September 2017
  • Janus v. AFSCME: 5 Things to Know About the Latest Union Dues Case Headed to the High Court

    By Carolyn Phenicie | September 29, 2017

    The Supreme Court on Thursday announced it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case that once again raises the question of whether public employees must pay dues even if they disagree with their union’s position.

    The case, like two others that have reached the high court in recent years, pits unions, who say mandatory fees are necessary to prevent “free riders” from benefiting from union contracts, against dissenting members, who argue that being forced to pay dues violates their First Amendment rights.

    The case is likely to be argued in January or February, according to SCOTUSblog; cases are decided by the end of the court’s term in June, and announcements on big, controversial cases usually come near the end of the term.

    What’s the case background?

    Mark Janus, the plaintiff, is a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents Janus and the other 35,000 state employees in Illinois.

    Janus doesn’t think AFSCME is working for the good of the Illinois government, he wrote in the Chicago Tribune last year. In particular, he thinks union bargaining positions and union-backed politicians have made the state’s budget and pension crisis worse, something that isn’t good for the state or for union workers who would face layoffs or pension shortfalls, he wrote.

    “The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight,” Janus wrote.

    About half of states require public employees to pay at least some union dues. Those who disagree can get a rebate on the “political” part of their union dues but must pay the part of dues that go toward collective bargaining and the like, sometimes called agency fees or fair-share fees.

    Why is this being called “Friedrichs 2.0”?

    The Supreme Court has three times in the past four years considered whether members of public employee unions must pay dues. In 2014, the court skirted the issue by deciding that the employees in question, home health aides paid by Illinois’s Medicaid system, weren’t “full-fledged” public employees who could be required to pay dues.

    Last year, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs seemed poised to win her case after her attorneys appeared to persuade Justice Antonin Scalia, the holdout among the court’s conservative bloc, during oral arguments. Scalia died before a decision was handed down, so the final outcome was a 4–4 tie that changed nothing, and justices denied a petition to rehear the case before a full bench.

    In a filing asking the court to take their case, Janus’s attorneys wrote, “This case presents the same question presented in Friedrichs.”

    What arguments do Janus and opponents of mandatory dues make?

    In the 1970s, the Supreme Court in a case called Abood said opponents of unions don’t have to pay the purely political part of union dues, but do have to continue paying the “fair share” portion.

    Janus and others, though, argue that the kind of issues public employee unions negotiate — things like state employee pay, pensions, or when teachers can be fired — are inherently political.

    “In fact, agency fees inflict the same grievous First Amendment injury as the government forcing a citizen to support a mandatory advocacy group to lobby the government,” Janus’s attorneys wrote in their Supreme Court petition.

    Friedrichs, libertarian groups, and a group of states led by Michigan also filed briefs urging the court to take Janus’s case.

    Education Next, an education journal backed by groups that support education reform efforts, this summer surveyed the general public and teachers on mandatory dues, and found that teachers narrowly oppose them, 47 percent to 44 percent, while the general public opposes them 44 percent to 37 percent.

    What arguments do unions and their supporters make?

    AFSCME argues that the Abood precedent should be maintained, because it prevents “free riders” from getting the benefits of union contracts without paying for them. They also argue that having one representative of employees makes it easier to bargain and “ensure labor peace.”

    Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, and Michael Hoffman, head of the state’s Department of Central Management Services, are also named in the complaint, and Madigan’s office filed a brief in opposition to the court taking up the dues case.

    Civil rights groups have also sided with the unions, charging that the case amounts to an attack by right-wing billionaires against working people, particularly people of color who earn more in unions.

    “The Supreme Court, and all of our courts, must be guided by the law and the Constitution, not politics. The Court should reject this political attack on long-settled rights of working people,” Seema Nanda, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a release.

    Research hasn’t shown any conclusive impact of unionized teachers on student achievement, but in districts where teachers are not unionized, compensation tends to be less and pay more tied to performance.

    Unions are preparing for a loss in court.

    Unions are already preparing for a loss: the National Education Association has budgeted for a decline in members, and state affiliates are also warning about a loss in revenue and membership.

    There’s evidence to back those concerns.

    States that have changed laws to weaken unions in recent years have seen drops in union membership. The Michigan affiliate of the National Education Association, for instance, has lost nearly 24,000 members since changes in its state law in 2012 (that’s about a 16 percent reduction), and its annual receipts have dropped by about $10 million, according to records filed with the federal Labor Department.

  • Are Student Athlete Protests Fair Game Under 1st Amendment, Or Can Schools Cry Foul? It’s ‘Murky,’ Expert Says

    By Mark Keierleber | September 29, 2017

    It’s a lovely fall Friday, and everyone knows what that means: high school football. But for anyone who plans to attend or participate in a high school sporting event this weekend, prepare for a ruckus. Not just everyday mayhem, like teens charging each other headfirst; expect the national anthem to become the big spectacle.

    What began as a silent protest by National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick — kneeling rather than standing during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in response to police brutality against blacks — has become a full-blown national debate, which has quickly made its way to high school football fields, gymnasiums, classrooms, and even school board meetings across the country. The debate intensified last week after President Trump said athletes who kneel during the anthem should be fired, calling such a protester a “son of a bitch.”

    As protests intensify in the professional realm, school districts across the country are bracing for even greater participation among high school athletes.

    On Thursday, a Louisiana high school principal’s letter quickly went viral after he warned student athletes they could be punished — up to being removed from their team — for protesting during the playing of the national anthem. As districts grapple with how to respond, some backing student protests and others clamping down, the letter raises an important question: Can schools punish student athletes who kneel during the national anthem?

    In response to the letter from Parkway High School Principal Waylon Bates, which said students must “stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana warned the district that such a demand violated students’ First Amendment rights.

    Certainly, such a reaction could open districts up to legal liability, particularly if an athlete relies on sports as a path to college, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. A tally by the National Coalition Against Censorship lists more than a dozen incidents since last year when public schools punished students for kneeling.

    But for a student, winning a legal challenge under the First Amendment, he said, may not be an easy goal.

    “Outside of a school, the law of the First Amendment would be absolutely crystal-clear, and unfortunately, it’s murky in the school setting,” LoMonte said. “The problem is, there have been judges who are willing to look the other way on the First Amendment inside a school. Can a school legally deny you membership on a football team because they don’t like your speech? I doubt it, but I think there are some judges who would disagree with me.”

    If the First Amendment protects every American’s right to free speech and to protest, why are a student’s rights any different? After all, a 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette found that schools cannot compel students to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

    “Nobody gets to decide how we express our patriotism,” student speech activist Mary Beth Tinker told The 74 on Friday. “Nobody gets to force us to act it out in a certain way, our feelings about our country and its policies. That’s part of what our country is about.”

    Tinker should know: She was the lead plaintiff in the landmark 1969 Supreme Court decision Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. During the Vietnam War, Tinker was suspended for wearing a black armband to school to protest the conflict and promote peace. In its decision, the Supreme Court set a legal standard that children do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” so long as their words or actions do not substantially disrupt the learning environment.

    Courts still use the Tinker standard to decide whether student speech at school — and sometimes even at home — is protected by the Constitution.

    “When we wore black armbands, of course people thought we were being unpatriotic and they threw red paint at our house and a lady threatened to kill me and they sent us hate mail with a hammer and sickle on it,” Tinker said. “But as I explain to kids often, people misunderstand the whole idea about patriotism, because we felt we were being patriotic toward our Constitution, not toward the specific policies of any government official.”

    LoMonte said national anthem protests among football players are a little more complicated, however, because of the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In that case, the justices ruled that a principal could censor yearbook stories about divorce and teen pregnancy because students’ articles were sponsored by the school. In 2010, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Hazelwood to rule that a high school cheerleader must cheer for everyone on the basketball team, including a player she accused of rape. As a member of the cheerleading squad, the judge ruled, the young woman was engaging in school-sponsored speech and did not have individual free-speech protections.

    Even if football players don’t engage in speech the same way as cheerleaders, do they have a right to play football? In 2007, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a high school coach could remove football players from the team for circulating a petition to have the coach fired. By sowing disharmony on the team and preventing the coach from doing his job, the judge ruled, the athletes’ speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

    “I think a lot of schools and their lawyers have taken that as a license to say, ‘We can take away athletic participation from you for any reason, even to punish you for speech,’” LoMonte said. “I don’t read the case that way, but I think a lot of schools have taken it as an invitation to say that you have no right to be a football player, and so we can take that right away from you at any time for any reason.”

    Regardless of which team school administrators join in the national conversation — the team that encourages student political discourse or the one that tries to thwart it — LoMonte said educators should see the debate as a valuable learning opportunity.

    “I think the answer is to be respectfully tolerant in a difference in political opinions and to use that demonstration as the opening for bigger conversations,” he said. “If students are kneeling to display their dissatisfaction with conditions for people of color during school events, then that seems like a very important topic for a civics discussion.”

  • How College Debt Is Reshaping America: New Study Shows Wide Variations Between States, Regions, Coasts

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 29, 2017

    The average college senior in Utah graduated with about $20,000 in loans in 2016 — the lowest total in the United States. Across the country, the typical New Hampshire graduate was in much sorrier shape: over $36,000 in hock, the nation’s highest average. Both figures come from The Institute for College Access and Success’s annual study of student debt, released last week.

    In a finding consistent with previous surveys, the report found that students in Western states accumulated the least amount of college debt, while those in the Northeast and Midwest owed the most. Loans from private banks and lenders — which often come with higher rates of interest that make them difficult to pay off — are also concentrated in certain schools and states, particularly Pennsylvania.

    Using the most recent available debt figures provided by half of all public and nonprofit four-year colleges (just 2 percent of for-profit schools provided debt data, making analysis of the sector impossible), the report’s authors ranked each state based on average amount of student debt and percentage of students who owed money. Of the 10 highest-debt states, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island make up a kind of Northeast Corridor of financial burden.

    Graduates from Western states fared much better, with Utah, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, and Washington all ranking in the bottom 10 for indebtedness.

    The geographic clustering of debt has been demonstrated in earlier iterations of the survey, as well as other analyses by personal finance groups. In part, this phenomenon can be traced to the regional dominance of old-growth private colleges like those making up the Ivy League and NESCAC conferences. With pedigree and prestige on their side, schools like Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Brown University in Rhode Island have the power to lift tuition at will.

    Meanwhile, the public university systems in some of those same states have become increasingly dependent on out-of-state students who pay higher tuition and fees to attend. In-state residents enrolled at Pennsylvania State University, considered one of the nation’s “public Ivies,” dropped from more than three-quarters of total students in 1990 to just over half in 2015. In New England, the University of Massachusetts, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Rhode Island all accepted more out-of-staters than in-state residents in 2015.

    The University of Vermont’s 2015 freshman class, astonishingly, was composed of just 20 percent Vermont residents. At the sprawling University of California system, regarded by many as the best public system in the country, out-of-state students made up just 16.5 percent of total enrollment in 2016.

    But state financing decisions play a decisive role in college affordability as well. Research from the Urban Institute’s Sandy Baum has shown that the New England states and Pennsylvania all charged among the highest tuition and fees in the country, even as they generally provided among the lowest amounts of per-student funding — both in universal terms and adjusted for student income).

  • Education Department Awards More Than $250 Million in Charter Grants; Winners Include Success, IDEA

    By Carolyn Phenicie | September 28, 2017

    The Education Department has awarded more than $250 million in charter grants to states, charter management organizations, and agencies that help finance the costs of building new schools.

    “These grants will help supplement state-based efforts to give students access to more options for their education,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a release. “Charter schools are now part of the fabric of American education, and I look forward to seeing how we can continue to work with states to help ensure more students can learn in an environment that works for them.”

    Charter management organizations that won replication grants are a who’s who of the charter world, including the latest two winners of the Broad Prize for public charter schools, IDEA Public Schools in Texas and Success Academy in New York.

    (Read The Alumni, The 74’s multimedia series on how top charter networks are supporting students through college graduation)

    Increased funding for the federal charter school program has been the one Trump administration school choice program that has found traction in recent budget debates. House lawmakers voted to give the program $370 million in their recently passed budget proposal, while a Senate committee approved $367 million. The administration had requested $500 million.

    “While these grants are critical, they fall far short of the need. We urge the administration and Congress to work together to boost the amount of [charter school] funding available to meet the demand for more and better public school options,” Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a release.

    Other charter management winners are: Ascend Learning (New York), Brooke Charter School (Massachusetts), Eagle Academy (Washington, D.C.), East Harlem Tutorial Program (New York), Environmental Charter Schools (California), Family Life Academy Charter Schools (New York), Fortune Schools of Education (California), Freedom Preparatory Academy (Tennessee), Great Oaks Foundation (New York), Hiawatha Academies (Minnesota), New Paradigm for Education (Michigan), Rocketship Education (California), Freedom and Democracy Schools Foundation (Maryland), University Prep (Colorado), and Voices College-Bound Language Academies (California).

    The CMOs will get a total of about $52 million, though the department said they should receive about $127 million, if Congress appropriates additional money.

    The state funding went to Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin. The state agencies will get a total of about $145 million, though the agency recommended they should get about $332 million.

    Funds to help startup charter schools raise the capital needed to open buildings went to organizations in Washington, D.C., California, Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi, California, Massachusetts, and Arizona. They’ll share about $57 million.


    Disclosure: Campbell Brown, The 74’s co-founder, sits on Success Academy’s board of directors.

  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules School Funding Inequity Lawsuit Must Go to Trial

    By Mark Keierleber | September 28, 2017

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday revived a lawsuit by school districts and parents that aims to force changes to the commonwealth’s school funding formula, long considered among the nation’s most inequitable.

    The decision directs the lower Commonwealth Court to hold a trial in the case. The court had thrown out the case in 2015, ruling that school funding decisions are the responsibility of the legislature, not the courts — a move backed by years of legal precedent. But Thursday’s 5–2 decision ordered a trial to determine whether funding inequities between school districts violate the equal-protection provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the commonwealth’s obligation to provide students with a “thorough and efficient system” of education.

    “It is a mistake to conflate legislative policymaking pursuant to a constitutional mandate with constitutional interpretation of that mandate and the minimum that it requires,” said the majority opinion by Justice David Wecht.

    Pennsylvania’s formula to fund schools, which relies heavily on local property taxes, has long been the subject of hot debate, and for years Pennsylvania courts have maintained that any changes must be made by the legislature.

    March report by the Education Law Center, which represents plaintiff districts in the lawsuit, argued that the school funding mechanism creates widespread inequality, particularly for schools that serve students of color and those from low-income households. Only four states provide a lower share of state revenues to public schools, according to the report, and Pennsylvania is among 14 states that provide high-poverty schools with fewer resources than wealthier districts.

    “For decades, and across multiple administrations, the state — the governor, the General Assembly — have not met their fair funding obligations to Pennsylvania schools and haven’t given children the resources they need to succeed,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of Education Law Center–PA, said during a call with reporters on Thursday. “Today’s decision sends a strong message that we need to work together to finally address this issue. We welcome the opportunity to work with the governor, to work with the General Assembly to begin bringing the commonwealth into constitutional compliance by ensuring every school has adequate resources.”

    Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include six school districts, six families, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People–Pennsylvania State Conference. Defendants include the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the state Senate, and Gov. Tom Wolf.

    Wolf said in a statement Thursday that the court decision “validates my long-held position” that the commonwealth must further examine public school funding inequity. “Today’s ruling presents an opportunity to further assure that students in Pennsylvania have access to a fair education system regardless of their ZIP code,” he said.

  • KIPP NYC Says It’s Investigating Allegations of Past Sexual Misconduct in Letter to Students & Families

    By Laura Fay | September 28, 2017

    Leaders of KIPP NYC sent a letter Wednesday informing its New York community of accusations of sexual misconduct that occurred more than 10 years ago.

    The letter states that the charter network, which operates 11 schools in New York City, has received two allegations of “possible sexual misconduct.” The accusations do not involve current students or staff.

    “We are sharing this information with you because we know this is a topic rarely spoken about openly and our hearts go out to any member of the KIPP community who has experienced abuse in any context,” says the letter, signed by KIPP co-founder Dave Levin, superintendent Jim Manly, and board chair Rafael Mayer.

    “We have reported these allegations to law enforcement and to conduct a thorough and independent investigation we retained the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a firm with extensive experience investigating and addressing allegations of abuse,” the leaders said in the letter. They included contact information for a partner at the firm, in case anyone has information about sexual misconduct involving a current or former staff member.

    KIPP schools will engage in age-appropriate conversations with students this fall about sexual misconduct and emphasize the importance of reporting any inappropriate behavior to school staff, according to the letter.

    KIPP is a national network of 209 charter schools founded in 1994. The network has a stated commitment to transparency; unlike other charter networks, it tracks its students for college completion data starting in ninth grade, even though that can make its graduation rates appear lower.

    Disclosure: The KIPP charter network and The 74 both receive funding from The Walton Family Foundation, The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Karsh Family Foundation, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • 8 Things We Know About the High School Stabbing in NYC That Left One Student Dead, Another Critically Injured

    By Mark Keierleber | September 28, 2017

    News roiled New York City residents Wednesday after a teenager was killed and another critically wounded in a stabbing at a high school in the Bronx. A classmate was arrested and charged with murder after the attack in a third-period history class at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation.

    Here’s what we know at this point:

    1. An 18-year-old suspect has been arrested

    High school student Abel Cedeno was taken into custody and charged with murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon. After the incident, Cedeno reportedly gave the knife to a school counselor and walked into the assistant principal’s office, where he waited for police to arrive.

    2. One student died, another is in critical condition

    Fifteen-year-old Matthew McCree, who was stabbed in the chest, was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. Ariane Laboy, 16, was stabbed in the arm and torso and was in critical but stable condition.

    3. The perpetrator used a 3-inch switchblade

    The weapon used in the attack has a 3-inch blade that springs forward from a 4-inch handle. Friends said Cedeno bought the $30 switchblade on Amazon two weeks ago.

    4. Bullying was a factor

    Students had begun to taunt Cedeno on the first day of school, the New York Daily News reports, and he told police that the bullying had gone on “for a while.”

    Bullying incidents increased in New York City schools in the past year, according to a recent analysis of city student survey data. Between 2016 and 2017, the Daily News found a 10 percentage point jump in bullying reports.

    Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that bullying has decreased nationally in recent years. In 2015, 20.8 percent of students 12 to 18 years reported being bullied, down from 21.45 percent in 2013. Bullying incidents are most prevalent in middle schools, the data showed.

    Learn more about bullying in schools with these flashcards by The 74.

    5. This was the first killing inside a New York City school in years

    Before Wednesday’s altercation, the most recent school violence deaths at America’s largest district occurred in the early 1990s. A 15-year-old student with an emotional disability stabbed a classmate to death in 1993 at Junior High School 25 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A fatal stabbing and a fatal shooting were recorded in 1992, both in Brooklyn.

    New York Police Department statistics show that seven serious crimes, including two assaults, occurred at the School for Wildlife Conservation during the 2016–17 year.

    In a recent analysis for The 74, Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, created a campus-by-campus safety map, based on data from 2015–16 New York City school culture surveys. More than half of teachers said order was not maintained in the school, 64 percent of students reported that peers don’t respect one another, 38 percent said there were frequent physical fights, and 34 percent reported frequent bullying. (You can search New York City schools, and read summaries of their culture surveys, in this special 74 interactive.)

    6. The building housed two schools

    Public School 67, an elementary school, and the School for Wildlife Conservation, which serves grades 6 to 12, are co-located in the same building. The suspect and both victims were students at the high school. About 1,096 students attend school in the building.

    7. The school did not have a metal detector

    New York City officials began placing metal detectors in some district middle and high schools several decades ago, at a time when school crime was more prevalent. After Wednesday’s incident, some parents were angry that the building did not have metal detectors and demanded action from Mayor Bill de Blasio. Police said during a news conference that the metal detectors could have intercepted the knife. By Thursday, de Blasio said, officials planned to equip the building with “random screening, done with metal detectors.”

    Civil rights groups have long opposed metal detectors in schools, arguing that they instill fear in students, disproportionately target poor and minority students, and fail to improve safety. City officials have debated removing the devices for several years.

    8. Violent deaths at schools are rare

    Fewer than 2.6 percent of youth homicides occur at schools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a statistic that has held relatively stable for the past decade. About 8 percent of high school students reported being involved in a physical fight on school property in the past year, according to a 2015 survey. Additionally, 5.6 percent said they skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe at school, and 4.1 percent reported carrying a weapon on school property. Of those surveyed, 6 percent reported having been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past year.

  • Taking Community College Classes in HS Is a Boon for Students — 90% Go On to Higher Ed, New Study Finds

    By Mark Keierleber | September 27, 2017

    Photo Getty Images

    An overwhelming majority of high school students who complete dual enrollment courses at local community colleges go on to pursue higher education, according to a report released Wednesday. But where they enroll after graduation — and how well they perform — varies widely among states.

    For the report, researchers tracked more than 200,000 high school students who took a community college class in 2010, and observed their progress six years later. They found 88 percent pursued higher education after high school, and within five years most had either graduated from a community college or transferred to a four-year institution.

    But though dual enrollment has becoming increasingly popular, most educators and state leaders have not closely monitored which students participate, where they enroll in college after high school, and how many of those students earn a college degree.

    Community colleges in particular should be tracking the outcomes of these students, said Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University Teachers College, which produced the report with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. In recent years, he said, adult enrollment in community colleges has dropped as high schoolers have increasingly flocked to these institutions through dual enrollment programs.

    “We advise community colleges, ‘You should be advertising the community college as a low-cost route to a bachelor’s degree, and make sure that the paths to the bachelor’s degree are clear,’” Jenkins said.

    The number of high school students participating in dual enrollment programs grew by 67 percent between 2002 and 2010, according to the researchers’ estimates, totaling 1.4 million in the 2010–11 school year, the most recent year for which national data are available. But while 15 percent of new community college students in 2010 were in dual enrollment programs, that proportion varied widely among states, from 1 percent in Georgia to 34 percent in Kentucky.

    Nationally, 47 percent of students who completed a dual enrollment course with a community college went on to attend a community college immediately after high school, and 41 percent attended a four-year institution. Only 12 percent did not attend college, researchers found. How these students performed in college varied among states, as noted in the charts below. Outcomes also varied significantly according to income level and between students who attended community college and those who went straight to a four-year college or university.

    Among those who entered community college, 46 percent earned a college degree within five years: 21 percent received an associate’s degree or certificate and 25 percent went on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    As for those who immediately enrolled in a four-year program, 64 percent — on average — received a college credential within five years, 59 percent earning a bachelor’s degree and 5 percent earning an associate’s degree or certificate.

    For both higher education paths, those from low-income households struggled to graduate at rates similar to their wealthier peers. While the achievement gap in 23 states exceeded 10 percentage points between lower- and higher-income students who attended four-year colleges after high school, it exceeded 20 percentage points in five states: New Jersey, Kansas, Ohio, California, and Texas.

    Click here for an interactive chart that breaks down the researchers’ findings for each of the 50 states.

  • The City Amazon Should Choose for Its Next Headquarters (If It’s Looking for College Grads With STEM Degrees)

    By Mark Keierleber | September 27, 2017

    Ever since Amazon announced it would open a second headquarters — a proposal that’s expected to generate up to 50,000 new jobs for the winning municipality — cities across the country have been rushing to show the online retail giant that their locale has the goods. Just about as quickly, journalists and data analysts have been trying to predict Amazon’s big decision.

    As just about every expert has already tweeted, many factors will go into Amazon’s ultimate decision: tax breaks, unemployment rates, population, proximity to major universities, average commuting times, quality of life, proximity to airports or other amenities — and, to our pleasure, education.

    Here at The 74, we’d like to think that the average education level of a given city could be enough to drive Amazon’s big next move. More than 100 cities have expressed interest in housing HQ2, according to The Seattle Times. But of those cities, we wondered, which have a sufficient supply of college-educated residents to fit Amazon’s needs?

    So we crunched the Census and education data, and ranked the contenders. Below is a new list of cities we predict could fit Amazon’s specific education needs.

    Before we get started, though, let’s be clear about one thing: This ranking isn’t exactly “scientific.” Here’s some insight into our investigation.

    In its request for proposals, Amazon announced it was looking to build its new headquarters in an area with more than 1 million residents, capable of filling about 50,000 jobs over the next few years. So we filtered America’s most populated regions, and roughly 50 metropolitan areas (many of which encompass several major cities) make the cut, according to Census Bureau estimates.

    Next, given that around 80 percent of Amazon employees have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a data analysis by Paysa, we ranked the country’s top 25 metropolitan areas by the percentage of residents (25 and older) who hold at least a bachelor’s degree:



    Based on this metric alone, Denver tops the list, at 47.5 percent. That’s good news for the Mile High City, since Amazon says it hopes to build in an area with “a highly educated labor pool.”

    Next, we wanted to consider possible specializations. While it remains unclear exactly what type of workers Amazon will solicit for its new headquarters, we’re assuming — for the sake of this debate — that those new employees will need an educational background in STEM. According to the National Science Foundation, about a third of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the country between 2000 and 2012 were for majors related to science and engineering,

    Drilling down yet further, in hopes of identifying degree holders active in the labor market, we looked at potential applicants with STEM degrees who are currently working in STEM jobs. According to a 2014 Census report, this includes roughly 25 percent of all STEM college grads.

    Using all these filters, we arrive at this list of the cities that make the cut, ranked in order of potential “qualified” employees living in the area:

    While no doubt states are waging a sophisticated financial argument, stacked with perks and incentives, to woo Amazon to their major cities, if the company made its decision based purely on the supply of potential employees and relevant educational attainment, the answer is clear.

    Given that the company will need roughly 40,000 employees with bachelor’s degrees — many of them with some level of expertise in STEM areas — they will find 57 percent more qualified college grads in New York City.

  • With Deadline Days Away, Fixes Floundering for Federal Health, Early Ed Programs Serving 9M Kids

    By Carolyn Phenicie | September 27, 2017

    Update, Sept. 29 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider a CHIP reauthorization the week of Oct. 2, Chairman Greg Walden announced. “CHIP, now in its 20th year, has always been bipartisan and we hope this extension will be no different,” he said in a release. 

    Two programs serving more than 9 million children across the United States expire Saturday, endangering vital health insurance coverage and early childhood education programs.

    Both the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have long had bipartisan support, but as of late Wednesday, it looks like there will be at least a lapse in their funding, which runs out Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

    The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood program funds scheduled visits by nurses and other health workers to help at-risk new parents and families with health, education, and parenting problems. The programs served 160,000 families in fiscal 2016, at a cost of about $372 million. The visits have been tied to improved academic outcomes for children, better economic opportunities for families, and a reduction in child abuse. It has long had support from groups ranging from early education advocates to law enforcement.

    (The 74: Nobel Winner’s Research Shows Home Nurse Visits for New Moms Boost Children’s Cognitive Skills)

    The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides low-cost health insurance to nearly 9 million children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford other insurance. The federal and state governments share the costs; the federal share this fiscal year was about $17 billion. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, sponsored the bill creating the program in 1997.

    There has been slightly more movement on a reauthorization of the home visiting program.

    The House on Tuesday narrowly passed a bill to reauthorize the program for five years, 214–209. Democrats in particular opposed the bill’s requirement that programs, most of which are run by states, gradually start raising other funding. By 2022, states will have to cover 50 percent of the costs.

    “I fear that many states will lose federal funding and will be forced to cut off home visiting services altogether. Where do you propose poorer states with lower investments in home visiting get the money to meet the matching requirements?” Rep. Alcee Hastings, Democrat of Florida, said yesterday.

    Republicans also proposed funding the program by barring Social Security benefits from being paid to anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony offense. Cutting off that payout and the state match, GOP lawmakers argued, were necessary to meet a House rule that requires programs to be fully offset.

    Advocates, who are also skeptical that states will be able to drum up the required extra dollars, are more optimistic about a pending Senate bill, which takes into account changes that do need to be made, but without the required state match, Diedra Henry-Spires, co-leader of the Home Visiting Coalition, told The 74. The coalition is an umbrella organization representing advocacy groups for pediatricians, early education, law enforcement, teen pregnancy prevention, and others.

    “We as a coalition really do favor the Senate bill, in that it takes the point of view of states, [program] models, advocates, children, parents, families, and the need for any increased accountability, and sort of balances all of that,” she said.

    Beyond being introduced, there’s been no concrete legislative movement on the Senate bill.

    Henry-Spires was reluctant to put odds on Congress reauthorizing the programs before the Saturday deadline but said, “I am disappointed that it doesn’t seem possible given the calendar.”

    One option might be a short-term extension while lawmakers hash out a larger deal, but at this point, advocates don’t have a lot of information, she said.

    An end to federal funds would mean a slow trickle of closures as federal dollars run out from program to program, and possibly the layoffs of staff who have built strong relationships with the families they serve, Henry-Spires said.

    On the CHIP reauthorization, Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee introduced a reauthorization earlier this month. The bill has not moved.

    (The 74: Hidden Costs of Senate Health Care Bill: Uninsured Kids Do Worse in School, More Likely to Drop Out)

    An end to CHIP, too, would cause a stream of children across the country to lose their health insurance, largely dependent on where they live.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation this summer surveyed states on whether they planned for a lapse in federal CHIP funding and how it would affect them.

    Nearly all — 48 of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. — assumed continuing federal funding when they wrote their state budgets for fiscal 2018 and so didn’t plan to cover those extra costs. Ten states said they’ll run out of CHIP funding by the end of the calendar year; another 22 states and D.C. will run out by March of next year. That’s crucial because some states have state laws requiring a freeze or end to CHIP programs if federal aid falls.

