Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable public education. Please share and encourage colleagues and friends to subscribe.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Editors, Rethinking Schools
“The alphabet is abolitionist.” This powerful statement comes from an 1867, Harpers Weekly editorial rallying its mostly-Northern readers to the fight for robust public education as part of the post-Civil War reconstruction of the South. It rightly rooted this struggle in the violent denial of literacy under the slavocracy. In that context, learning — or teaching others — to read and write was indeed abolitionist. The political project of white supremacy has always included attacks on education and those attacks continue in 2021. Today’s Republican Party is not so bold as to suggest educators be prohibited from teaching their pupils to read the alphabet, only that we be prohibited from teaching them to read the world. Lawmakers in a growing number of states are attempting to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the past and present. The bill introduced in the Missouri legislature exemplifies a rash of similar bills — in Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and others. It bans teaching that: “identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged, or oppressed.”
Kevin Carey, New York Times
Can President Biden fix America’s inequitable public school funding? The administration’s latest budget proposal suggests he’s going to try. The plan includes a $20 billion program for high-poverty school districts. States would get additional funding if they “address longstanding funding disparities” between rich and poor districts. If it works, the program would benefit districts like Hampton City Schools, near Norfolk in southeastern Virginia. Most public school students in Hampton City are Black or from low-income households. The district receives about $10,500 per student annually in state and local funding, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Contrast Hampton City with the school district in Arlington County, Va., a wealthy liberal enclave across the Potomac River from Washington. Because Virginia allows districts to fund themselves with local property tax revenue — Arlington is full of expensive houses and office buildings for lobbyists and defense contractors — the annual funding per student there is more than $22,000.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
In 2008, The Atlantic ran a story headlined “First, Kill All the School Boards.” The problem with American education, the piece concluded, was its structure: thousands of disparate boards, each influenced by local politics and teachers unions but subject to little oversight. It was emblematic of a mindset that held real sway over the last two decades, with big city school districts, including New York and Chicago, shifting control to the mayor. In dozens of other cases, states took over school districts deemed low performing. Now, a new national study casts significant doubt on the idea that states, at least, are better positioned to run schools than locally elected officials. Overall, researchers found little evidence that districts see test scores rise as a result of being taken over. If anything, state control had slightly negative effects on students.
Language, Culture, and Power
Will Brehm and Gary Younge, Fresh Ed
Today the journalist, author, and academic, Gary Younge, joins me to talk about race, identity, and education. Our conversation starts with his reflections on the UK Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which published its report in March. We then touch on a range of issues from across his career. Gary Younge is a professor of sociology at the University of Manchester. He worked for the Guardian newspaper for two decades and has written five books. His book Who are We – and should it matter in the 21st century? was recently re-released with an updated introduction. In May, he released his latest BBC radio documentary called Thinking in Colour.
Dalia Faheid, Education Week
Since 2014, more than 250,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the southwestern border of the United States and the influx has risen in recent months. As the Biden administration struggles to accommodate the burgeoning numbers, the amount of time these children spend in U.S. care lengthens, raising questions about what is happening with their education status. Under the Biden administration, unaccompanied children who cross the border are being let into the country instead of turned away as they were during the Trump administration. While federal authorities are more quickly transferring children out of U.S. Customs and Protection agency detention centers that lack beds, showers or educational programs, overcrowding at longer-term shelters run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could mean lower quality education.
Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar, Yahoo News
Five months after Robert Jones, a 44-year-old aerospace process auditor, moved to what he described as the “really nice” neighborhood of Gulf Harbors in Pasco County, Florida, with his wife and four kids, “seven or eight” police cars showed up at his door.
Officers said they had heard about his then-16-year-old son Bobby’s school delinquency from colleagues in Pinellas County, where the family previously lived, and wanted to make sure he understood that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office did things a little differently, Jones recalled.
Bobby had been expelled from his last school after he was caught smoking pot and then got into a fight with another student. But both he and his dad had hoped the move to Pasco County would provide a fresh start. “Truthfully, I thought it was one of these ‘scared straight’ moments,” said Jones, referring to the sheriff’s office’s intimidating welcome to the neighborhood.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Robert J. Jagers, Alexandra Skoog-Hoffman, Bloodine Barthelus, Justina Schlund
Imagine a school community in which: All children and youth have equal opportunities to thrive. Social and cultural markers no longer negatively predict young people’s academic, social, and emotional outcomes or their life chances. Adults honor and elevate a broad range of perspectives and experiences by engaging young people as leaders, problem solvers, and decision makers. Youth and adults engage in an ongoing process of cultivating, practicing, and reflecting on their social and emotional competencies. Learning environments are supportive, culturally responsive, and focused on building relationships and community. And families, school staff, and out-of-school-time staff have regular, meaningful opportunities to build authentic partnerships and collaboratively support young people’s social, emotional, and academic development, while continuing to deepen their own social and emotional competencies. This is the community we aspire to build—and we ask you to join us on this journey.
