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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Rex Santus, VICE News
Oregon Republicans did such a great job of appreciating teachers this week — coincidentally National Teachers Appreciation Week — that tens of thousands of them walked out Wednesday and closed down at least 600 schools. The walkout is meant to pressure the state legislature into passing a $2 billion corporate tax package, which would give public schools as well as universities funding they desperately need, according to the Oregonian. All 12 Republicans in the state Senate did not show up Tuesday to vote on the tax package, which brought the measure to a halt. The bill would impose a new corporate tax on the state’s wealthiest businesses to raise revenue. Notably, the teachers’ walkout demands have nothing to do with pay raises, as other recent teacher strikes did. Instead, the protests are more a philosophical action related to public education funding in the United States. Oregon teachers are demanding better funding for public schools in the state, which has among the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the country. Teachers say their schools need more support staff — such as nurses and guidance counselors — and smaller class sizes.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Rich Ognibene, 2015 National Teacher Hall of Fame
Today, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I’m thinking about the teachers (and paras, and secretaries, and administrators) at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado. Like teachers at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and myriad other schools, they will be scarred for life from the trauma they’ve faced in a school shooting. They will cry for the students who were killed. They will feel less safe in the world. Yet somehow they will muster the courage to return and teach the kids they love.
Patricia Mazzei, The New York Times
The outcome of the vote in the Florida State House this week was a foregone conclusion: A proposal to allow teachers to carry firearms in school would easily win approval. But that did not mean the debate would not be long and emotional, as Democrats implored Republicans in the majority to consider the possible risks — one of them being teachers with guns who might represent yet another source of risk for black and Latino students. The tension peaked when Representative Shevrin D. Jones, a Democrat who is African-American, tried unsuccessfully to pass a pair of amendments on the House floor on Tuesday aimed at protecting children from the possibility that an armed teacher in a chaotic situation could assume that a black student was a threat. One amendment would have required any teacher who volunteers for the so-called school guardian program to be trained in implicit bias, or stereotypes that could unconsciously affect spur-of-the-moment decisions. The other would have prohibited a teacher who shoots a student by mistake in a situation with an active shooter on campus from claiming self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
Teachers are continuing to fall behind other college graduates in the wages they earn, contributing to the difficulties many school districts in California and the nation face in filling positions in key subject areas, according to a new analysis. The analysis is contained in a paper issued this month by Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at UC Berkeley, and Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive Washington D.C.-based think tank. In 1979, teachers earned 7.3 percent less than other comparable college graduates — experiencing what the authors call a “wage penalty” — but by 2018 that gap had grown to a record 21.4 percent.
Language, Culture, and Power
Christine Hauser, The New York Times
The detention of a high school student in Arizona by Border Patrol authorities has shaken his classmates in Tucson, prompting a protest this week in front of the campus and a march to a sheriff’s department headquarters. The student, Thomas Torres-Maytorena, 18, was detained on Thursday during a traffic stop, a statement from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said on Monday. He did not have a driver’s license or registration or insurance for the vehicle he was in, and he “admitted to the deputy that he was in the country illegally,” the statement said. A sheriff’s incident report said that Mr. Torres-Maytorena “indicated” he had an “overstayed visa,” and that a deputy then contacted Border Patrol. A Customs and Border Protection official confirmed on Tuesday that Mr. Torres-Maytorena was in its custody, and referred to him as a Mexican citizen who is facing immigration charges. The detention of Mr. Torres-Maytorena, a senior at Desert View High School, and the protest reflected a wider unease among students in schools along the country’s southern border. Schools have been considered sanctuaries for immigrant students, but immigrant groups point out that it has not stopped federal agents from picking up parents as they drop off their children, or prevented school officials from helping to build cases for Immigration and Customs Enforcement cases.
David Washburn, EdSource
With the State Board of Education set to vote on new sex education teaching guidance, conservative religious groups are mobilizing parents in an aggressive effort to remove recommendations focused on the sexual health of LGBTQ students and other material they deem too explicit for young students. The guidance, known as the Health Education Framework, aligns with the 2015 California Healthy Youth Act, which mandated sex education in public school districts statewide and was among the first in the nation specifically to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and those students questioning their sexual identities. In March, hundreds of parents and other residents from communities throughout the state traveled to Sacramento to voice their objections to the framework during a public hearing held by the Instructional Quality Commission, which is an advisory body to the state board.
