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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Martin Kuz, The Christian Science Monitor
More than 30,000 public school teachers in Los Angeles began a strike Monday that marked the first time they had walked off the job since 1989. One year after that last strike, Michele Levin started teaching in the country’s second-largest school district. Over the decades, she has watched class sizes swell, resources dwindle, and the frustration of her colleagues reach a crescendo. “There’s always tension between management and the teachers,” says Ms. Levin, who teaches health and science at Daniel Webster Middle School on the city’s west side. The school lacks a full-time librarian or nurse, and she has spent $1,500 of her own money to buy notebooks, pencils, and other supplies for students. “But at this point, the district’s actions feel like an attack on the institution of public education. It’s time to draw a line in the sand.” Her criticism echoes the broader concern of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), who beyond practical demands for higher salaries, smaller classes, and more support staff, want to slow the effort to privatize operation of public schools – or stop it outright.
Layla Avila, Evan Stone, and Cami Anderson, The Washington Post
As education leaders, we take our commitment to students and families very seriously, not only to provide them with an excellent education that affords them access to the fullest range of life’s opportunities but also to ensure they are emotionally and physically safe and supported. That’s why we are dismayed at the Trump administration’s decision to dismantle protections for our most vulnerable students by repealing much-needed federal guidance guarding students from discriminatory discipline practices. This damaging move was announced just before Christmas, even though thousands of teachers and more than 100 educators, advocates, district and state leaders, charter school operators, unions, and other education leaders called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Justice Department to maintain the guidance protecting all students — particularly students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. Educators are not alone in our concern: DeVos also received letters from a wide swath of groups on this issue, such as state attorneys general and the civil rights community. Over the past year, DeVos met with teachers from across the country and promised to listen. But the concerns of families and educators clearly fell on deaf ears. Rescinding the guidance without putting forward a concrete plan for schools to end unjust discipline practices is another baffling example of how the Trump administration is abandoning students and families. The good news is that some schools are pioneering innovative practices — rooted in research — that point the way forward on school discipline.
Windfall for California K-12 schools, more spending from early to higher ed in Newsom’s first budget
John Fensterwald and Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
School districts laboring under higher mandated expenses would receive a surprise windfall — pension-cost relief — in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first proposed state budget for 2019-20, which will also provide big spending increases for early and higher education. Using surplus money from the state’s General Fund, Newsom would wipe out $3 billion of districts’ rising obligations to CalSTRS, the pension fund for teachers and administrators, including $350 million each of the next two fiscal years. If the Legislature passes the budget as proposed, districts will be able to spend that money as they want. The remaining $2.3 billion would reduce districts’ liabilities beyond 2020-21. The governor is also proposing $576 million more for special education — another fast-rising expense that has eaten into districts’ spending. And, with $10 million in one-time money, he would kick-start a project that Jerry Brown, his predecessor, had resisted: creation over time of a statewide database linking student information from early education programs through K-12 schools to post-secondary education and into the workforce
Howard Blume and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
Negotiations resumed Thursday for the first time in a week to settle the teachers’ strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The venue is City Hall; the start time was high noon. The talks resumed under the aegis of Mayor Eric Garcetti, although Garcetti himself has other events scheduled for much of the day. His observer in the talks is likely to be senior aide Matt Szabo. The mayor has said he will step in as needed. Garcetti met with Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, and L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner before the negotiating teams went back to work, the mayor’s office said. The teachers’ strike is entering its fourth day, and although heavy rain dampened the turnout at some picket lines Thursday, the job action is in full force, exacting a toll on teachers, families and the school district. On Wednesday, fewer than a third of students came to school, the lowest number since the strike began, according to preliminary attendance figures. L.A. Unified officials have estimated the cost of the strike at $10 million to $15 million per day because state funding is based on student attendance. Caputo-Pearl announced the resumption of talks Wednesday night. “We met with Mayor Eric Garcetti,” Caputo-Pearl said, “and he has offered to mediate in an effort to help us work toward an agreement.” He added that state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond also had become involved.
Language, Culture, and Power
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
In a highly anticipated move that for key organizers has been years in the making, more than 30,000 educators on Monday kicked off a strike that’s put regular K–12 classes on hiatus in the country’s second-largest public-school district. A whopping 98 percent of L.A. teachers, who because of stalled negotiations with the district have been working without a contract for more than a year, voted to authorize the strike. They are demanding smaller class sizes and more funding for support staff such as counselors and nurses. They’re also calling for higher pay, though that is less of a sticking point now that the district and teachers’ union are all but in agreement on this front, with the former offering raises that are just 0.5 percent lower than the 6 percent hikes educators are demanding. Rodolfo Dueñas, an L.A. native and public-school teacher who is picketing, describes this burgeoning movement as a natural next step for the many Latinos like him whose activism can be traced back to the mid-1990s, when thousands of Latino teens staged a school walkout in opposition to an anti-immigrant state-ballot initiative known as Proposition 187. For many like Dueñas in the “187 Generation,” those experiences eventually drove them into teaching. And Dueñas’s generation has been following in the footsteps of the Latino education activists who came before them, during the 1968 walkouts known by some as the Mexican Student Movement.
Tom Goldman and Bill Chappel, NPR
Bernice Sandler, the “godmother of Title IX” who died Saturday at the age of 90, is being remembered this week for her lifelong fight to reverse decades of institutional bias in U.S. schools and open new paths for women and girls. It all started in an elementary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., when Sandler was a determined little girl nicknamed Bunny. She was offended by the way the boys got to do all the classroom activities. “For example, running a slide projector,” says Marty Langelan, who was Sandler’s friend and colleague for nearly 50 years. “You know, simple everyday things. You know, ‘Oh, we’ll have the boys do this.’ If it was important, the boys did it,” Langelan says. “And she told her mother back then, when she was a schoolgirl, that she was going to change the world, that this was wrong. “And boy, she sure did.”
Kristin Leong, EdSurge
For most of my teaching career, I was the only teacher of color in my building. I once expressed to the principal my hope that she would be considering teachers of color as candidates for an opening in our English department. “They just don’t apply,” she told me resolutely. I didn’t bring it up again. I had also been closeted for most of my teaching career. While other teachers in the staff room talked about their husbands’ dentist appointments and anniversary plans, I ate my lunches strategically avoiding conversation about my personal life. During my fifth year of teaching, when I fell in love with the woman I am engaged to now, I stopped going to the staff room altogether. When I left the classroom in 2017 for a job as an events curator for a community arts organization, it was the middle of spring semester during my seventh year as a teacher. I was a Washington State Teacher Leader and I had just become a TED-Ed Innovative Educator, which gave me an opportunity to join a cohort of international educators who were determined to find creative ways to enrich their school communities.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
David L. Kirp, The New York Times
A third grader was having one of his meltdown days. He was throwing food in the lunchroom and cursing out everyone in sight. At most schools, this child would be out the door — suspended or expelled — but P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, known as the Island School, does things differently. The guidance counselor, Eddy Polanco, took the 8-year-old in hand, and over several months the boy came to recognize when he was about to blow a gasket. Then, with the school’s blessing, he’d take a walk until he calmed down. “That’s my coping skill,” he told Mr. Polanco. Such out-of-control moments are not uncommon at this school, which has about 500 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade. There’s a ready explanation — nearly half are homeless, living at a shelter across the street. “Most of the kids have strong emotional trauma,” the principal, Suany Ramos, told me. “We need to stabilize a child emotionally before we can work on the academics.” Island School is one of 247 “community schools” in New York. These are regular public schools, with a twist. They have longer days and longer school years: Island stays open 12 hours a day, six days a week, including spring and winter breaks as well as the summer. A psychologist makes weekly rounds. A dentist comes by regularly. So does an optometrist, and students who need glasses get them free. (The retailer Warby Parker donates the glasses, a good example of a public-private partnership.) Parents are ubiquitous at the school, learning computer skills, attending a “caring for the caregiver” class or picking up groceries from the food pantry. The school gives coats to their children, and washing machines on the premises allow them to keep their kids’ uniforms looking sharp. Pro bono lawyers are available to counsel families on immigration, housing and health insurance. As a result, since 2014 chronic absenteeism at the school has been reduced by 6.5 percent. In 2018, 39 percent of students there passed the state reading exam (within hailing distance of the citywide average).
Adam Harris, The Atlantic
When the Trump administration released its school-safety report last month, it landed with a thud—and only partly because it’s a clunky 180 pages. Many of the recommendations in the report, authored by the Federal Commission on School Safety, are aimed at fostering a better school climate—how a school feelsto the students who attend it—whether that’s through improved access to counseling and mental-health services or a greater emphasis on social-emotional learning. But other recommendations were met with derision, such as a proposal to rescind an Obama-era rule urging schools to be mindful of whether they might be punishing minority students at a higher rate than white students. Study after study has shown that black students are unevenly suspended or expelled from schools nationwide. The 2014 school-discipline guideline was the Obama administration’s attempt to remedy that. The Trump commission, however, argued that deciding how students should be disciplined should not be the federal government’s job, but the teachers’. Both administrations, at least, agreed that discipline was also a matter of school climate—something educational leaders have been trying desperately to improve.
Matthew Farber, Boost Café
In 2017, more people watched the League of Legends Championship than Game 7 of the World Series and the final game of the NBA Finals that year. This statistic was shared by ESPN, who—for the first time this past September—featured esports player, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins on the cover of its ESPN The Magazine. But what exactly is esports? Is it just kids just shooting at each other in online video games? Well, it can be. But esports can also be strategy card games, like Hearthstone, which is set in the World of Warcraft universe. And, as it happens, esports is entering many middle and high schools, as well as college campuses. The University of California, Irvine, recently built an esports arena! What’s more, some universities now offer esports scholarships!
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
John Fensterwald, EdSource
By the end of January, the state will publish the initial list of hundreds of low-performing California schools that must receive intensive help under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in late 2015. On Wednesday, the State Board of Education approved how districts with any of those schools must verify what they’re doing to turn those schools around. A coalition of student advocacy groups unsuccessfully argued that documentation alone isn’t enough. They urged the state board to require more monitoring by county offices of education and proof that districts’ actions are improving student performance. What is clear is that there will be a lot more schools in line for assistance than the board initially anticipated and that their numbers will stretch thin the $130 million per year in federal funding that’s been set aside for “comprehensive” assistance.
Sterling C. Lloyd and Alex Harwin, Education Week
The Education Week Research Center’s Chance-for-Success Index identifies strengths and weaknesses in each state’s education pipeline that—taken together—capture the many factors within and outside of the pre-K-12 education system that contribute to a person’s success throughout a lifetime. The Index is based on 13 distinct factors gauging education-related opportunities in three broad stages of a person’s life: early foundations, the school years, and adult outcomes. In the early-foundations category, the index measures factors that provide support to children as they prepare to enter the formal education system, including prekindergarten. These factors include family income, parental education levels, and parents’ English-language fluency. The metrics in the school years incorporate key markers of pre-K-12 participation and performance, ranging from preschool to postsecondary. Adult outcomes are evaluated based on educational attainment, income, and steady employment. These latest scores—updated with fresh data since the Quality Counts report issued in September—reflect the 2017 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, adjusted cohort graduation rates from 2015-16 published by the U.S. Department of Education, and the research center’s analysis of 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Mayowa Aina, KPCC
Public education has a persistent and well-documented issue: the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Researchers have studied disparities in areas such as test scores and discipline rates to identify ways to close the gap. But what if matching the race of a student and their teacher could contribute to a solution? A recent study — part of a series of working papers published by the National Bureau of Economic Research — shows that having just one black teacher not only lowers black students’ high school dropout rates and increases their desire to go to college, but also can make them more likely to enroll in college. According to the results, black students who have just one black teacher in elementary school are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college than their peers who didn’t have any black teachers. Students who have two black teachers are 32 percent more likely to go to college. It’s an update to a study NPR reported on in 2017 that found that black students who had just one black teacher could help them stay in school. With the addition of college enrollment data, the analysis shows that the impact of black teachers on black students reaches even further than researchers initially thought.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
A. Martinez and John Rogers, Take Two, KPCC
Prop 13 is the 1978 law that puts a limit on property taxes in California. It had a big impact on school budgets, and we unpack that history and how it relates to funding at LAUSD now.
Annie Waldman and Erica L. Green, The New York Times
A year and a half after receiving a detailed complaint from tribal leaders, the Education Department plans to investigate their accusations that the Wolf Point School District in Montana discriminates against Native American students. In a Dec. 28 letter, sent hours after The New York Times and ProPublica published an investigation into racial inequities in the district, the department’s Office for Civil Rights notified the lawyer representing the tribal executive board of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana that it would look into the complaint. The board includes members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. Native American and mixed-race students make up more than three-quarters of Wolf Point’s enrollment. According to the letter, the investigation will focus on whether Wolf Point schools discipline Native students more harshly than white students, shunt them into remedial programs without appropriate cause, and deny them special education evaluations and services. The department said it would also examine whether the district failed to respond to a parent’s accusations that a Native student was racially harassed. The student was not identified in the tribal complaint or in the letter.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Carol Burris, Network for Public Education
Texas has a problem. After years of inadequately and inequitably funding its public schools, the chickens have come home to roost. Texas now ranks 46th in the country in fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress reading proficiency, dropping from its previous dismal rank of 41 in 2015. For several years there has also been discontent around the college readiness of its high school students. The Texas decline should come as no surprise. For nearly a decade, the state has decreased its funding for schools, making an inequitable school funding system even more unequal. The rapid expansion of charter schools has further drained public schools of funds. Texas public schools have two revenue streams — the local property tax and state funding. State funding is supposed to make the system more equitable — closing the gap between districts that are property poor and property rich. Texas itself is not a poor state and yet state funding has steadily decreased.
Public Schools and Private $
Larry Buhl, Capitol & Main
A day after more than 30,000 teachers in the country’s second-largest school district went on strike, 80 teachers at three South Los Angeles charter schools coincidentally also walked out, marking only the second charter school teacher strike the nation has seen. Earlier this month 99 percent of the teachers at the three schools operated by The Accelerated Schools (TAS) voted to authorize a strike. Their demands, aside from a pay increase, have been different from those of other United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) teachers who walked off on Monday. TAS and UTLA had reached an agreement in March 2018 for an average salary increase of 17 percent for teachers working 195 days in the current school year. But sticking points remained, including binding arbitration to enforce the contract, “just cause” language to govern terminations or nonrenewals, so that teachers can’t be fired arbitrarily, and competitive health benefits. According to Hong Bui, UTLA’s Charter Representative, TAS management proposes to freeze the company contributions, so that any future increase in health-care premiums is borne by employees. Bui noted that binding arbitration and just cause are “enjoyed by 90 percent of unionized teachers in Los Angeles County.” “Most unionized charter schools have some due process and just cause, but TAS schools do not,” Bui said. “Without these protections, the employer can and has made life unbearable for those teachers who speak up.”
Jeremy Mohler, Medium
The phone rings and a cold, automated voice says your kid’s school is closed tomorrow. A sign hangs on the school’s door saying there are “repair issues.” That’s all parents of students at Florida’s Unity Charter School received. No word of the K-8 school closing for good. No mention that its building was just foreclosed on and will be auctioned off by the end of the year. Luckily, the local public school district is ready to help. “If Unity Charter School is foreclosed, we’re happy to welcome students into our classrooms,” says its superintendent. Turns out, it’s a common story. Students at charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are two and a half times more likely to have their school close than those at traditional, neighborhood schools. Between 2001 and 2013, nearly 2,500 charter schools closed nationwide, many because of low academic performance or because the private group in charge committed fraud or wasted public money.
Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
The founder of Los Angeles charter school network Celerity Educational Group has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds, federal prosecutors said Friday. The felony charge stems from Vielka McFarlane’s years-long habit of using her charter schools’ credit card to pay for expensive clothing, luxury hotel stays and first-class flights for her and her family. According to the plea agreement made public Friday, she admitted to misspending about $2.5 million in public funds — all of which had been intended for her students. This tally included taxpayer money meant for McFarlane’s California charter schools that she used to buy and renovate an office building in Columbus, Ohio, where she opened another charter school. At about $2.3 million, the purchase represented the bulk of the misspent funds, prosecutors said.
Other News of Note
Andrea Castillo, Los Angeles Times
The face of the LAUSD strike is Roxana Dueñas, a history and ethnic studies teacher at the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School Boyle Heights. Her image is featured in posters and on billboards.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rarely seen footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967.