Support

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington Public Schools (APS), like many school divisions, has had a substantial decline in enrollment since the pandemic began. But APS has not yet factored this into its estimates of future enrollment.

Enrollment projections are used for the APS budget, its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), and boundary decisions. Because overestimating enrollment has significant financial implications, APS should base its next enrollment projections in part on actual enrollment for this year and last year.

The APS FY 2021 budget, adopted in the spring of 2020 after schools were closed due to the pandemic, projected enrollment for the 2020-21 school year at 29,142 students. Actual enrollment was 26,895 students — 2,247 fewer students than estimated.

The FY 2022 budget, adopted in the spring of 2021, projected enrollment for this school year at 29,108 students. Actual enrollment is 26,911 — 2,197 fewer students than estimated and 1,109 fewer students than the 28,020 students who were enrolled in September 2019.

A January 2021 APS report projecting enrollment for the following three years relied on September 2019 enrollment, explaining its methodology as follows:

  • Fall 2020 pupil counts are artificially lower than is reasonable, it is assumed that this is due to families’ decision making around the Covid-19 pandemic
  • This drop in enrollment does not represent a long-term trend.

Estimating enrollment is not easy. But pre-pandemic estimates of enrollment have been much closer to actual enrollment, with overestimates of 490 students in FY 2020, 580 in FY 2019, 335 in FY2018, and 262 in FY 2017.

Budget Implications

The APS budget uses planning factors to determine how many teachers, staff, equipment, and supplies will be needed for the following school year — all based on projected student enrollment.

When the adopted budget is based on a significant overestimate of student enrollment, the budget is larger than needed.

What happens to the money that is not spent? During the annual close-out process, usually in December, the School Board reallocates unspent funds from the prior fiscal year.

For this year’s close-out, the County Manager has reported that APS expenditure savings are $58.7 million. A substantial portion of this likely is due to lower staff costs during the pandemic because actual enrollment was less than projected enrollment.

Capital Planning Implications

At its Oct. 28 meeting, the School Board adopted CIP direction that adds seats to the Career Center at a cost of $153 million to $170 million based on pre-pandemic estimates that APS will have deficit of 603 high school seats by the 2029-30 school year.

But given the significant drop in enrollment since the pandemic began, particularly in the elementary school grades, will that many additional high school seats be needed when the new Career Center is planned to open in 2025?

Boundary Implications

While declining enrollment has not yet been considered in the APS budget and CIP, it is being discussed in the current school boundary process, which aims to reduce current and projected crowding at certain schools. A Nov. 3 staff presentation to the School Board characterized the current enrollment projections — used to determine crowding —  as having “limitations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As a result, Superintendent Francisco Durán recommended that the Board not move forward this year with changing any elementary school boundaries.

Enrollment Projections Must Reflect Declining Enrollment

After two years of enrollment estimates missing the mark by about 2,200 students — the size of Wakefield High School — APS must recognize that many students who have left APS are not returning and adjust its enrollment projections accordingly.

The next APS budget and CIP should align with these new enrollment projections.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance. 

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

“A backward situation.” That’s how Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen described the planning process for the expansion of the Career Center during the Board’s Sept. 21 work session on the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

What’s backward is staff’s proposed timeline that has the School Board voting in October to set a budget and the number of seats for the Career Center project. Instead, these decisions should not be made until the School Board votes on its next CIP in June.

The Board’s detailed CIP procedures provide for the Board to have critical information needed to make capital improvement decisions — information that it will not have until the winter and spring, including updated:

  • Enrollment projections
  • County revenue estimates
  • Assessments of capital and non-capital options to meet student needs
  • Priorities for capital options

The history of addressing the need for additional high school seats and the option of locating them at the Career Center has been fraught.

More than three years ago, the School Board set a budget ($184.7 million) and the number of seats (800) for the Career Center expansion as part of its FY2019-28 CIP, adopted in June 2018.

But the School Board dropped the project from its FY2021 CIP two years later in June 2020. This was after an extensive design and planning process that resulted in a concept design that could not be built due to an estimated cost of $237-272.5 million — far above the budget.

This past June, the Career Center project was put back in the Board’s FY2022-24 CIP, but without the number of seats to be added and with funding listed as “TBD.”