Sameea Kamal, CalMatters
Early in the pandemic, the only source of milk for some struggling families was from school lunches, recalls Stacy Johnson, director of nutrition services at Glendora Unified School District.
Even for families who weren’t as strained financially — or for families of picky eaters — getting meals during lockdown was something to get excited about: A chance to get out of the house, and to see teachers and friends. And while the days of empty grocery store shelves and lockdowns have passed, for many, the benefit of meals at schools continues. At Sellers Elementary in Glendora, east of Los Angeles, that was evident by the busy meal service last Friday. At pickup time, parents walked younger students home carrying bags filled with food, enough to last through the weekend, while older students jammed the bags into their backpacks.
In high school, I was homeless. To help more students like me get to college, look beyond education policy.
Dale Mcenany, Chalkbeat
I turned off my camera, having just recorded my incredulous reaction to the news; my mom and I sat in silence. Neither of us knew what to say or if there was anything worth saying. A few minutes earlier I had discovered that I was admitted into Columbia University. We were in shock. Not because the result was entirely unexpected but because neither of us had prepared ourselves for what came next. For most of high school, my living situation was complicated. When I wasn’t living in Tijuana, Mexico, and commuting across the border every day to attend school in San Diego, California, I was staying at another family’s house. I had moved a total of 11 times between San Diego and Tijuana since starting high school in 2016 and had been categorized as homeless for a large portion of the past four years.
Access, Assessment, Advancement
Julia Wolfe and Ben Zipperer, Economic Policy Institute
More than two in five child care workers would have higher pay if there were a $15 national minimum wage in 2025, as called for by the 2021 Raise the Wage Act. Of the child care workers who would get a raise, more than nine in 10 are women. This report finds that after a $15 minimum wage in 2025: As many as 560,000 child care workers would have higher take-home pay. The vast majority (95.4%) of child care workers who would get a raise are women, and 36.2% are Black or Hispanic. Among those child care workers who get a raise, average annual pay for year-round workers would rise by $2,900 (in 2021 dollars). The year-round earnings of Black or Hispanic child care workers would increase by $3,200 and $3,100, respectively.
Hannah Levintova, Mother Jones
Nearly six months into the Biden presidency, the student debt cancellation that he campaigned on is nowhere close to becoming reality. That’s in part due to the persistence of the idea among some economists and politicians that debt cancellation would be regressive—that it would disproportionately benefit higher-income households.
But a new study debunks this notion, showing that when the effects of canceling student debt are measured by race and household wealth—and not just by income—the impact of cancellation is profoundly progressive, benefitting the least wealthy Americans the most and helping to lessen racial wealth inequality in the process.
‘Grateful that I got what I deserved’: Student, denied diploma after draping Mexican flag over gown, gets award 4 days later
Michelle Shen and John Bacon, USA Today
A student received his high school diploma Monday, four days after his principal set off a social media firestorm by refusing to present it at graduation because the teen draped a Mexican flag over his gown. More than 100,000 people had signed an online petition Monday demanding that Ever Lopez be awarded his diploma. The controversy became so heated that police conducted extra patrols in and around Asheboro High School, saying at least 10 threatening emails have been sent to school employees. “I’m grateful that I got what I deserved,” Ever said Monday.
His mother, Margarita, held the diploma up in front of a crowd of journalists and supporters. “I have Ever’s diploma,” she said through an interpreter. “And it’s not just Ever’s diploma. It’s all of our diplomas and our community’s diploma.”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Martha and Berda Lum: The Chinese American Schoolchildren Who Fought to Desegregate Southern Schools
Rachel Chang, Biography
Nine-year-old Martha Lum arrived for the first day of school at Mississippi’s Rosedale consolidated high school in 1924. It was her second year at the school, where her older sister, Berda, was also a student, so she was already familiar with the ins and outs. But by the recess that day, a superintendent told her that she was no longer allowed to be a student there. “An order had been issued by the board of trustees… excluding her from attending the school solely on the ground that she was of Chinese descent, and not a member of the white or Caucasian race, and that their order had been made in pursuance to instructions from the state superintendent of education of Mississippi,” the ensuing Supreme Court lawsuit Gong Lum v. Rice read. By banning her from the white school, she would have to go to the “colored” school — as Black schools were called at the time — so the Lum family sued.
