January 2018
  • Florida Legislation Would Offer Private School Vouchers to Bullying Victims

    By Mark Keierleber | January 31, 2018

    In a state well known for its massive, billion-dollar school voucher programs, lawmakers in Florida are looking to give tax dollars for private education to a whole new class of students: bullying victims.

    Billed as “Hope Scholarships,” the program would provide private school tuition assistance to students who are victims of bullying, robbery, sexual offenses, or other violence at public schools. If passed, the scholarship would also allow victims to transfer to another public school.

    Proponents maintain the legislation — proposed in both the state Senate and House — would offer choices to students trapped in hopeless situations. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has dubbed the program a top priority this legislative session, said the scholarships would give bullying victims “hope, dignity, and a real opportunity to succeed.”

    To bolster their position, proponents have pointed to state education department data showing that more than 47,000 violent incidents occurred in the public system during the 2015–16 school year. Those incidents include hazing, fighting, and bullying. Federal law requires public schools to address discriminatory harassment, and Florida law requires schools to adopt policies that prohibit bullying.

    Opponents decried the proposals as cynical ploys to expand the state’s private school voucher offerings, often at the expense of the very students they’re claiming to help. But Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican who sponsored the House bill, rejected the notion that the program is “some sort of Trojan horse.”

    “I mean, let’s just be clear, the bill does provide options,” he told The 74. “I believe that’s a good thing. I think any parent whose child has been subject to this level of abuse or assault or rampant bullying would also agree that’s a good thing.”

    Unlike public schools, private schools often are not required to follow laws that protect students from discrimination based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. For example, under Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program, which provides private tuition dollars to more than 30,000 children with disabilities, students waive protections from a federal civil rights law that protects special-needs kids.

    Asked whether private schools should be required to accept students who were bullied for their gender identity, Donalds said his legislation would not force institutions to accept the scholarships. If they do choose to accept the money, he said, schools would be free to use the dollars however they wish.

    “I have three children,” he said. “When I look for schools, I’m looking for ‘What’s going to be in the best interest of my children?’ As a parent taking my child out of a toxic environment … why would I then try to go play politics in another environment that’s not going to be conducive for my child? That just doesn’t make sense.”

    Both the Senate and House bills would allow residents to donate their taxes to the scholarship program when they buy or register a car. While the Senate bill would allow Florida residents to donate up to $20 to the program, on Tuesday the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee bumped up the contribution cap to $105 in the House bill, an amount Donalds estimates would allow the program to reach about 6,000 students in its first year and cost $40 million.

    Although both bills note that school principals are required to investigate bullying allegations, the Senate version says allegations must be “substantiated” in order for bullied students to receive the funding. The House bill would only require principals to notify parents of their options when an allegation is reported.

    Several Florida Republicans have expressed their opposition to the legislation — they noted the proposal removes victims from schools while keeping perpetrators in a position where they could harm others — and other leading critics include Democrats, teachers unions, and civil rights groups.

    Though the bills are framed through the lens of bullying, Zoe Savitsky, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the legislation a “cynical” attempt to expand Florida’s private school voucher options. Instead of providing taxpayer dollars so a student can go elsewhere, she said, lawmakers could work to improve school climate by hiring additional counselors or providing teachers with additional professional development.

    Following a series of investigative articles by the Orlando Sentinel, which found that private schools that accept nearly a billion dollars in vouchers operate with little state oversight, several bills proposed tighter accountability.

    As the legislation progresses in Tallahassee, Savitsky rejected the idea that the scholarships could provide bullying victims a path out of a desperate situation.

    “If the public schools fail a particular child or a particular class of children, parents, administrators, advocates like my organization, the state government, the federal government, any number of actors can come in and demand, under the law, that the public school system does better,” she said. “That capacity simply does not exist in the private system.”

  • EduClips: School Infrastructure: A Missed Opportunity for SOTU?; NYC’s Achievement Gaps in 4 Charts — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 31, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE — Despite calls to include school infrastructure in his first State of the Union, the President did not mention America’s aging schools in his speech Tuesday. For many, that was a missed opportunity. Nationally, the average school building age was 44 years old when data was last collected, in 2012–13. Kosta Diamantis, president of the National Council on School Facilities, sent a letter to Trump urging him to name school infrastructure funding as a priority in the speech, noting that last year America’s schools got a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. (Read at

    National News

    CHARTER SCHOOLS — Growth of Charter Schools Is Slowing Down. Here’s What’s Behind the Trend (Read at Education Week)

    STATE OF THE UNION — Trump Delves Into DACA Deal During State of the Union Address; All But Forgets to Mention K-12 Education (Read at

    GRADUATION SCANDAL — Investigation finds D.C. schools fostered a culture of passing students (Read at The Washington Post)

    DATA PRIVACY — House Education Panel Debates Student Data Privacy (Read at Politics K-12)

    RURAL SCHOOLS — Rural schools find an online resource to fill gaps in mental health services for students (Read at Hechinger Report)

    KOCH NETWORK — The Daily 202: Koch network laying groundwork to fundamentally transform America’s education system (Read at The Washington Post)

    District and State News

    ILLINOIS — Amid school-funding issues throughout state, Illinois education agency to hire storytellers (Read at The Southern Illinoisan)

    NEW YORK — These four graphs illustrate New York City’s stark achievement gaps by race and income (Read at Chalkbeat)

    FLORIDA — Miami-Dade Schools’ grad rate continues to rise, sets new high (Read at Miami’s Community Newspapers)

    CALIFORNIA — What California Schools Learned From Recent Disasters (Read at San Francisco Public Press)

    NEVADA — Clark County schools operating with shortage of psychologists (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    NEW YORK — Union wins victory in legal fight over KIPP charter school in South Bronx (Read at Chalkbeat)

    PENNSYLVANIA — Audit: Many Pa. school bus drivers aren’t meeting basic qualifications (Read at WHYY)

    TEXAS — Texas board considers Mexican-American studies course, after two failed attempts at a textbook (Read at The Texas Tribune)

    PUERTO RICO — Puerto Rico Proposes Hundreds of School Closures, With Many Students Looking to U.S. Mainland (Read at Newsweek)

    TEXAS — Opinion: Finally special education reform is on the way (Read at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

    FLORIDA — Florida House Democrats Vow to Oppose GOP Education Priority, Fight Anti-Union Language (Read at WLRN)

    HAWAII — Charter Schools and Special Ed Will Be in the Legislative Spotlight (Read at the Honolulu Civil Beat)

    Think Pieces

    CHARTER SCHOOLS — Proposal: The Future of the Charter School Movement Requires a New Political Strategy (Read at

    STATE POLITICS — This year, state leaders need to make K-12 education a priority (Read at The Hill)

    HAPPINESS — Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness (Read at The New York Times)

    Quote of the Day

    The federal government has kept its eyes closed for well too long.” —Kosta Diamantis, president of the National Council on School Facilities, on the need to repair America’s aging school infrastructure. (Read at

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  • America’s Aging Schools: Was School Infrastructure a Missed Opportunity for President’s State of the Union Speech?

    By Laura Fay | January 31, 2018

    In Hawaii, 1 in 5 schools is more than 100 years old, and the average age of a school building is 61.

    Hawaii’s public schools need $293 million to catch up on overdue repairs and maintenance, a 5 percent increase over the year before, Hawaii News Now reported late last year.

    But Hawaii is not alone. Nationally, the average school building age was 44 years old when the data was last collected, in 2012–13.

    Signs of decay can be found all over the country. A Roanoke, Virginia, teacher arranges the desks in her classroom so they don’t get wet from a leaky ceiling, and students regularly mop up the dripping water. In Philadelphia, a child was seen eating lead paint chips at school last year, one of three in the city still tainted with the substance. And earlier this winter, schools had to close because dated heating systems could not keep buildings warm enough.

