Education

Briefly Stated: April 27, 2022

April 26, 2022 9 min read
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Schools May Be Back, But Many Parents Educating at Home

Schoolhouses have opened, but many parents are saying “no thanks” and continuing to keep educating their children at home.

Home schooling numbers this year dipped from last year’s all-time high but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels, according to data obtained and analyzed by the Associated Press.

In 18 states that shared data through the current school year, the number of home schooling students increased by 63 percent in the 2020-21 school year, then fell by only 17 percent in the 2021-22 school year.

The rising numbers have cut into public school enrollment in ways that affect future funding and renewed debates over how closely home schooling should be regulated. Proponents of more oversight point to the potential for undetected cases of child abuse and neglect while others argue for less in the name of parental rights. The new surge has led state legislatures to consider easing regulations or imposing new ones.

What remains unknown is whether this year’s small decrease signals a step toward pre-pandemic levels or home schooling is becoming more mainstream.

Black families make up many of the home school converts. The proportion of Black families home schooling their children increased from 3.3 percent to 16.1 percent, from spring 2020 to the fall, while the proportion about doubled across other groups, according to U.S. Census surveys.

Boston University researcher Andrew Bacher-Hicks said data show that while rates rose across the board last school year, the increase was greater in districts that reverted to in-person learning, perhaps before some parents were ready to send their children back.

He said the same health concerns that drove those increases are likely behind the continued elevated rates, despite additional upheaval in schools as parents and policymakers debate issues surrounding race and gender and which books should be in libraries.

“It’s really hard to disentangle those two things because all of this is kind of happening at the same time,” he said. “But my my guess would be that a large part of the decisions to exit from the system do have to do with COVID-related issues as opposed to political issues, because those things come up frequently, and we’ve never seen an increase in home schooling rates like this before.”

Book Bans in Schools Spread Across U.S., Targeting LGBTQ Protagonists, Those of Color, and Race Topics

Looks like a lot of bestsellers could be cropping up based on all the books that have been banned from classrooms and libraries.

In 86 districts, 2 million students across the land have had their access to books restricted this school year, finds a new report by PEN America, a free-speech advocacy organization. As widespread as those numbers seem, they represent only a fraction of the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren in its 13,452 districts.

What’s not surprising is the subject matter of those books. Those with protagonists of color accounted for 41 percent of banned books. And those that are explicitly about LGBTQ topics or have LGBTQ protagonists or prominent characters account for 33 percent. Rounding out the most-banned topics were books about race and racism, coming in at 22 percent.

What is somewhat surprising, though, is who’s pulling the books. Of all the bans, just 4 percent came from formal challenges filed by parents or community members. Instead, a vast majority were removed by school administrators or board members. Those actions were often taken after officials listened to comments from community members during public meetings.

Between July 2021 and March 2022, books had been outlawed in 2,899 schools. PEN America also found 1,586 decisions to ban a book from a library, classroom, or curriculum.

“Because of the tactics of censors and the politicization of books, we are seeing the same books removed across state lines: books about race, gender, LGBTQ+ identities, and sex most often,” said Jonathan Friedman, the director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and the report’s lead author. “We are witnessing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress toward inclusion.”

Texas has the most districts enacting bans, 713 titles in 16 districts. Pennsylvania and Florida follow, with 456 and 204 bans, respectively. Pennsylvania’s Central York district had the distinction of prohibiting the most books, 441. But after students protested and the action attracted national attention, the school board reversed its decision.

And the book most often banned: Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir. The graphic novel is about the author’s struggle with and explanation of gender identity.

Although the Federal Law Has Moved the Needle, Title IX Has Not Meant Equality for Girls’ Sports

Lawmakers across the land are so worried about transgender youth taking advantage of girls in sports that they’re outlawing children born male from joining girls’ teams. Yet, they don’t seem to be doing much to bring equality to girls’ sports anyway.

Nearly 50 years after Congress passed Title IX, the sweeping law that guarantees equity in “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” girls are stuck in an imperfect system that continues to favor boys.

