Noteworthy headlines from the education wire

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

By Kei-Sygh Thomas | 1 day ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mark Keierleber | 2 days ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Undocumented Students Have Rights Under the U.S. Constitution — but New Poll Shows That Most Americans Don’t Know That

By Kate Stringer | 5 days ago

In May, Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Ritze proposed handing English language learners over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reduce the cost of educating undocumented students. “Do we really have to educate noncitizens?” he asked.

The answer is yes, as affirmed by a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that said Texas couldn’t withhold public education dollars based on students’ citizenship status.

But Ritze isn’t alone in his misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment, which says states cannot deny “any person” life, liberty, property, or equal protection of the laws. In a new poll released this week, 53 percent of Americans incorrectly said people who are in the U.S. “illegally,” as the question phrased it, have no rights under the Constitution.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual survey, published right before Constitution Day, Sept. 17, found a continued obliviousness about how the U.S. government works. Only one-quarter of respondents could name all three branches of government, down from 38 percent in 2013. More than one-third couldn’t name any First Amendment rights.

Considering that only 14 percent of respondents could name freedom of the press as one of those rights, perhaps it makes sense that the survey found that 39 percent believe Congress should be allowed to prohibit the news media from reporting on national security unless they first receive government approval.

Even when asked about their fellow U.S. citizens, not all respondents believed that everyone has equal rights. When asked whether Muslims have the same rights as other citizens, 18 percent said no. Asked the same question about atheists, 15 percent said no.

“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, in a press release. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”

Every state’s curriculum includes studies of civics or social studies, and students must complete coursework in these areas in order to graduate. However, only 17 states include civics in accountability frameworks, and just 37 states require that students be tested for proficiency in civics or social studies, according to a 50-state civics education comparison by the Education Commission of the States.

In addition to running the survey, the Annenberg Public Policy Center has teamed up with 30 other nonpartisan nonprofit groups to form the Civics Renewal Network, aimed at improving civics education through free teaching materials, filterable by grades, standards, and subject. Content materials cover everything from the global refugee crisis to landmark Supreme Court cases.

The network also boasts a map of schools around the U.S. that will be participating in Constitution Day studies on Monday, with a list of suggested civics-centric activities.

The 2017 Annenberg survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted by telephone from Aug. 9–13. It used a national probability sample of all 50 states. The adjusted margin of error is plus or minus 3.69 percentage points.

Does Race Matter in Education? New Survey of Millennials Reveals Conflicting Opinions on Equity, Surprising Support for Vouchers

By Kevin Mahnken | 5 days ago

The prevalence of race in American schools has been reexamined in recent years, as new reports indicate growing segregation more than six decades after Brown v. Board of Education. But a new study of millennials reveals surprisingly mixed views when it comes to equity and the need for racial integration.

Respondents also voiced strong — if occasionally contradictory — opinions on charter schools, standardized testing, and school quality in the survey of 1,750 Americans ages 18–34. The study was conducted as part of the University of Chicago’s GenForward project to measure the political attitudes of America’s youngest voters.

The issue of race divides young people of different ethnicities. About three-quarters of millennials across various ethnic backgrounds agree that low-income students get a worse education than those from wealthy families. But there is less agreement about how race affects quality of education.

Black (59 percent) and Asian (56 percent) millennials generally agree that students of color receive worse schooling than white students. But majorities of Latinos (55 percent) and whites (51 percent) believe race plays “very little role” in educational quality.

(Image: GenForward)

A slim majority of black (54 percent) and Asian (52 percent) respondents also believe that students should attend racially diverse schools even if none exist nearby. In contrast, the bulk of Latino (61 percent) and white (73 percent) respondents think students should enroll in their neighborhood schools, even if the result is less student diversity.

(Image: GenForward)

On school choice, education reformers will be relieved to learn of millennial enthusiasm for charter schools, especially given the weak reception they received in this year’s Education Next poll. In that study, public backing for the schools fell by 12 points over the preceding 12 months — the largest such decline for any issue that was surveyed. Taken together with Massachusetts voters’ resounding defeat of a 2016 charter expansion initiative, as well as President Trump’s unfettered support for taxpayer-funded vouchers, it suggested a further fracturing of the consensus around school choice.

(Image: GenForward)

GenForward participants, many only recently removed from their high school or college years, mostly favored charters. Nearly two-thirds of black and Asian-American respondents voiced their approval, while Latino and white respondents did so by margins of 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Healthy majorities from all ethnic groups supported private school vouchers for low-income students; when the researchers polled universal vouchers, approval remained above 50 percent for all groups except whites (49 percent).
  • Millennials more closely resemble their elders when it comes to a famous education paradox: Though they rate their own schools highly (54 percent assigned them either an A or a B), they take a dimmer view of America’s education system as a whole (76 percent grade the nation’s schools as a C or worse). The belief that one’s own school represents the oasis amid a nationwide desert of mediocrity, known to psychologists as the “mere-exposure effect,” has been observed in parents in other surveys.
  • In each group, 69 percent or more of respondents say that there is too much testing in schools. Yet consistent majorities also disapproved of parents opting their children out of taking those tests.

Public opinion on key education issues may be disparate across ethnic groups, but when asked to choose among ways to improve American schools, every demographic chose the same three steps: increasing teacher pay, increasing teacher training, and increasing school funding.

