August 2019
  • States With End-of-Course Exams See Gains in Student Graduation Rates, Fordham Report Finds

    By Mark Keierleber | August 27, 2019

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    Amid a backlash over standardized testing, states across the country have moved away from requiring high school students to take end-of-course exams. But it’s a decision policymakers in those states may soon regret, according to a study released Tuesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

    In states where high school students took end-of-course exams in math and English, researchers found a modest uptick in graduation rates. End-of-course exams in math correlated with a 2.8-percentage-point increase in high school graduation rates, the study found, and a 3.4-percentage-point increase in English. The increase becomes more pronounced as states require end-of-course assessments in a wider variety of subjects. Though the mean high school graduation rate during the study was 77 percent, researchers found a predicted graduation rate of 85 percent in states that administered nine end-of-course tests.

    That finding suggests that state policymakers should bolster the number of end-of-course exams students take rather than cutting back, said Adam Tyner, Fordham’s associate director of research and a co-author of the study.

    States that use such exams “do seem to be outperforming the places that don’t have” them, he said. “It does seem like places that are really centering their high school accountability systems around [end-of-course exams] are having the clearest effects.”

    States’ use of the exams, which assess students’ mastery of course content, began to take off in the mid-’90s, with 32 states and the District of Columbia using them in some fashion over the past few decades. In more recent years, however, states’ reliance on the exams has been declining, with some watering down the stakes associated with the tests and others eliminating them altogether. By 2020, graduating seniors in just 26 states are expected to take end-of-course exams.

    Thomas B. Fordham Institute

    Findings on the Fordham report, which explores the correlation between student outcomes and the use of end-of-course exams in 32 states and the District of Columbia over the past two decades, differ from recent studies on exit exams, which students are required to pass in some states in order to graduate. Numerous reports link exit exams to a lack of improvement in academic achievement and higher dropout rates. In recent years, states’ use of both exit exams and end-of-course assessments has declined.

    But unlike exit exams, end-of-course exams “have no such negative effects,” according to the report. “In other words, the key argument against exit exams — that they depress graduation rates — does not hold” for end-of-course exams.

    The report, which includes a foreword that describes researchers at the right-leaning Fordham as “accountability hawks,” argues that external assessments like end-of-course exams maintain uniform content and rigor in core subjects and minimize concern over grade inflation. Additionally, the exams can encourage students to take core courses more seriously, the report argues. As districts work to improve high school graduation rates, external assessments are necessary to hold both schools and students accountable, Tyner said.

    “If you don’t have anything like that and you do have a big pressure to raise graduation rates, it creates incentives for administrators and all the adults in the system to play games with how you’re passing students,” Tyner said. “Really, it creates an incentive to lower standards.”

    Beyond graduation rates, researchers did not find a statistically significant correlation between state mandates for end-of-course exams and students’ scores on college entrance tests. However, students in states that employed eight or more math exams outperformed the average ACT score by four to five points. That finding, according to the report, suggests that the benefits of taking end-of-course exams may be cumulative.

    Findings in the report do raise equity concerns about the exams. For black and Hispanic students, the report found, end-of-course exams in English correlated with a 3.7-percentage-point gain in graduation rates — but science tests correlated with a 5.2-percentage-point drop. Overall, increasing the number of end-of-course exams didn’t appear to improve black and Hispanic students’ chances of graduating from high school.

    Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, the William E. Simon Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation provide financial support to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and The 74.


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  • Monthly QuotED: 8 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in August, From a Biden Gaffe to Teacher Pay — and Moms Who Are Cool About the Start of School

    By Andrew Brownstein | August 26, 2019

    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.

    “I work 55 hours a week, have 12 years’ experience and make $43K. I worry and stress daily about my classroom prep work and kids. I am a fool to do this job.” —A teacher in an online focus group, quoted in this year’s PDK survey of American teachers. More than half said they had seriously considered quitting in recent years. (Read at

    Ralph Freso/ Getty Images

    “I knew I had to reach out to the internet, because moms are willing to help other moms. You find out the most information that way.” —Stasi Webber, who turned to the internet to find school solutions for her 11-year-old autistic son. (Read at

    “This is a long time coming, and there were many, many times that the board could have made decisions for this not to occur.” —State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, on a state investigator’s recommendation that the state take over Houston’s school board. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

    Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

    “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” —Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Read at Politics K-12)

    “I know for a fact I made the wrong choice. It already broke our hearts saying no to that question. … There’s not a step they handled well. There isn’t a chance to assign culpability to the school system.” —Alexander Walsh, a member of a jury that found that the Fairfax County School Board had no “actual knowledge” of a girl’s sexual harassment during a 2017 band trip and was therefore not liable. (Read at The Washington Post)

    “We all know that in the world at large, those who are wealthy have advantages. The question for college admission is, do we want that institutionalized, or do we want to actually be the exception to that?” —Jim Jump, a dean and director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s, an independent prep school in Richmond, Virginia. (Read at the Christian Science Monitor)

    “Rich kids go to therapy, poor kids go to jail.” —Melivia Mujica, a student activist in San Antonio. (Read at

    Fox 35 Orlando/Twitter

    “Some of you are sad. This is me and my girls. We will be juuuuuuust fine.” —Sign left by four mothers in Minneola, Florida, to mark the first day of school, which they celebrated with wine and donuts. (Read at Fox News Orlando)


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  • Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, NewSchools Venture Fund Look to ‘Supercharge’ Math Learning by Bolstering Students’ Executive Function

    By Laura Fay | August 22, 2019

    Three of the biggest names in education philanthropy are teaming up to boost math education.

    NewSchools Venture Fund announced today it will invest about $9 million annually over the next five years in efforts to improve math learning by incorporating executive function development in elementary and middle school students.

    With equal funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the EF+Math Program will award grants to teams of educators, researchers and designers to develop and test new approaches that build students’ executive function skills. The goal is to improve math outcomes for students in grades 3-8, especially traditionally underserved groups such as those from low-income communities.

    Executive function refers to skills like self-control and working memory that allow people to focus their attention and solve problems. Research indicates that math achievement is strongly correlated to these abilities in elementary school students.

    “Executive function allows us to take control of our learning and our lives, and evidence suggests they may be skills that can supercharge math learning,” NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Stacey Childress said on a press call ahead of the announcement.

    Only a third of eighth-graders nationwide are proficient in math, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. Improving students’ executive function skills has been shown to improve their math outcomes, and research suggests that students from low-income backgrounds would benefit the most, said Dana Miller-Cotto, a research scientist for the project, on the press call.

    The interdisciplinary teams will be funded on short-term cycles of seven to 18 months, and educator input will be included at all stages of the process. School districts and educators can apply to participate right away. There will be a separate application process for developers and researchers, and NewSchools Venture Fund will help individuals form teams as needed.

    “This program is designed with educators at its core because it really would be impossible to do the work well without them,” Childress said. “They’re content experts, and they also bring the unique perspective of understanding what works well inside classrooms.”

    NewSchools Venture Fund, an education philanthropy nonprofit, has traditionally steered its charitable donations into three areas: ed tech, innovative schools and efforts to diversify the educator and education leadership pipelines. This initiative will boost all three areas, Childress said.

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to The 74.


    74 Interview: NewSchools Venture Fund’s Stacey Childress on 20 Years’ (and $300 Million) Worth of School Breakthroughs & What She’s Learned About Supporting Education Innovation


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  • America Divided: Public Support for Charter Schools Is Growing — but So Is Opposition, New Poll Finds

    By Mark Keierleber | August 20, 2019

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    Public opinion on charter schools has grown polarized as the number of people who either support or oppose the schools has increased, according to a new poll released Tuesday by the journal Education Next. Much of the opposition is being levied by Democrats at a time when party leaders and 2020 presidential contenders have become increasingly skeptical of charters.

    Among poll respondents, 48 percent said they support the formation of charter schools — a sizable jump from just two years ago, when only 39 percent of poll participants held a favorable view. In 2017, support for charters took a 12-percentage-point dip, a shift researchers said could have been driven by the Trump administration’s support for the schools. Now, support for charter schools has nearly rebounded, a resurgence attributed primarily to Republicans. While 61 percent of Republicans this year said they support the formation of charter schools, just 40 percent of Democrats said the same.

    However, as support has grown, so too has opposition, with fewer people taking a neutral position. Though 39 percent of respondents this year said they oppose charter school growth, that resistance was most profound among Democrats, 48 percent of whom said they oppose the schools. That’s a 7-percentage-point jump in Democratic opposition from 2017, while Republican opposition — at 27 percent — dropped by a modest 3 percentage points.

    Martin West, editor in chief of Education Next and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the growth of the charter school sector and high-profile debates over their efficacy have likely led people to stake out a position on the topic — “but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve become more knowledgeable.” Misconceptions abound. Just 22 percent of respondents correctly stated that charter schools cannot hold religious services, according to the poll, and just 27 percent realized that the schools do not charge tuition.

    Administered in May, the Education Next poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3,046 adults.

    Education Next

    The growing opposition to charters among Democrats comports with the anti-choice drift of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election. Though charter school proponents found a friend in former president Barack Obama, Democratic candidates looking to challenge President Donald Trump have offered harsher critiques.