In schools across the country, boys’ teams wear nicer uniforms, play on better fields, are led by more experienced coaches, have their practices scheduled at more desirable times, play with newer equipment, and dress in better-equipped locker rooms. All are potential violations of Title IX.

Those are findings from a four-month investigation by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.

“We still estimate that the majority of schools are likely out of compliance with the law,” said Sarah Axelson, the vice president of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation.

The investigation also found that:

  • While Title IX has made a difference—girls’ participation in high school sports rose from 7 percent to 43 percent in the last 50 years—it is still not equal.
  • The onus to report violations of Title IX is often left to teenagers and their parents, who know little about the law.
  • Enforcement by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights is cumbersome and slow-moving. A review of 39 complaints to OCR since 2008 that had both filing and resolution dates showed that it took an average of 700 days to resolve the cases. That means girls who suffered unequal treatment often graduated before they saw results.

The centers found that violations have affected girls across the country. In Union City, N.J., for example, a highly publicized athletic field atop a $180 million high school building was mostly used by boys’ teams. For years, access for girls was limited.

In Ventura, Calif., girls on the softball team suffered injuries on a field that was poorly maintained, while the boys’ baseball team had a field that was better tended at a higher-quality stadium.

Fla. Educators Kept in Dark Over Rejection of Math Texts

Educators in Florida are scratching their heads over why state officials rejected dozens of math textbooks in the current adoption cycle. Trouble is, those officials won’t tell them why.

They aren’t the only ones being kept in the dark. Even the publishers whose texts were spurned haven’t been told.

The lack of information has left many local school officials scrambling for clarity as they prepare to select instructional materials for their classrooms. Districts don’t have to purchase books off the state-approved list, but they attempt to have materials that meet the state’s academic expectations.

According to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s been working overtime to ban a lot of topics from the classroom, the information is “proprietary.” But that explanation appears to clash with the intent of a measure that the Republican signed into law a few weeks ago that aims to bring more transparency into districts’ book-selection process. It says districts must provide access to all materials “before the district school board takes any official action on such materials.”

Meanwhile, the state education department did go so far as to say the books were rejected because they incorporated “indoctrinating concepts,” but it refused to offer examples.

Not sure how this would be incorporated into math, but at least one state official cited critical race theory. “What we’ve seen is a systematic attempt by these publishers to infiltrate our children’s education by embedding topics such as CRT,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who characterized the state’s book vetting process as “very transparent.”

That textbooks were under attack in Florida didn’t come as a surprise to some. “Textbook selection has always been a highly politicized area,” said Christopher Finan, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “It just seems so bizarre that they managed to find CRT in math textbooks. It is direct from satire.”

District in Pennsylvania Policing Student Snacks

What’s happening in one Pennsylvania school district takes the concept of policing student behavior into a whole new realm.

At Aliquippa Junior/Senior High School, in the city of that same name about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, officials are searching lunches that students bring to school for snacks. And, if staff members deem there’s too much junk food, it will be tossed.

And it’s not just lunches. The goodies will be trashed if they’re opened when students come into the building.

“Shopping bags full of chips,” candy, and an assortment of drinks have been brought into the school, and Aliquippa school district officials say they will not stand for it any longer.

“Beginning on Monday, April 4, 2022, each student will only be permitted one bag (up to 4 oz. in size) of such items as potato chips, Cheetos, Doritos, etc., and one bottled or canned beverage (up to 20 oz.),” the school system announced before the policy was put into effect.

The announcement set off an uproar of comments and shares on Facebook.

“You’re going to tell parents what they can and cannot send for their child to eat? That’s absurd! Maybe if school lunches weren’t so tiny and gross, they wouldn’t need to bring extra snacks,” one person commented on the Facebook announcement.

“Lunch Police,” another commenter added. “Maybe they should stay out of the parenting business and focus on giving our kids a quality education.”

Some, though, agreed with the policy.

“I don’t remember being allowed to have food outside of the cafeteria when I was in school, so I find it weird that the school district even has to request this,” one person said.

The school district had a message to all their commenters.

“Thank you all for your feedback. If you have children in the district, please contact your building principal,” the district wrote. “If you are an internet heckler, continue as you were.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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