Just News from Center X – June 1, 2018

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Revolutionary healing, revolutionary learning

John McDonald, Ampersand
“All this talk that we don’t deserve to be here, that we are not worthy, that is not true,” community activist Claudia Rueda told the crowd gathered in East Los Angeles. “So many generations have fought for you to be here. We are worthy, we are important! “They want us to be quiet, they want us to not be present. But we have to fight against that, we don’t have to let them win.” Rueda was talking to students, teachers and community members who had come to the old auditorium at Roosevelt High School in East LA to honor the activist who led the 1968 school walkouts in East Los Angeles. Aged but still activists, some shouting to the chant of “Chicano Power” one by one they came to the stage, the cheers of the crowd welling up around them, celebrating their commitment and their continuing quest for quality education and social justice.

Fueled by unlimited donations, independent groups play their biggest role yet in a California primary for governor

Seema Mehta and Ryan Menezes, Los Angeles Times
An unprecedented amount of money from wealthy donors, unions and corporations is flowing into the California governor’s race, giving independent groups — unrestricted by contribution limits — a greater say in picking the state’s chief executive than ever before. The groups have already spent more than $26 million through Thursday, the most ever spent by noncandidate committees in a gubernatorial primary, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance reports. “California elections have always been expensive, and the future is even more expensive,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former state Republican leader. “The stakes are very real.” To be sure, California has seen high-spending elections before. GOP nominee Meg Whitman shattered records when she spent $178.5 million on an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2010, including $144 million of her own money. Ballot measures routinely see tens of millions of dollars in spending. But spending by outside groups — which legally cannot coordinate with a candidate but can accept unlimited donations — has been steadily climbing in recent years.

Education won’t solve inequality. Not without workers’ power too.

Kate Bahn, Slate
As labor rights advocates anxiously await Supreme Court judgment in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31—which would bar unions from automatically deducting dues for “fair share” fees and drastically reduce the ability of unions to support their efforts—just last week, on May 21, the Supreme Court unveiled a decision that bans class-action lawsuits for violations. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the dissenters in last week’s case, argued that the result will be a continued underenforcement of the very laws that are meant to help workers. Unions have been a critical aspect of upward mobility and building an American middle class, making blue-collar jobs well-paying, with good benefits and sufficient time off. But lax enforcement of labor laws and a hostile business environment have made it difficult for unions to maintain their membership and keep up with the changing structure of the labor market. None of this has stopped a swelling of actions by workers in recent months. Highly visible labor actions, particularly by public school teachers, have been taking place across the United States in the early part of 2018. Remarkably, many of these teachers’ strikes have been in so-called right-to-work states, where the legal framework makes it difficult for unions to collect membership dues in order to support organizing efforts. Among the teachers’ demands is, of course, pay increases to address long-term wage stagnation and improved funding for schools. But, more broadly, these actions have demonstrated the social-justice roots of the labor movement: In addressing economic inequality, the direct impact of wage stagnation for teachers, and how the underfunding of public education affects future generations, it’s clear how union organizing attempts to intervene in inequality.

Language, Culture, and Power

At L.A.’s only school for the deaf, parents want leaders who speak the same language

Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
Ever since her son was 6 months old, Juliet Hidalgo has been bringing him to the Marlton School, a low-slung building in Baldwin Hills that for generations has been a second home for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Los Angeles. Marlton staff taught Hidalgo’s brother and sister, both of whom are deaf. The school was where her deaf son learned to make the signs for “milk” and “food.” Hidalgo had planned to enroll her daughter, taking advantage of a popular program that allows hearing children to learn American Sign Language alongside their deaf siblings. But after more than a decade of involvement, she and other family members are considering withdrawing their children. They are not alone. Anger over the school’s administration has sparked a revolt led by parents, alumni and advocacy groups who believe the school is in crisis. They point to high turnover, cuts to extracurricular programs and sports — and the absence of high-level staff fluent in ASL. Earlier this month, dozens gathered outside of Marlton to demand the resignation of the current principal, Lisa DeRoss, saying she is not qualified to lead the school because she does not know ASL. They held posters that read, “Deaf Principal Now!” and “Take Back Deaf Education.” The protest was the latest and most visible chapter in an ongoing conflict between the school district and L.A.’s deaf community.

