Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
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Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
From the policy of separating immigrant families, to limiting the power of labor unions, to naming the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, this summer the DeVos family name has been all over the news. Over the years, the parents, in-laws and husband of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative causes. And many of those causes are front and center of policy initiatives and goals of the Trump administration right now. Those foundations include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation (founded by the education secretary and her husband); the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation), founded by Betsy DeVos’ in-laws; and the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, founded by her parents.
Kyle Stokes, LAist
If you went to a Los Angeles Unified middle- or high school in the last two decades, chances are you remember being “wanded.” Since 1993, staff in LAUSD schools have been searching students, at random, every day, for weapons and drugs. The administrator conducts the search with a handheld metal detector wand — like those often seen at concerts and stadiums — hence the nickname for the district’s random search policy: “wanding.” L.A.’s chief attorney Mike Feuer wants that practice to end. A blue ribbon panel on school safety he convened released its final recommendations to improve safety in LAUSD schools on Monday. Among them: the district should suspend its random search policy and conduct a “comprehensive, large-scale audit of the policy.” Though L.A. Unified’s sworn school police are not allowed to conduct the random searches, officers believe the policy deters students from bringing weapons or drugs to school. Over the last 25 years, the number of guns police have found on campus has plummeted. But in the last few years, civil rights activists and student groups have been voicing louder and louder opposition to the wanding policy.
Eight years ago, the L.A. Times published teachers’ ratings. New research tells us what happened next.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
In 2010, the Los Angeles Times did something that hadn’t been done before.
The newspaper published test-score data for thousands of the city’s public school teachers, assigning them a rating based on how they influenced students’ results. It caused a firestorm. Critics, including many teachers, railed against the measures as misleading and poorly constructed, warning that the data would demoralize teachers. The L.A. Times itself defended the release as necessary transparency. In an accompanying story, one local teacher suggested it might also help children by empowering parents “to demand a good teacher.” New research suggests that’s what happened next — but only for certain families. Publishing the scores meant already high-achieving students were assigned to the classrooms of higher-rated teachers the next year, the study found. That could be because affluent or well-connected parents were able to pull strings to get their kids assigned to those top teachers, or because those teachers pushed to teach the highest-scoring students. In other words, the academically rich got even richer — an unintended consequence of what could be considered a journalistic experiment in school reform.
Language, Culture, and Power
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
In 1995, the University of Vermont sociologist and historian James W. Loewen published a book that sought to debunk the myriad myths children were often taught about the United States’ past. Framed largely as a critique of the history education delivered in America’s classrooms but also serving as a history text itself, Lies My Teacher Told Me was the result of Loewen’s analysis of a dozen major high-school textbooks. It found that those materials frequently taught students about topics including the first Thanksgiving, the Civil and Vietnam Wars, and the Americas before Columbus arrived in incomplete, distorted, or otherwise flawed ways. Take, for example, the false yet relatively widespread conviction that the Reconstruction era was a chaotic period whose tumult was attributable to poor, uncivilized governance of recently freed slaves. Textbooks’ framing of the history in this way, according to Loewen, promoted racist attitudes among white people. White supremacists in the South, for example, repeatedly cited this interpretation of Reconstruction to justify the prevention of black people from voting. Loewen didn’t veer from his conclusions with the second-edition release of Lies My Teacher Told Me in 2007, for which he analyzed six new history textbooks. The books’ treatment of what were then new developments, such as 9/11 and the Iraq War, reinforced his belief that history education in the U.S. is fundamentally broken.
Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week
They came from all over Virginia, battling gray weather and buckets of rain, to see the faces of a student-driven movement that shows few signs of stopping. They came by the hundreds, young people and older ones—at least a third of the attendees were parents, judging by a show of hands—to hear first-person testimonies from the survivors of the mass shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. They came to learn how they might be involved in ending gun violence. In a few cases, they came to protest. The message they got from the speakers at this traveling town hall, over and over, was this: Vote. As it matures over the course of its months-long Road to Change tour through the United States this summer, the March for Our Lives movement’s broad goal of ending gun violence is increasingly focused on voting, one of the most essential of all civic responsibilities.