How many additional high school seats are needed is a fundamental question and a moving target.

The CIP adopted this past June was based on enrollment this fall of 29,633 students, growing to more than 30,000 students by next fall, and peaking at more than 31,000 in the fall of 2024. But actual enrollment as of the first day of school this year was 26,932 students — 2,701 fewer students than projected.

How much money the School Board can spend on additional high school seats is another fundamental question.

This depends on how much revenue the county has because debt service — the amount of money the School Board spends to repay interest and principal on the bonds issued to pay for capital projects — is capped at not more than 10% of general expenditures.

Because of the limits on capital expenditures, the CIP involves making hard choices among competing needs to renovate existing buildings and add new seats in elementary, middle and high schools. Deciding how much to spend on the Career Center this fall, outside of the normal CIP process, risks not having sufficient funds for other projects when those are considered in the spring.

In its year-end report to the School Board in June, the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) cautioned the Board not to rush the Career Center project and to include it in the next CIP, after considering a range of options. The FAC report notes the uncertainties in critical variables needed to make decisions, including enrollment and revenue projections as well as increasing construction costs during the pandemic.

The FAC is correct. The Board will not have the best available information on which to base decisions about the Career Center until this winter and spring, when it has updated enrollment projections, updated revenue projections and the list of other needed capital improvement projects. Doing so before then will add to the fraught history of Career Center planning.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the 2020-21 Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. It is no surprise that pass rates for Arlington Public Schools (APS) students have declined significantly and gaps in student achievement between different groups have increased. These test results are consistent with trends in Virginia and nationwide.

In a recent APS press release, Superintendent Francisco Duran stated that the results show “where we need to focus our attention.”

In Arlington, English learners had the lowest pass rates on the recent subject area tests in English, math and science and some of the largest declines in scores compared with the last SOL test administration in 2018-19. White students had the highest pass rate of all student groups on these tests and had the smallest decline in scores.

Test results for other groups of students are cause for concern as well. 2020-21 math pass rates are: 35 percent for students with disabilities, 36 percent for economically disadvantaged students, 38 percent for Hispanic students and 46 percent for Black students, compared with 82 percent for white students.

For English, the pass rates were a bit better, but large gaps persist: students with disabilities — 47 percent, economically disadvantaged students — 51 percent, Hispanic students — 53 percent and Black students — 61 percent, compared with 91 percent for white students.

The fact that APS returned to in-person learning this week will be a significant factor in improving student achievement for all students.

Addressing the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic is a daunting task. Dr. Duran has stated that accelerated learning and support will be a focus this year, which he has described as teaching current grade level material while reinforcing skills and concepts from the previous level.

As APS works to improve student achievement and close gaps, it should be transparent and focus its attention on:

Data

The APS press release about the SOL results cited one increase in a test result and did not include any data about gaps in student achievement or significant declines in scores. And in last week’s School Board meeting, SOL results presented did not compare data of different student groups with white students, the group with the highest pass rates on the 2020-21 SOL subject area tests.

American Rescue Plan Act Funds

APS expects to receive nearly $19 million from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief III Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds are intended to help school divisions address learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.

A summary of how these funds will be spent is posted on the APS website. It is expected that the initial estimate of more than $10 million and 111.50 full-time employees for the Virtual Learning Program, which as of July 12 had 891 students enrolled, will be reduced. APS should make clear how funding will be reallocated to support in-person learning.

Enrollment

The School Board’s approved budget for this school year is based on an enrollment of 29,108 students. This is significantly higher than the pre-pandemic September 2019 enrollment of 28,020 students and the September 2020 enrollment of 26,895 students. If the fall 2021 enrollment does not meet projections, APS will need to lay out its plan to reallocate teachers to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

The Superintendent is right to conclude that the 2020-21 SOL test results show where we need to focus our attention. In the coming months, APS should make clear how it is allocating resources to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In recent months, parents across the country have disrupted school board meetings and threatened school board members.

The issues drawing the ire of parents include wearing masks, school reopening, transgender student policies, and critical race theory.

There is no doubt that these are hot button issues. Parents have been under great stress during the pandemic and they are passionate about what is right for their children. But this is no excuse for these behaviors.

