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  • Listen Up, Candidates: Most Teachers Feel Their Voices Aren’t Being Heard, New Survey Reveals

    By Mark Keierleber | 6 days ago

    As the Democratic presidential hopefuls release campaign promises to woo America’s K-12 educators — a key voting bloc — teachers feel left in the dark on major policy conversations, a new survey revealed.

    Just a third of educators said their perspectives are considered a “great deal” in teachers union policy decisions, and the numbers fall sharply from there. Only 15 percent of teachers said their voices are sufficiently heard by state policymakers, and 12 percent said the same at the federal level, according to a nationally representative survey released Wednesday by the nonprofit Educators for Excellence.

    Similarly, just 48 percent of teachers said school administrators seek their input at least monthly, while fewer than a quarter said the same about state and federal education leaders. Yet nearly all teachers — 95 percent — said they want more opportunities to influence education policy.

    The results follow a wave of teacher activism nationally over issues including pay, education funding and school choice. In many cases, teacher walkouts led to tangible policy changes, including increased school funding. The survey touched on a range of high-profile topics that have dominated both teacher activism and the presidential candidates’ talking points.

    The upcoming election provides an opportunity for policymakers “to address what is preventing our students from reaching their full potential and us, as teachers, from thriving in our careers,” according to the survey. “We don’t need tweaks; we need meaningful change.”

    Teachers likely feel underrepresented in policy conversations because they’re isolated in classrooms as policies evolve around them, Evan Stone, an Educators for Excellence co-founder and co-CEO, said on a call with reporters.

    “It’s a challenge that doesn’t have an easy solution but is one the teachers are clearly feeling,” Stone said. But he did point to one potential solution on the local level: Officials could do a better job of including teachers’ perspectives when selecting a curriculum. Currently, just 27 percent of educators say they have a say in curriculum decisions, according to the survey.

    Courtesy Educators for Excellence

    To Charles Beavers, an instructional support leader at Chicago Public Schools, inequities in America’s education system have reached a “national inflection point,” he told The 74. In cities across the U.S., teachers have hit the streets to demand equitable opportunities for students, he said, but “this is not a local issue anymore. This is a national issue.” Beavers, an Educators for Excellence member who helped craft the teacher questionnaire, participated in Chicago’s 11-day teacher walkout in October.

    But teachers don’t feel particularly optimistic. Nearly three-quarters reported they do not feel valued, and only about half said they are “very likely” to spend their entire careers in the classroom.

    The online survey, administered by Gotham Research Group, was conducted in November and included a nationally representative sample of 1,000 full-time public school teachers. Researchers conducted a supplementary survey in December with an additional 500 educators.

    In order to bring educators’ voices to the forefront of policy conversations, there needs to be “a concerted, organized effort” on the local and national levels, Beavers said.

    “It’s not going to happen just by hoping and wishing,” he said. “Folks have to hit the streets, which we’ve seen people doing over the last four years. We’ve seen folks in the streets, we’ve seen folks advocating for their kids and themselves and for professional respect and fair compensation.”

    Issues on teachers’ minds

    On the campaign trail, Democratic candidates have elevated teacher salaries as a leading education issue. They’re on the right track, according to the survey. When asked what would keep teachers in their job for the rest of their careers, the answer was simple: better pay.

    In fact, more than two-thirds of teachers reported they’ve worked a second job to pay their bills. In order to score bigger paychecks, teachers expressed a willingness to make sacrifices. Two-thirds said they’re willing to trade in tenure for better pay or more benefits.

    The survey also revealed that teachers are open to merit-based pay, an incentive that’s controversial in policy circles. About two-thirds of teachers said they would consider trading guaranteed small raises for the opportunity to earn significantly more based on their classroom performance. An even larger share — more than three-quarters — support financial incentives for educators who work in high-needs schools, take on leadership roles or teach hard-to-staff subjects like special education.

    Courtesy Educators for Excellence

    Teachers’ bottom line is far from the only issue on their minds, however. The survey also touched on several high-profile policy debates, including student safety and school choice.

    As school shootings drive heated debates over gun policies and school security, more than a third of educators said they fear for their own physical safety at school at least sometimes. But fights among students — not mass school shootings — were the biggest safety concern among respondents.

    School choice, including charter schools and private school vouchers, has become a thorny topic among Democrats, with the leading presidential contenders taking a hard turn away from these options. Teachers are similarly skeptical, the survey revealed. Only about one-third support charter schools or vouchers for students from low-income households. However, there are gradations: 65 percent said they’re open to school choice if it doesn’t shift funding away from public schools, and 55 percent said the same if it improves academic achievement among low-income kids. Just 4 percent of teachers said they oppose all forms of school choice.

    For Beavers, teacher recruitment and retention is top of mind. Others seem to agree, according to the survey, with just 12 percent reporting that educator preparation programs train prospective teachers “very well” for the realities of the classroom and 21 percent reporting that the professional development at their school was “very effective” at improving their skills.

    “The data show that we need to rethink how we’re recruiting teachers and what we’re doing to make sure that those folks who are qualified and are making a difference day in and day out stay in the classroom,” Beavers said.

    Beyond their own well-being, teachers overwhelmingly said resources are a problem in their schools, which are often unable to meet the needs of many students. Nearly 70 percent reported that school funding is inequitable, while classroom supplies and resources are insufficient in schools that serve high-needs students. Unsurprisingly, early-career teachers and educators of color — who are more likely to work on campuses with scores of low-income children — were more likely to report resource inequities.

    Courtesy Educators for Excellence

    While 48 percent of educators said their schools “often” meet the needs of pupils performing at grade level, just 29 percent said the same about children performing below grade level. In one of the bleakest findings, just 24 percent said their schools often meet the needs of students who have experienced trauma. Similarly, only 41 percent of teachers said their schools “often” provide welcoming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ students.

    Though the survey revealed that teachers often feel ignored in policy conversations, presidential candidates should focus the bulk of their energy on improving conditions for students, Beavers said. Efforts to create a more equitable education funding model should take center stage.

    “The disparities are so huge,” he said. “Even going from schools within one mile from one another, it’s night and day. We’ve really got to put this focus on equity and making sure that all kids get what they need.”

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  • Haves and Have-Nots: The Borders Between School Districts Often Mark Extreme Economic Segregation. A New Report Outlines America’s 50 Worst Cases

    By Mark Keierleber | 7 days ago

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

    The Rust Belt city of Rochester in western New York has the most economically segregating school district border in the country, walling off the high-poverty education system from its affluent neighbors next door, a new report has found.

    About half the children in Rochester live in poverty, and many of them struggle to get adequate food, health care and housing, according to the report, released Wednesday by the nonprofit EdBuild. In Penfield, a Rochester suburb, the student poverty rate hovers in the single digits, and children fare much better.

    “It is a steep challenge for the Rochester schools to serve such a large proportion of these high-needs students,” according to the report. “But Penfield, just next door, has a student poverty rate that mirrors the tony ski town of Aspen, Colorado.”

    The report highlights America’s 50 most segregating school district borders, which researchers say divide communities into haves and have-nots. In the EdBuild analysis, the nation’s most segregated school district borders cluster in the Deep South and along the Rust Belt in the North. On average, poverty rates among school-age children are 30 percentage points higher in school districts on the wrong side of the border. Meanwhile, the average annual household income between impoverished districts and their more affluent next-door neighbors differs by $43,000.

    The concentration of poverty in Rocheseter is “a systemic crisis,” said Rev. Lynette Sparks, the acting head of staff at the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester. Sparks is a founding member of Great Schools for All, a local nonprofit that promotes voluntary integration between Rochester and its suburban school districts. In Rochester, she said, “It’s as if you’ve got 100-foot brick walls between every single district that these kids can’t leap over.”

    In communities across the country, school district funding is largely dependent on local property taxes, incentivizing communities to maintain narrow school district borders that uphold economic segregation. In fact, the issue is generally worse in states where school district lines are drawn around individual towns, said Zahava Stadler, EdBuild’s policy director. As a result, a school system can find itself in a tough spot if the community’s local economy falters. Theoretically, the district borders “could be redrawn in ways that diminish segregation if somebody were to take up that mantle,” Stadler said.

    Nearly half of students in Rochester, New York, live in poverty, compared with just 5 percent of children in neighboring Penfield. (Courtesy EdBuild)

    Though the report focuses on economic segregation, it also observed racial disparities in many districts. On average, white student enrollment is 55 percentage points higher in the affluent school systems. Just 10 percent of students in Rochester are white, compared with 84 percent in Penfield.

    EdBuild previously released a similar report based on student poverty data from 2014, as communities across the country were still feeling the lingering effects of the recent recession. Although much of the country has rebounded and the national student poverty rate has declined a few percentage points, many communities remain strapped by downturns in their local economies. The earlier report found that the school district border separating Detroit from Grosse Pointe in Michigan was the nation’s most segregating, but districts at the top of EdBuild’s lists both years generally fell within a few percentage points of one another.

    The new report measures economic segregation along school district borders by comparing child poverty rates in 2017 between neighboring cities. Communities that struggled prior to the recession remain in trouble today, researchers found.

    Related

    Segregated Classrooms in Segregated Neighborhoods: New Report Argues That Efforts to Integrate Schools Must Also Address Our Divided Cities

    Such a situation continues to play out in Rochester, where efforts to promote education equity between the city and its suburban neighbors have floundered. In fact, Rochester is “a poster child for isolation,” Stadler said, sharing borders with five school districts that EdBuild ranks in the nation’s top 50 most economically segregating.

    “Rochester is surrounded by better-off districts,” Stadler said. “Every single one of its neighbors has a lower poverty rate than it does. To say, ‘There’s nothing that can be done,’ is patently false. There are resources in the area that could be tapped for Rochester’s schools if we just thought differently about how those school districts should be organized.”

    ‘Poster child’

    In Rochester, residents have been grappling with segregated school district lines for about a century. In 1929, officials proposed a countywide school district in the area, but suburban residents rejected the proposal, and school district lines that match city limits remain intact today.

    As black residents flocked to Rochester in the 1950s and ’60s for jobs at industrial giants like Kodak and Xerox, officials in neighboring Penfield took steps to shelter its affluence. White residents fled to the suburbs and Penfield adopted “exclusionary zoning” rules to limit development to single-family homes and opposed more affordable housing options, according to the report.

    Related

    Next Door but Worlds Apart: School District Borders Segregate Millions of Kids Based on Race and Revenue, Report Finds

    In Warth v. Seldin, a case that came before the Supreme Court in 1975, low-income Rochester residents lost their battle against Penfield’s exclusionary zoning practices. The court ruled that the Rochester residents lacked standing to sue, even if Penfield’s housing policies effectively gated it off from low-income residents.

    “Our school finance system, with its heavy reliance on local property taxes, gives every wealthy community an incentive to do what Penfield did,” according to the report. “First, turn down proposals for a wider, more inclusive school district and then, keep the walls up, property values high, local dollars in, and needy kids out.”

    Similar to many cities in the Rust Belt, industrial jobs in Rochester dried up and economic hardship ensued.

