Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Did you miss games of chicken over keeping the federal government open? Your happy days might be here again. On April 28, the measure Congress approved late last year to keep the government funded for fiscal 2017—known in Beltway lingo as a “continuing resolution”—will expire. Without it, major parts of the government will cease to operate. President Donald Trump’s administration has sent lawmakers a spending proposal that would cover the rest of fiscal 2017, which ends Sept. 30, including major cuts to Title II grants for teaching programs. But so far, Congress hasn’t been eager to enact Trump’s fiscal 2017 spending plan. (All this is separate from Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget plan, in which Title II state grants would be eliminated entirely. That 2018 Trump spending plan also isn’t particularly popular on Capitol Hill.) Politically, the shutdown would also be notable because unlike during past shutdown showdowns of President Barack Obama’s tenure, Republicans control the legislative and executive branches of government. By no means are we saying it’s a certainty, or even likely. But what happens if Trump and Congress can’t agree on some sort of 2017 spending plan by April 28?
The Editors of Rethinking Schools
Rethinking Schools was born in the time of Reagan. We celebrate our 30th anniversary in the time of Trump. We know something about holding on to hope during hard times. Three decades ago, in our first editorial, we wrote “Don’t mourn, organize,” borrowing advice from the great labor troubadour Joe Hill. If there were ever a time when we needed to heed this advice, that time is now. But exactly how we follow these words at this historical moment is not so clear.
Minority teachers in U.S. more than doubled over 25 years — but still fewer than 20 percent of educators, study shows
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
The number of minority teachers more than doubled in the United States over a 25-year period but still represent less than 20 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary school teaching force, a new statistical analysis of data shows. And black teachers, while seeing an increase in the number of teachers, saw a decline in the percentage they make up of the overall teaching force. (See full report below.) From 1987 to 1988 and 2011 to 2012, researchers found that the teaching force became much larger, by 46 percent; more diverse, though minority teachers remain underrepresented; and less experienced. There were, however, large differences among different types of schools and academic subjects.
Language, Culture, and Power
David Shih, NPR
Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appointed Candice Jackson as the acting assistant secretary of the Office for Civil Rights. Jackson will oversee a staff of hundreds charged with responding to thousands of civil rights complaints every year, including some from students who feel discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, sex, ability, and age. ProPublica reported that while an undergraduate at Stanford University, Jackson, a white woman, wrote an article for a student newspaper complaining about a section of a calculus course designed for “minority” students. The math class was an example of “racial discrimination” against white people, she wrote. In another op-ed for the paper, Jackson dismissed the needs of women “banding together by gender to fight for their rights.” Might Jackson’s words from twenty years ago fuel the idea that her office may not fully enforce Title VI and IX protections for people of color and white women? Do they signal that she may instruct her staff to elevate the complaints of white students or faculty who believe they are victims of racial discrimination? A stronger line of inquiry begins with this question: what if these diversity policies actually improved the social position of white students and faculty?
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
School districts that fail to address the anxieties experienced by undocumented students as a result of federal immigration policies of the Trump administration may be violating their students’ constitutional rights to a meaningful education, said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). Founded in 1968, the Los Angeles-based MALDEF is a leading civil rights organization advocating on behalf of Latinos in California and nationally. Saenz was referring to the widespread anxieties experienced by children who are either themselves undocumented or have one or both parents who are, and fear that they or their parents will be deported. Parents may be afraid to take their children to school, out of fear of being picked up by immigration authorities, or children may themselves experience generalized anxieties that affects their ability to learn, or to attend school at all.
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
College students seeking to suppress or punish speech in their communities are the latest iteration of a longer tradition in American life than many of their critics acknowledge. That’s true even narrowing our backward gaze to Supreme Court cases from the last century. During World War II, for instance, the case of Chaplinsky vs. State of New Hampshire considered whether the municipality of Rochester had, by arresting Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah’s Witness, for his speech, violated his rights. On the day in question, Chaplinsky was distributing literature on the street when a crowd became inflamed at his message and complained to the city marshal, James Bowering. At first, Bowering advised the crowd that Chaplinsky was acting within his rights; later, after another altercation, he warned that his literature was creating a disturbance. Chaplinsky responded, “You are a God damned racketeer” and “a damned Fascist,” and “the whole government of Rochester are Fascists or agents of Fascists.” He was arrested under a local law stating that “no person shall address any offensive, derisive or annoying word to any other person who is lawfully in any street or other public place, nor call him by any offensive or derisive name, nor make any noise or exclamation in his presence and hearing with intent to deride, offend or annoy him, or to prevent him from pursuing his lawful business or occupation.”
