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Noteworthy headlines from the education wire
  • America Divided: Public Support for Charter Schools Is Growing — but So Is Opposition, New Poll Finds

    By Mark Keierleber | Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Education Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mixed messages

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

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

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

    Education Next

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

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

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

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

    By The 74 | 4 days ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

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

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

    SATS Big Promises, Big Data: Is the SAT’s New ‘Environmental Context’ Score a Tool to Personalize College Admissions, or Another Impersonal Data Point? (Read at The74Million.org)

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

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

    Quotes of the Week

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

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

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

    “This computer has been frozen. This computer can no longer be used. This computer can no longer access the internet. Files saved on the hard drive can no longer be accessed. This computer’s whereabouts can be traced.” —A message that appeared on laptops for students at Georgia Cyber Academy, which is engaged in a dispute with K12 Inc. (Read at The74Million.org)

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

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

    By Brendan Lowe | 7 days ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By The 74 | August 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

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

    CHARTERS — Williams: School Choice Panel at National Urban League Summit Shows We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Charter Schools (Read at The74Million.org)

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

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

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

    Quotes of the Week

    “School is supposed to be a resourceful place, somewhere you can trust. That wasn’t what it turned out to be. It turned out to be somewhere where they just turned their backs against you.” —A girl referred to in court documents as Jane Doe, a former student at Florida’s Carol City High School, who said she was suspended after three boys sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom. (Read at The74Million.org)

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

    “I work 55 hours a week, have 12 years’ experience and make $43K. I worry and stress daily about my classroom prep work and kids. I am a fool to do this job.” —A teacher in an online focus group, quoted in this year’s PDK survey of American teachers. More than half said they had seriously considered quitting in recent years. (Read at The74Million.org)

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

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

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

    By Kevin Mahnken | August 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

    Journal of Urban Economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Kate Stringer | August 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Related

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Carolyn Phenicie | August 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • New Survey: Teachers Report Widespread Student Behavioral Disruptions but Sharply Diverge on Whether Consequences Demonstrate Racial Bias

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 30, 2019

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

    American schools are undergoing a dramatic shift in their approaches to school discipline, as states and districts have worked over the past few years to reduce student suspensions under federal guidance issued by the Obama administration. The results of a new survey released today show that teacher perceptions of the transformation are mixed.

    According to the survey, conducted in 2018 by the right-leaning Fordham Institute, most teachers believe their schools’ disciplinary policies are inconsistently enforced. A sizable majority said that the learning of most students was harmed by the presence of a small number of misbehaving classmates. And teachers in high-poverty schools were especially likely to encounter behavioral problems like violence and disrespect.

    The report comes at a time when education leaders and politicos alike are debating where discipline policy should go from here. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally rescinded the Obama-era recommendations in December, claiming that they forced educators to ignore disruptive behavior in the classroom. Many conservatives have argued that the guidance was a bureaucratic overstep.

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    But eliminating it raised hackles among activists, who point to evidence that minority students are more likely to be severely punished for disciplinary infractions than white students. Just last week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a lengthy report warning of racial disparities in suspensions and urging the federal government to be vigilant against civil rights violations.

    Meanwhile, teachers’ own attitudes have been difficult to gauge. According to a 2018 poll from the journal Education Next, just 29 percent of K-12 teachers supported federal policies that prevented schools from suspending or expelling black or Hispanic students at higher rates than other students. But that doesn’t mean they relish the idea of removing students from the classroom: Another 2018 poll, this one conducted by the advocacy group Educators for Excellence, found that only 39 percent of teachers agreed that suspending or expelling students was an effective means of improving behavior; instead, most said they favored rewarding positive behavior.

    Fordham’s survey, administered by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation, asked roughly 1,200 teachers around the country for their impressions on student behavioral problems and various methods of addressing them. Their responses, many of which complain of distracted classrooms and a lack of administrative support, may prove concerning to those who are charged with weighing the balance between fostering strong learning environments and protecting the rights of all children.

    In all, 77 percent of teachers said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that most students at their school were impeded in their learning because of the actions of a comparatively small number of misbehaving classmates. Among those working in high-poverty schools (i.e., those where at least three-quarters of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), 64 percent said they were teaching at least one student with a chronic behavioral problem.

    Fordham Institute

    While many teachers cited concerns with how their schools approached student misbehavior, a clear split emerged between teachers at high-poverty schools and those working in schools where less than 25 percent of students qualified for free lunch. While 32 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools said that physical fights occurred in their workplace daily or weekly, just 5 percent of teachers at low-poverty schools said the same. Four percent of teachers in low-poverty schools said they had been physically assaulted over the previous school year, compared with 13 percent of teachers who said they had been attacked in high-poverty schools.

    Report author David Griffith, a senior research associate at Fordham, said that the national discourse around school discipline too seldom reflected the disconcerting realities in under-resourced schools; highlighting them, he said, will hopefully bring about “a more honest conversation about how we tackle these challenges.”

    “Our general feeling was that the conversation around school discipline was a little divorced from reality, and what we were hearing from teachers was very different from what we were hearing from people who were more physically removed from the problem,” he said.

    Of note, roughly equivalent percentages of white and black teachers pointed to the same levels of classroom danger and disruption. That suggested teacher perceptions were a product of their work environments as opposed to racial bias, Griffith noted.

    Disagreements on ‘racial bias’

    Still, black and white teachers differed significantly in their views of the role racial bias plays in determining disciplinary consequences. Just 24 percent of white teachers said that, all else being equal, a black student would be punished more harshly than a white student for the same behavioral infraction. But fully 77 percent of black teachers said they believed the black student’s punishment would be more severe.

    Fordham Institute

    The split reflects a clear difference in the education community over how much disparate rates of suspension and expulsion can be explained by teachers’ conscious or unconscious racial biases.

    The recently released report from the Commission on Civil Rights states, in no uncertain terms, that minority students “do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers — but black, Latinx, and Native American students in the aggregate receive substantially more school discipline than their white peers, and receive harsher and longer punishments than their white peers receive for like offenses.”

    There is research evidence indicating that teachers are more likely to deem black students “troublemakers,” or suggest that they be suspended, than white students. A report last year found that black students in New York City are more likely than students of other racial groups to receive harsh punishments for eight of the top 10 offenses accounting for the vast majority of student suspensions. Black students suspended for “reckless behavior” were held out of school for an average of 16.7 days, for instance; Asian students were suspended for just 7.3 days for the same offense.

    But the Commission’s statement goes further than the widely acknowledged reality that minority students are more likely to be subject to school discipline than white students, or even the more contentious claim that implicit racial bias is sometimes at play in determining suspensions and expulsions. If students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds truly commit behavioral infractions at the same rate, then many would conclude that racism must be to blame for most or all of the significant disciplinary disparities between white and nonwhite students.

    News accounts of the report have zeroed in on such claims, and one dissenting member of the commission has written that attributing disparate discipline rates to faculty bias “stokes racial resentment and erodes personal responsibility.”

    Concern over possible civil rights violations against minority students has led to both district- and state-level policies aimed at bringing down suspension rates. Out-of-school suspension is seen as particularly problematic, as it keeps kids out of the classroom without providing access to alternative learning opportunities.

    Research has shown that suspension rates have dropped in some jurisdictions since the Obama-era Education Department issued its disciplinary guidance in 2014. In Fordham’s survey, 41 percent of teachers said that suspensions had indeed declined in their schools over the previous years, compared with 14 percent who said that they had increased.

    But teachers who said they’d observed a decrease in suspensions were divided about the cause. Most said that the use of new alternatives to out-of-school suspensions were at least somewhat responsible, but 48 percent said that the underreporting of suspensions (for instance, if a student is told by an administrator to stay away from school for a number of days but is not formally suspended) was a contributing factor.

    Asked whether they believed school administrators ever neglected to report “serious disciplinary incidents,” 43 percent said they did.

    Fordham Institute

    Still, many teachers said they saw the promise in new alternative approaches to discipline, including “restorative justice” systems that encourage student-led conflict resolution. More than half of all respondents said they found approaches that attempted to diagnose and treat student trauma as a root cause of misbehavior to be “very effective,” for instance.