    Related

    Persistently Struggling: Lovely Warren’s Audacious Plan to Save the Distressed Schools of Rochester, NY

    Despite the division between Rochester’s schools and those in the suburbs, there are efforts underway to close the gap. Under an urban-suburban student transfer program, students of color from Rochester can voluntarily transfer to participating suburban districts. But an initiative to attract suburban students to Rochester schools, funded through a $1.2 million state grant, was deemed by many to be a failure. Under the program, just 10 suburban preschoolers attended class at a Rochester campus.

    For decades, officials in the community have scoffed at the idea of combining the Rochester school district with its suburban neighbors. There’s a perception among some parents that their children will underperform if they attend the city’s struggling schools, Sparks said. But because of concentrated poverty, the city can’t address the issue on its own. That’s why a broader community effort, which encompasses the city and its suburbs, is vital, she said. But “when push comes to shove,” she added, parents tend to focus narrowly on their own children rather than on community improvement.

    “They’ve never treated it like a community problem,” she said, but “the truth is, we all bear responsibility.”

    While 60 percent of Rochester residents support a countywide school district, just 49 percent of suburban residents agree, according to a 2018 survey by the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.

    “People are, in a sense, trapped in a mindset that however their school district is drawn is the way that school districts work,” Stadler said. But with political courage, she said, state lawmakers could redraw school district borders in a way that promotes economic and racial integration.

    The fault lines

    Beyond Rochester, EdBuild researchers found that the problem is largely concentrated in a few states. New York, for example, is home to nine of the country’s 50 most economically segregating school district borders.

    But the worst state offender, according to EdBuild, is Ohio, home to 17 of the country’s most egregious borders. Communities in that state share similarities with Rochester: As the economies in metropolitan areas faltered, school district borders “served to quarantine their misfortune” and allowed neighboring suburban districts to escape the economic fallout.

    Youngstown, once a prominent steel town, shares the nation’s second- and third-most segregating borders with neighboring communities Canfield and Poland. While 47 percent of Youngstown children live in poverty, just 6 percent of those in Canfield and 7 percent in Poland have similar economic realities.

    “There are a few states that might take a hint from the fact that their districts appear repeatedly,” Stadler said. “Ohio always lights up like a Christmas tree when you look at the problems created by school district borders.”

    Outside the Rust Belt, EdBuild found a cluster of segregated borders along the Deep South’s “black belt,” a region originally named for the rural area’s dark, fertile farmland. A district line separating the Claiborne County School District in Mississippi from those in Hinds County is the south’s most segregating, researchers found.

    Related

    When Communities Secede From School Districts, Inequity & Segregation Follow. But 30 States Let It Happen Anyway

    To politicians interested in improving conditions, EdBuild researchers point to several anecdotal successes. In Vermont, for example, schools are funded through a state property tax and, as such, local property values don’t define the level of funding school districts receive. And in North Carolina, school districts are drawn at the county level. School districts that are geographically larger, EdBuild found, are generally less segregated. Such decisions are in the hands of state lawmakers who draw school district borders.

    “The educational outlook for the children trapped behind arbitrary borders — just a few feet away from much better opportunity — is not dependent on local economies,” according to the report. “Rather, their future is dependent on political bravery.”

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  • Take Two: Julia Keleher, Former Puerto Rico Education Secretary, Indicted in Second Round of Corruption Charges

    By Mark Keierleber | January 15, 2020

    Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s former education secretary, has been indicted on federal charges alleging that she offered up public school land in exchange for help buying a luxury apartment, officials announced Wednesday. It’s the second time in six months that federal law enforcement officials have accused Keleher of public corruption.

    Keleher, who became Puerto Rico’s top public schools official with goals of reforming the island’s lackluster education system, faces as many as 30 years in prison in connection with the alleged bribery and fraud scheme, according to the federal indictment.

    Keleher is accused of giving 1,034 square feet of space at the public school Padre Rufo to a real estate company that owns the ritzy Ciudadela apartment complex, located a block away in San Juan. In return, Keleher was allowed to rent an apartment in Ciudadela from June to December 2018 for just $1, though an agreement valued the monthly rent at $1,500, the indictment said. Under the alleged scheme, Keleher ultimately bought a two-bedroom at Ciudadela for $295,000 and received a $12,000 incentive bonus. Also indicted was Ariel Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, a consultant who federal officials say helped facilitate the lease agreement with Keleher.

    New charges against Keleher include bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Keleher faces up to 10 years in prison for conspiracy and federal program bribery and 20 years for wire fraud.

    “Public corruption continues to erode the trust between government officials and our citizens,” W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. attorney for the district of Puerto Rico, said in a media release. “Government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically. When they fail to do so, they will be held to account.”

    Neither Keleher nor her attorney responded to telephone calls requesting comment on the new charges.

    Related

    Complicated Crusader to Accused Federal Conspirator: Ex-Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher’s ‘Surreal’ Journey

    Keleher was Puerto Rico’s education secretary from January 2017 until her resignation last April. Less than a year into the job, Puerto Rico’s schools were devastated by Hurricane Maria, a tragedy Keleher seized upon to close hundreds of schools and usher in new education reforms, including charter schools and private school vouchers. As secretary, Keleher received an unusually high salary of $250,000 a year. Prior to the indictments, Keleher consistently portrayed herself as a crusader against widespread corruption within Puerto Rico’s education department.

    Coincidentally, the latest federal charges against Keleher come amid a new crisis: Puerto Rico’s public schools are currently closed after a series of earthquakes shook the island.

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    Exclusive: Ex-Puerto Rico Schools Chief Julia Keleher, Indicted in Corruption Probe, Previously Denied She Was Federal Target

    In July 2019, Keleher was indicted on federal allegations that she participated in a conspiracy to steer more than $15 million in government contracts to unqualified, politically connected businesses. Five others were also indicted in that alleged corruption, including the former director of the island’s health insurance administration and an executive at a major accounting firm that worked on some of Keleher’s more ambitious reform efforts.

    The previous charges were announced shortly before Keleher’s former boss, former governor Ricardo Rosselló, resigned amid his own public scandal. Unlike the new charges, Keleher’s previous indictment didn’t accuse her of benefiting personally.

    Court documents filed by Keleher’s attorneys in that case depict her as a uniquely polarizing figure. In a motion last month, Keleher asked a judge to move her trial to a courtroom off the island. Widespread media coverage and public awareness of her indictment, Keleher argued, prevents her from receiving an impartial jury. “The volume of negative publicity coupled with the charged political atmosphere has created considerable widespread bias against” Keleher, the motion said.

    In a separate filing, Keleher asked the judge to lift a gag order that barred Keleher, her attorneys and others from discussing the case with reporters.

    After living in an upscale Washington, D.C., neighborhood following her resignation in Puerto Rico, court documents from August indicate, she moved in with her parents in Pennsylvania. Last month, communications specialist Andy Plattner sent out an email requesting that people chip in to pay for Keleher’s defense.

    “She’s had to sell her home, move in with her parents and work in a retail store while her lawyers prepare her case for trial,” Plattner wrote in the email. “She’s put the proceeds from her home, her life savings and her retirement account into her legal fees and that will not be near enough.”

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  • QuotED in 2019: The 19 Quotes About Schools and American Education That Made Us Laugh, Cry and Ponder This Year

    By Andrew Brownstein | December 22, 2019

    Updated Dec. 23

    Nationally, the news of 2019 was dominated by the seemingly endless presidential campaign and the highly partisan debate over whether to impeach President Trump. Education often struggled to find a voice. But outside the Beltway, school news dominated the headlines. Chicago reckoned with a school sexual misconduct scandal that spanned more than a decade. The Palm Beach, Florida, school district fired a principal who denied the reality of the Holocaust. And all over the U.S., from a state takeover of schools in Providence, Rhode Island, to a district secession battle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, schools wrestled with the legacy of generations of inequity.

    These historic moments (and, yes, a gaffe or two) are captured regularly in QuotED, a roundup of the most notable quotes behind America’s top education headlines — all taken from our regular EduClips series, which regularly spotlights important headlines you may have missed from America’s 15 largest school districts.

    Here are a few of our favorite education quotes from 2019:

    Getty Images

    “Lunch should be lunch, which should not be somewhere between breakfast and lunch.” —New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, on a Daily News analysis showing that many city schools offer “lunch” long before 11 a.m. (Read at the New York Daily News)

    “Rich kids go to therapy, poor kids go to jail.” —Melivia Mujica, a student activist in San Antonio. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “Let’s just say my phone has rung a lot.” —American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, on interest from the field of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls in courting the union vote. (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

    “[The superintendent] came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends. … He said, ‘You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.’” —Evan Jones, former headmaster of the New York Military Academy, on attempts to conceal the high school academic records of President Donald Trump. (Read at The Washington Post)

    Heather Martin

    “Well, you know, I’m going to die in here and I’m a virgin and I will have never met Bruce Springsteen.” —Heather Martin, recalling what she told a friend over 20 years ago as two gunmen terrorized Columbine High School. Today, she teaches high school English in nearby Aurora, Colorado. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “Adult misconduct is surely not acceptable, but, holy crap, we have a lot of work to do in terms of student behavior against other students.” —Chicago teachers union president Jesse Sharkey, on 900 sexual misconduct cases being logged in the district over the course of four months, mostly students reporting on other students. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    “When it was us, the district didn’t feel like they needed to have any immediacy. We don’t have the resources that SLA has, and their parents jumped on it right away. Where there’s money and influence, there’s more privilege.” —Keith Pretlow, a culinary-arts teacher at Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia. When Science Leadership Academy, a magnet school, relocated to share the site with Ben Franklin, a long-delayed asbestos cleanup moved into high gear. (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    “Even though you might be scared, you never turn down a story, and it taught me you never know what’s going to happen.” —Amelia Poor, 13, one of 45 students who form the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps that writes for Scholastic’s classroom magazine. Despite her fear of canines, she successfully covered a recent Westminster Dog Show. (Read at The74Million.org)

    Five student journalists interview Ziauddin Yousafzai at Scholastic headquarters in Manhattan on June 11, 2019. (Kate Stringer)

    “We’re taught to live in the present. Right now, my children are healthy.” —Melissa (last name withheld), who said her Buddhist views prevented her from vaccinating her children unless they became very sick, and one of several parents who successfully sued Rockland County, New York, to overturn a measure that barred unvaccinated children from attending schools. (Read at The New York Times)

    “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 The74Million.org)

    “Education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.” —Former President Barack Obama. (Read on Twitter)

    “Education clearly has not been at the top of his list of priorities to address directly. But he has been very supportive of all the work that we have done.” —Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, on President Trump’s policy priorities. (Read at Politics K-12)

    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)

    “It just becomes like a ghost town.” —Jack Thompson, superintendent of the Perry, Ohio, school district, on what would happen if a nuclear plant there closes. Experts warn that half of the nation’s 59 nuclear plants could close by 2030. (Read at The74Million.org)

    Getty Images

    “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” —William Latson, former principal of Spanish River High School in Florida. This year’s revelation of his 2018 comments in a local newspaper sparked international outrage and ultimately led the Palm Beach County Schools to fire him. (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

    “Anyone who does what we do knows it’s happened not by chance but by deliberate choice by those who embrace and embark on this work.” —Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade superintendent, on the district getting an A grade from the state education department two years in a row. (Read at the Miami Herald)

    Long Farm Village and nearby affluent neighborhoods are looking to secede from East Baton Rouge and its district, leaving behind impoverished areas not yet recovered from catastrophic flooding and lacking needed resources for their schools. (Beth Hawkins)

    “Schools in north Baton Rouge for 100 years have been getting less. I firmly believe the St. George movement is rooted in racism. Look at the boundaries. You go down Florida Boulevard and it’s like the Mason-Dixon line. South of Florida, it’s white; north, it’s black.” —Tramelle Howard, a new member of the school board in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, which is facing a secession attempt from a mostly white and affluent enclave. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “Since when did real estate agents become experts on schools?” —Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, who served as a consultant on Newsday’s three-year investigation that uncovered widespread evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents on Long Island. (Read at Newsday)

    Getty Images

    “For the past two days, I have felt like I have been kicked in the sternum by Godzilla wearing steel-toed boots.” —Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro, on a scathing report from Johns Hopkins University that lambasted the district for poor academic performance, unsafe schools and lackluster morale. (Read at The74Million.org)

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  • When Classrooms Deck the Halls: See the Colorful, Creative and Adorably Silly School Holiday Decorations Quietly Flooding Social Media

    By Meghan Gallagher | December 18, 2019

    In between planning lectures, grading papers and overseeing year-end celebrations, teachers across the country are still somehow finding time to transcend the holiday wreath, converting their classrooms, doors and hallways into sprawling, colorful and creative winter wonderlands.

