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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Denisa Superville, Education Week
Just days after two teenagers were shot and killed by a fellow student in a rural Kentucky high school, Principal Patricia Greer got a call from one of the few people who could understand exactly what she was experiencing. It was Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School. With Greer’s phone constantly ringing and dozens of decisions to be made, DeAngelis’ call helped clear the fog and reassured her there were other educators who understood what she was facing. “I can’t recall the words in that conversation, to be quite honest,” Greer said of DeAngelis, who was principal at Columbine on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 13 people. “But I think there was a sense of, ‘I am going to be there to help you, other people have done this, you’re going to be able to do this.’” Few principals have walked in DeAngelis’ and Greer’s shoes as leaders of schools that have been devastated by on-campus gun violence. Those who do often find themselves with questions and worries about how to manage a recovery process, but few people to turn to who can answer from lived experiences.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
For the past few years, a small group of advocates for equitable school construction has been examining how school districts with small tax bases and low-income families can get a bigger share of state funding to upgrade school facilities. Now, they say, there is an opportunity to make that happen. On Wednesday, the Assembly Education Committee took the first step, by passing Assembly Bill 48, toward placing two K-12 and community college construction bonds of as-yet undetermined size before voters in 2020 and in 2022. Before the vote, representatives of many education groups and school districts voiced support. The committee’s chairman, Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, is championing the move, citing a huge unmet need for upgrading and building schools. Three years ago, voters passed Proposition 51, a $9 billion bond, of which $7 billion was earmarked for K-12 districts, but all of that money has since been divvied up.
Diana Lambert and Daniel J. Willis, EdSource
The West Contra Costa Unified School District, serving some of the poorest neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area, can use every excellent teacher it’s able to recruit. That is why the decision by Sarah La Due to pack up and leave the district, just two years after winning a Teaching Excellence Award, hurts. But La Due, after five years in the district, is tired of living with two roommates and sharing a bathroom in order to afford housing. So this fall she will be teaching high school in Las Vegas instead of English at Fred T. Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito. “I’m a 35-year-old professional woman and I shouldn’t have to live with roommates,” La Due said. “Why am I sacrificing so much to live in the Bay when there are other cities with culture and good food?” La Due is not alone in her frustration. An EdSource analysis of teacher salaries and rents reveals just how crushing California’s housing crisis has become for many teachers.
Language, Culture, and Power
Kavitha Cardoza, Education Week
As I have spent the last several weeks talking to educators about working with migrant children, some have cried. Their tears, they say, come from a mix of worry, empathy, and frustration with the negative, sometimes hateful, rhetoric surrounding the unprecedented flow of immigrant families across the southern border. Reporting on migrant children—tens of thousands have come from Central America in recent years—and how they are faring in public schools across the United States as they await their final fates in immigration proceedings is difficult. Lawyers and advocates assisting children and teens are fiercely protective. The kids themselves are often terrified of talking, and not just because they worry about being deported. And the educators teaching and supporting them do not track their numbers formally because federal law requires public schools to enroll and educate children regardless of their immigration status. I started in February, when I went to Tornillo, a small border town in West Texas, which for months had been home to the largest shelter for migrant children in the U.S. I was there to cover a protest of educators organized by Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year. While the Tornillo shelter is now closed, Manning and other educators used it as a backdrop to call attention to the practice of migrant child detention and the nearly 12,000 children in over 100 shelters spread across 17 states. “We need these children to be in our classrooms,” Manning told me. “We will not stop until the detention centers close.”
Mariana Dale, NPR
On Thursday, Arizona lawmakers repealed a law that restricted how public school teachers could talk about LGBTQ relationships in health classes. The Arizona law regulated HIV/AIDS instruction in public schools. Since 1991, it has banned teachers in those courses from promoting “a homosexual life-style,” portraying “homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style” or suggesting there are safe ways to have homosexual sex. At least six other states have curriculum laws around LGBTQ issues, according to the advocacy group GLSEN. Like many of the laws that exist in other states, Arizona’s was created in the throes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The repeal was the culmination of a lawsuit filed against Arizona education leaders in March, and years of advocacy from Democrats and LGBTQ advocacy groups. “We’re so excited and relieved and, I think, in a state of shock, to be honest,” said Carol Brochin, a plaintiff in the lawsuit with her child, who lawsuit identifies as S.C. “[S.C.] was so surprised and really taken aback and started crying, actually,” Brochin said.