How three generations of Alaska Natives struggled with cultural education

Rebecca Hersher, KTOO
On Aug. 24, 1952, the Silook and Oozevaseuk families of Gambell, Alaska, welcomed a baby girl into the world and introduced her to the island that had been their home for centuries.
Gambell is at the western edge of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. When the weather is clear, you can see Siberia in the distance. Baby Constance was born into a culture that was rich and well-adapted to the exceptionally harsh environment. Her ancestors had passed down skills for surviving — ways of reading the ice to know when walruses, seals and whales could be caught and methods of fishing in the cold water. Families worked together; subsistence hunting does not favor the greedy. Most people spoke the Alaska Native language, Yupik, with Russian and English words mixed in. That is the language Constance’s mother, Estelle, taught her daughter. But things were changing. Earlier in the century, missionaries had made it to the island, and World War II had brought soldiers to a base near the village. The distance between the people of Gambell and the federal government was diminishing, and as it did, a wave of cultural destruction that had already torn through American Indian communities across the U.S. and mainland Alaska was bearing down on the community. It would hit Gambell’s children the hardest.

HRC asks Betsy DeVos “How do you sleep at night?” with projected video message

Samantha Manzella, New Now Next
When it comes to the safety of queer youth in American public schools, HRC isn’t wasting any time: The LGBT nonprofit projected a brutally honest video message on the facade of the Department of Education’s building in Washington, D.C. The organization teamed up with artist Robin Bell to design a video explaining how the Trump administration is harming America’s LGBT youth. Last night, HRC took to the streets, projecting the video prominently on the Education Department’s headquarters—and live-streaming the display on Facebook. Bell’s projection, which cited data from a new survey that found some 95% of LGBT American youth have trouble sleeping at night, posed a question to conservative Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: “How do you sleep at night when only 26% of LGBTQ youth always feel safe in class?” The same survey found that just 5% of LGBT youth felt supported by all of the faculty and staff at their schools.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

What’s going on in your child’s brain when you read them a story?

Anya Kamenetz, NPR
“I want The Three Bears!” These days parents, caregivers and teachers have lots of options when it comes to fulfilling that request. You can read a picture book, put on a cartoon, play an audiobook, or even ask Alexa. A newly published study gives some insight into what may be happening inside young children’s brains in each of those situations. And, says lead author Dr. John Hutton, there is an apparent “Goldilocks effect” — some kinds of storytelling may be “too cold” for children, while others are “too hot.” And, of course, some are “just right.” Hutton is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a special interest in “emergent literacy” — the process of learning to read. For the study, 27 children around age 4 went into an FMRI machine. They were presented with stories in three conditions: audio only; the illustrated pages of a storybook with an audio voiceover; and an animated cartoon. All three versions came from the Web site of Canadian author Robert Munsch. While the children paid attention to the stories, the MRI, the machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity between the networks. “We went into it with an idea in mind of what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story,” Hutton explains. One was language. One was visual perception. The third is called visual imagery. The fourth was the default mode network, which Hutton calls, “the seat of the soul, internal reflection — how something matters to you.”

Are American kids happy in school? New data tells a surprising story.

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Sarah Lubienski, Indiana University
The achievement results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released in April, received much attention. However, a lesser-known aspect of NAEP is its survey of students’ experiences and attitudes, including two new questions about students’ happiness and sense of belonging at school. Although such aspects are not often the focus of NAEP analyses, they merit attention. And they are underscored by a recent study in Pediatrics journal indicating a major rise in children’s hospitalization related to suicide, with incidents most likely to occur during school months, and with increases larger for girls than for boys. With its large, nationally representative samples, the latest NAEP survey results can help us take stock of U.S. students’ sense of well-being in school. The 2017 NAEP contained separate math and reading samples, but for simplicity, here I focus on data from the nearly 300,000 fourth- and eighth-graders who took the mathematics assessment.

Passing the marshmallow test may be more about smarts than self-control, study says

Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week
The historic “marshmallow test” has tied young children’s ability to delay gratification to their long-term success, but a new, larger study replicating the famous study puts those long-term results in doubt. Using a significantly larger and more diverse group of children than the original study, researchers from New York University and the University of California, Irvine, compared 4-year-olds’ ability to delay gratification to their academic and behavioral progress in 1st grade and at age 15. They found, in a study in the journal Psychological Science, children’s early ability to delay gratification was linked to their later academic achievement, but not to later behavior, impulsivity, or attention control. In the wake of Walter Mischel’s original findings in 1990, schools across the country have sought to use the experiments to teach students about the importance of delayed gratification to self-control and self-regulation—some even going so far as to have older students try out the experiment themselves. (The original study found the ability to delay gratification increases naturally as children age.) “As people have become interested in the marshmallow experiments again over the last 15 years, they say, do these findings mean that we should think about programs that can promote the ability to delay gratification in younger kids?” said Tyler Watts, the lead author of the replication study and a research assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. “You may expect, based on the older studies, that there would be this cascade of benefits that would be unlocked by raising the ability to delay gratification early in life. And I think our findings probably pour some cold water on that.”

