Noteworthy headlines from the education wire
  • Tackling the Opioid Epidemic: Senate Hearing Touts 3 Ways Education Can Play a Role, From Better Drug Prevention to Discipline Reform

    By Carolyn Phenicie | February 9, 2018

    Washington, D.C.

    The opioid crisis, which killed more than 63,000 people in 2016, is affecting issues and policies beyond law enforcement and health care.

    No matter the topic of discussion with constituents, from education to transportation, “we always end up talking about addiction and what is happening in our small communities,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Thursday focused on the crisis’s impact on children and families.

    The session, in a packed-to-capacity hearing room, focused on problems ranging from the need for better care for babies born addicted to opiates, to how to reform the foster care system and try to keep families together while protecting vulnerable children.

    The House Education Committee last year had a hearing on the same issue, including testimony from a Maryland school superintendent on the “dramatic change” it has brought to his district.


    House Hears Disturbing Tales of ‘Dramatic Change’ Opioid Crisis Has Brought to Schools, Children

    Senators Thursday focused on a wide range of issues, including:

    The need to better educate teenagers about the dangers of opioids: Teens don’t understand that legally prescribed medicine, misused or used by people for whom it wasn’t intended, can be just as lethal as street drugs, said Becky Savage, founder of the 525 Foundation.

    Savage, of Granger, Indiana, started the foundation in memory of her two older sons, Nick and Jack, who died on the same night in June 2015 of accidental overdoses of opioids and alcohol poisoning after a day spent at graduation parties. Jack had just finished high school, and Nick was home after completing his first year of college. Both were standout high school hockey players; 5 and 25 were their jersey numbers.

    Young people “don’t understand that you can die from one time trying something,” as her sons did, she added.

    Parents should begin conversations, and teenagers tend to respond better to real stories than to a barrage of statistics, she said.

    Additional school-based programs: Mental health programs and after-school, community-based programs will be essential for helping prevent teenage use of opioids, witnesses said.

    “Schools have always been and should continue to be a core frontline institution in whatever ailments we’re [seeing] in our communities,” said William Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, a foundation focused on reducing the need for foster care.

    Schools should also change their approach toward discipline, from one of policing to one of protection, Bell said.

    “Our schools should not close down at 3. Our schools have to become that school-based community center,” he added.

    Sen. Patty Murray, the committee’s ranking Democrat, also addressed the school discipline issue, saying teachers must get training in childhood trauma to “avoid knee-jerk discipline that does more harm than good.”

    More support for grandparents and other family members raising children in foster care: After years of decline, the number of children in foster care has risen in recent years, with many in the care of relatives. More than 437,000 children were in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2016, according to the federal government, an increase of about 10,000 from the year before. Of the 15 categories states can report for why children were removed from the home, parental drug abuse saw the greatest increase, from 32 percent to 34 percent.

    Grandparents in particular — who are raising an estimated 2.6 million children, many outside the foster care system — may struggle with issues like navigating the school system, Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said.

    The committee will consider a number of bills in the coming months, Republican committee chairman Lamar Alexander said, including a measure to ease regulations at the National Institutes of Health to do more research on non-addictive painkillers, and one that would study how to better support grandparents raising grandchildren.

  • Another Outrage in Flint: Third-Grade Reading Levels Plummet by 75% After City’s Water Poisoned by Lead

    By Kei-Sygh Thomas | February 8, 2018

    At the onset of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, third-grade literacy was 41.8 percent. That was nearly five years ago. The literacy rate declined sharply to 10.7 percent last year, nearly a 75 percent drop.

    “We’re in crisis mode,” Flint school board vice president Harold Woodson told the Detroit Free Press February 6.

    Though the literacy crisis did not begin with the contamination of Flint’s water supply, it will not end unless state officials address how poverty — rampant in Flint and other districts across the state — affects children in school, he said.


    The Poisoned Kids of Flint, Michigan: A Social Media Timeline of an Unraveling Man-Made Disaster

    Meanwhile, failure to reach reading proficiency in third grade can have long-term detrimental effects on learning and achievement. Third grade marks the point at which children transition from learning how to read to reading in order to learn, according to educators who see it as a bellwether. Students who are not proficient by this milestone will struggle with learning complex topics in other subjects like mathematics, science, and social studies — or worse. Research shows that students who lack reading proficiency in third grade are four times as likely to not complete high school as those who are proficient.

    Another factor in the literacy decline could be higher standards, as evidenced by a more difficult exam put in place several years ago so Michigan students can be competitive with those from other states, Michigan Superintendent of Education Brian Whiston explained.

    Third-grade reading proficiency dropped statewide from 70 percent in 2015 — a number Gov. Rick Snyder touted that year — to 44 percent last year.

    Testing, meanwhile, remains a small pixel in the picture of what’s happening in Flint.

    “That’s not acceptable,” Whiston told the Free Press. “I certainly think that some of the [drop in proficiency] could be due to [lead poisoning]. But some of it could be stress. I’m certainly disappointed that it’s at that level. These families have gone through a lot of stress. So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear things dropped considerably.”


    Forgive Flint’s School Debt Now: One Lawmaker’s Bid to Help the Kids Poisoned By Toxic Water

    There does not seem to be a long-term plan in place to track kids and assess damage to children poisoned by the water. A registry was created last week, but no one has been closely monitoring the development and well-being of the children in Flint, despite lead exposure being linked to ADHD, motor-skill impairment, and lower IQ levels.

    “As I’ve said many times, somebody ought to go to jail for all the things that have been done to the Flint children,” said Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley.

    Others expressed outrage on social media.

    Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, plans to open a family literacy center on February 23, equipped with literary coaches and computers to help parents better help their children.


    Sibilia: Flint’s Water Crisis, Failing Schools, and the Lines That Divide Us

    “There’s a long way to go,” he told the Free Press. “The psychological impact of this has gone unchallenged. This community is traumatized, and the state has not dealt with the trauma, and even though the state says the water is safe to drink, no one is going to drink the water.”

  • EduClips: Grad Rate Controversies in NYC, MN; Budget Showdown Redux — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | February 8, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    BUDGET DEAL — The Senate is poised to pass a bipartisan budget deal today that would avert a government shutdown and suspend the federal debt ceiling, but the bill faces less certain prospects in the House, where the chamber’s top Democrat and GOP conservatives are raising objections.

    Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi emphasized her opposition in an unprecedented eight-hour address on the House floor Wednesday because the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 does not include a promise of open immigration debate. And some conservatives oppose the deal because it calls for increased domestic spending. The mood in the House was in stark contrast to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer delivered laudatory back-to-back speeches on the accord, which would add nearly $300 billion for government programs and suspend the debt ceiling until March 2019. (Read at Bloomberg)

    National News

    DEVOS — How Betsy DeVos Softened Her Message on School Choice (Read at Politico)

    ‘TECH ADDICTION’ — New Campaign to Pressure Silicon Valley on ‘Tech Addiction’ and Kids (Read at Education Week)

    CLIMATE CHANGE — In Fight Over Science Education in Idaho, Lawmakers Move to Minimize Climate (Read at The New York Times)

    DEVOS — Betsy DeVos: Outsider Status Has Been ‘Asset’ in First Year on the Job (Read at Politics K-12)

    GIFTED EDUCATION — Want to Make Gifted Education More Equitable? First, Be Aware of the Political Winds That Drove (and Derailed) Innovative Policies in These States (Read at

    District and State News

    NEW YORK — Analysis: New York’s graduation rates are up. Does that mean students are learning more? (Read at Chalkbeat)

    CALIFORNIA — California’s largest districts address chronic absenteeism with focus on why students miss school (Read at EdSource)

