When education policy changes with the times

A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The unions, naturally, are furious, but this appears to be the best possible outcome for students.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold millions of dollars in tax revenues from charters to help pay off an old pension debt in the district (one that charters didn't create), and Davis said he couldn't push for new schools that “will not pay their share.” The district's Board of Education turned down his request and approved a new charter anyway, but that still leaves the court fight—and a lot of hostility in Atlanta towards charters. Good thing voters in the Peach State last fall created an independent charter authorizer.

M. Night Shyamalan—a filmmaker of creepy-movie and twist-ending fame—has gone from scaring the daylights out of us with aliens popping out of cornfields to publishing a book about education reform. In his first forays into education philanthropy, Shyamalan granted scholarships to inner-city Philly children—but was disheartened by his contribution’s lack of a long-term impact. So, approaching the issue “in terms of plot structure,” he delved into the literature on racial divisions and education reform—and emerged with his own book. Is it worth a read? Stay tuned for a Gadfly review!

This week, Los Angeles kicked off the first year of its $30 million program to get Apple iPads in the hands of 31,000 students and around 1,500 teachers (to be expanded to $500 million and all 600,000-plus students in about a year, if everything goes according to plan) with a mass teacher-training effort. Pearson is providing the curriculum, and the devices cost $678 a pop (each pre-loaded with educational software, a case, and a three-year warranty). The training seminars touted the iPad’s potential to revolutionize the classrooms—from allowing teachers the flexibility to either use Pearson’s built-in Common Core–aligned materials or introduce their own strategies, to making it easier for students with limited verbal skills to communicate. While Gadfly reserves the right to be skeptical that the results will live up to the hype, we’re willing to reserve our judgment too—for now.

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