Lawrence Lanahan, The Hechinger Report
Ryan Tillman-French sat at his seventh-floor desk early on a Thursday morning, the skyscrapers of downtown Boston crowding the windows behind him. On a laptop in the nearly empty office, he worked on code for a webpage he was developing for his employer, the learning materials company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In half an hour, he needed to join a conference call about changes to the company’s website. He had been at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for four months. Coding he liked. Meetings, not so much. “That’s one thing I wasn’t warned about when it comes to the corporate world,” he said. “So many meetings.” Tillman-French, 26, grew up in a Detroit neighborhood where few people around him had jobs. He received an associate degree, hoping to eventually get a bachelor’s and work as a financial adviser. Instead, he bounced from one unfulfilling job to the next in the hospitality and restaurant industries. In the fall of 2017, he moved to Boston and enrolled in a community college, planning to transfer to a four-year program. One day, a friend forwarded an email about Resilient Coders, a boot camp that trains people of color for web development and software engineering jobs. On a lark, Tillman-French went to a Resilient Coders hackathon, and the passionate staff there sold him on the opportunity. After he finished the 14-week program, he said, he had over two dozen interviews. Three employers asked him back. Only Houghton Mifflin Harcourt made an offer.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Matthew Farber, Connected Learning Alliance
Farber: In a connected world, how do we teach digital literacy? Shapiro: What we almost always mean when we say digital literacy is an understanding that the fact that media can be persuasive or coercive and that you can recognize those agendas. With movies or television, we are usually asking, “Have you thought about who paid for it?”, “Who are the sponsors?”, “Have you thought about how it is constructed so you can understand what it is trying to do?” I don’t know any better way to teach than to ask kids to construct media themselves. What we really need to do is to get the humanities teachers and literature teachers to include digital persuasion and rhetoric into their classes. That’s where we learn [traditional] literacy, where we learn to understand ideas in books and argumentation and persuasion. Farber: I’ve heard you ask, “How can we expect Twitter to get smart if we never taught anyone how to use it smartly?” Can you explain what you mean by that? Shapiro: For almost 25 years—until I became adept at the craft—people have taught me how to write a sentence. They’d say things like, “This sentence is not meaningful enough.” Or, “How could this sentence be better?” We don’t do anything near that for digital media.
Ayilah Chaudhary, USA Today
At 16, Alyssa Beck was locked in solitary confinement in an adult jail in Florida. Most of her day was spent in a gray cell no larger than a parking space. School was a struggle. Every week, a teacher slid worksheets under her cell door — middle school assignments for a high school student, Beck said. If she had questions, she would crouch to talk through a flap in the cell door. Jeremy Taveras was in a juvenile center in New York. He never spent time in solitary, but his education as an incarcerated 13-year-old was equally inadequate. He was in a riot-prone classroom. He was more concerned with fighting rival gangs, he said, than completing classwork. After their release, both Beck and Taveras were arrested again (rearrest rates for juveniles in some states reach 80%). Beck was sent back to jail. Taveras was sent to a group home — a justice system move that made all the difference in his ability to achieve, he said. When it comes to education, juveniles who spend time in prisons or prison-like settings fare far worse than any others in their age group. A nationwide survey of the juvenile justice system indicated that the majority of juveniles in them were performing well below grade level in basics such as reading and math.
Larry Gordon, EdSource
When Jonah Luna needed dress shirts for his career program at West Los Angeles College, he didn’t have to leave campus. And it didn’t cost him anything either. He simply shopped at the school’s new wardrobe store that gives away donated professional clothing such as suits, dresses, shirts, ties and shoes to students who may be interviewing for jobs, taking on internships or starting careers. The amply stocked West Wardrobe store on the community college campus is part of a statewide and national trend that seeks to meet students’ basic needs beyond financial aid for tuition. Food pantries and emergency grants for students’ housing or other crises were among the first such responses. In the past few years, schools began hosting free clothes shops for job-level attire. The one at West Los Angeles opened in February and gives clothes, shoes and purses to about 20 students a day.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times
Here we go again, tumbling down the shaft and into a bizarro world in which school libraries lock out students who need them most. L.A. Unified elementary school libraries are on the chopping block once again, and library aides, many of whom could lose their jobs, are screaming for justice. Some L.A. Unified board members, meanwhile, have made passionate pleas to keep the doors open. “If you’re not reading by grade level by third grade, you’re going to struggle for the rest of your life,” said board member Scott Schmerelson, who has introduced a resolution calling for the district to come up with the necessary funding. But just a few months after the L.A. Unified teachers’ strike drew strong public support for better pay and more resources for the struggling district, budget woes are forcing miserable choices that will hit students hard. “An elementary school library is one of the more magical places in a child’s life,” said Meredith Kadlec, a second-grade parent who has been writing letters in the campaign to ward off cuts. “Imagination is born from books, and what about the kids who don’t get that enrichment at home? I feel like we’re going the wrong way in America when libraries are at risk.”
Hannah Wiley, The Sacramento Bee
When it comes to preaching financial savvy to college students forking over considerable cash for school, the “back in my day” argument doesn’t apply. Working hard and living at home can only go so far in staving off debt for today’s students because of steep fee increases that have unfolded over the past 40 years, according to the California Budget and Policy Center determined in a recent data analysis. The center adjusted 1979 college tuition and fees for inflation and found the cost of attending a University of California school is six times greater than 40 years ago. A year at UC today costs $14,400, up from an inflation-adjusted $2,200 in 1979. Meanwhile, the cost of attending a California State University campus is 1,360 percent greater than it was in 1979. Back then, students paid an inflation-adjusted $500 for a year at a CSU. Today they pay $7,300. Living expenses are up, too. Students pay $4,000 more per year in food and housing costs, totaling nearly $14,000 per year. “The ‘back in my day’ narrative is tempting on the surface,” wrote Amy Rose, policy analyst for the center and author of the study. “Many students in prior generations were able to work moderate hours and attend school full-time, graduating on time and with little to no debt. Today’s students face a much different scenario, with significantly higher total costs of attendance, largely due to rising housing costs.”
Elissa Nadworny, NPR
When Akiya Parks first got to campus at the University of Florida, everything was new and exciting. Her mom and brother had driven her to campus and moved her into the dorms, she’d agreed to try a long-distance relationship with her high school boyfriend, she was ready to start a new chapter in Gainesville. This was a dream come true: No one in Parks’ family had ever gone to college before, and her good grades, volunteer work and commitment to her community had earned her a full-ride scholarship — nearly everything was paid for. She got a new laptop, she bonded with her roommate and she crafted her schedule. But a few weeks into classes, she started feeling sick. At first, she thought college food just wasn’t sitting well, but it wasn’t the food. She was pregnant. “I went back to my dorm, crying. Devastated,” Parks recalls. “I didn’t know how college worked. Do they kick out pregnant people? I just didn’t know any of the answers to my questions.” The question on everyone’s mind — especially Parks — was, would she say in school? Could you go to class and raise a child? Of course, what Parks didn’t know, is that nearly 4 million college students are doing this right now — that’s about a fifth of all undergraduates. Student parents are mostly women (about 70 percent) they are more likely to be from low-income families and students of color. In fact, 2 in 5 black women in college are mothers, and the majority of them are single.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Whitney Pirtle, The Atlantic
The segregation of America’s public schools is a perpetual newsmaker. The fact that not even 1 percent of the incoming freshman class identifies as black at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School made national headlines last month. And New York isn’t unusual. The minority gap in enrollment at elite academic public schools is a problem across America. But more troubling, and often less discussed, is the modern-day form of segregation that occurs within the same school through academic tracking, which selects certain students for gifted and talented education (GATE) programs. These programs are tasked with challenging presumably smart students with acceleration and extra enrichment activities. Other students are kept in grade-level classes, or tracked into remedial courses that are tasked with catching students up to academic baselines. Black students make up nearly 17 percent of the total student population nationwide. Yet less than 10 percent of students in GATE are black. A shocking 53 percent of remedial students are black. This disparity across tracks is what social scientists commonly call “racialized tracking”—in which students of color get sorted out of educational opportunities and long-term socioeconomic success.
Rose Kelly, Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs
Studies have shown that black students are subjected to higher disciplinary rates than whites, resulting in a number of negative life outcomes, including involvement in the criminal justice system. Using federal data covering 32 million students across 96,000 K-12 schools, researchers at Princeton University investigated the degree to which racial disparities in disciplinary action across the United States relates to county-level measures of racial bias. After pairing two different sets of data — one on racial bias and another on disciplinary reports in schools — the researchers show that black students experienced higher rates of suspension, expulsion, in-school arrests and law enforcement referrals than whites. This gap was larger in counties with more racial bias. Their results were published April 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Morgan Smith, The Washington Post
Lab classes have always left Shason Briscoe wracked with anxiety. The 21-year-old senior at the University of California at Davis wasn’t concerned about the academic rigor or long hours spent in the classroom — it was the uneasiness he felt when his peers and instructors watched him. Briscoe, who is African American, studies computer engineering at UC Davis, where black students constitute fewer than 3 percent of students in the program. Often, he is the only black student in his classes. “It’s like there’s a magnifying glass on you,” he said. “If you don’t know the answer to something, you’re watched, like you have something to prove, and you can’t shine on your own merits as much.” For years, college administrators have worked to attract minority students like Briscoe — especially Latino and black students — to science and technology fields. But the retention of those students presents a hurdle. Black and Latino college students transfer or drop out of STEM programs — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — at higher rates than their white peers, according to a recent study published in the journal Education Researcher.
Public Schools and Private $
Betsy DeVos: ‘There is no such thing as public money’ and 5 other revealing things she just said — or wouldn’t say
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos schooled education reporters Monday during a rare appearance at their convention in Baltimore, telling them that too many articles do not accurately portray her newest school choice program proposal. She also said that “public education” needs to be redefined and that “there is no such thing as public money.” DeVos answered questions — or attempted to dodge them — from members of the Education Writers Association about a range of topics, including immigration, school choice, civil rights for LGBTQ students, school discipline policies and more. What she said, and what she wouldn’t directly address when asked, revealed her broad agenda to turn America’s traditional public education system into a free market and allow parents to use taxpayer money to do whatever they want to educate their children. She has made it no secret that her top goal is to expand alternatives to the traditional public school system, which she has called “a dead end.” She doubled down on her views Monday.
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Times have changed for charter schools in Washington. The House appropriations bill crafted by Democrats would cut $40 million from the federal charter school grant program. The bill was released at the end of last month, although the cut to charter school grants was not part of the initial bill language or summary released by the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. Right now, charter schools get $440 million from the Education Department in fiscal 2019, meaning the bill would cut nearly 10 percent from the grants. Keep in mind, however, that Congress (including Democratic lawmakers) has approved a relatively small increase for charter schools during the Trump administration.
Carl Cohn, EdSource
Our new State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond deserves high praise for his eagerness to fix California’s charter school law, which has been on the books since the fall of 1992, the year that I became the 11th superintendent in the 110-year history of the Long Beach Unified School District. At that time, 27 years ago, I was a huge fan of state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) who authored the bill because he wanted to give teachers and parents an opportunity to improve public schools, especially those that were serving historically underserved students. The Los Angeles Times quoted Hart as saying that a charter school would be “run by the teachers who set it up and they would sit on the board of directors and be empowered to hire and fire the principal.”
Other News of Note
Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week
By many measures, Victory Preparatory Academy, a small charter high school located in a north Denver suburb, is a success. It’s academically high-performing, has won state and local awards, and has aggressively marketed itself as an alternative to another traditional public high school nearby. But by late 2017, seniors at the high school had grown frustrated by the school’s limited extracurriculars, lack of spirit activities, and punishments for late homework. Inspired by pro football player Colin Kaepernick’s widely covered “take a knee” protests, they decided to press their case through a small but significant act of civil disobedience. During morning assembly on Sept. 28 of that year, the school’s 15 or so seniors sat down quietly, rather than recite VPA’s “challenge,” a pledge in which they commit to do their best for “myself, my family, my school, and my community.” Some lowerclassmen followed suit. It was a perfect moment for the school to begin a “teachable moment” about the nature of civic protest or the First Amendment, or to open a dialogue about student-administrator relationships. After all, the students had come prepared with a short letter proposing changes, and they’d protested respectfully. But the school’s administration took another tack.