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Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Ricardo Cano, CALMatters
With bucks and boots on the ground from California teachers’ unions, Bay Area Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond declared victory Saturday as California’s new superintendent of public instruction, an outcome that essentially endorses the labor-backed education establishment in the state. Thurmond, who had lagged in early returns, had a margin of nearly 2 points when he tweeted, 11 days into California’s notoriously slow-motion vote count, that Marshall Tuck, a fellow Democrat and former Los Angeles executive of charter schools and educational nonprofits, had called to concede the race to him. “I want to thank the voters of California for electing me to serve the 6 million students of California,” Thurmond, who overrode Tuck’s broader-based appeal with decisive margins in the state’s coastal and urban counties, said in a statement. “I ran for superintendent of public instruction to deliver to all Californians the promise that public education delivered to me—that all students, no matter their background and no matter their challenges, can succeed with a great public education.” Tuck had not yet spoken publicly as of Saturday evening, but The Los Angeles Times reported that he addressed his apparent defeat in a letter to supporters. “As you can imagine,” Tuck reportedly wrote, “the disappointment has crept in there in a pretty big way more recently as it was becoming clear to me that I wasn’t going to get a job that I wanted and that I thought I would be really good at.” The apparent victory—some 2 million ballots still remain to be counted—marked a high-profile setback for wealthy supporters of education reform in California’s sprawling system of public schools. The defeat was Tuck’s second competitive loss in a row to a candidate endorsed by the powerful California Teachers Association. In 2014, he lost the school chief post to Tom Torlakson, who, like Thurmond, was backed by the teachers’ unions.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
In a document released Wednesday, a spectrum of prominent education organizations, leaders and supporters is calling on Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and the next Legislature to advance an extensive California agenda that includes increased, sustainable K-12 funding, expanded access to data systems and a fuller commitment to early childhood education. The Alliance for Continuous Improvement laid out an eight-point action plan with specific strategies on a new website it’s calling California Education GPS. Co-chaired by Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, and Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, the alliance continues the work, through a bigger coalition, of a task force on school improvement that reported to retiring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson two years ago. The 30 members include leaders of the California School Boards Association, the California Charter Schools Association, the California State PTA, advocacy groups Californians Together, Education Trust-West and Children Now, as well as research nonprofits Policy Analysis for California Education and the Learning Policy Institute. Some members disagree on issues like the regulation of charter schools. But on next steps to continue the transformational changes of the past decade — new academic standards, a funding system under the Local Control Funding Formula targeting low-income children and English learners and an accountability system that stresses school climate and parent engagement as well as test scores, there is common ground, said Co-Chairman Smith.
Non-white teachers have increased 162 percent over the past 30 years, but they are also more likely to quit
Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the fact that the U.S. teaching force is mostly white but the students in our classrooms are now mostly black, Hispanic and Asian. Although the latest federal data shows a dramatic surge in the number of black and Hispanic teacher hires, these same teachers continue to be among the most likely to leave the profession, with many churned out soon after they are hired and before they have a chance to develop strong teaching skills. “No, we don’t have parity,” said Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who has been documenting changes in the teaching labor force. “But there’s actually been a massive increase in the numbers and percentages of minority teachers in this country over the last three decades. It’s actually sort of an unheralded victory. It’s all the more remarkable because minority teachers have higher quit rates.” Ingersoll and his colleagues at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education analyzed teacher and school principal surveys, administered every four or so years by the federal government, to paint a picture of the teaching force and highlight trends. Their first 2012 report tracked changes from 1987 through 2008. He and his colleagues have since updated these findings twice, in 2014 and now in 2018, with data through the 2015-2016, which recently became available.
Language, Culture, and Power
Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
Across the country, young people had a profound impact on the 2018 midterm elections. CIRCLE’s exclusive day-after estimate found that 31% of young people voted in Tuesday’s midterms, the highest rate in over two decades. Furthermore, according to national exit polls, young people backed Democrats at higher margins than any other midterm or presidential year since 1992. To get a better sense of how young voters made a difference, we wanted to dive deeper into election results in key battleground races. In several states with projected toss-up elections, we examined youth vote choice for each candidate by aggregating county-level data. Using a similar method as for our analysis of Ayanna Pressley’s Democratic primary victory in Massachusetts’ 7th District, we wanted to identify counties in each state with high concentrations of youth to see whether these areas broke heavily toward either party. Indeed, we found that in the Montana Senate race, in the Georgia gubernatorial race, and in the Texas Senate race, counties with a high proportion of youth more strongly supported the Democratic candidate. We also find that, in the latter two races, that effect was further magnified in counties with high proportions of people of color (In Texas, Latinos; in Georgia, African-Americans), which suggests that youth of color may have played an especially key role in supporting Democrats in those races. For this analysis, we divided counties into thirds of about equal size based on Census data on the percentage of young people among the county’s total population. That allowed us to categorize each county as having a “Low”, “Medium”, or “High” youth population relative to other counties within each state. From there, using countywide candidate support data, we were able to determine that Democratic candidates fared significantly better in counties with high proportions of young people.
