Just News from Center X – March 5, 2021

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Newsom, lawmakers unveil plan to push some schools to reopen by April 1

Ricardo Cano, Laurel Rosenhall & Barbara Feder Ostrov, Cal Matters

California public schools will receive financial incentives to reopen campuses by April 1 for their youngest and most vulnerable students under a deal Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced today after months of tense negotiations. Under the plan, schools are not required to reopen. Decisions still rest with school boards, administrators and labor unions, so it is unclear whether the deal will actually result in widespread campus reopenings. Prompted by parents who have been protesting school closures, Newsom and Democrats who control the Legislature said they hope that the $6.6 billion compromise will prod public schools to reopen after most campuses have been closed for nearly a year. Legislators said they will vote on the plan Thursday, and Newsom said he would quickly sign it into law. “We expect that all of our (transitional kindergarten) to (grade) two classrooms will open, and then the next month, we want to see more happen beyond that,” Newsom said during a press conference at an elementary school in Elk Grove. “We’re now accelerating the pace of reopening.” But parent activists blasted the plan, saying they fear it will not compel enough schools to reopen. “This isn’t a breakthrough, it’s a failure,” said a statement from Pat Reilly, a parent advocate with the Open Schools California group who has children that attend Berkeley schools.

Should Your School Be Fully Open? Here’s What the C.D.C. Says

John Keefe, New York Times

Only 4 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren live in counties where coronavirus transmission is low enough for full-time in-person learning without additional restrictions, according to the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an analysis of the agency’s latest figures. President Biden’s administration has made reopening schools a centerpiece of its coronavirus strategy. And the C.D.C’s recommendations call for every elementary school to be open in some fashion. But even after drastic drops in the number of new coronavirus cases, few counties in the United States meet the C.D.C.’s thresholds to avoid major restrictions, which are based on both the number of cases and test-positivity rates.

The giant experiment that could keep schools open

Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic

The bright-blue tents appeared shortly after the close of winter break. Each Tuesday, Thalia Ruark and her classmates at the Bromfield School in Massachusetts, line up single file, spaced a neat six feet apart, for their weekly coronavirus test. The 11-year-old sixth grader still spends most of her classroom time on a computer at home, in accordance with Bromfield’s hybrid-learning model. But the school’s new testing measures are meant to keep her and her peers safer while they’re at the school, which is in the rural town of Harvard, some 30 miles west of Boston. They enter the tents one by one after sanitizing their hands and blowing their noses; a gowned, gloved, and masked nurse swivels a soft-tipped swab into each of their nostrils. “It kind of makes your eyes water,” Thalia told me. “But it doesn’t really hurt. And it makes my nose feel really clean after we’re done.” Each week, more than 300,000 students and school staff in Massachusetts are tested as a part of an ambitious and unprecedented statewide experiment, designed to screen for the coronavirus. The state-run pilot funds testing using a cost-saving tactic called pooling, in which multiple people’s samples are processed at once. Already, more than 1,000 schools have opted in, according to Russell Johnston, a senior associate commissioner at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE.


Language, Culture, and Power

The Muddled History of Anti-Asian Violence

Hua Hsu, The New Yorker

On the evening of April 28, 1997, Kuan Chung Kao, a thirty-three-year-old Taiwan-born engineer, went to the Cotati Yacht Club near Rohnert Park, a quiet suburb in Sonoma County, California, where he lived with his wife and three children. Kao went to the bar a couple of times a week for an after-work glass of red wine; on this evening, he was celebrating a new job. According to a bartender working that night, Kao got in an argument with a customer, who mistook him for Japanese. “You all look alike to me,” the man said. Tensions simmered, and, later in the evening, the man returned to needle Kao some more. “I’m sick and tired of being put down because I’m Chinese,” Kao shouted back. “If you want to challenge me, now’s the time to do it.”

5 Things to Know about Black Women’s Education

African American Policy Forum

The African American Policy Forum is excited to release our fourth chapter of The Facts to Know About the Status of Black Women as We Enter the Biden Years. This week, we spotlight the status of educational access and opportunity for Black women and girls. Education has long been a central pillar of the American Dream – a mythical national narrative promising social mobility, improved life chances, and community uplift. Yet for Black women and girls, the schools and institutions of learning that should be safe and supportive are often sites of discrimination, marginalization, and draconian discipline. The risks that Black girls confront in school rarely receive the attention of researchers, advocates, policy makers, or funders. Consequently, the conversations about how these issues affect the lives of Black girls as they progress through school and into college are few and far between.

