Published Online: October 13, 2015
Published in Print: October 14, 2015, as Blogs

Best of the Blogs


Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

| NEWS | Education and the Media

Duncan Move: Read All About It, But Don't Rely on the Boob Tube

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's recent announcement that he will step down was pretty big news for some newspapers and news websites. For TV news, however, not so much.

The news broke with reports from the Associated Press and Chalkbeat New York about Duncan's email to his staff members announcing that he would step down in December after serving as secretary since the start of President Barack Obama's administration. Soon, the White House was planning an event that would include Obama, Duncan, and John B. King Jr., who is currently fulfilling the duties of deputy education secretary and is expected to run out the clock of the president's term without being nominated in full for the secretary's post.

The event didn't start until close to the classic 4 p.m.-on-a-Friday moment for unveiling bad news in the nation's capital. After praise by Obama, and making their own remarks, Duncan and King took seats.

First commenting on the September jobs report and federal budget politics, the president then took questions.

White House reporters aren't known for being especially interested in federal education policy, and it would have been surprising if they had any questions about the Duncan departure and King elevation even if the president hadn't given them plenty of cover to ask about other topics.

Questions focused on Syria, the killings at an Oregon community college, the budget, guns, and Democratic presidential candidates. The event ended without any questions about the Education Department news.

The producers of the major network news shows were no more interested in the Duncan announcement. While "The PBS NewsHour" included the development, the evening news shows of ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention it.

The Duncan announcement got mixed treatment in top newspapers the next day. The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Tribune all put the story on Page 1. So did the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal put it elsewhere.

If the Obama administration wanted a change at the helm at an agency that touches almost every American household to get almost no attention on television whatsoever, it picked just the right day and time.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

History Book Referring to Slaves As 'Workers' to Get an Update

A Texas mother has garnered attention on Facebook for posting a picture of her son's history textbook.

A caption in the McGraw-Hill Education book says that the Atlantic slave trade "brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations." Roni Dean-Burren had received a text message with a photo of the page from her 9th grade son. "We was real hard workers, wasn't we," he wrote.

Dean-Burren, a former high school English teacher, followed up with a video post explaining that the book also refers to African slaves as "immigrants," implying that their movement was voluntary. She suggests the book is part of a larger problem with the politically charged textbook-approval process in Texas.

McGraw-Hill responded a day later on Facebook: "We ... agree that our language ... did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves. ... To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.

The publisher said it will update the digital version immediately and change the print version on its next run. But as Dean-Burren pointed out to The Washington Post, the book has a copyright date of 2016, and the next print version could be a decade away.

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Superintendents Tell Leaders of Business What They Want

District leaders count on education companies to help them accomplish their educational missions, and it's sometimes a challenging partnership. In a candid panel discussion last week at EdNet 2015 about the view of vendors from the superintendent's office, four district leaders shared their advice about how the marketplace can do a better job serving K-12 schools. Among their advice:

• Project future needs: Fifteen years from now, more students will learn online, more will pursue formal education from home, and more curricula will be career-specific, said H.D. Chambers, the superintendent of the Alief district in Texas. But to stay in business, companies will have to meet schools' changing needs more effectively, Chambers said.

• Get to know districts: School leaders want to work with companies that work to understand the unique challenges in their districts, said Dana T. Bedden, the superintendent of the Richmond, Va., schools. "If you don't know my district, then you're already starting off behind the 8-ball."

• Be flexible: Vendors or service providers get into trouble with R. Stephen Green, the superintendent of the DeKalb County, Ga., schools, when they say "all bets are off" around outcomes if the district wants to customize a product to meet its needs.

• Establish trust: "I want people who will work with me on how to serve a diverse" student population, said Susan Enfield, the superintendent of the Highline, Wash., district. Enfield said sometimes companies that she considers partners in the district withhold information from her. "If my folks are putting up roadblocks, you need to let me know. Trust is key."

• Produce evidence of success: DeKalb's Green tells his leadership team: "Do not bring a contract up for renewal unless you have empirical evidence [as to] why we should renew that contract."

