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Noteworthy headlines from the education wire
  • Amid the Pandemic, Louisiana Educators Are Fighting Through the Fallout From a Hurricane. Lake Charles’s Devastation, By the Numbers

    By Beth Hawkins | 6 days ago

    Even as Hurricane Sally made its excruciatingly slow way up the Gulf Coast, Louisiana lawmakers met to consider the damage inflicted by Hurricane Laura — the strongest storm to come ashore in the United States since 1856— on schools in and around the city of Lake Charles.

    The 33,000-student district had spent the summer purchasing technology to hand out to families who chose to return to classes virtually, preparing school buildings for a resumption of in-person learning and stockpiling food for continued meal deliveries. But on Aug. 24, which was to have been the first day back, Laura slammed ashore, forcing the district to announce an indefinite closure. All those preparations washed away.

    “There’s nothing that smells like a mildewed building and rotting food that’s been sitting on the ground for 10 days,” Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, which includes Lake Charles, told members of the state Senate Education Committee. Bruchhaus detailed the devastation with a series of astounding numbers:

    74 of 76 schools damaged

    15 schools without roofs

    124 of 350 school buses operable

    0 schools with internet

    48 percent of families still sheltered outside the parish

    12 percent in the parish but unable to return home

    95 percent of the parish without power

    97 percent of 11,000 families surveyed want to return to school as soon as possible

    22 percent planning on distance learning only — before Laura wiped out internet at home

    Related

    On Hurricane Katrina’s 15th Anniversary, 5 New Orleans Educators Tap Lessons From the Storm to Confront COVID-19

    72 percent of 2,351 teachers surveyed ready to teach online

    55 percent of teachers with extensive damage to their homes

    64 percent of teachers brought their laptops home when schools closed

    $300 million estimated cost of rebuilding schools

    100 hygienists assessing mildew and other health threats

    $600,000 worth of food for students saved in freezers at the district’s central facility, one of a few with a generator

    5 to 7: number of schools Bruchhaus hopes to reopen each week beginning the week of Sept. 28.

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  • Third Annual Reagan Institute Event to Spotlight DeVos, State Chiefs at a Time of Strained Relations

    By Linda Jacobson | 7 days ago

    Maybe it’s good news that this year’s Reagan Institute Summit on Education is virtual after all.

    One could imagine the tension if Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who chose to visit a Michigan Catholic school this week to promote in-person learning, and some of the nation’s state superintendents, who have strongly opposed the secretary’s efforts to direct more federal relief funds to such schools, gathered in the same room.

    DeVos, who has been losing in the federal courts on that matter, will likely keep her keynote remarks focused on the argument that parents should have the funds to send their children to any school they choose — public or private — especially during the pandemic. The topic is also bound to come up when South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott addresses participants on the federal role in education. Scott is a co-sponsor of school choice legislation that DeVos has promoted and that Republicans in Congress have pushed as part of negotiations over another pandemic relief bill.

    Three current state superintendents — Wyoming’s Jillian Balow, the District of Columbia’s Hanseul Kang and Mississippi’s Carey Wright — will be on a panel at the event, which was originally scheduled to be held in person in June. Those chiefs, and several others, will participate virtually.

    The negotiations in Congress, however, haven’t gone the way state and district leaders had hoped. Just last week, the Senate failed to agree on another relief package that would have provided about $70 billion for schools. Two-thirds of that amount would have been directed toward districts that reopen for in-person learning.

    An earlier pandemic relief package passed in March was “money … to manage a crisis,” said Balow. “States used that money very, very wisely to just manage and recover.”

    But she added that now, states need funding to continue improving distance learning and curriculum models that allow students to work at their own pace. “The notion of not having funding to propel us forward means that some districts may be a little bit stifled in terms of being able to really … leverage this moment.”

    Balow said DeVos could also address new Title IX regulations, which attorney generals in 17 states and D.C. unsuccessfully attempted to block in court, as well as her letter to chiefs Sept. 3 stating that they shouldn’t expect waivers from standardized tests this school year. Chiefs tend to be in greater agreement with her over that issue.

    Three governors — Larry Hogan of Maryland, Jared Polis of Colorado and Bill Lee of Tennessee — will also answer questions about education in their states, likely focusing on issues surrounding reopening schools. Polis may discuss a tobacco tax measure on his state’s November ballot that would pay for universal pre-K — one of his major policy goals. And three former governors will discuss what they did during their administrations to improve early learning programs.

    Merrit Jones, senior adviser at Student Voice, which focuses on ensuring that students’ perspectives play a role in education policy, will moderate a panel of museum leaders on how their institutions can fill the gaps in learning for students, particularly around civics education. She said she might discuss “how state leaders have risen in the absence of federal leadership around COVID.” Students involved in some of the organization’s programs will also participate.

    Another session will feature former education secretary Arne Duncan, who has been commenting on districts’ reopening efforts lately and is now helping to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District’s massive COVID-19 testing effort. Duncan will join Margaret Spellings, another former education secretary, and others to discuss how organizations such as PBS are adapting for the future.

    Read the rest of Thursday’s agenda here.

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  • New Report Estimates School Closures’ Long-Term Impact on the U.S. Economy at More Than $14 Trillion

    By Linda Jacobson | September 13, 2020

    This year’s school closures won’t just result in the loss of students’ academic skills; it could negatively impact the economy for the rest of the 21st century, new research predicts.

    In the U.S., for example, the closures could ultimately amount to a loss of almost $14.2 trillion over the next 80 years, according to the study, released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group with 37 member countries that promotes economic growth policies. Another three months of learning losses could stretch that figure to almost $28 trillion.

    The authors suggest, however, that schools could recoup some of those losses by “individualizing the instruction,” in which students work at their own speed to master academic goals.

    “Unless schools get better, the current students will be significantly harmed. Moreover, the harm will disproportionately fall on disadvantaged students,” wrote economists Eric Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich. They added that “permanent learning losses are not inevitable if countries improve the learning gains of their students in the future.”

    The new research was featured this week in another OECD paper and a webinar using existing data from international studies to analyze the impact of the pandemic on key educational indicators.

    The potential long-term damage to the economy is “why it is important for education systems to get back on track as quickly as they can,” Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills, said during the online event. Schleicher notes that even if school performance were to immediately return to pre-pandemic levels, countries would continue to see economic declines. That’s because “learning loss will lead to skill loss, and the skills people have relate to their productivity,” he wrote.

    Drawing from surveys and data gathered before the appearance of COVID-19, Schleicher puts issues such as education spending and students’ use of technology in the context of what schools have experienced since March.

    He notes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, enacted in March, as one example of what countries have done to prevent deep, short-term cuts. But he also notes that the effects of the pandemic on education spending could be long-lasting.

    “Forecasts predict that the pandemic will lead to slower growth in government spending in the coming year,” he wrote, “and that if the share of government spending devoted to education were to remain unchanged, education spending would continue to grow but at significantly lower rates than before the pandemic.”

    Using OECD’s 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey, the paper also demonstrates the degree to which online platforms and resources influenced how students and teachers performed prior to the pandemic.

    “Digital technology became the lifeline of technology,” Schleicher said during the webinar. “Suddenly, teachers’ and students’ technological skills became critically important.”

    The image displays how often students were using instructional technology before school closures. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

    The data show that the U.S. was better positioned than some countries, such as Finland, France and the Czech Republic, to make the transition to remote learning, but not as prepared as Denmark, New Zealand and Australia.

    Average class sizes before school closures in March are also likely to determine how quickly schools are able to accommodate in-person learning again. At the primary level, average class sizes in the U.S. line up with the OECD average of 21; Chile had the highest class sizes before the pandemic, with 31, and Costa Rica had the lowest, with 16.

    “Countries with smaller class sizes may find it easier to comply with new restrictions on social distancing provided they have the space to accommodate the number of students safely,” Schleicher wrote.