    Fordham’s Griffith said that the results of the survey make clear the need for greater resources devoted to addressing disciplinary policy, such as more money for social workers and student counselors. For too long, he said, policymakers had treated the issue as “a cheap problem.”

    “We need to stop doing this on the cheap, and I hope that local leaders will think about how they can help teachers and what additional resources would be helpful,” he said. “I think the answer is to have a fact-based, thoughtful conversation, because that’s the only way forward.”

    Disclosure: Kevin Mahnken was an editorial associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute from 2014 to 2016.

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  • Monthly QuotED: 6 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in July, From District Secession to Holocaust Denial — and a Wallet Found in School After 75 Years

    By Andrew Brownstein | July 29, 2019

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

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

    Credit: Beth Hawkins

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

    “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” —William Latson, former principal of Spanish River High School in Florida. Palm Beach County Schools removed and reassigned him after the remarks sparked international outrage. (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

    “The blood-curdling sobbing, the screaming. I have him in my ears. It was bad. Honestly, it was traumatic.” —Jordan, an online English instructor, describing a mother in China beating her 4-year-old son during a video lesson. Online teachers report that parental abuse is far from uncommon on some platforms that cater to international students. (Read at EdSurge)

    Getty Images

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

    “That’s me with a little boy by the name of Jimmy Kane, and I had a crush on him. Oh my goodness, look at the boy’s pictures I have. They took all the money, huh?” —Betty June Sissom, 89, upon examining the contents of a wallet she’d lost at a high school in Centralia, Illinois, 75 years ago. The stolen wallet was among 15 recovered recently from a vent in the girls’ bathroom. (Read at Fox 8)

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  • For State Leaders Who Want Personalized Learning in Schools, New Report Shares 5 Ways to Support Teachers Through Policy

    By Kate Stringer | July 29, 2019

    If state leaders want more student-driven learning in classrooms, creating policies that support teachers is critical.

    That’s according to a new report from iNACOL, a nonprofit that supports competency-based education. The report outlines five recommendations for state policy leaders on how to help develop teachers so they’re prepared for competency-based instruction.

    “We can talk about transforming the education system … but if we’re not addressing the capacity and buy-in of the people who themselves will be on the front lines of this work, then we will not succeed,” said Maria Worthen, vice president for federal and state policy at iNACOL.

    The concept of allowing students to work at their own pace and progress once they’ve mastered a concept has gained popularity across the country from districts, states and philanthropists. Rhode Island, for example, created a statewide push for personalized learning, setting up innovation schools where educators can experiment with ideas like project-based learning.

    However, these efforts aren’t without their challenges. In Maine, proficiency-based education efforts stalled partly because teachers were unsure how to grade students and parents were frustrated with a lack of clarity around grading. Additionally, there’s little research on the effectiveness of this kind of instruction.

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    For Worthen, the challenges and successes of competency-based efforts lie in how they are implemented. She said it’s important for all stakeholders to understand what they’re embarking on and why.

    For state policy leaders, that means rethinking teacher credentialing, supporting diversity in the workforce and collaborating with a broad group of stakeholders. Here are iNACOL’s five recommendations to support this work.

    1 Convene a state task force to craft a unifying vision and road map 

    This task force should include a diverse group of stakeholders who can collaborate on what they think good teaching looks like, the report recommends. This kind of instruction should match how the state hopes to prepare its high school graduates. It may be helpful for the group to create profiles of what their graduates will be able to do and in what ways their educators should be able to provide instruction.

    The report points to Virginia as an example of this work. Virginia didn’t set out to create a competency-based model, but rather, to reimagine how it wanted to prepare its graduates. After many meetings, state leaders realized that they also wanted to better prepare their teachers for this work, so they crafted a profile of a Virginia teacher who could best support their ideal graduates. Doing this helped align things like higher education programs, teaching standards and licensing.

    2 Increase the diversity of the educator workforce

    State leaders can identify barriers that stand in the way of a diverse teaching workforce, such as high tuition bills and loan repayments. The report authors recommend tackling college affordability in both undergraduate and graduate school. Policymakers can interview leaders of teacher prep programs to find out what other barriers exist for would-be student teachers. Lawmakers can also use their bully pulpit to advocate for diversity in the teaching workforce as well as asking for data on teacher turnover for educators of color.

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    3 Prepare teachers for learner-centered, competency-based, equity-oriented education

    Leaders can see if teacher prep programs and professional development are aligned with competency-based instruction. One way to do this is by funding innovation pilots for experimentation in learner-centered instruction. Policymakers can also support micro-credentialing for teachers, so that they can build knowledge and skills in personalized learning over time.

    4 Redesign teacher licensure and credentialing

    State leaders can rethink what skills are necessary for teacher licenses and credentials in order to teach personalized learning. These skills may include different ways of assessing students, designing lessons and working with students who are progressing at their own pace. Teacher credentials can be multi-tiered to demonstrate how educators are advancing in their skills.

    5 Build balanced systems of assessments that enable learner-centered, competency based, equity-oriented teaching

    Assessments can be a challenging part of competency-based learning, especially when schools allow for project-based or experiential learning where knowledge isn’t easily demonstrated by a multiple-choice test. The report recommends designing assessments that balance measuring growth and proficiency and that show whether a student is at or below grade level. Allowing for portfolios in addition to traditional exams will also demonstrate a broader range of skills that a student learned.

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    Disclosure: Carnegie Corporation of New York provides financial support to iNACOL and The 74.

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

    By Mark Keierleber | July 25, 2019

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

    An invisible line separates the school system in Waterbury, Connecticut, from neighboring districts, but in many respects, they’re oceans apart. A significant share of students at the district, which is located in one of America’s wealthiest states, is nonwhite and poor. Drive a few miles in any direction from Waterbury, however, and you’ll find the exact opposite.

    In fact, Waterbury is America’s most “isolated” school system, according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit EdBuild. In Waterbury, where 82 percent of students are nonwhite, the district brings in about $16,000 in per-pupil school funding. But in each of the eight districts that share its borders, schools get significantly more money per student. Their student bodies are whiter. In the neighboring Thomaston School District, for example, just 8 percent of students are nonwhite and the education system brings in more than $20,000 per pupil.

    Though Waterbury tops the list, EdBuild found nearly 1,000 school district borders where students are sharply divided in a way that creates a system of winners and losers, according to the report. On the losing side of the borders are nearly 9 million students in districts that get $4,207 less per pupil than affluent districts next door. Across the country, EdBuild found a total of 969 instances of school district borders where revenue gaps exceeded 10 percent and differences in racial makeup exceeding 25 percentage points.

    While America’s long history of housing segregation plays a role, the report argues that a 45-year-old Supreme Court ruling stands in the way of school integration across district lines. The case, Milliken v. Bradley, found that the government cannot mandate racial integration across school district borders. Because of that ruling, the report argues, wealthy communities are using district borders to effectively hoard resources.

    The bulk of the problem, the report said, is that local property taxes generate the bulk of school funding. Though states try to make up funding gaps by providing low-income districts with additional money, they’ve failed to meet demand, said Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild’s founder and CEO.

    “States are running to try to catch up and, because they’re not willing and not brave enough” to address inequities created by school district borders, she said, “they’ve put themselves in an impossible position to ever create the kind of equity that we need because our wealth divide is growing.”

    The latest EdBuild report is part of a series examining how district borders can create inequities in America’s public schools. In another recent report, researchers found that school districts serving predominantly nonwhite students get $23 billion less in state and local funding each year than those where students are predominantly white — even though they educate roughly the same number of children.

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    Despite the Milliken ruling, states have several options to address racial segregation and funding disparities created by district borders. Lawmakers could revise education funding systems so that they rely less on local property taxes, for example, or they could redraw school district borders in a way that more equitably distributes education resources. But Sibilia argues that state-level lawsuits may be the best bet.

    “Our work has created a pretty compelling case for parents and local advocates to really get loud on this and bring this issue to the courts,” she said. “We’ve got a huge treasure trove of data out there that clearly demonstrates that there’s a disparate impact in our funding system.”

