By Benjamin Wermund | 12/05/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Caitlin Emma, Mel Leonor, Kimberly Hefling and Michael Stratford
TRUMP'S CIVIL RIGHTS, SPECIAL EDUCATION PICKS TO FACE QUESTIONS: Two more Education Department nominees will undergo grilling by the Senate education committee this morning. While Kenneth Marcus, the president's pick to lead the department's Office for Civil Rights, and Johnny Collett, the nominee to be assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Service, are expected to get support from Republicans on the committee, they can both expect tough questions from Democrats.
- Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee's ranking member, plans to blast the Trump administration's approach to civil rights, including scrapping guidance aimed at protecting transgender students and rewriting rules for schools dealing with campus sexual assault. "Two of the nominees here today - to lead the Office for Civil Rights and the Special Education and Rehabilitative Services - will be in a position to continue these appalling policies, make them worse, or work with us to begin to reverse the damage," Murray will say, according to prepared remarks. "I am looking forward to hearing more today about which direction they plan to go."
- Marcus has worked in the civil rights office before, leading it briefly during the George W. Bush administration. During his tenure, he signed guidance telling school districts, colleges and universities they had to have Title IX grievance procedures and counselors. He also signed guidance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks telling schools they must prevent "race or national origin harassment commingled with aspects of religious discrimination against Arab Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish students." Marcus most recently worked as president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a group that combats anti-semitism, including on college campuses.
- Civil rights groups nonetheless are urging a "robust vetting." "Given actions taken by Secretary DeVos since she was sworn in, rumors about planned attacks on students' rights, and Mr. Marcus' own record, it is incumbent upon the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to ensure that Mr. Marcus fully answers all questions and demonstrates his willingness and ability to enforce the law and protect students from discrimination," the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote to senators.
- Murray plans to tell Marcus that "I have serious concerns about your ability to stand up to President Trump and DeVos and do the right thing for students," though she says she knows Marcus shares her goal of "halting discrimination on the basis of race ethnicity or religion."
- Marcus' views on Israel could draw some controversy. He is a vocal critic of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement - a growing campaign on college campuses to end the Israeli settlement of Palestinian territories. Marcus told Morning Education earlier this year that the movement is partially to blame for a rise in campus anti-Semitism. "When anti-Israel groups are active on college campuses, the environment for Jewish students often gets worse," he said in February. "If there is a student government resolution to boycott Israel ... there's a much higher likelihood that Jewish students will be called 'dirty Jew' or ... [other] derogatory terms."
- Dozens of professors signed a letter to Murray calling Marcus a bully, because of the way he has targeted the boycott movement. "His tactics dilute the definition of antisemitism so much that it becomes useless, and have contributed to widespread repression on college campuses, where students and faculty fear studying Palestinian history or advocating for Palestinian rights," said the letter, led by the Jewish Voice for Peace. The group is considered "the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States" by the Anti-Defamation League.
- Efforts to counter the movement more broadly have drawn complaints of First Amendment violations - a potential minefield, considering the attention campus free speech has drawn recently. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, filed a lawsuit earlier this month arguing a Kansas law that required a high school educator to sign an anti-boycott statement violates her First Amendment rights.
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the committee, plans to tell Marcus that he hopes he will recognize "the difference between the law, which is binding, and guidance, which is not," according to prepared remarks.
- Collett, who would lead the department's special education office, is not likely to draw as much scrutiny, though Murray plans to press him on his support for vouchers. She also plans to ask about criticism Kentucky faced for "allowing frequent use of seclusion and restraint in schools - often used on students with disabilities" during his time at the state's education department.
- Special education groups have said they are encouraged by the pick, however. Collett, who is director of special education outcomes at the Council of Chief State School Officers, previously served on the board of directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. The latter association, Alexander plans to say, "applauded [Collett] for having 'worked with stakeholders in the disability community at the local, state, and national levels.'" The hearing starts at 10 a.m. ET in 430 Dirksen. Watch a livestream here.
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U.S. FOURTH-GRADERS OUTPACED BY INTERNATIONAL PEERS IN READING: The average score of U.S. fourth-graders on an international reading test has declined since 2011 and isn't much different than it was in 2001. Meanwhile, education systems across the globe are outpacing the U.S. in fourth-grade reading. That's according to the latest results on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, also known as PIRLS, which documents the reading ability of fourth graders in 58 education systems worldwide. Check out the results.