    During the webinar, Schleicher also offered lessons for the U.S. based on recent OECD studies and test results.

    “The U.S is lucky that it has a lot of money in education, but I don’t think it’s using its resources very wisely,” he said, adding that there’s more funding going toward an “industrial structure” and district bureaucracy than quality classroom instruction. One chart in his presentation, for example, showed that the U.S. ranks last in teacher salaries compared with 29 other countries.

    Much of the education spending in the U.S., he added, still goes toward “wealthy students.”

    “Align the resources with needs,” he said. “Where you can actually make most of the difference is [with] the students who need it most.”

    In their paper, Hanushek and Woessmann also recommend that school systems work simultaneously on improving distance learning and reopening schools.

    “Comprehensive measures must be taken to ensure that learning takes place everywhere again,” they wrote. “It is possible and important to build upon the new organization of schools to ensure that the schools are actually superior to the pre-COVID schools.”

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  • WATCH: In New Animated Video Created for Kids, Dr. Fauci Helps Students Understand Coronavirus and Safety — and Plays a Memorable Round of ‘Fauc or Slouch’

    By Meghan Gallagher | September 8, 2020

    Talking to children about COVID-19 may have just gotten a little easier.

    In the latest kid-friendly pandemic video published by BrainPOP, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, explains to students of all ages the role they can play in controlling the spread of coronavirus.

    Over the past several months, BrainPOP, a group of education websites that produce videos, quizzes and other materials to help translate challenging topics for students in grades K-12, has uploaded an array of pandemic-related projects. From defining “flattening the curve” to detailing how soap works, the animated shorts aim to help define and contextualize the crisis that kids keep hearing about on the evening news — and that is keeping so many of them from returning to class.

    The new 11-minute video recaps Dr. Fauci’s background as a public health official before he takes the stage to review key safety practices that all Americans should be following and discuss the science of vaccines.

    A few key highlights:

    • How coronavirus affects younger patients: Children can get infected and infect others, but the symptoms — if there are any at all — are usually minor compared to those experienced by older people. That is why, he explains, “teachers and your health officials are going to try as best as possible to protect you from getting infected.”
    • How COVID-19 spreads: Children can help mitigate the spread by not touching their faces, washing their hands as often as possible, practicing physical distancing and, if they’re old enough, wearing a mask.
    • How kids can influence their parents’ decisions: “Parents listen to their children,” Dr. Fauci says. Children should encourage them to wear masks, practice distancing and stay away from large crowds.
    • Science of vaccines: Dr. Fauci details how a coronavirus vaccine will work, explaining that it mimics antibodies to attack the virus without getting you sick.
    • When can we get one?: When a vaccine comes along, which he said will probably be by the end of the year, we should all get it to protect each other and end the pandemic.
    • Trusting in science: Dr. Fauci underscores the importance of turning to scientific truth to guide our actions.

    Dr. Fauci isn’t all science. Near the end of the video, the public health leader also offers a message of hope, noting the “resiliency of the American spirit or the spirit of all mankind,” and plays along in a round of “Fauc or Slouch” in which he’s quizzed on his New York City roots and knowledge of fly-fishing.

    “BrainPOP has always focused on teachable moments,” said the company’s founder and executive chairman, Dr. Avraham Kadar, in a statement tied to the video’s release. “Twenty years ago, we began by tackling complex health and science concepts ‘at eye level,’ and we continue to take this approach with every topic we cover across the curriculum.”

    Students and educators can access (mostly free) K-8 resources like lesson plans, coding games and more informational videos on BrainPOP.com. Animated videos can also be found on their YouTube channel.

    Here are some of the other recent animations explaining elements of the pandemic:

    Flattening the Curve: 

    How to Prepare for the 2020 School Year:

    How to Stop the Spread:

    How Soap Works:

    Social Distancing: A Kid-Friendly Explanation:

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  • ‘This Is the Reality I Go Home To’: Students at Virtual Town Hall Urge Educators to Talk About Race and Racism. Here Are Some Starting Points for Teachers

    By Laura Fay | August 30, 2020

    The 2020-21 school year will be unlike any other in history, with many students learning online from home, and with those who are in school wearing masks and taking other precautions against the coronavirus pandemic.

    After an intense summer of protests for racial justice in response to high-profile incidents of Black people being killed and injured by police, students would like to see another difference at school this year: frank and honest conversations about race and racism.

    It’s “insensitive” for teachers to gloss over race in class discussions and history lessons, Shanyce Taylor, a high school senior from Staten Island, New York, said during a recent Virtual Youth Town Hall where she was a panelist. “This is the reality a lot of our students go home to. This is the reality I go home to.”

    “This is a big topic that kind of has to shake the table because this is not going away until everyone understands what’s going on,” she said. “And we can’t just keep ignoring it and passing it to the next generation because it’s only going to get worse as time progresses.”

    The Aug. 26 town hall, attended by some 500 people and hosted by The 74 and America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports youth, was a chance for students from across the country to share their insights and advice for teachers and education leaders as the school year begins amid a pandemic and a nationwide movement for racial justice.

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    53% of Students at Youth Town Hall Report Schools Have Not Sought Their Opinions on Reopening. ‘Realize That We Are the Next Generation of Leaders,’ They Urge

    Panelist Azariah “Z” Estes, a dual enrollment high school and college student from St. Louis, Missouri, has some simple advice for teachers: Start with yourself.

    “Just research, keep yourself knowledgeable about it, especially for the white teachers that aren’t too sure how to approach the conversation, just keep yourself educated and knowledgeable and talk to someone who has experienced those types of things so that you can base it off their perspective and you’re not just basing it off the knowledge that you have received,” said Estes, who is currently taking community college courses online.

    Although a majority of America’s public school students are people of color, the teaching force remains about 80 percent white. In an informal real-time poll, about a third of students attending the town hall said their schools never provided the opportunity to discuss race or racism, and another third said their schools “rarely” did so.

    Paul Forbes, New York City Department of Education’s director of educational equity, anti-bias and diversity, said he was reluctant to share a list of resources from which people could cherry-pick books and lessons without meaningfully engaging with the issue of systemic racism. No book or resource is a “magic pill” that can replace hard conversations, he said.

    “If we want to talk about creating a better tomorrow, … it’s imperative for our force, our profession, the teaching force, to be having these conversations in our classrooms,” whether in person or online, said Forbes, who runs implicit bias training sessions for educators in the nation’s largest school district. “With the challenges of a pandemic, now more than ever, we need to have these conversations and not just read a book, not just get a lesson plan but authentically, genuinely have these conversations.”

    Forbes, who spoke to The 74 Thursday — a day after an athlete strike shut down the NBA and canceled games and practices in other professional sports in support of Black Lives Matter — said he’s hopeful this summer will spark meaningful change, if teachers take the opportunity that’s in front of them.

    “There are so many on-ramps and entry points for us” to discuss race and civil rights, he said, such as the life of John Lewis, who died July 17 and was a teenager when he first wrote to Martin Luther King Jr. At age 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, whose 57th anniversary was marked Friday by a fresh civil rights demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial.

    Related

    Lessons From a Global Reckoning: New York City’s Implicit Bias Workshop Goes Remote in the Shadow of Budget Cuts and the Spotlight of Black Lives Matter

    Forbes recommended that teachers start with this reading list and compilation of anti-racist toolkits and the #FergusonSyllabus project, a crowdsourced list of news and opinion writing as well as movies, music and academic research. Over the summer, Forbes helped a group of white teachers create a book club, recommending that they read Wes Moore’s book The Other Wes Moore and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. The group also watched and discussed the documentary 13th and the movie American Son.

    Here are some more resources to help teachers get started:

    Books offer a good starting point for class discussions. Gloria Ladson-Billings, an education researcher known for coining the term “culturally relevant pedagogy” in the 1990s, recommended authors Jacqueline Woodson and Angie Thomas. For younger children, she suggested Kenneth Braswell’s book Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside, which describes recent and historical protests for racial justice in kid-friendly terms.

