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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Louis Freedberg and John Fensterwald, EdSource
If initial statements by the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates are any guide, charter schools could face more oversight and changes in California’s 25-year-old charter school law regardless of who succeeds Gov. Jerry Brown next year. At a forum organized by Advancement Project California three weeks ago in Sacramento, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin all said they want to bar for-profit charter schools from operating in California. Their comments come at a time when charter schools now serve 1 in 10 public school students in California, and the charter school sector has become the target of a high-profile Kids Not Profit campaign by the California Teachers Association, which is pushing for more transparency in how charters operate and spend public funds. In opposing for-profit charters, the candidates appear willing to go further than Brown, who has opposed legislative efforts to ban for-profit schools from the state. Two years ago, he vetoed a bill, AB 787, that would have done just that.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The first response to the rumors about Michelle King was: Everything is fine. Then word came that the Los Angeles school superintendent would be back at her desk within days. Then that estimate was extended by a month. Now the leader of the nation’s second-largest school system, already out for six weeks, has told staff that she will not return to her post before January as she recovers from an unspecified medical procedure. Business at L.A. Unified is moving ahead under acting Supt. Vivian Ekchian, but King’s prolonged, mysterious absence has added one more element of uncertainty and instability to a turbulent year.
Madeline Will, Education Week
Teachers are feeling especially stressed, disrespected, and less enthusiastic about their jobs, a new survey has found. The survey, released by the American Federation of Teachers and the advocacy group Badass Teachers Association on Monday, included responses from about 5,000 educators. It follows a 2015 survey on educator stress—and finds that stress levels have grown and mental health has declined for this group in the past two years. AFT surveyed a random sample of 830 of its members, and the rest of the respondents took the survey online after the survey was pushed out on AFT and BAT social media channels and email lists. It’s worth noting that the respondents who follow these channels might be more likely to feel more passionate about social justice in schools, and because they chose to take the survey, might be more disgruntled with their working conditions. The survey also cites 2014 national stress data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for comparison to average U.S. workers. The survey found that educators find work to be stressful 61 percent of the time—and nearly a quarter of respondents said work was “always” stressful. Meanwhile, workers in the general population report that work is stressful 30 percent of the time.
Language, Culture, and Power
Riley Beggin, KPCC
Feeling less welcome, safe and respected at school is a common experience for young Muslims, who are being bullied at twice the rate of their peers. The findings come by way of a report released Monday by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who surveyed more than 1,000 Muslim students across the state between the ages of 11 and 18. 53 percent of students polled said they have been made fun of, insulted or abused for being a Muslim, and 57 percent have seen their peers make derogatory comments about Islam online. More than a third of girls also said their peers had offensively tugged or touched their head scarves. “They call me a terrorist and when I get frustrate they say ‘you’re going to bomb us and laugh,'” one student told the group. The report suggests that students are less likely to be able to turn to adults with their problems than they have in the past — 30 percent of students said they felt their problems were solved by an adult, whereas 42 percent reported they were in 2014. “Students face bullying from peers, teachers and even school administrators, and often feel as though they cannot get help,” said CAIR Civil Rights Attorney Brittney Rezaei. “However, we have also seen amazing resilience from the students we work with who continue to thrive in the face of adversity.”
Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
The University of California, where the free speech movement started and students now argue over how far unrestricted expression should go, announced plans Thursday to launch a national center to study 1st Amendment issues and step up education about them. “There have been more serious issues about the 1st Amendment on campuses today than perhaps at any time since the free speech movement,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in an interview. “The students themselves are raising questions about free speech and does it apply to homophobic speech, does it apply to racist speech? We have to consider the student concerns but return to basic principles about what free speech means and how do we better educate students about the extent of the 1st Amendment.” The National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement will be based at UC’s Washington, D.C., center, and will sponsor as many as eight fellows a year to research such issues as whether student views on free speech are changing and what role social media and political polarization play in shaping perspectives on the 1st Amendment.
