A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie state. To add a recipient please click here
29th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie State.

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Academics build case for universal pre-K expansion in Chicago
A new study has linked opening full-day preschool classrooms closer to where students live with increased enrollment and academic outcomes through second grade, particularly for Black students and those living in low-income areas. The findings, from researchers based at NORC at the University of Chicago, Start Early, and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, which measure six years of Chicago Public Schools administrative data leading up to the pandemic, come as the city’s preschool programs stand at a crossroads. Steep drops in enrollment, especially for Black 3- and 4-year-olds, broadly unsettled parents, educators and policymakers last fall. The district plans to open 62 new classrooms in the coming months as it advances toward its goal of universal pre-K, but is having trouble persuading parents to enroll their children. NORC senior research scientist Stacy Ehrlich discusses the findings in depth.
ISBE puts Red Hill on probation for relaxing mask mandate
Red Hill Community School District Unit 10 has been put on probation by the Illinois State Board of Education for relaxing its mask guidance. The state gave Red Hill a hearing date for July 8th, to which the district has 60 days to submit a “corrective plan” to the regional superintendent and state superintendent. State law says after a year of probation, if the school doesn’t comply with the state, the actions the state could take include closing the school. Red Hill sits in state Rep. Adam Niemerg’s district; he said local taxpayers want local control of their schools. “If the [Illinois Department of Public Health] and the ISBE is going to sit there dictatorially through the governor and impose these mandates, what’s the point of local control at all,” he added.
District 207 school board approves $26,000 in merit pay for superintendent
The superintendent of Maine Township High School District 207 was recently awarded a $26,000 increase in pay by the board of education. The $26,000 in merit pay is tied to Wallace meeting a series of annual goals, spokesman Brett Clark said, ranging from continuing student equity work, integrating career services for students and providing “high impact instruction” during the pandemic, to advancing competency-based education and improving community communication strategies. The district has also approved a new five-year contract with Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Kalou.
NCES: 3% school enrollment drop is largest decline in over two decades
According to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, public school enrollment in 2020-21 fell by 3% compared to the previous year, marking the largest decline since the start of this century, according to researchers. The changes were concentrated in pre-K, which saw a 22% decrease, and kindergarten, which experienced a dip of 9%. Changes also differed by grade groupings, with a 13% decrease in pre-K and kindergarten, a 3% decrease in grades 1-8, and a slight increase of 0.4% in grades 9-12. NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr in a statement called the numbers "preliminary but concerning," noting the enrollment decreases were "widespread and affected almost every single state and every region of the country." Mississippi and Vermont had the largest declines at 5%, according to the NCES analysis, with Washington, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Maine trailing not far behind at 4% or more.  The District of Columbia, South Dakota and Utah saw the smallest enrollment drops, at less than 1%. Illinois was the only state to not submit data. 
Supreme Court declines case challenging transgender bathroom rights
The Supreme Court has rejected a request from the school board of Gloucester County, Virginia to reinstate its policy barring a transgender boy from using the boys’ bathroom. An appeals court had ruled that the policy violated the Constitution and a federal law by prohibiting the student, Gavin Grimm, from using the same bathrooms as other boys. The school said Mr. Grimm could use a private bathroom. As is the court’s practice, it gave no reasons for declining to hear the appeal. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted the school board’s petition seeking Supreme Court review. The court's action puts an end to Mr. Grimm's seven-year fight against the district. Beginning in his freshman year in high school, he identified as male and began taking hormones. “I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” he said. “Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”
Juul to pay North Carolina $40m over claims it targeted youth
Juul Labs has agreed to pay North Carolina $40m to settle the first of a spate of lawsuits brought by states and localities claiming the e-cigarette company’s marketing practices fueled widespread addiction to nicotine among young people and created a new public health problem. Thirteen other states, including California, Massachusetts and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, have filed similar lawsuits. The central claim in each case is that Juul knew, or should have known, that it was hooking teenagers on pods that contained high levels of nicotine. “North Carolina is now the first state in the nation to hold Juul accountable for its instrumental role in creating a youth vaping epidemic, “ said Attorney General Josh Stein after a Monday morning court hearing on the settlement. The money will be used to help teens who are addicted to Juul products, as well as preventive programs, he added.
U.S. states apply in numbers for accountability waivers
At the start of the year, the U.S. Department of Education made the decision to entertain waiver requests from the Every Student Succeeds Act’s requirements governing school and district accountability for the 2020-21 school year. The waivers mean relief from requirements that state and local officials identify and develop interventions for certain low-performing schools, such as those with relatively low graduation rates. Forty-one states, the Bureau of Indian Education, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have received waivers using a template released by the Department in early March for relief from certain accountability mandates.
Lawmakers show division on instruction around racism
During a Thursday hearing held by the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona deflected questions about the federal government’s influence in civics curriculum regarding the history of racism, calling attention to the issue as “politics more than programming.” “I do believe that students learn best when they are exposed to curriculum that show different cultures and how we can come together as one country under one flag,” Cardona said. “I believe that's possible, and I have confidence that the educators across the country know how to do it, can do it and will do it, if given the ability to do so.” A recent review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute of states’ civics standards found, in general, there’s a “basic disagreement about how to tell the American story and determine what’s most important for young people to learn.” Several states have recently banned the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts, while some other states are promoting the instruction of the history of racism and anti-racist themes.

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