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

California governor’s race: Dems agree on child care, higher spending; differ on districts rejecting charters based on financial impact

Nico Savidge, EdSource
The Democratic candidates for governor agree that California must increase education spending and expand access to child care. But the four candidates differ on how they would work toward their goals to improve education in California. And they split on one aspect of a contentious issue in the race for governor: Whether districts should be allowed to reject charter schools based on financial impact. EdSource asked the six leading candidates for governor to answer a questionnaire on some of the most pressing education topics in the state. You can read the candidates’ full responses here.

A degree with zero student debt. Does it work?

Emily Siner, NPR
Justin Napier is exactly the kind of community college graduate Tennessee was hoping for. In high school, Napier didn’t have his eye on college. In fact, he had a job lined up working on race cars after graduation. But in the spring of 2014, a year before Napier graduated, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a plan to make community college free for graduating high school seniors, part of a broader plan to dramatically increase the number of adults in Tennessee with college credentials. It was called, grandly, the Tennessee Promise. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority,” Haslam said in his State of the State address that year. Four years after Haslam’s announcement, education officials have released data that begin to answer the original question: Does giving away two years of free community college ultimately translate into more degrees? The answer is a tentative yes, with experts warning not to read too much into a single year’s outcome.

Transgender teen wins battle for chosen name at graduation in Texas

Sara Boboltz, HuffPost
As recently as Tuesday morning, Allen High School senior Jay Alfie wasn’t sure whether he would hear his own name during his graduation ceremony on Friday. Administrators of the Allen Independent School District in Texas have a policy: Use only students’ legal names during graduation. No nicknames. But “Jay” isn’t a nickname. Alfie, 18, is transgender and hasn’t recognized his birth name in years. Since he came out his freshman year at a new school, everybody there ― teachers, classmates and friends ― has called him “Jay.” Some never knew his birth name. Alfie said he first asked the school staff more than a year ago whether he would be able to graduate high school with his chosen name, and a school staffer told him it wouldn’t be a problem. When a different school staffer told him in January he had been informed incorrectly, Alfie said he and his parents contacted the graduation ceremony coordinator directly.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Study reveals “striking” role of race in kids’ suicide risk

Ashley Welch, CBS News
Several recent studies have pointed to a worrisome increase in suicide rates among Americans of all ages, and young people in particular. While suicide rates traditionally have been higher among whites than blacks in the United States, new research finds that’s not true among younger children. When researchers focused in on kids between the ages of 5 and 12, they discovered that the suicide rate among black children is roughly two times higher than that of white children in the same age group. For teens, the trend reversed. Suicide rates were about 50 percent lower in black adolescents aged 13 to 17 than their white counterparts. The findings are published in JAMA Pediatrics. “While the suicide rate was lower for black youth than white youth overall, we found a striking change in that trend when we analyzed the suicide rates by the two age groups,” study co-author Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement.

The ‘shadow education system’: How wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out

Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
More affluent kids are about twice as likely to visit a museum, art gallery, or historical site or see a play or concert over the summer, as compared with their peers from low-income families. That’s according to a new analysis released this month by the federal government, illustrating disparities in out-of-school experiences, which may be exacerbated by rising income inequality. It also comes as a slew of recent studies have shown measurable benefits of cultural experiences like attending a play or visiting a museum, including greater appreciation of art, higher tolerance, and stronger critical thinking skills. The results are based on a national survey of parents and guardians from 2011 and focus on the experience of young children in the summer after kindergarten. While nearly two-thirds of students from non-poor families visited an “art galleries, museums, or historical sites with family members during the summer,” only one-third of poor students did. Just 15 percent of low-income families reported taking their kids to a play or concert over the summer, compared with a third of non-poor families. There were also major gaps in students likelihood of attending summer camp: 39 percent of non-poor kids did, compared with just 7 percent of children from poor families. The disparities were similar when examined based on parents’ level of education. The results were also consistent with a similar survey from a decade earlier. What might explain these stark gaps?