    Nevada, for instance, estimated it would run out of money by late November or early December, forcing officials to freeze enrollment on Nov. 1 and end coverage Nov. 30, requiring notice be sent to families by the end of October, according to Kaiser.

  • New SAT Doesn’t Change Link Between Achievement Gap and Weak College Readiness

    By David Cantor | September 27, 2017

    SAT results released Tuesday don’t provide a ton of new information. The College Board redesigned the test, making year-to-year comparisons impossible. But the outlines of student performance were familiar; as an InsideHigherEd headline put it, “New Test, Old Gaps on Race.”

    Less than half of test takers — 46 percent — achieved scores that indicate college readiness, the College Board’s shorthand for an ability to earn a C or higher in an entry-level course.

    On this year’s test, that equated to scoring at least 533 in reading and writing and 527 on math. As in the past, groups that help underserved high school students expressed alarm.

    “Less than half of our kids meeting the college-readiness benchmark?” Phillip Lovell, policy director of the Alliance for Excellent Education, told EdWeek. “That’s just not good. And it’s not sustainable.”

    (The 74: When $7B in Remediation Falls Short: The Broken Promises Colleges Make to Students Who Need More Help)

    More than 90 percent of 1.8 million students from the class of 2017 — the largest group ever — took the new version. It no longer penalized guessing and included Common Core–ish features: fewer arcane words, more focus on the use of evidence, fewer but deeper math problems. It’s also shorter and was recalibrated to render a score on the traditional 1600-point scale.

    The nearly 10 percent rise in test takers (including the PSAT) would typically have driven down scores. But the new test yielded higher if non-comparable numbers, with an average score of 533 on reading and writing and 527 on math. These are higher than past versions of the test produced in recent decades.

    The race/ethnicity breakdowns yielded expected disparities: Asian students achieved at higher levels than their peers, with an average score of 1181. White and multiracial students averaged 1118 and 1103, respectively — all considerably above the 1060 average for all test takers. Hispanic students, who scored 990 on average, and black students, who scored an average of 941, trailed substantially.

    College-readiness gaps reflected these differences. Asian students (70 percent) were three and a half times as likely to be prepared as black students (20 percent). Fifty-nine percent of white students, 54 percent of multiracial students, and 31 percent of Hispanic students met the College Board threshold.

    Twelve percent of Asian students and 15 percent of whites failed to reach the mark in either reading and writing or math, compared with 39 percent of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students.

    Researchers have shown that the SAT does not define student ability, and the College Board itself says, “It is important to note that college readiness is a continuum — students scoring below the SAT benchmarks can still be successful in college, especially with additional practice and perseverance.”

    High school grade point average is usually considered a better predictor of college success. Non-cognitive strengths, such as self-discipline and confidence, often compensate for weaker academic preparation.

    Studies have also identified a series of achievements and behavior beginning in elementary school — third-grade literacy, low middle school absence rates, passing Algebra I in eighth grade — that are associated with post-graduate success.

    Nor is the College Board’s readiness score sacrosanct. In 2013, headlines greeted Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard shortly after he arrived in perennially distressed Camden, New Jersey. In a school system of 11,000 students, a total of three scored high enough to be considered college-ready. The test indicators were accurate: Camden schools were in bad shape. Even so, “a lot more than three students are going to college,” he said.

  • Record Heat Wave Closes Schools Across 5 States: What Research Says About Kids Being Too Hot to Learn

    By Laura Fay | September 26, 2017

    As a fall heat wave brings unseasonable temperatures in the 80s and 90s to parts of the United States, schools in at least five states have closed or dismissed students early.

    Schools closed for full or half days Monday and Tuesday in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.

    In Detroit and nearby Pontiac, schools had half days Monday and Tuesday, according to The Detroit News. The 74 has reported that just 1 in 3 schools in Detroit has sufficient air conditioning even though temperatures in spring and fall rise into the 80s and 90s.

    Half the schools in Kent County, Michigan, the district that includes Grand Rapids, also closed early Monday and Tuesday, according to Schools in other districts, including Flint, sent students home early Tuesday, NBC 25 News reported.

    Parma City Schools in Ohio closed for the full day Monday and Tuesday. One teacher there said this is the first time he’s ever seen school closed for heat.

    In eastern Pennsylvania, Tunkhannock schools had a half day Tuesday, as did a few schools in New York’s Hudson Valley. In Illinois, the Decatur school district closed early Tuesday, according to the Herald & Review.

    A public records request by The 74 earlier this year revealed that some schools in 11 of America’s largest districts lack sufficient air conditioning, which can be critical for learning on hot days. (You can read the full investigation here: Too Hot to Learn — Records Show Nearly a Dozen of the Biggest School Districts Lack Air Conditioning.)

    One of those districts — Hawaii — launched a public initiative this school year to cool the temperatures in more than 1,000 classrooms across the state.

    Teachers and others agree that excessive heat negatively affects students.

    “Some may think it is overkill, but we should be concerned about hot classrooms and buses like we get concerned about kids being left in hot cars,” Dr. Andrew Weise, an emergency room doctor, told

    Teachers told The 74 that hot classrooms can make students irritable and unfocused, which may cause behavior problems.

    Harvard research also indicates that student test scores suffer when temperatures rise.

    “Evidence from 4.5 million New York City high school exit exams indicates that heat exposure may affect educational performance in both the short and long run,” Harvard’s Jisung Park wrote in February. “Taking an exam on a 90-degree day relative to a 72-degree day results in a reduction in exam performance that is equivalent to a quarter of the Black-White achievement gap, and meaningfully affects longer-run educational outcomes as well, leading to a 12.3% higher likelihood of failing a subject exam and a 2.5% lower likelihood of on-time high school graduation.”

  • Why the Race to Find Bilingual Teachers? Because in Some States, 1 in 5 Students Is an English Language Learner

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 25, 2017

    There is a persistent shortage of dual-language teachers as the number of English language learners in American schools continues to rise. While a number of districts have looked to the short-term solution of hiring from Spanish-speaking countries like Spain and Mexico, two new papers from New America highlight recommendations for how to incubate bilingual talent stateside.

    Roughly 5 million K-12 students in the United States are classified as ELLs, specifically targeted for assistance in achieving English proficiency. That accounts for about 1 in every 10 American schoolchildren, the great majority of them children of Spanish-speaking immigrants. And although they are sometimes assumed to be clustered in states like California, Texas, and Florida, tens of thousands have also trekked to the Pacific Northwest.

    The two new papers from New America showcase the region’s struggle to recruit qualified bilingual educators and help ELLs catch up with their native English-speaking classmates. Researchers identified methods that have helped remove licensure barriers and bring more dual-language educators into the system, though they also highlight the danger posed by President Trump’s threat to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

    According to a 2015 study by the Migration Policy Institute, the state of Washington boasts the eighth-largest ELL population in the country, and both Washington and Oregon are among the nine states with the highest ELL student density. Stymied by a dearth of existing candidates with highly specialized credentials, two districts in those states resolved to create their own. Yet both will struggle to retain them if the Trump administration makes good on its commitment to end DACA, which is estimated to protect 20,000 teachers from deportation.

    (Courtesy Migration Policy Institute)

    Although reports abound of DACA-eligible students wracked with uncertainty over their immigration status, the full impact of the program’s repeal will be borne by countless other children if their teachers simply disappear from school. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who presides over a district that is over 30 percent ELL, said in a recent Vox interview that he has specifically tried to attract DACA teachers.

    “It’s hard to find great teachers, period. Great bilingual teachers is even more important,” he said. “And we have very strong teachers here that we’ve invested in and helped train.”