    And on social media, followers have taken notice. With the construction paper and glitter being hung with great care, parents and supporters have rushed to their Facebook forums to like and to share.

    A few of our 2019 favorites:

    Coast to coast, everyone seems to love a good pun. From these silly students in California:

    To these Texans:

    This NYC cityscape — complete with a Santa flyby — caught our eye:

    Library or Macy’s? Classroom or candy land? Who knew doors had so much potential?

    Nostalgia is always a reliable go-to; here’s one door that was inspired by the classics:

    The eco-friendly door:

    And, of course, a meme or two…

    Some schools made things interesting with a little competition.

    But however you judge it, we’re giving all these designs a ribbon — for bringing a little cozy and creative cheer to these classroom communities.

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  • As Education Department Prepares to Release Highly Anticipated Title IX Rules, Dem Bill Offers Last-Ditch Effort to Shut Them Down

    By Mark Keierleber | December 16, 2019

    Democratic lawmakers have mobilized a last-ditch effort to stop the release of controversial federal rules that govern how schools across the country must respond to sexual misconduct complaints.

    The legislation from four Democratic congresswomen aims to halt the release of highly anticipated regulations expected soon from the Education Department that would bolster the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.

    Draft regulations released last year would make several controversial changes to the way schools must respond to misconduct complaints under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Released last week, the Democratic bill would prohibit Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from implementing rules “that weaken the enforcement” of Title IX. The bill would likely face steep opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate.

    “It’s as if fraternities around the country drafted this rule,” Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California and co-author of the bill, said in a media release. “The bar for proving sexual violence will be so high that survivors will be discouraged from coming forward and schools will once again be able to sweep allegations under the rug.”

    The Education Department’s draft regulations, which narrow the definition of harassment and allow schools to adopt a higher standard of proof, offer a significant policy shift from Obama administration guidance. Once released, the final regulations will likely face lawsuits. Conversations over campus sexual harassment generally center on colleges, but the rules also apply to K-12 schools — which have faced their own challenges in combating abuse.

    For Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan, concern over the proposed regulations centers on Michigan State University, located in her congressional district. The proposed changes, Slotkin said in the news release, would negatively affect survivors abused by convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the American women’s gymnastics team and Michigan State University associate professor. In September, the Education Department fined the university a record $4.5 million for its failure to address sexual abuse claims against Nassar.

    Related

    Ed Dept’s New Title IX Rules Would Set Higher Bar for Proving Sex Harassment in K-12 vs. Higher Ed; Women’s Groups Vow Opposition as 60-Day Comment Period Begins

    The Education Department recently confirmed that it aims to release the final regulations by the end of the fall semester. However, the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews proposed regulations before they’re finalized, has scheduled meetings on the issue until early February 2020. Among groups scheduled to meet with the office are the National Center for Youth Law, a vocal critic of the proposed rules, and National Coalition for Men Carolinas, which supports the changes. The office is also scheduled to meet with leaders at multiple universities and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

    Proponents of the proposed regulations say they’re a victory for student due process rights. Among changes in the draft regulations, schools would be able to choose a standard of proof — either “clear and convincing” or “preponderance of the evidence” — to adjudicate misconduct cases. Under Obama-era rules, schools were required to use the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Under the proposed regulations, schools can use that standard only if it is applied to all student misconduct. Critics say that change, among others, could discourage victims from reporting abuse.

    Elizabeth Tang, the counsel for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said the legislation sends “a clear message” that the proposed regulations “are harmful and illegal.”

    “The Department of Education’s dangerous goals are not a secret, as it has explicitly stated that its goal is to reduce the number of sexual harassment investigations conducted by schools,” Tang, whose law center helped Slotkin’s office draft the legislation, told The 74 in an email. “We cannot allow Secretary DeVos to sweep sexual harassment under the rug and to make it harder instead of easier for student survivors to come forward.”

    In the Nassar case, victims often reported abuse to athletic personnel, staff and others they trusted. If the proposed rules had been in place at the time of the Nassar case, Michigan State wouldn’t have been required to respond to several key incidents, according to Slotkin’s office. Current department policy requires schools to address harassment if a student reports an allegation to a “reasonable employee.” The proposed regulations require students to report allegations to a Title IX coordinator or a school official with “authority to institute corrective measures.”

    Critics of the proposed regulations made a similar argument after an Education Department investigation found that Chicago Public Schools failed for years to address sexual misconduct. Under the proposed regulations, for example, the Chicago district wouldn’t have been required to intervene when a teacher assaulted a student in his car, according to the critics.

    Related

    DeVos vs. DeVos: The Education Department’s Response to Chicago’s Sexual-Misconduct Scandal Contradicts Its Proposed Direction for Title IX, Experts Say

    It remains unclear, however, how the final regulations will differ from the proposed rules. Citing anonymous sources in a story last month, The Washington Post reported that the final rules will retain many of the most controversial proposals. Among them is a provision that would allow college students accused of misconduct to cross-examine their accusers. An Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the final rules or legislation.

    However, the Post noted that the Education Department is expected to step away from a proposed rule that would hold institutions responsible only for incidents that occur on campus or during school activities. That proposed rule, Slotkin’s office noted, would have required the university to ignore Nassar’s off-campus misconduct.

    Still, Tang said the proposed regulations could be particularly harmful for students in K-12 schools. While it’s difficult to report abuse at any age, it’s particularly difficult for younger children, she said.

    “If the rules go into effect, schools will be legally allowed to ignore all sexual harassment that is not reported to a small set of high-ranking school employees,” Tang said. “That means a K-12 student will not be entitled to any help if they tell a guidance counselor they were raped by a classmate, or if they tell a teacher that they are being sexually abused by another teacher.”

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  • New Numbers Show More Colleges Using High School Grades, Not Just Standardized Tests, to Determine If Students Require Remedial Coursework

    By Mikhail Zinshteyn | December 15, 2019

    For advocates, change hardly happens fast enough. But over a five-year period, a key barrier to the success of many college students has eroded considerably, opening up the door for thousands of new students to progress through college at higher rates.

    The share of community colleges and four-year public universities that have started to use alternatives to standardized tests to determine whether students are ready for college-level math courses more than doubled between 2011 and 2016, to 57 percent for community colleges and 63 percent for four-year public institutions — up from 27 percent. The November findings are from a representative survey of postsecondary institutions’ approaches to placing students in remedial courses, the first since 2011.

    In English, those figures increased to 51 and 54 percent in 2016 for two- and four-year public institutions, respectively, from 19 and 15 percent in 2011.

    The survey was in part funded by a federal grant and conducted by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, a collaboration of MDRC and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

    The findings signal a national shift away from relying solely on standardized tests, which a growing chorus of researchers faults for placing more students in remedial courses than is necessary. Other measures, such as high school performance, have shown to be better predictors of whether students will pass a college-level course. As many as 70 percent of college students are told to take remedial courses when they first enter college, which few complete, resulting in dropouts and sunken ambitions.

    “You’re seeing that change is happening,” said Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, the lead author of the report. “If you consider that five years before this survey, almost no one was using anything other than standardized tests, I think that’s a pretty big growth in five years.”

    Despite the increased embrace of multiple measures, the survey found that nearly 40 percent of public colleges use only one placement strategy, and 90 percent of those use just standardized tests.

    Still, review of high school performance was the second-most popular way of assessing student skills after standardized tests, the report said, “indicating that many colleges may be heeding recent research suggesting that students’ high school grades are a more accurate predictor of their college success.” While more than 90 percent of public institutions used standardized assessments, more than 40 percent relied on high school records.

    Placement policy that relies just on placement test results can lead to surprising degrees of misplacement for students in community college. A December research brief published by UC Davis in California showed that students from a large urban school district who enrolled in a nearby community college district between 2009 and 2014 were often placed in remedial math even though they took advanced high school classes. The brief showed that 84 percent of the students who took pre-calculus in high school wound up in remedial math anyway. Of those, nearly a third were placed in pre-algebra or below. Among students who took calculus in high school, just about half were placed in remedial math.

    The survey also offers a national snapshot of the strategies colleges are using to teach students determined to need remedial coursework.

    Most community colleges and a large share of public universities assigned students to multiple levels of developmental education in 2016, but by then reforms to that model were already noticeable. Those include allowing students to take compressed remedial courses that package several semesters of coursework into one remedial course. Another reform places students deemed in need of remedial support into college-level courses that come with extra tutoring or instruction to catch them up on more basic elements, known as the corequisite model.

    The report noted that though “experimentation is widespread, colleges are generally not offering these approaches at scale, with most interventions making up less than half of their overall developmental course offerings.” The report also indicated that more four-year universities had been using developmental education courses in 2016 than in 2000.

    The remedial reform landscape has taken off considerably since 2016, however. California State University, the nation’s largest university system, with around 480,000 students, removed remedial courses in time for fall 2018, replacing them with other models, such as the corequisite approach. And a California law implemented this year will shift the community college system from one in which most students were assigned to remedial courses to one in which most aren’t.

    A December 2018 analysis of state remedial instruction policies indicated that more than a dozen states had statutes permitting similar reforms to how these courses are taught.

    But even when states or college systems recommend or mandate the use of these instructional models, not all institutions may comply, the report showed. In Georgia, “only 64 percent of two-year colleges surveyed use this approach for developmental math instruction and 60 percent for developmental reading and writing,” the report said. By contrast, all universities in Georgia reported using corequisite models. The difference might be in how the two systems were told to embrace the corequisite model — the universities were mandated to do so, while the colleges had more leeway and could adopt methods other than corequisites.

    “Clearly colleges are still doing their own thing,” Rutschow said.

    Related

    Sometimes the Outcome Is the Equity: Why It’s Critical to Prepare Students of Color to Do Well on Standardized Tests — Even If You’re Not a Fan

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  • Challenging Conventional Wisdom, Report Finds Promising Academic Performance in Chicago’s Growing English Learner Population

    By Mark Keierleber | December 8, 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.