Sean Cavanagh, Education Week
Students who enroll in online courses come to those forums with a host of academic demands—not just in core subjects, but also in career-and-technical education, the arts, and even driver’s education. Recent data from the Evergreen Education Group, a consulting organization that has spent years studying the virtual school world, speaks to those eclectic interests. The organization’s most recent annual report, “Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning,” breaks down which online courses students are choosing most often to supplement their academic work. Full-time, online cyber charter schools have received the bulk of the public’s attention recently—and the academic performance of those schools has been strongly criticized. But the Evergreen report focuses on a different piece of the virtual landscape: the students who are taking courses on a part-time or piecemeal basis in addition to the classes most likely delivered to them in traditional, brick-and-mortar settings.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
John Rogers and Joel Westheimer, PSNow
New research published in PS: Political Science and Politics makes clear that a teachers’ level of civic and political engagement, but not their political ideology, predicts whether and how often they teach about economic inequality. Conservative teachers, for example, are just as likely as liberal teachers to teach about the topic regularly. And when addressing issues of economic inequality, liberal and conservative social studies teachers are equally likely to require their students to look at data, differentiate facts from opinion, and compare and contrast different viewpoints. Yet more politically and civically engaged teachers—regardless of their political ideology—engage students far more frequently and in more sophisticated ways than their less-engaged peers. The research also underscores the need and opportunity for educators to engage civically and politically without fear.
Carla Javier, KPCC
California law requires schools to offer arts instruction from first to 12th grade. But, in practice, not all students are getting equitable access to arts education. So the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective is trying a new approach: forming an Arts Ed Innovation Lab, and working with stakeholders to create prototypes – small but scalable projects that creatively increase access to arts education for more, and ideally all, students. “We launched the Arts Education Innovation Lab with this idea of really rethinking, ‘What is it going to take to really get us to scale in arts education so that arts education doesn’t continue to just be for some kids in some classrooms in some schools in some parts of the county,” Los Angeles County Arts Commission director of arts education Denise Grande told the group of over 40 gathered for the Innovation Lab’s Boot Camp.
Corey Mitchell, Education Week
In the 17 years that Brenda Duke worked as an elementary school secretary, the principal’s office was a revolving door for some students. Soon after returning to school from a suspension, they’d be back in the office on the verge of getting sent home for something else: snoozing at their desks, mouthing off at teachers, or strolling into class just moments after the bell rang. The churn of students filing in and out of the office angered Duke. From her vantage point, the punishment often wasn’t fitting for children who probably needed a shoulder to lean on, not a kick in the pants. “A majority of those kids were repeat offenders because their needs weren’t met, they didn’t get a chance to explain what happened, and they weren’t given any tools to change the behavior,” she said. Determined to do something about it, Duke found an unused desk to sit alongside her own. She’d round up the class assignments for the students, keep an eye on them while they worked, and plead with principals to give them another chance. Unbeknownst to Duke, her early efforts were a precursor to a citywide effort to curb student-discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions—and keep more children in class, connected to what they are learning, and on the path to graduation.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Priska Neely, KPCC
Selma Sanchez spent the summer in a hiring frenzy. She’s the program director of the Child Development Consortium of Los Angeles (CDCLA), and at one of the preschool sites, almost all of the jobs needed to be filled. “In July we lost our director,” Sanchez said. “June and July – we lost three teachers.” Most of the staff left to work at a Head Start center that’s recently opened nearby – the federal preschool program pays slightly better than her state subsidized program. One lead teacher left the preschool in Canoga Park after 10 years, for a job as a teacher’s aide at Head Start – fewer responsibilities, more pay. Teachers from a temp agency are filling some of the slots now and Sanchez, who normally oversees all 10 sites around L.A. County, spent weeks commuting to the site to teach kids in the classroom, to fill out reports, to cook and to clean. “I’ve been interviewing like crazy,” said Sanchez. “We can’t compete with salaries.” She wants to hire teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but most won’t settle for the $20 per hour she can pay. One of the last teachers Sanchez hired had never taken a child development class.