    PENNSYLVANIA — Schools Set to Close Thursday for More Than 200,000 Students in and Around Philadelphia as Super Bowl Celebration Marks ‘Chance to Witness History’ (Read at

    FLORIDA — Miami-Dade School Officials Sought Compromise, Not Legal Battle, on Charters — and Might Get One (Read at WLRN)

    CALIFORNIA — Research shows California schools are narrowing achievement gaps (Read at the Vallejo Times-Herald)

    HAWAII — Emotions run high as Big Island charter school faces uncertain future (Read at Hawaii News Now)

    NEW YORK — Queens school rejects student’s bid to add his name Malcolm X on senior sweater, then mocks him (Read at the New York Daily News)

    Think Pieces

    GRADUATION RATE — Analysis: Minnesota Cheers a Booming Graduation Rate — Even as Fewer of Those Grads Can Read or Do Math at a High School Level (Read at

    SCHOOL TURNAROUND — OPINION: This high-poverty district learned to think differently about teaching and learning (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    TAX LAW — The New Tax Law’s Subtle Subversion of Public Schools (Read at The Atlantic)

    Quote of the Day

    “Certainly, it’s an easy thing to say. It doesn’t get you into trouble to say it. On the other hand, it doesn’t have much promise of impact.” —Sandy Kress, an adviser to former President George W. Bush who helped crafted his signature No Child Left Behind Law, on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s emphasis on school innovation. (Read at Politico)

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  • 1 Maryland Student Injured in School Parking Lot Shooting; at Least 6 Killed and 26 Injured at Schools This Year

    By Mark Keierleber | February 7, 2018

    The 74 will be tracking gun-related injuries and deaths at schools throughout 2018. Bookmark this page for the latest reports, or sign up to receive updates straight to your inbox via The 74 Newsletter.

    Two Maryland high school students have been charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting a 17-year-old classmate twice in the chest. The incident took place Monday afternoon in the parking lot at Oxon High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

    The victim, who is a junior at the school, was taken to the hospital and is reportedly in stable condition. Police point to robbery as a possible motive.

    In 2018, at least six people have been killed and 26 have been injured due to school shootings. Learn more about each incident with our interactive map:

    This map includes school shootings that took place on campus where a person was injured or killed. Incidents resulting in injury are labeled blue, while incidents resulting in death are labeled red. The most recent incident is indicated with a larger icon.

    Behind the numbers:

    Nationally, nearly 1,300 children (17 years old and younger) die from gunshot wounds each year and 5,790 are treated for injuries, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. While unintentional firearm deaths and homicides of children have decreased in recent years, suicides have spiked.

    Among child gun deaths between 2012 and 2014, 53 percent were homicides, 38 percent were suicides, and 6 percent were unintentional.

    Less than 3 percent of youth homicides and less than 1 percent of youth suicides occur at school, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

    If we’ve missed a school incident you think should be included in our coverage, please send an email to [email protected], and bookmark this page for the latest reports of incidents involving the discharging of a firearm on school property that results in a wound or fatality.

  • EduClips: Betsy DeVos: Year One; Chicago Union Votes to Include Charter Teachers — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | February 7, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    DEVOS — Today marks the first anniversary of Betsy DeVos’s tenure as U.S. secretary of education. In a progress report, Education Week describes her freshman year as “a bumpy ride.” The report says DeVos and her team have made “only modest progress” on school choice, one of DeVos’s core issues, with the key victory being language in the new GOP tax-overhaul legislation that allows families to use 529 college-savings plans for K-12 private school tuition. The report also examines her impact on civil rights, higher education, and implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. (Read at Education Week)

    National News

    GATES FOUNDATION — With new focus on curriculum, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wades into tricky territory (Read at Chalkbeat)

    FLU EPIDEMIC Flu-Related Map of School Closures Now Extends to 15 States, as More Than 50 Children Die Due to H3N2 Epidemic (Read at

    SCHOOL CHOICE — Where Will Trump Go Next on Choice? Watch These Three Groups of Students (Read at Politics K-12)

    District and State News

    ILLINOIS — Chicago Public School Teachers Vote to Include Charter Teachers in Union (Read at Education Week)

    TEXAS — More than half of Texas public school students are in districts where teacher certification isn’t required (Read at the Texas Tribune)

    PUERTO RICO — As Puerto Rico’s Governor Embraces Major School Reform Agenda, New Orleans Offers Inspiration, Caution (Read at

    ILLINOIS — Illinois Private School Tax Break Proposed (Read at NPR Illinois)

    NEW YORK — Charter advocates descend on Albany but could see fewer battles in 2018 (Read at Chalkbeat)

    CALIFORNIA — California schools may no longer get more help based on test scores (Read at ABC 10)

    FLORIDA — Florida House gears up for big debate on education bill (Read at the Bradenton Herald)

    NEW YORK — Racist slavery lesson at Bronx school ignites fiery protest outside City Hall (Read at the New York Daily News)

    NEVADA — Nevada governor candidate wants to use Raiders money for education (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    Think Pieces

    RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS — New Analysis Shows Milwaukee’s Religious Schools Now Overwhelmingly Enroll Voucher Students (Read at

    SCIENCE — Following the lessons of learning science in schools isn’t convenient (Read at Hechinger Report)

    ZONING — The Two-Board Knot: Zoning, Schools, and Inequality (Read at American Affairs)

    BLACK HISTORY MONTH — 24 Children’s Books to Read to Your Kids in Honor of Black History Month (Read at Huffington Post)

    DACA — This Teacher of the Year Showed Me Just How Important DACA Is (Read at Education Post)

    Quote of the Day

    “I think it’s probably better than the status quo, which is in essence incoherent curricula in most places. But then again, I completely recognize that what I’m describing is probably exactly what was said about teacher evaluation in 2007 … and also Common Core.”Morgan Polikoff, professor at the University of Southern California, on a plan by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to change K-12 curricula. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports The 74.

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  • As Puerto Rico’s Governor Embraces Major School Reform Agenda, New Orleans Offers Inspiration, Caution

    By Mark Keierleber | February 6, 2018

    For many in education, Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico, which temporarily shuttered the island’s entire public education system last fall, felt like déjà vu.

    In the decade since Hurricane Katrina decimated much of New Orleans in 2005, education leaders in Louisiana overhauled the city’s education system to one run almost entirely by charter schools. New Orleans quickly became a prominent — and highly controversial — case study for education reforms that lean heavily on school choice. Even before children began returning to their classrooms, observers on the island started to ask: Is Puerto Rico next?

    That answer started to come into focus Monday, when Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced new legislation that seeks a thorough, but comparatively modest, redesign of the public school system as the island confronts hurricane recovery efforts and a much older financial crisis that’s left the island’s bankrupt government with $123 billion in debt and pension obligations. The proposal — now in the hands of the island’s legislature —would introduce the education system to charter schools, private school vouchers, and a new funding formula. The proposal also gives educators a $1,500 annual salary increase and creates a “career ladder” for performance-based raises.

    To address bureaucratic inefficiencies that Rosselló said encourage “school desertion,” the plan aims to break the island’s unitary Department of Education into regions led by superintendents, a move the governor said would make the agency more agile while increasing accountability. Puerto Rico’s education department currently operates like one big school district with roughly 320,000 students.

    Unsurprisingly, that announcement drew quick praise from school-choice proponents, who commended Puerto Rican officials for offering families options, and admonition from teachers unions, who accused the governor of seeking to privatize education at the expense of Puerto Rico’s flailing public school system. Predicting the criticism, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, told The 74 that the government is not “looking to go crazy” but rather seeking reform at a more modest scale.


