Just News from Center X – March 22, 2024

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

A Bronx teacher asked.  Tommy Orange Answered.

Elizabeth Egan, New York Times

Tommy Orange sat at the front of a classroom in the Bronx, listening as a group of high school students discussed his novel “There There.” A boy wearing blue glasses raised his hand. “All the characters have some form of disconnection, even trauma,” Michael Almanzar, 19, said. “That’s the world we live in. That’s all around us. It’s not like it’s in some faraway land. That’s literally your next-door neighbor.” The class broke into a round of finger snaps, as if we were at an old-school poetry slam on the Lower East Side and not in an English class at Millennium Art Academy, on the corner of Lafayette and Pugsley Avenues. Orange took it all in with a mixture of gratitude and humility — the semicircle of earnest, engaged teenagers; the bulletin board decorated with words describing “There There” (“hope,” “struggle,” “mourning,” “discovery”); the shelf of well-thumbed copies wearing dust jackets in various stages of disintegration.

Study: Black Boys Are Less Likely to Be Identified for Special Education When Matched with Black Teachers

Cassandra Hart and Constance Lindsay, AERA

Black male elementary school students matched to Black teachers are less likely to be identified for special education services, according to new research published today. The relationship is strongest for economically disadvantaged students. The study, by Cassandra Hart at the University of California, Davis, and Constance Lindsay at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill appeared in the American Educational Research Journal, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. The researchers also found that the connection is especially strong in special education categories that are more open to teacher discretion, such as learning disabilities. For their study, Hart and Lindsay drew on rich statewide administrative data from North Carolina that included more than 540,000 observations of Black children in grades 1 to 4 and their assigned teachers from 2008–08 through 2012–13. “Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that having access to Black teachers matters to Black children’s educational journeys,” said Hart, a professor of education at the University of California, Davis.


What March Madness Can Teach Schools About Equity

Bettina L. Love, Education Week

March Madness, the annual single-elimination tournament where the nation’s top women’s and men’s college basketball teams compete to determine the national champion, is one of my favorite times of the year. As a former Division I college women’s basketball player, I have fond memories of traveling around the country, eating endless slices of cold pizza, drinking gallons of Gatorade, and enduring the screams of die-hard fans who seemed to love the game more than any player on the court. Twenty years later, I can still feel the agonizing excitement of taking the court and the crushing disappointment of a loss. But what I remember most about my time as a basketball player was the support I had off the court. I only went to college because I could put a ball through a hoop.


Language, Culture, and Power

50 years later: How Lau v. Nichols changed education for English learners [AUDIO]

Education Beat Podcast

Fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided a case that would forever change education for English learners in this country. In the 1974 case Lau v. Nichols, the Court decided that students who do not yet speak fluent English have a right to fully understand what is being taught in their classrooms, and that schools must take steps to make sure students can understand, whether through additional instruction in English as a second language or bilingual education. On this episode of Education Beat, we bring you the story of how this case began and how it changed education, from the perspective of a teacher.


Newly Arrived Immigrant Youth Face Challenges to School Enrollment

Daniel Parra, City Limits

The 20-year-old from Mauritania arrived in the city four months ago with the dream of graduating from high school in the United States. “I want to make my life better. I am still a baby, and I should go to school to have more experience, to have more knowledge,” the youth—who preferred not to be identified by name, citing past experiences with other media—said in fluent English, something he quickly picked up from daily interactions, adding to the multitude of languages he already speaks. “I don’t want to lose my time.” In only four months, he has moved from one shelter to the other: living first in Manhattan, then Brooklyn, and now the Bronx, after the city instituted a 30-day shelter limit for adult migrants in the city last year, which was extended last week to 60 days for adults under 23 as part of the city’s “right to shelter” settlement. Over 852 single immigrant youth between the ages of 17 and 20 were in the city’s shelter system as of March 3, according to City Hall. Dozens of them have told shelter staff they want to graduate from high school, but haven’t been enrolled—even though they are entitled to do so under federal law, according to several community-based organizations (CBOs) that are trying to assist them.


The Story Behind the Prison Books Movement

Eleanor J Bader, The Progressive

Moira Marquis, co-editor of the new collection Books Through Bars: Stories from the Prison Books Movement, describes more than thirty U.S.-based projects that send legal resources, letters, and books to people imprisoned throughout the country as “mailing care.” Despite censorship and constantly changing rules about what prisoners can and can’t receive by mail, the largely volunteer-run prison books movement provides people inside with what Marquis calls “an escape from incessant monotony and loneliness.” It’s enormously challenging since approximately  60 percent of adults in prison are functionally illiterate (the figure skyrockets to 85 percent for incarcerated youth), nonetheless, “Books Through Bars” programs give people tangible support and a meaningful connection to the outside world.  The programs began more than 50 years ago, in the 1970s, after political prisoner Martin Sostre brought a series of successful lawsuits to challenge carceral censorship. Prior to Sostre’s decade’s-long efforts, prisons limited available reading material to religious texts like the Bible. Since Sostre’s victory, groups sending magazines, newspapers, and books have proliferated.


Whole Children and Strong Communities

Free school meals for all may reduce childhood obesity, while easing financial and logistical burdens for families and schools

Anna Localio and Jessica Jones-Smith, The Conversation

School meals are critical to child health. Research has shown that school meals can be more nutritious than meals from other sources, such as meals brought from home. A recent study that one of us conducted found the quality of school meals has steadily improved, especially since the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act strengthened nutrition standards for school meals. In fact, by 2017, another study found that school meals provided the best diet quality of any major U.S. food source. Many American families became familiar with universal free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. To ease the financial and logistical burdens of the pandemic on families and schools, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued waivers that allowed schools nationwide to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. However, these waivers expired by the 2022-23 school year.


Ramadan 2024: 5 Ways Teachers Can Help Students Who Are Fasting

Unzela Khan Sheikh, Huffington Post

Once they get to a certain age as Muslim children, they are encouraged to fast. Though this is often around puberty — for some it might be even earlier if they’re stubborn and take a keen interest! Often kids will go to school and be fasting with teachers and education providers unaware. I remember when I used to fast in school no-one really ever knew unless it was the friends I would sit with at lunch. Fasting in school has its challenges, obviously you can’t eat or drink and might be low on energy — so, for teachers, how can they help students that are observing Ramadan?


What New Research Says About Fostering a ‘Sense of Belonging’ in Classrooms [AUDIO]

Jeffrey R. Young, EdSurge Podcast

When some students hit an obstacle in school or college, they can take it as a sign that this whole education thing just isn’t for them. That can especially be the case for students who are racial minorities. That can be true with challenges like glitches in the federal financial aid forms or a student registration system, says Greg Walton, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “Research shows that everybody finds things like that annoying, but if you’re a first-generation college student, those start to trigger worries about belonging, because there’s a belonging uncertainty there,” he says. “They think, ‘Is there something wrong with me? I can’t even navigate how to sign up for classes, how am I ever going to graduate?’”


Access, Assessment, Advancement

Universal prekindergarten is coming to California — bumpy rollout and all

Kate Rix, Washington Post

Teacher Yasmin Kudrolli sat on a low chair and lit a candle to start the morning meeting in her prekindergarten classroom in Oakland. Speaking quietly to her 4-year-old students, she picked one boy from the group to count his classmates: 22. California mandates one adult for every 12 students in what it calls “transitional kindergarten,” so there’s an aide standing by the door, ready to take any child who needs to use the bathroom into the main building. Families from Oakland’s higher-income neighborhoods have been drawn to the transitional kindergarten program in her school, which had a waiting list at the beginning of the school year. Across town, but in the same school district, teacher Alicia Simba leads 13 students, all 4-year-olds, in a breathing exercise in her classroom. Her 14th student is crying in the reading nook. She wants to go home.


Utah Child Care Providers Are Struggling. Lawmakers Haven’t Helped.

Nicole Santa Cruz, ProPublica

Aleatha Child struggled to keep her Brigham City, Utah, day care open after federal funding meant to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic ended last September. She raised the fees she charged families and let an employee go. She put some hope in the Utah legislative session. But instead of providing day cares like hers with more money, lawmakers expanded a child tax credit in a bill that also allows unlicensed care providers to take in more children. Child concluded that her child care license could soon be useless and decided her day care will close at the end of the month.


Indiana Law Could Endanger Tenure for Professors Who Speak Out Against Racism

Zane McNeill, Truthout

On March 13, Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) enacted Senate Bill 202, which mandates that professors in Indiana’s public universities uphold “intellectual diversity” within their classrooms to maintain their tenure safeguards. However, critics have pointed out that Senate Bill 202 actually undermines diversity and inclusivity measures and erodes tenure safeguards for professors who teach at public colleges and universities in the state. Failure to comply with this law may result in disciplinary measures, such as termination, demotion, or salary reduction. “What is most egregious about the bill is the fact that such sanctions would be imposed as a consequence for speaking about discrimination and racism in higher education classes in the state of Indiana,” the University Alliance for Racial Justice in Indiana said in response to the bill.


Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

‘A world apart’: How racial segregation continues to determine opportunity for American kids

Claire Thornton,USA TODAY

More than half a century after racial segregation practices like redlining were outlawed, data suggests race still plays a huge role in determining what kind of neighborhood a child grows up in. According to findings released Thursday from the latest Child Opportunity Index, Black and Latino children in the U.S. are much more likely than their white counterparts to grow up in neighborhoods with poorer health outcomes, fewer educational opportunities and worse economic conditions. Researchers at Brandeis University in Boston who created the Childhood Opportunity Index have for more than a decade analyzed the quality of opportunities available to children in thousands of neighborhoods nationwide. More than 40 neighborhood factors including building vacancy rates, green space and employment rates are considered, creating a portrait of the country’s 73,000 census tracts.


California spends more on schools with the neediest kids. Here’s how it’s succeeded, and failed.

Carolyn Jones, Cal Matters

A decade ago the state remade its school funding system to funnel more money to low-income students, English learners and foster youth. A decade after California revolutionized the way it funds schools, nearly everyone agrees the initiative has done what it was meant to do: improved math and reading scores and brought more resources to students who struggle the most. And nearly everyone also agrees that the Local Control Funding Formula, as it’s known, could use a tune-up. Black and Latino students’ test scores have improved but still lag behind their white and Asian peers, and schools in affluent areas still spend far more per student than schools in poorer neighborhoods. But overall, researchers and superintendents say, the system introduced under Gov. Jerry Brown has remade California’s schools for the better.


In Gaza, starving children fill hospital wards as famine looms

Mohammad Salem and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

Six-year-old Fadi al-Zant is acutely malnourished, his ribs protruding under leathery skin, his eyes sunken as he lays in bed at the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza, where famine is bearing down. Fadi’s spindly legs can no longer support him enough to walk. Photographs of Fadi from before the war show a smiling, healthy-looking child, standing in blue denims next to his taller twin with his hair brushed. A short video clip shows him dancing at a wedding with a little girl.


Democracy and the Public Interest

After higher education Supreme Court decision, conservatives target DEI [AUDIO]

Here & Now, WBUR

Nearly a year after the Supreme Court struck down race-conscious college admissions, some conservatives are trying to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion programs at workplaces that increased after George Floyd was murdered in 2020. Here & Now’s Scott Tong speaks with Olatunde Johnson, professor at Columbia Law School who studies discrimination law and Constitutional law.


School Chaplain Bills Multiply, Stirring Debate on Faith-Based Counseling

Evie Blad, Education Week

A surge of state proposals would allow school districts to use religiously affiliated chaplains to counsel students during the school day. Texas became the first state to pass such a bill last year. Fourteen states have followed course since, weighing legislation with similar language. They include Florida, where legislators passed a bill March 7 that will soon head to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The bills come as educators struggle to address a youth mental health crisis. They also come as states weigh actions—like the approval of a religious charter school in Oklahoma and bills pending in several states that would require the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools—that test the boundaries of the First Amendment, alarming advocates for a firm separation of church and state.


Religious Charter Schools are Coming. Be Worried. [Audio]

Have You Heard

Last year Oklahoma approved the nation’s first tax-payer funded religious charter school. It won’t be the last, warns Rachel Laser of Americans United for Church and State. We’re joined by Laser and two plaintiffs in a legal effort to keep the school from opening. As our guests explain, the school is part of a larger project to roll back the clock on civil rights, disability rights and labor protections. Now for the good news: tearing down the separation between church and state turns out to be really unpopular.


Other News of Note

What Does It Take to Keep a Movement Going? [Video]

Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Astra Taylor, Aziz Rana, Boston Review

Last Wednesday, in an event hosted by Harvard Book Store and sponsored by Boston Review, veteran organizers Astra Taylor (co-founder of the Debt Collective) and Leah Hunt-Hendrix (co-founder of Solidaire) talked with Aziz Rana about their new book, Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea. In the face of reactionary, far-right solidarities being built up around the world, Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor argue that we need a conception of solidarity fit to challenge them. For them, this comes in the notion of “transformative solidarity”: a collective “abstracted from our given identities and extended outward to create wider circles of belonging.” Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor insist that solidarity is both a principle and a practice, one that must be cultivated and institutionalized, so that care for the common good becomes the central aim of politics and social life.


Only Revolutionary Love Can Save Us Now

Michelle Alexander, The Nation

This moment feels different. Something new is in the air. Of course, everything is always changing. Impermanence is the way of life. Philosophers, theologians, and poets have reminded us for centuries that the only constant is change. As the late, great Nina Simone, once put it,

The young become the old
and mysteries do unfold
for that’s the way of time
no one, and nothing stays unchanged.