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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Julia Glum, Time
Like seemingly every other topic in 2018, teacher pay is now officially a politically divisive issue. Results of a poll from education policy journal Education Next out Tuesday indicate that more left-leaning Americans support raising teacher salaries than right-leaning ones. When provided with the average annual salary of teachers in their states, 59% of Democratic respondents told pollsters they thought teacher pay should go up, while 38% of Republicans said the same. (The report didn’t speculate as to why the two sides were split on the issue, though the discrepancy could be linked to Republicans’ reticence to pay higher taxes in order to fund the would-be raises.) Even so, Martin West, the editor-in-chief of Education Next and the deputy director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, says there’s hope for teachers’ wallets. The survey found that, among the general public, support for increased salaries surged from 36% in 2017 to 49% this past May. And despite their political differences, both Democrats and Republicans appeared to be warming to the idea of raises.
John Myers, Los Angeles Times
Few parts of California’s government are more maddeningly complex than the landmark education funding law that voters enacted three decades ago, a labyrinth tucked inside one of the simplest political messages in state history. The sales pitch for Proposition 98 — a spending mandate for K-12 schools and community colleges — was that the constitutional amendment would prohibit cuts and spending would grow based on the student population and inflation. There are specific formulas contained in the 1988 law that do much of that, but the data used to crunch the numbers often are covered in political fingerprints. In truth, what’s commonly called the “Prop. 98 guarantee” is akin to a mysterious black box. The formulas are so complicated that all it really has to do is produce a funding amount that satisfies education advocates, legislative leaders and the governor. Which is what makes the task facing a Sacramento judge so important. On Aug. 10, the California School Boards Assn. filed a lawsuit to overturn a provision in last year’s state budget that created new rules for the Proposition 98 process. No one complained at the time, as the body language of lawmakers in the state Capitol made it clear that it was a done deal.
Adelina Lancia, NPR
Victoria Gomez waits at a “checkout” table as two volunteers count up her finds: puzzles, felt, storage bins and wooden shelves. “My last [credit] card bill was $1,000 and that’s just from last month, just for school supplies and things for my classroom,” she tells them. Gomez is now a kindergarten teacher at The Chatsworth School in Baltimore County. In her two years as a teacher, she has switched grade levels three times. She came to the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap for the first time last February, after she was asked to switch from fifth grade to second grade — with one day’s notice. Gomez says she panicked — she didn’t have any of the materials she needed. She got to the swap warehouse minutes before closing time. “The people here stayed late. They helped me come up with solutions so that everything worked out, and probably 70 percent of the stuff in my teaching space was from here,” Gomez recalls. The Teacher Supply Swap, a free store for educators in Baltimore, is serving a community with a child poverty rate higher than the national average. Teachers say the Swap and similar organizations across the country are making a real dent in the amount of money they pay every year out of pocket for classroom supplies.
Language, Culture, and Power
Rebecca Klein, HuffPost
The U.S. Department of Education has been receiving thousands more racial discrimination allegations in schools than it has previously publicly reported, HuffPost has uncovered through an analysis of department data. The HuffPost analysis, based on data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, found that between the fiscal years 2013 to 2016, there were over 2,000 allegations regarding racial discrimination in schools that were not previously publicly recorded in the department’s annual reports. The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces federal civil rights laws in schools. A vast majority of legal complaints that are filed with the office are dismissed for mundane reasons like lack of detail or lack of timeliness. Some complaints are investigated, and if a violation is found, have the potential to spark school district or university-wide changes. There can be multiple allegations of racial discrimination within one complaint. HuffPost also found about 700 complaints of racial discrimination in schools between FY2013 and 2016 had not been publicly reported. In FY2016, for example, HuffPost found more than 300 complaints of racial discrimination weren’t included in department reports.
Nancy M. Ruff, Connected Learning Alliance
How important is digital literacy in the classroom? When you consider that every student today must learn to be responsible for how they use technology to interact with the world around them, the answer is clear. It’s crucial.
