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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Diane Ravitch, Capital & Main
The incoming administration of Governor-elect Gavin Newsom will not be cleaning up a mess. Governor Jerry Brown has been a good steward of the state during his time in office. But Newsom faces three distinct challenges in the field of education. Although Governor Brown significantly increased spending for education, California has large unmet needs and much catching-up to do to maintain its edge as an incubator of talent and innovation, and of equal opportunity for all. First, the state must substantially increase funding for K-12 education, which would enable districts to pay teachers better salaries, reduce class sizes and assure that all children, regardless of where they live, have access to a well-equipped, well-staffed school. The latest federal data (2016) show that California spends somewhat less than the national average per pupil. California’s per-pupil spending is $11,420, compared to a national average of $11,841. California is one of the richest states in the nation but spends far less than states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Wyoming and North Dakota. California spends about the same on its students as states like Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana and South Carolina, where the cost of living is far less than in California.
Kyle Stokes, LAist
And you thought you were done with consequential elections until 2020. Not so in Los Angeles, where candidates are lining up for a special election for an open seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board. Wednesday was the deadline to qualify for the March 2019 ballot. At stake: control of a pivotal seat on the LAUSD board, which is caught in the middle of an increasingly expensive political proxy war between charter school advocates and teachers unions. But there are even more elements of intrigue in the race: a clash between new faces and the old guard, divisions along racial and geographic lines — and even the remnants of a scandal. Here’s what you need to know.
Teresa Mathew, The Point Reyes Light
Inside Lagunitas Middle School, Katherine Sanford is trying to change the way her eighth-grade students think about justice. Twice a week, as part of her new Equity and Activism Project, students take seats on the floor or in high-top desks and learn about inequity: how the discrimination and prejudices of the past set down roots that originated many of the issues we see today. As part of the curriculum, students discuss the differences between slavery and immigration, the state of the modern-day prison system, and local socio-economic issues like affordable housing. “If you display ignorance,” she told her students during a discussion about the complexity of free speech in schools, “the school’s job is to illuminate that ignorance for you.”
Language, Culture, and Power
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, WBUR
It should come as no surprise that a Harvard student is suing the University to prevent the school from investigating an allegation that he raped a non-Harvard student out-of-state. This is the world that Betsy DeVos has created — one where a student can be accused of sexual assault but, because the alleged incident did not happen on campus, the school may be told it has no right to follow up. Just as victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault have begun to break decades of silence and report their experiences, the secretary of education has proposed regulatory amendments that will make it less likely that victims will speak up and seek justice, and less likely that schools will have effective tools to protect their students from someone on campus credibly accused of an assault. This lawsuit, filed barely two weeks after the proposed regulations were published, shows how the landscape is already changing.
Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post
A week after the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., when grief-stricken students demanded action at the state Capitol, Rep. Kimberly Daniels took to the floor to promote a measure she said had been inspired by God, who she said spoke to her in a dream. God “is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before,” the Jacksonville Democrat said Feb. 21. “It is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed. But the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart.” Her proposal? Ensuring every Florida public school student is educated in a building where “In God We Trust” — the national and Florida state motto — is prominently posted. The bill passed and was signed into law. Florida is one of seven states this year that passed laws requiring or permitting schools and other public buildings to post “In God We Trust.” Arkansas passed a similar measure in 2017, and Arizona this year allowed schools to post in English the state’s motto, which appears in Latin on the state seal: “God Enriches.” These laws have emerged as some religion advocates press to expand references to God and the Bible in public schools and other public venues. Advocates for these measures were heartened by President Trump’s picks for the U.S. Supreme Court, both of whom have sided with religious interests.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
Two years ago, it seemed like scrapping Obama-era guidance around school suspensions might be at the top of Betsy DeVos’s to-do list as education secretary. The rules encouraged schools to limit suspensions and expulsions, and have been supported by progressives and civil rights groups. But they have been heavily criticized by conservatives, who say they’ve made schools less safe. Still, the guidelines have stayed in place, even as conversations about school safety have taken on new intensity. The Washington Post reported Monday that the final report of the school safety commission convened after February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will recommend that the guidance be eliminated. That would be a victory for the conservative campaign to link school discipline reforms with unsafe schools, a connection that remains questionable and hotly debated. The report is expected this month. “The Federal Commission on School Safety has studied the topic of school discipline extensively and will make a recommendation on the Obama-era school discipline guidance in its final report,” Department of Education spokesperson Liz Hill said. The debate about these guidelines is long-running and fierce. Here’s a guide to what’s at stake and what to look out for as decisions are made.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Sarah Gonser, The Hechinger Report
As employers clamor for better-prepared workers, some states tiptoe into teaching kids employability skills.