Federal lawmakers push Cardona to undo DeVos Title IX rule

Greta Anderson, Inside Higher Ed

More than 100 U.S. representatives urged Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to prioritize changing the current federal regulations that govern how colleges and universities address campus sexual misconduct under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination at federally funded institutions. In a letter addressed to Cardona Tuesday, the day after he was confirmed as education secretary, 115 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives said that the regulations put in place last year by former secretary of education Betsy DeVos “gut protections for survivors of sexual violence and overburden already-strained schools struggling amid a global pandemic.” The letter, organized by Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, and several other congresspeople, encouraged Cardona to issue temporary federal guidance based on “key portions of earlier guidance addressing Title IX protections against sexual harassment in schools.” “Survivors of sexual violence deserve justice, dignity, safety and healing,” the letter said. “Yet, Secretary DeVos’ rule turns back the clock and erodes hard-fought protections and rights for victims with a ‘boys will be boys’ approach to sexual assault on college campuses.”


Whole Children and Strong Communities

Discovery of schoolhouse for Black children now offers a history lesson

Mary Louise Kelly & Emma Bowman, NPR

A small, white building has been sitting on the campus of the College of William & Mary for nearly a century. But it was only recently identified as an 18th century schoolhouse where free and enslaved Black children were taught Christianity and literacy. Researchers believe the Williamsburg Bray School, as it was called, to be the oldest standing building in the U.S. dedicated to the education of Black children. A new initiative aims to interpret and share the school’s complex, pro-slavery history. The school was founded by the Associates of Dr. Bray, clergyman Thomas Bray’s London-based charity group tied to the Church of England as part of its wide-reaching mission to spread Christianity to the British Empire. Its location in Williamsburg, Va., was proposed, in part, by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. “The Church of England was deeply and intrinsically bound to slavery,” Nicole Brown, a graduate student at William & Mary’s American studies program, said in an interview with NPR. “So, often these textbooks are issuing a pro-slavery ideology to the students.” The Gladys and Franklin Clark Foundation is funding the initiative with a $400,000 grant, in a partnership with William & Mary, that seeks to restore and relocate the Bray School building to Colonial Williamsburg’s historic district.

Thanks to Covid-19, high schoolers’ job prospects are bleak. Here’s how schools can help

Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week

Economic downturns often take a steep toll on those just starting their careers. For students coming of age during and after the coronavirus pandemic, those financial and career-related “scars” could run particularly deep and hit vulnerable students the hardest. While it’s hoped new vaccines will at last get the virus itself under control in the next several months, experts say it will take years for the global economy to recover. The disruption has accelerated existing trends (and their accompanying inequities) toward technology-based and automated jobs, experts say.

That is why they say schools will need to rethink how to support all kids— especially students of color, English-language learners, students with special needs, and kids from economically poor families— to become “college and career ready” over the next five years. “We really do have a crisis here,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “We never pay attention to youth where jobs are concerned. I mean, you can’t afford it; if the parents are out of work, you can’t start programs for the kids. … And now in this particular recession, we have a collapse in service [jobs], which is sort of the last chance for kids who’ve got to get more schooling and more work experience to be able to get a good job by the time they’re 32. So they are in trouble.”

Report: US schools receive D grade for infrastructure

Naaz Modan, Education Dive

The American Society of Civil Engineers, which assigned a C- grade to the nation’s total infrastructure in its latest quadrennial assessment, gave school infrastructure a D grade. By comparison, the 16 other infrastructure categories’ grades in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure ranged from B to D-. The organization pointed to a 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office, which found 53% of the nation’s schools need to upgrade or replace multiple building systems, including HVAC. The same agency found nearly 41% reported issues with HVAC systems, with ASCE calling it a “significant concern,” and that 16% of districts have not assessed their facilities in the past decade. The report pointed to a lack of planning, saying four in 10 public schools do not have a long-term facility plan for operations and maintenance. It also said despite progress in areas like technology, “many school districts have not been able to keep pace” with new needs during the pandemic such as adding capacity with outdoor classrooms, temporary buildings or leasing spaces on limited budgets.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

One month in, Biden angers supporters who wanted him to curb standardized testing

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

In December 2019, Joe Biden appeared at an education forum and was asked if he would commit to ending standardized testing in public schools if elected president. His answer was surprising— given that the Obama administration, in which he served as vice president, made testing a central part of its controversial education agenda. “Yes,” Biden said. “You are preaching to the choir.” He said that evaluating teachers by student test scores— a feature of President Barack Obama’s overhauls— was “a big mistake” and that “teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to know.” Critics of high-stakes testing took heart in his response and hoped he would diminish the importance of the standardized tests that federal law requires states to give annually to hold schools accountable for student progress. An early indication of that would be whether he would do what Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s education secretary, did in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning: allow states to skip them. Now, a month into the Biden presidency, the Education Department announced this week that states must give the exams— although with some flexibility about how to administer them and use the scores. (An Education Department spokesperson said Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for education secretary, did not participate in the decision.)