- "Our fourth graders declined both in terms of their average score, as well as in their standing relative to other education systems," said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics - part of the Education Department's research arm that released today's results. "... Countries that were our peers have surpassed us, while some that used to do worse than us are now our peers."
- A dozen education systems scored higher than the U.S. in 2016, while just four education systems outperformed the U.S. in 2011. Education systems that performed similarly to the U.S. in 2011, but surpassed it five years later include Northern Ireland, Ireland, England and Chinese Taipei. Poland and Norway scored lower than the U.S. in 2011, but higher in 2016.
- The U.S. had a high percentage of fourth-graders who are considered "advanced," but that hasn't changed considerably over time. "Meanwhile, other education systems seem to be doing a better job of moving students from lower levels of achievement to higher levels of achievement," Carr said. That could mean the U.S. struggles with educational disparities more than other countries, she added.
- It's not all bad news for U.S. fourth-graders - they performed better on ePIRLS, a new international assessment of online reading, than they did on the traditional reading test. The U.S. was one of 16 education systems to participate in the first administration of the test. Just Singapore, Norway and Ireland out-performed the U.S. on the test, which assesses how well fourth-graders can read, understand and comprehend information online.
- "Our students seem to do a better job comprehending material and navigating content when they're asked to do it online, rather than on paper," Carr said. That includes ferreting out fake news, she said. Part of the test had students judge the credibility of information on a website, which U.S. fourth-graders were successfully able to do.
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COLORADO SCHOOL BOARD VOTES TO END VOUCHER PROGRAM: A closely watched court case over school vouchers is likely to come to an end after the Douglas County, Colo., school board voted unanimously Monday night to end the program and abandon its legal fight. The vote came just a month after the election of four new members, who had campaigned against the voucher program, changed the board's dynamics. The legal dispute stems from 2011, when the Douglas County board approved the use of vouchers that backers said expanded educational opportunities for students. In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court found the program was unconstitutional.
- The case was closely watched as voucher proponents' next best shot at scrapping provisions in 39 state constitutions that prohibit public money from flowing to religious institutions, including schools. The fight had wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in July vacated the state supreme court's ruling and ordered it to reconsider in light of the high court's ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer. In that case, the Supreme Court determined Missouri officials wrongly denied the church a grant to reimburse the cost of repaving its preschool playground "simply because of what it is - a church."
A DEAL TO SELL DEVRY UNIVERSITY: Adtalem, parent company of DeVry University, has struck a deal to sell the school to a smaller company. Adtalem announced on Monday that it's reached an agreement to transfer ownership of DeVry and the company's Keller Graduate School of Management to Cogswell Education LLC. The San Jose, Calif.-based company operates Cogswell College, which enrolls roughly 600 students.
- Cogswell won't pay any money up front to acquire DeVry, but it will have to shell out up to $20 million to Adtalem over the next 10 years based on the school's future performance. Lisa Wardell, president and CEO of Adtalem, said in a statement that the sale will allow the company "to focus on its remaining institutions across our three key verticals: medical and healthcare, technology and business, and professional education."
- The move is the latest upheaval in the for-profit college industry that was a prime target of the Obama administration and remains in the crosshairs of state attorneys general and some federal agencies. Even as DeVos has delayed Obama-era regulations that targeted the sector, the industry still faces serious economic headwinds in some cases, especially declining enrollment. Michael Stratford has more.
TRUMP ADMIN FOLDS ON LIVESTREAMING RULE-MAKING NEGOTIATIONS: The Education Department reversed course on Monday and decided to allow members of the public to livestream the negotiations over its rewrite of the Obama-era "gainful employment" regulation. Greg Martin, a career department official, told members of the rulemaking panel that upon "further discussion and on advice of counsel," the agency has decided it won't block livestreaming of the negotiating sessions.
- "The department continues to have serious reservations about the livestreaming taking place," Martin said. But, he added, it wouldn't seek to add a provision into the committee's protocols to prohibit livestreaming. That's a contrast to how the department resolved a similar debate during a separate negotiation session last month.