    Despite bipartisan congressional letters urging Trump to support an infrastructure bill that allocates funds for education, a leaked White House infrastructure plan released by Axios includes no provision for school facilities. And despite calling on “both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” Trump did not mention school buildings in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.


    Trump Delves Into DACA Deal During State of the Union Address; All But Forgets to Mention K-12 Education

    Kosta Diamantis, president of the National Council on School Facilities, sent a letter to Trump urging him to name school infrastructure funding as a priority in his State of the Union speech. Diamantis noted that last year America’s schools got a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

    “The federal government has kept its eyes closed for well too long,” he told The 74.

    Nationally, an estimated $145 billion per year is needed for maintenance, repairs, and new construction in America’s public school districts, according to a 2016 report by the Center for Green Schools, the National Council on School Facilities, and the 21st Century School Fund. Actual spending on infrastructure is about $46 billion under that, however, according to the report, which relied on data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

    One problem is that spending on school infrastructure never bounced back after the Great Recession, said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for improving school facilities.

    Add that to the natural wear and tear on school buildings, plus the increasing needs of students and teachers for high-technology gear — electrical outlets, for instance, were far less of a concern when many schools were built half a century ago — and it seems almost inevitable that America’s schools would fall into disrepair.

    States and municipalities do what they can to support their school districts with the resources they have, but that often falls short, said Diamantis, who also serves as the director of school construction grants and review for the Connecticut Department of Education.

    “The federal government needs to belly up to the bar and start contributing to an important asset [school facilities] that is equally as important as highways and bridges,” he said.

    Infrastructure legislation that includes $100 billion in spending for school infrastructure has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats are leading the charge, but Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also publicly supported the plans. In the House, a bipartisan committee is working on the issue.

    Both Diamantis and Filardo also said they believe federal money should be distributed to states, which could then allocate it to districts according to need.


    As Low-Income, Minority Schools See Fewer Resources, Civil Rights Commission Calls on Congress to Act

    Research indicates that a student’s physical environment — noise, air quality, light, and other structural factors — correlates to student achievement, and schools that serve predominantly students of color and those from low-income backgrounds are more likely to have structural deficiencies, said Sapna Cheryan, a researcher at the University of Washington.

    Filardo of 21st Century Schools said she’s hopeful the money will come — if not with this Congress, then with the next one.

    “We think it’s basically the right thing to do,” she said. “When the stock market’s up, and employment is strong, if you can’t take care of your schools and your kids, what kind of country are you, really?”

  • Top of the Charts: Indiana Leads Rankings of State Charter School Laws for 3rd Consecutive Year

    By Laura Fay | January 30, 2018

    Indiana offers the most hospitable legal environment for charter schools, according to a new study by a charter advocacy group.

    The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its ninth annual state-by-state evaluation of charter school law, “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws,” Tuesday.

    Coming in at No. 2 is Colorado, up from No. 5 last year, after the state passed new legislation in 2017 that makes charter funding more equitable. Rounding out the top five are Washington (3), Minnesota (4), and Alabama (5).

    Kentucky, ranked for the first time because of new charter school laws passed last year, landed at No. 10, though parts of the state’s charter framework have yet to be finalized and no charter schools have opened in the state yet.

    The report ranks states that have charter school laws and offers recommendations for each. Here are four essential takeaways from the study.

    1 Methodology

    The organization scored laws from 44 states and D.C. by comparing them to its model charter law, updated in 2016, that defines the components the Alliance believes should be in state charter policy to foster growth and success in the sector. For example, in the model law, states allow for multiple authorizers, but an authorizer cannot have schools added to its portfolio if its current schools are not meeting standards. Additionally, the model law does not cap charter growth within a state. States earn higher rankings based on their similarity to the model law.

    2 Indiana’s continuing improvement

    Indiana’s charter law earned the top score in the nation for the third year in a row because the state does not cap charter growth, includes multiple authorizers, and provides both accountability and autonomy, according to the study. The Alliance notes in the report that Indiana’s score increased by a few points over last year’s because the state improved its policies regarding special education. However, room for improvement remains — the report recommends that Indiana leaders close the spending gap between charter and traditional district schools and strengthen accountability measures for virtual charter programs.


    How One of Indianapolis’s ‘Innovation School’ Principals Is Using Language of Love — and Spanish Immersion Program — to Achieve Dramatic Student Growth

    3 Back of the pack

    Maryland, which had 49 charter schools in 2016–17, has the weakest charter laws, according to the report, because it accepts only district authorizers and does not allow for sufficient autonomy or accountability. Maryland law needs improvements “across the board,” according to the report. Kansas (44), Alaska (43), Wyoming (42), and Iowa (41) were also in the bottom five and need significant improvements, according to the Alliance.

    4 Movement within the rankings

    Washington, D.C., jumped 10 spots to land at No. 8, but the report notes that the increase was in part due to a change in methodology. States that lost ground, such as Arizona, Louisiana, and New York, didn’t necessarily weaken their laws but rather were passed by states that added laws or strengthened existing ones.

    In a statement released by Northeast Charter Schools Network, which advocates in New York and Connecticut, its director, Andrea Rogers, said the law in New York needs improvement.

    “The New York charter law includes some crucial facilities funding, but major shortcomings deny funding to two categories of schools: it enforces age discrimination against older New York City charter schools and ignores entirely charters in the rest of the state,” she said.

    Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Walton Family Foundation, and the William E. Simon Foundation support both The 74 and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

  • QuotED: 9 Notable Quotes About American Education That Made News in January

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 30, 2018

    QuotED is a roundup of the most notable quotes behind America’s top education headlines — taken from our daily EduClips, which spotlights morning headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    “We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue.” —Katherine W. Schweit, former senior FBI official and the co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States, on the shooting at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School, the 11th school shooting of 2018. (Read at The New York Times)

    Photo credit:

    “When we try the same thing over and over again, yet expect different results, that’s not reform — that’s insanity.” —Betsy DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, on the failures of past attempts to reform K-12 education. (Read at

    “He’s confused on immigration. He’s being torn in so many different directions, and he hasn’t spent his entire life thinking about it. He’s spent most of his life thinking about making money.” —Louise Sunshine, a former Trump Organization executive who has known the president for decades. (Read at The Washington Post)

    Miriam Gonzalez Avila (Courtesy Teach For America Los Angeles)

    “I didn’t want them to think that I was just going to do nothing. I told them, ‘No, I’m going to fight.’ ” —Miriam Gonzalez Avila, Los Angeles teacher and DACA recipient, on what she told her students about her decision to file suit against President Trump to fight the repeal of the law. (Read at The

    “We’ve been so lucky over the years that the best in the world have wanted to come to the U.S. If all of a sudden we don’t have the MITs because no talent comes, America will hurt, and the world will hurt.” —Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Read at Bloomberg)

    “Your name is attached to a state of Minnesota brief that could severely undermine one of Minnesota’s most important constitutional rights. If your argument prevails in the Supreme Court, you will be inadvertently handing the opponents of a strong and vibrant public education system a powerful means to destroy our public schools.” —Jerry Von Korff, an attorney in St. Cloud, in a letter to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (Read at

    “It’s not a supply problem. It’s a demand problem.” —Sean Perryman, education chairman of the Fairfax County, Virginia, chapter of the NAACP, on the lack of black teachers in the school district. (Read at The Washington Post)

    Like all of us, I think her strength is also her weakness. She knew an awful lot of principals and visited an awful lot of schools. But sometimes you need to step back and look at the whole picture.” —Clara Hemphill, director of education policy and Insideschools at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, on departing NYC Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Photo credit:

    “It’s not really a noticed state. It’s a small state — more cows than people — and we are taking a stand on this and we’re standing up to Trump. I hope that inspires other states to do the same thing.” —Bryndon Wilkerson, student body president at Helena High School in Montana, on her state’s decision to defy the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. (Read at

    For a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, go to EduClips.


    EduClips: Puerto Rico Education Still Reeling From Hurricane Maria; State of the Union Preview — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

  • Pomp & Circumvent: In Widening Scandal, Report Finds That a Third of D.C. Graduates Received Diplomas Despite Excessive Absences

    By Mark Keierleber | January 30, 2018

    More than a third of Washington, D.C., seniors who received their high school diplomas last year should not have walked across the graduation stage. That’s the top finding from a damning report released Monday, which revealed that all but two of the city’s high schools violated the district’s graduation policy.

    A widespread graduation scandal has been percolating in D.C. schools for months, initially focused on violations at Ballou High School. But the new report, released Monday by the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent, demonstrates that Ballou was part of a larger pattern in which high school administrators throughout the district rarely followed district attendance policies and engaged in a culture where educators felt pressure to pass and graduate students regardless of merit.

    “I want all of the residents of the district to recognize that our students and all of the investments that we make in them are of top concern, and we do not take the findings that we heard here today lightly,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “In fact, we’re all tremendously disappointed by it.”

    Of the 2,758 students who received diplomas from district high schools last spring, 34 percent graduated despite policy violations. Those violations include the misuse of credit recovery programs, in which students were allowed to enroll before they failed required classes — sometimes concurrently or in place of regular instruction. In violation of district policy, high school leaders passed students with more than 30 unexcused absences. Problems in D.C. began at the top, as investigators noted the central office failed to support and oversee high schools on district policies. Jane Spence, the district’s secondary schools chief in charge of all middle and high schools, was placed on administrative leave.

    The negative attention paid to D.C.’s graduation rate began with what was widely hailed as a success story: Ballou High School, located in a low-income D.C. neighborhood, drew national praise after every senior graduated and was accepted into college last year. It turned out to be too good to be true. In November, WAMU and NPR released an in-depth investigative report, which found that more than half of students graduated despite having missed more than three months of school. Bowser ordered an investigation days later.

    Earlier this month, investigators released findings at Ballou, where officials engaged in a pattern of graduating students with extreme numbers of course absences and pressuring teachers to pass students despite poor performance. The school also inappropriately used district recovery courses to push students to the finish line.


    D.C. High Schools Come Under Fire After Report Confirms Widespread Graduation Scandal at Ballou

    Extending beyond Ballou, the new report dug into practices at a handful of district high schools, with a particular emphasis on Dunbar High School, where education leaders made more than 4,000 changes to the attendance records of 118 graduates. After teachers submitted attendance records indicating students had missed class, reported absences were later reversed. Although investigators have not yet sought justification for the changes, the issue demands further review, according to the report.

    In response, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said Monday the Dunbar principal had been placed on administrative leave. The Ballou principal has also been permanently removed from her post at the school.

    Wilson said the district is taking “aggressive action” to ensure that students get the supports they need and to ensure that the value of a high school diploma is upheld. Those actions, he said, include updates to district grading and credit recovery policies.

    “What I hope is that people are trying to do right by kids. Unfortunately, they did the wrong things, and so that’s what we’re addressing,” Bowser said. “People who want to do the right thing, who don’t have the proper training, they made mistakes.”

  • EduClips: Puerto Rico Education Still Reeling From Hurricane Maria; State of the Union Preview — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 30, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    STATE OF THE UNION — Washington watchers are not expecting school choice to be a big theme in President Trump’s first State of the Union speech this evening. But another education issue — the fate of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children — is almost certain to take center stage. The areas likely to get big focus in the speech also include jobs and the economy, trade, infrastructure, and national security. (Read at Education Week)

    National News

    DACA — Nearly 9,000 DACA Teachers Face an Uncertain Future (Read at NPR)

    UNIONS — Here Are the Teachers Unions’ Arguments in the Supreme Court Case on Union Fees (Read at Education Week)

    SCHOOL STAFF — For low-wage school workers, lessons in survival (Read at The Washington Post)

    UNIONS — It’s Not Just Union Dues, It’s Collective Bargaining: Looking to States That Banned Them as Post-Janus Crystal Ball (Read at

    FINANCIAL AID — Betsy DeVos Wants to Put Your Student Loan Money on a Bank Card (Read at Buzzfeed)

    District and State News

    PUERTO RICO — Why can’t I have my life back?’: In Puerto Rico, living and learning in the dark (Read at The Washington Post)

    CALIFORNIA — Los Angeles DACA students who will be in the audience at Trump’s State of the Union address are hoping to ‘really get at their hearts’ (Read at LA School Report)

    NEW YORK — Second sexual assault victim at Brooklyn school says education officials failed to keep students safe (Read at the New York Daily News)

    CALIFORNIA — Two senior L.A. school district officials resign amid sexual harassment allegations (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    FLORIDA — A 7-year-old boy was called a ‘danger to society’ and cuffed at school, his parents say (Read at The Washington Post)

    ILLINOIS — Illinois education officials find another funding glitch (Read at the Peoria Journal Star)

    TEXAS — Texas Education Agency seeking public comment on special education corrective action plan (Read at the Longview News-Journal)

    NEVADA — Clark County School Board decides to wait on crafting gender policy (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    TEXAS — Riley tapped for state education commissioner (Read at the Eagle Tribune)

    NEW YORK — This NYC teacher was skeptical of training programs like Teach for America – so she completed a teaching residency instead (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Think Pieces

    TEACHERS — Did new evaluations and weaker tenure make fewer people want to become teachers? A new study says yes (Read at Chalkbeat)

    MONTESSORI SCHOOLS New South Carolina Study of Public Montessori Schools Shows Majority Low-Income Students Outperforming Peers (Read at

    TRANSGENDER ISSUES Transgender Issues Energize Typically Sleepy School Board Elections (Read at Governing)

    SCHOOL SHOOTING Reporter rushes to Kentucky school shooting — and learns the alleged gunman is her son (Read at The Louisville Courier-Journal

    Quote of the Day

    “I think basically Trenton has a reputation that we’ve given up on education. Even though we know that, for one thing, it saves inner-city children, there’s no major investment in education.” —L.A. Parker, local activist and columnist for The Trentonian. (Read at

    Want the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox — for free? Sign up for the TopSheet Daybreak Education Newsletter.

  • When Scandals Undercut America’s Soaring — and Suspicious — High School Graduation Rate

    By Laura Fay | January 29, 2018

    Keen watchers of U.S. education might be forgiven for feeling a sense of whiplash recently as they read seemingly contradictory news about high school graduation rates.

    First, the apparent “good news”: The high school graduation rate, steadily increasing since 2011, reached a record high of 84.1 percent in 2016, according to new data released by the Education Department. But the news was immediately diminished by the concurrent release of a critical analysis by the Fordham Institute that questioned the value of a high school diploma, a lingering scandal in Washington, D.C., in which half of graduates missed three months or more of school, and, last month, the release of a new report out of Chicago that revealed an alarming difference between the number of students graduating and those passing yearly tests.

    Here are some of the issues that have edu-watchers scratching their heads:

    1 Record-High Grad Rate

    In 2016, 84.1 percent of U.S. students completed high school on time, the highest rate since the Department of Education started collecting the data in 2011. Since then, the rate has risen about 4 percentage points, which previous education secretaries have celebrated and publicized. Current education department head Betsy DeVos was more cautious, however, calling graduation one step in a “lifelong journey.”