    (The 74 Interview: Denver Schools Chief Talks ‘Trump Effect,’ School Closures, and Teacher Performance Pay)

    Mexico’s education department has announced that it will gladly hire returning Dreamers to act as English language instructors if the program is not renewed by act of Congress. In what could be the greatest irony of the DACA saga, Americans may soon find that they had access to a small army of potential bilingual teachers — but instead of deploying them to fill a dire shortage at home, they paid to send them to a foreign country.

    In the first report, New America researcher Amaya Garcia studies an alternative certification program in Western Washington’s Highline Public Schools. Of the district’s nearly 20,000 students, about 25 percent are ELLs, and a local absence of bilingual teachers has forced administrators to come up with a creative solution: the Woodring Highline Future Bilingual Teacher Fellow Program. Participants in the two-year fellowship can earn bachelor’s degrees and K-8 teaching certificates by working as full-time classroom paraprofessionals and taking education classes on nights and weekends.

    Targeting paraprofessionals for roles in bilingual instruction is demographically savvy, Garcia writes. While teachers are much less likely than the greater public to be Hispanic, bilingual, or foreign-born, classroom aides essentially mirror national averages in all three categories.

    (Courtesy New America)

    The Future Bilingual Teacher Fellow Program, funded in part by state grants, represents just one facet of Washington’s mission to buoy English learners. Gov. Jay Inslee and the legislature have worked for years to channel more funding to dual language immersion programs, and the state monitors the academic outcomes of all students who were ever designated as ELL.

    (The 74: 3 Ways Washington State Leads the Nation for English Language Learners)

    In neighboring Oregon, Portland Public Schools — the state’s largest school district — had already offered dual language immersion for 25 years when the city moved to dramatically expand its offerings in 2011. The move proved popular, and soon more affluent, English-speaking parents were seeking bilingual education for their own children. So overwhelming was the demand for placement that an enrollment lottery turned away nearly as many students as it accepted. Suddenly, the district needed at least a dozen more bilingual teachers.

    “We have a staffing shortage,” a district employee told Garcia. “We’ve done trips to Puerto Rico, we have brought in visiting international teachers, but that’s still not meeting the need that we have. So we decided that we need to grow them ourselves.”

    In 2016, the district teamed with Portland State University to create its own talent pipeline, the PPS & PSU Dual Language Teacher Partnership. The university, which has already run its own bilingual teaching pathway for decades, helps screen applicants for the 28 fellowship slots. Recruits must hold a bachelor’s degree, pass a language fluency test, and gain admission to one of the school’s education programs. Once accepted, they are employed as either lead teachers, substitutes, or paraprofessionals while working on their graduate coursework.

    A year into the program, the district has placed teachers in all of its bilingual education positions. According to the district’s director of dual language programs, “It’s been very, very successful. We don’t have a bilingual teacher gap at this point.”

  • South Dakota to Offer College Acceptance Based on Smarter Balanced Scores

    By Carolyn Phenicie | September 25, 2017

    Updated – The original version of this article misstated that Idaho was the first state to guarantee admission to its state universities based on Smarter Balanced scores. Idaho guarantees general admission to its state universities based on a combination of SAT or ACT scores and grade point average.

    Exciting news is hitting mailboxes in South Dakota this month: guaranteed college admission to the state’s public universities for seniors who hit standardized test score benchmarks.

    Seniors who scored a level 3 or 4 on both the English language arts and math Smarter Balanced tests in 11th grade, or a composite score of 18 on the ACT, are guaranteed general admission to the state’s six public colleges and four technical institutes.

    The letters went to 4,439 students out of a total class of 8,015 eligible students enrolled in public school in both 11th and 12th grade, or about 55.5 percent. The state’s average ACT score for last year’s senior class was 21.8.

    This proactive admission is particularly aimed at students who may not have even considered higher education, Secretary of Education Melody Schopp told The 74.

    Students who hadn’t seriously thought about college, particularly those who would be the first in their families to attend, might not think to take the ACT. They all, however, have to take the Smarter Balanced test.

    “We’re reaching a group we’ve not reached before,” Schopp said.

    The move was spurred by Mike Rush, the executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, Schopp said. He previously worked in Idaho, which guarantees general admission to its state universities based on SAT or ACT scores and grade point average.

    As of 2015, 27.5 percent of South Dakotans age 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 30.6 percent of the U.S. population at large, according to Census data. The state’s high school graduation rate for 2014–15 was 83.9 percent, compared with the national average of 83.2 percent the same year.

    The new admissions guarantee is the latest in a series of efforts to encourage college attendance and persistence, Schopp said.

    (Read Richard Whitmire’s The Alumni about the efforts by America’s top charter networks to guide their high school graduates to — and through — college)

    “We have been really focused on making sure that we are helping students to really think about the potential of going on to post-secondary,” she said.

    For the last few years, the state has notified students who, based on test scores, might need to take remediation classes in college, and paid for extra courses to help them catch up. If they pass exams, the colleges will accept that as adequate remediation.

    (The 74: When $7B in Remediation Falls Short: The Broken Promises Colleges Make to Students Who Need More Help)

    A little more than a third of the senior class will receive those remediation coursework letters for either reading or math this year. A smaller number, 516, or 6.4 percent of the senior class, will receive both an admissions letter and a notification about remedial coursework.

    Only 17 percent of the senior class will receive neither letter.

    Students who meet the test benchmarks still must complete a written application. Some majors will have different standards, and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has higher ACT score requirements.

  • Thousands of Parents Write Mayor De Blasio as NYC Stalls in Identifying Available Space for Charter Schools

    By Laura Fay | September 25, 2017

    Thousands of charter school parents across New York City are trying to get their mayor’s attention.

    As the New York Daily News reported late last week, an initial mountain of letters were delivered to City Hall last Thursday, all signed by parents petitioning Mayor Bill de Blasio to speed up the city’s approval process for charter schools still awaiting classroom space.

    The letter initiative was organized by Families for Excellent Schools, a lobbying group that advocates in support of charter schools. “All public school students deserve access to public space. Please give our kids the space they need to learn,” the letter states.

    Several parents rallied at City Hall Thursday to deliver more than 3,500 signed copies of the form letter; the Daily News reports that additional letters are expected to arrive via email and snail mail.

    Parents leave the mailroom at the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building (Courtesy Families for Excellent Schools)

    City charter leaders had set a deadline of September 1 for the mayor to respond to their requests for space for the 2018–19 school year, the Daily News reported. The requests have not been approved, leaving administrators unable to formalize plans for their schools or inform families about the developments.

    “Enough is enough — public charter school families need the de Blasio administration to identify space for their children no later than October 13th,” said Families for Excellent Schools CEO Jeremiah Kittredge in a statement emailed to The 74.

    Some parents have stated publicly that they’re frustrated because they don’t know where their future school will be located.

    “I think it’s unfair to have charter school parents in this limbo,” Miriam Reyes of East Flatbush told the Daily News. Reyes’s son son attends Success Academy Bergen Beach charter school. She wants him to attend a new Success Academy middle school next year, but the school is one of several waiting for location details from City Hall.

    Parents of children attending Bronx Charter School for the Arts and Success Academy appear outside New York City’s David N. Dinkins Municipal Building on September 21. (Courtesy Families for Excellent Schools)

    A spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, however, says the process is more complicated than just matching schools with available empty spaces.

    “When siting a school in a DOE building, whether district or charter, we believe in a lot of community engagement,” said Michael Aciman via email. “Public feedback and open meetings are important to a successful schools siting. We’ll continue to closely coordinate with each charter organization requesting space.”

    State law requires the city to provide charter schools with public space when it is available or to provide leasing assistance for charters to lease private space when public space is not available.

