Just News from Center X – April 30, 2021

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Biden takes aim at American inequality by investing $1.8 trillion in families

Anna North and Ella Nilsen, Vox

President Joe Biden on Wednesday proposed a $1.8 trillion package that, if passed, would be the largest American investment in child care, paid leave, and early education in recent history — if not ever. The American Families Plan would work with states to incentivize universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the nation, provide two years of free community college to those who want it, make child care more affordable for low- and middle-income families, create a new national program for family and medical leave, and expand the maximum Pell Grant for college by about 20 percent. The plan also provides $800 billion worth of tax relief for families with children: It extends the expanded child tax credit from Biden’s Covid-19 relief package until 2025, and permanently expands Affordable Care Act tax credits to lower health insurance costs for millions of Americans, among other things.

How Chicago teachers won a safer reopening

Catherine Henderson, In These Times

Linda Perales has spent the past year in the crossfire of the debate around reopening schools. As a special education cluster teacher in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), she’s felt unsafe, confused and frustrated. But as the dust settles, she emphasizes that she couldn’t have done it without the solidarity of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and her school community. On April 19, following negotiations between CTU and CPS over high school reopening, Chicago high school students returned to classrooms for the first time in over a year. The union has won key demands around Covid-19 safety precautions, reaching an agreement that includes the promise of a district-wide vaccination plan for students and families in communities that were hit hardest by the coronavirus, as well as options to continue working from home for educators with health risks.


Irene B. West, who broke barriers as Elk Grove’s first Black teacher, dies at 88

Darrell Smith, Sacramento Bee

Irene B. West, a pathcharting educator in Elk Grove as the city’s first Black teacher, remembered for her graciousness and a deeply rooted faith, died Wednesday at her Sacramento home. She was 88. News of West’s death rippled quickly through the city where she served as an educator and Elk Grove Unified School District principal at seven district schools over a nearly 30-year career and where an elementary school bears her name. The school’s slogan: “Go 2 West — Go 2 College!” West, a graduate of the historically Black college Fisk University in Tennessee, came from a family of teachers and moved to Sacramento with her husband, an employee at McClellan Air Force Base, in 1962. She soon found a job as a teacher in then-rural Elk Grove. West would teach at Elk Grove, James McKee and Florin elementary schools before serving as principal of John Reith and Cosumnes River elementary schools. West retired as principal of Franklin Elementary School in 1989. After her namesake school opened in 2002, West remained an active presence at the campus into her 80s.

Language, Culture, and Power

The Burden of Being ‘On Point’

Adam Harris, The Atlantic

Social workers and educators who see young people—especially Black boys who live in poor, segregated neighborhoods—react aggressively, become irritable, or have trouble concentrating often identify such behavior as maladaptive. But new research, led by Noni Gaylord-Harden, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, proposes that the young people’s behavior is a rational response to their environment and helps keep them safe. Her findings suggest that instead of focusing on these behaviors—identifying them as pathologies to be punished or symptoms to be treated—policy makers need to recognize them as adaptive and work to change the inequitable environment that produces them. Gaylord-Harden’s study builds upon the work of scholars such as Jocelyn Smith Lee, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who in 2013 launched a project investigating trauma, violence, and loss among Black men.

Today’s Underground Railroad: From jail to freedom with education

Maisie Sparks, Christian Science Monitor

Say the word abolitionist and you might think someone is about to destroy something. But that’s not what comes to mind for Jia Johnson, who describes herself as an abolitionist. For her, the word is one of hope, an expectation that something new is about to be created. Quan Evans experienced that kind of abolition. Old habits and perspectives gave way to new, more constructive ones when he took a theological studies course Ms. Johnson co-taught during his time in jail.  “I really got more into reading and writing because of those classes,” says Mr. Evans, who earned a certificate in theological studies from McCormick Theological Seminary while he was incarcerated. “I even read Dr. King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ on my own time. It made me think about what I was supposed to be doing here. … You don’t bring negativity into a negative place. … You think about how you can change things.”

