Just News from Center X – May 19, 2017

Just News from Center X is a free weekly education news blast. Please share and encourage colleagues and friends to subscribe.

Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Charter-backed candidates win L.A. Unified majority, but can they lead from within?

Anne Phillips and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
As the vote totals trickled in Tuesday night and his opponent conceded defeat, Nick Melvoin grabbed a microphone and told his supporters that, by electing him to the Los Angeles school board, they had “awoken a sleeping giant.” He described himself as “just the conduit,” the person “who was crazy enough to put my name on the ballot.” It was not the triumphant victory speech one might expect from a 31-year-old candidate who had just defeated the school board president and brought about an unprecedented shift in local education politics in the most expensive school board race in the nation’s history. On election day, when Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, 28, won seats on the seven-member board, they formed its first-ever pro-charter majority. They did so with the backing of groups funded by wealthy charter school supporters, who spent more than $9 million on the campaigns.

With higher revenues, Brown to provide $2.8 billion more next year for K-12 schools

John Fensterwald and Theresa Harrington, EdSource
The austere budget that Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in January eased somewhat – at least for schools and community colleges – in the budget revision he released Thursday. Readjustments in the formula that sets education funding will provide $2.8 billion more in 2017-18 for K-12 schools than they are receiving this year, an increase of 5.4 percent. That’s also about $1.1 billion more than Brown had forecast in January. More revenue also will enable Brown to fulfill the commitment he made last year to add 3,000 state preschool openings and to increase reimbursement rates for preschool providers by 6 percent starting July 1. In introducing the budget at a press conference Thursday, Brown said that spending on education over the past six years has been “phenomenal” – a product of a tax increase on incomes of the wealthiest Californians and the economic recovery.

How to recruit Black principals

Lillian Mongeau, The Atlantic
Principal Macquline King-Morris stepped out of the way of two lines of students heading to the Courtenay Language Arts Center gym. But the stream of elementary-school kids rerouted themselves to deliver hugs, high fives, and huge grins. Creating a pre-k-8 school where every student feels welcome is at the top of King-Morris’s list of priorities. With a student population that is 48 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic, 9 percent white, and 6 percent Asian, Courtenay is one of the most diverse schools in Chicago, a city known for its stark racial segregation, and King-Morris thinks about inclusivity a lot. “For me, regardless of the child in front of you, all children can learn if they’re taught,” King-Morris said. “It’s important you don’t get mired in distractions.” King-Morris, who is black, places her own racial identity low on the list of qualities that make her a good school leader. Instead, she cites her 12 years of teaching, her rigorous principal training through the nonprofit New Leaders program, her propensity to foster teacher leadership, and her willingness to listen. As a New Leaders principal candidate back in 2006-2007, King-Morris said she was asked what she thought about the potential of all children to learn and about her track record as a teacher-leader up to that point. “Nothing else is as important as what you really act on,” she said. “That was crucial [to New Leaders].” That may be true, but studies have shown that the race of educators does make a difference to minority students and their schools.

Language, Culture, and Power

LA Unified dual-language classes for early learners tap into their elastic brains

Bonnie Petrie, KPCC
Two Los Angeles Unified School District schools are serving as models for a planned expansion of the district’s dual-language classes for transitional kindergarteners in the next school year that would take advantage of the pliable brains of young learners. At Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista, class instructor Hillary Erlich teaches four-year-olds who are learning their letters, numbers, and colors like other preschoolers, but they’re doing so in English and Spanish. A third of Erlich’s 24 students are primarily Spanish speakers, and the rest have another dominant language, usually English. “In the beginning, it’s a little confusing for them,” said Erlich. “Because they’re only four when they start, in the very beginning of the year, there’s a lot of translating, and then gradually, it’s less English, and almost all Spanish.”

