Virtual School Meanderings

April 9, 2021

Are Grade Levels Getting In The Way of Learning?

A newsletter from a US-based K-12 online learning program.

The Digital Backpack: Your Resource for Online Learning | Powered by Michigan Virtual
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Hi Michael,

The Digital Backpack — powered by Michigan Virtual — is your resource for everything online and blended learning, including  tips, tricks, & the latest research on supporting online K-12 students and, more broadly, using technology to innovate learning.


On occasion, we also dive into other topics relevant to Michigan’s educational community, such as social emotional learning, restorative practices, literacy, student-centered learning, and more!


This week, we’ve got some great stuff packed up for you. Check it out below!

Are Grade Levels Getting In The Way of Learning?

By Nikki Herta, Friday, April 2, 2021 4:55 PM


Meet Mike Burde, assistant superintendent at Kenowa Hills Public Schools, who shares his vision for a system of schooling that goes beyond “time-based advancement” and instead revolves around personal mastery.



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Incorporating Culturally Relevant Pedagogies into the Online Classroom

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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Community Engagement: Incorporating Culturally Relevant Pedagogies into the Online Classroom

By Erin Berry-McCrea

Dr. Berry-McCrea is currently a Curriculum Coordinator and Equity Liaison for NCVirtual Public School in Raleigh, NC. In this role, she assists in the facilitation of course development and continued course revisions across academic disciplines. She holds a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and a M.A. in Organizational Communication (Public Affairs and Media Technology) from Bowie State University.
COVID-19 has caused many of us to pause, to reroute our lives in a variety of ways. With this has come the challenge of reconfiguring how we should best approach our work and our research. The balancing act has been difficult, pushing many of us to our limits.

As I have thought about my research, my work in the higher education classroom, and my work with local teachers and communities in digital literacy education, I’ve considered ways by which I could still safely pursue community engagement efforts in light of the pandemic.

Community engagement is defined differently for different groups of people, and it’s important to evaluate and reevaluate the narrative that comes with it as we consider our projects. For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to Community Engagement from the perspective of collaborative and reciprocal progress toward a common goal.

The community that I’ve been working with recently has been middle and high school teachers of all different experience levels who are interested in addressing best practices for incorporating culturally responsive pedagogies into their online classrooms.

Here are some tips and lessons that have been helpful for me in navigating this new landscape and providing guidance to teachers:

Review Your Curriculum and Course Materials.

In order to ensure that you are making the right decisions for your students and their learning experience, take the time to look intentionally at your curriculum, lesson plans, and resources. Before you can make changes, you need to identify what is present as well as what is absent.

Use Backwards Design to Outline Your Plan.

Once you’ve determined what needs to be removed or added, you need to make a plan for how to do it and when to do it. Regardless of the project, think of what you want the end result to be, and work from there. If you outline your steps, one step at a time, you’ll be able to recognize what’s needed to get each task done to meet your final goal.

Be Strategic in your Revisions.

In some cases, a complete overhaul of content and resources is necessary, and when this is the case, you should partner with other educators, administrators, and members of your district to ensure that you can have productive dialogue and can receive support in using best practices to accomplish your goal. Even if a complete overhaul of your content and resources is not needed, it’s important to be immediately intentional about what you need to change and the best ways to accomplish this goal.

Provide Opportunities for Reflection.

In my own work as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher, I know the true value of consistent practices of reflexivity. Because of this, I encourage teachers, regardless of academic discipline or grade level, to journal about what they experience and feel and about the action steps and resources needed to meet their goals. 


Collaboration is at the heart of teamwork and team building. We don’t exist in silos—even during a pandemic—so our thoughts and ideas should be shared with each other in an ongoing process of learning. I am most grateful for the collaborative dialogue that I’ve hard with other educators and students because it’s helped me to view the world from a variety of perspectives that I may not have been able to experience.

In addition, here are links to some digital resources to help you with collaborating and teaching in more relevant and culturally sustaining ways:

  • Distance learning has forced us to cultivate new ways to partner and collaborate with other educators.
  • Claude Steele, author of “Whistling Vivaldi” shares insights on the importance of understanding the idea of “stereotype threat” and “social identities” when working with students and other educators.
  • Here are six questions to ask about your classroom and the impact that your learning environment has on your students.
  • There is clear value in being a culturally responsive educator in the face-to-face classroom as well as online.
  • Here is a list of 40+ books that can support you on your journey to becoming more culturally responsive.
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Spring and Summer PD Opportunities are Here!

