Just News from Center X – January 19, 2024

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Supreme Court declines to weigh in on battle over bathrooms for transgender students

Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY

The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to decide whether schools can bar transgender students from using a bathroom that reflects their gender identity, leaving in place a lower court ruling that allowed a transgender middle school boy in Indiana to use the boys’ bathroom. “This is a step in the right direction in our ongoing fight to protect LGBTQ+ youth from anti-equality extremism,” the Human Rights Campaign said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The case arrived at the Supreme Court against the backdrop of a shifting legal landscape over transgender issues in schools, including disputes that have played out over sports teams and the use of pronouns by teachers. The decision to deny the case represented a victory for LGBTQ+ advocates, though the question probably will eventually return to the Supreme Court.

Massachusetts Teachers Are Continuing a Wildcat Strike Wave

Barbara Madeloni, Jacobin

A wildly successful, illegal three-day strike by the Andover Education Association (AEA) in November has reverberated statewide for educators in Massachusetts. The lowest-paid instructional assistants got a 60 percent wage jump immediately. Classroom aides on the higher end of the scale got a 37 percent increase. Members won paid family medical leave, an extra personal day, fewer staff meetings, and the extension of lunch and recess times for elementary students. Andover is twenty miles north of Boston, and the strike involved ten schools. For ten months and twenty-seven bargaining sessions, the Andover School Committee had insisted that none of these demands were possible. But by the end of the first day of the strike, they had ceded many items. By day three, they agreed to almost all of the union’s demands.

Iowa principal who risked his life to protect students during a high school shooting has died

Scott Mcfetridge and Trisha Ahmed, AP News

An Iowa principal who put himself in harm’s way to protect students during a school shooting earlier this month died Sunday, a funeral home confirmed. Caldwell Parrish Funeral Home & Crematory confirmed the death of Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger after the family announced it on a GoFundMe page. Marburger was critically injured during the Jan. 4 attack, which began in the school’s cafeteria as students were gathering for breakfast before class. An 11-year-old middle school student was killed in the shooting, and six other people were injured. The 17-year-old student who opened fire also died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. The day after the shooting, the state Department of Public Safety said Marburger “acted selflessly and placed himself in harm’s way in an apparent effort to protect his students.”

Language, Culture, and Power

How My Students and I Are Redefining the American Dream

Amanda Rosas, EdSurge

My grandparents were migrant farm workers, cherry pickers and hops harvesters. Though both were born in Texas, their Mexican identity and socioeconomic status determined their day-to-day lives, but not their future. I’ve come to realize there is an unspoken pride in our family that is rooted in the Latine experience of the American Dream. My grandparents knew education was the pathway out of low wages and difficult working conditions, hence why my grandfather decided to work as a janitor at a public school to land a steady job.

English Learners Need Equal Access to Rich Texts. How One School Makes That Happen

Sarah Schwartz, Education Week

As the coordinator for an English-learner program, Lisa Hoelmer walks a fine line. She knows that her EL students need extra support and specialized instruction to build their English-language skills. But she also wants them to have access to the same rich reading instruction—the high-quality texts, the in-depth conversations—that native English speakers at her school do. At Beacon College Preparatory Charter School, a K-4 school in Memphis, Tenn., Hoelmer is working on a way to blend those two priorities. Her school uses a co-teaching model for English/language arts.

‘I’m not safe here’: Schools ignore federal rules on restraint and seclusion

Fred Clasen-Kelly, NPR

Photos show blood splattered across a small bare-walled room in a North Carolina school where a second grader repeatedly punched himself in the face in the fall of 2019, according to the child’s mom. His mother, Michelle Staten, says her son, who has autism and other conditions, reacted as many children with disabilities would when he was confined to the seclusion room at Buckhorn Creek Elementary. “I still feel a lot of guilt about it as a parent,” says Staten, who sent the photos to the federal government in a 2022 complaint letter. “My child was traumatized.” Documents show that restraint and seclusion were part of the special education plan the Wake County Public School System designed for Staten’s son. Starting when he was in kindergarten in 2017, Staten says, her son was repeatedly restrained or forced to stay alone in a seclusion room.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

White House calls for focus on tutoring, summer school, absenteeism as pandemic aid winds down

Kalyn Belsha & Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Top White House officials are urging schools to double down on tutoring, extra learning time, and efforts to boost attendance as the spending deadline for pandemic aid nears. To help, federal officials say states can now seek permission for schools to spend the last and largest pot of COVID relief money on these kinds of efforts over the next two school years. Previously, schools had to spend down their money by January 2025. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced what the Biden administration is calling its Improving Student Achievement Agenda at a White House event Wednesday with governors and state education commissioners.

A New Federal Summer Food Program Targets Child Hunger. Why Are 15 States Opting Out?

Libby Stanford, Education Week

Nearly 21 million children will have access to federally funded grocery benefits this summer as part of a new program aimed at reducing childhood hunger when school is out. But the number of kids benefiting from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, program could be millions higher as 15 states have opted not to participate this year, some for political reasons as Republican governors decide against participating in a new federal benefits program. The program is modeled after Pandemic EBT, which helped families pay for meals using an EBT card loaded with benefits when schools were closed to in-person learning during the pandemic. The Summer EBT program, which will be permanent as the result of a government funding bill that passed Congress in December 2022, will provide $120 per student to families that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch to cover the costs of groceries during the summer months. The program has the potential to reduce the number of children experiencing very low food security by about one-third, according to the USDA.

Osage Nation approved for Summer EBT program

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton. Tulsa World

An additional Oklahoma tribe will be participating in a summer program targeting food insecurity among children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it had approved an application from the Osage Nation to administer the Summer Electronic Benefits Program. According to an announcement from the tribe, any student living in Osage County and eligible for free or reduced price school meals will be able to receive $40 per month on a pre-loaded card for June, July and August to help cover the cost of groceries. In the tribe’s announcement, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear specifically pointed to the decision by Gov. Kevin Stitt not to have the state participate as an impetus for the Osage Nation’s application.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

The Stress of Finding Child Care Is Hurting Parents’ Health

Molly Dickens and Lucy Hutner, New York Times

On a Saturday morning last May, Julia Sachdev, a mother of a 2-year-old and 4-year-old, woke up to an email from her children’s preschool. The school — which her children adored and had been in operation for over 50 years — announced that it would be closing in a month. In the following days, she and her husband scrambled to find an alternative that was a reasonable driving distance from their home. Most of the places they reached out to had long waiting lists. Some said their waiting lists were full. Some never even called them back. “It was so stressful,” reflected Ms. Sachdev. “There was this suffocating anxiety that ruled my day. I couldn’t concentrate on other things. It kept me up at night.”

A hopeful note for early childhood education in 2024 — Some states are stepping up investment

Ola J. Friday, Hechinger Report

Millions of families may now face a lack of child care following the recent expiration of pandemic-era federal funding. The child care “stabilization” funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act were just that — emergency funding to stabilize the sector amid a pandemic.

As vital as that funding was, it was insufficient to address the many systemic problems impacting early childhood education and its workforce, including inequitable wages. Wages for early childhood workers already lag far behind those of their K-8 colleagues who have similar credentials. These workers, disproportionately Black, Latina and indigenous, face poverty rates an average of 7.7 times higher than other teachers.

Higher Education in Political Crosshairs as 2024 Election Heats Up

Katherine Knott, Insider HigherEd

The fight for control of the White House and Congress in 2024 has already seen calls from candidates to fire “radical left” accreditors, end the tax-exempt status of elite universities and defund some colleges. It’s one sign among many that higher education policy, typically a back-burner issue in federal campaigns, could play an unusual role in this year’s elections.

Higher education has found itself increasingly in the headlines—and the political crosshairs—in recent years, as public confidence in the value of colleges and universities has plummeted. While younger progressives have agitated for student loan cancellation and boycotting Israel, Florida’s Republican governor, presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, who finished second in Monday’s Iowa presidential caucuses, has sought to significantly reform colleges and universities in his state to end the “woke activism” that plagues it in the view of the right.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Are preschools segregated by race and class?

Karen D’Souza, EdSource

An estimated two-thirds of American preschool programs may be segregated by race and class, a reality that contradicts the widely held belief that preschool may be the great equalizer, as EdSurge reports. Sociologist Casey Stockstill, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College, explored this finding in a new book, “False Starts: The Segregated Lives of Preschoolers,” taking readers inside two preschool classrooms and unpacking how race and class divide children in their earliest education experiences.

A Cambodian court convicts activists for teaching about class differences, suspends their jail terms

Sopheng Cheang, AP News

A court in Cambodia on Monday convicted four land rights activists of plotting to provoke a peasant revolution by teaching farmers about class divisions and gave them five-year suspended prison terms. The four — Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, and his colleagues Nhel Pheap, Than Hach and Chan Vibol — were arrested and charged in May last year by the Ratanakiri provincial court in northeastern Cambodia. They were charged with plotting against the state and incitement to commit a felony for allegedly teaching about the class differences between rich and poor. The arrests took place ahead of last July’s general election that critics said was manipulated to ensure the return to power of the governing Cambodian People’s Party of the then-Prime Minister Hun Sen, who led the country for 38 years with little tolerance for dissent.

Pennsylvania Needs to Spend $5.4B to Close Gap Between Rich and Poor Schools, Report Advanced by Dems Says

Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

Pennsylvania will need to spend at least $5.4 billion to close the gap between rich and poor school districts, according to a long-awaited report approved by a divided panel of policymakers Thursday, Jan. 11. The report was backed by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration and won near-unanimous support from legislative Democrats who served on the Basic Education Funding Commission. It recommended changing the formula Pennsylvania uses to fund public schools to reduce year-over-year fluctuations in poorer districts’ state funding while also calling for increased investments in school construction and an expansion of the education workforce.

Democracy and the Public Interest

The Conflict Over Parents’ Rights

Vivian E. Hamilton, NEPC

Parents of children in public schools have long sought control over curricular and other elements of their children’s educational experiences. As a result, several courts have determined the legal extent of their control. And those courts have largely rebuffed the parental Challenges. While the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution protects parents’ right to choose educational settings, allowing them to enroll children in religious or other private schools, it has never held that the Constitution gives parents the right to dictate public school curricula or demand individualized exemptions. Further, lower federal courts have consistently denied parents’ claims of greater control. In the overwhelming majority of cases, lower courts have rejected parents’ challenges to school curricula and policies, including religiously grounded challenges. Instead, they have reasoned that to give parents such broad authority would result in an unworkable burden on school systems. And, while many states have enacted policies that do allow parents to exempt their children from specific requirements such as health or sex education, courts have consistently found there is no constitutional entitlement to such exemptions.

Moms for Liberty activists starting taxpayer-funded charter school

Judd Legum And Rebecca Crosby, Popular Information

Activists from a South Carolina chapter of Moms for Liberty — a group best known for opposing LGBTQ rights, pushing for the removal of library books, and fighting racially inclusive curriculum — are starting their own public charter school. The new school, to be known as the Ashley River Classical Academy, will be fully taxpayer-funded, but is structured in a way that effectively avoids any state oversight or accountability. The school will use the 1776 Curriculum, created by Hillsdale College, a small right-wing institution with close ties to former president Donald Trump. Adam Laats, a historian at New York’s Binghamton University, described the 1776 Curriculum as “the red [MAGA] hat in textbook form.” Three of the seven board members for Ashley River Classical Academy are leaders in the Charleston Moms for Liberty chapter, including chair Tara Wood, treasurer Janine Nagrodsky, and education committee head Nicole McCarthy.

Older teens in Newark, N.J., will soon have a say in who runs their schools [AUDIO] 

Morning Edition, NPR

Anjali Krishnamurti, co-founder of VOTE16NJ, celebrates the historic decision to allow 16-year-olds in Newark the right to vote in school board elections.

Other News of Note

A Century of Fighting for Civil Liberties

Stephen Rohde, LA Review of Books

One hundred years ago, on January 19, 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union began its mission of forcing the government to live up to the 132-year-old Constitution. The organization grew out of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), which had been co-founded in 1917 by Crystal Eastman, an outspoken attorney, and Roger Nash Baldwin, a visionary social reformer. The purposes of the NCLB were to defend freedom of speech, primarily antiwar speech, and to support conscientious objectors who opposed the United States’s entry into World War I. The New York Times denigrated the NCLB as a “little group of malcontents,” which was simultaneously “troublesome” and an “unimportant and minute minority — noisy out of all proportion to their numbers.”

Monkey Trial: American Civil Liberties Union

American Experience, PBS

When the state of Tennessee passed a law making it a crime to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution in public schools, Roger Baldwin saw it as an opportunity. Baldwin was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, a fledgling organization devoted to individual rights. “In 1925 the ACLU consisted of a handful of individuals who would meet essentially in one room in New York,” says President Nadine Strossen. “And they were really doing something that had never been done in American history, which was suggesting that there should be individual rights that would be enforceable against government policies that were supported even by broad majorities of the American public.” “From the very beginning the ACLU advocated freedom of speech for ideas from the most extreme left such as anarchists and socialists, to the most extreme right including the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, and others who would now be considered more toward the Fascist end of the spectrum.”