Just News from Center X – May 12, 2017

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

California education leader calls immigration ‘the civil rights issue of our time’

Theresa Harrington, EdSource
As President Donald Trump and his new cabinet members focus increased attention on immigration and school choice, a longtime education leader in California says it’s more important than ever for schools to meet the needs of all their students, especially immigrants. Carl Cohn, executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence that assists districts and schools throughout the state, says immigration is “the civil rights issue of our time.” And with school choice at the top of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agenda, he says asking parents and community members what they want is critical to the future success of public schools. Although Cohn is a former member of the State Board of Education and a former superintendent of both Long Beach Unified and San Diego Unified, he says his “formative years in education” as a high school counselor made him realize the importance of creating “a safe educational space for those students who were threatened, economically marginalized and left behind.”

Most teachers in California say they need more training in alternatives to suspensions, survey finds

Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
When Erika Jones, a kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles, needed to know what to do for a tantrum-throwing, book-hurling kindergartner in lieu of sending him to the principal’s office, she discovered she’d have to teach herself a new approach to school discipline. “For me personally, I didn’t receive any training from the district,” she said. As California presses school districts to stop suspending hundreds of thousands of students a year, many teachers, like Jones, say they have been under-prepared for the change, according to a new survey by the California Teachers Association released late last month. Nearly 9 out of 10 teachers surveyed said they need more training and the support of school psychologists and counselors if they are to successfully retreat from “zero tolerance” discipline practices, in which even minor infractions may result in a student being sent home for a day or more.

Teachers often aren’t treated as professionals — but they are at these two schools

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Kevin Welner and Linda Molner Kelley, Schools of Opportunity
Teachers are the backbone of any school, but it is not unusual to hear them lament the lack of support and opportunities they receive as they shoulder the responsibility for student success. This is because we rarely treat teachers like other professionals who, as an integral part of their work, receive regular opportunities to participate in specialized learning to enhance their repertoires as they stay on top of the newest developments in their fields. Although we know that ongoing job-embedded professional development opportunities for new and experienced teachers pay big dividends for kids’ learning and teacher retention, programs targeting teacher growth and improvement are often the first to be eliminated in times of budget cuts. Fortunately, there are schools that invest in their teachers by providing them with the opportunities and resources they need to grow as professionals at all stages of their careers. Urbana High School and Northwest High School are two such Schools of Opportunity — not only for their students, but also for their teachers.

Language, Culture, and Power

When Elmo and Big Bird talk to refugees

Elizabeth Blair, NPR
Elmo and Big Bird have lots of experience teaching children everything from the ABCs to autism. Soon, they could be bringing smiles — and education — to millions of refugee children forced from their homes in Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries. But first, Sesame Workshop is doing its homework. In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, Sesame producers and early-childhood experts are soliciting guidance and feedback from relief organizations, trauma experts, academics and others who have worked with refugees. They’ll also be making research visits to refugee camps in Jordan. According to the IRC, of the 65 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, more than half are children. “And certainly I think it’s fair to say there are no more vulnerable people in the world than these refugee families and kids,” Jeff Dunn, the CEO of Sesame Workshop, told a small crowd at the nonprofit company’s New York headquarters recently. Sesame’s goal is to develop new content — adapted for a variety of platforms — that will “bolster children’s resiliency” as well as improve their language, math and early reading skills. The target age group is children ages 3 to 6 and their caregivers.

Uncertainty for DACA recipients

Kavitha Cardoza, Education Week
“About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. Most are protected from deportation because of an Obama administration policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, which allows those brought here illegally at a young age to go to school and get work permits. President Trump tried to reassure those young people, often called “Dreamers,” again this week that he does not plan to go after them. But a lawsuit file last week claimed one dreamer has been deported and DACA students are on edge. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of our partner Education Week travelled to Los Angeles and spoke to three DACA recipients to see how their lives have changed.”

The new intellectuals

Walt Hunter, The Atlantic
The political wars on today’s college campuses are being quickly reduced to a small number of unsatisfying explanations. Many of these are injurious and insulting to the students who already hold marginalized positions within the university. Diatribes against the “coddling” of students may have given way to debates over “free speech.” But both conceptual frameworks, despite notable complications to the latter, get in the way of any meaningful understanding of the situations students, faculty, staff, and administrators find themselves confronting. Representing campus protests under the heading of free speech helps to obscure the actual struggles occurring over the allocation of resources and the revision of curricula—struggles being led by students. In the context of campus rape, structural racism, gender-based wage discrimination, and skyrocketing expenses over student housing, battles over “free speech” might as well be waged on a different planet. At stake on college campuses today is the status of students as intellectuals—but to shift the discussion to this terrain requires a radical reimagining of who gets to be an intellectual in the first place.Whole Children and Strong Communities

Teachers weave social-emotional learning into academics

Evie Blad, Education Week
In Susannah Young’s 2nd grade classroom, the first step in a student’s writing process isn’t a rough draft; it’s a conversation with a peer. Students explain their ideas to a partner, respond to questions, and push each other to more fully explore their thoughts before they put them down on paper. Young, who teaches at Oakland’s Lincoln Elementary School, developed the approach through a unusual professional development experience designed to help a cohort of Oakland teachers integrate social-emotional learning strategies into their teaching of traditional academic subjects, like reading and math. In sessions led by faculty from Mills College, a liberal arts school in Oakland, the Mills teacher scholars each select one instructional practice as a focus area, spending at least a year improving it through guided inquiry work. Inquiry is basically a structured, reflective conversation through which listeners help guide their peers and challenge their thinking. Teachers in the cohort meet weekly with their school peers and monthly as a large group for open-ended, reflective conversations and to review student work and videos of children interacting in their classrooms. They pay close attention to how students’ emotions and peer interactions affect their learning. For example, one teacher focused on helping students have productive conversations about math problems, developing strategies to help them talk through disagreements about how to find a solution, and how to explain their reasoning.

The idea was to keep kids safe after school. Now they’re chess champions

Laurel Morales, NPR
When Ted Komada started teaching 14 years ago, he says he didn’t know how to manage a classroom and was struggling to connect with students. He noticed a couple of days after school that a group of kids would get together to play chess. “I said, ‘I know how to play chess. Let me go show these kids how to do it.'” So he went across the hall and did nothing, he says, but lose game after game. “And that’s when I remember being like, ‘Oh, there’s knowing how the pieces move, and there’s playing chess.'” Now playing chess is a big deal at Killip Elementary in Flagstaff, Ariz., where Komada is a teacher and coaches the chess team. The whole program started as a safe place for kids to come after school — a diversion — and this week dozens of those students are getting ready to head out to Nashville, Tenn., to compete with about 5,000 other young people at the SuperNationals of chess. The competition only happens every four years and the last time the team went, they placed a team at third in the nation.

A declaration for a student’s right to arts education

Priska Neely, KPCC
When the enrollment numbers started rolling into a statewide arts education database last year, researchers were caught off guard. “We were struck by the inequity of participation and access to the arts in our state,” said Pat Wayne, program director of Create CA, a statewide arts education coalition. Create CA, in partnership with the state department of education, created an online database tracking arts instruction across the state. According to the records, only 26 percent of middle and high school students last school year had access to the level of arts instruction required by state law. California’s education code requires schools to give students access to music, theater, dance and visual art from first through twelfth grade. But it’s not enforceable, and many districts aren’t aware that it exists.

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

Pre-K: Decades worth of studies, one strong message

Claudio Sanchez, NPR
Some of the nation’s top researchers who’ve spent their careers studying early childhood education recently got together in Washington with one goal in mind: to cut through the fog of studies and the endless debates over the benefits of preschool. They came away with one clear, strong message: Kids who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don’t. The findings come in a report “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects,” and the authors include big names from the early childhood world: Deborah Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of Vanderbilt, Kenneth Dodge of Duke, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution and others. It lays out the current state of preschool education in the U.S. and what research can tell us about what works and what doesn’t.