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Tara García Mathewson, The Atlantic
Seat-belt use in the United States rose from 14 percent in 1985 to 84 percent in 2011 thanks, in large part, to a massive ad campaign promoting the practice. Even now, with “buckle up” warnings far less prominent, seat-belt use continues to rise. Ronald Ferguson wants to see a similar trend with the use of five evidence-based parenting principles dubbed the Boston Basics: maximize love, manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories. Ferguson is the director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and the lead creator of the Basics, which experts agree are most important for children from the time they are born to when they turn 3. For much of his career, Ferguson studied educational achievement starting in kindergarten, but when he learned that gaps based on socioeconomic status and race were already stark by the time children turn 2 years old, he decided to broaden his focus.
Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
Vaccination rates hit an all-time high for California kindergartners, the California Department of Public Health said Wednesday as it announced its first findings since a new law ended the era of the “personal belief exemption” that allowed thousands of parents to choose not to vaccinate their children who attend public and private schools. The percentage of kindergartners who received all required vaccines rose to 95.6 percent in 2016-17, up from the 92.8 percent rate in 2015-16. This is the highest reported rate for the current set of immunization requirements, which began in the 2001-02 school year, the state said. “It’s a great thing for California kids,” said Catherine Flores Martin, director of the California Immunization Coalition. “It’s a big win for schools and communities.”
Sara Sarwar, NPR
Mariah Evans, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, began to notice a trend in her morning classes: Her students were falling asleep. While this would make most feel discouraged in their teaching abilities or agitated over their students’ idleness, Evans instead was curious. Was there more to this than just laziness? A recent study by Evans; a colleague at Reno, Jonathan Kelley; and Paul Kelley of the The Open University in the U.K. sought to answer this question. The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience last month. The study took two approaches. The researchers surveyed 190 first- and second-year college students. They also analyzed the relationship between sleep and cognitive functioning from a neuroscience perspective. Both approaches agreed: College classes start too early in the morning for students’ brains.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Marion Brady, author of “What’s Worth Learning”
A Florida appeals court delivered a setback to the opt-out-of-high-stakes-testing movement with its March 7 ruling that standardized tests “can only achieve their laudable purpose” if all students “attempt to answer all questions to the best of their ability.” Anything less, the judges said, “is a disservice to the student — and the public.” At its core the case is to ensure that third-graders are evaluated and passed on to fourth grade based on the entire year’s body of work and the professional opinion of the teacher rather than having to repeat the third grade based on the results of a single test. With financial support from the Opt Out Florida Network, the litigation continues. The plaintiffs are asking the Florida Supreme Court to rule. The proceedings illustrate the legal profession’s inability to get it right on matters having to do with teaching and learning. The appeals court’s decision reflects the conventional wisdom that testing is a simple matter. Unacknowledged is the fact that educators have wrestled with the complexities of evaluating learner performance for generations without reaching firm conclusions.
Ashley Hopkinson, EdSource
As California schools increasingly focus on preparing students for college and careers, a growing number of educators are turning to end-of-year “portfolios” as indicators of whether students have acquired the skills they will need to succeed after graduation. The portfolios, which can consist of a compilation of a student’s work or an in-depth research project, can help prepare students for college, where they will be expected to work on longer projects and persevere despite obstacles, a quality that is often referred to in the field as “grit.” A world apart from multiple-choice tests, or even the more in-depth Smarter Balanced tests that millions of students take each spring, the portfolios are the end product of months of intense collaboration, research, critical thinking and multiple revisions that students typically present in their senior year. Students have to defend their portfolios before a panel of teachers, fellow students or even outside members of their community. In some high schools, a portfolio is a graduation requirement.
Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
UC Berkeley’s newly remodeled undergraduate library is modern and sleek, with its top two floors featuring low-slung couches, a futuristic nap pod, and meeting spaces with glass walls made to be written on and colorful furniture meant to be moved. The library has even dropped its rules against bringing in food and drinks on those floors. That’s because they no longer contain any books, which could be damaged or stained. California’s oldest public university has removed 135,000 books from Moffitt Library, shipping most to other locations, to create more space for students to study, recharge and collaborate on group projects — a staple of college work today. Libraries are 4,000 years old, but the digital revolution is dramatically changing their use on college campuses. From coast to coast, UC Berkeley to Harvard University, libraries are removing rows of steel shelving, stashing the books they held in other campus locations and discarding duplicates to make way for open study spaces. Their budgets are shifting away from print, to digital materials.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Tara García Mathewson, The Atlantic
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory. When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways. This happens to everyone at some point, regardless of social class. The overload can be prompted by any number of things, including an overly stressful day at work or a family emergency. People in poverty, however, have the added burden of ever-present stress. They are constantly struggling to make ends meet and often bracing themselves against class bias that adds extra strain or even trauma to their daily lives. And the science is clear—when brain capacity is used up on these worries and fears, there simply isn’t as much bandwidth for other things.