    Here’s the full text of the letter that parents signed:

    Mayor de Blasio,

    I am a resident of New York City and a supporter of public charter schools.

    Every public school student deserves to be treated fairly. But right now, public charter school students are not treated equally. Public charter school students are being denied access to empty public space.

    No public school student should be shut out of public space. It is your duty to provide equal access to every student in their care, and bias against some of the kids in your public school system is unacceptable. 112 schools across NYC have been sitting half empty for years, but public charter school kids haven’t been given classroom space.

    Mayor de Blasio — all public school students deserve access to public space. Please give our kids the space they need to learn.

  • On Scene: Photos Capture a Chaotic, Confusing Race to Rescue Kids From Collapsed Mexico City School

    By Laura Fay | September 21, 2017

    As Mexico City residents and emergency responders continue to search for trapped survivors following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, one story in particular has captured the world’s attention — that of a supposed 12-year-old girl whom rescuers spotted wiggling her fingers from her entrapment inside a Mexico City elementary school. (Officials now say there are no remaining surviving children in the school, The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.)

    Rescuers continue to look for survivors in Mexico. (Photo by BBC)

    Dramatic photos and videos from the rescue efforts captured crowds gathered at Enrique Rebsamen school, some raising their fists to indicate that the crowd should be silent so rescuers can listen for signs of life, according to various reports and tweets.

    Others were ready to pass out water and help the rescue efforts.

    Volunteers collect aid to assist people at the Enrique Rebsamen school, collapsed in the deadly earthquake that struck Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Rafael S. Fabres/Getty Images)

    Mexican rescue teams look for people trapped in the rubble at the Enrique Rebsamen elementary school in Mexico City on Sept. 20, 2017. (MARIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

    Mexican rescue teams look for people trapped in the rubble at the Enrique Rebsamen elementary school in Mexico City on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo: MARIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

    A video posted by the BBC Thursday showed some children being rescued from the building. A longer version of the video was initially shared on Twitter by Isabel Miranda de Wallace, a Mexican activist, Wednesday.

    A crying child is rescued from a school after the devastating earthquake in Mexico. (Photo by Isabel Miranda de Wallace)

    The scene seemed tense, and often terrifying, for families waiting for loved ones who might be in the school. One family was told a child was taken to a hospital, then told the child was still in the building, and later told the child had died before being rescued, The New York Times reported.

    Volunteers and others help assist the people from the Enrique Rebsamen school, collapsed in the deadly earthquake that struck Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Rafael S. Fabres/Getty Images)

    As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the BBC reported that the death toll from the 7.1-magnitude earthquake was 230 people across Mexico, 100 of those in Mexico City, the country’s capital. At least 19 students and six adults died in the collapsed school and 11 were rescued, according to the BBC report.

  • Singapore Math in Britain: U.K. Looks to Asian Textbooks to Raise Standards, Test Scores in 8,000 Schools

    By Laura Fay | September 19, 2017

    The United Kingdom is betting on Asian-style textbooks and strategies to raise its math scores.

    The British government has set aside about $54 million to help 8,000 elementary schools adopt the mastery approach to mathematics used in Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. The money will be used for textbooks and teacher training in about half the elementary schools in the country.

    Experts say this is the first time a Western government has committed to transforming classrooms based on an Eastern model of math education, The New York Times reported.

    In the mastery approach, based on the belief that everyone can succeed in math with practice and hard work, teachers introduce fewer topics but guide students into a deeper understanding of what they cover. The focus is on whole-group instruction, and all students must master a concept or skill before the class moves on.

    Schools in Singapore started using the approach in the 1980s, when that country’s students “weren’t even registering on the charts as far as international ratings go,” said Dan Brillon, director of Singapore Math Inc. But within a decade, he said, Singaporean students “shot to the top” — and they’ve been there ever since.

    Teachers around the world, including some in the United States and Britain, have adopted the Singapore style, which includes a strong visual element that helps students connect concrete and abstract concepts. This approach also blends fluency with conceptual understanding.

    (The 74: 6 Reasons Singapore Math Might Just Be the Better Way)

    In 2015, U.K. students placed 27th in mathematics on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, an international test for 15-year-olds, while students from China and Singapore routinely rank at the top.

    “I am confident that the steps we are taking now will ensure young people are properly prepared for further study and the 21st century workplace, and that the too-often heard phrase ‘can’t do maths’ is consigned to the past,” Minister of State for School Standards and Member of Parliament Nick Gibb said in a statement.


    A lesson from the textbook series Maths — No Problem! (Courtesy of Maths — No Problem!)

    The initiative has given textbook companies an opportunity to take a fresh look at how they teach math.

    A number of publishers have submitted revised textbooks to the British Department for Education, and one, called Maths — No Problem!, has been approved, the Financial Times reported. Maths — No Problem! was adapted from a set of Singaporean books and has been used in some elementary school classrooms since 2014, said Andy Psarianos, founder and CEO of the publishing company, also called Maths — No Problem!.

    Psarianos told The 74 that the books retain the Singapore style while meeting British national standards for math education, which outline specific learning outcomes for students. The company also provides teacher training, ongoing support, and supplemental materials.

    The government will conduct another textbook review in the fall.

    “We hope to be able to approve more [books] later in the year. The standards they have to reach are necessarily very high,” department spokesman Michael Murphy-Pyle wrote in an email to The 74.

    Collins Learning, the education branch of HarperCollins, plans to submit a textbook called Real Shanghai Mathematics, which was produced in collaboration with Shanghai Century Publishing Group, spokeswoman Fiona McGlade told The 74. She said she anticipates the books will be in British classrooms starting in January.

    Translators swapped out the symbols for renminbi — Chinese currency — for pounds, but otherwise the books were translated directly into English, McGlade said in an email.

    “The original books had been very carefully developed over a period of more than 10 years, and the value of that pedagogy is extremely high. Any adaptation interferes with the integrity of the original books and could negatively affect their efficacy. We did not want to take this chance,” she said.

    Colin Hughes, managing director of Collins Learning, expects the new curriculum will be more difficult than the one British schoolchildren currently learn.

    “It will be more demanding, but I hope that schools take up the challenge,” Hughes told the Financial Times. “After all, maths is a universal language.”

  • College Attendance Continues to Decline: 85% of College Admissions Directors Worry They Won’t Hit Enrollment Goals

    By Kevin Mahnken | September 19, 2017

    Fifty-five percent of college admissions directors said in a recent poll that they were “very concerned” about hitting enrollment targets for 2017–18, up from just 31 percent in 2015. All told, 85 percent voiced at least some doubt about meeting their goals for the year, yet more evidence of a nationwide decline in college attendance that has been measured for several years.

    The officials voiced their worries as part of Inside Higher Ed’s annual Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, which solicited responses from more than 450 administrators at public, private, and for-profit schools from July to August. The fight for new applicants was the main focus of the study, though participants also gave provocative answers to questions on free-tuition schemes, the use of social media in admissions, and higher education’s response to the 2016 elections.

    Just 34 percent of those polled said their institutions had met the coming year’s enrollment goals by the traditional May 1 deadline; that figure represents an 8-percentage-point dip from two years prior. Highly desirable, doctorate-granting public universities — schools like Clemson, University of Virginia, and Purdue — are the only institutions for which a majority of respondents (59 percent) had admitted full classes by May 1. Only about a quarter of public baccalaureate (22 percent) and community colleges (27 percent) had done so.

