With help from Michael Stratford, Kimberly Hefling and Caitlin Emma
EDUCATION DEPARTMENT ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL ANTI-SEMITISM DEFINITION: The Trump administration is changing how the Education Department investigates allegations of discrimination against Jewish students, backing an approach that is favored by pro-Israel groups but that critics worry will stifle free speech on campus.
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— The policy change was outlined in a letter last month by Kenneth Marcus, who leads the department’s Office for Civil Rights, in which he re-opened a 2011 investigation into Rutgers University about alleged discrimination against Jewish students. Marcus wrote that the Education Department, in its investigations into discrimination, would adopt the “working definition” of anti-Semitism that is “widely used by governmental agencies” including the State Department. That definition includes examples in which demonizing or delegitimizing Israel, or holding it to a double standard not expected of other democratic nations, are deemed anti-Semitic.
— The Obama administration closed the Rutgers case in 2014 citing insufficient evidence of discrimination. Marcus’ letter says the department will now reevaluate the evidence “in light of the definition of anti-Semitism.” Investigators will seek to determine, Marcus wrote, “whether a hostile environment on the basis of national origin or race existed at the University for students of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
— Congress has debated the definition over the past several years. In 2016, the Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that would have forced the department to use the State Department definition in evaluating discrimination complaints. But the bill hit a snag in the House over concerns that it could interfere with students’ free speech rights. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill earlier this year, but the legislation so far hasn’t gone anywhere in this Congress.
— But civil liberties and free speech groups have opposed the definition. The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and PEN America, argue that the definition of anti-Semitism is too broad and would threaten political speech, such as criticism of Israel policy, on college campuses.
— “It’s certainly something that we feared would happen,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, adding that the new definition “opens the door to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.” Khalidi also criticized the Education Department for adopting the definition “without any process or public input.”
— Several pro-Israel groups, meanwhile, including the American Jewish Committee, praised the Trump administration’s move. The Zionist Organization of America, which filed the original complaint against Rutgers and appealed, praised the Education Department’s “landmark” decision to adopt the definition. Michael Stratford has the full story.
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HOW WILL TEXAS STUDENTS REMEMBER THE ALAMO? Texas’ State Board of Education will take an initial vote as soon as today on a slew of changes to the social studies curriculum. They include a proposal to change how students learn about the Alamo — and whether educators are required to teach about its “heroic defenders” — that sparked outrage from some of the state’s top officials and has drawn national attention.
— The Alamo is a revered symbol in the state. The fall of the Alamo, which was defended for 13 days by a band of vastly outnumbered Texans, was a key point in the Texas Revolution and became a rallying cry throughout the rest of the war.
— The rewording of the Alamo section is the latest lightning rod from the state board, which has drawn controversy over the years through its changes to the social studies and science curriculum. The board came under fire in 2010, the last time changes were made, for downplaying the role of slavery in the Civil War. Slavery, which is taught along with states’ rights and sectionalism as one of the main causes of the war, could get an increased focus in the proposal the board is now considering, which among other things would put it at the top of that list.
— The changes were proposed by a committee tasked with finding ways to streamline the curriculum. Many people complained to the board Tuesday, however, that the potential changes don’t go far enough and said slavery should be taught as the sole cause of the war.
— Daina Ramey Berry, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the board that students often enter her class with a skewed perception of what caused the war. “Slavery existed in this country longer than freedom has for those who were enslaved,” she said. “Year after year, though, my college students enter the classroom with little knowledge of this history.”
— The Alamo proposal, meanwhile, would drop the term “hero” and no longer require students learn about William B. Travis’ letter “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.” That one’s also known as the “victory or death” letter, in which Travis, who died at the Alamo, vowed to "die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country — Victory or Death." Texas students learn about the Alamo in eighth grade.
— The changes drew pushback at a public hearing before the board Tuesday. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) read from the Travis letter in his testimony against the changes. “Victory or death — these are the most famous words in all of Texas history,” he said. “They tell the story of who we are as Texans — defiant, loyal, independent and bold.” He called the proposal “absurd” and said “I cannot fathom any possible way that one can teach Texas history without teaching William Barrett Travis’ plea.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also blasted the proposal in an op-ed for Fox News.
— But the committee and the state board appeared to have reached something of a compromise Tuesday. Committee members said they’d be willing to change the proposal to say students should learn about the “siege of the Alamo, including William B. Travis’s letter ‘To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,’ and the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives there.” The board chair indicated a majority of the board was in favor of the new wording, with a vote expected as soon as today.
