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September 16, 2014 8 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Texas Agricultural Chief Criticizes ‘Meatless Monday’ School Meals

A Texas school district’s initiative to offer students vegetarian meals on “Meatless Mondays” has drawn criticism from state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

The state official wrote a guest commentary in the Austin American-Statesman last week, calling the effort an “activist movement” bent on forcing meat-loving students to change their eating habits.

“While we have plenty of room in the Lone Star State for vegetarians, we have no room for activists who seek to mandate their lifestyles on others,” he wrote.

Staples, who administers the agency in charge of the state’s school meal programs, has received $116,000 in campaign contributions from beef producers and ranchers since 2010, the Statesman reported.

He focused his editorial on a pilot program in the Dripping Springs district, which is “meant to encourage healthy, environmentally conscientious eating,” district officials told the newspaper. On Meatless Mondays, the district’s lunches are vegetarian, adding protein with ingredients like black beans.

Vegetarian-meal options are becoming more popular nationally, with many districts adding Meatless Mondays to their rotation or offering meat-free alternatives to their entree lines.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Choosing the Right Words to Lure Financial Backers

Startups and other businesses across the education space are used to having to fight, claw, beg, and borrow to raise the capital needed to build and sustain their operations, especially in the early stages.

A recent study examines a popular platform to help entrepreneurs round up money—the crowdfunding vehicle Kickstarter—and suggests that aspiring business owners would be wise to follow one bit of advice in particular: Choose your words carefully.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, finds that the language used by aspiring entrepreneurs through the crowdfunding tool “plays a major role in driving the project’s success.”

The authors, Tanushree Mitra and Eric Gilbert, closely studied 20,000 phrases, filtered from a much larger pool of 9 million phrases, controlling for variables such as goals for the fundraising project.

Language that paid off tended to emphasize:

• Reciprocity. Phrases that signaled lucrative offers to potential financial supporters, such as language that agreed to mention a funder’s project, were predictors of successful funding.

• Scarcity or exclusivity. Fund-seekers who said potential backers would be granted access to a product that was rare or limited in supply did well.

• Social identity. Successful Kickstarter entrepreneurs often conveyed the idea to potential funders that they were part of a social group that was being made “accessible” to others.

• Authority. Many entrepreneurs who secured money conveyed their expertise to project creators and developers.

Confidence, it seems, pays off. “People often resort to expert opinions for making efficient and quick decisions,” the researchers noted.

–Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | Time and Learning

R.I. School Board Delays Vote on Charging for Summer School

The Rhode Island board of education has delayed a decision on whether it’s legal for a district to charge students to attend summer school.

In a March ruling, state Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist denied a parent’s request to be reimbursed for the $700 she paid to the Cumberland district so her child could attend summer school. The high school student needed to make up credits to avoid repeating a grade.

An appeals committee of the state board upheld Gist’s ruling in July.

Critics argue that the decision is unlawful, retreats from 150 years of precedent, and could undermine school equity for low-income students who can’t afford the fees.

Gist’s opinion “could have a truly devastating impact on low-income children throughout the state and undermine the fundamental principle of the guarantee of a free public education in Rhode Island,” wrote the ACLU of Rhode Island and the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island in a joint letter to civil rights organizations this month.

Steven Brown, the executive director of the ACLU state chapter, said in an email that he’s also received complaints from parents about summer school fees in Woonsocket.

Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for the Rhode Island education department, said he didn’t know how many other districts charge for summer school.

The ACLU-Mental Health Association letter also argues that Commissioner Gist’s ruling misinterprets a law that bars schools from charging for student services.

In 2009, Gist herself cited previous decisions when she rejected a request by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to charge students to participate in high school sports. In explaining that ruling, she wrote: “[R]esearch has shown that school fees discourage participation in school activities, adversely affect school attendance, and put stress on students and their parents and siblings.”

In the current situation, however, Gist said that since summer school isn’t mandatory and Cumberland doesn’t receive state funding for summer classes, the district has a right to ask families to pay for the program. Otherwise, she said, the district might be forced to discontinue summer school, and that could violate state law.

But at its meeting last week, the state board unanimously voted to table the issue until next month to give members more time for review.

–Kathryn Baron

| NEWS | Politics K-12

House Ed. Committee Member Tierney Loses Democratic Primary Bid in Mass.

U.S. Rep. John Tierney fell to Democratic primary challenger Seth Moulton in Massachusetts’ Sept. 9 balloting. The liberal congressman with a thick Boston accent was a longtime member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and known for his aggressive style of politics. The Associated Press called the race just after 9:30 p.m. with Moulton leading Tierney, 51 percent to 40 percent, with 27 percent of precincts reporting.

Tierney, whose primary campaign had been mired in a money-laundering scandal connected to his wife’s family, had been expected to defeat Moulton, but to have a tougher time in the general election against Republican Richard Tisei, to whom the congressman nearly lost his seat two years ago.

Tierney is the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee. In addition to being a big proponent of Head Start and a backer of measures that would expand early-childhood education and direct more federal spending to students with disabilities, he has been particularly active on higher education.

An entrepreneur and Iraq war veteran, Moulton is new to the political scene. He largely backs the Obama administration’s K-12 education agenda, including the priorities in its signature competitive grant, Race to the Top. According to his campaign website, he has ideas for overhauling the teaching profession, including more rigorous training and higher salaries.

-Lauren Camera

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Ruling Clips Utah Governor’s Wings on Picking State Board Candidates

A federal judge has ruled that a Utah law requiring the governor and a nominating committee to pick which candidates can appear on the ballot for the state board of education is unconstitutional, but he gave the state time to craft a new system before issuing a final order.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued his ruling this month in response to a lawsuit brought by prospective candidates who were not selected by Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, and the committee for the 2014 elections.

The Beehive State’s unusual law takes effect when there are more than two candidates for any of the 15 elected seats on the state board. The governor and a 12-person committee, whose members represent various business interests as well as K-12, interview candidates and narrow down the list of potential candidates for each position on the board. Then the governor selects two candidates for each spot. Those two appear on the November general-election ballots for each seat. (The state school board is nonpartisan.)

Utah is one of six states where the entire state school board is elected, the National Association of State Boards of Education says. The others are Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, and Nebraska.

-Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Pa. Governor Orders Standards Review; Runs Into Criticism From Own Party

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has asked for a “continued public review” of that state’s version of the Common Core State Standards as part of what he called the “final phase” of a three-year process to “roll back” the standards there.

Gov. Corbett, a Republican who took office in 2011—and is struggling in his re-election campaign—also says that under his leadership, the state school board has, in fact, been working to remove the common standards, which were adopted in July 2010 under then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

But not long after Corbett’s announcement last week, the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus released a statement from Reps. Ryan Aument and Seth Grove criticizing the announcement. The two state representatives said they were “puzzled by the governor’s decision to muddle implementation” of the Pennsylvania Core Standards that were created on Corbett’s watch. They stressed that one of the ideas behind the Pennsylvania Core Standards was to protect local control over curriculum and ensure state oversight over school standards.

The Pennsylvania Core Standards were adopted by the state school board a year ago and went into effect last March. The state education department says the Pennsylvania Core Standards were developed to “mirror the academic rigor” of the common standards.

In his statement, Corbett is casting the Pennsylvania state board actions a year ago as a definitive step away from the common core, although it’s unclear who else views it that way.

-Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2014 edition of Education Week


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