Tom Torlakson, The Sacramento Bee
My recent visit to Cahuenga Elementary School in Los Angeles gave me a glimpse of what California’s future could be if we seize the opportunity to expand the teaching of world languages. At Cahuenga, beginning in kindergarten, many students learn Korean or Spanish along with English, while learning about Korean and Latin culture through music, dance, theater and literature. These dual-language immersion programs, like 400 others in California public schools, put students on the path to fluency in two or more languages. Bilingual students have to switch back and forth between languages, which helps them develop strong attention control and skills that help them academically and socially. They often understand language structures better than their single-language peers, giving them a potential advantage in reading and writing. Learning a foreign language introduces students to new cultures, giving them a broad perspective that helps prepare them for the global economy. Bilingual students are in high demand and generally earn slightly higher salaries once they enter the workforce.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Evie Blad, Education Week
Schools should assess students on both “academic knowledge” and “nonacademic skills”—like teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity—parents and educators said in a new survey. But they offered widely varying views on exactly what those skills should be. About eight in 10 respondents in each group—teachers, parents, superintendents, and principals—said it’s “equally important” for schools to assess students in both areas. The poll was administered by Gallup on behalf of NWEA, a nonprofit assessment and education organization, as part of its series of reports on public perceptions of educational assessment. A total of about 2,000 superintendents and principals responded to online surveys in March. Samples of about 1,000 parents and 1,000 teachers were polled via telephone in September and April. Pollsters also did open-ended interviews with some respondents. Of the teachers polled, only one in 10 said their schools’ informal and formal gauges of “nonacademic skills” measure them very well. Strategies like social-emotional learning; social, emotional, and academic development; and an overall broader focus on “educating the whole child” have drawn a growing interest among educators and parents. But many schools have resisted assessing students’ growth in these areas. That’s in part because many researchers have said measures of social-emotional and “soft skills” are not sophisticated enough to adequately track progress over time.
John Spencer, Launch Cycle
We live in an era where robotics and artificial intelligence will replace many of our current jobs. Global connectivity will continue to allow companies to outsource labor to other countries. Our students will likely change jobs every five to seven years. The corporate ladder is gone and in its place, is a complex maze. They will inhabit a world of constant change. But how do we help students navigate that maze? We often hear that our current students will work in jobs that don’t exist right now. But here’s another reality: our current students will be the ones who create those jobs. Not every student will create the next Google or Pixar or Lyft. Some students will be engineers or artists or accountants. Some will work in technology, others in traditional corporate spaces and still others in social or civic spaces. Some of them will work in high-skilled manufacturing. But no matter how diverse their industries will be, our students will all someday face a common reality. They will need to be self-starters and self-managers.
Cindy Cisneros, The Hechinger Report
For many high school graduates, “career-ready” is more a catch-phrase than an accurate description of their educational experiences. According to one survey, over half of students with a career goal in mind say they have not received advice on what steps to take to secure their desired jobs. Meanwhile, the percentage of graduates tracked into remedial college courses — as high as 40 to 60 percent of first-year college students — reveals that many are underprepared for the rigors of a postsecondary learning or employment setting. The fact that today’s youth feel ill-prepared or uninformed should set off alarm bells. While each student bears responsibility for his or her own success, far too often students are not given the support they need to prosper — either inside or outside the school building. If we want today’s youth to be ready to meet tomorrow’s workforce demands, it is time to think strategically about what we want for our students and how we can help them achieve those goals. To help answer that question, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) recently published findings from a national listening tour conducted in five states that brought together two stakeholder groups — parents and business leaders. Both groups have a vested interest in students’ long-term career readiness. The CED provided a forum to talk specifically about aspirations for graduates. Parents, unsurprisingly, want their children to be financially self-sufficient, but also happy and successful at work. Business leaders want to see the personal attributes needed for success. Each wants tomorrow’s workers to be “good people” — ethical, value-oriented, helpful and respectful. While parents and business leaders expressed views unique to their community, a common theme was the need to do more to help students consider and successfully chart their vocational paths.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Lillian Mongeau, The Hechinger Report
“Fact or opinion?” teacher Patricia Lemoine asked her kindergartners on a blustery April morning: “Ms. Lemoine has a rug in her classroom.” “Fact!” shouted her 5- and 6-year-old students, who sat on the rug in question. Whether or not it’s the best rug in the whole school, they ceded, was a matter of opinion. Lemoine, who teaches at Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School in the small city of Nashua, New Hampshire, nodded. A fact, she told her students, is “true, true, true, and we can prove it.” It’s also a fact — true, true, true, and we can prove it — that full-day kindergarten classes like Lemoine’s help kids do better in early elementary school, researchers say. But state policy has been slow to catch up with this point. Only 14 states and Washington, D.C., require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, according to kindergarten policy data collected by the Education Commission of the States, a national think tank. And even though most states require school districts to offer at least half-day kindergarten, only 17 states and the District of Columbia mandate that children attend it. Of those, two offer a waiver to children who are assessed as ready to start first grade.
