Trans Students, School Shooting, And Bill Gates Answers A Tough Question

Feb 18, 2018

It's been a difficult week for schools in this edition of our weekly roundup.

School shooting in Parkland, Fla.

At least 17 people were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School near Ft. Lauderdale, and many more injured, on Valentine's Day. The suspect is a 19-year-old former student who was reportedly expelled from the school. As we've reported, schools around the country have adopted procedures for active shooter situations. In a radio interview, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for Congressional hearings on the issue: "one of these shootings is one too many."

New Trump budget wish list has cuts to education

Last year, President Trump released a 2018 budget proposal with more than $9 billion in cuts to education. That didn't happen. Instead, there were two brief government shutdowns, followed by a two-year, $300 billion, soup-to-nuts spending deal signed on February 9.

Nevertheless, though Congress has essentially already written the checks for 2019, there is now a new, 2019 Trump budget proposal.

This one calls for around $4 billion in cuts to education, including $2 billion in cuts to teacher training and $1.2 billion from afterschool and summer learning programs. It also puts half a billion toward school choice.

Although it may seem like an empty exercise given events, think of this proposal as a preview of coming attractions — an indicator of desires amongst lawmakers that may find expression in other ways. Like the new Higher Education Act, currently under debate. Both the current HEA and this proposal would ax Public Service Loan Forgiveness going forward, among other new limitations on federal student aid.

Undocumented youth chose school, work because of DACA, study says

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has "had a significant impact" on the decisions of undocumented youth, in a way that benefits society at large. That's the conclusion of a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Compared to a control group, high school graduation rates among all DACA recipients increased by 15 percent after the change in the law, while college attendance increased by 25 percent among women only. In addition to going to school more often, DACA recipients also worked more.

Transgender student rights, revisited

The Education Department said this week that it will not intervene on behalf of transgender students who have been prohibited from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity. The news was first reported by Buzzfeed News and confirmed by NPR.

A year and a half ago, the Obama administration advised school districts that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of their gender identity under the Title IX civil rights law. The Education Department, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, quickly rescinded that guidance.

Now, spokesperson Liz Hill confirms the Department's position in a statement:

"Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity. Therefore the question is whether a student (regardless of gender identity) has been discriminated against on the basis of sex. Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. In the case of bathrooms, however, longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX."

Several courts have disagreed with that reading of the law. In a statement, Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign called the Department's inaction "reprehensible" and argued that "[its] failure to act conflicts with the law in multiple jurisdictions, including federal circuits, and further emboldens those who seek to discriminate against transgender students."

Court rules Alabama school district case "discriminatory"

A federal appeals court found that a mostly-white suburb, Gardendale, Ala., can't secede to form its own school district separate from more-diverse Jefferson County. The judges' opinion upheld the district court finding that:

"the Gardendale Board acted with a discriminatory purpose to exclude black children from the proposed school system."

The head of the school board said they would appeal and denied racial motivations for the move.

The county has been under federal oversight that originally dates back to a 1965 desegregation case.

According to the New York Times, which took an in-depth look at this case last fall, Gardendale's efforts are part of a trend toward resegregation: "Since 2000, at least 71 communities across the country, most of them white and wealthy, have sought to break away from their public-school districts to form smaller, more exclusive ones."

The Gates letter, vol. 10

On Tuesday, the Gates Foundation released its 10th annual letter, and this year, Bill and Melinda Gates used it to answer "The 10 Toughest Questions We Get." Question No. 2 is a doozy. They've spent billions of dollars on U.S. education (including supporting NPR's coverage). What do they have to show for it?

"A lot, but not as much as either of us would like," writes Bill. The Foundation has focused much of its attention on efforts to improve outcomes for high-schoolers, and Gates celebrates its role in pushing, many years ago, for a more honest grad-rate calculation. But he admits the Foundation also struggled in its efforts to improve struggling schools with top-down reforms.

"It's extremely hard to transform low-performing schools," Bill writes. "Overall they didn't perform as well as newly created schools."

In October, the Foundation announced a major shift in its education efforts. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote controversial new methods of evaluating teachers, for example, the Foundation said it would no longer invest directly in new evaluation initiatives. In this new letter, Melinda Gates makes clear they want to spend more time listening to teachers and school leaders and cultivating local solutions from the bottom-up.

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