- Department officials previously indicated they opposed livestreaming of the sessions because negotiators did not have advance notice of it. Representatives of for-profit colleges on the panel raised similar concerns, saying they feared the talks would become a "public spectacle." Meanwhile, negotiators representing consumer advocates, community colleges and public universities, as well as the Maryland attorney general's office, argued in favor of livestreaming. Michael Stratford has more here and here.
AP STORY ON SEGREGATED CHARTER SCHOOLS TOUCHES A NERVE: A story by The Associated Press documenting that charter schools are among the nation's most segregated, generated a flood of social media commentary Monday - particularly from charter school advocates who took strong issue with its conclusions. The story said that national enrollment data show that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. "The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds," the story said.
- Shavar Jeffries, president of the Democrats for Education Reform, said the story raises important issues, while advancing "the peculiar assertion that public charter schools, which serve only six percent of the nation's public school students, are the driving force behind segregated schools."
- Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents historically black colleges and universities, was critical of the underlying assertion that segregation correlates with low achievement. "This article frustrates me," he tweeted. "If you believe charter school 'isolation' hurts students b/c they enroll high % of one minority group, what do you say about HBCUs? @tmcf_hbcu students shouldn't abandon their schools because their classmates look like them!"
- Advocates of traditional public schools, meanwhile, pounced on the findings as fresh ammunition for their cause. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted: "This data from the @AP is damning. America's children deserve better."
ICYMI: HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATE REACHES NEW HIGH: The national high school graduation rate ticked up to 84.1 percent for the 2015-16 school year, up from 83.2 percent the previous year. That's according to new data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Institute of Education Sciences - the Education Department's research arm. Four-year graduation rates were up across the board for most subgroups of students. Check out the data.
- What some wonks are thinking: "I want to be excited about this, and it's good that the national rate is going up for all groups of kids. But the @wamu885news @npr_ed reporting on the Ballou travesty reminds me to take these numbers with a grain of salt," tweeted Scott Sargrad, a former Obama administration education official who's now managing director of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress.
- Sargrad was referring to a recent story about D.C.'s Ballou Senior High School, which earned national attention for having every student graduate and get accepted into college. An investigation by WAMU and NPR, however, found that half of the graduates earned diplomas despite missing more than three months of school, unexcused.
- Former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. - who now leads The Education Trust, a nonprofit - cheered the improvements in a statement but noted that gaps persist:
"Although students of color and low-income students are graduating at higher rates, we must be mindful that there are still significant gaps for historically underserved students which translate into lost potential for our communities and our country. The urgent work to close these graduation rate gaps must be a national priority."
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
- Bob Moran will serve as education policy director for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Moran previously served as deputy policy director for education for the committee, focusing on higher education policy with a specialty in financial aid policy. Kimberly Hefling has more.
- Natalie Boyse has started as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Education. She was most recently the deputy finance director at the MassGOP and is an alumna of Marco Rubio's and Mitch Romney's presidential campaigns and POOLHOUSE, an ad agency in Richmond, Va.
- The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, has hired Denise Forte as a senior fellow focused on education policy. Forte comes from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she served as staff director for the minority.
REPORT ROLL CALL
- The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, says in a new report that when Philadelphia banned out-of-school suspensions for minor disciplinary infractions, the academic performance of students in high-poverty schools who had never been suspended declined. Fordham is opposed to a 2014 Obama administration directive that sought to ensure low-income students, minority students and students with disabilities aren't disciplined, suspended out-of-school and expelled more often than their white, more affluent peers. Fordham wants DeVos to rescind that directive.
- The RAND Corporation is out with a study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation on opportunities for states and districts to support social and emotional learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The study includes a review of more than 60 social and emotional learning interventions in U.S. schools.
- Supreme Court lets Trump fully impose latest travel ban: POLITICO.
- 'Is Greek life worth saving?' U.S. News & World Report.
- Getting schooled by Oracle: The New York Times.
- Minority-serving institutions worry about tax bill: Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
- Robot to give a talk at Indiana university: Indy Star.
- Teaching LGBT history in California complicated by historical figures who didn't 'out' themselves: EdSource.
- In schools, a growing push to recognize Muslim and Jewish holidays: The Washington Post.
The Pro Education team, singing to us from the trees. @caitlinzemma (email@example.com), @khefling (firstname.lastname@example.org), @mstratford (email@example.com ) and @BenjaminEW (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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