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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Alex Harwin and Sterling C. Lloyd, Education Week
For policymakers and taxpayers alike, school finance is an uneasy balance between effort—how much they’re willing or able to spend—and equity, or how fairly that money gets spread around to schools and districts. The most recent analysis from the Education Week Research Center shows that the nation as a whole and many individual states are doing a far better job on the equity side of the equation than they are on the sheer spending side of things. The analysis, based on four measures of overall spending and four equity metrics, gives the nation a grade of C this year in school finance, with a score of 74.9 out of 100 possible points. That’s up 0.5 points since last year. Still, nearly half the states (24) finish with grades between C-minus and D-minus. And the scores are significantly higher on funding equity for the nation as a whole (B-plus or 86.8) than they are for spending alone (D or 63.0). Vermont (C+) and Alaska (C) are the only states to receive grades below B-minus for equity, but 25 states get F grades for spending.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
The rout of Los Angeles Unified’s parcel tax last week will reverberate beyond L.A. to other school districts that had hoped a victory in Los Angeles might signal that their voters, too, would consider higher school taxes. Think again, said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, which regularly polls Californians on issues. The results in Los Angeles send a message that school districts “will have to lower expectations about whether the public connects the dots between wanting more money for schools and the willingness to raise their own taxes.” The state’s business community, on the other hand, will be buoyed that a parcel tax that would have charged buildings by the square foot went down. It was designed to hit large commercial and business properties the hardest. Now, the business community is heading into a mammoth fight over a November 2020 statewide ballot initiative to amend Proposition 13, the 1978 constitutional amendment limiting property tax increases. It’s called a “split roll” initiative because it wouldn’t affect residential property owners but would significantly raise taxes for business and commercial properties. Some of the Los Angeles social justice and community organizations that canvassed for Measure EE, including InnerCity Struggle and the Community Coalition, were instrumental in putting the split roll on the ballot.
Denisa R. Superville, Education Week
School districts across the country struggle to hire staff that reflect changing student demographics. But could the answer to that ongoing problem lie in developing a strategy to hire more principals of color? A working paper by Jason Grissom, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Brendan Bartanen, a doctoral student at the university, strongly suggests yes. They found that having a black principal at a school increased the likelihood that newly-hired teachers would be black by 5 to 7 percentage points, and that changing from a white principal to a black principal increased the percentage of black teachers by 3 percentage points on average. Black teachers stayed in their roles longer in schools led by black principals—reducing black teacher mobility by 2 to 5 percent, they said. Over time, changing a school’s leader from a white to a black principal increased the proportion of black teachers in a school after five years by 5.3 percentage points in Missouri and 5.2 percentage points in Tennessee, the two states that were the subject of the research on how principals’ race affect the racial makeup of school staff.
Language, Culture, and Power
Evie Blad, Education Week
The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would provide legal protections for “Dreamers”—undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children—and to immigrants who came to the country under temporary humanitarian protections. The American Dream and Promise Act would cover about 2.5 million people, addressing a major policy priority for Democrats with effects for teachers students and teachers in the country’s schools. But the bill will likely never make it to the GOP-controlled Senate floor, President Donald Trump’s advisers have already said they recommend that he veto the bill. The bill passed 237-187. House Democrats spoke in favor of the bill, telling stories of people like educators who would be proteted by its provisions. “We cannot afford to lose or hinder their talents, resilience, and contributions to our nation, said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat. But Trump, and congressional Republicans, have said they won’t move on immigration proposals unless they are included in a broader bill that addresses other issues, like border security.
Linda Egnatz, Language Magazine
When someone in the language learning field asks, “What is the Seal of Biliteracy?” I might honestly respond, “It’s the ANSWER to your problem.” The simple act of providing a credential for language skills verified through outside testing can meet the following language program needs and so much more.