Jennifer Rich, The Hechinger Report
It keeps getting uglier at the U.S. border with Mexico, as American officials ended Thanksgiving weekend by shutting down a busy crossing after firing tear gas at a caravan of Central American migrants. Schools, too, have played a part in the politicization of the caravan, the wall and the immigration debate. As a professor in a college of education who teaches and researches about how to talk about difficult (and increasingly political) topics with young people, and as a former elementary school teacher and a mother of young children, I have spent time in recent weeks thinking and teaching about the migrant caravan. I’ve become convinced that politicians, those who are talking about this in the news, and lots of other adults are struggling to have this conversation well. I’ve made mistakes as I’ve talked about the caravan with college students, student-teachers and young children, but there is one thing I have come to be sure of: we need to teach people, especially young people, to be change-makers and problem-solvers. It’s so important to help children (of all ages) learn from their mistakes and be bold in their solutions to social issues like this one. People can acquire these skills at any time in their lives, but college is an especially good time. A strategy I’ve found to be hugely effective with college students is to hold voluntary open conversations on campus, like the one our Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (where I am director of research and education) recently offered on “polarization, violence and healing.” The conversation was hard and messy, but it is precisely the kind of event that we are not having often enough. Here’s what happened.
Ali Budner, KRCC
The United States has a grim history when it comes to our indigenous people, from the multiple massacres of native men, women and children to Indian boarding schools where native children were taken from their families and in many cases physically and sexually abused. For the most part, this history isn’t taught in our public schools; neither is indigenous culture. But that’s changing, and the Mountain West is on board. At a Colorado library recently, its Department of Education unveiled a brand new set of lessons for 4th graders. The optional curriculum was written and approved by the state’s two federally recognized tribes – the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute. It covers the gamut from the history of Indian Boarding Schools to arts, language and tribal governance. Felicia Alvarez applauded the move. She’s a local parent and a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe. She said children need to know these things. “I’ve always felt that within our education system, if we were to include true historical facts that children would be much more educated and there would be less ignorance towards our people.”
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
Hundreds of thousands of immigrant parents in California may disenroll their children from health insurance, food stamps and other federally subsidized programs because they fear that receiving these benefits will make it impossible for them to become permanent residents in the United States. Their fears have been triggered by new regulations proposed by the Trump administration that expand the number of benefits that immigration officers can take into account in deciding whether to deny an immigrant permanent residence in the United States. Federal law allows immigration officials to deny green cards to immigrants if authorities decide they are likely to become a “public charge” — someone who relies excessively on government benefits to survive. The draft regulations are currently open for public comments until Dec. 10th. Administrators at community clinics, school-based health centers and agencies serving children say some parents in California are already choosing not to enroll or withdrawing their children from health and nutrition programs. A parent asked First 5 Alameda, an agency that supports families with small children, to stop seeking early intervention services from a local school district for their toddler with autism. A teenage mother in the Central Valley asked to withdraw from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) one month before giving birth. A grandmother in San Francisco asked North East Medical Services, a federally funded community clinic, to purge her grandchildren’s medical records. “It’s causing fear, it’s causing confusion and it’s really impacting kids,” said Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization.
Carolyn Phenicie, The 74
Eight months of student activism around gun violence swelled to a new peak this weekend, when about 100 students came together in the nation’s capital to draft and ratify a Students’ Bill of Rights for School Safety calling for better mental health care in schools and a slate of new gun control laws. “When you experience gun violence, there’s a certain obligation within you, I think, to do something,” Jack McLeod, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one of the student leaders of the conference, said Saturday morning. The conference stretched over three days, including a day of education sessions and smaller working groups at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. Most of the students who spoke with The 74 had some sort of personal connection to gun violence, either experiencing a mass shooting or losing a loved one in a shooting death. Most also said they didn’t immediately join the gun control movement but were inspired by the Stoneman Douglas students.