For example, in Utah 11 people have been criminally charged with disrupting a public meeting after they chanted about masks and approached school board members at the dais, causing the meeting to be adjourned.

Private security officers have been hired in Columbia, Missouri due to safety concerns as some parents have come to school board members’ homes to object to their positions on issues.

The Board of Education for the Blue Valley schools in Kansas recently cancelled an in-person meeting and met virtually following reports of threats by parents.

Similar incidents are happening in our area as well.

The Loudoun County School Board recessed a meeting in June to restore order after parents booed, jeered, and chanted. One person was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Police in Fairfax launched an investigation of complaints that flyers were delivered to homes with antisemitic, homophobic, and threatening language towards school board members.

ARLnow reported on an Arlington School Board meeting in April that required the Chair to make repeated calls for order during public comments about the return to in-person learning and that another Board member characterized as having an unprecedented level of vitriol.

Parents have many appropriate ways to express their strongly held opinions. These include lawful protests outside of school board meetings and speaking at school board meetings, following board guidelines for public comment. They can write letters to the editor and meet with school board members.

Another avenue is working through parent-teacher associations (PTAs). While PTAs cannot engage in partisan, political activities, they can advocate about a wide variety of issues.

In Arlington, the County Council of PTAs has done just that, sharing concerns and making recommendations to school officials about issues such as virtual and hybrid learning, school resource officers, and the school boundary process.

PTAs have elected leaders and have by-laws consistent with the National PTA. Their mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” Their values include collaboration, respect, and accountability. All of this helps PTAs promote civil discourse as they address contentious issues.

Many parents are working outside of PTAs to advance their causes. For example, Parents Defending Education encourages parents to create organizations to push back against “destructive and radical ‘woke’ curricula.” Its website details how to create an anonymous Instagram account to document instances of “woke indoctrination” at schools.

The website of the Arlington Parent Coalition suggests that parents check the social media of their children’s teachers and “like” and “follow” them, as well as to do internet searches of the teachers to see what their views are on social and political issues.

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition is seeking signatures on petitions to remove duly elected Fairfax County School Board members from office related to their views on school reopening.

Parent voices are an important part of school board decision-making. As parents advocate for their children, they also should model for their children — and for all children — how to engage in civil discourse about high-stakes matters. This means at a minimum focusing on the issues, not engaging in personal attacks, and not disrupting school board meetings.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Tonight, the Arlington School Board is likely to vote to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) as a daily presence in schools.

SROs are Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) officers whose primary role is to promote safety and security in schools, including acting as a deterrent to crime by their presence, according to the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ACPD and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

A decision to remove SROs from schools would be consistent with the recommendations of Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran and the SRO Work Group, which was created in December 2020 to address community concerns about the relationship between ACPD and APS.

The Work Group report states that law enforcement functions can be provided to APS without SROs stationed at schools, with ACPD to be available when called upon to respond to situations such as active shooters and serious crimes. For the non-law enforcement functions that SROs provide — such as counseling, coaching, teaching and mentoring — the Work Group recommends that APS invest in additional staff and training to meet these needs.

Like localities across the country, Arlington is considering best practices for policing in our community. In making decisions from these important discussions, the School Board should focus on the facts and circumstances in Arlington — not what is happening in other school divisions.

One concern raised by community members about SROs is that a school to prison pipeline exists in Arlington. Data does not support this.

In Virginia, school administrators are required to report to law enforcement a limited number of criminal offenses alleged to have been committed by students on school property. In the 2018-19 school year, APS reported 106 cases to law enforcement, which was nine percent of all crimes documented to have been committed in Arlington schools that year, according to a January 23, 2020 presentation to the School Board.

Of those 106 cases, 16 were referred to the juvenile court with 8 cases resulting in diversion instead of prosecution and 8 cases prosecuted. Police took no action for 50% of the 106 cases. Thirty-five percent of the cases reported were documented, and no charges were brought.

Data presented at the January 2020 School Board meeting also show that arrests of Arlington youth are happening mostly outside of schools, with a total of 227 arrests in 2018, down 32% from 2017.

The Work Group acknowledges administrator support for SROs in schools and the “good work” that they do. But it recommends that this good work can and should be done by those who don’t carry “a badge and a gun.”