Cory Turner and Kavitha Cardoza, NPR
This story contains language that some readers may find offensive. “I can’t teach the book right now,” says Shaka Greene, algebra teacher at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. “Because my students are still learning to add 49 plus 17.” So begins Part 3 — the conclusion of our podcast series: Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. This radical new high school in Washington, D.C., is really two schools — two approaches — in one. It strives to teach students traditional subjects, including algebra and English, while also helping them grow socially and emotionally. But both efforts require valuable class time, and the school struggles to find a balance. In the second half of the school year, that struggle for balance reaches a crisis: Roughly 40 percent of the students are at risk of failing ninth grade. In response, Principal Ben Williams makes several big changes. He gives students more time in their core classes, including math. He creates a special, seven-week session of optional Saturday classes. “It’s like a light bulb in my head came on,” says Paul, a freshman who attends Saturday school to get much-needed algebra practice. “I started getting more help and more support. I went from an F to a B.” (We’re not using the students’ last names to protect their privacy.) But many students don’t take advantage, and the grades aren’t improving fast enough. The showdown that’s been looming all year comes in May, when teachers learn about a pair of districtwide grading policies that will make it easier for students to pass.
Eric Hoover, The New York Times
The admissions process is out of whack. Just ask the heartbroken applicant, rejected by her dream school. Ask high school counselors, who complain that colleges don’t reward promising students for their creativity, determination or service to others. Even the gatekeepers at some famous institutions acknowledge, quietly, that the selection system is broken. Ask five people how to fix it, though, and they’ll give five different answers. Sure, you might think colleges put too much stock in the SAT, but your neighbor’s kid with the near-perfect score thinks it should matter a lot. More than half of Americans say colleges shouldn’t give children of alumni a leg up, according to a recent Gallup poll; yet nearly half say parental connections should be at least a “minor factor.” The debate about who gets into the nation’s competitive colleges, and why, keeps boiling over. The Justice Department has confirmed that it’s looking into a complaint, filed in 2015 by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations, charging discrimination against high-achieving Asian-American college applicants. Also, students for Fair Admissions, which opposes affirmative action policies, has filed discrimination lawsuits against Harvard, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Kate Taylor, The New York Times
Parents and advocates of integration in the East Village and Lower East Side have pushed for a plan to improve diversity in their district’s elementary schools for years. On Thursday, the New York City Education Department announced that it was implementing a school choice system aimed at increasing the racial and socioeconomic diversity in their district, Community School District 1. Parents in District 1 have been able to choose among any of the district’s elementary schools. Schools that are oversubscribed assign seats by lottery. Despite this freedom of choice, the district’s schools tend to be segregated by race and socioeconomics. In the 2016-17 school year, for example, the students at East Village Community School on East 12th Street were 58 percent white, but Public School 15, the Roberto Clemente School, on East Fourth Street, had only four white students out of 178. Under the new plan, priority for 67 percent of the seats in kindergarten and prekindergarten at every elementary school will be given to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, live in temporary housing or are learning English. Priority for the other 33 percent of seats will go to students who do not fall into any of those categories.
Melissa Block, NPR
NPR’s Melissa Block talks to Persis Mbangsi, a chemical engineer in Cameroon, about coming to the U.S. to participate in a State Department program inspired by the film Hidden Figures.
Christina Veiga, The Atlantic
Is getting your child into a gifted-and-talented program a mark of good parenting? How you answer may depend largely on your race or ethnicity, according to new research. Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in Long Island, interviewed more than 50 white, black, and Hispanic parents at an unidentified New York City school to learn about their attitudes towards gifted programs. (Her sample did not include any Asian parents.) She found that the white parents view applying for gifted programs and preparing their children to score well on the admissions test as hallmarks of good parenting. For the black and Hispanic families, being a good parent had more to do with choosing a diverse classroom for their child and not “gaming” the system by practicing for the gifted test, according to the report, which appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record.
Public Schools and Private $
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The leaders of a local charter-school network are under fire from the Los Angeles Unified School District for not uncovering and reporting conflict-of-interest allegations against school board member Ref Rodriguez three years ago. The district sent Partnerships to Uplift Communities, or PUC Schools, a sternly worded Notice to Cure, with a Nov. 1 deadline, demanding that school administrators explain why it took so long to report that Rodriguez, its co-founder, allegedly authorized and signed $265,000 in checks in 2014 to a nonprofit under his control. That nonprofit, Partners for Developing Futures, was involved in leadership training for minority educators. L.A. Unified administrators also question the time lag in reporting a separate possible conflict, also in 2014, related to checks for about $20,000 that Rodriguez allegedly signed to pay Better 4 You Fundraising, a private company that organized school fundraisers. Later that same year, Rodriguez disclosed that he owned an interest in this company, though it’s unclear whether he did so at the time the payments were made.