Deal or No Deal? Trump Contradictions on DACA Deal With Democrats Leave Ann Coulter Saying ‘You’re Fired’

By Mark Keierleber | 5 days ago

Social media erupted late Wednesday when two leading Democrats, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, announced in a joint statement that they reached a deal with President Trump to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in exchange for heightened border security.

And here’s the kicker: The deal didn’t include funding for Trump’s long-promised wall along the Mexico-U.S. border.

It would’ve been the second victory in a week for Schumer, of New York, and Pelosi, of California, after Trump agreed — to the astonishment of his fellow Republicans — to a short-term debt ceiling increase to fund the government for three months.

But in a series of early morning tweets Thursday, Trump shot back: No DACA deal, he said, had been struck with the Democrats.

But then, he immediately followed up with sympathy for Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called.

Those statements — and the news that Trump was willing to negotiate with Democrats to save DACA — drew immediate backlash from some of his closest allies. Take, for example, these tweets Thursday morning from Ann Coulter, author of the book In Trump We Trust.

And this, from Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a staunch supporter of strict immigration enforcement:

The administration announced last week that it would rescind DACA in six months. The program, which former president Barack Obama created by executive order in 2012, awarded temporary legal status to some 800,000 immigrants who were brought to this country as children and are either in school or working. That number includes an estimated 365,000 high school students and 20,000 teachers.

During a conference call with some 400 educators Tuesday, former Obama education secretary John King called Trump’s decision to rescind DACA “unnecessary, irresponsible, and immoral.” Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, said in an interview last week that “my heart is with” Dreamers. “We are a nation of compassion, and we are also a nation of laws,” DeVos added.

If Congress cannot reach a deal to save the program through legislation like the long-proposed DREAM Act, Dreamers could face deportation.

On Thursday, a second statement from Pelosi and Schumer said Trump’s tweets were “not inconsistent with the agreement reached last night.” Although a deal was not finalized, according to the Democrats’ second statement, Trump said he would “support enshrining DACA protections into law” and would encourage action from Congress.

“What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible,” according to the Thursday statement. “While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the president made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it.”

In a remark to reporters outside the White House later Thursday morning, Trump confirmed that a deal was, in fact, in progress. “We’re working on a plan for DACA,” he said, according to The New York Times.

By that point, however, Trump had already angered and alienated many of his closest allies.

Breitbart News, the far-right website led by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, referred to Trump in a headline as “Amnesty Don,” while Trump supporters criticized the president’s statements on Twitter with the hashtag #AmnestyDon. In Bannon’s first televised interview since he was ousted from the administration, he predicted “civil war” in the Republican Party should members of the GOP reach a deal to keep DACA intact.

Control of Newark Schools Is Back in City Hands After State Board of Ed Vote

By Laura Fay | 6 days ago

Photo Milken Family Foundation

Newark schools will soon be back under local control after more than 20 years of state receivership.

The New Jersey State Board of Education voted Wednesday morning to let the city resume control after a track record of improvements and a long process of approvals for the state’s largest district.

In May, the board gave the district high marks on governance and instruction, reported, the final two areas where it needed to demonstrate improvement. It had already earned passing scores in personnel, finance, and operations.

In August, New Jersey State Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington indicated that Newark was ready for local control, according to

(The 74: New Jersey Gives Newark Green Light to Resume Local Control of Schools After 20 Years in Receivership)

Wednesday’s vote marks the beginning of a formal transition process. Harrington and the district will create a plan “detailing the transfer of power and the process for finding a superintendent,” reported, and once the plan is presented to the state Board of Education, the Newark board will have full control, including the power to choose a new superintendent.

Next, the district will hold a referendum so voters can choose whether they want an elected school board or one appointed by Mayor Ras Baraka.

The takeover was seen as an emergency response to widespread failure in Newark’s schools, The New York Times reported. Over the past 22 years, state-appointed superintendents have made decisions for the schools and had veto power over the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board, which had very little control, reported.

Now, the high school graduation rate is 77 percent, the city has a large charter school sector that has posted impressive scores and works collaboratively with district schools, its low-performing schools have closed, and it ranks in the top quarter of comparable urban districts on state tests.

(The 74: Analysis: In Newark’s Election of a New School Board, a Superficial ‘Unity’)

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement that there was “undeniable” progress in the Newark schools, citing a 16-point increase in high school graduation rates over the past six years.

Other officials also expressed optimism.

State-appointed schools superintendent Christopher Cerf called the vote a “historic moment,” noting that district students have made “great progress,” reported. It is unclear how much longer Cerf will be involved with the district.

(The 74: Analysis: Assessing 22 Years of State Control as Newark Votes for the Board to Take Back Reins of City Schools)

“It’s a beautiful day for the residents of our city,” said Baraka, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Broad Coalition of Education Leaders Calls on Teachers to Resist Trump on DACA

By Mark Keierleber | 6 days ago

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wanted to make something clear: These groups — she said several times — usually don’t get along. But in the fight to protect undocumented students and teachers, the broad coalition of education leaders stood united.

In a conference call Tuesday evening with more than 400 educators from across the country, Weingarten and a coalition of prominent education leaders — including former education secretary John King and Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard — called on educators to join the fight against President Trump’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA.

Under the program, the government awarded temporary legal status to some 800,000 immigrants who were brought to this country as children and are either in school or working. That number includes an estimated 365,000 high school students and 20,000 teachers.

