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DeVos 'Rethinks' Education; Irma Shuts Down Florida Schools

A young boy steps on his sister as he moves around the tight confines of a classroom-turned-shelter at Pizzo Elementary School in Tampa, Fla.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
A young boy steps on his sister as he moves around the tight confines of a classroom-turned-shelter at Pizzo Elementary School in Tampa, Fla.

Buckle up! We'll be visiting many U.S. states and territories in our weekly education news roundup.

Florida schools reopening after Irma

Schools all over Florida remained closed this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Most have targeted this Monday to reopen. The closures affected several hundred thousand students in some of the largest districts in the country, from Miami to Jacksonville.

DeVos' "Rethink School" tour

This week the education secretary visited Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana on a "Rethink School" tour. Betsy DeVos visited public, charter, parochial and other private schools that are billed as innovative in some way.

At one of her first stops, Woods Learning Center in Casper, Wyo., DeVos was greeted by protesters who brought teddy bears, hearkening back to her comments at her confirmation about guns in schools to protect from grizzly bears.

She also told students:

"Today, there is a whole industry of naysayers who loudly defend something they like to call the education 'system.' What's an education 'system'? There is no such thing! Are you a system? No, you're individual students, parents and teachers."

XQ Live TV show

Speaking of "rethinking schools," last Friday night, there was anhourlong live TV special broadcast on all major networks dedicated to "rethink the formula for education."

Boasting many celebrity guest stars, it was a project of The XQ Institute, a nonprofit backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs. XQ has also awarded millions of dollars to a group of 18 high schools with what it calls "transformative" ideas. Some of the high schools have yet to open.

Although it resembled a telethon, the program did not raise any money for America's schools nor did it feature a specific call to action other than texting the organization.

New national report on college student "swirl"

More than a third of college students transfer to a new school at some point. That is according to a new analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. When these students transfer — often from lower-cost community colleges to four-year colleges — they lose on average 4 of every 10 credits they've earned, the report estimates. The report highlights the money wasted when these credits don't transfer. And, the feds are often footing the bill: Almost half of the students who transferred received Pell Grants and nearly 75 percent used Federal Direct Loans to pay for school.

Puerto Rico teachers' lawsuit

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been in a process similar to bankruptcy, with massive debt, starting before the disaster of Hurricane Irma. The island's fiscal control board seeks to impose furloughs on teachers and other public servants, and to cut pensions. The island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló,opposes this move. This week, the island's teachers union, along with its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, filed a motion seeking to intervene in the case. Last spring, the island closed 184 public schools to save money.

Newark schools revert to local control

The New Jersey State Board of Education voted this week to return the urban school district of Newark to local control after more than 20 years of state management. The district has improved on measures such as the high school graduation rate. Newark was thrust into the national spotlight by a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010.

Copyright 2021 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.