Julian Vasquez Heilig, Cloaking Inequality
To Carolyn Hack, CEO of Aspire Public Schools and Aspire Public Schools Board of Directors:We write you today as a coalition of people of color who believe our needs, concerns, and voices have not been heard by the leadership of Aspire over a long period of time. Throughout our tenures, we’ve heard and witnessed many decisions within the organization that have unknowingly undermined the self-determination, resilience, and general well-being of students of color, employees of color, and families of color. Although we understand that the nature of Aspire’s role in education is to support majority students of color to attain high academic outcomes, we believe the organization’s recent approach and method for obtaining and sustaining a state of systematized high quality education is often misaligned with the needs and humanity of the very people we serve. This misalignment is the impetus for the needs and demands established in this letter and listed below. Under the demands, you will find our rationale and context. While these conditions and realities are often unpacked in private, sharing our context publicly will serve to break down feelings of isolation for marginalized members of our Aspire community across all four regions.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Carol Burris and Darcie Cimarusti, Network for Public Education
It’s a delightful name — Raising Colorado — perhaps a play on the title of the 1987 zany crime comedy, “Raising Arizona,” starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. Raising Colorado, unlike the movie, however, is nothing to laugh about. Raising Colorado is the name of a super PAC that spends money in Colorado elections. According to the Office of the Colorado Secretary of State, Raising Colorado is run by Jennifer Walmer from an office in Littleton, Colo. Its stated purpose is to support Colorado candidates who “advocate for high-quality public education” through “uncoordinated, independent expenditures.” The reality of Raising Colorado, however, is something far more complex. Walmer is not a lone activist collecting donations to support candidates who advocate for public schools. The real action happens at Raising Colorado’s true address: 325 Gold Street in Brooklyn, New York. At that same address, in the same suite, you will find: Democrats for Education Reform-Arizona, Philadelphia 30 PAC and Fairness for Colorado. In 2014, that same address housed a “charitable nonprofit” called Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA), from which Wolmar received part of her salary. ERNA listed its 2015 address as 222 Broadway, 19th Floor in NYC, the same address as the New York City branch of the PAC Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Walmar is also the Colorado director for Democrats for Education Reform, a group founded and supported in large part by hedge fund managers that was formed before the 2008 presidential election and that embraced corporate reform and school choice. Apparently, she has lots of jobs and wears many hats. Are you beginning to connect the dots?
Donald Cohen and Kyra Greene, San Diego Union Tribune
Every year, hundreds of millions of California tax dollars go to help private groups build, lease or buy buildings, with little oversight or accountability. The fortunate recipients of this public generosity are companies that manage charter schools. While public funding builds the private empires of charter groups, San Diego Unified School District and other public school systems face devastating decisions to solve budget deficits by laying off teachers and staff. A severe lack of regulation leads to misuse and mismanagement of public funding for charter schools, the research and policy center In the Public Interest revealed in a report earlier this year.
Other News of Note
Caroline Fredrickson, The Atlantic
His career was too important. Despite allegations of sexual harassment that were substantiated by an internal investigation, the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law allowed Dean Sujit Choudhry to stay on the job. In 2015, Tyann Sorrell, Choudhry’s assistant, described how the dean had pursued her for kisses and long hugs over a period of months. Choudhry initially held onto his professorship and benefits. Even after an uproar, the university, which boasts a “zero tolerance” policy, kept him on payroll (he was pushed to resign as dean after Sorrell sued him for sexual harassment in 2016, but he remained on the law-school faculty). Choudhry was eventually put on a two-year sabbatical, still retaining travel funding and research grants (the settlement reached between Sorrell, Choudhry, and the school ensures that he will voluntarily resign in 2018).