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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles students are a critical step closer to a return to campus beginning in mid-April under a tentative agreement reached Tuesday between the teachers union and the L.A. Unified School District, signaling a new chapter in an unprecedented year of coronavirus-forced school closures. The agreement, which must be ratified by members, establishes safety parameters for a return to campus and lays out a markedly different schedule that still relies heavily on online learning. The school day would unfold under a so-called hybrid format— meaning that students would conduct their studies on campus during part of the week and continue with their schooling online at other times. Families would retain the option of keeping students in distance learning full time. In a statement, UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said the agreement provided safeguards and reassurance. “With all of our key safety protocols met, this agreement reflects a uniform health and safety plan that we can be proud of as educators and that puts us on the path for a safe return, across LAUSD and in all of our schools,” Myart-Cruz said. District officials provided a joint statement from Myart-Cruz and L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner. “As we have both stated for some time, the right way to reopen schools must include the highest standard of COVID safety in schools, continued reduction of the virus in the communities we serve and access to vaccinations for school staff,” they said in the statement. “This agreement achieves that shared set of goals. It’s our shared commitment to the highest safety standards and spirit of trust and collaboration we will take with us back to schools.”
‘This is what I do’: How a Newark teacher called, texted, and trudged through the snow to reach her students during Covid
Patrick Wall, Chalkbeat
Joicki Floyd woke up early one morning last week just before Newark rumbled to life. She folded laundry while her children slept, savoring the quiet she knew wouldn’t last. At 8:30 a.m., it was time for school. Floyd, who teaches ninth-grade English, logged into a video chat and waited for her students’ faces to appear. Her 11-year-old son, Sir, was nearby getting ready for his online school. Her 8-year-old daughter, Donnell, sat beside Floyd on the well-worn living room loveseat, mother and daughter each with laptops balanced on their legs. Any boundary between Floyd’s personal and professional lives had long ago collapsed. After a few minutes, she texted some students: “Where are you?” As they started to arrive, she complimented one student’s new hairstyle and told another to turn on his camera. Only six of 10 students showed. But that’s typical for virtual school during the pandemic, so Floyd launched into her lesson.
Catherine Gewertz, Education Week
Cedric Hall is the principal of Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, N.Y., one in a network of six public schools designed to support young men of color in grades 6-12. He describes what it’s been like to lead a school community through COVID-19—even while he fell victim to it himself—and through the emotional fallout from the police killing of George Floyd, whose nephew is a student at his school. It’s been a complex and very emotional time for schools with a lens like ours. We can’t not deal with this, as other schools might. This is our mission, to uphold the protection and messaging around men of color. When George Floyd hit, it just devastated us. We did some evening [school community conversations] to give our young men an opportunity to talk. They had all the rage, all the feeling. It’s one thing to be upset to see it on TV, to know how much of a reality it is for every Black man. It’s another when George is part of our school community. It’s super heavy. That and the pandemic hit us with a two-piece knockout. I got COVID the first week of April. This is about the time New York City became an epicenter. By that time, we’d gone remote. At first, I felt like I had a bad flu. Then I started having major respiratory challenges. I quarantined for 14 days and spent a lot of time in bed. I wasn’t in ICU condition. I still conducted the staff meetings, [teacher] observations [by Zoom]. I didn’t take any days off. But it was pretty rough. And it was scary. People were dying everywhere.
Language, Culture, and Power
#HerEducationOurFuture#: Keeping girls in the picture during and after the COVID-19 crisis;the latest facts on gender equality in education
COVID-19 has pushed inequalities in education to breaking point, disproportionately affecting adolescent girls. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the largest disruption of education in history. Throughout 2020 most governments around the world temporarily closed schools and other learning spaces in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. At the peak of the pandemic in April 2020, schooling was disrupted for over 1.5 billion learners in more than 190 countries. This unprecedented disruption to education has the potential to roll back substantial gains made on girls’ education in recent decades, with broader immediate and longer-term effects on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to poverty reduction, health and well-being, inclusive quality education and gender equality. Projections suggest that 11 million girls might not return to school. Girls aged 12-17 are at particular risk of dropping out of school in low and lower-income countries, whereas boys are more at risk in upper-middle and high-income countries. The most marginalised, including girls with disabilities, those in conflict-affected contexts, remote and rural communities and those in the poorest quintile, are expected to be most affected by COVID-related school closures, facing additional constraints on their ability to fulfil their right to education, health and protection, among other rights.
