‘All work is now homework’

Research by sociologist Jessica Calarco has shown how socioeconomic differences in schools play out in homework. Privileged parents are more likely to assist their kids. Lower-income parents struggle to help, and their children are penalized.

With schools closed by the COVID-19 pandemic and K-12 classes moved online, that dynamic is revealing itself in a much bigger way.

Jessica Calarco head shot

Jessica Calarco (Indiana University)

“My sense is that all work is now homework,” the Indiana University associate professor said. “I would argue that, if students are being graded, if their work is expected to be graded, there are going to be huge inequities.”

Even if students are not held accountable, there are inequities in what and how they learn online. As others have noted, low-income parents are less likely to have computers and reliable internet service. They are less likely to have jobs that let them work from home, where they can help and supervise their children. They may not have the academic skills or confidence needed to help.

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Data show issues with A-to-F grades

Over one-third of Indiana public schools would have received D’s or F’s for 2019 under the state’s school grading system if not for the “hold harmless” legislation that the Indiana Genera Assembly approved in January.

For elementary and middle schools, the figures are even worse. Some 43.5% of schools serving students in grades 3-8 would have received D’s or F’s.

That’s a far cry from the grades that will go on the schools’ official records, the ones approved by the State Board of Education. Under the hold harmless grading, just over 12% of all public schools got D’s or F’s. Continue reading

Indiana schools chief stands up to DeVos

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is taking bold action by rejecting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and distributing emergency aid for schools the way Congress intended.

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick

It’s remarkable that, thanks to McCormick, Indiana appears to be the first state to openly push back against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and refuse to follow guidance that it deems to be contrary to the law.

At issue is funding from the CARES Act, which provides $13.2 billion to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use the money to improve technology, protect student health and plan for the next school year.

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Court could weaken discrimination protections

Counselors and teachers at Indianapolis Catholic high schools looked to have a solid case when they sued after being fired for being married to same-sex partners. But the legal ground may be shifting beneath them.

Arguments heard Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court could result in religious schools being given a blank check for widespread employment discrimination.

Supreme Court Building

“It’s important,” said Dan Conkle, a constitutional law expert at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. “And depending on how the court decides, it could have pretty dramatic implications for parochial school teachers.”

The case heard Tuesday involves two fifth-grade teachers at California Catholic schools who said they were unjustly fired, one because of her age and the other because she needed time off for cancer treatment. The schools countered with the so-called ministerial exception, which says ministers and others who perform important religious functions aren’t covered by anti-discrimination laws.

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A ‘Marshall Plan’ for schools

Economist Susan Dynarski writes in Sunday’s New York Times that America needs an ambitious initiative to help students make up for the learning that they missed this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation’s schools.

Teachers and students have done their best with distance learning, she writes, but “it’s time to admit that, for the vast majority of students, online learning and work sheets are no substitute for trained teachers in classrooms.”

Her proposal: a massive federal program to help students catch up, something on the order of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. It’s needed, she says, because for many students, the school year effectively ended in March.

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