Just News from Center X – May 18, 2018

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Charter school backers’ support for former LA mayor’s bid for governor grows

Louis Freedberg and Nico Savidge, EdSource
The gubernatorial campaign of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got another big boost this week when William Oberndorf, a San Francisco philanthropist and ally of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contributed $2 million to a committee set up by charter school advocates to promote the former Los Angeles mayor’s bid to be the next governor of California.
Oberndorf, a Republican and major GOP donor, replaced DeVos as chairperson of American Federation for Children in 2016 when she was named by Donald Trump to join his cabinet.
The goal of the organization which DeVos co-founded is to promote greater “school choice” for parents, especially low-income ones, by providing taxpayer supported subsidies to offset the cost of private school tuition. That could include vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts and other strategies. Oberndorf’s contribution went to Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa, an independent expenditure committee established by the Charter School Association of California Advocates. Under state law, the committee can promote a candidate but cannot coordinate their activities with the candidate’s campaign. Also this week former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed another $1 million to the pro-Villaraigosa committee, to supplement the $1.5 million he had already contributed earlier this month.

North Carolina schools close as teachers flock to state’s capitol

Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post
Thousands of North Carolina teachers descended Wednesday on the statehouse in Raleigh to protest a growing funding crisis that has left schools with dwindling supplies of textbooks, ballooning class sizes, a dearth of qualified teachers and educator pay that lags far behind the national average. The exodus of teachers from their classrooms meant that officials in about 40 North Carolina school districts — including some of the state’s largest — decided to close schools. An estimated 1 million children — most of the state’s public school students — were out of class Wednesday. The state is the latest to see teachers leave schools en masse to confront state lawmakers, hoping to reverse years of budget cuts. Teachers in five other states have rallied at state capitols to press for school funding, beginning in West Virginia, where teachers shuttered schools statewide for nine days before getting a raise.

Four ways to put civics education front and center for elementary students

Gail Sider, Education Week
What comes to mind when you think of civics? You might recall a dusty discussion of checks and balances or the branches of the U.S. government. While these are essential topics, teaching civics is also about imparting principles and values that inform daily life, guiding students to develop into thoughtful and caring adults. As the students of Parkland, Fla., have shown in the months following their community’s tragic school shooting, effective civics lessons can translate into profound, real-life action. These teenagers are sparking new discussions about how to put civic engagement into practice. This couldn’t be more important at a time when the world seems particularly unsettled. Students of all ages are exposed to the complex events and experiences broadcast by our daily diet of online media. Whether it be political shenanigans, violent crimes, or devastating disasters, teachers, including myself, are often at a loss to explain what’s going on. This leaves our students curious about what’s happening and where they fit in. It is educators’ responsibility to provide the information, strategies, and resources students need to understand and engage with their communities. We should be weaving civics education and media literacy into the classroom every day, even in elementary school. As a 4th grade teacher, I have developed four strategies for bringing civics engagement to life for my young students.

Language, Culture, and Power

On California campaign trail, a push to strip school funding for undocumented students

Louis Freedberg, EdSource
It has been a quarter century since a Republican candidate for governor has argued that taxpayer funds should not be spent on educating undocumented children. That issue was a key and controversial part of Proposition 187 in 1994, the initiative that sought to cut a range of benefits to undocumented immigrants, including schoolchildren. The initiative was enthusiastically endorsed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson and triggered the steady downward slide of Republicans in California that makes it nearly impossible for them to win a statewide office. As the libertarian Cato Institute concluded in a 2016 assessment, Prop. 187 is “what turned California blue.” Until then, Latinos’ political allegiances were nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, at least in gubernatorial races. But Wilson’s support for the initiative turned Latinos overwhelmingly against the GOP. Wilson’s unpopularity among Latinos and other ethnic minorities in California “tainted the Republican Party and has lingered for decades after the 1994 vote,” the Cato report observed. That is why it is so notable that Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, a GOP candidate for governor, is making a similar argument to Wilson’s, which could only make the GOP’s prospects of winning a statewide race even more elusive.

How teachers can support students during Ramadan

Rusul Alrubail, PBS News Hour
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar when Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. And it can be a difficult month for many to get through, especially students who have to go through a normal school day without eating or drinking. This year, Ramadan will begin on Tuesday, May 15, when many schools have yet to finish for the summer. For schools, it’s important to provide an environment for students where they feel safe to practice their religion, but maybe more importantly, one that ensures their well-being during the school day.

