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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Don Gonyea, NPR
The recent school shooting in Texas has reignited the debate over gun control. NPR’s Don Gonyea speaks with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan about his idea to boycott school until reforms are made.
Nico Savidge, EdSource
The leading candidates for state superintendent of public instruction on Wednesday strongly opposed state campaign finance laws that have allowed millions of dollars from charter school backers and labor unions to pour into their race. Marshall Tuck and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond also pledged during a candidate forum hosted by EdSource that, if elected, each would be independent of the major donors that are supporting their campaigns through independent expenditure committees. A committee backing Thurmond, a former social worker and school board member, has received over $3 million from labor unions, including more than $2.1 million from the California Teachers Association. A political action committee created by EdVoice, an advocacy organization which strongly backs charter schools, has given nearly $6.8 million to a committee it set up to support Tuck. He is a former charter school executive and administrator of independently run public schools through the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. “Campaign finance is broken and special interests have way, way too much influence over campaigns,” Tuck said. Thurmond, a two-term Democratic state legislator from Richmond in the Bay Area, said he wants to “get rid of independent expenditure committees.” “I am not a candidate who fits in anyone’s box,” Thurmond said. “My own job is to do what’s in the best interest of all of our kids.”
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Mildred Garca, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
Protesting low pay for educators and the underfunding of schools, recent teacher strikes in several states — Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, West Virginia — spotlight a critical problem: state politicians who are stripping funding from education. Unfortunately, a similar pattern is playing out at the federal level. For decades, the federal government has provided relatively modest but nonetheless invaluable support for the preparation of future teachers. Legislation now pending in the House would gut that support. The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act — which cleared the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 13, 2017, and is now awaiting a floor vote — would eliminate billions in dollars for federal student aid. Just as disastrous, though, would be the bill’s effect in regard to educator preparation. The PROSPER act would erase provisions of the Higher Education Act related to teacher preparation. If such legislation were enacted, it would mean the abdication of the federal government’s important role in supporting research and incentives that help improve educator preparation programs. It would also mean the elimination of modest federal aid now provided to help future teachers offset the high cost of attaining their degree.
Language, Culture, and Power
‘Astounding ignorance of the law’: Civil rights groups slam DeVos for saying schools can report undocumented students
Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post
Civil rights groups slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying Tuesday that schools can decide whether to report undocumented students to immigration enforcement officials, saying her statements conflict with the law and could raise fears among immigrant students. DeVos’s answers came during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was at one time undocumented, pressed the secretary for her positions on immigration enforcement. “Inside the school,” Espaillat asked, “if a principal or a teacher finds out that a certain child is undocumented, or his or her family members are undocumented, do you feel that the principal or teacher is responsible to call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and to have that family reported?” “Sir, I think that’s a school decision,” DeVos responded. “That’s a local community decision. And again, I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate, and I urge this body to do its job and address or clarify where there is confusion around this.” Not so, say civil rights groups. The Supreme Court made clear in Plyler v. Doe that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status. That means schools also cannot enforce measures that would deter undocumented children from registering. They cannot ask about immigration status. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, they cannot report students or their families to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Richard Gonzales, NPR
A federal court has ruled in favor of a transgender student in Virginia who wanted to use the boys’ restroom at school. The school had blocked him from doing so.
