Just News from Center X – January 8, 2021

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

‘So educators, I ask you in all sincerity: What are you teaching tomorrow?’

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

What will teachers say in the days following Wednesday’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Trump? Will they make it a teachable moment or stick to the curriculum?
Those questions were posed by various people— including Georgia educator Marian Dingle, who tweeted the quote I used in the headline— on Twitter. Here are some of the responses to her query as well as others. “So educators, I ask you in all sincerity: What are you teaching tomorrow? Will it enable your students to think critically or will it make them resent you years from now when they learn of the truth you *didn’t* (sic) tell?”

How Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona works with teachers

Rachel M. Cohen, American Prospect

Miguel Cardona, a former teacher, school administrator, and currently Connecticut’s education commissioner, was recently nominated to lead the federal Education Department. Cardona’s selection reflects a shift from those who spearheaded education policy under Joe Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. As president, Obama aligned himself with the pro-charter school PAC Democrats for Education Reform, which, as co-founder Whitney Tilson put it, was founded “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.” Obama tapped DFER’s top choice for education secretary— Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan— and for the next seven years Duncan pushed controversial reform policies, including charter school expansion, weakening teacher tenure, and tying teacher salaries to student test scores.

Newsom announces $450-per-student incentive to reopen schools

Ana B. Ibarra & Mikhail Zinshteyn, Cal Matters

After painting a dark forecast for the pandemic earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom today offered parents and students some hope: He has a $2-billion plan for schools to start in-person learning by spring. Newsom’s January budget will call for providing a one-time payment of $450 per student to school districts that offer in-person instruction to help cover their extra costs related to the virus. The phased-in approach would prioritize the state’s youngest learners, kindergarten to sixth grade, beginning in February, Newsom said. Distance learning will remain an option for families, he said. Schools serving low-income families, English learners and foster youth could qualify for more than $450 per student, according to the plan posted by the California Department of Public Health.

Language, Culture, and Power

What if remote learning slows them down?

Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, New York Times

Remote learning is difficult enough— now add a language barrier. Like so many other parents, Bianca Barragán of San Antonio has taken on an additional role during the pandemic: She is essentially a teacher for her children, 4-year-old Sofia and 6-year-old Santiago, who are enrolled in a bilingual program but studying from home. She and her husband, Gabriel Chavez, came to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and the family speaks Spanish at home. She is still learning English, as are her children, which makes remote learning more complicated. Midway through the school year, she worries about the extent to which her children may have fallen behind.

Stipends, jobs for student teachers needed to diversify California’s teaching force

Jarod Kawasaki, Ed Source

California requires 600 hours of student teaching, nearly double the requirement of other states. Student teachers are not paid and student teaching typically lasts for an entire academic year. Thus, most teacher candidates cannot work and student teach at the same time (or it is very difficult to do so). Taking a year off of work is a barrier for potential teachers, especially teachers of color, wanting to enter the teaching profession. Every person in California preparing to become a teacher needs a $20,000 stipend to offset tuition costs and living expenses to complete student teaching. Those training in such programs also would benefit from a job as a teaching assistant or substitute teacher in the public school district where they are completing their student teaching. This is essential to have teachers in the classroom who look like and understand the histories, knowledge and experiences of California’s public-school students.

Trump administration seeks to undo decades-long rules on discrimination

Laura Meckler and Devlin Barrett, Washington Post

The Trump administration is pushing in its final days to undo decades-long protections against discrimination, a last-ditch effort to accomplish a longtime goal of conservative legal activists.
The Justice Department is seeking to change interpretation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal funding. Under these rules, actions are considered discriminatory if they have a discriminatory effect, what’s known as a “disparate impact,” on protected groups. Under the new version, only intentional discrimination would be prohibited. The Trump administration has been considering this change for more than two years but waited until its final weeks to try to put it into effect. A notice about the change was filed for regulatory review at the White House last month and a copy of the proposal was shared with The Washington Post.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

