Pandemic spotlights education inequities. What schools are doing to close the gaps.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession hit in early 2020, everyone faced new challenges and abrupt life changes. Some individuals, families, and communities are experiencing the effects more acutely than others — and disruptions to Washington students are particularly concerning.  

“National studies indicate that interruptions in education because of the pandemic are hitting some students of color and students from low-income backgrounds particularly hard compared to their peers,” says Brian Jeffries, policy director for Partnership for Learning.

A recent McKinsey study estimates that, because of COVID-related remote learning, K-12 students could return to school in January 2021 experiencing seven months of learning loss — and losses could be greater if school buildings remain closed beyond January. The study also concludes that learning loss experienced by Black students (10.3 months), Latinx students (9.2 months), and students from low-income backgrounds (12.4 months) could be even greater.

“The pandemic is clearly magnifying educational inequities that have long existed,” Jeffries adds.

In the broader economy, communities of color, young workers, and those with a high school diploma or less are bearing the brunt of the downturn. More than half of Black and Latinx households nationwide reported employment loss due to the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in October for workers age 20 to 24 was more than 1.5 times that of workers age 25 to 54. About two-thirds of workers claiming unemployment in Washington state in November did not have a credential, a 12 percentage point overrepresentation compared to non-credentialed workers in the general population.

“A critical take-away from the current economic recession is that, more than ever, post-high school credentials are essential in our state’s economy,” Jeffries says. “As we all manage life during the pandemic, it is imperative that students continue to learn and get the supports they need to prepare for and complete a credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate.”

Strategies such as engaging families, partnering with community-based organizations, and using high-quality diagnostic tools can help maintain learning and support students, particularly those who are further from educational opportunity, to stay on track and work toward completing a postsecondary credential.

Supportive family involvement

As students navigate hybrid and virtual learning, both Liz Ritz, director of teaching and learning at Oak Harbor Schools, and Joycelin Vester, dean of students at North Whidbey Middle School, emphasize the importance of increased involvement with their students’ families to support academic success.

“It’s affirmation for parents to know that educators love and care about their kids and are thinking of them, even if we aren’t seeing them in person,” Vester says.

Educators are communicating with parents more intentionally and on an ongoing basis, and districts are getting creative about how they work together with parents to close equity gaps, says Michaela Miller, deputy superintendent at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

“The pandemic has created a different and more meaningful opportunity to engage with families. The creativity and innovation around parent connection are critically important in closing gaps,” Miller

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Ways To Combat Skill Gaps To Fasten Career Progression

While several roles within organizations are becoming redundant due to automation, a large number of vacancies are also being created for professionals with digital skills who can thrive in this new environment

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Artificial intelligence (AI), alongside other emerging technologies, are becoming enablers for businesses today. According to NASSCOM, India will require around 800,000 AI and BDA professionals by 2021. However, at the current rate, we are expected to have just 570,000 professionals with the knowledge of these skills by 2021 leading to a massive skill gap. The same is true for a host of other new-age skills like analytics, cloud computing, machine learning and robotics. Rapid advances in AI, robotics and other emerging technologies are happening in shorter cycles than usual, bringing about a massive change in the nature of jobs across various sectors. While several roles within organizations are becoming redundant due to automation, a large number of vacancies are also being created for professionals with digital skills who can thrive in this new environment. The need of the hour is for professionals to recognize this change and enhance their existing skill set.

Lifelong learning is the new mantra that professionals should live by to power ahead in their career. Timely learning interventions can help professionals in future-proofing their careers as well as climbing the corporate ladder faster. Here are a few ways that can help professionals identify the shortcomings in their current skill sets and bridge the knowledge gap.

Formulate a career path

The first step in this journey is for a professional to look at their career strategically and identify an ambitious career path that they wish to chart, aligned with their skills and capabilities. With the pace at which things are changing, it is possible that one may not be sure of all the steps needed to reach the goal. However, having a clear sense of direction can make a big difference and the gaps can be filled as one moves along. Professionals should also closely follow thought leaders in the industry, read industry blogs, engage, ask questions and stay abreast with current news in order to set realistic and rewarding career goals. This will keep them updated as well as clued into the big picture.

Engage with your employers

Professionals should engage with their organizations to better understand their talent requirements and how they can fit themselves successfully into the big picture. They should speak to their immediate bosses, seniors and even HRs to understand the evolving talent requirements of the company they are associated with. It is crucial to evaluate the kind of projects undertaken by their organization as well their competitors to get a sense of evolving market trends. Many organizations have internal learning programs designed keeping in mind the evolving talent requirements. Instead of

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Weather Service tells Congress radar gaps don’t hurt warning accuracy

Using these radars, forecasters can spot the existence of a tornado by detecting airborne debris lofted by the twister’s circulation. They can track the all-important rain-snow line in winter storms and even spot smoke plumes from severe wildfires. But as capable as the U.S. radar network is, gaps in coverage have drawn consistent complaints from meteorologists and lawmakers frustrated by unwarned-of severe weather.