Brenda Iasevoll, Education Week
The English/language arts and math standards in most states that “un-adopted” or made changes to the Common Core State Standards are, in the end, “substantially weaker,” according to a new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. These states would have served students better by simply adopting the common core whole, the report says. “When states tried to quote ‘revise’ the standards it was a pretty fraught and perilous activity in that the changes they made did more harm than good,” Amber Northern, senior vice president for research at Fordham Institute, said in an interview. “If you have the right expertise in place, it’s not that you can’t develop strong, or potentially even better, standards. But it’s the exception to the norm.” The findings are not surprising, given Fordham’s longtime support for higher academic standards. The institute has reviewed states’ expectations many times over the years. It has also generally been a proponent of the common core, especially its focus on using challenging texts to build background knowledge. The review homes in on those state standards that have made the biggest changes to the common core and those that never adopted them. (Stephen Sawchuk writes about a 2017 review by the Washington-based nonprofit Achieve that arrived at a slightly different emphasis: It found that 24 states’ revised standards actually preserved the most important features of the common core.) Ultimately, the Fordham reviewers chose 14 states for an ELA review and 10 states for a math review. Their aim is to call out mistakes to be avoided along with ideas worthy of wider adoption.
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
The nonprofit organization behind the Common Application, a single form that students can fill out to apply to any college that uses it, announced this week that, starting next year, it will no longer ask students about their criminal history. The shift could alter the life course for many students with higher-education aspirations who have a misdemeanor or felony attached to their name. The move, which was announced to Common App member institutions on Tuesday, is significant because of the sheer number of students who use the application, and of the institutions that accept it. More than 1 million prospective undergraduates every year apply to college using the Common App, which is consulted for admissions decisions by more than 830 institutions worldwide—all but roughly 60 of them in the United States, home to the world’s highest prison-population rate.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Dana Goldstein, The New York Times
By his own account, Alejandro Cruz-Guzman’s five children have received a good education at public schools in St. Paul. His two oldest daughters are starting careers in finance and teaching. Another daughter, a high-school student, plans to become a doctor. But their success, Mr. Cruz-Guzman said, flows partly from the fact that he and his wife fought for their children to attend racially integrated schools outside their neighborhood. Their two youngest children take a bus 30 minutes each way to Murray Middle School, where the student population is about one-third white, one-third black, 16 percent Asian and 9 percent Latino. “I wanted to have my kids exposed to different cultures and learn from different people,” said Mr. Cruz-Guzman, who owns a small flooring company and is an immigrant from Mexico. When his two oldest children briefly attended a charter school that was close to 100 percent Latino, he said he had realized, “We are limiting our kids to one community.” Now Mr. Cruz-Guzman is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit saying that Minnesota knowingly allowed towns and cities to set policies and zoning boundaries that led to segregated schools, lowering test scores and graduation rates for low-income and nonwhite children. Last month, the state’s Supreme Court ruled the suit could move forward, in a decision advocates across the country hailed as important.
Erica Sweeney, HuffPost
Atasha Jordan has vivid memories of her school lunches growing up. “I definitely remember not liking the food,” said the now 26-year-old, who is in the University of Pennsylvania’s joint doctor of medicine-master of business administration program. “I hate corn dogs, so I would switch with the kids who wanted corn dogs and brought their lunch.” The kids with lunchboxes packed from home had “way better stuff,” like Gushers and Fruit Roll-Ups, she remembers. From third grade, when Jordan moved with her family from Barbados to Sunrise, Florida, she and her siblings received free or reduced-rate school lunches, depending on the year. By eighth grade, when the family moved to Newtown, Pennsylvania, because of her mom’s promotion, they no longer qualified for free or reduced lunches, so Jordan’s dad made her lunch most days. Looking back, Jordan sees her experience in the school cafeteria, first on the free-lunch program and then bringing lunch from home, as a symbol of her family’s upward mobility and the achievability of the American Dream.