Some professional learning opportunities from the folks behind the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy.

We are pleased to share the upcoming spring professional development sessions!
Keep scrolling to learn about our summer bootcamp!
Presented by Hyim Brandes and Shani Sicherman
This session is a beginners introduction to using Google Docs and Slides to facilitate student collaboration and increase student engagement in both in-person and online environments. Together, we will discuss WHEN and WHY to use each of these tools, and learn HOW to create and share Google Docs and Slides, how to manage permissions and structure documents, and how to use these tools to maximize your lesson’s impact. Participants will be given the opportunity to workshop their new skills during the session.
Date and Time: Wednesday, April 21st 2:00 – 3:30 PM EDT
Cost: $25
Presented by Zvi Grumet
In partnership with Koren Publishers, this session for middle and high school teachers will explore the value of teaching Humash driven by questions and exploration. It will focus on two features of the Koren Lev Ladaat Humash, the Classical Commentaries and the Textual Tools, as vehicles to help students become more careful, analytical, and thoughtful learners of Humash and commentaries. Using concrete examples from the text, the workshop will guide teachers through processes that they can replicate and adapt to their own teaching, whether for in-classroom work with the teacher or independent student work.
Date and Time: Sunday, April 25th 2:00 – 3:30 PM EDT
Cost: Free of Charge
Lookstein Center Members Save 10% on Professional Development
Presented by Zvi Grumet, Naomi Schrager, and Jeremy Spierer
Jewish text educators are tasked with the ongoing challenge of balancing skill development and content mastery on the one hand and creating meaningful Jewish learning experiences on the other. This delicate balance of seemingly opposing goals requires skill, proper planning, and support. In this series, we will explore a student-centered approach to Tanakh and Talmud/Rabbinics study where the skills and content learned will aid students in their personal construction of meaning. The bootcamp will explore various strategies for achieving our meaning making goals including historical, literary, analytical, and inquiry-based approaches.
Participants will have opportunities to network and collaborate with peers in the field, and will also have individual workshop time with the series presenters.
  • Small group sessions
  • Workshop/Hevruta
  • Reflection and application
  • Coaching
Schedule: 10-hour bootcamp consists of eight sessions between June 24 – July 11
Cost: $315
Lookstein Center Members Save 10% on Professional Development
The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education| (646) 568-9737 |
The Lookstein Center | The Lookstein CenterBar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, 5290002 Israel

Do corporate subsidies work? No, and they starve public schools.

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This item was an interesting read.



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Corporate subsidies not only rarely work, but they’re also starving public schools



This week, we’re talking with Christine Wen. She’s planning/fiscal policy coordinator of Good Jobs First, a national think tank that studies state and local job subsidies, including corporate tax breaks.

She’s one of the authors of Good Job First’s new study, Abating Our Future: How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks.

The topline fact in Abating Our Future is mind-melting. School districts nationwide lost nearly $2.4 billion to corporate subsidies in fiscal year 2019. That’s money meant for students that ended up in the pockets of Amazon, Tesla, and other corporations.

And that’s based on data from only 27 states. In the other 23 states plus Washington, D.C., (which should be a state), school districts fail to disclose any meaningful information about how much money they’re losing to corporations.

Last week sure was a doozy for those of us who think corporations should pay more in taxes. The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) also released a report revealing that at least 55 of the largest American corporations paid no federal income taxes on their 2020 profits.

How can we adequately pay for public goods, things we all rely on like public health and clean water, without raising taxes on those who can afford it? We simply can’t. We desperately need a more progressive tax system.

Here’s my conversation with Christine.

JEREMY: What were the overall findings of your research?

CHRISTINE: We found that school districts in America reported losing at least $2.37 billion in FY 2019 to corporate tax abatements. That’s a 13-percent jump from two years earlier. One hundred and forty-nine districts reported having foregone more than $1,000 per student.

We have found evidence that poorer districts are more affected. The true total is likely a lot higher than $2.37 billion, because a lot of districts under-report. There’s no data at all from 23 states, for a variety of reasons. And we know most of these states have tax abatements.

JEREMY: When most people hear about tax policy, their eyes glaze over. It’s complicated stuff. Can you explain in simple terms how these subsidies impact school districts? What does this mean for students?