Can the middle class afford college?

Jeffrey J. Selingo, The Washington Post
The beginning of May was the deadline for the last of high-school seniors to make their final decision about where they’re going to college next fall. For some it was a sprint to the finish as they weighed the social and academic fit of campuses still on their list, but also the all-important financial aid offers from colleges. I heard about the agony of the decision-making process from some of them in e-mail messages asking for advice or as I traveled the country in recent weeks to speak at high schools about the admissions process and how to succeed as an undergraduate. A few described their financial situation in detail, while others talked about their “middle-class backgrounds,” with jobs as school teachers, firefighters, or supermarket managers. As personal financial columnist Ron Lieber wrote recently about middle-class families—and their angst in paying for college—“nobody sympathizes with them much, and they do not ask for you to do so” given the difficulties that low-income families have in paying for college. Indeed, much attention has been given recently to the struggles of low-income students. Research shows that as family income rises so do the chances of not only going to college but also completing a degree. But as college prices continue to rise faster than the income levels of many Americans, it begs the question: what happens to those families just on the other side of the low-income cutoff for many financial aid programs?

Students boo Betsy DeVos as commencement speaker at historically black university

Susan Svrluga and Lori Rozsa, The Washington Post
Students booed as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave the keynote address at Bethune-Cookman University’s commencement Wednesday afternoon. Many students and alumni had objected to having DeVos as speaker in part because they said the outreach by President Trump and the education secretary to historically black schools is an empty gesture. But the president of the university defended her work as a philanthropist and her commitment to education. Graduates came into the auditorium smiling, many with flowers and other decorations plastered on their mortar boards, and listened to the ceremony politely, until university President Edison Jackson introduced Omarosa Manigault, an adviser to Trump. Students started booing. Jackson stopped, then said: “You don’t know her. You don’t know her story.” They booed loudly as he introduced DeVos to give her an honorary doctorate as well. When she began speaking, thanking Jackson, the auditorium erupted with boos. DeVos had to raise her voice as she thanked the moms attending the ceremony. About half the 380 graduates turned their backs on her. Shouts continued as she spoke loudly, saying that one of the hallmarks of higher education and democracy is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom they disagree.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Mostly White Alabama town can split from diverse district, court rules

Corey Mitchell, Education Week
A federal judge has granted a mostly white town in Alabama permission to secede from a racially mixed county school district and start its own system—even though she concluded that race was the main motivation for the split. Civil rights lawyers and advocates for racially mixed schools fear the ruling—should it stand—strikes another blow to decades-long efforts to desegregate schools in the South. But the judge’s decision has buoyed residents in Gardendale, where city leaders want to take control of their schools and tax dollars to establish their own K-12 system. A Birmingham suburb, Gardendale has been part of the 36,000-student Jefferson County school district. The Jefferson County system—and lawyers representing the black families opposed to the split—argue that the decision could lead to resegregation of a district with a history of intentionally separating white and black students.

Money to prep poor kids for college? Sorry, wrong font

Amy Beth Hanson, Associated Press
Dozens of universities and organizations that applied for federal grants to help young people from poor families prepare for college were turned down by the U.S. Education Department because of mistakes that consisted mostly of incorrect margins, the wrong font or lack of double-spacing. The rejections have triggered an outcry from members of both parties on Capitol Hill and thrown into jeopardy programs that help thousands of high school students a year. Amid the uproar, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a memo late last month saying requests for grants from the federally funded Upward Bound program will no longer be rejected over “formatting” errors in the 65-page application. But congressional aides told The Associated Press that DeVos’ staff informed them last week that the applications turned down in March will not be revisited.

The broken promises of choice in New York City schools

Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden, The New York Times
It was a warm Sunday morning, the breeze sweeping aside the last wisps of summer, and 31 students from Pelham Gardens Middle School in the Bronx had signed up to spend the day indoors, at a showcase for New York City’s public high schools. The annual fair kicks off the city’s high school application season in September, and Jayda Walker, 13, arrived with a plan. An eager young woman with an easy smile, Jayda wants to be a divorce lawyer, and at the fair, held at Brooklyn Technical High School, she planned to focus on schools with a legal theme, located in Manhattan. She had already looked through the high school directory, an intimidating tome the size of an old-fashioned phone book, and thought Manhattan offered more variety. Besides, she said, she wanted to get out of the Bronx. She and her classmates arrived early and were at the front of the line, with hundreds of people behind them eager to get inside. But for many of the students from Pelham Gardens, and others like them, it was already too late. The sorting of students to top schools — by race, by class, by opportunity — begins years earlier, and these children were planted at the back of the line.

Public Schools and Private $

California’s largest charter group pushes its agenda with money and people power

Mikhail Zinshteyn , EdSource
In 2016, a bill that would have greatly limited how charter schools enroll and discipline their students was gaining steam. It passed the California state Senate. It passed two committees in the Assembly by wide margins. Major legislative muscle was behind Senate Bill 322. The California Teachers Association – the state’s largest teachers union – and the American Civil Liberties Union were backers, and it was introduced by Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who headed the powerful Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. And then it died, garnering only 31 votes in the 80-person Assembly. “I’ve just never seen anything like it. And it just speaks to what’s happening politically with charter schools,” Adam Keigwin, a contract lobbyist for the California Charter Schools Association told the group’s annual conference in Sacramento last month. His point: The union usually enjoys widespread support in the Assembly, but this time it lost, in large part because of the charter association.

How Central Park could fix public education

Gail Cornwall, The Atlantic
The economics concept of “the tragedy of the commons” sounds both dramatic and complex, but it’s actually quite familiar, particularly to anyone who has rented a car. Also known as “the open-access problem,” the theory gained notoriety when the ecologist Garrett Hardin used it in a 1968 Science article. “Picture,” he wrote, “a pasture open to all.” Each herdsman gains by “keep[ing] as many cattle as possible on the commons,” because he reaps the full profit from additional milk production yet spreads the cost of overgrazing out over the entire community. All know their shared resource would be maximized if they restrained themselves, yet each is personally incentivized to exploit. That’s what happens with “it’s just a rental.” Everyone wins if we all take good care of the Hyundai Sonata, but the math comes out differently when I can only make it to my important meeting by eating soup while hopping a curb. Like other public goods, education is supposed to flow freely, not resemble a commons. Grinnell Smith and Colette Rabin, elementary-education professors at San Jose State University, explain, “[Americans] recognize that higher levels of education track with lower incidences of crime, lower healthcare costs, higher employment rates and many other factors likely to improve conditions for everyone … so collectively, we agree to pay for public schools.” But in practice, funding (and teacher) shortages create a limited resource that’s then depleted by school-choice programs and segregation.

Teachers union opens a front on former Sacramento mayor’s charter schools

Anna M Phillips, Los Angeles Times
Teachers at a network of Sacramento charter schools founded by former Mayor Kevin Johnson are trying to unionize, citing growing discontent over the schools’ management and high staff turnover. The four schools, which are operated by St. Hope Public Schools, are a desirable target for a union for political and strategic reasons. Although Johnson no longer oversees them, his wife, Michelle Rhee, is the chairwoman of the organization’s governing board. As the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., Rhee was one of the most public faces of a campaign to change how public schools are run and a favorite target of teachers unions. On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Teachers Assn. announced that more than half of the teachers, psychologists and school counselors at St. Hope Public Schools had signed a petition asking to be represented by the union, an arm of the California Teachers Assn. If their effort is successful, it could pose a challenge to the charter organization’s leadership. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate without many of the restrictions placed on traditional public schools, typically are nonunion.

Other News of Note

We stand in solidarity with Sarah Chambers and the education justice movement

Jesse Hagopian, I AM AN EDUCATOR
Celebrate national teacher appreciation day today by supporting one of the true champions of social justice education in the country! Below is a statement of solidarity by leading educators around the nation in defense of Sarah Chambers from the trumped up charges levied against her. Help Sarah today by sharing the below statement on social media and by signing the online petition.