Young Whan Choi, The Young and the Woke
On this episode, you will meet Julisa Liang, a senior at Oakland High School in the Law and Social Justice Academy. Her life is like that American motto found on much of our money – “e pluribus unum” – out of many, one. She seems to be able to find common ground with whomever she meets, whether she’s riding AC transit, ringing up customers at Target, buying tacos in the Fruitvale, or discussing controversial topics in school. This notion that we as human beings can be different, and still unified, feels so important in this moment.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
City News Service, Los Angeles Daily News
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved $17.4 million in funding for mental health resources at Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles County Office of Education campuses. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who recommended funding more mental health teams in schools, cited a study that found rates of major depression in 12- to 17-year-olds increased 52 percent from 2005-17, along with an uptick in suicides by young adults ages 18-23. “While these statistics are hard to hear, it is important for us to acknowledge them” and bring the need for mental health treatment out of the shadows, Barger said. Roughly $9.7 million of the total will go to the LAUSD. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said it was “kind of unprecedented” for the county to contribute to LAUSD schools, but called the move to support students’ needs “putting our money where our mouth is.” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner told the board he recently visited a middle school with 1,000 students and found that 125 children there suffered from suicidal ideation and 25 were hospitalized. “This is a crisis,” Beutner said. “This will allow us to move from intervention to prevention.”
Jayne O’Donnell, USA Today
The health clinic at her son’s Colorado high school is “the best thing ever,” says Hannah Chupp. “My teen can go there for advice and private help when he is too uncomfortable to discuss something with me,” Chupp says of the clinic and its nurse practitioner. “I am fine with him seeking help from someone other than myself. It’s part of growing up.” The Chupps are among the luckiest. Their school in Cortez has a clinic that includes a nurse practitioner who can prescribe medication and perform exams, plus a school nurse. Chupp’s son got his sports physical from the nurse practitioner, who started last year when the clinic opened. If he has a migraine, he can get crackers, ibuprofen and a place to rest from the school nurse, Chupp says. As complex and often-chronic health conditions soar among children, worsened in some areas by the return of diseases largely eliminated by vaccines, full-time school nurses remain hard to find. About 40% of schools only budget for a part-time school nurse, and 25% have no nurse at all, the National Association of School Nurses says.
Priska Neely, KPCC
Black women are up to four times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy-related causes. Black Maternal Health Week is part of a national awareness campaign to find solutions and close the gaps in birth outcomes. Black Women for Wellness, a South L.A. group, kicked off the week with a panel discussion where pregnant women shared their experiences navigating the healthcare system and how to improve it.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Jake Jacobs, The Progressive
Drama unfolding in New York state could foreshadow a tipping point in the ongoing national parent revolt against high-stakes standardized testing. New York has had the largest test refusal movement by far, with approximately one in five students refusing to participate each year since 2015. But recent flare-ups challenging testing length and validity in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and other states show that tests remain controversial nationwide. The first round of this year’s grades 3-8 tests began last week in New York, amid fresh criticism of punitive new regulations and an official misinformation campaign designed to intimidate and confuse parents. New York parents shared district letters they claim reveal threats, bribes, and false information on the part of local schools. The controversy was compounded by a large online system crash almost immediately after testing began April 2. Reports emerged that the state’s computer-based testing platform would not let some students log on or submit tests they had worked on for hours. Headlines from Long Island to Buffalo and everywhere between declared the online testing a “debacle.”
Gregory J. Cizek, Education Week
Next year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Common Core State Standards; the Next Generation Science Standards have been around nearly as long. The majority of states have officially adopted one or both of these sets of standards; most other states have adopted close cousins. Given this history—and the fact that next-gen standards for social science and other subjects may be looming—it seems important to consider a pernicious unintended consequence of these adoptions. Today’s standards are meatier than their predecessors. More challenging. Demanding deeper and more complex learning. They are great standards for developing a curriculum or guiding classroom instruction perhaps, but in many aspects they are proving to be vexing for assessment. I know this because I am involved as a technical adviser for some of the large-scale assessment programs that are attempting to create tests aligned to these standards. Beginning in 2012, with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, I witnessed the difficult work to develop high-quality test questions and performance tasks aligned to the common core. An early pattern emerged: People with deep content expertise, sophisticated question-writing skill, and clear specifications had a very poor initial success rate in writing acceptable items to measure some of the new CCSS standards. Why?
Mikhail Zinshteyn, The Hechinger Report
Tatum Johnson was hooked on the view from Clemson University’s North Green soon after she set foot on the South Carolina institution’s campus for a tour while she was still a high school senior. The stretch of grass overlooking the amphitheater, Reflection Pond and the library “is pretty breathtaking,” she said. The botanical gardens were a boon, too. “I mainly go there to see the wildlife. There are a few duck ponds and a butterfly garden and a lot of squirrels.” The campus and Clemson’s academic reputation sealed the deal for Johnson to enroll, despite its higher cost compared to other public universities she was considering. Now it’s Clemson’s price tag, rather than its scenery, that’s top of mind for Johnson. A junior who received the full $6,095 a year allowed under a federal Pell Grant — for which she qualifies based on her family’s low income — she was still short of what she owes by about $6,000, and government limits meant she was maxed out on what she could borrow in federal student loans. While much attention is being paid to high student debt, a growing chorus is making the surprising argument that students need to be allowed to borrow more. With grants limited and college costs rising, loans can be a lifeline for students who have no other way to afford a degree.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Can advocates for school integration leverage local control as a winning argument in Congress? The answer to that over the long term could be key to some Democrats’ biggest, and perhaps one of their most aspirational, policy goals in Washington. Last week, advocates and elected leaders hosted a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill featuring Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., among others. The gathering showcased Murphy’s Strength in Diversity Act, a bill he introduced last Congress that would provide grants that districts or groups of districts could apply for in order to improve diversity or reduce the socioeconomic or racial isolation of their schools. The Century Foundation also discussed its new report on key steps the Congress can take to support integration efforts, including a $500 million fund under the Title I program for districts to use to address integration. Perhaps the most controversial element of the foundation’s agenda is to require federal preclearance of school districts wishing to secede from existing local systems. Advocates have consistently highlighted the links between these breakaway districts and rising segregation in the nation’s public schools. In 2017 and again this year, the nonprofit group EdBuild, which studies school finance and segregation, found that the ongoing fracturing of district lines can contribute to sharp divisions along race and class lines.
Emmanuel Felton, The Nation
One night in 2017, Leslie Williams saw a post on Facebook about a meeting later that evening at Gardendale City Hall. Gardendale, a predominately white city in Alabama, had put forward a proposal to split from the Jefferson County School District, which enrolls a student body that is majority black and Latino. If Gardendale’s plan were successful, Williams—who’d graduated from Gardendale High School and always dreamed of sending her three kids there—would instead be forced to enroll them in lower-performing schools farther from her home. She stood in front of the packed hearing room that night and decided to turn her back on the school-board members up at the dais and speak directly to fellow parents. “The options they’ve given us are schools that are already overcrowded,” she said. “Like you, I just want my children to have the best.” Two years ago, The Hechinger Report and The Nation published an investigation of Gardendale’s efforts to secede from Jefferson County to form a whiter, wealthier school district that excluded diverse neighborhoods like the one where Williams lived. Now, a new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable school funding, shows just how common school-secession efforts have become.
