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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Next month, the Supreme Court will hear a case determining whether it’s okay for the Trump administration’s Census Bureau to include a question about citizenship on the Census 2020 form. The message to SCOTUS from a group of education advocacy organizations: Don’t let it happen. The KIPP Foundation, a charter network; Advocates for Children of New York, a non-profit working on behalf of disadvantaged students; the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, an advocacy organization for urban communities; and UnidosUS, which works on behalf of Latinos, sent an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief to the Supreme Court arguing that a citizenship question would “exacerbate the undercount that already plagues immigrant communities of color.” Essentially, the organizations argue that asking a question about citizenship will disaude people in immigrant communities from responding to the census, potentially leaving their schools with fewer resources. The Trump administration, however, contends the question is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Katie Orr, KQED
From his first minutes as governor, Gavin Newsom made it clear helping children was going to be a big part of his administration when his two-year-old son, Dutch, walked onto the stage during his inaugural address. Newsom scooped him up and kept talking. “My wife Jennifer and I have four children,” he said. “There’s nothing more important, I hope you can tell, than giving them a good and happy life.” But in that same speech, Newsom made clear he realizes not all kids are as lucky as his own. He listed some of the issues California has to deal with to improve the lives of kids. “An achievement gap in our schools and a readiness gap that holds back millions of our kids. And too many of our children know the ache of chronic hunger,” he said. About 20 percent of California children live in poverty — that number is higher for black and Latino kids. And, depending on their grade, nearly 60 percent of school children aren’t proficient in reading or math. “Kids in California are not faring well and there’s really no excuse for that,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a California advocacy group. “We’re obviously a strong economy. We’re relatively high in taxes. We’re a progressive state,” Lempert said. “There’s really no excuse for the fact that far too many of our kids aren’t getting the basic support to reach their potential.”
John Fensterwald and Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
Gov. Gavin Newsom has nominated a former superintendent of Sanger Unified and an early childhood advocate to two positions on the State Board of Education. Matt Navo and Kim Pattillo-Brownson will join Newsom’s earlier appointee, Stanford University emeritus professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who was elected board president at her first meeting last month. That leaves Newsom one more vacancy to fill on the 11-member state board. Navo, 48, is currently director of systems transformation at the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention for WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research and training nonprofit. Before that, he was superintendent of Sanger Unified, a 12,000-student, low-income district in the Central Valley recognized and studied for gains in student achievement. Before becoming superintendent, he worked as an elementary teacher, special education teacher, middle, high school and alternative education principal, and directed Sanger’s special education services. He then became assistant superintendent and later, superintendent.
Language, Culture, and Power
Lori Higgins, Chalkbeat
There are African words on the wall. Books by African-American authors in the cabinet. Posters of notable African-American scholars on the walls. But much of what makes this an African-centered classroom is what happens when teacher Welia Dawson and her students are breaking down a poem by the English poet Rudyard Kipling. This poem called “If” — written in the form of advice from a parent to a son — is part of the required school district curriculum. But as her students are talking about how perseverance is a theme in the poem, Dawson relates it back to another poem — this one written by the African American poet Langston Hughes. “In ‘Mother to Son,’ isn’t she saying the same thing to her son?” Dawson asks the students in her all-male English language arts class at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, before taking the conversation to a deeper and more personal level. “That’s something that as African American males, you need to realize,” she tells the sixth-graders. “Life for you is not going to be easy. That’s why you have to strive or work even harder to prove to the world what you’re made of. You don’t give up when times get hard.” Schools like Paul Robeson Malcolm X, with its African-centered approach to education that is built around the notion that black children need to understand their history and culture to succeed academically, made a Detroit a leader and spurred districts in other parts of the country to replicate the approach. The school’s principal, Jeffery Robinson, is among those hoping to see a resurgence of African-centered education in the Detroit school district, something he believes could boost achievement in the struggling district.