Meet the women who first integrated America’s schools [AUDIO]

Joshua Johnson, 1A
After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, most of the black students who integrated schools were girls and women. This was because “parents and lawyers were aware that girls tended to receive more instruction than boys in the unwritten rules of decorum”, author Rachel Devlin tells Smithsonian Magazine. As the first African-Americans to go to previously all-white schools, these young women faced isolation and insults. Now in their 60s and 70s, many of these students have shared their stories with Devlin for her new book A Girl Stands At The Door.

Public Schools and Private $

What and who are fueling the movement to privatize public education — and why you should care

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Joanne Barkan, Author
When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities — government funding education and government running schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noire — what they call the “monopoly of government-run schools” — with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies. Public funding, private management — these four words sum up American-style privatization whether applied to airports, prisons, or elementary and secondary schools. In the last 20 years, the “ed-reform” movement has assembled a mixed bag of players and policies, complicated by alliances of convenience and half-hidden agendas. Donald Trump’s election and his choice of zealot privatizer Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education bolstered reformers but has also made more Americans wary. What follows is a survey of the controversial movement — where it came from, how it grew, and what it has delivered so far to a nation deeply divided by race and class.

Cyber charters in at least 5 states face closure. What’s going on?

Benjamin Herold, Education Week
After years of operating largely unfettered, the country’s full-time online charter school sector appears to be undergoing a shift. Nowhere are the changes more evident than in Ohio, where the state’s largest cyber charter, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is in the midst of auctioning off its assets following a startling midyear shutdown. Cyber charters in Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, and New Mexico are also facing closure. The trend is notable, given how historically rare it has been for such schools to be shuttered, even when plagued by low achievement and financial scandal. Supporters of full-time virtual charter schools still defend the sector, saying the schools provide a valuable option for students and families who have struggled in more traditional settings. “It’s important to recognize that online charter schools are often the only charter option available to families in many states,” according to Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 Inc., the country’s largest for-profit operator of online charters, which has one school that will cease operations and another facing possible closure. “Without these school options, charter school access decreases,” Kwitowski wrote in an email. “This is particularly true for families who live in rural areas and other communities with no brick-and-mortar charter schools.” But critics say that offering families “bad schools to choose from” isn’t enough. “Across the country, virtual schools are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but providing little or no education to most of their students,” said Greg Richmond, the president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, in a statement. “It’s good for both kids and taxpayers that more states and authorizing agencies are holding those schools accountable. We hope more states have the courage to act in the future.”

Study: Students in only federally funded voucher program perform worse on math

Perry Stein, The Washington Post
D.C. students who use vouchers to attend private schools perform significantly worse in math than their public school peers, according to a federal study that could cast a cloud over Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s quest to expand voucher programs across the country. The District is home to the nation’s only federally funded voucher program and its experience provides fodder to advocates on both sides of the national debate. This week’s study from the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Education Department, found that math scores were 10 percentage points lower for students who used vouchers compared with students who applied for the scholarship program but were not selected through a lottery. The students who were not chosen for the voucher program typically attend public schools in low-income neighborhoods. Reading scores for voucher students were also lower, though the difference was not statistically significant.

Other News of Note

The GOP’s public-education dilemma

Reihan Salam, The Atlantic
Public-school teachers have long been a vitally important constituency for the Democratic Party, and teachers’ unions are known for backing progressive causes. It must be said, though, that not all public-school teachers are on the left. Some are social conservatives who resent the fact that the mainstream of the Republican Party is, by their lights, so hostile to their interests. For the most part, these teachers have been invisible. Either they’ve chosen to put aside their reservations about education policy and vote for GOP candidates on other grounds, or they’ve supported Democrats despite their misgivings about the party’s approach to issues other than public education. But in Kentucky, one conservative teacher, Travis Brenda, was so dismayed by a pension-reform bill that he decided to run for the Republican nomination in the rural state House seat held by a much-admired GOP incumbent, Jonathan Shell, one of the lawmakers most responsible for its passage. And on May 22, Brenda won, despite having been massively outspent by Shell. What should we make of Brenda’s victory? One interpretation is that it is a sign of the Republican Party’s ongoing ideological evolution. For some time now, the appeal of fiscal conservatism has been waning, and the party has been more unified by shared cultural sensibilities than by an unwavering commitment to shrinking the size and scope of government. Brenda’s campaign, for example, heavily emphasized the fact that he was a pro-life Christian and a staunch defender of gun rights, as if to nip in the bud the suggestion that he is a cat’s paw of the cultural left. Thus far, he has succeeded. Will he also succeed in getting Kentucky to devote a larger share of its budget to teacher salaries? That will be a lot more challenging, and not because Brenda’s fellow Kentucky Republicans are bitterly opposed to public education.