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
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
A labor agreement is not the only thing dividing the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers. One missing element crucial to coming together on a contract deal — and averting a strike — is trust. On Wednesday, the union representing Los Angeles teachers announced that its 31,000 members will walk out Jan. 10 and that it has no plans to return to the negotiating table. What would be the point? said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, during a news conference at the union’s Koreatown headquarters. “We are not going back into a bargaining process that has failed and that the district has not taken seriously for 20 months,” Caputo-Pearl said. “In this context, the traditional bargaining process has not worked.” The union announcement came one day after L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner portrayed his side as the reasonable party in the dispute and said he was willing to negotiate around the clock. The two sides appear to agree on very little.
Madeline Will, Education Week
In February, educators will gather outside a massive detention camp for migrant children and stage a 24-hour “teach in.” The upcoming protest at the Tornillo, Texas detention camp is organized by Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, who teaches newly arrived refugee and immigrant students in Washington state. When she met President Donald Trump at the White House in a May ceremony, Manning gave him a stack of letters from her immigrant students. (She also wore buttons supporting women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and other political causes in a silent rebuke.) Several other state teachers of the year are joining her in speaking out against the separation of families and child detention, Manning said. (One of those teachers is Ivonne Orozco, the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, who immigrated from Mexico as a child and then received protection by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.) This spring, the Trump administration began enforcing a “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to about 3,000 children being separated from their parents or other adults who had accompanied them in crossing the border. Those children were detained in federal detention facilities. Trump reversed the policy in June after public outcry, and a federal judge ordered all separated children to be reunited with a parent. But the deadline for that order has long passed, and hundreds of those children still remain in federal custody.
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
A leading coalition of civil rights groups wants federal lawmakers to focus on oversight of the U.S. Department of Education when the new Congress begins next year, as well as legislation addressing student health and school safety. In a letter to the House and Senate on Wednesday, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights also asked lawmakers to pass legislation that deals with the restraint and seclusion of students, corporal punishment in schools, and police in schools. As for oversight, the coalition asked Congress to look into Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ actions with respect to the department’s office for civil rights, enforcement of Every Student Succeeds Act requirements, and racial disparities in special education. It’ll be a very different world on Capitol Hill next month when the 116th Congress begins and Democrats take control of the House from Republicans. Thanks to the midterm elections, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., is set to take over the House education committee and will have the chance to significantly shift the panel’s focus. (The Senate will remain in Republican hands.) We previewed what a Democratic takeover of the House could mean last month. Scott and other House Democrats have consistently and vigorously opposed what they say is lax oversight by DeVos when it comes to ensuring help for disadvantaged students under ESSA. They’ve also criticized her push to shrink the civil rights office and narrow the scope of its work to move away from investigations of systemic bias in schools, her decision to eliminate Obama administration guidance intended to protect the rights of transgender students, and more.
Language, Culture, and Power
Carola Suárez-Orozco and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Knowledge that Matters
All of us of carry biases with us. We learn them as part of our socialization into our communities. Biases influence what we see, what we believe, and how we understand the world. Many of our biases are informed by stereotypes – generalized ideas and images about groups of people. It would nearly be impossible to live in the world and not be exposed to stereotypes. While it is easy to dismiss prejudices due to ignorance, sometimes stereotypes are exacerbated by how much news and information you consume. As much as we might fight against it, many of our views of immigrants are influenced by stereotypes. What are the most common stereotypes about immigrants today and how do they impact how people think and act?
Lindsey Christ, NY1
In a trailer behind University Heights High School, is a giant inflatable room. Inside, students talk through a video link with other students 670 miles away. The teenagers on the screen attend Floyd Central High School in rural coal mining Eastern Kentucky, a region that politically and demographically is the exact opposite of the South Bronx. Although they are opposite ends of a great divide, the students say they’ve come to deeply care for one another. “We had a great connection at school but then once we met them it was like oh my god wait you’re my family,” says Julia Holness, a student at University Heights High School. They met in Kentucky for a week in October. Now they’re counting the days until the Floyd Central students visit the Bronx. It’s all part of a course the students are taking built around cultural exchange, developed by an international non-profit, Narrative 4. “We work with students and educators around the world to bridge those divides and show one another that we are human, at the core level,” says Kelsey Roberts of Narrative 4.