Just 24 states mandate sex education for K-12 students, and only 9 require any discussion of consent. See how California compares
Laura Fay, LA School Report
Sex education is getting more attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement, particularly the need to teach students about consent. What students learn about sex and sexuality during school varies widely from state to state and even from classroom to classroom. But this spring lawmakers in a handful of states are trying to pass bills to update their sex education policies to help students become more informed and better prepared to make good decisions. Just 24 states mandate sex education in schools. Of those, only 10 require that it be medically accurate. Only nine require that it include consent.
Camille Erickson, The Chicago Reporter
As mayoral candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot spar over their visions for a new era of equitable education in Chicago, they do so against the backdrop of unprecedented upheaval in the city’s charter schools. In the span of just three months, Chicago witnessed nearly 700 of its charter school teachers walk out on strike, with the Acero network launching the first charter school strike in U.S. history last December, and the Chicago International Charter School network teachers following suit in February. As of March 25, Chicago charter teachers at over a dozen other charter schools continue to bargain for new contract agreements with seven charter school operators, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. In addition to demands for more special education resources, higher wages and smaller class sizes, the contract agreements settled in both strikes with Acero and CICS include “true sanctuary school” policies, enshrining protections for undocumented students and aiming to give all students a safe and culturally appropriate environment to learn in.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
David Washburn, EdSource
Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear throughout his campaign that improving the health and welfare of California’s children and young families would be among his signature issues. To underscore his commitment in the days after he took office, Newsom named Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who specializes in the impacts of trauma and toxic stress on the health of children, as the state’s first-ever surgeon general. The 44-year-old Burke Harris was born in Canada and lived in Jamaica when she was a toddler, but spent most of her childhood in Palo Alto. In 2005, after earning her bachelor’s degree at Berkeley and her medical degree from UC Davis, she founded a clinic that serves children in the low-income neighborhoods of Bay View-Hunters Point in southeast San Francisco. Through her medical practice and research, Burke Harris has become recognized as a pioneer in the study of how adverse childhood experiences affect the developing brain and can lead to lifelong health and mental health problems. EdSource recently caught up with Burke Harris, who is the mother of four boys, and talked with her about what she plans to do in her new job. Her answers to our questions were edited for length and clarity.
Kayla Epstein, The Washington Post
Most kids look forward to the weekend. But for some students at Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart, Ind., it’s not always a happy time. “A lot of them are food insecure,” said Natalie Bickel, the supervisor of student services at Elkhart Community Schools. “They know they’re not going to have a breakfast and a lunch.” Angel Null, whose two children attend the school, said the family had recently fallen on hard times. Her husband had been laid off from his job in the RV industry shortly after she became a stay-at-home mom last fall. “It’s been a struggle as a mom,” she told The Washington Post. “There’s times where its been just peanut butter and jelly.” But this weekend, her son, 8 and daughter, 6, came home with backpacks filled with frozen meals. They could choose from French toast and red velvet macadamia nut pancakes for breakfast. There were drumsticks and hot dogs for lunch.
Alisha Kirby, K-12 Daily
Many states are still failing to eliminate lead from school drinking water, often because of flawed policies governing testing and equipment upgrades, according to a new report from the D.C.-based Environment America Research & Policy Center. Researchers reviewed the laws and regulations of 31 states and the District of Columbia. Letter grades were assigned based on criteria including, among other things, if schools are required to proactively remove lead from water delivery systems, or only required to take action if contamination is discovered. “As more schools test their water, they are finding lead,” Emma Dietz, a co-author of the report, said in a statement. “So waiting for more tests to confirm that our children are drinking water laced with lead is unconscionable. It’s time to shift our approach from reactive to proactive.” According to a 2015 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of U.S. children are estimated to have been adversely affected by lead over the last 20 years. Lead is a neurotoxin that can attack the brain and nervous system causing coma, seizures or even death when high levels get into the human body. Research shows that children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their rapidly developing bodies and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Lead exposure in children can lead to impaired memory and self-control, increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other attention issues, delayed in development of language skills and hearing loss, among other challenges.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
John Fensterwald, EdSource
Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, remains undeterred in his quest to give school districts the option of replacing the state’s current 11th-grade standardized test with the college entrance exams SAT or ACT and reimbursing them for the costs. O’Donnell is again authoring legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed last year, and on Wednesday the Assembly Education Committee, which he chairs, gave it the first push. It passed AB 751, this year’s version, 5-0 with support from the dozens of school districts that already offer the college admissions exams at their own expense. But less than 24 hours later, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced legislation calling on the University of California and California State University to re-examine the SAT and the ACT with an eye toward phasing out and replacing the tests as criteria for college admissions. UC is already undertaking this study, but the Legislature’s action would add urgency to its work.
What happens when you put a classroom on wheels and park it in the poorest neighborhoods of San Francisco?
Elizabeth Weil, The California Sunday Magazine
One day late last August, Shelia Hill sat at a table on a sidewalk in Sunnydale, outside a San Francisco city bus that had been painted an exceedingly upbeat shade of apple green, yelling at every car that rolled by. “YOU GOT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA?” “Hey, how YOU doing? You got a minute?” Shelia — who is 51 and has bright red hair and who is fond of sharp sweats, lacquered nails, and a pair of Adidas that say love — was sitting with Katie, the bus driver, trying to recruit students. Shelia was doing all the work. “How’s your day going? Blessed?” “Hey, YOU got a diploma? You want an application?” Sunnydale — the name of a housing project but really the name of a neighborhood — is one of the poorest, most forgotten parts of San Francisco. If Shelia could get people to fill out applications, she could perhaps get them to change their lives, since the bus was a traveling classroom, the latest project of the Five Keys Charter School. Shelia had done it — she’d bucked nearly 40 years of failing at school and earned a high school degree. Though to be honest, she hadn’t done it on her first try. Or her second. Or third. Or fourth try, either. By the time Shelia arrived at the Five Keys classroom at 1099 Sunnydale Avenue, in 2014, she’d not learned how to read in high school and dropped out. She’d not learned how to read at San Francisco City College and dropped out. “The lady told me I was wasting my time,” she says. “That I just need to get a job, let the school thing go.” She’d fallen into drugs, prostitution, bad relationships, and jail.
John H. Falk, RealClear Education
When people think about public education they almost invariably think of formal education. The popular conception of public education centers by default on K-12 schools and classrooms and teachers who deliver a standard-based curriculum. In one sense, this is what public education is, insofar as public education can be understood as a system of districts and schools. But this understanding represents an overly narrow way of thinking about where and how learning takes place. Moreover, it excludes a vast array of public spaces—such as libraries, museums, science centers, zoos and aquariums, national parks, and community centers—that are purpose-built as learning environments. That is, they are spaces devoted to public education. Learning takes place in a wide variety of environments, and formal education settings together represent just a single, albeit important, one of these environments. In fact, much, if not most of the learning that people do takes place during what are called free-choice learning events in which an individual exercises a large degree of choice and control over what, when, and why they are learning. This could be as simple as young person choosing to read a book about insects or an adult exploring a new exhibition at the local natural history museum.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Jill Anderson, Harvard EdCast
Eighteen years ago, Vanessa Siddle Walker, professor of African American Educational Studies at Emory University, was given the key to unlock a little-known history: the history of black educators’ struggle for educational justice in the era of desegregation. After spending the bulk of her career researching the history of segregation in America, Walker found out that there was a lot more to tell about school integration efforts, especially around the question of why schools are more segregated today than 50 years ago. The story begins with a man many of us are not familiar with, a Civil Rights–era educator named Horace Tate.
Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times
On cold mornings, Les Goodson shows up early outside the University Club, on a wealthy stretch of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and races two panhandlers he has nicknamed Catman and Pimp-the-Baby for a warm spot in front of a steam vent. He launches into “Take Five” on his saxophone, leaving his case open for bills and coins. In a good week, it’s a living — enough to pay the rent on his railroad flat in Harlem and put food on the table. A few times, he has seen a former classmate, Gregory Peterson, bound into the social club without so much as a nod. Mr. Goodson, 67, and his classmate were among a record number of black students admitted to Columbia University in 1969. Columbia and other competitive colleges had already begun changing the racial makeup of their campuses as the civil rights movement gained ground, but the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and the resulting student strikes and urban uprisings, prompted them to redouble their efforts. They acted partly out of a moral imperative, but also out of fear that the fabric of society was being torn apart by racial conflict. They took chances on promising black students from poor neighborhoods they had long ignored, in addition to black students groomed by boarding schools. A look back through the decades shows what went right in the early years of affirmative action in college admissions, but also what can go wrong even with the best of intentions.