The Trump administration announced last week that it will end the Obama-era program in six months. If Congress cannot reach a deal to save the program through legislation like the long-proposed DREAM Act, DACA recipients — often referred to as Dreamers — could face deportation.

King, who served as education secretary under President Barack Obama and is now CEO of the nonprofit The Education Trust, called Trump’s decision “unnecessary, irresponsible, and immoral.” Teachers, he said, have a responsibility to protect children who returned to school this year with heightened fear and anxiety.

“Right now, educators in high schools are concerned that the president’s recent decision to roll back DACA may negatively influence students’ aspirations for college and their goals for the future,” King said. “It’s just one reason why it’s vital for every educator to make your classroom a haven for learning, where all young people — regardless of their background, race, gender, religion, or immigration status — understand that they are welcome.”

Educators should be vocal about their support for the DREAM Act, said the education leaders on the call, who also included Jonah Edelman, Stand for Children co-founder and CEO, and Evan Stone, Educators for Excellence co-founder and CEO. Leading up to Trump’s decision to end DACA, Stone said, thousands of Educators for Excellence members sent letters, wrote op-eds, and placed phone calls encouraging the administration to keep DACA in place.

“Even though this administration has so far ignored our voices and ignored the voices of so many others, we cannot stop,” he said. “We need to be even louder and even more bold in our defense of students and their families who, save a piece of paper, are as American as any of us.”

Lawmakers first proposed the DREAM Act in 2001, but after years of failed efforts, Obama approved DACA through executive order in 2012. That move, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week, was an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws” and an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.” In its current form, the DREAM Act would provide a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

(More from The 74: 20,000 teachers — and the schools where they are teaching — at risk under decision to repeal DACA)

Among the country’s “DACAmented” educators is Ricardo Alcaraz, a Bronx high school teacher who joined Tuesday’s conference call. Born in Mexico City, he was 7 when he immigrated to California with his mom, where he reunited with his father. All his students, he said, are English language learners, and most are recent immigrants. After Trump was elected president, they became activists.

“If we eliminate DACA and take DACAmented teachers out of the classrooms, our students are definitely going to suffer,” he said. “But I know, I know, I know — I’ve seen it — that they’re transforming into advocates and activists, so I know they, too, will fight with us.”

That fight may be an uphill battle. Immigration reform has stalled for years in Washington, and it’s already hit several snags since the Trump administration announced it would rescind DACA. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the issue, was canceled earlier this week. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told The New York Times the House has prioritized legislation that targets immigrant gangs and border security.

“We are happy to have discussions with anybody who wants to talk about what we need to do with DACA, but I would say DACA is at the end of that list, not at the beginning,” Goodlatte said. “We can’t fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”

But Edelman, whose group launched a pro–DREAM Act petition garnering signatures from more than 3,400 educators, sees a potential opening come December, when congressional Democrats could use debt ceiling negotiations to leverage the DREAM Act.

Despite polls that indicate that a majority of Americans support protections for Dreamers, action requires “putting our own bodies on the line,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy and policy director of the advocacy group United We Dream, who joined the call Tuesday.

“If you ever asked yourself what you would be doing in the Civil Rights Movement,” she said, “the answer is whatever it is you’re doing right now.”

Child Psychologist Picked to Replace Divisive Buffalo School Board Member Carl Paladino

By Mark Keierleber | 7 days ago

A vacancy on the Buffalo, New York, school board will be filled by pediatric psychologist Catherine Flanagan-Priore, who was selected Monday to replace Carl Paladino, a brash real estate mogul and campaign surrogate for President Trump who was ousted from his seat last month. She will be sworn in on Wednesday.

The board, which is often deeply divided, voted unanimously to approve Flanagan-Priore, The Buffalo News reports. After receiving 19 applications and conducting 15 interviews, the board selected her over former school board members Louis Petrucci and Donald Van Every, as well as Austin Harig, who challenged Paladino in last year’s election while still a high school senior.

Flanagan-Priore did not respond to telephone calls from The 74 requesting comment.

In her public interview with the board last week, The Buffalo News reports, Flanagan-Priore emphasized the need to improve early childhood literacy, raise high school graduation rates — and bring charter school students back to district schools. Along with 69 public district schools, according to the district website, Buffalo has 17 charter schools. About 18 percent of students in the city’s district schools were proficient in reading this year, and about 17 percent were at grade level or higher in math.

Since Kriner Cash became superintendent in 2015, the district has launched a “new education bargain” focused on implementing rigorous education in the early grades, establishing community schools and innovative high schools, bolstering parent engagement, and improving the district’s often rocky relationship with teachers.

(More from The 74: Kriner Cash says he can fix Buffalo’s broken schools. Should we believe him?)

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia removed Paladino from the school board in August, citing violations of the state open meetings law. The months-long state investigation found that Paladino had disclosed confidential information about district contract negotiations with the city teachers union, though public calls for his ouster centered largely on racist comments he made about then-President Barack Obama.

Adding to a history of controversial statements, Paladino told a local magazine in December that his greatest wish for 2017 is that Obama dies after he “catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Hereford,” and that then–First Lady Michelle Obama returns “to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

Paladino launched an unsuccessful bid for New York governor in 2010 against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, and he told The 74 earlier this year that he’s strongly considering another run.

Paladino filed an appeal Monday against Elia’s ruling, according to The Buffalo News, but just hours before the school board vote, a state supreme court justice denied his request to block the board from filling his seat. Approving his replacement while the appeal is pending, Paladino’s attorney argued, could cause complications should Paladino win the case.