Laura Meckler, The Washington Post
President Trump’s Federal Commission on School Safety, formed after a mass shooting at a Florida high school, recommended Tuesday that school systems consider arming personnel and advised against increasing the minimum age required for gun purchases. In the formal release of its report, the panel, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sidestepped other contentious issues regarding access to firearms. Still, DeVos characterized the 177-page report as presenting a “holistic” view of school safety, with chapters addressing mental health, violent entertainment, news coverage of mass shootings and building security. The most concrete recommendation calls for rescinding an Obama-era initiative meant to reduce racial disparities in school discipline. The commission argues that this guidance has made schools less safe by discouraging them from removing dangerous students. The Education and Justice departments are expected to follow through on the recommendation in the coming days. The move is controversial because of its disputed connection to the mass shootings the commission was formed to address. The decision to recommend that the guidance be repealed, and other elements of the report, were first reported by The Washington Post last week.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Henry A. J. Ramos and Eric C. Abrams, EdSource
Since our nation’s founding, public education has been central to advancing both our democracy and our economy. The founders, from Jefferson to Adams, saw schools as places in which active citizens and contributors to the nation’s development could be formed. They envisioned education as a source of opportunity and upward mobility, and as a unifying factor across society. Sadly, today, public education is too often a source of controversy and division, with an excessive focus on test scores—and finger pointing as to who is responsible for poor performance on them. Perhaps the problem is that we are miring our schools in political stalemate, bureaucracy, and litigation. We have lost touch with the need to ensure that our young people are being prepared for the new realities all around us. Effectively addressing these new realities is a far greater imperative than many presently perceive.
Sawsan Morrar, The Sacramento Bee
The Sacramento County Office of Education will receive a $1 million state grant to fund arts programs in schools, officials announced Tuesday. “We all recognize and acknowledge at the time that all of our artistic and cultural assets will be of little avail if the children in our schools are not exposed from their earliest years to high quality skill-based instruction in art, in music, in dance, in theater and in the digital and media arts,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg at a press conference to announce the award. “Without such focus, our kids are unlikely to become participants in the creative economy in the future.” Steinberg, who has said arts education is a priority, helped facilitate the grant and said the money would be used as part of a county-wide effort to reinvigorate arts education in Sacramento. “Student achievement is much more than test scores,” said David Gordon, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools. “It’s about helping students develop their own voices.” Gordon said that an arts education is tied to better student performance, social and emotional development and civic engagement.
Gail Diederich, Tampa Bay Times
Owen Rocks, a River Ridge High School senior, knows what it’s like when classmates shy away from someone with a learning disability. Rocks worked to overcome his disability and is an honor student with plans to become an environmental attorney. He sat recently with New Teacher Academy classmates who listened intently. They also shared stories of how being “different” was a troubling experience. “My first language was Polish, and I had to learn English,” said Vanessa Crespo. “Sometimes kids didn’t understand what I was trying to say.” “I was born in the U.S., but went to live in Colombia when I was 5 months.” said Allison Isaza. “When I came back to the U.S., I was 7 years old. “I’d earned a ticket at school and went to collect it. Another child said I couldn’t have it because I didn’t speak English.” She wants to help change the culture, so others kids don’t experience similar challenges. Rocks did, too, and he had an idea. Why not create a puppet show and take it into local schools? The puppets, with Teacher Academy student voices, could teach younger kids how to treat those who are different. Rocks named the project: “No Strings Attached.” The name was appropriate for the hand puppets and also implied that differences should not be limiting. Students liked the idea, and so did Beth Hess, a River Ridge teacher and Teacher Academy advisor.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
David Washburn and Daniel J. Willis, EdSource
The number of suspensions reported by California schools continue their steady decline, with about half as many students sent home for disciplinary reasons during the 2017-18 school year as had been at the beginning of the decade, according to recent data released by the California Department of Education. The statewide number of suspensions dipped to 363,000 last year, down from 710,000 issued during the 2011-12 school year, the data show. However, the so-called “suspension gap,” which refers to the disproportionate number of African-American students suspended, remains. The overall decline has been driven by a massive drop in so-called “willful defiance and disruption” suspensions, which are meted out to students for “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying school staff,” according to the state education code. California schools issued about 335,000 such suspensions to K-12 students during the 2011-12 school year, the state data show. In 2017-18, the number had dropped below 60,000. Contributing significantly to the decrease is the ban on defiance and disruption suspensions in grades K-3 that Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2014.
Emily Tate, EdSurge
In recent years, educators have spent countless collective hours designing, experimenting with and implementing new kinds of learning experiences for students—learning experiences that are fun, engaging and formative. But assessments haven’t evolved at the same pace. As a result, there is a disconnect between what schools value and what they measure. But it’s a tough nut to crack, because many of the skills and characteristics treasured most are in fact the hardest to evaluate. That’s why a team of education researchers at MIT has embarked on an ambitious project to address the missing link—measuring outcomes—that so often holds back new-age learning environments. They’re calling it “playful assessment.” Playful assessment, not to be mistaken for gamification, seeks to capture student mastery in many of the areas that are hard to gauge. Louisa Rosenheck, a research manager at MIT with experience in game design, says the idea is to measure “all the things we say we care about”—like curiosity, creativity and critical thinking—but that traditional assessments miss. “By making assessment playful, we can get closer to measuring the things we actually value,” she says. The beauty of playful assessment, she says, is that it can be done without interrupting the rhythm of learning, thereby alleviating student anxiety around testing. “Kids don’t even have to know they are being assessed,” Rosenheck tells EdSurge.
Rebecca Kendall, UCLA Newsroom
At schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District the past several weeks have been full of excitement, anxiety and promise as high school seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications. At Hamilton High School, first-year UCLA student and Hamilton alumna Simone Walker has been working in the college counseling office every Friday helping her former schoolmates by providing support, advice and information. This work is a true labor of love for Walker, an African-American studies major who served as vice president of the Black Student Union and a student representative to the UCLA-LAUSD Collaborative while at Hamilton. She now works part time in UCLA’s strategic partnerships and community engagement office and mentors students at Hamilton through UCLA’s VIP Scholars program. “Being in the collaborative and seeing the actual statistics that only 4 percent of UCLA students are African-American and that only 21 percent of high-school-aged African-American students in LAUSD sign up to take APs was just jarring,” said Walker, adding that when she got to UCLA, she immediately reached out to learn how to remain involved with supporting her African-American peers. “What that means is that 79 percent of black students in our local public schools aren’t even trying to take AP classes, and that doesn’t mean they’re less smart — it just means that they don’t think it’s something that they can do,” said Walker, adding that not only are African-American students capable of excellence, but that they’re also wanted and needed on our local and national college and university campuses. “UCLA is an attainable goal if you work for it,” Walker said.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Adeshina Emmanuel, Chalkbeat
Javion Grayer’s aunt had given him the book thinking he might connect with the main character: a black teenager in crisis, struggling to make the right choices at school and evade trouble in a neighborhood affected with violence. But two months after receiving “No Way Out,” 16-year-old Javion was still on the third page. Written at a third-grade level, the novel was too difficult for him to read. He opened the book. “Two days ago,” he started, “Grandma fell on the ….” He paused. “Front,” he said, and then “steps.” He skipped the next word, “banging,” then continued. “Her head on the … porch,” he said, substituting another word for the correct one, “pavement.” Instead of the next two words, “spraining her,” Javion read “straining her.” Then he looked up at his aunt, Katrina Falkner, with pleading eyes and turned the book her way, pointing at a word. “Ankle,” she whispered. He repeated it like he was weighing a question, and nodded. Javion worked his way down the page, brow furrowed, stopping at or skipping over what he couldn’t understand. After five minutes, halfway through the page, he closed the book, exhausted. “I can read some of it,” he said. “But I can’t read all of it, it’s a little too hard. I need help.” It’s an assessment that everyone in his life shares — from his aunt, who became his legal guardian when his mother died two years ago, to his teachers at the small alternative high school he began attending this fall.
Caroline Preston, The Hechinger Report
Residential facilities in Pennsylvania are doing an inadequate job of educating foster children in their care, according to a new report from Children’s Rights and the Education Law Center. The advocacy groups are calling for greater state oversight of these facilities, which were the topic of an investigation last month by The Hechinger Report/HuffPost. Children attending school in these facilities are often taught in classrooms with multiple grades, sometimes by uncertified instructors, and very often receive assignments that are below grade level, the report says. If students exit the facilities and go on to attend public schools, their credits may not transfer over. “Pennsylvania’s residential facilities have not only put these children in harm’s way, but have severely undermined their educational opportunities and in many cases deprived them of a meaningful education,” Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center, said in a statement. “Pennsylvania is failing our most vulnerable children, and PA-DHS and PDE [the state departments of human services and education] must work together to fix this.” The report cites a 2013 study commissioned by the School District of Philadelphia that identifies “major concerns” with the quality of education provided by three residential facilities in the state. The internal report, first obtained by The Hechinger Report/HuffPost, cites “lack of academic rigor and linkage to academic standards” and says that education in these institutions is a “missed opportunity” for students. It also cites lack of compliance with special education laws and other concerns.
