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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Mark Walsh, Education Week
Count educators as part of the population taking a keen interest in a major U.S. Supreme Court case about whether President Donald Trump’s administration properly added a question about U.S. citizenship to the 2020 census. “We are significantly concerned that big-city students would face horrific consequences from adding a citizenship question to the census,” said Julie Wright Halbert, the legislative counsel of the Council of the Great City Schools, the coalition of 74 of the nation’s largest urban districts. “There is a potential for a misallocation of huge sums of money.” The council is among several education groups that have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in Department of Commerce v. State of New York (Case No. 18-966), which is set to be argued on April 23. The arithmetic behind the issue is this: The decennial census is the foundation for allocation of billions of dollars of federal aid to states and localities, based on formulas involving population and poverty.
Howard Blume and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
The major backers of a property tax for local public schools include two habitual foes: the local teachers union and billionaire Eli Broad, according to campaign filings. Other unions and groups with business before the city also have donated large sums, as has Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. The tax, Measure EE, will go before voters within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District in June and would raise about $500 million annually. District officials decided to put the measure before voters soon after the six-day January teachers strike, hoping to build on widespread goodwill generated by those on the picket lines. Not surprisingly, one big supporter of the tax is United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians in the nation’s second-largest school system. The union has put in $500,000, the City Ethics Commission reported based on filings through Friday. In a rare convergence of interests, Eli Broad has contributed $250,000 to the effort. Broad and the union typically pour in huge sums for opposing slates of candidates in school board elections. Broad has also been a big supporter of privately operated charter schools, most of which are nonunion and compete with district-run schools for students.
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
A California legislator wants to ban inexperienced teachers in programs such as Teach for America from working in predominantly low-income schools, saying they lack the preparation to work effectively with the neediest students. “I want to make sure we have qualified, experienced teachers with our most vulnerable students,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens. Several studies show a correlation between teacher experience and student achievement, noting that students perform better academically as their teachers gain experience. Yet, many educators from Teach for America or similar programs leave after three years, Garcia said. “So, right when they’re getting to proficiency, we’re losing them. I acknowledge we have a teacher shortage, but is this really part of the solution? Garcia, a former high school and community college math teacher from Los Angeles County, has authored AB 221, which starting in 2020-21 would prohibit teachers in so-called third-party credential programs from working in schools where 40 percent or more of the students are low-income. They can teach in those schools only if they commit to working in the organization for a minimum of five years.
Language, Culture, and Power
Tim Walker, NEA Today
Political debate in the United States has deteriorated over the past two decades, as reasoned, well-informed dialogue has been eclipsed by hyperpartisanship, name-calling, even paranoia. But can anyone reasonably deny that the political climate today is debased beyond a point unimaginable perhaps even five years ago? Unfortunately, this hostility and incivility has seeped into our schools. Rigorous classroom debate is one thing; verbal attacks designed to incite and divide is something else altogether, presenting educators with a new set of formidable challenges. That’s the conclusion of a new survey of high school principals conducted by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) at UCLA. “The flow of the nation’s harsh political rhetoric does not stop at the school house gate, but instead, propelled by misinformation and social media, is fueling anger, fear and division that is negatively impacting students, schools and learning,” the report says.
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
More than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change. And that support crosses political divides, according to the results of an exclusive new NPR/Ipsos poll: Whether they have children or not, two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats agree that the subject needs to be taught in school. A separate poll of teachers found that they are even more supportive, in theory — 86% agree that climate change should be taught. These polls are among the first to gauge public and teacher opinion on how climate change should be taught to the generation that in the coming years will face its intensifying consequences: children. And yet, as millions of students around the globe participate in Earth Day events on Monday, our poll also found a disconnect. Although most states have classroom standards that at least mention human-caused climate change, most teachers aren’t actually talking about climate change in their classrooms. And fewer than half of parents have discussed the issue with their children.