Agnes Constante, NBC News
On an overcast morning recently near downtown Los Angeles, 16 fourth-grade students scattered across their school garden to examine and identify different types of vegetation they had just reviewed in class minutes earlier. They quickly point out California poppies, sagebrush and several other species that populate the 4,500-square-foot garden at Esperanza Elementary School. A few students crouch down to more closely observe pollinators fluttering around some of the plants. The garden at Esperanza Elementary is one of more than 7,000 school gardens across the country, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census taken in 2015 — learning tools the federal government has encouraged since the early 1900s. Research has shown that the gardens are tied to a number of benefits, including higher science grades and better eating habits. And at schools attended largely by low-income students and students of color, school gardens can be particularly beneficial because they can help address some of the disadvantages students at those schools tend to face, including fewer educational resources.
Public Schools and Private $
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
California’s K-12 public schools this year experienced the biggest drop in enrollment in the past five years, according to new state data released Thursday. While the number of students at traditional public schools has steadily declined, the number attending charter schools in the state continues to increase. “This data provides a critical snapshot of all students in California, highlighting trends that show areas where students are improving, where they’re struggling and where additional resources are needed,” Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction, said Thursday. A total of 34,135 fewer students were enrolled this school year compared to last, more than four times the drop experienced the prior year. Until this year, the biggest single-year decline in the past five years had been 8,783 from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 school year. Significant trends over the last five years show an overall 0.8 percent decline in student enrollment statewide, from 6.2 million in 2014-15 to 6.19 million in 2018-19. Meanwhile, charter school enrollment grew from 544,980 students to 652,933 students during the same time period.
Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
California is home to about one out of every five charter schools in the United States, but state oversight of them is far from a national model. Since the Charter Schools Act of 1992 was passed more than a quarter-century ago, a political standoff in Sacramento has made it almost impossible to repair even the parts of the charter law that no one disputes are broken. Even though Democrats have a firm grip on the Legislature, they are not united on charter schools. Torn between allegiances to pro-charter philanthropists and the powerful teachers union, lawmakers have for years begun each legislative session by introducing a handful of bills favorable to one side or the other. Many have died in committee. Those that have made it to a governor’s desk often have been vetoed. With the arrival of Gov. Gavin Newsom, there are signs that the gridlock is ending.
Jenna Portnoy, The Washington Post
The fight over the D.C. private school voucher program, the only federally funded program of its kind, is heating up as the Trump administration wants to double the size of the program while House Democrats scrutinize its operations. The program, created by a Republican-controlled Congress in 2004, uses federal tax dollars to pay tuition at private and parochial schools for low-income District students. It has been lauded by conservatives, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who say voucher programs provide alternatives for children stuck in failing public schools. Most Democrats, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative, oppose private school vouchers, saying public dollars should flow to public schools.
Other News of Note
Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Los Angeles Review of Books
President Trump is right about one thing: there is an emergency; indeed we would call it a humanitarian catastrophe at the US southern border. It is also a demographic, political, and moral catastrophe. However, the chaotic “solutions” devised by former Attorney General Sessions and embraced by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security has brought us ever deeper into the unthinkable, Primo Levi’s “Grey Zone.” Nine months after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite thousands of immigrant children taken from their parents at the border, the whereabouts of thousands of children remains unresolved. Some 15,000 migrant children are in government detention. That figure is growing by the day as the number of migrant families crossing southern border reached an 11-year high this February with “unauthorized entries nearly double what they were a year ago.” The most recent Border Patrol data shows that 76,103 migrants were apprehended at the border — two thirds more than during the prior month. More than 40,000 were families travelling together. Children and newborns continue to be taken from their parents even as the Administration claims to have rescinded the order to forcibly separate migrant families.