Just News from Center X – March 8, 2024

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Time for a Pause: Without Effective Public Oversight, AI in Schools Will Do More Harm Than Good.

Ben Williamson, Alex Molnar, and Faith Boninger, NEPC

Ignoring their own well-publicized calls to regulate AI development and to pause implementation of its applications, major technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Meta are racing to fend off regulation and integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into their platforms. The weight of the available evidence suggests that the current wholesale adoption of unregulated AI applications in schools poses a grave danger to democratic civil society and to individual freedom and liberty. Years of warnings and precedents have highlighted the risks posed by the widespread use of pre-AI digital technologies in education, which have obscured decision-making and enabled student data exploitation. Without effective public oversight, the introduction of opaque and unproven AI systems and applications will likely exacerbate these problems. This policy brief explores the harms likely if lawmakers and others do not step in with carefully considered measures to prevent these extensive risks. The authors urge school leaders to pause the adoption of AI applications until policymakers have had sufficient time to thoroughly educate themselves and develop legislation and policies ensuring effective public oversight and control of school applications.

Policies for states and localities to fight oppressive child labor

Terri Gerstein, Economic Policy Institute

State governments can play a critical role in enacting policies to combat the recent marked rise in child labor violations. This report reviews the enforcement provisions of current state-level child labor laws throughout the United States, and identifies a number of potential state policy options that would help curtail violations. In addition, the report notes the potential role for local government in this area.

Keeping it Real: When it Comes to Our Children’s Education, There Should Be “No Surprises”

S.E. Williams, Black Voice News

When news broke this weekend that the Perris Union High School District was meeting Tuesday, Mar. 5, to discuss the elimination of the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department, its District Equity Team, program specialists responsible for mental health services–and other cutbacks, a groundswell of resistance began among parents and concerned members of the community. The Perris Union High School District however is not the only educational system feeling the economic squeeze which are likely to lead to layoffs and the probable discontinuance of much needed programs for our children and youth. In mid February, the Goleta Union School District in Santa Barbara County, announced it was struggling with a budget deficit and would be laying-off and taking other measures to cut costs. In late February, the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education announced at least 200 staff layoffs. And, on Monday, it was reported the Santa Barbara Unified School District announced it is planning to take a similar course. It seems California school districts are headed for a crisis.

Language, Culture, and Power

Women’s Rights–Women’s History

Learning For Justice

The struggle for equality and justice for all women is not relegated to history; it is the lived experience of women today in the United States and around the world. Amid political attacks and efforts to control bodily autonomy, women’s history must be viewed through the lens of women’s rights now. Make a commitment to discuss, teach and learn about women’s rights and history, past and present, during Women’s History Month and every day. Legislation and policies that deepen injustice—whether they limit teaching about race and racism, allow children and families to struggle in poverty, attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people and curtail their freedom to access care, limit reproductive rights, deny the need for environmental justice, limit disability inclusion, or restrict voting rights—are all challenges for women today. And injustice disproportionately affects women in communities that have been marginalized and heavily controlled, such as those of Black, Indigenous and other people of color; LGBTQ+ individuals; and poor people.

How teens benefit from being able to read ‘disturbing’ books that some want to ban

Gay Ivey, The Conversation

Should we worry, as massive book-banning efforts imply, that young people will be harmed by certain kinds of books? For over a decade and through hundreds of interviews, my colleague, literacy professor Peter Johnston, and I have studied how adolescents experience reading when they have unfettered access to young adult literature. Our findings suggest that many are helped rather than harmed by such reading. For one study, we spent a year in a public middle school in a small, mid-Atlantic town, observing and talking to eighth grade students whose teachers, rather than assigning the “classics” or traditional academic texts, let students choose what to read and gave them time to read daily in class. To support student engagement, they made available hundreds of contemporary books that are relevant to the students’ lives. The books included many of the titles currently being challenged, according to PEN America, which is a nonprofit that advocates against censorship, among other things. The titles include Ellen Hopkins’ “Identical,” Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” Patricia McCormick’s “Sold,” and others that were banned because of themes of sex and violence.

Black adolescents’ motivation to resist the false dichotomy between mathematics achievement and racial identity

Melody Wilson & Jamaal Sharif Matthews, Nature

For many Black American students, early-to-middle adolescence represents a unique developmental stage where they are fostering a sense of their racial identity while also negotiating their academic selves, particularly within secondary mathematics classrooms. Beginning around sixth grade (~11–12 years old), the rigor, complexity, and abstract density of mathematics begins to increase considerably; regardless of race, many students experience decreased motivation and increased emotional cost in mathematics by the end of eighth grade. At the same time, the development of social consciousness and recursive perspective-taking during adolescence allows youth to perceive both the stigma associated with their group (e.g., Black Americans as anti-intellectual and underachieving) as well as the social prestige associated with certain scholastic abilities (e.g., mathematics aptitude as an indicator of intellectual giftedness). Thus, for historically marginalized students the burden of managing the increasing challenges of secondary mathematics alongside navigating racial stereotypes and stereotype threat may exact additional psychological and emotional costs. The current study uses latent profile analysis (LPA) to explore patterns in how Black American adolescents negotiate their racial identity and mathematical value in concert. We then model associations between these identity negotiations (i.e., the profiles), school-related variables, mathematics pedagogical patterns, and students’ sense of emotional cost for engaging mathematics.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

