Education

Briefly Stated: July 13, 2022

July 13, 2022 9 min read
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Biden Administration Tightens Regulations for Charter Funding

Want federal funding for your new charter school? Then you’ve got new words to live by.

Incoming charters will have to gather community input and prove they aren’t managed by a for-profit company to receive that money under the Biden administration’s final charter school program rules.

Since the proposed rules were first published for public comment in March, charter advocates have spoken out against them, arguing they place unnecessary obstacles in the way of new charter schools. The final rules, published July 1, eased some of the concerns and continued to draw support from those who’d like to see government regulation of charters.

The rules place tighter restrictions on the federal grant that funds charter schools in their first three years of operation. The upcoming grant process will provide $77 million for charter schools, said Anna Hinton, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s charter school program.

The administration’s goal in issuing the new rules is to prevent private companies from using federal dollars to open charter schools and to curb premature closures. Of the charter schools that receive program funding, 15 percent either never open or close before the three-year grant period is over.

The new rules place a heavy emphasis on public engagement. Schools must demonstrate the need for a new school in the area. Applicants must also demonstrate that the new school wouldn’t negatively affect school desegregation efforts in the community.

The final rules also remove language that indicated charter applicants would be required to partner or collaborate with a traditional public school.

Charter school applicants will have to prove they are not under the control of a for-profit company and divulge if they have or plan to contract with a for-profit education management organization. If schools do plan to contract with a for-profit organization, they’re required to include all the details of their contract in their application.

From 2006 to 2017, the Education Department awarded grants to about 3,100 schools through the program, according to the office of elementary and secondary education. Around 7,700 charter schools were operating in 2021, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Country’s Largest Teachers’ Union Calls for Curbing School Policing, Earmarks Funds to Tackle Violence

End the “criminalization and policing of students.” That’s what National Education Association delegates underscored in response to a yearlong task force exploration of law enforcement’s role in education.

But they stopped short of calling for the removal of armed officers on school campuses in the union’s new policy statement adopted by the representative assembly this month. Instead, the statement advocates restorative justice, culturally competent professional development, family and community engagement, and the elimination of inequities in student discipline and the policing of students on campus.

An accompanying report does warn that the presence of uniformed, armed law enforcement and security personnel at school contributes to the criminalization and policing of students. It also emphasizes that students of color are disproportionately affected.

The union’s stance on school police has evolved over the years. After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, the NEA supported federal efforts to fund more armed police officers in schools. Yet last year, NEA delegates confirmed their opposition to the use of federal funds to create, maintain, train, and grow a law-enforcement presence on school campuses.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of police, a small number of districts began to reconsider their use of school resource officers. From May 2020 through June 2022, at least 50 districts serving over 1.7 million children ended their school policing programs or cut their budgets, according to an Education Week analysis.

But school shootings, including the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, have caused some to restart their programs and other districts to bolster them, despite limited evidence of their effectiveness in preventing such tragedies.

In addition to updating the union’s approach to school police, delegates also attempted to tackle the spate of gun violence that has impacted schools and made educators increasingly fearful about their safety and that of their students.

They voted nearly unanimously to coordinate a “unified response” to protect schools and communities from gun violence. The measure will cost nearly half a million dollars.

As Civic Strife Intensifies Across Nation, R.I. Students Earn Opportunity for Enhanced Civics Instruction

Amid all the political divisiveness rocking the nation, could this have come at a better time?

A Rhode Island lawsuit widely watched for its potential influence on civic education has been settled, averting escalation to the U.S. Supreme Court and setting up a new system to guide civics instruction in the state.

Under terms of the agreement, by Sept. 1, Rhode Island’s education department will form a task force, including students, to shape the state’s new approach to civic education.

The state will also establish a “seal of civic readiness” diploma for graduating seniors who excel in civics and complete a capstone project fusing research with civic action. In addition, the state will launch an award program that districts can use to recognize middle school students for achievement in “civic readiness.”

The agreement arrives on a roiling landscape for curriculum and instruction. In the last couple of years, many states have enacted legislation that restricts what teachers can say about topics such as race and gender, which often dovetail with history and civics education.