ACPD Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, head of the new Community Engagement Division, told me that SROs want to be in the schools. He said:

The primary mission of the SRO Unit has always been to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. However, over our 40-plus year relationship with APS, the program has evolved as SROs have fostered lasting relationships with students and parents through youth programs/camps, teaching, mentoring and coaching.

He added that if the School Board adopts the Superintendent’s recommendation, ACPD “will continue to work with APS to support students, parents and administrators while reimagining our role in supporting our youth throughout the County.”

If the School Board votes to remove SROs from schools, the MOU between ACPD and APS will be revised. It will need to address how ACPD will respond to APS requests to maintain the safety and security of students, staff, and visitors at schools. In addition, APS should have its staff take on the non-law enforcement roles of SROs, as the Work Group recommends. But without funding for additional staff or training in its FY 2022 budget, this will be a challenge.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On April 12, the Arlington School Board presented its nearly $700 million proposed FY 2022 budget to the Arlington County Board. The proposed budget includes a deficit of $14.9 million.

During the meeting, County Board member Christian Dorsey asked if this deficit is a result of a structural problem with the Arlington Public Schools (APS) budget.

The answer is yes.

For years, it was the practice of the School Board to direct the Superintendent to propose a balanced budget, with expenditures equal to revenues. However, this year’s budget direction lacks that requirement, which was last included in the FY 2017 budget cycle.

APS Superintendents began proposing budgets to the School Board that included significant deficits beginning in FY 2020, with a proposed deficit of nearly $9 million. For FY 2021 the deficit was more than $27 million and for FY 2022 it was more than $42.5 million.

After receiving the Superintendent’s proposed budget and holding numerous budget hearings, the School Board adopts a proposed budget. Typically, that proposed budget is a balanced one — but not this year.

Compare this process with that of the County Board, which includes in its budget guidance to the County Manager a requirement that his proposed budget is balanced.

A structural problem with the School Board’s budget process is that it delays the hard choices that must be made to cut expenditures to produce a balanced budget, which ultimately the School Board adopts each year. It also leads the School Board to ask the County for more money than is provided by the informal revenue sharing agreement between the boards. This year, the School Board asked the County Board for $2.8 million more than the $527.1 million in ongoing funds that the County Manager recommended.

To address this problem, the School Board should amend its policies on budget direction and budget development to require that the Superintendent propose a balanced budget and that the School Board adopt a proposed budget that is balanced. This would allow more time, and citizen input, for consideration of reducing expenditures. In addition, if APS believes that it is underfunded by the County, it should propose changes to the revenue sharing agreement.

With the School Board’s final vote on its budget scheduled for May 6, little time remains to determine how to balance this year’s budget. The $42.5 million deficit proposed by the Superintendent has shrunk because of nearly $19 million in federal emergency relief funds, as well as higher than initially estimated County and state revenue. In addition, the County Board agreed to provide the additional $2.8 million that the School Board requested, reducing the deficit to just more than $12 million.

That deficit could be cut in half if APS adjusts its enrollment projections for next year. The Superintendent’s proposed budget projects an enrollment next school year of 29,653. This is 3,154 students more than the 26,499 students enrolled in APS in March of this year, and 1,503 more than the 28,150 students who were enrolled in March 2020 when APS closed its school buildings.

If the projected enrollment for next year were reduced to a more realistic number of 28,500 students, the budget savings would be $5.9 million. The School Board’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) recommends that the enrollment estimate be revised downward, along with other cost-saving measures.

The School Board’s proposed budget includes a projected deficit for FY 2023 of $64.7 million in FY 2023, $91.4 million in FY 2024, and $111.1 million in FY 2025. This is untenable. The School Board needs to address the structural problems with its budget.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

0 Comments

Ed Talk: The 36 Percent

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) has opened for hybrid learning for students from pre-kindergarten through 12 grade whose families have chosen that option, one year after it closed its doors due to the pandemic.

Sixty-four percent of APS students have opted for the hybrid model and attend school two days per week. Thirty-six percent of APS students — 9,611 of them — have remained with full distance learning.

APS data show the impact of distance learning on academic achievement. That impact has not been the same for all students. Test scores and grades for Economically Disadvantaged students, English Learners, Black students, and Hispanic students have declined the most.

