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June 02, 2015 6 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Districts Must Address Effects Of Trauma on Students, Suit Says

Five students and three teachers have filed a federal lawsuit against the Compton, Calif., district, alleging that it violates students’ federally protected access to a free and appropriate public education by failing to provide “reasonable accommodations” to help them deal with the effects of trauma in the classroom.

“Prolonged exposure to trauma results in injuries to the developing minds of children,” said Mark Rosenbaum, the directing attorney for Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, which filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. “It’s the type of roadblock to learning that our federal anti-discrimination laws were created to address, so that students in these circumstances are not denied equal opportunity to public education.”

Stories included in the suit detail students’ exposure to domestic violence, murder, sexual assault, homelessness, and racism. Because of resulting trauma, students were unable to focus in class, saw an increase in absences, and exhibited aggressive or disruptive behaviors, the suit says. The Compton district responded to those behaviors through exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions, and it failed to provide necessary mental-health supports to help students deal with the effects of trauma, the suit says. Teacher plaintiffs say the district did not adequately train them to work with students who’ve faced significant, often ongoing trauma outside of school. Some complained of secondhand effects from working with such students.

While researchers have formed a consensus that such experiences have significant effects on children, there are few highly evaluated, school-based approaches to addressing such concerns. The plaintiffs are asking for trauma-sensitive training for school staff, the use of restorative practices to reduce exclusionary discipline, and increased mental-health supports for students.

Will the suit blaze a new trail of rights for trauma-exposed children? No federal laws I am aware of specifically list these students as a protected class. And many concerns detailed in the lawsuit could be addressed through civil rights complaints under other federal laws.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the suit isn’t about the needs of individual students, but about the collective, unmet needs of the district as a whole.

–Evide Blad

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Are the NCTQ’s Standards Linked to Better Teaching?

When the National Council on Teacher Quality put out its 2013 report savaging the quality of the nation’s teaching programs, critics pounced, claiming the ratings were flawed, meaningless, and should be ignored.

Two years, two reviews, and countless back-and-forths later, does that criticism hold up? Well, yes and no, according to a recent independent study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Overall, the council’s infamous four-star ratings didn’t have a discernable relationship to teaching quality, raising questions about whether it makes sense for programs to try to improve their performance on the standards.

But higher scores on two of the group’s 19 standards—teacher selection and using outcomes data—did seem to predict which programs produced better teachers, at least in North Carolina. And higher scores on at least two other benchmarks, middle school content and classroom management, bore a negative relationship to principals’ opinions of good teaching.

How’s that for “mixed findings”?

The findings are not particularly easy to interpret. That’s in part because, as the authors note, what the NCTQ was judging programs on was not always conceptually well aligned with what principals were looking for on the state’s teacher-evaluation framework.

Jayne Fleener, the dean of North Carolina State’s college of education, said the study points to the challenges of measuring what really matters in teacher preparation.

The NCTQ largely welcomed the findings, saying it will make revisions to its review.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Chiefs for Change Adds New Members, Including First District-Level Leaders

Chiefs for Change isn’t just for state education commissioners anymore. That’s the message the group sent last week when it added three new members, and for the first time expanded membership to include district-level leaders.

Previously, Chiefs for Change, an offshoot of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, had always been made up of state superintendents.

But that’s a thing of the past, as evidenced by two of its three new additions: Chris Barbic, the head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District; and Mike Miles, the superintendent of the Dallas school system. (The Achievement School District is a state-run entity that works with individual schools to improve their academic performance.) Also joining the group is Dale Erquiaga, the Nevada state schools chief.

Additionally, Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island schools superintendent, will remain with Chiefs for Change when she takes over the Tulsa, Okla., schools this summer. The group’s membership had dipped from a high of nine members in 2012 to four before the May 26 announcement.

The group, like the foundation begun by Gov. Bush, advocates for school choice, test-based teacher evaluations, and digital education. In March, the group announced that it would broaden its mission and start recruiting public school leaders from big cities as members, and that it would no longer receive funding from Bush’s foundation.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Former Sen. Rick Santorum Joins Crowd of Presidential Candidates

Rick Santorum, the conservative former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who has apologized for his vote in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act, has officially joined the growing ranks of Republican presidential candidates for 2016.

Santorum, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995 and in the Senate from 1995 to 2007, and unsuccessfully vied for his party’s presidential nomination last go-around, is also among those that are trouncing the Common Core State Standards.

“Our children, well, they deserve an education customized—customized!—to maximize their potential,” Santorum said during his May 27 announcement speech in Cabot, Pa. “The first step in that process is joining me to drive a stake in the heart of common core.” While in the Senate in 2001, Santorum was part of the big, bipartisan majority that passed the NCLB law. He even got an amendment in the bill that called for biology classes to include discussion of the controversies surrounding some scientific theories (including, presumably, evolution). The language didn’t have major force of law.

During the last election cycle, however, Santorum apologized for voting in favor of the NCLB law, saying that he was only trying to support former President George W. Bush’s “signature initiative.” During a debate back in 2012, he said he’ll make up for his vote by working to repeal not just the law, but “all of the federal government’s role in primary and secondary education.”

Santorum is also a fan of school choice, free tutoring, and other options for parents. As for immigration, he has roundly opposed the federal DREAM Act legislation that would give undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the U.S. a path to citizenship if they earn a college degree or serve in the military.

–Lauren Camera

| NEWS | Politics K-12

GOP’s Roster of White House Hopefuls Includes Ex-Gov. George Pataki of N.Y.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki added his name to the GOP’s list of 2016 contenders for the presidency with a video announcement May 28. He is among the most moderate of the Republican contenders so far.

Pataki served for three terms as governor of the Empire State, from 1995 through 2006, during which he raised charter school caps and attempted to create a $500 education tax credit for private school tuition and services such as tutoring and after-school programs. He also pushed to revamp the state’s complicated education funding formula to give local districts more control over how they spend their state aid.

During his tenure, he often proposed funding freezes and cuts to the state university system as part of his strategy to eliminate a $4 billion budget shortfall.

–Lauren Camera

A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs

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