    The report found that some of the most problematic school district borders exist in New York, New Jersey and California. New Jersey, for example, has more than 600 public school districts. On average, the state’s advantaged districts get 35 percent more in per-pupil funding than their lower-income neighbors.

    But a desire for local control of schools, Sibilia argues, often leaves many students behind.

    “This idea that we can withhold and keep our property tax wealth for just our schools is wholly unique to education,” she said. “The cure for cancer may be sitting in the head of a student who goes to New York City Public Schools. Would you honestly say that you wouldn’t chip in to make sure that student gets a quality education and can access the kind of knowledge that would be required in order for them to actually develop that cure?”

    EdBuild’s years-long focus on funding gaps and racial segregation between America’s school districts will soon come to an end. Sibilia said the nonprofit plans to close shop next year. Though EdBuild still has a few more reports in the pipeline, she said the group achieved its goal of highlighting America’s school funding inequities.

    “Its incumbent upon us to leave the space so that other voices can emerge on this and new ideas can come forward,” Sibilia said.

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  • Research Shows That New Orleans Schools Have Improved Since Katrina. So Why Don’t Black Residents Agree?

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 22, 2019

    Correction appended July 23

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

    Ample evidence shows that New Orleans public schools are performing much better now than in 2005, when the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina led to a large-scale takeover of most public schools and the introduction of ambitious education reforms. Experts have found that students there are now more likely to finish high school, and learning gaps between black and white children have noticeably closed over the past decade.

    But not everyone puts faith in those successes. According to a new paper looking at public opinion data during the period when the reforms were being implemented, New Orleans’s black majority has been more likely to perceive post-Katrina schools negatively compared with the status quo before the storm.

    The paper’s authors believe those negative views are attributable to the nature of the takeover, which converted most city schools into charters and dramatically shrank the power of the local school board. Control over school governance, and access to jobs in education, passed in large part from black to white control, they write.

    Co-author Domingo Morel, a political scientist at Rutgers University, has previously studied state takeovers of troubled urban school districts. His 2018 book on the subject found that heavy-handed takeovers arrogate political power from local communities and lead to less representation for minority groups in government.

    In an interview with The 74, Morel said that while many believed that the educational picture had brightened in New Orleans since Katrina, black residents — the largest ethnic group in the city — were much more ambivalent.

    “When you look at the general results of public opinion surveys, there seems to be a lot of support for these efforts,” he said. “But if you start looking at it a bit closer, it’s puzzling. The majority of the community is feeling very differently than this narrative that has been framed around the New Orleans reforms. The people who are mostly being affected by these policies have a certain view that isn’t really being captured in the general conversation.”

    That view may soon speak with greater force, as authority over schools reverted back to the elected school board a year ago. While defenders of the post-Katrina policies can point to meaningful progress in student achievement, they will have to persuade families who feel alienated by the way that progress was realized. Further improvements could founder without their approval.

    ‘Young, white and shiny’

    State-initiated takeovers of underperforming school districts have been an arrow in the education reform quiver for years. A string of such maneuvers took place a generation ago, when state governments (led by prominent Republicans) seized control over public education in large cities with significant black populations: Newark in 1995, Detroit in 1999 and Philadelphia in 2001.

    The situation in New Orleans resembled its predecessors in some respects: Dozens of schools serving tens of thousands of students produced poor academic results in the years before Hurricane Katrina. Widespread corruption on the Orleans Parish School Board led to FBI investigations that yielded several prosecutions, including one of a former board president who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

    But the catastrophic storm led to changes that were, in some ways, sui generis: In less than a decade, virtually every K-12 school in New Orleans converted to a charter school. White charter founders and teachers — many flown in by Teach for America — replaced veteran black educators who had long formed the backbone of the city’s middle class. And in 2010, voters even elected Mitch Landrieu, the city’s first white mayor since 1978.

    The metamorphosis is now widely credited with a measurable improvement in student performance. Findings from the Education Research Alliance show increases in rates of high school graduation, immediate college entry, college persistence and college completion since the aftermath of Katrina. Additional data on later-life outcomes will become available as more students make their way through the city’s public schools, but the early returns have been hailed by experts as evidence of a citywide turnaround.

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    Public perceptions of the new school system have generally been seen as warm: According to regular polling conducted by the Cowen Institute — a research group formed in 2007 to monitor progress in local schools during the city’s recovery — most New Orleanians rate their schools as average or better, and majorities believe that the spread of charter schools has had a positive impact.

    But in the paper, Morel and co-author Sally Nuamah, a professor at Northwestern University, point to significant differences in the way the post-Katrina reforms have been received by whites and blacks. Examining Cowen Institute polls from 2011 and 2013, he finds that black respondents were vastly more likely than whites to say that New Orleans schools were better in the period before Katrina; a majority said that they had either gotten worse or stayed the same in recent years. At the same time, a majority of white New Orleanians said they believed the schools had improved.

    Black respondents were also much more likely to say they supported an end to the Recovery School District — the state-created entity that administered most schools after the storm — and a return of the schools to local control.

    The divergent attitudes are the result of the black community’s loss of control over schools, Morel argues: Whereas previously the public school system (the population of which is estimated to be 80 percent black) was governed by a majority-black school board and staffed by mostly black teachers, the education regime following Katrina was quite different: Louisiana state officials, authorities at the RSD and charter school boards, who were all disproportionately white. By one estimate, the number of black teachers as a percentage of the whole decreased from 75 percent to 50 percent.

    “The potential political power that Black citizens have as the majority in the city is negated,” the authors write, “as governance authority has shifted to the state level and to the charter boards, where Blacks do not constitute the majority. In other words, the traditional mechanisms of political power … have been circumvented by state-led governance as well as charter board governance.”

    The departure of notable black figures from the local education scene has been the object of furor over the past decade. In the wake of the hurricane, more than 4,000 teachers were laid off from the school district — many of them black, and familiar to local families. Studies conducted since have shown that most never returned to teach in New Orleans.

    Ashana Bigard, a prominent parent activist who has been sharply critical of the reforms implemented by the RSD, disagreed with the idea that top-level political changes had fueled black parents’ dissatisfaction, arguing that they were instead skeptical of shifts in school practice. She said she was more appalled by cuts to school music programs and the institution of “no-excuses” practices, like silent lunches, than by the local school board being sidelined.

    “Black parents are upset because their children are getting horrible-quality schools, not because black people aren’t in charge,” she said. “Let’s be crystal clear: If you treat my child right, and my child gets a quality education, I don’t care if you’re purple.”

    Still, she said, the mass layoffs “affected [families’] relationships with teachers.” She described feeling outraged after walking into a post-Katrina school to discover no teachers who were black or native to New Orleans.

    “Everybody in the school was from someplace else — they were all young, white and shiny. What message does that send to children? I walk into school and you tell me I can go to college and be successful, but there’s no one who looks or sounds like me in this school? Obviously, that’s a lie; it’s not your values. If your values are black people in a black community, why wouldn’t you hire black people from that community?”

    The cost of mistrust

    The question of whether race has colored the perception of power in major cities like New Orleans is not a new one. Political scientists have long studied the ways that personal traits change how government is perceived.

    Jeffrey W. Koch, a professor of political science at SUNY Geneseo, has found that members of various ethnic groups are all about as likely to say they trust the government in the abstract. But introducing race as an identity marker changes the equation: Blacks are significantly less likely to place their faith in government officials who are white.

    “[People] tend to make that inference: ‘If we share an important characteristic — geography or partisanship or race — we probably have the same interests and preferences; if we don’t, it’s probably different,’” he said. “That’s consistent with what we find in all kinds of research. For ethinic minorities, they’re generally seeing people not of their race in positions of authority, so they could make the assumption that they’re not going to act in a way that’s consistent with their interests and preferences. But that’s true not only of ethnic minorities but also of whites.”

    Changing racial power structures would therefore go a long way toward explaining the views of black New Orleanians toward a school system that became, seemingly overnight, vastly more white-led in both classrooms and boardrooms.

