Education

Briefly Stated: April 28, 2021

April 27, 2021 8 min read

District Chief Arrested for Lying in Probe of Parkland Shooting

The superintendent of the Florida district where 17 students and staff died in a 2018 high school massacre was arrested last week after investigators said he lied to a grand jury investigating events surrounding the shooting.

Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested at district headquarters and charged with perjury, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to a grand jury indictment, the superintendent lied when he testified before the panel earlier this month, but it gave no specifics about the alleged falsehood. The jury is investigating whether districts are following school safety laws, including those implemented after the Feb. 14, 2018, slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The grand jury is also investigating whether public agencies are using state safety grants for other purposes; Broward school officials misappropriated millions of dollars from a bond measure partially aimed at improving campus safety; and officials intentionally underreported on-campus crimes committed by students.

Since the shooting, Runcie and other district administrators have been accused of lying about crime rates and discipline problems. Stoneman Douglas reported zero incidents of bullying among its 3,200 students between 2014 and 2017, and three incidents of vandalism, for example.

Lawyers for Runcie, 59, said he plans to plead not guilty. Jail records show he was released on his own recognizance.

A statement from the chairwoman of the school board said the district “will provide transparency, accountability and integrity.” But it did not say whether Runcie had been suspended. Broward County has more than 270,000 students.

Also arrested April 21 was Barbara Myrick, the district’s attorney. Myrick, 72, is accused of unlawfully disclosing grand jury proceedings, a felony. Her indictment didn’t disclose details.

Runcie’s supporters have praised him for increasing the district’s graduation rate, improving schools districtwide, and reaching out to minority communities. He came into the national spotlight after the massacre when some parents criticized him for programs they felt had been lenient toward the shooter.

Female Principals Are Paid Less Than Men, and That’s a Big Concern for the Profession

Better sit down before you read this. Female principals make about $1,000 less than their male counterparts annually, says new research—even when women and men are leading similar schools, get similar evaluations, and work about the same number of hours.

What’s driving that pay disparity isn’t clear. Factors that undergird salary differences in the private sector—discrimination and personal choices, for example—may explain some of the differences but not all, said Jason Grissom, a professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University and the lead author of the study.

Gender pay gaps have persisted in nearly all jobs for as long as there’s been pay. But, as Grissom points out, that disparity can have huge implications if not addressed and could lead to difficulty recruiting women or keeping them in the profession if they feel undervalued. And that turnover has a negative impact on staff and students as well as financial consequences for districts that invest in principal preparation.

“There’s (also) a basic fairness issue, even when there are not policy consequences,” Grissom said. “You have to worry about any case where it appears that workers are being treated differently (and) their compensation is different based on … gender, ethnicity, race, and so forth.”

The percentage of women in school leadership has been rising, but women still account for a far smaller share of principals than teachers. Nearly 80 percent of teachers are female; just a little more than half of principals are.

“There is a representation gap, and factors like compensation might contribute to that,” Grissom said.

Grissom and his colleagues looked at Missouri principal data from 1991 to 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey for 1999-2000 and 2011-12, and a sample survey from the National Teacher and Principal Survey from 2015-16.

Even though the pay gap shrank, analysis of the Missouri data found female principals earned about $1,450 less annually than men during the period studied. On the national front, men earned $1,000 more than their female colleagues.

To Get Remaining COVID-19 Funding, States and Districts Must Provide In-Person Learning Details

The remaining COVID-19 aid provided through the American Rescue Plan is coming with a price: States and districts must detail how they plan to meet federal recommendations for safe in-person learning, the U.S. Department of Education said last week.

In particular, schools must show how, with the help of the money, they will address guidance that calls for social distancing, classroom cohorting, and other precautions. States also must set out how they will help schools in meeting those recommendations, the agency said in interim final regulations.

One move that’s likely to spark pushback: how schools intend to address universal mask-wearing.