Make schools more human

Jal Mehta, the New York Times

If a measure of a society is how well it takes care of its young, the past nine months are a damning indictment of our nation. Parents and teachers have been working overtime under impossible circumstances., and states have prioritized keeping gyms and restaurants open over keeping schools open. A result is that about 48 percent of all students are still in full-time virtual instruction (another 18 percent are in hybrid), according to Burbio, a company that tracks school calendars. These rates are higher among poor students and students of color. This is shameful— private schools holding classes under tents on spacious campuses while poor students are sitting outside McDonalds to get internet access. There is little doubt that going to school is, on average, better for students. They are frequently tuning out of virtual learning. In higher poverty communities, older students are working to help make ends meet or have simply disappeared from the school rolls. What parents have seen streamed into their living rooms often reflects uninspired curriculums and pedagogy. Students think much of what they are learning is irrelevant and disconnected from their identities and the world around them.

Open letter to the incoming Biden administration on Next Generation Community Schools

Rebecca Winthrop, Brookings Institute

We, the undersigned members of the Brookings Institution’s Task Force on Next Generation Community Schools, applaud President-elect Biden’s stated commitment to expanding community schools. We believe that with the right policy actions, this work could be scaled to a next generation of community schools, serving millions of students nationwide, which can address the impact of COVID-19 and combat educational inequity long term. In community schools, every family and community member is an asset that can be leveraged to build on students’ strengths so that every student can learn, thrive, and reach their full potential. The Community School Coordinator partners closely with the principal, school staff, students, and families, and plays a central role in harnessing community resources to support whole child development.

Why we need the arts and humanities to get us through the COVID-19 pandemic

David J. Skorton & Lisa Howley, USA Today

As the new year begins, science occupies center stage— as it did through most of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen to that. Research that once would have been confined to labs is now front-page news; the public hangs on the latest results of clinical trials and compares the efficacy rates of vaccines. The hope that many of us have begun to feel today— as extraordinarily effective and safe vaccines reach the front lines of this fight— underscores the importance of science. For 2021 to be brighter than last year, science and scientists must continue to play their indispensable roles, and must be taken seriously. Yet science in itself is insufficient to the task ahead. The continuing challenges posed by the virus go well beyond the answers that science can possibly provide.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Why California needs to ban preschool suspensions and expulsions, experts say

Karen D’Souza, Ed Source

Throwing a tantrum, crying inconsolably, hitting or biting, and refusing to follow the rules are challenging behaviors that many preschoolers experience on the playground and in the classroom. For many children, these tear-stained incidents are quickly forgiven and forgotten, dismissed by caregivers as yet another tumultuous developmental stage to be weathered. But for some youngsters, the incidents have repercussions that resonate throughout their childhood and beyond. That’s one of the reasons that California’s new Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, an ambitious 10-year plan to reform the state’s early childhood system, calls for prohibiting the suspension and expulsion of any child in state-subsidized early learning and care programs, so that children are not deprived of opportunities to learn at a critical stage in their growth. Such practices disproportionately impact children of color, particularly Black boys, experts say.

Congress lifts long-standing ban on Pell grants to people in prison

Andrea Cantora, The Conversation

When Congress decided in 1994 to ban federal student aid for people behind bars, it was part of a wider political agenda to “get tough on crime” – even though crime rates had begun to fall in the 1990s. The number of people behind bars grew, but, without access to federal student aid, higher education programs in America’s correctional facilities dwindled. On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress moved to lift the long-standing ban on federal student aid– specifically, the Pell grant– for those who are incarcerated. The decision comes after a long push for prison reforms that included calls for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, reducing prison populations and making prison sentences less harsh.