    When he presented his education platform earlier this year, former vice president Joe Biden said that although some charter schools work, he doesn’t support giving federal money to for-profit operators that siphon “off money for our public schools, which are already in enough trouble.” Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, has called for a ban on for-profit charter schools — a small part of the charter school ecosystem — and a cessation of federal funding for charter school growth. Even Cory Booker, who championed charter schools as mayor of Newark, said charter school laws in some states are “really offensive” and vowed to fight against those that are “about raiding public education and hurting public schools.”

    But polling data offer new reasons for anti-choice Democrats to be cautious, West said. While a third of white Democrats backed charter school growth, 55 percent of black Democrats and 47 percent of Hispanic Democrats said they supported the schools.

    “The tension a Democratic candidate faces is that there is a split within the Democratic Party coalition between white Democrats and African-American and Hispanic Democrats, majorities of whom support not only charters but also various forms of private school choice,” West said. “So I think that creates a decision point that candidates need to wrestle with.”

    Indeed, it’s not charters but tax-credit scholarships that command the most public support among school choice policies. Support for tax-credit scholarships has seen modest growth under the Trump administration, with 58 percent of respondents saying this year that they favor the idea. That’s up from 53 percent in 2016.

    That finding should buoy the hopes of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose “Education Freedom Scholarships” proposal would provide federal funding to states that implement the idea. The poll finds that tax-credit scholarships have bipartisan approval: Sixty-five percent of Republicans favor the idea, as do 56 percent of Democrats — a rate that’s held steady over the past few years. But that bipartisanship does not extend to Capitol Hill, where fierce Democratic opposition to DeVos guarantees an uphill battle for the proposal.

    Private school vouchers for low-income students found support from 49 percent of poll respondents, up 12 percentage points from four years ago. Though the idea saw near-majority approval, it was the least-popular school choice initiative highlighted in the poll.

    Mixed messages

    The poll this year saw an uptick in support for a range of education policies that don’t seem to tilt in favor of any one political party. For example, support increased for both school choice initiatives and teachers’ collective bargaining rights. On the heels of teacher protests in multiple states, the poll found growing support for teacher raises, higher education spending, teachers unions and educators’ right to strike.

    “The policies that are on different sides of the political spectrum are all gathering political support, so it’s not like the public is moving in a left direction or a right direction,” said Paul Peterson, an Education Next senior editor and Harvard professor. The public “seems to want change, although, at the same time, you’ve got a lot of support for the public schools — more than ever before.”

    Support for teacher raises was higher this year than at any point since 2008, just prior to the recession. Among respondents who were informed of average teacher salaries in their state, 56 percent said they favor a pay boost. Support for teacher raises was even higher when respondents weren’t given average teacher salaries in their area.

    Education Next

    As Democratic candidates call for greater investment in public schools, the poll found that Americans are warming to the idea. This year, 50 percent of those informed about current spending levels said they favor an increase, an 11-percentage-point jump from two years ago. Forty percent said education funding should remain the same.

    Digging deeper on education spending, the poll found that participants were far more likely to support an increase on the national level, implying that “the Democratic presidential candidates who are calling for increases in federal spending, in particular, seem to know what they’re doing,” West said.

    After taking a major reputational hit in recent years, support for the Common Core State Standards is also in the midst of a rebound, with resurgence most pronounced among Republicans. Half of respondents said they support the standards, including 46 percent of Republicans — a 14-percentage-point jump over the past two years. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Democrats this year said they support the Common Core. However, it appears the “Common Core” brand still carries a negative connotation. When asked the same question absent the name “Common Core,” 66 percent of respondents said they supported the idea.


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  • EduClips: From a Post-Parkland Security Mandate in Broward County to Charter Growth in Houston, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

    By The 74 | August 16, 2019

    EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    Broward County — Fort Lauderdale-Area Charters Lack State-Mandated Police Officers: Up to 29 schools in the district — all charters — lack state-mandated armed security officers. State officials implemented the requirement in the wake of the 2018 shooting massacre at a Parkland high school that left 17 dead. Given the imminent start of the school year, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony agreed to cover the schools temporarily. Ryan Petty, a member of the state commission that investigated the mass shooting, urged Superintendent Robert Runcie to account for the schools’ failure to provide proof of having armed guards.“If they can’t produce a contract or evidence, then he ought to, as the leader of the district, revoke their charters,” said Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the attack. “Immediately.” (Read at the Sun-Sentinel)

    Fairfax County — Jury Sides With School Board in Band Trip Sexual Harassment Case: An eight-member jury found that the Fairfax County School Board is not responsible for sexual harassment during a 2017 high school band trip. While it found that the girl was sexually harassed to the extent that the experience deprived her of educational access, it concluded that the board did not have “actual knowledge” of what occurred on the Oakton High School band trip. In an interview with the Washington Post, one juror said the panel was evenly split and was leaning in the girl’s favor until the judge reminded them that they needed “direct evidence” that school officials knew she had been harassed. (Read at The Washington Post)