(The 74: Paladino under fire again, but racist comments are nothing new for Buffalo school board member)

10% of All Public School Students Missing Classes as 6 States Cope With Irma

By Kate Stringer | 8 days ago

Updated Sept. 12

More than 4.5 million students, or 10 percent of the nation’s school-age population, are missing classes due to Hurricane Irma’s enormous sweep across the southeastern states.

Hundreds of school districts in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama have posted delays or closures lasting from several hours to indefinitely, citing concerns of strong winds and flooding that would prevent students from getting to school or learning in safe conditions.

A hurricane that had been expected to strike South Florida head-on trekked up its west coast instead, impacting the school schedules of millions of teachers and students in other states as well. Irma is now predicted to move northwest, downgrading to a tropical depression (wind speeds less than 39 miles per hour) over Alabama by 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Millions of Floridians were without power Monday, and Gov. Rick Scott had canceled classes last week for all K-12 students through Monday. “Closing public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices will provide local and state emergency officials the flexibility necessary to support shelter and emergency response efforts,” Scott said in a statement.

Georgia’s Department of Education canceled a summit scheduled for later this week to free up hotel space in case it is needed for evacuees.

Even as Irma weakened to a tropical storm, southeastern states received warnings for flash floods, life-threatening wind gusts, heavy rain of 2 inches per hour, and rising rivers.

FEMA offered advice for helping children deal with Irma’s approach: play games, keep explanations of the natural disaster simple, and tell them steps are being taken to get them to safety.

Starting With Wyoming BIE School, DeVos Set to Visit Schools in States Aligned With Senate Education Committee

By Carolyn Phenicie | 8 days ago

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is hitting the road.

DeVos will start her back-to-school tour in Wyoming Tuesday. She’ll also make stops in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana between Tuesday and Friday, at “innovative educational settings across the United States that are fundamentally rethinking ‘school,’ ” according to a release from the Education Department.

She’ll visit the Woods Learning Center in Casper, a small public elementary-middle school, in the morning and St. Stephens Indian High School, part of a now-K-12 Bureau of Indian Education campus that was founded more than 120 years ago on the Wind River Reservation.

(The 74: Bureau of Indian Education Dressed Down in Senate Hearing)

There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a press release. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”

(The 74 Special Report: Reinventing America’s Schools)

Other details of DeVos’s schedule for the “Rethink School” tour were sparse, but the six states on her list align with the Senate committees that will oversee her work. Senators from Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Indiana sit on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee shepherding implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, chairs the subcommittee that oversees the department’s funding.

Beyond the Tuesday kickoff in Wyoming (see Mark Keierleber’s rundown of 5 things to know about Wyoming education ahead of DeVos’s visit), it was not clear on which days she would be in which state, where she’ll stop, or whether those schools will include pre-K, K-12, or higher education, or whether they’ll be public, private, or charters. The Education Department did not return emails or phone calls seeking additional details. 

In Missouri, she could visit the Kansas City Academy, a private middle and high school with an arts focus that’s known for its acceptance of students with a wide range of sexual and gender identities, according to The Kansas City Star.

And in Nebraska, officials with the Lincoln Public Schools said the visit was still tentative, but federal officials had requested to visit a science-focused program run through the Lincoln Zoo, according to the Lincoln Star.

DeVos so far has visited 24 pre-K–12 schools, including six private, six charter, and 12 traditional public schools, plus five colleges. She also gave the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida, this year.

Former education secretary Arne Duncan started the back-to-school bus tour in 2010, and he and successor John King made the trip every year. Previous events were:

• 2016: “Opportunity Across America” tour in Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana

• 2015: “Ready for Success” tour in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania

• 2014: “Partners in Progress” tour in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee

• 2013: “Strong Start, Bright Future” tour in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California

• 2012: “Education Drives America” tour in Nevada, California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, and Virginia

• 2011: “Education and the Economy” tour in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois

• 2010: “Courage in the Classroom” tour, with a first leg in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and a second leg in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine

Houston Reopens Schools for 600,000 Students — but That’s Just the Beginning, as Educators Look to Comfort Traumatized Kids

By Laura Fay | 8 days ago

Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey delayed the start of the school year, 243 of the 284 schools in the Houston Independent School District opened Monday, and 29 more were to open Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported. Students from seven schools that were badly damaged in the storm will attend classes at other locations. The remaining schools will open by the end of the month, according to the Chronicle.

Initially, 202 schools were projected to be ready by Monday, the Chronicle said. In total, some 200 schools suffered some storm-related damage.

Other districts in the Houston area either started school last week or were slated to open Monday as well.

Getting students back in class was a priority because research shows that having routines helps children recover from trauma.

Coincidentally, over the past year, Houston has trained teachers in restorative justice and trauma-informed education, which Superintendent Richard Carranza called a “wise investment,” NPR reported. Carranza has also said that community schools and support services are going to be a priority in the coming months, as will increasing the number of counselors in schools.

“Wraparound services is absolutely part of our strategic plan,” he told NPR. “Community schools are going to become an increasingly vital part of what we do.”

Carranza welcomed students back Monday by riding the school bus with them and serving breakfast.

The extra services that schools provide, such as counseling, free meals, and welcoming environments, are also important for aiding families and children in recovery. The district will serve students three free meals a day for the entire school year because of the hurricane, reported.