Jennifer Ruef, Rebekah Elliott, and Eva Thanheiser, The Oregonian
Historically, mathematics education has been a gatekeeper, sorting the proverbial rocket scientists from the masses. But humanity faces unprecedented challenges, and mathematical literacy is crucial to solving social and scientific problems. If we are to nourish every student as a problem solver, we must rethink whom we automatically deem “good at math” and how we teach it. For decades, mathematics education research has defined equity as teaching mathematics effectively to every student. But if we are truly concerned with equity, it is clear that teaching strategies need to better reflect our changing world. As a society, we lose too many students – particularly students of color – when we expect students to learn in only one way. To be effective, we must make math more accessible to all by engaging students as collaborative problem solvers, acknowledging the brilliance in students’ mathematical ideas, and helping students make sense of concepts in addition to understanding mathematical rules. And we must develop an antiracist stance that recognizes historical biases and focuses on helping every student succeed in math.
Omar Rashad & Katherine Swartz, Cal Matters
California’s public universities are among the most racially diverse in the nation, but campus police departments don’t reflect that diversity. At 32 of 33 public university campuses, police officers are whiter than the students they serve, a CalMatters review of officer demographics shows. And in many cases, the disparities are glaring: Cal State Monterey Bay, for example, has a student population that is just over a quarter white. Yet of the university’s 15 police officers, 12 of them are white— about 80%. The same story repeats across the state. Overall, the University of California and the California State University systems employ nearly 800 sworn officers. Roughly half of them are white, compared with less than a quarter of students attending the two systems. CalMatters obtained records of the race and gender of every active, sworn police officer at UC and CSU as of February 11, 2021 from the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. The statistics alone don’t tell the whole story: Individual law enforcement agencies self-report racial demographics to POST and it may not capture all the ways identity intersects.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Joel Westheimer, Ottawa Citizen
When did the Assyrian empire’s reign over Mesopotamia begin and end? If you don’t know, you have a lot of company and you’re about to have even more. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless nine- and 10-year-olds missed lessons about one ancient civilization or another this past year. History and geography aren’t the only subjects affected. Some middle school students won’t learn the three functions of mitochondria. High school math teachers may have skipped lessons in differential equations. And who knows how many missed the opportunity to read about the travels and travails of the lovable Santiago in Paulo Coelho’s brilliant allegorical novel, The Alchemist. So what?
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
Last May, I published a post with this title: “Can we stop telling the ‘corona kids’ how little they are learning?” Written by Rachael Gabriel, associate professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut, it made the case that students were actually learning when schools closed last spring as the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States — just not all of the things they would have learned in class: Students are learning how to reset the rhythms and structures of their days. They are learning different patterns and modes of communication. They may be taking on different roles in their homes and learning how to complete new tasks, engage in new games and develop or sustain new and different activities. Some are learning from the outdoor world on walks that go slower and last longer than before. Others are watching nature change day-by-day out their window, in their gardens, and along trails and bodies of water. Some are spending more time in their imaginations because it’s the only place to go, but this is not unimportant work. Students cannot help but learn about themselves, others and the world around them in this time when solitude has steadily increased alongside disconnection and uncertainty. Even those who are too young to verbalize their understandings understand their world has changed, and are changing right along with it. Gabriel is back with a new look at “learning loss” and what it really means.
Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat
Over the last year, 5-year-old Guillermo started biting his fingernails. When preschool activities were moved online during the pandemic, he refused to sit in front of the computer. And before his grandmother passed away from lung cancer in August, he sometimes shied away from hugging her because he thought her coughing was because of COVID-19. “He would not go close because he would say, ‘Abuelita has germs,’” said Guillermo’s mother, Patricia Robles, who lives in Denver. It was a rough year and Robles knows firsthand that grief and anxiety affected her four children, especially Guillermo and his 8-year-old brother Gael, who has tearful tantrums when he can’t have more TV time. Nationwide, it’s a familiar story. Experts say mental health problems among children have increased amid the pandemic and can be tricky to solve when parents and teachers are also coping with outsized stress. “I’ve had to remind people every single day we’re still in a world pandemic,” said Kyle Ohl, an early childhood mental health consultant for the Grand Beginnings early childhood council, based in the western Colorado city of Granby. Oftentimes, Ohl said, small children act out— whether hitting a friend or hiding under a table for an extended period — because they’re overwhelmed or don’t feel a sense of security.
