Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
Please share and encourage colleagues and friends to subscribe.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Kyle Stokes, LAist
Michelle King, who rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Unified School District to eventually serve as its superintendent, died Saturday. King was 57. When school board members selected her in 2016, King became the first black woman to lead the nation’s second largest school system, capping a 33-year career as a teacher, principal and high-ranking administrator in L.A. Unified.
Alyson Klein, Education Week
President Donald Trump used his second State of the Union address to call on Congress to enact new school choice legislation—without offering any details on what it would look like—and fund paid family leave for new parents. “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children,” Trump said. “I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave—so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.” The school choice pitch is likely to be a tough sell in a Democratically controlled House of Representatives. And while Trump called for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws and increased border security, he did so without mentioning the so-called Dreamers, who face an uncertain future since Trump rescinded President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program back in 2012. That program gave temporary legal status to 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. The fate of the Dreamers has big implications for K-12 schools. About 250,000 students have become DACA-eligible since 2012, and about 9,000 DACA recipients work as teachers in U.S. schools, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Federal judges have issued conflicting rulings on DACA’s legality, and its future is currently tied up in the courts. Trump also asked lawmakers to get to work on a bipartisan infrastructure package. But it’s unclear if refurbishing schools is part of his vision, even though that’s a priority for Democrats.
Gun violence in schools and college affordability highest priorities for California voters, poll finds
John Fensterwald, EdSource
In a poll released Monday, 2,000 registered voters ranked making schools safe from gun violence and college affordability the most important education issues in California, far higher than early education, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s top priority on his children’s policy agenda. The nonprofit policy and research organization PACE and the USC Rossier School of Education conducted the annual online poll during the first week in January. That was days before Los Angeles Unified teachers went on a seven-day strike. Among the poll’s other findings, large majorities said they support teachers’ right to strike. They also indicated solid support for an initiative headed to the ballot next year that would increase businesses’ property taxes, a direct challenge to Proposition 13, the tax cutting initiative approved by voters in 1978.
Language, Culture, and Power
Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
José Sánchez crossed three borders on his own to get to Oakland, California when he was just 17. But once here, he found another barrier that proved even more difficult to overcome — graduating high school. Sánchez is one of more than 200,000 children and youth under 18 who since 2014 crossed the U.S. border without their parents. When a minor turns themselves in or is detained by immigration authorities, they are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, then sent to live with relatives or friends around the country as they wait for court dates to make their cases to stay in this country. Some apply for asylum; others for a special visa for minors who were abused or neglected by a guardian in their home countries. More than 28,000 of these children are living in California, most of them in Los Angeles and Alameda counties. Most are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In their new communities, teachers, counselors and district leaders have had to come up with a diverse array of strategies to help them overcome a daunting set of obstacles to finish high school. Many students have survived severe trauma in their home countries, or missed years of school. If they are 16 or older, they only have a few years to learn English and catch up on math or literacy. Often, they have to work to send money home or pay rent.
Sarah Garland, The Hechinger Report
Wilda Rosario’s support groups for immigrant students at Patchogue-Medford High School usually start out with lots of laughter. That’s just how teenagers are, she says. But it doesn’t take too long for conversations to turn serious with this group of kids, most of them children seeking asylum from violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. During an ice-breaker of light-hearted questions, the teens turn from a discussion of their favorite foods to the meals their grandmothers made back home, and how much they miss them. What they’d bring to a deserted island morphs into a conversation about what it would have been like to take an airplane to America, instead of having to hike through the desert. From there, during each weekly meeting in a conference room a few doors down from the principal’s office in this sprawling high school of nearly 2,500 kids, the students dig deeper and deeper into the traumas that haunt them — nightmares about sinking into muddy rivers, or being lost in the pitch-black of the desert night. They talk, too, of the hopes that keep them going — getting into college, building a house for their parents back home.
Emily Elena Dugdale, LAist
Eighty-one percent of Los Angeles teachers voted for the contract that ended their strike earlier this month. But there’s still a lot of concern coming from one group: special-ed teachers. They say sections of the L.A. Unified School District contract related to their needs —and, by extension, the needs of their students — haven’t been significantly changed in decades. One major issue is class size, which didn’t budge for special-ed classrooms during the recent negotiations. “VOTING NO!!,” one teacher posted on Facebook last week. “The SPED protocols are virtually unchanged!! Many of these teachers are taking to social media to voice concerns.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
David Washburn, EdSource
It is the most obvious and important contributor to student success and yet something many California school districts are not doing well: getting students to show up for school. More than 1 in 10 students statewide were chronically absent from school in 2017-18, meaning they missed at least 10 percent of the school year, according to recent data released by the California Department of Education. “The numbers are bad and getting slightly worse,” said Rob Manwaring, a senior education policy advisor for Children Now, a statewide child advocacy organization. He is referring to the fact that the statewide rate rose to 11.1 percent from 10.8 percent in 2016-17, the first year the state released the numbers. Chronic absenteeism is “where the school to prison pipeline starts,” Manwaring said. “It’s where you can address a problem before it becomes a crisis.”
Despite prevalent trauma, from school shootings to the opioid epidemic, few states have policies to fully address student needs, study finds
Mark Keierleber, The 74
Despite the pervasive effect of stressful experiences — from mass school shootings to the opioid epidemic — on student performance, only 11 states encourage or require staff training on the effects of trauma. Half of states have policies on suicide prevention. And just one state, Vermont, requires a school nurse to be available daily at every school campus. Those are among the key findings of a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Child Trends, which found that most states have failed to adopt a comprehensive set of policies to address student well-being. Nearly half of America’s students have traumatic experiences, including divorce, substance abuse, and domestic violence, according to the Child Trends report, leading an increasing number of states to enact laws that aim to better equip schools to educate youth who experience trauma. But Child Trends researchers argue that a more comprehensive, “whole child” approach is key. Such an approach, which focuses on a range of factors from student health to school safety, is necessary because disparate school policies affect student welfare, said Kristen Harper, Child Trends’s director for policy development. Even as districts implement strategies to help students with adverse experiences, the report argues that other school policies, such as frequent suspensions, could further traumatize youth.
Rahm Emanuel, The Atlantic
During my first campaign to be Chicago’s mayor, in 2011, I promised to put education reform at the forefront of my agenda. Having participated in Washington policy debates for the better part of two decades, I felt confident that I knew what to do. Then, as now, education reformers preached a certain gospel: Hold teachers solely accountable for educational gains. Expand charter schools. Focus relentlessly on high-school graduation rates. This was the recipe for success. Three years before that, when President-elect Barack Obama tapped me to be his White House chief of staff, I argued that leaders should never let a good crisis go to waste. I was now determined to take my own advice. At the moment of my inauguration, Chicago’s schools were unquestionably in crisis. Our students had the shortest school day in America. Nearly half of Chicago’s kids were not being offered full-day kindergarten, let alone pre-K. Teacher evaluations had not been updated in nearly 40 years. During my first months in office, I hit the ground running, determined to change all that. Then, much to my surprise, roughly a year into my reform crusade, circumstance prompted me to begin questioning the wisdom of the gospel itself.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, LAist
It’s easy for foster kids to get left behind, but an increasing number in L.A. County are making it into community colleges. Statewide about 16,000 are attending community college; that’s significantly more than five years earlier. In L.A. County’s 21 community colleges, the number of enrolled foster youth rose from 2,626 students to 4,218 students between 2012 and 2017 — a 60 percent increase. A variety of state programs are trying to build on that progress to make sure those young people make it all the way through to graduation.
Teresa Watanabe and Suhauna Hussain, Los Angeles Times
For the first time in 15 years, the number of would-be freshmen applying to the University of California has dropped, the first sign that a national trend of declining college enrollment could be hitting the West Coast. Applications for the coming school year dipped by 3% to 176,530, according to preliminary UC data released Tuesday. The drop could be a temporary blip, experts said. Among the system’s nine undergraduate campuses, only three — UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz — saw declines in freshman applications. But the number of students graduating from California high schools is forecast to top out in six years. And that demographic trend already has hit the nation’s Northeastern states, where birthrates began declining years ago and enrollment has dropped even at elite institutions, such as Princeton University and MIT. “What the California system is experiencing this year is just a taste of some of the challenges it will experience in a decade or so,” said Nathan D. Grawe, a Carleton College professor of economics and social sciences, and author of “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.”
Eliza Shapiro, The New York Times
Four years ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed through a plan to put New York at the forefront of a national movement to reshape American public education: He vowed that half of a teacher’s rating would be determined by student results on standardized exams. But his initiative met with immediate resistance from teachers’ unions and parents, especially those in New York’s wealthy suburbs and progressive urban pockets. They protested on the basis it would place undue stress on teachers and children, whose test scores are used for high-stakes admissions decisions and academic tracking. As a result, with Mr. Cuomo’s assent, the evaluation system was suspended only months after it had been adopted. Now, in a final capitulation to a yearslong backlash, Mr. Cuomo is set to sign a bill the Legislature just passed that essentially guts the testing component. The new measure will add New York to the growing rebellion against using testing to assess teachers that has also spread to Colorado and California. Local school districts and teachers’ unions in New York will now officially be allowed to decide together how educators should be evaluated, with some oversight from the state Education Department, and no requirement that standardized tests must play a role.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
David Cooper, Economic Policy Institute
The federal minimum wage was established in 1938, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to help ensure that all work would be fairly rewarded and that regular employment would provide a decent quality of life. In theory, Congress makes periodic amendments to the FLSA, increasing the federal minimum wage so that even the lowest-paid jobs in the economy still pay enough for workers to meet their needs, and helping ensure that low-wage workers benefit from economywide improvements in productivity, wages, and living standards. Yet since the late 1960s, lawmakers have let the value of the minimum wage erode, allowing inflation to gradually reduce the buying power of a minimum wage income. When the minimum wage has been raised, the increases have been too small to counter the decline in value that has occurred since 1968, when the minimum wage hit its peak in inflation-adjusted terms. In 2018, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 was worth 14.8 percent less than when it was last raised in 2009, after adjusting for inflation, and 28.6 percent below its peak value in 1968, when the minimum wage was the equivalent of $10.15 in 2018 dollars.
Alyson Klein, Education Week
A coalition of civil rights groups is urging state education chiefs to take a long, hard look at their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, to make sure that schools will get the help they need in serving historically overlooked groups of children, including English learners, students in special education, and students of color. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights argues that states’ ESSA plans don’t do a good job of holding schools accountable for the performance of all children, even though they have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. “ESSA plans that do not hold schools sufficiently accountable for their responsibility to all children, especially groups of children who have been shortchanged for too long, fail to meet the intent of the law and will undermine ESSA’s purpose to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps,” the organizations wrote. The letter doesn’t say this explicitly, but some ESSA plans were written or approved by state chiefs who are no longer in office after the 2018 election. That potentially gives new chiefs a fresh start, and a reason to do a deep dive on plans written by the their predecessors.
Adam Harris, The Atlantic
Bennett College needed to collect $5 million to survive. The historically black women’s college in Greensboro, North Carolina, was appealing a decision to revoke its accreditation—based largely on its feeble financial situation—and wanted to show that it could raise funds. The school gave itself 50 days to prove its case. Donations dribbled in from everywhere: $10,000 from a local credit union; $40,000 from Mount Zion Baptist Church; $1 and $10 and $50 donations from students; $500,000 from Papa John’s, which has been trying to rehab its image with the black community after its founder made a racist remark on a conference call; $77.25 from students at the Erwin Montessori elementary school. The money trickled in and the clock ticked as the school raced toward its February 1 deadline to raise the money. With two days left, Bennett was only 62 percent of the way to its goal; one day left, 65 percent; 14 hours, 72 percent. Then, a $1 million lifeline from another institution, High Point University. One hour, 95 percent. When the clock ran out, money still needed to be counted, so the college extended its deadline to do so.
Public Schools and Private $
Louis Freedberg and Mikhail Zinshteyn, EdSource
In one fallout from the recently settled strike of teachers in Los Angeles, Gov. Gavin Newsom has called on State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to establish a panel of experts to examine the impact of charter school growth on district finances. The panel will have four months to look at the issue, and to report back to Newsom by July 1. Thurmond has not yet announced who will be on the panel, but its formation raises the likelihood that California’s charter school laws may undergo revision over the coming year. This would be the first time there has been an in-depth look at the financial impact of charter schools since passage of California’s first charter law in 1992. The issue was a concern of Newsom’s even before the L.A. teachers strike, said Newsom spokesperson Brian Ferguson. “As Governor Newsom stated in his first budget proposal, rising charter school enrollments in some urban districts are having real impacts on those districts’ ability to provide essential support and services for their students,” he said.
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, WBEZ News
More than 2,000 charter school students across Chicago were out of class on Tuesday after staff at four schools walked out Monday night in Chicago’s second charter school teacher strike. This comes two months after Chicago made history when Acero charter school teachers were the first to strike. About 175 unionized teachers and staff at four Chicago International Charter Schools picketed Tuesday morning. They negotiated until late Monday with their charter operator but couldn’t reach a deal. Chicago International Charter Schools has 14 campuses but only four of them — all managed by Civitas Education Partners — went on strike late Monday.
Matt Hoffman, Billings Gazette
A Montana Supreme Court decision barring religious schools from a tax credit program will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, both sides in the case have asked the Montana court to hold off on implementing its decision while 2018 tax information gets sorted out. Information from 2017 shows that there likely won’t be much to add up. For the second year of its existence, the tax credit program used only about 1 percent of the $3 million set aside by the state. Montana’s only scholarship organization reported receiving 229 donations totaling $35,253 dollars in 2017 — about $2,000 lower than the year before. The tax credit program was approved by the legislature and allowed to become law by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2015. It lets Montanans receive a tax credit of up to $150 for donations to approved scholarship organizations for private schools or “innovative education programs” in public schools. For the two years of tax information available, donations to religious schools were allowed, and the Department of Revenue’s website says that such donations will be allowed on 2018 taxes. The law has been the focal point of a lawsuit challenging rules from the Department of Revenue that excluded religious schools from the program. A district court judge ruled that religious school could be included, but in December the Montana Supreme Court said those schools could be barred.
Other News of Note
Mollie Davis, The Nation
On March 20, 2018, a 17-year-old student walked into my high school with a gun, changing my life, and the lives of my classmates, forever. Less than a week before, I remember getting ready for school full of excitement. I made sure to double check that I put all the stickers, with slogans like “Enough Is Enough” and “#NEVERAGAIN School = A Safe Space,” in my backpack. The forecast said it was going to be in the 30s, and while I knew we’d only be outside for 17 minutes, I still wanted to play it safe, putting on tights under my jeans and a thermal under my Great Mills High School T-shirt. I sat down on my bedroom floor to make a few more cards, all handwritten, that explained how to register to vote. In class, I refreshed the social-media page I had set up for the walkout like crazy, trying to keep track of all the new followers.