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A Holiday Look at the Top Education News Stories in America’s Largest Districts: School Safety, Hurricane Recovery & More

By Andrew Brownstein | June 29, 2018

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Every day at The 74, EduClips offers a rapid roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 11 states attend class every day. You can read previous installments right here— and be sure to sign up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter if you’d like to get more school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox.

As we approach the July 4 holiday, we offer a quick recap on where the top 15 districts stand, and spotlight some of the key issues, debates, and storylines that affect these school systems.

Reminder: After a brief vacation, EduClips will resume Monday morning, July 16.

PROPOSED SHAKEUP FOR NEW YORK CITY’S ELITE HIGH SCHOOLS — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deeply controversial proposal to diversify New York City’s elite high schools awaits approval from the state legislature. The proposal would eliminate an exam known as the SHSAT, replacing it with a system in which the top 7 percent of students from every middle school would be admitted, based on class rank and state test scores. By evenly redistributing acceptances across the system, the change would drastically slash the number of middle schools that feed into the program. The New York Times estimated that out of almost 600 middle schools citywide, just 10 of them account for one-quarter of the 5,000 students admitted to the specialized schools this year. (Read at The New York Times)

LOWEST-PERFORMING SCHOOLS IN LOS ANGELES LACK TEACHER EVALUATIONS, STUDY FINDS — Most of the teachers in Los Angeles’s lowest-performing public schools are not regularly evaluated, and nearly all who are receive good ratings, according to an analysis by Parent Revolution. Last year, the nonprofit found, more than two-thirds of teachers were not formally evaluated, and nearly all of those who were — 96 percent —met or exceeded performance standards. The results come at a time in which just 27 percent of students met or exceeded the state’s standards in English Language Arts and 20 percent in math. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

CHICAGO SCHOOLS REEL FROM SEX ABUSE SCANDAL — The Chicago Public Schools removed one principal and reassigned another, the latest move in a sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the district. Simeon Career Academy Principal Dr. Sheldon House was removed following an audit that found that volunteers coached athletics without undergoing proper background checks. The district also announced it reassigned Sarah Goode STEM Academy principal Armando Rodriguez pending the outcome of an investigation of a student’s allegation of possible sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher. The district’s failure to protect student victims was reported first by the Chicago Tribune in early June. The district has also recently opened a new office to deal with sexual abuse complaints. (Read at Chalkbeat)

PUERTO RICO GRAPPLES WITH SCHOOL CLOSURES — Puerto Rico is scrambling to implement its decision to close 263 schools before the 2018-19 school year. Hurricane Maria significantly affected the island’s public education system, but Puerto Rico has been struggling with declining enrollment and fiscal problems for years. A recent study showed that about 650 schools were at less than 70 percent of capacity in terms of student enrollment. While a little more than 260,000 students on the island have re-enrolled in public school, roughly 50,000 students have yet to decide where they will attend schools next year. (Read at Education Week)

CARVALHO SEIZES ON TOP GRADES TO SEEK PAY BOOST FOR MIAMI TEACHERS — This year, the Miami-Dade school district earned an A- rating from the state, one of only two of Florida’s six largest districts do to so. And for the second year in a row, no traditional school in the district earned an F. That news gave Superintendent Alberto Carvalho an opening to lobby for a referendum to increase taxes in order to offer teachers a long-neglected raise. “The news could not have come at a better time,” Carvalho said. “When I say the performance justifies it, Miami-Dade Public Schools has justified their return on investment.” (Read at the Miami Herald)

NEW SUPERINTENDENT TALKS ABOUT TRUST … IN LAS VEGAS — New Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara faces a major challenge: building trust. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, trust in the district among “officials, legislators, parents and trustees often seems nonexistent and divisions threaten to undermine modest progress in academic achievement.” Jara said he believes in operating transparently and having open dialogues, and is unafraid of healthy debate. “The passion I can work with,” he said. “What we need to do is just channel it together to … work as one and collaborate together so we can then have a real clear focus on being the No. 1 district for kids.” (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

IN FORT LAUDERDALE, PARENT OF SLAIN PARKLAND TEEN OFFERS SECURITY PLAN — Andrew Pollack lost his daughter, Meadow, when she was murdered in the Feb. 14 massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Now, he is promoting an eight-point plan — dubbed the Pollack plan — that calls for hardening schools, rather than the kinds of gun control reforms pushed by the school’s student activists. “I like these kids,” he said. “I don’t blame them. They are treated like rock stars, but let’s work on Broward.” His plan calls for schools to establish single points of entry with metal detectors, recruit safety volunteers, increase mental health resources, and arm staff or other safety specialists. (Read at The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

