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  • How the Los Angeles School Board Teamed Up With Elon Musk to Field-Test a Child-Sized Submarine to Aid With the Thailand Cave Rescue

    By Esmeralda Fabián Romero | July 13, 2018

    This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report

    Water levels were rising dangerously high and time was running out to rescue a team of soccer boys and their coach who had been trapped for two weeks in a Thailand cave.

    Thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, Elon Musk, the famed founder of the SpaceX rocket company, and his crew were holed up at the company’s Hawthorne headquarters designing and building a mini-submarine escape pod.

    News came last Saturday as they raced to finish the aluminum sub that the first four boys had been rescued. Nine people were still stranded, however, and a coming monsoon threatened to flood the narrow caves.

    But one last thing was needed before the sub could be whisked off to Thailand: a pool big enough for a test.

    Enter the Los Angeles Unified School District.

    Nick Melvoin, vice president of the school board, was at a wedding in Oregon when he got a call from Musk’s chief of staff asking for help.

    “It was 10:45 at night. He said the SpaceX engineers had just designed a mini-submarine that they wanted to send the next day to Thailand to help in the rescue, and they were looking for a pool,” Melvoin told LA School Report. “We went to high school together and he thought maybe our school’s pool may be available, and I said, I don’t know about that, but we have pools at your disposal in LA Unified, and we’d love to help.”

    By 11:30, the two were on a group call with Melvoin staffer Allison Holdorff Polhill and Don Parcell, director of operations at Palisades Charter High School.

    At midnight, Musk personally approved the underwater test at Pali, and by 12:30 a.m. Parcell met Holdorff Polhill at the pool. She had been board chair at the school before running against Melvoin in last year’s school board primary. She is now his senior adviser and director of community engagement. The Pacific Palisades high school is an independent charter school, meaning it is a public school and part of LA Unified but has its own board and functions under a contract, or “charter,” that governs all details of the school’s operation.

    “The SpaceX team needed to move fast, and that’s what Pali can do because it’s independent,” Holdorff Polhill said. “They could make those decisions without the burden of the bureaucracy. But we are working to make [all of LA Unified] that efficient.”

    Melvoin said, “It was really about who could we get on the phone at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night, check the pool in the middle of the night, and make sure it was going to work.”

    SpaceX engineers arrived early Sunday with the sub. Melvoin and Musk were on the phone with their respective teams throughout the hours of underwater testing.

    “The SpaceX team had basically been awake for two days straight,” Holdorff said. “It was high pressure. It had to be tested once without anyone in the tube and once with a human being in the tube. They were so gracious to Pali,” said Holdorff, who fed the team from the farmers market held Sundays at the high school and whose son, an underwater photographer, documented the testing for SpaceX.

    By mid-afternoon the sub was on a plane to Thailand, and the pool, which is used by local sports teams and the community, was reopened to the public.

    But before the sub could be sent down into the caves, Thailand’s navy rescued the coach and remaining eight boys. Musk posted Monday on Twitter that the sub will remain in Thailand and will be named Wild Boar after the boys’ soccer team. “Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future. Thailand is so beautiful.”

    As the rescue captivated the world’s attention, Melvoin said that at LA Unified, “we care for all kids wherever they are,” and that he hopes the district can continue to use its resources to help — as it did two weeks ago during a toy drive for immigrant children detained at the border. On Tuesday, the school board unanimously passed Melvoin’s resolution directing the district’s chief lobbyist to advocate for a permanent end to family separations and for the district to offer free legal services for those impacted by forcible separation. About 100 children separated from their parents are being held in the Los Angeles area.

    “We had an asset that was helpful, and I hope this is the first of many times that we can use the district’s resources to help,” said Melvoin, who this week was appointed to a second term as vice president of the school board. He said the willingness of the director of operations and of district officials to work overnight to go over liabilities and make the pool available shows what can be done even in a district as big as LA Unified.

    “I have been trying to build more efficiency within the district and cut some red tape,” Melvoin said. “There was no protocol here. We were just saying there’s a problem here, how do we solve it? And I hope that can be emblematic in future approaches that the district takes.”

    He added, “It was very cool. I’m grateful to Pali. It was a nice experience and something fun for Pali’s students to share when they return from summer break.”

    Because of Pali’s quick help, SpaceX has invited 30 Pali students and five faculty members to participate in its Hyperloop competition on July 22, Holdorff said.

    “We hope our small part in a heroic effort will be of great help to rescue efforts in the future,” reads a Pali High Facebook post. “We’d like to extend a special thanks to SpaceX, Nick and Allison for reaching out to us.”

    Go Deeper: This article is one in a series at The 74 that profiles the heroes, victories, success stories, and random acts of kindness found at schools all across America. Read more of our recent inspiring profiles at The74Million.org/series/inspiring.

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  • House Committee Approves $71 Billion Education Funding Bill in Meeting Dominated by Fate of Separated Migrant Children, Increases Money to School Safety Programs

    By Carolyn Phenicie | July 12, 2018

    The House Appropriations Committee, after a day-long markup dominated by concerns for immigrant children separated from their parents, approved a $71 billion spending bill for the Education Department.

    The most notable change adopted during the committee’s consideration was boosting funding for the School Safety National Activities program. The committee’s first draft of the bill would have funded the grants at $43 million; the committee upped funding to $90 million, the same as it received last year.

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    It was included in what’s called a manager’s amendment, offered by the bill’s author at the start of the markup that usually, as in this case, includes changes previously agreed to by both parties. Democrats during subcommittee consideration had criticized the cut to the school safety programs, particularly in the wake of the February mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and ensuing student advocacy around school safety and gun control.

    The bill avoids most of the controversial issues that had surrounded it last year, including the Trump administration’s proposed school choice programs and huge cuts to programs for teacher training and afterschool programs. The path is also made easier by an existing deal that set out a higher total spending cap.

    Overall, it would provide small boosts for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants and level funding for other big K-12 programs, including teacher training, Title I grants for low-income students, and afterschool programs. Lawmakers would give a big boost to career and technical education grants and charter schools.

    Democrats at the markup, which ran past 11 p.m., offered some amendments related to education, largely around higher education. A proposal to increase the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students, for instance, was rejected on party lines.

    On the K-12 side, Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, introduced but ultimately withdrew an amendment that would block the Education Department from overturning an Obama-era guidance that urged schools to limit suspensions and expulsions and end racial disparities in discipline.

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    Federal Civil Rights Data Highlight Racial Disparities in Discipline as DeVos Mulls Guidance Rollback

    The guidance encourages districts to look at disparate impact — that is, policies that aren’t written in a racially biased way but that result in different outcomes for students of different races. That principle underscores other civil rights protections in housing and other areas, Lee said.

    “If the Trump administration chooses to rescind the guidance, we would open the door to a full-out assault on civil rights protections,” Lee said.

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not yet changed the discipline guidance, even as the department has revoked others on racial disparities in special education placement and affirmative action. Conservatives say the discipline guidance is overly prescriptive and makes schools unsafe by keeping disruptive students in class.

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    More Than 70 Top Education Leaders Sign Letter Demanding the Trump Administration Maintain Obama-Era Guidance on Student Discipline

    Education Department funding is included in the same bill as the Department of Health and Human Services, which takes custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border and those who were separated from their parents, a practice that began this spring as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration.

    Democrats proposed a volley of amendments surrounding the children, who are cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Adopted amendments would institute financial penalties on the department for failing to create a plan for reunifying children with their parents, ban children from being medicated without being seen by a doctor, and prohibit religious tests for families who take in the children.

    “The president of the United States instituted an unconscionable and reckless policy that is causing profound trauma and threatens to destroy lives,” Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said at the start of the hearing.

    “Until we, and that means all of us, say enough is enough to the lies, to the bigotry, to using distraught children and anguished parents as political pawns, then the consequences of our inaction will be a stain on our nation forevermore,” she added.

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    Child Immigrants in Federal Custody Are Entitled to an Education. Here’s How it Works

    A little more than half of the 103 children under the age of 5 in the agency’s custody had been reunited with their families as of Thursday morning, according to the Los Angeles Times. A federal judge had ordered the reunification of all children in that age group by Tuesday. The remaining were ineligible to be reunited for various reasons, including because parents had criminal histories or had already been deported, the government said.

    Officials said they would search for other sponsors for children who could not be reunited with parents who had criminal records, and work with foreign consulates to return children to the parents who have already been deported, the Washington Post reported.

    The spending bill’s next stop will be the House floor, though timing is unclear, particularly as the chamber runs up to its month-long August recess. Leaders in both chambers have been bringing “mini-bus” bills to the floor, D.C. jargon for bills that combine perhaps two or three separate appropriations bills.

    Senate Appropriations Committee leaders said before the July 4 holiday that they would like to bring the bill to the floor in the upper chamber, the first time that would happen in over a decade. Leaders have said they hope to tie it to the defense spending bill to attract broad bipartisan support.

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    Senate Appropriations Committee Advances $71 Billion Education Spending Bill as Leaders Eye Rare Floor Consideration

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  • 5 Things to Know About California’s Final ESSA Plan Following a Year of Discussion & Debate Surrounding the Golden State’s Schools

    By Mario Koran | July 11, 2018

    After nearly a year of discussion and three rounds of revisions, California’s Board of Education on Wednesday approved its final version of its state accountability plan known as ESSA, to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

    Here are five things to know about the last leg in California’s journey to win approval — and the roughly $2.6 billion in federal dollars it means for the state each year.