    2 Diploma Value Questioned

    The news comes amid an ongoing conversation about the value of a high school diploma and what it says about a student’s ability and performance. By many accounts, rising graduation rates and increasing efforts to send students to college have not been matched by an increase in student learning or achievement. In Los Angeles, for example, more than half of district high school graduates were not eligible for California’s state colleges and universities in 2016 because they received a D grade in one of the courses required for admission.

    The recent Fordham Institute analysis by Brandon L. Wright called the situation “absurd and untenable” and called for changes to school accountability practices and graduation requirements. Wright argues that stripping the diploma of its worth disproportionately hurts the most vulnerable students, who leave school unprepared for college and career at higher rates. He cites research indicating that the six-year graduation rate at public universities is just 40 percent for black students, and even lower for black students who take remedial courses.

    3 Conflicting Data in Chicago

    In December, an analysis of Chicago graduation rates published by Chicago City Wire revealed a “staggering difference” between the number of students graduating and those who passed annual exams. At one school, no students passed the yearly tests, yet more than 90 percent graduated in 2016. The analysis shows that at the vast majority of schools, more students are graduating than are passing the tests — only two schools had a higher pass rate than graduation rate.

    (Adding to the sense of Windy City whiplash, a recent study found that charter schools there are outperforming their district counterparts in graduating students and sending them to college, though district improvements are narrowing the gap. And an analysis by The New York Times found that elementary school students in Chicago are learning more and at a faster rate than those in almost any other district in the country.)

    4 Scandal in D.C.

    A NPR/WAMU investigation published in November revealed that at the once-celebrated Ballou High School, where all graduates were accepted to college last year, more than half of the students who graduated had missed more than three months of school in their senior year. The school principal has since been reassigned, and the state superintendent and the district are investigating the school. In recent years, similar incidents have been reported in New Jersey, Maryland, Alabama, and Texas.


    D.C. High Schools Come Under Fire After Report Confirms Widespread Graduation Scandal at Ballou

    5 Concerns Over Remediation Costs

    One of the major concerns about the decreasing value of a high school diploma is the cost of remediation courses for students who arrive at college underprepared. Remediation courses are often expensive, typically do not yield any college credits, and often are not particularly effective at helping students graduate from college, according to several studies. For instance, only 1 in 5 students who enroll in remedial math courses goes on to pass entry-level classes, and only 37 percent of students in remedial reading do, the studies say. Nationally, the estimated cost of remediation is $7 billion, which falls to students.


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

  • Facebook Announces Scholarships to Promote Diversity in Journalism

    By Laura Fay | January 29, 2018

    Continually under fire for contributing to the spread of fake news during the 2016 election, Facebook has committed $1 million in scholarships to help young journalists get a solid footing in real journalism.

    The money will be distributed in $10,000 awards over the next five years by four organizations that are “strengthening the pipeline of diversity in journalism,” according to a blog post published last Friday: the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. The scholarships will be distributed to 100 junior and senior undergraduate students and graduate students pursuing degrees and careers in journalism, digital media, or communications in the United States.

    The scholarships are part of the Facebook Journalism Project, which aims to “create stronger ties” between the company and the news industry. Since launching the project in 2017, the site has made efforts to promote news literacy and prevent the spread of fake news.

    The company has come under continued criticism for being slow and clumsy in responding to allegations that false stories spread through the site during the election.

    The scholarship announcement follows recent changes related to how people interact with news on its site, such as the addition of a trust survey for users to evaluate the trustworthiness of news sources and a shift to prioritizing posts from people users know rather than news sources and other companies.

    Disclosure: Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, is a co-founder and member of the board of directors of The 74.

  • EduClips: Critics Assail NYC School Funding System; Strike Vote in Chicago — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 29, 2018


    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    HOMESCHOOLING — After California officials found 13 siblings allegedly held captive and younger children apparently not missed by schools because they were being homeschooled, homeschooling advocates are bracing for calls for stricter regulation of the practice.

    Some advocates say they support mandatory medical visits or regular academic assessments of homeschooled children. But others contend moves to step up homeschooling controls in the name of exposing child abuse earlier could lead to overregulation and intrusion that punishes parents. One California lawmaker has floated the idea of requiring annual walk-throughs of home schools by state or county officials. (Read at The Associated Press)

    National News

    CIVICS — Iowa could require students to pass citizenship exam to graduate (Read at USA Today)

    TRENTON — In the Shadow of New Jersey’s State Capital, Trenton’s Forgotten Schools Struggle to Get Better on Their Own (Read at

    #METOOK12 — What Do Schools Teach About Sexual Harassment? (Read at Education Week)

    IMMIGRATION — Lawmakers call on Trump to drop bid for legal immigration cuts (Read at The Washington Post)

    NET NEUTRALITY — Defiance on ‘Net Neutrality’: Montana Governor Goes to Helena High School to Declare State’s Break With FCC Mandate (Read at

    District and State News

    NEW YORK Here’s how New York City divvies up school funding — and why critics say the system is flawed (Read at Chalkbeat)

    ILLINOIS West Chicago Teachers Vote to Authorize Strike (Read at NBC Chicago)

    GEORGIA Gwinnett classroom attack stirs social media (Read at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

    NEVADA Opinion: CCSD’s next superintendent is going to fail (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    TEXAS Far-right conservatives want to unseat longtime swing vote on Texas education board (Read at Dallas News)

    CALIFORNIA More candidates for state superintendent raise odds of runoff in November (Read at EdSource)

    FLORIDA Lawmakers look to start new school vouchers, tighten control on private schools (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

    NEW YORK Brooklyn high school debate team defies expectations to win championships (Read at the New York Daily News)

    Think Pieces

    RURAL SCHOOLS The Rural School Reform Opportunity (Read at U.S. News & World Report)

    SUPERINTENDENTS — Does the big boss really matter in big-city school districts? (Read at The Washington Post)

    VOUCHERS Do School Vouchers Work? Milwaukee’s Experiment Suggests an Answer (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    PERSONALIZED LEARNING Why ‘personalized learning’ advocates like Mark Zuckerberg keep citing a 1984 study — and why it might not say much about schools today (Read at Chalkbeat)

    TEACHER BONUSES New evidence indicates that paying teachers bonuses raises student performance by a small amount (Read at Hechinger Report)

    HIP-HOP How hip-hop erased these young students’ unfair, bad rap (Read at Hechinger Report)

    Quote of the Day

    “It’s not really a noticed state. It’s a small state — more cows than people — and we are taking a stand on this and we’re standing up to Trump. I hope that inspires other states to do the same thing.” —Bryndon Wilkerson, student body president at Helena High School in Montana, on her state’s decision to defy the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. (Read at

    Want the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox — for free? Sign up for the TopSheet Daybreak Education Newsletter.

  • New South Carolina Study of Public Montessori Schools Shows Majority Low-Income Students Outperforming Peers

    By Kate Stringer | January 28, 2018

    A five-year study analyzing the impact of South Carolina’s nearly 50 Montessori public schools has found that their students perform significantly better than those in traditional public schools, closing the achievement gap especially for children from low-income backgrounds.

    Montessori students demonstrated more growth in reading and math, earning state test scores that were 6 to 8 percentage points higher. But they also bested their non-Montessori peers in the soft skills inherent to Montessori education: creativity, good behavior, and independence.

    In their analysis of subgroups, the researchers looked at three years of growth across gender, race, and poverty, and matched the scores of children in Montessori schools with non-Montessori students to compare and eliminate selection bias. Low-income, non-low-income, black, white, male, and female students in Montessori schools were all subgroups that showed significantly more progress than their non-Montessori peers. The researchers didn’t find significant differences for Hispanic or “other race” students, but this could be because of the small sample size.

    Source: The Riley Institute

    This new research is one of the largest longitudinal studies in a growing body of work showing the positive outcomes associated with Montessori schools. It was funded by the Self Family Foundation and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.

    “Nationally, we’ve been fighting the achievement gap for years and have found few things that close that gap, so the fact that low-income Montessori kids fared better than their low-income peers… that says a lot,” said Ginny Riga, Montessori consultant for the South Carolina Department of Education.

    Low-income students make up 54 percent of enrollment in South Carolina’s public Montessori schools, and non-white students account for 45 percent of the population — slightly lower than the percentage in the state’s traditional schools. Researchers said this helps counter a common stereotype that Montessori education is for wealthy white students.

    The study was conducted from 2012 to 2016 and included principal surveys and 126 random, unannounced classroom observations. Data from state testing, attendance, discipline records, and a creativity assessment were used to measure academic and soft skills.

    Source: The Riley Institute

    “The findings around creativity were interesting as well,” said report author Brooke Culclasure, research director of Furman University’s Riley Institute. “We want to measure these things, and it’s so important, but hard to measure.”

    Skills like creativity and independence, more than state test scores, are what’s important to Montessori educators, Riga said.

    “It’s hard to measure enjoyment of school and responsibility and independence, but anyone who has worked for any length of time in Montessori will tell you that’s what happens to the children,” she said.

    The same goes for the adults — teachers in Montessori public schools are more likely to say they love their jobs than teachers in traditional schools, the study found.

    Traditional Montessori education is very personalized, with students choosing their learning materials every day — from blocks to drawing to reading — and teachers acting as guides, observing from the corners of the room rather than presenting lessons.

    Source: The Riley Institute

    South Carolina has the largest number of public Montessori schools in the country, at 52, followed by California, with 46, and Arizona, with 42, according to the Montessori Census. Its first public Montessori school opened in the mid-1990s, and in 2004, a supportive state superintendent, Inez Tenenbaum, hired Rigs as the first state Montessori coordinator. Riga said it was the first position of its kind in the United States and signaled state support for public Montessori programs. As of this year, the South Carolina model has grown to 52 school sites serving over 8,500 students, mostly elementary-age.

    Researchers first measured how closely schools were adhering to the traditional Montessori model before including them in the study, and found a high rate of fidelity among the state’s schools.

    But half of educators believe the authenticity of their model is slipping each year, especially because of standardized testing mandates that require test preparation. Traditional Montessori programs don’t include testing, though all public schools in the state must follow testing requirements.


    Montessori Was the Original Personalized Learning. Now, 100 Years Later, Wildflower Is Reinventing the Model

    It’s not easy to open a Montessori school. Startup costs for materials and teacher training are significant, even though they’re a one-time cost.

    Organizations like the American Montessori Society help schools with teacher training and accreditation, said the society’s executive director, Tim Purnell.

    “This is really a wonderful study in terms of promoting the importance and need of Montessori for all children,” he said. “That’s the key finding here: that we should not be limiting Montessori to communities that can afford it.”

  • This Week in Education Politics: Higher Ed Hearings, Immigration Showdown, Child Protections, SOTU & More

    By Carolyn Phenicie | January 28, 2018

    THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Sundays. (See previous editions here.) You can get the preview delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter; for rolling updates on federal education policy, follow Carolyn Phenicie on Twitter @cphenicie.

    It’s a short but busy week in Washington, as Republicans from both chambers will decamp to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for their annual retreat starting Wednesday. A preview of this week’s events is below; if you have any tips or suggestions of events to add to next week’s roundup, please send them to

    INBOX: IMMIGRATION – Congress, after a brief closure last week, reopened the government without an immediate solution to the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, young people brought to the country illegally as children.

    The Trump Administration Thursday released its proposals for a broad immigration overhaul, including a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and another 1.1 million people who would be eligible but never applied for protections, in exchange for funding for a border wall and increased enforcement of immigration laws.

    Immigration advocates and Democrats immediately rejected much of the proposal. A bipartisan group of senators is working on a smaller-scale plan, focused just on the Dreamers, with the hope that if it passes the Senate by a wide margin, the more-conservative House and Trump will be forced to accept it, The New York Times reported.

    As a reminder, the government is currently funded through Feb. 8. The Trump administration this fall announced that DACA protections expire March 5, though a court ruling requires the Department of Homeland Security to continue accepting applications.

    TUESDAY: STATE OF THE UNION – President Trump will give his first State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday evening. The speeches are often previews of big policy ideas that presidents later propose in their annual budget requests.

    This year’s speech will include discussions of the economy, immigration, trade, national security, and a new infrastructure proposal, White House officials told reporters last week. House Democrats have urged the administration to invest in public schools as part of its infrastructure plan. A leaked version of the proposal released by Axios doesn’t mention school buildings as an allowable use, but would allocate some of the funding to broadband upgrades in rural areas.

    In remarks last year, Trump called for an unspecified school choice plan. In his first budget request for the Education Department, he asked for a $250 million voucher pilot program and another $1 billion in Title I grants that would follow low-income children as they transfer among public schools, rather than focus on pockets of poverty.

    Though technically due the first Monday in February, the administration’s budget proposal is now expected no earlier than Feb. 12.

    At least 24 House Democrats will bring Dreamers as their guests to Trump’s speech, ABC News reported. Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will give the Democrats’ response.

    TUESDAY: PROTECTIONS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES – The House will vote on two bills aimed at increasing protections for young people against child abusers, the week after Dr. Larry Nassar, a sports physician at Michigan State University who worked with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. Scores of women testified in court that he had sexually abused them.

    One bill, written by a bipartisan group of senators, would require amateur athletics associations to immediately report abuse allegations to law enforcement or child welfare organizations. Another would expand access to the FBI’s background check system for non-profit organizations serving children, people with disabilities and the elderly. Many organizations now have to rely on less-robust state systems, as access to the FBI system is often viewed as too time-consuming, limited, or expensive, according to the bill’s sponsor.

    Last week Betsy DeVos announced the Education Department would look into Michigan State’s handling of the allegations against Nasser, including its reported failure to report those allegations to the department, even as it was under federal Title IX investigation for separate complaints.

    TUESDAY: EDU-POLICYMAKING – The House Education and the Workforce Committee holds a hearing on protecting privacy and “evidence-based policymaking and the future of education.”

    TUESDAY: HIGHER ED, PART 3 – The HELP Committee for the third week in a row holds a hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. This hearing focuses on accountability and risk to taxpayers.

    WEDNESDAY: IS EDUCATION WORTH IT?The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, holds a panel event to discuss the book ‘The Case Against Education’ with author Bryan Caplan, and Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at New America, a liberal think tank.

    IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: TITLE IX LAWSUIT – A group of national public interest legal groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop the Education Department from changing Title IX rules governing how schools handle allegations of sexual assault. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in September rescinded Obama-era rules, notably a regulation that allowed cases to be decided with a lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard rather than a “clear and convincing” level of proof. DeVos has said those accused of assault need more protection, but women’s rights advocates have said the changes are a step back in the fight against sexual assault, are confusing for school administrators and could open a flood of lawsuits.

    The groups suing the department, including SurvJustice, the Equal Rights Alliance, and the Victim Rights Law Center, allege that the department’s changes violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause because changes are based on “unfounded generalizations about women and girls, particularly their credibility regarding reported experiences of sexual harassment.”