    Still, Koch noted, school takeovers are never likely to be warmly received. Local control is a core value of education in the United States, and residents of a tight-knit community like New Orleans might simply resent having an important social service usurped from them for over a decade, regardless of any perceived shift in racial influence.

    “Generally, outsiders coming in and taking over is not really popular, he said. “There’s going to be some pushback against the loss of local control anywhere, particularly in education. The United States has had local control in education for a long time. And because many people have kids in a local school, or know someone who does, it’s going to be a particularly salient issue for them.”

    And there are limits to the extent of political distrust that can be attributed to race.

    As a case in point: Perhaps no figure is as emblematic of the new New Orleans as Landrieu, the two-term mayor who was elected in 2010 and served as the city’s first white leader in 32 years. Landrieu presided over an era of massive change, including a sweeping return of private capital that many feared would bring about gentrification, as well as a wholesale reassessment of racial discrimination in the city’s law enforcement. But while opinions on Landrieu’s tenure were polarized by race, it wasn’t in the direction a political scientist might predict: Polling showed that the Democratic mayor was vastly more popular with black residents than white ones, perhaps as a result of his high-profile stance in favor of removing monuments to prominent Confederates.

    Then-New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu addresses media at a press conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2015. (Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

    Morel said the full impact of the post-Katrina education reforms has yet to be determined and that he hoped to examine changing opinions throughout the city on a variety of social services as time passed. But he added that the top-down method by which the reforms were achieved would impose a cost.

    “We still have a lot of learning to do about how these reforms have affected outcomes in New Orleans,” he said. “But the thing that is not ambiguous is the political cost of this for the black community in New Orleans. If we’re interested in improving schools, in developing not only better test scores but citizenship, is this what we need to have? Do we need to essentially disempower an entire community to be able to say, ‘Graduation rates have increased by three or four percentage points?’ I think we need to dig into that.”

    Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote from a Wall Street Journal headline to Louisiana Superintendent John White.

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  • EduClips: From Miami’s A Grade to Abuse Allegations in Las Vegas, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

    By The 74 | July 18, 2019

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

    Miami-Dade County — For Second Straight Year, Miami Schools Get an A: Standing near two giant cardboard cutouts of the letter A, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recently celebrated good news from the Florida Department of Education: For the second year in a row, it was named an A-rated district. In what is likely an even greater accomplishment, for the third year, no schools in the district, traditional or charter, received a failing grade. Only one traditional school and five charter schools received D grades. The Miami Herald reported, “Coupled with a graduation rate of almost 90% for traditional high schools, Carvalho called Thursday’s announcement of grades his proudest moment.” (Read at the Miami Herald)

    New York City — Officials Deny Rumors that Embattled Chief Carranza is Leaving: With Chancellor Richard Carranza facing criticism for his performance and for some of his racial integration policies, district officials offered an unusual public denial that the schools chief’s resignation was imminent. As reported by Chalkbeat, at a monthly meeting of parent leaders, Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council member Sheree Gibson asked Deputy Chancellor Hydra Mendoza if Carranza was leaving. The deputy chancellor was “surprised and emphatically stated that’s not true,” according to Gibson, who added that Carranza “is a fighter.” The flurry of concern about Carranza’s fate came amid pointed criticism of his performance by city leaders, who said he should be fired if he “continues to divide this city” with “contentious rhetoric about race,” Chalkbeat reported. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Clark County — Las Vegas Schools Have Paid Half a Million Dollars to Fight Abuse Cases Against Former Teacher: The Clark County School District has spent $500,000 defending two cases against a former special education teacher who is accused of abusing autistic students and depriving them of food and drink. The teacher, Kasey Glass, once taught at Las Vegas’s Kirk Adams Elementary School but now teaches in Nye County, Nevada, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal. One suit claims that Glass repeated pushed a child’s head down with his foot, and another says a child repeatedly returned home with injuries that he told his mother had been caused by Glass. Both suits claim the district failed to report and take action on the allegations. A lawyer for Glass declined to comment on the suits. (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    Los Angeles — Complaint Alleges Failure to Adequately Address High-Needs Students: L.A. Unified’s plans for high-needs students “undermine basic notions of transparency and equity” and are failing to adequately ensure that more than $1 billion annually in state funds goes to this group, according to a complaint filed on behalf of two district parents. The complaint is brought by two law firms that won a similar case in 2017 alleging that the district misallocated $450 million annually in funds for high-needs students. L.A. Unified receives about $1.1 billion each year set aside for boosting services for low-income students, English learners and foster youth. The complaint claims that the district’s required annual plans for these students are “opaque” and “rife with fundamental errors.” (Read at The 74Million.org)

    Orange County — Florida Teachers Offered Bonuses to Work in Struggling Schools, Orlando Sentinel Reports: Teachers with “proven records of success” under the state’s merit pay law will be eligible for one-time bonuses of up to $15,000 if they work in the state’s neediest schools. The state Department of Education announced that teachers who work in schools that received Ds or Fs under the state’s grading system — 172 schools this year — would receive the bonuses from a $16 million federal grant designed to help improve long-struggling schools, according to the Orlando Sentinel. To receive the bonuses, teachers would have to be rated “highly effective” or “effective” for three years under the state’s value-added model, which evaluates teachers’ impact on student performance. Eighteen percent of state teachers were rated “highly effective” and 54 percent were deemed “effective” under the system at the end of the 2017-18 school year. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

    National — Online Teachers Bear Witness to Child Abuse: It began in 2018, when a teacher logged on to her account with a Beijing-based company that connected children in China with native English-speaking teachers for live, online video lessons. As reported by EdSurge, the teacher witnessed a mother repeatedly hitting a 4-year-old boy during one English lesson. After the lesson, the teacher logged on again and saw the woman continuing to repeatedly strike her son with a plastic coat hanger. As far as the teacher knew, the company had no systems in place to address what had happened. After reporting the incident to the company, she drafted a post in a private Facebook forum. She soon learned that her experience was not unique. According to EdSurge, “In the Facebook group she posted in, and others like it, new reports of parental abuse surface nearly every week.” (Read at EdSurge)

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

    EDLECTION 2020 — Stewart: Hey, Bill de Blasio, I Was Once a Charter School Parent — and I Don’t Deserve Your ‘Hate’ (Read at The74Million.org)

    RESEARCH — EdBuild, nonprofit that highlighted funding disparities, plans to close next year (Read at Chalkbeat)

    DEVOS — Trump Picked His Perfect Education Secretary in Betsy DeVos (Read at Bloomberg)

    SCHOOL LUNCH — Does lunch have to be 45 minutes? Rethinking school schedules to support innovation (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    TENNESSEE — Tennessee school turnaround models either haven’t worked or are stalling out, new research finds (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Quotes of the Week

    “Imagine if we published student grades and even … student work. How about nurse reports and private health information? What would the parents have to say about this? What sort of lawsuits would they begin?” ­—letter sent to the Columbia Falls School District in Montana that signaled a massive ransomware attack. Such events are becoming increasingly common in schools. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “I DONT [sic] NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS!” —a text message from Christian Sobrino, former chief financial officer of Puerto Rico, referring to the island’s teachers union. The release of the messages, in addition to corruption charges against former education secretary Julia Keleher, are threatening to unravel the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Read at Politics K-12)

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

    “The blood-curdling sobbing, the screaming. I have him in my ears. It was bad. Honestly, it was traumatic.” —Jordan, an online English instructor, describing a mother in China beating her 4-year-old son during a video lesson. Online teachers report that parental abuse is far from uncommon on some platforms that cater to international students. (Read at EdSurge)

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

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  • Ransomware Attacks Shut Down City Services in Atlanta and Baltimore, Now Spreading to School Districts. How Can Schools Protect Themselves?

    By Noble Ingram | July 17, 2019

    Columbia Falls School District was in trouble. What started as a strange text message on the superintendent’s phone one day in mid-September 2017 had quickly become an email and then a chain of emails sent to school officials and parents threatening graphic violence in the district south of Montana’s Glacier National Park.

    And then, finally, there was the letter.

    “We know who you are, Columbia Falls. We know everything about your operation. We know everything about your schools and the children in them,” it read, addressed to the district’s Board of Trustees.

