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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Ahead of a meeting with President Donald Trump this week on infrastructure, the top two Democrats in Congress want to make sure that schools get consideration if the federal government takes action. In a Monday letter to Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., name-checked school infrastructure in a list of areas where improvements to infrastructure are vital for the country’s future. “To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives,” Pelosi and Schumer told Trump. The Washington Post reported that among the Democrats slated to meet with Trump about infrastructure is Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is the top Democrat on the Senate education committee. She might be as good as, or better than, any other lawmaker in the meeting to make the case for any big infrastructure spending bill to include schools. Trump himself talked up the idea of spending money to fix up schools when he ran for president, but when his administration has floated general ideas for infrastructure, schools haven’t made the list.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Two award-winning teachers boycotted a White House ceremony Monday held to honor educators, an act of protest the teachers said was prompted by President Trump’s policies on immigration, education and other issues. Jessica Dueñas, the 2019 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year, and Kelly D. Holstine, the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, did not attend the ceremony, where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos presented an award to the National Teacher of the Year. The winner is Virginia’s Rodney Robinson. Presidents usually give the award to winners, but this year, DeVos did. Trump did, however, invite Robinson and the other state winners into the Oval Office after the ceremony, where the educators also met with Vice President Pence. Last year, Trump gave the 2018 national winner the award at a White House ceremony, where Mandy Manning of Washington state made clear her opposition to the president’s policies. She handed the president letters from her refugee and immigrant students, and wore pins and buttons with political messages, including one in support of the LGBTQ community. On Tuesday, Dueñas and Holstine explained why they decided to boycott the 2019 event, saying they felt they could not attend in good faith. (See video below.)
Diana Lambert, EdSource
Six out of 10 Californians say teachers’ salaries in their communities are too low and they support teachers striking for higher pay, according to a new statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. Even higher support for teacher strikes came from the San Francisco Bay Area where 70 percent said they backed strikes and Los Angeles where 65 percent approved. Teachers from Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified went on strike in January and February, respectively, demanding higher pay and improved classroom conditions. Both strikes resulted in higher salaries for teachers as well as other concessions. Teachers won support across the state with majorities saying their pay was too low: more than half of adults in the Inland Empire (58%), Central Valley (53%) and Orange/San Diego (53%).
Language, Culture, and Power
John McDonald, Knowledge that Matters
On a recent gray Saturday morning, while many teenagers were still sleeping in their beds, a group of young students from across the Los Angeles region gathered with local and state elected officials at UCLA to take part in a radical act. Following the example set long ago by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, these students came forth to “name the long train of abuses,” declare the causes,” and propose a course of action to address key issues affecting their lives, their schools and their communities. The students were at UCLA to take part in The Declaration Project, an initiative of UCLA Center X to further understanding of government and engage young people in the civic process. The intent is to go beyond the usual high school government class in which students learn about the structures of government. Instead, through the use of participatory research, the Declaration Project provides young people with powerful analytic tools and encourages them to be active participants — political agents engaged in the democratic process of identifying and addressing injustices. In doing so it demonstrates that academic subjects — history, writing, statistics, and others can be used to understand and transform the world we live in.
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
NPR/Ipsos conducted a national poll recently and found that more than 8 in 10 teachers — and a similar majority of parents — support teaching kids about climate change. But in reality, it’s not always happening: Fewer than half of K-12 teachers told us that they talk about climate change with their children or students. Again, parents were about the same. The top reason that teachers gave in our poll for not covering climate change? “It’s not related to the subjects I teach,” 65% said. Yet at the same time, we also heard from teachers and education organizations who are introducing the topic in subjects from social studies to math to English language arts, and at every grade level, from preschool on up. That raises the question: Where does climate change belong in the curriculum, anyway?
As DACA fate remains in limbo, nearly 100k undocumented kids graduate from high school each year, new data show
Mark Keierleber, The 74
As the debate over the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients continues in Washington and in federal courts, a report released Wednesday found that nearly 100,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year. The DACA program, which the Trump administration has aimed to terminate since 2017, grants deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children. The new report by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank focused on immigration, argues that many of those high school graduates face uncertain futures as the fate of DACA remains unstable. The Institute estimates that about 98,000 undocumented teens graduate from high school each year. That’s a sizable increase from an earlier report, which the Urban Institute released in 2003, estimating that about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduated from U.S. high schools each year. Public schools typically don’t ask students about their immigration status. However, the Supreme Court found in a landmark 1982 decision that states cannot deny a free public education to children based on their immigration status.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Kerry McDonald, Foundation for Economic Education
Childhood exuberance is now a liability. Behaviors that were once accepted as normal, even if mildly irritating to adults, are increasingly viewed as unacceptable and cause for medical intervention. High energy, lack of impulse control, inability to sit still and listen, lack of organizational skills, fidgeting, talking incessantly—these typical childhood qualities were widely tolerated until relatively recently. Today, children with these characteristics are being diagnosed with, and often medicated for, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at an astonishing rate. While ADHD may be a real and debilitating ailment for some, the startling upsurge in school-age children being labeled with and medicated for this disorder suggests that something else could be to blame. More research points to schooling, particularly early schooling, as a primary culprit in the ADHD diagnosis epidemic.
Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, Los Angeles Times
Instinctively, we all know that a huge gap exists between the best and worst high schools. But what does it take to create a truly good high school — a place where students aren’t simply fed information but can grow as thinkers and as people? This is what the two of us set out to learn when we began writing a book on how to remake the American high school. Our research in 30 public high schools across the country found that great high schools share something essential in common: They cultivate mastery, creativity and identity. In other words, students in these schools are given regular opportunities to develop significant knowledge and skills, to use their knowledge to produce something original, and to connect their learning to who they are and who they seek to become. The presence of these qualities produces deep engagement — the thing that educators so often struggle to foster.
Jenny Gathright, NPR
Aniya Cox is sure she wants to be a dermatologist. What she’s been less sure about is what she needs to do to get there — she’s just 16, a sophomore at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C. She can remember, at various points of the past two years, desperately trying to navigate all that’s required to graduate high school and get into college. “I was all over the place, I was frustrated,” Cox said. “I didn’t know what I needed to do.” Cox said even the process of asking her teachers for advice — and finding time to meet with them — was confusing. Today, D.C.’s public schools are rolling out an intervention they hope will address concerns like Cox’s. Twice a year through the fall semester of senior year, high schoolers in D.C. will now receive a document that tracks their progress towards graduation requirements and gives them information about college and career options. The district is calling it a “Guide to Graduation, College, and Career,” and it’s a PDF personalized for each student. The guides, which will be mailed and available online, are part of the district’s efforts to boost college and career readiness among its students — and part of a larger movement across the country to make education data more available and accessible.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Priska Neely, LAist
Move over, Mueller Report, there’s another hefty, highly-anticipated document in town. OK, this one isn’t quite as highly-anticipated, but it could have a big implications for the lives of the roughly three million California kids, ages five and under, in addition to their families, caregivers and educators. It took two years, eight public hearings, over 70 meetings and four focus groups, but California finally has a new plan to improve care and education for its kids. The Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education released its final report today — a 108-page document with recommendations for making care and education in the first five years more accessible, affordable, and financially viable for educators working in the field. “The single program that’s closest to my heart and what I believe is the best tool for lifting families out of poverty is early childhood education,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who formed the commission, said at a press conference Monday. Policymakers see investments in early childhood education as way to reduce school readiness gaps and child poverty — and they see these investments as the key to building a stronger society down the line.
Rob Waters, EdSource
Seven years ago, two education researchers in California did something that had never been done before. They sat for months in San Francisco in a secure, private room and matched confidential information on children in the child welfare system — those who had been removed from their biological parents due to abuse or neglect and placed into foster care — with information on those same kids’ school attendance and performance. The work by the team from West Ed, an education research and policy organization, led to a groundbreaking 2013 report, The Invisible Achievement Gap. It found that California teachers and administrators didn’t know if students were in the foster care system and, thus, had no way to monitor their progress or support their efforts. It also found that these students were struggling. “Foster youth had the poorest academic performance, highest dropout rate and lowest high school graduation rate of any group attending public schools,” said Vanessa Barrat, a senior research associate with WestEd and one of the co-authors. “The message was that there is a subgroup in the schools that is very much in need of help.”
Vanessa Rancaño, KQED
For Heidi Lofgren, education couldn’t come first. In her 20s, she went to work instead of college because her parents could only afford her twin brother’s tuition. As an adult, she supported her husband while he earned his teaching credentials at UC Berkeley, then she helped put her two kids through college. Now at 69, it’s finally Lofgren’s turn to get a degree. She’s studying child development at Fresno State, and expects to graduate this spring. “I’ve always wanted an education,” she said. “This is my time, and I’m going to relish it.” Around the state there are more than 134,000 people over the age of 50 enrolled in our public colleges and universities. They are hitting the books later in life to change careers, to pursue unexplored passions, and to get degrees they never finished or had the chance to start.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Linda Jacobson, Education Dive
Dramatizing the range of emotions students feel toward standardized testing, members of the Epic Theater Ensemble, based in New York City, opened the presidential address at this year’s American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference with a strong statement against the role of testing in education. “I already know I’m going to fail,” said one actor, with the sound effects of a ticking clock in the background. Another portrays a near panic attack from test anxiety. The students’ 25-minute play, titled “Overdrive,” even linked the increase in standardized testing since the No Child Left Behind era to rising youth suicide rates. “Outside we are students, but inside we are patients,” one actor said. “They all think we’re sick, giving tests as medicine.” Also touching on the perspectives of teachers who administer the tests, parents who trust teachers’ interpretation of test results, and policymakers calling for accountability, the play was commissioned by AERA President Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and served as the introduction to her speech on how testing is being used to perpetuate a separate and unequal education system for students of color. “Scores on standardized tests are what it now means to be educated,” said Wells, who compared the education field’s reliance on standardized testing to using fossil fuels for energy — the subject of former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary. “This is the inconvenient truth of our education system.”
