Just News from Center X – May 5, 2017

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On May 1, 1886, Lucy Gonzalez Parsons led 80,000 people—many immigrant laborers—down the streets of Chicago in the world’s first May Day Parade. Parsons, who had been born into slavery three decades before, joined fellow marchers in demanding an 8-hour workday. On Monday, tens of thousands of Angelenos carried forward this legacy as they marched from MacArthur Park to City Hall. Many raised banners calling for the protection of children and families and greater investment in our public schools. We share these and other images of the 2017 Los Angeles May Day March in this week’s Just Talk.

Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

At 100 day mark, Trump falls short on education and child care pledges

Louis Freedberg, EdSource
President Donald Trump has fallen far short of fulfilling his pledges regarding child care, school choice and college affordability outlined in his “100 day action plan to Make America Great Again.” On the campaign trail, he issued a “Contract with the American Voter,” which he signed, leaving a blank space for “your signature” – the American voter. “It is a contract between myself and the American voter – and begins with restoring honesty and accountability, and bringing change to Washington,” Trump wrote. “I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my administration,” he declared in the contract, outlining 10 pieces of legislation. That included the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, which in Trump’s pre-election vision, would “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.” It would also “end the Common Core and bring education supervision to local communities, and expand vocational and technical education, and make two- and four-year college more affordable.”

Budget deal for 2017 includes increases for Title I, special education

Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Federal lawmakers have agreed to relatively small spending increases for Title I programs to districts and for special education, as part of a budget deal covering the rest of fiscal 2017 through the end of September. Title I spending on disadvantaged students would rise by $100 million up to $15.5 billion from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017, along with $450 million in new money that was already slated to be shifted over from the now-defunct School Improvement Grants program. And state grants for special education would increase by $90 million up to $12 billion. However, Title II grants for teacher development would be cut by $294 million, down to about $2.1 billion for the rest of fiscal 2017. The bill would also provide $400 million for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program, also known as Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Title IV is a block grant that districts can use for a wide range of programs, including health, safety, arts education, college readiness, and more.

Trump administration welcomes back student debt collectors fired by Obama

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, The Washington Post
A pair of private collection agencies fired by the Obama administration have accepted the Education Department’s offer of new contracts to recoup past-due student loans, but the agreements are in limbo as the government wades through a messy court battle. Enterprise Recovery Systems and Pioneer Credit Recovery were among five companies whose contracts the government cancelled in 2015 after an audit showed them giving inaccurate information to people trying to get their student loans out of default. The companies said the evaluation was arbitrary and flawed for drawing conclusions based on excerpts from a handful of calls, and four of them took legal action against the department. To put an end to the litigation, the Trump administration in February said it would reconsider assigning accounts to the four companies and disregard the two-year old audit against them. Some of the firms balked at the deal for failing to compensate them for the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts, and said it would be meaningless because the department was in the midst of a new contract bid, according to court documents.

Language, Culture, and Power

Is America holding out on protecting children’s rights?

Amy Rothschild, The Atlantic
Recently, I asked my 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old students what they thought all children need in order to grow up healthy and strong. They responded readily: Lots and lot of water. Fruits and vegetables. Love. Schools. Homes. Parents. A life. Stuff to play with. A 5-year-old went a step further: “Legos.” A 6-year-old snapped back. “Legos? You don’t need them, but you would want them.” The list my students generated around our meeting rug is remarkably similar to the list of rights named in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties. The convention enshrines children’s right to an education, to health care, to expression—and, yes, to play. It recognizes families as the fundamental unit of society, and says that families should be provided necessary protection and assistance to fulfill responsibilities to their children. United States delegates played an active role in drafting the convention in the late 1980s. Since then, all United Nations member states have ratified it, with one exception: the United States.

Black and Latino parents worried about funding disparities in schools, poll finds

Larry Gordon, EdSource
Black and Latino parents nationwide are convinced that racially based disparities in funding hurt their children’s education and want their youngsters to be more challenged academically, according to a new survey by a civil rights organization. The national poll sponsored by the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that 90 percent of African-American parents and 57 percent of Latinos think that K-12 schools in their minority communities receive less funding than schools in white areas. Responding to poll questions, 67 percent of black parents and caregivers and 56 percent of Latinos ranked lack of funding and limited access to resources and technology as the most important reason for racial differences in school quality. Racism was ranked as the second most important cause, although African-American parents were much more concerned than Latinos about it. Both groups ranked “lower teacher quality” as the third most important factor.