Paul Jablow, The Notebook
Lindsay Edwards was delighted when her 4-year-old son, Grey, came home from school wanting to talk about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “He was killed because people didn’t agree with what he was saying,” said Grey, who attends the Cooperative Nursery School (CNS) in West Mount Airy. “And people disagreed with him because he had black skin. People should have just said, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you,’ rather than shooting him. He was shot because he had that color skin.” Grey still asks his mom to visit King’s gravesite so he can say, “Hi, and I’m sorry.” For Edwards, who is white, the conversation was proof that the school’s diversity efforts, highly unusual in a preschool, were having an impact. (Read the first part of the story about diversity efforts by CNS here.) She found it a breath of fresh air because when she was growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, “Racism wasn’t discussed in our family.” And in school, ”I was never taught proper history.” Current research indicates that children as young as 2 years old show awareness of racial differences and may express racial prejudice by age 4. By kindergarten, they may mirror racial attitudes they see at home or elsewhere in the adult world.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Anne Schimke, Chalkbeat
It was 10:30 a.m. on a Monday in April. Nine counselors, psychologists, and therapists sat around a table in a conference room at Cañon City High School in southern Colorado. In classrooms around the building, the school’s ninth-graders whizzed through an online mental health survey that would soon deliver real-time data to the group in the conference room. They were a triage team of sorts — particularly interested in the answers to question 24, which asked how often students had had thoughts of hurting themselves within the past week. By 10:35 a.m., most of the results were in. Over the next few hours, team members pulled students who had responded “very often” or “often” out of class for private one-on-one conversations. The overarching message to students, said Jamie Murray, a district psychologist who helped coordinate the effort, was “It’s OK to not be OK.” While many Colorado school districts have beefed up mental health supports in recent years, Cañon City’s decision to administer a mental health screening to high school students is rare. Many district leaders are wary of soliciting such sensitive information, fearing they won’t have the tools to help students in crisis or that they’ll be liable if tragedy strikes and they weren’t able to intervene.
Susan Shain, The Atlantic
“Oh my god, I feel like a murderer,” exclaimed 13-year-old Bonnie Bright. “I’ve killed so many things on this trip.” Sporting pigtails, glasses, and Xtratufs—the brown neoprene boots affectionately called “the Alaskan sneaker”—Bright didn’t look like a serial killer. Yet in her hands was her latest victim: a chubby sea cucumber the color of burnt umber. Bright cleaved the slippery echinoderm down the middle, then removed several white slivers of meat and cooked them over a fire she’d built. It was time for breakfast. All around her, on the rocky gray beach, 19 of Bright’s classmates were performing similar drills. In total, the Coast Guard had dropped 103 Schoenbar Middle School students—the majority of Ketchikan, Alaska’s eighth graders—on six nearby uninhabited islands to survive for two days and nights last May. I’d accompanied Bright’s group to Back Island, where, like the rest of their classmates, students had each brought nothing more than a 10-by-15-foot sheet of plastic, a sleeping bag, clothing, and whatever additional supplies (rice, knives, foil, twine, matches) they could fit into a 12-ounce metal coffee can. “The survival trip,” as it’s known in this isolated island community, has occurred annually for 45 years. It serves not only as the students’ final science exam but also, more importantly, as preparation for growing up in the unforgiving wilderness they call home.
For decades, students at an elite school published a map with seniors’ college plans. This year, they decided it fed a ‘toxic’ school culture.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
For decades, the Campanile student newspaper at the elite Palo Alto High School in California published a map spotlighting where newly minted graduates were heading off to college. Not this year. The student journalists who run the paper decided it was no longer in the best interests of the school. Palo Alto High is in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco, not far from Silicon Valley and neighboring Stanford University. The school, known in the community as Paly, was rocked this year when a former student’s parents were indicted in Operation Varsity Blues, a massive college admissions bribery scandal. When it came time to consider its May edition, in which the map is traditionally published, the five student editors had long conversations about what the map had come to represent to the school. The answer: It reflected what they said was a “toxic” college-obsessed environment among some students, and they did not want to contribute to it. Here’s what they wrote in the May 17 edition.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
California’s legislators are poised to take a big step toward universal preschool, with the budget bill they’ll be voting on later this week. One of the most novel aspects of the budget agreement is that all 4-year-olds living in neighborhoods where most children attending the local school are low-income would be eligible for state-subsidized preschool, regardless of their own family’s incomes. That’s a small but significant step toward offering universal preschool to all children, not just to low-income children, something Gov. Gavin Newsom has said is a long-term goal. Priority would be given to low-income children and enrollment will depend on available slots. The budget includes 10,000 new full-day preschool slots — not enough to serve all low-income 4-year-olds, much less all 4-year-olds who live in low-income neighborhoods. Still, including all 4-year-olds in those neighborhoods would make preschool accessible to more children whose parents might not otherwise be able to afford it, said Stanford University professor Deborah Stipek. Many state-subsidized preschools are run by school districts; Stipek said it will help elementary schools if more kindergartners have attended the preschools associated with them.