    For years, the academic performance of English learners in Chicago has looked grim, with research showing they lag far behind students who entered school as native English speakers. But a new report calls into question that conventional wisdom.

    By eighth grade, most Chicago students who began their first year of school unable to speak English fluently had academic achievement similar to — or even better than — their native-English classmates, according to the new report by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. More than three-quarters of the children in the study were proficient in English by eighth grade. These students, researchers found, had better attendance, math scores and overall course grades than their native-English peers. Meanwhile, the two groups had similar test scores in reading.

    A bilingual education program at Chicago Public Schools may have played a role in the promising results. But another factor could be at work: Researchers used what they say is a more accurate way to assess student performance.

    Research and school accountability data often focus on “active English learners” who have not yet reached proficiency in the language. When students become proficient, they leave the English learner category and their progress is measured only as part of the general student population. That strategy therefore provides a “biased picture” of English learners’ academic performance, according to the report.

    “That was actually a little bit troubling to us because it doesn’t really paint the whole picture of what our schools are doing” to improve the performance of English learners, said report co-author Marisa de la Torre, senior research associate and managing director at the consortium.

    The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

    Consortium researchers tracked 18,000 Chicago students and analyzed the long-term trajectories of children who began kindergarten as English learners through eighth grade. Their performance was then compared to Chicago students who were never classified as English learners. The positive findings suggest the instruction given to Chicago’s English learners is academically appropriate.

    The report comes as the number of English learners in Chicago and elsewhere has grown exponentially. In schools across the country, the proportion of students who are English learners grew by 26 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to federal education data. During the 2018-19 school year, about a quarter of Chicago’s public school kindergartners were not fluent in English. Districtwide, about one-third of Chicago students are classified as English learners at some point in their academic careers.

    With that population growing, the report demonstrates that the district’s strategies are working, said LaTanya McDade, the district’s chief education officer. The district, America’s third-largest, has more than doubled the number of campuses with dual language programs since 2016. These programs offer students course instruction in both English and their native language. Meanwhile, the district has hired an additional 1,000 bilingual educators since 2015, according to district data.

    The district’s focus on biliteracy, McDade said, gives students a competitive edge. “We see biliteracy as their superpower,” she said, so “we want to make sure that we are, yes, immersing students in English, but also in their native language.”

    A potential notch in the district’s favor is that while some states prioritize English-only education, schools in Illinois are required to offer transitional bilingual or dual language programs. It’s possible that the district’s emphasis on dual language programs builds “on the strength of students’ home language and culture, rather than seeing them as impediments,” according to the report.

    While much of the research on English learners centers on children in California, the report’s focus on Chicago students is notable because Illinois law requiring bilingual education and funding for such programs has been consistent over time, said Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, manager of education policy and research at the Latino Policy Forum.

    “California has been all over the place when it comes to bilingual education; they were English-only for a while,” Vonderlack-Navarro said during a press conference in Chicago last week. “We need to maintain investment in [English learner] programming because it works.”

    De la Torre called the report’s findings on student attendance especially notable. For low-income students, factors such as unreliable transportation or inadequate health care can prevent them from showing up to school. But the research found that Chicago’s English learners “were actually coming to school much more often” than their native-English peers, even though they’re more likely to be economically disadvantaged, she said. It remains unclear to what extent district policies contributed to English learners’ academic performance, de la Torre said. But she’d like to see similar analyses in other districts to understand how the achievement of English learners elsewhere resembles the results in Chicago.

    Despite overall promising results, however, the report did find a significant share of English learners in Chicago who struggled to learn English.

    More than half of the students in the study were English proficient by third grade, as were three-quarters by the end of fifth grade. But students who didn’t reach proficiency by that point — typically male and identified for special education — were unlikely to do so by high school, researchers found.

    The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

    The 1 in 5 students who didn’t reach English proficiency by the end of eighth grade also struggled in school more broadly, according to the report, and had lower attendance, grades and test scores than those who learned the language earlier on. But there is a silver lining: Scores on the first-grade English proficiency test showed a clear gap between students who eventually became proficient in the language by high school and those who did not. That finding suggests that educators may be able to identify these students early in their schooling and target them with more intensive services. McDade said the district is currently exploring ways to implement early intervention services for students who struggle to demonstrate English proficiency.

    Meanwhile, in Chicago and beyond, it’s important for policymakers to track the performance of English learners over the long term, Vonderlack-Navarro said.

    “For too long under No Child Left Behind, we looked at how a child did at one point in time on an exam and made so many assumptions,” she said. “Now we’re learning it’s not the kids that were the problem. It was the adults and how we were looking at the data.”

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  • Preschool-Age Kids Don’t Fully Grasp Federal Immigration Policy — but for Some It’s Causing Toxic Stress, Report Argues

    By Mark Keierleber | December 3, 2019

    Amid heightened fears over immigration enforcement, a startling trend has emerged: Should they get deported, parents are asking preschool teachers to care for their children.

    Meanwhile, that anxiety has filtered down to young children in immigrant families, according to a new report published by child welfare organizations Early Edge California and The Children’s Partnership. Even though America’s youngest children don’t fully grasp the minutiae of federal immigration policy, the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric and enforcement has spurred stress among young children, according to the report.

    The report comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California lawmakers are pushing the importance of early learning opportunities for young children. In the 2019-20 budget, lawmakers invested $2.3 billion to improve access to early childhood education, including money to expand access to subsidized preschool. The report argues that policymakers must pay specific attention to the state’s growing population of children in immigrant households for those efforts to be effective.

    Researchers recommend that the state prioritize training to help the early childhood workforce identify and respond to migration-related trauma. Under a recent California law, K-12 schools are prohibited from collecting information on students’ immigration status and must adopt procedures to guide staff members about what to do if immigration agents show up on campus. However, the law doesn’t cover preschools. The report urges preschools and childcare programs to adopt policies of their own clarifying that their facilities are “safe spaces” from immigration enforcement.

    “These visits are disruptive, and having a plan in place — and communicating that plan to staff and parents — will help prepare staff and protect families,” according to the report. Creating a plan would signal to immigrant parents and students that “their safety and security is taken seriously.”

    Though almost all California children 5 and younger are U.S. citizens, about half — or 1.3 million — have at least one immigrant parent. In recent surveys, early childhood providers reported that some students in immigrant families have exhibited heightened anxiety when they’re dropped off at school in the morning, while other students have become more aggressive or less engaged. The anecdotes are troubling because children 5 and younger are in their “most important developmental stage,” said Aracely Navarro, associate director of government and community relations at The Children’s Partnership. “Continuous stress becomes toxic,” she said, and it could hamper students’ mental and physical health.

    For fear of running into federal immigration officials, some parents have become wary of taking their children to public places, such as childcare centers, and of enrolling in public benefits. As a result, some childcare facilities have reported a decline in attendance, according to the report. Early childhood providers reported that behavioral challenges have become particularly pronounced among children with deported family members.

    But childcare providers are in a unique position to educate families about community services available to them, the report argues. To do so, they should form partnerships with providers of legal services and health care.

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  • U.S. Students’ Scores Stagnant on International Exam, With Widening Achievement Gaps in Math and Reading

    By Mark Keierleber | December 3, 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.

    American teenagers’ overall reading, mathematics and science literacy scores were stagnant on an international test last year, showing no improvement from three years ago. Meanwhile, the achievement gap between low- and high-performing students widened in mathematics and reading but narrowed in science.

    Last year, U.S. 15-year-olds scored above average in reading and science and below average in math among countries that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), according to results released Tuesday. The assessment, developed and coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is administered every three years and provides a global view of American students’ academic performance compared with teens in nearly 80 participating countries or education systems.

    Compared with scores in other regions, U.S. teens ranked ninth in reading, 31st in math and 12th in science. Nations with comparable student scores included Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

    Between 2015 and 2018, the U.S. improved its global ranking in each of the tested subjects — but not for the right reasons, Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the assessment division at the National Center for Education Statistics, said on a call with reporters.

    “At first glance, that might sound like a cause for celebration, but it’s not,” Carr said. While U.S. scores remained steady, student performance in multiple participating countries declined. “It’s not exactly the way you want to improve your ranking, but nonetheless that ranking has improved.”

    Although average scores in reading and math showed no long-term change, the average score in science was higher in 2018 than it was in 2006. However, the U.S. science score has been flat since 2009.

    U.S. PISA results were less grim than the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores released in October. On that test, math scores were stagnant while reading scores went down. Similar to NAEP, PISA highlighted a widening gap between high- and low-performing students in math and reading. As is the case in most countries that participated in PISA, socioeconomically disadvantaged students performed poorer than their more affluent peers.

    On reading, for example, 27 percent of advantaged students and just 4 percent of disadvantaged students were top performers on the test. Across OECD countries, 17 percent of advantaged students and 3 percent of disadvantaged students were top performers in reading. In math and science, socioeconomics were a strong predictor of performance across participating countries. In the U.S., socioeconomics accounted for 16 percent of the variation in PISA math scores and 12 percent of performance differences in science.

    In some countries, such as Lebanon and Bulgaria, PISA results show wide performance gulfs between schools, said Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills. But that’s not the case in the U.S., where the bulk of the variation occurred within schools rather than between them. In the U.S., he said, “it’s not so easy to pinpoint a few schools and say, ‘That’s where all of the problems come from.”

    But the growing gap between high- and low-performing students is alarming because “students who do not make the grade face pretty grim prospects,” he said.

    Math scores in the U.S. on PISA are most worrying because they’re below the OECD average, said Anthony Mackay, CEO and president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. But across subjects, he said, the PISA results should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, whom he urged to look at higher-performing nations as models for improvement. Across subjects, students from China and Singapore outperformed teens in other countries. The Philippines and the Dominican Republic consistently scored at the bottom.

    “Generally, we need obviously to be investing more in the early years, and that’s a message that’s come from so many of these higher-performing countries,” he said. “Secondly, they are very clear about investing in the quality of teaching all the way from how they recruit and how they retain teachers [to] how they continue to ensure that there is deep professional learning going on.”

    An emphasis on educational equity is also key, he said. The highest-performing countries, he said, are “constantly supporting those who need the support to catch up.”

