Education

Briefly Stated: June 2, 2021

June 01, 2021 8 min read

Fla. Judge Reinstates Cops Fired in Wake of Parkland Massacre

Looks like a technicality has saved the jobs of two deputies who were fired for inaction during the high school mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018.

Broward County Circuit Judge Keathan Frink concluded last month that arbitrators were correct in ruling last year that the fired deputies, Brian Miller and Joshua Stambaugh, should get their jobs back—with back pay and other benefits to boot.

One arbitrator ruled in September that Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony acted 13 days too late when he fired Stambaugh in 2019 for his conduct during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The shooting left 17 dead.

State law says discipline against law-enforcement officers must occur within 180 days of an investigation’s completion. Another arbitrator reinstated Miller last May, saying Tony had missed that deadline by two days.

The sheriff’s office appealed both decisions.

Lori Alhadeff, who joined the school board less than a year after the shootings, said her daughter Alyssa and 16 others are no longer alive because of the inaction and failures of many, including Miller and Stambaugh.

“It is painful for me to once again see that there is no accountability,” Alhadeff said.

Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, had another take. He said the judge’s decision solidifies the position that Miller and Stambaugh were terminated improperly.

The sheriff’s office noted that the union’s victory was based on a procedural technicality and reaffirmed its position that Miller and Stambaugh do not deserve to have their jobs back.

A state investigative commission found that Stambaugh was working an off-duty shift at a nearby school when he responded to reports of shots fired at Stoneman Douglas. He got out of his truck, put on his bulletproof vest, and took cover for about five minutes after hearing the shots, according to body-camera footage. Stambaugh then drove to a nearby highway instead of going toward the school.

Miller was the first supervisor to arrive at the school, getting there in time to hear three or four shots, records show. Investigators found that Miller took his time putting on a bulletproof vest and hid behind his car.

American Students and NAEP Science Scores: Results From 2019 Performance Aren’t Pretty

Pick a subject—it doesn’t seem to matter. When it comes to taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress, most students aren’t meeting high bars.

This time around, the subject was science, and fewer than 1 in 4 high school seniors and only a little more than a third of 4th and 8th graders performed proficiently in 2019, test results out last week show.

Since the assessment was last given in science in 2015, 4th graders’ performance has declined overall, while average scores have been flat for the older students.

The percentage of 4th graders performing below the basic achievement level in science rose significantly in the past decade, to 27 percent, while the percentage at or above the “proficient” level fell in the same time, to 36 percent. The proportions for grades 8 and 12 stayed the same: A third of 8th graders were “below basic,” and slightly more were at or above proficient, while nearly twice as many 12th graders fell below basic as met the proficient benchmark, 41 percent to 22 percent, respectively.

Nearly 90,000 students from more than 3,900 schools participated in the assessment, the first digitally-based administration of the science test. It included both interactive simulations in which students worked through scientific investigations by computer and hybrid hands-on tasks using kits provided by NCES.

In grades 4 and 8, scores declined from 2015 for lower-performing students in all three science content areas: physical, life, and earth and space science. In grade 12, physical and life science scores fell while earth and space scores were flat.

Of course, it’s not hard to understand why students fared so poorly—at least in part. If you’ve never been exposed to the material, you’re unlikely to do well. An analysis of NAEP background data finds only about 40 percent of seniors had taken all the core science subjects of biology, chemistry, and physics during high school.

Fifty-five percent of 4th graders got less than three hours of science instruction per week in 2019, while 68 percent of 8th graders got at least four hours per week.

Rather Than Give Up Their Summer, N.M. Schools Reject Millions in Funding for Extended Learning

Find ways to help children improve academically, but don’t take away our summer.

That’s the message from teachers and parents in New Mexico, where public schools have rejected tens of millions of dollars in state funding for extending the school year.

Each “no” vote from local school boards has been a blow to the state legislature’s signature education initiative.

Years of research have found that adding days to the school year with the same teacher is more effective than summer school. The measure adds 25 days to the elementary school calendar for schools that opt in, which lawmakers hoped would boost dismal reading and math scores.