Lauren Camera, US News and World Report
In Massachusetts, where echoes of the 1970s busing riots still haunt the commonwealth’s public school system, a new integration effort is underfoot in education – one that could, for the first time, shine a light on the state’s hypersegregated districts and push them to change the status quo inside and outside their borders. “Being from Lynn, everyone thinks my school district is diverse,” Brendan Crighton, a Democratic state senator, says about the urban outcrop north of Boston that he represents, an early industrial center brought to its knees after a major fire in the 1980s, but one that’s currently experiencing a resurgence in part due to a thriving immigrant community. “On the surface, it is diverse,” he says about the 16,000-student school district, where 42% of students are Hispanic, 37% are white, 11% are Black and 23% of families live below the federal poverty line. “But our schools are actually highly segregated. To get people to see that and be able to change that would be a huge accomplishment.”
James Holly Jr., The Conversation
Black people make up just 9% of the STEM workforce in the U.S. As a scholar who studies how STEM educators can more effectively reach Black students, I want to help all people develop an understanding of how anti-Black racism is a significant barrier for Black students learning STEM. Many scholars have argued that our current ways of teaching STEM are bad for everyone because only the experiences and contributions of white people are discussed, but the negative effects are greater for Black people. Teachers frequently question the intellectual ability of Black students and prevent them from using their cultural worldviews, spirituality and language in the STEM learning setting. Still, Black people continue to boost STEM knowledge across the world. It is time to generate new teaching practices in STEM that affirm Black students in a way that connects with their lives.
Democracy and the Public Interest
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
When courts end mandatory school desegregation efforts, and those schools subsequently resegregate, what happens to the political outlook of white students from those schools when they reach adulthood? Research released earlier this year that focused on school districts in six Southern states could provide some clues. It indicates that in such situations, those white students who entered high school right after their districts were dismissed from court-ordered desegregation plans were 3.8 percentage points more likely to align with the Democratic Party as adults in 2020 than their white peers who either graduated from those districts before those dismissals, or who were in districts that remained under those orders from 1990 to 2014.
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
The Biden administration recently disappointed both supporters and critics of charter schools by proposing to neither cut nor raise federal funding in fiscal 2022 for a program to expand and build new charter schools. Charters — which are publicly funded but privately operated — enjoyed bipartisan support for years, but a growing number of Democrats have pulled back from the movement, citing the fiscal impact on school districts, lack of transparency about operations and repeated scandals in the sector. While running for president, Joe Biden promised to ban for-profit charter schools and support efforts to bring more accountability to charters. The Biden administration proposed spending $440 million on the Charter Schools Program, the same as in fiscal 2021. Charter supporters had hoped for at least $500 million — while critics wanted to see a big drop in funding. Biden chose to give neither a victory in this regard.
Robert Martwick, Chicago Sun Times
When your system of government is broken, the answer every time is more democracy, not less.
That’s why the Illinois Senate recently voted to dump the mayoral-controlled, appointed Chicago school board system and replace it with an elected, representative school board. For anyone who’s paid even a bit of attention, it’s obvious the governance of Chicago Public Schools is terribly broken. In many ways the problems began in 1995 when the then-Republican controlled General Assembly handed authoritarian control of the school system to the mayor of Chicago. The results have been disastrous. Over 200 schools closed, primarily in minority, disadvantaged neighborhoods, depriving those communities of their primary community anchor. More than 50,000 students of color have left the school system.
Other News of Note
Roberto Lovato, The Nation
I’m standing in a sea of Palestinian flags and people gathered at the BART plaza at 16th and Mission. Hip-hop-infused English and Arabic chants of “From Palestine to Mexico, the border walls have got to go!” blare out of big, black speakers, as the keffiyeh-wearing crowd of young Palestinians and supporters bob their heads in sync. Mexican street vendors fill the morning air of Mission street with the smell of grilled, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, while Afro-Cuban street vendors lower the volume of their syncopated Bakosó beats out of respect for the youthful crowd and their cause: solidaridad.