Just News from Center X – April 5, 2024

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

America has legislated itself into competing red, blue versions of education

Hannah Natanson, Lauren Tierney and Clara Ence Morse, Washington Post

American states passed a blizzard of education laws and policies over the past six years that aim to reshape how K-12 schools and colleges teach and present issues of race, sex and gender to the majority of the nation’s students — with instruction differing sharply by states’ political leanings, according to a Washington Post analysis. Three-fourths of the nation’s school-aged students are now educated under state-level measures that either require more teaching on issues like race, racism, history, sex and gender, or which sharply limit or fully forbid such lessons, according to a sweeping Post review of thousands of state laws, gubernatorial directives and state school board policies. The restrictive laws alone affect almost half of all Americans aged 5 to 19. Since 2017, 38 states have adopted 114 such laws, rules or orders, The Post found.

Name-Calling and Calling the Police: How N.Y.C. Parent Meetings Got Mean

Troy Closson, New York Times

New York City has never been immune to heated education fights, but in recent months those fights have taken on a new level of vitriol and aggression, and expanded to focus on a broader menu of divisive issues. The battles reflect the nation’s growing political divide even in this deep blue city, as parents layer old debates — how issues of race and discrimination are taught in schools, for example — over newer ones, such as the role of transgender students in sports and how schools should address the Israel-Hamas war. Parents have shouted over each other, called each other bigots and made formal complaints about behavior at meetings traditionally focused on issues like school improvements and student achievement. Some parents have filed police reports against each other for harassment. One woman said she was mailed a parcel with feces inside.

National Teacher of the Year helps diverse students and their families thrive in rural Tennessee

Travis Loller, AP News

When Ali Aglan joined Missy Testerman’s second grade class, his family had just moved from Egypt to rural east Tennessee, where his parents now run an Italian restaurant. Coming home from school one day in the town of Rogersville, he told his mother that no one would talk to him. “He said, ‘I have no friends there.’ He was crying. It broke my heart,” Rabab Aglan said. So she called the teacher. “I don’t know what she did, but a few days later he came home and said, ‘Now I have a lot of friends.’” Officials announced Wednesday that Testerman has been named the 2024 National Teacher of the Year. Those who know Testerman say that’s no wonder, having become familiar with the magic she works in the classroom each day. Testerman has a special affinity for children from other cultures who comprise just a fraction of the 650 students at the pre-K-8 Rogersville City School. That is why, after 30 years of teaching first and second grade, Testerman got an endorsement to teach English as a second language in 2022.

Language, Culture, and Power

Migrant students navigate a new reality [AUDIO]

P.S. Weekly Podcast, Chalkbeat NY

The first episode of P.S. Weekly focuses on one of the biggest education stories in New York City this year: the arrival of thousands of migrant students. Officials estimate that more than 36,000 migrant students have enrolled in city schools over the past two years. What challenges are these new students facing? And what are schools doing to support them? This student-reported episode explores these questions through conversations with students, educators, and a journalist who’s been covering the issue.

Indigenous parents, students form Native American Parent Advisory Council at Folsom-Cordova Unified School District

Srishti Prabha, CapRadio

Sixteen-year-old Kaylee Mize grew up Indigenous in the Folsom-Cordova region. She said she looked around her — at teachers, students, and other community members — and “felt like the outcast.” And when asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day, she couldn’t fathom why Native land acknowledgements were not part of protocol. “Let’s honor who’s land we’re actually on,” she said. “It’s not acknowledged that we’re even still here.” Her father Joshua Mize, of the Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Osage, and Quapaw tribes, also attended schools in Folsom-Cordova Unified School District. Mize is part of the first Native American Parent Advisory Council, or NAPAC, to be formed in the district.

Banned books make up the sophomore English curriculum at this NYC high school

Julian Shen-Berro & Tanvir Kaur, The Bell

Amid a nationwide surge in attempted book bans, one Queens school is taking the opposite approach. At the Academy of American Studies in Queens, 10th grade students take a Regents-level English class devoted to the study of books that have historically faced challenges or bans — with students reading works like Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” “All the teachers who teach it really try to tie in when and how these books were challenged historically,” said Amy Weidner-LaSala, an English teacher at the school. The course can help show students “how we open our minds and accept new things through literature,” she added.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

First they tried protests of anti-gay bills. Then students put on a play at Louisiana’s Capitol

Sharon Lurye, AP News

Ava Kreutziger was in high school English class last year when she heard about the passage of legislation that could affect LGBTQ+ students like her. She excused herself from class to go cry in the bathroom, and found two of her classmates already there in tears. Those bills were vetoed, but similar proposals — now with a better shot of passing under a new Republican governor — would regulate students’ pronouns, the bathrooms they can use and discussions of gender and sexuality in the classroom, which opponents call “Don’t Say Gay” bills. In the past, students at Kreutziger’s high school in New Orleans have held walkouts to protest anti-inclusion proposals. This year, a group of students tried something different: a play, based on their own experiences, performed on the steps of the state Capitol. Compared with a raucous demonstration, the students hoped a play could spark more empathy.