Carol Jago, Poetry Foundation
Poetry lessons too often progress something like this: a teacher reads aloud with feeling a poem she loves. Because she is a good teacher, she doesn’t immediately start peppering students with questions about imagery and diction but instead gently queries, “So what do you think?” Silence. Not a raised hand in sight. But English teachers hate silence, so she starts talking, telling students about the poet’s life and influences, pointing out where the poem turns, explaining every allusion. In no time, the bell rings. Students shake themselves out of their stupor and whisper, “Phew! For a minute there I thought we were going to have to do something.” What pains me about this scenario, which I have enacted more times than I care to admit, is that students leave class thinking, “Mrs. Jago knows a lot about poetry. Not me. I don’t get it.” They depart feeling both insufficiently smart and insufficiently soulful —the exact opposite of what we intend. They leave without imagining new worlds, different lives. They haven’t engaged the imaginative possibilities of poetry.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Laura Jana, U.S. News & World Report
For all parents of soon-to-be kindergarteners, by now, you’re well-acquainted with all the work that goes into preparing a child for school. Kindergarten readiness has long been associated with the ABCs and 123s, and understandably so. Mastering skills such as being able to count and recite the alphabet, and knowing one’s shapes and colors all serve to lay a strong foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic. That said, it’s worth noting that an ability to develop and maintain relationships has recently been added to this list of so-called IQ skills. Its addition makes clear that social and emotional skills, along with several other skills often misleadingly described as “soft” and “non-cognitive,” are now being acknowledged as critical when it comes to school readiness. Honing the ability to focus and pay attention, be a good listener, share, take turns and play nice with others may seem like common sense. Yet these types of “other” skills are now collectively being recognized to be of equal, if not greater importance, than IQ skills by everyone from educators, pediatricians and neuroscientists to economists, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
A solemn little boy with a bowl haircut is telling Mr. Rogers that his pet got hit by a car. More precisely, he’s confiding this to Daniel Striped Tiger, the hand puppet that, Rogers’ wife, Joanne, says, “pretty much was Fred.” “That’s scary,” says Daniel/Fred. He asks for a hug. The boy hugs the tiger. Not a dry eye in the house. That scene is from Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the hit documentary airing across the country with a 99 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. At first, such a film might seem superfluous. Why make a movie about a man who appeared as himself in hundreds of highly rated television episodes? Someone as familiar to millions of adults as a childhood friend? Not because it reveals some shocking hidden side to the TV host, husband, father, Presbyterian minister, puppeteer, composer, organist, best-selling author and noted cardigan aficionado. He wasn’t gay, says his good friend and co-star Francois Clemmons, who is. He wasn’t a Navy SEAL, either — not sure how that rumor got started. What makes Morgan Neville’s biographical documentary so necessary, in fact, is that it shows Rogers was exactly what he appeared to be. Someone who devoted his life to taking seriously and responding to the emotions of children. In a word: to love.
Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week
Teaching students the science of how their brains change over time can help them see intelligence as something they can develop, rather than innate and unchangeable, finds a new analysis of 10 separate studies in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Teaching students the concept of neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to make new neural connections as a result of experience—is a common tactic in helping students develop a so-called “growth” rather than “fixed” mindset. But recent research has questioned how much students really understand or benefit from this approach. Researchers from the Montreal, Canada-based Laboratory for Research in Neuroeducation at the University of Montreal analyzed 10 high-quality experimental studies of growth mindset interventions on students from age 7 into adulthood that included instruction on neuroplasticity. They looked at measures of students’ academic enjoyment, motivation, goals, and resilience after failure following participation in these mindset interventions. They found that while on average, such interventions improved students’ motivation, they particularly benefited students and subjects which prior studies have shown are at high risk of developing a fixed mindset. For example, black students at risk of “stereotype threat”—the fear that one will reinforce a negative stereotype of your student group—showed significantly higher increase in motivation and enjoyment of science after a neuroscience-based mindset program than did students who were not at risk of stereotype threat.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Kyle Stokes, Los Angeles Times
After the mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, Los Angeles school officials reassured parents that much had been done to keep local schools safe. California had tougher gun laws, after all, and the school district paid close attention to students’ mental health. But a new report issued Monday by a panel convened to take a close look offers some cause for concern, flagging inconsistent campus safety measures, thinly spread mental health staff and inadequate coordination between the school district and other public agencies. “With the stakes this high, we must strive to do better,” said L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer, who assembled the panel.
