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New Data About Schools; Teacher Walkouts Spread

LA Johnson

This week, we're digging through federal data and cruising YouTube to bring you the most relevant education news.

New federal data: Black students disproportionately punished, arrested

Nearly every public school in the country reports to the Education Department's Office of Civil Rightson issues ranging from bullying to discipline to access to advanced courses. The latest data show that in the 2015-2016 school year, African-Americans, students with disabilities, Native American and Pacific Islander students were all referred to law enforcement and arrested at rates much higher than their peers. Black students make up 15 percent of those enrolled in public schools, but 31 percent of those referred to law enforcement or arrested.

Black students, particularly boys, were also much more likely to be suspended or expelled and to be physically restrained (which happens most often to students with disabilities). Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering scrapping Obama-era guidance meant to counter these kinds of racial disparities in school discipline. Separately, last month the Office of Civil Rights began dismissing complaints en masse that it says place "an unreasonable burden" on the resources of that office.

And, a ProPublica/Mother Jones investigation found that the department has closed at least 65 school discipline investigations opened under the Obama administration without asking districts to make any changes, according to federal recordsreporters obtained.

New federal data: School shootings are extremely rare

Continuing with that OCR data release, the feds ask questions about "serious" disciplinary incidents. Across 96,360 schools in 2015-2016, 1.1 million of these serious incidents were reported, or about 11 per school. The vast majority, 73 percent, were physical attacks or fights; 98 percent of those involved no weapon. Nearly 240 schools reported a shooting, and 100 schools reported a school-related homicide of a student or staff member. Together, these two experiences touched one out of every 100,000 students, the report said.

New federal data: White and Asian kids overrepresented in algebra

Finally, in a separate issue brief, the Office of Civil Rights took a look at students' access to advanced math, science and engineering courses. About half of all eighth-grade students are white, but they make up 58 percent of those taking Algebra. Asian students are also overrepresented among those in algebra classes. This is considered an essential "gateway" course to prepare for STEM majors.

Teacher walkouts have spread to five states

Schools were closed in Arizona and Coloradothis week. Our poll with Ipsos found that the public is broadly sympathetic and that most believe teachers are not paid fairly. Outcomes of the walkouts have been mixed: West Virginians won a pay raise, Oklahoma teachers got a $6,000 increase but failed to get more despite a nine-day walkout, and Kentucky teachers were unable to reverse changes to their pension plans.

Southern Illinois University draws fire for "volunteer adjunct" posting

An unusual job listing made the rounds on social media this week:

Alumni of Southern Illinois University with doctoral degrees were invited to apply for three-year "zero-time," i.e. unpaid, "adjunct" positions in which they might teach, serve on graduate thesis committees or collaborate on grant proposals and research. Again, all for free.

Academics expressed dismay on Facebook and Twitter. The university's interim provost and vice chancellor responded, calling it a "pilot project" "to enhance — not replace — the work of our faculty."

In 2016, the university's president told The Chronicle of Higher Educationthat after years of budget woes, the system had 200 open positions, many on the faculty.

"Conjunction Junction" composer Bob Dorough dies at 94

Every good story must come to an and, I mean, an end. The musician behind such 1970s Schoolhouse Rock classics as "Three is a Magic Number" and "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" about the American Revolution has passed away. In his other life, Dorough was an experimental jazz performer who played with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker and once collaborated on an album with poet Allen Ginsberg.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
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