    Post-Maria, Puerto Rico Looks to Charter Schools, Vouchers as Part of New Education Reform Strategy

    Although comparisons to New Orleans are perhaps inescapable, Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana state superintendent who led reform efforts after Katrina, said Puerto Rico is actually more akin to Denver or Washington, D.C., where reform efforts have simultaneously focused on traditional public schools and charters. Pastorek, who has offered advice to Puerto Rico’s education leaders, said he was pleased to see the focus on decentralizing the island’s unitary Department of Education.

    The island, he said, “can’t rely on just charter schools and vouchers to solve the problem.” Facilitating local decision making, he said, will help the traditional public schools improve. “That’s [what] most of their schools will be in the future — they’ll be traditional schools.”

    The governor’s announcement comes at a moment of monumental change for Puerto Rico. Last year, the island closed nearly 200 schools, and last month the governor announced a fiscal plan that would shutter another 300 campuses and reduce education spending by $300 million. Although more than 25,000 students have left the island since Maria hit, that’s just one chunk of the diaspora. Since 2014, student enrollment in Puerto Rico has declined by 78,000 students, and by 2022 another 54,000 are expected to leave. In order to accommodate the loss of students, about 1,800 educators were told last week they’d be reassigned to new schools.

    As Puerto Rico moves into the charter school space, Keleher told The 74 she plans to begin with the island’s public Montessori schools, which already operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools. Although 44 of those schools currently exist, Keleher said she aims to convert about 14 to charters — two in each of the island’s seven education regions. Keleher said she’s held stakeholder meetings with Montessori school leaders who have been optimistic about the change. But a spokeswoman for the Instituto Nueva Escuela, which works to expand the island’s Montessori schools, told The 74 she was confused by the secretary’s statements. Leaders at the existing Montessori schools, she said, are not interested in converting their campuses to charters.

    In a joint statement released Monday evening, union leaders from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland blasted the governor’s proposal as “misguided.” To recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall, the government “needs to invest in public schools to support and stabilize kids’ learning, not abandon and privatize schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Aida Díaz, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the local AFT affiliate.

    Weingarten and Díaz put a spotlight on the voucher proposal, which, under the governor’s plan, would be implemented for the 2019–20 school year. Current voucher programs on the U.S. mainland, they said, have “benefited the few at the expense of the many.”


    Amid Hurricane’s Devastation, Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Sees an Opportunity for Reform

    Sean Gill, a research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education who studies district-charter collaboration, said he was “a little skeptical” that vouchers would entice quality school operators to the island.

    While private schools that accept vouchers generally have fewer regulations, he added, “I would encourage Puerto Rico, if they really are serious about a voucher program, to make sure that they are looking to ensure there is a sufficient amount of accountability and not just say it’s solely the parent’s choice.”

    Gill also said it was more apt to compare Puerto Rico’s strategy to that of cities like Denver that have “portfolio” districts with a range of school types, and Washington, D.C. Although Washington hasn’t suffered a catastrophic event, students there can attend traditional public schools, charter schools, or private schools through vouchers.

    “There’s certainly been some questions lately about their graduation data [in D.C.], but if you look at other sources of data, there actually does seem to be a lot of progress that’s [been] made there,” Gill said.

    Tulane University economics professor Douglas Harris, who has studied post-Katrina reform efforts extensively, urged educators eager to emulate New Orleans to use caution. His studies have shown positive gains for New Orleans schools after the hurricane, where “all of the stars were aligned for it to work,” he said. Contributing to the gains, he said, were increased education spending, the district’s poor performance before the storm, an accountability system that was quick to close low-performing schools, and the city’s ability to become an incubator for talent.

    For Puerto Rico to measurably affect student performance, Harris said, it’ll all come down to implementation.

    “How you do these things matters,” he said. “It’s not just the rough strategy that matters, it’s how you execute it.”

    He added: “It’s not like there’s a playbook, either.”

  • Schools Set to Close Thursday for More Than 200,000 Students in and Around Philadelphia as Super Bowl Celebration Marks ‘Chance to Witness History’

    By Laura Fay | February 6, 2018

    You might have heard that Philadelphians are pretty excited about the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory. Now, the School District of Philadelphia is getting in on the fun.

    The district announced Monday that schools will close Thursday when the city celebrates with a parade:

    The excitement of the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory is a once in a lifetime event. For this reason we have decided to give our students, teachers and their families the chance to witness history. All School District of Philadelphia schools and administrative offices will be closed this Thursday, February 8, 2018.

    Superintendent William Hite emphasized that he expects students to be back in class — “on time and ready to learn” — Friday morning.

    The Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia also announced that its 141 parochial schools — which include a number of schools outside the city itself — will close Thursday “in order to permit members of all our school communities to participate in this celebration.” The statement also noted public transportation changes and road closures as reasons to cancel.

    Some schools in the Archdiocese stayed open for the 2008 parade celebrating the Philadelphia Phillies’ World Series victory, but attendance was “very low,” Chief Communications Officer Kenneth A. Gavin told The 74 in an email.

    “Closing city and suburban schools made sense based on logistical limitations and past historical experience,” Gavin said of Thursday’s festivities. “It also provides an opportunity for all those who wish to take part in the celebration.”

    In total, more than 200,000 students across the region will be out of school because of the parade.

    Some districts in surrounding counties, including in South Jersey, followed suit. City courthouses and local institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the the Please Touch Museum have also announced closures on Thursday.

    One teacher shared that her students could sign up for a babysitting list if they were not planning to attend the parade.

    But at least one parent was looking for a more, er, popular babysitter.

    At least one student in Ohio was wishing for a day off, too, and asked for help from some Philadelphia sportscasters.

    (For the record, Boston schools were in session last year for the Patriots’ celebratory parade.)

    One concern expressed by multiple school officials was public transportation, notoriously horrendous during the 2008 parade. City officials have planned a longer parade route this time around, and they are expecting a larger crowd, which could disrupt logistics for other school services, such as food preparation.

    For the 2008 Phillies’ parade, only 10 Philadelphia district schools — those along the parade route — closed for the parade. A city spokesperson estimated that 2 million people attended that parade, but some questioned that number.

    On Thursday, the five-mile parade route will run from the Eagles’ stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, to the Philadelphia Art Museum, ending with a ceremony on the iconic museum steps of Rocky fame, reported.

    This time, it might really be 2 million people celebrating.


    WATCH: Minneapolis Middle Schoolers’ Super Bowl Video Tells Fans How to Dress for the Big Game

  • New Analysis Shows Milwaukee’s Religious Schools Now Overwhelmingly Enroll Voucher Students

    By Kevin Mahnken | February 6, 2018

    Milwaukee’s school voucher program, a pioneering private school choice initiative launched nearly three decades ago, has profoundly altered the landscape of religious education in the city, according to a new analysis from The Wall Street Journal. Since parochial schools were first allowed to accept voucher students in 1998, they have come to represent the vast majority of schools participating in the program. The paper also found that most have transitioned to serving a predominantly voucher-bearing clientele alongside a shrinking minority of full-pay students.

    That’s not an auspicious development, given the authors’ other principal finding: The higher the percentage of voucher students in a school, the lower the students’ performance on standardized tests of math and English.

    While the highest-performing voucher schools tend to limit the portion of students receiving the subsidy, some 81 of 120 total schools are now composed of 75 percent or more voucher students. State test scores for the voucher sector have not been found to improve upon those for area public schools, though one study has found that Milwaukee students using private school vouchers were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in four-year colleges.