    Orange County — Orlando Legislator Introduces Voucher Anti-Discrimination Bill: A new bill filed by an Orlando legislator would ban schools that discriminate based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to Orlando Weekly. Private schools across Florida currently receive millions of dollars in private vouchers, and some refuse to admit homosexual or disabled students. Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, for example, can expel students for being gay and has an official policy that they must have “no emotional disorders” or conditions like autism, Asperger’s or Down syndrome, according to the article. Under the bill from Rep. Anna Eskamani, schools that refuse to change discriminatory policies will have their fund payments suspended or lose their eligibility altogether. (Read at Orlando Weekly)

    New York City — Experts Question De Blasio Debate Claim on Lead Paint: In a presidential debate last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio trumpeted his administration’s commitment to “literally ending the notion of lead poisoning.” That occurred not long after officials found that nearly 1,000 New York City classrooms had peeling lead paint last month. According to five experts who spoke to Chalkbeat, the district’s plan “stops far short” of the mayor’s expansive promise to eliminate lead exposure. “Even when procedures are followed correctly, students may be in classrooms for weeks or months before a custodian is required to conduct a visual inspection,” according to the article. “And the city does not test proactively for lead dust, the most common source of lead exposure related to paint, which can be present even without any visible signs of deterioration.” (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Houston — IDEA Charters Plan Big Growth Spurt: Twenty years after opening its first charter schools in Texas, IDEA Public Schools is coming to Houston. It plans to open four schools in the city in 2020 and a total of 20 by 2026, part of its larger goal of enrolling 100,000 children in Texas and other states by 2022. Calling it “arguably the hottest charter school network in Texas,” Houston Public Media said IDEA won a $117 million grant earlier this year, the largest ever for charter school expansion. “It’s drawn both excitement and skepticism from parents — and concern among some traditional school districts, like Houston, about competition for student enrollment,” according to the article. (Read at Houston Public Media)

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

    SCHOOL FUNDING — Four new studies bolster the case: More money for schools helps low-income students (Read at Chalkbeat)

    PRE-K Laboratories of Democracy: Washington, D.C., showed how to do universal pre-K right (Read at Vox)

    SATS Big Promises, Big Data: Is the SAT’s New ‘Environmental Context’ Score a Tool to Personalize College Admissions, or Another Impersonal Data Point? (Read at

    YOUTH VOTE — The Data Are In: Teenage Voting Hit ‘Historic’ High in 2018 Midterms (Read at Education Week)

    ED POLICY — It’s a New School Year. What Should Be the Big Education Policy Issues? (Read at Forbes)

    Quotes of the Week

    “Rich kids go to therapy, poor kids go to jail.” —Melivia Mujica, a student activist in San Antonio. (Read at

    “I know for a fact I made the wrong choice. It already broke our hearts saying no to that question. … There’s not a step they handled well. There isn’t a chance to assign culpability to the school system.” —Alexander Walsh, a member of a jury that found that the Fairfax County School Board had no “actual knowledge” of a girl’s sexual harassment during a 2017 band trip and was therefore not liable. (Read at The Washington Post)

    “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” —Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Read at Politics K-12)

    “This computer has been frozen. This computer can no longer be used. This computer can no longer access the internet. Files saved on the hard drive can no longer be accessed. This computer’s whereabouts can be traced.” —A message that appeared on laptops for students at Georgia Cyber Academy, which is engaged in a dispute with K12 Inc. (Read at

    “Some of you are sad. This is me and my girls. We will be juuuuuuust fine.” —Sign left by four mothers in Minneola, Florida, to mark the first day of school, which they celebrated with wine and donuts. (Read at Fox News Orlando)


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  • Study: Students Who Attend Charter High School More Likely to Vote, Less Likely to Commit Crime

    By Brendan Lowe | August 13, 2019

    Researchers attempting to gauge the success of charter schools tend to focus on hard academic metrics: proficiency in fourth-grade reading, for example, or test scores in eighth-grade math, and achievement gaps between white and minority students.

    But a recent study attempts to broaden that conversation, tracing charter schools’ effects beyond the classroom to issues such as voting and criminal behavior.

    The study, released in June, found that eighth-grade students in traditional public schools in North Carolina who transitioned to a charter high school had more positive behavioral outcomes than their peers who went on to a district high school.

    The students who transitioned to a charter high school from a traditional public school were less likely to be chronically absent or suspended during their freshman year. In high school and beyond, these students were also less likely to be convicted of a crime, and once they reached voting age, they registered to vote and voted in local, state and federal elections at higher rates.

    The findings are part of a working paper published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University by four researchers — two from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and two from the RAND Corporation. While the paper is still being peer-reviewed and is thus subject to change, the researchers predicted that any modifications would likely be minor. Co-author Doug Lauen of the University of North Carolina called the results “preliminary and potentially tantalizing.”

