Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.

Kamenetz is the author of several books. Her latest is The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life (PublicAffairs, 2018). Her previous books touched on student loans, innovations to address cost, quality, and access in higher education, and issues of assessment and excellence: Generation Debt; DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, and The Test.

Kamenetz covered technology, innovation, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship for five years as a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. She's contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine and Slate, and appeared in documentaries shown on PBS and CNN.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden has affirmed his support for erasing some student debt "immediately."

Student debt forgiveness was a major campaign plank of some of his more progressive rivals for the Democratic nomination, but it remains controversial even among some Democrats.

Mahua Barve lives in Frankfurt, Germany, with her husband, a son in first grade and twin daughters in kindergarten. All three children are currently attending school full time and in person. That's despite a coronavirus surge that has led Germany to shut down restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, tattoo parlors and brothels (which are legal in the country) for November. Schools were allowed to remain open.

With the eyes of the country upon him, Joe Biden shouted out education during his speech Saturday in Wilmington, Del: "For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You're going to have one of your own in the White House."

Of course, the president-elect was talking about his wife, Jill Biden, an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. She taught throughout Biden's two terms as vice president, and in a break with precedent, intends to continue as first lady.

In April, 9 in 10 of the world's children were out of school in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

By Election Day, more than 60% of U.S. K-12 public school students will be attending schools that offer in-person learning at least a few days a week, an updated tracker finds.

Despite widespread concerns, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus. And a third study from the United States shows no elevated risk to childcare workers who stayed on the job.

Orange County, Fla., has 8,000 missing students. The Miami-Dade County public schools have 16,000 fewer than last year. Los Angeles Unified — the nation's second-largest school system — is down nearly 11,000. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina has 5,000 missing. Utah, Virginia and Washington are reporting declines statewide.

New York City, with its 1.1 million students, became the first big city school district in the country to return to in-person classes this week. After the start of the school year was delayed twice, students came back in phases: pre-K and students with significant disabilities last week, followed by elementary students Tuesday, and middle and high school students today. Just over half of the city's students will be attending school on a hybrid schedule, attending one or two days a week in person, in order to preserve social distancing. The remainder are 100% remote.

From shiny red pencils reading "My Attendance Rocks!" to countless plaques and ribbons and trophies and certificates and gold stars: For as long as anyone can remember, taking attendance — and rewarding kids for simply showing up — is a time-honored school ritual.

For good reason: Just being there, day in, day out, happens to be one of the most important factors that determines a child's success in school. And average daily head count forms the basis of school funding decisions at the federal, state and local level.

A new national effort asks K-12 schools to voluntarily — and anonymously — report their confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases, along with the safety strategies they're using.

Monday, Sept. 21, was supposed to mark the start of in-person classes for New York City's 1.1 million public school students. It was the only big-city district planning to start the school year in person. But with just four days to go, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that only the youngest students, in 3-K and Pre-K, and those with significant special needs, would be coming back on Sept. 21. The rest of the students will phase in by grade level between through Oct. 1.

I catch Patricia Stamper with a Zoom meeting going in the background and a child at her knee asking for attention. Stamper works as a teacher's assistant for special education students in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

These days, her virtual classroom is at home — and so is her toddler, who has a genetic disorder called Noonan syndrome, and her kindergartner, who receives speech therapy. Her husband works outside the home at a golf course.

Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March, early studies suggest, and many experts say they fear a corresponding increase in youth suicide.

At the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed Americans on their mental health. They found symptoms of anxiety and depression were up sharply across the board between March and June, compared with the same time the previous year. And young people seemed to be the hardest-hit of any group.

There's a LOT of education news these days. Here's an overview of the stories from this week that you might have missed, plus some valuable links we've gleaned from around the web.

First let's turn to the world of higher education.

At Dwight D. Eisenhower Charter School in Algiers, a low-slung brick building across the river from downtown New Orleans, school leaders greet students as they make their way into the building. All are masked.

In the cafeteria, a movable wall cuts the space in half, separating the students into socially distanced groups of nine. Strips of tape mark separate pathways for students and staff. Big pumps of hand sanitizer sit on each desk, and everyone, teachers and students, is wearing a mask.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

On the morning of March 15, I started getting texts from worried parents at my daughter's New York City public school. Rumors were rocketing around that a second-grade teacher had tested positive for the coronavirus after being out sick for a week. The school hadn't made any announcements, and parents were getting frantic. The tension ended a few hours later when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that evening that all New York City school buildings would be closed the next day.

New York City, the largest school district in the country with 1.1 million students, is also the only big-city school district planning to open its doors to students — albeit on a hybrid schedule with virtual learning — on time this fall. But at a press conference Wednesday, the president of the city's largest teachers union said the mayor needs to make major changes to meet the union's criteria for safe reopening.

As the school year starts in many districts across the country, a new national poll of teachers from NPR/Ipsos finds overwhelming trepidation about returning to the physical classroom.

As schools across the country grapple with bringing kids back into the classroom, parents — and teachers — are worried about safety. We asked pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and education experts for help evaluating school district plans.

What we learned: There's no such thing as zero risk, but certain practices can lower the risk of an outbreak at school and keep kids, teachers and families safer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kirk Gallegos is a single father of four. He works construction in Barstow, Calif. Prudence Carter is a single mother of one. She's the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

Both share the same problem with tens of millions of other parents around the country: Their public schools aren't operating full time in-person this fall. And the rest of the child care system, which had been stretched even before the pandemic, is itself under pressure.

Wayne Banks is a middle school math teacher and principal in residence for KIPP charter schools. These days, like many teachers around the country, the 29-year-old is working from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Banks has never been formally trained to teach online, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make his classes as engaging and challenging as possible.

"I really took the opportunity in March to be like, 'I just have to figure this out.' [It was] a do or die for me," Banks says.

For American families with children, the pandemic has meant lost income, increased child care responsibilities, worry and stress. But a majority are not eager for schools to reopen this fall, given the health risk.

The NAACP has become the latest organization to sue the Education Department over the distribution of more than $13 billion in federal aid intended for K-12 schools.

This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs. That's the top-line recommendation of a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

On Monday, Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will be starting the school year remote-only in August as coronavirus cases rise in Southern California.

"The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control," a joint statement said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

Jeanne Norris is a teacher, the wife of a teacher and the mother of an 8-year-old in St. Louis. She'd love to send her son back to school in August. But, she says, "I feel like my government and my fellow citizens have put me in a position where it's not really in the best interests of our family."

Norris has a long list of reasons why. She says she has taught in buildings where ventilation systems are outdated and malfunctioning, and even soap for hand-washing is in short supply.

Pages