Adam Harris, The Atlantic
It’s expensive to be poor. And few places in higher education feel that more acutely than historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where endowments are typically smaller and enrollments have fluctuated wildly over the past decade. Now, to be clear, the financial misfortune of black colleges does not rest squarely on their shoulders. Born out of necessity primarily after the Civil War to educate black people who were shut out of most other colleges, the institutions have been plagued by unequal and inadequate funding ever since. HBCUs, half of which are public, draw a lion’s share of their revenue from state and federal funding. And as states tighten their belts on higher-education spending, these institutions are struggling to come up with the funds to improve their campuses by constructing new buildings or renovating ones that have started to wear down. But there’s a way for colleges to circumvent their funding woes to pay for campus improvements: taking on debt. But even then, the legacy of racism in the treatment of black colleges is apparent.
Public Schools and Private $
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
The past 18 months have been tough in many respects for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She went through a tough confirmation hearing, has had her budget proposals mostly rejected by Congress, and she’s consistently ranked among the least-popular members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Yet it’s possible that public opinion on school choice—the issue DeVos cares about the most—has shifted at least a little in her favor, according to one new poll. (In case you were wondering, the EdNext poll does not mention DeVos by name.) The academic journal Education Next released its annual survey of public attitudes about education on Tuesday. And in the 2018 results, overall approval ratings for charter schools and universal private school vouchers (for all parents with children in public schools) rose, as well as narrower approval ratings among both Democrats and Republicans. Here, for example, is the increase in approval ratings for vouchers that dates back a couple of years—overall approval went up mostly due to higher approval in the GOP, although Democratic support also inched up.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
The school board of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose defied state law last year when it cited financial impact in rejecting a proposal for a second charter high school from San Francisco-based KIPP Public Schools. Now district officials want the Legislature to change the state’s charter school statute so other districts can make the same decision they did without breaking the law. California law lists more than a dozen elements in a charter petition that authorizing bodies must evaluate when deciding whether to approve a charter school. Not one of them is a charter school’s potential financial impact on a district, chiefly a loss in state revenue from a decline in a district’s student enrollment. Charter school leaders have long suspected that school boards consider potential loss of per-student revenue when deciding on a charter application, then cite some other rationale in denying a charter school. The East Side Union board was upfront about it in voting 3-2 to deny KIPP Navigate College Prep’s charter application. And East Side Union Superintendent Chris Funk was equally upfront this past March, when, to no avail, he asked the State Board of Education to recognize the district’s financial plight and reject KIPP’s appeal of the district’s decision. “We are not asking you to change law but to take a stand: Enough is enough,” he said.
Richard Bammer, The Reporter
It’s 26 years old and needs a tune-up. Perhaps even an overhaul. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that he has created a panel to review the 1992 law governing California charter schools. In a recent press release, the schools chief noted by name members of the Action Team on Charter Schools to provide recommendations of needed changes to his successor, the governor, the state Board of Education, and state Legislature. Both Torlakson and Gov. Jerry Brown term out at the end of the year. The California Charter School Act has had few changes and little top-to-bottom review since it was enacted, Torlakson noted in the prepared statement. But since then, the Golden State has changed in significant ways, he pointed out.
Other News of Note
Bryce Covert, The Nation
Being a new parent is always a lot of hard work. Babies need constant feeding and care. There are sleep schedules to figure out. Symptoms to monitor. Soothing, shushing, and swaddling to master. But for Jessica Frazier, her babies brought an extra layer of work. She poured her energy into figuring out how to afford an adequate supply of diapers. “I try to stick to a budget,” she explained. “It’s math. You have to break this stuff down, in every sense of the way possible.” Frazier soon found she was changing her first newborn’s diaper eight to 10 times a day. She can rattle off store prices like an auctioneer soliciting bids. A pack of diapers only comes with 28 at Stop and Shop, she said, going for $8.99 a pop. That doesn’t include baby wipes, which go for $15.99 a case. It all adds up to a hefty sum. It costs a family about $1,000 a year to buy a supply of average-priced diapers for one child. For someone who works a full-time minimum-wage job, making just over $15,000 a year, that’s a huge expense.