    “Anyone who really WANTS to teach about this topic will find no shortage of resources — online, in the literature, newspapers, etc.,” Ladson-Billings said in an email. She also recommended that teachers check out Teaching for Change and Teaching Tolerance.

    Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, echoed some of Ladson-Billings’s suggestions and also recommended that educators visit Socialjusticebooks.org, which offers curated reading lists on a wide range of topics and resources for adults.

    Related

    74 Interview: Researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings on Culturally Relevant Teaching, the Role of Teachers in Trump’s America & Lessons From Her Two Decades in Education Research

    Teaching Tolerance is a project of the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center that publishes a print and digital magazine for educators and provides lesson plans, social justice standards to guide curriculum development and make schools more equitable, professional development and training for teachers and other resources. The site has a page dedicated to resources for race and ethnicity that includes lesson plans, webinars, articles for students and adults and more.

    Facing History and Ourselves provides history lesson plans, professional development for teachers and other content with the mission of using “lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate.” The content is relevant even to teachers who don’t explicitly focus on history, said Laura Tavares, a program director there.

    “I think there’s a really strong argument to be made that all teachers need to be students of history to understand how did we get to this moment, to understand the ways that race and racism, ideas about race and racism, have really influenced the institution of schooling itself,” she said. That awareness can help teachers “show up for our students, not just with the curriculum we teach but also in the way that we foster equitable and inclusive climates and practices in our schools.”

    Tavares recommends that teachers start with these sections of Facing History’s site:

    At the town hall, Taylor, the Staten Island senior, noted that teachers often share the classroom with a strong source of information: their students. Her school held conversations over Google Meet this summer for students to talk about their thoughts on the protests and riots.

    “We had to school some teachers on a lot of things they didn’t know,” Taylor said.

    Watch highlights from the town hall:

    Related

    A Time of Reckoning for Race & Education in America: 5 Case Studies in How Students and School Leaders Are Pushing for Culturally Relevant Curriculum Amid the Pandemic

    The town hall highlighting the perspectives of American youth was sponsored by Pure Edge, Inc., a foundation that equips educators and learners with strategies for combating stress and developing social, emotional and academic competencies, and Sanford Harmony/National University System, which is focused on building supportive learning communities where all students feel connected, valued, and heard through social and emotional learning.

    Disclosure: Carnegie Corporation of New York and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to America’s Promise Alliance and The 74.

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  • Majority of Americans Give Trump a Failing Grade on Education Policy Ahead of Re-election Bid, PDK Poll Finds

    By Mark Keierleber | August 25, 2020

    As President Donald Trump makes his case for re-election and the nation confronts a school system in disarray, the results of a new poll taken in the early days of the pandemic show a majority of Americans giving him a failing grade on key education issues.

    While 53 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance on education policy, there’s a clear partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats, according to the national public opinion poll, which was released on Tuesday by PDK International, a professional association for educators. While 86 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s education performance, just 11 percent of Democrats agreed. Nearly half of independents gave a nod of approval to Trump, who accepted the GOP’s nomination for a second term on Monday on the first day of the Republican National Convention.

    In the fourth year of their first terms, disapproval ratings were less stark for former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. In a Gallup poll at the time, 43 percent of voters disapproved of Obama’s education performance; 45 percent said the same of Bush in a similar ABC News/Washington Post poll.

    But this year’s PDK poll, the 52nd annual iteration, comes with a major caveat: It was conducted in March 2020, just as the pandemic began to close schools nationwide. The findings suggest a subtle shift in Americans’ opinions on education policies — rather than a sudden, pandemic-induced shock. But Joshua Starr, PDK’s CEO, predicted that Trump’s approval rating on education has only deteriorated since schools shuttered in the spring and people saw “what a disastrous response to COVID has meant for public schools.” As the new academic year begins, the Trump administration has pushed districts to reopen campuses for in-person learning while some parents and many teachers unions have challenged the safety of such a move.

    “One thing we’re seeing at the local level is, the absence of a national strategy for COVID mitigation, testing, etc., has resulted in schools not being able to open physically,” Starr told The 74. “That could have been avoided and is something that people — rightfully so — lay at the president’s feet.”

    Even before the pandemic, 6 in 10 respondents — and 7 in 10 parents — said public education plays an important role in how they plan to vote come November. Among Black respondents, 79 percent said the president’s performance on education is key to their vote, as did 71 percent of Latinos. Just 52 percent of white voters agreed.

    Starr was skeptical that many voters will cast their ballots based primarily on the candidates’ education platforms because the issue “never looms that large in national elections,” yet he acknowledged that the partisan battle over school closures and the pandemic could generate a sense of heightened urgency.

    Related

    Trump Expected to Stick to Twin Themes of Reopening and Private School Choice at This Week’s Republican National Convention

    A nationally representative sample of 1,030 adults, including more than 200 parents with school-age children, participated in PDK’s online survey. Digging deeper into the nuts and bolts, a whopping 85 percent said the federal government should place a greater emphasis on attracting and retaining quality teachers, and 77 percent wanted to see more effort on making college more affordable.

    The survey was also conducted before George Floyd, a Black man, died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May, igniting a fresh wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Still, more than two-thirds of respondents said they favor a greater federal focus on protecting students from discrimination in school. While 90 percent of Black and 77 percent of Latino respondents favored a greater emphasis on combating discrimination, just 62 percent of whites agreed. Among Democrats, 85 percent favored greater attention being paid to discrimination, as did about half of Republicans.

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    As a Racial Reckoning Sweeps the Nation, Parents Still Await a ‘Rallying Cry’ to Change How Race and History Are Taught in Schools

    “More and more white people who previously did not seem to be very aware of the racial issues and the institutional racism that exists in our schools are more likely to be aware of those issues now than ever before,” Starr said.

    Meanwhile, just 38 percent said they want to see the Trump administration focus more energy on expanding the number of charter schools. Roughly half of Republicans favor a greater federal focus on expanding charters, compared with just 29 percent of Democrats.

    But for the 19th straight year, respondents said a lack of money is the biggest issue that their public schools face. With the pandemic already spurring an economic crisis, education leaders have warned of devastating cuts to school budgets.

    “We know that state and local coffers will be decimated by the economic collapse that we’ve had during COVID,” Starr said, adding a prediction that the public will put a greater emphasis on school funding in the years to come. “People want more money going to public schools, no matter how you slice that data.”

    Related

    ‘We’ve Got a Real Crisis’: Half of U.S. Teachers Have Considered Leaving Profession, PDK Poll Finds

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  • Former Puerto Rico Education Secretary Faces New Charges in Fraud Case, ‘Special Assistant’ Takes Plea Deal

    By Mark Keierleber | August 21, 2020

    Updated August 21

    Puerto Rico’s embattled former education secretary, Julia Keleher, has been slapped with new federal charges including wire fraud, identity theft and bribery in a high-profile government corruption case that stems from her tenure at the helm of the island’s public school system.

    The new charges come three months after Keleher’s former “special assistant” accepted a plea deal in the case.

    The new charges offer greater insight into a case that began in July 2019, when Keleher was arrested on allegations that she participated in a conspiracy to steer millions of dollars in government contracts to people with whom she had personal ties. The new superseding indictment, filed on Aug. 10, alleges that Keleher disclosed confidential documents — including names and other personnel information from more than 6,000 Puerto Rico school employees — to help an outside company secure an education department contract related to curricular and administrative restructuring. The indictment identifies the outside firm as “Company A,” whose president is Keleher’s “close friend.”

    Related

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

    Separately, the new allegations add greater detail to a “sham selection process scheme” to steer an Education Department contract to Colón & Ponce, a company run by the sister of Keleher’s ex-assistant. Glenda and Mayra Ponce — the assistant and her sister — reached deals with prosecutors in May and pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy. In exchange, prosecutors will recommend to the court that other charges against them be dropped, according to court documents.