Now, an overdue report to Congress from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the National Weather Service, attempts to quantify the impacts of such gaps on warning performance. The results downplay the significance of the gaps, counter to the experience of some public- and private-sector meteorologists.

Several meteorologists said the congressionally mandated report inadequately addresses the true impacts of these gaps, describing its methodology as inadequate and incomplete and its conclusions as “disappointing” and even “offensive.”

The gaps, which the report identifies in some detail, occur in locations so far removed from radar sites that the beams emitted by the radar overshoot the weather they are intended to detect. The greater distance a location is from a radar site, the higher in the sky the radar scans for trouble.

The Charlotte metro area, home to about 2.6 million, is served by a Doppler radar 80 miles away in Greer, S.C., and the radar beam intersects clouds at about 5,000 feet or more above the city, missing some of the most important low-level weather features that can determine whether a storm will spawn a tornado. During the winter, some snow and ice events can take place largely below the height of the beam.

Other cities have far more coverage, including Washington, for which there is a Weather Service Doppler radar in Sterling, Va., as well as less powerful radars situated near the region’s three major airports and Joint Base Andrews. With radar beams reaching clouds at altitudes below 3,000 feet over the city, meteorologists have the ability to see the lower levels of storms, which is where tornadoes tend to form.

Radar gaps have been a contentious issue in the weather community for years, not only in Charlotte, but also in the Pacific Northwest, where spotting dangerous weather moving in from the Pacific is especially important.

Weather Service finally responds to Congress but says there’s no problem here

In a 2017 bill, Congress directed the Weather Service to examine how radar gaps affect warning accuracy and report to Congress within less than a year. Separately, Congress asked for a report on warning performance associated with radar coverage where the beam is 6,000 feet above ground level and higher.

Long past congressional deadlines, the radar gaps report was released in September to address both congressional requests, and it contains some surprising findings.

Instead of concluding that radar gaps make a difference in severe weather detection and warnings, as many meteorologists strongly suspect, the Weather Service told Congress that they make little to no meaningful differences in warning performance.

“Poor radar coverage is never the single contributing

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Pennsylvania schools need an additional $4.6 billion to close education gaps, new analysis finds

Pennsylvania’s public school children are being shortchanged by $4.6 billion — and those in the poorest school districts, who have fallen the furthest behind, are owed the most, according to a new analysis commissioned by advocates seeking to overhaul the state’s education funding system.

The conclusions, based on state data over the past decade, depict widening gaps in education spending between affluent and poor communities — and divides in academic performance. Public schools in Philadelphia, Reading and Upper Darby are among those shortchanged by at least $5,000 per student, according to the analysis, while some districts, including Radnor, Abington, Hatboro-Horsham and even Pittsburgh, are sufficiently funded.

At the same time, students in the poorest districts have the lowest standardized test scores and highest dropout rates, while students from low-income families in Pennsylvania’s highest-spending districts perform better on state measures and graduate from college at higher rates.

The funding gap may be even greater, the report says — noting rising costs for schools, and more rigorous state standards for students.

The analysis, prepared for a Commonwealth Court judge, is the latest salvo in a yearslong legal battle to address school funding inequities, one that could intensify as the case moves toward trial.

“We are asking the court to fix the broken system, to ensure that the legislature fulfills its constitutional duty to create a system that ensures adequate and equitable funding for the needs of the Commonwealth over time,” said Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center, which along with the Public Interest Law Center is representing the districts, parents and organizations behind the lawsuit.

In Pa. school-funding maze, formula for equity elusiveGov. Tom Wolf and state education department officials, who are defendants in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the new claims. But leaders of the Republican-led state legislature, who are also being sued, indicated they will oppose arguments that schools need more money to improve achievement.

Crystal Clark, a lawyer for Senate Republicans, said their expert witnesses will contend there is no connection between the amount of money that Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts spend and their students’ performance, “even when accounting for differences between the districts regarding the numbers of historically underperforming and economically disadvantaged students and costs of living.”

Disparities in funding

The lawsuit, filed in 2014 and revived by the state Supreme Court in 2017, contends Pennsylvania is failing to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of education, as guaranteed by the state constitution. It also alleges students’ equal protection rights are being violated. The data analysis and conclusions were prepared for the plaintiffs by Matthew Gardner Kelly, an assistant professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, and shared with the Inquirer and Spotlight PA.

Pa. Supreme Court opens door to school funding overhaulThe disparities it cites stem from how public education is funded. Pennsylvania relies more heavily on local taxes to pay for schools than most other states; as of 2015-2016, only six states contributed a smaller share of school funding, according to

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