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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Democrats on the Senate education committee had some tough questions Tuesday for President Donald Trump’s picks to head up civil rights and special education policy at the U.S. Department of Education. Kenneth Marcus, who is currently the head of a Jewish civil rights organization and has been tapped to lead the department’s office for civil rights, and Johnny Collett, the program director for special education at the Council of Chief State School Officers, are likely to be confirmed. But Democrats used the confirmation hearing to air deep concerns about the Trump administration’s record on both civil rights and disabilities issues. “One of the most appalling ways that President Trump has damaged our country is when it comes to civil rights—and undermining the rights and safety of women, people of color, and people with disabilities,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel. Murray said Marcus appears to “share the goal of halting discrimination on the basis of race ethnicity or religion” particularily on college campuses. But she worries about his ability to stand up to Trump and to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
California voters interested in the future of education in California will make a pivotal decision when they go to the polls twice next year to elect a successor to Gov. Jerry Brown, whose record four terms are drawing to a close. The primary election will be held exactly six months from now (on June 5, 2018). The general election will be held on Nov. 6. The four leading Democratic candidates to replace him are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Assembly Speaker and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and former State Controller and current State Treasurer John Chiang. Because of Democratic dominance in statewide elections, it is a virtual certainty that one of them will be elected governor.
Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
Too many California children can’t read, and the state doesn’t have an adequate plan to fix the problem, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the advocacy law firm Public Counsel, alleges that the state is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to educate all children. California lags behind the national average in both reading and writing for fourth- and eighth-graders, according to national education data. About five years ago, the state superintendent and state board of education president commissioned a report with suggestions to improve literacy in California. The state has not adopted or implemented an adequate plan based on those suggestions, the lawsuit alleges.
Suneal Kolluri, Phi Delta Kappan
Every year, I opened the first day of my government class by asking students to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. At schools in the San Francisco Bay area, the tradition of saluting the flag generally subsides in later grades, and students were startled by the sudden revival of an old ritual. Each crop of new students expressed a mix of excitement, irritation, and skepticism, rising in an uneven, mostly half-hearted display of allegiance. At the activity’s end, I asked students to reflect on the pledge. We discussed its accuracy as a representation of America, in particular, whether the United States stands, as a republic, for “liberty and justice for all.” Through this opening discussion, I would introduce the essential question of the government course: How can the United States government protect liberty and justice for all?
Language, Culture, and Power
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
By next fall, millions of K-8 students in California schools may be learning from history textbooks that astronaut Sally Ride was a lesbian, Walt Whitman was gay, and a Gold Rush era stagecoach driver named Charley Parkhurst was born a woman, but lived as a man. California earlier this month became the first state in the country to adopt textbooks that highlight the contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to the development of the state and country. As education officials debated the content of the books, LGBT advocates clashed with some publishers about how to describe the sexual orientation of people who in the past did not “out” themselves. With the adoption of the books, California set a precedent, one historical researchers continue to wrangle over.
Debbie Truong, The Washington Post
When her daughters were children, Khadija Athman packed the major Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, with celebration. They opened gifts and covered their hands in henna. After prayer, they had breakfast at a pancake house before spending the day at the movies and Chuck E. Cheese’s. “Eid is like our Christmas,” Athman said, her face brightening as she recalled the family’s traditions. “I grew up . . . being so excited about Eid, and I wanted to raise my kids with that same excitement.” But for her daughters, the warm memories faded each time schoolmatesin Prince William County, in suburban Northern Virginia, were awarded perfect-attendance certificates. The honor eluded Athman’s daughters, Nusaybah and Sumayyah, who were resentful because they missed school each year for the Muslim holidays, their mother said. Muslim and Jewish students in Fairfax and Prince William counties have long had to decide whether to observe a religious holiday or attend school, a choice some parents and students say they shouldn’t have to make.
Adam Frank, NPR
As the tax bill moves through Congress, an issue has risen that hits dangerously close to U.S. efforts in science. The problem focuses on a provision that would tax graduate students for tuition waivers that universities set up long ago. These waivers were meant to foster advanced education in the sciences and elsewhere. The change in the tax law would mean graduate students would be hit with whopping tax bills for “income” they never received. For more on the proposed changes and reaction to them go here, here and here. Today, however, I thought it might be useful to briefly review how graduate education in the U.S. works. This might help to explain why changing the tax code can have profound impacts on science (in what follows I am going focus solely on the sciences).
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Why this professional artist enlisted the help of public school students instead of gallery assistants
Carla Javier, KPCC
Teachers and students around Los Angeles are using the citywide art collaboration, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, in lessons and projects. But the students from Clinton Middle School are taking it a step further: They’re not just studying the art in the exhibits open to the public around southern California – they’re making it, too. The students made white flowers and decorated them with beads, wires, and thread, with help from the PBS series Craft in America’s educational outreach program. Then, they presented these flowers to artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood. Jimenez Underwood usually works with fibers, but this time, she painted a wall in the Craft in America gallery, off 3rd Street in Los Angeles. There’s a line that goes through the middle, representing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. “We’re gonna put these flower spirits on the wall to help the flowers and the little critters survive this chaos,” the artist told the students. After explaining why they chose the decorate their flowers the way they did to Underwood, the students placed their flowers on both sides of the border.
School Myths, The Atlantic
Most American students strive for a 4.0 GPA and the highest test scores, but research shows that this quest for perfection actually discourages creativity and reduces academic risk-taking. In this episode of “School Myths” by The Atlantic, we investigate why grades aren’t everything when it comes to education.
Samantha Stark, Jawad Metni, Sarah Kramer, and Vanessa Carr, The New York Times
What happens when children of all different abilities get to play with each other? We take you inside a first-of-its-kind ultra accessible water park, which is changing the way families spend time together.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Kyle Stokes, KPCC
One out of every seven students in the Los Angeles Unified School District — more than 80,000 kids — missed more than three weeks of classes, according to a report from an attendance task force presented to the district’s school board Tuesday. Missing that amount of school is enough to put a student’s education at risk: Students who are “chronically absent,” which many researchers define as missing at least 15 school days in a year, are more likely to drop out once they reach high school. Roughly another 100,000 L.A. Unified students who missed between eight and 14 days of school last year are also at increased risk. But beyond the educational impact, attendance is also a pocketbook issue for L.A. Unified: California funds public schools based on their daily attendance.
Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week
The good news from the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study is that basic literacy is at an all-time high worldwide and a majority of countries have seen rising reading achievement in the last decade. The bad news is that students in the United States are bucking the trend. While U.S. 4th graders performed at an average score of 549, above the average of the 58 education systems participating in PIRLS in 2016, that score was 7 scale points lower than the last test in 2011—basically the same as they did in 2006. PIRLS tests four different areas of literacy, and U.S. students performed significantly worse on tasks that called for them to read to find and use information than they did for “literary experience,” and they were less skilled at making “straightforward inferences” than at interpreting or evaluating texts.
Emily Hanford and Alex Baumhardt, The Atlantic
Dustin Gordon grew up thinking he would work the land. He’s from Sharpsburg, Iowa, population 89, where agriculture is the lifeblood of the region. He says most of his friends from high school have gone into farming. “And I was kind of the one exception,” he says. “You know, my dad was a farmer and I kind of steered away from that.” Instead, Gordon is working on a degree in finance at the University of Iowa. Some of his friends have gone to college, too, but a lot of high-school graduates from places like Sharpsburg don’t—and if they do, they often don’t finish. Only 59 percent of rural high-school graduates enroll in college the subsequent fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That’s a lower proportion than students from urban and suburban areas.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Kyle Stokes, KPCC
Across Los Angeles and Orange counties, one out of every five Hispanic children — 259,000 kids — attended a school in 2014 where practically every other child shared their race: the student body was at least 95 percent Hispanic. And in the 550 or so of those most racially isolated schools in Southern California — as rated by an analysis published Sunday by data journalists at the Associated Press — students are less likely to have met state standards in reading or math. In its analysis, the AP reported measures of school segregation across the U.S. have regressed to levels not seen since the days of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, or since the 1970s, when courts across the nation began ordering districts to institute busing programs to integrate their schools.
Joel Westheimer and John Rogers, Brown Center Chalkboard, Brookings
Jeanne Wallace is a political liberal in a blue state who regularly talks with her high school social studies class about economic inequality. Well aware of the growing nationwide gap between society’s haves and have-nots, she wants to teach her students a range of causes, consequences, and possible solutions for economic inequality. “I’m conscious of the fact that they may never go on to take a political science class,” Wallace told us referring to her 12th-grade government students. Her class could be the only time they’re exposed to these issues, she said, “and then we dump them into the world and let them vote.”
Alana Semuels, The Atlantic
Nita Vue’s parents, refugees from Laos, wanted all nine of their children go to college. But Nita, now 20, is the only one of her brothers and sisters who is going to get a degree. A few of her sisters began college, and one nearly completed nursing school, she told me. Her brothers were less interested. “The way I grew up, the girls were more into schooling,” she said. “Women tended to have higher expectations than men did.” This is not unusual. Across socioeconomic classes, women are increasingly enrolling and completing postsecondary education, while, even as opportunities for people without a college education shrink, men’s rates of graduation remain relatively stagnant. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 72.5 percent of females who had recently graduated high school were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 65.8 percent of men. That’s a big difference from 1967, when 57 percent of recent male high-school grads were in college, compared to 47.2 percent of women.
Public Schools and Private $
Associated Press, Education Week
Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds—an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools. National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily. The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.
Cory Turner, NPR
School voucher programs need (at least) three key ingredients: 1. Multiple schools (don’t roll your eyes, city dwellers, this one’s a brick wall for many rural parents). 2. A system that makes private schools affordable for low-income parents. Choice isn’t choice if it’s only the rich who get to choose. 3. And transparency, so that a child’s caregiver can review the options and make an informed choice. This story is about that last ingredient. A new report from the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office says many of the nation’s voucher programs — and the private schools that participate in them — aren’t giving parents the information they need to make an informed choice, especially parents of kids with disabilities.
Erica L. Green, The New York Times
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos often rattles off the list of detractors standing in the way of expanding school choices for the nation’s children: the unions, the Democrats, the protesters and the bureaucrats. But her allies and observers in the movement to overhaul education say it is time to add another to the list: her boss. Ms. DeVos received a warm welcome here on Thursday at the 10th annual convening of center-right education reformers hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. But despite two standing ovations for Ms. DeVos’s impassioned calls to abandon systems that she said kept students trapped in unfit or misfit schools, it was not lost on audience members that their highest-profile surrogate had returned to her constituency empty-handed. Her promised actions have gone nowhere.
Other News of Note
Jeannie Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel, Learning Policy Institute and National Education Policy Center
Community schools represent a place-based school improvement strategy in which “schools partner with community agencies and local government to provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement.” Many operate year-round, from morning to evening, and serve both children and adults. Although the approach is appropriate for students of all backgrounds, many community schools serve neighborhoods where poverty and racism erect barriers to learning, and where families have few resources to supplement what typical schools provide.