HOUSTON PASSES BUDGET DESPITE GAPING DEFICIT — Despite over $80 million in cuts, the recent 2018-19 school budget passed unanimously by the Houston school board leaves a gaping deficit — one that several trustees say they want to avoid in the future. “We have to do better moving forward,” said trustee Elizabeth Santos. District budget manager Glenn Reed told reporters that he expects to cover that deficit with savings from other departments — not reserves. (Read at Houston Public Media)

POOR GRADES LEAD TO TAMPA PRINCIPAL SHUFFLE — In January, after several Tampa schools earned poor state ratings, the State Board of Education ordered Superintendent Jeff Eakins to move principals out of four schools. So when school grades came out again in late June and Eakins identified schools with repeated D or F grades, he tried to be proactive: He appointed 18 principals, so many and with so little notice for some that two members of the school board tried to delay their approval. In a long list of school-to-school principal transfers, D-rated schools were given principals from A and B schools. Some principals were moved a dozen or more miles from their past posts. As word spread, teachers and parents called school board members to complain. (Read at the Tampa Tribune)

FREE SUMMER LUNCH PROGRAM UNDERUSED BY HAWAII YOUTH — Only 1 in 10 eligible schoolchildren from low-income households take advantage of a program that delivers summer lunches to 69 island public schools, according to a new report by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Nicole Woo of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice said Hawaii is near the bottom of FRAC’s national ranking, coming in 41st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. “A lot of these kids rely on free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year. During the summer we don’t know where they’re getting their meals if they’re not taking advantage of the summer food program,” she said. (Read at Hawaii News Now)

ORLANDO SENTINEL INVESTIGATION: PRIVATE SCHOOLS OFFER SPECIOUS LESSONS — Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students that “dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America, and that slaves who ‘knew Christ’ were better off than free men who did not,” according to an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel. The Sentinel surveyed the 151 private schools newly approved by the state Education Department to take scholarships for the 2017-18 school year. The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that often depend on nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

PALM BEACH SCHOOLS SCRAMBLE TO FILL POST-PARKLAND POLICE MANDATE — Like schools in every other district in the state, Palm Beach County schools are scrambling to find police officers to comply with a new law requiring an officer in every school. The mandate followed the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. The school district needs to add 108 officers to its 152-officer force to meet the state’s mandate of at least one officer in each elementary school and two or three in middle and high schools. (Read at the Sun-Sentinel)

FAIRFAX APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL PRO-TRANSGENDER LANGUAGE — Fairfax County schools will replace “biological sex” with “sex assigned at birth” in the district’s family life education curriculum, which includes lessons on sexual health and sexuality. The school board voted to convey that a person’s anatomy may not coincide with gender identity, holding that “biological sex” is coded language used to denigrate transgender people. With the vote, Fairfax became the latest battleground over recognition of transgender and nonbinary students in the nation’s schools. (Read at The Washington Post)

PHILADELPHIA’S NEW SCHOOL BOARD MEETS FOR FIRST TIME — In late June, members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission gathered for the last time. A new nine-member Board of Education, appointed by the mayor, will hold its first public meeting July 9. The nine Philadelphians, several of them city natives who attended local public schools, include two former members of the outgoing commission. Six of the nine members are women. One of the men, Lee Huang, has three adopted children, all of whom attend Philadelphia public schools. Members of the former state-sanctioned commission — a controversial five-member panel that governed the city’s public schools for 16 years — moved to abolish that body last year. Members of the new board will face several challenges, including declining public school enrollment and significant structural deficits. (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

HISTORIC SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION IN GEORGIA’S GWINNETT COUNTY — November’s election for school board could herald a dramatic change: If Everton Blair, a Democrat running in District 4, wins, he will be the first nonwhite school board member in the history of the county, which now is over 60 percent minority. “As a graduate of the Gwinnett County school system and a teacher, I witnessed the demographic shift and was a part of it,” he said. “One thing that’s missing currently is those voices.” In May, Blair defeated Mark Williams with 53.5 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary. (Read at the Gwinnett Daily Post)

DALLAS PROHIBITS BULLYING BASED ON IMMIGRATION STATUS — The Dallas Independent School District is prohibiting bullying based on a student’s immigration status. At a June 21 board meeting, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the addition of “immigration status” to the district’s Student Welfare Freedom From Bullying policy. Rafael McDonnell, with the Dallas Resource Center, urged the board to consider the specific changes. “When we adopted this policy back in 2010, immigration status wasn’t on anybody’s radar and given the world that we live in today, it certainly is,” McDonnell said. (Read at Fox News 4)

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