Kyle Stokes, LAist
High school senior Tyler Okeke understands adult responsibilities — he views them from a front-row seat as the student representative on the Los Angeles Unified School Board. Okeke’s classmates understand them too. At the ages of 16 and 17, Okeke says his fellow high school students are not only driving and working. Some are paying taxes, caring for siblings or helping their families make ends meet by working breadwinning jobs. One of Okeke’s peers will often work late shifts at McDonald’s, “then go to a college class, then come home, and then come [to high school] the next day smelling like French fries, making sure he has enough to provide for his family and his college education.” Okeke argues if high schoolers can handle these responsibilities, it’s only right to give them another: voting.
Emma Kate Fittes, Indianapolis Star
There are five Noblesville East Middle School students in teacher Blair Morwick’s sixth grade classroom who traditionally would have been labeled “special education.” They have what are considered to be severe cognitive disabilities but sit next to students of all abilities, including gifted students, and learn the same things, just modified to a level that works for them. For example, earlier this year when the class did a solar system scavenger hunt, one group of students was hunting easy-to-read facts that teachers posted around the room while their classmates looked for papers with QR codes that, once scanned with their iPad, took them to a more complex online text. A couple of years ago these students’ disabilities would most likely have stopped them from being in Morwick’s general education classroom. Instead, they would have been separated into a special education room for most of the day and earned a certificate of completion, many of them simply for showing up to school, a roadblock in their path to the workplace. They may have learned about the solar system. Or they may have not. “In the past a student could have slept all day,” said Mark Booth, Noblesville Schools’ special education director. Over the past six years, Noblesville Schools has pioneered a major shift in Indiana’s approach to special education, abandoning decades-old practices to help students meet new academic standards. This is the first time Indiana’s certificate of completion includes mandated academic standards for special education students, which was approved in June 2018 and will go into effect for next school year’s freshman class.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
John Rogers, EdSource
As we mark yet another anniversary of a school massacre — this time the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado — it is clear that gun violence in our schools is not a threat that has diminished, but rather is something that is on the minds’ of most principals every day. In the years between the school shootings in Columbine and Parkland according to one analysis by Washington Post reporters John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich, there were shootings at 193 schools, affecting more than 187,000 enrolled students.
Today, the fear and impact of shootings in the nation’s schools has become all too real.
That reality is evident in new nationally representative survey of 505 high school principals conducted by the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, which I direct. In the survey, high-school principals from California to Connecticut said the threat of gun violence “has captured the most attention,” represents the “largest stress,” and poses the “gravest concerns.” In the words of one principal, “it’s probably the first thing I think of every morning and every night. You know, God forbid, but, what if.”
Eric Bruns and Jennifer Stuber, The Seattle Times
Our community, state and nation are in the midst of a children’s mental health crisis. As has been widely reported, King County has witnessed no fewer than four youth suicides thus far in April. Meanwhile, results from the mental health portion of Washington’s biannual Healthy Youth Survey were just released, and they confirm that our kids are experiencing emotional distress at levels that are historically high, dangerous and rising. One in four has a mental health problem — like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress — that compromises their ability to thrive. The rate of young people who have seriously considered suicide has increased 35% in the past decade. Yet according to survey results, when asked if they have had contact with a counselor at school in the last year, over half of eighth-grade students and nearly half of 10th-grade students said they did not. There is no better way to assure our children’s well-being and future success than to invest in mental-health supports provided in schools. When students show signs of distress, school-based mental-health services are far more accessible and trusted by young people. Schoolwide social-emotional learning programs, when implemented well, improve academic success for all students by 11 percent on average. Comprehensive school mental-health and suicide-prevention programs improve all students’ abilities to cope with stress and reduce the risks of both violence and suicide. Locating services in schools also reduces barriers to treatment, improving access for historically underserved populations.