    “If you receive a message from us, it means you have been completely and thoroughly attacked and breached by an organised entity of creatures who are motivated only by their love for internet money.“

    Superintendent Steve Bradshaw and his colleagues now recognize that these messages were the first signs of a districtwide cyberattack. This was ransomware, the technology that made headlines this spring for bringing civic operations in Baltimore to a halt. The malware takes hold of victims’ data and the hackers then threaten to publish or delete the information if the ransom isn’t paid.

    Hackers have used ransomware to extort individuals for years, but their focus on larger businesses and public entities is becoming more common now, says Josephine Wolff, assistant professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology. School districts, data-rich and often lacking ironclad cybersecurity, have emerged as an increasingly vulnerable target.

    “Nefarious actors have determined that schools are large repositories of information and also potential targets, given that they can be varied in the technical expertise and the funding that they get to protect the data that they have,” said Amy McLaughlin, cybersecurity and network consultant for the Consortium for School Networking, based in Washington, D.C.

    Just this year, schools districts in Idaho, Connecticut and New Mexico were all hit with ransomware attacks. Just this month, it was Syracuse city schools, one of New York’s so-called Big 5 districts. In mid-May, Oklahoma City Public Schools, a district with about 45,000 students, temporarily shut down its network after a ransomware attack. The recovery services it solicited were estimated to cost between $43,175 and $103,840.

    In 2018, Public K-12 schools reported 122 cybersecurity incidents, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, based in Arlington, Virginia. Of those, 11 were connected to ransomware.

    Hacking into networks and stealing data isn’t a new phenomenon. But ransomware is unique in that it monetizes data that wouldn’t typically be lucrative. There isn’t an easy way to sell a third-grade class’s reading scores or a seventh-grader’s disciplinary records. But schools need this information to operate — and many families don’t want it made public.

    “On the surface, that is not information that is worth money to anyone, but hackers know … that it has value to the individuals whose data it is and also to the school district as a whole,” says Amelia Vance, director of the Education Privacy Project at the Future of Privacy Forum, also based in D.C. “It is valuable because we find it valuable.”

    Before the letter arrived, Bradshaw didn’t know that the violent threats sent to people in his district were at all related to a cyberattack. He brought security in to patrol campuses, closed school between Thursday and Tuesday that week and canceled a weekend homecoming game. Even private schools and a community college temporarily shuttered their doors.

    Columbia Falls school officials canceled homecoming after a September 2017 ransomware attack. (Facebook)

    Once the letter arrived, though, he was forced to change course quickly. The hackers, who had found his and others’ contact information through the school’s network, were demanding a monumental ransom. They had entered the network through a vulnerable server left running over the summer, and now they proposed three payment plans, with one option that would total $150,000. If not, the district’s valuable data, including student names and addresses, would be published.

    “Imagine if we published student grades and even … student work. How about nurse reports and private health information? What would the parents have to say about this? What sort of lawsuits would they begin?” the letter threatened.

    Data is now as much a part of most public schools as books or whiteboards. School administrations track where students live, the medications they take and a host of other figures. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires detailed records on student performance. Many teachers use interactive apps and online programs, some of which record student internet activity — even though this violates federal law.

    The attack against Columbia Falls didn’t shut school officials off from their data. But many more recent ransomware strikes do. Losing access to this information can be devastating.

    “A ransomware attack … would take away access to a student’s transcript that they need to apply for a job. It would take away access to who is in attendance,” says Vance. “It really does shut down the abilities of schools to do almost everything in this day and age.”

    And once those operations are cut off, schools face the agonizing decision of whether or not to pay the ransom. Hackers typically request payment in Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency notoriously difficult to track. Unlike most corporations, schools districts deal with public scrutiny on ransom negotiations. Wolff says public entities are generally more reluctant to pay for that very reason.

    Related

    Chain of Schools: The Bitcoin, Blockchain Revolution Comes to Campus — but Are Colleges Ready?

    If public entities, including schools, “are going to make ransom payments, that’s going to be on the public record somewhere … I think that probably puts a little more pressure on them,” she says.

    The FBI recommends against paying ransom in any circumstance. That decision can be difficult, though, since ransom payments are sometimes less expensive than paying to recover lost data and continue operating. The city of Baltimore opted not to pay a ransom of approximately $70,000 when it was first hit this spring. Its recovery is now estimated to cost $18 million.

    What’s more, an investigation by ProPublica this spring showed that many companies that purport to help ransomware victims recover their lost data ultimately just pay the ransom anyway.

    One major step schools can take to protect their data before they get hacked and held for ransom is simple, cybersecurity professionals agree: Collect less of it.

    “One of the top privacy principles is data minimization, the idea that you should minimize data by not collecting it in the first place unless you need it, deleting it as soon as you can and only creating copies when you need to,” says Vance.

    This is easier said than done, especially because public schools are subject to state data retention laws, which vary. In New Jersey, for example, state law requires public schools to keep student data, including medical records, standardized test scores and parent names, for 100 years.

    “In the old days, you would get rid of information because you didn’t have the space to keep it,” said Bradshaw. “Well, when you keep it electronically, which we do … you don’t notice mistakes, so it’s even more critical from my perspective to get rid of that data in accordance with state law.”

    For the data that can’t be deleted, districts should establish secure backups and keep clear records of where the information is stored. But districts also need to make a stronger effort to engage teachers and administrators throughout the year on how to be more critical about the messages they receive in their inbox and files on which they’re shared. Unlike the Columbia Falls attack, many recent ransomware attacks infect networks through phishing — in which a single person in the school clicks on a link, often one that had been emailed to them by an unknown contact.

    “Things like your backup, remediation and filtering, those kinds of things only help you to a certain extent in recovery, as opposed to a really solid understanding by employees of their role, their responsibilities and what they should be looking for and learning to be suspicious of,” says McLaughlin.

    Ultimately, Bradshaw’s district did not pay the ransom. They contacted the FBI and worked extensively with law enforcement. In the following weeks and months, he would discover that the ransomware was part of a campaign of attacks by the international hacker network Dark Overlord, which was responsible for scores of breaches across the U.S. and even leaked episodes of the television show Orange Is the New Black after Netflix refused to pay. Several other school districts were hit by the hackers that year.

    Not paying the ransom didn’t immediately lead to Columbia Falls student data being strewn across the internet, as far as Bradshaw knows. But it did require an active information campaign: sending out about 1,200 letters to district families and holding two public meetings to discuss the potential consequences of the cyberattack.

    “It’s interesting … because there are more guns than there are people in the state of Montana,” he said. “They were ready to come protect the school and the kids, and I said that’s not going to work.”

    Related

    Defiance on ‘Net Neutrality’: Montana Governor Goes to Helena High School to Declare State’s Break With FCC Mandate

    In Bradshaw’s view, cybersecurity hinges on funding. He argued that the biggest change needed to help protect schools from what his went through is to invest more in public education. Cybersecurity professionals aren’t incentivized to work for schools when they can earn much higher salaries in the private sector, he said.

    “It comes down to what you can afford to put in,” he said.

    Right now, swaying public opinion toward higher funding for cybersecurity remains a challenge. Wolff says the issue is growing in awareness, but she doubts it will emerge as central to any big local elections anytime soon.

    Personal experience with a ransomware attack, however, might be a powerful motivator. Bradshaw’s community is mostly conservative and wasn’t always keen on raising taxes to boost cybersecurity funding in the district. But after its 2017 ordeal, he said, that started to change.

    “A year later, we passed a $500,000 technology levy, which in this conservative community that’s economically hurting … for them to say, ‘We’ll pony up to pay an extra $5 a month toward that $500,000 for the school,’ was a big thing,” he said.

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  • Cast Your Vote! Which Education Issue Do You Most Want to See Discussed and Debated by Democrats in Detroit?

    By Lauren Costantino | July 16, 2019

    This is part of an ongoing series about the 2020 presidential election. See more at The74Million.org/election.

    All it took was one round of debates for the 2020 presidential campaign to eclipse 2016 in regards to education policy. 

    Not that that’s saying much. 