Carolyn Jones, EdSource
As California rolls out new K-12 science standards, some educators believe the new curriculum will spark a love of science and boost test scores among African Americans and Latinos, and ultimately lead to a more diverse STEM workforce. “I think there’s a great deal of optimism that the new standards will make a dent” in the achievement gap, said Kathy DiRanna, K-12 Alliance statewide director for WestEd, which is overseeing the early implementation of the new standards in eight California school districts and two charter organizations. “That’s because it’s hands-on, helps build language skills, includes reading and writing. This is really a way to get science to all kids.” The new standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, include a 21-page appendix that offers guidelines for teachers on how to reach students who are English learners, economically disadvantaged, racial or ethnic minorities, who have disabilities or are otherwise in demographic groups that are underrepresented in the science fields.
Megan Kamerick, NPR
Every day in this country students come to school without a way to pay for lunch. Right now it’s up to the school to decide what happens next. Since new legislation out of New Mexico on so-called lunch shaming made headlines, we’ve heard a lot about how schools react. Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together. With policies to handle unpaid meals all over the map, the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, will soon require that all school districts have a policy on what to do when kids can’t pay — a growing problem. By July 1, those policies must be in writing and communicated to staff, parents and the community.
Public Schools and Private $
Jason Blakely, The Atlantic
Buoyed by Donald Trump’s championing of a voucher system—and cheered on by his education secretary Betsy DeVos—Arizona just passed one of the country’s most thoroughgoing policies in favor of so-called “school of choice.” The legislation signed by Governor Doug Ducey allows students who withdraw from the public system to use their share of state funding for private school, homeschooling, or online education. Making educational funding “portable” is part of a much wider political movement that began in the 1970s—known to scholars as neoliberalism—which views the creation of markets as necessary for the existence of individual liberty. In the neoliberal view, if your public institutions and spaces don’t resemble markets, with a range of consumer options, then you aren’t really free. The goal of neoliberalism is thereby to rollback the state, privatize public services, or (as in the case of vouchers) engineer forms of consumer choice and market discipline in the public sector.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
A divided Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday voted to endorse and push for three hotly debated state bills that seek to place new controls on charter schools. The 4-3 vote largely reflected an ideological split over the growth and oversight of charters, issues that have dominated the most expensive school board races in the country. The L.A. school district’s official position could be short-lived because of an impending May 16 runoff election for two board seats. Both candidates supported by charter advocates said they would have voted against the resolution had they been on the board.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
“College or Die.” That’s the motto of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, a charter school in Indiana which, according to its website, “expects 100% of its students to be accepted at a fully-accredited four-year college or university” and “to achieve exceptionally high levels of scholarship and citizenship.” The words “College or Die” are posted in giant letters in a hallway of Tindley, an open-enrollment charter school for grades six through 12 that opened in 2004 in a former grocery store in a low-income area of Indianapolis. It became well known in school reform circles when it was visited in 2011 by then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who heaped lavish praise on the school for its success in getting students into college.
Other News of Note
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
The crisis in Syria has displaced about 1.4 million children and teenagers from their homes. An estimated 900,000 of them are not in school. Historically, in conflict zones, education has taken a backseat to immediate needs like food, shelter and medical care. But more recently, there has been a movement in the international aid community to provide better “education in emergencies.” Many private companies and nonprofits are stepping up to do just this, but their efforts are not always well-balanced or well-coordinated, a new report claims. Would-be students have many immediate needs. They have universally experienced some form of trauma. There is a lack of schools, teachers, books, uniforms and food. Yet, according to this study, nearly half of the donors have chosen to supply educational technology, far more than are building schools, providing basic books and materials or employing teachers.
Just News from Center X is produced weekly by Leah Bueso, Anthony Berryman, Beth Happel, and John Rogers. Generous support from the Stuart Foundation allows Center X to provide this service free to the general public.