Julie Patel Liss, EdSource
State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, earlier this month recounted to a group of medical students a common belief about preventable diseases that he once heard while studying to become a pediatrician. “You’re not likely to ever to see them because of the vaccines here in the United States,” said Pan, recalling the words of his microbiology professor, who had worked with Jonas Salk to develop the polio vaccine. “Unfortunately, today I cannot tell you that,” Pan said he told the students. The day prior to Pan’s talk, news outlets reported that UC Davis Health had warned roughly 200 people about a potential exposure to the highly contagious measles virus last month in the emergency room at UC-Davis Medical Center. Travelers with measles also have passed through Los Angeles and Long Beach airports in recent weeks.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Dan Walters, The Mercury News
California has poured tens of billions of additional dollars into its public schools this decade on the assumption – or hope – that they would close the state’s stubborn academic “achievement gap.” Former Gov. Jerry Brown championed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that gives school districts with large numbers of poor and/or “English-learner” students extra funds to improve their educational outcomes. Brown, however, was unwilling for the state to closely monitor how those billions of dollars were spent, or whether they had at least begun to close the gap. He said he trusted local school boards and educators to spend the money responsibly and effectively. There’s almost no evidence that the statewide gap has narrowed, but we may finally get some real data on how the LCFF money has been spent and whether it’s accomplishing its stated purpose. The Legislature has given State Auditor Elaine Howle the task of delving into how LCFF is working in “three large, geographically dispersed districts” with substantial numbers of at-risk students, determining how the districts are spending the extra money and how they are measuring their progress.
Daarel Burnette II, Education Week
One of the biggest critiques of the No Child Left Behind Act was that it forced states to impose penalties on schools based solely on test scores and high school graduation rates. Measures such as state takeover or replacing a school’s entire staff were simplistic or misguided, practitioners and policymakers argued—and, worse, created incentives to game the system. Meanwhile, states dumped reams of sometimes-outdated test-score and graduation-rate data on their hard-to-navigate websites, making it almost impossible for teachers and principals to figure out what needed to be fixed and preventing parents from using the data as tools to push for change.
Enter the Every Student Succeeds Act. The revised federal law requires states to use measures beyond just test scores and graduation rates to rate schools. And it requires states to publish on their annual report cards a range of data points about schools never before seen by the general public, including school spending amounts, teacher-pay averages, and academic and discipline disparities between student groups. This has provided both an opportunity and a challenge for state education departments. While states’ new accountability systems are much more comprehensive today, there’s still widespread disagreement about what data should be used to determine what makes for a high-quality school. And, for a variety of technical and logistical reasons, states have had a difficult time collecting and reporting accurate information about their schools in a way that’s digestible to the general public.
Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed
Congress passed sentencing reform legislation in December that was widely regarded as the first major step in recent years to address mass incarceration. Now many involved in that fight are turning their focus to higher education. A coalition of groups with a broad range of ideological positions is pushing to make repeal of the federal ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students a top priority as talks heat up over reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that oversees federal financial aid. Those organizations, including civil rights groups, religious colleges and conservative organizations, argue that college access for students behind bars is an issue of equity for postsecondary education and also the logical extension of efforts to end mass incarceration. “For two years, all anyone has been talking about is 94 percent of people in prison are going to come home someday. This was a natural next step,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “This is just saying, let’s allow people to use their time to improve themselves and to prepare themselves for returning home.”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Emily Richmond, The Hechinger Report
In 2014, a cash-strapped school district in rural northeast Kansas turned to its residents with a plea: Pay a little more in taxes annually so we can renovate classrooms, update the wiring and give students better spaces to learn. Voters rejected the measure by a margin of 54 to 46 percent. While disappointing, the results were hardly surprising to the district’s leaders. Unified School District 377 has tried — and failed — to pass measures for capital construction five times in 18 years. The last successful school bond campaign was in 1974. Since then, maintenance problems have compounded. One snowy morning this January, the 26-year-old boiler in the district’s central office building, which also houses the preschool and kindergarten classes, sputtered to a stop. Replacing it would cost as much as $50,000, said Superintendent Andrew Gaddis, who has been in the position for about 18 months. The best-case scenario would be an affordable patch job that would last through the winter, buying the school board a little more time.