    Keleher was Puerto Rico’s education secretary from January 2017 until her resignation in April 2019. Less than a year into the job, Puerto Rico’s schools were devastated by Hurricane Maria, and Keleher seized on the tragedy to close hundreds of schools and usher in new education reforms, including charter schools and private school vouchers. Those reforms — and her unusually high salary of $250,000 a year — were the subject of fierce condemnation.

    In total, the first indictment accused Keleher and five others — including the Ponce sisters and the former head of Puerto Rico’s health insurance administration — of schemes to direct more than $15 million in contracts through corrupted bidding, rather than fair and transparent processes. 

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

    In a separate indictment, from January, federal prosecutors accused Keleher of offering up public school land in exchange for help buying a luxury apartment in San Juan.

    Keleher has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Maria Dominguez, Keleher’s attorney, declined to comment, citing a gag order that prevents her from discussing the case. An attorney for Mayra Ponce didn’t respond to a request for comment. Attorney Juan Matos de Juan, who represents Glenda Ponce, declined to comment on the specifics of his client’s plea deal, citing attorney-client privilege.

    “I can tell you that whatever is [in] the plea agreement is true,” he said. He denied that Glenda Ponce’s plea prompted additional charges against Keleher. His client is “an extremely small fish in that lake,” he said, and the allegations against her are “a totally different level” than those that Keleher faces.

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    How Supreme Court’s Recent ‘Bridgegate’ Decision Figures Into Former Puerto Rico Education Secretary’s Defense in Fraud Case

    As Keleher’s “special assistant” at the department, Glenda Ponce is accused of collaborating with Keleher to secure a government contract for Ponce’s sister through a corrupted bidding process, according to the indictment. Then, according to the latest indictment, Keleher “did corruptly solicit and demand” Colón & Ponce to subcontract education department work to “Individual C,” who was the campaign manager for a 2016 gubernatorial candidate. In exchange, Keleher increased the Colón & Ponce contract by $50,000, according to court records.

    The latest indictment also names a new defendant, accountant Aníbal Jover, the former president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Certified Public Accountants, who faces wire fraud charges related to allegedly corrupted contracting between the island’s health insurance administration and a managing partner at the accounting firm BDO.

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  • Attend Our Student Town Hall Aug. 26: The 74 and America’s Promise Alliance Join Forces to Host Youth Forum on Reopening School Amid the Pandemic and Movement for Racial Justice

    By The 74 | August 19, 2020

    Dozens of students from across the country will gather in a virtual town hall Aug. 26 to discuss reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing movement for racial justice. The event is a partnership between The 74 and America’s Promise Alliance to elevate student voices in the national conversation.

    The free event will feature six student panelists from across the United States who will share their insights and advice for school leaders about reopening amid the pandemic, involving students in school decision-making and how schools should provide opportunities to learn about race and racism. There will also be time for other students to share their insights about how the pandemic has affected them and how educators and schools should respond.

    The discussion will address questions such as: What are young people thinking and feeling about starting the year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after a spring of disrupted learning? How have the pandemic and school closures exacerbated racial tensions and created greater urgency for addressing racism in school? What advice can young people share with school leaders in this unprecedented moment?

    The town hall will start at 2 p.m. ET Aug. 26 on Zoom.

    • Middle and high school students, sign up here to participate in the town hall.
    • School leaders, educators and other youth-supporting adults, sign up here.

    America’s Promise Alliance is a nonprofit organization that brings together other national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens and young people to amplify the voices of American youth and catalyze change.

    The 74 is a nonprofit digital news site covering education in America with an emphasis on equity. See The 74’s rolling coverage of how the coronavirus is affecting students, families and schools across the country.

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    Pandemic Notebook: 13 Students Across America Write About COVID-19, Their Disrupted School Year and the Disorienting New Normal

    This town hall highlighting the perspectives of American youth is sponsored by Pure Edge, Inc., a foundation that equips educators and learners with strategies for combating stress and developing social, emotional and academic competencies, and Sanford Harmony/National University System, which is focused on building supportive learning communities where all students feel connected, valued, and heard through social and emotional learning.

    Disclosure: Carnegie Corporation of New York and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to America’s Promise Alliance and The 74.

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  • NYC Teachers Union Issues New School Safety Checklist and Coronavirus Testing Demands, Warns Nation’s Top District Not Ready to Reopen on Schedule

    By Zoë Kirsch | August 19, 2020

    Updated Aug. 20

    The United Federation of Teachers announced a new school reopening safety checklist Wednesday that New York City schools must satisfy before teachers are comfortable returning to the classroom. The union also called for antibody and COVID-19 testing for staff and students. 

    Union president Michael Mulgrew said any school that doesn’t pass the criteria and complete the new “health and safety” report, which spotlights 13 key areas of classroom and campus operations, must open remotely. He then warned that if the city tries to impose in-person learning at any school deemed unsafe by the UFT, the union may move forward with suing the city or authorizing its members to strike. (Under the state’s “Taylor Law,” a strike could lead to the fining of teachers as well as Mulgrew’s imprisonment.)

    Mulgrew also said he sees no way that America’s largest school district will be ready to reopen as scheduled in 22 days. 

    “We don’t believe it is possible for schools to open on September 10th,” he said in response to a question about the feasibility of testing all students and staff for either antibodies or COVID-19 prior to the start of school. 

    “Even without the testing piece, it is our judgment at this point — as well as the principals union — if you open schools on September 10th, it might be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city.”

    The new safety checklist was created with input from medical experts and community stakeholders, who appeared with Mulgrew during Wednesday’s livestreamed press conference. 

    “We cannot turn our schools into a biological research facility, where we are asked to expose our children to dangers we cannot measure at this time,” said human rights activist Rev. Kirsten John Foy. “It is time for us to assess where we are, building by building, facility by facility. It is time to instill in parents the confidence that they need, with data and a plan of action.”

    Other panelists included the deputy chief medical officer of Northwell Health; Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health; Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP New York State Conference; Gloria Corsino, co-president of the Citywide Council on Special Education, Randi Weingarten, AFT president; and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

    Click below to see the full checklist:

    The health and safety report outlines three phases that each principal must tackle. The first, “Supplies,” addresses whether the school’s ventilation mitigates the risk of spread and whether the school has sufficient PPE and cleaning supplies to keep staff and students safe.

    The second phase, “Procedures,” dives into whether or not the school has a “building response team,” composed of a school nurse, a custodial engineer and school safety agents. It also asks whether entry and dismissal protocols have been established for staff and students, about visitor protocols for parents, deliveries and contractors, and about dining protocols.

    Third, the plan addresses testing and screening protocols. Each school community should participate in intermittent, random testing, after all staff and students are initially tested for COVID-19 or antibodies.

    Related

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    New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson attended Wednesday’s press conference and said he supported the union’s proposal. “The sounds of nonstop ambulance sirens are still fresh in the minds of many New Yorkers,” he said. “Safety must come first, and that means delaying in-person schooling until appropriate safety measures are not just talked about but are actually implemented.

    “This is about getting to a place to open schools, not about throwing up obstacles. My hope is that New York City will be a model for the rest of the country to show folks that we can do this safely.”

    Later in the day, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s press secretary tweeted video of his reaction to the UFT announcement during a school visit. “We care more about kids and parents than these games,” de Blasio said, deriding Mulgrew’s press conference as a “provocation.” He also appeared to remain adamant about the reopening timeline for the city’s schools: “We’ve been working in good faith with the unions for months … We are [going to] keep moving forward to get schools ready for our kids.”

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  • Florida Teachers Union, State Going to Mediation Over Gov. Ron DeSantis’s School Reopening Mandate

    By Linda Jacobson | August 17, 2020

    The Florida Education Association and the state go to mediation Tuesday over the union’s challenge to an order reopening schools for in-person learning.