  • School Choice of the Future: Jeb Bush Says Education Savings Accounts Can Empower Parents To Customize Their Children’s Schooling

    By Kate Stringer | January 26, 2018

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush envisioned Education Savings Accounts as the driver behind school choice of the future during an event Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

    Traditional school districts don’t allow for the customization needed to prepare students for the future economy, Bush said in his keynote address, adding that parents should be the drivers of education for their children.

    “The new system should be parent-driven, should be totally transparent, should be focused on as many choices as possible, where we customize the learning experience for this unique group of people that are emerging into our world,” he said. “Empowered with the proper information, parents are the best school district that exists in this country.”

    Five states allow for Education Savings Accounts: Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Arizona, and Tennessee. Commonly referred to as ESAs, they are funds set aside by the state for families — usually from low-income backgrounds — to spend on options like private school, tutoring, textbooks, or special education services. ESAs differ from vouchers, which can be spent only on private school tuition, and tax-credit scholarships, which involve money raised from corporate tax breaks.

    The panelists at the event envisioned a future where education services become “unbundled.” For example, a student might spend half the day at a traditional school and then take music and calculus courses online, followed by private Spanish lessons from a retired teacher, Bush said — all paid for through ESAs. He compared school choice to the options in the milk aisle of a grocery store.

    “The whole world is alive when you’re given options and you are an informed consumer, and that’s what parents should be. They should be given information to make the best choices for themselves, and whether it’s private or public or something in between, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

    Education savings accounts have proven controversial. Nevada has had a law for three years allowing ESAs, but legal challenges have kept it from operating. Opponents argue that ESAs send public dollars, which should be used for struggling public schools, to private organizations that are outside government accountability, including religious institutions that may defy anti-discrimination laws against groups like LGBT communities.

    Bush and other panelists acknowledged that one challenge of the ESA model is trying to find an accountability system for what could become a very scattered marketplace of education options. Several suggested an online review platform similar to Yelp that is driven by parent feedback.

    “I think ESAs can push to the next generation of accountability,” said Adam Peshek, director of education choice at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

    Lindsey Burke, director for the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, looked at whether parents were really using the accounts to customize their children’s education. She studied ESAs in Florida, where the Gardiner Scholarship Program has provided $10,000 to thousands of families who have students with disabilities. After the first two years of the program, she said, 40 percent of families had become “customizers,” meaning they spent the money on more than one educational option, such as curriculum, therapies, or private tutoring. Half of those customizers didn’t even set foot in a school building, preferring private personalized options instead.

    Burke found a similar pattern in Arizona, where one-third of families were spending state money on multiple education options.

    While Bush complimented Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on her support of choice options, calling her an “ally,” he and other panelists cautioned that the battle for ESAs should be fought in the states, rather than at the federal level.

    But Burke pointed out several areas where federal oversight would be useful for Education Savings Accounts: providing options for military families, Native Americans in poor-performing Bureau of Indian Education schools, and students in Washington, D.C., who fall under federal governance.

    “That’s why this is important. Education is the chance to be able to have the skills to live a life of purpose and meaning, plain and simple,” Bush said.

  • Strip Clubs, Cars, Cruises: Ex-Principal Sentenced for Stealing $1.2M in Georgia’s Largest Charter School Theft Case

    By Mark Keierleber | January 25, 2018

    The founder of three Georgia charter schools has been sentenced to a decade behind bars after he admitted stealing more than $1 million in public funds — money he used for strip club visits, car payments, even a Carnival cruise.

    School founder Christopher Clemons was sentenced Tuesday for his actions in a years-long scheme that he described as a “ludicrous adventure” driven by an “unchecked ego,” stealing at least $1.2 million from his three schools. The charter school theft — the largest in the state’s history — dates to 2011, when he opened the now-defunct Latin Academy in Atlanta under authorization from the city’s public school district. He served as principal of that school until 2015, when the school’s independent board cut ties with him and hired a replacement.

    The new principal ultimately uncovered years of fraud, and the school closed in 2016 due to financial problems.

    Charter schools are independently run, typically by nonprofit management organizations, and rely on public funds. Although charters have more autonomy than traditional public schools — which proponents say allow room for innovation that often leads to improved student outcomes — critics have maintained that the structure opens public money to abuse.

    Clemons also siphoned education dollars from the Latin Grammar and Latin College Preparatory schools in Fulton County. It took four years, until 2015, before anybody noticed.

    Of the money he defrauded from the schools, Clemons spent more than $50,000 at the Goldrush Showbar and Cheetah Lounge strip clubs and $70,000 to pay off two BMWs. There were also thousands of dollars in ATM cash withdrawals. Investigators found Hermès boxes, paperwork for leasing a new luxury car, airline boarding passes, and a receipt for a Rolex watch in his townhouse.

    Clemons has helped launch more than two dozen charter schools across the country, including the three in Georgia. After his arrest, Georgia state lawmakers moved to toughen charter school financial rules, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. That includes a rule that prevents school leaders from also handling finances.

    After pleading guilty Tuesday to 55 charges — including theft, deception, and forgery — Clemons was sentenced to 20 years, including 10 years behind bars, and ordered to pay $810,000 in restitution.

  • Defiance on ‘Net Neutrality’: Montana Governor Goes to Helena High School to Declare State’s Break With FCC Mandate

    By Mark Keierleber | January 25, 2018

    For students at Helena High School’s computer science class, Monday morning began like any other start to the school week. But then, with only five minutes’ notice, students in the classroom just six blocks from Montana’s state capitol looked up from their screens and got an impromptu civics lesson — from the governor himself.

    A month after the Federal Communications Commission dialed back Obama-era “net neutrality” rules designed to protect online consumers, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock came to class to hit back with an executive order. Bullock — a Democratic governor in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 — made Montana the first state to break with the new federal rules and require all internet contracts to follow net neutrality principles. It’s possible, however, that it won’t be the last: Lawmakers in several states have already proposed legislation that would create similar rules, and 20 state attorneys general have sued the FCC over the repeal.

    But for Montana, there’s a hitch: The FCC said states could not create their own rules, so Bullock’s order could face legal challenges.

    In Helena, the classroom of future coders and software engineers included student body president Bryndon Wilkerson, a senior who hopes to pursue a career in computer science.

    “Net neutrality ensures that all students will have full access to what they need in order to receive the best education they can get, because net neutrality protects all information,” she told The 74. “All information is created and treated equally.”

    Helena High School student body president Bryndon Wilkerson speaks during an event Monday where Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced an executive order creating state-level net neutrality rules. (Photo courtesy Ken Fichtler/Montana Governor’s Office)

    Bullock’s decision to announce the change at Helena High — from which he graduated in 1984 and which his children currently attend — comes after education advocates raised concerns about how the net neutrality repeal could affect the classroom, especially those in Montana’s remote rural corners.

    “The loss of internet neutrality principles threatens the future of the students standing in this room,” Bullock said Monday. “When the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules, it said consumers should choose. The [government] of Montana is one of the biggest consumers of internet services in our state. Today we’re making our choice clear: We want net neutrality.”

    Adopted by the FCC in 2015, net neutrality required internet service providers — like Verizon and AT&T — to treat all web traffic the same.

    In December, the FCC’s five-member commission voted 3–2 along party lines to kill the rules — a decision Republicans, like FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, hail as a victory for the free market. Democrats, on the other hand, have warned that the repeal could allow internet companies to create a “tiered” system in which customers have to pay extra to access certain content.

    Wilkerson, Helena High’s student body president, explains it this way:

    “In my calculus class, we have online homework outside of class so we can focus on learning materials during class,” she said. “Without the protection of net neutrality, internet service providers can make the decision, if they want, to slow down my calculus website.”