Hate speech and the misnomer of ‘the marketplace of ideas’

David Shih, NPRRacist hate speech on campus has become the de facto litmus test for free speech protections today. But racist hate speech may not be doing what progressive free speech defenders think it is doing.Ben Shapiro at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last November. The bill requires the UW System to discipline those who engage in “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct” deemed to violate a speaker’s right to free speech. Students could face suspension or even expulsion for repeat offenses, penalties Larry Dupuis, legal director for ACLU-Wisconsin, calls “unnecessarily draconian.”

Whole Children and Strong Communities

California’s subsidized after-school programs struggling to survive

Susan Frey, EdSource
Stagnant state funding, rising costs and possible cutbacks in federal support are threatening the viability of California’s subsidized after-school programs, which serve 859,000 low-income students in 4,500 schools across the state. Besides offering a safe place for children while parents are working, after-school and summer programs provide homework help, hands-on science and arts projects, field trips, sports, social-emotional support and meals. The programs are free to parents of low-income students. The state’s After School Education and Safety program provides $550 million each year for programs for elementary and middle school students. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants provide an additional $132 million for K-12 after-school and summer programs. The state distributes the funds to nonprofit organizations and school districts that run the programs. Some programs also receive additional support from foundations, private donors, cities or their local school district.

Elite prep schools experiment with ‘all-gender’ dorms

Gabrielle Emanuel, NPR
In the hills of southern New Hampshire, there’s a stately old bell atop the Academy Building at Phillips Exeter. With each toll, it signals passing periods between classes. The sound of the bell — much like the rest of the sprawling prep school’s campus — evokes centuries of tradition. But next year, the school is trying something new. It’s all happening in an inconspicuous wood-framed building: Kirkland House. Right now, Kirkland House is a girls’ dorm, but a sign on the first-floor bathroom hints at the future. It reads: “gender-inclusive restroom.” Starting in the fall, this building will become one of Exeter’s new all-gender dorms. Schools across the country are figuring out how best to accommodate transgender students. And now two of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious private boarding schools — Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover — are taking on the issue of student housing. The schools will convert some boys’ dorms and girls’ dorms into gender-neutral housing, breaking a long-standing practice of offering their high-school students only single-sex dorms.

When a college degree isn’t enough

Laura Pappano, The Atlantic
Last June, Martin Chibwe, a computer-science major, graduated from Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, a liberal-arts campus with a hipster ethos that shuns letter grades and urges exploration (“We don’t tell you what to take,” its website promises). His computer-science courses covered topics like programming, machine learning, and artificial intelligence; Chibwe even did a project on recommendation algorithms for an online library. But days after getting his diploma, and despite the big investment ($39,000 in student loans), he sought another credential to “stack” on top to make him more marketable. He enrolled in Udacity’s iOS Developer Nanodegree program, a five-course cluster from the online platform known for its techie-skills focus. Cost: $900. “I knew I needed help to land a job,” said Chibwe. In January, he was hired to develop apps at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology near Tacoma, Washington. Chibwe’s experience underscores a new truth: The bachelor’s degree may be the classic pass to join the world of work, but increasingly it’s no longer enough. And that prompts a provocative thought: Could credentials replace traditional education? Do we need college?

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

Financial aid is key to the final and often tough choice of colleges

Larry Gordon, EdSource
Decision day is finally here. The SAT exam and anxious cramming are past. Admissions application essays and financial aid forms were submitted months ago. And the happy acceptances and painful rejections from colleges and universities are in hand. So in recent days, Fernanda Soto and thousands of other California high school seniors have been weighing their options, evaluating financial aid offers and trying to decide by the May 1 deadline which college to attend. “It’s scary finding out if you will be helped out or not,” said Soto, who is a senior at Banning High School in Wilmington, near the Los Angeles harbor. An excellent student from a low-income family, she had narrowed her finalists to UCLA and UC Berkeley. After a last-minute trip to Berkeley and an unsuccessful effort to win more aid there, she recently chose the Westwood campus mainly because her grants from the school and from state and federal programs totaled about $32,000. That is enough to cover all her school bills, including housing and meals, without having to take out any loans.