For example, scores for Black students in kindergarten through grade two on a literacy test known as PALS dropped from 87.1% in the fall of 2019 to 78.6% in the fall of 2020. However, scores for White students fell only from 93.8% to 91%.

An APS analysis of second quarter grades shows that the percentage of economically disadvantaged middle school students who failed classes nearly doubled from last academic year to this year, increasing from 6.3% to 11.53%. This compares with middle school students overall, whose failing grades increased from 2.46% to 4.92%.

In high school, failing grades for English learners increased from 16.1% to 25.72% during distance learning, compared with an increase from 6.2% to 9% for high school students overall.

In light of this learning loss, it is important to know which students have not returned to school. Who is missing out on the benefits of in-person learning and why have they made that choice?

But APS has provided no demographic data about this.

Fairfax County Public Schools reported this week that 37% of Black parents intended to send their children back to school, compared with 52% of Hispanic parents, and 57% of White parents, according to a March survey.

A study of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted last summer found that Black and Latino parents were more concerned about sending their children back to school than were White parents. The study suggested that for minority parents, the fear of poor health outcomes as a result of COVID-19 outweighs the benefits of in-person learning.

Those fears are well-founded. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. The gap in life expectancy, for example, has increased between 2019 and 2020.  According to a recent report of the CDC, life expectancy decreased by 2.7 years for the Black population, 1.9 years for the Hispanic population, and .8 years for the White population during this period.

During the March 11 School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran commented that a large number of parents of English learners have opted to continue with distance learning. It may be that they — and Black and Latino parents in Arlington — like those surveyed by the CDC, fear sending their children to school because of the impact of COVID-19 on their communities.

In Arlington, the highest number of COVID-19 cases is in the 22204 zip code, where the percentage of the Black and Hispanic populations is about twice that of Arlington overall. In addition, the rate of cases per 100,000 residents in this area is much higher than the County average, according to data on the County’s website.

With 64% of students in the hybrid model, APS must not lose sight of the 36% of students who continue with full distance learning, and especially those students whose grades and test scores have declined the most.

APS should report on the demographics of the 9,611 students who remain in full distance learning. It also should set targets for improvement in grades and test scores such as PALS. This accountability is necessary to start to reverse the trend of greater learning loss during distance learning for minority students.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The political divide in the United States in the wake of the 2020 presidential election is palpable. In a recent Pew Research poll, 90% of Biden supporters and 89% of Trump supporters said that the election of the other candidate would lead to lasting harm to the country.

For the next generation of leaders to find common ground and advance solutions to pressing national issues, we must teach students how to engage in civil dialogue.

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, part of the University of Virginia, promotes “effective leadership, working together, building trust, ethics, and a mastery of public policy issues” to “strengthen the quality of governance and community service at all levels and help restore public confidence in our political system.”

One of Sorensen’s programs is the High School Leaders Program, which teaches about 32 students each year how to engage “positively and effectively” in public policy debates so that they can make a positive difference in their communities. According to Sorensen Director Larry Roberts, students from across the Commonwealth with different cultural backgrounds and political beliefs learn to listen to each other, challenge stereotypes about political parties, focus on policy, and work together to find solutions.

Another Virginia program to promote civil dialogue and an understanding of the legislative process is the Virginia YMCA’s Model General Assembly (MGA). After preparing legislation, about 500 students travel to Richmond each year for three days where they meet in the General Assembly to debate their bills.

Erik Van de Poll, Arlington YMCA District Executive Director, says that “MGA has taught Arlington students how to better understand the perspectives of students from different parts of Virginia. This understanding has helped them to build consensus for their own legislation, and ultimately to be more effective advocates.”

Both Sorensen and MGA charge fees and enroll a small number of students, limiting the reach of these effective programs.

Public schools have an important role to play here. The Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) in History and Social Science include understanding “the rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens” and “respecting differing opinions.” However, the SOLs do not do not emphasize the skills that students need to engage in civil dialogue about policy.

Work on the revised 2022 SOLs is underway and is expected to include a more skills-based approach, according to APS Social Studies Supervisor Kerri Hirsch. In the meantime, Hirsch provides APS teachers with resources so that students can better understand diverse perspectives, discuss these respectfully, and develop arguments to support their views based on facts. This includes the use of Checkology, a resource to help students use critical thinking skills to separate fact from fiction.