Honor yesterday’s Roosevelt High School heroes by giving today’s students the modern high school they deserve

Maria Brenes, LA School Report
Students from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights recently took to the streets to demand action on gun control and to challenge the criminalization of youth of color. They want to study at school free from the threats of gun violence and want positive school climates that uplift them.
A march led by Roosevelt High students is not unusual. The school has a rich history of activism. On March 6, they commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Walkouts, which marked an important moment in the history of Chicanos in Los Angeles. The fighting spirit of Roosevelt is a source of community pride. It is as if the past, present, and future live in these students. Not the concrete buildings, nor the stairs and hallways, but in the young people themselves as they fill the classrooms and take to the streets. The spirit lives in the young people inside those facilities, who come to school to learn and grow. This seems obvious, but their right to a long-overdue quality school facility is being challenged and hangs on a crucial vote Tuesday by the LA Unified school board. Students and parents are the most important voice in this debate over the school’s future, and we hope the board listens to their input when making the final decision tomorrow. We urge LAUSD to move forward with modernization plans for the campus without further delay.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

The rise of restorative justice in California schools brings promise, controversy

David Washburn, EdSource
The two 9th-grade girls heard the laughing the minute they walked into their third-period class that December morning at Oakland’s Fremont High School. And they knew why: a video of one of the girls being slapped by a classmate had gone viral among students on social media. It was one of those moments that could have gone bad in a hurry — like so many others had at Fremont High, a school that had more suspensions last year than any other in the Oakland Unified School District. Both girls (whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy) acknowledged later that their first instinct was to lash out at their snickering classmates. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they left the classroom and walked down the hall to Tatiana Chaterji’s room. Chaterji is Fremont High’s restorative justice facilitator and among a growing number of educators in Oakland Unified charged with changing the district’s approach to behavioral issues through restorative practices. This work departs from traditional school discipline in that it focuses less on punishment and more on righting wrongs and building healthy relationships within the school.

A haven for refugees, this Nebraska high school builds a web of support for its diverse student population

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Kevin Welner, National Education Policy Center and Linda Molner Kelley, University of Colorado Boulder
At Lincoln High School in Nebraska, the slogan “In the Middle of Everywhere” is more than just a fun jab at teasing about being “flyover country.” It actually reflects the life of the school, which lives those words every day through its vibrant, immigrant student community hailing from seemingly everywhere around the globe. These students are blessed with an array of broadly available course offerings that engage them in challenging academics and rich arts programs, buttressed by strong support systems for students and their families. The entrance to Lincoln High School is decorated with flags representing the home countries of the school’s 2,000 students, reflecting the Nebraskan city of Lincoln’s designation as the largest per capita refugee site in the country in 2015-16. Lincoln High School is the only majority non-white high school in Lincoln and serves students representing over 30 different languages. Not many schools can boast a student NAACP chapter, Las Razas Unidas, a Middle Eastern club, a Karen Zomi Karenni club, and a Native American caucus. Building on students’ unique backgrounds and experiences, the school is exceptionally positioned to deliver an educational program focused on living, learning and working in a diverse society.

Student self-advocacy requires deeper policymaking

Don Long and Ace Parsi, Education Week
Employers across the country frequently criticize education for not providing the workers they need (e.g., Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World). As more jobs requiring rote skills are automated or outsourced, some question the education system’s effectiveness in preparing students for the “deeper learning” competencies necessary for an evolving economy. Deeper learning primarily includes critical thinking, problem solving, learning-to-learn, and academic mindset. But in its new report, Agents of Their Own Success, the National Center for Learning Disabilities highlights two more: self-advocacy and self-determination. Putting appropriate emphasis on developing these capacities for students with disabilities not only shines a light on the importance of self-advocacy for all students; it makes deeper learning more powerful and meaningful by envisioning every student as a lifetime active learner, teacher, and leader. In Education for Life and Work, the National Research Council suggests that students must be able to apply knowledge and skills to the real world, collaborate, learn and teach in diverse groups, and transfer knowledge to new situations, problems, and jobs–which is where deeper learning comes in. Without these abilities, today’s students will not keep pace with an increasingly interdependent, diverse, and complex world of accelerating changes in work, technology, communications, and society. Self-advocacy is therefore also critical for workers to be change agents, to show others new ways of doing things, and to craft meaningful careers across multiple jobs and new opportunities for growth.

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

More states expanding preschool programs but quality still lags

Ashley Hopkinson, EdSource
California has increased the number of 3-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool programs over the last 10 years, but needs to improve preschool quality, including teacher qualifications, professional development and class size. Those are among the findings in The State of Preschool 2017 report, by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The report, released last month, tracks program quality, state spending and enrollment in preschool programs. It also includes a companion report titled “Supporting Dual Language Learners in State-Funded Preschool,” which assesses how states address the needs of preschoolers whose parents speak both English and another language at home. In 2002, when researchers began doing a state-by-state analysis, only three states and the District of Columbia enrolled more than one-third of their 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool. Now 16 states, including California, do so. However enrollment of 3-year-olds in publicly funded programs nationwide increased from less than 3 percent in 2002 to only 5 percent in 2017 and there are still too few programs for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds meeting standards for high quality, the report states. In the report, California ranked 8th in the nation for enrollment, with 10.9 percent of 3-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool programs. It ranked 14th for the number of 4-year-olds enrolled, at 36.6 percent. Among the states serving the largest number of preschoolers, California, New York and Texas rank among the lowest for meeting quality standards, said Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

How one university is luring coveted honors students with social justice

Matt Krupnick, The Hechinger Report
Stacy Tyndall is exactly the kind of person the city of Newark hopes will stick around. She’s smart, ambitious and involved in the community. But the high-poverty city near New York probably would have lost her to another part of the country were it not for an innovative two-year-old honors program on Rutgers University’s Newark campus. Tyndall turned down a bevy of offers from colleges in other states to attend Rutgers’ Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC), which brings together dozens of students each year for a residential program that combines rigorous academics with a social-justice focus. “I applied to a lot of schools — over 20, I think — and I got into every single one,” said Tyndall, with a hint of sheepishness. The 19-year-old sophomore was sitting in her sparsely decorated dormitory suite overlooking downtown Newark, which is about a 15-minute drive from where she grew up. At Rutgers, Tyndall is studying criminal justice and said she plans to be “an old and gray judge.” “If the HLLC wasn’t here,” she said, “there’s no way I would have gone here.” The HLLC is one of two on-campus programs offering ambitious students from the Newark area a reason to stay close to home. The other program, the Honors College, has existed for decades; in 2016 it retooled its admissions strategy to attract students with a wider range of academic interests. Both programs are expanding as public universities nationwide start — or tweak — honors curricula to compete with selective private colleges for top students.

More Hispanics are going to college and graduating, but disparity persists

Kelly Field, PBS News Hour
When Elycea Almodovar was searching for a college three years ago, she had just two criteria: It had to be diverse, and it had to have a record of actually graduating students like her — not just taking their money and letting them drop out. Salem State, the most diverse public university in her home state of Massachusetts, checked both boxes. Its student body was 8 percent Hispanic, and growing, and the graduation gap between its white and Hispanic students had narrowed at the time to less than two percentage points, well below the national average of 10 percentage points. The school was doing so much better than its peers that it was named a top 10 institution for Latino student success by The Education Trust, which advocates for low-income and racial minority college-going. Almodovar, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, was sold. She enrolled in the fall of 2015, and immediately felt at home, she recalled. “I was like, ‘Yes, this is where I want to be,’” said Almodovar, who is now a junior. As the Hispanic population in the United States has exploded, so has the number of Hispanics pursuing higher education. Between 2000 and 2015, the college-going rate among Hispanic high school graduates grew from 22 to 37 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Hispanic undergraduate enrollment more than doubled, to 3 million. More than a quarter of young Hispanics — 28 percent — now have at least an associate degree, up from 15 percent in 2000.

How faculty mentors can help first-generation students succeed

Hari Sreenivasan, PBS News Hour
A new initiative by the University of California system uses first-generation faculty to guide first-generation students, with the goal of decreasing dropout rates. As part of our series Rethinking College, Hari Sreenivasan visits UCLA to see how the program is working.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Any educational reform that ignores segregation is doomed to failure

Andre Perry, The Hechinger Report
“In education, America does everything but equity.” With these words, Failing Brown v. Board, a new report from the civil rights group Journey for Justice Alliance, makes plain how the machine of educational reform, with all its innovations and disruptive technologies, is missing an essential cog: the resources to deliver a quality neighborhood school. Most states cut education spending in the 2008 recession. Yet, despite the economy having recovered, there is less funding today for education than even those lean years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Researchers from this non-profit found that in 2015, “29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008.” No wonder the quality of our schools is suffering, and parents are grasping at straws. But the seductive promise of educational programs that don’t grapple with the roots of inequality will eventually ring hollow. Yesterday, the director of Journey for Justice Alliance, Jitu Brown — alongside other civil rights groups including the NAACP, the Advancement Project, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — held a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The occasion was the release of the report, to do what many reformers openly refuse to — confront a system of segregated schools.

Decades after Brown v. Board, unequal class offerings remain a problem

Sasha Jones, Education Week
Statistically speaking, it’s no secret that students of color often have less access to high-level academic courses than do their peers in majority-white schools. But the full extent of some of those disparities is vividly sketched out in a new report by the Journey for Justice Alliance. The report, released this week to mark the 64th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, compares course offerings in high schools serving a majority of black or brown students with the curricular choices in schools enrolling majority-white students within the same district or in nearby suburbs. The analysis found that in each of the 12 school pairings, the majority-white schools offered more academic and cultural enrichment opportunities. “Don’t rationalize, don’t explain it away, don’t make excuses for inequity,” Journey for Justice Alliance Director Jitu Brown said. “Don’t make excuses for one child having opportunity, and another child being denied that opportunity.” In one comparison, at Manual High School in Denver, a school where students of color account for 96 percent of enrollment, students were offered seven AP courses, Spanish as a foreign language, and five arts classes. At nearby Cherry Creek High School, a majority-white school in Greenwood Village, students were offered 27 AP courses; five foreign languages, including Chinese, Latin, and German; and over 20 arts classes.

Colleges recruit at richer, Whiter high schools

Ozan Jaquette and Karina Salazar, The New York Times
Colleges like to tout their commitment to diversity, but the way they recruit students tells a different story. For example, the typical high school visited by Connecticut College during recruitment events was richer and whiter than the typical high school they didn’t visit. An analysis of 41 other colleges and universities shows a similar trend: high schools that were visited for recruiting events tended to be white and wealthier than schools that were not visited. The findings come from newly collected data on high school recruitment visits, when colleges send representatives across the country to court potential students. We gathered data on these visits throughout 2017 for 150 colleges and universities. (The data does not include other forms of recruitment like brochures, emails and visits not posted online. It also cannot account for instances where a high school may lack the capacity to host recruitment events.) Knowing which high schools receive recruiting visits is important because debates about access to higher education often focus on students’ abilities but ignore how colleges identify and prioritize prospects.

Public Schools and Private $

Does school choice put freedom before equity?

Sarah M. Stitzlein, Education Week
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has equated selecting a voucher or charter school with the freedom to choose between an Uber and a taxi. At the same time, many school choice advocates also claim that their approaches can offer equity for those who have historically been underserved in traditional public schools. These simultaneous celebrations of school choice—freedom and equity—should raise red flags, especially for voters considering school choice ballot initiatives or elections of local and state representatives who will determine school choice bills. Simply allowing parents choice over schooling doesn’t ensure that better educational opportunities are being provided for all children. I believe that in the midst of the current push for reform that heavily preferences individual choice, we must seek a better balance between freedom and equity in order to create models that don’t leave anyone behind. At the heart of the school choice movement is the idea that parents should be empowered to select their child’s school, rather than being assigned to a local traditional school—a historical model aimed at general social uplift. Unfortunately, though, equity is reduced to a goal best achieved through personal choice, rather than a priority communities should share and pursue together.

AP analysis shows how Bill Gates influences education policy

Sally Ho, WSPA
Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates saw an opportunity with a new federal education law that has widespread repercussions for American classrooms. His nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given about $44 million to outside groups over the past two years to help shape new state education plans required under the 2015 law, according to an Associated Press analysis of its grants. The spending paid for research aligned with Gates’ interests, led to friendly media coverage and had a role in helping write one state’s new education system framework. The grants illustrate how strategic and immersive the Microsoft founder can be in pursuit of his education reform agenda, quietly wielding national influence over how schools operate. Gates’ carefully curated web of influence is often invisible but allows his foundation to drive the conversation in support of its vision on how to reshape America’s struggling school systems. Critics call it meddling by a foundation with vast wealth and resources. The Gates Foundation says it’s simply helping states navigate a “tectonic” shift in responsibility for education – from the federal government to more local control.

Betsy DeVos went to New York to visit schools for the first time. Guess which ones.

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Betsy DeVos went to New York on Tuesday for her first official visit as education secretary and visited two schools. Can you guess which schools — or, rather, what kind of schools — she went to? If you said traditional public schools (which educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren), you are wrong. If you said charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, you are wrong. If you said independent religious schools — which are religious schools that have independent boards of trustees — you are wrong. DeVos, a longtime supporter of religious education and public funding of religious schools, visited two orthodox Jewish schools, the elite Manhattan High School for Girls and the Yeshiva Darchei Torah Boys School. The schools did not appear on her official schedule until reporters asked about her New York trip. She also delivered a speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, which supports charities that work with the children of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. During the address, she quoted a pope to underscore her oft-stated sentiments about government being a problem rather than a solution to problems — in 2015, she said, “Government sucks.” — and her opposition to virtually any government involvement in how schools educate children.

Other News of Note

What students are capable of: Sexual harassment and the collateral beauty of resistance

Camila Arze Torres Goitia
“We have something to tell you but we’re worried about getting you too involved. We don’t want to get you in trouble,” Baylee and Zaida whispered excitedly as they wiggled through the crack in my classroom door on my prep. I was confused to see them in such high spirits because earlier in the day they had been crushed by news from our administration. For more than two months they had been part of our Restorative Justice club that had been planning two half-day workshops around women empowerment for female-identifying students and toxic masculinity for male-identifying students. The club of 11 demographically diverse students had been urging adults in our building to do something about sexual harassment since October, when they made sexual assault and harassment their Restorative Justice club theme of the month and visited 9th grade classes to lead circles on the topic. This opened up a door for 9th graders to continue to reach out to upperclassmen about the harassment they were facing.