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
For 11 years, students from all over the world have gathered at Oakland International High to learn English and math, as they also learn to navigate new lives far from where they were born. Chanthavy, 16, who left Cambodia in 2009 and learned English in Malaysia before arriving in the U.S. in 2014 with her mother and extended family, said she appreciates the school because it is immigrant-friendly and has partnered with a local food bank to occasionally offer nutritious items students can take home to their families. “They understand our situation and they know that we need help and they provide it,” she said, as she worked on an essay about how experiencing violence can traumatize a person and change their perspectives about the world. (All student names were changed at the school’s request since many students are involved in immigration proceedings.) The small alternative high school, which was the first of its kind in California when it opened in 2007, is one of 27 public schools or academies across the country that are part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which serve new immigrants — students who have recently come to the United States. A second California school is in San Francisco.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR
Sometimes 11-year-old B. comes home from school in tears. Maybe she was taunted about her weight that day, called “ugly.” Or her so-called friends blocked her on their phones. Some nights she is too anxious to sleep alone and climbs into her mother’s bed. It’s just the two of them at home, ever since her father was deported back to West Africa when she was a toddler. B.’s mood has improved lately, though, thanks to a new set of skills she is learning at school. (We’re using only first initials to protect students’ privacy.) Cresthaven Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., is one of growing number of schools offering kids training in how to manage emotions, handle stress and improve interpersonal relationships. At Cresthaven, some fifth-graders like B. get an intensive 12 weeks of such training, a course called the Resilience Builder Program. Created by psychologist Mary Alvord, it’s a form of group therapy designed to help students who are struggling with trauma or cognitive disorders — or everyday anxiety caused by things like bullying or moving schools. “I think it’s so critical that kids know they have the power to make changes. While we can’t control everything about our lives, we can control many facets,” Alvord says. If students can learn this kind of resilience, the ability to adapt to emotional challenges, she says, “I think the whole world gets better.”
Deborah Sullivan Brennan, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Along with college applications and AP tests, seniors at Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad had additional obligations, including planning a surf contest, writing a novel or reducing drunken driving. As part of graduation requirements, seniors complete a “Genius Project,” based on a subject they’re passionate about, which impacts their community. It could be anything from working with kids to helping seniors or inventing a new device. They develop ideas in their junior year, complete them during senior year, and then present them to the school. Classmates vote on the top 60 projects, and a panel of parents, teachers and administrators select eight finalists. Those students delivered “TED” style talks about their projects at a forum Thursday at Sage Creek, a five-year-old campus that specializes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year’s graduating class of 300 is the second group to complete the “Genius Project.” Students said they explored their interests and learned valuable time management and business skills. “Setting this example that you can do something great for your community is a good way of sending people off into the real world,” said senior Chloe Easterbrook.
Martha Irvine, Education Week
At his desk at North Lawndale College Prep High School, Gerald Smith keeps a small calendar that holds unimaginable grief. In its pages, the dean and student advocate writes the name of each student who’s lost a family member, many of them to gun violence. And then he deploys the Peace Warriors—students who have dedicated themselves to easing the violence that pervades their world. The Warriors seek out their heartbroken classmates. They offer a hug, and a small bag of candy. Since September, Smith has added more than 160 names to that little book, roughly half the student body at this campus on Chicago’s West Side. And that doesn’t even include those whose friends have been killed. “We would run out of candy,” says Smith, sadly. It is hard and often anguishing work, keeping the peace. North Lawndale’s Peace Warriors do it in small and large ways. When invited to Parkland, Florida, after 17 people died in a school shooting there in February, they answered the call—to mourn together and to unite in what’s become a national youth movement aimed at stopping gun violence. Weeks later, Alex King and D’Angelo McDade, seniors at North Lawndale, walked onto stage at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., with fists raised. They marveled at the masses of young people who’d joined the fight. Said King: “We knew this was going to be in the history books. And for me, it was like, ‘Wow! I’m actually being heard.'” They continue to press their solution to urban violence: more jobs and investment in low-income communities like theirs. But that’s the long game.
First, the Peace Warriors must survive—and help their peers do the same.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Hari Sreenivasan, PBS New Hour
Chicago has a new plan to make sure kids pursue a college degree or have another viable career path after high school. By 2020, in order to get a diploma from Chicago public schools, a student will have to prove that they have a job, will be joining a trade school, will go on to college or join the military. Hari Sreenivasan reports as part of our series Rethinking College.