    1. A federal thumbs-up is now virtually guaranteed. In a letter to the state late last month, a top Department of Education official wrote that he expected the department to approve the plan if California agreed to the feds’ latest round of changes. The state board on Wednesday unanimously approved the last details. The state will now resubmit its plan and expects to hear back within 30 days whether U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will at last sign off.

    2. The plan prioritizes tracking of suspensions. Each state had to choose a way of evaluating schools that didn’t revolve around academics. Most states — three-quarters of them — chose chronic absenteeism as their “school quality or student success” measure, but California chose to use that as part of its academic measurements. So the state is going with suspension rates for elementary and middle schools. For high schools, the state will use suspension rates as well as the college and career indicator, which is based on completion of college-preparatory courses or career tech courses, or high scores on certain tests.

    3. How California will work to boost struggling schools: The last sticking point for California was how and when to identify the lowest-performing schools and those that are struggling to serve student groups. The law requires each state to list its bottom 5 percent of schools so they can receive help. That’s around 300 schools in California.

    California first ran afoul of the feds because its new accountability measurement tool, the California State Dashboard, didn’t clearly identify those bottom 300. Then the latest snag was that California wanted to take longer to identify those schools that are low-performing for specific student groups. The feds won, and California has now agreed to move up its timeline. Schools will now be eligible for support after two years of low performance.

    4. Only three states have not won final approval from the feds. The other two are Utah and Florida.

    5. What took so long? California was basically being California, an education advocate said Wednesday. “I think it stems from California wanting to do things California’s way,” said Carrie Hahnel, deputy director of research and policy at The Education Trust–West. “California has treated the ESSA plan as a compliance document as opposed to a plan to guarantee students’ civil rights. The state was working on its own accountability system before ESSA, and they’ve essentially taken their plan and tried to wedge it into the ESSA template.”



  • L.A. School Board Rejects Proposed Parcel Tax That Would Have Generated $500 Million a Year for District; Supe Looks to 2020 Instead

    By Mario Koran | July 10, 2018

    This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report

    At Tuesday’s annual meeting of the LA Unified school board, Mónica García was elected to another term as president, and a proposed parcel tax that would have generated $500 million a year for the cash-strapped district failed to garner enough support to make the November ballot.

    After a lengthy discussion — during which some board members voiced concern that district staff wasn’t prepared to campaign for the bond or to detail how the money would be spent — board members split 3 to 3 on the proposal, which needed a majority to pass. Board member Kelly Gonez, who gave birth to a boy over the weekend, was absent.

    Although he didn’t cast a vote, Superintendent Austin Beutner said he preferred to hold off on the measure until 2020, when the district’s own polling showed it stands a better chance of passing. Polling results showed lukewarm support for a November vote on the measure, which the district would have had to pay roughly $6 million to support — money that would be lost to the district if the measure wasn’t successful.

    García signaled that the measure would likely resurface in future years once staff had the chance to conduct further research and better prepare for a ballot measure.

    LA Unified faces a budget deficit of $482 million by 2020, a shortfall the parcel tax was intended to fill. Some estimates show that within 13 years health care and pension obligations will eat up over 50 percent of the district’s budget.

    Board member George McKenna, who along with Scott Schmerelson brought the resolution, was concerned that the board was delaying the measure when it urgently needed funds.

    “This is not just a political issue, it’s a financial issue. We need money,” McKenna said.

    García, who was re-elected to another term as school board president with Schmerelson and McKenna voting no, appointed Nick Melvoin again as vice president.

    To pass, the parcel tax would have required a vote of 66 percent of voters, and polling conducted in February and June indicated it would likely fall short. The polling also found that only a quarter of respondents thought the district was doing a good or excellent job.

    Also Tuesday, the board unanimously supported a resolution calling for an end to the separation of immigrant families at the border and to provide emotional and legal support to LA Unified children impacted by the policy.

    “I’m deeply impacted and disturbed every day by seeing the images of children under 5 coming in front of a judge to plead their case,” García said. “No child should ever have to go through such an experience. Our country is practicing the absence of justice. Justice for all does not look like this.”

    After a closed session meeting, the district announced that United Teachers Los Angeles had withdrawn its request for an impasse in contract negotiations. “We look forward to returning to the bargaining table, and working toward an agreement that respects the value and hard work of our employees and allows us to serve the needs of students,” Deputy Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a statement.



  • More Than 70 Top Education Leaders Sign Letter Demanding the Trump Administration Maintain Obama-Era Guidance on Student Discipline

    By Mark Keierleber | July 10, 2018

    A coalition of more than 70 education leaders — from charter school operators to national teachers unions — are calling on the Trump administration to retain an Obama-era guidance document that urged school districts to reduce their reliance on suspensions and expulsions and to eliminate racial disparities in discipline.

    In a letter sent Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the education groups said they accept responsibility for rethinking traditional approaches to school discipline “because the consequences of inaction are dire.” The federal government has a responsibility to uphold students’ civil rights, according to the letter, which includes addressing disproportionality in student suspension rates.

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    Is DeVos Near Ending School Discipline Reform After Talks on Race, Safety?

    “It is unacceptable that students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQQ experience harsher discipline than their peers,” wrote the education groups, which include ACE Charter Schools, the American Federation of Teachers, Educators for Excellence, and the Discipline Revolution Project, as well as several urban school district superintendents. “Exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, are linked to students failing in school, to students not finishing school … and often to a lifetime connected to a life-altering juvenile and adult justice system.”

    In a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter, the Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice told school leaders that disparate discipline rates, based on race or disability, could be the result of bias and therefore violate federal civil rights laws. The letter also urged districts to “rethink school discipline” and adopt less punitive approaches, like restorative justice, a change that was already underway in several districts across the country. Critics, however, say the guidance document overstepped the Obama administration’s authority and that efforts to reduce suspensions prompt chaos and disorder in schools.

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    Now, DeVos may revoke that guidance document. Rescinding the Obama-era guidance is among topics being considered by the Federal Commission on School Safety, a group established by President Trump following the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and chaired by the secretary.

    Nationally, schools’ reliance on suspensions and expulsions has dropped in recent years, but disparities remain for students of color and those with disabilities. For example, black boys make up 8 percent of public school students but are 25 percent of children suspended at least once, according to the Education Department’s latest Civil Rights Data Collection, which presents statistics from the 2015-16 school year.

    “The letter is partly about imploring the federal government to do their job in upholding students’ civil rights, but it is also a public declaration about our values as an education community,” Cami Anderson, founder of the Discipline Revolution Project, said in a media release. “We can and must do more to replace antiquated, harsh, ineffective, and biased discipline practices with student support systems that allow teachers to move away from these practices and toward alternative approaches to suspensions that help students thrive.”

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  • In the Aftermath of Net Neutrality, District Leaders Should Be Proactive With Service Providers, Experts Say

    By Laura Fay | July 8, 2018

    At a time when educators are increasingly focused on personalized learning and technology education, reliable internet connections in the classroom are more important than ever. But the recent demise of net neutrality could threaten those connections by raising prices, slowing downloads, and blocking some content, which could strain district finances and create headaches for teachers who use multimedia resources for teaching and testing.

    The now-defunct federal net neutrality policy, which ended June 11, barred internet service providers from prioritizing web traffic or content. Critics are worried that deregulation will pave the way for providers to create “fast lanes” that allow some content to load or stream faster than others or require users to pay extra for some types of content. Some advocates have also said that the end of net neutrality could stifle innovation by making it harder for smaller education technology companies to operate and for teachers and students to access their content.

    Some states have attempted to maintain regulations at the state level. The governors of New York and Montana, for example, have signed executive orders requiring providers to abide by net neutrality. Washington state has enacted its own net neutrality legislation that ensures providers treat all traffic and content the same.

    School and district leaders concerned about the end of net neutrality should be proactive when dealing with internet service providers to avoid slowdowns and connectivity problems, experts say.

    If they are concerned about “throttling” — which occurs when content from some sources is intentionally delivered at a slower pace — leaders should specify in their E-rate applications and contracts with internet service providers that they require neutral service. In other words, they should “make it a cost of doing business” with the district that the provider does not throttle or block any websites or content without the district’s permission, said John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning. His organization helps schools and libraries with E-rate applications, through which they apply to the federal government for subsidized internet and phone service. Unlike individual consumers, school districts have some leverage to negotiate their terms with internet service providers. Additionally, most of the major internet service providers have said they will not take advantage of the recent deregulation, so districts should be able to get them to sign on to a contract that puts that commitment into writing, Harrington told The 74.

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    Reg Leichty, a lobbyist for the Consortium for School Networking, a professional association for school system technology leaders, said there are three things districts can do to guard against rising prices and web slowdowns: be vigilant about possible service changes when creating contracts with internet service providers; record any problems with service and report them to the Federal Trade Commission; and connect with other districts to share information and advocate together for regulation as needed. He said it is “unfortunate” that school districts now have to “police the market,” which was previously the role of the Federal Communications Commission.

    Harrington and Leichty agreed that rural districts could be hit the hardest because they are most likely to have only one option for internet service. That makes it even more important that they document concerns and report them to the FTC, Leichty said.

    “All districts need to take responsibility for inventorying these problems and then sharing them up to the FTC so that they have a record upon which to act if there are problems,” Leichty said.

