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Education News Round-Up

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April has been a busy month for education reform, and this week’s news round-up covers recent legislation aiming to make important changes.

The 2012 Race to the Top Fund Invests in Early Education Reform

The Race to the Top Fund is an initiative by the Obama Administration that allocated over $4 billion in grants to education reform and invites states to apply for funding to create their own education improvement plans. On April 9, the U.S. Department of Education announced that $133 million would be released this year specifically for early education reform efforts. This money is from the Race to the Top Fund’s budget of $550 million for 2012.

“What happens in early childhood sets the stage for everything that follows in life,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “These new Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grants will help some of our youngest citizens thrive in school, be successful through adolescence and grow into healthy, successful adults.” Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin will all be applying for the fund.

Virginia Makes the Move to Online Education

States are beginning to integrate online education into their schools’ curricula, and Virginia has just become the latest. On April 5, Governor Robert McDonnell approved a bill that requires all Virginia students to take at least one online class in order to graduate, beginning with students entering high school in 2013. “Expanding virtual education has been a key part of McDonnell’s education agenda since taking office in 2010," says the governor’s spokesperson, Jeff Caldwell. "The online-course requirement will better prepare students for the job market of the 21st century.”

Tennessee Law Allows Educators to Challenge Scientific Theories

Tennessee has just passed a law that protects teachers who express their religious beliefs and argue against evolution, climate change, “the chemical origins of life” and other controversial subjects. This makes Tennessee the second state after Louisiana to legally protect the teaching of alternatives to scientific theory.

Republican Senator Bo Watson says the bill was meant to foster healthy debate and allow teachers more freedom in the classroom. “I am glad that the governor recognized that this bill does not do all of the things that its critics have alleged," Watson told the Los Angeles Times. "It does not change the state's science curriculum, and it does not change how science is taught. Both of those assertions are red herrings."

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, however, does not agree: “The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a 3-to-1 margin. But good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective." He allowed the bill to pass without his signature.

Eighth Grade New York City Student Searches for a High School

There are over 69,000 eighth graders in New York City, and of the 127 attending East Side Middle School, only five were not chosen by schools in the annual high school draft. One of those students is Omri Shefet, an incredibly bright student who is now searching for a high school. He told the New York Times, “I was speechless. Everyone else was saying, ‘I got in, I got in,' and I just felt dumb and stupid. I had anger in me I never really felt before. I didn’t know how to react.”

Omri began middle school as a special needs student, needing physical and speech therapy before being mainstreamed with other students. He has struggled but is incredibly gifted in other areas. His teachers have recognized his love of sports and knowledge of sports information, and use that to engage him in class. Mr. Cesa, his math teacher and basketball coach, teaches him by using sports-related math questions and made him the basketball team’s statistician. The next round of high school acceptances begins this month, and his teachers are determined to help him however they can.

Three Lottery Winning Teachers Continue Teaching

The three winners of Maryland’s record-breaking Mega Millions Jackpot will be receiving $35 million dollars each within the next two weeks — enough money to retire on and live a life of luxury, but none of the “Three Amigos,” as they call themselves, intend to quit their jobs. They just so happen to be teachers at three separate schools and have no other desire than to continue teaching. Out of respect for their students and colleagues, and to avoid media attention, all three have elected to remain anonymous, though it is known that they are a man and two women. One is a special education teacher, another is an elementary school teacher and the third is a school administrator. This is proof that great teachers are not in it for the money; they teach to make a difference.