    (The 74: The Rise of ‘College Admissions Sabotage’: When HS Seniors Use Social Media to Rat Out Their Classmates)

    Those soft figures are the clearest indication thus far that a “college admissions bubble” has at least partially deflated. After peaking at 20.6 million students in 2011, nationwide enrollment sagged to just over 19 million last year. The result has been a significant slowdown in tuition increases as postsecondary institutions of all kinds adjust to the correction.

    The phenomenon’s primary cause is demographic: After ever-climbing millennial hordes made their way to college over the past few decades, declining birth rates have yielded fewer 18-year-olds, and not even elevated high school graduation rates can make up the difference. Obama-era clampdowns on the for-profit college industry have also dramatically shrunk the size of that sector.

    Fewer students overall means fewer dollars for degree-granting institutions to chase, leading to mass school closures over the past few years. The total number of both two- and four-year colleges eligible to award federal financial aid dropped almost 9 percent between 2012–13 and 2016–17, with media accounts proliferating of small private colleges blinking out of existence.

    Some other findings from the study included:

    • Following the surprise presidential election victory for Donald Trump last November, 30 percent of the admissions directors said their institutions had worked harder to recruit low-income white students. Thirty-eight percent said they had increased recruiting of students from rural areas. The Education Advisory Board has dubbed rural students the “holy grail” for college recruiters.
    • Free tuition programs, such as New York’s new Excelsior Scholarship program, have become a source of division between admissions officers in private versus public institutions. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they support the goal of free tuition, while 34 percent disagree. Half of public university officials thought the schemes were a good idea, while almost as many (46 percent) of their private school counterparts believed the opposite. More starkly, 85 percent of private school respondents said they believed free tuition to be a threat to their institutions.
    • Admissions directors for private institutions also have a much higher threshold for what they consider a reasonable level of student debt for a four-year degree. The vast majority of private administrators believe a reasonable debt level to be between $10,000 and $40,000, whereas the range among most public directors falls between $5,000 and $30,000.

    • While admissions directors largely agree that U.S. colleges have become too dependent on international students from a few countries — such as China and India — few believe that to be the case at their own institutions.

    • Just 14 percent of respondents said that admissions officers should check the social media accounts of prospective students, while four times as many (57 percent) said they should not. Still, in the wake of Harvard’s decision to revoke acceptance from 10 students who made offensive comments on a private Facebook group, three-fifths said that the university was correct in its decision.

  • The War Against ‘Lunch Shaming’: NYC Joins Growing List of Cities and Districts That Are Rethinking Mealtime

    By Kei-Sygh Thomas | September 18, 2017

    The day before students returned to class this month, New York City officials announced that all 1.1 million public school students would be provided with a free daily lunch. The move came a few months after state Senator Liz Krueger and state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon introduced a bill to address school meal debt — and, more specifically, lunch shaming — across the state.

    Lunch shaming is the practice of publicly penalizing students — whether stamping their wrists, calling them out of line, requiring manual labor, or providing alternative meals — for past-due lunch balances that their parents have not paid. (In one notable example last year, an Alabama student was forced to walk around with “I Need Lunch Money” stamped on his arm.)

    Mayor Bill de Blasio was slow to roll out universal lunch citywide, but groups like Community Food Advocates praised the administration’s “universal lunch” approach for creating a system that will go beyond lunch balances to also provide for students who may have refused to ever apply for free or reduced-price lunch to avoid being stigmatized by their peers.

    Since long before lunch shaming became a top issue of concern for America’s largest school district, educators and advocates have been making inroads in smaller states and districts across the country, convincing state education leaders to rethink their policies for low-income students. In several states this year, and in three of the country’s 10 largest school districts — New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston Independent — this advocacy has yielded new laws, rules, and policies.

    Here’s a recap of how America’s school cafeterias have changed in 2017:

    • New York: In early September, NYC rolled out universal lunch to put an end to lunch shaming.
    • Washington, D.C.: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the National School Lunch Program, now requires all districts to have written policies regarding unpaid meal charges. These policies must now be communicated to staff, parents, and the community as of the 2017–18 school year.
    • Oregon: The state Senate unanimously approved a bill in June to provide lunch to all students regardless of ability to pay.
    • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in June forbidding lunch shaming for students who run out of funds in their lunch accounts.
    • Pennsylvania: A bipartisan bill to prohibit schools from stigmatizing children with outstanding balances was introduced in June.
    • California: In May, the Senate approved legislation preventing schools from shaming practices and denying students lunch if a parent/guardian has not yet paid.
    • New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Student Rights Bill in April that outlawed shaming tactics for students and declared that all schools receiving federal food subsidies must work directly with parents to address debts and assist them with signing up for federal food programs.

    Media coverage of the damaging shaming trend has prompted celebrities like John Legend to take up the issue, and inspired Good Samaritans like this Idaho second-grader who sold lemonade to pay down other kids’ school lunch debt.

  • State Weighing the Future of Struggling Houston Schools After Hurricane Harvey Disrupts District Calendar

    By Mark Keierleber | September 17, 2017

    Even before Hurricane Harvey hit, a storm was brewing for some of Houston’s lowest-performing schools. Just 10 days before the hurricane made landfall in Texas, the state education department released its latest school ratings, putting the city on notice.

    After several consecutive years of poor academic performance, 10 of Houston’s long-struggling schools had once again failed to make the grade, putting the nation’s seventh-largest district in danger of state intervention, including a possible takeover. Now, following several weeks of missed classes, millions of dollars in damage to school facilities and supplies, and displacement for millions of Texas students, state lawmakers and education officials are debating how to proceed with a state law that holds schools accountable for student academic performance.

    House Speaker Joe Straus on Thursday called for the public education committee to explore tweaks to the state’s school accountability system “to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts” as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.

    Under a 2015 law, any district that has schools with “improvement required” ratings on state tests for five consecutive years faces state intervention starting in 2018. Houston’s Kashmere High School, which received its eighth consecutive “improvement required” rating in August, helped motivate state lawmakers to pass the 2015 rule. The law could force sweeping changes in dozens of Texas districts.

    Before the storm, Houston school board trustees said they were already working on a plan to turn around underperforming schools, including 10 that face state intervention. Those schools are included in the district’s new “achieve 18” plan, which devoted $24 million to improve 32 struggling district schools.

    Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a meeting Wednesday that the Texas Education Agency is discussing ways to proceed with accountability decisions for low-performing schools, though he doesn’t anticipate a delay in state tests.

    “We haven’t made any final decisions yet,” he said, “but we do still want to make sure students know how to read, write, and do math, and so the issues related to accountability that come up are fairly complicated.”

    Meanwhile, the agency approved waivers that exempt students in hurricane-affected districts from making up nine school days lost because of the storm. But the Houston school board voted Thursday to extend the school day this fall at 12 campuses to make up for lost instructional time.

    Most of Houston’s district schools opened Monday after a two-week delay, and schools that experienced the most severe hurricane damage are opening on a rolling basis.

    Students at four schools that are scheduled to reopen Monday will be in class for an additional 25 minutes every day, while students at eight schools scheduled to open Sept. 25 will attend class for an extra 55 minutes a day. The extended time will be in effect through December.

    The 10 schools that could prompt state intervention opened their doors last week.

    “We have to be creative in how we get our students all their instructional time for state requirements,” Houston Superintendent Richard Carranza said in a news release. “More importantly, we have to get this instructional time in because it’s the right thing to do in order to ensure none of our students are left behind because of a natural disaster beyond anyone’s control.”

    Carranza initially estimated $700 million in storm-related damage to the district, including damages to school facilities and equipment. He told the school board on Thursday, however, that number “is coming down significantly,” though he didn’t provide an updated estimate. Since the storm struck, he said, the district has received $1.3 million in donations to help offset recovery costs.

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