will help motivate them to learn, especially when we ask questions that are relevant to their experiences and interests.”
• Asking authentic questions – In reality TV, contestants are probed and challenged. In classrooms, teachers should ask questions to which they don’t know the answer – for example, How do you know that? Why do you think so? What are you working on? How are you doing? When teachers know what kids are struggling with, they can orchestrate better learning.
• Collaboration – In reality TV, even though contestants are competing, they trade ideas and advice. In classrooms, says Furtak, “Everyday assessment doesn’t have to go through the teacher alone. When students work together, they learn from each other and clarify their understandings for goals and expectations.”
• Multiple opportunities to succeed – On The Great British Baking Show, contestants have three chances, and none of them has to be perfect to win. In the classroom, it’s never a good idea to base consequential decisions on one test. Continuously looking over students’ shoulders and checking for understanding gives a better sense of progress and learning.
Research shows that on-the-spot assessments are an essential component of good teaching, and they can be unobtrusive, almost invisible, guiding students toward understanding. Furtak gives an example: a science teacher was working with sixth graders on the concepts of mass, volume, and density, using the essential question, What makes things sink and float? Students measured the mass and volume of objects like soda cans and hard-boiled eggs and observed what happened when they were put into water. One student asked, “Does this have anything to do with density?”
Instead of answering the question, the teacher said, “That’s an interesting word you used. What do you mean by density?” The student responded, “If you had a piece of bread with holes, and a stack of paper, about the same size, the paper would have more density, because it has more mass.” The teacher probed further and helped the student understand why it was important that the bread and paper were the same size and which was denser, arriving at the understanding that density was the amount of mass taking up a certain amount of space. Just like reality TV, the challenge and the format led to a satisfying result.
“What Reality TV Taught Me About Everyday Assessment” by Erin Marie Furtak in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2020 (Vol. 101, #7, pp. 38-41), https://bit.ly/2WNTPCy; Furtak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Which Predicts College Success, Grade-Point Averages or ACT Scores?
In this article in Educational Researcher, Elaine Allensworth and Kallie Clark (University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research) say that high-school grade-point averages (GPAs) are often seen as inconsistent from one high school to another, making them poor indicators of college readiness. Test scores like the ACT, on the other hand, are seen as comparable across high schools and therefore a better metric for judging how well-prepared students are for post-secondary education. Not true, say Allensworth and Clark. Their study of public high schools in Chicago found that students with the same GPAs or the same ACT score graduated from high school at very different rates, based on which school they attended. But GPAs were better predictors of college readiness, despite the high school attended, whereas the relationship of ACT scores with college graduation was weak, with the slope of the relationship varying from one high school to the next.
“This research,” say Allensworth and Clark, “strongly supports the use of students’ grades in a formative way to guide school improvement efforts and assess the effectiveness of programs designed to improve college readiness and rely less heavily on test scores. The teachers and schools that improve test scores are not always the same as those that improve students’ grades, and the programs that have positive effects on test scores do not always have positive effects on grades… In fact, part of the variance in the relationship of ACT scores with college graduation could result from practices that prepare students for standardized tests versus supporting strong academic skills more broadly.”
“High-School GPAs and ACT Scores As Predictors of College Completion: Examining Assumptions About Consistency Across High Schools” by Elaine Allensworth and Kallie Clark in Educational Researcher, April 2020 (Vol. 49, #3, pp. 198-211),
https://bit.ly/3brOeqSm; the authors are at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. How Leaders Can Influence Their Colleagues
In this article in Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell shares five ways leaders magnify their influence, empowering others:
– Relationships – This is where trust and impact begin.
– Expertise – “Influence isn’t what you say,” says Rockwell; “it’s what you skillfully do.”
– Consistency – Daily practices are what matters, not what’s done from time to time.
– Credibility – “A promise not kept is influence lost,” he says.
– Good will – Generosity has a direct payback: “The more you’re in it for others, the more influence you earn,” says Rockwell.
“5 Powerful Amplifiers of Leadership Influence” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, May 11, 2020, https://bit.ly/2SVo4Gx; Rockwell can be reached at email@example.com.
10. Short Items:
a. An Online Book on the Pandemic – This book by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, and Nia Roberts, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, explains the virus to children from preschool to grade six: https://nosycrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus_INSwith-cover.pdf.
Coronavirus: A Book for Children (Nosy Crow, 2020), spotted in School Library Journal, May 2020 (Vol. 66, #5, p. 12)
b. Free Audiobooks Online – This School Library Journal article notes several sources of material geared to the virus crisis, notably (you can find more in the full issue, next item): Audible’s free site for families and children: https://stories.audible.com/discovery
“Going the Distance: Librarians, Covid-19, and the Online Learning Challenge” by School Library Journal Editors, illustration by James Yang, in School Library Journal, May 2020 (Vol. 66, #5, pp. 20-21)
c. School Library Journal Free Online – This highly informative magazine for school librarians and literacy mavens has just made its current content free:
Be sure to check out “Comic Relief: Free Resources on Covid-19 in Graphic Form” on pages 34-35, and “Great Books: Asian Pacific American Showcase” on pages 39-41.
d. Visualizing the Pace of Innovation – This dynamic graphic display https://bit.ly/3duX4FC shows when, how quickly, and how widely, each of 20 technological innovations was adopted in the U.S. over the last century, including electric power, running water, flush toilets, radios, refrigerators, color TV, air conditioning, landline phones, and computers.
“A Fascinating Visualization of How Long It Took Americans to Adopt New Technologies from 1900 to 2019” from Redditor DTM, May 6, 2020, spotted in Educator’s Notebook 335, May 10, 2020
e. A Minicourse on Cognition and Classrooms – This free online course from the University of Washington www.washington.edu/howdoilearn/brain-basics presents material and videos on how students’ brains work and how classrooms can be subtly tuned to maximize engagement and learning. The course includes brief videos by experts including neurologist/ teacher Judy Willis.
Spotted in “Seen on the Screen: Growth Mindset in a Cab” in Educational Leadership, May 2020 (Vol. 7, #8, p. 11)
f. An Interactive Feature on the Anatomy of the Brain – This site from the Marian Koshland Science Museum, part of the National Academy of Sciences’ LabX program for students, https://bit.ly/3dcL1O3, allows us to toggle between exterior and interior views of the human brain, rotate the image, light up different areas, and click on definitions.
Spotted in “School Tool: Cognitively Illuminating” in Educational Leadership, May 2020 (Vol. 7, #8, p. 11)
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