Over the weekend, the district also provided free school uniforms to students in need.

Officials in Houston — the largest school district in the state and the seventh-largest in the country, with more than 600,000 students — are relying on lessons learned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the Huffington Post reported. After Katrina, many schools in New Orleans closed, and families became homeless or moved away, causing some children to fall through the cracks. Some students lost a year or more of learning, but Houston leaders seem determined to put their schools at the forefront of recovery efforts.

The district will “use technology to identify and track displaced and homeless students,” Carranza told the Huffington Post.

“Schools have to be central to the recovery,” he told NPR. “One of the things all cities have are students.”

Study Shows That Kids Who Were Oldest in Kindergarten Enjoyed Benefits Well Into Their Teenage Years — and Beyond

By Laura Fay | 9 days ago

Photo Evelyn Hockstein/Getty Images

Can being the oldest in kindergarten help students get into better colleges? A new study suggests the answer is yes.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that being an older kindergartner has benefits that last into the teen years and beyond — students who are the oldest in their class are more likely to get into selective colleges, more likely to earn a degree, and less likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system than their younger classmates.

The study compared children born in September with those born in August, to see how their age when entering school affected them over time. Researchers examined data from public schools in Florida, which use a Sept. 1 cutoff to determine when students will start kindergarten, to track the children from academic years 1997–98 through 2011–12.

They discovered that the older students outperformed their younger peers on tests by a consistent amount regardless of factors like birth weight, maternal education, and poverty. Siblings with August and September birthdays showed a similar distinction.

The researchers found September-born children were:

  • 2.1 percent more likely to attend college
  • 3.3 percent more likely to graduate from college
  • 7.2 percent more likely to graduate from a selective college (as defined by Barron’s)
  • 15.4 percent less likely to be incarcerated before age 16

The report said that these benefits were concentrated among white students and more likely to be observed in middle-class families. It also noted the issue of redshirting, the practice of holding children back from starting school so they will be among the oldest in their class.

More affluent and better educated parents are more likely to delay the start of kindergarten for their children, and are more likely to hold back sons than daughters. In some cases, districts mitigate the differences by holding children back a year in the early grades.

David Figlio, an author of the study, told NPR he thinks educators should be looking for ways to close this gap, which could be equivalent to 40 points on the 1600-point SAT. For example, schools could group students into kindergarten classes by birth date so teachers can more easily account for developmental differences among students.

One of the authors warned about using the data as a reason to hold children back from starting kindergarten.

“On average, it is the case that August-born children are going to do slightly worse than September-born children, but this has no implication that Mr. Smith should redshirt their perfectly fine kid to give them an extra edge,” Krzysztof Karbownik told Education Week. “There are real costs to them.”

The Federal Education Funding Picture Is Getting Clearer, as House and Senate Advance Bills

By Carolyn Phenicie | 11 days ago

Congress concluded an action-packed week — one full of administration moves on DACA and Title IX that impacted the education world — with forward movement on 2018 funding for the Education Department and other government agencies.

The bills currently pending in Congress largely reject the Trump administration’s major education budget proposals: eliminating federal grants for teacher training and after-school programs, making big increases to the federal charter school program, and adding new money for public school choice and a pilot voucher program.

For the near future, however, the bills are moot: Congress Friday passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government, including the Education Department, running at existing funding levels through mid-December.

The House

In the House, the so-called omnibus bill containing education funding is paired with those funding other agencies, from the Agriculture Department to the IRS.

Members proposed several dozen education-related amendments to the bill, but members won’t be voting on any those, or final passage of the bill, until the week of Sept. 11. House leaders closed shop early Friday afternoon to let members from Florida get home ahead of Hurricane Irma.

(The 74: As House Takes Up Education Funding Bill, Lawmakers Offer Bevy of Amendments, From Autism to Desegregation)

House members will ultimately consider about 10 amendments in the pre-K–12 space, including proposals that would:

  • Restore $100 million in funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers that provide after-school programs.
  • Add $8.9 million for state assessment grants.
  • Cut $1.2 million from the federal charter school program to add to the magnet school program.
  • Increase funding for English language acquisition by $62 million.
  • Add $70 million to career and technical education.
  • Cut 2 percent from the department’s inspector general, Office of Student Aid administration, and general program funds.
  • Reduce funding to the Institute of Education Sciences by $195 million.
  • Prohibit childcare funding from going to license-exempt day cares that have been complicit in the death of a child.

Earlier in the week, during consideration of the bill’s agriculture section, members adopted an amendment banning school lunch funding to schools that “identify or stigmatize certain potential recipients of school meal subsidies.”

So-called “lunch shaming,” in which children who don’t have money to pay for lunch are given a different meal or otherwise identified, has also caught the attention of state lawmakers, who have banned the practice. Other districts – most recently, New York City – are funding lunches for all students regardless of financial need to help reduce stigma.

The House bill would provide $65.8 billion for the Education Department. That’s a cut of about $2.4 billion, mostly attributable to ending the Title II teacher training grants. Democrats’ attempts to restore it during committee consideration earlier this summer were rejected, and no Democratic amendments to restore that funding were made in order for consideration on the House floor.

(The 74: House Committee Rejects Democrats’ Bid to Restore Education Funding, Protect Teacher Training)

The House bill would also trim funds to 21st Century Learning Centers that fund after-school programs, and is missing the $1 billion Trump requested for public school choice and the $250 million for a pilot private choice program.