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  • With New Supreme Court Challenge in Sight, Trump Rescinds Guidance on Affirmative Action in College Admissions

    By Mark Keierleber | July 8, 2018

    Just a day before last week’s July 4th holiday, the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on affirmative action policies in college admissions, a move that could have major implications for thousands of minority students looking to go to college.

    The Trump administration announced it was rescinding 24 guidance documents that were “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” including seven letters from the Departments of Education and Justice that said school districts and universities may consider race in admissions.

    Across the country, minority student representation on college campuses is low. At public flagship universities, for example, enrollment sits at 5.2 percent for black students and 8.9 percent for Hispanic students, according to The Education Trust.

    Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who was assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department under President Barack Obama, blasted the Trump administration’s move, calling it a “strong signaling of a lack of support for diversity and inclusion in schools.” Although it remains unseen how the move will affect college decision-making, she told The 74 it’s reasonable to conclude that campuses could become whiter and less diverse, “and that is damaging for the students in those campuses and damaging for the nation that relies on an educated populace.”

    The latest Education Department reversal, she said, runs counter to recent Supreme Court precedent, which remains the law. Most recently, the nation’s highest court upheld in 2016 admissions practices at the University of Texas at Austin designed to bolster racial diversity. In that case, plaintiff Abigail Fisher, who is white, argued that she wasn’t admitted to the university because of her race.

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    But the legacy of that ruling may prove limited. The Trump administration’s guidance revocation comes just one week after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. That news could spell doom for the future of affirmative action admissions policies since Kennedy, in a surprising reversal, sided with liberal justices in the Texas case to narrowly uphold the practice.

    President Donald Trump has yet to announce a nominee to replace Kennedy, but the issue could again find itself before the Supreme Court. Justices could soon be asked to consider a lawsuit pending against Harvard University, for example, which alleges the institution caps the number of Asian Americans admitted. An internal Justice Department announcement that became public last year outlined plans to investigate and sue universities that employ race as a factor in admissions decisions. Late last year, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into Harvard’s practices.

    Several institutions, including Harvard, defended their practices after the Trump administration’s latest decision. “Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years,” the university said in a statement.

    Though less contentious, the Trump administration also scrapped Obama-era guidance that took aim at racial segregation in K-12 schools. That guidance said districts may use “generalized race-based approaches” to admit students, such as looking at the racial composition of neighborhoods, but do not consider a single student’s race. School districts, the guidance noted, are “required to use race-neutral approaches only if they are workable.” In some cases, the guidance said, a race-neutral approach “will be ineffective to achieve the diversity that the school district seeks or to address racial isolation in the district’s schools.”

    That guidance gave options to districts that prioritized campus diversity, Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of policy and advocacy for AASA, the School Superintendents Association, told Politico. But the Trump administration, she said, could take those options off the table.

    “If schools decide to use race as a factor when they look at how they zone elementary or middle schools, for example, that could come under suspicion in the new Trump schema,” she said.

    The Trump administration’s most recent broadside is consistent with other recent decisions to undercut Obama-era actions designed to bolster racial equity in education. At the end of June, the Trump administration delayed by two years an Obama-era rule that would require states to more closely monitor whether schools have racial disparities in identifying children for special education. The Trump administration is also considering rescinding Obama-era guidance that says districts could violate federal civil rights laws when they suspend or expel students at disproportionate rates.

    As the Trump administration hands a victory to critics of affirmative-action-based admissions policies, debate among researchers and university officials continues over strategies to bolster campus diversity.

    In a recent report, Urban Institute researchers noted that selective colleges that rely on affirmative action still do a poor job at bolstering campus diversity. While researchers noted that affirmative action is likely the most efficient strategy to increase minority representation in higher education, other admissions factors could serve as proxies for race. Those could include admissions policies that home in on an applicant’s family wealth as well as the demographic characteristics of neighborhoods or K-12 schools.

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    In states that ban affirmative action in college admissions, most colleges have found alternative strategies to boost minority enrollment, according to a 2012 report from the Century Foundation. Approaches include giving preference to low-income students of all races, increasing financial aid, improving community college transfer policies, and eliminating “legacy” policies that give preference to the children of alumni.

    But maintaining affirmative action as an option, Lhamon said, is important when alternative approaches aren’t enough.

    “Reality is that this nation continues to be quite separated in the residential makeup of communities and in the school communities,” Lhamon said. “It means we don’t yet live in a post-racial society in which race is not a consideration that needs to be taken into account as we consider the communities that we educate, the communities that we serve, and the communities that we live in.”

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  • This Week in Education Politics: Kennedy SCOTUS Replacement on Deck as Affirmative Action Again in Limelight

    By Carolyn Phenicie | July 7, 2018

    Updated

    THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Saturdays. (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: WHO’S NEXT FOR SCOTUS?  President Donald Trump said last week that he’d announce his next nominee for the Supreme Court on Monday.

    That new justice will replace Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on many social issues, including affirmative action. The issue is prominently back in the public consciousness after the Education and Justice departments on July 3 dropped Obama-era documents emphasizing how colleges could use race in college admissions and how K-12 schools could emphasize diversity through competitive schools and zoning. The move drew immediate criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups, two constituencies already primed to oppose any Trump nominee.

    Kennedy’s vote was key to a 2016 case upholding a University of Texas policy that considered race, among other factors, as part of a “holistic review” it used to fill a small portion of each year’s freshman class. Most of each year’s class was filled by offering automatic admission to the top 10 percent of each high school class in the state.

    Another affirmative action case is already working its way through federal courts. Brought by the same attorney responsible for the Texas case, it alleges that Harvard has a policy that discriminates against Asian Americans by limiting their number in each freshman class. It’s scheduled for trial early next year.

    Kennedy sided with the majority in several recent education cases, including the 7-2 Trinity Lutheran decision that ruled a religious institution can’t be excluded from a sectarian program, and last month’s 5-4 Janus decision ending mandatory union fees.

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    Though the core questions in those cases are decided, further cases on those issues, the exclusion of religious institutions from non-religious state grants and mandatory union dues payments, could come before the court again.

    On the support for religious issues, the high court ordered the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider an earlier ruling barring private schools, including religious ones, from participating in a state textbook-lending program. The state court’s earlier ruling relied on a clause in the state constitution prohibiting state aid to religious schools. That’s the same reasoning lower courts had used — and the Supreme Court rejected — in barring a Lutheran-church-affiliated preschool in Missouri from participating in a playground safety program.

    The New Mexico high court has re-heard the case, and a ruling is expected by the end of the year, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

    And though the dust has barely settled on the Janus ruling, some teachers are already suing for repayment of fees already paid to unions, EdWeek reported.

    ICYMI: APPROPRIATIONS, CTE TO SENATE FLOOR Senate committees before their week-long July 4 recess approved a 2019 Education Department spending bill and a measure reauthorizing the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

    The Appropriations Committee approved the spending bill. It would provide $71 billion for the Education Department while lawmakers rejected the Trump administration’s proposed cuts and new school choice programs. A House Appropriations Committee markup of the education spending bill has been postponed twice; it had not been rescheduled as of July 5.

    The CTE bill would let states set their own goals without negotiating with the Education Department, and would require certain accountability measures for students who are deemed “concentrators” in CTE, EdWeek reported. The House passed its CTE reauthorization last year.

    Both should be ready for consideration by the full Senate shortly; it’s up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule debate time for the measures.

    MONDAY: UNIDOSUS UnidosUS, the group formerly known as National Council of La Raza, holds its annual conference Saturday through Monday. Several workshops and plenary sessions focus on education, including the federal government’s role in promoting equity.

    TUESDAY: JANUS REACTION  The Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee holds a hearing titled “After Janus v. AFSCME: Why Teachers and Workers are Fighting Back Against the Secret Money Campaign to Take Away Their Rights.” Unions and their Democratic allies have said that the First Amendment arguments made against mandatory dues payments disguise the true motives of big-money conservative donors who funded Janus and similar cases. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is among the witnesses.

    TUESDAY: SUPERINTENDENTS — AASA: The School Superintendents’ Association holds its legislative advocacy conference Tuesday through Thursday. Panels will focus on the fall elections and teacher training programs; attendees will also have meetings on Capitol Hill.

    WEDNESDAY: PRINCIPALS The New America Foundation holds a panel discussion on supporting the changing role of principals in America’s schools. Panelists will discuss how principals can be not only effective building leaders but instructional leaders.

    THURSDAY: NCLB AND HEA — Centrist Democratic think tank Third Way holds a panel discussion on lessons learned from education reforms advanced under No Child Left Behind that can be applied to an ongoing effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

    FRIDAY: DEVELOPMENT IMPACT BONDS — The Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on the world’s first development impact bond that helped fund Educate Girls, a nonprofit that aims to get more girls in school and improve outcomes for boys and girls in Rajasthan, India. Representatives of the UBS Optimus Foundation, which provided the upfront costs, Educate Girls, and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which will repay the UBS foundation, will participate.

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  • Education by the Numbers: 9 Statistics That Have Made Us Think Differently About America’s Schools This Academic Year

    By Kevin Mahnken | July 2, 2018

    Even with a perpetual media carnival unfolding around the Trump presidency, and ahead of midterm elections that could result in an even more hectic news environment next year, the events of 2018 have been shaped to an extraordinary degree by America’s K-12 schools.