Sarah Schwartz, Education Week
For years, psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the idea of “learning styles”—the theory that students can process information best when teachers tailor instruction to students’ strengths. These frameworks often rely on grouping students into categories, like auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learners, or concrete versus abstract learners. Now, a new study in Frontiers in Education offers further evidence that these designations may be unreliable: When it comes to an individual student’s preferred learning style, teachers and students don’t agree on how students learn best. Researchers at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece and the University of Dundee in Scotland asked about 200 primary school students in Athens to identify themselves as either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. Then, they asked teachers to classify the same students with the paradigm. They found that the teachers’ and students’ answers didn’t match up: Students’ self-assessments of their learning styles didn’t correlate to their teachers’ perceptions. “The fact that we didn’t find an agreement shows that assigning learning styles to students is more or less a hit or miss process,” Marietta Papadatou-Pastou, a lecturer in neuropsychology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and the lead author of the study, said in an interview. The mismatch highlights this framework’s unreliability, she said.
Jennifer L. DePaoli, Matthew N. Atwell, John M. Bridgeland, and Tomothy P. Shriver, Civic
The central message of this report is while current and recent high school students today generally respect their teachers and give their high schools favorable marks, most see a big missing piece in their education – a lack of social and emotional skills development – and most recent students feel unprepared for life after high school. Students, like teachers and administrators, see the benefits of attending schools that emphasize social and emotional learning (SEL), especially in terms of improving relationships, reducing bullying, and preparing them for postsecondary education, work, and life. Such schools are broadly appealing to students across backgrounds and from different types of schools. Encouragingly, students in schools with a strong commitment to social and emotional development report having better learning environments, feeling respected more, feeling safer, doing better academically, getting along well with others better, being better prepared for life, and being more likely to serve and give back to their communities than those students not in such schools.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
David Washburn, EdSource
At least 40 percent of California school districts and charter schools have rates of chronic absence in grades K-8 that are high or very high based on new performance measures that will be unveiled next month as part of the state’s updated school accountability system, known as the California School Dashboard. The dashboard measures, which actually underestimate the extent of the problem because they do not highlight high schools, show that fulfilling the basic responsibility of getting children to school remains difficult in many places. “I think it will be a wake-up call for a lot of districts,” said Cecilia Leong, an associate director of programs for the San Francisco-based Attendance Works, which is among the leading advocates nationwide for improving school attendance. The data is on the dashboard for the first time this year because the state did not release absenteeism numbers until 2017 and the system requires at least two years of data to determine whether schools are showing improvement.