Access, Assessment, Advancement
David Kirp, Los Angeles Times
In December, a blue-ribbon commission delivered a plan for California education that you may have missed, what with the surge in COVID-19 and a “stolen” presidential election sucking up media oxygen. The proposal deserves a second curtain-raising. Just as Clark Kerr’s iconic 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education put California in the vanguard of accessible, quality higher education — with wildly productive payoffs for the Golden State — the new Master Plan for Early Learning and Care could revolutionize what early education means and what it can accomplish. California pioneered publicly funded preschool half a century ago, but it has fallen behind such unlikely innovators as Oklahoma and Georgia. The state’s prekindergartens enroll only a third of 3- and 4-year-olds living in poverty. Fewer than a sixth of eligible infants and toddlers receive subsidized care. We rank 14th in the nation in terms of preschool accessibility (Oklahoma and Georgia rank 4th and 8th, respectively).
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
A group of congressional Democrats is trying to convince U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to let states nix standardized tests, despite the Biden administration’s decision last month not to consider states’ requests to do so. The letter from members of both the House and Senate asks Cardona to “provide all states with waivers for all federal testing requirements for this school year.” In addition, the lawmakers say the U.S. Department of Education should focus on other ways to support students and educators during the pandemic. “Taken together, it becomes clear that this pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing inequities in our public education system,” the lawmakers told Cardona. “As such, our response should not begin with reassessing the situation, but rather with providing the resources schools need to safely reopen and address the learning loss from the past year.” The pushback from fellow Democrats in Congress shows that the Biden Education Department’s decision last month to grant states waivers from accountability requirements under federal law, but not to allow them to simply cancel mandated standardized exams, remains a controversial issue in the president’s political coalition. The two national teachers’ unions expressed disappointment in the Feb. 22 guidance which included that decision.
Niu Gao, Laura Hill, Julien Lafortune, PPIC
Teachers, schools, and policymakers will face unprecedented challenges as schools reopen for in-person instruction. One of the key challenges is to figure out how to provide resources and support to students, especially those who did not thrive during distance learning. Assessment data is critical to identify learning gaps, develop intervention strategies, and mitigate learning loss. Year-end assessments for math, English language arts, science, and English language proficiency were waived last spring, and the state is preparing to apply for a flexibility waiver this year. These summative assessments measure student achievement by comparing it against some benchmark or standard, and some are used for accountability purposes. However, deep concerns about learning loss have prompted districts and schools to rely on diagnostic assessments (which measure pre-instruction knowledge and skills to help teachers fine-tune their lesson plans) and formative assessments (which measure student success in meeting short-term learning goals throughout the year) to monitor student progress.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Eliza Shapiro, New York Times
A major new lawsuit filed Tuesday could force fundamental changes to how New York City’s public school students are admitted into selective schools, and marked the latest front in a growing political, activist and now legal movement to confront inequality in the nation’s largest school system. Even if the suit, brought by civil rights attorneys and student plaintiffs in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, does not upend the city’s admissions system, it will likely prompt scrutiny of New York’s school system, considered among the most racially and socioeconomically segregated in the country. The suit argues that the city’s school system has replicated and worsened racial inequality by sorting children into different academic tracks as early as kindergarten, and has therefore denied many of its roughly one million students of their right to a sound, basic education. Defendants include Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the incoming schools chancellor, Meisha Porter. If the plaintiffs are successful, the city could be compelled to restructure or even eliminate current admissions policies for hundreds of selective schools, including gifted and talented programs and academically selective middle and high schools. The suit could also accelerate pressure on Ms. Porter to articulate a school integration plan. The outgoing chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, resigned from his post over disagreements with the mayor over how aggressively to pursue desegregation.
Ruth López, NEPC
The focus of this brief is on the education of unaccompanied immigrant children (UICs) who arrived from Central America (mostly El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) and Mexico, fleeing violence and poverty in their countries. Beginning in 2014, increasing numbers of UICs arrived and were apprehended at the United States border with Mexico, averaging about 50,000 each year, with the largest numbers in 2019. Upon arrival, these children encounter a complicated immigration legal system, while hav-ing to navigate a new society within an anti-immigrant sociopolitical context. In recent years, these unaccompanied children have been exposed to traumatic situations such as overcrowded detention centers and abuse. Additionally, thousands of children who arrived with their parents or another adult were separated from them, essentially becoming unac-companied.
Kate Way, Truthout
Public K-12 schooling has long been intertwined with economic concerns in the United States, and the dysfunction of this relationship has never been clearer than in the educational fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. The complex relationship between federal, state and local control over schools — coupled with over two decades of neoliberal, corporate-driven education policies — has left the majority of schools and families in a complete tailspin in the wake of an unprecedented public health crisis. Communities are being fractured as people argue over the safety of opening schools. Local school board members are making potentially life-and-death decisions based on newly acquired knowledge of everything from HVAC metrics, to architectural blueprints, to public health codes. Misinformed tropes about powerful teachers’ unions and self-interested teachers are popping up in mainstream media, and seeping onto social media platforms and public comment forums. Parents pushed to the brink by full-time parenting and at-home work are breaking down in front of hundreds of community members on late-night Zoom meetings.
Democracy and the Public Interest
Jonathan E. Collins, Washington Post
Public schools across the United States have been operating during the coronavirus pandemic, mostly via remote instruction or hybrid learning models. The big question now is when K-12 schools will bring students back into schools for in-person instruction. It’s a question spawning fierce debates around the country. Yet we have not received a clear answer. So, who actually supports reopening schools, and why? To address this question, I fielded a national survey of Americans’ opinions of education policy issues, looking primarily at the issue of reopening schools. The survey data suggest Americans are as divided as their political leaders about whether schools should resume in-person instruction. However, a closer look reveals that the political and financial motivations of the middle and upper classes may be drowning out health-related concerns of the most vulnerable.
Leo Casey, American Educator
As winter swept across the United States at the outset of 2018, ushering in the bitterest and bleakest days of the year, American teachers and their unions had little to celebrate. The first eight years of the decade had exacted a heavy toll, and still more trouble was lurking on the horizon. In the wake of the Great Recession, funding for public education had been slashed across the country, with particularly deep cuts in the red states, many of which were granting massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations and thus reducing state revenues. A growing portion of the funds that remained were diverted from public schools to voucher programs for private schools and to charter schools. For American teachers, the 2010s had been a long, dark night. And at the start of 2018, there had been very few signs that it would end. But, in the words of the old Irish peasant saying, it is always darkest before the dawn. In those early months of 2018, West Virginia teachers, education workers, and their unions found themselves grappling with one of the state governments that had acquired a deep red political hue over the decade.
Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic
Dalton is one of the most selective private schools in Manhattan, in part because it knows the answer to an important question: What do hedge-funders want? They want what no one else has. At Dalton, that means an “archaeologist in residence,” a teaching kitchen, a rooftop greenhouse, and a theater proscenium lovingly restored after it was “destroyed by a previous renovation.” “Next it’ll be a heliport,” said a member of the local land-use committee after the school’s most recent remodel, which added two floors— and 12,000 square feet— to one of its four buildings, in order to better prepare students “for the exciting world they will inherit.” Today Dalton; tomorrow the world itself. So it was a misstep when Jim Best, the head of school— relatively new, and with a salary of $700,000— said that Dalton parents couldn’t have something they wanted. The school would not hold in-person classes in the fall. This might have gone over better if the other elite Manhattan schools were doing the same. But Trinity was opening. Ditto the fearsome girls’ schools: Brearley, Nightingale-Bamford, Chapin, Spence.
Other News of Note
Angely Mercado, The Nation
What is now known as the youth climate movement burst onto the international stage when Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager and climate activist, began to skip school in the fall of 2018. Every Friday, Greta, then 15, would sit outside the Swedish parliament with a sign that read Skolstrejk för Klimatet, or “School Strike for Climate.” She was often photographed alone. But standing just off to the side, supporting her activism as it grew from weekly strikes to frequent interviews to far-reaching speeches and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, was her father, the Swedish actor Svante Thunberg. He made her quest to wake the world’s grown-ups possible—even as he himself was woken by it.