CHRISTINE: When cities and counties (and very rarely, school districts) give out tax abatements to corporations, it usually cuts into the funding earmarked for K-12 education, which depends a lot on local taxes. I say “usually” because some states do try to make up the loss. The state might adjust its funding, or localities might raise their taxes.

But even in these instances, the offset is only partial or arrives too late, leaving schools strapped. And if these tax abatements did result in growth as intended, enrollments would increase, creating the demand for a bigger budget.

Tax abatements could contribute to chronic underfunding of schools, and students don’t get the resources they need to succeed.

JEREMY: Corporate leaders and some policy makers argue that subsidies are worth it because they grow the tax base. Is this true?

Subsidies could very well grow the tax base, though often they don’t. Some states keep such poor records of the costs and the outcomes, that such claims have no legs to stand on.

A lot of times, tax incentives create no net new jobs. They just shift the existing jobs or investments from one locality to another, sometimes within the same metro area. It’s a zero-sum game. Even if growth happens, it often can’t be traced to the incentives.

Taxes are just too small a fraction of a typical company’s expenses for abatements to be the decisive factor in where to relocate or expand. A company may choose its location regardless of the subsidies offered.

Basically, subsidies are often wasteful, and places do fine without them.

JEREMY: How hard was it to get the data you used in the report? Why isn’t it comprehensive?

CHRISTINE: The data in this report is as comprehensive as it can be. We looked at about 90 percent of all districts that produced financial reports, where these disclosures are made.

We scraped together 10,370 pdfs from numerous sources, and manually extracted all the tax abatement information (these are not structured or machine-readable). It took two people about six months to do.

The thing is, the $2.37 billion is based only on what was reported. A lot more taxes were abated that didn’t get reported. In a few states, the state officials set bad guidelines on what districts need to report, and the excuses they give are just plain indefensible.

In the report, we list a number of things that states can do better, which would enable us to capture the true cost of tax abatements.


Stay in touch,

Jeremy Mohler
Communications Director
In the Public Interest


In the Public Interest
1305 Franklin St., Suite 501
Oakland, CA 94612
United States

Report Overpromises in Its Advocacy for Teacher Micro-Credentials

A think tank report review from the National Education Policy Center.

April 8, 2021

Michelle Renée Valladares: (720) 505-1958,
Elena Aydarova: (334) 844-7784,

Report Overpromises in Its Advocacy for Teacher Micro-Credentials

An NEPC Review funded by the Great Lakes Center

Key Takeaway: New America report lacks validity and reliability in promoting the benefits of micro-credentials in place of traditional professional development.

EAST LANSING, MI (April 8, 2021) – New America recently published a report, Harnessing Micro-Credentials for Teacher Growth: A National Review of Early Best Practices, that champions ways that micro-credentials have been used to allow teachers to move up the career ladder, receive higher pay, or renew their licenses.

Elena Aydarova of Auburn University reviewed the report and found scarce evidence to support its ambitious claims of how micro-credentials could remedy the shortfalls of traditional professional development for teachers.

The report, along with an accompanying implementation guide, offers recommendations for how to implement and integrate micro-credentials into states’ human resources systems.

However, Professor Aydarova explains, without incorporating any of the extensive research-based knowledge on teaching, effective professional development, and teacher effectiveness policies, the report fails to recognize that micro-credential use alone does not improve teaching or student learning. This can create problems rather than provide solutions. Moreover, the report’s implementation guide starts with the idealistic assumption that states, districts, and school leaders have the capacity to select and ensure the high quality of micro-credentials before they are offered to teachers.

Professor Aydarova also points out that the primary role of micro-credentials is to assess whether teachers have acquired a particular skill, so they require additional resources to provide teachers with opportunities to develop that skill. Since micro-credentials on their own cannot provide opportunities for teacher growth and require the existence of effective professional development systems to work, the report’s title and guidelines are misleading.

Even if implemented, Professor Aydarova concludes, the report’s plan for expanding the use of micro-credentials could not deliver on its promises.

Find the review, by Elena Aydarova, at:

Find Harnessing Micro-credentials for Teacher Growth: A National Review of Early Best Practices, written by Melissa Tooley and Joseph Hood and published by New America, at:

NEPC Reviews ( provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

About The Great Lakes Center
The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform. Visit the Great Lakes Center Web Site at: Follow us on Twitter at: Find us on Facebook at:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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