Just News from Center X – February 5, 2021

Just News

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Pressure grows to reopen schools, but fears persist

Christine Vestal, Pew Charitable Trusts

Margery Smelkinson, a mother with four kids in an elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland, suspects that the parent group she joined had something to do with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent announcement that all schools must reopen by March 1. “Out of desperation,” she said, representatives of her group and others in the state met with Hogan days before his Jan. 21 announcement and asked him to intervene in deadlocked local negotiations over when and how to open schools. “While millions of students across the country have safely returned to classrooms, Maryland has remained one of only six states with little to no in-person instruction,” her coalition of more than 15,000 residents wrote. “We have watched as our kids have suffered severe academic loss, declining grades, social isolation and an increase in mental illness.”

Did closing schools save lives or cost lives? The debate continues

Anya Kamenetz, NPR

In November, I reported for NPR on a scientific paper that estimated millions of years of life could be lost due to prolonged school closures in the U.S.— far more, in fact, than might be lost by keeping schools open. The paper has since been corrected and critiqued. The central question it tried to answer remains. The paper’s author, Dimitri Christakis is a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, editor of the American Medical Association journal JAMA Pediatrics and an outspoken advocate of opening schools when possible to protect children’s well-being. He told NPR recently that he wrote the paper to flesh out his argument: “The debate has been around kids going to school or life lost. When it’s framed that way it’s a no-brainer. But we’re also killing people by not putting kids in school. It’s just that they’re not dying today, so we’re not taking them into account.” Killing people? Because of several months of Zoom school? How could that be? Well, there is a well-documented association between educational attainment and life expectancy. By young adulthood, according to one study, Americans with a college degree can look forward to a decade more of life compared to people who don’t have a high school diploma. This gap tends to be larger in more unequal societies, like the United States. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports the average gap across rich countries is six years.

Book Review: ‘Black Lives Matter at School,’ An invitation to participate in history

Ari Robin McKenna, South Seattle Emerald

While reading the 31 chapters of Black Lives Matter at School, you may sense that history, instead of trailing behind you, just out of reach, has caught up; we are living in it. If you are involved with public education in the city of Seattle, where this story begins in a South End elementary school, it is especially difficult to read this book and not think the only choice you really have is what role you will play. Co-edited by Jesse Hagopian and Denisha Jones, Black Lives Matter at School is a novel work of nonfiction as full of variety as it is imbued with a sense of purpose. Hagopian is an ethnic studies teacher at Garfield High School, an activist, and an editor of the magazine Rethinking Schools as well as two prior books. Jones is acting director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College and an education advocate and activist.

Language, Culture, and Power

How to start ending the school-to-prison pipeline— by an educator just elected to the U.S. House

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Jamaal Bowman was the founder and principal of the public Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School in the Bronx before he was elected in November to the House of Representatives, after defeating a 16-term incumbent who was expected to win his primary earlier that year. Bowman has long been focused on social justice and that’s the subject of this post, in which he urges the Biden administration to focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Biden’s choice for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, the state superintendent of Connecticut, goes before a Senate committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing, and is expected to be approved by the full Senate. Bowman addresses his comments to Cardona as well as to his legislative colleagues, writing: “We can no longer watch children be brutalized on school grounds and wait for justice while we have the policy tools to legislate it.”

For Dreamers, Action Will Speak Louder Than Words

Korina Iribe, New York Times

In the months leading up to the congressional vote on the Dream Act in 2010, young people across the state organized protests to urge our elected officials to vote in favor. I was a 21-year-old communications student at Estrella Mountain Community College, in Avondale, Ariz., at the time. I remember how hopeful I felt the day I joined others in Senator John McCain’s office in Phoenix that December; after all, he had co-sponsored the 2003 and 2005 versions of the Dream Act. But the bill died on the Senate floor the next day. Mr. McCain was among the lawmakers who voted against the legislation, including five Democrats. It wouldn’t be the last time I felt betrayed by a politician.

Amanda Gorman’s poetry shows why spoken word belongs in school

Wendy R. Williams, The Conversation

During my research studying a diverse group of spoken word poets in Arizona, I learned that adolescents improved their writing skills, academic performance, confidence and social skills through writing and performing spoken word poetry. The poets used this medium to heal, advocate for change and imagine new futures. I noticed that these brave young writers often delivered stunning lines, such as, “If I sit long enough in a dark room will I develop like film?” They used poetry to talk back to those who wronged them. And they used this medium to speak out about injustice. As one adolescent poet in the study wrote, “We live in a first-world country, yet inner-city kids still go hungry.” Although spoken word poetry can benefit adolescents in many ways, K-12 education has been relatively slow to embrace this medium. This is unfortunate, because spoken word poetry and other creative forms of writing such as songs, short films, animated works and comics can help young people gain important skills necessary to do college-level writing. Spoken word poetry has enormous potential in K-12 education. Teachers can use this medium to honor students’ languages and cultures, encourage authentic writing and build community.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

‘I Have Wings Now’: At Age 45, She Went Back To School [Audio]

StoryCorps, NPR

Ngoc Nguyen was born in Saigon during the final years of the Vietnam War. She left school when she was in 10th grade to help support her family. In her early 20s, she immigrated to the U.S. and continued to work. It wasn’t until age 45 that Nguyen pursued a dream she had long put on hold: She enrolled in a GED program and passed the test to earn her certification. In 2018, she sat down to record a StoryCorps conversation from Oklahoma City with her teacher, Chris Myers, to talk about what his class meant to her. Nguyen, now 49, told Myers, 41, that she dropped out of high school, before she could earn her diploma.

California schools consider extending next school year while mental health remains a concern

Betty Marquez Rosales, EdSource

As Covid-19 infection rates continue to delay the reopening of many schools across California, some education leaders have floated the idea of extending the school year to address learning loss among students at risk of falling behind. At the same time, concerns about mental health suggest longer may not necessarily be better. In Los Angeles Unified, some board members have signaled support for additional instructional time, as the nation’s second-largest school district continues with distance learning. The district has adjusted academic policies over the past year to address a drop in attendance and a rise in failing grades among students.

UCLA: L.A. Charter Schools Serve Fewer Homeless Students Than Non-Charter


Charter schools in Los Angeles County serve a lower percentage of homeless students than non-charter public schools, but those students are more likely to be chronically absent and graduate at significantly lower rates than their counterparts in public schools, according to new research released by the Black Male Institute at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Additionally, the analysis raises concerns as to whether some charter schools are accurately identifying homeless students and assigning adequate staff to meet their needs as required by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. “The success of public schools is often measured in part by graduation and attendance rates, even among those students experiencing the very real challenges of homelessness,” said UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard, director of the Black Male Institute and the Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in Education to Strengthen Families.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Washington Post joins NY Times to demand reinstatement of standardized tests in schools this spring: It is still a bad idea

Jan Resseger, National Education Policy Center

On Friday, the Washington Post editorialized to demand the reinstatement— this spring in the midst of COVID-19— of the standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Every Student Succeed Act. Betsy DeVos mercifully cancelled the testing mandate last spring as the pandemic hit. On Friday, this blog critiqued a similar January 2nd, editorial from the NY Times‘ editors, who demanded that the new Education Secretary Miguel Cardona reinstate the annual annual standardized testing regime. The reasoning of the Post‘s editorial is flawed, and the realities for teachers, families and children make the federally mandated state testing ridiculous this spring. The Post‘s editors wonder: “How can schools create plans to make up for COVID-related learning losses if those losses haven’t been measured? Wouldn’t knowing which students have been most adversely affected be helpful in directing resources for mitigation efforts? Don’t parents have a right to know whether their sons and daughters are achieving?” The Post would appear to trust big data and distrust educational professionals. As soon as schools can be opened in person, professionally educated and prepared teachers and public school staff will be assessing what students need, adapting curricula accordingly, and helping parents support their children’s learning. Teachers have been doing their best throughout this school year to meet children’s and parents’ needs, although the disruption of switching back and forth from online to in-person to on-line learning as COVID-19 infections have surged and abated and surged has made the year chaotic for families and for educators.

These are the students free community college programs help the most

Amy Li & Denise Gandara, The Conversation

College programs that help cover tuition and fees significantly increase how many Black, Latino and white students enter college, according to a recently published study. For our study, we analyzed 33 so-called college promise programs– in 18 states– that cover either partial or full tuition costs for students attending specific community colleges. We found that these programs increased the number of first-time, full-time Black, Latino and white students, but did not affect enrollment numbers for Asian and Pacific Islander students. The largest effects were seen among Black and Latina women, with enrollment gains of about 50% for each group. We also looked at “first dollar” programs– which give students money up front regardless of other aid– versus “last dollar” programs– which give aid only after all other assistance is disbursed. We found that first dollar scholarships nearly doubled the enrollment of white students but did not affect enrollment numbers for other groups. Programs that were based on academic merit increased enrollment of white men by 32%, and white women by 77%. Whether a program offered additional services, such as mentoring and advising, did not affect enrollment.

The colleges that took the pandemic seriously

Aaron E. Carol, The Atlantic

Until vaccines against Covid-19 are available to all, the public will need two things: a reason for hope and a vision of how to live more safely and productively in the meantime. For both, Americans can look to the examples set by a number of colleges and universities— a surprising turn, perhaps, given the widespread anxieties that these institutions’ reopening in the fall created.Since last summer, many news stories have highlighted failures by individual universities to manage the pandemic. Outbreaks have occurred, and some data even suggest that college reopenings led to more infections in the counties in which they are located. That’s only part of the story, though. Many schools— including the one where I work— took on the job of preventing the spread of the coronavirus among their students, employees, and host communities and have sought to manage the problem in a comprehensive manner. Schools that have succeeded have done so by learning from one another, by redeploying people and resources, and by employing the tactics that epidemiologists all over the world have advocated but too few areas of the United States have adopted.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Sitting on the roof at night for internet: Pandemic learning in the Navajo Nation

Catherine Gewertz, Education Week

I had a student who was a senior last year. When it got to a point where I was not receiving work from [him], I began to reach out to him. I was first trying to reach out to him through emails, and he seemed to be able to get the emails OK. But he then said it’s better if we can try to communicate through phone, I have a better phone signal than I do internet signal. He was having just such a hard time—not even just accessing his work through email but also just getting onto his Wi-Fi at home. There are like 10 family members who live in the household. And imagine the school-aged children and the adults in that family who are having to use the Wi-Fi for their own purposes. He explained to me that because he was home, a lot of the responsibility fell onto him to feed the cattle, the horses, to take care of them. So a lot of times, because he was having to fight over the use of the Wi-Fi with everyone else in the household, it just was easier for him to go and do his ranch chores, and to take care of the animals during the day while the others use the Wi-Fi. Then he would come back in in the evening and try to use the Wi-Fi in hopes that he would have stronger signals. He really struggled with uploading assignments and emailing them to me. So when we talked on the phone, he really surprised me the first time. He said, can I call you back? I need to get to a place where I have a stronger signal. He called me. And then I, you know, immediately I could hear that wind, it was kind of breezy, and you could hear the wind blowing. And I said, are you outside? He goes, yeah, I had to crawl to the top of my roof, because this is where I can get a better phone signal.

Missing in school reopening plans: Black families’ trust

Eliza Shapiro, Erica L. Green & Juliana Kim, New York Times

For Farah Despeignes, the choice of whether to send her children back to New York City classrooms as the coronavirus pandemic raged on last fall was no choice at all. Ms. Despeignes, a Black mother of two, watched in despair as her Bronx neighborhood was devastated by Covid-19 last spring. She knew it would take a long time for her to trust that the nation’s largest public school system could protect her sons’ health— and by extension her own. “Everything that has happened in this country just in the last year has proved that Black people have no reason to trust the government,” including public school systems and her sons’ school building, said Ms. Despeignes, an elected parent leader on the local school board who has taught at several colleges. She added, “My mantra is, if you can do it for yourself, you shouldn’t trust other people to do it for you. Because I can’t see for myself what’s going on in that building, I’m not going to trust somebody else to keep my children safe.”

Missing from Chicago’s reopening debate: high schools. ‘We are a forgotten group.’

Mila Koumpilova, Chalkbeat

Johanna Fernandez’s students at Juarez High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side often ply her for clues about what the remainder of a trying school year might look like. The social studies teacher does not want to tell them she has no answers: Her students grapple with so much uncertainty. Perhaps the district might start reopening high schools in April, she speculates instead. Chicago has made improving its high school experience a central goal, but for now, it has no high school reopening plan or target date. Officials have not broadly sought input from high school students and parents on how to make the most of what remains of this school year — and some families feel left out of the loop amid a contentious debate over reopening the district’s elementary schools. Some students and parents bemoan the lack of even a tentative timeline for bringing high schoolers back or visible steps to set the stage. Others want the district to invest more in improving remote learning and supporting high school students’ mental health. At stake are significant gains Chicago has made in recent years in high school graduation rates and college preparedness. Already, district officials say they are unsettled by a 20% dip in the number of college applications submitted by district students this fall. “No one ever talks about high school,” said Maria Guerrero-Suarez, the mom of two students at Curie High on the Southwest Side. “It feels like we are a forgotten group.”

Democracy and the Public Interest

Report: California wasting millions of dollars funding online charter schools

Gordon Lafer, Clare Crawford, Larissa Petrucci & Jennifer Smith, In the Public Interest

With California’s two-year moratorium on authorizing new nonclassroom-based charter schools ending at the close of 2021, state legislators will need to use the 2021 legislative session to develop a more permanent solution to the sector’s enduring problems. This report finds that nonclassroom-based charter schools– and those delivering education primarily online, in particular– provide an inferior quality of education. Adding insult to injury, the state is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year by funding these schools at a level far above their costs. Additionally, analysis shows that the state’s school system is already oversaturated with nonclassroom-based charter schools.

Opinion: A Black principal’s case against educator neutrality

Latrina M. Johnson, Hechinger Report

A perilous political moment is over, but white supremacy remains. Over the past four years of former President Donald Trump’s administration, resistance took on urgent, even life-or-death, importance. We lived through an attempted coup incited at the highest level of government. An unabashed homegrown bigotry took over the national stage. Our kids witnessed the full weight of state violence from their homes, while attending our schools virtually. Yet, some colleagues contend that, even in such times, education must remain politically impartial. “Why must we always make everything about race, class or gender?” is a question I hear often, even among colleagues at my own school. My response is simple: ​Teaching in, and leading, schools that serve Black and Brown students is inherently political​. There is no neutrality to be found; the passive objectivity we were taught in our academic training simply doesn’t exist.Our schools need people who believe that equity is a mere stop on the way to liberation. The cost of remaining polite, of trying not to offend, is too high. Educators who are too comfortable with the status quo, who overlook the political forces roiling society, are dangerous in the way that a swaying pine tree is to a Southern house— acceptable for the moment, but treacherous when a storm comes along.

Joel Westheimer: Americans are losing faith in democracy

Diane Ravitch’s Blog

Joel Westheimer is American-born but lives in Canada, where he teaches Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa. He writes: The attack on the U.S. Capitol building was shocking but not a surprise to those studying extremism in the United States where support for democracy has been plummeting. In 1995, just one in sixteen Americans agreed with the idea that it would be “good” or “very good” for the military to run the country rather than elected democratic officials. Today, one in five agree.

Other News of Note

A Negro Schoolmaster in the South [Reprint from 1899]

W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Atlantic

Once upon a time I taught school in the hills of Tennessee, where the broad dark vale of the Mississippi begins to roll and crumple to greet the Alleghanies. I was a Fisk student then, and all Fisk men think that Tennessee —beyond the Veil—is theirs alone, and in vacation time they sally forth in lusty bands to meet the country school commissioners. Young and Happy, I too went, and I shall not soon forget that summer, ten years ago. First, there was a teachers’ Institute at the county-seat; and there distinguished guests of the superintendent taught the teachers fractions and spelling and other mysteries,—white teachers in the morning, Negroes at night. A picnic now and then, and a supper, and the rough world was softened by laughter and song. I remember how—but I wander.