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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Now Is Our Chance to Rebuild U.S. Public Schools To Address Both Climate Change and Racial Inequality
Akira Drake Rodriguez, Erika Kitzmiller, and Daniel Aldana Cohen, TIME
When school facilities closed for in-person learning in early March 2020, the assumption was that the shutdown and pandemic would be temporary blips in the memory of our students. Some 16 months later, school facilities are finally preparing to re-open for in-person learning. We could go about business as usual, but after the devastation of the pandemic, and the increasingly widespread climate-change-linked weather disasters, it’s obvious we should not. Emerging from the crisis of COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to rethink our public schools, to simultaneously the structural inequalities that pervade the system, and prepare it for the climate emergency ahead. Lawmakers have had difficulty grappling with the layering of immediate and longer-lasting crises. That’s where we think the Green New Deal for Public Schools, introduced to Congress by Representative Jamaal Bowman (NY) on July 16, comes in. Building on the research of our climate + community project, its basic premise is that we have to tackle our society’s gravest problems not one by one, but in their entirety, through ambitious physical and social investments that lift up the workers and communities that have suffered the most disinvestment throughout American history. We want to fight systemic racism, poverty, and environmental breakdown with comprehensive, holistic policies.
Joshua Devincenzo and David Mazzuca, The Hill
With the Atlantic hurricane season upon us, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting that 2021 will be an above-normal hurricane season. It seems each year climatic hazards — most acutely hurricanes here in the United States — are becoming more intense and more destructive. Yet, our systemic responses to such hazards have evolved little. The federal government traditionally funds programs pre-disaster to mitigate the effects of hazards and post-disaster to assist communities to recover and rebuild. While funding vehicles may operate under different names and emphasize resilience more today than a decade ago, little attention is paid beyond physical infrastructure improvements or restoration — public or private. This is unfortunate as disaster management is more than government response and recovery. It is inclusive of a broader appreciation of disaster risk among the general public. Through a disaster risk reduction education campaign, such an appreciation can be achieved.
Valerie Strauss and Larry Ferlazzo, Washington Post
The 2021-22 school year is upon us, marking the third straight academic year that will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic began in March 2020, forcing most schools across the country to close and severely disrupting learning. The 2020-21 academic year started with schools closed in most places. Districts opened on different schedules throughout the year, but covid-19 cases led to quarantines, masking, social distancing within classrooms and a series of other health measures that affected teaching and learning. Teachers experimented with virtual and hybrid learning — but none of it was seen as effective as in-person classes for most students. Hopes that the 2021-22 year would mark a return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy have been dashed by the rise of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, with covid-19 cases skyrocketing in some places and mask mandates either being imposed or contentiously debated.
Language, Culture, and Power
Clare Cleveland, CPR News
When Dzabahe was 11 years old, she went to her first government-run boarding school in rural Arizona around 1953. She left everything she knew on the Navajo reservation where she grew up.. “You became an orphan on that day,” she said. “My life was a shamble because everything that I was, everything that I believed in, my language, everything, I learned I was doing it all wrong.” At the school, she was told not to speak her Navajo language. Her Navajo clothing and moccasins were sent back home with her parents. Her hair was cut, something that is taboo in Navajo culture. And even though she didn’t speak English or understand American customs, she was punished for not doing things the way the school wanted her to. “I stood in a corner a million times until I was ready to faint,” she recalled. “And then the spanking and the harshness, and if you’re being punished you couldn’t eat dinner or breakfast or any meal. And then there’s a lot of shame that came with it.”
Diana Lambert, EdSource
The U.S. Department of Education awarded 29 grants totaling $10 million to colleges and universities, including tribal colleges, to support the preparation of Native American teachers and administrators. The program is meant to address the significant gap in the number of qualified Native American educators teaching Native American students, according to a press release from the Department of Education. “Representation matters. All students deserve the opportunity to be taught by educators who are diverse and who reflect their backgrounds and experiences — and we know that far too few Native American students have the chance to engage with Native American teachers in their schools and as education leaders and mentors in their communities. That must change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Alexis Marshall, NPR
At the start of the pandemic, schools rushed to get laptops into the hands of students at home. In Nashville, Tenn., those laptops created new opportunities for parents who want to learn English. Alexis Marshall of our member station WPLN reports.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
President Joe Biden called on school districts Thursday to host pop-up clinics in order to get more children 12 and older vaccinated against COVID-19, part of his administration’s new push to increase vaccinations as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads. The president also directed pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to prioritize children 12 and older for vaccinations, and also to work with school districts to host vaccination clinics.
And Biden also said the federal government will reimburse small- and medium-sized businesses that offer paid leave to employees to get their children and family members, as well as themselves, vaccinated.
Carolyn Jones, EdSource
Between 30% and 40% of young people said their mental health deteriorated during the pandemic, according to a sweeping new report on student wellness by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Students who are Black, Latino, indigenous or low-income suffered more adverse effects, and the longer a student was learning remotely from home, the more their mental health suffered, according to the report.
R.L. Thompson, Chalkbeat Tennessee
I have stared into the eyes of a 14-year-old child who committed murder, and it’s an experience that still shakes me, especially since his victim was a little girl even younger than he was.He looked traumatized, revealing little emotion. And even though he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, when I spoke to him, I didn’t hear the voice of a killer. I heard the mumbles of a confused boy who was the product of a toxic environment. Every year around this time, I think about this young man and many of the young offenders that I have encountered in the field of youth rehabilitation. Among them, the phrase “back to school” means something totally different than new backpacks and school clothes.