    Source: The Wall Street Journal

    When Milwaukee’s landmark program began in 1990 with just a handful of private academies, religious schools were barred from participating, and no school could enroll more than 49 percent voucher students. But that mandate was dropped in 1995, and the state’s Supreme Court ruled soon after that religious schools should also be permitted to accept the state-issued vouchers. Beginning in the 1998–99 school year, those religious schools constituted a strong majority — 64 of 83 schools, or 77 percent — of total participants in the initiative.

    Their numbers have grown substantially in the years since, both in absolute and relative terms. Of 120 voucher schools in Milwaukee, 109 of them (over 90 percent) are religiously oriented, Journal reporter Tawnell Hobbs found.

    Religious schools’ disproportionate presence in the voucher system can be explained by simple economics, observers say. With parochial school enrollment persistently sliding nationwide over the past half-century, major churches (in Wisconsin, mostly Catholic and Lutheran) have been grateful to accept state-sponsored tuition for thousands of new students. Although numbers are still down, the pace of enrollment decline among Catholic schools has slowed in recent years.

    Source: The Wall Street Journal

    The intervention of government authorities in the fortunes of religiously affiliated institutions has naturally provoked constitutional concerns about the separation of church and state. But if civil-liberties advocates fret about the co-mingling of government and religion, worshippers also have cause to consider what impact state subsidies will have on their schools. As religious schools have rushed to take advantage of vouchers as a revenue opportunity, families paying full tuition have sunk to a distinct minority. In 30 such schools in Milwaukee that have continuously accepted voucher students since they were first allowed in 1998, the total percentage of full-pay students declined from 72 percent to 19 percent as the years passed.

    Those enormous changes in demographics have brought a change not only to parochial schools but also to the faith communities that sponsor them. A 2017 study circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Catholic churches that run voucher schools now receive more revenue from those vouchers than from their own parishioners.

    That allowed them to ward off church closures and consolidations, the researchers found, but at a price: With the growing financial dependence on vouchers comes a downtick in church donations and spending on non-educational activities. The churches were spared from further diminishment, but in a meaningful way, their spiritual agenda was narrowed, the study found.

    In classrooms, large contingents of voucher students were not associated with impressive academic results. Though families with incomes over 300 percent of the poverty line are now eligible to receive the subsidy, vouchers were originally designed to allow low-income children to escape from Milwaukee’s most troubled public schools. Many, if not most, voucher students, therefore, receive their voucher once they’re already several grade levels behind — then start work at a private school that exhibits nearly as much concentrated poverty as the public school they’ve just left.

    While the Wall Street Journal analysis cites several high-performing schools serving almost exclusively voucher students, the best-regarded private schools in Milwaukee tend to put a cap on voucher enrollment. In a review of standardized testing data for 108 of the 120 local voucher schools, the authors found that those scoring in the top 25 percent for either English or math tended to enroll no more than 54 percent voucher students.

    Scholars like the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg have long argued for socioeconomic integration as a key for lifting academic performance for vulnerable children, and a 2010 study of low-income students in Montgomery County, Maryland, found that they achieved much higher math scores when educated in classrooms with more affluent peers.

  • Flu-Related Map of School Closures Now Extends to 15 States, as More Than 50 Children Die Due to H3N2 Epidemic

    By Laura Fay | February 6, 2018

    A total of 53 children have died of flu and flu-related illness this season, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes data through January 27. Otherwise healthy children account for about half of those deaths.

    The outbreak, which the CDC has officially categorized as an epidemic and expects to last several more weeks, has caused school closings across at least 15 states and has crowded hospitals. Overall hospitalizations are estimated to be the highest at this point in the season since the CDC started tracking the virus during the 2010–11 flu season.

    About 90 percent of flu cases this year are being caused by the notorious H3N2 strain, which can cause a more severe illness and is harder to prevent with the vaccine.

    Experts, including acting CDC director Anne Schuchat, still recommend vaccination, as flu season can last into the spring. About 80 percent of the children who have died of flu and related illnesses were not vaccinated, said Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, during a press call last week.

    Parents should seek medical attention for their children if they have a very high fever or difficulty breathing, or if children start to get better and then suddenly get worse, Schuchat said on the call.


    When Class Is Cancelled Due to the Flu: Schools Across at Least 12 States Are Keeping Kids Home Due to Epidemic

  • EduClips: Post-Maria, Puerto Rico Looks to Charters, Vouchers; Education Department Delays Action on Racial Disparities in Special Ed — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | February 6, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    SPECIAL EDUCATION — A U.S. Department of Education Official said the department is seeking to delay an Obama-era rule meant to counter racial disparities in special education. In December 2016, the Obama administration said “students of color remain more likely to be identified as having a disability and face harsher discipline than their white classmates” and issued a rule that required states to intervene if there were strong racial disparities in their districts. The rule was to take effect in July 2018.

    Department Press Secretary Liz Hill told The Associated Press Monday that the agency wants to postpone the rule by two years because of concerns from states, school districts, superintendents and others involved. “Because of the concerns raised, the department is looking closely at this rule and has determined that, while this review takes place, it is prudent to delay implementation for two years. The postponement will be issued for public comment.” (Read at U.S. News & World Report)

    National News

    EDUCATION RESEARCH — The Tricky Dance of Researchers and Educators Gets Even More Complex (Read at Education Week)

    SCHOOL SHOOTINGS — At Least 6 People Killed, 20 Injured at American Schools in January (Read at

    ESSA — Three States Raise Their Hands for ESSA Innovative Assessment Pilot (Read at Politics K-12)

    District and State News

    PUERTO RICO — Post-Maria, Puerto Rico Looks to Charter Schools, Vouchers as Part of New Education Reform Strategy (Read at

    NEW YORK — Families for Excellent Schools says it will close, altering the education debate in New York City (Read at Chalkbeat)

    VIRGINIA — School system’s appeals process for gifted students leaves some minorities out (Read at The Washington Post)

    ILLINOIS — After record school closures, new Chicago plan draws fury (Read at Fox News)

    FLORIDA — Teachers union launches media war on HB 7055 — and Corcoran (Read at Politico)

    NEW YORK — At state budget hearing, Mayor de Blasio says he won’t ‘crowdsource’ chancellor search (Read at Chalkbeat)

    NEVADA — Sisolak pledges to donate governor salary to education groups if elected (Read at the Las Vegas Sun)

    CALIFORNIA — De Anza police continue search for man who attacked transgender student (Read at Mercury News)

    ILLINOIS — State rep wants to mirror federal K-12 savings benefits in Illinois (Read at Illinois News Network)

    NEVADA — State, Clark County gang up to lift underperforming schools (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    CALIFORNIA — Contrary to critics, parents tell pollster they find California’s school dashboard useful (Read at EdSource)

    Think Pieces

    FOOTBALL — How Princeton Beat Alabama in College Football (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    TECHNOLOGY — At High Tech High, Focus Goes Beyond the Classroom (Read at Education Writers Association)

    CHARTER SCHOOLS — Good Neighbors: Traditional Public Schools See Higher Test Scores When a Charter School Opens Nearby (Read at

    RACE — Black-led schools matter (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    TECHNOLOGY — Screen Addiction Among Teens: Is There Such a Thing? (Read at NPR)

    SLAVERY — Teachers, how does it feel to be an oppressor? (Read at Hechinger Report)

    Quote of the Day

    “We’re not looking to go crazy. This is super important: I’m not privatizing education. It’s not New Orleans all over again.… But what I do think is fair for kids is to give them more options.” —Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, on a plan to revitalize the island’s school system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (Read at

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  • No Charter School Likely to Open in KY Until at Least 2019, as Lawmakers Spar Over Funding, Regulations

    By Laura Fay | February 5, 2018

    The difficulties of opening charter schools — and creating strong charter legislation — are showing in Kentucky.