    On Friday, a circuit court judge in Leon County turned down a motion from the state to dismiss the case. The union filed the lawsuit in late July, after Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stipulated that students and teachers must return to school buildings for the new academic year. Parents are allowed to opt out, and districts are offering virtual learning models to accommodate them.

    Corcoran joined President Donald Trump last week at an event highlighting families and teachers who favor in-person learning. Corcoran called the union “disgraceful” and said teachers want to be in the classroom.

    “Even if they have an underlying condition, they want to be back, and that’s what we’re seeing in Florida,” he said. “And when we get to Aug. 31 — all the districts open up — we’re going to have probably 70 to 80 percent of students in face-to-face options, and we’ll have more than that percentage in teachers in the classroom with their students. And there’s just no substitute for it.”

    The state has threatened to withhold funding for students not in the classroom. Last week, Hillsborough County Public Schools — which had tried to delay the start of in-person attendance for a month — reduced remote learning to one week in the face of resistance from the state.

    In the union lawsuit, hearings are set for Wednesday and Thursday should mediation fail. The union argues that rates of positive coronavirus test results are still above the threshold of 5 percent for a two-week period that public health experts recommend. They note that cases among children are increasing and that other states, such as Georgia, have had to close classrooms and quarantine students and staff members soon after reopening.

    While COVID-19 positivity rates in Florida are on the decline, Hillsborough County’s dashboard still shows a rate of over 8 percent, higher than the recommended threshold.

    Also on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases of COVID-19 among children “have been steadily increasing” since March and were probably low initially, compared with adults, because schools shut down. Hospitalizations among children are also increasing, the CDC report said.

    “Comparing trends in pediatric infections before and after the return to in-person school and other activities may provide additional understanding about infections in children,” the CDC said.

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  • Analysis: The Year’s Top Election Issue? In States Like Texas, It’s Reopening Schools

    By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune | August 12, 2020

    This analysis is published in partnership with TexasTribune.org

    During a pandemic, an economic recession and public protests against racial injustice and police violence, it’s hard to say what Texas voters will be thinking about in this year’s election. Here’s a candidate: reopening schools.

    Public schools in Texas are getting ready to open. That might be the most important thing on the Texas political calendar this year.

    In some districts, like Collin County’s Celina ISD, high school football players have already reported for the annual agony of August two-a-day workouts. Classes there and in some other districts start in a couple of weeks. Like other districts, they’ve tried to adjust to the pandemic. Parents can opt for virtual instruction if they’d rather not have their kids in schoolhouses. (Not every class will be offered virtually. One listed exception on Celina ISD’s website is welding, which ought to be a relief to the fire department.)

    Elsewhere, plans for opening are more cautious. In the Fort Worth ISD and Hays CISD, for instance, virtual and in-person classes — parents’ choice — won’t start until after Labor Day.

    Other districts are considering similar postponements, as they work on their preparations for online and in-person learning with a contagious disease in the air.

    Related

    The Pandemic Is Breaking the Bonds Between Texas Families and Their Beloved Public Schools: Why Some Are Stepping Off the Reopening Roller Coaster and Unenrolling

    The results of this statewide lab experiment with 5.5 million student subjects will come in quickly, as Texas educators and parents find out what’s safe for the kids they’re trying to educate during a pandemic.

    Everybody wants it to work. If there is a reasonably safe way to put kids back in classes without risking their health or the health of families and school workers, it would be a huge break after the first discouraging months of the coronavirus.

    It would be good for the students. It would free parents who have been unable to return to their workplaces because their kids have been at home. It would mark a big step in the direction of whatever is going to be normal after all of this.

    And it would be a significant victory for politicians who have been responding to the pandemic and the recession — especially the ones on the November ballot.

    The timing has put those candidates — incumbents, challengers and those seeking open seats — in the spotlight.

    They’ll be judged, in part, by what happens to those students. And it will happen — good news, bad news or no news at all — as more voters turn their attention to the elections, the candidates and the issues.

    The experience in schools will be a proxy for the coronavirus, the most tangible evidence yet of the national, state and local government responses to the pandemic.

    It’s a variation on what happens when the economy is suffering, when people “vote their wallets.” Personal experience can trump ideology, party and other issues. Voters looking for change — in an economy, in a response to a pandemic, whatever — can be hard on incumbents or anyone they see as an obstacle to relief.

    Safely getting Texas students back to school — virtually or actually — could be the best evidence between now and the election that official responses to the pandemic are working. There are other ways to measure the COVID-19 responses, if they appear in that same time frame, like development of a vaccine, or big drops in the alarming numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

    Those might happen. Public education will be in the mix no matter what. The schools open or they don’t. They stay open or they don’t. They’re safe or they’re not. Online learning is effective or disappointing, as is in-person learning in this environment. So many complications will affect public perception of what happens in the schools: education, health, transportation, food services, janitorial services, policing and so on.

    It’s not just the kids. Public education is the largest employer in many Texas communities. Its biggest single source of funding is local property taxes, a singularly unpopular and politically charged way to raise money.

    The obstacles to success are numerous. And for the political class, all of that is compounded by the timing of a big election that starts, with early voting, less than three months from now.

    Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 



  • With Nation Focused on Reopening Schools, Biden’s Choice of Kamala Harris as Running Mate Could Renew Attention on Integration

    By Linda Jacobson | August 12, 2020

    Their heated exchange over school busing during a Democratic presidential debate last year was one of the more dramatic moments of the primary season. But now former vice president Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris share the ticket and could make education a more defining issue in their effort to unseat President Donald Trump.

    The question is whether integration — or any other K-12 issue — can figure into the campaign while grappling with the coronavirus is dominating the education conversation in this country.

    Between now and the election, Harris’s past record as a prosecutor, along with the education proposals she presented as a presidential candidate, will be closely examined as both supporters and opponents look for indications of how the candidates will address contentious issues including campus police, choice and improving school quality.

    Being Biden’s running mate will “test her seriousness about the segregation issue” at a time when the pandemic has “radically exacerbated achievement gaps,” said Bruce Fuller, a University of California, Berkeley, sociologist whose recent research shows increasing racial isolation for children in preschool and elementary school. “Taking a potshot at Biden while trying to win over the left wing [was] in part a tactic, but that’s different than long-term work on an intractable issue.”

    During that June 2019 debate, Harris alluded to Biden’s comments about finding common ground with U.S. “senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country” and personalized the event by talking about her experience as part of a school busing program.

    Tyrone Howard, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the Black Male Institute, said he would like the campaign to focus on the quality of schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods, where most students are not selected for magnet schools and other integration programs.

    As a former prosecutor and California attorney general, Harris doesn’t have a background in education. But during a National Education Association presidential candidate forum last summer, she promised to fully fund special education, nominate an education secretary with experience in public schools, and focus on ending gun violence. As a presidential candidate, she proposed to increase teacher pay by an average of $13,500 a year.

    Harris’s tough position on truancy as San Francisco’s district attorney — which led to the arrests of some parents — also received attention during her run for the nomination.

    “She’s going to have to backpedal a bit from her prosecutorial stance in the school domain,” Howard said, adding that “there’s got to be a softer, more sympathetic tone toward parents” hit hard by the pandemic.

    Yumeka Rushing, chief strategy officer for the NAACP, added that parents and educators want to hear what the candidates will do to help schools recover from the pandemic.

    “COVID-19 is crippling our education systems, and so is poor leadership and decision-making that puts politics before people,” she said. “States need more federal funding to meet the needs of education systems. Education systems need states to direct resources to schools. Schools need to focus on the supports kids need now to realize their potential — and those supports look different in crisis.”

    Those interested in what a Biden administration would do on issues such as accountability and school choice, however, aren’t too impressed, and they view Harris as closely aligned with the teachers unions. “It’s hard to see much of a silver lining for education reformers,” said Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

    As a prosecutor, Harris sued for-profit online charter chain K12 Inc. over false advertising and unfair business practices. During the primaries, she wasn’t as hard on charter schools as some of her opponents, but it’s unclear whether that topic will resurface.

    Steve Zimmerman, former director of the Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools and now the executive director of Academy of the City Charter School in Queens, New York, said Biden and Harris have nothing to gain by staking out an anti-charter position.

    For them, “What comes first right now is winning the election and not finding new ways to divide the electorate,” he said.

    ‘The Kamala Harris of the present’

    As she has called herself California’s “top cop,” Harris’s career as a prosecutor could play into the conversation over police in schools at a time when several major school districts have cut ties with law enforcement agencies and protests over racial discrimination and the murder of George Floyd continue in cities like Chicago and Portland.

    Fuller notes that her background could appeal to the “center of the party,” but Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, said he doesn’t expect Biden-Harris to take a moderate position on those issues.

    “There’s the Kamala Harris of the past and now the Kamala Harris of the present,” he said, adding that issues related to law enforcement, including school police, are especially polarized. The Republican ticket “is very strongly pro-police. The Biden-Harris ticket can be expected to lean more heavily to the other extreme.”

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  • Enforcing Mask Mandates in Schools Becomes Sticking Point as Students Return to Campus While Pandemic Rages

    By Mark Keierleber | August 10, 2020

    The national spat over face masks — which have become a symbol of divisive partisanship in the pandemic era — has officially reached the schoolhouse gate. As some students return to in-person learning after months of campus closures, a viral photograph has turned a Georgia high school into the latest culture war battlefield.

    The photo, which shows a crowded hallway and many students without face coverings, prompted outrage on social media, and several students say they were suspended. But the students told Buzzfeed News they got in trouble for using their cell phones to post pictures of the crammed campus on social media, not for refusing to wear a mask.

    The incident highlights a difficult question that school administrators face as students return to school amid a slew of new health recommendations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages students and teachers to wear masks at school, and many states require them — but should schools discipline students who fail to follow public health mandates?

    “There is no question that the photo does not look good,” Brian Otott, the superintendent of Georgia’s Paulding County School District, said in a letter. Although the district encourages students to wear masks on campus, it isn’t a requirement. “Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”

    The photos — and Otott’s refusal to enforce a mask policy — were met with derision by some on social media. Several Twitter users ridiculed the district for its stance on face masks while enforcing a dress code policy whereby students, and girls in particular, can be punished for wearing shirts without sleeves.

    But Caroline Durham, the legal and policy director of the social justice group Georgia Appleseed, pushed back on instincts to punish children who refuse to wear masks. Students are more likely to fall behind if they’re excluded from school, she said, and suspending students is “one of the first steps of a child going down what they call the school-to-prison pipeline.”

    Related

    4.5 Million Young People Nationwide Are Not Working or in School. How Cities Are Working to Get Them Back on Track — & Avoid the School-to-Prison Pipeline

    “The question is, how do we deal with children who can’t weigh the risk of COVID [or] may not understand the significance of wearing masks?” she said. Rather than focusing energy on discipline, she said, schools should spend their time teaching students about the importance of safety precautions, especially at a time when the face mask debate is so fraught among adults. “If you suspend a child, if you expel a child for behavior they perhaps don’t fully understand, you’re impacting the education that they’re going to get at a time where things are already challenging.”

    The issue is also unfolding outside Georgia as cities resume in-person instruction. In New York City, Chancellor Richard Carranza recently announced plans to send students home if they refuse to wear masks in class once in-person learning begins in September. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that New York schools could reopen for in-person learning in the fall.

    “If you don’t cooperate, you have now elected for remote learning 100 percent until you are willing to follow the safety protocols,” Carranza said, according to Chalkbeat. Students who are sent home won’t be suspended and will be able to participate in remote learning, a district spokesperson told the news outlet, but it remains unclear how officials plan to confront children who refuse to leave. A Department of Education spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    In several Iowa cities, including Des Moines, education leaders have imposed their own rules on masks. But Iowa’s education department has declined to instate similar rules statewide because enforcing them could be difficult. In South Carolina, state officials issued a mask mandate for students but declined to impose disciplinary measures for students who don’t comply.

    “We’re not putting it in the student conduct, disciplinary matrix,” a South Carolina Department of Education spokesman told The Greenville News. “We don’t want to see it be used to get law enforcement involved or anything of that nature. We’re really counting on people to take this on as a personal responsibility.”

    After a summer in which school districts nationwide have reconsidered placing police in schools, officers said they don’t want to enforce mask mandates either. Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said during the group’s national conference last week that enforcing mask rules lands outside the scope of officers’ duty.

    “I believe this falls into the arena of the school administration to handle and that [school-based police] should be the responsible adults setting the good example,” he said during the virtual event. “I hope that’s the way that we’re all approaching it. That’s where we preach the issue of ‘don’t get involved in school discipline.’”

    Related

    Police-Free Schools? This Suburban Minneapolis District Expelled Its Cops Years Ago

    Police officers outside the school setting are also reluctant to enforce mask rules, according to a recent survey by Lexipol, a company that sells police policy manuals. Just 3 percent of officers who responded to the survey said they should issue fines to people who refuse to wear masks in public.

    Cities have also had to grapple with how to enforce mask mandates. In Denver, for example, officials imposed steep fines for residents who refuse to follow public health guidelines. Children over the age of 3 are required to wear face masks in public spaces, and people who refuse could be fined up to $999 or jailed for up to 300 days.

    However, the city has focused primarily on education about the importance of wearing face masks during the pandemic, and officials have said enforcement will be reserved for “truly egregious situations.”

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  • Trump’s Weekend Executive Actions Leave School Funding ‘On the Cutting Room Floor’

    By Linda Jacobson | August 10, 2020

    President Donald Trump took action over the weekend to extend unemployment benefits, suspend payroll taxes, prevent evictions and freeze federal student loan payments. But his impatience with Democrats in negotiations over another pandemic relief bill leaves K-12 schools out for now.

    “Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have chosen to hold this vital assistance hostage on behalf of very extreme partisan demands and the radical-left Democrats, and we just can’t do that,” the president said about the House speaker and the Senate minority leader in a press briefing Saturday.

    K-12 policy analysts fear that because Trump’s orders addressed the major issues dividing Republicans and Democrats, there’s less urgency to pass another relief package.

    “Passing something on unemployment has been the issue that has kept them negotiating,” said Danny Carlson, the director of policy and advocacy for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “With that taken care of … funding for schools would be left on the cutting room floor.”

    And Rep. Bobby Scott, R-Va., who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the president’s freeze on student loan payments doesn’t cover as many borrowers and wouldn’t last as long as the relief in the Democrats’ Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions — or HEROES — Act.

    “Our education system is facing serious challenges that cannot be solved by an executive order,” he said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s failed response to this pandemic has already robbed students of all ages of the education and growth they deserve.”

    Democrats also contend that the president’s move to defer payroll tax obligations hurts Social Security and, without congressional approval, might be illegal. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, suggested that Trump’s order that states pay $100 of a $400-a-week employment benefit could lead to teacher layoffs.

    “The executive actions raise serious legal issues and may not withstand legal challenge,” he wrote. “Nor is it clear that the administration actually can implement them — in particular, that it can secure the funding and use the funds as the executive actions direct.”

    Another major point of debate is that the Democrat’s’ $3 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May, includes $900 billion in flexible funding for states and local governments to offset declines in tax revenue.

    State education leaders and advocacy organizations have said that additional funding for state and local governments will help protect education budgets. Recent research confirms that during the Great Recession, there was a decline in the percentage of state funding going to education.

    But Trump argues that funding for states is unrelated to the virus.

    “What they really want is bailout money for states that are run by Democrat governors and mayors, and that have been run very badly for many, many years -— and many decades, in fact,” he said at the briefing.