What do teachers do when a student’s comments reflect prejudice toward others? Author Robert Jones, Jr. writes: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Some teachers do not engage students in discussions of politically charged issues because they do not feel equipped to handle these kinds of situations.

Teachers should have more opportunity for professional development to give them the tools they need to facilitate student conversations about policy. Available resources address setting classroom ground rules, examining one’s own perspectives and bias, and engaging students in projects to help them listen to each other to build understanding of different views.

Empathy is a common theme in the work done by Sorensen, MGA, and APS. Civil dialogue depends on participants listening respectfully to those with opposing views and working to understand their perspectives. Empathy allows us to see beyond labels and stereotypes.

Understanding others’ views does not mean agreeing with them. But it can lead to finding some common ground. This seems a better path to finding solutions to national issues than vitriol and ad hominem attacks.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

School divisions and local governments in the region and across the country are providing child care while students are learning online.

These programs recognize that many parents cannot work from home and that low-income students in particular benefit from the adult supervision, help with technology, and food provided.

For example, Fairfax County Public Schools provides full-day child care at 37 school sites with fees based on income that are as low as $80 per month. Loudoun County is offering child care at 11 elementary schools and two additional sites for a fee, with a 50% discount for students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals program. The City of San Francisco has 50 sites providing free child care to 700 students, with space for up to 2,000 students.

Here in Arlington, no Arlington Public Schools (APS) sites or Arlington County Government sites have opened for child care during the pandemic.

County officials are studying the issue.

“The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children,” according to a statement that Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan recently provided to ARLnow.

One option is a program to begin in October that would provide child care free of charge for 50 children, ages 4-11, at one APS location.

During the last school year, 4,402 Arlington elementary school students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, according to the Virginia Department of Education. The need for child care is much greater than 50 students.

Arlington officials should quickly assess how many spaces are needed for child care and expand availability for low-income children. Such an assessment is underway in Alexandria, which has created the Alexandria Emergency Child Care Collaborative.

The need for child care is driven not only by increased demand with students learning at home, but also by reduced supply caused by the closure of many private day care facilities due to the pandemic. Arlington County’s interactive map of private child care centers shows those that are closed and how few slots are available in the ones that remain open. Tuition charged at many private facilities are cost-prohibitive for low-income families.

There are many challenges to opening new child care facilities. These include identifying appropriate locations, staffing, and transportation; addressing licensing requirements and the health and safety of the participants; establishing eligibility requirements; and funding.

Other jurisdictions have addressed these challenges and have opened child care facilities for those most in need.

The need will continue, even as APS begins to bring students back to school for some in-person learning. The APS plan provides for some students with disabilities to return to school in October; additional students in November; and all students who chose a hybrid learning model starting in December. But the hybrid model has students learning from home more than they are at school. Child care still will be needed as this phased return to school is implemented.

Arlington County’s Child Care Initiative (CCI) was created in 2017, bringing together those in the public and private sectors with a goal to improve the affordability, availability, and quality of child care, recognizing that child care “is a key component of a thriving, diverse community.”

A fall 2019 CCI report notes that changes have been made to zoning ordinances and that “red tape” has been reduced, to help meet the CCI’s goals.

Addressing the need for child care as a result of the pandemic should be a top priority. CCI, Arlington County government, and APS need to continue to cut through red tape, work together, and provide quality child care for Arlington’s low-income families.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

0 Comments

Ed Talk: Learning Pods

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As the school year begins online for students across the country, parents face the challenge of supporting the educational needs of their children while working at their own jobs.

This challenge is real for all working parents. But the opportunities that parents have to meet their children’s needs vary greatly depending on socio-economic status.

Some families with sufficient financial resources are turning to learning pods.  These are small groups of students who will gather in homes or rented spaces with an adult who is paid to supervise them while learning online. Some pods will be led by teachers.

An internet search of  “learning pods” reveals many companies that will create pods and provide adults to supervise and/or teach. The websites for these companies offer pods for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, with two students to nine students per pod. Schedules can be five days per week, half-day or full-day.