    The state joined 44 others and Washington, D.C., in March 2017 when lawmakers passed legislation authorizing charter schools. But no charter school calls Kentucky home yet, and it is unlikely one will open until at least 2019.

    Legislators still need to nail down a permanent funding stream for the schools, and the education department has to finalize some other regulations, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

    Further complicating the picture, a group of Democratic lawmakers filed a bill to repeal the law authorizing charters. The repeal is unlikely to pass because Kentucky’s legislative branch is controlled by Republicans — the same majority of lawmakers who passed the bill, with support from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — but the challenge exposes the continuing ideological divide over this issue.

    Kentuckians expected to see charter schools opening their doors for the 2018–19 school year, but some observers now say that is unlikely.

    Rep. Phil Moffett, a Republican from Louisville, told The 74 that he expects it will be at least two years before any charter schools open in Kentucky. Moffett, who supports charters and other school choice efforts, said it will be difficult for charter operators to open schools in the short term because the law is “poorly constructed.”

    One of the problems, he said, is that in most of the state, the only charter authorizers are local school districts. The exceptions are the cities of Louisville and Lexington, where the mayors can act as additional authorizers, a move Moffett initiated.

    “It’s unrealistic to think [districts are] going to be open-minded and have open arms to charter schools,” which they view as competition, Moffett said. There is a path for operators to appeal to the state department of education if they are denied at the local level, but that will create “an even longer bureaucratic process,” he said.

    State Rep. John Carney, who chairs the education committee and led the effort to pass the charter school legislation last year, told the Courier-Journal in January that he is not sure the funding will be finalized within this legislative session, which concludes April 13.

    “I think given the budget situation and just the culture in Frankfort right now, I think everything could be on hold,” he told the paper. “I don’t think anything is a surefire pass this session at this point.”

    Meanwhile, Rep. Attica Scott is spearheading the Democratic counter-effort. She introduced the repeal bill, and was vocal about her opposition to charters last year.

    Scott told The 74 that “a ton of educators, teachers, principals, school board members, superintendents” contacted her and other legislators before and after the original bill was passed to express concerns about introducing charters. In what Scott called an “unintended consequence” of the legislation, 40 educators have filed to run for state office in Kentucky this year, mostly as Democrats. The state is also dealing with a pension crisis and severe budget cuts this year, which may have also spurred some educators to run.

    Scott told The 74 she is worried that charter schools will use discriminatory admissions processes, but the bill that authorized the schools specifies that schools should base admission on randomized lotteries.

    A recent report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group, ranked Kentucky’s charter school law No. 10 in the nation — even though no schools have been able to take advantage of it yet. The law is strong because it does not cap charter growth, provides for both accountability and flexibility, and takes lessons from strong charter laws across the country, said Todd Ziebarth, vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (Ziebarth was involved in authoring both the rankings report and Kentucky’s law.)

    The law is written to prioritize establishing schools that would serve Kentucky’s neediest students, not exclude them, Ziebarth said.

    The repeal bill is “unfortunate for a number of reasons,” he said, but he does not expect that it will get a hearing in committee. It’s a “political move at best,” he added.

    Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Walton Family Foundation, and the William E. Simon Foundation support both The 74 and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

  • 5 Injured After Gunfire in Los Angeles Classroom; at Least 6 Killed and 25 Injured Due to 2018 School Shootings

    By Mark Keierleber | February 5, 2018

    The 74 will be tracking gun-related injuries and deaths at schools throughout 2018. Bookmark this page for the latest reports, and see below for an interactive map of incidents involving the discharging of a firearm that causes a wound or fatality on school property.

    Four students and a teacher were injured after a handgun was fired inside a Los Angeles middle school on Thursday. Authorities have deemed the incident at Sal Castro Middle School an accident. Police officials told the Los Angeles Times it appears a single round was fired from inside a student’s backpack.

    A 15-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl suffered gunshot wounds, the newspaper reports, while two other students and a teacher suffered minor injuries in the commotion that followed.

    The suspect, a 12-year-old girl, was charged on Friday with two felonies, including being a minor in possession of a firearm and bringing a firearm to school.

    We’ve now updated our running tally of gunfire incidents at schools. As we track below, at least six people have been killed — and 25 injured — on school property in 2018:

    This map includes school shootings that took place on campus where a person was injured or killed. Incidents resulting in injury are labeled blue, while incidents resulting in death are labeled red. The most recent incident is indicated with a larger icon.

    If we’ve missed a school incident you think should be included in our coverage, please send an email to [email protected], and bookmark this page for the latest reports of incidents involving the discharging of a firearm that causes a wound or fatality on school property.

  • Good Neighbors: Traditional Public Schools See Higher Test Scores When a Charter School Opens Nearby

    By Kevin Mahnken | February 5, 2018

    Students in public elementary schools score higher in tests of both reading and math when a charter school opens nearby, according to research summarized in the journal Education Next. The study of New York City schools concludes that the closer the district school is located to a charter alternative, the greater the positive impact on testing, attendance, and even school funding.

    Authored by Temple University academic Sarah Cordes, the study offers a new perspective on the question of how the swiftly growing number of charter schools (now enrolling more than 100,000 students in New York City alone) affects their traditional district counterparts. Many argue that charters in cities like New York deprive district schools of both funds and talented students.

    Particular ire is reserved for the practice of establishing a new charter within an existing district building, known as co-location. As charter networks like Success Academy press to expand in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets, they often petition for classroom space at struggling and under-enrolled schools like those in Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal program — leaving many parents and school leaders to cry foul.


    New York City to Close 14 Failing Schools, Including 9 in Renewal Program

    But Cordes’s findings indicate that co-location actually lifts student performance in a variety of ways. Using city data gathered between 1996 and 2010 for more than 875,000 students, she measured standardized test scores, attendance, and grade retention in 584 district elementary schools around the city after a charter opened anywhere within a mile radius. Results improved as the proximity between charter and district school increased, with the greatest benefits found in schools that operated under the same roof.

    On standardized testing, scores for both math and reading were not meaningfully enhanced when a charter school was established between a half-mile and a mile away from an existing district school. But greater growth was detected when that distance was lowered to less than a half-mile, and it was more substantial still when both schools were co-located.

    Source: Education Next

    Grade retention rates (the frequency with which students are held back) at schools close to charters were substantially reduced as well. In a district school located a half-mile to a mile away from a charter school, students were 20 percent less likely to be held back a grade. In co-located schools, district students were a remarkable 40 percent less likely to be held back.

    Cordes additionally finds that the upsides of charter proximity increase as charter saturation grows.

    “Students in district schools with three or more charter schools within a one-mile radius perform significantly better in math than students with just one charter in the neighborhood,” she writes. “They are also significantly less likely to be retained.”

    These effects are achieved without altering the student composition of district incumbents. Though charters are sometimes accused of fostering greater racial segregation, and even “cream-skimming” the most academically promising pupils from surrounding schools, Cordes’s demographic analysis shows no sign of significant change following charter entry. Low-income students (as measured by their eligibility for free lunch) and black students make up slightly smaller proportions of the enrollment in district schools after a charter competitor opens nearby, while Hispanic students and those with special needs are somewhat more represented.

    Most surprising of all — and contrary to a common assumption that charters tend to deplete the coffers of the district schools they compete against — instructional spending actually increased at district schools once a charter opened nearby. Again, the effects were most acute in co-located schools, where spending jumps nearly 9 percent. But even when the new charter is founded a mile away, spending at the district school still rises by 2 percent.

  • Post-Maria, Puerto Rico Looks to Charter Schools, Vouchers as Part of New Education Reform Strategy

    By Mark Keierleber | February 5, 2018

    Updated 6:15 p.m. EST

    Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, is looking to reform its public education system with school choice options like charters and vouchers as the island’s government works to rebound from the storm and a crippling financial crisis.

    Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on Monday afternoon an education reform plan that would include a new system of charter schools — called Escuelas Alianzas — on the island. Puerto Rico currently does not have any charter schools, and its law allowing them has long been expired. In a Spanish-language video announcement, Rosselló said Puerto Rico’s education system needs to reduce bureaucracy but that the “big change” would be providing more options for parents and students.

    “In Puerto Rico, we have extraordinary talent, intelligence, and capacity in our students and teachers,” he said. “What we lack is a system that lets us develop these talents.”

    Rosselló announced he would present the reform bill to lawmakers Tuesday. If approved, the legislation — which includes plans for a $1,500 raise for teachers, their first in over a decade  — would go into effect for the 2019–20 school year. The bill also includes a plan to strengthen the island’s vocational schools.

    In an interview, Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, said the government aims to begin with about 14 charter schools — two in each of the island’s seven education regions.

    “We don’t have those kind of options,” Keleher told The 74. “We don’t have individual schools competing, striving to be the best, to make sure they can maintain their population so they continue to be economically feasible.”

    When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, it caused an island-wide humanitarian crisis. All of the public schools closed temporarily; many never reopened. About 350,000 students attended Puerto Rico’s public schools before the storm, and 27,000 have since left to attend schools on the U.S. mainland.

    If the scenario of a hurricane-ravaged, poorly performing school system turning to school choice in a crisis sounds familiar, that is not entirely by accident. New Orleans overhauled its education system with one composed almost entirely of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. In Puerto Rico, the comparison to New Orleans has been building for months. In Maria’s aftermath, Keleher sought input from Paul Pastorek, a former Louisiana superintendent of education who led reform efforts after Katrina. On Twitter, Keleher has even made comparisons to New Orleans as a “point of reference” to illustrate the challenges ahead for Puerto Ricans.

    Although Keleher frequently compares storm recovery efforts on the island to those in New Orleans, she said her education reform vision is more modest.

    “We’re not looking to go crazy,” Keleher said. “This is super important: I’m not privatizing education. It’s not New Orleans all over again. I have no intention of creating union issues. But what I do think is fair for kids is to give them more options.”

    Nonetheless, the comparisons have put unionized teachers in Puerto Rico on edge. Aida Díaz, president of the island’s 40,000-member teachers union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, told The 74 last year her members were working to rebuild storm-ravaged schools to ensure they wouldn’t be replaced by charters.


    Amid Hurricane’s Devastation, Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Sees an Opportunity for Reform

    The news comes just a few weeks after Gov. Rosselló announced a fiscal plan that aims to close 300 of the island’s roughly 1,100 schools. Although the hurricane contributed to that plan, it dates to a much older financial crisis that’s left the island with $123 billion in debt and pension obligations.

    “Instead of the wholesale closing of public schools proposed by this fiscal plan — or privatizing them — schools need to be transformed into centers of their communities to provide stability and support to help students overcome trauma and continue to learn,” Díaz said in a joint statement with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, after the fiscal plan was released.

    As Puerto Rico moves into the charter school space, Keleher said the proposal would allow universities or nonprofits like KIPP to open campuses on the island. At first, however, she plans to look at Puerto Rico’s existing public Montessori schools. Although Montessori schools have more autonomy than traditional public schools, she said, they do not operate independently of the education department. Converting the Montessori schools to charters is “really a win-win” for the schools and the education department, Keleher said, “especially given the financial crisis that we have.”

    But Ana María García Blanco, who leads a nonprofit that promotes the growth of Montessori schools in Puerto Rico, told The Intercept in November she was concerned the storm could lead to education reforms like charters.

    “The school department should now be a source of relief … for the community,” García Blanco, executive director of Instituto Nueva Escuela, told the news website. “We should not be talking about how we can save money in schools or restructure schools or [use] the money in a better way. The question is, how can we serve our children so they can go back to a normal day?”

    Beyond charter schools, the new legislation touches on several other education reform areas, including human resources, school facilities, bureaucratic restructuring, and school climate. Keleher said it also opens up the possibility to offer private school vouchers, a controversial reform technique that allows students to attend private schools with assistance from public money.

    “Vouchers will be included, but it’s not something we can execute right now for obvious reasons. I’ve got to get the budget straight,” Keleher said, noting that the education reform proposals would be implemented in stages. “The point isn’t to do it, it’s to do it in a way that benefits the students, and to do it right.”


    As Puerto Rico Rebuilds Post-Maria, a Quarter of Its Schools May Close — for Good

  • EduClips: Texas Conservative Group Casts Wide Net for School District Political Activity; ESSA Showdown over Vulnerable Students in FL — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | February 5, 2018

    EduClips is a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

    Top Story

    SUPER BOWL REFLECTIONS — Before the Philadelphia Eagle’s surprise victory yesterday, before the epic Super Bowl LII matchup with the New England Patriots even began, the first athletes out of the tunnel to play on the field was a high school football team hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota. On Friday afternoon, the Polars of North Community High School’s storied football team took to the field at U.S. Bank Stadium as part of a dress rehearsal so league camera operators could get a feel for the Minnesota Vikings’ home field.

    But the event masked a sobering reality: In recent years, the number of North students passing state reading and math tests has mostly been in the single digits. In 2016, just four of 54 11th-graders tested in math passed the exam, and only two of 42 10th-graders passed reading. Last year, eight sophomores out of 69 tested read at grade level, but not one junior passed the math exam. In a 74 analysis, Beth Hawkins examines the disconnect. (Read at

    National News

    PAUL RYAN — Paul Ryan Said $1.50 More Per Week Is a Big Deal for School Secretaries. Here’s the Story the Numbers Tell (Read at Politics K-12)

    TEACHER APPS — Workplace: 6 top apps for teachers in 2018 (Read at USA Today)

    PUERTO RICO — Crumbling Classrooms and Power Outages: Inside Puerto Rico’s Storm-Damaged Schools (Read at Education Week)

    SCHOOL SHOOTINGS — School Shooting Simulation Trains Teachers for the Worst (Read at The New York Times)

    ESSA PILOT — Betsy DeVos Opens Up ESSA Pilot Allowing Federal Money to Follow Students (Read at Politics K-12)

    District and State News

    TEXAS — Conservative group casts a wide net looking for Texas school districts that get political (Read at Dallas News)

    FLORIDA — Showdown in Florida Over State’s ESSA Plan and Vulnerable Students (Read at Education Week)

    NEW YORK — Coming to a district near you: As city expands pre-K for 3-year-olds, Major de Blasio urges families to sign up (Read at Chalkbeat)

    NEVADA — Clark County schools must budget without a bottom line (Read at Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    TEXAS — With Thousands Of Homeless Students, This District Put Help Right In Its Schools (Read at NPR)

    CALIFORNIA — Opinion: Parents are tired of being asked for input that’s just for show – school districts must give them real power to make change in the classroom (Read at LA School Report)

    NEW YORK — Parents urge de Blasio to give teachers anti-bias training after cruel slavery lesson at Bronx school (Read at NY Daily News)

    FLORIDA — These Students Found Their Teacher 56 Years Later (Read at U.S. News and World Report)  

    CALIFORNIA — ‘It’s a big world out there’: Teachers take math outside the classroom (Read at EdSource)

    ILLINOIS — School spending per student in McHenry County ranges from $4,765 to $9,494 (Read at Northwest Herald)

    Think Pieces

    LISTENING — One Way to Get Your Child to Listen (Read at Wall Street Journal)

    CHARTER SCHOOLS — Indiana Is Still No. 1, But Other States Are Moving Up in Annual Charter School Law Rankings (Read at

    STRENGTHS-BASED LEARNING — Is strength-based learning a “magic bullet?” (Read at Hechinger Report)

    SCHOOL CHOICE — When School Choice Is Too Little, Too Late (Read at U.S. News and World Report)  

    Quote of the Day

    “A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week…she said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.” — A tweet from House Speaker Paul Ryan, later taken down, on the benefits of the new tax plan. (Read at Politics K-12)

    Want the day’s top school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox — for free? Sign up for the TopSheet Daybreak Education Newsletter.