    After a massacre at a Florida high school in February, the national debate over gun safety reached its highest pitch in years. Spring teacher strikes spread from state to state, sending a chill through lawmakers and making school funding a backdrop for the November elections. In multiple swing states, hundreds of teachers have put their names on the ballot. And districts across the country have struggled to track, place, and educate thousands of children either displaced by Hurricane Maria or separated from their parents at the border.

    Here are nine key statistics behind those and other major stories of the 2017-18 school year:

    59 percent

    What It Is: The high school graduation rate in Washington, D.C.

    What It Means: A few years ago, that number might not have seemed particularly out of place; a major city district like D.C., plagued by poverty and troubled schools, might reasonably graduate a little over half its high schoolers. But it’s a major decline from 2017, when the graduation rate had reportedly climbed to a record 73 percent after years of progress. Though the official tally won’t be finalized until this fall, after a few hundred more seniors will likely graduate after completing summer coursework, a drop of this magnitude is striking.

    Credit: District of Columbia Public Schools

    The new figure comes after an investigation triggered by a massive scandal at Ballou High School, where many chronically absent seniors were allowed to graduate. The districtwide adjustment is the latest and most dramatic evidence that grade inflation is responsible for at least some of the supposedly remarkable progress in graduation rates over the past decade.

    $45,555

    What It Is: The average teacher salary in West Virginia, the lowest of any state that saw strikes during the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Education Association

    What It Means: There are varying measures of teacher pay in the United States; depending on whether you count private school teachers, or separate elementary from secondary educators, the pecking order can vary. But clustered at the bottom of the scale, earning far less than the national average of $59,660, are red states like West Virginia, Florida, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Arizona. Forget comparisons to other college graduates — in Oklahoma, you can make more pumping gas than teaching children.

    No surprise, then, that a handful of those states saw massive teacher walkouts this spring, with thousands of school employees descending on their state capitals to demand higher wages. Most succeeded in winning raises, and teachers in other states may eye the same tactics in September.

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    112

    What It Is: The number of educators running for office in Oklahoma

    What It Means: Teachers, newly militant over issues of pay and school funding, aren’t just walking out of their classrooms — hundreds of them, across dozens of states, are running for state or federal office. More than 40 have taken the plunge in Arizona, including the 2016 Teacher of the Year, and at least 28 have declared their candidacies in Kentucky, where one has already toppled the Senate majority leader in a primary.

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    From the Schoolhouse to the Statehouse: These 7 Teachers Are Running for Office to Say ‘No More’ to Slashed Education Funding

    Most are running as Democrats, and a good number have sought training through the National Education Association’s See Educators Run seminar. But no matter the state or party, one thing is certain: Next year, more active and retired educators will be crafting education policy across the country.

    46

    What It Is: The number states where graduating from high school won’t qualify you to attend public college

    What It Means: According to an April report from the Center for American Progress, the vast majority of states don’t align their high school graduation standards with admissions standards to their public university systems. In eight states (including Texas, California, Maryland, and Indiana), a student can earn sufficient math credits to gain a diploma but still fall short of requirements for entry into a state university — usually the cheapest and most accessible form of higher education. In a whopping 23 states, foreign language requirements are misaligned.

    Credit: Center for American Progress

    A wealth of research proves that students who are diverted from typical coursework to remedial classes when they begin college are much less likely to graduate.

    112

    What It Is: The number of people killed or injured in school shootings in 2018 to date

    What It Means: It means, as Florida gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has put it, that more people have died in schools this year than in combat zones. Is there really anything more to say?

    Related

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    38,762

    What It Is: The number of students who have left Puerto Rico’s public school system since last year’s devastating hurricane

    What It Means: To start with, that’s likely a conservative estimate. In the same way that reported fatality figures from Hurricane Maria were later found to be much lower than the true number of dead, it’s likely that the island’s education authorities are still accounting for the full number of pupils displaced by the once-in-a-generation storm. Some 24,000 of those kids are now believed to be studying somewhere on the mainland, most clustering in heavily Hispanic areas like Florida or New York City. Meanwhile, nearly 300 schools have been shuttered on the island, where authorities have already passed laws implemented sweeping changes to the education system.

    Related

    ‘One Foot in Puerto Rico, One Foot Here’: High School Seniors Who Fled to the U.S. Mainland After Hurricane Maria Recount Their Tumultuous Path to Graduation

    33 percent

    What It Is: The proportion of 4-year-olds attending state-funded pre-K programs

    What It Means: The figure comes from the annual report of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which keeps meticulous track of the enrollment — and resources — of state pre-kindergarten programs. While millions of 3- and 4-year-olds are still absent from any early education, and many more are placed in privately run programs, the percentage enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs has grown enormously: from just 14 percent in 2002 to 33 percent today.

    Credit: National Institute for Early Education Research

    That huge increase has been the result of a concerted effort to get programs off the ground in largely underserved communities. Thirteen states lacked any form of publicly funded pre-K 15 years ago; just six do today. In Florida, 77 percent of all 4-year-olds are enrolled in the state’s pre-K program.

    0

    What It Is: Progress recorded in American students’ 2017 NAEP scores

    What It Means: What people have expected, more or less. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “Nation’s Report Card,” is a test taken by fourth- and eighth-graders every two years. After making considerable strides in both math and English during the late 1990s and early 2000s — the salad days of what is sometimes called the accountability era — progress since 2007 has been basically flat. And 2017’s scores were no exception: Eighth-graders made a two-point improvement in reading, but nobody’s popping champagne corks over that. The stagnation led one expert to call the past 10 years a “lost decade” for education reform.

    Credit: National Center for Education Statistics

    One new development did stand out, though: While aggregate scores have remained stuck over the past few years, there actually has been upward movement for the test’s highest performers, along with a slight decline for the lowest performers. That growing gap is something to keep an eye on when the next round of scores is released.

    21 percentage points

    What It Is: The greater likelihood of low-income kids earning a diploma if they attend a career or technical high school

    What It Means: The finding comes from a startling study published by University of Connecticut professor Shaun Dougherty, who has spent years researching the impact of career and technical education (CTE). In the study, Dougherty examined graduation statistics from 36 Massachusetts technical high schools, where students learn a typical academic curriculum alongside classes in specific workforce skills. Although CTE has historically been derided as vocational education, a special track for students who won’t make it to college, Dougherty’s research has found the opposite: Kids from low-income families who learn professional skills are markedly more likely to earn a diploma than those enrolled in typical schools.

    In a secondary analysis, comparing students who had either just missed or barely made the cutoff for admission to three of the CTE schools, Dougherty again found that both low-income students and their more affluent classmates were between 7 and 10 percentage points more likely to graduate.

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  • A Holiday Look at the Top Education News Stories in America’s Largest Districts: School Safety, Hurricane Recovery & More

    By Andrew Brownstein | June 29, 2018

    Every day at The 74, EduClips offers a rapid roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 11 states attend class every day. You can read previous installments right here— and be sure to sign up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter if you’d like to get more school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox.

    As we approach the July 4 holiday, we offer a quick recap on where the top 15 districts stand, and spotlight some of the key issues, debates, and storylines that affect these school systems.

    Reminder: After a brief vacation, EduClips will resume Monday morning, July 16.

    PROPOSED SHAKEUP FOR NEW YORK CITY’S ELITE HIGH SCHOOLS — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deeply controversial proposal to diversify New York City’s elite high schools awaits approval from the state legislature. The proposal would eliminate an exam known as the SHSAT, replacing it with a system in which the top 7 percent of students from every middle school would be admitted, based on class rank and state test scores. By evenly redistributing acceptances across the system, the change would drastically slash the number of middle schools that feed into the program. The New York Times estimated that out of almost 600 middle schools citywide, just 10 of them account for one-quarter of the 5,000 students admitted to the specialized schools this year. (Read at The New York Times)

    LOWEST-PERFORMING SCHOOLS IN LOS ANGELES LACK TEACHER EVALUATIONS, STUDY FINDS — Most of the teachers in Los Angeles’s lowest-performing public schools are not regularly evaluated, and nearly all who are receive good ratings, according to an analysis by Parent Revolution. Last year, the nonprofit found, more than two-thirds of teachers were not formally evaluated, and nearly all of those who were — 96 percent —met or exceeded performance standards. The results come at a time in which just 27 percent of students met or exceeded the state’s standards in English Language Arts and 20 percent in math. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    CHICAGO SCHOOLS REEL FROM SEX ABUSE SCANDAL — The Chicago Public Schools removed one principal and reassigned another, the latest move in a sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the district. Simeon Career Academy Principal Dr. Sheldon House was removed following an audit that found that volunteers coached athletics without undergoing proper background checks. The district also announced it reassigned Sarah Goode STEM Academy principal Armando Rodriguez pending the outcome of an investigation of a student’s allegation of possible sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher. The district’s failure to protect student victims was reported first by the Chicago Tribune in early June. The district has also recently opened a new office to deal with sexual abuse complaints. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    PUERTO RICO GRAPPLES WITH SCHOOL CLOSURES — Puerto Rico is scrambling to implement its decision to close 263 schools before the 2018-19 school year. Hurricane Maria significantly affected the island’s public education system, but Puerto Rico has been struggling with declining enrollment and fiscal problems for years. A recent study showed that about 650 schools were at less than 70 percent of capacity in terms of student enrollment. While a little more than 260,000 students on the island have re-enrolled in public school, roughly 50,000 students have yet to decide where they will attend schools next year. (Read at Education Week)