Facing a spike in Fs, winter break isn’t a vacation for many teachers and students

Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times

During her winter break, English teacher Keara Williams has hit the phone, making call after call determinedly trying to make contact with her students and their parents. She needs to reach 28 students, including 11 seniors, who received an “incomplete” grade at the end of the fall semester. She tells them they will fail her class if they don’t complete make-up work to raise their grade to at least a D by the end of January. There is still time to get the work done, do not give up, Williams says. And she lets them know that she is here for them— all winter vacation if that’s what it takes to avoid an F. She has reached 13 students and left messages and emails with the others. But when she last checked her computer, only one had signed in online to look at the make-up work. Williams, like so many teachers in the Los Angeles school district, is grappling with wrenching grading decisions amid the hardships of the raging pandemic that has shuttered campuses for nine months.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Closing doors: Race and opportunity in St. Louis schools

Colin Gordon, Dissent

In early December, the St. Louis Superintendent of Schools announced plans to permanently close six elementary schools, one middle school, and four high schools (one of which is becoming a middle school). Of the eleven schools on the chopping block, seven are north of the notorious “Delmar Divide”— a hard boundary between white and black St. Louis that has held fast since the first half of the twentieth century. African Americans make up just under half (46.4 percent) of the city’s population (based on the latest five-year American Community Survey), but they account for 91.4 percent of the population north of Delmar. Among the proposed closures is Sumner High School, which at its founding in 1875 was the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi. An outpouring of community disappointment and anger forced the St. Louis Board of Education to grant a stay of execution, bumping the vote on school closings to its next meeting on January 12. But the threat to public education in St. Louis— and especially north St. Louis— remains. Framed as a necessary response to the city’s longstanding loss of population, the school closings are just another marker of historical and systemic disinvestment in black St. Louis.

Republic of unequals

Angus Deaton, Prospect Magazine

In 2013, President Obama called inequality “the defining issue of our time,” and noted that “a few dozen individuals controlled as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.” The speech was notable because inequality per se had not previously been a particularly salient issue for most Americans, at least since the Gilded Age with its robber barons and gigantic industrial trusts. Until relatively recently, inequality was less discussed in the US than in other countries. The standard measures of income and wealth inequality— the Gini index, the Theil index, the Atkinson index, the Palma index— all bear the names of non-Americans. American interest, however, has certainly risen since Obama’s speech: Frenchman Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century crossed the Atlantic to top the US Amazon charts the year after, and prominent homegrown American economists including Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have made great waves writing about the issue. The new interest is not restricted to the bookstore— Senator Bernie Sanders, who at one point last year looked like Donald Trump’s most likely Democrat challenger— says he does not believe that billionaires should exist.

’32 years of progress…vanished in less than a year’: 5 ways the pandemic affected gender equity in 2020

Katica Roy, NBC News

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the notion of gender equity. Thirty-two years of progress toward gender equity in the labor markets and 22 years of progress toward gender pay equity have all but vanished in less than a year. As a breadwinner mom, CEO of a startup, and primary caregiver of my terminally-ill mom, I know first-hand the hardships women are facing right now— whether it be as caretakers burning both ends of the stick, as entrepreneurs looking to raise capital, or as mothers navigating a workplace that does not value them equitably. While the pandemic turned up the intensity of gender and racial inequity, this grim situation doesn’t have to become our nation’s economic future. It starts with understanding the data behind how the pandemic influenced racial and gender equity. Because by understanding the data of where we are now, we can establish a trajectory toward where we want to be in the future.

Democracy and the Public Interest

Teachers of color more likely than white peers to tackle ‘controversial’ civics topics

Sarah Schwartz, Education Week

Irene Sanchez knows that her social studies class might introduce civic ideas that her high schoolers haven’t ever studied before. Sanchez, a Latino studies teacher in the Azusa Unified school district in California, discusses local laws with her students, with an emphasis on how they affect different Latino groups in the area. She shows students what their state looked like before colonization and modern-day borders and emphasizes that Los Angeles county is part of a global community. “Because so much of our history and our culture has been excluded from the mainstream U.S. society and made our communities feel excluded, it’s kind of like our class has to cover those gaps,” said Sanchez, who is Chicana. “It’s my responsibility to show my students how they can also participate and have a capacity to make change.” The key to getting them involved in civic life, she said, is having them see themselves in it.

