Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a big cheerleader for school choice. And way before she came into office, states around the country were adopting tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more.

So has all that translated into a big bonanza for school choice in states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans? Not really.

To be sure, ESSA isn’t a school choice law. School choice fans in Congress weren’t able to persuade their colleagues to include Title I portability in the law, which would have allowed federal funding to follow students to the public school of their choice.

However, the law does has some limited avenues for states to champion various types of school choice options. But only a handful of states are taking advantage of those opportunities, according to reviews of the plans by Education Week and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

School Improvement: At least 12 states say they want schools that are perennially low-performing to consider reopening as charter schools to boost student achievement. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

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School Safety Forum Held by Florida Senators Highlights Prevention, Security

School Safety Forum Held by Florida Senators Highlights Prevention, Security

Education Week logoWashington, DC — A school safety forum on Capitol Hill hosted by Florida’s U.S. senators focused on how to help students head off threats from their peers, and on improving security measures for schools, among other topics.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, also used the event here on Wednesday to tout their support for having the federal government offer states incentives to adopt “red flag” laws that prevent those who represent a threat to themselves or others from accessing or purchasing firearms, while preserving legal protetions for those individuals. Rubio and Nelson introduced a bill to this effect, the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act, last month, after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Advocates and public officials also emphasized the importance of communication at various stages to help address school violence, from making it easier for students to share their concerns with adults, to helping law enforcement respond to violent incidents more quickly.

Nicole Hockley, whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, highlighted the “Start With Hello” training program that helps children communicate with each other about their difficulties. The program is run by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group led by Hockley that works to prevent children from violence. “It sounds so simple. But the best programs are,” Hockley said.

And Indiana officials attending the session pointed to a school that’s become a model for new security measures, from bullet-resistant classroom doors to smoke bombs that can fill a hallway and disorient a school shooter. (The latter clocks in at a cost of $400,000.) Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said the state has emphasized “what we can do to harden our schools, but not make them a prison.”

In expressing interest in creating national school safety standards, Rubio pointed to the Americans With Disabilities Act that created national building standards to address the needs of people with disabilities. While he said the analogy to gun violence and school safety isn’t perfect, “It’s an indication of where federal policy could help over time.” He also expressed an interest in making it easier somehow for school leaders to discover “best practices” for safety, so that “they can hear from one another about what other places are doing…”

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LeVar Burton: America has sold its soul to special interests, and the Parkland students know it

LeVar Burton: America has sold its soul to special interests, and the Parkland students know it

By LaVar Burton for NBC News

I believe that it is possible that, in the annals of time — should our republic survive this period in history — America will be revealed to be the hollow, shallow shell of what the experiment was meant to be. The kids from Parkland, Florida are proving that it was and should always be the government of the people, by the people, for the people, and not the people with the most money.

But I think that America stopped being that place when we refused to acknowledge that this country was built on the backs of slave labor, and we decided that there would be no accountability for that. We stopped living up to that ideal when we began to delude ourselves that this nation had a manifest destiny to lead the world, but there would be no repercussions for slavery. That lie we told ourselves — that no accountability was and no repercussions were necessary — was the beginning of the downward slide to where we are now.


Protestors At ‘March For Our Lives’ Rally Push For Additional Gun Control

Protestors At ‘March For Our Lives’ Rally Push For Additional Gun Control

By ,Originally published by  The

An estimated several hundred thousand protesters gathered in Washington DC and in cities across the United States on Saturday to push for additional gun control legislation. At the demonstration in the nation’s capitol, a dozen celebrities were in attendance and several — Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato — took the main stage to perform.

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Will ‘March for Our Lives’ Win the Stricter Gun Laws Students Demand? – Education Week

Will ‘March for Our Lives’ Win the Stricter Gun Laws Students Demand? – Education Week

Education Week logoAt Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students walk daily past a quote painted high on an exterior wall: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

After 17 classmates and staff members died in Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school, some Stoneman Douglas students took that quote to heart. Less than than 24 hours after they were huddled in darkened classroom closets waiting for police to escort them to safety, they planted the seeds of a national movement that takes center stage Saturday at the March for Our Lives, when half a million people are expected to gather in Washington, D.C., to call for more restrictive gun laws.

Student organizers around the country have planned more than 800 coordinating events to coincide with the Washington march, including at least one in every state and on six continents. They estimate the events collectively could draw a million people.

But it remains to be seen if all the enthusiasm, and the coinciding media coverage, will lead to real policy change, especially on the federal level. There’s still a powerful gun lobby, the youth activists have ambitious policy demands that lawmakers have failed to pass many times before.

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COMMENTARY: What Kind of Nation Have We Become When We Fail to Protect Our Children?

COMMENTARY: What Kind of Nation Have We Become When We Fail to Protect Our Children?

In the wake of yet another mass slaughter of innocent Americans, I am writing to implore my colleagues in both the Congress and our state legislatures to go to CNN’s website and listen carefully to the words of a young American named Cameron Kasky. You can find his declaration of principle and truth on

This 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is demonstrating more courage, moral clarity and determination about the danger of unregulated guns in America (and, especially, the danger to us all of high-powered, military grade, semi-automatic weapons) than are many of the women and men with whom I serve.

As most Americans now know, on February 14 (Valentine’s Day), Cameron Kasky, his brother, Holden, and all of the students and teachers at their Parkland, FL, high school were forced to fear for their lives.  A deranged person had picked up a lawfully purchased AR-15, took it to the school, and methodically murdered 17 people, injuring another 14.

We also know that, in the era after the Columbine massacre of 1999 (13 dead and 24 injured), mass slaughters with semi-automatic weapons have become a harsh, terrifying and unacceptable reality of American life.

Just as we must redouble our efforts to reduce the violence in places like Chicago and Baltimore, we cannot – and we must not – forget the sense of loss and personal devastation that we felt after Virginia Tech (32 dead).  We cannot brush aside the primitive brutality of Binghamton, NY (14 dead), or Aurora, CO (12 dead), or Sandy Hook (the lives of 27 children and teachers methodically destroyed).

We must act.  Our national conscience and sense of security and self-worth cannot withstand any more breaking headlines – any more mass killings in San Bernadino, CA (14 killed), Orlando, FL (49 massacred),  Las Vegas, NV (58 killed and 546 injured), or Texas (26 killed).

Now, if you think that this partial listing of the butcher’s bill from our failure to adequately regulate semi-automatic weapons of war is incomplete, you are correct.  There is insufficient room in this newspaper to adequately remember all of the casualties from the gun violence that our nation has endured.

What should be heartening to us, however, is the determination and clarity that Cameron Kasky and young people across America are expressing in their challenge to their elected representatives, their governors and the President of the United States.

“At the end of the day,” Cameron observed in his CNN interview, “the students at my school felt one shared experience – our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools….”

“Our community just took 17 bullets to the heart,” he continued, “and it feels like the only people who don’t care are the people who are making the laws.”

I must agree.

There is no period of silence, no equivocating delay, no overreaching argument about the constitutional sanctity of our Second Amendment that is adequate to counterman a simple, compelling and unavoidable truth.

Cameron Kasky is speaking truth to power when he declares that, as a nation, we are failing to protect our people from this carnage.  Most unforgivable of all, we are failing to protect the lives of our school children.

Every last elected official in America, and every last citizen who voted for us (or failed to vote at all), bears a measure of responsibility for this failure and its bloody toll on human lives.  Yet, as Cameron Kasky also acknowledges, we are not all equally culpable.

“The truth,” he observed, “is that the politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. The Republicans, generally speaking, take large donations from the NRA and are therefore beholden to their cruel agenda. And the Democrats lack the organization and the votes to do anything about it.”

We, who have been elected to serve and protect our Constitution and the American People, can only stand before this challenge, acknowledge our failures and seek to reclaim our honor.

As a first honest step, we can acknowledge that before the federal assault weapons ban expired, it did not stop all killings, but it did significantly reduce the carnage.  We who serve in the Congress have the power, right now, to renew those protections.

The proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2018 [H.R. 5087], sponsored by my colleague, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, now has more than 173 co-sponsors.  Senator Diane Feinstein’s companion bill [S.2095] has 29.  I, along with all of Maryland’s Democratic Delegation, am fighting for its passage.

However, in proof of Cameron Kasky’s indictment, there are no Republicans in support of these modest, protective measures, only a few Republicans support strengthened background checks, and a Republican House and Senate leadership, beholden to the NRA, is denying us the ability to even have a floor debate and up-or-down vote.

Nevertheless, I am cautiously optimistic that the will of the American People will prevail.  A recent Quinnipiac opinion poll found that 67 percent of Americans (including 43 percent of Republicans) now favor an assault weapons ban.  Even more encouraging, the young people of our nation (along with many of us who are older) are mobilizing.

This growing movement for greater safety, security and sanity in our national discussion about guns – this March for Our Lives – will be bringing upwards of 500,000 Americans to Washington, DC, on March 24th – with companion marches across the nation, including here in Baltimore.  For more information, go to on your Web browser.

Even if you can’t march on the 24th, please remember this.  Our Constitution (including its Second Amendment) was not designed to be a collective suicide pact.  It was designed to protect the safety, as well as the liberty, of the American People.

Above all else, and whatever political obstacles may be placed in our path, we must protect our nation’s children.  Our sacred oaths and honor demand that – and more.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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Nationwide Student Walkouts Planned To Protest Gun Violence

Nationwide Student Walkouts Planned To Protest Gun Violence

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From Maine to Hawaii, thousands of students planned to stage walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Organizers say nearly 3,000 walkouts are set in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Students from the elementary to college level are taking up the call in a variety of ways. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they’ll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.

The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.

Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.

“Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence,” the group said on its website.

It’s one of several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

After the walkout Wednesday, some students in Massachusetts say they plan to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. Students and religious leaders are expected to speak at the rally and call on the gun maker to help curb gun violence.

At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders have organized a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students will line a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.

The walkouts have drawn support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which said it will pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts, and students will temporarily take over MTV’s social media accounts.

The planned protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline. Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.

In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia’s largest school systems announced that students who participate might face unspecified consequences.

But some vowed to walk out anyway.

“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.

The possibility of being suspended “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students,” said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High.

“For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for,” Kleinman said.

Other schools sought a middle ground, offering “teach-ins” or group discussions on gun violence. Some worked with students to arrange protests in safe locations on campus. Officials at Boston Public Schools said they arranged a day of observance Wednesday with a variety of activities “to provide healthy and safe opportunities for students to express their views, feelings and concerns.” Students who don’t want to participate could bring a note from a parent to opt out.

Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.

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Students take a ‘Deep Dive’ at Disney Dreamers Academy

Students take a ‘Deep Dive’ at Disney Dreamers Academy

ORLANDO, Fla. – Youth listened to inspirational speakers and got the chance to experience their future careers on second day of the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine on Friday.

The theme for the day was “Be 100: Great Risk. Great Reward.” Along with hearing inspirational speeches, Dreamers participated in hands-on workshops in various career fields around Walt Disney World.

The Dreamers attended the “Be 100 Breakfast” program in the morning where they learned valuable skills about networking and leadership.

Speakers during the day included former Disney Dreamers Academy alumnus and motivational speaker Princeton Parker and motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles.

Motivational Speaker Jonathan Sprinkles speaks at the Disney Dreamers Academy

[/media-credit] Motivational Speaker Jonathan Sprinkles speaks at the Disney Dreamers Academy

“We are starting a brand new decade of Disney Dreamers Academy and I believe we have a fresh new crop of special students who see more, they dream bigger,” Sprinkles said. “I believe we’re going to see some people get out here and change the world.”

Tracey D. Powell, Vice President of Deluxe Resorts and Disney Dreamers Academy Executive Champion, hosted programming during the day for parents.

In the afternoon the Dreamers participated in “Deep Dives” at Disney University and throughout the Disney Park. Dreamers were given a more personalized experience in small groups based on their career interests.

Sean Smith, 14, who is attending the Dreamers Academy from Basking Ridge New Jersey participated in a Deep Dive with engineers from Walt Disney World

“It’s really a lot of fun and I’ve met at of people,” he said. “The speakers were really inspiring and it changes you to hear their stories and makes you a better person. We’ve learned so much.”

Sean Smith participating in a "Deep Dive" at the Disney Dreamers Academy

[/media-credit] Sean Smith participating in a “Deep Dive” at the Disney Dreamers Academy

The day ended with a networking event where Dreamers were able to network with professionals including guest speakers and Disney executives and partners from

On Saturday, the Dreamers are splitting up into male and female groups to participate in sessions about image awareness.

Famed educator Dr. Steve Perry, Brandi and Karli Harvey, Dr. Alex Ellis and author Sonia Jackson Myles are also hosting presentations. There will also be a celebrity panel featuring former NFL player and businessman Emmitt Smith, singer Ne-Yo, Empire start Jussie Smollett and Ruth Carter, costume designer for the film Black Panther.

Dreamers will showcase what they learned and created during their “Deep Dives” in the evening.

COMMENTARY: Let Them March: Schools Should Not Censor Students – Education Week

COMMENTARY: Let Them March: Schools Should Not Censor Students – Education Week

By Kathleen Bartzen Culver & Erica Salkin

School administrators across the country have a choice to make this week. Judging from pre-emptive censorship efforts in two districts, some of them are going to get it wrong.

To mark the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students nationwide plan to walk out of school for 17 minutes to demand their state and local representatives address gun violence. Students, who are among the organizers of the ENOUGH National School Walkout on March 14 and a separate day-long National School Walkout on April 20, are using social media to rally classmates. In a statement posted to Instagram and Facebook, student organizers—who hail from more than a dozen states—call their joint efforts “part of an escalating force in a longer fight.”

Yet, in at least two school districts, administrators are seeking to silence student voices with threats of discipline. In a now-deleted public Facebook post, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes of the Needville Independent School District, near Houston, warned against student participation in any type of protest during school hours. He threatened a three-day suspension for any participating student because, he wrote in the post, students “are here for an education and not a political protest…”

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COMMENTARY: Parkland’s Student Activists Are Getting a Powerful Civics Lesson – Education Week

COMMENTARY: Parkland’s Student Activists Are Getting a Powerful Civics Lesson – Education Week

Education Week logoBy Jennifer L.M. Gunn

In a typical high school civics class, students learn about local and federal government and media literacy, as well as citizenship and participation. They might learn how to contact their local representative, use social media for advancing a cause, or debate an issue they feel strongly about. But few students—and only a small fraction of adult citizens for that matter—participate in a highly contentious national debate.

Mere weeks after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that killed 17 students and educators, the news cycle would normally be winding down. But this tragedy doesn’t seem to be fading from memory quite as fast as previous school shootings. The reason is obvious: Parkland’s teenage students aren’t staying quiet.

As mass shootings become a disturbing cultural norm, the country’s reaction seems to follow a familiar pattern. America collectively gasps. We watch footage of children filing out of a school, arms raised. We rage on Twitter. We share political memes, shaming or congratulating the nation’s lawmakers for their “thoughts and prayers” refrain. We make donations to whichever side we’re on. And then we move on. Until more bullets fly…

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