Adam Tyner and Nicholas Munyan-Penney, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 began holding schools accountable for high school graduation rates, multiple strategies have emerged to help more students receive their diplomas. Among the most popular and widely deployed are credit recovery programs, which allow students to “recover credits” from one or more courses that they have either failed or failed to complete. But heretofore there’s been no systematic way to know how widely credit recovery is being used. This report uses new data to gauge the extent of credit recovery (CR) in U.S. high schools today. These programs are often technology-enabled and can be competency-based too, meaning that students proceed through the content and assessments at their own pace rather than having to complete a designated amount of “seat time.”5 Retaking an entire conventional course (much less several of them) or attending summer school can hinder students in fulfilling graduation requirements on time, so CR can be a speedy and often less expensive shortcut. In theory, CR provides an ideal solution for students who are not on track for graduation. Yet the emerging market for CR services has been almost entirely unregulated in most states, and often accountability for student performance is outsourced to private vendors or state-run consortia.6 This means that, in practice, these courses often lack the requisite quality controls to ensure that rigor, content, and skills are not sacrificed in the pursuit of quick credits. The prevalence of lowquality CR programs is so well known that one large for-profit credit recovery vendor maintains a webpage explaining how its products and services differ from credit recovery “mills” that “[churn] out graduates but [fail] to prepare students for what’s next.”7 With pressure on school and district administrators to boost graduation rates while keeping costs low, the potential for educational chicanery is obvious.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
About 1 in 3 school districts will require assistance from the state or their county offices of education to improve their performance in several areas, based on the new ratings on the California School Dashboard, which the California Department of Education released on Thursday. The 374 districts are 148 more than last year, when the mandatory system of state support went into effect. The districts qualified because at least one ethnic, racial or other student group received the lowest color rating, red, in two or more of six achievement metrics. The metrics include student test scores in math and English language arts, graduation rates and suspension rates. The addition this year of two more long-awaited ratings — chronic absenteeism and students’ readiness for college and careers — played a factor in the district list, and both indicators underscore new areas of concern. Only 42 percent of high school seniors in 2018 were deemed prepared for college or a career, and last year 11 percent of elementary and middle school students missed more than 18 days of school last year, designating chronic absence. Also in this year’s dashboard, high school test scores in math and English language arts, which were included as a component of the college/career readiness indicator, received a separate color rating for the first time. And there is no color rating this year for the English learner progress indicator, measuring how quickly English learners become proficient in English, because the state switched to a new test. Since more than one year of scores are needed to produce a color, the color rating will return in 2020.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute
Since 1979, the bottom 90 percent of the American workforce has seen their pay shrink radically as a share of total income. Figure A shows total labor compensation for the bottom 90 percent as a share of all market-based income in the American economy. In 1979, this share was 58 percent, but as of 2015 it had shrunk to just under 47 percent. The amount of money this loss represents is staggering; had the 1979 share held constant, the bottom 90 percent of the American workforce would have had roughly $1.35 trillion in additional labor income in 2015, or about $10,800 per household. What happened in the American economy that drove this collapse in pay for the bottom 90 percent? We suggest that a good metaphor is a tug-of-war, where the bottom 90 percent of workers is on one side and corporate managers and capital owners (shorthand these two groups simply as employers) are on the other. What matters for the final distributional outcome of this tug-of-war, of course, is simply the relative strength of each side, and on these grounds the graph makes it obvious that the bottom 90 percent has lost enormous ground to their employers. But this raises three key questions.
Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times
Luz Rivas knew the two dozen fifth-grade girls sitting before her. Not by name, but by experience. She once lived in tight spaces, shared homes, back houses, a garage. It was back in the 1980s, when she and her mother and sister would get squeezed out of one place, hear about another and start over again. It’s still that way for children in the Pacoima neighborhood around Telfair Elementary, only more so. “I hated that assignment in school when they asked you to draw your house,” Rivas, 44, told me. “I didn’t want to draw a garage.” Rivas managed to overcome the disadvantages, and the path she followed began at Telfair. Now, three decades on, she was back at her old school, having gone to MIT and Harvard, having become an electrical engineer and then a member of the California Assembly. It was here in fifth grade, Rivas told the students, that she discovered an interest in engineering while trying to figure out how to program an Apple IIe computer. So when she started a nonprofit called Do It Yourself Girls, an after-school tech program that has served more than 2,000 fifth- to 12th-grade students at 14 schools, Telfair got the first chapter. “Why did you decide to join DIY?” Rivas asked the students. “I’m going to start my own DIY,” one girl said with full authority. “I thought it was not going to be that fun, but then we did the first project and I thought about it, and it was fun.” “I want to be an engineer like my sister,” said another. Can it happen? Of course. Rivas rose up, and others will follow. “But it’s more of a challenge now,” said Trini Rodriguez, former Telfair student and cofounder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar. “No matter how hard you try to meet your needs, there’s an obstacle instead of a bridge.”
