Monday, January 18, 2021

...regarding in school transmission

 Early last week, I received a lengthy, footnoted letter from a Worcester Public School student, pressing for a return to school buildings.
Let me note first: I do so love getting emails from students! or any contact at all from students! Keep those coming! 
It repeated--not surprisingly, as this has been the main push in much of the press--the idea that schools were safe from COVID transmission. As I haven't done a blog post on that--I just keep tweeting out links to things--I am excerpting here that section of my response to the student letter, for both myself and others who might find it useful. 

...And none of that is to speak of the fear that surrounds transmission, because there is certainly transmission in schools. Multiple Massachusetts superintendents have publicly noted that they have, through their contract tracing, found transmission within their buildings; here, for example, is Framingham from the beginning of December, and Hudson from about the same time. This is in line with what was found by a study published in the Lancet back in early December: there is in fact school transmission. 

The science of transmission of COVID-19 in schools is something that I've been reviewing with care since last spring.
It has been apparent from fairly early on that children more often get coronavirus asymptomatically; the CDC, for example, notes that
 as many as half of COVID-19 cases in children may be asymptomatic. On the same page, they note the main issue that has plagued us from the beginning: 

The true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children is not known due to lack of widespread testing and the prioritization of testing for adults and those with severe illness.
Without widespread testing of all--including asymptomatic!--individuals, we simply do not know the rates of coronavirus among us. 

We do, though, have research from places that have been doing testing. The models, which like those you cited, are from Europe, give us troubling perspective on the reality of COVID-19 in schools. In mid-December, the German magazine Der Spiegel had what has been one of the better reviews of this research as of that date. As you'll see in the piece, Austrian researchers have been, since late summer, been conducting research in 240 schools in Austria in which students and teachers are being regularly tested. This weekend, the Wall Street Journal included an update of that research in an extensive article they did on schools across Europe now closing; they've found: 
In Austria, a nationwide survey by universities and medical institutes found that children under 10 showed a similar rate of infection to those between 11 and 14, and that the children in general were getting infected as often as teachers, said Michael Wagner, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna who oversees the study.
“That is very different to what has been claimed for months, that younger children are less frequently infected,” said Mr. Wagner. The study, funded by the government, regularly analyzes samples from up to 15,000 children between the age of 6 and 15, as well as teachers who show no symptoms.

(The WSJ  piece is paywalled; let me know if you'd like me to send it to you.)
The United Kingdom has been widely held up for keeping schools open even during their fall lockdown. The U.K. also is regularly testing 2% of their population. During that fall lockdown, when just about everything but schools were closed, (to quote from the WSJ again):

Scientists also point to data from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, which conducts a weekly random survey of the population. Just before the Christmas break, when schools were still open, the positivity rate among children was higher than in most adult groups, especially in those older than 11.

You can find the details of that in this study from December. As you may know, the U.K. has, in this most recent surge, now closed their schools. This is in part due to the new more contagious variant--now in Massachusetts--but it also is because community rates across the U.K. are now so high; as noted of open schools in Utah in the AAMC piece you cited:
That stuns Benjamin Linas, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine who has advocated for opening schools under strict safety measures. “You can only open your school safely if you have COVID under control in your community,” Linas says.
This is in line with two recent pieces of research done in the United States, summarized well in this Chalkbeat piece. Having schools open where there are higher caseloads of hospitalization for coronavirus, or (in the other study) simply high rates of daily cases further contributes further to community spread. We in Worcester, and across Massachusetts, exceed the rates found to be of danger in the studies; the REACH study on hospitalization links to a spreadsheet that updates county hospitalization rates across the country. It was the CALDER study on daily rates of positive cases that I found particularly alarming, as we've exceeded those rates for some time. You might find this Intercept piece looking at recent research also of interest.

The relative safety of schools thus is not that which has too often been cited in the press; On the Media had a useful review of how we got to a place so misleading in their show late last week.
Schools can and do contribute to community transmission, and we must, above all, hold the lives of those in our district at high enough value to appropriately manage that.


While appreciating the concerns regarding remote learning, I also want to be realistic about them. The Christakis study, which I reviewed when it came out, was flawed in a number of significant ways, which led (after much online scholarly discussion) to a letter to JAMA criticizing its publication. Most notably from my own perspective, the loss of learning was based on a single study of an Argentinian teachers strike during which students received no instruction, which is of course not at all the case for students now; the study itself warned against using it to draw these sorts of conclusions. The assumption as well that those lost "years" of learning translate into lost years of life also simply does not follow. 

Superintendent Binienda's goals

I realized that in the flurry of, well, everything, I never did a post on Superintendent Binienda's goals for this year. After a lengthy subcommittee discussion, and further editing at the full committee level, they were passed December 17; they can be found online on page 23 here.

They're important to know both because, of course, they're the grounds on which the superintendent is evaluated, but I think also they reflect a number of the concerns that have been forwarded by the community over the past several years. 

Professional Practice Goal:

During the 2020-21 school year, create a school and district community environment that promotes two way communication with families and provide resources for effective student learning and performance.

Student Learning Goal:

Fifty percent of students in grades four, five and six that participated in the Fall start baseline assessment will achieve a student growth percentage of forty or higher by June of 2021.