  • As Puerto Rico Rebuilds Post-Maria, a Quarter of Its Schools May Close — for Good

    By Mark Keierleber | February 4, 2018

    More than four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and shuttered its public education system, almost all of the island’s schools are back up and running, even though many still lack electricity. In the coming months, however, as many as a quarter of Puerto Rico’s public schools could close their doors — this time for good.

    On Thursday, Education Secretary Julia Keleher released the timeline for a fiscal plan that would result in the closure of about 300 schools. Currently, Puerto Rico’s education department operates roughly 1,100 campuses. By the end of March, she said, the department will release an analysis outlining 800 schools that should remain open.

    “I think the closing of schools is sad and difficult for communities, I do,” Keleher told The 74. “I am sensitive to that, I feel badly for that, [but] I also am trying to stay focused on the opportunity we have, to build a new system of schools that is more on par with other high-quality school systems, and that really prepares our kids to be competitive.”

    Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló released the fiscal plan in January. Rosselló announced the looming school closures, which would save the government an estimated $300 million by 2022, as part of a larger strategy to help the island recover from Maria. That storm forced all public schools in Puerto Rico to close for months, many permanently. About 350,000 children attended Puerto Rico schools before the storm; more than 27,000 students have since fled to the U.S. mainland and now attend schools in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts.

    Although the school closure plan takes into account enrollment declines that followed the storm — and the thousands more students who are expected to leave in the coming years — Keleher said the strategy runs much deeper. Prior to the hurricane, the government shuttered nearly 200 public schools to rein in spending amid a financial crisis that’s left the island with $123 billion in debt and pension obligations.

    Even before the storm, Keleher acknowledged that a swath of additional school closures would be necessary, though the new proposal takes into account an even greater share of students who have left the island. Because so much of the population has departed, motivated by both the financial crisis and the storm, more than 500 Puerto Rican schools are underutilized by up to 75 percent, Keleher said.

    “So what I have is a sprinkling of kids in a lot of buildings, but each of those buildings costs me money, and then I have to put teachers in each of those places,” Keleher said. Consolidating schools would save cash, she said, which in turn “leaves me money to buy instructional materials, and we haven’t purchased books in 10 years.”

    The closures are also part of a larger reorganization of the island’s education bureaucracy, which Keleher says is stifled by inefficiencies that often leave schools short on resources.

    After the storm, Keleher gave educators until January to return to their jobs. Since then, she said, more than 90 percent have returned, though many have since found new positions at schools in mainland communities like Miami and Holyoke, Massachusetts.

    Holyoke schools, where three-quarters of the students are of Puerto Rican descent, are currently recruiting bilingual teachers to address the influx of about 200 Puerto Rican students who have arrived since last fall, said Ileana Cintrón, the district’s chief of family and community engagement. Although she said the island’s plan to close schools could benefit their district’s recruitment efforts, she criticized the Puerto Rican government’s plan.

    School closures are generally highly controversial, regardless of motivation or circumstance, and the Puerto Rican government’s plan is no exception. In a statement, Aida Díaz, president of the island’s 40,000-member teachers union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, said the plan was unacceptable. School closures, she said, would penalize students who live in rural communities. Closing schools in small towns, she continued, could force families to move elsewhere.

    Cintrón, who was born and raised in rural Puerto Rico, had similar concerns, though she said she wasn’t surprised by the latest announcement because the government has been urging closures for years.


    Sign up for The 74’s newsletter

    “The thing is that some of those kids already travel close to an hour to get to school if they’re in the rural parts of the island,” she said. “Especially high schoolers. I mean, what do you do with that? It’s not always about efficiencies. You want kids to actually graduate and finish high school.”

    The closures will rely in part on a per-pupil funding formula that would distribute $6,400 to schools for each student enrolled. The current system has long distributed funds inequitably, Keleher said. But she doesn’t plan to leave rural communities hanging.

    “It’s unfortunate that we have to see the closing of schools in communities,” Keleher said, adding that those buildings could be converted into community centers — something that would “still allow that life to be in the community without it having to be such a financial burden to the department.”

  • This Week in Education Politics: Higher Ed in Focus as Funding, DACA Debates Continue

    By Carolyn Phenicie | February 4, 2018

    THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Sundays. (See previous editions here.) You can get the preview delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter; for rolling updates on federal education policy, follow Carolyn Phenicie on Twitter @cphenicie.

    INBOX: DACA, SPENDING AGAIN DOMINATE — Thursday marks two important deadlines: the Senate’s self-imposed limit on a DACA compromise, and the end of current government funding.

    There seems to be little concrete movement on a DACA deal. President Trump used his State of the Union address to highlight his prerequisites for a deal, most of which Democrats have already rejected; in a speech to congressional Republicans at their retreat last week, the president again upped the pressure on Democrats to negotiate.

    Senate Republican leaders agreed to a wide-ranging floor debate on DACA if there’s no deal by Thursday. However, even if a bipartisan measure can pass the Senate, there’s no guarantee it would be taken up in the House or receive Trump’s signature.

    On funding, the House will reportedly vote early in the week on another continuing resolution, this one lasting six weeks. The contours of a larger budget deal are reportedly taking shape, with big increases for both defense spending and non-defense programs, including education. Education has not seen big spending increases in several years, as Congress has held total spending on non-defense programs largely flat. Education advocates have long said the spending cap must be raised so there can be more money for key programs like Title I and special education.

    It’s another short week in the House. Democrats are the ones leaving town this time, heading out Wednesday for their own retreat in Cambridge, Maryland. Former vice president Joe Biden — best known to the education world as the face of the Obama administration’s “It’s On Us” campaign aimed at ending campus sexual assault — is the keynote speaker.

    IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: WEIGHTED FUNDING PILOT The Education Department on Friday announced that it is taking applications for funding systems that would let districts combine federal, state, and local funds in weighted, or student-centered, funding systems. Districts that utilize such formulas would have to use the funding to allocate more money for low-income students, English language learners, and other historically underserved groups.

    ESSA allowed the department to change the rules for up to 50 school districts initially, with a possible expansion later. Applications will be available starting Wednesday. Districts that want to participate in the 2018–19 school year must submit applications by March 12, and those that want to use it in 2019–20 have to send in applications by July 15.

    MONDAY: FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES — The Education Department continues its negotiated rulemaking (a process by which representatives of industry, advocacy groups, and the department try to work out new policy) on “gainful employment” regulations. The rules as proposed by the Obama administration would penalize for-profit colleges and certificate programs at nonprofit institutions if their graduates owe above a certain percent of their income in student loans. Schools that exceed that threshold for several years could lose eligibility for federal student loan aid, a move that would essentially force their closure.

    The Trump administration has proposed dramatically revamping the rules. The proposals under discussion this week (meetings go through Thursday) would apply the rules to “career programs” at all types of institutions and remove penalties for schools that don’t meet the standards.

    TUESDAY: HIGHER ED — The Senate HELP Committee continues its hearing series on higher education; this week’s will focus on affordability. Committee leaders Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, who joined together to rewrite the country’s K-12 law in 2015, have been at increasing loggerheads over the higher-ed rewrite, with each releasing their own set of competing reauthorization principles.