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
In recent years, many of America’s urban schools have improved significantly. A 2016 report from the Urban Institute found that while all the country’s public-school students improved in the decade starting in 2005, the gain for those in large cities was double that of the U.S. average; the advances are especially pronounced in kids’ reading scores. With these strides, the achievement gap between city districts and their suburban and rural counterparts closed by roughly a third during that same period. In some cases, the gap is all but nonexistent. Take, for example, Chicago, which in the late 1980s was notoriously deemed the country’s “worst school system” by then-Education Secretary William J. Bennett. A number of recent studies have shown that while standardized-test scores across Illinois have been flattening for the past decade or so, achievement in Chicago’s public-school district (CPS) has been steadily rising. In fact, data from 11,000 school districts studied by Stanford researchers last year suggest that CPS ranks first in the nation for academic growth, and state statistics show that its students’ college-attendance rates are steadily improving, too: Sixty-five percent of the district’s 2018 graduates enrolled in college within a year after getting their diploma, compared with an average of 75 percent across the state. CPS students’ college-going prospects still fall toward the bottom when compared with those in most nearby districts, but they’re far from the worst—and the Stanford researchers’ findings around future growth in CPS indicate that its students’ postsecondary-achievement levels are poised to continue improving. But middle-class, white parents tend to make assumptions otherwise—and research suggests that those assumptions are the result of racial biases. A recent study in the journal City & Community based on survey data out of eight metropolitan areas in the U.S. suggests that residents—including, presumably, parents—frequently harbor negative associations with the term urban and, by extension, “inner-city” communities and institutions, such as schools. To them, these words may connote scenes of educational dysfunction—rows of decrepit classrooms, for example, each stocked with an overworked teacher and a cluster of indignant teens, almost all of them poor students of color.
Public Schools and Private $
Andre Perry, The Hechinger Report
Charter schools can do more with less” is a common refrain of school choice advocates, who criticize traditional public schools for wasting money. The promise of greater efficiency has been an attractive argument for charters as states struggle to keep up with ever rising educational expenses. Many charter supporters go so far as to say poverty is a poor excuse for underachievement. In fact, income and wealth consistently rank as the strongest predictors of academic success. But racism is the reason students in black neighborhoods don’t get the finances they need. Racism creates systems that undervalue black schools, homes and lives, leading to fewer resources for the people who need every cent. If charter backers and other school reformers are really going to uplift black and brown students, they must recognize this and fight funding inequities created by that devaluation of black worth.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Florida newspapers have not been beating around the bush about where they think public education is headed in the Sunshine State under Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and the new education leadership team installed in the state capital. “Rest in peace, public education,” said a headline in the St. Augustine Record. DeSantis, a fervent supporter of President Trump and recipient of campaign donations from the family of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, appointed Richard Corcoran, the former speaker of the Florida House, as state education secretary. On Monday, the Board of Education dutifully approved him. Corcoran is seen by advocates for public education as being hostile to traditional public schools, using his legislative perch to advance the interests of charter schools — one of which was started by his wife in Pasco County. He once called teacher unions “evil.” Corcoran is part of the school “reform” wing that includes DeVos and her ally, Jeb Bush (R), who was Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007. He was a national pioneer in promoting the “school choice” movement that seeks to expand charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and programs that use public money to pay for private and religious education in schools. Bush retains some influence on education policy in Florida through his education foundation and connections to Republican legislators.
Lauren Camera, U.S. News
K12 INC., the controversial for-profit virtual charter school operator, plans to pivot its entire platform to career education and has laid the groundwork to offer the new programs in 40 states over the next three years. “This is a pivot, absolutely,” says Kevin Chavous, president of academics, policy and schools at K12. “We were the first ones to do the online education in a big way. Now, this is a pivot where we have a laser focus on academics and student growth, but the corresponding focus on [career] gives kids more opportunity than they otherwise wouldn’t have.” In an interview with U.S. News, Chavous and Executive Vice President Shaun McAlmont, who was hired in August to direct the shift toward career readiness, outlined K12’s new direction. The company is focusing on a handful of core industries, including information technology, business, manufacturing, health sciences or health care, and agriculture. McAlmont says they plan to peg different industry course offerings to specific parts of the country. Schools in Ohio and Michigan will offer specialized courses IT and health care, for example, while its schools in California will offer specialized courses in all the industries. K12 already has 13 programs in place, which the company brands as “destination career academies.” They serve approximately 7,000 students. The goal is to roll out the new offerings over the course of the next three years across 40 states and ultimately have all of K12’s 120,000 students taking a least some career education classes.
Other News of Note
Joanie Harmon, Ampersand
Mike Rose, research professor in the UCLA Department of Education, revisits his essay, “The Inner Life of the Poor,” which was published by Dissent in 2013. “I reprint it now for I think it is especially relevant in these times of brutal social policy and the day-to-day dehumanization of vulnerable people both within and at our borders,” Rose notes on his blog. “The poor are pretty much absent from public and political discourse, except as an abstraction–an income category low on the Socioeconomic Status index–or as a generalization: people dependent on the government, the “takers,” a problem,” Rose writes. “Neither abstraction nor generalization gives us actual people waking up exhausted, getting kids off to school; trying to make a buck; or, in some cases, past the point of trying. And if we lack images of living, breathing people, we doubly lack any sense of the inner lives of the poor. “We don’t know them. And because we don’t know their values and aspirations, the particulars of their daily decisions, and the economic and psychological boundaries within which those decisions are made, they easily become psychologically one-dimensional, intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally simplified, not quite like us. This fact has huge implications for public policy, education and work, and civic life.”