    Last month’s Democratic showdown touched (briefly) on such key K-12 issues as school spending, integration, safety and social-emotional learning. There were also the timely higher ed issues of college affordability, student debt and free tuition. 

    Now with the next two-night debate-a-thon set to begin July 30 in Detroit, The 74 wants to hear from you: What other education issues deserve a moment in the campaign spotlight? Which issue deserves a deeper and more informed discussion? What do you care most about, when it comes to America’s education system?

    We hope you’ll vote in the poll below, or write in your own top topic, and then circulate with other people in your community. (Here’s a Facebook post and tweet that you can share.) We’ll be back to share some of the top results ahead of the Detroit debates.

     

     

     

    This article is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Here are some of the latest headlines:

    ● Biden-Harris Exchange Makes Busing a Surprise Focus of 2020 Campaign. How Will It Affect the Debate Over Integration?

    ● EDlection 2020: Comparing K-12 Plans on Teacher Pay, Pre-K and More From Democratic Front-runners Biden & Sanders

    Two Days of Democratic Debate Showcased Wide Canvas of Education Issues, From Busing to Social-Emotional Learning

    ● Williams: The 2019 Democratic Debates, Where No One Argues for Fixing America With Better Schools

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  • Failing Schools: Home to Underachieving Students, Disillusioned Teachers and — According to a New Study — Higher Rates of Crime

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 14, 2019

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

    The bogeyman haunting education reformers’ dreams has always been the “failure factory.”

    You’re probably familiar with the term: a traditional public school that has performed dismally for years. Teachers are exhausted and disillusioned, and students’ academic promise is squandered amid crumbling infrastructure. Decades into its existence, the education reform movement is still focused almost overwhelmingly on improving or closing urban schools with poor academic results.

    Now research shows that serially underperforming schools might not just be holding back students’ achievement; they seem to be driving higher rates of crime as well.

    According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the closure of more than two dozen low-performing schools in Philadelphia led to a significant reduction in crime — particularly violent crime — both in the surrounding areas and throughout the city. The greater the number of students who left a given school, the greater the decline in crime rates, the authors found.

    The study examines the two-year period between 2011 and 2013 when local authorities shuttered 29 public schools throughout Philadelphia, roughly 10 percent of all schools in the city. The decision was made by the School Reform Commission, a state-run panel created in 2001 to lead the school district out of its academic and financial challenges. The move was meant to address Philadelphia’s plummeting public school enrollment, and like many reforms undertaken before the district returned to local control last year, the closures proved controversial.

    Related

    Philadelphia School Reform Commission Votes to Abolish Itself After 16 Years

    A study published this spring by education professor Matthew Steinberg and criminologist John MacDonald, both of UPenn, found that the academic effects of the closures were mixed — students displaced by closures typically saw learning gains if they were relocated to a high-performing school, while they also missed more days of school than they otherwise would have.

    But the results of another study conducted by the duo, published this month in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics and focused on the impact of closures on crime, were less ambiguous.

    Using data from the Philadelphia Police Department, Steinberg and MacDonald found that in census blocks (the Census Bureau’s smallest geographic unit, often assembled together in block groups of roughly 1,500 people) where a school had been closed in the 2011-13 period, crime declined by 15 percent (roughly 1.4 incidences per month). Violent crime — defined as assaults, robberies, rapes or murders — declined by 30 percent (roughly 0.6 incidences per month).

    The finding confirms what many would suspect. Research in criminology has long shown that rates of both criminal offending and victimization peak in the late teen years, when brain development hasn’t yet concluded and people are more prone to rash behavior. Previous research has shown that grouping together large numbers of young people, particularly those from low-income families, increases both the occurrence of crime and the likelihood that kids will get arrested together.

    As prominent way stations for young people, K-12 schools satisfy several conditions for misconduct to flourish: They bring together hundreds of potential offenders and victims, both on campus and during the commute to and from school. Some existing studies have looked at the public safety impact of closing neighborhood Catholic schools or opening new charter schools, but in neither case did researchers examine the poorest and most at-risk children.

    “What’s unique about this study is that we’re trying to understand the effect of the [targeted closure] policy,” Steinberg said in an interview. “The schools in Philadelphia that were targeted for closure, like schools in Chicago and other major districts that are doing these targeted school closings … were the most under-enrolled, which typically serve the lowest-achieving kids or the highest-poverty kids.”

    Examining data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the authors found that the closed schools served predominantly black students and those eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch, a leading indicator of poverty. The same figures showed that the schools were characterized by relatively high numbers of arrests, suspensions and truancy, as well as poor academic performance in both math and reading.

    The downtick in criminality was observed during a time when Philadelphia was seeing across-the-board declines in violent crime, including a 25 percent drop in homicides. Steinberg pointed to signs that the school closures played a clear role in making city streets safer: The decrease in offenses was observed during school hours, when kids would otherwise have been there, but not during weekends; further, the census blocks from which the greatest number of students were displaced saw the largest reductions in crime.

    Regional Science and Urban Economics

    Measured against census blocks where schools did not close, or where schools were not located in the first place, the sharp reduction in misconduct is evident; the effects also stand out amid multiple separate time periods (2006-13, 2008-13, 2009-14, and 2010-14), Steinberg noted, meaning that the study wasn’t simply drawing on one or two years in which lower crime was observed.

    “I think it’s very safe, frankly, to say that closing schools caused a reduction in crime in these neighborhoods,” he said. The cause, he said, was the dilution of disadvantaged populations “by removing, shifting a population of kids who were much lower-achieving and much lower-income than the typical kids in Philadelphia.”

    The effects on crime were especially pronounced in areas where underperforming high schools were closed. Census blocks that experienced a district-mandated high school closure saw an impressive 40 percent reduction in violent crime, while elementary or middle school closures were associated with an 18 percent reduction.

    Perhaps most promisingly, the data collected by Steinberg and MacDonald don’t seem to indicate that criminal behavior simply migrated elsewhere after the closures took effect; census blocks neighboring those where schools were shuttered experienced no resultant spike in violence, and in fact benefited from a 10 percent decline in property crime. Across the entire city of Philadelphia, the authors estimate that the 2011-13 school closures led to a 2.3 percent drop in violent crime and a 5.3 percent drop in property crime.

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  • EduClips: From Chicago’s Trashed Books to Holocaust Denial in Palm Beach County, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

    By The 74 | July 12, 2019

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

    New York City — Advocates Underwhelmed by District’s Response to Systemic Special Education Problems: City officials have pledged to hire hundreds of new staff, including lawyers and psychologists, in response to a blistering review that found widespread problems in the district’s special education system. Officials blamed many of the systemic failures outlined in a May state review on lack of staff, describing shortages of special education teachers and psychologists who have caseloads exceeding 100 students. District officials also noted that the closure of special education preschools has left many young students without placement. But some advocates criticized the city’s response, including efforts to address issues at its impartial hearing offices, which allow parents to lodge complaints if they believe their child is not getting proper services or placement. Reports found several issues with the system, including too few hearing rooms and payment problems for hearing officers. “The state [report] addresses a number of those issues, and unfortunately the DOE punted on most of them without giving a solution and in some instances saying there was no solution to be had,” said Rebecca Shore, the litigation director at Advocates for Children of New York. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Philadelphia — Board of Ed’s Two Student Reps Offer Valedictory Report on How to Change City Schools: They want a teacher feedback system similar to those in place at colleges and universities where students can anonymously tell teachers how they might improve learning. They want clear policies on admission to selective courses like Advanced Placement. And they want clear guidelines on career preparedness in a district where some students are unsure how to find jobs or use basic word processing programs. These are some of the recommendations from a year-end report drafted by the Philadelphia School District’s two student representatives, Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò. The two high school graduates finished their time on the Board of Education recently after crisscrossing the city and talking to students. (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    Los Angeles — After District Scrapped Controversial Wanding and Search Policy, Some School Officials Are Asking, “Now What?”: In 1993, after two students were killed in shootings at Los Angeles high schools, the district began wanding students with metal detectors and allowing random searches. The district’s stance on random searches made it unique among the nation’s 15 largest school districts. Now, 23 years after its enactment, the city has ended the policy, bowing to criticism that it was punitive and disproportionately targeted minorities. But many officials are unsure what will replace it and if the district is prepared to keep students safe. “Wanding might not be the answer, but then what is the answer?” asked Cynthia Gonzalez, principal of the Communication and Technology School at Diego Rivera Learning Complex. “How is the district going to be proactive about making sure the schools have resources to address the problems that come up?” (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    Chicago — Viral Image of Trashed Books Sparks Debate: The image went viral: a dumpster full of classic books, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Hersey’s Hiroshima, outside Chicago’s Senn High School. It generated impassioned commentary on Facebook and more than 1,000 replies on a Reddit topic thread. While some criticized the school for casting aside classic works, many teachers and librarians said they needed to cull old, outdated and worn books to make space for new materials. A spokesman for the district told Chalkbeat that officials are in the process of “conducting an evaluation of the situation with the dumpster.” (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Palm Beach County — District Removes Prinicipal Who Cast Doubt on Holocaust: Palm Beach County Schools removed a high school principal who sparked an international uproar for telling a parent that it was unclear that the Holocaust was a historical fact. The move came three days after the Palm Beach Post reported that William Latson, a principal at Spanish River High School, told a parent last year that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” and that he “can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” The district initially said that Watson’s remarks did not merit disciplinary action or a formal reprimand. But the district reversed itself after publication of the Post story, saying it is “in the best interest of students and the larger school community to reassign Mr. Latson to a District position.” (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

    Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

    ELEMENTARY EDUCATION — Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong (Read at The Atlantic)

    PROVIDENCE SCHOOLS — An Education Horror Show (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    CHARTERS —When Success Is Not Enough: Charter Schools Delivering Better Outcomes for Low-Income Students Still Target of Progressive Ire (Read at The74Million.org)

    U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ED — Should a Teacher Be the Secretary of Education? (Read at Forbes)

    ACADEMIC GROWTH — Can ‘growth’ data push parents to more integrated schools? A new study says maybe (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Quotes of the Week

    “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” —William Latson, former principal of Spanish River High School in Florida. Palm Beach County Schools removed and reassigned him after the remarks sparked international outrage. (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

    “If they want to think more creatively about ways to integrate our schools, then more power to them, and it’s really important for the leaders to be doing something like that. Because it’s rarely a winning issue politically to talk about ways that white parents in the public school system might send their kids to school with racial minorities.” —Jason Sokol, historian at the University of New Hampshire, on criticisms Sen. Kamala Harris made of former vice president Joe Biden’s busing record during a recent Democratic presidential debate. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “This process has gotten much more complicated and I have had a greater role in planning how to keep the students blind to the testing than I expected. Because of this, I worry that the College Board would question some of what we’ve done and I would be complicit because of my role in some of it.” —AP Seminar teacher Jason Kester, in an internal email on a scheme at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School to give hundreds of freshman a “placebo” AP test, rather than an official one. (Read at the Daytona Beach News-Journal)

    “The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.” —Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, on the arrest of former Puerto Rico education chief Julia Keleher and five others on corruption charges. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “That’s me with a little boy by the name of Jimmy Kane, and I had a crush on him. Oh my goodness, look at the boy’s pictures I have. They took all the money, huh?” —Betty June Sissom, 89, upon examining the contents of a wallet she’d lost at a high school in Centralia, Illinois, 75 years ago. The stolen wallet was among 15 recovered recently from a vent in the girls’ bathroom. (Read at Fox 8)

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  • A Database of Florida Student Records Is Supposed to Protect Kids — but Could Harm Them Instead, Advocates Tell Governor

    By Mark Keierleber | July 9, 2019

    Updated July 10

    An expansive database of student records designed to deter future mass shootings, under development in Florida, is unlikely to improve school safety and may actually put children at risk, a coalition of advocacy groups told the state’s governor Tuesday.

    The planned “data repository,” which aims to compile social media posts and a broad range of government records on students, was part of the state’s response to the 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The effort is part of a larger national push to track student behaviors in an effort to deter future violence, despite a dearth of research on the tactic’s effectiveness.

    In a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, nearly three dozen local and national advocacy groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Autism Society of Florida — urged state officials to “immediately halt” development of the database. Instead, they urged, the state should create a commission of parents, students, education experts and other stakeholders to identify efforts that have been “demonstrated to effectively identify and mitigate school safety threats.”

    The letter cites a recent investigation by Education Week, which found that Florida officials have weighed collecting millions of records about students, from those placed in foster care to victims of bullying based on sexual orientation or race. But the plan to implement the database has faced numerous roadblocks, the investigation found, including concerns over the amount of information officials can legally compile.

    “This database represents a significant safety risk because it collects highly sensitive information without a clear, evidence-based rationale for inclusion [and] could be used to stigmatize and blame children who have been victims of bullying,” the groups wrote. For example, the database could discourage students from reporting bullying because they don’t want to be identified as a potential threat.

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    After the mass school shooting in Parkland, state law mandated that education officials create a centralized “data repository and data analytics resources” that collects records from social media, the department of children and families, the department of law enforcement, the department of juvenile justice and local law enforcement agencies.

    In a statement released Tuesday evening, the Florida Governor’s Office said the letter contained “inaccurate information regarding the database and how the information is used.” The database, according to the office, “is a tool for threat assessment teams to evaluate the seriousness of individual cases and is not being used to label students as potential threats.” The information will allow officials to respond more quickly to potential threats and to “provide appropriate services to students who may be in need,” the statement continued.

    Cheryl Etters, an education department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that at the time the Education Week article was published, officials hadn’t yet settled on specific data points to be included in the repository.

    The database was supposed to be in place by last December, but state education officials missed the deadline — which, in a February executive order, DeSantis called “unacceptable.” The order directs education officials to “take any and all steps necessary to implement” the data repository by Aug. 1. The governor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday’s letter.

    Still, the advocates likened the database to “mass surveillance” that will do little to improve school safety but will “significantly erode” students’ civil rights. In a recent study on the pre-attack behaviors of active shooters, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that perpetrators don’t share demographic traits, though they often display concerning behaviors including telling others about their violent plans. Despite the national attention paid to school shootings following the tragedies in Parkland and Santa Fe, Texas, last year, such incidents remain statistically rare. Schools have actually become safer in recent years, according to federal education data.

    Amelia Vance, director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, said she’s most concerned about discussions to include records on victims of bullying and those in foster care, and she had questions about how long the state plans to retain such information. Students hoping to learn what information about them appears in the database would face the burden of having to contact the agencies individually, she said.

    While Florida is the first state to develop a statewide database of student records with the goal of preventing violence, schools across the country have monitored social media activity for years despite fierce pushback from civil rights groups. However, Vance said, efforts at most districts are less expansive than Florida’s and don’t combine social media data with other student records.

    “I always hate the idea of schools adopting something that they think will work, that they’re paying for,” she said, but which is more likely to “bombard administrators with false flags” or “discriminates against students who are different.”

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    Chad Marlow, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said Florida’s effort to compile student records “goes much further than anything we’ve seen.”

    But with attention focused on Florida’s response to the Parkland shooting, Marlow said, the state database could have national ramifications.

    “There is a frightening possibility that other states, other jurisdictions, will look to what Florida is doing and try to copy it without really spending all that much time considering whether what Florida is doing is helpful or harmful,” Marlow said.

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  • SEL in the House: Democrats Approve Millions in Landmark Federal Funding for Social-Emotional Learning in Bill That Now Faces Test in Senate

    By Kate Stringer | July 9, 2019

    In what’s been described as a landmark investment from the federal government in social-emotional learning, the House of Representatives approved a spending bill last month that included $260 million in funding for what it calls “whole child” initiatives within the Department of Education.

    The funding is divided into four areas:

    1. $170 million through the Education Innovation and Research program to provide grants for evidence-based innovations that support students’ social, emotional and cognitive well-being;

    2. $25 million to support teacher professional development, which comes through the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program;

    3. $40 million for the Full-Service Community Schools Program to support students’ and families’ holistic needs; and

    4. $25 million for School Safety National Activities to add more school counselors, mental health professionals and social workers who are qualified to work in schools.