Jessica Voelker, SeattleMet
Right now, the first generations of socially transitioned transgender children—kids who live openly as the “opposite” gender—are growing up in America. University of Washington psychology professor Kristina Olson works with hundreds of them via the university’s TransYouth Project, the largest longitudinal study of its kind in the country. Five years in, her team has already published findings that both defy long-held assumptions about the wellbeing of trans kids and raise important new questions about what makes them thrive or struggle. Recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, Olson is expanding her work to include other gender nonconforming groups as well. Meanwhile, she says it’s a privilege to watch her “cohort” grow up.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Anya Kamenetz, Robbie Feinberg, and Kyla Calvert Mason, NPR
If you do a Google image search for “classroom,” you’ll mostly see one familiar scene: rows or groups of desks, with a spot at the front of the room for the teacher. One teacher, many students: It’s basically the definition of school as we know it, going back to the earliest days of the Republic. “We couldn’t afford to have an individual teacher for every student, so we developed a way of teaching large groups,” as John Pane, an education researcher at the RAND Corporation, puts it. Pane is among a wave of education watchers getting excited by the idea that technology may finally offer a solution to the historic constraints of one-to-many teaching. It’s called personalized learning: What if each student had something like a private tutor, and more power over what and how they learned? Pane is the lead author of one of the few empirical studies to date of this idea, published late last year. It found that schools using some form of personalized learning were, on average, performing better (there were some wrinkles we’ll talk about later on). “In a personalized system,” he says, “students are receiving instruction exactly at the point where they need it.” It’s a concept grounded in the psychology of motivation, learning science and growing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). And the hype around it is blowing up. Personalized learning is the No. 1 educational technology priority around the country, according to a recent survey by the Center for Digital Education, a news service that promotes ed-tech. More than nine out of 10 districts polled said they were directing devices, software and professional development resources toward personalized learning. Personalized learning is also a major priority of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which is a supporter of NPR’s education coverage) and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The commitment by the Facebook founder’s philanthropy is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year. But there’s already a backlash to the idea: it’s drawn teacher, parent and student protests–even walkouts–in several states.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
It was not the place you’d expect to hear sharp critiques of standardized testing. But they just kept coming last week at an event put on by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, an organization that has spent 25 years studying and supporting key tenets of education reform. “If there is one office in every state I would want to get rid of, it’s the accountability office,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously led a charter school in New Orleans. “I would replace that office with some kind of statewide coordination around personalized learning.” No one on the panel with him disagreed. “I think too much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to accountability systems that don’t produce outcomes for students that historically struggled,” Lewis Ferebee, the head of Indianapolis Public Schools, said later. “The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids,” said Susan Patrick of iNACOL, an organization that promotes technology-based personalized learning in schools. Those comments reflected the prevailing mood at the event, where testing was criticized for being at odds with the increasingly popular “personalized learning” models that allow students to progress through material at their own pace. Others, including Ferebee, complained that in their states, testing regimens have changed too frequently to be useful.
Carrie E. Miller, Meredith Phillips, and Kyo Yamashiro, Los Angeles Education Research Institute
This research brief from the LAERI research-practice partnership is the first in a series exploring Los Angeles Unified School District’s (L.A. Unified) students’ pathways to college. This brief focuses on students’ survey reports about whether and where they applied to college.1 It describes the percentage of twelfth graders from the class of 20172 who applied to college, where they applied to college, and how these patterns differed among young men and women and among students from different ethnic/ racial backgrounds or academic preparation levels. The data for this brief come from a collaborative effort between LAERI and L.A. Unified to develop survey questions for L.A. Unified’s annual surveys about students’ experiences, behaviors, and supports during the college application process.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times
School had been in session less than two months when Brenda Salgado and her kids packed and moved. It was mid-September and they’d already been in three places. First a motel, then a two-bedroom apartment stuffed with more than two dozen people, then one of the many discount lodges on a dreary stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard in North Hills. One morning, a little after 7, I wheeled into the parking lot of Salgado’s one-star motel near a busy Sepulveda intersection where the air smelled of burned gas and fried food. Guests stood outside their rooms under rising parachutes of cigarette smoke, and some of the parked cars were crammed with the belongings of people on the move. I took the stairs to Salgado’s second-floor unit and heard the giggles of children. When I knocked, Salgado called me in. The $95 room had two beds, a dark rug, harsh light and the familiar, unnatural scent of motel sanitizing agents. There was no kitchen, no quiet corner for homework, no outdoor space. Anthony, 9, Jordan, 6, and Madelyn, 5, were dressed and ready for school at Telfair Elementary, six miles away in Pacoima. One-year-old Mayla, dark-haired and curious, sat upright on a bed and looked me over. The most disturbing thing about the scene was that for the kids, this was no temporary setback. This was life, dragging belongings from one place to the next, tethered to problems they didn’t create.
