Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: April 18 – 24, 2020

Schools to remain closed for academic year as Pritzker says virus not yet at peak

By Rebecca Anzel for Capitol News Illinois

“Following the lead of nearby states, Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday announced Illinois’ public and private schools will remain shuttered for the rest of the school year. The announcement came one month after Pritzker first announced a temporary school closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the same day the state announced 62 more deaths and 1,842 new confirmed cases – the largest single-day spike so far. That brought total deaths to 1,134 and total cases to 27,575. Pritzker said the state’s COVID-19 curve is “flattening, not flat,” and key metrics to watch are hospitalization rate and how long it takes for the number of cases to double. Both are decreasing, but not at a level that indicates the curve is declining yet, he added. As of Friday, the state had 926 of 2,979 intensive care unit beds available statewide, or about 30 percent. There were 1,918 available ventilators of 3,213, or about 60 percent. Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Friday’s new case count appears so high because health care personnel are testing more people, and she and Pritzker agreed that fatality and case count increase rates have not yet peaked.”

Remote learning ‘may be the new normal even in the fall,’ Chicago schools chief says

By Nader Issa for the Sun-Times

“Chicago Public Schools administrators are focused on building a sustainable remote learning system in case school buildings remain closed in the fall, schools chief Janice Jackson said Wednesday. After administrators originally thought remote learning would be needed only on a temporary basis because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jackson said she and other officials came to the realization remote learning could remain in place into the next academic year. “It’s now been extended through the end of the year, and some of the models have us even realizing the possibility that this may be the new normal even in the fall,” Jackson said at the Chicago school board’s monthly meeting.”

In Some Chicago Neighborhoods, Up To Half Of The Kids Can’t Get Online

By Sarah Karp for WBEZ

“Chicago’s stark digital divide is leaving as many as half the children in some neighborhoods unable to connect online to participate in remote learning, according to a new report. The analysis, done by Kids First Chicago, an education advocacy organization, and the Metropolitan Planning Council, calls on the city to convince companies to give free or greatly subsidized internet to families, not just for a few months as they’re offering now, but over the long term. “If we say we want to make sure connectivity is fundamental, then we should get access to families so we don’t have gaps in who can learn from home, work from home,” said Daniel Cooper, director of research for the Metropolitan Planning Council. The report also makes smaller recommendations, such as creating WiFi “superspots” in schools or community organizations where families can log on or handing out hotspot devices. But these steps can’t replace broadband internet access because they have speed and location limitations.”

Let’s Keep Pushing the FCC and Internet Providers to Make Sure Kids Are Connected

By Tanesha Peeples for Chicago Unheard

“…Nearly 200,000 families across Chicago are without internet. Across Illinois, 71% of districts who responded to a recent Illinois State Board of Education survey identified obstacles to remote teaching, with less than 10% having the ability to teach solely online.  While some internet companies have announced that they’re providing low-income families with free internet services through the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, those seemingly generous gestures come with strings attached. For example, up until recently, families who had outstanding balances with Comcast weren’t eligible to take advantage of their Internet Essentials program which offers 60 days of free internet.  Because of the efforts of Oakland activist Dirk Tillotson, Comcast felt the pressure from over 2,000 Oaklanders and recently removed those barriers for low-income families.”

Preschoolers Have the Least Access to Remote Learning

By Maureen Kelleher for Chicago Unheard

“For years, most discussion of tech and young children’s learning has focused on whether screens are appropriate at all for preschoolers. But the pandemic and remote learning are forcing us to think differently about how electronic devices can help the youngest learners. I’m fortunate to know a local leader in creative use of technology with preschoolers. My friend Jessica Fong, a preschool teacher at Velma Thomas Early Childhood Center in McKinley Park, combines old-school tech like crayons, clay and natural materials with new-school tech like iPads and Chromebooks. But her families are facing tech challenges with remote learning. Of the 19 families she works with, 10 lack a laptop or tablet. Yet all 19 families are logging in daily–the 10 families without larger devices are using their smartphones. “Many of these families have multiple children, all doing their best to learn remotely, with only one smartphone,” she says. Chicago Public Schools does not have enough devices to meet the needs of its K-12 students, who have priority in receiving the devices they have. So preschoolers and their families are left to make do as best they can.”

Goodbye As, Bs and Cs? Chicago Public Schools to revisit grading during pandemic

By Mila Koumpilova for Chalkbeat

“A new grading policy is in the works in Chicago Public Schools, where officials are weighing calls by the teachers union and others to shift to a pass/fail approach. The district stuck with letter grades at the end of its third quarter last week, even as some educators voiced concern about grading students only days after the formal start of remote learning in Chicago. Echoing guidance from the state, the district had decreed that students’ grades could only improve during the weeks of learning at home — a nod to disparities in access to technology and other challenges that can make remote learning tougher for some students. But some teachers argued that inequities magnified by the coronavirus crisis nevertheless make any kind of grading problematic. District officials told the district governing board Wednesday that they are reexamining the issue of grading in consultation with the Chicago Teachers Union. They said they are trying to strike a balance between keeping students and schools accountable, and giving priority to students’ social and emotional needs during the pandemic.”