Right now, for instance, Broward County teachers who attended a Florida education department workshop expressed alarm that a new state civics initiative designed to prepare students to be “virtuous citizens” is infused with a Christian and conservative ideology. Among other things, trainers told teachers the nation’s founders did not desire a strict separation of state and church. Meanwhile in Texas, a group of educators unsuccessfully proposed describing slavery in 2nd grade materials as ‘involuntary relocation.’

The class action in Rhode Island represented one of the handful of cases that have sought, so far unsuccessfully, to establish a right to education in the U.S. Constitution. In this case, lawyers sought to establish students’ entitlement to the basic tools and skills they need to participate effectively in a democracy.

Michael Rebell, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, said that while the lawsuit failed to establish that right, it has helped elevate the need for good civic education and created a mechanism for change in Rhode Island, an issue he plans to pursue in other states.

Rebell said he plans to pursue the issue in state courts, because more than 30 states have established, through their constitutions or court rulings, a right to education.

Longer Bus Rides to School Tied to Chronic Absenteeism

Getting taken for a ride, well, it takes a toll on students.

Attending a high-quality school often means taking that longer bus ride for some students, who must travel outside their regular attendance zones.

But a new study suggests those school choices could set up a barrier to students’ success, rather than bolster it. It found that long bus rides pose a disproportionate burden on Black students and may significantly increase chronic absenteeism.

Researchers at Temple and Syracuse universities tracked data from 2011 to 2017 on the morning commutes of 120,000 bus riders in grades 3-6 in New York City. Though the study found no difference in test scores between students with longer and shorter (30 minutes or less) bus rides, there was a significant difference in absenteeism. The study found an absenteeism rate of 12 percent among students with exceptionally long rides—more than an hour long.

And absenteeism, according to Attendance Works, can, for example, lead to reading difficulties as early as the 3rd grade or missing educational milestones, like graduating from high school. Chronic absenteeism is affecting more than 8 million students across the country, the organization’s research has found.

“We really feel like this highlights the importance of transportation policy,” said Temple’s Sarah A. Cordes, who conducted and co-authored the study.

Although the new data focus on the nation’s largest, and arguably most urban district, long bus rides are a concern across the country, particularly in rural areas.

In the New York study, Black students accounted for only 27 percent of all bus riders in the study sample, but they represented more than 43 percent of those with long bus rides. Researchers said their findings echo previous studies, which have found that Black students tend to live in neighborhoods with fewer high-quality schools.

Jailed Students Set Up to Fail by Fragmented State Policies

States’ juvenile-justice systems apparently are doing a shoddy job of educating students. So concludes a scathing new report from Bellwether Education Partners.

That failure is directly linked to fragmented governance policies and a lack of accountability within the juvenile-justice education system, says the report. Bellwether reviewed policies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico focusing on governance, accountability, and funding. It found inconsistencies in all three areas. The result, the authors conclude, is a confusing and inefficient system that fails to offer a stable education to some of the nation’s most vulnerable youth.

In 2019 alone, there were nearly a quarter of a million instances of young people detained or committed to a juvenile facility, according to the report. Black and Native American students are disproportionately incarcerated, as are LGBTQ students and those with disabilities. Many spend time in short-term detention centers or state-run facilities while they await adjudication.

After being released from state custody, only 16 percent return to school, according to a 2016 study. These young people are also far less likely to graduate compared with their nonincarcerated peers.

Some of the challenges to providing even a basic education to incarcerated students are inherent in the juvenile-justice system.

The unpredictability of life in juvenile-justice centers, for example, leads to an unstable learning environment. Classrooms in such facilities often cluster students from different grade levels. And there is no telling how long a child will be in a locally run juvenile detention center awaiting adjudication or in a state-run secure facility after being deemed delinquent. Finally, students can get pulled out for court dates, probation officer appointments, or other bureaucratic responsibilities that further disrupt their learning.

“Right now, we basically abdicate responsibility for their learning collectively as an education sector,” said Hailly Korman, a senior associate partner at Bellwether and one of the report’s authors.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Catherine Gewertz, Senior Contributing Writer; Williamena Kwapo, Newsroom Intern; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Libby Stanford, Reporter; Tribune News Service; and Madeline Will, Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the July 13, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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