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  • Monthly QuotED: 5 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in November, From DACA to Homeless Students — and the Role of Real Estate Agents in School Segregation

    By Andrew Brownstein | November 25, 2019

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

    “What more would you have the government say?” —Justice Neil Gorsuch, questioning whether the Trump administration needed to offer more reasons for its decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children. Gorsuch and other members of the court’s conservative majority appeared during oral arguments to side with Trump in his desire to end the program. (Read at The 74)

    “We have to acknowledge that our goals for federal education funding will continue to face serious political opposition. Supporting well-regulated public charters, in the meantime, is a meaningful complementary solution. The promise of better schools some day down the road doesn’t do much for children who have to go to schools that fail them today.” —Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker (Read at The New York Times)

    Getty Images

    “No kid should have to grow up in a shelter.” —Sherine, who lives with her children in one of New York City’s homeless shelters. Her son, Darnell, 8, is one of 114,085 homeless students in the city. (Read at The New York Times)

    “I will never forget the look they gave us. Like you belonged in somebody’s zoo.” —Antoinette Harrell, on the harrowing early days of integration in Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish. Both parties in a 54-year-old desegregation suit against the parish school system hope to settle the case. (Read at The 74)

    “Since when did real estate agents become experts on schools?” —Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, who served as a consultant on Newsday’s three-year investigation that uncovered widespread evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents on Long Island. (Read at Newsday)

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  • EduClips: From NYC’s Breakthrough in Integrating Middle Schools to Florida’s New Plan to Offer Teachers Bonuses, the Education News You Missed This Week at America’s 15 Top Districts

    By Laura Fay | November 21, 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 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    NEW YORK CITY — Brooklyn Desegregation Plan Is Making Schools More Diverse, Data Show: This year’s enrollment numbers indicate that a plan to make district middle schools more racially integrated in one part of Brooklyn is working. Middle schools in District 15 this year used a lottery-based enrollment system and eliminated admissions screens in an effort to create schools that reflect the diversity of the area. “City leaders hope that District 15’s efforts can be a model for the city’s other school districts — all of which must now develop integration plans of their own,” Christina Veiga and Amy Zimmer report. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    ● Related: Amid Fierce Debate About Integrating New York City Schools, a Diverse-by-Design Brooklyn Charter Offers a Model

    FLORIDA — Governor Rolls Out New Teacher Bonus Proposal: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week a new bonus plan for Florida teachers, saying it is one of his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. The $300 million program would benefit those who meet a certain growth threshold on the state’s rating system, with more money going to teachers in Title I schools, he said. Earlier this year DeSantis said he also wants to set minimum teacher pay at $47,500. Jeffrey S. Solochek explains the proposal. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

    HAWAII — What’s Behind Hawaii’s Rising Test Scores for English Learners? Hawaii’s 2019 NAEP scores showed little change in performance over the 2017 results except for one group: fourth-grade English language learners, who had double-digit gains in both math and reading. Officials said a recent change that made the criteria more rigorous for reclassifying students as proficient in English may have been responsible. The change means students learning English are getting more support for a longer time, even though the state department of education admits that the services should be even stronger. Suevon Lee explains. (Read at Honolulu Civil Beat)

    CALIFORNIA — Schools Keep Hiring Counselors, but Students’ Stress Levels Are Only Growing: California has in recent years increased the number of school counselors, but mental health professionals say they still have overwhelming workloads. In addition to college and career guidance, counselors help students deal with trauma from fires, shootings and social media, Carolyn Jones reports. “The reality is, school counselors and psychologists are saving thousands of troubled kids every day,” one expert said in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Santa Clarita. “But the demand is increasing exponentially and it’s harder and harder to keep up.” (Read at EdSource)

    TEXAS — Texas Education Board Likely to Approve African-American Studies Course in 2020: After years of contentious back and forth over ethnic studies classes in Texas, the state board of education “appears poised to approve its first African American studies course next year,” Aliyya Swaby reports. Some Republicans on the board previously opposed ethnic studies classes out of concerns they would cause racial division, but the board approved a Mexican American studies curriculum last year. The board will take a final vote in April, after creating standards for the possible course based on an existing class in Dallas, but board members appeared supportive of the idea at a public hearing Wednesday. (Read at The Texas Tribune)

    Noteworthy Opinion & Analysis

    HOUSING: Long Island Real Estate Agents Sell Schools as Much as Houses, Investigation Finds (Read at Newsday)

    STUDENT VOICE: ‘It Was Paralyzing’: I Graduated From Detroit’s Most Prestigious High School. I Still Struggled When I Got to College (Read at Chalkbeat)

    ELECTION 2020: Education Week Annotated Bernie Sanders’s and Elizabeth Warren’s Platforms on Charter Schools (Read at Education Week)

    HIGHER ED: HBCUs Are Leading Centers of Education — Why Are They Treated as Second-Class Citizens? (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    VOCABULARY LESSON: What’s the Difference Between a College and a University? (Read at The Atlantic)

    What Else We’re Reading

    NEW YORK CITY: 114,000 Students in N.Y.C. Are Homeless. These Two Let Us Into Their Lives (Read at The New York Times)

    INVESTIGATION: The Quiet Rooms: Children Are Being Locked Away, Alone and Terrified, in Illinois Schools. Often It’s Against the Law (Read at ProPublica Illinois)

    GUN VIOLENCE: Since Parkland: Student Journalists Tell the Stories of Kids Killed by Guns Since Feb. 14, 2018 (Read at The Trace)

    SOLUTIONS: What Happens When College Students Discuss Lab Work in Spanish, Philosophy in Chinese or Opera in Italian? (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    KICKER: Teens Are Getting Historical on TikTok and It’s Both Fun and Educational (Read at Buzzfeed News)

    Quotes of the Week

    “No kid should have to grow up in a shelter.” —Sherine, who lives with her children in one of New York City’s homeless shelters. Her son, Darnell, 8, is one of 114,085 homeless students in the city. (Read at The New York Times)

    “I will never forget the look they gave us. Like you belonged in somebody’s zoo.” —Antoinette Harrell, on the harrowing early days of integration in Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish. Both parties in a 54-year-old desegregation suit against the parish school system worked to settle the case this week. (Read at The 74)

    “We have to acknowledge that our goals for federal education funding will continue to face serious political opposition. Supporting well-regulated public charters, in the meantime, is a meaningful complementary solution. The promise of better schools some day down the road doesn’t do much for children who have to go to schools that fail them today.” —Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker (Read at The New York Times)

    “There’s nothing automatically good about being a charter school. The school opens and then the work starts. A few years down the road, a decision has to be made whether the school is good enough to stay open.” —Greg Richmond, who recently stepped down after 15 years as president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. (Read at The 74)

    “Since when did real estate agents become experts on schools?” —Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, who served as a consultant on Newsday’s three-year investigation that uncovered widespread evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents on Long Island. (Read at Newsday)

    — With contributions from Andrew Brownstein 

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  • The View Inside NYC’s Latest School Segregation Protest: Why Students Walked Out Monday for 1,800 Seconds — and Say They’ll Do It Again Every Week Until De Blasio Acts

    By Meghan Gallagher | November 18, 2019

    Monday morning, Teens Takes Charge led dozens of students from New York’s Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School and NYC iSchool in a walkout touted as a “strike for integration.”

    Organizers said the action marked the launch of a new and ongoing campaign that would be orchestrated under the banner “Education Unscreened,” voicing demands for an end to school segregation in America’s largest school district.

    The growing coalition of high school students also announced that “Education Unscreened” will bring a new strike to a different school campus every Monday until their demands are met.

    The timing of Monday’s walkout was noteworthy; just last week, new data showed that a campaign to integrate Brooklyn middle schools through altering enrollment processes was generating promising results.

    Monday’s strike was organized for 1,800 seconds — a nod to the total number of New York City public schools. Monday’s marchers come from two different schools that share the same building, but organizers say the two groups of students have vastly different classroom experiences, from racial makeup to resources to curriculum.

    While the strike’s broader goal is to spark a citywide dialogue about school integration, organizers said a side benefit was to offer these two student bodies, who attend class just a few feet apart yet rarely interact, with the chance to bond and share their unique perspectives.

    According to Teens Take Charge, NYC iSchool uses competitive admissions screening and is 41 percent white and 40 percent low-income, while Chelsea CTE doesn’t use screening and is 4 percent white and 80 percent low-income.

    Related

    Amid Fierce Debate About Integrating New York City Schools, a Diverse-by-Design Brooklyn Charter Offers a Model

    Chelsea CTE student Jocelyn Reyes (pictured above, bottom left) said that while the issue of school segregation hasn’t been formally discussed in classroom lectures, some teachers have indeed addressed the disparities before class.

    NYC iSchool senior Sadie Krichmar, who didn’t want to be photographed, said she’s found the protests eye-opening: “I knew loosely about [the inequities] and I knew about underfunded schools, but I didn’t really know the extreme of it, until September, when I joined Teens Take Charge. I had never talked to anyone from Chelsea until then, because our schools are so segregated, like everything in our schedule seems designed to not overlap. None of our classes change at the same time, and Chelsea starts earlier and gets out earlier than we do. The only thing we really share are sports and prom.”

    Among the chants heard in Spring Street Park Monday: “How much longer will it take?” “We’re the biggest in the nation; we must fight for integration” and “If you’re black or if you’re white, education is a right.”

    Students were encouraged by strike leaders to link arms with those next to them to express unity between the two schools.

    Charles Footman, a senior at Chelsea Career and Technical School, feels as though he is at a disadvantage compared to students at NYC iSchool when it comes to getting into college: “I feel like I’ve had to work harder in this school than I would in another school with better resources. I’ve worked hard to get 90s in math all year, but I can’t get my SAT scores to what college admissions are looking for.”

    Alexander Ruiz (pictured above), a senior at Chelsea CTE and a student leader at Teens Take Charge, said he was pleased with the turnout and excited to see both schools uniting over this issue. Strike leaders led chants, shared their reasons for striking and listed the demands they have for the New York City Department of Education.

    Related

    In Response to a Surge in Youth Activism, NYC Schools Hires Its First Student Voice Manager Who Says She’ll Bring Kids Closer to the Decision Making

    One observation from Monday’s presenters: New York City is often cited as one of the most progressive cities in the world, yet it still has one of the most segregated school systems.

    Strike leaders thanked their peers for their activism and participation. Students from both schools then returned to class through the same doors at the same time, something that almost never happens due to the staggered start times.

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  • EDlection2019: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Keeps the Democrats Rolling in the South

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 18, 2019

    On Saturday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards beat Republican challenger Eddie Rispone to became the state’s first Democratic governor since 1975 to be elected to a second consecutive term. The race, decided by just 40,000 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast, allows the party to retain control of its only governorship in the Deep South — and will be seen as a major disappointment to President Donald Trump, who campaigned vigorously to lift Rispone’s chances.

    Edwards will continue to govern in cooperation with significant Republican majorities in the Louisiana state legislature. The same electorate that narrowly favored him in the gubernatorial race also empowered a Republican supermajority in the state Senate (i.e., enough to override the governor’s veto) and nearly did the same in the House of Representatives.

    The opposition of those conservative lawmakers — as well as a reform-friendly Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, elected last month — will effectively constrain Edwards in driving his second-term education agenda. A staunch ally of state teachers’ unions, Edwards has led several efforts to slow the growth of charter schools and make changes to the Louisiana teacher evaluation system; all died lonely deaths in Baton Rouge.

    Related

    Louisiana’s Governor Race Is Tight but Will Likely Not Affect the Fate of Education Reform in the State

    The weekend results burnished an already-strong off-year election season for Democrats, who captured Kentucky’s governorship and both houses of the Virginia legislature earlier this month in races that touched frequently on K-12 schooling.

    Elsewhere, Republicans elected a new governor of Mississippi, though they put up the party’s weakest statewide margins in over a decade. And in one of the most closely watched local elections in the country, a slate of union-backed candidates flipped Denver’s school board, long a stronghold of education reform consensus.

    In Kentucky, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear declared victory after besting incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin by 0.4 percent in a test of voters’ partisan attachments. In spite of the state’s right-leaning political orientation — and President Trump’s personal appeal to local voters on Monday night — Bevin wasn’t able to overcome his own unpopularity. After contesting Beshear’s tiny margin of victory for over a week, Bevin at last conceded the race last Friday.

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    Democrats Look to Win Elections and Big Education Victories — in the South. No, Seriously

    Beshear’s strongest allies in the race were educators, who donated over $1 million to his campaign and canvassed energetically to get out the vote. Capitalizing on widespread ire toward the incumbent — Bevin had proposed to “break the backs” of teachers unions that twice led walkouts in recent years — Beshear promised a significant pay raise and called for an end to the state’s “war on public education.” Political observers noted that keeping the focus on local issues allowed the Democrat to overcome a huge partisan disadvantage.

    At the local level, unions made their presence felt in the Denver school board race, backing the winners in at least two of three contested seats on the seven-member board and leading in a third as this article was published. The results will give union-supported members a majority on the board, which has been dominated by education reformers more or less continually over the past 15 years.

    That period of control coincided with the district’s pursuit of a “portfolio model” of education in which schools gained greater autonomy over operational decisions and charters proliferated broadly. While many families in the city’s traditionally underserved precincts appreciated new education options, a spate of school closures also rankled the community. The disaffection bred a movement to “flip the board”; on Tuesday night, candidates like 21-year-old Tay Anderson, a recent graduate of Denver Public Schools, did just that.

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    Is Denver’s Era of Education Reform Coming to an End? Outsider School Board Candidates Aim to ‘Flip the Board’ This November

    Democrats in Virginia also ended a long period in the wilderness, winning majorities in both houses of the General Assembly to take unified control over state government for the first time since 1993. By wresting away two seats in the State Senate and six more in the House of Delegates, the party — which also holds control of the governorship — will be able to work its will in the capital.

    Although gun control, rather than education, was the main issue powering those victories, K-12 schools will still feel a major impact from Tuesday’s results. The state Board of Education has recently released new spending guidelines that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding being directed to high-need school districts — all of which will require legislative approval that Democrats are now in a position to provide. The party is also rumored to be considering an end to Virginia’s 72-year-old “right to work” law, which unions say unfairly restricts labor organizing.

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  • Cory Booker and Charter Schools: Before the New York Times Essay, What the Senator Has Said — and What Research Has Shown — About His Education Track Record in Newark

    By Steve Snyder | November 18, 2019

    Senator Cory Booker surprised education and political pundits alike Monday morning with an essay in The New York Times that addressed both public charter schools and a divide within the Democratic Party over education policy, drawing a clear distinction between him and several of his top rivals vying for the 2020 presidential nomination.

    “The treatment by many Democratic politicians of high-performing public charter schools as boogeymen,” he wrote Monday in the Times, “has undermined the fact that many of these schools are serving low-income urban children across the country in ways that are inclusive, equitable, publicly accountable and locally driven.”

    He went on to note: “As a coalition, we have to acknowledge that our goals for federal education funding will continue to face serious political opposition. Supporting well-regulated public charters, in the meantime, is a meaningful complementary solution.”

    Over the past two years, The 74 has published an array of interviews, articles and research summaries on the state of Newark’s schools and how Booker’s reforms went on to shape student outcomes. For those now just catching up on his record after the Times essay, a handful of links that offer some added context:

    A First Study on Newark Reforms: In the fall of 2017, David Cantor reported on the first quantitative review of Newark’s reforms. Among the preliminary findings, students in both traditional and charter schools made larger gains in English in 2016 than in 2011; math gains were flat. Nearly two-thirds of the gains derived from more students moving to better schools — “enrollment shares following school effectiveness,” as Harvard’s Tom Kane put it — largely because their low-performing schools closed or they enrolled in a charter. (Twelve of 14 schools that closed ranked below the state’s average, driving students to more effective schools, while the charter population rose from 14 percent to 28 percent of the district.) You can read the full analysis of the 2017 findings right here.

    Cory Booker — ‘I Don’t Care If That’s a Charter School or a Traditional District School’: Last fall, The 74 published an extensive interview with Booker on Newark’s school system. Contributor Laura McKenna broke out notable highlights in a popular September feature. Among Booker’s reflections: “Let’s get out of this idea that charters are bad or good or traditional district schools are bad or good. I’m a big believer in great schools, and every kid should have public access to them … I believe that any child born in any zip code in America should have a high-quality school, and I don’t care if that’s a charter school or a traditional district school. If it’s a bad school, I’m going to fight against it just like I supported charter school closures in Newark that weren’t serving the genius of my kids.” See other top highlights from the conversation.

    The Full Transcript — ‘I’ve Never Seen Such a Disconnect Between a Popular Understanding and the Data’: The 74 also published the full transcript of McKenna’s interview last year, during which the senator touched on everything from Mark Zuckerberg’s famous donation to the city to how Booker came to identify schools as a top priority and the latest research surrounding Newark’s education gains: “I’ve never seen such a disconnect between a popular understanding and the data … If I went back in time and sat down with people and said, OK, we’re about to endeavor into something that’s going to raise graduation rates 20 percent, something that’s going to raise matriculation rates dramatically, that we’re about to go through a process where a black kid in our schools — which are, a majority of our population is African-American, and on top of that, the black kids tend to be in the lowest-performing schools — that an African-American kid’s chances of going to a high-performing school that beats the suburbs will go up 300 percent, if I was to tell you that we would get these awards, that … the University of Washington would rank us as a No. 1 school system in America, to have beaten the odds with schools that are high-poverty, high-performance, that we would distinguish ourselves as the second-best-performing charter city in all of America, that we would have PARCC scores that beat every single state in the nation … if I said that all those things will be possible, I promise you that if I told people we would accomplish that in eight years, everybody would have said that’s impossible to achieve. I can find no other urban district with high poverty — with high numbers of kids who qualify for free school lunches — that has shown this kind of dramatic shift in a 10-year period.” Read the full 2018 transcript with Booker.

    2019 Research on Student Gains During Booker Era: A study released earlier this year showed that academic performance in New Jersey’s biggest city saw huge improvements beginning in 2006, when now-Senator Booker was elected mayor and initiated a slate of ambitious reforms. As Kevin Mahnken reported, “Both traditional public schools and charter schools — the expansion of which was a major component of Booker’s agenda — saw significant growth over a 12-year period.” The analysis drew on math and reading test scores for students between grades 3 and 8, including both New Jersey’s NJ ASK assessment and PARCC, which the state adopted in 2015. Over the 13 years under examination, researchers found steady improvement among Newark schools compared with New Jersey schools as a whole, and much more substantial growth compared with other low-income areas in the state. Read our full report on the study.

    A New Culture of District-Charter Collaboration: Years after Booker stepped away to federal office, contributor Richard Whitmire profiled the ongoing collaboration between Newark Public Schools and Uncommon Schools, which operates the standout North Star Academy Alexander Street school. Following reports of impressive student scores at Alexander Street, the city’s superintendent reached out for help in developing a catch-up literacy program aimed at struggling rising second-graders at other schools in the city. Implementing that program in other classrooms results in reading score gains. Read Whitmire’s full profile of the program.

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  • EduClips: From a Deadly California Shooting to NYC Educators Prioritizing Anti-Hate Classes to Combat Spike in Anti-Semitism, School News You Missed This Week at America’s 15 Top Districts

    By Laura Fay | November 15, 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 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    CALIFORNIA — 16-Second Spasm of Violence Leaves 2 Dead at a Southern California High School: Two students were killed and three injured during a shooting at Santa Clarita’s Saugus High School Thursday morning. One of the injured students has already been released from the hospital, and the others were held overnight Thursday. The suspected shooter is also hospitalized in grave condition after a self-inflicted gunshot wound. All of the schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District, which includes Saugus, were closed Friday. Officials said Thursday the motive was unclear and they did not know if there was a connection between the shooter and the victims. “I’m bewildered and looking for answers — the question as to why all this would happen,” one student who knew the shooter said. “So many questions no one has the answers to.” (Read at the Los Angeles Times and LAist)

    NEW YORK Anti-Semitic Crime Spike Brings No-Hate Class to More Brooklyn Schools: A “dramatic” rise in anti-Semitic crimes in Brooklyn has spurred local advocates and officials to double the number of schools teaching anti-bias classes in the borough. The Anti-Defamation League and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced this week a $250,000 effort to double the footprint of the “No Place for Hate” program, allowing the classes to reach as many as 10,000 students across 40 schools, Anna Quinn reports. (Read at Patch)

    NATIONALSupreme Court’s Conservative Majority Appears to Back Trump Plan to End DACA, Potentially Putting Thousands of Students and Teachers at Risk of Deportation: During oral arguments this week, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed to side with President Trump over DACA, which protects some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized the human toll of ending the program, while Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned the argument that the president needed stronger policy reasons for ending the program. Mark Keierleber was inside the courtroom. (Read at The 74)

    CHICAGO Here’s How Much Chicago’s Tentative Deals With the Teachers Union Will Cost Taxpayers: After an 11-day strike rocked the city, both the mayor and the union notched some wins in the contract, which the union voted on Thursday and Friday and which still requires a vote from the Chicago Board of Education. This year, the district will cover the cost — around $137 million — with the money it saved by not paying teachers during the strike and some surplus tax funds it received from the city. That means the 2019-20 budget is balanced, but it’s unclear how the district will meet its financial obligations going forward. The contract is expected to cost an extra $1.5 billion over the next five years. Cassie Walker Burke breaks down the numbers. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    TEXAS — Students Still Fighting for Special Education Services: Years after the federal government found that Texas was illegally denying students special education services, thousands of children are still not getting the support they need. Shelby Webb looks at how students and families are coping and why the state is still failing to meet its obligations. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

    ● Related: 250,000 Kids. $277 Million in Fines. It’s Been 3 Years Since Feds Ordered a Special Ed Reboot in Texas — Why Are Students Still Being Denied? (Read at The 74)

    FLORIDA — How Did a Dad with a Criminal Past Get to Volunteer in a Tampa Middle School? At first, Tony Lorenzo Hart was an outstanding volunteer at Adams Middle School in Hillsborough County, supporting educators and getting more dads involved on campus. Then, in October, he failed a background check because of his criminal history. (He’s served two stints in prison, for crimes that did not involve children.) Now the district is grappling with why he was allowed to volunteer at all and how to better navigate such delicate situations, Marlene Sokol reports. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

    TEXAS — Dallas Trustees Considering Cameras in Every Special Education Classroom: One Dallas schools trustee has proposed recording every special education classroom in the district. State law already requires special education classrooms to be recorded if a parent, trustee or staff member requests it. Some are concerned about the cost of additional cameras and worry that they might make teacher retention more difficult. Eva-Marie Ayala explains the debate. (Read at The Dallas Morning News)

    ● More from Texas: As Texas Moves to Replace Houston’s School Board, Here Are 7 Things to Know About the Takeover (Read at The 74)

    Noteworthy Opinion & Analysis

    SCHOOL SCHEDULE: Kamala Harris Wants to Align the School Day to Parents’ Work Schedule. Does It Do More Harm or Good? (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    E-SPORTS: Why Colleges Are Betting Big on Video Games (Read at The Atlantic)

    HEALTH: Banning E-Cigarettes Could Do More Harm Than Good (Read at The New York Times)

    DEVOS: Betsy DeVos Might Outlast Them All (Read at HuffPost)