Researchers, advocates divided over reclassifying English learners

John Fensterwald, EdSource
Researchers and language experts have long criticized the subjectivity and variations in criteria that California districts have used to determine when English learners are proficient in English. But proposed legislation to create uniform, statewide standards for doing so has hit a snag, with some of the nation’s leading academic experts expressing strong opposition to the bill. Rather than fix inconsistency in how districts reclassify English learners, Senate Bill 463 “risks exacerbating the state’s long-term English learner problem,” 28 researchers and academicians wrote in an April 28 letter to California Senate leaders and the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown. Lead signers were California’s noted experts on English learners: Robert Linquanti, a project director on English learners at the San Francisco research agency WestEd, and Kenji Hakuta, a linguistics professor emeritus at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. Federal law requires that states standardize how to determine when English learners are English proficient, no longer qualifying for extra English language services. The rift is over the criteria that would be used and the role of districts and teachers in making the judgment. The timing is important. California is switching to a new test measuring English learners’ fluency, and researchers believe the results on the test should be the predominant factor in deciding proficiency.

Portland, Ore., voters approve record tax to fix lead-laced, crumbling building

Corey Mitchell, Education Week
Voters in the Portland, Ore., school system have approved a $790 million tax proposal to help mitigate an ongoing lead-in-water crisis in the district and to fund repairs and improvements for crumbling schools. The district will use the money to replace aging pipes and fixtures and to mitigate the effects of lead paint, radon, and asbestos. It also will renovate or rebuild four schools, repair roofs, and add or replace fire alarms and sprinklers. The measure passed with nearly two-thirds of voters, 65.95 percent. According to the district, the average school in Portland is 77 years old, and 10 are more than 100 years old. Nearly all the district’s schools have lead levels in the water that exceed federal safety standards. Many of the buildings are also plagued by peeling lead paint, and high concentrations of radon and asbestos.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

As schools adopt social-emotional programs, a new guide offers help

Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
Parents, teachers and students streamed into the library of Palo Alto’s Gunn High School on a warm evening this spring to hear about a new plan, coming this fall, to help high school students develop empathy and coping skills through “social and emotional learning.” For starters, the audience wanted the answer to a question that has dogged the jargon phrase for years: What is social and emotional learning and why should schools get involved in it? The term is bedeviled by abstractions, but the concept is straightforward: help students learn how to manage their emotions, be kind to others and make sensible decisions and they will do better in school, work and life. Like Palo Alto Unified, districts across the state are increasingly interested in helping students cope, prompted by concerns about student mental health and a new accountability system that calls for schools to do a better job for the hundreds of thousands of students who are suspended or chronically absent each year. Now a new guide, Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out, published by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, aims to steer school districts through the thicket of social and emotional learning programs and decide on an approach.

Solving the mystery of underachievement

Nick Ehrmann, The Atlantic
As enrollment in higher education reaches record-levels-69.7 percent of all high-school graduates in 2016, a hidden danger awaits thousands at the starting line: Being “eligible” for college admission doesn’t mean that students are academically prepared. This collision of expectations and reality creates a revolving door in higher education that can stifle individual talent and exacerbate inequality at the highest levels of the American education system. This is the story of how Travis Hill, growing up blocks from the White House in northeast Washington, D.C., learned what “college readiness” means when the pursuit of higher education becomes a reality.

High-stakes poetry competition brings students to the stage

Lisa Stark, Education Week
Backstage at the Poetry Out Loud finals held here this month, nerves were on edge. After two days of competition, 53 state-winners had been whittled down to just three finalists. As the judges tallied up the scores, the three high school students paced and hugged each other. This was the culmination of hours and sometimes years of work. The students had each memorized three poems and recited them on stage. They were judged on everything from overall performance to accuracy to their interpretation of the poet’s words. The competition, now in its 12th year, begins in classrooms around the country. Students memorize and recite poems, choosing from a list of over 900 options. Classroom winners compete at their schools, then regionally, and eventually at their state finals. This year, over 300,000 students from 2,300 high schools took part. “Poetry is important because it gives people the opportunity to talk about things that are incredibly difficult to talk about and that are universal,” said Eleanor Billington, of the National Endowment for the Arts, which helped create the competition. “It gives students the chance to find themselves in the work and words of another person and to identify with those stories,” said Billington, who is the program manager for Poetry Out Loud.