    “If we have an effective education system, whether it’s in the traditional public school sector or the charter school sector, we want to know if it’s lowered kids’ chances of being convicted of a crime,” he said. “We also want kids to vote. These are important civic outcomes.”

    The study focused on more than 20,000 students who attended 35 high schools between the 2004-05 and 2010-11 school years. Researchers compared school data on student conduct and attendance with publicly available criminal and voting data through 2016. They excluded certain charter schools — such as Grandfather Academy, which serves students who have experienced emotional, sexual or other abuse — because they didn’t think it would be fair to compare them with traditional public schools. Similarly, they didn’t include traditional public schools located in hospitals or prisons.

    Unlike some charter school studies, which compare the performance of students admitted in a lottery with those not chosen, this research employed a matching approach. The researchers paired eighth-grade students with similar demographic profiles and who were therefore just as likely to choose a charter high school. The researchers then tracked the behavior for thousands of these pairs of students to see whether and how they diverged.

    Results for students who transitioned from a traditional public school to a charter school high school were consistently positive (by as much as 5.5 percentage points), but the outcomes for students who stayed in the charter system were more mixed. (While reluctant to speculate about the reasons for these differences, the researchers hypothesized that students who were already in charter schools may have previously experienced a short-term boost in their behavior, leading to fewer noticeable changes between eighth and ninth grade.) Of the racial and ethnic subgroups the researchers studied, Latino students experienced the largest gains from attending a charter high school.

    The study’s scope is broad but not deep, and the researchers did not dig into the school-level factors that might have led to these outcomes. Data limitations also kept researchers from examining whether parents’ voting or criminal behavior affected their children’s actions.

    The researchers believe their study’s focus breaks new ground, and Lauen said he hopes more education researchers will look to the broader effects schools can have, such as involvement in the justice system.

    “We give a lot of lip service to the broader goals of schooling,” he said. “People complain that schooling has become just about test scores. Well, great, let’s do something about that. Let’s look at civic outcomes. Let’s responsibly link these data so we can serve the public interest.”

    Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, which funded the study, also provides financial support to The 74.


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  • EduClips: From a Proposed Takeover in Houston to Miami’s Cure for ‘Middle School Syndrome,’ School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

    By The 74 | August 9, 2019

    EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    Houston — State Ed Officials Recommend Takeover of Troubled School Board: Following a six-month investigation, Texas Education Agency officials are recommending that a state-appointed governing team replace Houston’s elected school board. District officials have until Aug. 15 to respond, and the state’s education commissioner, Mike Morath, is expected to issue a final decision in the following weeks. The Houston Chronicle reported that investigators found “several instances of alleged misconduct by some trustees, including violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts and making false statements to investigators.” The 34-page report of the investigation found that Houston trustees had shown a “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.” If the takeover happens, Houston will be the largest Texas district ever put under state control. And unlike previous districts that faced takeovers, Houston has received a B for academic performance since 2018 and remains on “solid financial footing,” the Chronicle reported. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

    Fairfax County — School Officials Joked About Reported Assault, Prompting Title IX Lawsuit: On a band trip to Indianapolis, a junior at Oakton High School says, a senior boy forced her to engage in sexual activity under a blanket. Her principal joked about the incident, according to The Washington Post: “Asked by a vice principal on the trip how many ‘inches’ the school might get from snow that March 2017 week, he replied in an email, ‘How many inches under the blanket or on the ground?’” And in a text to the same vice principal, a school police officer described the incident by referencing the teen sex comedy American Pie. A federal jury will now decide whether the school’s reaction amounted to a civil rights violation under Title IX. “It was one thing to be assaulted; it’s another thing for the people who are supposed to protect you to do nothing, not just do nothing, but to blame you for it,” the girl testified. “I think if something like this happened to me again, I would have a hard time reporting it.” (Read at The Washington Post)

    New York City — Lead Paint Found in More Than 900 Elementary Schools: Prompted by a WNYC investigation, New York City officials found that more than 900 elementary school classrooms have tested positive for lead paint. Among many sobering statistics, officials found deteriorating lead paint in 38 percent of school buildings built before 1985 that serve students in pre-K and kindergarten, and that 80 percent of buildings had at least one faucet with elevated lead levels. Of all the boroughs, Brooklyn had the most buildings that tested positive for lead paint, with 114. Officials promised to make the schools safe before students return in September. Experts have found that children who eat paint chips or inhale tainted dust can experience impeded brain development. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Miami-Dade County — Middle School Syndrome? Miami May Have Found a Cure: “Middle schools are just like the middle children in families,” according to the Miami Herald. “They have the most problems.” That’s certainly played out in the Miami-Dade County School District, where middle schools are threatening the district’s vaunted A rating from the state: Half of the district’s 49 middle schools earned a C this year. In order to make middle schools an attractive option again, the district is investing $200,000 in nine pilot schools to see what works. Administrators are now looking to expand the initiative to see what “à la carte” elements they’d like to take in, from “trust counselors” to electives on projects like financial literacy and organization. (Read at the Miami Herald)