    CARVALHO SEIZES ON TOP GRADES TO SEEK PAY BOOST FOR MIAMI TEACHERS — This year, the Miami-Dade school district earned an A- rating from the state, one of only two of Florida’s six largest districts do to so. And for the second year in a row, no traditional school in the district earned an F. That news gave Superintendent Alberto Carvalho an opening to lobby for a referendum to increase taxes in order to offer teachers a long-neglected raise. “The news could not have come at a better time,” Carvalho said. “When I say the performance justifies it, Miami-Dade Public Schools has justified their return on investment.” (Read at the Miami Herald)

    NEW SUPERINTENDENT TALKS ABOUT TRUST … IN LAS VEGAS — New Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara faces a major challenge: building trust. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, trust in the district among “officials, legislators, parents and trustees often seems nonexistent and divisions threaten to undermine modest progress in academic achievement.” Jara said he believes in operating transparently and having open dialogues, and is unafraid of healthy debate. “The passion I can work with,” he said. “What we need to do is just channel it together to … work as one and collaborate together so we can then have a real clear focus on being the No. 1 district for kids.” (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

    IN FORT LAUDERDALE, PARENT OF SLAIN PARKLAND TEEN OFFERS SECURITY PLAN — Andrew Pollack lost his daughter, Meadow, when she was murdered in the Feb. 14 massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Now, he is promoting an eight-point plan — dubbed the Pollack plan — that calls for hardening schools, rather than the kinds of gun control reforms pushed by the school’s student activists. “I like these kids,” he said. “I don’t blame them. They are treated like rock stars, but let’s work on Broward.” His plan calls for schools to establish single points of entry with metal detectors, recruit safety volunteers, increase mental health resources, and arm staff or other safety specialists. (Read at The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

    HOUSTON PASSES BUDGET DESPITE GAPING DEFICIT — Despite over $80 million in cuts, the recent 2018-19 school budget passed unanimously by the Houston school board leaves a gaping deficit — one that several trustees say they want to avoid in the future. “We have to do better moving forward,” said trustee Elizabeth Santos. District budget manager Glenn Reed told reporters that he expects to cover that deficit with savings from other departments — not reserves. (Read at Houston Public Media)

    POOR GRADES LEAD TO TAMPA PRINCIPAL SHUFFLE — In January, after several Tampa schools earned poor state ratings, the State Board of Education ordered Superintendent Jeff Eakins to move principals out of four schools. So when school grades came out again in late June and Eakins identified schools with repeated D or F grades, he tried to be proactive: He appointed 18 principals, so many and with so little notice for some that two members of the school board tried to delay their approval. In a long list of school-to-school principal transfers, D-rated schools were given principals from A and B schools. Some principals were moved a dozen or more miles from their past posts. As word spread, teachers and parents called school board members to complain. (Read at the Tampa Tribune)

    FREE SUMMER LUNCH PROGRAM UNDERUSED BY HAWAII YOUTH — Only 1 in 10 eligible schoolchildren from low-income households take advantage of a program that delivers summer lunches to 69 island public schools, according to a new report by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Nicole Woo of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice said Hawaii is near the bottom of FRAC’s national ranking, coming in 41st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. “A lot of these kids rely on free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year. During the summer we don’t know where they’re getting their meals if they’re not taking advantage of the summer food program,” she said. (Read at Hawaii News Now)

    ORLANDO SENTINEL INVESTIGATION: PRIVATE SCHOOLS OFFER SPECIOUS LESSONS — Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students that “dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America, and that slaves who ‘knew Christ’ were better off than free men who did not,” according to an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel. The Sentinel surveyed the 151 private schools newly approved by the state Education Department to take scholarships for the 2017-18 school year. The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that often depend on nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

    PALM BEACH SCHOOLS SCRAMBLE TO FILL POST-PARKLAND POLICE MANDATE — Like schools in every other district in the state, Palm Beach County schools are scrambling to find police officers to comply with a new law requiring an officer in every school. The mandate followed the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. The school district needs to add 108 officers to its 152-officer force to meet the state’s mandate of at least one officer in each elementary school and two or three in middle and high schools. (Read at the Sun-Sentinel)

    FAIRFAX APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL PRO-TRANSGENDER LANGUAGE — Fairfax County schools will replace “biological sex” with “sex assigned at birth” in the district’s family life education curriculum, which includes lessons on sexual health and sexuality. The school board voted to convey that a person’s anatomy may not coincide with gender identity, holding that “biological sex” is coded language used to denigrate transgender people. With the vote, Fairfax became the latest battleground over recognition of transgender and nonbinary students in the nation’s schools. (Read at The Washington Post)

    PHILADELPHIA’S NEW SCHOOL BOARD MEETS FOR FIRST TIME — In late June, members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission gathered for the last time. A new nine-member Board of Education, appointed by the mayor, will hold its first public meeting July 9. The nine Philadelphians, several of them city natives who attended local public schools, include two former members of the outgoing commission. Six of the nine members are women. One of the men, Lee Huang, has three adopted children, all of whom attend Philadelphia public schools. Members of the former state-sanctioned commission — a controversial five-member panel that governed the city’s public schools for 16 years — moved to abolish that body last year. Members of the new board will face several challenges, including declining public school enrollment and significant structural deficits. (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    HISTORIC SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION IN GEORGIA’S GWINNETT COUNTY — November’s election for school board could herald a dramatic change: If Everton Blair, a Democrat running in District 4, wins, he will be the first nonwhite school board member in the history of the county, which now is over 60 percent minority. “As a graduate of the Gwinnett County school system and a teacher, I witnessed the demographic shift and was a part of it,” he said. “One thing that’s missing currently is those voices.” In May, Blair defeated Mark Williams with 53.5 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary. (Read at the Gwinnett Daily Post)

    DALLAS PROHIBITS BULLYING BASED ON IMMIGRATION STATUS — The Dallas Independent School District is prohibiting bullying based on a student’s immigration status. At a June 21 board meeting, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the addition of “immigration status” to the district’s Student Welfare Freedom From Bullying policy. Rafael McDonnell, with the Dallas Resource Center, urged the board to consider the specific changes. “When we adopted this policy back in 2010, immigration status wasn’t on anybody’s radar and given the world that we live in today, it certainly is,” McDonnell said. (Read at Fox News 4)

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  • Newspaper Investigations of Toxic Asbestos, Lead in Philadelphia Classrooms Underscore Infrastructure Problems in Nation’s Schools, Experts Say

    By Laura Fay | June 29, 2018

    When first-grader Dean Pagan started having trouble with simple math problems and began earning “red” instead of “green” on his teacher’s behavior chart, his parents started to worry. The chart indicated he hadn’t been following directions. His parents took him to a psychiatrist and a therapist, and he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But after his teacher spotted him putting a paint chip in his mouth during class, they had him tested for lead poisoning.

    The results were devastating — the lead level in Dean’s blood was nine times as high as that known to cause permanent brain damage.

    Dean’s own classroom had poisoned him.

    He had been eating paint chips that fell onto his desk because he wanted to keep his workspace neat and because he wasn’t allowed to get out of his seat without permission during class.

    In Dean’s school in Philadelphia — and in schools around the country — toxins like lead, asbestos, and mold are common. When buildings are left to age without good cleaning and prompt repairs, such toxins can be released into the spaces where children play, learn, and eat.

    Any school built before the 1970s has “legacy toxics” like mold, asbestos, and lead, said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for school infrastructure improvements and modernization. But, she added, good cleaning and prompt repairs can keep kids safe. Asbestos isn’t a problem until floors, walls, and other parts of buildings are allowed to deteriorate, releasing poisonous asbestos fibers into the air. One way that can happen is if schools have problems with their heating and cooling systems, making the air too humid.

    Without modernization and maintenance, the classrooms are “a much more hazardous place to be,” she told The 74.

    The average school building in the United States is more than 40 years old, according to 2012-13 data, the most recent available, and experts say the federal government should be doing more to help states keep up with maintenance and repairs.

    U.S. schools earned a grade of D+ on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent “Infrastructure Report Card,” which noted that “the nation continues to underinvest in school facilities, leaving an estimated $38 billion annual gap” between actual spending and need.

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    Dean’s story came to light after a series of investigations by two Philadelphia newspapers revealed students were being exposed to dangerous levels of lead, asbestos, and other toxins. The investigations conducted by The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, with the help of school staff, found a pattern of neglect and ignored warnings on the part of the city’s schools.

    Their investigations also revealed that lead paint was not the only infrastructure problem in schools, which according to a district spokesperson average more than 70 years old. Students at one elementary school, Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus, reported chilly classrooms without heat, burst pipes spilling water onto their backpacks, mice and rats in the bathrooms, and a cockroach crawling out of a milk carton, according to the Inquirer. After a maintenance crew was called to fix peeling paint and mold at A.S. Jenks Elementary, students were exposed to asbestos fibers from broken floor tiles and dust containing lead from disintegrating paint. At both schools, test results showed alarming levels of asbestos exposure, which can cause a range of health problems.

    Lee Whack, the district’s spokesman, disputed some of the Inquirer’s findings, noting “faulty” methodology and the fact that staff members, not trained scientists, collected asbestos samples from the classrooms.

    “We know that our students and staff deserve better school buildings,” Whack told The 74. “We understand that there are issues in our buildings, and we are actively working to address them.”

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    A system in crisis

    In response to the investigations, the three congressmen who represent Philadelphia urged the House in May to allocate money to help the city repair its schools. The representatives — Democrats Bob Brady, Brendan Boyle, and Dwight Evans — asked House leaders to consider including money for Philadelphia schools in any infrastructure plan that comes before Congress.