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Many states aren’t doing a good job of making equity a focus of school improvement or taking their oversight role on school turnarounds seriously, a new study suggests. And it can be hard to tell how states will sustain their school improvement efforts. That’s according to an analysis released Thursday of state school improvement materials conducted by HCM Strategies, a public policy and advocacy firm, in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success, a Washington-based advocacy organization. The report looked at 17 states, chosen because there was enough data available to evaluate their school improvement process. The report considered each state’s application for districts to receive school improvement funding, its scoring rubric for the application, the state’s guidance for districts or schools to develop and implement their improvement plans, and other materials. States were judged on a rubric developed by experts that included things like whether the state had a coherent vision for improving student outcomes, use of resources, the review process for district plans, and continuous improvement, monitoring, and evaluation. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states and districts—not the federal government—figure out how to fix low-performing schools. States must reserve 7 percent of their Title I money to help struggling schools get better. But they can decide how those dollars are distributed. Many of the states in the study referenced “equity” in some way in their school improvement materials, the report found. But fewer than half clearly said it would be a focus of their improvement efforts. States largely did not explain how they would address inequities on high-quality teachers, curriculum, and enrichment opportunities among their schools.
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
Nearly all of the world’s 180-plus countries include the term education in their constitution. Most guarantee every child the right to free education, and many make participation in some form of schooling mandatory; some even provide universal access to affordable college. For the remaining handful, the UN’s decades-old treaty on children’s rights, which stipulates various educational protections, serves as a backup, and has been ratified by pretty much every sovereign nation on the planet. Except for one. That one country is the United States of America, a nation that prizes the idea that anyone should be able to build a better life through education and hard work. Activists have occasionally sought to address this constitutional omission through Congressional legislation, grassroots campaigns, and federal litigation, but they’ve never succeeded. Of the few cases that have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, not a single one has managed to secure a majority ruling in favor of an argument that there is an implied right to an education in the Constitution. Against this backdrop, federal litigation over educational rights has all but disappeared in the past half century. Meanwhile, the nation’s public schools continue to vary significantly in funding, quality, and academic and social outcomes.
Public Schools and Private $
Sophia Bollag, The Sacramento Bee
When former charter school executive Marshall Tuck called Assemblyman Tony Thurmond to concede over the weekend, it marked another defeat for charter-school advocates in California. Thurmond was elected California’s top education official in the wave that led more liberal-leaning voters to cast ballots. Although both are Democrats, Thurmond had the party’s endorsement. He also was backed by teachers unions, who were outspent more than two-to-one. Independent groups supporting Tuck spent more than $36 million this cycle. Prominent education reform supporters, including frequent political donor Bill Bloomfield, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and philanthropist Eli Broad were among the biggest contributors to those efforts. Tuck’s official campaign raised another $5 million. “The group of people who have provided significant funding to candidates that are associated with a charter-friendly agenda have proven that they don’t have the ability to capture statewide offices,” said John Rogers, an education policy expert at UCLA.
Dahlia Bazzaz, The Seattle Times
The Washington state auditor’s office found “mixed results” when it evaluated the accountability of the state’s charter schools during the 2017-2018 school year.
Jeremy P Kelley, Dayton Daily News
Nearly two-thirds of Ohio charter school sponsors were rated “effective” by the Ohio Department of Education for 2017-18, and those sponsors who were rated ineffective or poor now govern only a handful of schools. Sponsors are the agencies that launch new charter schools and manage contracts, provide school oversight and technical assistance. The state’s annual evaluation system measures the sponsors on three things — the academic performance of their schools, compliance with laws, and adherence to best practices. The 2017-18 evaluations, released last week, ranked no sponsors at the highest level of “exemplary,” but put 21 at the next rung of “effective” and 12 at “ineffective.” Only one sponsor, Marion City Schools, was ranked at the bottom level of “poor.” The overall number of sponsors has shrunk from 65 in 2016-17 to 34 last school year.
Other News of Note
Suzi Weissman and Alex Caputo-Pearl, Jacobin
This year’s teachers strike has reached Los Angeles. Members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) recently voted to authorize a strike, with 98 percent of teachers voting in favor. The union says the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD), under its new superintendent Austin Beutner, is pushing a charterization, privatization, and austerity agenda. UTLA, meanwhile, is part of a growing national union movement centered on “bargaining for the common good,” with demands and proposals that have come from months of working with community organizations, students, and parents. Alex Caputo-Pearl worked as a teacher for twenty-two years in the Compton and Los Angeles school districts before being elected UTLA president in 2014. He recently spoke with Suzi Weissman for her podcast on Jacobin Radio.