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

Another school rating system, more data on racial, ethnic disparities

John Fensterwald, EdSource
Using a new, multimeasure school rating system, the Oakland-based nonprofit GreatSchools has produced a fresh look at a stubbornly persistent problem: racial and ethnic gaps in student achievement in California schools. Among the findings in “Searching for Opportunity,” which was released on Wednesday: 1) Only 2 percent of African-American students and 6 percent of Latino students attend what GreatSchools defines as high-performing and high-opportunity schools, compared with 59 percent of white and 73 percent of Asian students; 2) Only 22 percent of African-American and 19 percent of Latino students attend a school where the majority of graduates in their racial group has successfully passed courses making them eligible to attend a California State University and University of California campus, compared with 58 percent of white and 91 percent of Asian students; 3) Nearly three-quarters of African-American students and 58 percent of Latino students attend a school where students score on average below the 40th percentile on standardized tests in math, English language arts and science, compared with 5 percent of white students and 3 percent of Asian students. “Disparities in academic outcomes mirror the disparities that exist in access to rigorous coursework and other academic opportunities,” the report said.

Inside a high school training future teachers

Christina Veiga, The Atlantic
One day early in the school year, the pre-K students at P.S. 50 on Staten Island were learning how to write their names. Jeanette Tenantitla Serrano leaned over the tot-sized table to help a little boy navigate the loops and curves of each letter, but the best he could do was fill the page with illegible lines. He had a learning disability and lagged behind his peers. “I felt bad because he wasn’t understanding as quickly as the other students,” Tenantitla remembered. “I felt like I didn’t understand what I was doing.” Later into the school year, Tenantitla would be overcome with a much different feeling—pride—when the same boy called out to her as she left the classroom for the day. For him, it was a sign of progress. “He had never said bye to anyone,” Tenantitla said. But he had made the connection. “He was like, ‘Oh, she’s leaving. You say bye when someone’s leaving.’” Tenantitla is only a senior in high school at New Dorp on Staten Island. But little moments like these, all pulled from an internship experience, have helped confirm what she always knew: She wants to become a teacher.

The broken promise of higher education

Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic
May is always an important month in the college calendar. Many high-school seniors across the nation make the decision where to attend college; millions of college students graduate and enter the workforce. It is the circle of life for colleges and universities in the United States—young students deciding what courses to take and what to major in, accumulating credits and knowledge, and, upon graduation, taking that experience into the workforce. Having been a professor and dean for many years, I have looked across the sea of cap and gowns and seen the excitement and anticipation of those about to cross the stage. Like them, and like their parents, I have wondered what their futures hold. For many who graduate with a four-year degree, the future is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January 2017 the unemployment rate for those over 25 with a bachelor’s degree was 2.5 percent compared with 5.3 percent for those with just a high-school diploma. But for millions of other students, the future is bleaker.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Brown v. Board is 63 years old. Was the Supreme Court’s school desegregation ruling a failure?

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute
Sixty-three years ago on Wednesday, the Supreme Court prohibited school segregation. In the South, Brown v. Board of Education was enforced slowly and fitfully for two decades; then progress ground to a halt. Nationwide, black students are now less likely to attend schools with whites than they were half a century ago. Was Brown a failure? Not if we consider the boost it gave to a percolating civil rights movement. The progeny of Brown include desegregation of public accommodations and the mostly unhindered right of African Americans to compete for jobs, to vote, and to purchase or rent homes. Brown’s greatest accomplishment was its enduring imprint on the national ethos: the idea of second-class citizenship for African Americans, indeed for any minority group, is now universally condemned as a violation of the Constitution and of American values. None of these transformations came easily, and none are complete, but none would have happened were it not for Brown. Yet the decision could not accomplish its stated purpose. Today, nearly half of all black students attend majority black schools, with over 70 percent in high-poverty school districts. New York is the most segregated state: two-thirds of its black students attend schools that are less than 10 percent white. A growing number are “integrated” with low-income Hispanics and other recent immigrants, but still isolated from the mainstream.

Cuts put spotlight on student race questions on school forms

Amy Taxin, KPCC
After volunteering at her children’s Los Angeles middle school for nearly a decade, Carol Convey was told the number of teachers suddenly would be cut. The problem? The school now had too many white students. To Convey, the diverse, multiethnic community looked no different from before, so she began to wonder whether her neighbors had changed, or only how they identified on paper. The question has sparked a lively debate in the country’s second-largest school district, which under a decades-old court settlement aimed at desegregation provides additional staffing when more than 70 percent of students hailing from the surrounding neighborhood are not white. Across the country, school districts have long grappled with desegregation and pursued a range of policies including changing boundaries, opening magnet schools and focusing resources on campuses with nonwhite students.

Indiana’s school choice program often underserves special needs students

Cory Turner, NPR
With President Trump spotlighting the power of private school choice, the NPR Ed Team investigated one of the nation’s largest statewide voucher programs, in Indiana, and found, for students with disabilities, that it’s often the schools that get to choose, not the students.

Public Schools and Private $

One L.A. campus, divided between traditional school and charters, may offer window into future

Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
On a shaded Westside street nestled just below the curve where the 10 meets the 405, two different visions of how to teach students in Los Angeles sit side by side. Daniel Webster Middle School is a traditional public school, serving about 430 students both from the neighborhood and elsewhere in the city. At the edge of the campus, past a small parking lot, sits Magnolia Science Academy 4, a charter school that receives public funding but is independently run. Magnolia serves about 200 students in grades six through 12, with one attraction being smaller class sizes. Next year, a second charter school, Citizens of the World Charter Mar Vista, will join the campus, placing kindergartners in classrooms next to Webster’s preteens. This has been the way of L.A. schools in recent years as charters have expanded at a rapid clip. The Los Angeles Unified School District already has more charters and more charter students than any other school system, though they still account for only about 16% of enrollment. But Tuesday’s watershed election — which gave charter school supporters their first majority on the Los Angeles Board of Education — could accelerate that growth. Charter forces have said they want to dramatically increase the number of schools in the next few years and are in the process of raising the money to do so.

Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement

Associated Press, Education Week
For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country’s wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools. But when a member of this elite group was elevated to education secretary, the appointment opened a philosophical schism that now threatens to shatter the alliance, turn billionaires against each other and possibly lead some school-choice advocates to join with teachers’ unions, their archenemies. Fueling the split is the anticipation of a plan from President Donald Trump’s administration that could offer parents federal dollars to send their children to private schools, including religious and for-profit institutions. “As much as we are aligned on change, we aren’t always aligned on how much change or how. Sometimes we fight,” said Derrell Bradford, executive vice president of the school-reform group 50CAN. The movement has been cleaved into two camps: those who want to use choice to improve public schools and others, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who want to go further by allowing tax money to flow to private schools through vouchers, government-funded scholarships or corporate tax credits.

Trump backs California charter schools, but the feeling isn’t mutual

Kyle Stokes, KQED
On the eve of the president’s inauguration in January, hundreds of protesters at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in L.A. Unified expressed their dismay over Trump’s advocacy of private school vouchers and charter schools. Nine-year-old Luna Cruz had special message for Trump. “You need to stop… trying to turn public schools into charters.” But not all charter school leaders are on board with Trump, who’s unpopular in deep-blue L.A. Some worry the president’s support could prove toxic by galvanizing even more charter school opponents.

Other News of Note

Why are kids sitting at their desks in the middle of the road?

Marc Silver, NPR
Some schoolkids might be happy if their school were knocked down. Not in Nairobi. On May 15, a group of primary school students sat at desks in the center of a main road to block traffic. Along with their parents, they were protesting the demolition of their school, the Kenyatta Golf Course Academy, over the weekend. According to a BBC article, the schoolchildren chanted: “We want our school, we need to study in school.The reason for the demolition was a bit hard to pin down. Foreign Policy writes: “It appears the school was destroyed without any prior warning to parents — who had already paid their children’s tuition for the year. The school was on land that belonged to a church, and the school was destroyed without warning on Saturday over a land dispute, though exact details of the dispute weren’t made immediately clear.”