At two Mankato high schools, new course aims to tie history of social justice to movements today [AUDIO]

Hannah Yang, MPR

Brinley Ketter has spent most of his high school career navigating an uncertain world. He started as a freshman at Mankato East High School in the fall of 2019, and since then, he and his classmates have been trying to find ways to process crisis after crisis, from pandemic to racism to rising hate crimes and the relentlessness of headlines about Black people being killed by police. “I remember that, in ninth grade, we were all full of life, and we were all hopeful. And then COVID hits, then George Floyd, Mr. [Daunte] Wright,” Ketter, 16 said.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

‘Place Of Peace And Security’: Bringing The Library Home During The Pandemic [Comic]

Eda Uzunlar, NPR

It’s been a year since teachers were handed an unprecedented request: Educate students in entirely new ways, amid the backdrop of a global pandemic. In this comic series, we’ll illustrate one educator’s story each week from now until the end of the school year. Librarian Emily Curtis and bus driver Edwin Steer of Georgetown, Texas, discuss creating places of “peace and security” by delivering books to students who can’t be in school.

‘Let children play’: the educational message from across Europe

Jon Henley, Philip Oltermann, Sam Jones and Angela Giuffrida, The Guardian

Every morning, Arja Salonen drops her five-year-old son, Onni, off at a daycare centre in Espoo, west of Helsinki, where he will spend the next eight hours doing what Finnish educators believe all children his age should do: playing. School, and formal learning, does not start in Finland until age seven. Before then, children’s preoccupations are not reading, writing or arithmetic, but, said Salonen, herself a secondary-school teacher in the capital, “learning more important things”.

Those include, she says, how to make friends, communicate, be active, get creative, explore the outdoors and manage risk. “In Finland we feel children must be children, and that means playing – including, as much as possible, outdoors,” she said.

The Dismal State of School Infrastructure, in Charts

Mark Lieberman, Education Week

A high school in Pennsylvania has leaky pipes and broken fire alarms. The ceiling collapsed at an empty elementary school in Connecticut, causing it to flood. A public pre-K facility in North Carolina found lead in its water fountains and faucets. These are just a handful of recent examples that illustrate the woefully inadequate condition of many of America’s public school buildings. Insufficient and inequitable public investment, growing nationwide K-12 enrollment, and evolving technology needs have created a situation in which thousands of school buildings are years, or even decades, behind on repairs and upgrades. Millions of students learn in buildings that are unsafe and overcrowded.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Please forgive me @NYSEDNews@usedgov

Joanna Cohen, Twitter

I know administrators are supposed to be quiet and toe the line, but I have to speak my mind on what happened in our schools today. Today I proctored a state standardized test to nine 3rd graders who have never taken a state test; who have not set foot in their schools in over one year; and who were masked and confined to their seats, 6 feet apart, for more than two hours. Some of them had no idea what to do with a standardized test and so they sat and stared ahead, too afraid to say anything until I asked what was wrong.


Biden’s plan for families could bolster California’s push for early education, care

Karen D’Souza, Ed Source

President Joe Biden’s relief plan for families, which he rolled out in Wednesday’s address to a joint session of Congress, may well be a transformative move for children, early childhood advocates say, taking a historic step toward establishing a seamless system of early education and care. Dubbed the “American Families Plan,” this roughly $1.8 trillion infrastructure package would set aside big money for key early childhood initiatives as part of a vast cradle-to-college agenda. Key proposals in this 10-year plan include an estimated $200 billion for universal preschool programs, $225 billion for child care and $225 billion for paid family and medical leave. The plan would also extend the increased child tax credit until 2025, a measure estimated to cost as much as $400 billion.

Biden Directs Education Funding to Community Colleges, a Key Lifeline

Stephanie Saul and Dana Goldstein, New York Times

After she got divorced in 2015, Sonia Medeiros, 48, knew she had to earn a college degree. She needed to support herself and her young son, but employers were not responding to her résumé, which showed only a high school education from her native country, Brazil. The coronavirus pandemic made everything worse. She lost her job in food services and sometimes struggled to afford groceries, rent and car insurance payments. She could not look for new paid work, she said, because her 13-year-old son’s school shut down often because of virus cases. Throughout, her federal Pell grant to pay tuition at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, where she is studying nutrition and culinary management, was an essential source of stability.


Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Indigenous Education Task Force addressing education inequality

Abby Wargo, Rapid City Journal

After years of “empty promises,” Rapid City Area Schools is taking action on the achievement gap between Indigenous students and their white counterparts. An Indigenous Education Task Force formed in February to address the educational experience, learning environment, and academic outcomes for Indigenous RCAS students. The idea for the Indigenous Education Task Force at the end of the 2019-20 school year was at the behest of the Title VI Indian Education Parent Advisory Council. The task force will continue meeting until fall 2022, when a final report and recommendations on how to improve Indigenous education in Rapid City will be given to the Superintendent.

