Just News from Center X – February 19, 2021

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

The deeply distorted debate about reopening schools

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

For nearly a year, the Trump administration was accused of ignoring science by trying to bully schools into reopening during the coronavirus pandemic without requiring that proper safety steps being taken. Now the Biden administration, less than a month in office, is being accused of ignoring science— largely for doing the opposite. A popular construct of the criticism of the Biden administration goes like this: Frustrated parents everywhere want their kids back in schools right now, but fearful (and sometimes lazy) teachers don’t want to go. Their unions are nothing but obstructionist. Researchers say there is little evidence that schools contribute to increased community transmission of the coronavirus. President Biden, a friend of labor, is siding with the unions by supporting the idea of instituting safety precautions before reopening.
There is a lot that is distorted with that thinking, which suggests that critics believe that there is a firm consensus on which safety measures are necessary and that all schools will implement or are implementing them.

Federal guidelines for school reopening are less rigorous than state’s on several key measures

John Fensterwald, EdSource

The California Department of Public Health on Monday released a comparison of its guidelines for school reopenings with those issued Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows that on several significant criteria, California is more cautious in allowing students back in the classroom during the Covid pandemic. Both the state and CDC cite the same research studies to explain their conclusions. Although they use different colors schemes to define levels of infection risk— CDC’s high-risk “red” tier is comparable to California’s most restrictive purple tier— both the state’s and the CDC’s recommendations are strikingly similar. Both also recommend vaccinating teachers as a priority but not a precondition for reopening schools, and both cite the benefit of extensive testing for Covid infections among people who show no positive symptoms but don’t endorse requiring them to reopen. (The California Teachers Association demands both vaccinations and asymptomatic testing of staff and teachers as prerequisites for a return.) And both agree that a web of safety precautions— among them strict masking, 6-foot social distancing and extensive contact tracing to determine origins of transmissions— must be in place before sending students back to class. But on levels of community transmissions permitting the return to school, the CDC’s recommendations are more permissive.

L.A. school board cuts its police force and diverts funds for Black student achievement

Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times

In a major overhaul of the Los Angeles School Police Department, the Board of Education on Tuesday approved a plan that cuts a third of its officers, bans the use of pepper spray on students and diverts funds from the department to improve the education of Black students. The unanimous decision comes after a yearlong campaign by students activists and community members to reimagine the school police force, which they maintain disproportionately targets Black and Latino children. Their drive and recent calls to completely defund the school Police Department intensified following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, which forced cities and school districts across the country to consider how police use of force has disproportionately hurt Black Americans. “We would not be at this point, though it is delayed admittedly, without the community’s leadership,” said board President Kelly Gonez. “I’m glad that the plan’s development also provided an opportunity for more engagement with our students, families and the broader community.” The police overhaul by the Los Angeles Unified School District provides funding for school “climate coaches” who will work to promote positive school culture and address implicit bias at every secondary school. Staff to support and an achievement plan for Black students will also be added.

Language, Culture, and Power

District-led parent mentor program promotes path to college for English learners

Betty Marquez Rosales & Zaidee Stavely, EdSource

Parents of English learners in one Southern California high school district are training fellow parents how to help their children graduate high school and go to college. Part of a three-month training program called Padres Promotores del Camino al Éxito Universitario, or Parent Mentors for the Road to College Success, the parent-to-parent support reaches across the eight schools in Whittier Union High School District in Los Angeles County and could serve as a model for other districts across the state. The first cohort of parents is now teaching others about the district’s plan for distance learning and reopening, how students can earn recognition for being bilingual and how to navigate state funding for English learners. In addition to live presentations, the parent mentors record the sessions, which are then used by school staff during parent meetings. During a recent meeting for parents of English learners, a parent mentor shared strategies for staying up-to-date on student academic performance using the district’s parent portal. Parents were then guided to create an account and learn how to use the system. “We wanted to tap into that trust” that parents often share among each other, said Francisco Meza, the director of the district’s Federal & State Categorical Programs office that organized the training program.

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

Donna Ford, The Conversation

Editor’s note: Amid numerous articles about how Black students lag behind others in educational achievement, occasionally you may hear about a young Black “prodigy” who got accepted into college at an early age. According to Donna Y. Ford, an education professor at The Ohio State University, there could be far more Black prodigies. But it would take the right support from families, who may not be familiar with some of the characteristics of gifted students and the existence of gifted programs, and educators, who often overlook the talents of Black students. Indeed, while Black students represent 15.5% of the student population in the U.S., they represent only 9.9% of all students in gifted and talented programs. In the following Q&A with education editor Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Professor Ford– who has been a consultant for Black families thinking about sending their gifted children to college early– argues that public schools are holding back Black talent rather than cultivating it. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The librarian war against QAnon

Barbara Fister, The Atlantic

For too long now, shared reality has been fracturing before our eyes. Eli Pariser’s concept of the “filter bubble” is already a decade old. Yochai Benkler’s research on propaganda networks finds that the roots of our epistemic crisis predate even the existence of the social web. The origins of this broken informational environment may be complicated, but the stakes are quite clearly life-and-death—and they prompt a question: How can so many people believe things that are obviously untrue? Setting aside the fact that the people most likely to share misinformation haven’t been in a classroom for decades, most students in the past 50 years have received instruction under various names: media literacy, digital literacy, news literacy, information literacy, civic literacy, critical thinking, and the umbrella concept of meta-literacy. This curriculum is constantly being reinvented to meet perceived crises of confidence, largely driven by the emergence of new technologies. But the present moment demands serious inquiry into why decades of trying to make information literacy a universal educational outcome hasn’t prevented a significant portion of the population from embracing disinformation while rejecting credible journalistic institutions. This failure has many roots: The low social status of teachers and librarians relative to those in other professions, the lack of consistent instruction about information and media literacy across students’ educational experience, the diminishment of the humanities as a core element of general education, and the difficulty of keeping up with technological change and digital culture have all played a role. So has the fact that information literacy has no specific place in the curriculum. It’s everywhere, and nowhere. It’s everyone’s job, but nobody’s responsibility.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

Nobody knows what a social worker does. That is hurting our students.

Vanessa Velez, Chalkbeat

When I say I’m a social worker, I usually get one of three responses: “I could never do that kind of job!” “Why did you choose a career that makes no money?” “So you take children away.” I’ve also been asked for help renewing a driver’s license and with food stamp applications. People have requested I speak to their troubled child, sibling, or friend because I will instantly know how to solve their problems. As a social worker in the New York City public school system, I struggle between upholding the Social Work Code of Ethics and doing exactly what I am told by school administrators who typically have a misguided understanding of what my work entails. Instead of applying my skill set— active listening, empathy, and communication that empowers our clients and promote social change— I am ordered to fill in the gaps, from wake-up calls to data entry to disciplining students for dress code violations. I’ve had to cancel counseling sessions to stand by metal detectors that children are required to go through, to monitor the hallways, or to “watch” a group of suspended students. I could fill pages with all the jobs I’ve done that have nothing to do with social work. The rationalization is that any type of human interaction automatically translates into “social work.” That’s because most people have no idea what a social worker does.

To play, or not to play: Schools wrestle with CDC’s athletics recommendations

Eda Uzunlar, NPR

High school senior Audrianna Hill has been playing basketball since she was five years old. But this winter, with Covid-19 cases rising, there was a chance she might not get to play. Her Detroit school has been virtual since the pandemic began, and the basketball season has been pushed back multiple times since September. Basketball is a big part of who she is, and she’s been banking on her last year of playing to help get her recruited. The suspensions haven’t helped.
“It’s made it harder for me to go to college,” Hill, a varsity player, explains. “Schools can’t come and actually watch you. You have to rely on technology, and I don’t know if some [college] coaches feel like watching 50 [performance] videos of different kids.” Student athletes like Hill are still hoping for a full season this year, but recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be working against them. New CDC guidance released Friday cautions against resuming athletic activities– especially those that happen inside. The report says that for communities that have substantial rates of transmission, sports and other activities should only take place “if they can be held outdoors, with physical distancing of 6 feet or more.” Communities that have high transmission should stick to virtual activities. A previous CDC report singled out activities where athletes can’t social distance and wear masks— effectively ruling out sports like swimming, wrestling and, to Hill’s dismay, basketball.

What educators should know about digital self-harm during hybrid and remote learning

Mark Lieberman, Education Week

As educators continue to plow through the challenges of keeping school going during a pandemic that has lasted for nearly a full year, they should be looking out for signs of students engaging in digital self-harm, researchers say. A recently published study led by a Florida International University researcher found that 1 in 10 students in the state said in a 2019 survey that they had cyberbullied themselves in the past year. Research on this specific type of cyberbullying remains thin, but efforts are underway to expand understanding of the issue. Justin Patchin, professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, believes educators should know more about digital self-harm so they can be on alert for it and perhaps even help contribute to broader understanding of how it works and how it might be prevented. Education Week asked Patchin to explain what we know so far about digital self-harm, and how educators should address it during a period when much more schooling than usual is happening online.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

California Child Care Spaces Have Been Disappearing For Years. The Pandemic Is Making It Even Harder To Survive [Audio]

Mariana Dale, LAist

At the onset of the pandemic, researchers warned that half of California’s child care slots could disappear permanently. We wanted to know how close that prediction was to coming true almost a year later, so LAist requested the number of permanent and temporary closures, broken down by county, from the agency that licenses child care, the California Department of Social Services.

The skinny on teaching evals and bias

Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed

Many studies criticize student evaluations of teaching as biased or a poor measure of teaching effectiveness, or both. But none of these papers are as expansive as a new metastudy of more than 100 articles on these student evaluations, or SETs. The new study’s breadth means its authors can cut through the sometimes contradictory research on SETs. And instead of looking at just measurement bias (how well SETs reflect good teaching, or don’t) or just equity bias (how SETs advantage certain groups of instructors over others, or don’t), the study contextualizes both. Co-author Rebecca Kreitzer, assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Tuesday that “our conclusions are more nuanced than previous research, particularly on equity bias.” Indeed, where many studies have found evidence of gender bias against women in student evaluations, Kreitzer and co-author Jennie Sweet-Cushman, associate professor of political science at Chatham University, found that the equity bias effect is “conditional,” as “sometimes women and people of color do benefit.” Yet the effect of gender varies “considerably across disciplines,” with women receiving lower scores in the natural and social sciences compared to the humanities, Kreitzer added. She and Sweet-Cushman also found “an affinity effect,” whereby women tend to prefer female instructors and men prefer male instructors. Perhaps most important, Kreitzer said, she and Sweet-Cushman found conforming to prescribed gender roles has a more significant effect than gender itself. This is “deeply concerning because students prefer professors with masculine traits, yet penalize women for not conforming to stereotypes.”

Howard University, other HBCUs open clinics to help distribute coronavirus vaccines

Lauren Lumpkin & Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post

The medical school dean dashed between vaccine stations, assisting nurses administering doses to patients and saying hello to people waiting for shots. He also greeted the men and women who stood in line at the Howard University College of Medicine on Thursday, thanking them for coming. Howard opened a clinic this week on its campus in Northwest Washington to help increase access to coronavirus vaccines. Staff at the university’s hospital called their patients personally to invite them to get vaccinated, debunk myths and ease any fears. “We encourage them, we try to . . . explain to them that it’s safe,” Hugh E. Mighty, Howard’s medical school dean, said. Howard and other historically Black colleges and universities have emerged as partners in the country’s coronavirus rollout, serving not only as clinics for vaccines but also working to engender trust in the inoculations. “If you look at the proportion of people of color who have died from the virus, it’s been disproportionate,” Mighty said. “As an HBCU who is connected to the community and has some trust in that community, we certainly try to make sure that we’re paying attention.”

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Financial literacy courses won’t solve the racial wealth gap

Andre Perry, Hechinger Report

On a recent segment of Fox News, self-proclaimed financial guru and right-wing commentator Dave Ramsey attacked President Joe Biden’s pandemic aid plan to send more direct payments to struggling families. Ramsey blamed Americans for their economic struggles amid a pandemic that has decimated the economy and left more than 20 million people unemployed, arguing that “you have a career problem, you have a debt problem, you have a relationship problem, you have a mental health problem, or something else is going on if $600 changes your life.” Ramsey, a man whose net worth is approaching $500 million, isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said before. He articulated an extreme version of a more common belief that if low-income Americans were only taught better life skills and money management, they could experience a rags-to-riches trajectory. Since at least as early as the Ronald Reagan administration, people have falsely attributed community-level poverty to a supposed defect in the collective character of Black people, in particular, and used this false narrative as a way to justify cutting critical social programs. Reagan’s dismantling of the War on Poverty was preceded by targeted use of racially loaded “welfare queen” rhetoric in many of his speeches, an assertion that Black people would rather live off the government dole than try to find jobs and support their families. Reagan simultaneously ushered in an era of trickle-down economics that included tax cuts for the rich. Blaming poor people, while enabling the rich to hoard even more wealth, has always been in fashion.

Low-income children less likely to experience ‘live’ contact with teachers, analysis finds

Alyson Klein, Education Week

Many students may be learning virtually, but children from lower-income families are less likely to have live contact with their teachers than kids from wealthier families, according to an analysis of census data published Feb. 11 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Twenty-one percent of children from families making less than $25,000 a year reported having had no “live contact” with a teacher in the past week, whether in-person, by phone, or virtually. That’s compared with 11 percent for kids whose families make at least $200,000 a year. In fact, the greater the family income, the more likely it is that a child has had recent live contact with a teacher, the analysis found. For instance, 16 percent of students from households earning between $50,000 and $74,999 annually said they had no live contact with a teacher in the past week, while 14 percent of students whose families make $75,000 to $99,999 a year said the same. One big reason children from lower-income families may have had less teacher contact: Kids who live in poverty are less likely to have access to the internet for learning than wealthier children. Ninety percent of kids from households earning at least $200,000 annually indicated that they always had online access for educational purposes, compared with 55 percent of students from households earning less than $25,000 a year.

The digital divide in education

Niu Gao & Joseph Hayes, Public Policy Institute of California

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in education. In a 2019 Gallup survey, an overwhelming majority of teachers (85%), principals (96%), and administrators (96%) favored increased use of digital learning tools. Nearly half of teachers reported assigning technology-based homework at least sometimes. Nationwide, 20% of K–12 districts have adopted or are considering post-pandemic virtual schooling, and another 10% anticipate continued use of hybrid models. Distance learning is even more popular in higher education. In fall 2018, nearly 6 million undergraduates nationwide (or 35%) enrolled in distance courses, up from 4.6 million in 2013. It is likely that the pandemic accelerated this trend. Covid-19 also highlighted the digital divide and other inequities. The pandemic highlighted long-standing digital gaps that have affected African American, Latino, and low-income students. In 2019, 13% of K–12 students and college students did not have broadband at home. College students in rural (22%), low-income (21%), and Latino (16%) households were particularly likely to lack home broadband. Almost 10% of K–12 teachers lacked access to home broadband.

Democracy and the Public Interest

A forgotten Black Founding Father

Danielle Allen, The Atlantic

Massachusetts abolished enslavement before the Treaty of Paris brought an end to the American Revolution, in 1783. The state constitution, adopted in 1780 and drafted by John Adams, follows the Declaration of Independence in proclaiming that all “men are born free and equal.” In this statement Adams followed not only the Declaration but also a 1764 pamphlet by the Boston lawyer James Otis, who theorized about and popularized the familiar idea of “no taxation without representation” and also unequivocally asserted human equality. “The Colonists,” he wrote, “are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or black.” In 1783, on the basis of the “free and equal” clause in the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, the state’s chief justice, William Cushing, ruled enslavement unconstitutional in a case that one Quock Walker had brought against his enslaver, Nathaniel Jennison. Many of us who live in Massachusetts know the basic outlines of this story and the early role the state played in standing against enslavement. But told in this traditional way, the story leaves out another transformative figure: Prince Hall, a free African American and a contemporary of John Adams. From his formal acquisition of freedom, in 1770, until his death, in 1807, Hall helped forge an activist Black community in Boston while elevating the cause of abolition to new prominence.

Democracy Is Weakening Right in Front of Us

Thomas Edsall, New York Times

A decade ago, the consensus was that the digital revolution would give effective voice to millions of previously unheard citizens. Now, in the aftermath of the Trump presidency, the consensus has shifted to anxiety that online behemoths like Twitter, Google, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook have created a crisis of knowledge — confounding what is true and what is untrue — eroding the foundations of democracy. These worries have intensified in response to the violence of Jan. 6, and the widespread acceptance among Republican voters of the conspicuously false claim that Democrats stole the election.

The “Amazonification” of higher education has arrived. It’s not pretty.

Alex N. Press, Jacobin

Suzanne Jones and Audra Heaslip are professors at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. Or, rather, they were until January 28, 2021. That afternoon, college administrators informed both of them, one after the other, that their employment contracts would not be renewed. “As far as I know, I’ve never had a single student complaint in over a decade— which is rare, almost everyone has at least one,” says Heaslip, a humanities professor. She adds that she’s “a go-to person for volunteering and for leadership” on campus, and has previously been asked to mentor other faculty. Jones, for her part, says that the only mark on her record came from her signing an open letter to the Dallas City Council in 2017 that argued for the removal of Confederate statues, though, she adds, she was one of a dozen Collin College faculty members to sign onto the letter. The only explanation the two educators have for their firing is that they are both leaders of the Collin College chapter of Texas Faculty Association (TFA): Jones is the organization’s secretary, and Heaslip is the vice president. While faculty in Texas cannot collectively bargain, associations like TFA, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association, can provide legal support, and otherwise function like unions, strengthening workers’ hands against employers. “We are very positive that our organizing efforts are what was threatening the [Collin College] president,” says Jones. Collin College faculty do not have tenure, but longtime professors usually have a multiyear contract. Jones and Heaslip say that they have not found any prior cases of long-serving faculty failing to have their contracts renewed without warning.

Other News of Note

No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear [2015]

Toni Morrison, The Nation

Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush. I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”

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