Ron Anaya, EdSource
I knew early on that I wasn’t college-bound. I was a gifted student in elementary school and had always tested near the top of my class, but by the age of 14, I realized that my employment and income were more important to my struggling single mother than good grades and SAT scores. When I joined DECA, an organization for business students and future entrepreneurs, I found my niche and my academic salvation. DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America) is an international organization for student leaders following career pathways in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. Participating students apply classroom learning during community outreach campaigns, in school-based enterprises like student stores and in competition against other members in all 50 states and 8 countries. Any school offering courses related to those pathways is eligible for membership, assuming administrative approval and the ability to pay membership dues, which can be as little as $250 a year for a chapter. I became the chapter president in my senior year of high school, started the school’s first student store and parlayed the skills I learned into a successful 20-year career in retail management and as a small business owner. I eventually completed my degree and decided to teach, hoping that I could share my experience with the next generation of professionals.
Teresa Watanabe and Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times
After months of intensive lobbying, Cal State University has convinced two key legislative panels to approve funding to enroll nearly 11,000 more students, hire more faculty and expand housing aid to those without shelter this fall. An Assembly budget panel on Tuesday approved $215.7 million more for Cal State, adding to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $92.1 million general fund increase. A Senate budget panel approved a similar increase last week. The extra funding — which went beyond Cal State’s own request to the Legislature of $171 million — is still subject to final budget negotiations with Brown. But the actions by the Senate and Assembly panels amount to a demand from Democrats that the governor hike higher education spending. “Cal State University is the workhorse undergraduate university serving hundreds of thousands of Californians,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), who heads the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance. “We need more graduates for the California workforce and higher education is the ticket to the middle class.”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Rachel M. Cohen, The Atlantic
Many proposals for addressing school segregation seem pretty small, especially when compared to the scale and severity of the problem. Without the power of a court-ordered desegregation mandate, progress can feel extremely far off, if not altogether impossible. Some even believe—understandably though mistakenly—that no meaningful steps can be taken to integrate schools unless housing segregation is resolved. But a new theory from Thomas Scott-Railton, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, provides reason to believe there are still new ways to think about this issue. Railton’s approach does something that’s all too rare in education-policy debates: He takes what are normally viewed as discrete issue areas—K–12 segregation, college admissions, and the lack of diversity at top universities—and says, what if those can all be addressed together? What if, in fact, it’s impossible to address them apart? Scott-Railton’s proposal, which he published in the Yale Law & Policy Review, is to reduce K–12 segregation by reforming the college-admissions process.
Mike Konczal, The Nation
For a period of 40 years, something managed to keep inequality in check in the United States. From 1940 to 1980, the richest 1 percent took home 9 percent of the wealth generated by the economy. Today, just as they did in the 1920s, the top 1 percent grabs about double that share. Surprisingly, the cause of this midcentury “Great Compression” has been largely neglected by economists, with many of them casually dismissing the role of unions. One influential theory, especially among pundits, is that the supply of skilled workers curbed the growth of income inequality. Starting in the 1940s, the argument goes, the increasing education of the American workforce propelled a broad prosperity. Another recent account, associated with the economist Thomas Piketty, maintains that the devastation of World War II drove down the returns on capital. But a groundbreaking new paper, “Unions and Inequality Over the Twentieth Century: New Evidence From Survey Data,” written by the economists Henry Farber, Dan Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko, and Suresh Naidu, proposes a different engine for that broad prosperity: unions. The growth of union membership—to a height of nearly 30 percent in 1955, before falling to its current low of 10.7 percent—explains the Great Compression every bit as much as theories about education or any other single factor.
Winnie Hu, The New York Times
The middle school in northern Manhattan is named after Booker T. Washington, a champion of education for African-Americans. But in a district where half the students are Hispanic and black, less than a quarter of the 852 students in this selective, high-performing school are from those groups. Now Booker T. Washington on West 107th Street, also known as Middle School 54, is at the center of a debate over segregation in New York City’s public schools. In the absence of a coordinated policy by the education department, District 3 — a diverse and highly segregated school district that covers the Upper West Side and Harlem — came up with its own desegregation plan for its middle schools, including M.S. 54, which would require them to set aside seats for children with low test scores. The plan is one of an increasing number of desegregation efforts around the city led by local education officials and parents. And while this plan has met with resistance, some of it captured on a viral video of a meeting of angry parents at another District 3 school, chroniclers of the city’s fitful desegregation efforts see a growing recognition across demographic lines that segregation is a problem that needs to, and can be, addressed.