Activists question whether wealthy universities should be exempt from property taxes

Molly Stellino, Hechinger Report

When the University of Pennsylvania said it would pay $10 million a year for 10 years to address environmental hazards in Philadelphia’s public schools, Gerald Campano’s reaction was complicated. “Of course it’s important that Penn at least recognizes the profound challenges that the School District of Philadelphia faces with things like lead poisoning and asbestos,” Campano, a professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, said. “But charity is not the same as social and racial justice.” For years, students, faculty members, teachers and activists have been urging the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, to pay PILOTS, or payments in lieu of taxes, in support of the city’s schools, as many other universities do. And last month, the university announced that it would make such a payment, contributing $100 million to environmental remediation in the schools over the next decade. “I wanted to do something that was citywide,” Amy Gutmann, the university’s president, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I wanted to do something that would have an immediate impact in these tough times.”

Trump opens up federal dollars for private school vouchers amid pandemic

Michael Stratford, Politico

President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order allowing states to use their share of money from a federal anti-poverty program to provide vouchers to help “disadvantaged families” pay for private school tuition, homeschooling or other educational expenses during the pandemic. The move comes after the $900 billion coronavirus relief deal, H.R. 133 (116), that Trump signed on Sunday excluded many of the school choice provisions that his administration and GOP lawmakers had sought to include in that sweeping legislation.The White House said that the order would give states new flexibility in how they use federal block grant programs that provide money for a wide range of community services designed to alleviate poverty and help low-income Americans. It will “provide certain disadvantaged children with emergency K-12 scholarships to access in-person learning opportunities,” the administration said. The order opens up federal money provided to states under the Community Services Block Grant program— a roughly $700 million-a-year program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services— to pay for “private school tuition, home schooling, micro schooling, learning-pod expenses, special education services, or tutoring.”

Other News of Note

Rose Ochi, trailblazer for civil rights and Japanese American causes, dies at 81

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

Rose Matsui Ochi, a trailblazing Los Angeles attorney who tapped far-flung political networks from City Hall to Congress in her fierce advocacy of civil rights, criminal justice reform and Japanese American causes, has died at 81. Ochi died Dec. 13 at a local hospital after being diagnosed with a second bout of COVID-19, which exacerbated existing health problems, her husband, Thomas Ochi, said. Ochi broke barriers as the first Asian American woman to serve as a Los Angeles Police Commission member and as an assistant U.S. attorney general. She advised L.A. Mayors Tom Bradley and James Hahn on criminal justice, served on President Carter’s Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy and worked with President Clinton on drug policy and race relations. But she particularly cherished her contributions to the successful campaigns to win recognition and redress for the mass incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II— including her and her family, who were uprooted from their Boyle Heights home and imprisoned at the Rohwer detention camp in Arkansas after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

We Are the ‘Exonerated 5.’ What Happened to Us Isn’t Past, It’s Present

Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, New York Times

On Dec. 19, 2002, a judge vacated our convictions for the brutal attack on Trisha Meili, who many know as the “Central Park jogger.” On that day, our 13-year fight for justice came to an end. The lies that we were told by detectives to wrongly convict us were finally exposed and ceased to hold power over us. Now, we are fighting to prevent others from facing the same fate.
At the time of our arrests in 1989, we were just boys— Kevin and Raymond, the youngest among us, were only 14— and we came to be known as the “Central Park Five.” Now we are known as the “Exonerated Five,” and, largely because of Ava DuVernay’s series “When They See Us,” the world knows our stories.But what people may not realize is that what happened to us isn’t just the past— it’s the present. The methods that the police used to coerce us, five terrified young boys, into falsely confessing are still commonly used today. But in its coming session, New York State legislators have the power to change that. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit. But when you’re in that interrogation room, everything changes. During the hours of relentless questioning that we each endured, detectives lied to us repeatedly. They said they had matched our fingerprints to crime scene evidence and told each of us that the others had confessed and implicated us in the attack. They said that if we just admitted to participating in the attack, we could go home. All of these were blatant lies.