    “Research shows that building the capacity of students to develop social and emotional skills, and take responsibility for their community, can reduce bullying, violence, and aggressive behaviors, making schools safer,” the House appropriations committee wrote.

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    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) applauded the funding.

    “I think we definitely see this as a political landmark in thinking about how to support children in their social-emotional and academic growth and developing skill sets students will need to be successful,” said Nick Yoder, director of policy and practice at CASEL.

    CASEL credited Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, for championing the funding. DeLauro, in turn, said the initiative was inspired by the work of James Comer, a professor of child psychiatry at Yale University who helped transform schools by focusing on child development in addition to academic learning.

    “I am proud to have provided funding for a landmark federal investment of $260 million for social-emotional learning in this year’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education funding bill,” DeLauro said in a statement to The 74. “Congress must invest in proven strategies that will help our kids, and I will not give up in the fight to make that a reality.”

    Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) has been a longtime advocate for social-emotional learning, pushing several bills during his time in the House and helping to support its inclusion in the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act. From Ryan’s perspective, this moment shows that social-emotional learning is gaining acceptance and that people are starting to understand its importance. But, he added, there’s still progress to be made.

    “It really is a turning point,” Ryan said. “But we’ve got a long way to go — we’ve got to get this bill through the Senate and there’s a lot of people around the country who have not been exposed to [social-emotional learning].”

    Amid disagreements about raising spending caps with both House Democrats and the White House, the Senate has yet to pass its own spending bills. Time is running short, with just a month to go before the August recess and three months to go before the end of the fiscal year and another possible government shutdown, Roll Call reported.

    How a Democratic-backed spending increase for a not-well-understood educational approach will fare among pressing issues like defense spending and raising the debt ceiling is a big question. But the concept of social-emotional learning is becoming more mainstream. Ryan has made it integral to his 2020 presidential campaign, and, in another first, he addressed the topic at the June 26 Democratic debate, demanding social-emotional learning and trauma-based care in every school.

    “[Social-emotional learning] tells kids how to handle stressful situations, how to handle conflict better, how to have empathy, how to work on a team, how to best resolve conflict with their friends, their peers — these are all qualities we want kids to have,” Ryan told The 74. “By addressing the social-emotional needs of kids, you see an increase in test scores because they’re able to access parts of the brain that they need for learning.”

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    Social-emotional learning has drawn attention from policymakers, teachers and funders across the country over the past decade, as research has found that teaching students skills such as self-regulation, compassion and collaboration can improve not just test scores but also graduation rates as well as lead to better mental and physical health as an adult. Recently, an Aspen Institute convening of 200 researchers, educators, students and parents released recommendations for how schools can better support the whole child.

    Yoder, who travels the country talking with state educators and policymakers about social-emotional learning, said he’s also seen a growing interest in the topic from the business community, which is concerned with hiring employees who are good at collaborating and communicating.

    However, some people caution that educators should not prioritize social-emotional learning above academics, especially in schools that are performing poorly. They also recommend that SEL be implemented with rigor.

    “SEL will be counted as a dismal failure if it encourages educators to settle for pillowy paeans to ‘happiness,’ ‘self-esteem,’ and ‘inclusivity’ at the expense of harder things such as character, ethics, virtue, and civility,” Chester E. Finn Jr. and Frederick M. Hess wrote in a publication for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

    Funding for social-emotional learning was just one of many items included in a large package of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020. House Democrats passed the bills 226 to 203, voting along party lines, with seven Democrats joining all the Republicans in voting no.

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  • Controversial Bill That Would Make Local Districts Sole Authorizers of Charter Schools Moves to a Public Hearing in the California Senate

    By Noble Ingram | July 8, 2019

    A controversial charter school regulation moving through the California legislature will take its next step Wednesday when the state Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing that’s expected to draw crowds of supporters and opponents of the state’s large charter school sector.

    Assembly Bill 1505 would grant local districts sole authority to approve or deny petitions for charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated and are often seen as competition by local school districts. Under the current system, both the county and state boards of education can approve petitions denied by districts on appeal. The state Assembly narrowly passed AB 1505 last month, although with a stipulation that a final version of the bill will retain some kind of appeals process extending beyond districts.

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    The legislation began this spring as part of a package of bills rewriting state charter policy. The state Assembly ultimately passed only two of them. The other item, Assembly Bill 1507, closed a loophole some districts were using to boost their budgets by approving charter schools outside of their boundaries. The Senate Education Committee is considering both bills, but Wednesday’s hearing will cover only AB 1505.

    “I’m proud to co-author AB 1505, which will finally allow our local school boards to factor the financial, academic, and facilities impacts that charter schools will have on their districts,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said last week. “Our locally elected boards are in the best position to determine whether a proposed charter school would negatively impact their district.”

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    In April, the state Assembly held its own public hearing on the bill amid a throng of advocates at the capital. Three witnesses for each side gave extended statements.

    The speakers in favor of AB 1505 comprised leaders from both the Oakland and San Diego Unified school districts, as well as a traditional public school advocate from the San Bernardino County District. All described their frustration when charter petitions their districts had denied were approved by the county or state on appeal. In these cases, enrollment at traditional public schools fell as students moved to charters.

    “The financial oversight and management challenges are complex and need to be supported by state law in order to be better addressed and best addressed locally,” said Oakland Unified board president Aimee Eng. At 27 percent, Oakland has the highest ratio of charter school students of any district in the state. Since the 2006-07 school year, nine charter schools in Eng’s district have opened after appealing for approval from the county.

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    The witnesses in opposition to the bill featured the CEO of a charter school network, a representative for the Sacramento County Board of Education, and Lety Gomez, a founding parent of a charter school in her East San Jose neighborhood. She voiced the concern among many critics of AB 1505 that the legislation would make it too easy for districts to close high-performing charter schools.

    “This bill is trying to take away [from] communities of color the right to school choice and equal opportunity. I cannot afford private school for my daughter. And with the current cost of living, I cannot afford to move in order to find the school that best supports her,” she said.

    That tension has come to a head across the state. In addition to restricting the appeals process for denied charter school applicants, AB 1505 also allows districts to consider the financial impact of charter schools on their budgets when making the decision. District school officials argue that charter schools siphon away badly needed funding, while charter proponents say their schools are being scapegoated for the fiscal mismanagement of district schools.

    In a statement from February, when AB 1505 and its companion bills were first introduced, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins called for “significant changes in the decades-old laws governing charter schools that have allowed corporate charter schools to divert millions away from our neighborhood public schools.”

    Pro-charter forces are worried the bill would essentially cut off charter school growth in the state. California has just over 1,300 charter schools, more than any other state in the country. Myrna Castrejón, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said in May that the bill would lead to “closing down the charter schools that are helping [vulnerable communities] learn and thrive.”

    Should the Senate pass AB 1505, the measure would go to Gov. Gavin Newsom for approval. In June, representatives from two prominent civil rights groups, the National Action Network and the National Urban League, met with members of Newsom’s staff. Both oppose AB 1505 and argue it would harm California’s students of color, who tend to be among the lowest-performing in the state.

    Newsom has so far been reticent to take a strong position on charter regulations, but during his campaign he received the support of California teachers unions. Charter schools are typically not unionized, and curbing their growth was at the heart of teacher strikes this year in Los Angeles and Oakland.

    Adding to the complexity is a report released last month from the California Charter Task Force. Newsom assembled the group and charged it with studying the impact of charter schools on state education funding. The unanimous recommendations the task force published countered the goals of AB 1505 by stating that “no changes were recommended to the [charter schools] appeals process.” But the report also included several measures that did not reach unanimous support advocating big changes to the charter appeals process directly in line with the bill.

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    With New Report From California Task Force, Pressure Mounts on Gov. Newsom to Break Silence on State Legislation That Would Restrict Charter Schools

    At the state Assembly hearing in April, AB 1505’s author, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, said that the results of the task force would likely be reflected in the bill. But in advance of the Senate vote, it isn’t yet clear to what extent that will be true. The Senate Education Committee will decide whether to advance the bill to the full voting body on the same day as the hearing. The current legislative session ends in September.

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