Public Schools and Private $
Andy Metzger, Lowell Sun
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be prohibited from approving new charter schools or charter expansions unless the Legislature fully funds charter school reimbursements for local districts under a provision the Senate added to the annual budget on Tuesday. The budget amendment sponsored by Somerville Democrat Sen. Patricia Jehlen would also require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to consider the potential ramifications on local districts and their students when considering a charter school application, Jehlen said. The board that regulates charter schools does not currently weigh what effect a new charter might have on the finances of the district sending students to the charter school, Jehlen said. As the education funding follows students from local schools to a charter, that can lead to layoffs, potentially sounding a “death knell” for schools who lose students and dollars to nearby charter schools, said Spencer Democrat Sen. Anne Gobi. The reimbursements that local school districts receive to offset funding lost to charters has been a flashpoint in the debate over whether to expand charter school opportunities in Massachusetts.
Maddie Hanna, The Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s auditor general on Wednesday blasted Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania’s management of four Philadelphia charter schools and a cyber charter, likening the organization to a “fox guarding the henhouse” as he called for changes in the state law governing charter schools. Under Aspira’s management, the combined fund balance of the five schools — two of which are facing nonrenewal — dropped from $7.7 million in fiscal year 2014 to minus-$419,000 in fiscal year 2016, according to an audit released Wednesday by Eugene DePasquale that began last year. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Meanwhile, the schools’ management-services payments to Aspira, a nonprofit entity, shot up from $7 million, in 2015, to $13 million the following year. “We saw no justification for why that happened,” DePasquale said at a news conference at Philadelphia City Hall. Ken Trujillo, a lawyer for Aspira, disputed DePasquale’s characterization of soaring management fees, the bulk of which Trujillo said went to salaries for maintenance and educational support workers.
Ann Doss Helms, The Charlotte Observer
The town of Davidson broke with its neighbors Tuesday and voted unanimously not to take part in a push to let suburban towns outside Charlotte create their own charter schools. Four other suburban towns — Matthews and Mint Hill in southern Mecklenburg County and Huntersville and Cornelius in the north — have expressed support for House Bill 514, introduced by state Rep. Bill Brawley last year. It could go before the state Senate for a vote in the coming weeks. The bill, which emerged during the uncertainty of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student assignment review, has been touted as a tool to protect communities and relieve school crowding in the booming suburbs. Critics, including CMS leaders, say it promotes segregation while putting municipal taxpayers in jeopardy.
Other News of Note
Tricia Niesz, Phi Delta Kappan
Ever since the 1990s — when the accountability movement entered into a loose coalition with the movement for school choice and market-driven reform — U.S. teachers have been all but shut out of federal, state, and local educational decision making. Increasingly, their expertise has been questioned and their voices dismissed. They’ve been scapegoated by reformers, put under surveillance in the classroom, and told to follow scripted lessons (Kumashiro, 2012). And in the meantime, as the influence of testing company lobbyists, billionaire philanthropists, and for-profit providers has grown, the strength of the unions (historically teachers’ most powerful advocates) has declined. Teachers in the U.S. never have enjoyed truly professional status, but rarely have they been excluded so deliberately from important decisions about policy and practice. As a result, reformers’ plans have often been in direct opposition to what teachers know about quality education. It is no surprise, then, that the reforms of the last few decades have failed to deliver what they promised. This state of affairs has not gone uncontested, however. In many parts of the country, groups of teacher activists — often in collaboration with parents, students, and community members — have organized themselves into a sort of countermovement, dedicated to challenging policies and practices that hurt their students, impede their teaching, and undermine their profession (Picower, 2012).