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February 24, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Time and Learning

Calif. High School Students Ask Court to Mandate ‘Real’ Classes

Students at six California high schools that primarily enroll low-income students of color have asked a state court to force state education officials to intervene to make sure they get the courses they need to graduate and be prepared for college.

Lawyers for the students filed the motion this month in the ongoing case of Cruz v. State of California. The lawsuit accuses the state’s education department, board of education, and schools chief of violating both the California education code and the students’ right under the state constitution to equal educational opportunity by allowing the situation to continue.

In addition to being assigned to service periods in which they had to “clean classrooms, make photocopies, run errands, or simply sit around and socialize,” students have been placed in the wrong classes, in classes they’ve already taken, or in overcrowded classes without enough chairs and desks, the lawsuit claims.

The suit also alleges that students were scheduled for nonexistent classes and were sent home, were not given classes they needed for college, and had no permanent teachers in some courses.

Johnae Twinn, a senior at Castlemont High School in Oakland, said in her declaration that she is interested in medicine but was not assigned to any science class except physiology, which was canceled when the school couldn’t find a teacher. Twinn also couldn’t get into Advanced Placement government, history, or English because those courses were full. During sixth period, when she has no class, Twinn sits in on a second section of English 4 because she “get[s] more out of it than just going home,” she said.

Information gathered by Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which represent the students, indicates that the situation is improving, but that schools have scheduled students for as many as 82 service periods and 156 home periods where they receive no instruction or supervision.

A court hearing on the preliminary injunction is scheduled for late next month.

–Kathryn Baron

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Virginia Bill Would Equip Guards With Pepper Spray, Stun Guns

A Virginia lawmaker has proposed allowing schools to equip unarmed guards with pepper spray and stun guns.

State Delegate Mark Cole, a Republican, argues that the guards, who are not allowed to be armed under state law, could use the weapons to ward off school intruders.

The Associated Press reports that opponents, including Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, contend that such weapons could be turned against students.

Cole said he doesn’t intend for that to happen.

The state’s discussion comes as students in Birmingham, Ala., await a judge’s decision in a federal lawsuit in which they allege school police were not justified in using pepper spray on about 200 unruly students over a five-year period.

Policymakers and education leaders in other areas have wrestled with the question of equipping school security guards with less-than-lethal weapons. The discussions have forced officials to weigh sometimes-competing public concerns about school shootings and the rights of students.

Acting Boston Superintendent John McDonough called off public hearings scheduled for November on arming school police with pepper spray after members of the public voiced concern about the plan.

“I think what we are hearing so far has persuaded me that pepper spray, no matter how well-developed the policy, and no matter how well-crafted the training, and no matter their good intention—might serve to drive a wedge between our students and the school police who do a great job protecting them every day,” McDonough said in a statement reported by local news media.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

For 2015, Fast Company Names Most Innovative Ed. Companies

Fast Company magazine, which covers innovation in technology and “ethonomics"—or ethical economics—has released its “most innovative” list for education enterprises, and on it are a number of recognizable names in the K-12 world. On this year’s list:

#2: Revolution Foods, a company that provides 300,000 meals of what it calls “real food” to schoolchildren in 25 cities, at a price of $3 per meal.

#3: Bridge International Academies, which operates the largest chain of for-profit schools in Africa, at a fee of $5 per month per enrollee, with plans to educate 10 million students per year by 2025.

#4: Summit Public Schools, a charter-management organization serving the San Francisco Bay Area, for creating a “best in class” model of blended learning.

#5: Democrats for Education Reform, for sparking a “new willingness to battle for education reform.”

#6: Edcamp, a nonprofit that is nurturing a “grassroots teacher movement” by encouraging educators to gather for noncommercial “unconferences,” where they share their insights on topics identified the day of the event.

#7: Google, for “developing teacher-friendly tools at budget-friendly prices.”

#8: The College Board, for redesigning the sat.

#9: Teachers Pay Teachers, for offering teachers a marketplace where they can buy lessons and classroom tools from one another.

#10: Kaymbu, a startup focused on connecting parents with what their preschoolers are accomplishing in school.

And what of #1? It’s General Assembly, a learning center that “teaches the skills workers need now.”

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Skandera Finally Official as N.M. Chief After Four Years in Political Limbo

Hanna Skandera has finally been confirmed as New Mexico’s education secretary—four years after Gov. Susanna Martinez, a Republican, tapped her to be the state’s chief school officer.

The status of Skandera as “secretary of education-designate” has been a long-running part of the background in a sometimes-divisive fight over K-12 policy in New Mexico as she sought several significant policy changes, with varying degrees of success. But on Feb. 16, the state Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, voted 22-19 to confirm her, with five Democrats joining 17 Republicans.

Teachers protested Skandera at the state Capitol as her nomination was being reviewed. However, during the debate last week over Skandera’s nomination, superintendents and business leaders expressed their support for her work.

Nationally, Skandera serves as the head of Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. The group supports school choice, online education, and teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. Skandera has been a vocal proponent of the Common Core State Standards as well.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Poll Offers Snapshot of Common Core As Potential Issue in 2016 Primaries

An NBC News/Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll on the common core in the three states with the earliest presidential-nomination contests shows that at this early stage, the standards seem to be in good political standing among both Democrats and Republicans in Iowa. But it’s a different story in New Hampshire and South Carolina on the GOP side.

Just under 900 registered voters overall were polled in each state, including more than 300 registered Republicans (or those who prefer to vote in GOP primaries) and 300 registered Democrats (or those who prefer to vote in Democratic primaries). Among the findings:

• In Iowa, 65 percent of registered voters said they would find common-core support by a candidate to be totally or mostly acceptable, with 25 percent finding it mostly or totally unacceptable. In addition, 10 percent of voters said they were unsure.

• In the “potential GOP electorate” of registered Iowa Republicans—the group arguably more likely to find the common core distasteful—57 percent said they would find a candidate’s common-core support to be totally or mostly unacceptable, compared with 37 percent in the unfavorable category. Among the “potential Democratic electorate,” 73 percent of voters said they would find such support totally or mostly acceptable.

• In New Hampshire, 56 percent of registered voters would find common-core support to be at least mostly acceptable, but 47 percent of registered Republicans said the same, compared with 46 percent who would hold a candidate’s common-core support against him or her.

• The numbers for registered Republicans were identical in South Carolina (47 percent would find it acceptable, compared with 46 percent who wouldn’t).

In all three states, those identifying as very liberal to liberal found common-core support totally or mostly acceptable by significant margins.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Learning the Language

White House Vows to Contest Ruling Putting Immigration Orders on Hold

Although a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s sweeping executive orders on immigration, the White House has promised to fight back on behalf of programs it sees as ways to ease long-standing concerns about separating school-age children from their families.

The programs at issue are Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, and expansions to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the program protecting undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen slammed the brakes on the programs Feb. 16, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit intended to permanently halt the orders. The Justice Department will appeal the judge’s decision.

In 2012, children with at least one undocumented-immigrant parent accounted for nearly 7 percent of U.S. students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to a Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project report. Based on 2012 Census data, that’s more than 3.8 million students.

–Corey Mitchell

A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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