Is there really a link between test scores and America’s economic future?

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Jeremy Rappleye and Hikaru Komatsu, Kyoto University
Does the performance of U.S. students on international assessments of math and science matter? Do mediocre rankings foreshadow future American economic decline? Sound familiar? Since the 1950s, questions about the comparative performance of American pupils have been a perennial feature of American education debates. After learning from European powers for more than a century (think Horace Mann’s push in the 1840s for the Prussian model), America’s postwar prosperity and preeminence generated a new confidence. The United States should and would lead the world. But such global expectations also carried consequences: It made Americans excessively anxious, perhaps even neurotically vigilant for would-be contenders.

The path to higher education with an intellectual disability

Hayley Glatter, The Atlantic
Like many college students pestered by nosy relatives, Sydney Davis, a sophomore, is not exactly forthcoming when her boyfriend comes up in conversation. The couple has been together two years, Davis says with the exasperated tone of a young adult clearly trying to change the subject. Davis’s friend, Annsley James, a sophomore wearing a windbreaker with her sorority’s letters on it, sits on the opposite side of the room giggling. It’s a scene that takes place across college campuses: two friends exchange knowing glances during history lectures, at basketball games, in line at the dining hall. But unlike the majority of young adults pursuing higher education in the United States, James, Davis, and their classmates are doing so with intellectual disabilities. The women are two students in the ClemsonLIFE program, which offers two- and four-year certificates to young adults with developmental disabilities who may not otherwise have a path to higher education. Students—whose IQs range from the 40s to 70, according to Erica Walters, the program’s coordinator—will hopefully leave the rural, hilly South Carolina campus with the ability to live on their own. A photo of James, Davis, and another student laughing is one of many snapshots of proud young adults that decorate Walters’s office on the Clemson University campus. The students beam in graduation gowns and stand triumphantly in Memorial Stadium alongside a healthy smattering of purple and orange paraphernalia.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Family by family, how school segregation still happens

Kate Taylor, The New York Times
Elana Shneyer and Adam Kaufman live a few hundred feet from Public School 165, the Robert E. Simon School, on West 109th Street, at the edge of Morningside Heights in Manhattan. When they started looking for a kindergarten for their son, who will start in the fall, the school was an early stop. That made them unusual. Although their neighborhood is diverse, the children who go to P.S. 165, its zoned school, are mostly Hispanic and low-income. Most of the white students who live in the area it serves attend school elsewhere. But Ms. Shneyer and Mr. Kaufman, who are white, liked that the school had a Spanish dual-language program and that its kindergarten classes had only 10 to 15 students. They also knew they had options. Community School District 3, where they live, has a long history of giving parents alternatives to their zoned schools. So the couple also looked at the Manhattan School for Children, a progressive school that is open to all children in the district. The couple loved the school’s approach, particularly its commitment to integrating children with physical disabilities. But there was one thing that made them uncomfortable: While most of the students in District 3 are black or Hispanic, nearly two-thirds of the students at Manhattan School for Children are white. “We noticed that, and honestly, to us it was less appealing,” Ms. Shneyer said.

A path out of poverty: Career training + quality Head Start

Eric Westervelt, NPR
What makes a high-quality learning program effective not just for the child but the whole family? What else, besides a well-run early ed or pre-K program, is essential to help families break out of intergenerational poverty? These are some of the key questions that an approach called “two-generation” programs are working to answer. There are many of these “two-gen” programs across the U.S. And while they differ in emphasis and detail, at their core they intentionally focus on ways to help both the child and parent. Usually this happens through targeted education and career training and other vital support such as health services, mentoring, and transportation. NPR Ed has been keeping an eye on one innovative two-gen program in Oklahoma. It’s called Career Advance and is run by the Community Action Project of Tulsa County (CAP Tulsa). I’ve reported on it here and here. It gives low-income parents access to high-quality Head Start for their children, alongside free career training in nursing and other in-demand health care fields as well as life coaching and support.