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | Politics K-12

NEA Gives Endorsement to Clinton in Democrats' Bid for White House

It's official: The National Education Association is putting its muscle, money, and legions of teacher volunteers behind Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Oct. 3 endorsement comes despite serious misgivings from some of the union's affiliates that were hoping for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, or at least a slower endorsement process that would give it more time to extract policy promises from Clinton.

Still, the former secretary of state got the support of 75 percent of NEA's 170-member board of directors. (She only needed 58 percent.) Three candidates sought the NEA's seal of approval: Clinton, Sanders, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"All three of these fine people are friends of the NEA, so it wasn't like, 'Who is the bad guy here?' We love all of them," Lily Eskelsen García, NEA's president, told Education Week. The union ultimately settled on Clinton because of what NEA's board saw as a long-standing commitment to children's issues, dating all the way back to her days at Yale Law School, when she took a summer gig bolstering educational opportunities for migrant kids and students in special education.

As for the timing of the endorsement? "This was the right time to impact the primary," Eskelsen García said.

It's unclear if Clinton's answers will assuage the union's progressive wing, including the Badass Teachers Association, a caucus within the larger union.

"Yes, this could build our power, but at what cost," said Becca Ritchie, who chairs the caucus, in a statement. "This does not make us stronger. People feel their voices are NOT heard. This is not a good strategy."

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

A Few Education-Related Appeals Turned Down by Supreme Court

Appeals in a few noteworthy education cases were among those turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court last week as the justices returned to the bench for their 2015-16 term. Among them, the court:

• In Phillips v. City of New York (Case No. 14-1445), declined to hear a consolidated appeal from three families challenging New York state's mandatory vaccination law. A New York City mother had challenged the denial of a religious exemption for her child, while two other families that received such exemptions challenged a state regulation that allowed school officials to exclude their children from school during an outbreak of chickenpox. All three families had challenged the state law and regulation on grounds that they violated their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and their 14th Amendment right to due process of law. Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, rejected the families' arguments.

• In Rosebrough v. Buckeye Valley High School (Case No. 14-1291), refused the appeal of Tammy Rosebrough, an Ohio woman born without a left hand who alleged that a school district discriminated against her based on disability when it refused to hire her as a school bus driver. Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ultimately ruled that the district did not discriminate against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• In U.L. v. New York State Assembly (Case No. 14-1522), declined the appeal of a New York state man who sued to require that state child-protection laws requiring fingerprinting and background checks for prospective public school employees also be applied to private schools. The man, an Orthodox Jew identified in court papers as U.L., contended that instances of child sexual abuse in private religious schools demand stronger measures from the government. Two lower federal courts rejected the man's claims that New York state lawmakers' refusal to extend the protective measures to private schools violated his and his daughter's constitutional rights.

• In Lilly v. Lewiston-Porter Central School District (No. 14-1529), turned down the appeal of a local school board member in New York who was removed from the board by his fellow members for allegedly failing to complete six hours of training on financial oversight. The man, Edward Lilly, was reinstated to the board, but his federal lawsuit against the district and the board for alleged violations of due process of law was rejected by lower federal courts.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Departing House Speaker Boehner Seeking Renewal of D.C. Vouchers

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, may be on his way out the door at the end of the month, but he clearly has at least one edu-item on his to-do list: reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.

The program isn't up for renewal this year, but Boehner seems to want to make doubly sure it stays on the books—and maybe that he gets his name on the latest iteration of one of his favorite programs. Legislation to renew the program is co-sponsored by six other lawmakers, including Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, who is retiring after this Congress, and a Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois.

First created in 2004, the voucher program in the District of Columbia has been the proverbial political football in Congress for years. One recent tussle: Republicans accused the Obama administration of trying to cut the program off at the knees by throwing up "arbitrary" roadblocks that make it hard for students to sign up.

So how's the program working? A 2014 study found that the neediest children in the city don't necessarily take advantage of the program. And a 2008 study found that the program didn't make much of a difference when it came to standardized-test scores. Both the Obama administration and Republicans agreed in 2012 to study the program in further depth.

–Alyson Klein

Vol. 35, Issue 08, Pages 9,15

Related Stories
You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories