Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times
Open schools. Close indoor dining. When to keep schools open, and how to do so, has been an issue plaguing the response by the United States to the pandemic since its beginning. President Biden vowed to “teach our children in safe schools” in his inaugural address. On Tuesday, federal health officials weighed in with a call for returning children to the nation’s classrooms as soon as possible, saying the “preponderance of available evidence” indicates that in-person instruction can be carried out safely as long as mask-wearing and social distancing are maintained. But local officials also must be willing to impose limits on other settings — like indoor dining, bars or poorly ventilated gyms — in order to keep infection rates low in the community at large, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in the journal JAMA and in a follow-up interview. School administrators must limit risky activities such as indoor sports, they added. “It’s not going to be safe to have a pizza party with a group of students,” Margaret Honein, a member of the C.D.C.’s Covid-19 emergency response team and the first author of the article, said in an interview. “But outdoor cross-country, where distance can be maintained, might be fine to continue.” Federal officials cited the many benefits of in-person schooling for children, and argued for prioritizing their educational, developmental and emotional and mental health needs. “Schools are an important source not just of education, but health and social services for children,” Dr. Honein said.
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
President Biden made it clear Monday that he is not blaming teachers and their unions for schools remaining closed during the coronavirus pandemic, telling reporters at the White House that reopening is “complicated” and that all the teachers he knows want to get back to their classrooms. At a time when the Chicago Teachers Union is refusing an order by district and city officials for educators to return to their classrooms, Biden said that districts should prioritize fixing ventilation systems, securing sufficient personal protective equipment and establishing coronavirus testing systems. Chicago schools officials have said they have spent millions of dollars doing so, but the union has countered that those efforts have not been nearly enough to make schools safe. Asked by one reporter how the president defines his message of “unity,” Biden talked about Americans coming together to solve problems, including reopening schools. He said people know “we have to do something about figuring out how to get children back in school,” and he rejected blaming teachers and their unions. “If you are anti-union, you can say it is all because of teachers,” said Biden, who has long identified as a friend of labor. “If you want to make a case, though, [that] it is complicated, you say, what do you have to do to make it safe to get kids in schools?”
Chris McNutt, The Progressive
The year 2020 was undoubtedly one of the worst for public education. As a high school public school teacher, I saw firsthand how teachers went from being recognized as heroes to being demonized employees facing a crisis of safety. Our students feel marginalized and distrusted by increasing calls for accountability through panopticon-level surveillance systems and “catch up” virtual curriculums. Meanwhile, government officials are calling for decreased funding and “school choice,” often targeting “radical” teachers unions in the guise of “America First” cultural rhetoric. At the beginning of the pandemic, educators believed we could reimagine the system, that there would be space to try something new. But much of that didn’t happen. Most schools doubled down on traditional practices and some even went to lengths to institute more draconian measures. Blow after blow, one report found, has led to 27 percent of teachers contemplating quitting this year. The pandemic has demonstrated that equitable practice in our classrooms is vitally important— not just because the chaos has led to inequitable practices, but because it highlighted the deep inequalities that already existed.
Language, Culture, and Power
Zaidee Stavely, Ed Source
Hazel Piñon, an immigrant who moved to the Bay Area from the Philippines as a child, was 20 when she found out she may have qualified for a visa as a teenager that would have given her a path to permanent U.S. residency. By the time she found out, it was too late to apply. Schools don’t track the immigration status of students, but an estimated 145,000 students ages 3-17 enrolled in California’s schools are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Some advocates now recommend schools to partner with legal aid organizations to provide consultations, since they are trusted places and sources of information for many immigrant families. Many of these students, they say, could benefit from meeting with attorneys or legal aid organizations before they turn 18 to help them identify options for legal residency for which they might be eligible. Piñon came to the San Francisco Bay Area on a tourist visa when she was 11 to join her mother, who was already here. When her visa expired, Piñon stayed. She does not qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) because she came to the U.S. after the 2007 deadline for arrival.
Young Whan Choi, The Young and the Woke
This is a special episode on indigenous ways of knowing and how we can awaken to the wisdom of indigenous communities. I was lucky to catch up with my friend and colleague Shane Safir as she interviewed Denise Augustine, an indigenous leader and educator from British Columbia. Check out this episode to learn about how indigenous ways of knowing can help us heal our relationship with one another and to the land we live on.
Neal Gong & Heath Pearson, The Atlantic
In response to law enforcement’s hands-off approach to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, some on the left have demanded harsher policing of right-wing extremism to match the often-brutal treatment of Black Lives Matter and leftist protest. That is, the very people who supported police reform or outright defunding over the summer seemed to want a crackdown. Skeptics of defunding were quick to point out the apparent contradiction, and they took the opportunity to dismiss the abolitionist position altogether. As the writer Matthew Yglesias mockingly tweeted, “Clearly the answer to yesterday’s failures is to defund the Capitol Police and instead hire a squad of social service providers to tackle the real root causes of the violence.”
But what Yglesias finds absurd, we find imperative. Thinking in terms of root causes and nonpunitive interventions is never ridiculous, even when the target is right-wing extremism.
As a sociologist and an anthropologist who study social control in the United States, we know that punishment can radicalize and further alienate people, while social policy and grassroots community building can defuse potential violence. The abolitionist philosophy is precisely what is missing from the current conversation.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Ricardo Cano, Cal Matters
California’s K-12 public-school enrollment has precipitously declined during the pandemic, dropping by a record 155,000 students, according to new state projections. That drop-off is about five times greater than California’s annual rate of enrollment decline in recent years. The state, which boasts the largest student enrollment in the country, has seen a steady decline of between 20,000 and 30,000 students in its public schools in the two years prior partly due to declining birth rates, and the state had predicted a similar rate of decline to continue. Absent more granular data, it is difficult to determine which grade levels, student groups and school districts have been most affected by the enrollment declines, and what the potential long-term impacts would be. The California Department of Education plans to publish more detailed enrollment data later this spring. But the large drop in students nonetheless illustrates how the pandemic has upended California’s public school system of more than 1,000 school districts and its 6 million students. Education advocates say the enrollment drop is likely due to various factors, such as families withholding enrolling their children in kindergarten to a higher-than-usual rate of student dropouts.
Lauren Barack, Education Dive
Peter Siegel believes building connections among students is crucial to fostering engaged learning, and arts and music classes can be at the forefront of supporting these bonds, the music teacher at Symonds Elementary School in Keene, New Hampshire, writes for Edutopia.
Singing songs together as a class— or even as an entire school— through Zoom or other videoconferencing (sic) tools, is one way to build community, Siegel writes. Educators can also encourage students to compose songs, record a dance routine, or film themselves performing and then share these videos with peers. All-school song books are also a great resource that ensures all students can participate in virtual singalongs. And an art project can help connect students with their physical schools, such as painting rocks that one day can be placed in a school garden. In these ways, art can support connection and community even through remote learning. Maintaining a sense of school community has been difficult this school year with some students learning remotely and others coming to class, many with staggered or hybrid schedules. Educators can, however, support school community, even through virtual learning by tapping into arts programming. While schools may be making difficult choices this year on where to place resources, arts programming can help to keep students engaged in school, notes Edutopia. And there are myriad ways to bring these classes to K-12 learners, even if they can’t have access to a campus-based art studio.
Jacey De La Torre, Chalkbeat
As a phone line bridged the miles between a former colleague and me, I mentioned to him that I was living temporarily in Iowa. “Are you at Iowa City?” he asked, a polite way of inquiring whether I was at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. “No, no,” I said with a laugh, “south central. My girlfriend grew up here.” “I figured it would either be language or love that brought you to Iowa,” he replied. It was love. Melissa and I have been together for almost two years, and she and I planned to divide our gap year before law school and graduate school, respectively, between our hometowns— hers in the rural Midwest, and mine in California’s industrial East Bay. While in Iowa, I planned to substitute teach. I’m earning my credential to teach secondary English in California. I’d worked at preschools and summer camps in my ethnically and socioeconomically diverse hometown. In Oregon, where I went to college, I’d also worked at a middle school after-school program that enrolled mostly low-income Black and Latinx students. Now I’d be working with predominantly white and rural schoolchildren halfway across the country.
Access, Assessment, Advancement
Building for (political) resilience: “Free community college” needs to be able to survive the next election, and the one after that.
Matt Reed, Inside HigherEd
There’s an old joke about a journalist interviewing a wise old economist. Journalist: What do you think will happen with interest rates in the future? Economist: I believe they will…(dramatic pause)…fluctuate. The same applies to politics. Party control shifts over time. That should be particularly obvious now, with the Democrats holding such a thin majority in the Senate. Historically, the party that holds the Presidency tends to lose seats in midterm elections; that means the Biden administration has less than two years to do its most meaningful work. After that, it’s likely to lose even the bare majority it has now. That’s not an iron law, but it’s a good bet. I’m sure the administration is aware of the historical pattern of midterm elections. I’m less sure that it has thought through the implications of that pattern for policy resilience.Policy by executive order is probably the most obvious example of non-resilience; as we’ve seen in the last week, a new President can simply repeal previous executive orders. But the need for resilience applies to legislation, too. Policies that fly in the face of deeply held cultural attitudes are hard to sustain over time; sooner or later, some populist will caricature them in ways that lead to their demise.“Free community college,” for instance, could go either way. It’s hard to enact at the Federal level, given that community colleges’ sources of operating funding vary so much from state to state. In some states, the state provides an annual appropriation. In some states, counties or local service districts do, too.
Laura Hill, Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia, Niu Gao, Jacob Jackson & Julien LaFortune, Public Policy Institute of California
California has begun moving toward a “cradle to career” approach that connects early childhood, K–12, and higher education more closely. But Covid-19 has disrupted learning, funding, and progress toward improving student outcomes and has exacerbated racial and economic equity gaps. A majority of the 6 million students educated in California’s public schools are “high need”— low-income, English Learner (EL), homeless, or foster youth. More than half come from low-income households and 19% are English Learners, compared to 8% nationwide. Over the past decade, California has adopted several reforms aimed at improving K–12 outcomes and narrowing equity gaps— including a new school funding formula, new statewide standards in math, English, and science, and a revamped assessment system. In addition, the state released a new master plan for early education and child care in 2020. Covid-19 has disrupted many of
these reforms. California ranks 4th nationwide in the share of recent high school graduates who enroll in community colleges and 41st in the share who start at four-year schools. But most California students do not stay on the pathway to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Mikhail Zinshteyn, Cal Matters
California State University students will not see their tuition rise for the upcoming 2021-22 academic year, promising rare good news for the system’s nearly 500,000 students battered by a year like no other. “I want to make sure all of our students hear that, and all the students that are thinking about the CSU hear that: No increase in tuition for 2021-22,” said new Chancellor Joseph Castro during the bimonthly CSU Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday afternoon. It’s the first time the CSU has committed itself to such a goal for 2021-22, continuing a decade-long trend in which the system raised tuition only once, most recently a $270 hike in 2017-18. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January budget proposal includes a 3% increase in ongoing funding to the CSU, but with conditions, including keeping tuition flat. The proposed increase— about $145 million— is still about half of the amount that state lawmakers and the governor lopped off from the CSU in the current state budget they approved last year. Though CSU’s finances took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal aid partially shored up CSU losses. The system reported losses and increased costs of more than $758 million in Spring and Fall 2020. Federal relief, known as the CARES Act, sent the system $262 million and an equal amount to its students for emergency aid. The most recent federal relief package is expected to mete out even more aid to the system, about $854 million, according to a CalMatters review of federal data. At least $262 million of that is supposed to go to students as emergency aid grants.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
President Biden’s economic relief package could cut childhood poverty in half— but it’s only temporary
Alfred Lubrano, Philadelphia Inquirer
President Joe Biden has announced a lofty goal in the opening days of his administration: Cut the rate of childhood poverty in half. His proposed policies would slash what’s known as the supplemental poverty rate of all U.S. children from 14% to about 8%, according to analysts at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. (Considered more accurate than the official U.S. poverty rate, the supplemental rate takes into account the benefits a family receives, such as food stamps, as well as a family’s expenses such as health care.) In Pennsylvania, the rate would drop from nearly 14% to about 8%; in New Jersey, it would fall from a little more than 14% to almost 10%, according to Columbia figures. Far-reaching and broadly divergent from Trump administration policies, Biden’s proposals would increase benefits for food stamps and school meals programs, and offer cash to strapped families, among other recommendations. As sweeping as the Biden vision is, it’s viewed as a stopgap measure meant to help Americans through the economic ravages of the pandemic. But some antipoverty advocates are hopeful that the ideas— along with the money to fund them— will last into the future. “This is the most aggressive proposal by an American president on behalf of families in poverty in decades,” said Luke Shaefer, a professor of public policy and poverty expert at the University of Michigan. “It could be a turning point.”
Shawna De La Rosa, Education Dive
A study on the extent of pandemic-induced learning loss in 18 California districts reveals younger, lower-income students and English learners were the hardest hit by school closures last spring. The research from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) shows significant learning losses in English language arts and math overall. Researchers compared 2019 and 2020 test scores from 50,000 students in grades 4 through 10, looking at typical gains from one year to the next, and finding that low-income 4th- and 8th-grade students declined 7% in the usual rate of learning. With their wealthier peers showing a 5% increase in growth compared to the usual rate, the data amounts to a 12% learning gap. On the 5th-grade MAP English language arts test, ELL students’ academic growth was 30% less than it would be in a typical year. Non-English learners’ loss was only 10% lower than average, which makes for a 20% learning gap. The data from PACE, a nonpartisan university-based research organization, reflect what was long expected: Spring school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic would result in significant learning loss, which has come to be known as the “COVID slide.” It was previously expected the school closures would cause two to four months of learning loss, especially in math and reading. Data from NWEA, for instance, indicated students would return in the fall with about 70% of typical learning gains in reading and less than 50% of typical learning gains in math.
Michael Feuer, Science
Will the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—a transition made “orderly” with barbed wire, National Guard soldiers, and the closure of downtown Washington, D.C.—be remembered as an inflection point? After 4 years of boorish incivility, incendiary nativist extremism, a crippling pandemic, resurgent racism, and riotous mobs incited to attack the Capitol, can the United States rebuild its civic and moral infrastructure? To repair the damage and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders requires a new spirit of cooperation between the science and civics education communities. About 30 years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) recommended major overhauls of science education. The drive for reform confronted partisan conflicts along the way, but the good news is that more students today benefit from stimulating instruction in many subjects. Now the country must sustain this momentum for progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) while heeding the call for more attention to civics, the humanities, and the foundations of democratic pluralism.
Democracy and the Public Interest
Youth electoral participation in 2020 was high and could be even higher if we support young people, who have varied priorities for the new administration.
Young people made their mark on the 2020 presidential election with a likely historic level of youth voter turnout and impact on key races that helped decide the outcome. According to an exclusive new post-election survey from CIRCLE, far from being satisfied with the election results and content with having done their part, the new data being released today reveals that young people remain interested in engaging in civic life and are poised to continue pushing for political and social change.
Mark Walsh, Education Week
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up appeals from teachers and other public employees who do not belong to their unions and sought to pursue refunds for years of collective bargaining fees after the high court’s landmark 2018 decision barring the collection of such fees. The court’s actions, while not a ruling on the merits of the cases, was a practical victory for the teachers’ unions and other public-employee labor organizations, who faced millions of dollars in financial liabilities if the objecting employees’ claims were revived. The cases have been pursued with the backing of some of the same union opponents who were involved in the case that led to the court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. In that 5-4 decision, the justices overruled a 1977 precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that had authorized the collection of agency fees from public employees who refuse to join their union. The Janus case involved an employee of a state agency, but the majority discussed at length its view that collective bargaining in education was a matter of public concern. Objecting employees could not be compelled under the First Amendment to help fund, through their collective-bargaining fees, union speech with which they disagreed, the court said.
Aaron Karp, Boston Review
In recent months numerous claims have been made for the power of COVID-19 to upend politics as usual. Many have argued that the pandemic has exposed the deep failures and inequities of decades of neoliberal governance. It has shown that the federal government can create trillions of dollars to meet pressing needs, that predictions of catastrophe over deficit spending largely amount to fear mongering, and that the state has an essential role to play in safeguarding the welfare of the people. If these pivotal insights become widely accepted, we will be better poised than ever to undertake the societal mobilization envisioned by a Green New Deal and address the existential threat of climate change. But that’s a big if. Though our experience with the pandemic offers crucial lessons, crises don’t necessarily trigger a shift in public consciousness. Worldviews could remain fixed, or new political perspectives could be short-lived. And people can draw different conclusions that reinforce the status quo rather than challenge it. In short, while a progressive transformation of society may seem more conceivable now than at any time in the last decade, we should not assume it is inevitable. On the contrary, fundamental change relies on the persistent effort of social movements to widely communicate vital lessons, to forge a new and enduring political common sense, and to translate it into transformative policies. To lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal, the climate movement must recognize that mass education is one of its core responsibilities.
Other News of Note
Jeanne Theoharis, Black Perspectives
I found myself thinking about Julian Bond when the news broke that Georgia had elected its first Black senator, Reverend Raphael Warnock. What a triumph of long-term organizing, of tilling the soil, for this to happen. In many ways, the path Warnock rode to the Senate began in 1965 when SNCC co-founder Julian Bond mobilized the power of the Black vote to successfully win a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Bond’s colleagues refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He fought them to the Supreme Court and won, and on January 9, 1967, Julian Bond was sworn in. Warnock and Ossoff’s victories led to a massive outpouring of praise for the leadership of Stacey Abrams and the memory of John Lewis. As visionary as Stacey Abrams is, as courageous as John Lewis was, our desire for charismatic heroes misses how this sort of change happens—as Abrams herself has made clear and Bond would have reminded us. I had the great fortune of taking a class on the Southern civil rights movement with Julian Bond as an undergraduate and then serving as his teaching assistant a few years later. Part of the goal of the class was to disrupt the stultifying, politically convenient myths—the master narrative—that had grown around the movement. That narrative, he quipped, reduced the movement to “Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, then the white folks saw the light and saved the day.” In this master narrative, charismatic leaders are the key, injustice is obvious, decent people took action, and the good guys triumphed.