    What Else We’re Reading

    RESEARCH: Secret Service Report Says ‘Prevention Is Key’ in Addressing School Violence (Read a recap at Education Dive; read the full report)

    PODCAST: The American Dream and Social Mobility for the Children of Immigrants (Listen at NPR’s The Indicator)

    Q&A: How the Muppets Became Revolutionaries: An Interview With Sesame Street’s VP of Curriculum and Content (Read at Edutopia)

    TV: ‘Blue’s Clues’ Returns, and Silence Is Still the Star (Read at The New York Times)

    SOLUTIONS: Motor City Students to Benefit From a Different Kind of Horsepower Through New Partnership (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Quotes of the Week

    “The data just do not support that. With a high school diploma alone, it’s very hard to earn the kinds of wages one would need to support a family.” —Thomas Brock, a research professor and director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, on a recent poll showing that many young Americans believe that a high school diploma alone is enough for success. (Read at USA Today)

    “I was afraid I was going to go in, and not come back out. What is your plan to end gun violence so that way students can feel safe going to school?” —Nora, 12, to Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris during an October town hall in Ankeny, Iowa. (Read at The 74)

    “Everyone thinks we’re fine, but we’re not fine. Our kids aren’t fine and they’re never gonna be. Please tell people we’re not fine.” —Nakiya Wakes, mother of two schoolchildren in Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead in the water are feared to have sparked emotional and behavioral problems at school. (Read at The New York Times)

    “What more would you have the government say?” —Justice Neil Gorsuch, questioning whether the Trump administration needed to offer more reasons for its decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children. Gorsuch and other members of the court’s conservative majority appeared during oral arguments to side with Trump in his desire to end the program. (Read at The 74)

    “Choose civility.” —Motto of Howard County, Maryland, found on the bumpers of many cars. A redistricting plan to balance the number of low-income children enrolled in schools has led to protests, racist emails and a death threat against the superintendent. (Read at The New York Times)

    — With contributions from Andrew Brownstein 

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  • Exclusive: Pedro Martinez, Who Led San Antonio District Schools From an F to a B, Named Chiefs for Change Board Chair

    By Beth Hawkins | November 14, 2019

    Updated

    Chiefs for Change announced this morning that Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, has been selected as the new chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

    Martinez succeeds Louisiana state Superintendent John White, who will remain on the organization’s board.

    For Martinez, who was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and grew up in Chicago, the timing could not be more auspicious. As the news breaks, members of the organization and some of their colleagues will be touring Fox Tech High School, which houses a cutting-edge program and is one of a number of schools Martinez has rebooted since becoming San Antonio superintendent in 2015. They will also visit a district preschool.

    The five-year-old bipartisan group provides a forum where top education leaders can exchange ideas, as well as an incubator for so-called Future Chiefs — administrators contemplating the next step. School systems led by members of the organization, who come from states and communities with politically diverse leadership, posted the highest scores on the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

    Since Martinez took the reins of the San Antonio district, overall academic performance has risen from the equivalent of an F on state report cards to a B. According to the Texas Education Agency, it is both the third-most impoverished of the state’s large school systems and the fastest-improving.

    Together with the district’s chief innovation officer, Mohammed Choudhury, now a Future Chief, Martinez turned around a host of flagging schools with initiatives like the P-TECH career-preparation program at Fox and then used a novel series of weighted lotteries for enrolling students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The mix of strategies has drawn attention from education leaders in other parts of the country.

    More than 90 percent of district students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the measurement school systems traditionally use to quantify poverty. The median family income in the district is $30,000 a year.

    Because many of the district’s 50,000 students come from neighborhoods where census data put household incomes as low as half the median, Martinez and Choudhury have reserved seats at the new — and very popular — schools for children from the lowest economic strata.

    The chief financial officer in Chicago Public Schools during former secretary of education Arne Duncan’s tenure, Martinez is the oldest of 10 siblings. Neither of his parents made it past second grade. The family moved to the United States when Martinez was 5.

    “My father never made more than $7 an hour,” he said earlier this week, in response to his selection as Chiefs board chair. “I watched him work two jobs his whole life. He died at a young age and never got to know my children. When I think about my own life experience, I relate it to my students.”

    Last year, the 74 published an in-depth look at Martinez’s background, San Antonio’s unprecedented integration system and the innovations being tested in a number of the district’s new and restarted schools.

    Related

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    A-rated Fox Tech houses several health- and law-related career preparation tracks — including one in which students will be able to earn a nursing license along with their diploma. It enrolls students from throughout surrounding Bexar County, which is home to 17 traditional school districts and a booming public charter school sector. A school has existed on the Fox Tech site since the late 1800s.

    “Pedro has done as much as anyone to develop new and creative partnerships designed to address longstanding challenges in San Antonio’s schools,” White said in a release announcing Martinez’s selection. “He is building on the best of the traditional school system with novel approaches that are focused on what matters most for kids.”

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  • SCOTUS Clears Way for Sandy Hook Families’ Lawsuit Against Gun Manufacturer

    By Carolyn Phenicie | November 12, 2019

    A novel case attempting to hold a gun manufacturer liable for the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting can proceed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

    The high court’s decision, released without discussion, not to hear Remington’s appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling allows the lawsuit to proceed in state court. At issue is not the Second Amendment but the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers from legal liability when their weapons are used to commit crimes.

    The Sandy Hook families, however, argue that Remington’s marketing of the Bushmaster rifle used in the 2012 shooting violated Connecticut consumer protection laws by using hypermasculine and militaristic marketing that appealed to disturbed young men like the Sandy Hook killer. A knowing violation of state or federal laws is one of a half-dozen exemptions to the liability shield law.

    Related

    Hockley: As a Sandy Hook Promise Parent, I Know That Prevention — Not More Guns — Is the Solution to Our Epidemic of School Shootings

    The Connecticut Supreme Court in March ruled 4-3 that the case could proceed under the consumer protection law exemption, but it ruled that the shield law did preclude the families’ claim that Remington was negligent in selling a military-style weapon to civilians. The case now moves toward the discovery phase of the trial that could force Remington to share information about its marketing practices as the court decides whether those practices violate Connecticut’s consumer protection law.

    Remington, in a brief filed in the case, said justices should overturn the Connecticut court to maintain the liability law’s preventions and “prevent widespread costly litigation that harms First and Second Amendment rights.”

    The National Rifle Association, in its own brief, noted that many states besides Connecticut have similar consumer protection laws, “any one of which can now be used to circumvent national policy” if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the Connecticut court’s decision.

    A push for stricter gun control, long a hot-button political issue, has been inextricably tied to children and schools since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in which 26 students and educators were killed. That link was only strengthened in the wake of activism by students from Parkland, Florida, where a shooter killed 17 people in 2018. The spate of shootings in recent years has also led to a change in school safety procedures, including new technology and an increased police presence.

    Gun safety advocates and Democrats praised the Supreme Court’s decision.

    Fred Guttenberg, father of one of the students killed in Parkland, wrote on Twitter that “gun manufacturers cannot hide behind bad marketing decisions that are leading to the death of our children.”

    And former vice president Joe Biden, among the top contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, pledged to work to overturn the liability shield law and praised the work of gun control activists.

    “There’s a straight line from those brave Newtown parents, to the activism of the Parkland students, to the millions of others who’ve said ‘enough’ in the long years between and since those tragedies. They’re using every tool of democracy: in the streets, at the polls, and today, in the courts,” he said in a release.

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  • As Texas Moves to Replace Houston’s School Board, Here Are 7 Things to Know About the Takeover

    By Beth Hawkins | November 11, 2019

    An hour into last week’s school board meeting, the Houston Independent School District’s governance coach clicked open a presentation and announced that she would be teaching board members to understand monitoring reports, the documents used to track school improvement efforts.

    “Student outcomes improve when adult behaviors change,” she began, before segueing on to what teachers would call the lesson’s exit ticket.

    “At the end of the presentation, the expectation is that you will be able to say what a monitoring report is,” she said. “Hopefully after we’re finished we will come back to this chart and you can tell me what you’ve learned.”

    It might have been a Saturday Night Live cold open, except no one was laughing. Less than 24 hours earlier, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath had formally notified Houston ISD that the state was stripping the elected board of its authority and appointing a board of managers in its place. Morath explained the long-telegraphed move in a blistering letter, citing an investigator’s finding of numerous instances of improper actions by board members and failure to address ongoing, chronic problems at one of the district’s high schools.



    Houston ISD 11 6 19 Letter (Text)

    “Given the inability of the board of trustees to govern the district, these sanctions are necessary to protect the best interests of the district’s current and future students,” he wrote. “The board members should have focused on implementing effective change to improve the performance of students in the district’s low-performing campuses.”

    The presence of the coach and her basics-of-the-job slide deck was one result of two-plus years of back and forth between the Texas Education Agency, thought to be reluctant to take on a wholesale reboot of the state’s largest school system, and the board, which was vocal about its disagreement with the laws the agency is charged with upholding.

    The coach’s awkward presence notwithstanding, no mention of the state takeover was made at the Thursday board meeting. The four trustees who showed up (a fifth joined by phone) did not constitute a quorum and did not include two of the board members who were the subject of some of the most intense criticism from the state. Both lost re-election bids Nov. 5.

    Houston ISD has until Nov. 20 to appeal the takeover with the TEA. And on Dec. 5 a judge will consider a request from the district to stop the state intervention because of a lawsuit the district filed against the agency. Neither action is expected to succeed.

    In the meantime, here are seven things to know about the situation.

    1Frustration with Houston’s history of inaction gave rise to the takeover law

    In 2015, Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Houston-area African-American Democrat, succeeded in passing a law compelling the TEA to take one of two actions when a school fails to meet state standards for more than four consecutive years: close the school or take over the district’s board.

    “Sure, we can wait on HISD to fix them,” he said, referring to long-neglected campuses disproportionately clustered in his blue-collar district, including Kashmere, then in its 10th year of failing to meet standards. “But I am convinced that without a gun to their head, it won’t happen.”

    Dutton was convinced that the way to force board members who represent wealthy swaths of the city to take equity concerns seriously was to strip the entire elected board of its authority, longtime Texas policy analyst Seth Rau reminded Twitter last week: “Rep. Dutton insisted on that point during the debate because he wanted people in more affluent parts of Houston to be impacted by the Wheatleys and Kashmeres of the district.”

    Two years ago, when the first chronically underperforming schools crossed the five-year trigger point for state sanctions, Morath granted Houston ISD a one-year reprieve because of damage from Hurricane Harvey. He did keep in place a TEA conservator appointed to oversee turnaround efforts at Kashmere, which this year came off the list of lowest performers.

    However, Wheatley High School earned its seventh failing grade since 2011 (ratings were not issued in 2012 and 2018), well past the legal threshold. The school’s chronic underperformance was one of three justifications for the takeover Morath cited in his letter.

    The commissioner outlined two other findings that support the state’s decision to replace the Houston school board: a state investigator’s conclusion that board members met in secret, exceeded the scope of their authority and violated contract procurement rules; and a rule that says the state can intervene when it has had a conservator in place for two or more years.

