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June 09, 2020 8 min read

With Confederate Idols Toppling, What’s Ahead For School Names?

People across the country have taken to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Some have focused their frustration on public symbols of the nation’s racist past: Confederate monuments and symbols.

A statute of Gen. Robert E. Lee was torn from its pedestal in front of his namesake high school in Montgomery, Ala., last week. Because of legal errors in warrants and affidavits, though, the county district attorney dismissed charges against four people arrested in the incident.

School district officials in Montgomery are “currently assessing damages to the statue,” which is in storage, a district spokeswoman said. Under the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017—a state law that bars the removal, renaming, and alteration of most Confederate moments—the school system has up to one year to complete repairs and restore the statue.

The presence of Confederate monuments and statues across the South has been challenged for years. The killing of Floyd, a black man who died as a white police officer knelt on his neck, has reignited that debate. Protesters in cities in Florida, the Carolinas, and Tennessee have also vandalized or toppled local Confederate monuments.

And in Mississippi, a geometry teacher in the state’s Hollandale school system faces charges for allegedly vandalizing a Confederate statue on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

While more statues and monuments are targeted for destruction or come under consideration for removal, it will take more than spray paint, rope, and trucks to remove the names and likenesses of Confederate leaders from the public K-12 schools that honor them. A 2018 Education Week analysis found that more than 100, almost all below the Mason-Dixon Line, still bear the names of figures from that era.Making changes more difficult, state law in some places runs counter to name alterations. South Carolina, for instance, like Alabama, has a law that restricts the renaming of public schools honoring Confederate leaders.

Making changes more difficult, state law in some places runs counter to name alterations. South Carolina, for instance, like Alabama, has a law that restricts the renaming of public schools honoring Confederate leaders.

Student Athletes Score Victory in Title IX War With Transgender Competitors in Connecticut

Congress passed Title IX in 1972 to outlaw gender discrimination in education institutions, essentially the discrimination that had gone on for eons against girls. Now that very law has been turned on its head, some say, to—essentially—discriminate against students who identify as female. What a conundrum.

To wit: None other than the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights has determined that Connecticut’s inter-scholastic-sports governing body and six school districts violated Title IX with a policy that permits transgender students to compete based on their gender identity.

The OCR’s “letter of impending enforcement action,” which came to light late last month, follows an investigation conducted after three cisgender female track athletes complained that the transgender-participation policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletics Association denied them athletic benefits and opportunities in violation of Title IX.

It’s not that the association decided willy-nilly to set the policy. It did so at the behest of a 2013 state law. The policy emanating from that defers to a student’s own gender identity and a district’s determination of the student’s eligibility.

Then last year, two transgender athletes who were identified as male at birth took part in the girls’ track competitions, which prompted several parents and cisgender female athletes to complain. OCR backed those parents and athletes. The agency will either begin proceedings to terminate or defer federal financial assistance to the districts and the sports association or will “refer the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice for judicial proceedings,” the letter continues.

For its part, the association says state law “is clear, and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes—including high school sports.”

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has intervened in a federal case brought by the same three students on behalf of the two transgender athletes.

“All that [OCR] finding represents is yet another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students,” said the ACLU’s Chase Strangio.

Assessing English-Learners’ Needs From a Distance? Council of Great City Schools Offers a Helping Hand

Yeah, there’s a deadly pandemic, and yeah, educators have to work with students from afar. Nonetheless, they have yet another barrier to surmount: how to screen newly arrived children who are scheduled to start kindergarten in the fall for their English-language proficiency. It’s not a choice, either. The U.S. Department of Education says that districts must try to identify English-learners to the “greatest extent possible” even though physical campuses are closed.

At present, districts are using home-language surveys to gauge whether students are eligible to take an English-language screening test. But with social-distancing requirements that prevent face-to-face screenings, schools must find other ways to judge how much support new English-learners will need in remote learning environments or when classes resume.

To help out, the Council of the Great City Schools has developed a set of sample questionnaires to be used as provisional screeners for English proficiency during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The sample questionnaires help assess students’ English-speaking and listening skills as beginner-level, intermediate-level, or advanced-level for students in three different grade bands—K-2, 3-5, and 6-12.

One beginner-level question at grades K-2, for instance is: “Are you in [CITY/TOWN]? Tell me about it.” The child is deemed a beginner if, say, his answer has grammatical errors and limited or erroneous word choice that impede meaning. In contrast, he’s considered intermediate or advanced if pronunciation, word choice, and grammatical errors do not impede meaning. The CGCS cautions, however, that provisional screenings cannot replace the formal English-learner identification process, which districts must administer once their schools resume normal operations.

The biggest challenge for schools could come when classes do resume for elementary schools, which enroll a larger share of English-learners. Federal data show that roughly 16 percent of the nation’s kindergartners are English-learners. Since most districts canceled in-person kindergarten registration this year, schools may not have enough information to allocate adequate resources to support children who will arrive to school with little exposure to English at home.

College Board Abandons Plans To Offer Home Version of SAT

Lessons learned? After encountering a host of problems in its online, at-home administration of Advanced Placement exams this spring, the College Board announced last week that it was scrapping plans to provide a home version of the SAT college-entrance exam this year.Offering the test at home would have required three hours of uninterrupted internet access, the company said, and it couldn’t guarantee that all students would have access to the needed technology.

In April, officials said they were creating a home exam in case schools remained closed into the fall because of the coronavirus. Instead of offering the test on paper under a proctor’s supervision, the company said it would rely on “remote proctoring” using the computer’s camera and microphone.

In nixing that idea, the College Board now says it’s working to expand the availability of the SAT at in-person test centers this fall and asking colleges to be more flexible with testing requirements.

The company that owns the rival ACT exam meanwhile, plans on marching forward. It’s continuing with previously announced plans for a home exam to be offered in late fall.

The College Board announced its change just weeks after thousands of students ran into technical glitches while trying to submit online versions of the AP exams. Nearly 20,000 of the more than 4.6 million timed tests taken at home resulted in errors, according to data from the College Board.

Most colleges require SAT or ACT exam scores as part of the application process, though an increasing number have made them optional in recent years, often to be more inclusive of students without access to private test preparation. In May, the University of California system added itself to those ranks, saying it would phase out the test requirement.

Vendors Aren’t Coming Up Rosy In Superintendents’ Landscape

Both literally and figuratively, everybody’s trying to survive the COVID-19 crisis—people and businesses alike. But take it from a group of superintendents: Most vendors aren’t doing themselves any favors in their pitches to school districts.

A recent survey, though relatively small, reveals some telling answers. The K-12 superintendents who responded to the survey by the National Superintendents Roundtable expressed dissatisfaction with vendors’ marketing campaigns amid the pandemic. In fact, superintendents called only 20 percent of their interactions with vendors positive. Tactics like regular cold calls and repetitive emails are frustrating school districts, according to comments from the district leaders, most of whom hail from the Midwest and the East and West Coasts.

One respondent even said his or her district is creating a “blacklist” for companies engaging in unethical sales behavior. What is it superintendents do need? In descending order, they said they most need products associated with professional development, supplemental curriculum, technology hardware, basal curriculum, and technology infrastructure.

But no cold calls, please. Districts prefer that vendors contact them using communications tools in this order: email, marketing campaigns, social media, telephone, and text.

And most of the superintendents—54 percent—aren’t even the appropriate person to contact.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Brian Bradley, Corey Mitchell, Associated Press, and Mark Walsh. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2020 edition of Education Week

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