    But can districts like Philadelphia move forward without federal help?

    The district assessed the condition of its school buildings last year and reported that the buildings need roughly $4.5 billion in repairs. But the news comes at a time of deeper fiscal woes for the district. Philadelphia’s City Council recently passed a budget that is projected to allocate an extra $617 million to schools over the next five years to help stabilize the system’s finances and stave off debt.

    David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment and an organizer of the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative, is focused on driving change locally. Currently, he and other members are pressing the Philadelphia City Council to pass legislation that would codify for schools best practices for lead paint removal and stabilization. He’s also focused on increasing accountability and transparency in the district’s communications with families and other stakeholders.

    Masur said people are “lined up to help” the school system deal with the problems it’s facing, but some of the offers have been ignored by district leadership.

    Whack, the district’s communications director, said the district is engaged in some partnerships already, including with the initiative, and is open to working with anyone who wants to help. Additionally, the district has recently adopted new cleaning standards for school buildings and is planning to do some lead removal this summer.

    Filardo, the advocate for school facilities, said the federal government needs to allocate money to states to repair and rebuild schools. Repairing and modernizing the schools will also require a new level of cooperation in the city, bringing together the business community, the school district, and civic leaders, she said. That the city’s schools are still being used a century after they were built is a “tribute to their quality.”

    “Where they are in Philly is not unfamiliar,” Filardo said. But to fix the problems, “It’s going to take a level of cooperation and planning that they have not seen yet in Philadelphia.”

    In an opinion article for the Inquirer, Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite said much the same thing: “We are facing a challenge that could seem too big to solve. It isn’t. But it will require an all-hands-on-deck effort from every neighborhood in this city.”

    PennEnvironment’s Masur says there are more aggressive steps the school district can take right away — without community input or increased funding — such as communicating better with parents and using proven best practices to clean up lead, mold, and asbestos. The school district “exploits” the idea that it cannot do anything until it gets more funding because that is easy for people to understand, he said. His message, that the district can act now, is more difficult to explain.

    “It’s harder to go, Look, what we’re saying here is a little nuanced: They do need more money, but there’s shit they could do today. Without money.”

    Asbestos and other toxins remain in schools

    These issues are not new. A 1983 New York Times headline lamented that the “huge cost of removing asbestos daunts schools.” More than 30 years later, the work of removing asbestos from some schools remains undone.

    Nearly 70 percent of school districts reported schools with asbestos in a 2015 survey conducted through the offices of Sens. Edward J. Markey and Barbara Boxer, with 20 states responding. The senators’ report also notes that “States do not appear to be systematically monitoring, investigating or addressing asbestos hazards in schools,” despite a 1986 law requiring them to do so.

    The New York Times Archives

    A Politico/Harvard poll conducted in February revealed that a majority of Americans from both parties think improving school buildings is an “extremely or very important priority.” Filardo said she expects to see Congress tackle school infrastructure next year because voters are becoming aware of these issues and advocating for their schools. Earlier this year, advocates urged President Donald Trump to allocate funding for schools in an infrastructure package, but a tentative plan released by the White House did not mention schools.

    “We actually think that in the 2019 Congress … [Lawmakers] will listen to voters on what’s important back in local communities,” she said.

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  • 25 International Teachers Caught in Immigration Bureaucracy Forced to Leave Country Just Before Independence Day

    By Mario Koran | June 28, 2018

    Just days before the July 4th holiday, 25 international teachers whom Baltimore City Public Schools recruited to fill hard-to-staff positions will be forced to leave the country after the federal government refused to extend their work visas before they expired.

    Months ago, the school district applied to extend the international teachers’ H-1B visas — a program that allows employers to hire international workers with skills they can’t find in American candidates — but learned in May the applications were held up for an unusual audit.

    The review will take an additional six to eight months — long enough for the educators’ visas to expire, forcing them out of a country some of them have have called home for more than a decade.

    “It’s terribly unfortunate,” said the district’s chief human capital officer, Jeremy Grant-Skinner. “These are high-need teachers who are part of the community. We did everything we could, and the teachers did everything they could to be in compliance, so to be in the situation we are today is not good for our students or the teachers themselves.”

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    Earlier this week, The 74 reported on the problems faced by this small but growing segment of the teaching population. Many are arriving in this country and working at a moment of profound uncertainty over the future of the H-1B visa program, partly in response to President Donald Trump’s call to reassess the program and change requirements to encourage employers to “hire American.” Experts and district officials say that enforcement appears to be tightening as part of what one immigration attorney described as “a zero tolerance approach going on for everything.”

    Grant-Skinner said the Department of Labor has not told the district why it is holding the applications for an audit. He said it’s the first time the district has faced a forced departure of its educators in over a decade of dealing with visa applications for Filipino teachers, and that district officials can only speculate as to why it’s happening now.

    “We can only guess. But given our experience in the past, it does seem that something has happened at the federal level to cause this to take longer than usual,” Grant-Skinner said.

    In a June 21 letter obtained by The 74, Baltimore school district CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises informed her colleagues of the teachers’ fate.

    “Needless to say, everyone at City Schools is deeply saddened by the loss, for any length of time, of these talented, dedicated educators, and by the knowledge that they will be forced to leave what many consider to be their homes after all of this time,” Santelises wrote.

    In recognition of their contributions, the letter indicates the district will offer the teachers unpaid leave for one year and pay for expedited processing of future applications, and will rehire any of the teachers who get permission to return to work in the United States.

    The district has been fighting in vain for five years to extend the teachers’ visas and offer them permanent employment. Problems began in April 2013, when the district first applied to offer the educators positions that would allow them to remain permanently in the U.S.

    After the government denied those requests in 2014, the district asked to extend the visas, which are typically good for three years. That request was denied as well. And when the district filed again recently to allow the teachers to remain permanently, the government flagged the applications for an audit.

    Earlier this month, five Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation asked U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to take action before the teachers had to leave the country, The Baltimore Sun reported.

    “It would be a loss for the Baltimore community and undercut the ability of City Schools to provide a high-quality education in important academic areas that prepare students, including those with special needs, for in-demand jobs,” they wrote.

    The efforts appear to have fallen short. Several of the teachers have already left Baltimore, and the rest must do so before July 1, Grant-Skinner said.

    The Baltimore school district currently has 250 international teachers, many recruited from the Philippines. A documentarian, whose film The Learning premiered in 2011, chronicled the trek of several teachers from the Philippines, where an English-speaking school system modeled after America’s makes the country an ideal source of educators.

    Baltimore isn’t the only district that’s looked abroad to help fill hard-to-staff positions.

    Los Angeles has 25 teachers with H-1B visas. Denver Public Schools currently sponsors 130 teachers under the program. And Dallas Independent School District employs 250 such educators. The districts’ spokespeople said most were recruited to help meet the demands of bilingual education programs.

    Employers who want to sponsor foreign workers on H-1B visas must show they’ve tried and failed to find qualified American teachers to fill the roles.

    In 2012, the Sun reported that the Baltimore district had conducted a so-called “market test” that showed hundreds of American teachers had applied for the positions occupied by foreign teachers — a rationale Trump has used to call for a crackdown on the visa program.

    But Grant-Skinner says the district has not been able to find American candidates with the same skills.

    “We have historically had vacancies in high-need areas in the district, so to suggest that we have plenty of high-quality applicants and that we don’t need to recruit from all available sources is just not true,” he said.



  • Monthly QuotED: Of Janus, Immigration, and AP History — 9 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in June

    By Andrew Brownstein | June 28, 2018

    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.

    “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, ruling for the 5-4 majority in Janus v. AFSCME that dissenting employees cannot be forced to pay public sector union dues. (Read at The74Million.org)

    U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

    “We have reached the breaking point.” —Christine Marsh, a high school English teacher and 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, one of many educators running for election this year. (Read at The Washington Post)

    “Working two jobs and trying to maintain a balance with teaching, it does take a toll, especially when you have a family.” —Joe Reid, until recently a middle school language arts teacher in Hebron, Indiana. A new federal analysis shows that 1 in 5 teachers have a second job. (Read at Education Week)

    “I wish I had known that, even though we’re doing big things for kids, that people would dislike us because we have the name ‘charter’ attached to us. That was shocking to me.” —Nicole Assisi, founder and CEO of Thrive Public Schools (Read at The74Million.org)

    Emmeline Zhao

    “I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle. I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing.” —John Kluge, an orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, outside Indianapolis, who said he was coerced to resign after he refused to call transgender students by their preferred names. (Read at The Washington Post)

    “It seems like there’s a bit of a zero-tolerance approach going on for everything. Even if they’ve followed the rules and done everything the right way, immigration officials are still scrutinizing applications even more closely than before.” —San Diego-based attorney Vaani Chawla, on a federal crackdown on the enforcement of H-1B visas, which affects thousands of migrant teachers. (Read at The74Million.org)

    “The current AP World History course and exam cover 10,000 years of history across all seven continents. No other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year. AP World History teachers have told us over the years that the scope of content is simply too broad, and that they often need to sacrifice depth to cover it all.” —The College Board, in an explanation on its website, about its decision to eliminate content on pre-colonial Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East from AP World History. (Read at Education Week)

    “Board members may talk about future calamity, but they just approved a raise for 30,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and classroom aides. And as Los Angeles teachers watch their peers across the state win pay hikes, they feel increasingly sure that they’ll get one too.” —CALmatters.org writer Jessica Calefati on LAUD’s spending practices. (Read at the Sacramento Bee)

    Karla Burgos Santana and her family at her graduation from Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy)

    “We don’t close the door on anyone. You have to respond.” —Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent at Hartford Public Schools, which enrolled 450 Puerto Rican students in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (Read at The74Million.org)

    For a roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, go to EduClips.

