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

By The 74 | August 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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