National Scene

February 14, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 6

National Scene


The AP (2/10, Ridler) reports the Idaho Senate Education Committee voted unanimously on Monday “to create an interim committee to review and recommend new math, science and English standards for Idaho’s 300,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12.” The state House Education Committee last week “rejected the current standards, called Idaho Content Standards, that are heavily based on Common Core standards and are often referred to by that name.” Lawmakers on the Senate committee “said during the meeting that they received information from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra that the state could lose $260 million annually in federal money if the Senate also rejects the standards.” Republican Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer “said after the meeting that he doesn’t want his committee to reject them.”

EdSource (2/13, Jones) reports the California Dyslexia Initiative, put forward by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last week as part of his 2020-21 budget proposal, “would set aside $4 million for screening, professional learning for teachers, research and a conference on dyslexia, a learning disorder that affects one’s ability to read and write.” The “small” amount helps lay “the groundwork for future investment and brings much-needed attention to the issue, advocates said.” Few California schools “routinely test students for dyslexia,” which means “more affluent parents pay for private screening and tutoring, which can cost between $50 and $200 an hour, while lower-income families might not even know their child has dyslexia at all.” Newsom has spoke of his own struggles with dyslexia and has “strongly advocated for special education, especially programs aimed at helping students with learning disabilities.”

NBC News (2/11) reports a year ago, New Jersey became the “second state, following California, to pass a law requiring public schools to incorporate an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum into their classrooms; Colorado and Illinois soon followed suit.” And ahead of the statewide law, which “goes into effect in September, the nonprofit groups Garden State Equality and Make It Better for Youth rolled out a pilot program last month in 12 public schools across the state, including Newark Arts High School, that will run until the end of the school year in June.” Alongside lessons about LGBTQ “historical figures and their contributions,” the interdisciplinary pilot curriculum also includes a “creative writing lesson for how to treat LGBTQ characters, a world languages lesson on gender-neutral pronouns and biology lessons on sex and gender diversity.”

The AP (2/10) reports the New Mexico House of Representatives on Monday approved a “plan to create a $320 million state endowment for early childhood education programs.” The vote “follows approval of a similar bill by the state Senate.” After an agreement by the House and Senate on a final version of the bill, it will advance to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, (D) who is a “leading proponent of creating the trust fund whose investment earnings would be earmarked for a variety of early education and child well-being services.”

Educational Strategies

Education Week’s (2/10, Sparks) “Inside School Research” blog reports a new study published in the journal Child Development “adds to the evidence that parents can” increase their child’s numeracy skills “by making sure their preschool children have an enriching math home life.” The study “tracked nearly 370 Spanish-speaking Chilean children and their families over two years, from the start of preschool through the end of kindergarten. Regardless of families’ socioeconomic background, the study found preschoolers whose parents gave them frequent opportunities to do simple math problems and games at home showed better arithmetic growth and performance by the end of kindergarten than children with less-engaging early math environments at home.” The study also showed how “some math and literacy activities...seemed to support each other.” For example, “frequent operational math activities such as addition and subtraction were linked with better vocabulary knowledge and letter-word identification.”

Chalkbeat (2/12, Schimke) reports the Colorado State Board of Education on Wednesday called for “tougher rules around teacher training on reading instruction” in hopes of raising the state’s “persistently low reading scores.” The new rules will oversee the “rollout of legislation that updates a major 2012 law — the READ Act — requiring districts to help struggling readers in the early grades. Many lawmakers and advocates are frustrated with the slow rate of progress, and many educators report that their preparation programs did not teach them how to teach reading.” Most members “urged state education department leaders to keep a provision that requires trainings to be at least 45 hours long.” The board is expected to take a final vote on the proposed rules in March.

School Safety

The Washington Post (2/11, Farzan) reports a police “in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Tredyffrin, Pa., received a call in November” about a kindergartner with Down syndrome who pointed a finger like a gun and told a teacher, “I shoot you.” The school’s principal “quickly determined that the 6-year-old didn’t mean any harm,” but district protocol dictated the incident still had to be reported to local law enforcement. The girl’s mother is “fighting to change the policy, noting that nationwide data shows students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be disciplined.” Police have said officers only wrote up an incident report, but her mother “worries it could be used against her daughter in the future.”

Also reporting are Business Insider (2/11, Mark) and Forbes (2/11, Gerstmann).

NBC News (2/10, Kingkade) reports on how anti-gun activists led by mothers are pushing school boards to ask “parents to sign letters saying they know it’s important to keep guns securely stored.” The Los Angeles school board last June “unanimously endorsed a resolution asking parents to attest that any firearms they own are safely stored — becoming the largest school district nationally to do so.” Since then, the policy has started to spread to districts across the country, meeting little resistance. Experts say “it could be one of the most effective approaches to curb all sorts of firearm-related dangers, especially school shootings.” Activists contend the “recent school board votes demonstrate the power parents have in their own communities to lobby local politicians who are often overlooked in the national debate about gun control and could inspire more gun safety measures at the city or state level.”