The cost?  One website provides a pod for students in grades K-4, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with one educator at a cost of $4,583 per month per child for a three-student pod and $1,528 per month per child for a nine-student pod.

There certainly are benefits for those who can afford learning pods. For students, an adult can provide in-person assistance with their education in a small group setting. And interaction with peers promotes social-emotional learning. Parents benefit too, because they can work inside or outside the home while their children are engaged in distance learning.

But students from low-income families who cannot afford the pod fees are left out. They cannot benefit from a paid teacher in the home to enhance their distance learning and they miss out on in-person interaction with other students. Their parents may have to choose between giving up their jobs outside the home and going to work and leaving their children home alone.

Parents in Arlington, like those around the country, are forming learning pods. One website helps parents connect for free and a local company creates pods with an initial fee and monthly costs.

Long before COVID-19, significant disparities in academic outcomes existed between groups of students in Arlington. These disparities will grow with months of distance learning and the disparate opportunities that students have at home depending on their socio-economic status.

In his Back to School Update during the School Board’s July 30th meeting, Arlington Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran stated that APS is working with Arlington County Government and community partners to address the need for childcare for families while APS provides distance learning.

Arlington might look to the city of San Francisco, which has committed to opening 40 community learning hubs in September.  These will be located at recreation centers, libraries, and non-profit sites, providing full-day supervision for low-income students. Each hub will have access to technology for distance learning, enrichment activities, and meals.

In addition, APS should develop a plan for in-person instruction focused on students most in need. Such an approach is consistent with APS summer school, which is being offered online this summer for elementary students who need strengthening in math and literacy and secondary students who received low grades last school year.

Before APS opted for distance learning this fall for all students, the APS hybrid learning plan offered in-person learning two days a week. If social distancing is required when APS opens schools again, instead of limited, in-person instruction for all students, APS should offer in-person instruction for more hours for students most in need. This includes low-income students who have not had the benefit of small group instruction in learning pods.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

0 Comments

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last week, as our nation celebrated Independence Day, protests continued across America for racial equity and justice. The dissonance between the promise of the Declaration of Independence — that all are created equal with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and the failure to live up to that promise, has a long history.

In a speech on July 5, 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass praised the founding fathers. He also laid bare the simple truth that slaves, as well as free Black people like him, did not have the rights that the framers declared, saying:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.

These words, uttered 168 years ago, ring true today.

The “immeasurable distance” between whites and Black people in 1852 persists in the disparities we see in 2020 in education, employment, health, wealth, criminal justice, and more.

To make progress in eliminating these disparities, we must better educate all students about Black history and current events.

In recent comments, Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, made clear that Virginia has more work to do on this front: “We talk about freedom and justice and spreading democracy throughout the world. I would argue that a lot of those principles came from the struggles of African Americans throughout our history, and that history is not being told in our classrooms.”

Qarny is a member of Virginia’s Commission on African American History Education, which was created to improve the teaching of African American history. The Executive Order creating the Commission also calls for a new high school elective course on African American history, to be offered online through Virtual Virginia starting this fall.

An initial outline of that course includes a comprehensive study of history, literature, the arts, race and racism. This course will benefit the students who choose to take it. In addition, all students should learn Black history by including it across academic disciplines. Students should read Black authors in their language arts classes. They should study the contributions that Black Americans have made to the arts, mathematics, and science in those classes. And their history and government classes should include more focus on the centuries-old struggle for racial equity and justice.

The history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination makes many uncomfortable and ashamed. That not everyone enjoys the same rights and opportunities today is not easy to discuss. Acknowledging this history and our current reality, and discussing these in classrooms, are critical to real learning. Learning can lead to change.

In his 1852 speech, Douglass found hope in the principles of the Declaration of Independence, even while urging the country to acknowledge the injustice of slavery: “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed…”

Decades later, Langston Hughes wrote about patriotism, resilience, and hope in the face of segregation his 1926 poem, which begins, “I, too, sing America.” Though sent “to eat in the kitchen when company comes,” Hughes says that tomorrow, “I’ll be at the table.” And, “They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed.” His poem concludes, “I, too, am America.”

Recognizing that Black history is American history, and teaching it effectively, can help this country make progress in realizing Hughes’ vision of a more equitable and just America.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list