    Dallas — Former Schools Chief Gets 7 Years in Bribery Scheme: A federal judge sentenced Rick Sorrells, the former superintendent of Dallas, to seven years in prison for his role in a $3 million bribery scheme. In exchange for the bribes, he agreed to steer $70 million in contracts to a Louisiana camera company to provide surveillance on district school buses. Sorrells used the funds to pay for fancy cars, expensive jewelry and lavish trips. “You just sold out the public for your own financial benefit,” said U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn. In remarks, Sorrells apologized for his behavior. “I was weak,” he said. (Read at The Dallas Morning News)

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

    SEGREGATION — The Whiter, Richer School District Right Next Door (Read at The Atlantic)

    CHARTERS — Williams: School Choice Panel at National Urban League Summit Shows We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Charter Schools (Read at

    HONORS CLASSES — Honors Classes for All Leave Some Parents Asking: Is It Really Honors? (Read at The Washington Post)

    PRE-K — Opinion: Toddlers Don’t Have to Go to School (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    HOMEWORK — Should U.S. Public Schools Eliminate Homework? (Read at Truthout)

    Quotes of the Week

    “School is supposed to be a resourceful place, somewhere you can trust. That wasn’t what it turned out to be. It turned out to be somewhere where they just turned their backs against you.” —A girl referred to in court documents as Jane Doe, a former student at Florida’s Carol City High School, who said she was suspended after three boys sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom. (Read at

    “It’s a precious, beautiful structure — an historic structure, it’s more than 100 years old. But the truth is, it’s been so carelessly abandoned, just like our education system.” —Johanna Dominguez, a former student at Puerto Rico’s Pedro G. Goyco school, which has been shuttered. (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    “I work 55 hours a week, have 12 years’ experience and make $43K. I worry and stress daily about my classroom prep work and kids. I am a fool to do this job.” —A teacher in an online focus group, quoted in this year’s PDK survey of American teachers. More than half said they had seriously considered quitting in recent years. (Read at

    “The earth isn’t falling, the sky isn’t falling, our children are not in grave danger.” —New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, to parents on a report finding that nearly 900 city elementary school classrooms tested positive for lead paint. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    “This is a long time coming, and there were many, many times that the board could have made decisions for this not to occur.” —State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, on a state investigator’s recommendation that the state take over Houston’s school board. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)


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  • Study: Chicago’s Civilian Monitoring Program Kept Kids Safe on School Commutes, Providing Possible Model for Urban Districts

    By Kevin Mahnken | August 7, 2019

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    A Chicago program designed to safeguard students’ commutes to and from school led to significant decreases in crime, according to a study released this spring. The initiative — in place for a decade while the city has experienced periodic swells of street violence — also increased attendance among participating schools, the study authors found.

    Evidence of the program’s success may recommend it as a model to other schools and districts contemplating ways to curb misconduct and absenteeism among their student populations.

    The study, co-authored by economists at the University of Illinois and the University of Georgia, examined Chicago’s Safe Passage project. After a successful multiyear pilot, the idea was first widely implemented in 2009 following the highly publicized murder of Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honors student who was killed while heading home from his high school on the city’s South Side.

    Journal of Urban Economics

    Coordinated jointly between Chicago Public Schools and the city’s police department, Safe Passage places civilian monitors — often the parents or grandparents of students, as well as other community members — along commonly used transport routes for roughly 2.5 hours at the beginning and end of the school day. The employees are paid $10 per hour and are each responsible for patrolling roughly one block of each route.

    Though they are unarmed and have no means of apprehending criminals, the monitors must undergo de-escalation training and are encouraged to both resolve conflicts that arise among students and report suspicious activity to police.

    First rolled out in 35 schools in relatively high-crime areas during the 2009-10 school year, Safe Passage now disperses 1,300 employees along routes serving more than 150 participating schools.

    The program has been a celebrated success even as Chicago has struggled to reduce troubling rates of violence in recent years. In June, newly elected mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrated the end of the school year with Safe Passage employees, feting them for helping bring peace to local neighborhoods.

    Other large districts have already taken note: In Newark, where crime has been dropping in recent years, officials instituted their own safety campaign — similarly dubbed Safe Passage — five years ago. It will grow to encompass 11 schools this fall, and Superintendent Roger León has called for an even broader expansion in the years to come.

