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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
The Trump administration Thursday issued its plan to reorganize the federal government, which includes merging the Education and Labor departments. Such a merger is not likely to be approved by Congress: Democrats oppose it, and enough Republicans are expected be against the proposal that it will be doomed — if it ever gets to a vote. But the proposal reflects long-standing Republican opposition to the existence of the Education Department. A key Republican voice in the Senate is Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who heads the Senate education committee and was education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. This was his underwhelming reaction to the Trump proposal: “I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates, and I will study the proposal carefully.” Teacher union leaders and Democrats in Congress blasted the idea. Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union, called a proposed merger of Education and Labor “radical” and said in a statement that the Trump administration’s proposals are “at best ill-conceived and poorly timed and at worst are an attempt to distract the American public from the humanitarian crisis [President Trump] created along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Sarah Schwartz, Education Week
As the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from children at the border has sparked outrage across the country, teachers are speaking out and joining nationwide protests. Under the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy, in which all cases of illegal entry are referred for criminal prosecution, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents and detained in holding centers since early May, the Department of Homeland Security told reporters today.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles school board on Tuesday approved an $8.2-billion spending plan for the next school year as expected, but also pledged support for a comparatively tiny amount of new spending to give students free college admissions tests and college savings accounts. The school board also debated whether to ask local voters for more money in November through an annual tax on every parcel located within school district boundaries. Board members postponed a decision until July 10. The budget, which has been under discussion for months, included no major surprises. As in previous meetings, senior district staff forecast that the nation’s second-largest school system was headed for financial disaster in four years, when they predict that reserves will have dried up. After some hand-wringing, the Board of Education approved the plan, 6 to 1. The dissenting vote came from Scott Schmerelson. He voted no after calling unsuccessfully for an additional $5 million for a school-based reform plan supported by the teachers union and allied activists.
Language, Culture, and Power
Chantal Da Silva, Newsweek
California school board has voted to name a new elementary school after Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is an undocumented immigrant. The Mountain View Whisman School District board voted to dedicate the new public school to Vargas, who grew up in the Mountain View area, last Thursday, according to Define American, the immigration advocacy group Vargas co-founded in 2011. Calling the move a “historic” decision, Define American said it comes “at a time of rising anti-immigrant hate and a record number of detentions” in a statement on its website. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Laura Blakely, the president of the district’s school board, said Vargas was not only a “product of our school district” but has also “been the face of the American dream for so many students who came here as children, and really grew up as Americans without having citizenship.”
Kristen Taketa, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Eighth-grader Tim Butler knows that when his white classmates preface their questions to him with, “I’m not trying to be racist, but …” they’re getting ready to say something racist. Tim and classmate Tyler Gant, who are both African-American and both attend Clayton’s Wydown Middle School, can rattle off lists of microaggressions — which include offensive jokes or stereotypical assumptions — they’ve heard from white students about their race. “Oh, you have a dad. That’s surprising.” “It’s all good in the ’hood.” “Oh, I ain’t like that homie.” It’s not just students who have assumed or flaunted racial stereotypes about them, the teens said. White teachers have assumed they were in a gang, assumed they needed extra tutoring or didn’t believe them when they said they came to school late because of a doctor’s appointment. To them, those false assumptions reinforced stereotypes that all black kids are poor, delinquent or academically low-performing. “Just because I’m black and tall and have a hood on, doesn’t mean that I’m up to no good,” Tyler said. Tim and Tyler are among a number of St. Louis-area students who are starting to teach their teachers about their experiences with bias and racism. They’re asking teachers to help address and suppress microaggressions at school.
Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press
Potential changes to Michigan’s school social studies standards are stirring controversy because they remove references to Roe v. Wade, gay rights and climate change while trimming references to the role of the NAACP. The revisions also eliminate the word “democratic” from the phrase “core democratic values.” Much of the controversy has centered on Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who has faced mounting criticism since Bridge Magazine published a report last week that described the revisions — of standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2007 — as having a conservative bent, thanks to Colbeck and several other conservatives who were part of the process. Colbeck clearly influenced the removal of language on climate change, the removal of “democratic” from “core democratic values,” and a change in language from describing the U.S. as a constitutional democracy to a constitutional republic. He also insisted that if there were references to civil rights for gays and lesbians and other members of the LGBTQ community, that the department include language about religious freedom. But it’s unclear what, if any, role he played in some of the other changes that have sparked outrage — such as the Roe v. Wade removal and the reduced references to the NAACP.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Christine Vestal, HuffPost
Amid sharply rising rates of teen suicide and adolescent mental illness, two states have enacted laws that for the first time require public schools to include mental health education in their basic curriculum. Most states require health education in all public schools, and state laws have been enacted in many states to require health teachers to include lessons on tobacco, drugs and alcohol, cancer detection and safe sex. Two states are going further: New York’s new law adds mental health instruction to the list in kindergarten through 12th grade; Virginia requires it in ninth and 10th grades. Nationwide, cities and states have been adopting a variety of initiatives over the past decade to address the rising need for mental health care in schools. But until this year, mandated mental health education had not been part of the trend. “We’re seeing a huge increase in youth anxiety and depression,” said Dustin Verga, a high school health teacher in Clifton, New York, who was an early advocate for the state’s new law. “We teach them how to detect the signs of cancer and how to avoid accidents, but we don’t teach them how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness,” Verga said. “It’s a shame because, like cancer, mental health treatment is much more effective if the disease is caught early.”
Evie Blad, Education Week
When schools are intentional about encouraging students to speak up and share their ideas, it serves to motivate individuals, improve whole school climates, and give administrators valuable insights that can reshape their work. That’s the message of school districts like Washoe County, Nev., which weaves broad student voice efforts into its social-emotional learning strategy. “It’s really not just listening but valuing what they’re telling us and really seeing them as valued members of the education system,” said Michelle Hammond, the district’s student voice coordinator. And those efforts are more than feel-good exercises. The district has a student voice policy and student advisory councils that provide feedback. At an annual conference for student voice, students share insights into the district and review data about issues like engagement and school climate. Groups of students have also learned about filmmaking while producing videos that explore key issues for the district. For example, students interviewed peers who’d dropped out of school to learn about what happened and what educators could have done differently to help them persist.
Cory Turner, NPR
Want to know what the teenagers in your life really think about sex and drugs? Are you sure? Well, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a pretty good idea, thanks to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Every other year, thousands of teens in public and private high schools across the country take this nationally representative survey. The CDC just released results for 2017, and here are a few of the highlights.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Ashley Hopkinson, EdSource
Despite pressure from early childhood advocates to invest close to a billion dollars in infant and toddler care in next year’s budget, the agreement lawmakers approved Thursday reflects a compromise, with significant increases in child care slots for low-income families but no new funding for preschool. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders in the California Assembly and Senate agreed to create 13,407 new child care slots for low-income families who pay for child care with subsidies, through the state’s Alternative Payment Program. Most of the funding for the slots comes from $409.2 million approved earlier this year by Congress. The state’s total cost for the slots is $19 million a year. But since the slots won’t be available until Sept. 1, the funding for the partial year is $15.8 million. In 2019-20 the slots will be available for the full year starting July 1. Families in California qualify for subsidized child care programs based on income and can access child care through providers who contract with the California Department of Education, the state’s welfare program CalWORKS, or other programs such as the Alternative Payment Program, which provides families with vouchers to pay for child care. Low-income families who qualify can use the vouchers at child care centers and family child care homes, which typically offer parents the most flexibility for weekend and night-time care.