ESTIMATED EFFECT OF DEVOS TITLE IX RULES SPARKS MORE OUTRAGE: Advocacy groups say an Education Department prediction that the Trump administration’s looming Title IX regulations will drastically decrease the number of sexual harassment investigations at schools is evidence “DeVos is focused on reducing liability for schools.” The New York Times reported the draft regulation includes estimates that it would save schools millions in costs to investigate harassment and assault allegations.
— “Her actions demonstrate that she does not care about protecting students from discrimination as Title IX was designed to do,” said Carly Mee, interim executive director of SurvJustice, a group that represents sexual assault survivors and is suing the department over its changes to Title IX rules. Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX, another survivor advocacy group, said, “DeVos’ only goal is to let schools of the hook for covering up rape and sexual harassment. Thanks to Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration, survivors will live in fear on their campus, and many will eventually drop out — all to save educational institutions a total of about half the cost of a DeVos yacht.”
— Some experts, meanwhile, are questioning the estimates. The New York Times reported the department projected that colleges and universities currently conduct an average of only 1.18 sexual harassment investigations each year, and that the new rules would cut that to 0.72 investigations a year — a 39 percent drop. The Times reported it would save colleges and universities $19 million and school districts would save $54 million.
— “The number of investigations is not going to decrease significantly on campuses,” said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators. “Most colleges will not change their structures of resolution fundamentally even if [the Office for Civil Rights] permits them to.” He said his group has many college clients that see “40, 50, 100, or even 200 allegations a year, so 1.18 seems very off, but who knows how many trade, cosmetology, and online schools they are counting in that figure, which may skew the averages.”
— S. Daniel Carter, an expert on campus safety issues, said most big universities he’s worked with or studied have between five and 10 cases a year. He said that small of an estimate suggests the number is an average of literally all colleges, including technical and trade schools and other non-residential campuses. “I don’t think it’s a good way to be making policy to be looking at apples and oranges,” Carter said. “This type of analysis — it misses the point. The societal cost and the cost to those victims … is in the billions, in lost productivity and medical costs, lost educational opportunities. It is beyond myopic to look at it in this manner.”
— Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said “the substance of our proposal will not be built on any supposed financial impact and has played no role in Secretary DeVos’ decision making. Secretary DeVos has been clear that the rule must be built on protecting all students from unfair deprivation of their education, empowering complainants to seek a remedy that meets their needs, aligning regulatory requirements with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Title IX, and reducing federal micromanagement of schools.” She said the rule is still under development “and therefore it’s too early to speculate the cost of a new rule.”
PENCE TO TRAVEL TO DEVOS’ HOMETOWN: Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Grand Rapids, Mich., today to visit a steel company and discuss the Trump administration’s record on taxes. A spokeswoman for DeVos says she’ll be spending time with family and unable to attend the public event. But the Detroit News reports that Pence will make time to visit privately afterward with the DeVos family. On Thursday, private funeral services are scheduled for Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway and the secretary’s father-in-law.
FEDS EMBARK ON BACK-TO-SCHOOL TOUR: Federal education officials have officially launched a “2018 Back to School Tour,” according to posts on Twitter and Facebook. The Education Department’s top special education official, Johnny Collett, tweeted that the agency’s “leaders will cover all 48 contiguous states and two territories as we continue to Rethink education in America.”
— Collett said on Twitter he’ll be traveling throughout New England. On the first day of the tour this week, Johnathan Holifield, executive director for the White House Initiative on HBCUs, “met with a gathering of #HBCU presidents and students, business and industry leaders at Kentucky State University to discuss HBCU competitiveness,” according to a post on Facebook. The Education Department didn’t respond to a request for details about the tour.
REPORT ROLL CALL
— The Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit, is out with a guide to the 2018 elections and changes in state education leadership.
— A coalition of advocates representing charter schools, students with disabilities and others is out with a set of principles for “equitable schools.” More from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools Equity Coalition.
— The Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit, is out with a new poll on teacher and parent views of data collection in schools. African-American parents are more likely than white parents to value information on school safety.
— Voters in Hawaii will decide whether property taxes should be used to fund schools: Hawaii Public Radio.
— ‘How one of the U.S.’s most conservative colleges bloomed in liberal Denver’: Westword.
— DeVos’ confirmation hearing is now a stage production. Seriously: The Washington Post.
— Federal funding for low-income students is dwindling even as more schools qualify, report finds: POLITICO Pro New York.
— ‘Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don’t know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it.’: APM Reports.
— Maryland planning to replace the PARCC test: The Baltimore Sun.
— Texas is considering cutting high school cosmetology courses: The Texas Tribune.
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