    In determining the Chicago program’s effects, study co-authors Daniel McMillen and Ruchi Singh used crime data provided by the Chicago Police Department to track both violent and property crimes in the vicinity of Safe Passage routes. Dividing the areas into individual cells accounting for 1/64th of a square mile, they compared areas guarded by Safe Passage employees with similar ones nearby.

    After three years of participation in the program, the authors found, Safe Passage schools saw a significant reduction in violent crime along their commuting routes. Importantly, this effect grew, rather than receded, with time, with no evidence of “deterrence decay” as bad actors adjusted their criminal patterns to the presence of civilian monitors. And by charting crimes in adjacent areas, the authors found that crime wasn’t simply migrating to nearby blocks — it just didn’t occur.

    “We find that Chicago’s Safe Passage program has had a persistent reduction in crime three years after the experiment began,” they write. “We find that the effects are persistent over time and continue to lower crime throughout the implementation period. Schools that had the program for more than two school years show a significant reduction in crime, with an approximate 20 percent decline in violent crime.”

    Perhaps best of all, by reducing the risks of getting to and from school, the program seems to be encouraging more students to attend. Safe Passage schools saw their attendance rate boosted by 2.5 percent compared with non-participating Chicago schools between the 2009-10 and 2015-16 school years. And the effects appear to be mutually reinforcing: By getting more kids into classrooms, Safe Passage takes them away from dangerous situations.

    “The program provides an interesting insight into policies aimed at reducing crime,” McMillen and Singh contend. “While the program directly deters crime, it also increases the probability that students will attend school, which in turn reduces the number of potential perpetrators of the crimes.”

    The approach may also be emulated by other cities looking to tamp down crime among young people. Washington, D.C., has seen the killings of 17 juveniles over the past two years, leading high school students to lead their own anti-gun campaigns. In neighboring Baltimore, a study from earlier this year found that students forced to make long commutes through rough parts of the city were noticeably more likely to miss time in school.


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  • What’s an Emotion Scientist? Inside the New Concept Shaping Social-Emotional Learning

    By Kate Stringer | August 5, 2019

    When Nilda Irizarry was a sophomore in her Springfield, Massachusetts, high school, she didn’t raise her hand and she didn’t participate in class discussions. Although she loved learning, she was certain she didn’t fit in.

    But her teacher Patricia Gardner saw something very different. One day, she pulled Irizarry aside and asked why she didn’t speak up more, because she was such a good writer. Irizarry said that she didn’t feel smart and didn’t want to be embarrassed.

    “‘No, your ideas are worthy,’” Irizarry recalled Gardner saying. “‘You need to know you can do this.’”

    Irizarry — now a middle school principal in Farmington, Connecticut — didn’t have a term for it then, but her teacher was acting as an “emotion scientist,” a new phrase that describes what some educators have been doing for a long time: investigating what lies behind student behavior. If you haven’t heard the phrase, you probably will soon. The concept — coined by Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence — is becoming increasingly popular through its use in the Center’s social-emotional learning program, RULER. Helping students and teachers investigate their emotions can lead to healthier humans and better learners, Brackett said.

    Brackett has used the phrase for several years, but he really only started to explicitly define it as he was writing his book, Permission to Feel, to be released in September. When Brackett talks about “emotion scientists,” he often contrasts the phrase with “emotion judges” — people who are quick to label someone else’s emotions or dismiss them without figuring out what’s behind their reactions.

    He estimates that the world is likely filled with far more emotion judges than scientists because it’s much easier to quickly make assumptions about someone else’s feelings. But this can create problems in schools if educators and students incorrectly make assumptions about each other’s feelings and experiences — and subsequently make decisions based on those false inferences.

    A teacher, for example, might think a student with his head on his desk is bored and being disrespectful. In reality, that student might be depressed or tired. If the teacher doesn’t first investigate what the issue is, there’s a risk that the underlying problem will go unresolved, Brackett said.

    “How many times have any of us been misread?” Brackett said.“It’s a big ‘aha!’ for teachers because they realize how frequently they probably are misreading students.”


    Social-Emotional Learning Boosts Students’ Scores, Graduation Rates, Even Earnings, New Study Finds

    Irizarry, who now works at Irving A. Robbins Middle School and attended the RULER training with Brackett this summer, discovered that she was finally able to put a label on how her teacher had helped her years ago.

    “She acted as an emotion scientist,” Irizarry said. “I didn’t realize that until the training. She sought to know me as a person and a learner.”

    The work requires teaching both educators and students to ask themselves questions about how they’re feeling, why they might be feeling this way, and how they can regulate their feelings so that they can continue teaching and learning. For teachers to be able to set aside their own feelings to address uncomfortable student behavior, they also have to be trained on how to understand and regulate their own emotions, Brackett said.