With LAUSD’s number of homeless students jumping by more than 1,000 since November, local and state response grows
Taylor Swaak, LA School Report
In just the last five months, L.A. Unified’s number of homeless students has climbed by more than a thousand. The district has identified 17,494 homeless students as of Tuesday — up from about 16,200 students reported in November and about 17,280 reported one month ago, according to data provided by school board member Kelly Gonez. The term homeless includes those living in shelters, motels, cars, doubled up with other families and those who are unsheltered. The hike in identifications is likely due to heightened community awareness about student homelessness, as well as L.A. Unified staff’s more “thoughtful” approach to broaching the topic with families, said Gonez, who represents the school board’s District 6 in the San Fernando Valley. Awareness is growing statewide as well, with the number of K-12 homeless students in California — more than 200,000— rising more than 20 percent in the past four years. Homeless students can often be overlooked because “the focus has been on the visible homeless: the people you see in tents, on the sidewalk, on the freeway,” said state Assemblywoman Luz Rivas, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley. “Homeless children and families are more of the ‘hidden homeless.’”
Public Schools and Private $
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
Against the backdrop of rallies, protests and press conferences, three bills that would impose significant restrictions on charter schools in California took a small step forward when they were approved by the Assembly Education Committee in the state Capitol: 1) Assembly Bill 1505 would remove the ability of the State Board of Education to approve a charter application after it had been denied by a local school district or a county office of education. AB 1505 would also allow districts to consider the possible negative financial impact of a charter school on a district when deciding whether to grant a charter. 2) Assembly Bill 1506 would place a cap on charter schools in the state at the number in operation on Jan. 1, 2020. 3) Assembly Bill 1507 would prohibit charter schools from opening additional schools outside the district where they received their original charter. The bills, which would make significant changes to California’s charter school bill — adopted in 1992 and revised several years later — were approved after five hours of debate and public testimony. Advocates on both sides of the issues held events in Sacramento yesterday and packed the hearing room where the bills were discussed. Leading charter school advocates fear that, if passed, these bills would could halt charter school growth in the state, or even threaten the existence of the entire sector.
Anna M. Phillips and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
Beverly Hills businessman Clark Parker has resigned from Southern California’s air quality board following a Los Angeles Times investigation into charter schools he founded with his wife. The Times report last month found that the couple made millions off charter schools that offered little to their mostly low-income students. After publication of the story, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins wrote Parker on April 2 requesting his “immediate resignation” from the South Coast Air Quality Management District board. Parker replied a week later with his resignation, effective April 30. As the founders of Today’s Fresh Start charter school network, Parker and his wife, Jeanette, cast themselves as philanthropists, but the Times found the schools paid the Parkers about $800,000 in annual rent. They also contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and hired Clark Parker for $575,000 to manage a school construction project. Current and former teachers at the schools, which served mostly low-income children of color, described working out of aging, cockroach-infested classrooms where students often didn’t have access to basic supplies or enough textbooks.
Halley Potter, The Hechinger Report
Underscoring just how segregated our public education system remains some 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, New York City’s most selective public high school made headlines — and not the good kind — when it announced that it offered seven of 900 available slots for the Class of 2023 to black students. The numbers at Stuyvesant High School mirror those at many of the city’s elite schools. In fact, in New York City and in districts across the country, the problem is getting worse, not better. There are a variety of reasons why U.S. schools are becoming more segregated, many of which have more to do with community histories and residential patterns than they do with the schools themselves. The causes are particularly complex in New York, one of the nation’s most segregated school systems, and include a contentious, decades-old specialized admissions test that was originally intended as a tool to level the playing field. There’s even less consensus when it comes to solutions to school segregation. The issue is so divisive in New York, for instance, that leading officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have declined to take a position on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to reform the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools.
Other News of Note
Leighton Rowell and Virginia Prescott, Georgia Public Broadcasting
Research has shown students do better in school when they have teachers who look like them. They also report feeling more cared for; more interested and invested in their schoolwork; and more confident in their teachers’ abilities to communicate with them. But for a growing number of American schoolchildren, that’s not the case – because while more than half of American public school students are not white, the vast majority of their teachers are. That dynamic is one of many factors that has led to what University of Georgia professor Bettina Love calls the educational survival complex – a system in which educational reformers train students with test-taking skills to get them to the next grade. Instead, as Love argues in her new book We Want To Do More Than Survive, educators should infuse their approach with the “urgency of an abolitionist,” teaching about racial violence and oppression as well as resistance, joy and social change.