Steve Friess, The Hechinger Report
Cayanne Korder long believed college would be her ticket out of this rural factory town of about 16,000 people. As far back as middle school, she fantasized about leaving the state to attend an elite university. But she also routinely dismissed that idea as impossible because, she said, “I wouldn’t know how to make that happen and my family didn’t have the means to do it.” When she got to high school, nobody disabused the ace student of that notion. Red Wing High laid off its full-time college adviser in 2012 amid budget cuts. A foreign language teacher, Lisa Toivonen, has tried to fill in the gap by putting on events to encourage students to consider higher education, but Toivonen’s time and expertise are limited. If Korder wanted to become the first in her family — she’s the middle child of 10 siblings — to attend a four-year school, she would have to figure it out on her own. Then, on the eve of her junior year, Toivonen connected Korder with College Possible. The 19-year-old St. Paul-based nonprofit has long worked to help low-income students in urban high schools get into college, but three years ago it started a program to pair high-achieving rural students in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Oregon with coaches to guide them virtually through the application process. From her office in St. Paul, Korder’s coach, Diamee Yang, provided ACT prep materials that Korder credits with boosting her test score by about 6 points, to an impressive 33.* Yang reviewed drafts of Korder’s application essays, walked her through the completion of the Common Application and let her vent about academic and personal angst. Through monthly calls and countless texts and emails in between, they also researched schools and financial aid prospects together.
The College Board tried a simple, cheap, research-backed way to push low-income kids into better colleges. It didn’t work.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
It was supposed to be “a simple way to send poor kids to top colleges.” Sending personalized college-application information and application fee waivers to high-achieving, low-income students pushed those students to attend more selective colleges, a 2013 study found. Perhaps because it offered a cheap — just $6 per student! — way to solve a vexing social inequity, the study attracted a great deal of attention. The College Board, purveyor of the SAT, even decided to bring the idea to scale, launching their own effort to send encouragement and fee waivers to students nationwide. “We can’t stand by as students, particularly low-income students, go off track and don’t pursue the opportunities they have earned,” College Board president David Coleman said in 2013. Now, the results of that effort are in, and they don’t look anything like what many had hoped. “Our interventions led to no change in the likelihood or sector of college enrollment,” the new paper, largely written by in-house researchers at the College Board, says. The findings are an example of how even promising, research-backed ideas can wilt when they are expanded widely. And it’s a setback for the College Board, which under Coleman’s leadership has introduced a suite of high-profile initiatives meant to make the college process more equitable. It’s also one piece of evidence that changing the college trajectories of America’s low-income students will require efforts more extensive than low-cost “nudges.” “It’s a good lesson in thinking about the limitations of these kinds of interventions,” said Lindsay Page, a University of Pittsburgh researcher who has studied text messaging reminders to students. “Be cautious of the long-run benefits from $6 solutions.”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Alisha Kirby, K-12 Daily
The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education announced it will produce the most comprehensive report in the state on the outcomes of foster youth in the district–a step board members said will be the first toward ensuring students receive the support they need. The new report will include the enrollment size and mobility, academic growth and social emotional well-being of students living in foster care. “Los Angeles Unified serves the greatest number of foster youth in California,” board member Kelly Gonez said in a statement. “While the state does require we report on certain indicators specifically for foster youth, far too often we see our foster youth students’ mobility prohibiting their academic outcomes from being adequately reported. We have an obligation to take a comprehensive look at all factors contributing to the current and future success of our students in care: school stability, academic data and social emotional indicators.” Studies have shown that more than one-third foster youth throughout the country will change schools at least five times before they turn 18 years old, with each move costing about four to six months of academic process. In California, data shows that foster youth continually have the lowest graduation rates, as well as the highest dropout rates at three times the rate of all other students–outcomes that may be partially tied to constantly uprooting. They also have among the lowest test scores in English-language arts and mathematics of any subgroup.
Charlotte West, EdSource
While earning her associate’s degree at Santa Monica College and working 30 hours a week with her mother cleaning houses, Maritza Lopez didn’t always know where she was going to sleep. When her family was evicted from their apartment, she spent a lot of time hanging out on campus, often crashing on friends’ couches at night. Her search for a place to sleep reflects a challenge facing a growing number of college students caught between the pincers of rising college costs and steep rents in California’s major metropolitan areas. While Lopez eventually became a resident at Bruin Shelter, a non-profit, student-run organization to help reduce homelessness among college students in Los Angeles, her lack of stable housing took a toll. “I purposely took a late class from 7:00 to 10:00 PM. That was once a week, so at least Tuesdays I could stay over at my friend’s place,” Lopez said. “Then I just had to figure out Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.”
Aaron Cantú, The Hechinger Report
The first time Hsiulien Perez attended Indiana University Northwest, in the early 1990s, she had just graduated from high school and given birth to her first child. Her mother, an immigrant from Taiwan, and her father, from Mexico, hadn’t gone to college and couldn’t offer any guidance for navigating day-to-day campus life. When her car broke down after a few semesters, a lack of public transit meant she didn’t have any way to get to school. Instead of formally withdrawing, Perez just stopped showing up. But after years working seasonal jobs sorting equipment at the local Ford plant and dealing blackjack at nearby casinos, Perez wanted to rise to a management position — and she couldn’t without a bachelor’s degree. So in 2016 she headed back to the 42-acre campus near Gary’s dilapidated downtown to study for a degree in general studies. “I have two little ones and their dads don’t help me,” said Perez, 45. “I need stability, that’s the word.” But the odds haven’t been with her. At IU Northwest in 2017, Latinx students like Perez had a six-year graduation rate of just 28 percent, while the graduation rate for white students was 35 percent. Those numbers reflect a nationwide gap: Latinx are
half as likely as non-Hispanic whites to hold a bachelor’s degree, and the gulf has widened since the early 2000s.
Public Schools and Private $
John Fensterwald, EdSource
In a report forwarded to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the statewide task force on charter schools is unanimously recommending that school districts be given more discretion to approve new charter schools by including “saturation” and need for new schools as factors that districts could consider. Districts with large numbers of charter schools, like Oakland Unified and Los Angeles Unified, have clamored for financial relief and more controls over charter schools. If Newsom and the Legislature implement the task force recommendation, those districts could cite duplication of effort and charter school overload as reasons for rejecting new applications.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
Are charter schools “draining,” “siphoning,” or “funnelling” resources away from school districts? It’s a contention at the heart of the increasingly contentious national debate over charter schools. “I’m striking to stop charter schools from draining our schools,” wrote Los Angeles teacher Adriana Chavira during the January teachers strike, saying her school has had to cut teachers as it lost students to charter schools. A number of states, most prominently California, are considering efforts to limit charter school expansion in response to such concerns. Presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have recently raised it, too. “The bottom line is, it siphons off money for our public schools, which are already in enough trouble,” Biden said of some charters. Charter school supporters say that ignores the potential benefits to students — and that funding argument misses the point. “Do charters drain funding from our public schools? How could they? Charters are public schools,” wrote David Osborne, a charter supporter. “They do drain funding from traditional school districts, but that’s because parents have proactively pulled their children out of district schools and placed them in charter schools.” The politics of the issue are so charged that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. But charters have also been around long enough for there to be good answers to questions about what happens to traditional district schools when charter schools arrive. Here’s the short of it: Charter schools really do divert money from school districts. Those districts can make up for that by cutting costs over time. But the process of doing so is often fraught, especially because the most straightforward way to reduce costs is to close schools.
Christopher Lubienski and Joel R. Malin, The Conversation
For the past couple of decades, proponents of vouchers for private schools have been pushing the idea that vouchers work. They assert there is a consensus among researchers that voucher programs lead to learning gains for students – in some cases bigger gains than with other reforms and approaches, such as class-size reduction. They have highlighted studies that show the positive impact of vouchers on various populations. At the very least, they argue, vouchers do no harm. As researchers who study school choice and education policy, we see a new consensus emerging — including in pro-voucher advocates’ own studies — that vouchers are having mostly no effects or negative effects on student learning. As a result, we see a shift in how voucher proponents are redefining what voucher success represents. They are using a new set of non-academic gains that were not the primary argument to promote vouchers.
Other News of Note
Julia Kirkpatrick, Rethinking Schools
I pulled into the parking lot with a familiar sense of weariness. I might not be the best teacher or the best activist, but I could always pride myself on my dogged ability to show up. My purse was packed with survival — leftover spaghetti crammed into a Tupperware container, an article I needed to read, a to-do list that already felt overwhelming. “Why am I here? Will it really make a difference?” I wondered aloud as I rounded the bend. It was 7 p.m. on an August Tuesday and I was headed to a school board meeting after a long day of training. What I saw when I entered the lot dropped my jaw — it was packed, with the row closest to the cafeteria taken up by news trucks and police vehicles. This was no ordinary school board meeting. At issue was the renaming of three elementary schools in my district — Lynch View, Lynch Wood, and Lynch Meadow — and the audience had seated themselves on opposite ends of the cafeteria according to their beliefs. In recent years our East County district has become a landing pad for families gentrified out of Portland’s increasingly unaffordable inner neighborhoods, and 55 percent of our student population is now students of color, a marked change from the demographics just 10 years prior.