EduClips: From Fiscal Anxiety in L.A. to Mysterious Gym Grades in Chicago, Stories You Missed This Month at America’s 15 Biggest School Districts

Before you sit down for turkey and stuffing, take a look at our roundup of the top education news from November. EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here. Get the week’s school and policy highlights delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter.

New York City — November Elections Could Signal Retreat on Charter Commitment: After a decade when the charter school movement gained a significant foothold in New York, the midterm elections could spell a retreat. Democrats at the forefront of the party’s successful effort to take over the state Senate have repeatedly expressed hostility to the movement. John Liu, a newly elected state senator from Queens, has said New York City should “get rid of” large charter school networks. Robert Jackson, who will represent a Manhattan district, promised during his campaign to support charter schools only if they have unionized teachers. While New York City, the nation’s largest school system, has many excellent charter schools, it seems highly likely that a state legislature entirely under Democratic control will restrict the number of new charter schools that can open and tighten regulations on existing ones. (Read at The New York Times)

Hillsborough County — More Tampa-Area Students Are Ready for Kindergarten, Test Scores Show: Half of students in the Tampa area were deemed prepared for kindergarten, up from 46 percent last year, after being given the I-Ready kindergarten assessment. “That’s a good jump, because we’ve been flatlining or even dropping a little bit over the last three years,” said Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins. The increase does not factor in the effects of moves taken by the school system this year to expand early childhood education. About 350 additional preschoolers are in schools that have extra space. Kindergarten readiness is considered an important step in the district’s efforts to improve reading proficiency, an area where it has lagged. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

Los Angeles — County Tells District to Fix “Fiscal Distress” or Face Takeover: The Los Angeles County Office of Education gave the L.A. Unified School District until Dec. 17 to outline how it will reverse its march toward insolvency by cutting costs or finding new revenues. In approving the district’s budget, the county indicated that if it is not satisfied with the plan, it could send in a financial expert to work with the district or install a fiscal adviser — someone who would essentially take over all financial decisions. “LAUSD continues to show signs of fiscal distress,” states a letter from the county to the district. Reserves in the district, the country’s second-largest, are being depleted so quickly that they are projected to drop 90 percent in two years — from $778 million this year to $76.5 million in 2020-21, according to the county. (Read at The74Million.org)

Gwinnett County — In Historic First, Georgia’s Gwinnett County Elects Black School Board Member: Everton “E.J.” Blair Jr., a 26-year-old graduate of Shiloh High School, made history during the November elections, becoming the youngest and the first black member of the school board in Gwinnett County, Georgia. “I’m excited people received my candidacy in a positive way,” he said, as chants of “E.J., E.J.” echoed around him the night of the election. Before his January swearing-in ceremony, Blair said, he will meet with students and teachers throughout the county. “I’m 10 years removed from high school, five years out of college and a few years from teaching,” he said. “As the most current and contemporary member of the school board, I want to share input from my constituents and basically do a lot of listening.” (Read at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Chicago — New Study Highlights Mysterious Failure Rate of Students in Gym: In Chicago, nearly everyone passes gym in eighth grade. But surprising new research shows that 1 out of 10 Chicago high school freshmen fail physical education. Why does P.E. suddenly become so challenging in ninth grade? For one thing, according to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research’s Hidden Risk report, the course changes significantly. Many middle schoolers have gym class only one day a week and aren’t required to change clothes; in high school, by contrast, freshmen have gym every day, must bring and change into exercise clothing, and are required to take a health and reproduction class. (Read at Chalkbeat)

Orange County — State’s High Court Hears Suit Brought by Orlando Parents That Takes Aim at Reforms: The Florida Supreme Court has heard arguments in a nine-year-old case that takes aim at many of the education reforms ushered in by former governor Jeb Bush, including two popular school voucher programs. The suit maintains the state is failing to provide a “high-quality” public education to all students, as demanded in Florida’s constitution. The case, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, includes several Orlando-area parents as plaintiffs. During oral arguments, Jodi Siegel, who represents the parents and advocacy groups that sued, told the justices that the lower courts erred in their rulings and that the state has shirked its constitutional duties when “there are substantial amounts of children in our state who are failing.” An attorney for the Institute of Justice, which has litigated school choice cases nationwide, told the justices that there is nothing unconstitutional about the state’s voucher programs. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