Integration and the disappearance of Black teachers

Holly Kays, Smoky Mountain News

For Lin Forney, the end of fourth grade was the end of an era.  The year was 1963, and the world was changing. Nine years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down the “separate-but-equal” precedent that allowed racial segregation in schools, and the Civil Rights movement was spurring change — or at least talk of it — in communities across the South. Now, that change was coming home to Haywood County. The schools were desegregating. Before integration, Forney attended the all-Black Pigeon Street School, which now houses the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center, of which Forney is executive director. Her teachers and classmates were also her neighbors in the close-knit community that was her world. She loved it.

There is growing segregation in millennial wealth 

Greg Rosalsky, NPR

A few years ago, as everyone focused incessantly on millennials’ apparent obsession with avocado toast, a team of researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis got to work investigating something much more serious: millennial wealth. They found that the typical millennial household, as of 2016, had only about $28,000 in net worth — putting them 40% behind what previous generations had in wealth at the same age (in inflation-adjusted terms). The data suggested we millennials were becoming a “lost generation,” destined to be poorer than the generations that preceded us.

Democracy and the Public Interest

N.J. Supreme Court hears case about Newark charter school growth and segregation

Patrick Wall, Chalkbeat

New Jersey’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in an appeal contending that the state failed to consider how the spread of Newark charter schools threatens the city’s traditional public schools and segregates students by race and ability. The case stems from a former state education commissioner’s 2016 decision to allow several charter schools to expand in Newark. The appeal challenges a lower court’s ruling, which upheld the decision. The outcome could determine how many Newark students are able to attend charter schools, which currently enroll over a third of the city’s more than 56,000 public school students. The case also takes up weighty questions that could impact schools beyond Newark. Must the state assess whether charter schools leave traditional schools on shaky financial footing and increase segregation even if the local school district doesn’t raise those concerns? And how should the state determine whether charter schools make segregation worse?

Former Obama White House advisor Seth Andrew arrested, accused of stealing from charter school he founded

Dan Mangan, CNBC

Seth Andrew, who served as an education advisor in the Obama White House, was arrested Tuesday morning on charges of scheming to steal $218,005 from a public charter school network that he founded, federal authorities said. Andrew, 42, was busted in New York City, where he and his wife, CBS News anchor Lana Zak, have a residence valued at more than $2 million.

The founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools is accused of using more than half of the allegedly stolen money from that network to maintain a bank account minimum that gave him a more favorable interest rate for a mortgage on his and Zak’s Manhattan residence. Zak was not charged in the case. Prosecutors said Andrew in 2019 — more than two years after severing ties with Democracy Prep — looted a series of escrow accounts he had previously set up for individual schools within Democracy Prep’s network, and then used their funds to open a business account in the name of one of the schools at a bank.

A private school in Miami, citing false claims, bars vaccinated teachers from contact with students

Patricia Mazzei, New York Times

A private school in the fashionable Design District of Miami sent its faculty and staff a letter last week about getting vaccinated against Covid-19. But unlike institutions that have encouraged and even facilitated vaccination for teachers, the school, Centner Academy, did the opposite: One of its co-founders, Leila Centner, informed employees “with a very heavy heart” that if they chose to get a shot, they would have to stay away from students. In an example of how misinformation threatens the nation’s effort to vaccinate enough Americans to get the coronavirus under control, Ms. Centner, who has frequently shared anti-vaccine posts on Facebook, claimed in the letter that “reports have surfaced recently of non-vaccinated people being negatively impacted by interacting with people who have been vaccinated.”


Other News of Note

Mary Beth Tinker on Her Landmark Student Speech Victory Central in New SCOTUS Case — And Why Today’s Youth Activism is as Vital as Ever

Mark Keierleber, The 74

Mary Beth Tinker was just 13 years old when she wore a black armband to school and changed America. As the Vietnam War grew increasingly controversial in the late 1960s, she and several other students from Des Moines, Iowa, wore armbands to class in a plea for peace despite a new school policy that sought to stifle their activism. Suspended for disobeying school orders, her silent protest eventually found its way before the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices released a landmark 1969 opinion protecting the First Amendment rights of students in public schools. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the court found that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and that educators “may not silence student expression just because they dislike it.” But on-campus speech does have its limits, the court found, and educators can punish students for comments that cause a “substantial disruption” to student learning — a threshold known today as the “Tinker standard.”