Emily Tate, EdSurge
In the 10 months since Girls Who Code announced a set of policy recommendations aimed at closing the gender gap in K-12 computer science, the national nonprofit has been working with states to promote legislation that would help measure the extent of the gender disparity in U.S. classrooms. On Wednesday, Washington became the first state to get on board with Girls Who Code’s policy agenda when Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed into law a bill written with the expressed intention of closing the gender gap in computer science fields. “This is landmark legislation,” Corinne Roller, director of advocacy and public policy at Girls Who Code, tells EdSurge. “It’s going to put Washington ahead of a lot of other states, in terms of closing the gender gap and all the other gaps that we know exist in computer science.” The bill—which is “almost word-for-word” the language Girls Who Code recommended, Roller says—requires that K-12 schools in Washington track and publicly report the number of computer science classes they offer and who enrolls in them. Specifically, schools must disclose the number and percentage of students who participate in computer science courses, with demographic breakdowns by gender, race and ethnicity, English learner status, eligibility for free-and-reduced lunch, special education status and grade level.
Carrie Jung, WBUR
When ninth grade humanities teacher Sydney Chaffee decided she wanted to become a teacher, she admits her expectations were wildly idealistic. “This is the path that was meant for me,” she remembered thinking. “I’m going to go in there and I’m going to save all the children.” But those unrealistic expectations — and savior complex — didn’t last long. Like many new teachers, Chaffee struggled through her first year in the classroom at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester in 2007. She said while all of her papers and lesson plans were in order each day, she had a hard time adjusting to the reality of heading up a classroom: from keeping her students’ attention to forming connections. She learned a lot that year. But the biggest lesson came just a few months after school started. Chaffee — who is white — got into in a seemingly straightforward altercation with 12th grader Tyrell Brewster — who is black.
Public Schools and Private $
Outside public view, panel faces tight deadline to recommend reforms of California’s charter school law
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
Each Thursday a group of educators and representatives of labor unions meets — out of the public eye — for several hours at the California Department of Education building in Sacramento to take on arguably the most contentious current issue on California’s education reform landscape: charter school reform. Known as the Charter Task Force, it was set up by newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in March. Gov. Gavin Newsom requested the task force in the wake of the Los Angeles Unified teachers’ strike and after the school board there called for a “comprehensive study” of various aspects of charter schools in the district, including their “financial implications.” The 11 members of the task force, with Thurmond facilitating their discussions, have what some might view as a nearly impossible task — coming up with recommendations by July 1 on tough issues that have been simmering in California for years, but have exploded on the state’s public policy agenda largely as a result of heightened teacher activism in Los Angeles, Oakland and other districts.
Scott Rodd, Capital Public Radio
Two national civil rights organizations are at odds over a proposal in California to limit the number and increase oversight of charter schools. The National Action Network, an organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in the early 1990s, opposes the legislation. The group claims putting a cap on charter schools would have a disproportionate impact on black communities, where students rely on them as an alternative to traditional public schools. The NAACP supports the legislation and claims it would help black students by cracking down on failing charter schools. The organization argues the state’s charter school laws have not been substantially changed for more than 25 years and are overdue for revision. The current proposal would establish a limit on charter schools in California, based on how many the state has by 2020. It would also grant local school districts more authority over their approval.
Perry Stein, The Washington Post
Employees at a D.C. charter school are attempting to unionize, a rare move that would make the 115 teachers and staff members the biggest union of charter school workers to ever form in the District. If successful, Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School would be the only unionized charter campus at the start of the next school year. Teachers at Chavez Prep Middle — a campus that is part of the D.C. Cesar Chavez charter network — are unionized, but that school is expected to close this summer. Employees at Mundo Verde Bilingual — a top-performing charter school that attracts a lengthy waiting list of students hoping to attend each year — say they want a louder voice in decisions that administrators make. The school in the Truxton Circle neighborhood is expanding and plans to open a second campus this summer. The employees, who want a pay raise, say they are stretched thin, with too many responsibilities to effectively identify and address students’ needs.
Other News of Note
Yes, we know what great teaching looks like — but we have an education system that ‘utterly fails to support it.’ What’s wrong and how to fix it.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; James Nehring, University of Massachusetts at Lowell
You could be forgiven if you have gotten the impression that we are still trying to figure out exactly what great teaching looks like. In recent years, the teaching profession has been under assault by those who have sought to deprofessionalize it, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on various projects and studies to find out the so-called “secret sauce” of great teaching. Actually, we do know — and as this post explains, we also know that the education system doesn’t support it.