National Scene

January 10, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 1

Learning

The Exponent Telegram (WV) (1/8) reports two Harrison County schools “will benefit from STEAM Power WV project grants received from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.” One grant will cover a “project including professional development for county preschool teachers and learning activities for students at Salem Elementary School,” while another “will benefit art students at Liberty High School.” The funding will “allow county preschool teachers to attend one day of training with the Teaching Artists from Washington D.C., who will help teachers learn to integrate STEAM.”

U.S. News & World Report (1/8, Leins) reports, “A dozen New Jersey schools will pilot an LGBTQ-focused curriculum” intended “to teach middle and high school students about the contributions of LGBTQ individuals to society.” The classes will be required for the entire state next school year. Lessons will address topics including the treatment of gay victims of the Holocaust, the proper use of pronouns relating to individuals’ identities, and “the experiences of an individual forced to undergo conversion therapy.”

The Houston Chronicle (12/19) reports Texas Education Agency officials are “investigating 12 school districts that reported far-above-average rates of graduates enlisting or planning to enlist in the military in 2018, a data point that dramatically boosted some of their academic accountability grades and prompted criticism of the rating system earlier this year.” Scores of districts have “claimed 30 percent or more of their Class of 2018 graduates were expected to join the military after high school, a figure significantly larger than the state average of about 4 percent.” Those rates led to “complaints that some districts may have bent accountability rules to boost their ratings, giving them an unfair advantage under the high-stakes system.”

Teaching

The Fort Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette (1/8) reports under a bill that cleared the Indiana state House Education Committee on Wednesday, “teachers might no longer have their performance evaluations tied to student test scores.” The bill would “eliminate a state mandate that local districts use objective measures of student achievement and growth – test scores – to ‘significantly inform’ teacher evaluations. Lawmakers instituted the requirement in 2011, pushed by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels as part of an education reform movement. Since then, Republicans have repeatedly defended judging teachers by student test results.”

EdSource (1/8, Lambert) reports a new report from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing found that the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program “helped transform 299 school employees into teachers, with thousands more in the pipeline.” The effort by the state to “combat its teacher shortage” works with “classroom aides, food service workers and bus drivers – who are already on campus and invested in local schools – and trains them to become teachers.”

The AP (1/8) reports South Carolina’s Richland School District Two has approved $1,000 bonuses for about 3,600 employees. They will be awarded to teachers and other “full-time, permanent employees such as technology personnel, Superintendent Baron Davis said.” The bonuses will cost the district $4.1 billion. Richland Two is making “one-time expenditures because the district had a $16.9 million surplus from last fiscal year.”

School Safety

The Detroit News (1/7, Chambers) reports on the construction of Fruitpoint High School in Fruitpoint, Michigan, where “extensive window glass, elegant lighting, wide-open gathering spaces and modern furniture give this West Michigan public school the feel of an upscale college campus. But its modern security measures are tucked inside in subtle ways through architectural innovation, starting with curved hallways that connect classrooms and cut down on sightlines for anyone with a gun.” Architectural features which “jut out from existing walls inside classrooms look like playful design elements but function to provide cover for up to 30 students and staff from a gunman roaming the 231,700 square-foot school.”

Newsweek (12/19) reports according to a new analysis from the Giffords Law Center, “in the nearly two years since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 32 state legislatures have passed 137 bills aimed at restricting access to guns and reducing gun violence.” Seventy such measures “cleared various state legislatures in 2019 alone, and they provide a window into how states are combating gun violence as an urgent public health issue in the absence of leadership at the federal level.” Newsweek quotes Giffords Senior Counsel Allison Anderman saying, “This is a substantial amount of legislation enacted this year. The momentum had been building since Sandy Hook in a very significant way, but it really catalyzed after Parkland and helped a number of states pass these packages of legislation in 2018 and 2019.”

The New York Times (1/6, Smith, Lu) reports on “an overlooked epidemic of school shootings”: those that happen “after class lets out. ... Since mid-August, gunfire has erupted more than 20 times at or near school sporting events around the country, more shootings than took place during school hours. Since the start of 2013, at least 19 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in shootings with some connection to school sporting events.”

In a piece published by the Los Angeles Times (1/6, Smith), Thomas Smith, who has taught for 10 years at a secondary public school in Ventura County, says that his classroom – like most others in California – “now has its very own poop bucket.” He goes on to say there are “few indicators of public surrender that can be applied to an entire country, but it seems clear that the placing of primitive portable toilets in classrooms speaks volumes regarding the mindset of US officials on the issue of gun violence in schools.” In other words, school districts are “apparently seeing the futility of waiting for the government to come up with a way to help prevent” school shootings. Students, teachers and parents are “left to hope that no one takes aim at their school,” and it “feels like all we really have are hopes and prayers and poop buckets.”

Research

Education Week (1/6, Ujifusa) reports on a new study from Vanderbilt University doctoral candidate Joshua Bleiberg which explores how “new foreign policy threats and national security ‘shocks’ contribute to big changes in education policy.” The research “examines connections between events with major implications for national security, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and subsequent activity in federal education policymaking such as passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.” These types of “national security shocks ‘may result in policymakers treating education issues as a crisis,’ Bleiberg wrote in the study, which was published late last month in the Journal of Education Policy.”

School Choice

In a USA Today (1/8) op-ed, Sen. Bernie Sanders criticizes the passage 18 years ago of No Child Left Behind, saying he voted against it because “so-called school choice and high-stakes standardized testing would not improve our schools or enhance our children’s ability to learn. We do not need an education system in which kids are simply taught to take tests.” Sanders says NCLB’s impact was “disastrous,” saying the law “perpetuated the myth of public schools and teachers as failing, which opened the door for the spread of school voucher programs and charter schools that we have today. Some of these charter schools are operated by for-profits; many of them are nonunion and are not publicly accountable.”

Forbes (1/8, McCluskey) contributor Neal McCluskey writes that Sanders “is right that federal law has narrowed education largely to a test score (though it has moved away from that a bit with NCLB’s successor). Unfortunately, he is way off when it comes to solutions.” Sanders, McCluskey writes, “is greatly mistaken to also attack school choice, which he does based on some charter schools being managed by for-profit companies, most being non-union, and none supposedly being ‘publicly accountable.’” McCluskey writes that “only school choice empowers families to hold their schools accountable by controlling education dollars, especially low-income families who cannot afford to buy expensive homes to escape schools they feel are not serving them well.”

Commentary

In a perspective piece for the Washington Post (12/19), Columbia College Chicago Associate Professor of Journalism Jackie Spinner writes that “for the first time in 12 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines this week for diagnosing children with autism, focusing on the importance of intervention and therapy, even in infants.” Spinner writes, “If there were a poster child who further underscored that, my 5-year-old son would be him.”