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September 30, 2014 6 min read
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| NEWS | District Dossier

Chicago Mayor Backtracks on Naming New School After President Obama

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not name a planned high school on Chicago’s Near North Side after his former boss, President Barack Obama.

Emanuel backed off plans to name the school after Obama last month in the wake of criticism—particularly from the African-American community, with which the mayor has an already-fraught relationship stemming from massive school closures a year ago that disproportionately affected black students.

The school, which would have been called the Barack Obama Preparatory High School, is planned for a predominantly white community near the site of the former Cabrini-Green public-housing development, according to the Chicago Tribune.

South Side politicians argued it would make more sense to locate a school named after Obama in the neighborhood where he started his career as a community organizer or in the Hyde Park neighborhood where he lived before moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Emanuel will now consider other names for the selective-enrollment high school—and a new site for the school. Parents who live near the proposed site argued it would take away from a neighborhood park and was close to an elementary school where parking is a problem. Citywide, parents complained that the selective-enrollment school was going to be in close proximity to another of Chicago’s high-performing schools, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, named after the late Chicago Bears running back.

-Denisa R. Superville

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Banned Books Week Spotlights Censorship

Last week marked Banned Books Week. That’s when librarians, teachers, students, authors, booksellers, and others stake out their reading turf by making a public show of reading books that have been challenged or banned from the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

The 32-year-old event takes many forms: Libraries stage public readings of banned books, and individuals take pictures or videos of themselves reading banned books. (There is even a dedicated YouTube channel for those “virtual read-outs.”)

On Twitter, people used the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek to swap news of the latest book prohibitions, and a Facebook page tracked activity and debate on the issue. The American Library Association’s latest list of the most-challenged books in libraries includes Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants, which topped the list, followed by Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Those titles are keeping some pretty luminary company. Other banned books, dating back to the mid-1800s, include Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Other works works that have come under attack include The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown), The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell), The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway).

-Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Education and the Media

NBC Takes to the Shooting Range With Pistol-Packing Teacher

“NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” last week featured a report by Cynthia McFadden on teachers who are legally carrying guns in their schools. Particularly, one 27-year-old special education teacher who packs a 380-caliber pistol with pink accents. She teaches in Utah, where schools must allow teachers and other employees with concealed-weapons permits to have guns in school.

“If an intruder comes into my school, I’m not going to go after him, but I’m going to protect my students,” said teacher Kasey Hansen.

“What can your little, bitty pink gun do?” McFadden asked her.

“It could surprise him. And stop him,” she replied.

McFadden and her crew accompanied Hansen to a shooting range, where the teacher was visibly nervous as she fired at a target. “I see your hands shaking,” McFadden told her.

The gun instructor suggested that arming teachers is a good idea because school shooting “carnage” ends “with the first good guy who shows up with a gun.”

McFadden matter-of-factly noted that just a couple of weeks ago, in a school in Hansen’s district, a teacher accidentally shot herself in the leg while in a school restroom.

-Mark Walsh

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Mo. Funding ‘Illegal Interstate Compact’ With Cash to Smarter Balanced, Suit Says

A lawsuit filed against Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, state schools chief Chris Nicastro, and other state officials argues that the state is funding an “illegal interstate compact” by providing money to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two federally financed consortia developing tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

The lawsuit, filed last month, argues that Missouri’s funding of Smarter Balanced cedes the state’s sovereignty over its K-12 policy to the consortium. According to a report in the Jefferson City News Tribune newspaper, the plaintiffs claim that Smarter Balanced was never authorized by Congress and is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The suit was filed by Fred N. Sauer, a political activist who is listed as an associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center and the president of the Missouri Roundtable for Life, as well as by Anne Gassel and Gretchen Logue. The suit states that the state education department is funding Smarter Balanced to the tune of $4.3 million through a line-item payment to the University of California, Los Angeles.

A spokeswoman for Smarter Balanced, Jaci King, told State EdWatch that Missouri is one of 10 states that have signed memoranda of understanding with Smarter Balanced to continue their membership in the consortium, and are slated to send payments to the UCLA Graduate School of Education to oversee ongoing assessment work.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

In Heated Colorado Senatorial Contest, NEA Slams GOP Hopeful on DREAM Act

The National Education Association is the latest to throw money at the competitive Senate race in Colorado, where incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is battling U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican challenger. The teachers’ union dumped $200,000 into a Spanish TV ad running for two weeks in the Denver and Colorado Springs media markets.

The ad, which began running Sept. 23, dings Gardner for supporting legislative proposals that it says would make it more difficult for families to send their children to college. The 30-second spot, designed to target Hispanic and other Spanish-speaking voters, also alludes to Gardner’s opposition to the DREAM Act, the legislative proposal that would provide permanent residency to high school graduates who were illegally brought to the United States as minors by their families.

The education ad is part of a larger effort led by a coalition of political action committees, including those of the Service Employees International Union, the Senate Majority PAC, and People for the American Way, which collectively plan to spend more than $1 million in Colorado’s Senate race. The SEIU went live with its ad hitting Gardner on immigration last month. While Udall had enjoyed a consistent, though slight, lead in the polls all summer, the latest polling from Quinnipiac University shows Gardner 8 points ahead of the incumbent.

–Lauren Camera

| NEWS | District Dossier

Pa. Lawmakers Pass Cigarette-Tax Bill To Fund Philadelphia School System

Philadelphia school district supporters are breathing a little easier after the state legislature voted Sept. 23 to approve a long-hoped-for cigarette-tax bill, which will generate about $83 million annually to fund the cash-strapped school system. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the measure, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

The passage of the $2-a-pack cigarette levy brings to a close months of fiscal haggling among district officials, parents, local politicians, and state legislators.

The sales tax will generate an estimated $49 million in the first year—an amount the district has already included in its budget, said Superintendent William R. Hite.

–Denisa R. Superville

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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