    The Senate Republicans’ $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act doesn’t include such funding. While it does propose $70 billion for K-12 schools, two-thirds of that amount would be contingent “on meeting certain opening requirements and other criteria.”

    In a tweet, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, suggested that negotiations over another recovery bill should continue.

    “Democrats should stop blocking common sense proposals to help students going back to school & college & parents going back to work who need child care,” he wrote.

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  • DC Public Schools Is Latest District to Announce All-Virtual Start Despite Federal Pressure in Its Own Backyard to Reopen. 10 Things Families Need to Know

    By Taylor Swaak | July 30, 2020

    D.C. Public Schools’ 52,000 students will start the 2020-21 year entirely virtual, city officials announced early Thursday.

    With the announcement, which came a day earlier than expected, DCPS is the latest school district to temporarily forgo in-person learning as COVID-19 cases this month increased in the region — despite pressure in its own backyard from the White House to reopen.

    Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, two of the largest school districts in the country, made similar announcements earlier this month.

    Related

    D.C. Public Schools Will Announce on Friday Whether It’ll Offer In-Person Learning. A Look at What’s Happening on the Ground as Decision Looms

    Mayor Muriel Bowser indicated Thursday that the decision was informed not only by health data but also in wanting the support of staff and families. Many had vocally opposed starting the school year with any form of in-person learning. Although virtual learning in the spring wasn’t seamless, officials said it’ll be more robust and interactive this time around, with multiple hours of live instruction a day depending on grade level.

    “[We want to] make sure that when we do have an in-person option that we can maximize the attendance of our teachers and our kids,” Bowser said.

    Here are 10 things families should know about the decision:

    1. Virtual learning will be in effect through Term 1

    Students will be fully online from Aug. 31, the first day of school, through Nov. 6.

    When pressed if that time frame will apply to every student — including those with more personalized needs, like students with disabilities — DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said, “We will start the school year in an all-virtual posture. But we will continue to explore all pathways … that could be some form of in-person instruction.”

    2. There will be ‘predictable’ class schedules for families

    Virtual learning will include a mix of interactive lessons and independent learning time, with the amount of live daily instruction increasing depending on grade level. As of now, here’s how daily live instruction breaks down by grade:

    • Pre-K: 30 minutes to an hour
    • Grades K-2: 2 hours
    • Grades 3-5: 2 to 3 hours
    • Grades 6-12: 4 to 5 hours

    Sample breakdown of middle schoolers’ day. (DCPS/ Mayor’s Office)

    Canvas will be the main platform for accessing curriculum materials, Ferebee said.

    3. Many students still need laptops and Wi-Fi. Officials say they’re ‘committed’ to providing that

    Forty-four percent of respondents in an ongoing tech survey, which has garnered more than 13,000 responses, said they have a student who does not have a device, such as a laptop. And 18 percent have a student without access to a hotspot or reliable Wi-Fi.

    Preliminary results of ongoing tech survey. (DCPS/ Mayor’s Office)

    The district has 36,000 devices, many pre-enabled with Wi-Fi, to distribute next school year “based on the feedback we get from families through the survey,” Ferebee said.

    Related

    Parents and Teachers Want Clarity on Technology Needs as D.C. Delays Reopening Plan by Two Weeks

    4. Attendance will be taken daily

    This was emphasized several times by officials. Ferebee said attendance will be “primarily done” by students logging in through Canvas. No further information was provided at that time.

    5. Grading protocols will reflect DCPS’s approach in the spring

    Elementary school children will receive a grade of 1, 2, 3 or 4. Middle and high schoolers can receive a grade of an A or a B; if the grade is below a B, students can either have the grade they received — like a C — reflected on their report card, or they can opt for a “Pass/Fail” designation.

    Across grade levels, Ferebee emphasized that grading will weigh heavily on completion of practice materials and student engagement — not just assessments.

    6. Summer bridge program, extra days planned to fill learning gaps

    When asked how DCPS intends to recoup learning loss, Ferebee pointed to the district’s already-planned “summer bridge” program starting virtually Aug. 10 for grades 3, 6 and 9, which Ferebee has called key “transitional years where students need additional support.”

    There are also extra instructional days sprinkled in throughout the 2020-21 year that were normally staff-only work days. The exact number wasn’t immediately clear.

    Teachers will monitor students’ performance and understanding of materials with regular “check-ins” as well, Ferebee said.

    Related

    74 Interview — D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee Talks COVID-19 Recovery Plans, With an Eye Toward Returning to In-Person Instruction

    7. Special ed, English language services will continue

    Learning from home could include “co-taught and/or small group or individual lessons with a special education teacher or ESL teacher,” according to Thursday’s presentation.

    Ferebee noted that any students with an Individualized Education Program will have a “distance learning plan addendum” added, too.

    8. There is new material to help students process recent events

    Ferebee noted that on top of working this summer to make curriculum more “user-friendly” online, the district has also added some new material, including a “Living Through History” Cornerstone. Cornerstones are lessons that every DCPS student in every grade takes.

    It will be “an opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences over the spring and the summer and use that as a learning opportunity,” he said.

    Related

    Lessons From a Global Reckoning: D.C. Looks to Make 14-Year-Old Social Studies Standards More Inclusive as Cities Nationwide Grapple With Re-Engaging Students During COVID

    9. Students will still get meals 

    Ferebee said the district is “positioned to continue to provide meals throughout the summer and school year, and add sites if we need to.”

    DCPS’s website directs users here for information on where to find meal sites.

    10. Charters do not have to follow DCPS’s decision

    The city’s charter networks, serving nearly half of D.C.’s students, are not beholden to DCPS’s decision. But Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said officials nonetheless “have full expectation that all charter schools will follow strict health guidance as DCPS is doing.”

    “We have worked in a very, very collaborative way with charter [agencies] across the city,” Kihn said. He added that many charters will be making their announcement by week’s end.

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  • LISTEN: What Does the Future of School Safety Look Like? New EWA Podcast Interviews 74’s Mark Keierleber About Efforts to Dismantle Campus Policing After George Floyd’s Death

    By The 74 | July 29, 2020

    Student activists have long decried the presence of police in schools, but their demands for campuses without cops had long fallen on deaf ears. That changed rapidly this summer after George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis officer, prompting districts nationwide to sever their ties to local police departments.

    As school districts nationwide reconsider the role officers play in classrooms, The 74’s Mark Keierleber joined EWA Radio, a podcast produced by the Education Writers Association, to discuss his reporting on school policing. Following Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis school board voted unanimously to terminate its contract with the city police department, and many other districts — from Denver to Oakland — quickly followed suit.

    As school leaders in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere face steep pressure to take similar action, Keierleber discusses racial disparities in student arrests and the lack of research supporting their ability to thwart mass school shootings and other campus crime. He also discusses what post-police schools could look like — pointing to a school district in suburban Minneapolis that ended its contracts with local police departments years ago. Instead of stationing cops on campus, the district employed a team of “student safety coaches,” who employ an approach centered on addressing students’ mental health needs and de-escalating conflict — rather than one centered on handcuffs and arrests.

    Listen to the full conversation:

    Archive — Read more of Mark Keierleber’s recent reporting on school policing:

    Police-Free Schools?: This suburban Minneapolis district expelled its cops years ago

    Unions: Teachers unions historically supported campus cops. George Floyd’s death — and a wave of ‘militant’ educator activists — forced them to reconsider

    Bias: ‘The students were the danger’: In racially diverse schools, police were more likely to view students as threats, study shows

    2020 Politics: Biden’s tough-on-crime mantra led to school ‘militarization,’ critics say. Why his legacy on campus cops matters and puts him at odds with progressives

    School Police Departments: Florida’s post-Parkland experiment — To deter mass shootings, some school districts are creating their own police departments

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  • DACA Double Take: A Month After ‘Dreamers’ Cheered SCOTUS Decision, Trump Administration Considers Second Effort to End Program, Halting New Applications

    By Mark Keierleber | July 29, 2020

    The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will not accept new applications to an Obama-era program that offers deportation relief and work permits to some 650,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children, laying the groundwork for a new round of political and legal fights over the fate of so-called “Dreamers.” 

    Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced that his agency would “thoughtfully consider the future” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, including whether it should be terminated. Instead of pulling the plug on the program immediately, the administration announced that it would conduct a “comprehensive review” while imposing a slew of new restrictions. Current recipients are allowed to renew their DACA status for one year, the agency announced. Under previous rules, recipients were required to renew every two years. 

    Whether the government would accept new DACA applications has been a major question since mid-June, when the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s years-long effort to end it. The court didn’t rule on the merits of DACA or the Trump administration’s authority to terminate the program. However, in a ruling on procedural grounds, the court’s majority found that the administration’s justification for terminating the program was “arbitrary and capricious” and that officials failed to consider how ending DACA could affect its beneficiaries.

    Related

    Education Groups Rejoice as Supreme Court Blocks Trump Efforts to End DACA Program — but Warn Decision Is Merely ‘First Step’

    When the Trump administration announced plans to terminate DACA in 2017, officials argued that the Obama administration had acted outside its legal authority. That decision was quickly delayed by a series of legal hurdles as several federal judges ruled against the Trump administration, leaving much of the program intact as the issue weaved its way through the courts. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the government to resume accepting new applications. An estimated 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to recent estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.

    Though the move is likely to spur new court challenges, the administration argued that the Maryland court order doesn’t apply because it launched a new review of the program’s fate. 

    “As the Department continues looking at the policy and considers future action, the fact remains that Congress should act on this matter,” Wolf said in a statement. Though Wolf’s statement puts new pressure on lawmakers to tackle immigration reform, Congress has long failed to reach a compromise. 

    Earlier this month, Trump said he plans to sign “a very big bill” on immigration that would give DACA recipients a “road to citizenship,” though it remains unclear what steps he’ll take on the issue before the November election. 

    Immigrant-rights groups were quick to criticize Tuesday’s news. On Twitter, the National Immigration Law Center called the announcement “another cruel and divisive move that puts hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth back in limbo.” In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the administration of replacing DACA with a “skeleton program.” 

    Though DACA has been a divisive issue for years — and Trump made eliminating the program a staple in his bid for the White House — polls suggest overwhelming support for Dreamers. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 68 percent of Republicans — and 69 percent of voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016 — favor the immigration protections. 

    “Make no mistake, the vast popularity of the program, combined with a looming election, prevented Trump from immediately ending the program,” Andrea Flores, the ACLU’s deputy director of immigration policy, said in the release. But Tuesday’s announcement “makes his intentions clear: His next move is a complete end to the DACA program to destroy the lives of Dreamers once again.” 

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  • VIDEO: American Federation of Teachers Authorizes Educator ‘Safety Strikes’ If Schools Reopen This Fall Without Adequate Safety Measures

    By Mark Keierleber | July 28, 2020

    American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced on Tuesday the union’s support for educator “safety strikes” across the country if schools reopen without adequate safety procedures.

    Though she said that teacher strikes should be a “last resort,” Weingarten warned that “nothing is off the table” if public officials don’t do enough to ensure that students and educators have a safe return to classrooms after months of remote learning due to the pandemic. The potential strikes, which the country’s second-largest teachers union announced during its virtual national convention (see the 43-minute mark in the video below), offer a sharp rebuke to lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, who have pressured schools to fully reopen as the virus surges in states nationwide.

    “We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” Weingarten said. “But if the authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve,” the union will consider protests, lawsuits and strikes if necessary. The move was approved by the national union’s executive council, which said in a resolution that local or statewide strikes would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

    The latest escalation comes just weeks before students in some regions are expecting to return to classrooms after months of distance education. The AFT resolution outlines that schools should reopen only if community infection rates fall below 5 percent and the transmission rate is less than 1 percent. The union also demanded “effective disease surveillance” and accommodations for school staff who are at “high risk for serious health problems or death” if they become infected.

    Local unions have already taken measures against lawmakers seeking to reopen campus buildings. In Florida, where the virus has surged in recent weeks, the local union sued lawmakers over a school reopening plan that it accused of being “reckless and unsafe.” Under an executive order, all schools in the state are required to reopen their physical campuses in August.

    Though most educators want schools to reopen if necessary safeguards are put into place, Weingarten said the union is “prepared to fight on all fronts for the safety of students and their educators” if its demands aren’t met.

    Click here to read the AFT’s full resolution:

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  • CDC’s New Guidance on Rapidly Reopening Schools Cites Concerns Over Trauma and Learning Loss and Points to Evidence That Children Are Less Likely to Transmit Coronavirus

    By The 74 | July 24, 2020

    With some districts beginning their virtual school years in a couple weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance, saying that in-person instruction is the best arrangement for most students this fall.

    The revised guidance says that the risks of children transmitting the coronavirus are low — which district leaders already know — and so are the chances that they’ll pass the virus to school staff or family members.

    Learning loss, the absence of opportunities for social-emotional development, and the potential for stress and trauma linked to quarantine are among the reasons students should be in school, the document says. The challenges of continuing school nutrition programs during school closures was another reason cited.

    “School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications,” the CDC concludes. “The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.”

    President Donald Trump highlighted the agency’s latest position on Thursday while discussing his proposal to put $70 billion toward K-12 schools in the next federal relief package. After tweeting demands two weeks ago that schools reopen, he deferred to governors on Thursday, saying, “The decision should be made based on the data and the facts on the grounds in each community, but every district should be actively making preparations to open.”

    Read the full guidance:



  • The School Choice Now Act: Senators Alexander and Scott Introduce Bill to Fund Emergency Scholarships Families Can Use Toward School Tuition or Homeschooling During the Pandemic

    By The 74 | July 22, 2020

    Two members of the Senate education committee, chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, introduced new legislation Wednesday that would provide federal aid to assist families in paying for private school or homeschooling during the pandemic. 

    The School Choice Now Act would use 10 percent of emergency education aid to offer one-time emergency funding for scholarship organizations approved by the state. These scholarships could then be used by families to go toward private school tuition or homeschooling expenses. 

    In a Wednesday statement, Alexander said: “Giving children more opportunity to choose their school is a real answer to inequality in America.

    “All parents, regardless of income or circumstance, should be able to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, whether that school is public or private … the School Choice Now Act provides scholarships to students to have the opportunity to return to the private school they attended before the pandemic — and gives other students a new opportunity to attend private school.

    “Children in all K-12 schools, public and private, have been affected by COVID-19 … Many schools are choosing not to reopen and many schools are failing to provide high-quality distance learning. The students who will suffer from this experience the most are the children from lower income families. This bill will give families more options for their children’s education at a time that school is more important than ever.” 

    See the full text of the legislation right here, or by clicking below. One notable excerpt from the bill, about how — and when — states must used any approved funds:

    “By not later than 60 days after receiving an allotment under subsection, a State without a tax credit scholarship program shall use not less than 50 percent of the allotment to award subgrants to eligible scholarship-granting organizations in the State.

    An eligible scholarship-granting organization that receives a subgrant under this subsection: 

    • “May reserve not more than 5 percent of the subgrant funds for public outreach, student and family support activities, and administrative expenses related to the subgrant.
    • “Shall use not less than 95 percent of the subgrant funds to provide qualifying scholarships for qualified expenses only to individual elementary school and secondary school students who reside in the State in which the eligible scholarship-granting organization is recognized. 

    “A State shall return to the Secretary any amounts of the allotment received under this section that the State does not award as subgrants under subsection (d) by March 30, 2021, and the Secretary shall reallocate such funds to the remaining eligible States.” 

    Read the full bill by clicking below; also see Kevin Mahnken’s recent coverage of President Trump’s support for federal tax-credit scholarships.



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