School Data Nerd
Every year, LAUSD gives a school experience survey to parents, students and staff, and publishes the results on a very nice searchable database. The 2017-18 survey results are now available. This survey has SOOOOO much information, from behavior to technology to parent engagement. But my favorite thing to do is look at whether parents, teachers and students answered the same question in the same way – and if there were discrepancies in their beliefs about the school. For example, in middle school, all three groups (parents, students and staff) are asked similar questions about the fairness of discipline at the school. They are given these statements and asked whether they agree or disagree (or other similar words about them). Question to Staff: This school handles discipline problems fairly. Question to Students: All students are treated fairly when they break school rules. Question to Parents: Discipline is fair at this school. But the results are crazy different.
Amanda Zhou, Chalkbeat
Let’s start with the good news: Over the last two decades, a rapidly increasing number of students have taken and passed Advancement Placement exams, which are often seen as helpful preparation for college. But here’s the bad news: Many more students are also taking those courses but failing the exams. The majority of black and Hispanic test-takers don’t score a 3 or higher, which is usually needed to earn college credit. So has the rapid expansion of AP been a net good for students and schools? A new review of research provides a stark reminder that we simply don’t know the answer to that or a number of other important questions about AP courses, even as the program has become a more common part of the American high school experience.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Estelle Sommeiller and Mark Price, Economic Policy Institute
This report, our fourth such analysis, focuses on trends in income inequality. It uses the latest available data to examine how the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent in each state have fared over the years 1917–2015 and to provide a snapshot of top incomes in 2015 by county and metropolitan area. (Data for our entire series, from 1917 to 2015, are available at go.epi.org/unequalstates2018data). This analysis finds, consistent with our previous analyses, that there has been vast and widespread growth in income inequality in every corner of the country. Overall, the growth in incomes of the bottom 99 percent has improved since our last report, in step with a strengthening economy, but the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else still grew in the majority of states we examine here.
Stephanie Keeney Parks, Speak UP
I am a mother of two children, and my oldest child was diagnosed with autism ten years ago this year. Like many parents with children who have autism, my family is African-American, and thus we have a culturally unique experience with disability. It was my family’s experience at the intersection of disability and race that led me to my current research as a Ph.D. student in the anthropology department at UCLA. My work centers on African-American parents of children with autism and the health care and autism service disparities that affect this population and that have a far-reaching impact in the classroom and beyond. Disparities in autism care begin with the diagnostic process within the medical system. Several recent academic public health studies have shown that African-American children are under-diagnosed compared to White American children. “White children are about 19 percent more likely than Black children…to be diagnosed with autism,” according to the Spectrum News, and Black children are also diagnosed later. “As a result, African American children may require longer and more intensive intervention,” which winds up costing far more.
Even as California’s student suspension rate fell by more than a third since 2011, the ‘discipline gap’ for blacks remains as wide as ever
Mario Koran, LA School Report
Between 2011 and 2017, out-of-school suspensions in California fell 46 percent, and the rate of suspensions dropped by more than a third. That students are suspended less frequently is welcome news for civil rights advocates who’ve long been concerned about the fact that certain groups — black students, foster youth, and students with disabilities, in particular — are far more likely to face suspension than their peers. This disparity is often referred to as the discipline gap. Tempering the optimism, however, is the fact that while suspension rates fell, the discipline gap didn’t close in any significant way, data show. In 2016, black students were suspended at a rate four times greater than white students — roughly the same as they were in 2013. And while suspension rates have declined every year since 2011-12, pinpointing when and why they actually started dropping is surprisingly difficult. That’s because the California Department of Education cut off access to all suspension data prior to 2011 when it recently switched to a new data reporting system.