Los Angeles Sentinel
Superintendent Austin Beutner convened a meeting with community leaders from the Brotherhood Crusade, Social Justice Learning Institute, Suits in Solidarity, academics from the UCLA Bunche Center, and leadership from the Los Angeles Unified School District to discuss school policing and school discipline in Los Angeles Unified. The meeting was called in response to a recent report published by Million Dollar Hoods, a project of UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies. The report, “Policing Our Students,” analyzed data on Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) arrests, citations, and diversions between 2014 and 2017. It concluded that “1 in 4 youth arrests made by the LASPD were elementary and middle school-aged children.” Concerned with these findings, Superintendent Beutner invited attendees to have an open and transparent conversation about the data included in the report and LASPD’s processes of interacting with youth. Recognizing their shared vision to decrease youth contact with school police, the group agreed to collaborate on tangible steps to make this vision a reality. Specifically, the working group will work to identify policy recommendations aimed at eliminating citations and arrests of Black and Latino students in middle and elementary school, for minor offenses. In addition, the group will work to identify strategies to increase restorative practices and prevention services. “Los Angeles Unified remains committed to advancing progressive school policing and discipline reform,” Superintendent Beutner said. “There is progress to be made to ensure every student is learning in a welcoming, safe and positive school environment.”
Public Schools and Private $
Donald Cohen, Medium
It couldn’t be clearer that the fundamental democratic right to have our voices — and votes — heard is under attack. Just this week, Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated legislature slashed early voting…in the middle of the night…during a lame duck session. Bottom line: there are politicians, conservative think tanks, and corporate funders who don’t want people to be able to vote. But we’ve learned through our work that there’s another — and perhaps deeper — threat to democracy spreading nationwide, and that is privatization. When corporations take control of public goods like water, transit, and schools, we give them the ability to make decisions that should be made democratically by us, the public.
Sally Ho, Associated Press
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was not on the ballot in the Michigan governor’s race, but her legacy loomed over the campaign in her home state, which has the country’s highest concentration of for-profit charter schools. Republican Bill Schuette, a DeVos ally and the state’s attorney general, ultimately lost to Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and former state lawmaker who pledged on the campaign trail to “put an end to the DeVos agenda.” She has promised to stop new for-profit schools from opening and to demand more accountability from charter schools. Michigan was one of several key states that elected new governors who are more skeptical of charter schools than their election opponents, and will replace leaders who openly supported the sector that enrolls roughly 3 million students across the U.S. in schools that are publicly funded but privately run. The states that saw such reversals — including California, Illinois and Michigan — are home to some of the strongest charter school enrollment numbers, and the outcomes suggest the political landscape could be growing more difficult for future expansion, particularly under Democratic leadership. The winners pledged support for traditional public schools while campaigning in the shadow of a teacher protest movement that forced a national conversation about the state of public education.
Jeff Bryant, Alternet
At a recent school board meeting in New Orleans, more than 100 parents swamped the hearing room, requiring dozens to have to stand. Many of the parents had filled out public comment cards so they would be allowed to address the board. What most in the crowd came prepared to talk about were their concerns about recent recommendations by the superintendent to close five schools and transfer the students to other schools in the district. Their demand was for the elected board to take a more hands-on role in improving the schools instead of closing them down. But when Ashana Bigard, a New Orleans public school parent and advocate, realized the board had altered the agenda, and limited parents’ comment time, she decided to speak out of turn. “How is closing the schools helping our children?” she asked the board members. She pointed out that many of the children in the schools being closed are special needs students with serious, trauma-induced learning disabilities, and now these children are being uprooted and transferred to schools that lack expertise with these problems. “These children have been experimented on for too long,” she declared. That’s when a district staff member intervened and escorted her out of the room.
Other News of Note
John Nichols, The Nation
Noam Chomsky was aptly described in a New York Times book review published almost four decades ago as “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He was 50 then. Now he is 90, and on the occasion of his December 7 birthday, the German international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle observed, again aptly, that Chomsky is “arguably the foremost political dissident of the last half a century.” Chomsky reminds us that intellect and dissent go together, and that the vital challenge of our times is to maintain “an independent mind.” That’s not easy in an age of manufactured consent, but it is possible, as Chomsky so well reminds us—by continuing to speak, as consistently and as agilely as ever, about the lies of our times.