    Schools Could See Higher Bills, Less New Educational Software After Net Neutrality Vote — but Most Teachers Don’t Know It Yet

    Bullock’s order stipulates that, in order to receive a contract with the state, internet providers in Montana agree they won’t block or throttle internet traffic or create tiered payment plans to access certain types of online content, noting that “the free and open exchange of information, secured by a free and open internet, has never been more essential to modern social, commercial, and civic life.”

    Although the repeal’s effects on teens became the focal point of Bullock’s announcement, one Helena High student likely carried the most sway: the governor’s daughter.

    “She wondered if there was anything he could do about it instead of just standing by and letting it happen,” said Buffy Smith, Helena High’s computer science teacher. Smith said Bullock signed the order in her classroom because of the issue’s consequences for young people.

    Reflecting on Monday’s event, Wilkerson said she was excited Montana took the lead and became the first state to adopt its own rules. “It’s not really a noticed state,” she said. “It’s a small state — more cows than people — and we are taking a stand on this and we’re standing up to Trump. I hope that inspires other states to do the same thing.”

  • EduClips: Debate Over Forcing Florida Schools to Display ‘In God We Trust’; Trump Floats DACA Proposal — and More Must-Reads From America’s 10 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 25, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    RACIAL DISPARITY IN SPECIAL ED — Minority students in roughly 3 percent of the nation’s 14,500 or so school systems are being incorrectly placed in special education, according to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center.

    That represents 423 school districts in the 2015–16 school year — the most recent year for which complete federal statistics are available. Many of those students were kept in isolated classrooms or punished more severely than their peers. (Read at Education Week)

    National News

    SCIENCE — If Trump Gets His Way, America Won’t Be No. 1 in Science Much Longer (Read at Bloomberg)

    DACA — Trump open to citizenship for DACA enrollees (Read at Politico)

    SHOOTINGS — 20 years in, shootings have changed schools in unexpected ways (Read at USA Today)

    DACA — ‘Do We Build Bridges or Walls?’ Teachers Weigh In on DACA (Read at Education Week)

    GIFTED SAVINGS ACCOUNTS — Wisconsin Reformers Move Toward a First: Education Savings Accounts for Gifted Kids (Read at

    District and State News

    FLORIDA — Florida Schools Could Be Forced to Display ‘In God We Trust’ (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

    NEW YORK — Merging two small East Harlem schools makes sense on paper. So why has it sparked a backlash? (Read at Chalkbeat)

    CALIFORNIA — State superintendent candidate Marshall Tuck returns donation from anti-LGBT funder (Read at EdSource)

    TEXAS — Post-Harvey, Houston Faces ‘Perfect Storm’ of Budget Damage (Read at

    ILLINOIS – School board approves new CPS CEO and ethics change to clear way for top deputy (Read at the Chicago Tribune)

    NEW YORK — Opinion: Schooling the mayor: Two new education studies that de Blasio should pay attention to (Read at the New York Daily News)

    ILLINOIS — Illinois pilots competency-based education programs in 10 high schools (Read at Education Dive)

    NEVADA — Clark County schools consider cutting the NV Energy cord (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    Think Pieces

    LOCKERS — Schools and lockers: No longer the right combination (Read at The Washington Post)

    CLASS TIME — How 45-minute class periods stall learning (Read at the Hechinger Report)

    SCIENCE — The Benefits of Recess Are Proven by Science — So Why Are Teachers Taking It Away? (Read at HuffPost)

    Quote of the Day

    “We’ve been so lucky over the years that the best in the world have wanted to come to the U.S. If all of a sudden we don’t have the MITs because no talent comes, America will hurt, and the world will hurt.”Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Read at Bloomberg)

    Want the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox — for free? Sign up for the TopSheet Daybreak Education Newsletter.

  • Post-Harvey, Houston Faces ‘Perfect Storm’ of Budget Damage

    By Laura Fay | January 24, 2018

    The Houston Independent School District is facing a budgetary double whammy: the ongoing expense from Hurricane Harvey and a $200 million budget shortfall for next year. The district will also have to pay millions of dollars in so-called Robin Hood payments to the state, which will be funneled to poorer districts, the Houston Chronicle has reported.

    The Chronicle said the budget deficit results from decreasing tax revenue due to hurricane-damaged property in the district and a high Robin Hood payment, a cost officially known as a recapture payment, which the state collects from districts that have high property tax income and distributes to lower-income districts.

    This year, the recapture payment could be as high as $269 million for Houston, according to a statement from the district. Superintendent Richard Carranza called the crisis “a perfect financial storm that is unavoidable” in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

    Rene Barajas, the district’s chief financial officer, told the Chronicle that even though the recapture payments might be lessened due to the storm, the decrease is not going to be proportional to the decrease in property taxes after Harvey, which may cause the district to come up short.

    The district is also in the process of rebuilding four schools from the ground up because of extensive damage caused by Harvey, at a cost of $126 million.

    To deal with the tight budget, officials announced plans over the weekend to make cuts at almost every level of the school system, the Chronicle reported. To make ends meet, officials proposed centralizing some processes, regulating staffing across campuses, and making major changes to the city’s network of magnet schools. Officials also proposed cutting $116 million from the budget for “central administration, operations and facilities,” according to the Chronicle.

    “Those changes will hurt, but we are starting the conversations early to ensure we make those changes without compromising quality equitable education for all of our students,” Carranza said in the statement.

    Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, a bipartisan committee had its first meeting Tuesday to discuss how the state should finance schools after the 2016 Texas Supreme Court ruling that found the current system, which mostly relies on property taxes, in need of “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms.” The panel is slated to make recommendations to the legislature and governor by the end of the year.

    On top of the financial storm, 10 Houston schools are at risk of being rated “underperforming” for the fifth consecutive year, which would prompt a state takeover. But district administrators have proposed broad changes for those schools plus five other low-performing schools. State law allows districts to maintain control if they permit outside organizations — charter schools, nonprofits, or higher education institutions — to take over struggling schools, according to the Chronicle.

    District officials have said they will either close the schools and reopen them with limited grade levels and all new staff and programming, or hand over control of hiring and curriculum to a higher education institution or nonprofit organization.

    District officials have dismissed a third option — letting charter operators take over the struggling schools.

    The superintendent responded on Twitter to claims that the district was going to be “turned over to a charter system,” saying “Do not buy into the hype.”

  • EduClips: The 11th School Shooting of 2018; Special Ed Shell Game in TX — and More Must-Reads From America’s 10 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | January 24, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    SCHOOL SHOOTINGS — There have been 11 school shootings since January 1, and roughly 50 since the start of the 2017–18 school year. The latest, in Benton, Kentucky, on Tuesday was the worst so far in 2018: Two 15-year-old students were killed and 18 more people were injured.

    Researchers and gun control advocates say that since 2013, they have logged school shootings at a rate of about one a week. As The New York Times reports, “Some of the shootings at schools this year were suicides that injured no one else; some did not result in any injuries at all. But in the years since the massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., gun safety advocates say, all school shootings seem to have lost some of their capacity to shock.” (Read at The New York Times)

    National News

    EDUCATION DEPARTMENT — Trump Team May Combine Innovation, K-12 Offices, Advocates Say (Read at Politics K-12)

    RANKINGS — The 10 most and least educated states in 2018 (Read at CNBC)

    DEVOS — Betsy DeVos Taps Former Bush Administration Lawyer as Top Adviser (Read at Politics K-12)

    District and State News

    TEXAS — Analysis: Special Ed Shell Game in Texas. Who’s to Blame? Follow the Money. (Read at

    CALIFORNIA — LA schools have a tentative deal with labor partners on health benefits — but watchdogs warn it’s not aggressive enough in reining in costs (Read at LA School Report)

    TEXAS — Commission Begins Discussing Texas School Finance Overhaul (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

    FLORIDA — Florida Senate panel backs scholarships for bullied students (Read at Orlando Weekly)

    NEW YORK — New York won’t apply for federal program that would have allowed for ‘innovative’ state tests (Read at Chalkbeat)

    FLORIDA — Florida lawmakers consider requiring schools to post “In God we trust” (Read at Tampa Bay Times)

    NEW YORK — Teacher says East Village principal neglected racial issues (Read at New York Daily News)

    CALIFORNIA — Despite promises, Trump administration has had little impact on public education in California (Read at EdSource)

    ILLINOIS — 3 of top 10 school districts in the U.S. found in Illinois, home security group says (Read at WGN)

    Think Pieces

    SCHOOL SHOOTINGS — Alarmed and Ashamed: 3 School Shootings in 25 Hours — and All We Can Say Is the Active Shooter Training Helped (Read at The

    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Social-Emotional Learning for Senators: This Elementary School Exercise Helped End the Shutdown (Read at Education Week)

    TESTING — A surprising link: when kids work harder on tests, their countries’ economies grow more (Read at Chalkbeat)

    TECHNOLOGY — As schools continue to digitize and automate, where do teachers fit in? (Read at Hechinger Report)

    BLACKLIST — An Arizona school district kept a secret blacklist for decades. A reporter found it (Read at Columbia Journalism Review)

    Quote of the Day

    “We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue.” — Katherine W. Schweit, a former senior F.B.I. official and the co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States. (Read at The New York Times)

    Want the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox — for free? Sign up for the TopSheet Daybreak Education Newsletter.

  • Alarmed and Ashamed: 3 School Shootings in 25 Hours — and All We Can Say Is the Active Shooter Training Helped

    By Steve Snyder | January 23, 2018

    Editor’s Note:

    Deadly violence at a school used to stop this country in its tracks. The horrific notion of a teenager arming himself, striking down defenseless classmates, terrorizing the safest of our communal safe spaces, was once enough to upend news cycles and drive elected leaders to tears.

    Now, thanks to the writers at The Trace, we can chart three school shootings over the past 25 hours.

    As reported by the Associated Press and The Dallas Morning News, a 16-year-old opened up with a .380-caliber handgun in a packed Texas cafeteria early Monday, injuring one. A couple hours later, a 14-year-old was wounded outside a New Orleans charter school when shots were fired from a passing pickup truck.

    And then Tuesday morning in Kentucky: As detailed by police, a 15-year-old used a handgun to attack dozens of unarmed classmates at his high school. At least two of them are now dead; 17 more were injured by the barrage. The gunman was quickly apprehended in a “non-violent arrest,” and will now be charged with murder and attempted murder.

    Three schools, two days, 19 casualties, two dead. And yet cable news doesn’t even break into its regularly scheduled beltway blather. We’re barely moved to tweet.

    How desensitized have we now become? How much terror are we now willing to accept in our school zones?

    In 2018, we see a headline that says two are dead — and are momentarily thankful that the body count falls short of horrors like Newtown.

    But the specifics of today’s slaughter are still so tragic. And terrible. And terrifying. And bewildering.

    Almost as disorienting: the police press conference that followed. “The Kentucky state police have been in this area recently teaching students and faculty how to respond to an active shooter situation,” said Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard Sanders.

    “Everybody in that high school acted appropriately.”

    Thank goodness they did. Thank God they were prepared. And yet still: How is this the new reality of public education in America? Where active shooter training is built into the standing curriculum? Where students and instructors of any age are regularly trained how to toggle into survival mode? Where classroom shooter drills are built into the police department’s calendar?

    Where a single-digit body count is now considered a below-the-fold event.

    I’m ashamed that I did the same mental calculus, and I regret that I didn’t think of sprinting into coverage here at The 74. I’m so thankful that Editorial Director James Burnett and the writers at The Trace gave today’s tragedy the context it demands.

    As I write this Tuesday night, sitting on the couch with my 4-year-old daughter, I’m terrified about what she’ll have to learn about active shooters — and survival tactics — when she starts grade school.

    … And how many more school shootings I’ll read about this week.



  • Special Ed Shell Game in Texas. Who’s to Blame? Follow the Money.

    By Beth Hawkins | January 23, 2018

    You know that old saw about following the money?

    An intriguing spat followed hard on the heels of the U.S. Department of Education’s recent announcement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had improperly denied special education services to tens of thousands of students. Gov. Greg Abbott, on whose watch the federal investigation began, launched the first salvo with a letter that seemed to place primary blame on Texas’s school districts.

    “The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism,” Abbott wrote. “Going back to 2004, the letter points to multiple failures by local school districts to adequately address the needs of our most vulnerable students.”

    The “local” failures, the letter went on to concede, stemmed from following state policy limiting the number of students whose disabilities would be acknowledged to 8.5 percent of Texas schoolchildren.

    School districts fired back quickly, saying they were adhering to the agency’s directives, which appeared to be an attempt to satisfy the legislature’s desire — not expressed in a bill or a law but in a report — that schools drastically cut special ed spending.

    Who’s right? A look back at “Denied,” the September 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation that triggered the federal probe, is instructional.

    A well-established body of U.S. law says children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education, but in practice most schools are under continual pressure to provide basic services on a shoestring. While neither Congress nor state legislatures have ever funded that mandate adequately, Texas appears to be the only state that has attempted to bridge the shortfall by establishing a cap on enrollment.

    In 2003, Texas lawmakers slashed the TEA budget of some $30 billion a year by $1.1 billion, creating a precarious funding situation that only compounded in the ensuing years. In 2004, the Texas House Public Education Committee issued a report on ways the state could guard against the “overidentification” of students receiving special education services.

    Overidentification typically refers to students who are mistakenly referred to special ed for other unmet needs, such as falling behind academically, not learning English quickly, or engaging in behavior perceived as defiant because of racial bias. Reducing overidentification typically means addressing the underlying needs of the student or changing the system.

    According to the Chronicle’s series — which won two Education Writers Association awards, among other accolades — four TEA officials subsequently decided that no more than 8.5 percent of students should receive services.


    DeVos: Texas Violated Rights of Tens of Thousands of Students With Disabilities

    When the policy was created in 2004, 11.6 percent of Texas students received special ed services, a little more than a percentage point below the national average. By 2016, that percentage had dropped to 8.6 percent. The number of students had dropped by a third.

    The TEA officials’ explanation of the 2004 decision was that they had not set a cap but rather an “indicator” of school performance. Districts that identified too many students with disabilities were audited. Potential sanctions listed in a compliance manual included fines, regulator visits, “corrective action” plans, and even wholesale state takeover.

    In response, the Chronicle found, districts came up with a host of creative mechanisms for turning families away, ranging from saying children were not impaired enough or were too intelligent to qualify, to printing brochures listing options outside the public school system.

    Asked about the swift drop in schools’ special ed caseloads, local and state officials sometimes said better teaching methods or early intervention had reduced unmet needs.

    In his January 11 letter, Abbott directed the TEA to come up with a plan to remedy the situation within a week: “Throughout your tenure, you have advised me of changes taking place at TEA to strengthen and better support special education in Texas. Through your efforts, much has already been done. However, it is obvious that more can be done, and more must be done.”

    During last spring’s legislative session, Abbott, it’s worth noting, refused lawmakers’ pleas to revamp Texas’s broken school funding system which, 15 years after the billion-dollar cut, has left rich and poor districts in dire circumstances. Without buy-in on his priorities — a bill limiting transgender students to the use of the bathroom corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth, and private school tuition vouchers — Abbott said he would not entertain a funding review.

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