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  • EduClips: Oakland Needs to Close Schools and Reform Fiscal Practices to Stay Solvent, Grand Jury Says; Chicago Opens Office to Handle Sexual Abuse Cases — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | June 28, 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.

    Note: EduClips will be taking a vacation, returning on the morning of Monday, July 16. Watch for a special edition of EduClips to appear Monday, July 2, outlining some of the major recent stories affecting America’s 15 largest school districts.

    Top Story

    TEACHERS UNIONS — The Supreme Court in a sweeping decision Wednesday upended the way public-sector unions do business, ruling that dissenting employees cannot be compelled to pay any dues, and that union members must affirmatively opt into membership — rather than requiring dissenters to opt out.

    Forcing dissenting employees to pay dues violates First Amendment protections against compelling speech, Justice Samuel A. Alito wrote for the majority in the 5-4 decision that was both highly anticipated and widely expected.

    “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned,” Alito wrote. (Read at The74Million.org)

    National News

    TEACHERS UNIONS — ‘Preparing for the worst’: Unions brace for loss of members and fees in wake of Supreme Court ruling (Read at The Washington Post)

    SCOTUS Justice Kennedy Retiring From High Court, Had Deep Imprint in Education Arena (Read at Education Week)

    VOCATIONAL PROGRAMS Vocational Programs Get Boost From Congress (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

    District and State News

    CALIFORNIA Oakland Unified needs to close schools and reform fiscal practices to stay solvent, county civil grand jury concludes (Read at EdSource)

    ILLINOIS — Chicago Public Schools to Start Office to Handle Abuse Cases (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

    TEXAS — Texas schools armed 33 staff members through School Marshal program (Read at Chron)

    ILLINOIS — State Board of Education appoints monitor to improve CPS special education services (Read at the Chicago Tribune)

    NEW YORK — How is Carranza’s big shake-up going over? So far, educators are optimistic. (Read at Chalkbeat)

    FLORIDA — Miami-Dade is an A-rated school district. Will voters decide to pay teachers more? (Read at the Miami Herald)

    TEXAS — Texas education board calls Mexican-American studies by its name (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

    CALIFORNIA — After Supreme Court loss, school-employees unions gird for fight to keep their members (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

    PENNSYLVANIA — Kindergarten coders: When is too early to put kids in front of screens? (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

    NEW YORK Want flies with that? City Council pols say give school cafeterias letter grades (Read at the New York Daily News)

    NEVADA — Fast track programs helps get teachers in the classroom (Read at Las Vegas Now)

    Think pieces

    JANUS ROUNDUP:

    • Weisberg: By Forcing Unions to Confront Some Deep-Seated Problems, Janus Loss Could Prove a Win for Them and Their Members (Read at The74Million.org)
    • Is This Supreme Court Decision The End Of Teachers Unions? (Read at NPR)
    • The Supreme Court’s Decision on Union Dues Will Have Profound Consequences (Read at Education Week)
    • Walsh: The ‘Veil of Destitution,’ Increased Activism, and Proving Their Relevance — Union Strategies for Retaining Members Post-Janus (Read at The74Million.org)
    • OPINION: What the Supreme Court’s union decision really means for teachers (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    Quote of the Day

    “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, ruling for the 5-4 majority in Janus v. AFSCME that dissenting employees cannot be forced to pay public sector union dues. (Read at The74Million.org)

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

     



  • How Big a Bite Could the Supreme Court’s Janus Ruling Take out of Teachers Unions? The NEA Is Expecting to Lose $50 Million — and Possibly 300,000 Members

    By The 74 | June 27, 2018

    In the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling Wednesday, five of the justices sided with a plaintiff who argued that being forced to pay union dues violated his First Amendment rights to free speech, and rejected the claim from unions that mandatory fees are necessary to prevent “free riders” from benefiting from union contracts.

    Turning to the education world, one key question now becomes: Given that required agency fees have been struck down, how many members, and how much revenue, are teachers unions set to lose?

    As reported exclusively by The 74’s Mike Antonucci late last month, internal documents at the National Education Association paint a bleak picture:

    “When delegates to the National Education Association meet in Minneapolis in July, union leaders will introduce a two-year budget that cuts expenditures by $50 million, an estimated 13 percent reduction from this year.

    “NEA’s budget committee forecasts a two-year loss of 307,000 members if, as expected later in the spring, the Supreme Court eliminates agency fees — mandatory costs to workers who don’t become union members but are covered by union agreements. Those near-term losses will almost entirely occur in the 22 states where fees are still charged, erasing post-recession membership gains in places like California, New Jersey, and New York.” (Read more)

    Indeed, earlier this week Antonucci published new numbers showing that the only membership gains for the NEA were in those agency-fee regions, which are now set to be hit hardest following Janus:

    “The stakes are high for the nation’s largest union, and NEA’s membership numbers for 2017 illustrate why. The union will immediately lose revenue from the estimated 100,000 fee-payers it represents. It will also lose dues money from those who are currently members, but won’t be once they realize they no longer need to pay anything to the union.

    “NEA had 2,612,027 active members working in the public school system in 2017 — an increase of 0.7 percent from the year before — plus an additional 370,000 retired and student members. The modest overall growth disguises the differences between trends in the agency fee states and the right-to-work states.

    “In states where NEA represents fee-payers, the union had 29,317 more members. In right-to-work states, it had 12,268 fewer members.” (Read more)

    In addition to membership projections, the union has also begun cutting its own internal staff, eliminating 41 staff positions through buyouts, early retirements, and attrition. (NEA employs more than 500 people at its Washington, D.C., headquarters; the average salary is $123,613 plus benefits.)

    Read more of the fine print from today’s Supreme Court decision, as well as 14 ways the Janus verdict could reshape the membership and politics of America’s teachers unions.

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  • On Social Media, School Choice Advocates Celebrate Janus Ruling, While Critics Blame ‘Stolen’ Supreme Court Seat

    By Laura Fay | June 27, 2018

    Advocates, union leaders, and politicians on all sides of the Janus v. AFSCME debate wasted no time jumping in after the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday morning that teachers and other public-sector employees who disagree with their unions no longer have to pay fees that support those policies.

    President Donald Trump tweeted that the court “rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice” and called the ruling a loss for Democrats. While the question of public-sector unions using agency fees to endorse specific candidates was not at stake in the Janus case, the arguments did raise the question of whether all issues that unions negotiate are inherently political.

    Many charter school and school choice advocates joined conservatives in celebrating the ruling, which they say could open the door to more school reforms. (See the full text of the decision.)

    One of the first to respond to the announcement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, posted a video featuring teachers union leaders Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten that argued that “corporate interests have been rigging the system against workers.”

    Former education secretary John King tweeted an article written by Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers president, that said teachers want their voices heard.

    Weingarten tweeted that the union will remain strong despite the ruling.

    Erika Sanzi, a parent advocate and visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, responded, noting that polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe union members should not have to pay mandatory dues.

    Many Democrats took the opportunity to express their support for unions overall.

    Other critics charged that the case was bankrolled by wealthy conservative donors and the result of a “stolen” Supreme Court seat, a reference to Senate Republicans’ refusal to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, holding the slot open for a conservative justice.

    Then, to cap off the final day of the court’s current session, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with the majority in the Janus ruling, announced that he will retire effective July 31.

    Related

    Divided Supreme Court Ends Mandatory Dues and — in Further Blow to Unions — Rules Members Must Opt In



  • Reform-Aligned Jared Polis Wins Democratic Primary for Colorado Governor, Beating Union-Backed Candidate in Race That Focused on Education

    By Carolyn Phenicie | June 27, 2018

    Rep. Jared Polis easily won the Democratic primary for Colorado governor Tuesday, besting the teachers-union-backed Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer.

    Polis, who won with 45 percent of the vote in a four-way race, will face Republican Walker Stapleton, the current state treasurer, in the general election in November. Stapleton got 48 percent of the GOP vote against three opponents. Independent handicappers have rated the race as “lean Democratic.”

    Colorado in recent years has been a model of progressive education reform, encouraging high-quality charter schools and launching teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores. Much of the Democratic primary had centered on that record, both as substantive issues and because education became the focus of negative campaigning in a contest where candidates had pledged to avoid it.

    Related

    ‘We Just Haven’t Seen a Race Like This’: How Education — and Differing Visions of School Reform — Has Become a Key Issue for Democrats in Colorado’s Governor Primary

    Kennedy, who got about 25 percent of the vote, and former state Sen. Mike Johnston, who had big financial backing from education reformers, endorsed Polis and urged the party to back him. Johnston took 23 percent of the vote, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne got 7 percent.

    Though unions spent $2 million against Polis, they’ll likely rally behind him, both because they tend to back Democrats and because Stapleton put forward a pension overhaul system unfavorable to teachers and suggested the compromise measure that did pass needs to be revisited, Chalkbeat Colorado reported.