A plan for standardized test scores during the pandemic has gotten states’ attention

Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week

States are going to give standardized tests for this school year. But what’s the best way to report scores from those tests in a way that’s useful, highlights students with the greatest needs, and isn’t fundamentally misleading? An assessment expert thinks he can help, and he’s shared his proposal with the nation’s state schools chiefs. A big part of his approach involves thinking about the tests less like traditional exams and more like a census. Having data systems that have tracked individual students over the last five years is another major piece of it. But the plan from Andrew Ho, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, doesn’t have neat solutions for all the potential obstacles involved in testing this year. And of course, it might not win over many doubters whose concerns about the tests extend beyond his pitch. The U.S. Department of Education announced Feb. 22 that it is not entertaining requests from states to cancel standardized tests for this school year mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, despite a push from some states to do so. Not all states have given up hope of nixing these tests or replacing them in some way. But with the pandemic’s disruptions, many states will still confront significant challenges for testing.

California universities graduating more Latinos, but equity gaps persist 

Ashley A. Smith, Ed Source

California colleges and universities need to close equity gaps between white and Latino students if they are to increase degree attainment among the latter group, according to a briefing released Tuesday from Excelencia in Education, a national organization that advocates for Latino student success in college. The report found that the state’s public, four-year universities enroll and graduate more Latino students than the national average— 57% in California and 51% nationally. But statewide, only 20% of Latino adults have an associate degree compared to 54% of white non-Hispanic adults. Within California, Latinos graduate at a lower rate than their white peers, 57% and 67%, respectively, according to the report. Excelencia recommends that state policies adjust to meet Latino students’ needs and expand opportunities for them to get college degrees. “We cannot just be satisfied with being Hispanic-serving institutions,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said, during an Excelencia webinar about the brief. “We have to strive to be Hispanic-graduating institutions.”


Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

School finance 101: A few thoughts on school funding and pandemic relief

Bruce D. Baker, NEPC

I keep getting asked the same questions regarding my thoughts on the current stimulus proposals for schools. So here’s a quick attempt at summarizing my thoughts. The pandemic has had at least three different types of effects on school funding, which in turn, require specific, separate policy responses. First, the pandemic has highlighted the need for a short term infusion of resources to make existing schools safer and healthier for existing staff and students, increasing expenses for things such as cleaning supplies, PPE and technology expansion for increased remote access. While these things can add up, they are still probably the smallest among these financial issues facing schools and states in this moment. Still, they must be addressed, both for short term purposes and so that we learn better how to handle similar situations in the future. The second issue is the fact that the pandemic has created significant shortfalls in state budgets which have yet to be resolved by an appropriately structured federal stimulus package. When state budgets take a hit like this, and income and sales tax revenues dip, there’s usually a large sharp dip for 1 to 3 years, followed by a long slow recovery. We learned a lot from the last great recession. This one is, and will be different in some ways.

Californians on universal basic income paid off debt and got full-time jobs

The Guardian

After receiving $500 per month for two years without rules on how to spend it, 125 people in California paid off debt, got full-time jobs and had “statistically significant improvements” in emotional health, according to a study released Wednesday. The program was the nation’s highest-profile experiment in decades of universal basic income (UBI), an idea that gained national attention when it became a major part of Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign for president. The central idea behind UBI is to lift people out of poverty with a guaranteed monthly income. Supporters say it gives people needed financial security to find good jobs and avoid debt. But critics have argued free money would eliminate the incentive to work, creating a society dependent on the state.

Schoolchildren around the world face a steep uphill battle

Marian Blasberg, Laura Hoflinger, Katrin Kuntz & Fritz Schaap, Spiegel International

When the twins Esther and Deborah Pereira still hadn’t heard anything from their school by early February, despite months of waiting, they turned to books to satisfy their longing. Their father scraped together his savings to buy them: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “Pinocchio” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” “We want to become dentists,” they say after they hold up the colorful books, one after the other, in front of a smartphone camera. Esther and Deborah are 11 years old, two bright girls who live with their parents in a rundown house in Maré, one of the largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Since their father lost his job at a construction company, the family’s food has come from an aid organization. The twins are in the sixth grade– theoretically, at least. Because in contrast to the private schools, most public schools in Brazil are still closed. And nobody knows when they might reopen their doors again. When their school went into lockdown almost a year ago, their mother approached the teachers personally and was given a few exercises that she could do with the twins. But the material became increasingly difficult over time and the corrections came back less and less often. At some point in the middle of the year, contact with the school broke off completely. So they played, watched television and, without really noticing, grew further and further away each month from their dream of attending university one day. Esther and Deborah are falling behind– as are millions of children around the world. And they are losing more than just an affiliation with their school or a year of instruction.

Democracy and the Public Interest

Our democracy is ailing. Civics education has to be part of the cure

Danielle Allen and Paul Carrese, Washington Post

Our constitutional democracy is ailing. If we didn’t know that before Jan. 6, the lesson was etched into our souls that day. And one major reason for our trouble is that for several generations we have failed to provide civic education in our K-12 schools. For decades, our national educational policy has focused on achieving global competitiveness from a national security and economic standpoint. Thanks to serious and needed investments in science, technology, engineering and math, we spend about $50 of federal funds per student per year on STEM. But we only spend 5 cents per year on civic education. We should desire to compete on the world’s stage as the kind of society we are, namely, a constitutional democracy. We can do so only if we have civic strength at home. And that requires civic education to support the knowledge, skills and civic virtues needed for a healthy republic.

Sealing the Activism Deal

Michael Ndubisi, Voices of Monterey Bay

As the nation continues to face a global pandemic, widespread economic hardship, heated racial strife, a constitutional crisis and several other unprecedented challenges simultaneously, youth across the country are leading efforts to mitigate these challenges. Training new leaders is the first challenge. In an effort to promote leadership development, the California Board of Education in September established a recognition program for students who demonstrate “civic readiness.” The creation of a state Seal of Civic Engagement comes after a years-long effort by educators and activists to create incentives for students to become engaged students in their communities. The Salinas Union High School District is one of the first in California to begin planning meetings about how to implement the Seal in its schools. With input from various interest groups like parents, teachers, students, and local leaders, officials discussed how best to roll out the Seal program in their communities. As of this month, the advisory committee has met six times to create administrative recommendations for the district and its 10 schools to follow. The district has given special attention to student voices from across the city as the committee aims to elevate student voices.

Tweens Take Charge with Digital Activism

Kelly Jensen, School Library Journal

In an era defined by a perfect storm of challenges—ongoing racial injustice, a global pandemic, and a high-stakes election, to name a few—young people have revolutionized how they engage with their communities and the world. Teens and tweens utilized social media platform TikTok to shrink numbers at a Trump rally. On fancast sites and YouTube platforms, they’ve monetized well-performing content and donated the proceeds to anti-racist organizations. While today’s social and economic realities are hitting young people hard, tweens are highly engaged in digital activism in an era when access to information and tools for change are at their fingertips. “This pandemic, combined with a recession, is probably the worst thing that has ever happened, ever,” lamented a young member of Austin Public Library’s (APL) tween council. Still, given their exposure to social media from an early age, plus additional time online during COVID education shifts, today’s tweens are more conscious of news and world affairs than ever, say educators and librarians. Those educators are in a unique position to help young people between the ages of nine and 12 find and use tools to express themselves.

Other News of Note

Resources for Teaching About Race and Racism

Nicole Daniels, Michael Gonchar and Natalie Proulx, New York Times

The summer of 2020 was not the first time that urgent conversations about race and racism were happening in homes, classrooms and workplaces. But the energy of the Black Lives Matter protests, believed by many to be the largest in U.S. history, was unparalleled. Though the demands and chants may have echoed those heard in previous years, never before, The New York Times reported, “have the cries carried this kind of muscle.” Among American voters, support for the movement grew in the first two weeks of protests almost as much as it did in the preceding two years.

Youth Activist Mia Dabney is Making Waves in Seattle

Beba Heron, Southend Stories

I never started being an activist, it was always a part of me.” While only sixteen years old, Mia Dabney has made some impressive waves in the Seattle community. A junior at Cleveland STEM High School in Beacon Hill, she is both a prominent figure in the school community and the larger area for her social activism. Dabney has been involved in community activism from an early age, as it was almost an expectation in her family. Dabney’s father, a graduate from the HBCU Grambling, was involved in connecting alumni of the school with the newest generation of students. “I had been attending the events my father organized to connect the youth and older generations of Grambling together since I was little,” said Dabney. Meanwhile, Dabney’s mother was a part of the Washington Education Association — working in creating educational resolutions which help to solve the issues that are prevalent in the member’s of the union’s circles.