Report praises UC for enrolling low-income students; criticizes other elite universities

Larry Gordon, EdSource
A new national report praised University of California campuses and the University of Southern California for enrolling large numbers of low-income students who receive federal Pell grants. But the study criticized many other elite schools for falling far short. The nine UC campuses, USC and several other California colleges with selective admissions criteria surpass the recommendation that Pell grant recipients comprise at least 20 percent of their undergraduates, according to the report being released Tuesday by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Even the UC campuses with the toughest admission competition enroll far more than that suggested level: UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego show Pell ratios of 31.4 percent, 35.9 percent and 40.1 percent each, the survey noted. UC Riverside and UC Merced go as high as 57.5 percent and 61.5 percent, respectively.

Public Schools and Private $

Three big problems with school ‘choice’ that supporters don’t like to talk about

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Carol Burris, Network for Public Education
During my 15 years as a high school principal, I learned the importance of considering the implications of every policy decision I made. The latest “great idea,” pursued with the best of intentions, can have negative consequences down the line. And when those “great ideas” become awful ideas they can be exceedingly difficult to undo. Which brings us to school choice. Not all school choice is problematic. Public school choice programs, if carefully managed, can serve students well and/or promote a social good, such as racial or socioeconomic integration. Examples are schools that have a vocational component, alternative schools for dropouts, or dual-language public schools nested in an immigrant community. Privatized school choice, in contrast, is quite different. Privatized school choice is the public financing of private alternatives to public schools. Examples include charters run by corporate boards, private schools funded by vouchers, online learning charters and publicly subsidized home schooling. Then there are the disguised voucher plans such as Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs, which give taxpayer money on debit cards to parents with little oversight as to how it is spent.

New studies of federal vouchers can’t use ‘gold standard’ research

Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week
New studies of private school-vouchers in the District of Columbia—the nation’s only federally funded voucher program—will be prohibited from using the most rigorous scientific research method to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. That prohibition comes as part of bipartisan budget deal struck this week in Congress to keep the federal government running through September, but as my colleague Sarah Sparks reports, the move to change the research rules for the highly divisive voucher program has been in the works for more than a year. The ban also comes in the wake of a new evaluation of the 13-year-old voucher program— known as D.C. Opportunity Scholarships—that found that students who used the vouchers posted weaker academic results than those who had applied for vouchers but did not receive them. That study was done using a research method that compared the performance of students who received a voucher through the District of Columbia’s lottery system to that of their peers who applied for a voucher but did not receive one.

Under federal investigation, Celerity charter schools are in danger of losing their accreditation

Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles charter schools that are part of a network currently under federal investigation have been put on notice that their accreditation is in jeopardy. Seven schools run by the nonprofit Celerity Educational Group are spread across the Los Angeles Unified School District. Six carry the seal of approval of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, commonly known by its acronym WASC, an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. On Wednesday, the association sent Celerity Chief Executive Grace Canada a letter saying that after a preliminary investigation, it had found the network to be in violation of several of the agency’s policies. It demanded that Celerity provide evidence to show “why the accreditation status of all CEG schools should not be withheld,” according to the letter signed by WASC President Fred Van Leuven.

Other News of Note

Chicago woman who led 1st May Day parade in 1886 honored with street sign

Mina Bloom, DNAinfo
Dozens of neighborhood residents and students convened early Monday morning for a ceremony honoring the woman who led the first May Day parade in Chicago — and the nation — in 1886: labor organizer and orator Lucy Gonzalez Parsons. The group, which included sixth graders from Avondale-Logandale Elementary School, celebrated the life of Parsons (1853-1942), who lived at 3130 N. Troy St. in Avondale and was a force in the labor reform and women’s rights movements. The working-class leader is thought to be the first black woman to fight for socialism across the globe, organizers said. Parsons not only led the first May Day, but she also organized the only female workers union in Chicago at the time, Working Women’s Union No. 1 (WWU). She wrote for publications like the Socialist and Freedom, marched on picket lines and publicly demanded changes from politicians and police for decades before she died in 1942 when a fire engulfed her Avondale home.