    2 Houston’s school board had options but declined to exercise them

    In 2017, when the potential consequences of the 2015 school closure law became clear, lawmakers created an alternative. Any district with schools under threat of closure could forestall sanctions for two years by turning the campuses over to a nonprofit partner for a reboot. Because the eligible nonprofits included public charter school networks, and because the partners, which could also include universities and community groups, would control staffing, the district teachers union protested.

    The union’s opposition was not nearly as disruptive — or profane — as the conflict among board members. In April 2017, the board was scheduled to consider whether to notify the state that Houston ISD would explore the partnership alternative. The topic proved so contentious that the meeting was gaveled to a halt with no vote.

    “Board attempts to address low-performing campuses have resulted in disorderly and disorganized board meetings,” Morath wrote last week. “During the April 24, 2018, board workshop, interactions amongst the Board of Trustees and the public escalated to unmanageable outbursts, constant disruptions and disrespectful comments. Upon going over the allotted time, former President Rhonda Skillern-Jones asked law enforcement to remove the last public speaker from the podium, sparking further outbursts from the audience.

    “Former President Skillern-Jones then requested law enforcement assistance in clearing the boardroom. The audience reacted in outrage shouting expletives, while Trustee Wanda Adams could be heard saying, ‘I’m sick of this shit, clear the room.’ Law enforcement had to remove audience members out of the board room and arrested two community members.”

    Six months later, when the deadline for considering 2019 partnerships loomed, board members were more blunt: In their dislike of the law, they would not act. “If we don’t take a stand, there’s no pressure on the legislature to fix the underlying problems,” said trustee Elizabeth Santos. “As a board, it is irresponsible to give away our students, especially when we haven’t exhausted all our options, including suing the Texas Education Agency.”

    3 A ‘walking quorum’ board meeting and a failed barracks coup

    In March 2018, Superintendent Richard Carranza left Houston to take over New York City’s schools. He would later tell the TEA conservator that board members’ penchant for exceeding their authority and inability to grapple with ongoing academic crises hobbled Houston ISD.

    The board delayed hiring a replacement for Carranza, instead giving a temporary appointment to Chief Academic Officer Grenita Lathan. As it became clear that the school closure threat was not going away, trustees began to fight over whether to make her superintendency permanent. Three black trustees backed Lathan, while four Latinos did not.

    In October 2018, five board members met in a local restaurant with a former Houston superintendent, Abelardo Saavedra, who was retiring from a San Antonio-area district, to discuss hiring him to replace Lathan. One board member brought a copy of Carranza’s contract to give to Saavedra, who later told investigators that the trustees present told him they felt disrespected by Lathan.

    A surprise attempt at a public board meeting held a few days later to fire Lathan and hire Saavedra drew the state’s attention. After interviewing a number of participants, investigators concluded that the gathering constituted a “walking quorum” — a violation of open meetings laws. They went to pains to point out that not all board members gave the same account of the illegal gathering, with one seemingly forgetting he wasn’t the only board member present.

    “Moreover,” state investigators reported in August, “TEA Conservator Dolores Delaney reported conflicts between trustees have created an environment that impedes the board from focusing on student outcomes.”



    TEA Preliminary Report 1565367523082 22164885 ver1 0 (Text)

    4 ‘Historical problems with contract awarding and contract procurement’

    Having scratched the surface, investigators found a long trail of instances in which board members attempted to steer contracts to particular vendors and of meddling in work underway in schools. In 14 cases, they found, large contracts were divided up to keep them under the $500,000 threshold for public review.

    In 2009, board members voted 8-1 to create a $121.5 million fund, using bond revenue, that trustees could use for projects in their nine districts. The money is “now depleted,” according to the report.

    Board President Diana Dávila — one of the incumbents who lost re-election last week — appears repeatedly in the specific allegations in the report. In one of the odder entries, the principal of the brand-new High School of Law and Justice complained that she only learned Dávila was touring her under-construction campus last year when she saw photos on Twitter.

    According to investigators, Dávila told the construction crew to remove a wall that had been built in the school’s mock courtroom. “I became a little upset,” the principal told investigators. “They took that wall down. I went to the HISD senior administrator and I told him, ‘She can’t do that,’ and he says that ‘I’m very aware that she cannot do that. If you want the wall back, we will put the wall back up.’”

    Another district administrator complained that Dávila ordered him to remove a contract for construction of Austin High School from the board agenda in December 2016. “Trustee Dávila and her husband told the administrator that they wanted a firm out of Dallas, wanted him to make it happen and threatened him with his job if he did not do it,” the report says. When the administrator refused to change the agenda, investigators added, Dávila did it herself.

    Another trustee held a campaign event on district property without reimbursing Houston ISD. Two others inserted themselves into hiring matters.

    A separate, 325-page report from Texas’s Legislative Budget Board issued last week recommended the wholesale restructuring of the district.

    Related

    Jochim & Hill: State Takeovers Remain a Powerful Tool for Improving Schools. States Should Not Walk Away From Them

    5 Houston differs from other large districts taken over by their states

    State takeovers often involve districts where very few schools are delivering acceptable academics or where financial mismanagement has forced regulators’ hands — or both. Newark, Detroit and New Orleans are examples of communities where chronically underperforming schools were the norm. They underwent whole-system reboots.

    Houston is home to any number of high-performing schools and, even though the budget board report identified $42 million in likely annual savings that could be achieved through better processes, is not insolvent. This year, the district as a whole received a B on state report cards.

    District critics have attributed many of its problems to racial and socioeconomic divides that have translated into the persistent neglect of its poorest schools. In support of his 2015 school closure bill, Dutton noted that his research indicated that Kashmere had never had a certified math teacher, for instance.

    “Under the conservator’s direction, Kashmere High School has earned an acceptable rating,” Morath pointed out in his Nov. 6 letter to Houston ISD brass. “If the board of trustees had been more responsive to current intervention, the board should have made similar efforts to improve its other low-performing campuses.”

    6 Morath has school board experience and a vision

    Starting in 2011, Morath was twice elected to the Dallas Independent School District board, where he championed a number of reforms, with varying degrees of success. He became state education commissioner in 2016.

    Morath is championing the same set of policies that Houston ISD’s board refused to respond to, incentivizing districts to hand operations of struggling campuses over to nonprofit organizations that get charter-school-like freedoms in exchange for agreeing to performance targets. Part of the idea is to promote locally generated strategies that capitalize on local expertise.

    Under his leadership, the TEA has been particularly keen on a model known as Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, a combination of five schoolwide strategies that are costly but have been very effective in a number of schools.

    At a recent Fort Worth convening on the Texas Partnership Opportunity, Morath asserted that traditional school systems stymie turnaround efforts. “Is there something about the system itself that keeps us from sustaining performance over time?” he asked, going on to answer his own question. “It requires chopping these big systems up into manageable, bite-sized pieces.”

    7 Begin with the end in mind

    Experts suggest that Morath should go in with an exit strategy. State takeovers can be very effective, researchers at the Center on Reinventing Public Education pointed out recently as interventions in Houston and Rhode Island loomed. But they are politically unpopular and are not designed to go on forever. Leaders need to craft solutions that will garner enough buy-in — and possibly legal protection — to endure once the receiver withdraws.

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  • EduClips: From Texas’s Dramatic Takeover of Houston Schools to the Learning Problems That Followed Flint’s Lead Poisoning, Education News You Missed This Week at America’s Top Districts

    By Laura Fay | November 8, 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 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

    TEXAS — State to Take Over Houston ISD by Replacing School Board and Superintendent: Texas’s state education agency announced Wednesday that it will take over Houston Independent School District — one of the largest school districts in the country — because of the school board’s “failure of governance” and persistent academic failure at the district’s Wheatley High School. State education commissioner Mike Morath will appoint both a board of governance and a superintendent as part of the takeover, which did not come as a surprise, reports Aliyya Swaby. (Read at The Texas Tribune)

    VIRGINIA — Democratic-Backed Candidates Take Full Control of Fairfax County School Board: Democratic-backed candidates this week swept the school board elections in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the nation’s largest school districts, with nearly 190,000 students and a $3 billion annual budget. Though the elections are nonpartisan in name, the campaigns were fiercely contested along party lines, with much of the fight centered on a proposal that would require district officials to consider students’ race and socioeconomic status when redrawing school boundaries. Over the summer, the district hired an outside consultant to deal with that particular proposal, but Republican-backed candidates made it a “focal point of their campaigns,” Debbie Truong reports. Of the 12 board members who will start four-year terms in January, eight are new to the board. (Read at The Washington Post)

    NATIONAL — Flint’s Children Suffer in Class After Years of Drinking the Lead-Poisoned Water: The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, “has migrated from its homes to its schools, where neurological and behavioral problems — real or feared — among students are threatening to overwhelm the education system,” reports Erica L. Green. The schools are now in a “downward spiral” of declining enrollment, tight budgets and overwhelming student need. And Flint is not alone in these challenges. (Read at The New York Times)

    ILLINOIS — What Happens Next With the Chicago Teachers Contract: After an 11-day teacher strike, the city’s longest since 1987, students and teachers returned to the classroom last week, but the contract is not yet finalized. Chalkbeat reporter Yana Kunichoff explains what the mayor, the union and their attorneys still have to do to make it official. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    HAWAII — Nearly Half the Kids in Hawaii Can’t Swim. Meet the Organization Trying to Change That: A new report shows that drowning was the third-highest cause of death for Hawaii kids between 2014 and 2018, but swimming lessons can be prohibitively expensive for many families on the islands. Now, individual schools are partnering with the Hawaii Aquatics Foundation to make swimming and water safety more accessible to Hawaii’s kids, reports Suevon Lee. (Read at Honolulu Civil Beat)

    FLORIDA — ‘Astoundingly Slow’ Progress on School Renovations in South Florida District, Despite $800 Million Bond: Five years after Broward County schools got an $800 million bond from taxpayers to renovate 233 schools, renovations are complete at just eight schools, according to an analysis by reporter Scott Travis. Most of the schools, which have problems such as leaky roofs, mold and poor air quality, aren’t under construction yet. (Read at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

    ● Related from The 74: Schools Have Lost $16B in Capital Funds Since the Great Recession. Those Buildings Are in Trouble — and That Means Problems for Students

    Noteworthy Opinion & Analysis

    TEACHER PAY: Can Early-Childhood-Education Programs Deliver If Lead Teachers Are Paid Less Than Dog Walkers? (Read at Education Week)

    KID ECONOMICS: How Many Tootsie Rolls Is a Snickers Worth? Kids Know. (Read at The Atlantic)

    DISCIPLINE: Procedure isn’t enough: What I’ve learned advocating for students at NYC suspension hearings (Read at Chalkbeat)

    BOOK REVIEW: How one Navajo Nation high school is trying to help students see a future that includes college (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    What Else We’re Reading

    ELECTIONS: Democrats Enjoy Big Wins in Kentucky and Virginia, and Reform Foes ‘Flip the Board’ in Denver (Read at The 74)

    RURAL SCHOOLS: Many Rural Districts Face Education ‘Emergency’ (Read at Education Dive)

    STUDENT-ATHLETES: Hunger Games: High School Student Athletes Deal With Food Insecurity (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    GOOD NEWS: Ohio Mom Mobilizes Her Son’s Football Team to Help Hungry Players From a Nearby Team (Read at Good Morning America)

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