The Senate

Across the Capitol, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a much larger Education funding bill, one that would provide $68.3 billion for the department, an increase of about $27 million.

In stark contrast to the House, the Senate’s bill would maintain funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers and Title II teacher training grants, a move that elicited grateful statements from education advocacy groups.

This bill, like the House’s, doesn’t include the school choice proposals. Committee members in an accompanying report said such big changes “should be made as needed through legislation considered by the authorizing committees of Congress.”

Vouchers Aren’t the Answer to Solving America’s Education Problems, Says Author of ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’

By Emmeline Zhao | 11 days ago

The school choice maneuvers that the Trump administration is pushing will only serve to reduce equality and equal opportunity, author David Osborne said Friday.

“We have a president and political party that would like to voucherize the entire education system,” Osborne said. “And that sounds attractive to many people on the surface, but would you really like an education marketplace that looked like the marketplace for homes or automobiles?”

President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal seeks to cut the U.S. Department of Education’s appropriation by about $9 billion, but it would add a $250 million pilot program for school vouchers that would allow families to use public dollars to send their children to private or religious schools.

Osborne is the author of the just-released Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System.

(Check out The 74’s interactive Reinventing Schools website, which includes book excerpts and video and audio interviews with education leaders, parents, and students from across the country.)

He made his remarks during a breakfast Friday at the Union League of Philadelphia. Dozens attended the event, which also featured speakers Quibila Divine, CEO of EARTHs and board member of Parent Power; Bill Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia; and Kevin Shafer, chief innovation officer for the Camden City School District.

Philadelphia and Camden are two districts that have Renaissance Schools, a model in which schools remain under district control but are run by an outside group operating either as a contractor or a charter school operator with an independent governing board.

“We need more equal opportunity and equality in this society, not less,” Osborne said. “And the education system is already pretty stratified. It would make it worse, not better. On top of that, private schools are not accountable for kids’ learning. There’s nobody who can close a private school. There are a couple of exceptions in Louisiana and Indiana, but in most states, if it’s a lousy private school and the parents keep going there, no one’s going to close it.”

In a conversation with former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett once went so far as to suggest outlawing private schools altogether as an “easy” solution to solving all the problems of public education in America. His argument: By sending all students to public schools by lottery, the system would promote equality by randomly integrating students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“He’s right, but it’d never happen,” Osborne said. “This is America; you can’t tell people they can’t send their kids to a private school. There would be a rebellion.”

But whether charter, private, religious, or traditional public, quality of education should be top of mind, Hite said.

“We should all be talking about, ‘How do we do a much better job in educating children who are learning English? Educating children who have special needs?’ ” Hite said. “We can’t say that we want to create all of these choices so that everyone else can select away from those two groups. As a total sector, we should doing as much as we can to come up with the most effective ways to serve those populations as well.”

The closest the country could get to Buffett’s ideal is a system with weighted student funding, Osborne said. In such a model, most of the money follows the students to their respective schools and is allocated based on grade level and need — students who have learning disabilities, are English language learners, or come from extreme poverty tend to need more resources for their education.

“But that also includes good, healthy dynamics of choice and competition, and decentralization,” Osborne said. “And that’s what the 21st century system I’m arguing for would give us. And it’s not a theory, because we’ve got cities doing it. And it works.”

As cities continue to look toward 21st century models as Osborne describes them, the impetus is on the individuals within those communities to lead the charge, Divine said.

“Do we have the courage to do what is necessary? And how will we engage families to get the courage to demand it? That’s what we need to begin asking ourselves,” she said. “We, as individuals, as bureaucracies, as educators, have to make a decision. Do we want to actually educate our lowest-performing, lowest-income families and children to help them succeed? Because that’s what it’s about. We’re talking about 21st century. This lack of education has been going on for too long, and as a system of educators, we have to take on the responsibility to do better — with or without funds. Because it’s our job.”

The event was the second stop on a 24-city tour to promote Osborne’s book, sponsored in part by The 74.

6 Education Secretaries — From Both Sides of the Aisle — Urge Congressional Action to Protect DACA Recipients

By Mark Keierleber | 11 days ago

Days after the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a move that has thrown the lives of thousands of students and teachers into chaos — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has broken her silence. “My heart is with” the roughly 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, she said in an interview with CBS News posted Friday. The statement puts DeVos in sync with five former education secretaries, who sent a letter Wednesday to Congress urging action.

“I understand they’re here not by their own volition, and yet they are serious about pursuing their education and contributing to our American society and culture,” DeVos said. “We are a nation of compassion, and we are also a nation of laws.” She urged Congress “to do what it needs to do.”

Unlike some conservatives who have applauded President Trump’s move to kill DACA, arguing that then-President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he authorized it in 2012, education leaders across the political spectrum have been uniquely united in their defense of Dreamers, nearly half of whom are in school.

The letter from five former education secretaries called on Congress to “put politics aside and do what’s right.” Signatories to the letter included Obama education secretaries John King and Arne Duncan, Bill Clinton education secretary Richard Riley, and George W. Bush education secretaries Margaret Spellings and Roderick Paige.

“Terminating DACA administratively without a legislative solution would cause hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to lose their jobs, their legal status and their protection from deportation,” the secretaries said in the letter. “It would trigger a chaotic reversal of the gains achieved by these Dreamers over the last five years, undermine faith in our country’s immigration system, and make it harder to enforce our laws. It would create a gaping hole in our economy, disrupt our communities, and make it infinitely harder to strengthen our immigration system and protect our country. We owe ourselves and our country’s Dreamers a better way forward.”

(More from The 74: Education Advocates Slam Trump’s Decision to End DACA)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Trump administration would rescind DACA, with a six-month delay, because the “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.” Obama approved the program in 2012 by executive order after Congress “specifically refused to authorize” similar protections, Sessions said.

“You have nothing to worry about” for six months, Trump tweeted Thursday to ease fears among DACA recipients, reportedly at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. Following a phone call with Trump, Pelosi said the president is open to signing the long-delayed Dream Act, which would create a path to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

Led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the Trump administration over its DACA repeal, alleging it would “cause harm to hundreds of thousands of the states’ residents, injure state-run colleges and universities, upset the states’ workplaces, damage the states’ economies, hurt state-based companies, and disrupt the states’ statutory and regulatory interests.”

On Thursday, 185 civil and human rights groups sent a letter to Congress that reflected the one sent by the former education secretaries, urging lawmakers “to immediately pass the Dream Act without amendment.” Several education-focused groups were included in the letter, including the American Federation of Teachers; the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

And on Friday, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairwoman Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in Obama’s Education Department, said in a statement that “rending America’s social fabric to target children solely on the basis of their parents’ decision offends the American values embodied in the Dreamers and their principled contributions to our nation.”

A’s, B’s, and Condoms: New Study of High School Students Links Good Grades With Healthier Choices

By Kate Stringer | 11 days ago

Want good grades? Stay healthy.

A new government report has found that students nationwide who reported earning mostly A’s, B’s, and C’s in school ate more fruits and vegetables, were more physically active, and were less likely to engage in substance abuse and sexually risky or violent behaviors than their peers who earned D’s and F’s.

The analysis, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data, which come from surveys of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students in both public and private schools. The findings, the authors wrote, affirm the benefits of partnering health organizations with schools.

Past studies have found similar relationships between health and education, but many used older data or were not nationally representative.

Students were asked to answer questions about recent and lifetime behaviors. For example, students reported whether they had eaten breakfast, fruits, and vegetables in the seven days before the survey, if they had consumed alcohol or marijuana in the past 30 days, or if they had ever used cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines.

Students who earned D’s and F’s in school were more likely to have engaged in risky behaviors such as substance abuse, unprotected sex, or planned or attempted suicide.

The report said that while the data do not show direct causation, “causal relationships” exist both ways between education and health.

“Some educational researchers have advocated addressing health risk behaviors and related disparities as a key approach to closing academic achievement gaps among youths,” the report said.

The report lists several limitations on the data. First, the results can’t speak to how health and education might be linked to things like family and environment, though past research has shown that controlling for these variables still supports these connections. Additionally, the survey was available only to enrolled students, excluding teens who have dropped out of school.

The combined school and student response rate to the survey was 60 percent, with 15,624 students in grades 9–12 taking the survey. Students recorded their answers on paper during one class period. The data controlled for sex, race/ethnicity, and grade in school.

‘Use Any of the Books’: Florida Students at One School-Turned-Hurricane-Shelter Roll Out Welcome Mat for Evacuees

By Laura Fay | 12 days ago


Families fleeing South Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma can find shelter at many schools across northern and central Florida. One school near Tampa is extending a special welcome to evacuees.

At Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, students and teachers left supplies and notes with warm greetings. Sessums is part of Hillsborough County Public Schools, which are closed Thursday and Friday to serve as shelters. The school posted on Twitter that it will be a special-needs shelter.

Students signed a welcome message for evacuees of Hurricane Irma at Sessums Elementary. (Photo courtesy

Teachers welcomed evacuees into their classrooms with supplies and notes. (Photo courtesy

“We are so thankful you are all safe,” wrote Ms. Yates’s class to welcome those seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy

The cheery notes offset the eeriness of classrooms sitting empty in September, when they are normally filled with back-to-school buzz.

An empty classroom is ready for evacuees of Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy

Sessums Elementary’s school office sits empty as Hurricane Irma approaches. (Photo courtesy

In addition to art supplies and games, some classes left out supplies such as tissues and hand sanitizer. 

Teachers and students left out craft supplies for evacuees. (Photo courtesy

Teachers organized supplies for families fleeing Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy

Assistant Principal Laura Edwards shared the photos to say she is proud of her teachers and students.


Ahead of Hurricane Irma, More Central Florida Schools Closing to Serve as Shelters for Those Fleeing Coasts

By Laura Fay | 13 days ago

Photo Getty Images

As Florida braces for Hurricane Irma, schools across the state are closing in preparation.   

The announcements started with districts in the southern part of the state, such as Miami-Dade County School District, which is closed Thursday and Friday. Monroe County School District, which includes the Florida Keys, was closed until further notice starting Wednesday.

As weather forecasts and warnings intensified Wednesday morning, concern spread to central Florida. The first school district to announce closures was Osceola County Schools, which will close Friday and Monday.

“A number of Osceola schools are needed as early as Friday as shelters for residents in Osceola County, as well as for those Floridians evacuating from the south and coastal counties. Forecasters are expecting deteriorating weather conditions heading into Monday to include sustained heavy winds and possible substantial rainfall for Osceola County,” the district said in a statement.

