Anya Kamenetz

Ever since the pandemic closed the nation's schools in March 2020, there has been no official national source for understanding where schools have reopened, how many hours of live instruction students are getting online and just how unequal the access to learning has been over the past 11 months.

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In November, I reported for NPR on a scientific paper that estimated millions of years of life could be lost due to prolonged school closures in the U.S. — far more, in fact, than might be lost by keeping schools open. The paper has since been corrected and critiqued. The central question it tried to answer remains.

Diana Muhammad, who teaches PE and dance in Chicago Public Schools, was "unsure," "uncertain" and "reluctant" about her district's plan for in-person classes starting Monday. At a Chicago Teachers Union press conference earlier this month, she said the plan felt "rushed." And then things got really scary.

"Over the winter break, my life was devastated when my daughter, who was sick with various symptoms all over the place for an entire week, woke up one morning and could not see."

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President Biden has called reopening schools a "national emergency" and said he wants to see most K-12 schools in the United States open during his first 100 days in office, which would be between now and April.

When schools shut down in the spring, that raised immediate worries about the nearly 30 million children who depend on school food. Those worries were essentially borne out, with researchers reporting a large rise in child hunger.

Don Brown has been driving a school bus for more than 20 years in the Chicago area. And for all that time, he's noticed one odd student habit.

As they climb aboard his bus, "when they get to the top step, they always cough," he says. "This was even before the pandemic! Or, when they get ready to get off, they say 'Bye, bus driver!' and they cough."

Because of this, Brown says, he hopes he'll be getting the vaccine, "as soon as I can."

Music teacher Martin Urbach was up most of Wednesday night working with colleagues on lesson plans to help his students make sense of the day's events. "I only got like two hours of sleep."

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Deborah Rosenthal starts her virtual kindergarten class on Zoom every morning with a song — today, it's the Spanish version of "If You're Happy and You Know It." Her students clap along. There's a greeting from the class mascot (a dragon), yoga, meditation and then some practice with letter sounds: "Oso, oso, O, O, O."

Parent Mandii Brower vividly remembers what it was like when her kids' school in Yukon, Okla., switched to distance learning in the spring: "It was just like, we never learned with our teachers again. They never checked on things again." She says "school" consisted of just a few short daily assignments.

"I [couldn't] see my kids' education going that way."

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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.

Updated on Jan. 30 at 7:47 p.m. ET

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.

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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.

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