Foster kids miss out on sports and music. A new California plan aims to help them catch up

Ana B. Ibarra, Cal Matters

Foster kids often miss out on Little League or music lessons. That’s one of the consequences of changing homes, or living with a family on a tight budget. Now California has a new plan to give them opportunities for the kinds of extracurricular activities that can build character and community. It’s included in a proposed revision to how the state pays for foster care that’s intended to make more money available to high-needs kids. Youth advocates are especially enthusiastic about the funding for extracurricular activities, which would come in the form of a monthly stipend of at least $500.

When the Number of Bedrooms in a Home Keeps Parents From Getting Their Kids Back

Stephannie Stoke and Agnel Philip, ProPublica

K. thought she was one step closer to regaining custody of her children when she secured her studio apartment. It wasn’t much — just a large basement room in an outer-Atlanta suburb that she was able to rent through a friend. But it had a kitchen and living area, and she was able to arrange beds in different corners of the room for her two sons and daughter. “It was cozy,” she said. She hoped this would be enough for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services to, at last, allow weekend visits with her kids — setting the stage for her to get them back permanently after two years in foster care. But she learned in court, following her caseworker’s inspection of her apartment, that there was a problem: She didn’t have individual bedrooms for her kids. DFCS wouldn’t let them stay there unless she had at least one for her daughter and another for her sons, she said.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Universal Pre-K Is Harder Than We Thought

Alicia Simba, The Progressive

In late February, the Biden Administration released a letter encouraging state-by-state efforts to “serve more of our youngest learners in high-quality preschool” as administered by “community-based childcare providers, schools, Head Start programs, and family child care homes.” The guidance included no provisions for funding; instead, it offered recommendations around how to spend existing federal, state, and local resources. With the Presidential election a few months away, the letter can be seen as an attempt by the White House to follow up on the campaign promise Biden made four years ago for free and reduced child care for all three- and four-year olds. That pledge was derailed by the slimmed-down Build Back Better package—which did not include funding for early childhood education—and the expiration of pandemic-era funding for childcare providers and agencies. The letter signaled that, while universal preschool is still on Biden’s radar, bringing the program to fruition at the federal level is not politically possible. And so, it placed the burden on states to do the impossible, and blue and red states alike have outlined their ambitions to do so.

Homeless infants and toddlers largely unenrolled in early ed programs

Betty Marquez Rosales, EdSource

Enrollment in early childhood development programs can mitigate some of the consequences of homelessness among infants and toddlers, but only 1 out of 9 of these children are enrolled in such programs, according to a recent national report. In California, 1 out of 6 are enrolled. An increasing number of families with infants and toddlers are homeless, with many staying in shelters, motels, temporary homes or living unsheltered, according to federal data included in the report from SchoolHouse Connection, a national homeless advocacy organization, and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.

Amid state DEI ban, the University of Texas lays off dozens of employees

Lily Kepner and Zachary Schermele, USA TODAY Network

The University of Texas has laid off at least 60 staff members who previously worked in diversity, equity and inclusion-related positions, according to three people with knowledge of the terminations. A university in Texas has begun massive staff layoffs months after a statewide ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public colleges took effect. State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican, warned Texas university system administrators last week about the state’s expectations for higher education institutions to comply with Senate Bill 17, an anti-DEI law that went into effect in January. Now, the University of Texas at Austin has laid off at least 60 staff members who previously worked in DEI-related positions, according to two people with knowledge of the terminations who confirmed them to the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network. The decision is yet another escalation in the mounting attacks on programs that benefit marginalized groups in higher education. In red states like Texas and Florida, anti-DEI laws have shuttered safe spaces for LGBTQ students in the past year and triggered fears that professors and students would flee to more liberal states.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

The States That Are Stepping Up to Take On Child Poverty

Grace Segers, The New Republic

This year, 14 states are providing their own child tax credits, supplementing the credit offered by the federal government. While several have recently expanded previous versions of their child tax credits, three states—Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah—have enacted brand new ones in 2023. These new creations are generally less generous than the federal child tax credit that was briefly expanded in 2021 as a part of the American Rescue Plan. Nevertheless, these measures open up a new frontier in state action intended to make the cost of raising children more affordable. “I’ve told my team, ‘This might be the single biggest impact of anything we did while governor,’” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz about his state’s child tax credit, which he said could reduce child poverty in the state by 33 percent. “I don’t even know if we can categorize all of the positive impacts that it will make down the road.”