‘We don’t need air con’: how Burkina Faso builds schools that stay cool in 40C heat

Èlia Borràs, The Guardian

If architects are people who like to think their way around challenges, building schools in Burkina Faso must be the dream job. The challenges, after all, are legion: scorching temperatures in the high seasons, limited funds, materials, electricity and water, and clients who are vulnerable and young. How do you keep a building cool under a baking sun when there is no air conditioning? Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré grew up in the small village of Gando and knows the challenges well. He and other architects such as Albert Faus are finding ingenious ways to use cheap materials to make sure that the schools and orphanages that they have built around Burkina Faso are cool, welcoming places.

Outdoor education is good for kids and the planet

Annie Ropeik, The Maine Monitor

What are your earliest memories of nature? I think of looking for salamanders under mossy rocks in Maryland creeks with my best friend, or of learning to fish and canoe with her during summer vacations to the Maine coast — fireflies in the meadow at sunset, dewy grass under bare feet. I remember hunting for fossils at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs with my godmother. In middle and high school, I took camp and school trips with the Audubon Society to Chesapeake Bay Foundation houses on tiny, eroding fragments of land like Smith Island, off Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We threw crab pots for dinner and walked to the general store for towering slices of Smith Island cake. We waded up to our waists in thick marsh muck that stank of decay and swallowed spare sneakers. Among the wetland grasses, we learned about the food chain, endangered species and the fragile Bay estuary ecosystem.

West Virginia Senate passes bill requiring schools show a fetal development video

Briana Heaney, Jason Rosenbaum, Morgan Watkins, Katarina Sostaric, NPR

West Virginia’s Republican-supermajority Senate approved a bill that would require public schools to show a video on fetal development produced by an anti-abortion rights group. The bill, referred to as the “Baby Olivia” bill, would require public schools to show a three-minute, high-definition video showing the “development of the brain, heart, sex organs, and other vital organs in early fetal development” to eighth graders and tenth graders. The video is produced by Live Action, an anti-abortion rights advocacy group that produces media content. It begins by showing a sperm and egg meeting, followed by a flash of light and a narrator saying, “this is where life begins, a new human being has come into existence.”

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Head Start preschools aim to fight poverty, but their teachers struggle to make ends meet

Moriah Balingit, AP News

In some ways, Doris Milton is a Head Start success story. She was a student in one of Chicago’s inaugural Head Start classes, when the antipoverty program, which aimed to help children succeed by providing them a first-rate preschool education, was in its infancy. Milton loved her teacher so much that she decided to follow in her footsteps. She now works as a Head Start teacher in Chicago. After four decades on the job, Milton, 63, earns $22.18 an hour. Her pay puts her above the poverty line, but she is far from financially secure. She needs a dental procedure she cannot afford, and she is paying down $65,000 of student loan debt from National Louis University, where she came within two classes of getting her bachelor’s degree. She dropped out in 2019 when she fell ill.

Free housing for educators being offered to help curb high rent prices

Lilia Luciano, Analisa Novak, CBS News

To address the dual issues of low teacher pay and affordable housing, a pioneering program in New Haven, Connecticut, is offering early childhood educators free housing as a solution. This groundbreaking initiative came from the Friends Center for Children, where teachers like Kristen Calderon, struggling with the financial burdens of low salaries and high living costs, are now finding relief and stability. Calderon, a teacher at the center, said she often chooses which utility bill to skip to avoid being homeless, even with her hourly wage being above the national average of $14.22 for early childhood educators. “I would say to myself, OK, I didn’t pay the gas bill last month, so I can’t not pay that again. This month, maybe we’ll skip the electric bill or the cable bill. And obviously, rent was number one,” said Calderon. Calderon said many of her coworkers often fear being homeless — something she once experienced. The single mom said she lived in a shelter when her son, Javier, was a toddler.

Liberty University will pay $14 million, the largest fine ever levied under the federal Clery Act

Ben Finley, AP News

Liberty University has agreed to pay an unprecedented $14 million fine for the Christian school’s failure to disclose information about crimes on its campus and for its treatment of sexual assault survivors, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday. The fine is by far the largest ever levied under the Clery Act, a law that requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to collect data on campus crime and notify students of threats. Schools must disseminate an annual security report that includes crime reports and information on efforts to improve campus safety. Liberty has marketed itself for years as having one of the nation’s safest campuses, with more than 15,000 students enrolled at the school in Lynchburg, Virginia. But its police department had a single officer with minimal oversight for investigating crimes during most of the time period reviewed by federal investigators, 2016 to 2023.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Critiquing Education in Emergencies [Audio]

William Brehm and Jessica Oddy, Fresh Ed

Today we dive into the field of education in emergencies, highlighting its entanglements with colonialism, empire, and racial capitalism. My guest is Jess Oddy. Jess Oddy is a researcher at the university of Bristol and has worked in various capacities in the field of education in emergencies. Her new article is “Retelling education in emergencies through the black radical tradition: on racial capitalism critical race theory and fugitivity,” which was published in Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Tyrone Howard Makes Urgent Case for Equity Now

John McDonald, SE&IS

In the field of education, the term “equity” at times seems to be omnipresent, just one more piece of education jargon, its use bordering on excessive. The reality however is that while equity is essential to educational opportunity, in many classrooms, schools, and districts, there is little understanding of the meaning and import of equity, its practice is limited, and meaningful and effective commitment to it is in short supply. In his new book, ”Equity Now,” UCLA education professor Tyrone C. Howard, argues that the need for equity in education is urgent. “We need a hard reset on educational equity and racial justice in schools,” Howard writes. “We need equity now. Not next week, not next month, not next year, but in a much more urgent fashion, as in now.”

Crossing the Line: Segregation and Resource Inequality Between America’s School Districts

Zahava Stadler and Jordan Abbott, New America

School district boundaries define more than just the area where a certain group of children attends a given set of schools. They also determine the taxing jurisdiction that supports those schools with local property taxes. Big differences in property value can lead to large funding gaps, even between neighboring districts. These disparities in property values are the legacy of discriminatory housing policies explicitly intended to segregate neighborhoods by race and class. The school district lines drawn onto this divided landscape then replicate segregation and inequity in schools. But our current district borders need not be permanent. They can be redrawn to produce better outcomes for students and their schools.

Democracy and the Public Interest

Bay Area high school journalists say their principal illegally interfered, censored them

Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times

Two student journalists from a Bay Area high school are suing their principal and district, claiming they were illegally intimidated while reporting on a story about sexual harassment for the school’s newspaper. The advisor of the student-run newspaper is also part of the suit, alleging she was retaliated against when she did not go along with the “campaign of censorship” aimed at the students’ reporting, according to the complaint, filed last week in the Santa Clara County Superior Court. The lawsuit was filed against the Mountain View Los Altos High School District and Mountain View High principal Kip Glazer, calling her an “overbearing high school principal” accused of “bullying, threatening and [the] coercion of student journalists.”

Students’ TikTok videos show Puerto Rico public schools’ poor conditions as they demand improvements

Nicole Acevedo, Arleen Aguasvivas and Steven Romo, NBC News

Students in Puerto Rico tired of attending classes in dilapidated public schools have used TikTok to expose the poor conditions in their buildings, putting education officials on the defensive amid renewed attention on a long-standing issue. Alaisha Torres Soto, the senior class president at Luis Felipe Crespo High School in Camuy, said she was compelled to use TikTok to report the “poor conditions” of the bathrooms at her school earlier this month after not seeing any improvements. One TikTok video shows a bathroom in such bad shape that it was locked and had an “entrance prohibited” sign, forcing students to leave school to go to a bathroom or wait until they get home when classes are over.

Moms For Liberty Had a Chance to Explain Themselves. It Didn’t Go Well.

Julianne McShane, Mother Jones

Since its founding in 2021, the conservative organization Moms for Liberty has billed itself as a champion for “parents’ rights,” pushing campaigns across the country to ban books and the use of pronouns in schools. Their crusade, as my colleague Kiera Butler has reported, often alleges that educators, specifically in public education, are out to “groom” and “indoctrinate” kids. But what, exactly, does that mean? It doesn’t appear as though Moms for Liberty knows either.

In an interview with 60 Minutes host Scott Pelley that aired on Sunday night, the group’s two co-founders repeatedly struggled to explain their platform beyond empty talking points that have fueled the culture war in schools. They also failed to present facts to back up various claims. “Parents send their kids to school to be educated, not indoctrinated into ideology,” co-founder Tiffany Justice told Pelley at one point. “What ideology are they being indoctrinated into?” Pelley asked.

Other News of Note

What The Hands Do: How Climbing Can Shape the World [Video]

Bing Liu, Youtube

Mariana Mendoza and Miguel Casar are attracted to proud, challenging boulders and approach the sport with passion and dedication. At the same time, they believe that climbing hard is not the only thing that matters. As lifelong social justice advocates, they ask: How can we use climbing to cultivate joy and connection in our communities? Can climbing create opportunities for meaningful growth? How can we use climbing to shape the world we want to see?