Access, Assessment, Advancement
Emma Hall & Matthew Reagan, Cal Matters
Jaime Barrientos, a psychology student at Los Angeles Mission College, was searching for information on fall classes a couple weeks ago when he noticed that coronavirus vaccines were being offered during on-campus registration. He messaged a friend who was also unvaccinated and hadn’t planned on getting the shot, and the two of them spent the afternoon in the school’s library filling out paperwork for their first dose of the Pfizer regimen. What got Barrientos and his skeptical friend out of the house to get vaccinated? “The money,” the duo said in unison.
MacKenzie Scott’s HBCU giving starkly contrasts with the approach of early white funders of historically Black colleges and universities
Tyrone McKinley Freeman, The Conversation
Novelist and billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has so far given at least US$560 million to 23 historically Black colleges and universities. These donations are part of a bid she announced in 2019 to quickly dedicate most of her fortune to charity. Scott’s gifts, including the $6 million she donated to Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the $45 million she gave North Carolina A&T University, vary in size but nearly all of the colleges and universities describe this funding as “historic.” For many, it was the largest single donation they had ever received from an individual donor. Scott, previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is not making a splash just because of the size of her donations. She has an unusually unrestrictive get-out-of-the-way approach. “I gave each a contribution and encouraged them to spend it on whatever they believe best serves their efforts,” Scott wrote in a July 2020 blog post.
Matthew Reagan, Cal Matters
California students could gain more representation on two of the state’s three higher education governing boards this year. In 2019, the state Legislature expanded the number of students with voting power on the California State University Board of Trustees from one to two. This year, legislators have done the same for California Community Colleges Board of Governors and are considering a constitutional amendment that would make the same change for the University of California’s Board of Regents. While the changes may seem nominal, student representatives say the bills are a win — taken together, they effectively double the number of student voices in some of the nation’s largest higher education systems and send a strong message about the competence of student representatives.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Group of teens is conducting a housing segregation study. And they want to talk to Norfolk residents
Sara Gregory, The Virginia Pilot
A group of Hampton Roads teens is putting together a study about housing segregation, and want to hear from people who have been directly affected. They’re part of a group run by Clever Communities in Action, a Norfolk nonprofit that aims to boost literacy in the Black community. Inspired by Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law — which tells the story of how the U.S. government has created and perpetuated racial discrimination — members plan to interview current and former Norfolk residents about their experiences with systemic inequity. The group of teens will first complete a book report, then create a documentary showcasing residents’ voices.
Zoë Burkholder, History News Network
President Joe Biden’s proposed $100 million grant program to fund school integration has reopened an age-old question for reformers: can school integration improve educational equality for students of color? The answer is split predictably along party lines, with conservatives decrying school desegregation as a gross violation of white students’ civil rights, and liberals gushing over the better funding, resources, curricula, facilities, and quality teachers that tend to accompany integrated schools. Caught in the middle are the families of color whose primary concern is gaining access to a high quality public education through whatever means possible. African American families, in particular, have a long and especially complicated relationship with school integration that stretches back to the very earliest free, tax-funded public schools and forward to the present day.
Andre Perry, MinnPost
When I was a charter school leader, I constantly heard reformers justify district takeovers, teacher firings, ineffective voucher programs and abusive “no excuse” discipline policies by saying, “It’s all about the kids.” They insisted that if we could get rid of the adult problems — replacing teachers, parents and administrators — students could overcome poverty. Many reformers viewed poverty as an inadequate excuse for students’ academic failings, citing flimsy research that claimed 90 percent of low-income students of color can and do meet the highest academic standards — the so called 90/90/90 schools. The problem with the concept was the originator used a low bar to make sure 90 percent of students met the standard, equating “basic” or barely minimal competency with high achievement. And it shrugged off the mounds of research that show a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.
Democracy and the Public Interest
Jacey Fortin, New York Times
About a year ago, even as the United States was seized by protests against racism, many Americans had never heard the phrase “critical race theory.” Now, suddenly, the term is everywhere. It makes national and international headlines and is a target for talking heads. Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States senators have branded it “activist indoctrination.” But C.R.T., as it is often abbreviated, is not new. It’s a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship, which makes it difficult to find a satisfying answer to the basic question: What, exactly, is critical race theory?
Reshan Richards & Stephen J. Valentine, Ed Surge
Good listening skills can change minds, improve relationships and help build communities. Listening is also a big focus of the work of Nicole Furlonge, professor and director of the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College Columbia University. Last spring, we were fortunate to catch up with Furlonge, who is an astute practitioner and proponent of what she calls “listening leadership,” positioning listening as an essential interpretive and civic act that can lead to deeper engagement with others.
Tyler Vazquez, Florida Today
As coronavirus cases surge statewide and Gov. Ron DeSantis has barred public school districts from requiring masks, private schools are free to make their own decisions on mandates. Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, which has 800 students in preschool through 12th grade, is the only reported Brevard County private school to have a mask requirement this year. Catholic schools are strongly recommending but not requiring the use of masks. Nicki Hensley, spokeswoman for Holy Trinity, said the decision to require masks was the result of a “thoughtful and deliberative” process by the school’s health and safety committee.
Other News of Note
Marianna Murdoch, The 74
This July, air quality worsened from Oregon to Maine as wildfire smoke traveled across northern states. New Yorkers woke up to an orange sun, and Utah’s worst drought turned deadly as a sand storm blocked visibility on a major highway. And while reports of extreme weather and restrictions on teaching dominate the news, young people are renewing the push to make climate education a reality in K-12 schools. After learning that her state bird may have to leave if Minnesota continues to warm at its current rate, and connecting extreme weather at home to a global phenomenon, high school senior Annie Chen started a campaign to get more climate-oriented books in Minnesota schools. She recalls having to wear her winter coat over Halloween costumes as a kid, but recently, the snow hasn’t reached her home in Rochester until later in the season. Hotter summers seem to linger through September.