NPR (2/11, Kamenetz) reports advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety is partnering with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association “in calling for schools to reassess the use of lockdown grills.” In a white paper released Tuesday, “the groups say they do not recommend active shooter training for students. And if schools do choose to do these drills with students, they shouldn’t be unnecessarily realistic and schools should give plenty of warning.” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says making schools “safe and welcoming” is her membership’s “number one priority,” adding, “Those terrifying and traumatizing drills — they have no basis in fact and they harm more than they have ever helped.” Everytown group Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety founder Shannon Watts cites emerging evidence that “these drills cause trauma, whether it’s anxiety or depression, sleeplessness, worsening school performance in kids.” Her organization instead wants schools to focus “on prevention through threat assessment and expanded mental health services, as recommended by the U.S. Secret Service, as well as by spreading the word about secure gun storage at home.”

Iowa last October passed a new law requiring all new buses to include seat belts, KMTV-TV Omaha, NE (2/12) reports. Starting Tuesday, students at West Harrison Community School began “Tuesday training and familiarizing themselves with seat belts on their new six school buses.” West Harrison is “one of the first schools in western Iowa to get the updated buses since the law passed.” Principal Casey Ring said, “It was just a decision by the board to go through with leasing our new buses and following state law.”


Education Next (2/12) reports the National Center for Education Statistics released a “data point” stating that school starts later in some places than in others. Using data from the 2017-2018 National Teacher and Principal Survey, NCES said, “High school began, on average, at 8:16 a.m. in Iowa, followed by 8:21 a.m. in Minnesota, 8:26 a.m. in Alaska, 8:34 a.m. in South Carolina, and 8:41 a.m. in the District of Columbia.” Meanwhile, high schools in Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire “reported their average starting time as being before 7:45 a.m.” The NCES data point, authored by Holly Sawyer and Soheyla Taie of Westat, also said, “The average high school starting time in all other states fell between 7:45 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.

Education Week (2/12, Sparks) reports a New York University study found that “Los Angeles schools that installed air filters in every classroom and common area following a nearby gas leak saw significant boosts to reading and math achievement—even though the outdoor pollution didn’t prove to be a problem.” The study’s findings suggest “improving air quality may also help bolster school improvement efforts for disadvantaged students who often live in more polluted areas and attend class in older buildings.” Michael Gilraine, study author and assistant professor of economics at New York University, said that “given the large test-score increases they generate, installing air filters substantially outperforms other education reforms such as class-size reduction on a cost-benefit basis.”

Education Week (2/10, Will) reports a “new analysis of 10 years of DonorsChoose records shows that online crowdfunding requests are on the rise – and the data reflects a deep divide between high-poverty and low-poverty schools.” Researchers with Grantmakers for Education “analyzed 1.8 million teacher requests, from the years 2009 to 2019,” and they discovered that “requests grew at a compound rate of 23 percent annually.” The “fastest-growing categories of requests are ‘warmth, care, and hunger,’ health and wellness, and character education.”

Legal issues

Chalkbeat (2/12, Wang) reports that “a special investigation by state auditors found that officials from two Indiana virtual charter schools misspent more than $85 million in state funding by inflating enrollment and funneling millions to a tangled web of related companies.” The report concluded Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy officials showed “substantial disregard” for following the rules and may have “focused on maximizing profits and revenues by exploiting perceived vulnerabilities” in local oversight and state funding processes. The “scathing report” comes after a “series of Chalkbeat investigations revealing financial conflicts of interest at Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy and their dismally low academic results.” The report calls for reimbursement for the misspent fund and also holds “school officials and vendors responsible for...the cost of the state’s special investigation.

Education Week (2/11, Walsh) reports the US Supreme Court “heard an intense hour of arguments last month in one of the most significant K-12 education cases in years, with conservative justices suggesting they were inclined to rule for parents who seek to reinstate a Montana tax credit funding scholarships for use at religious schools.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. suggested that states “don’t have to fund private education at all, but if they choose to provide scholarships that are available to students who attend private schools, they can’t discriminate against parents who want to send their children to schools that are affiliated in some way with a church.” However, “several liberal members of the court questioned whether there was still a valid case because the entire Montana tax credit program had been struck down by the state supreme court, so no scholarships were flowing to religious or secular private schools.” Education Week notes ED Secretary Betsy DeVos was in the courtroom, as the Trump Administration had “joined the arguments on the side of the religious school parents.”

The Allentown (PA) Morning Call (2/11, McGinnis) reports the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ordered the Central Bucks and Neshaminy school districts to release “records that show how students are monitored and protected while surfing the net” within 30 days. The files were “first requested by the Bucks County Courier Times on Nov. 8 as part of a story on how districts monitor and control online activity.” Since 2016, the National School Boards Association reports more than 700 cybersecurity “incidents” in public schools. In response, “some school administrators have turned to technology that censors or filters the content students can access.” The Neshaminy school district argued releasing the information would “jeopardize the computer security of the District,” but the “Pennsylvania Office of Open Records said Neshaminy provided no evidence to support the claim.”

The AP (2/10) reports officials at a Maryland high school “are investigating after a Nazi flag was pictured hanging in a classroom window over the weekend.” Frederick County Public Schools superintendent Theresa R. Alban explained in a statement the flag was used in a World War II history class and left hanging in the window, visible to the outside. Alban said officials will “take appropriate action” to determine what led up to the flag being hung there.