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June 03, 2020 6 min read
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New Federal Regulations On Harassment, Assault Toughen Claims Process

Everyone knew it was coming. It was just a question of when. Well, the when has come, and it only took eight days for someone to sue U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education over new rules under Title IX.

Specifically, it’s the American Civil Liberties Union that’s challenging the provision in the federal law—which prohibits sex discrimination in education—relating to how K-12 schools, colleges, and universities must respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment.

In its suit, filed May 14, the ACLU essentially contends that the new rules make it more difficult for students to get institutions to investigate their claims of sexual assault or harassment. For instance, the rules say schools must respond to unwelcome treatment on the basis of sex that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it infringes on an individual’s education. Previously, the federal agency used a broader definition of conduct that is “severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive.”

The education community had been expecting the new rules since DeVos revoked Obama-era guidance in 2017. She set interim guidance while crafting a new policy “that better serves students and schools.” Among her concerns: due process rights for the accused.

Her timing for unveiling the new rules troubled many. In March, a coalition of 209 advocacy and education groups urged federal officials to pause efforts as the nation confronted the coronavirus pandemic. But the request fell on deaf ears.

While most of the controversy has focused on higher education institutions, the rules affect K-12, too. One change requires schools to respond to a complaint when they have “actual knowledge” of an incident rather than when they “reasonably should” have been aware of one.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, is among those who have panned the changes.

“This rule is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors,” she said. “This rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment—and that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug.”

State Chiefs, U.S. Education Secretary Clash Over CARES Act Aid for Private Schools

Nobody could accuse U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of being less than tenacious when it comes to trying to channel more taxpayer dollars into private schools.

This time around, the target is the so-called CARES Act, the COVID-19 relief package aimed at helping schools and districts, among many others. DeVos’ position is that the aid should benefit all private school students within local school district boundaries.

But state and local leaders have roundly criticized her plan. They’ve argued that congressional intent was to have the aid provide “equitable services” to disadvantaged and at-risk private school students—those typically eligible for such services under the main K-12 law—not private school students in general.

Advocates have also accused DeVos of exploiting the pandemic and CARES aid to shore up private schools fearful that they could be forced to close permanently, at the expense of traditional public schools.

The beef between DeVos and the Council of Chief State School Officers intensified over Memorial Day weekend, following her announcement that she would soon propose a rule to “resolve” the issue. She also seemed intent on taking her state counterparts down a peg. In her letter to the chiefs, she took direct aim at their motives as well as their understanding of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, citing K-12 leaders’ “reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers outside of their control.”

State leaders stood their ground. In a statement responding to DeVos’ letter, CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller repeated the group’s position that the secretary’s guidance was a misinterpretation of the CARES Act. Miller added that the department’s position “could significantly harm the vulnerable students who were intended to benefit the most from the critical federal COVID-19 education relief funds Congress has provided.”

First Early-Childhood Educator Wins National Teaching Award

It took nearly seven decades, but at last a preschool teacher has been named National Teacher of the Year.

Tabatha Rosproy is the first early-childhood educator to receive the national honor in the 68-year history of the program run by the Council of Chief State School Officers. She teaches in Winfield, Kan.

“I think for a long time, early-childhood educators have fought for the legitimacy our K-12 peers have, ... to be seen as professionals and be valued for the work we do,” she said. Receiving this honor feels like it’s a “huge step” forward for the field.

Rosproy teaches at Winfield Early Learning Center, a public preschool housed in a local retirement community and nursing home. The community members visit her classroom daily as “grandparent” volunteers, and the preschoolers visit the nursing home every day.

“At first, I was nervous to be named National Teacher of the Year during this pandemic because I wondered if I was able to make a difference,” she said. “Educators, families, and students are under so much stress, and here I am in this elevated position getting to represent them.”

Her message to teachers, she said, is that she sees the “hard work and the long hours and the innovation they’re putting in.”

Whole-Language Founder, Kenneth S. Goodman, Dies

Kenneth S. Goodman, whose influential theories of reading dominated the teaching of reading in grade school classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s, died in his Tucson, Ariz., home March 12. He was 92.

The cause of death was not COVID-19, said Yetta Goodman, his wife of 67 years and frequent research collaborator.

Whole-language instruction emphasized that students learn to read through immersion in books and eschewed traditional systematic teaching of phonics and spelling. During its heyday, it dominated U.S. teacher-preparation programs and curriculum guidelines alike. The philosophy was also extremely popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom.

“His greater legacy is undeniable. I bet you that in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, there’s hardly a teacher who went through a teacher education program anywhere in the country who didn’t encounter Goodman’s work,” said P. David Pearson, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

One reason whole language became so popular among teachers was because it emphasized teachers’ knowledge and skill in responding to student needs, rather than scripted programs and curricula—an appealing refuge during a period, beginning with the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, in which policymakers tended to look skeptically at teachers’ work. Whole language was also one of the clearest expressions of long-standing progressive education thinking in its embrace of the idea that learning should be student-centered rather than teacher-directed.

Much successive research has found that, contrary to Goodman’s ideas, skilled readers rely heavily on knowledge of letter-sound correspondences when learning new words. For many students, the alphabetic code must be explicitly taught, not incidentally discovered.

A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 2020 edition of Education Week

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