Alyson Klein, Education Week
States are flouting the Every Student Succeeds Act’s protections for vulnerable groups of children, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos letting them get away with it, leading civil groups said at an event here Tuesday. “We have a landscape of plans that do not meet standards [for subgroups of students] and we still have to work towards equity,” said Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League. “What I would like the department of education to do is to do what a teacher does [when they] get a paper from a student that doesn’t meet the standard. They send the paper back to the student for a do-over. … [The plans] ought to be sent back to the states with red ink because it’s time for a do-over.” So far DeVos, has approved nearly every state’s plan. Just four are outstanding; California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah. Speakers at the event, which was sponsored by the Urban League, the Education Trust, and UnidosUS, did not get into specifics on which parts of the law states and DeVos are flouting. But civil rights groups and ESSA’s Democratic authors have raised big questions about how states are factoring the performance of subgroups of students into their school rating systems. And these critics say states are ignoring requirements in the law to identify and intervene in any school where any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming.
Elissa Nadworny, NPR
Some high school students think of applying to colleges as a full-time job. There are essays and tests, loads of financial documents to assemble and calculations to make. After all that comes a big decision — one of the biggest of their young lives. For top students who come from low-income families, the challenge is particularly difficult. Research shows that 1 in 4 juggle all of that — the writing, the studying, the researching and applying — completely on their own. One approach to make this whole process easier? Pair students up with someone who can help, a mentor or adviser, virtually. That’s the idea behind CollegePoint, an initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Here’s how it works: When a high school student with a GPA of 3.5 or higher takes a standardized test — the PSAT, SAT or ACT — and they do well (scoring in the 90th percentile), and their families make less than $80,000 a year, they get an email from the program offering them a free virtual adviser. Each year, about 75,000 students meet the above criteria. Partnering with four nonprofits that are doing similar work in the college advising space — Matriculate, College Advising Corps, College Possible and ScholarMatch — CollegePoint was able to work with 15,000 students planning to attend college this fall. The organization expects to more than double that next year.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Tyrone C. Howard, Education Week
Schools face ongoing challenges in helping to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. However, a closer look at today’s schools reveals a disturbing demographic trend that shows little indication of slowing down: increasing numbers of vulnerable children. Although a number of children’s circumstances can fall into the “vulnerable” category, those who are mired in chronic poverty, homeless, facing untreated mental-health issues, or part of the foster-care system are among the most vulnerable in our schools and society today. Consider that the National Center for Children in Poverty estimates that roughly 15 million children—1 in 5—live in poverty, and a disproportionate number of these youths are African-American, Latino, or Native American. The Child Mind Institute finds that close to 17 million children have mental-health issues, many of which are never addressed. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that 2.5 million children experience homelessness every year in this country. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has tracked an increase in the number of children in foster care over the past several years, which rose to 437,500 by the end of the fiscal year of 2016. To state the obvious, growing numbers of children face arduous circumstances before ever entering school. Although many courageous and dedicated teachers, staff, and leaders work tirelessly in these schools, the reality is painfully clear: Most schools are ill-equipped and underprepared to understand, let alone address, the depth, breadth, complexity, and seriousness of the challenges that many students face daily.
Andre Perry, The Hechinger Report
Kids go to school to get an education, and in part to increase their future job opportunities, not limit their parents’ prospects in the process. But how they get to school is a crucial, underappreciated detail that can make a world of difference to the communities where schools are located. Earlier this month, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced an update to the city’s Kids Ride Free program that will smooth out kinks to an otherwise model program that others should emulate. The program enhances the program that allows students to move around in a city known for its traffic and congestion. In D.C., all students between the ages of 5 and 21 who attend a public school, including charters and private schools, are eligible to ride the bus systems (Metrobus, DC Circulator) and rail system (Metrorail) to school and school related activities for free. Students aren’t limited to a certain number of rides or stops, school days or times, the way they are in other cities such as New Orleans and Pittsburgh. Under the new system, instead of needing a separate student ID card, students will be able to tap a version of a standard issue SmarTrip Card, used for public transportation in and around the city. The new card system makes it more convenient for parents to properly enroll their children in Kids Ride Free and facilitates better accounting of who is using public transportation.
Stephen Noonoo, EdSurge
Makerspaces may be one of the most exciting elements on any school’s campus. But a lack of focus around culture and gender inclusiveness are stunting its true promise, according to a new report out of Drexel University. The report, appropriately titled “Making Culture,” is the result of about a year’s worth of interviews and site visits to around 30 different makerspaces across 12 urban regions. The goal wasn’t to count the number of 3D printers or robotics clubs, but rather to take a more “ethnographic” view of the phenomena, says Youngmoo Kim, the director of Drexel’s ExCITe Center and an author of the study. Kim and his fellow researchers analyzed cultural aspects of the makerspace, which included curriculum, attitudes toward competition and how instructors interact with their student makers. Among their findings: a troubling lack of women in makerspace leadership and a pronounced tendency to see boys as more tech-proficient. As a whole, STEM fields experience significant gender imbalances and makerspaces are no exception—despite being a relatively recent adoption for many schools. Among the programs examined, men occupied 76 percent of the leadership roles, while women held just 24 percent. While gender parity among students was observed in early grades, participation by girls dropped 25 percent between 8th grade and high school. And it didn’t stop there—gender bias was even more pronounced, which the report called “deeply unsettling.”
Public Schools and Private $
Emmanuel Felton, The Hechinger Report
This was clearly no ordinary public school. Parents of prospective students converged on Lake Oconee Academy for an open house on a bright but unseasonably cold March afternoon for northern Georgia. A driveway circling a landscaped pond led them to the school’s main hall. The tan building had the same luxury-lodge feel as the nearby Ritz-Carlton resort. Parents oohed and aahed as Jody Worth, the upper school director, ushered them through the campus. Nestled among gated communities, golf courses and country clubs, the school felt like an oasis of opportunity in a county of haves and have-nots, where nearly half of all children live in poverty while others live in multimillion-dollar lakeside houses. The school’s halls and classrooms are bright and airy, with high ceilings and oversize windows looking out across the lush landscape. There is even a terrace on which students can work on warm days. After a guide pointed out several science labs, the tour paused at the “piano lab.” The room holds 25 pianos, 10 of them donated by residents of the nearby exclusive communities. The guide also noted that starting in elementary school, all students take Spanish, art and music classes. The high school, which enrolls less than 200 students, has been able to offer as many as 17 Advanced Placement courses.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
The North Carolina legislature has passed a controversial measure permitting four towns with mostly white populations to create their own charter schools, a move that critics say is intended to promote segregation. The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is threatening to sue the state over the law and over a proposed constitutional amendment requiring identification cards at the polls. The charter school law will allow the mostly white towns of Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill outside Charlotte to create their own charter schools and limit the enrollment to families living within their borders. And state legislators agreed to allow municipalities across North Carolina to spend property taxes on local schools, a right that until now was reserved to counties and the state, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “Clearly, this is an effort to go back to the 1900s with Jim Crow where these enclaves for whites are being allowed to be set up,” Irv Joyner, a lawyer and the legal redress chair for the North Carolina NAACP, was quoted as saying by the Charlotte Post.
Karen Kasler, WOSU
The new speaker of the Ohio House is citing a two-year-old study from a pro-charter school group slamming the performance of virtual charter schools. There may be changes coming in the laws that govern those online schools following the ECOT scandal. In his first sit-down with reporters, Speaker Ryan Smith said a new bill would create a group to study how best to fund online charters. “We need to be able to make sure that the children coming out of there are getting a quality education and hold them to a high standard. We don’t have results like we did at ECOT and any public school and if we did, we would take drastic action,” he said. ECOT couldn’t pay back the tens of millions the state says it owed due to inflated attendance and closed in January. Smith’s office distributed a National Alliance of Public Charter Schools’ report showing virtual charter students have weaker academic growth and the schools perform worse than traditional public schools in most states – and it calls for shutting down chronically low-performing virtual charters.
Other News of Note
James Rainey, NBCNews
Four Republican senators called Wednesday for an investigation of National Science Foundation grants, saying the federal agency had ventured beyond science and into political advocacy, particularly with its support of a program to encourage TV weathercasters to report on global warming. The four senators called for the foundation’s inspector general to investigate the $4 million program to increase climate reporting by meteorologists, saying it “is not science — it is propagandizing.”