District Improvement Goal 1:

Increase diversity of new hires to 17% by June 2021 and continue to improve both the recruitment and retention rates. (Strategic Plan Benchmark 2021)

District Improvement Goal 2:

By June 2021, develop an annual budget that is aligned with the Strategic Plan.

District Improvement Goal 3:

Lower the out of school suspension rate by five percent for Special Education Group C students with emotional disabilities through evidence based targeted intervention and resources by June 2021.

Monday, January 11, 2021

To read: early January update

I have been snowed under (metaphorically) and haven't managed to write; I hope that January lets up a bit to allow for a bit of contemplation. In the meantime, here is some of what I have been reading.

I want to recommend for your reading "Black American has reason to question authorities" by  Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in this week's New Yorker. After reviewing health disparities and the history of (as an example) the Tuskegee experiment and sterilization of Black women, the second half of the piece moves to schools specifically: 

Black parents are predictably chastised for not fully understanding the implications of continuing to rely on remote learning. Liberal critics have combined with school boards to describe school reopening as an “equity” issue, often targeting teachers’ unions that have also insisted on trying to stay out of schools that have not been properly retooled to increase ventilation or that lack the space capacity for social distancing. It is as if Black and Latino parents, whose communities have borne the devastating brunt of this disease, need to be lectured about what constitutes equity for themselves or their children. A staggering seventy-one per cent of African-Americans know someone who has been hospitalized with or died from the virus, compared to forty-nine per cent of white people. In fact, it is the absence of equity that has driven these families to want to keep their children at home. For all of the citation of studies and student outcomes in South Korea or the Netherlands, the return-to-school advocates seem to miss that Black parents simply do not trust that local officials and school administrators are telling the truth about the condition of the schools and the susceptibility of their children to the disease if they are in school buildings.

If you're wondering how the districts that are doing regular testing are managing it (besides "money"), you may find this piece by Michael Jonas looking at the Harvard Public Schools' testing informative. There's more from Politico on the national push on school COVID testing here
From a Worcester perspective, I ran some back of the envelope numbers on Twitter this weekend. Pool testing is 10 people per pool, so that's 2900 tests per week (25,000 students + 4000 staff). At $105 per pooled test, that's $304,500 per week. Positives trigger individual tests, which cost $48 each. As Worcester most recently had a 33% positivity rate, that's a third of those tested, or 9570 individual tests, which is an additional $459,360, for a weekly total of $763,860, though I of course would think that a one-third positivity rate already would rule some of this out. 

This Atlantic piece titled "The debate over school safety is no longer relevant" notes that with the number of staff who are sick or quarantining, simple logistics throw schools into needing to move to remote learning 

It's really important to remember the other impacts of the pandemic: the 74 has this piece on students at work full-time to support their families, while also attempting to balance remote learning. 

Finally, two recent pieces of research on COVID-19 and schools have been picking up a good bit of press: this study via REACH on the impact of school reopening on hospitalization, and this study via CALDER on what extent in-person learning contributes to community spread. Rather than my summarizing them here, I would direct you to the dependable Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat and Rachel Cohen writing in the The Intercept. I was disappointed to find that The Hechinger Report in their piece repeated the error of going to Emily Oster of Brown for comment; see here, for example, on the issues with her work on this issue, and here for her history of having done this before.
If you'd like to apply the REACH study to your own district, they've now put together this spreadsheet of hospitalization by county. 

More as I have it! 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Worcester secondary school schedule in an editable format

 (For WPS secondary students)

I asked for and received an editable version of the new schedule starting Monday, so you can fill in your classes. It's online here. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The emergency time on learning regs: you can comment

 When regulations are passed by the state Board of Ed on an emergency basis, they are only in effect for three months before they have to be reconsidered. Because emergency regs forego their public comment period, that happens after the initial vote, but before the permanent one. 

The time on learning changes that were passed by the Board back in December are now out for public comment:

Written comments on the regulation may be submitted by mail to: Mary E. Morales, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148; by fax to: 781-338-3390; or by e-mail to: The deadline for submission of public comment is January 29, 2021. The Board is expected to vote on the proposed permanent regulations at its regular monthly meeting in February 2021.

You may find my liveblog from that meeting useful, as well as the MASC report.  


Friday, December 18, 2020

"There are Brooklines all over the country, but none is quite so Brookline as the actual Brookline."

 This one is about the actual Brookline and the school reopening debate, but there is SO much that is more broadly applicable. 

As a class, Brookline parents might be summed up as: people who can and will fluently cite to you the data about how a child’s socioeconomic circumstances and parents’ educational background actually matter more for their achievement in the long term than the specifics of their schooling. And yet they still can’t stop themselves from trying to maximize their own kid’s shot. Because, mostly, people move to Brookline for the schools.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

December 2020 Board of Ed: update on budget

state and federal resources
FY21 budget was signed late last week: approach six month mark of fiscal '21
pretty consistent what we had seen in the conference report
$53M grant in conference committee was going to go out formulaic aid
Gov instead in a grant structure that DESE would administer with Executive Office "to help remedy all of the concerns that have been relayed...over learning loss and additional needs"
circuit breaker fully funded; reimbursement as high as have been
federal side: Congress has to act by Friday on spending
different versions of bills 
working with administration on FY22 state budget

Peyser: administration of $53M "a more targeted and strategic approach" to learning loss "in particular as well as other challenges"