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EduClips: From Violence Against Philadelphia Students to Hawaii’s Plan for Teacher Housing Vouchers, News You Might Have Missed This Week’s From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

By Andrew Brownstein | February 22, 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.

Orange County — Florida Virtual School to ‘Scrub’ Policies after Investigation of Attorney, Orlando Sentinel Reports: The new leader of the Florida Virtual School is updating its policies to make school rules clear to all employees and to provide more oversight of senior managers after a damning investigation of the school’s former attorney, Frank Kruppenbacher. “To address some of the changes that have come up of late,” the school needs a “complete scrub of our policies and our procedures and our bylaws,” said Bob Porter, the new CEO. An investigation by an outside firm found that Kruppenbacher likely made “boorish” comments about female employees, paid his daughter’s boyfriend to investigate a school executive, used school employees for “excessive” work on his other businesses and pressured school employees to hire a certain technology company without going out for bid, among other problems. Kruppenbacher, who resigned from his post as the virtual school’s general counsel in August, has denied the charges and called the investigative report a “smear campaign.” The virtual school is Florida’s only public online school, serving more than 200,000 students with about 2,200 employees. It is funded with $170 million in Florida taxpayer money. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

Philadelphia — Violence Against Students an ‘Open Secret’ at School for Delinquent Boys: A recent investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer found that serious violence is “both an everyday occurrence and an open secret” at the Glen Mills Schools, a school for delinquent boys located on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The investigation showed that top leaders turn a blind eye to staff beatings of students and insulate themselves from reports while failing to properly vet or train the school’s counselors. When students and their families try to report these attacks, the Inquirer found, staffers say Glen Mills is as good as it gets, and that if students complain, they’ll be shipped off to a state-run facility crowded with boys who are mentally ill or have committed sex offenses. To keep teens quiet, counselors and supervisors threaten the boys with longer sentences. Other Glen Mills staffers have hidden students until their bruises disappear. (Read at the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Los Angeles — Confidential Contracts Outline Consultant Work on Beutner Reform Plan: Outside consultants were asked to develop a performance-based rating system for schools and to shift hiring and purchasing of services from the central district office to local school networks as part of a reform plan by new L.A. schools Superintendent Austin Beutner. Those details were culled from confidential contracts long sought after — and finally released to —Board of Education member Scott Schmerelson. The contracts became a sticking point in the January teacher strike when union leaders raised questions about the direction in which Beutner would take the nation’s second-largest school system. The largest of the contracts, which total $3 million so far, went to Ernst & Young, which specializes in business services and consulting, and the Kitamba Group, whose focus is education. Kitamba’s contract said the company would help the district develop a way for officials to discuss giving letter grades to schools, ranking them on a 100-point scale or assigning them a color to denote their status. Kitamba was also to have developed measures that could be taken when a school fell short of standards. (Read at Los Angeles Times)

Chicago — Charter School Teachers End Nine-Day Strike: Teachers and paraprofessionals at four Chicago charter schools ended a nine-day strike this week, with many of them winning an 8 percent pay raise and a tentative agreement setting a goal of limiting classroom size to 28 students per teacher. The agreement also ensures full-time teaching assistants in all kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes, and includes a 7 percent pension contribution from the network. The strike started with picketing in front of schools and escalated when dozens of teachers blocked the lobby where the board president of Chicago International Charter Schools, the network that operates the four schools, works. The strike, which included 175 educators serving a combined 2,200 students, was the country’s third charter school teacher strike and the second in Chicago since December. (Read at Chalkbeat)

Houston — Despite Takeover Threat, District Continues Superintendent Search: Houston school district trustees narrowly voted to continue the search for a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Richard Carranza, rejecting a bid to suspend the search amid the threat of a looming state takeover and a recently launched state investigation into potential violations of open meetings laws. The 5-3 vote continues the search for Carranza’s successor, which began in September 2018. The takeover threat increased in January, when the Texas Education Agency launched its investigation into potential Open Meetings Act violations by five trustees. Supporters of suspending the search argued the potential for severe sanctions tied to the investigation would limit the pool of candidates willing to come to Houston. If state officials order the district board replaced, new trustees could immediately fire a freshly hired superintendent. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

Broward County — On Parkland Anniversary, Fort Lauderdale Schools Enact Security Overhaul: A year after the Parkland shooting, the Broward County School Board enacted policies designed to avoid in Fort Lauderdale schools the types of failures that contributed to the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The board adopted policies that identify when school staff must call for a Code Red lockdown, as well as requiring classrooms to be equipped with places for students to hide from an active shooter. The board’s action was its first meeting since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans Feb. 13 to seek a grand jury to review how well Broward schools have handled security matters. (Read at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Hawaii — Bills Take Aim at Teacher Shortage With Housing Vouchers: Two bills working their way through the state legislature aim to curb Hawaii’s perennial teacher shortage by creating a housing voucher program for full-time teachers willing to work in “hard-to-fill” schools. The vouchers, which are not to exceed $500 per month, would be provided on a first-come, first-served basis and could be used for rent, mortgage payments for the teacher’s primary residence or a down payment on a residential property. “Personally, I felt that we need to do as much as we can to make sure our teachers live in our community and teach at our schools,” said state Sen. Dru Kanuha, a co-sponsor of both bills. (Read at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

TEACHERS — The U.S. Teaching Population Is Getting Bigger, and More Female (Read at the Atlantic)

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE — Public Education’s Dirty Secret (Read at Quillette)

SCHOOL SECURITY — New studies point to a big downside for schools bringing in more police (Read at Chalkbeat)

ONLINE EDUCATION — Teacher shortages force districts to use online education programs (Read at Hechinger Report)

SCHOOL GOVERNANCE — Analysis — The Future of School Governance: How Will Innovative Education Systems Balance a Need for Experimentation With a Parent’s Right to Make Informed Choices? (Read at The74Million.org)

Quotes of the Week

“I’ve seen people thrown through doors, like it was a movie.” — James Johnson, former Glen Mills Schools student and counselor, on a pattern of staff violence against students at the school for delinquent boys located on the outskirts of Philadelphia. (Read at the Philadelphia Inquirer)

“This is a new and shameful strategy. They are literally going after the reputations and the livelihoods of people who are just trying to do their jobs.” — Greg Richmond, executive director of National Association of Charter School Authorizers. An investigation by The 74 found that officials in South Carolina, Georgia and Nevada faced accusations of receiving payoffs and undue perks as they attempted to enforce rules that could shut down for-profit online-only charter schools that posted abysmal academic outcomes. (Read at The74Million.org)

“Let’s just say my phone has rung a lot.” —American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on interest from the expanding field of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls in courting the union vote. (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

“I cannot imagine that a highly qualified candidate who is rational and sane would come here in the face of uncertainty when they may not have a job soon,” Houston school district trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, on the search for a new superintendent while the district is under threat of a state takeover. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

“It’s unfortunate, I think, that it took a federal mandate to get states to shine a light on these students, but the good news is that now it is required.” — Brennan McMahon Parton, director of policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign, on the Every Student Succeeds Act requirement that all states must report how well students in foster care are performing on state tests and how many are graduating from high school. (Read at The74Million.org)

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