    THURSDAY: OPIOIDS — The Senate HELP Committee holds a hearing on the impact of the opioid crisis on children and families. The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a similar hearing last year.

  • T74 Interactive: Here’s How Many People Have Been Injured or Killed at Schools Due to Guns in 2018

    By The 74 | February 1, 2018

    For the remainder of 2018, The 74 will be tracking gun-related injuries and deaths occurring at schools nationwide. You can follow our rolling coverage of campus incidents right here. (Get breaking news delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter)

    With every new report, we’ll also be updating our interactive map below. Here are the 2018 injuries and deaths thus far, each with their own color:

    This map includes school shootings that took place on campus where a person was injured or killed. Incidents resulting in injury are labeled blue, while incidents resulting in death are labeled red. The most recent incident is indicated with a larger icon.

  • ‘It Only Gets Better From Here’: After State of the Union, Students Stage ‘State of the Youth’

    By Carolyn Phenicie | February 1, 2018

    Washington, D.C.

    President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday touched on issues important to his base: a new infrastructure plan, the recently passed tax reform plan, tough talk against North Korea.

    But it was a far cry from the issues young people emphasized at a separate “State of the Youth” event the next evening.

    Two panels of young people — college students and one recent graduate, and a group of high school and middle school students — spoke to about six dozen of their peers Wednesday evening at the Newseum in Washington, an event organized by, the news organization OZY, and 22×20, a group that aims to get the 22 million teens who will be 18 by the 2020 elections registered as voters and involved in politics.

    Whereas Trump, for instance, called for curbs on legal immigration, one young person advocated the legalization of all 11 million undocumented people in the country already.

    Daisha Danson, 17, discusses representation of black women in media at the “State of the Youth” event. (Photo credit: OZY Media)

    Another called for passage of laws banning discrimination in the workplace and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity; Trump’s administration overturned federal protections for transgender students and created a “religious freedom” health office that advocates say could jeopardize care for LGBT people.

    Trump in his speech celebrated the repeal of “the core of disastrous Obamacare,” the mandate that everyone buy health insurance.

    Rebecca Thimmesch, a college senior whose political advocacy dates to her interning on political campaigns at age 12, said universal health care would be her top priority.

    “It’s not just enough to say everyone is going to have health insurance, because there are communities in the United States that don’t have adequate health care providers,” she said. She pointed to the recent closure of the maternity ward in the only hospital in D.C.’s two poorest neighborhoods.

    The gap between Trump’s speech and the young people’s priorities perhaps isn’t a surprise: Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 19 points among voters under 30, the largest gap of any age group. The president’s approval rating with that same group was 30 percent at the end of last year, nine points below his approval among Americans of all ages, according to Gallup.

    Brittany Packnett, an executive at Teach for America, activist, and protester in Ferguson, Missouri, encouraged the young crowd to participate in American democracy, particularly by voting.

    “We have to ask ourselves, if voting didn’t matter, why are people still working so hard to keep us from it?” she said, citing changes in state voter registration and identification laws and closures of polling places in communities of color, in low-income neighborhoods, and on college campuses.

    Young people have a rich history in expanding voting rights, particularly during the civil rights movement, and it was an eighth-grader who encouraged Packnett to keep protesting in Ferguson, even after police teargassed those who were peacefully assembled.

    Packnett said she wasn’t particularly invested in voting when she was a teenager until the election of 2000, when her preferred candidate, Al Gore, lost, after months of drama in Florida surrounding disputed ballots.

    “I had to be clear that no one would ever make a decision about me without me… It’s one thing to know that a change needs to come. It’s another to step up and participate in making the change,” she said.

    Thimmesch, the college senior, said young people are prepared to tackle big issues and conversations about privilege and social equity that older generations aren’t.

    Young people also have fewer problems to unlearn than older people, she said, citing her positive work with teenage activists.

    “I think that it only gets better from here,” she said.

  • The Path of Opportunity, the Path of Despair: John King offers Urban Alliance a Tale of Two High Schools

    By Kate Stringer | February 1, 2018

    Some high schools connect students with internships where teenagers can jump-start their ambitions of becoming engineers. Other schools have auto shop classes without computers, where students prepare for jobs that existed 50 years ago. Former secretary of education and now CEO of The Education Trust John King said he has seen both examples throughout his career.

    “We give the kids who need the most, so often in our society, the least,” King said during the keynote address Thursday morning at a panel hosted by the Urban Alliance and Results for America. Education leaders on the panel stressed the “urgent” need to rethink the high school experience to better prepare students for college and careers.

    It’s not enough for students to show up to school and earn a high school diploma if “they aren’t leaving with the skills they need for postsecondary success and they aren’t leaving with a plan for what they’re going to do next,” King said. “That’s the challenge that we need to respond to collectively.”

    Panelists agreed that there’s a disconnect between the consistently rising high school graduation rate in the U.S. and the fact that only 14 percent of low-income college students complete a college degree in eight years. Low-income students’ college completion rates have risen only 3 percentage points since 1970, as compared with their wealthier peers, whose rates have jumped 33 percentage points.


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    The Urban Alliance — a nonprofit that connects high schoolers with internships — released a paper Thursday highlighting how schools are failing to prepare students — particularly low-income and minority students — for college and careers. For example, 12 percent of young people ages 16 to 24 are not enrolled in school and don’t have a job, according to a 2017 report from the Social Science Research Council. This disconnect costs the economy $1 trillion, another report found, due to lost earnings and more government spending.

    To address the challenge of putting students on a path to a brighter future, panelists suggested high school internships, dual-credit enrollment, and seeking the help of advisers and mentors throughout high school and college.

    The Urban Alliance has found success addressing this disparity through its high school internship program, which combines paid internships with mentoring and training for low-income students during their last year of high school. The nonprofit recently completed a six-year randomized-control trial — considered the gold standard of research — and found that the young men in the program were 23 percentage points more likely to attend college than those who didn’t participate.

    “We have a lot of work to do around who success is for,” said Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance and one of the panelists. “It’s for our kids, but they don’t often know that. So when they are able to combine school with something real, [such as] being in a work environment, they are able to have a lightbulb moment.”

    But it’s challenging to fit a program like this into the traditional high school model, Smith acknowledged. She recalled educators’ concerns that the Urban Alliance would take students out of class for part of the day to intern at local businesses.


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    These kinds of innovations require rethinking the traditional high school diploma, said panelist Jennifer Brown Lerner, assistant director for policy and partnerships at the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development at the Aspen Institute.

    “What has a high school diploma represented for the vast majority of young people?” Brown Lerner asked. “It’s represented sitting in courses for a certain period of time, demonstrating mastery at a single-point-in-time test, then earning a credit to move forward. I have yet to have a job in which that’s how I advance, and so I think we need to really think about what is a high school diploma doing.”

    Panelist Lisa Dughi, chief operating officer at NAF (formerly known as the National Academy Foundation), underlined the need for partnerships between community businesses and schools. She said it’s important for companies to understand that mentoring student interns isn’t philanthropy but workforce development.

    “When the businesses lean in differently, it makes it so much easier for the students, teachers, and for the school to create those partnerships…. It isn’t like they’re pulling teeth trying to get someone in the door,” Dughi said. “Those people want to be there because they see their future in the students.”


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    At the federal policy level, King said this kind of work has bipartisan support, evidenced by the House’s recent reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. However, he cautioned that the House didn’t go far enough to improve the act and that the Senate should add measures such as requiring rigorous research around innovation and encouraging more women and minorities to go into STEM fields.

    “We can’t afford as a country to throw those kids away; that is our future,” King said.

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