The American Rescue Plan provided $122 billion in aid for schools—a sum designed to help them offer safe in-person instruction and address concerns presented by more than a year of pandemic-related interruptions.

Citing the urgency to move forward, the Education Department released two-thirds of that aid last month. As a condition of receiving the remaining $41 billion, districts must publicize detailed, regularly updated plans on how they expect to spend it—with input from students, parents, educators, and civil rights organizations, among others.

Also, states must:

  • Outline strategies, priorities for spending and the data to back them up, and priorities for supporting “underserved students.”
  • Describe data and strategies to assess the pandemic’s impact on academics, social-emotional well-being, and mental health.
  • Explain what data they track on whether schools are operating in person. They must also detail what instructional model schools plan to use next school year.

And plans must:

  • Set forth how states and districts used or intend to use previous relief aid and how they will coordinate it with other federal funds.
  • Describe how they will target aid to address lost learning time, support summer learning and after-school programs, and address emergency needs.
  • Explain how funds will be used to support educators, address teaching shortages, and hire staff to address students’ social and emotional needs.

Supreme Court Justices Call for More Civics Education

Lousy is a good word to describe students’ grasp of civics—at least based on scores from the “Nation’s Report Card.” Now, from the nation’s highest echelons, come two U.S. Supreme Court justices who have renewed their calls for improving civics education for the very sake of the republic.

“Our democracy is at risk not only from foreign but from domestic enemies,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during a recent online discussion sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

“Democracies crumble from within,” said Justice Neil Gorsuch. “And there becomes a hunger for a certain faction to take over because they’re intolerant of others. They think they know the right answer and others do not.”

Sotomayor is among the more liberal members of the court, while Gorsuch is conservative on many issues. But both have worked on civics education initiatives since they joined the high court.

But the online session this month was the first since the contentious 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. The justices did not discuss those events in detail, but they referred more than once to the deep political divisions in the country.

“We had one of the highest turnouts in voting in the last election,” said Sotomayor. “Yet, at the same time, we see some of the cracks in our system. We have a great deal of partisan, very heated debate going on. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can turn into an awful thing.”

She also noted that STEM education gets about $50 per pupil in federal funding each year, while civics education gets just 5 cents.

Said Gorsuch: “If we don’t tend to the garden of democracy and the conditions that make it ripe, it’s not an automatic thing” that it will survive, he said. “And our enemies know this even if we don’t.”

‘1619 Project’ Inspires History-Grant Proposal

The federal government is forbidden from intruding on the content that schools teach. That doesn’t mean it can’t—or doesn’t—try to influence the curriculum.

Last year, it was the Trump administration pushing “patriotic education.” This year, it’s the Biden administration promoting a grant program for history and civics education that would prioritize instruction accounting for bias, discriminatory policies in America, and the value of diverse student perspectives.

In describing the basis for the new grant priority for American History and Civics Education programs, the administration cites the scholar and anti-racism activist Ibram X. Kendi, as well as the 1619 Project, a New York Times project that highlights slavery and its legacy as a central element in America’s story.

The administration is also proposing to make information literacy a priority for the civics- and history-grant program.

Not much money is involved, relatively speaking. For this fiscal year, American History and Civics grants receive $5.3 million in federal funding, out of a roughly $74 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Education. Still, the proposal is a high-profile development in a polarized debate over what K-12 students should be taught about the country’s past and present.

Disagreements about how or whether educators should address the concepts of systemic racism, inequities in American society, and related issues grew more prominent last year, when President Donald Trump created the 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education” and to push back on what Trump and his supporters called radical ideas that subverted core American values.

When President Joe Biden took office, he scrubbed the 1776 Commission.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in eight states are mulling legislation that may restrict teachers’ ability to discuss racism, sexism, and bias in their classrooms. And three states also considered banning the 1619 Project from schools.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Evie Blad, Staff Writer; Denisa R. Superville, Assistant Editor; Andrew Ujifusa, Assistant Editor; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed