Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable public education. Please share and encourage colleagues and friends to subscribe.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Diana Lambert, EdSource
Thousands of California teachers from urban and suburban school districts who had been waiting for Covid-19 vaccinations finally began receiving their first doses last week, with those numbers expected to climb as the state takes additional steps to prioritize teachers. Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to give teacher vaccinations a boost last week when he announced that the state would designate 10%, or 75,000, of its vaccine doses each week for school employees. The new plan starts March 1. The vaccines will be prioritized for school workers who are returning to classrooms.
Hannah Natanson, Donna St. George & Perry Stein, Washington Post
With third grade back in the building, Meghan Foster was teaching math one recent morning to two classes at once: 14 students who filled her classroom on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and another six children logging in from laptops at home. To make it work, the veteran teacher from Caroline County used a desktop computer, a laptop and a document camera, adjusting for glitches as she went along. She strove to meld the in-person with the virtual, to strike a balance between children who are near and far. During a pandemic school year when nothing in education has been perfect, the kind of double duty needed for simultaneous instruction is its own kind of lesson, Foster says. “Sometimes, I want to teach them how to multiply, but I end up teaching them how to persevere when things get tough or how to problem solve,” said Foster, 41, who called it the greatest challenge she has faced in 20 years of teaching.
Ruha Benjamin, David Blight, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Bryan Stevenson, Veit Thanh Nguyen, The African American Policy Forum and Sundance
Introduced by the Chair of the Sundance Board of Trustees, Pat Mitchell, and moderated by AAPF’s Executive Director, Kimberlé Crenshaw, “The Story of Us” forcefully confronts the roots and implications of the stories America tells about itself. “The Story of Us” grapples with the connections between the first few Wednesdays of January 2021. What the events of those three days made clear is that we are living in a moment defined by the power of stories—even stories far removed from facts—to create altered realities. The conversation we will share on February 24th examines the history of Hollywood’s role in constructing America’s grand narratives and the implications for the future of the storytelling industry.
Language, Culture, and Power
Cedar Attanasio, AP/Report for America (via US News & World Report)
As the assistant secretary for Indian Education, Lashawna Tso is Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s educational liaison to the state’s 23 tribal governments and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Education. Her role since getting the job last fall bridges two worlds with centuries of fraught history: war and genocide that lasted until the 20th Century and a combination of indifference and neglect that Native American advocates argue lingers today in funding decisions and educational lesson plans. “The tribes are depending on me, to make sure that their voices are heard,” Tso said in an interview. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Tso’s position was vacant. There was no top state official to direct Indigenous education policy and New Mexico’s tribal leaders were left frustrated at a critical time. While many students have struggled with remote learning, Native American students have been disproportionately unable to access remote classes for lack of computers and decent internet connections. Native leaders hope having one of their own high up in state government will help.
Alex Brown, In These Times
When the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma began receiving its first doses of Covid-19 vaccines in December, tribal leaders knew exactly who would be getting the first shots. “We put Cherokee- fluent speakers at the front of the line,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Saving the language is in our national interest.” During the pandemic, the tribe has lost 35 fluent language speakers out of just 2,000 remaining— many of whom are Elders. In many tribes, Elder is an official title reserved for older members who pass on cultural knowledge, oral histories and traditional practices. The deaths of such members represent lost libraries of “lifeways, culture, stories and language,” Hoskin said. To lessen the toll, the tribe is working doggedly to give out shots as soon as it gets vaccines. The only thing slowing the process is the federal supply. “Our doses have been administered without any lag time,” Hoskin said. “The only question is whether the United States can keep up with the Cherokee Nation.”
Caroline Preston & Sarah Butrymowicz, Hechinger Report
One Thursday this fall, a middle schooler in Florida’s Brevard Public Schools received an in-school suspension. He had ripped off another student’s face mask and blown into a peer’s face. That same day, six other students across the district were written up for not wearing their masks correctly (including one who also faked using hand sanitizer), while an elementary school student was assigned three days of “private dining” for sharing food in violation of safety guidelines. Meanwhile, an e-learning student got in trouble for filming another student during class without permission.In many ways, that Thursday was emblematic of a new age of discipline, with multiple students across the district getting written up for infractions that didn’t exist the school year before. Students removed their masks, chatted inappropriately in Zoom and failed to socially distance.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Addressing education inequality with a next generation of community schools: A blueprint for mayors, states, and the federal government
Task Force on Next Generation Community Schools, Brookings
During few times in our country’s history has leadership in education been more critical. Far too many communities continue to face the enduring impacts of systematic racism and generational poverty. Our nation’s schools have also been impacted by COVID-19 and, for many, the effects are staggering and could last for years. At the same time, as the pandemic shuttered school doors across the country, numerous education allies rose to the occasion—from families to community nonprofits to employers to media companies. As argued in the Brookings report “Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before COVID-19,” public support for the central role schools play in community life has never been higher.
Arianna Prothero, Education Week
Central to turning around public education in Detroit— a city that has suffered from crushing debt, contracting student enrollment, and cratering student achievement— is reengaging the parents who had been largely cut out of district decision-making. That’s the bet that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and Assistant Superintendent of Family and Community Engagement Sharlonda Buckman have made. For Vitti and Buckman, a focus on parents is both practical and personal. On a practical level, efforts to drive up student achievement will likely be stunted without parents, grandparents, and guardians who are engaged and working in tandem with the district toward that goal. On the personal level, both Vitti and Buckman were raised in the Detroit area by mothers who struggled to make ends meet and support their children’s schooling. They are intimately familiar with what it feels like to have a school system dismiss one’s family. “We always say that parents are partners, not the problem,” said Buckman. “We get more done and we get more right when we are working in partnership with our parents.”
Heather J. Hough Joe Witte Caroline Wang Dave Calhoun, PACE
This brief is one in a series aimed at providing K-12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the EdResearch for Recovery Project and view the set of COVID-19 response-and-recovery topic areas and practitioner-generated questions here. The central question of this brief is: How can schools and districts monitor students’ social and emotional well-being across the year?
Access, Assessment, Advancement
Mikhail Zinshteyn, Cal Matters
When Veronica Garcia entered community college in 2008 at City College of San Francisco, she had to start her math and English classes three tiers below the level students need to ultimately transfer into the University of California and California State University. Once she cleared her remedial obligations, which took three years, Garcia passed both transfer-level math and English on her first attempts. She needed four years to finish her studies at the community college, eventually transferring to San Francisco State and earning her bachelor’s in two years. “I never had a counselor or a mentor or anyone else tell me, no you’re capable of so much more,” she said of her time in community college, a trying period when she was raising two kids, caring for her sick mother, and juggling a full course load. The years in remedial classes pulled her from quality time with her loved ones. “There were just a lot of things that I missed out on.” Garcia’s experience was one of countless tales that, coupled with lots of data showing the lack of efficacy of remedial classes, spurred the passage of a 2017 law that required community colleges to phase out remedial classes unless they could improve the classes or prove they were effective. Despite the law, AB 705, many students still end up taking remedial courses.
California’s Black students benefited greatly from college policy changes. Advocates have more ideas
Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle
Changing California’s college placement rules has dramatically helped Black students — whose four-year college graduation rate has doubled in the past decade to 20% — and advocates have more ideas about how to push racial equity in higher education. The “State of Higher Education for Black Californians,” released Tuesday, laid out which policies have helped Black students in recent years and which ones lawmakers and education leaders should now pursue. The report from Campaign for College Opportunity reveals that the share of Black community college students taking classes eligible for transfer to the University of California soared in 2019 after state lawmakers eliminated no-credit remedial classes at community colleges in 2017 and replaced them with college-level instruction. Specifically, 48% of Black community college students in 2019 completed transfer-level English, compared with 15% four years earlier. At the same time, 27% of Black students completed transfer-level math, up from 7% in 2015— even as 72% of Black students enrolled in the critical math class, up from 12% four years before.
Pete D’Amato, Hechinger Report
President Joe Biden, congressional leaders and debt experts continue to argue over student loan debt forgiveness — both how much should be canceled and which branch can offer relief. Biden told a questioner at last week’s CNN town hall he did not think he had the authority to cancel $50,000 for student loan borrowers, and instead would limit relief to $10,000. Earlier, the administration had said it was reviewing its options for forgiveness through executive action. Even the more modest figure of $10,000 per student would represent one of the most ambitious projects under the new administration, erasing an estimated $377 billion in debt. Student debt forgiveness is popular among voters, but a handful of economists have questioned whether it helps those most in need. They argue that middle-class families will benefit more than poor and marginalized Americans. There are many ways to look at the types of people loan forgiveness would benefit: Should we consider household income? What about net wealth? How would borrowers of different races be affected?
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Cristina Viviana Groeger, Dissent
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate the stark gap between the rich and poor in the United States, we have an opportunity to retire failed policy solutions to social inequality. One of these tired ideas, long an article of national faith across the political spectrum, is that education is the key to reducing socioeconomic inequality. Donald Trump saw a role for the federal government in expanding access to educational opportunities that would lead to “secure, high-paying jobs.” And, as Joe Biden put it in his 2020 platform, education provides a “pathway to the middle class” by ensuring that everyone can “succeed in tomorrow’s economy.” Education as the solution to inequality often places the burden of reform onto individuals with the least power, rather than directly challenging the unequal balance of power in the economy. But the problem goes even deeper: the American educational system has become a very effective tool for reproducing socioeconomic inequality, not minimizing it. Rather than continue to follow long-standing policy common sense, the new administration should break from this consensus and pursue more effective structural solutions for combatting unprecedented levels of inequality.
Tim Kiek, The National (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
UNESCO has warned of years of lost learning due to a lack of pandemic stimulus spending on education. Research made available to The National from the UN body shows that education received just 0.8 per cent of the global economic packages designed to mitigate the pandemic. It also shows that two-thirds of the world’s poorest countries reduced their first post-Covid education budget, compared to one-third of the world’s richest countries.UNESCO is now warning of a $2 billion drop in resources into 2022 and that it could be six years before 2018 spending levels are reached again. Even within the wealthiest G20 nations the share of the extra spending for education was just 2 per cent across 13 of the countries, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Its study found that a quarter of all school days had been lost across three lockdown periods from May 2020 to February 2021. The lack of internet access in low-income countries is particularly crippling, rendering attempts to roll-out distance learning futile.
Holly Chapman, Education Week
I sent my 4th grade students home at the end of the week with an iPad, a charger, and instructions on how to access virtual assignments from home. An unusually severe winter storm was expected to hit Texas over the weekend, so we prepared for a week of virtual learning. As I hurried through last-minute instructions, I wondered how many of my students might not have Wi-Fi at home. About two-thirds of the students in my central Texas community of Stamford receive free or reduced-priced lunch or other public assistance. Now, after two days without power and record-breaking temperatures that dropped below those of Anchorage, Alaska, I am more concerned about my students’ access to food, heat, and clean water than whether or not they can get on the internet. The opportunity gap— a term that refers to the inequality of opportunity that exists between people of different races, ethnicities, geographic locations, and socio-economic classes— is flagrantly wide in times of natural disaster. While everyone in a community will feel the effect of such disasters, those who already struggle to meet basic needs are bound to experience greater suffering.
Democracy and the Public Interest
Eve Ewing, New York Times
As an education researcher, a writer and a former teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with people all over the country about public schools. And wherever I go, there’s one question I can usually count on being asked: “What do you think about charter schools?” I know people want a cut-and-dried answer. Unfortunately, the discourse about charter schools has become more of an ideological debate, split neatly into opposing factions, than it is a policy discussion informed by facts. As long as Democrats play by those rules, they miss an important chance to reframe the debate altogether.
John Warner, Inside Higher Ed
I was gearing up for a real stemwinder of a post about some recent events in surveilling students, marshalling my examples like this exploration of the prevalence and problems of proctoring software, and the recent teach-in “against surveillance.” My central example was going to be drawn from Katherine Mangan’s recent, highly recommended, article on “The Surveilled Student,” which discusses that use of surveillance tools during the coronavirus pandemic, ostensibly as a way to keep students healthy and safe. The students at Oakland University were slated to wear a “BioButton,” a “coin size” device, which “would continuously measure their temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate, and tell them whether they’d been in close contact with a button wearer who’d tested positive for Covid-19. In conjunction with a series of daily screening questions, the button would let them know if they were cleared for class.” Rather than displaying my evidence into a series of arguments and inferences, I’m going to cut to the conclusion and instead spend time considering it as a proposition. Higher education institutions should be oriented around an ethic of care. Surveilling students is inconsistent with an ethic of care.
Ezra Klein, New York Times
One thing I want to do on my podcast is give space to truly radical ideas, to expand the boundaries of our political and moral imaginations. And Hélène Landemore, a political scientist at Yale, has one of those ideas. She calls it “open democracy,” and the premise is simple: What we call democracy is not very democratic. The role of the people is confined to elections, to choosing the elites who will represent us. Landemore argues that our political thinking is stuck in “18th-century epistemologies and technologies.” It is not enough. We’ve learned much in the last few hundred years about random sampling, about the benefits of cognitively diverse groups, about the ways elections are captured by those with the most social and financial capital. Landemore wants to take what we’ve learned and build a new vision of democracy atop it— one in which we let groups of randomly selected citizens actually deliberate and govern. One in which we trust deliberation and diversity, not elections and political parties, to shape our ideas and to restrain our worst impulses. You’ve heard people say, “We’re a republic, not a democracy.” Landemore’s challenge is this: What if we were a democracy?
Other News of Note
Michael Hines, Youtube
It’s February, and many teachers and schools have been taking time to celebrate Black History Month. But there are still misunderstandings and misconceptions about the past, present and future of this celebration, says Michael Hines, an assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. What we now know as Black History Month was invented by educator and activist Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Week, says Hines, who teaches about the history of education, and specifically the history of African American education, in the United States. “It was a direct challenge to traditional curricula of the time period, which often degraded and dehumanized Black people,” he says. “More than just a chance to talk about a few notable achievements, Negro History Week was a call to action.”