    Adrienne Wheeler, assistant principal of Justus C. Richardson Middle School in Massachusetts, who also attended the RULER training at Yale, sees this work as important for not only her teaching staff but also the students who are sent to her office for discipline. Before staff meetings, for example, Wheeler plans to use the “Mood Meter,” a RULER tool that allows staff to privately share their energy levels and emotions. This then helps Wheeler understand what her team members need before she puts them to work.

    It’s important to build a relationship with students, Wheeler said, so she can figure out the root cause of misbehavior. Often after summer vacations or long breaks, students might act up more frequently because something may have changed in their family life while away from school. Asking questions to understand this greater context is important to addressing the real problem, she said.

    “Emotion scientist” might sound like an oxymoron — after all, can something as intangible as a feeling be understood? Some of the educators Brackett has worked with have also been skeptical, questioning whether it is really necessary to invest time toward dissecting emotions during a school day packed with academics. And Brackett admits this work does take time.

    But educators like Wheeler who have seen how emotions affect academics aren’t surprised by the phrase.

    “When I think of science, I think of an action and a reaction, and for every cause there’s an effect, and I see a correlation there with emotions,” Wheeler said.

    Both Wheeler’s district in Massachusetts and Irizarry’s district in Connecticut are adopting the RULER approach to social-emotional learning this year, but both said they’ve been practicing this kind of work in their schools already. Research shows that having support for social-emotional learning in school can boost academics, increase graduation rates and improve student well-being.

    “Helping students collaborate, be autonomous in the classroom — all of those things are emotionally based,” Irizarry said. “Emotional intelligence is as important as academic intelligence.”

    Disclosure: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provides financial support to RULER and The 74.


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  • In Second Debate, Democrats Leave Busing Behind, Focusing Instead on Education’s Role in Racial Strife ‘Happening Now’

    By Carolyn Phenicie | August 1, 2019

    Education advocates of all stripes, from the most ardent reformers to the staunchest union leaders, are fond of saying education is the civil rights issue of our time. Presidents like it too: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have all used the phrase.

    In keeping with that tradition, Democrats in their second set of debates Tuesday and Wednesday also made that link — one that makes sense in a country where since 2015, the majority of public school students have been non-white.

    There were some glancing references to the issue on the first night of the debates, in response to questions about reparations for slavery or who is the best candidate to heal the country’s racial divide. Sen. Bernie Sanders touted his proposal to triple Title I funding, for instance, and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper talked up his efforts to expand pre-K when he was mayor of Denver.


    2020 Democrats Want to Dramatically Increase Title I Funding. But Without More Accountability, Is This Just the ‘Santa Claus Approach to Education Policy’?

    But discussion of education as a remedy for racial division really came into its own on the debate’s second evening.

    Moderators raised the issue Wednesday as a follow-up to the dust-up between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris last month over Biden’s opposition to busing students to integrate schools, something Harris had experienced as a child.

    After they disputed their relative positions, and Biden accused Harris of failing to act to desegregate schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles, moderators asked Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet why he’s the best candidate to heal the country’s racial divide.

    Bennet, formerly Denver superintendent, instead tried to steer the conversation to current concerns.

    “This is the fourth debate that we have had, and the second time that we have been debating what people did 50 years ago with busing, when our schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago. We need a conversation about what’s happening now,” he said.

    When some children get the chance to go to preschool and some do not, or when schools don’t receive equitable resources, “equal is not equal,” he added.


    Report: School District Secessions Are Accelerating, Furthering ‘State Sanctioned’ Segregation

    “I believe you can draw a straight line from slavery through Jim Crow through the banking and the redlining to the mass incarceration that we were talking about on this stage a few minutes ago. But you know what other line I can draw? Eighty-eight percent of the people in our prisons dropped out of high school. Let’s fix our school system and maybe we can fix the prison pipeline that we have,” he said.

    (Fact-checkers have questioned the 88 percent figure, which was 30 percent in a 2014 study. Other sources, using older data, found that 75 percent of state prison inmates and 59 percent of federal inmates had dropped out.)

    Other candidates, too, referenced their records on and plans for education, though few to Bennet’s extent. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, for instance, referred to reducing the school-to-prison pipeline.

    And when former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro was asked about what he’d do for Baltimore, newly the target of Trump’s ire, he also linked to schools. Castro mentioned “tremendous educational opportunity,” such as universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and new K-12 dollars, along with investments in affordable housing.

    The one specific education issue that received significant airtime in this round of debates was free college and higher ed affordability; candidates on the first night discussed their proposals, and specifically how much they should cover and whether their programs should be universal or targeted to the neediest students.


    Free College. Debt-Free College. Higher Ed Affordability. Whatever You Call It, It’s the First Big Education Issue of the 2020 Campaign


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