Dana Goldstein, The New York Times
Like many parents in San Francisco, Melvin Canas and Delfina Ramirez described applying to public kindergarten as a part-time job. They researched schools all over the city for their daughter, Cinthya; took unpaid hours off their jobs as cooks to tour over a dozen; and ultimately ranked 15 of them on her application. San Francisco allows parents to apply to any elementary school in the district, having done away with traditional school zoning 18 years ago in an effort to desegregate its classrooms. Give parents more choices, the thinking was, and low-income and working-class students of color like Cinthya would fill more seats at the city’s most coveted schools. But last month, Cinthya’s parents, who are Hispanic, found out she had been admitted to their second-to-last choice, a school where less than a third of students met standards on state reading and math tests last year. Only 3 percent were white. Results like these have soured many on the city’s school enrollment plan, which is known here as “the lottery” and was once considered a national model.
Kristina Rizga, The Atlantic
On a late February afternoon, Angela Crawford, an English teacher, stood in front of about three dozen Philadelphia educators—mostly young, black women—as they all swapped stories of small victories and challenges in their classrooms. Dressed in a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and slim black slacks, Crawford, at one point, reflected on what has helped her remain resilient while working in some of the nation’s least resourced and most segregated classrooms for 23 years. “Black women are caretakers of everyone else but ourselves,” she said. “You need daily rituals for your mind, body, and soul to stay in this profession. No one is going to move me from my daily workout and sleep. Block out weekly time for yourself: sit in silence, read for pleasure, buy yourself a nice dinner and flowers. That’s how I will have energy tomorrow to honor, listen, and uplift my students.” As a veteran black teacher, Crawford is an outlier in her hometown of Philadelphia—and in the country. Just 24 percent of Philadelphia’s public-school teachers are black, down from a third in 2001, in a district in which 53 percent of students are black. That mirrors a national pattern: Between 2003 and 2012, a net 26,000 black teachers disappeared from American classrooms, while the overall number of teachers grew by 134,000.
Public Schools and Private $
Alan Pyke, Think Progress
Zero graduating seniors at Robbinsdale Cooper High School will have their diplomas withheld this spring over unpaid school lunch debts. But it isn’t because local officials have changed their minds about their meal-debts policies. And it’s not happening because state or federal authorities acted to address the needless funding constraints for meal programs that generate such debts. The good news comes courtesy of Valerie Castile, whose son Philando was killed during a traffic stop by a former officer of the tiny St. Anthony, Minnesota, police department in July 2016. Castile delivered an $8,000 check to the school in late April that wipes out the money Cooper High would otherwise have held over some of the 300-plus kids finishing up their secondary schooling this spring. The check is at least the third delivered to schools in the St. Paul area to erase student meal debts since Castile was killed by Jeronimo Yanez, who was later acquitted of homicide charges. The family has previously donated $45,000 to the broader St. Paul Public Schools system with the funds ticketed to the same purpose.
Ricardo Cano, CALmatters
The growth in charter schools has become one of the year’s most contentious issues in California. Now a statewide poll shows that not only are state lawmakers divided on the issue, but California voters are as well. In a survey on education issues released late Wednesday, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that public opinion on charter schools was about evenly split in the state, with 49% of respondents favoring and about 46% opposing the publicly funded schools that mostly operate separately from school districts and with non-union teachers. Charter school enrollment has more than doubled over the last decade, and this year more than 10 percent of California public-school students—660,000 kids—attended a charter school. In recent years, teachers unions and charter advocates have battled over proposed charter legislation, with both groups casting each other’s efforts as highly detrimental to the other. But the survey’s results captured some of the complexities in the public’s opinion on charters. For example, while 75% of respondents who took the poll said they felt California’s publicly-funded charters provide an important alternative for low-income families, 64% of them also said they were concerned that charter schools take away funding from traditional public schools. And a majority seemed to favor a recent law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that calls for more transparency among the state’s 1,300 charters.
Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times
California has needed better regulation and tighter oversight of its charter schools for years, but state policymakers have been curiously deadlocked over making meaningful change. It took until last fall for the state to enact a law requiring charter schools to provide free lunches to the students who qualify financially, something that should have happened decades ago. Oversight of charter schools has often been lax and meaningful regulation has been slow to pass. That’s changing now, with progressive Democrats turning against the charter movement and related school reforms, and the Los Angeles teachers’ strike eliciting a wave of support for traditional public schools. A new package of bills making its way through the Legislature takes a critical view of charter schools, especially the extent to which they siphon funds from traditional public schools by drawing away students. Though there are some good ideas in the bills, there also are too many vindictive, nasty moves against charters, many of which have provided safe, well-run havens of education in areas that desperately needed them.
Other News of Note
Crissy Clark, Reveal
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush did his first televised broadcast, speaking directly to the nation about an issue he believed was the gravest domestic threat to America: drugs. Specifically, crack cocaine. In the speech, Bush pulled a baggie of crack out of his desk as a prop, saying it had been seized from Lafayette Park, right across the street from the White House. This is the story of how that baggie of crack played into the war on drugs and how those policies still are affecting people today.