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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Michelle Duster, Washington Post
As it hones its agenda, the new Biden administration would be wise to focus on racial and economic educational inequality. Although the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, many low-income students, who are disproportionately people of color, do not have access to high-quality educational resources and opportunities. The neglect of students on the basis of race and income is long-standing and only addressing it will maximize latent talent, thereby benefiting all Americans. Ninety percent of American students attend public schools, and the crux of educational inequality is in how those schools are funded — primarily by property taxes. Lower-income neighborhoods where there are high levels of renters or lower home values simply have less money to work with than areas that have higher incomes and higher priced homes (which therefore generate higher property taxes). So, in a country that has a long history of housing and income inequality, the majority of students live in neighborhoods where over 50 percent of the population looks like them.
Dana Goldstein, New York Times
Randi Weingarten, the nation’s most powerful teachers union president, has a message: She wants to get students back in the nation’s classrooms. She spends 15 hours per day on the phone, she says— with local labor leaders, mayors, the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— trying to figure out how to reopen the three-quarters of school systems that remain fully or partially shuttered. But with the pandemic approaching its first anniversary, and a new president— a union ally— vowing to reopen elementary and middle schools within his first 100 days, she faces a difficult truth: In the liberal cities and suburbs where schools are most likely to remain closed, teachers unions are the most powerful forces saying no, not yet.
Alina Artyunova, Hechinger Report
We all know that what happens outside school impacts a student’s academic performance. Never before have the two been so closely intermingled. School closures and remote learning have upended classrooms, relationships and support systems, putting students at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. I teach at the Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett, Massachusetts, a city just north of Boston. The pandemic that sent us home nearly a year ago has become our new way of life. My colleagues and I spent the summer envisioning new strategies— for teaching, engaging with students and becoming familiar with technology to ensure all of us were doing our jobs right. We hoped that one day, when we looked back, we could say we did everything we could, and there would be no education gap. But teachers have always worn multiple hats, arguably even more so now. In addition to our teaching and our roles as watchdogs and technology experts, we find ourselves in the critical position of therapist as our students face the ongoing trauma and uncertainty of the pandemic at home.
Language, Culture, and Power
Anna Deavere Smith, The Atlantic
My high-school counselor at Western High School, an all-girls public school in Baltimore, was a rotund white woman with a pleasant but less than energetic countenance. She was wholly absent from my education until one day, after rumblings about affirmative action in colleges had begun shaking the ground that Negroes traversed to higher education, she suddenly summoned my mother and me for a meeting. My mother, a veteran teacher in Baltimore’s public schools, took the afternoon off. We sat in the high-ceilinged counseling office, prim and proper as can be, while the counselor showed us one pamphlet after another with images of white girls in sweater sets relaxing in bucolic environments. I knew nothing about the multitude of small colleges across the U.S. that had been founded, many by religious institutions, for the specific purpose of educating white women. Nor did I know anything about “suitcase schools,” some of which had reputations as glorified finishing schools where girls were focused on meeting boys attending nearby institutions. (They were called “suitcase schools” because on Fridays the girls took off to spend the weekend with their prospective husbands.)
Stephanie Fasano, Deborah Roberts & Allie Yang, ABC News
Many high school students are usually preoccupied with fitting in and keeping their heads above never-ending tests and due dates. But Machayla Randall, a high school senior in New Jersey, is more worried about making a difference in her school and beyond. “There’s definitely a lack of education of African American history throughout our school system,” she said. “In our history courses, the most you learn about African American history is during the month of February, which is Black History Month, and it’s limited to the civil rights movement and that’s pretty much it, unfortunately.” For Randall and her classmates at Cherry Hill High School East, change begins with a course correction in history. “Right now… we’re asking for a mandatory African American studies course at the high school level that encourages teaching of systematic racism,” she said. The course is currently offered at both Cherry Hill high schools– West and East– only as an elective.
Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
UCLA senior Yumeng Zhuang fell in love with physics and philosophy as a high school student in her native China. That passion led her to Albert Einstein and Immanuel Kant— and then to a desire to study German so she could read their works as originally written. But her parents weren’t thrilled, pushing her to perfect her English instead. “They said German is not a useful language because not many people speak it,” said Zhuang, a physics major. “So I started self-studying it secretly.” Derided as the study of “dead white men” by some, college European language and culture programs have seen better days. German, Italian, French— once dominant after two world wars sparked demand for fluency— gave way to the meteoric rise in Spanish and Asian languages, reflecting demographics and the global and cultural interests of 21st century students. The fastest-growing language these days at UCLA? Korean, a reflection of K-pop culture. Bucking national trends that have closed down many European language programs, UCLA is doubling down on its commitment to European studies by redefining it with a 2021 twist.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Dana Goldstein & Kate Taylor, New York Times
The idea makes sense, so much so that at least two governors, a national union leader and President Biden are behind it: extend this school year into the summer to help students make up for some of the learning they lost during a year of mostly remote school. By summer, more teachers will be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Transmission rates might be significantly lower. And it will be easier in warm weather for students and educators to spend time in the open air, which is safer than being indoors. Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia promoted the idea on Friday, saying that schools should make summer classes an option for families. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of the American Federation of Teachers, have offered similar endorsements. Boston teachers and the district have started talking about summer options. And Mr. Biden is expected to ask Congress to approve $29 billion to fund summer programs and tutoring as part of his pandemic stimulus package. But if parents and students have learned anything during this crisis, it is that even simple, intuitive ideas are hard to pull off in a public education system that is simultaneously decentralized and highly bureaucratic.
Education Week [Interactive]
Coronavirus vaccines are now rolling out across the country, and health-care workers and older people have been among the first to get their shots. Teachers and other school staff members are also on many priority lists, and efforts are well underway in some places to get them vaccinated quickly, too. But that’s not true everywhere. Exactly where educators as a group fall within phased vaccination plans— and the speed with which those phases are happening— varies greatly from state to state. While the Centers for Disease Control has put out guidance on how to prioritize different groups of people for the vaccine, states can ultimately make their own decisions on rollout. To keep readers updated on where things stand, Education Week is tracking plans for vaccinating K-12 educators across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The data below were collected from official government communications and websites, rather than from local news outlets or other sources. In some cases, that means the local landscape may look a little different than what the data show.
Denisa R. Superville, Education Week
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated last month— and again this month—that schools can reopen for in-person learning safely during the pandemic, with proper protocols in place, Wes Kanawyer was not surprised. Kanawyer, the principal of Woodgate Intermediate School, in Waco, Texas, has been overseeing in-person instruction since schools in the state began reopening last August, with the majority of his students in the building five days a week. They’re accompanied by a staff (teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, and secretaries) of about 100 adults. And the number of students opting for in-person as opposed to remote learning continued to increase as the school year progressed. Last August, about 40 percent of the students opted to continue learning online. By January, 85 percent of Kanawyer’s students— about 704— were back in their seats in the building. (Texas schools must offer both in-person and remote learning options.) Kanawyer thinks that’s because parents have grown more confident in the safety protocols the school and the district have put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on campuses.
Access, Assessment, Advancement
Elizabeth Aguilera, Cal Matters
Thousands of California families chose to keep their children out of kindergarten this past year, opting instead for other in person programs or no school at all. That means thousands— or potentially tens of thousands— more children than usual will be hitting first grade next school year without having been through kindergarten, putting even more stress on an already strained system. California is one of 32 states where kindergarten is optional. It’s an option that experts have increasingly come to disagree with. Children that skip kindergarten, they argue, arrive in first grade behind their peers in key areas like reading. “Learning through play is so important for brain development and social emotional development,” said Gennie Gorback, president-elect of the California Kindergarten Association. Kids who have never gone to preschool or been in an organized setting need that kindergarten time to learn how to “do school,” said Gorback, a former preschool and transitional kindergarten teacher whose own child will start kindergarten in the fall. “Things like how to sit criss-cross applesauce, raise hands to get called on or to form a line. “You don’t naturally know that, it takes time.” What happened to the children of California families who chose to skip “zoom school” for their 5-year olds largely depends on their family’s income. Experts worry the most affected are children from low-income families, whose parents had to decide between continuing to work or sitting with their children through virtual learning.
Sydney Johnson, Ed Source
As schools grow more familiar with distance learning, one key element continues to baffle even expert teachers: assigning grades in an online classroom. Many California school districts altered grading policies when schools abruptly closed last spring so that students’ grades could only improve from where they were at just before the sudden stay-at-home order. In those districts, teachers did not lower students’ grades if they were struggling academically. Other districts switched to pass/fail systems. But this school year, most schools are back to traditional A-F grading scales, creating an all-new learning curve for teachers who must now grade students from behind a computer screen. The issue is even more pressing for districts that have seen an uptick in Fs and Ds during distance learning. In Los Angeles Unified, California’s largest district with more than 600,000 students, the number of Ds and Fs in grades 9-12 increased by 8.7 percentage points in the fall compared to the same time period last year, according to data included in a district directive to give students more time to pull their grades up.
Jeffrey R. Henig, Education Week
Since the federal No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2002, the words “data collection” have inspired fear and mistrust in education circles. For many educators, the term signifies bureaucrats’ weaponized use of standardized-test scores to monitor and punish districts, schools, and teachers for failing to meet seemingly arbitrary standards of test-score gains. For some, data collection also represents an assault on public education— a tool to support market-driven approaches (read: charter schools and vouchers) at the expense of the nation’s traditional system of community-based public schools. But a revamped approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize a community focus on public education— and also help the incoming Biden administration avoid a bruising partisan battle. The Biden team is weighing education measures that include massive increases in federal funding to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students, to open universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for middle- and lower-income families.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
High-poverty school districts would gain the most from President Joe Biden’s proposal to send nearly $130 billion to America’s K-12 schools, according to legislation released Monday. The plan, which could shape school budgets for years to come, represents a massive federal effort to address the academic consequences of two disrupted school years and to help schools reopen their buildings. Here’s a quick guide to what the proposal includes and what it would mean. K-12 schools would get nearly $130 billion, or to be precise, $128.6 billion. That amounts to about $2,600 per public school student, although the exact amount would vary by district. It’s significantly more than what has already been allocated by Congress for schools (about $13 billion in March 2020 and another $54 billion late last year). Money would be targeted at high-poverty schools. The proposal says that dollars would flow to states and districts in the same way they did in the last relief package. That means the money would largely follow Title I of the federal education law, which sends money to school districts with more low-income students. In other words, some states and districts would get more than $2,600 per student, and some will get less.
Ashley Farmer, The Conversation
Whether it’s black-and-white photos of Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine or Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of New Orleans schoolgirl Ruby Bridges, images of school desegregation often make it seem as though it was an issue for Black children primarily in the South. It is true that Bridges, the Little Rock Nine and other brave students in Southern states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, changed the face of American education when they tested the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated the desegregation of public education. But the struggle to desegregate America’s schools in the 1950s and ‘60s did not take place solely in the South. Black students and their parents also boldly challenged segregated schooling in the North.
Ryan Fontanilla, Boston Review
Around midnight in May 2004, somewhere in the Windward Passage, one of the Haitian asylum seekers trapped on the flight deck of the U.S. Coast Guard’s USCGC Gallatin had had enough.
He arose and pointed to the moon, whispering in hushed tones. The rest of the Haitians, asleep or pretending to be asleep, initially took little notice. That changed when he began to scream. The cadence of his words became erratic, furious—insurgent. After ripping his shirt into tatters, he gestured wildly at the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) watchstanders on duty. I was one of them.
Democracy and the Public Interest
John Rogers and Joseph Kahne, ASCD Express
Linda James, an award-winning high school principal in the Southeast, worries about the effects of growing political polarization.* Her school has received recognition in the past for ensuring that 100 percent of eligible students are registered to vote. But now, she agonizes that greater political engagement is “when things fall apart.” She is reluctant even to include words like civics and democracy in the school’s mission statement because she doesn’t think her “very diverse” community would tolerate it. Principal James explains: “We have extremes on both ends.” In this political moment, Principal James does not believe it is her job to get students “to understand the other’s viewpoints,” she tells us. “I don’t think anybody has been very good at doing that.” We live in a challenging time for American democracy. Deep fissures in our civic community along with the spread of misinformation undermine our commitment and capacity for public engagement and action. This weakening of our ability to solve problems democratically coincides with crises that demand our collective attention— a global pandemic, an urgent need to address racial injustice, threats to the environment, and more.
Jeff Bryant, The Progressive
Supporters of public education and school teachers were relieved to see Betsy DeVos leave her job as head of the Department of Education, knowing full well the education policies she and former President Donald Trump supported would go nowhere in a Biden Administration. But they should remain incensed over how her efforts to privatize public schools are being rolled out in state legislatures across the country. In states as politically diverse as Washington, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, and New Hampshire, state legislators are introducing bills to increase the number of charter schools and create new school voucher programs or greatly expand current ones. According to the Educational Freedom Institute, a think tank that advocates for vouchers, charter schools, and other forms of “school choice,” there are at least fourteen states actively considering legislation to pour greater sums of taxpayer dollars intended for public education into privately operated schools. Many of the bills have been introduced since the November 2020 elections, which ousted Trump and DeVos but resulted in big gains for Republicans down-ticket.
Micah Uetricht, The Nation
In early 2009, the historian and social critic Mike Davis sat down for an interview with Bill Moyers to discuss what was then the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. When asked whether, as a socialist, he had anticipated the crisis, Davis said he couldn’t have predicted its scale or devastation. Davis’s modesty won out over the truth. Four years earlier, he had, in fact, done just that. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, he laid out the fundamental problems of the housing bubble then underway. Noting its particular precarity in Southern California, he also went on to discuss how it might affect the country and the world: The “national economy may be equally vulnerable to property deflation, with a mild jolt sufficient to end the current American boom, and perhaps throw all the dollar-pegged economies into recession.”
Other News of Note
A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, The Atlantic
I believe, and profoundly hope, that from this day forth the opponents of social progress can take comfort no longer, for not since the March on Washington has there been such broad sponsorship and enthusiastic support for any undertaking as has been mobilized on behalf of “The Freedom Budget for All Americans.” These forces have not come together to demand help for the Negro. Rather, we meet on a common ground of determination that in this, the richest and most productive society ever known to man, the scourge of poverty can and must be abolished—not in some distant future, not in this generation, but within the next ten years! The tragedy is that the workings of our economy so often pit the white poor and the black poor against each other at the bottom of society. The tragedy is that groups only one generation removed from poverty themselves, haunted by the memory of scarcity and fearful of slipping back, step on the fingers of those struggling up the ladder.
Bayard Rustin, Youtube