Three other central Florida districts had announced closures as of 2 p.m. Wednesday: Brevard County Schools canceled class and events starting Thursday, and Volusia County Schools will be shut Friday and Monday, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Polk County Schools will close Friday as well.

Some Volusia County schools will also open as shelters starting Saturday, according to the district’s Twitter feed.

Hillsborough County is closing its schools as well Thursday and Friday — to be used as shelters by evacuees from elsewhere in the state. Other districts that have indicated they will cancel classes and open schools as shelters include Pasco County, Indian River County, and St. Lucie County.

Gov. Rick Scott has warned that Irma will be worse than Hurricane Andrew, which slammed Florida in 1992.

The Sun Sentinel has published an interactive map of shelters in southern Florida, which includes several schools. A full list of school closures and cancellations is available on the Florida Department of Education site.

In 1 of the Largest Districts Most Needing A/C, 1,000 Hawaii Classrooms Get Cooled Off This School Year

By Kate Stringer | 13 days ago

Last week, Hawaii completed its $100 million mission to cool down 1,000 public school classrooms. It’s part of the state’s ongoing effort to bring air conditioning to the warm islands, where fewer than half the classrooms have A/C.

The heat abatement program, as it’s called, is outfitting schools with different cooling tools, depending on what their building can support. These include solar-powered A/C, insulation, vents to remove hot air, ceiling fans, and skylights that brighten, but don’t heat up, a classroom.

“The learning environment is way, much more comfortable,” Nanakuli High School senior class president Talafaaiva Ealim told the Star Advertiser. “Before, we would work in the heat, and we’d get all sweaty and sticky. It’s a whole lot easier for the teachers to teach now that students are paying more attention.”

An additional 300 classrooms will receive air conditioning by the end of September, using money left over from the Legislature’s $100 million appropriation. Hawaii’s Department of Education estimated that if every school in the state were to get A/C, it could cost as much as $1.7 billion.

(The 74: Exclusive: Too Hot to Learn: Records Show Nearly a Dozen of the Biggest School Districts Lack Air Conditioning)

Even with the 1,000 newly outfitted rooms, Hawaii schools still lag behind other comparably large districts when it comes to cool classrooms. A public records request by The 74 found that while most of the 50 largest districts in the nation equip all their schools with air conditioning units, 11 districts don’t have enough for many of their classrooms.

It’s hard to keep students’ attention and manage behavior when classrooms get overheated, teachers told The 74. Some schools without air conditioning have let students out early or canceled classes when temperatures have gotten too high. Additionally, research from Harvard has found that test scores can drop when students are stuck in the heat.

“Taking an exam on a 90 [degree] day relative to a 72 [degree] day results in a reduction in exam performance that is equivalent to a quarter of the black-white [student] achievement gap,” the study says.

But as climate change drives temperatures, districts are still trying to invest in A/C. New York City, for example, spends millions to cool its classrooms, and about 11,000 still don’t have A/C units. By 2022, the district will spend $29 million to make these units ubiquitous across schools.

Educator Fleeing Hurricane Harvey Organizes 1,600 Volunteer Teachers to Help Kids in Houston Shelters

By Laura Fay | 14 days ago


Teachers are wired to help kids. It’s what they do.

So when Simone Kern, director of literacy interventions at YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, couldn’t go in person to work with children evacuated to shelters after Hurricane Harvey, she found a way to organize teachers who could.

She started with a simple Facebook post asking if teachers in her social network would be willing to go into shelters in southeast Texas and help teach, engage, and care for displaced children.

Kern herself was stuck in Porter, Texas. She had evacuated her home in Houston, was recovering from surgery, and had a new baby. But she was able to post on Facebook — and she was quickly overwhelmed by responses. Now, more than 1,600 certified teachers have joined her new group, called Teachers Volunteering in Shelters, providing lessons, activities, and childcare for families displaced by Harvey. The website has a sign-up sheet for requesting teachers at a shelter.

Some parents, she said, need something as simple as reliable childcare so they can clean up their homes, call their insurance companies, or even just take a shower.

“Who better can parents trust than teachers, who are already trained and certified to take care of kids?” she said. “Teachers know how to deal with chaos; teachers know how to make magic happen on a shoestring budget, or no budget at all.”

Even after Houston’s schools reopen, Teachers Volunteering in Shelters plans to continue supporting students and families by providing activities on Saturdays and tutoring during the week to close gaps in childcare and help students who are struggling in class because of trauma and missed days of school, said Sarah Gonzales, a teacher and spokeswoman for the organization.

“The ongoing work is important because these children are potentially going to be displaced for months … and having that uncertainty makes it hard to focus at school,” Gonzales said.

School is expected to start Sept. 11 for the Houston Independent School District, the largest of 18 districts in the Houston Metro area. But some Houston schools will not be ready, and Superintendent Richard Carranza has emphasized that schools will not reopen until they are completely safe, The Wall Street Journal reported. Other districts in the area started as early as Tuesday or plan to open throughout the week, according to The Houston Chronicle.

As of Saturday, district officials had visited 245 of 280 total schools and found about 200 had standing water, 53 had major damage, and 22 had “extensive” damage, The Chronicle reported.

Kern said she has been amazed by how her initiative has united public, private, and charter school teachers and administrators from all over southeast Texas. There will always be a need for teachers to cooperate to serve students, she said, and she believes Teachers Volunteering in Shelters can help meet that need.

“This community is going to have needs for months, if not years, into the future, because of Harvey,” she said.