But even the parents of children who are behind opposed additional learning time, demanding that their summer be kept long.

The struggle to reimagine New Mexico’s education system has been further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic and what many have referred to as a lost year of learning.

Democratic legislative leaders wanted to make extra days mandatory statewide for the postpandemic year. Instead, they are requiring that of all students only at those schools that opted in.

Around twice as many children are expected to take part in programs this year, according to the education department. But many children will be left behind, regardless of how badly they need support.

Superintendents have cited various barriers to extending the school year. Teachers are a biggie.

“Teachers like to have their breaks. Teachers need that break to be able to replenish themselves to get ready for next year,” said West Las Vegas schools Superintendent Christopher Gutierrez, whose district opted to use federal funding for summer school and pass on state funding for extended learning.

Even before the pandemic, only 37 percent of the state’s students were proficient in reading, and less than one-quarter were proficient in math.

“The ones that are invested in their kids’ lives and education, they’ll be OK,” said Carlsbad school board member Simon Rubio. But other kids who were represented by parents at a recent meeting “don’t have a voice.”

This Isn’t Dorothy’s Kansas: Computer Science for Math

Not all that long ago, states and districts were talking about dumping foreign-language classes for computer science. Now, Kansas officials are going straight to the core. The state school board is mulling over swapping math and science classes for computer science classes as a graduation requirement.

The board last month heard from education department officials and technology-advocacy groups pushing for new standards for computer science classes that could sub in as one of four required core math classes or three required science classes.

Stephen King, the computer science education consultant for the Kansas education department, said the agency was making the recommendation after years of discussion.

A recent survey of nearly 60 school districts saw opinions split nearly even on the issue, but King said much of the opposition against allowing computer science to count toward graduation came from misunderstandings of how such a change would occur.

The computer science classes would simply be an option, he said. Local school boards would be allowed to substitute computer science courses for one unit of math or science, subject to the computer science courses following provisions on rigor.

Additionally, a computer science course that could count toward graduation would have to be more in-depth than many existing courses. Especially in an ever-changing industry, King said schools would have to ensure their courses directly address computational thinking, a skill that would help students adapt to any kind of computer-related career.

King noted that it would be up to each high school student, working in conjunction with their high school counselor in their individual plan of study, to consider if a computer science class would be worth their time in high school, especially if it could prevent them from taking another class.

Judge: District Chief Wrong to Keep School Doors Shut

The leader of Iowa’s largest school district violated his duty by not complying with a law intended to ensure students could learn in classrooms during the pandemic, an administrative-law judge has ruled.

Judge David Lindgren said during an Iowa Board of Educational Examiners hearing last month that Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart “violated an ethical duty to comply with all laws applicable to the fulfillment of his professional obligations as alleged.”

Still, the judge gave no timeline for when he would decide how or even if Ahart should be punished.

Regardless, Ahart is not coming back to the district since the Des Moines school board voted against extending his contract.

Ahart is facing potential penalties because the school board violated a state mandate early in the 2020-21 academic year that districts must offer at least half-time in-person learning. For two weeks to start the school year, Des Moines offered only virtual instruction.

After complaints were filed with the Board of Educational Examiners, the panel in March found that Ahart should surrender his administrator’s license or agree to a lesser punishment. Board members are appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, who repeatedly called for districts to offer in-person classroom learning and has been critical of districts that hesitated to reopen schools because of high COVID-19 infection rates.

Ahart appealed the state board’s decision. His lawyer, Dustin Zeschke, told the judge it was wrong to punish the superintendent for carrying out the school board’s instructions.

Its vice chairman, Rob Barron, agreed. Throughout the period, Ahart kept the board informed and carried out its decisions, Barron said. “Everything he did was what me and my colleagues told him to do. I should be over there at that table and not him.”

Jesse Ramirez, an assistant attorney general, told the judge that Ahart should be punished but doesn’t think his license should be revoked.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Maya Riser-Kositsky, Librarian and Data Specialist; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; Tribune News Service; and Andrew Ujifusa, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 02, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed