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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
Los Angeles Daily News
With Los Angeles Unified teachers considering a possible strike, tensions between the district and union continued mounting Tuesday, with LAUSD officials accusing the union of bad-faith bargaining. The move came one day after the union accused the district of interfering in the teachers’ ongoing strike-authorization vote. LAUSD attorney David Holmquist said Tuesday the district had filed an unfair practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board against United Teachers Los Angeles. “During the current round of bargaining, UTLA engaged in take-it-or-leave-it bargaining, making virtually no compromises toward reaching an agreement for the better part of 16 months,” Holmquist said. “The district was able to reach a reasonable compromise with more than half our employees represented by unions. “However, UTLA openly talked about a strike long before the parties even began negotiations, let along reached impasse,” Holmquist said. He also faulted the union for holding a strike-authorization vote — which began Thursday — before any mediation sessions have been held. On Monday night, UTLA filed an unfair labor practice charge with PERB, accusing the district of unlawfully interfering with the union’s strike-authorization vote and failing to provide financial documents.
Kyle Stokes, KPCC
Civil rights groups are pressing the L.A. Unified School District to end its policy of randomly searching students with hand-held metal detectors. Those activists recently got a chance for a face-to-face meeting with top district officials.
Laura Meckler, The Washington Post
House Democrats are urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to make clear that a federal grant program cannot be used to buy firearms for schools. In a letter being sent to DeVos on Tuesday, 173 out of 193 Democrats in the House argue that DeVos has the authority to say no to such spending and that close examination of the law that governs the grants suggests she should. “Arming teachers would not only jeopardize student and staff health and safety, but also run counter to Congressional intent, precedent, and common sense,” Democrats said in the letter, which was organized by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the House Education Committee. At issue is whether states can use Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, available for a wide range of school expenses, to buy guns intended to bolster school safety. Officials said last week that the department had received inquiries from Texas and Oklahoma and that DeVos is considering the idea. Congressional Democrats are also hoping to attach language to a pending spending bill to bar purchasing guns with the grant money, which would require agreement with Republicans.
Danny Espinoza, Ryan Saunders, Tara Kini, and Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute
Most states have been struggling to address teacher shortages for several years now, often filling the vacuum with underprepared teachers who aren’t able to give children the high-quality learning they need and who leave at two to three times the rate of well-prepared teachers. Most often, these teachers are hired in schools serving students of color and those from low-income families. Governors and legislators in many of these states are now working to turn the tide, according to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute. Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession focuses on six evidence-based policies that states are pursuing to address their teacher shortages by strengthening, rather than weakening, their educator workforce. It also takes a close look at the state of Washington, where state policymakers have taken a comprehensive approach to addressing teacher shortages and improving the educator workforce by implementing many of the evidence-based policies described in the report.
Language, Culture, and Power
Ashley Hopkinson, EdSource
In recognition of the importance of involving parents in their child’s education as early as possible, community-based organizations in California have developed a range of strategies to increase parent engagement long before a child enters kindergarten. Unlike California’s K-12 public school system, not all programs that serve infants and toddlers have a formal system in place to engage parents although state-funded preschool programs — for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families — are required to include a Parent Advisory Council. K-12 districts are required to involve parents to a greater extent as they create their Local Control and Accountability Plans, which list specific goals for students and schools and explain how they will spend state funds to achieve them. Every school is required to establish a School Site Council that includes parents. Parent engagement is also an indicator on the California School Dashboard, which rates districts and schools in multiple areas, such as test scores and graduation rates. And many schools have a PTA group that offers a way for parents to get involved. But in the years leading up to kindergarten, the situation might be different. In some communities with large numbers of immigrant and low-income residents, where parents with young children can often feel disconnected from services, community advocates said it’s important to provide a space where parents can strengthen certain skills, like setting goals with their families, working to solve community problems and building relationships with other parents. That training not only improves parent involvement in early learning but has the potential to encourage parents to interact with each other and develop them as leaders in their community.
Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic
When students from Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas—where eight students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting on May 18—went back to school last week, their school looked different from the last time they saw it. Metal detectors and a security vestibule made of bulletproof glass greeted them at the front doors, and every classroom now also contained a “panic button” to trigger an alarm system. Students also passed more police officers in the hallways than before. The opening of the new, heightened-security Santa Fe High School marked, in a way, the school’s second reopening since the shooting. Eleven days after the shooting, students and their parents were welcomed back to campus with an event commemorating the dead; after that, the students went back to class. (The classrooms affected by the shooting were closed off by newly built walls.) Santa Fe’s response to the school shooting closely resembles that at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where students came back to class two weeks after a gunman killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day, and at Marshall County High School, where school started back up three days after two students were shot and killed in January. They more or less followed the same three-pronged itinerary: a short school closure, a memorial event to welcome back students and their families, and then a beefing up of security measures during students’ summer break.
Laura Meckler, Valerie Strauss, and Nick Anderson, The Washington Post
Students accused of sexual misconduct would have greater rights to defend themselves in college disciplinary inquiries under draft regulations circulating within the Education Department, officials familiar with the proposal said Wednesday. The Trump administration plan also would set a more stringent threshold for the types of allegations colleges should investigate, establishing a definition of sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it denies access to an educational program, according to two government officials who have seen the document or been briefed on it. The definition draws on Supreme Court precedent. During the Obama administration, the department had embraced a broad view of sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal and physical conduct.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Joan Gilbert and Eve Rifkin, The Hechinger Report
School systems are failing their students with outdated and inconsequential civics education that is only focused on facts and memorization. The simple multiple-choice questions found on most civics tests require memorization of unconnected facts in order to pass. Samples include: Which of the following includes three of the 13 original states? Who is in charge of the executive branch? Which of the following are national U.S. holidays? Today, students have a lot more on their minds than memorizing the three branches of the U.S. government. They are in the streets exercising democracy in the pursuit of political change. Students will no longer tolerate gun laws that fail to keep them safe in their schools or neighborhoods.
Perri Klass, The New York Times
The most famous painting of children at play is “Children’s Games,” the 1560 work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of a town square in which children from toddlers to adolescents (scholars have counted 246) are playing a range of timeless games. There are dolls and marbles and tiddlywinks, ball games and climbing games and riding games (scholars have counted 90 or so). The children are the only ones in town, and their activities offer a kind of taxonomy of play. But some worry that our current culture is less friendly to play, and that children may not be getting the chance to explore all its possibilities. To try to address that, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement on Monday titled “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.” The statement characterizes play as intrinsically motivated, involving active engagement and resulting in “joyful discovery.” It summarizes extensive developmental and neurological research on play, and tries to tease out some of the specific developmental discoveries in peek-a-boo (repetitive games provide “the joy of being able to predict what is going to happen”) and Simon Says (builds impulse control and executive function). It also says that doctors should encourage playful learning for parents and infants by writing a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit in the first two years of life. It’s a values statement because many who study play feel that it is under siege, even as new research emphasizes its importance in children’s development.
Jonathan P. Raymond, Vunela
As a first-time author, I’ve been surprised and grateful to find out how people are experiencing my book. I wrote Wildflowers, A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America to share the urgent lessons I learned about public education during my four-and-a-half years as school superintendent in Sacramento, CA. I felt the need to reach everyone: parents, educators, voters, policy experts, and legislators. Now, I’m hearing from everyone. And learning a lot. One pre-publication reader urged me to talk more about the concept of equity in Wildflowers. I’ll admit it: I am wary of terminology that goes “viral” from one day to the next. All of a sudden, equity is on everyone’s tongue — but do we even know what equity really means? (I feel the same way about the term “achievement gap.” We’ll get to that in a minute). Wildflowers actually explores the meaning of equity: People tend to confuse equity with the concept of “equal treatment,” which means treating everyone the same. In fact, the two couldn’t be more different. It’s easy to treat everybody equally. In the case of promoting an innovative program, you send out a flyer to every family in the district inviting parents to an open house. But what if some parents can’t read? What if the open house is scheduled in the evening, and some parents work nights? Equal treatment doesn’t require empathy or compassion — all it takes is a Xerox machine, pumping out as many copies of the flyer as there are addresses on your mailing list. Equity, on the other hand, requires a deep understanding of the community you hope to reach. It can mean unequal levels of effort aimed at the most disadvantaged, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay — it’s equitable.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Mary Meadows, Lexington Herald-Leader
The Floyd County Schools District earned numerous accolades for achievements on state tests, including multiple “District of Distinction” honors, and in 2016, a ranking of sixth statewide, but a scathing audit suggests that some in the district may have been more concerned with test results than the quality of education provided to students. The Kentucky Department of Education required the school district to implement a corrective action plan this year, following an audit of the district’s services for children with special needs. It uncovered numerous violations of state regulations concerning special needs education, and it also uncovered “inappropriate state assessment practices” and other concerns that impacted students of all abilities throughout the district. The 87-page audit, provided by the KDE in response to an open records request from the Floyd County Chronicle and Times, indicates that the Floyd County Schools District is using special education designations as a “substitute” for real education so students can get extra help on state tests. It reports that Floyd County schools referred students without disabilities to special education even though they didn’t need those services. “Assessment tools and strategies applied by the district were not used for determining the educational needs of students,” the audit said. “Rather, special education was sought as a substitute for appropriate instruction so that accommodations could be used during statewide testing in the district.”
Mikhail Zinshteyn, EdSource
California is looking outside its borders for a proven approach to improving community college completion. The challenge is real. Though the state budget has increased spending on the community college system by $2.6 billion since 2011, the system has fallen short of its goals for student graduation. As of 2017-18, less than a tenth of its students who seek degrees or certificates earned them within three years. Now the state is betting that a $3 million investment to borrow a model from New York will be the spark its community colleges need to dramatically increase the number of California students completing their studies in three years. The investment was inspired by the Accelerate Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). Developed by the City University of New York in 2007, the program emphasizes extra financial aid and heavy student counseling on classes to take as well financial and career planning. The model is available at six of its community colleges and three four-year colleges. So far 53 percent of the accelerated program’s students graduate with a degree in three years — more than double the rate for similar City University of New York students not in the program.
Andre Perry, The Nation
The daughter of Times-Picayune columnist and Louisiana State University professor Robert Mann started college last week at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Mann had to drop off more on campus than his daughter. He also had to leave behind a load of cash for textbooks. Mann tweeted, “Paid today for my freshman daughter’s textbooks at @lsu. $700 for one semester. She was stunned. I was stunned. How do faculty and admin allow these publishers to shake down students like this??” To put that into perspective, the poverty line for a family of three in 2018 is $20,780, according to federal guidelines. Assuming textbooks at LSU cost the same the next semester, that $1,400 a year represents nearly 7 percent of a poor family’s annual income. Families can’t eat textbooks. And they can’t afford them either. “You’re already paying thousands of dollars to get into school; you shouldn’t have to pay ridiculous amounts to actually do it,” said D’vasha Hodges, 19, a sophomore nursing student at Bradley University in Illinois who has paid, in some cases, $300 for a required text that she wouldn’t have been able to afford without financial aid. “Some professors expect you to have your books on the first day of class, but if your financial aid hasn’t gone completely through, you have to wait.”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Melissa Benn, The Guardian
Unlikely as it might sound, one of the most electric political meetings I have ever attended was a lecture on the Finnish educational system given by Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish educator and author, in London in the spring of 2012. Sahlberg, who was speaking to a packed committee room 14 of the House of Commons – the most magnificent of a run of grand meeting rooms that directly overlook the Thames – has a rather laconic manner of delivery. However, in this particular instance, his flat speaking style proved the perfect vehicle for an unexpectedly radical message. Sahlberg described how Finnish education had evolved, in the postwar period, from a steeply hierarchical one, rather like our own, made up of private, selective and less-well regarded “local” schools, to become a system in which every child attends the “common school”. The long march to educational reform was partly initiated to strengthen the Finnish nation after the second world war, and to defend it against Russian incursions in particular.
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
When the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment nearly a century ago, the law’s immediate impact extended far beyond giving women the right to vote. Women’s suffrage—widely viewed as one of the 20th century’s most important events—coincided with a growing (if gradual) embrace of gender equality, increased social spending, and a greater tendency among politicians to take a progressive stance on legislative proposals. Evidence suggests that women’s suffrage also corresponded with a significant increase in municipal spending on charities and hospitals, as well as on social programs; one study found that when women gained the right to vote, child mortality dropped by as much as 15 percent. A new study shows that another one of the ripple effects of women’s suffrage was that, across the board, children were more likely to stay in school. For this study, three economists—Dartmouth College’s Na’ama Shenhav, Bucknell University’s Esra Kose, and Southern Methodist University’s Elira Kuka—digitized archival local school-enrollment and school-spending figures dating back to the early-20th century for around 500 U.S. cities with at least 10,000 residents, and analyzed that information alongside census statistics, among other data. They looked at adolescents who were 15 years or older (and about to complete school) by the time suffrage was granted to women, and compared them to children who were still in school, or about to start, at the time.
Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report
When a classroom of second graders in Waterford, Mich., studied civics in the fall of 2016, they began by exploring a nearby park in Pontiac. Arriving with their notebooks, the seven-year-olds jotted down safety problems. Back in the classroom, they discussed their ideas for improvement. They created multicolored posters to explain what different departments of local government do, from sanitation to human resources. The kids drafted proposals to clean up messy areas and put soft woodchips under the swings. The 20-lesson unit culminated in a presentation before a Pontiac City Council member named Randy Carter, who listened to the kids make their case at a podium with a microphone and PowerPoint slides. Carter promised to act upon their proposals immediately. It was an effective demonstration of project-based learning, a trend whose roots date back to John Dewey’s educational philosophies and has been spreading through schools across the country over the past five years. The curriculum was recently the subject of an experiment involving 684 students to see if this approach actually teaches kids the reading and writing skills and the content they need to succeed in school.
Public Schools and Private $
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
The California legislature has passed a bill that would ban for-profit charter schools in the state, a big toward cleaning up what has become a scandal-ridden charter sector in the state. But the question is this: Will Gov. Jerry Brown (D) sign it? You might think it would be reflexive for him to do so, given that the legislature is controlled by Democrats. But think again. Brown, who started two charter schools when he was the mayor of Oakland, refused to sign a previous bill attempting to ban for-profit charters. He also refused to sign legislation that sought to make charter schools more transparent — even after the state treasurer said it was vital to make charters more transparent to the public. California has permitted charter schools — which are publicly funded by privately operated, sometimes by for-profit companies — since 1992, when it became the second state in the nation to pass a law allowing them to operate. Since then, the charter sector has grown significantly there, though oversight has not. Charter schools are not required to follow all of the rules that traditional public schools are.
Nico Savidge, EdSource
The two candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction agree that the time has come to review California’s quarter-century-old charter school law, while disagreeing over how best to handle the impact of charter school growth on the financial health of school districts. Reprising themes they have emphasized on the campaign trail for months, Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond agreed that the state must substantially increase education spending and do more to support African-American and Latino students during an hour-long forum Friday in Sacramento hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research and policy organization. The forum was moderated by PPIC president Mark Baldassare. Both Tuck and Thurmond also said they will enthusiastically support an initiative expected to be on the November 2020 ballot to overhaul California’s landmark tax law Proposition 13 and raise taxes on commercial property. The initiative’s backers estimate it would provide $4.5 billion in new funding for schools.
Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
For the last year, construction on the corner of Avenue R and 40th Street East in Palmdale hummed along as a massive school campus took shape. On its Facebook page, Guidance Charter School posted photos of students holding shovels adorned with yellow ribbons and contractors pouring the foundation for what would be an 87,000-square-foot campus with a swimming pool, library and playing fields — paid for with nearly $30 million in bonds. Less visible was what was happening behind the scenes, as the local school system raised alarms that threatened Guidance’s existence. The Palmdale School District’s board of trustees, which first authorized Guidance 17 years ago, voted in January to close the school, citing concerns about poor academic performance and questionable financial operations. As the new campus rose, charter officials launched a series of appeals, the latest of which came before the Los Angeles County Board of Education this week.
School Data Nerd
This morning, PUC iPrep closed its doors. It had been on the brink of collapse for weeks, and watching this happen in slow motion has been extraordinarily heartbreaking to follow this story on the Eagle Rock Facebook group. Why did they close? On their websites, they state “Enrollment is the largest source of funding for the school, and with this level of enrollment, the program is not viable.” But by saying that, they are not telling the whole story. Over a year ago, I wrote about PUC iPrep. Their charter petition was approved based on data from East Chinatown, but instead they had chosen to locate the school in Eagle Rock. I argued that by opening up in Eagle Rock, they were being deceptive, since their charter petition was based on data from 8 miles away. I argued, “Instead of opening up in a high need area, they are opening up in an area that has some of the highest performing elementary and middle schools in Los Angeles.” PUC had the opportunity (and the board mandate) to open this school in a high need area, where it most likely would have attracted a lot higher enrollment. Instead, it opened the school in an area with higher performing schools that it could not compete with. They were deceptive, and it bit them back.
Other News of Note
Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times
The air in the Shiloh Baptist Church was thick with the heat of human bodies. The crowd, a mix of black and white faces, filled the pews in what was ostensibly the black side of town, straining the capacity of this good-sized church. On the dais stood the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, draped in a black robe, a black vest and a cream stole emblazoned with the credo “Jesus was a poor man.” Al Gore, the former vice president, sat behind him. Dr. Barber’s message to the community members in the church last week would have been largely recognizable to civil rights leaders of generations past, addressing issues of poverty and racism. But he and Mr. Gore were here in Greensboro to focus on another concern that many in the audience believed was just as insidious: pollution from North Carolina’s coal-powered electrical plants. “Jesus said love your neighbor,” Dr. Barber told the crowd. “I don’t care how many times you tell me you love me, if you put coal ash in my water you don’t love me. Because if there was nothing wrong with the coal ash, then put it in the wealthy communities.”