Public Schools and Private $
National Education Policy Center, Newsletter
It is conventional wisdom: Private schools are “better” than public schools. But is it really true? A growing body of evidence suggests the answer is no. A recent installment of the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet column reported on the results of a study conducted by Robert Pianta and Arya Ansari of the University of Virginia. They tracked more than 1,000 public and private school students from birth to age 15. At first glance, the private school students appeared to be performing better on multiple measures. But the differences were deceptive. As soon as the researchers accounted for family income and parental education levels, the advantage evaporated. Private school students did not outperform their public school peers on academic tests, assessments of social adjustment, attitudes and motivation, or on behavioral metrics.
Louis Freedberg and John Fensterwald, EdSource
After a quarter century of steady expansion, the rate of growth for charter schools in California has slowed to a crawl over the past five years. During the just completed school year, the number of charter schools grew by a mere 1.6 percent — from 1,254 schools in 2016-17 to 1,275 in 2017-18. That was even lower than last year’s 1.9 percent growth, which set a record for the lowest rate of growth in at least two decades. These sluggish rates of growth, mirrored by similar slowdowns nationally, present a sharp contrast to the double-digit rates of expansion of charter schools for most years since California approved its charter law in 1992. Far outpacing every other state, California charter schools now enroll over 630,000 students, or 1 in 10 of the state’s public school students. The slowdown in their growth could increase competition among parents and students to get into the most sought-after charter schools and in general limit the choices that they have beyond traditional public schools. It is also stirring concerns among charter school advocates that the slowdown may represent a permanent feature of the California education landscape, not just a temporary pause.
Lauren FitzPatrick and Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun Times
Now that a five-year ban on school closings has expired, Chicago Public Schools shouldn’t think of closing any more schools or expanding any privately-managed charter schools until its leaders can stabilize its finances and plummeting student enrollment, mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot said Monday. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who left the Chicago Police Board that Mayor Rahm Emanuel put her on to mount a campaign against him, said the city’s existing neighborhood schools need attention and investment first. “I don’t think we can talk about opening more charters until we have a real comprehensive plan for uplifting neighborhood CPS schools,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in her campaign office. “My concern is frankly that resources that should have gone to neighborhood schools were actually diverted to charters and magnet schools. I want to have strong neighborhoods schools that are accessible, that are not selective enrollment in any permutation of that, so that kids can walk to their neighborhood schools with their neighborhood friends and build a sense of community.”
Other News of Note
Melvin Rogers, Boston Review
“After decades of triumph,” The Economist recently concluded, “democracy is losing ground.” But not, apparently, in the West, whose “mature democracies . . . are not yet in serious danger.” On this view, reports of the death of American democracy have been greatly exaggerated. “Donald Trump may scorn liberal norms,” the reasoning goes, “but America’s checks and balances are strong, and will outlast him.” The truly endangered societies are those where “institutions are weaker and democratic habits less ingrained.” It has become a common refrain, even among those critical of Trump’s administration. “Our democracy is hard to kill,” Harvard political scientist Steven Levitsky said in an interview about his new book with Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. “We do still have very strong democratic institutions. We’re not Turkey, we’re not Hungary, we’re not Venezuela. We can behave quite recklessly and irresponsibly and probably still muddle through that.”
Tanvi Misra, CityLab
In 2017, Seattle rolled out “democracy vouchers”—a program through which it would give eligible residents vouchers totaling $100 to donate to the local candidate of their choice. Candidates who opted in to the program had to agree to strict guidelines on how to spend the money they received. The idea behind the pilot was that giving the equivalent of money to constituents who don’t usually have the resources to support their candidates—pensioners and the homeless, for example—would spur greater political participation. And, ideally, it would also help mitigate the vast influence wealthy campaign donors have on local elections. Now, the idea is picking up speed in other cities, with Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas, planning to put it to vote in ballot initiatives come November. Why? Well, for one, they see Seattle’s program, approved in 2015 and funded through a 10-year property tax, as a success.