    There was little substantive space between the Democrats’ positions on education, but Polis and Stapleton have vastly different priorities, with Stapleton pushing for expanded choice options and Polis for increased funding and more early education.

    Polis and Stapleton Tuesday night quickly took aim at each other, already highlighting issues that will be central to the remainder of the campaign.

    Polis accused Stapleton of coming out “on the wrong side” of issues like immigration and honesty. Stapleton embraced President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, though his Republican rivals accused him of doing so only for political expediency, and the issue could hinder him in the general election, The Denver Post reported.

    Stapleton, for his part, said Polis will “raise every tax and fee” he can find. Polis ran on platforms of full-day preschool and kindergarten for every child and single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care, both proposals that Colorado voters have rejected on ballot initiatives, the Post reported.

    Unaffiliated voters, a plurality in Colorado, could cast ballots in primaries for the first time this year; as of Wednesday morning, with about 94 percent of counties reporting, there were about 15,000 more Democratic ballots cast than Republican.

    Polis, the first gay parent to serve in Congress, would become the first openly gay person elected governor. A tech industry multimillionaire, Polis spent roughly $11 million of his own money to win the primary.

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  • EduClips: LGBTQ History Gets Boost in CA Schools; Trump Administration Pushes ‘Zero Tolerance’ Enforcement for Migrant Teachers — and More Must-Reads From America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

    By Andrew Brownstein | June 27, 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

    TEACHERS UNIONS — Early Wednesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down mandatory agency fees for public unions, handing a major blow to influential teachers unions in the United States. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, with the major dissenting opinion from Justice Elena Kagan. (Read more news, analysis and copies of the major opinions today at The74Million.org)

    National News

    CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION —  Bipartisan Career and Technical Education Bill Approved by Key Senate Committee (Read at Politics K-12)

    IMMIGRATION — Anxiety Looms for Thousands of Migrant Teachers as Trump Administration Pushes ‘Zero Tolerance’ Enforcement of Visa Program (Read at The74Million.org)

    SCHOOL SAFETYPlenty on Security, Little on Guns at Federal School-Safety Session in Kentucky (Read at Politics K-12)

    DEVOS — ‘Brain Performance’ Firm DeVos Invested in Is Hit for Misleading Claims (Read at The New York Times)

    SPENDING BILL — Senate Spending Bill Keeps Teacher Grant, Ignores DeVos Choice Proposal (Read at Politics K-12)

    District and State News

    CALIFORNIA — With California in the lead, LGBTQ history gets boost in school curriculum (Read at EdSource)

    NEW YORK — This Brooklyn principal has some advice for teaching children who were separated at the border (Read at Chalkbeat)

    CALIFORNIA — LA charter school’s summer program fees are illegal, state says (Read at the Los Angeles Daily News)

    TEXAS — Texans think state leaders are falling short on public education, UT/TT Poll finds (Read at the Texas Tribune)

    FLORIDA — Florida teachers union asks candidates to pledge support for higher pay (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

    ILLINOIS — School board member: ‘We have an equity issue in Illinois in our schools’ (Read at Fox Illinois)

    NEW YORK — Principal to parents: I’m only passing students because summer school too expensive (Read at the New York Post)

    ILLINOIS — Teacher Shortage Downstate Looks Different From Chicago Shortage (Read at Chicago Tonight)

    FLORIDA — Schools ready to offer more foreign language classes (Read at the Sun-Sentinel)

    Think Pieces

    CIVICS — Study: Gaps in Civics Performance Between Black and White Students Deepened in NCLB Era (Read at The74Million.org)

    CURIOSITY — Piqued: The case for curiosity (Read at The Hechinger Report)

    Quote of the Day

    “It seems like there’s a bit of a zero-tolerance approach going on for everything. Even if they’ve followed the rules and done everything the right way, immigration officials are still scrutinizing applications even more closely than before.” —San Diego-based attorney Vaani Chawla, on a federal crackdown on the enforcement of H-1B visas, which affect thousands of migrant teachers. (Read at The74Million.org)

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



  • Breaking: Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against Unions; Read Full Decision Here

    By The 74 | June 27, 2018


    Related

    Understanding Janus: 14 Ways the Pivotal Supreme Court Case Could Change the Finances, Membership & Politics of Teachers Unions



  • Study: Gaps in Civics Performance Between Black and White Students Deepened in NCLB Era

    By Kevin Mahnken | June 27, 2018

    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.

    Student performance in civics has improved over the past two decades, even as the gap in civic knowledge has grown along class and racial lines during that period.

    That’s the conclusion of a new study released today by the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy. Its Report on American Education, an annual publication exploring trends in the nation’s schools, focuses this year on social studies and civics education. That choice reflects the degree to which schools have become a staging ground for political action — from activism around gun safety led by survivors of the Parkland massacre to the mass walkouts waged by teachers over low pay — authors explain in the paper’s introduction.

    The turbulent 2016 presidential election, during which American voters were often deceived about candidates or current affairs by online purveyors of “fake news,” made the state of civics education a particularly fertile ground for inquiry, they argue.

    Related

    How Schools & Philanthropists Are Joining Forces to Fight Back Against Fake News: Inside the Renewed Push for Social Studies, Media Literacy, Civic Engagement

    The study’s most striking findings relate to American students’ achievement on civics as measured on standardized tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.” The biennial release of NAEP scores for fourth- and eighth-graders allows education observers a window into the progress of classroom learning in the foundational subjects of math and science, but civics results have also been evaluated and released four times since 1998.

    During that time, the study finds, pupils have seen slight upticks in their civic knowledge, roughly of the same magnitude as improvements in reading over the same time period. While NAEP scores in reading and especially math leaped upward during the late 1990s and early 2000s — the early years of what is generally considered the “accountability era,” when education reforms initiated by the Clinton and Bush administrations linked federal funding to performance on standardized tests — progress over the past decade has been essentially flat.

    Related

    A ‘Lost Decade’ for Academic Progress? NAEP Scores Remain Flat Amid Signs of a Widening Gap Between Highest and Lowest Performers

    At the same time, curriculum experts have warned that NCLB’s particular emphasis on reading and math encouraged schools to devote extra class time to the teaching of those subjects, at the expense of disciplines like science, art, and civics. The study notes the evidence of this phenomenon, especially in low-performing schools enrolling higher percentages of disadvantaged students.

    In an analysis of previously conducted school surveys, “we do see a reduction in instructional time devoted to social studies,” Elizabeth Levesque, a Brookings fellow and an author of the report, told The 74 in an interview. “There’s some evidence that suggests that crowding-out may have been happening as focus shifted to reading and math.”

    Even worse were the comparative results. Since 1998, the disparities in NAEP civics scores between white or affluent students and their black or poor classmates have grown. This, despite a nationwide push to close achievement gaps, which has helped to bring minority students’ test performance somewhat closer to that of their more advantaged peers in other subjects.

    Brookings Institution

    The study goes on to examine the comprehensiveness of civics and social studies instruction by state, measuring the prevalence of high school civics requirements, extracurricular activities, media literacy, and opportunities for service learning. Civics experts increasingly make the case that study of government, history, and democratic processes is inadequate to ensure that students are being prepared for the demands of citizenship, and that teaching must be paired with participatory elements such as community service.

    “The really important question to focus on is not just classroom instruction,” Levesque said. “Looking at coursework as a foundation is really important. But one of the things we’re trying to do is expand the conversation a little bit broader so that we’re also talking about more action-based civic engagement … for students to develop not just their knowledge, but also their skills and the dispositions they need to effectively participate” in civic affairs.

    Brookings Institution

    Analysis of student surveys shows that a disturbing number of students, among all racial and income groups, report “never” participating in civics activities like writing a letter to a local newspaper, participating in classroom activities like mock trials, or going on field trips.

    Even where the study finds that states have implemented robust civics instruction — by including the completion of a social studies or government class as a high school graduation requirement, for example, or devoting some portion of class time to the discussion of current events — there is cause for concern. Although 40 states require high schoolers to take at least one course related to civics, a February report from the Center for American Progress found that only nine (along with Washington, D.C.) mandate a full year of coursework. That report also observed that the national average score on the Advanced Placement U.S. government exam is the fourth-lowest among 45 AP subject tests.

    The replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, allows states greater freedom to adopt new educational practices and focus on academic areas separate from reading and math. The study’s authors write that school authorities in every state may find latitude in the new law’s provisions to emphasize social-emotional learning and school climate — two measures they consider supportive of civic engagement.

    Related

    WATCH: 3 Ways the Every Student Succeeds Act Supports Social Emotional Learning for Students and Teachers

    “A common refrain right now is, ‘With this flexibility under ESSA, maybe now is a time for states to do X, Y, and Z,’ and I don’t necessarily want to get on that bandwagon,” said Levesque. “At the same time, [the transition period] could be a turning point if it leads to a large shift in accountability frameworks. It seems possible that these new approaches could get traction.”

    Perhaps the report’s most surprising finding comes in its final chapter, which examines the state of the social studies workforce. At the time of their hiring, social studies teachers are more prepared (in terms of previous courses taught) and better compensated (their average salary is higher than that of English or science teachers, though slightly lower than math teachers) than most of their colleagues. They are also strikingly more likely to be male.

    While just 20 percent of English teachers are male, along with 38 percent of math teachers and 41 percent of science teachers, a whopping 57 percent of social studies teachers are. Thirty-five percent also report working simultaneously as coaches of sports at their schools, a much larger proportion than teachers of other subjects.

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

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