Researchers Have Identified the Starkest Cases of School District Segregation

Nadia Tamez-Robledo, EdSurge

Frankenmuth School District has about 1,400 students, nearly 91 percent of whom are white. Its poverty rate is about 5 percent. In contrast, to its west, Saginaw City School District is home to nearly 5,200 students, 81 percent of them students of color. Its poverty rate is 50 percent. This large economic and racial divide between two adjacent districts in Michigan shows that school segregation persists in the 21st century. That’s one of the main findings of a new report from researchers from the think tank New America.

Billionaire Wealth Is Soaring. We Need Progressive Taxation Now.

Omar Ocampo, Inequality.org

A new, disturbing milestone has been confirmed with the release of Forbes Magazine’s 38th annual World Billionaires List. The US billionaire class is now larger and richer than ever, with 813 ten-figure oligarchs holding $5.7 trillion firmly in their possession. This is a $1.2 trillion increase compared to the year before, bringing total billionaire gains since mid-March 2020 to a gargantuan $2.7 trillion in current dollars.The staggering upsurge in billionaire wealth over the last four years is further proof that our economy is designed primarily to benefit high-net-worth individuals. Profits are not held by the laboring masses who produce it. Instead, they flow into the bank accounts of the wealthiest Americans, who use those earnings and assets to undermine our democracy.

Democracy and the Public Interest

Amid Gaza war, South Bay Palestinian, Muslim students reach out to each other

Khadeejah Khan, Mercury News

They want to display pride in their Palestinian identity. They want to educate their peers about Palestinian people and culture. And they want to reach out to fellow Palestinians and Muslims in America. As the war in Gaza intensifies and the death toll and suffering rise, Palestinian and Muslim South Bay high school students are expressing their fears and hopes via social media and school clubs. Amid heated divisions over the war, students hope to create safe spaces, and build empathy and dialogue across campuses. Even those who have not experienced hatred in recent months worry. Jenna Ershied was upset when her 11-year-old cousin in Mountain View was confronted after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. A classmate said accusingly, she recounted, “Are you proud of what you did?” For Ershied, the confrontation recalled similar incidents over her Palestinian identity that made her, as her cousin did, feel bewildered, hurt and scared. “I’m always worried about the people around me and if they might take what I’m saying out of context, rather than having a meaningful conversation with someone one on one,” Ersheid said.

How AP African American Studies Works in a State That Limits Teaching About Race

Ileana Najarro, Education Week

In the classroom of teacher Ahenewa El-Amin at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., where murals of books and the words “read” and “think” decorate the walls, junior Nia Henderson-Louis held up a handmade diorama depicting the founders of the oldest historically Black sorority, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The College Board’s new Advanced Placement African American Studies course requires instruction on the history of historically Black colleges and universities and affiliated Black Greek-letter organizations. For the pilot version of the course currently offered at Henry Clay, El-Amin had her students craft their own presentations on these organizations. Nia, 17, spoke about Alpha Kappa Alpha traditions in the context of the Divine Nine historically Black fraternities and sororities. She shared how her mother “crossed the line” as a college student.

“They Don’t Want to Teach Black History”

Frances Madeson, Capital and Main

The protests and student walkouts have stopped as an uneasy calm settles over St. Charles County, Missouri, after the community’s all-white school board threatened to eliminate both a Black history class and Black literature class, saying the curriculum contained elements of critical race theory. As community outrage drew national media attention, the board retreated and said the curriculum would be reviewed, rewritten to be “largely political neutral” and brought back in time for the next school year. While that has tempered public indignation, for people like Miranda Bell, a Black mother of two students in the Francis Howell School District, there’s a nagging sense that the community has no sincere interest in teaching the honest history of people like her.

Other News of Note

Education Is Under Attack. Here’s 13 Feminist Educators on How to Fight Back

Lynn Ditchfield, Ms. Magazine

Educators advance the spirit of teaching by encouraging inquiry, engagement and investigation of diverse perspectives. Many carry the torch forward by addressing critical issues affecting our lives and communities. Education challenges entrenched thinking—not by telling students what to think, but by offering lessons on how to think critically. That is why education is under attack.

Here’s an inspiring sample (in alphabetical order) of wise women cultural critics, philosophers, theorists, scholars and professors from among many who inspire social justice education.