Houston — Police Decry Visits of Rapper OMB Bloodbath to Area Schools: Houston police have criticized the visit of a rapper known as OMB Bloodbath, whose lyrics mix graphic descriptions of sex and violence with tales of growing up in Houston’s inner city, to two Houston ISD campuses. Two video clips posted to the Instagram account @ombbloodbath show dozens of children cheering along at Attucks Middle School and Worthing High School as the rapper performs. Houston Police Union President Joe Gamaldi criticized district officials for allowing OMB Bloodbath on school premises, citing the content of her lyrics. “This runs contrary to everything we try to teach young people about staying away from gangs and staying away from gang violence,” he said. “This is terrible.” District officials said the rapper performed at pep rallies and that they did not authorize her appearances. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

Hawaii — Teachers Come to Hawaii, but Many Do Not Stay: In 2013, Hawaii schools hired 907 teachers. Five years later, just 467 of them remained in the state’s public school classrooms. That 51 percent retention rate — down from 54 percent the previous year — underscores the challenges the state Education Department is facing in not just attracting teachers but keeping them. The state teachers union has noted that when the high cost of living is taken into account, Hawaii’s teacher salaries are the lowest in the nation. (Read at Hawaii News Now)

Fairfax County — In EEOC Complaint, Former Teacher Alleges Pregnancy Discrimination by District: A former Fairfax County teacher claims that administrators at the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discriminated against her after she became pregnant, according to a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The teacher, Amanda Hurowitz, said she was on maternity leave in April when she learned from the school’s principal and an assistant principal that her contract as a part-time teacher would not be renewed for the 2018-19 academic year. Hurowitz, who began teaching at Thomas Jefferson in 2006 and moved to part-time status after having a child in 2016, said she later learned that two other expectant or young mothers who taught humanities were also not rehired. “That began to look like pregnancy discrimination,” she said. (Read at The Washington Post)

Philadelphia — With Outward Bound, Philly Organizes Outdoor Adventures for Freshmen: Buoyed by a partnership with Outward Bound, the Philadelphia School District is spending up to $340,000 annually so students can climb tall trees, take nature walks, and complete physical challenges in one- and multi-day expeditions. In the name of social and emotional learning, district leaders believe the activities will have ripple effects, ultimately boosting academics, especially among high school freshmen, whom it has targeted for Outward Bound exposure since last school year. This school year, 1,400 district ninth-graders will participate in Philadelphia Outward Bound School programs, with hundreds more in other grades also accessing programs. (Read at The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

EDLECTION2018 — “We’re Bringing Education Back”: Takeaways From the Election (Read at NPR)

TESTING — Standardized Tests Really Do Reflect What a Student Knows (Read at The74Million.org)

SEGREGATION — Segregated schools are still the norm. Howard Fuller is fine with that (Read at The Hechinger Report)

EDUCATION LEADERS — 30 Under 30 Education 2019: The Masterminds Shaping the Future of Learning, Access and Opportunity (Read at Forbes)

TESTING — In a shift, more education reformers say they’re worried about schools’ focus on testing (Read at Chalkbeat)

SEXUAL VIOLENCE — How Schools Can Reduce Sexual Violence (Read at NPR)

PARENTS — Watch out: Schools don’t like the prying eyes of parents in the classroom (Read at The Washington Post)

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE — Fits and starts: Inside KIPP’s school-by-school discipline transformation (Read at Chalkbeat)

Quotes of the Week

“Our ultimate goal is that when teachers and administrators are making a decision that impacts students, they should be asking students. Students are the experts. They have been in school most of their lives, they have a lot to say, and we need to listen.” —Cristina Salgado, the student voice specialist for Chicago Public Schools’ Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement, on Chicago’s student voice committees. (Read at The74Million.org)

“No matter how hostile some of the cities get to charters, the charters have endured.” —Jeanne Allen, chief executive of the Center for Education Reform, on New York state elections that could signal a retreat on a commitment to charter schools. (Read at The New York Times)

“It’s not that security measures are never helpful, but there’s often no data to substantiate them. How do you know when you’ve deterred a school shooting? It didn’t happen.” —Jeremy Finn, a professor of education at the University of Buffalo. (Read at Education Week)

“You’re also reaching a point in policing where you can’t ignore these things anymore, or in education where you can’t ignore these things anymore.” —Nadine Connell, director of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, on new Federal Bureau of Investigation data showing that reported hate crimes at K-12 schools and colleges surged by 25 percent last year. (Read at The74Million.org)

“Now what we have is a whole bunch of folks who made promises [to support schools]. Some of them were real promises, and some were big fat liars. What we’re going to do is keep score.” —Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. (Read at The New York Times)

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