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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Laura Meckler, The Mercury News
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday defended her request to cut billions of dollars from the agency’s budget, and Democrats attacked her plan as outrageous and damaging to students who need the most help. Democrats were also cold to DeVos’ plan to use the federal tax code to support private-school scholarships, suggesting that the secretary’s priorities will face another tough year in Congress. “I believe this budget is cruel, and I believe it is reckless,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who leads the education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and presided over the hearing Tuesday. “I really am left with a very serious question for you: How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely.” Lawmakers singled out a range of programs targeted for cuts or elimination by the Trump administration, such as the $17.6 million supporting the Special Olympics. “I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. It’s appalling,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said. Even the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that while some proposed reductions make sense, others are “somewhat shortsighted.”
DeVos, testifying before Congress, refuses to say whether schools should be allowed to discriminate on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity [VIDEO]
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was asked repeatedly Tuesday by a member of Congress whether she believes schools should be allowed to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. She did not directly answer. DeVos was appearing before a House education appropriations subcommittee to defend the Trump administration’s 2020 budget request for the Education Department. This exchange occurred between DeVos and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who had raised the issue of charter schools with the secretary. Pocan was discussing a new report by a public education advocacy group about waste in the U.S. Charter Schools Program. Here’s the back-and-forth.
Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, Inside Higher Ed
Before last year’s midterm elections, GOP politicians were derided for their apparent attempts to suppress the vote of college students, whose views tend to swing liberal. But some of the barriers students encounter in voting — confusion over registration deadlines, state voter identification laws — would likely crumble with the massive election reform package the House of Representatives passed earlier this month. HR 1 — named for its prominence in the House Democrats’ agenda — passed 234 to 193 along party lines and has been controversial for the major electoral shifts it would bring about: automatic voter registration, restoration of the voting rights of those who have served felony sentences and the creation of a public finance system, which would give congressional and presidential candidates a six-to-one match for small donations. Some of the bill’s less recognized provisions specifically focus on college students, and activists and elections experts said in interviews that the legislation would generally benefit students. However, a Republican-controlled Senate, which has made clear its disdain for the bill, all but guarantees it will not advance.
Language, Culture, and Power
Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
In Acacia WoodsChan’s ethnic studies class at Castlemont High School in Oakland, California, students chat with each other in Spanish, Arabic and Mam, a Mayan language from Guatemala. The students have only been in the U.S. for a few weeks or months. Some are from Yemen and many are from countries in Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Last year, WoodsChan became concerned when she started hearing the Spanish-speaking students laugh when their classmates spoke Mam or Arabic or make fun of how those languages sounded. “You could literally look at the faces of the students who spoke those languages — Mam or Arabic — and just see the level of disappointment,” she said. WoodsChan came up with an idea. She asked her students to take turns teaching a little bit of their home language each day. Students taught their peers how to count from one to 10, how to introduce themselves and how to say basic phrases or words like, “Cool.” Then, they recorded themselves saying those phrases in short video clips. WoodsChan says it made a huge difference. “You could see a huge shift in the way that not only the Mam-speaking students regarded the importance of learning Mam and having it visible, but also in the way that the other students received it,” WoodsChan said.
Catherine Gewertz, Education Week
The 8th graders in a civics class in Oklahoma may be too young to vote, but they’ve learned how to bring about change in their government anyway. Because of their work, lawmakers in the state Capitol are considering a bill that would require schools to provide students with accurate information about HIV and AIDS. The story of how these teenagers turned anger into legislative action is one that’s being replicated in varying forms around the country as an activist brand of civics education gains a foothold in classrooms. The name of this instructional model—”action civics”—signals its mission: not only to teach students how their government works but to harness that knowledge to launch them into collective action on issues they care about. And its lofty goal is to revitalize democracy with a new generation of informed, engaged citizens. Using the action-civics approach recently, middle school students in Anaheim, Calif., researched the water quality in their drinking fountains and persuaded their principal to install new filtration systems in an upcoming school renovation. One group of students in Chicago persuaded the local transit agency to move a bus stop to a safer spot, while another started structured dialogues—and basketball games—between students and police officers to build mutual trust and understanding. Teenagers at an alternative school in Norman, Okla., immersed themselves in the nuances of school funding and won an $11 million bond issue to renovate their school. Students in South Los Angeles surveyed homelessness among their peers, convened social-service agencies on campus to publicize their resources, and opened a food pantry on campus.
Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times
The two slaves, a father and daughter, were stripped to the waist and positioned for frontal and side views. Then, like subjects in contemporary mug shots, their pictures were taken, as part of a racist study arguing that black people were an inferior race. Almost 170 years later, they are at the center of a dispute over who should own the fruits of American slavery. The images of the father and daughter, identified by their first names, Renty and Delia, were commissioned by a professor at Harvard and are now stored in a museum on campus as precious cultural artifacts. But to the Lanier family, they are records of a personal family history. “These were our bedtime stories,” Shonrael Lanier said. On Wednesday, Ms. Lanier’s mother, Tamara, 54, filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts saying that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, and that the valuable photographs are rightfully hers. The case renews focus on the role that the country’s oldest universities played in slavery, and comes amid a growing debate over whether the descendants of enslaved people are entitled to reparations — and what those reparations might look like. “It is unprecedented in terms of legal theory and reclaiming property that was wrongfully taken,” Benjamin Crump, one of Ms. Lanier’s lawyers, said. “Renty’s descendants may be the first descendants of slave ancestors to be able to get their property rights.”
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week
From technology to textbooks to teacher training, school planning often has a lot of competing priorities. Some things—like the morning schedule, lunch and activity time, or the building’s physical environment—by their very banality often fall to the bottom of that priority list. Yet evidence is mounting that attending to these basic aspects of students’ school experiences can significantly improve their academic focus, concentration, and mental well-being. And often the challenges to making changes in school structures seem insurmountable. But many schools are coming up with creative solutions. In Seattle, for example, “it took years” to convince the district to delay high school start times to give adolescents more sleep, according to teacher Cynthia Jatul. “When we first started bringing it up to the school board, they said that they had tried and had never been able to fully implement the policy because there are so many factors that surround school start time, and a lot of those things are difficult to change. So even though it was known that it would be much better, nothing was done.” Yet switching the bus schedule to pick up elementary students before high schoolers ultimately reduced stress at both levels, as older students got more rest and parents of younger children were able to get to work earlier. The following stories highlight four issues that often get short shrift in school planning, and the schools and districts that are working to improve them: Meal Time, Exercise, Clean Air, Sleep.
Susan Abram, Center for Health Journalism
Along with books and backpacks, the teens who walk through the hallways of Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles also carry secrets and fear. Some have seen moms or dads arrested or taken away by immigration agents during early morning raids. They’ve watched as loved ones and friends were gunned down or stabbed to death on the sidewalks in front of where they live. Others dread going home to an adult who hurts instead of heals. Trauma, depression and anxiety weigh heavily on the minds of many of the young students who fill the classrooms of Washington Prep in the Westmont neighborhood, where poverty and lack of resources are the norm. “We screen for anxiety, depression and PTSD,” Pia Escudero, executive director of student health and human services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, told a group of 2019 California Fellows recently. “The numbers are alarming and they’ve been alarming for 20 years. They just keep growing.” But Escudero and other district officials say a small community clinic at the corner of the campus is making a big impact. More students and nearby residents are walking into its doors for help for everything from managing aches and pains to unloading the worries they carry.
Joi Ito, Wired
Like most parents of young children, I’ve found that determining how best to guide my almost 2-year-old daughter’s relationship with technology—especially YouTube and mobile devices—is a challenge. And I’m not alone: One 2018 survey of parents found that overuse of digital devices has become the number one parenting concern in the United States. Empirically grounded, rigorously researched advice is hard to come by. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve noticed a puzzling trend in my friends who provide me with unsolicited parenting advice. In general, my most liberal and tech-savvy friends exercise the most control and are weirdly technophobic when it comes to their children’s screen time. What’s most striking to me is how many of their opinions about children and technology are not representative of the broader consensus of research, but seem to be based on fearmongering books, media articles, and TED talks that amplify and focus on only the especially troubling outcomes of too much screen time. I often turn to my sister, Mimi Ito, for advice on these issues. She has raised two well-adjusted kids and directs the Connected Learning Lab at UC Irvine, where researchers conduct extensive research on children and technology. Her opinion is that “most tech-privileged parents should be less concerned with controlling their kids’ tech use and more about being connected to their digital lives.” Mimi is glad that the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) dropped its famous 2×2 rule—no screens for the first two years, and no more than two hours a day until a child hits 18. She argues that this rule fed into stigma and parent-shaming around screen time at the expense of what she calls “connected parenting”—guiding and engaging in kids’ digital interests.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Gretchen Livingston, Pew Research Center
Teens today are spending their time differently than they did a decade ago. They’re devoting more time to sleep and homework, and less time to paid work and socializing. But what has not changed are the differences between teen boys and girls in time spent on leisure, grooming, homework, housework and errands, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Overall, teens (ages 15 to 17) spend an hour a day, on average, doing homework during the school year, up from 44 minutes a day about a decade ago and 30 minutes in the mid-1990s. Teens are also getting more shut-eye than they did in the past. They are clocking an average of over nine and a half hours of sleep a night, an increase of 22 minutes compared with teens a decade ago and almost an hour more than those in the mid-1990s. Sleep patterns fluctuate quite a bit – on weekends, teens average about 11 hours, while on weekdays they typically get just over nine hours a night. (While these findings are derived from time diaries in which respondents record the amount of time they slept on the prior night, results from other types of surveys suggest teens are getting fewer hours of sleep.)
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
Being a new teacher is notoriously difficult — and schools often make it even tougher. New research out of Los Angeles finds that teachers in their first few years end up in classrooms with more struggling students and in schools with fewer experienced colleagues, making their introduction to teaching all the more challenging. The differences between the environments of new teachers and their more experienced teachers are generally small, but they appear to matter for both students and teachers. The tougher assignments hurt new teachers’ performance and their career trajectories — and mean that students who are the furthest behind are being taught by the least experienced educators. It’s a long-standing issue that states and districts have struggled to address and that concerns civil rights groups. “More than anything else in schools, teaching quality has greatest impact on student achievement and student success,” said Allison Socol of the Education Trust. “And we know that the impact of strong teachers is greater for students who are further behind academically.”
Larry Gordon, EdSource
California’s community colleges are making some gains toward ambitious goals of getting more students to complete degrees and transfer to universities but the small improvements last year were “disappointing” and show that much work remains ahead, the system’s leader said Monday. “While there is some progress, it is not acceptable progress,” system chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley told EdSource. The statistics were included in his “state of the system” presentation Monday to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. The report shows minimal improvements: a less than one percent increase last year in the number of students who earned degrees or credentials and a three percent rise in students who transferred to University of California or California State University campuses. Oakley acknowledged that it is “not going to be easy” to reach the targets he and the board previously established for 2021-22, known as Vision for Success.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
California school district among latest to change board elections to better reflect diversity of community
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
Across California, more than 190 school districts are electing board members to represent specific geographic areas in hopes of improving the representation of diverse communities. The West Contra Costa Unified district in the Bay Area is one of the most recent to make this change after it faced a lawsuit that alleged “at large” elections in the district that serves about 29,000 students in Richmond and surrounding areas did not give African-American and Latino voters adequate representation on the five-member board. Richmond resident Linda Ruiz-Lozito sued West Contra Costa Unified last year, claiming that the election of school board members from the entire district violated the 2001 California Voting Rights Act because some minorities lacked the voting power to elect board members that represent their interests. She also argued that winners came from the district’s affluent areas with significant financial backing from special interest groups. She hopes smaller voting districts will make it easier for candidates to run successful grass-roots campaigns. Smaller voting districts should help level the playing field, she said, because each candidate will only need to reach about 25,000 voters instead of 125,000 voters, which could be accomplished with less money.
Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report
Critics have attacked Big Pharma for widespread biases in studies of new and potentially profitable drugs. Now, scholars are detecting the same type of biases in the education product industry — even in a federally curated collection of research that’s supposed to be of the highest quality. And that may be leaving teachers and school administrators in the dark about the full story of classroom programs and interventions they are considering buying. An analysis of 30 years of educational research by scholars at Johns Hopkins University found that when a maker of an educational intervention conducted its own research or paid someone to do the research, the results commonly showed greater benefits for students than when the research was independent. On average, the developer research showed benefits — usually improvements in test scores — that were 70 percent greater than what independent studies found. “I think there are some cases of fraud, but I wouldn’t say it’s fraud across the board,” said Rebecca Wolf, an assistant professor in the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the draft study. “Developers are proud of their products. They believe in them. They’ve worked hard in developing these products. They want a study that puts the best face forward.”
David Washburn, EdSource
When examining school discipline disparities, data consistently show that Asian-American students, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, have the lowest rates of suspensions and expulsions. But educators and researchers have long said the numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of what many students who fall within the Asian category experience in school because the classification itself is such a gross generalization of the many ethnicities and nationalities in that category, which makes up nearly half the world’s population. It is against this backdrop that a team of researchers from UCLA, the University of Washington and Lewis & Clark College in Oregon released findings this month showing that discipline outcomes varied considerably among Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups. Students from Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam and Cambodia, had suspension and expulsion rates that were 2 to 3 times higher than those from China, Japan and other East Asian countries, according to the study. The study also found that rates for Pacific Islander subgroups — which include students from Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and other Pacific islands — were significantly higher than any of the Asian subgroups. The research focused on Washington state because it is the only state that requires schools to break out data by Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups. California schools report Pacific Islanders separate from Asians but do not report Pacific Islander subgroups.
Public Schools and Private $
Report: U.S. government wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools and still fails to adequately monitor grants
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
The U.S. government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons, according to a report from an education advocacy group. The study also says the U.S. Education Department does not adequately monitor how its grant money is spent. The report, titled “Asleep at the Wheel” and issued by the nonprofit advocacy group Network for Public Education, says: 1) More than 1,000 grants were given to schools that never opened, or later closed because of mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment or fraud. “Of the schools awarded grants directly from the department between 2009 and 2016, nearly one in four either never opened or shut its doors,” it says. 2) Some grants in the 25-year-old federal Charter School Program (CSP) have been awarded to charters that set barriers to enrollment of certain students. Thirty-four California charter schools that received grants appear on an American Civil Liberties Union list of charters “that discriminate — in some cases illegally — in admissions.” 3) The department’s grant approval process for charters has been sorely lacking, with “no attempt to verify the information presented” by applicants. 4) The Education Department in Republican and Democratic administrations has “largely ignored or not sufficiently addressed” recommendations to improve the program made by its own inspector general.
Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
The warning signs appeared soon after Denise Kawamoto accepted a job at Today’s Fresh Start Charter School in South Los Angeles. Though she was fresh out of college, she was pretty sure it wasn’t normal for the school to churn so quickly through teachers or to mount surveillance cameras in each classroom. Old computers were lying around, but the campus had no internet access. Pay was low and supplies scarce — she wasn’t given books for her students. She struggled to reconcile the school’s conditions with what little she knew about its wealthy founders, Clark and Jeanette Parker of Beverly Hills. When Kawamoto saw their late-model Mercedes-Benz outside the school, she would think: “Look at your school, then look at what you drive.” “That didn’t sit well with us teachers,” she said. The Parkers have cast themselves as selfless philanthropists, telling the California Board of Education that they have “devoted all of our lives to the education of other people’s children, committed many millions of our own dollars directly to that particular purpose, with no gain directly to us.” But the couple have, in fact, made millions from their charter schools. Financial records show the Parkers’ schools have paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own. The charters have contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money, a Times investigation found.
Arianna Prothero, Education Week
Efforts to unionize teachers in charter schools are picking up in a handful of states and counter efforts by school administrators to tamp them down often backfire, according to a study by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. Those trends are among several issues the study explores on unionizing efforts in charter schools, a topic that has generated national headlines recently but one we still don’t know a lot about. Charter unionization drives and strikes by charter school teachers—such as those recently seen in Chicago and Los Angeles—capture media attention, but they are nowhere near the norm. Only 11.3 percent of charter schools have unionized staff. That’s down by 1 percent from 10 years ago. The vast majority of charter schools are not unionized because state laws exempt charters from a lot of rules, including, in most states, collective bargaining contracts. But while charter schools are not required to be unionized, they’re not prohibited, either. National figures, though, can gloss over the realities in different states. Charter unions have expanded in states that already have a strong union presence, such as Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. They have declined in states such as Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and Oregon. While the majority of unionized charters—54 percent—are so because they are required to be under state law, most new unionization efforts are because schools have voluntarily chosen to organize.
Elena Kadvany, Palo Alto Online
Three years ago, Maria Rodriguez, then a high school freshman, pleaded with the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education to give the green light for a new public charter school — for the sake of her younger sisters, whom she wanted to have a better education than she’d received. “I want nothing more than my sisters to make it to a four-year college and graduate from college,” she said. “Everyone deserves to succeed.” The school district had been at this point before, having both approved and rejected a series of charter school petitions over the prior two decades. This time, the board approved Kipp Bay Area School’s request to open an elementary and middle school — albeit reluctantly, and with a warning that the charter could pose an existential threat for the long-struggling district. “The only way that we’re going to prevent the district from being eaten alive by every charter school that can put together, frankly, 80 parents (to) sign a petition, the only way that we can combat that is to keep moving forward,” board member Sharifa Wilson told the standing-room only crowd. Over the past four years, Ravenswood has lost more than 1,000 students — nearly one-third of its enrollment — faced fiscal insolvency, discussed closing a school to make room for the growing Kipp and is without a permanent superintendent — all issues that are intertwined with, though not exclusively related to, charter-school growth in East Palo Alto. The district — whose enrollment in its neighborhood schools this year was 2,395 students — is also losing students to other schools, both private and public, including through the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP). Students also are moving out of the area when their families can no longer keep up with the cost of living in East Palo Alto.
Other News of Note
Kelly Lytle Hernández, Boston Review
Elizabeth Hinton’s richly researched new book barrels toward one chilling conclusion: beginning as early as the Johnson administration, federal authorities—regardless of political affiliation—systematically constructed a criminal justice regime that targets, criminalizes, polices, and imprisons staggering numbers of young black men, especially in urban areas. Some readers might wonder whether the history of mass incarceration could really be so unyielding; historians rarely write with so much conviction about change over time anymore. But Hinton’s documentation is thorough and compelling. As the chapters unfold, she makes clear that, between the late 1960s and early 1980s, the federal government slowly built a trap, creating the conditions for the mass incarceration of black youth with which are now so familiar.