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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
Michael Hansen, Elizabeth Mann Levesque, and Jon Valant, Brookings
Nationwide, education was not a top issue for many voters on Election Day–far from it. At the same time, the 2018 state and national elections may have important consequences for education policy across the U.S. Here, we offer several reflections on what some of these results may mean for the future of education policy.
Howard Blume and Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles schools chief Austin Beutner is working on a plan to radically reshape the nation’s second-largest school district by shrinking the central bureaucracy and moving decision-making closer to campuses. The aim is to boost student success and save money at a time when officials insist that grave financial problems threaten the Los Angeles Unified School District’s solvency. Under a proposal being developed confidentially, Beutner would divide the system into 32 “networks,” moving authority and resources out of the central office and into neighborhoods. He is expected to make his plan public next month. In L.A. Unified’s downtown headquarters, managers and other employees recently have been asked to explain their duties — and to justify why their jobs should continue to exist in a leaner, more localized school system. The network strategy is not a plan to break up or end L.A. Unified, but it could transform how the school system functions. “The superintendent is trying to move toward a decentralized system that puts the student first,” said one person close to the process who was not authorized to comment publicly. “He’s trying to generate better educational outcomes. That’s the No. 1 goal. “Savings from the central bureaucracy could be plowed back into education at the school level,” he said, “as well as [used] to deal with the fiscal crisis the district faces.” Beutner declined to comment on the plan, saying it would be premature to talk about a work in progress.
Kyle Stokes, LAist
Los Angeles Unified school administrators made a new contract offer to the district’s teachers union Tuesday, proposing to give United Teachers Los Angeles members almost all of the salary increase they’d been demanding throughout a protracted fight over a new contract. The development comes after months of LAUSD officials insisting UTLA’s contract demands are too costly — a stalemate that has brought the two sides to the brink of a possible teachers strike that would affect more than 480,000 students. But UTLA officials say the new offer includes a “Trojan horse” — a provision that union leaders say would lock in larger class sizes than the union wants and grant LAUSD officials even greater latitude to increase class sizes in the future. “Beutner is trying to buy us off with a raise,” UTLA leaders wrote in a message to the union’s 30,000 members last night, “while simultaneously increasing class sizes [and] reducing retiree healthcare for new employees.”
Language, Culture, and Power
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Erin Mortensen and Leonardo DuPlooy can’t wait to cast their first-ever votes this November—for very different reasons. DuPlooy, a high school student in rural Hammond, La., wants to support candidates who will have President Donald Trump’s back. Mortensen, a college student in Utah, is looking for a change in direction. “I see a lot of things happening in the country that I’m not very happy about,” she said, ticking off Trump, climate change, and gun violence as prime examples. First-time voters like DuPlooy and Mortensen are coming of political age in an era of deep partisan division, immersed in a social-media swirl of information and misinformation. Some have high praise for their K-12 civics teachers. But others say their high school government courses didn’t give them all the tools they need to make educated choices at the polls—or to understand where people on the other side of the debate are coming from. A little more than a third of 18- and 19-year-olds who participated in an online survey by the Education Week Research Center in September said they had never taken a stand-alone civics class. Yet students who took those courses were more likely to say they plan to vote. Just a quarter of people who have never taken a standalone civics class plan to vote. Nearly twice as many do not, said Holly Kurtz, the research center’s director. The survey, conducted with support from the Education Writers Association, includes a nationally representative sample of 1,339 18- and 19-year-olds who have never taken part in a general election. It has a margin of error of 3 percent. Thirty-one percent of the respondents said they were Democrats, 25 percent Independents, and 20 percent Republicans. Twenty-three percent said they were not registered to vote.
Alexandra Wittenberg, Arizona Daily Sun
In August, 16-year-old Amari Jones approached an old teacher of hers with a request. Amari, who lives 200 miles northeast of Flagstaff on the Navajo reservation in Red Mesa, Ariz., asked if she could borrow some textbooks to start work on the Navajo language app she wanted to create. Charlotta Lacey, who teaches the Navajo language of Diné Bizaad to grades 6-12, was dumbfounded. It just so happened that at the time, Lacey was involved with creating the Navajo version of the popular language app Duolingo with a group of other educators and colleagues. “I remember Mrs. Lacey saying ‘you really want to do this. We’re actually having a meeting at 4:30 after school today,’” Amari said. After Amari explained her eagerness to help out with the Navajo version of the app, she soon found herself creating mini-lessons and catering them for the Duolingo audience with other students in Lacey’s classes. Lacey called the process a “collaborative team effort” between Duolingo, San Juan School District educators and San Juan High School students.
Randi Weingarten, Education Week
The millennial generation came of age—and attended school—during a time when authorities were fixated on standardized testing, competition, and top-down accountability. Education budgets took twin hits from the deep recession and politicians who promised austerity. When schools struggled, officials cast blame on educators and advocated for school choice and privatization, rather than strengthening public schools to meet students’ needs. It is striking that, in a recent national poll, millennials see through the ruse for what it was, and support investment in public education, strengthening teachers’ voice and agency through unions, and public schools over alternatives. The poll, conducted in September by the GenForward Survey Project housed at the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, surveyed nearly 2,000 respondents between the ages of 18 and 34. Drawing on a nationally representative sample of African-American, Asian, Latinx, and white millennials, the poll asked a number of questions about public education. While millennials give the nation’s public schools mixed grades, they strongly support public education over privatized alternatives. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that increasing funding would do more to improve public education than providing more vouchers. And respondents’ top answer for the best way to improve K-12 education in local districts is to increase school funding.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Carla Javier, LAist
Here’s a new solution to the old problem of high school dropouts: If you get kids to care about art, they’ll be engaged in school, so they’ll get their credits, graduate, and go to college or get a job. More than 15,000 high school students in Los Angeles County dropped out of school in the 2016-2017 school year. And while Los Angeles Unified didn’t publicly report an official dropout rate, it has been actively working to bring dropouts across the board under 10% by 2020. And the nation’s largest school district is now trying a new focus on the arts to keep some struggling students in the classroom. That focus is what makes the Design and Media Arts Academy different from other schools also catering to students who don’t make it in the traditional school system. The new academy — a partnership between LAUSD and an arts non-profit called artworxLA — requires eight hours of art classes each week. “One of main things that I hear when I come here is laughter. I walk into a classroom and I see engagement. I see students who are interested in what they’re doing, excited to be exploring,” artworxLA executive director Cynthia Campoy Brophy explained. “I see students who are working collaboratively.” The goal isn’t just to get students to graduate. It’s also to give them skills they can use to get real, paying jobs afterwards. To that end, they offer hands-on training in a number of areas in demand in creative industries, learning Adobe Creative suites and Ableton music software in computer lab.
Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
Health authorities in California have more power to insist that a dog is vaccinated against rabies than to ensure that a child enrolled in school is vaccinated against measles. That’s just one of the frustrations faced by health officials in the first year after California did away with “personal belief exemptions” that allowed parents to send their kids to school unvaccinated, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. In the 2014-15 school year, when parents could still opt out of vaccinations for any reason they chose, only 90.4% of kindergartners in California public schools were fully immunized. That’s below the 94% threshold needed to establish community immunity for measles, according to experts. Gaps like that helped persuade state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 277, which was signed into law in 2015. It requires every child taught in school classrooms or enrolled in a child care facility to be fully immunized against 10 diseases: diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae Type B, measles, mumps, pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough), poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus and varicella (a.k.a. chickenpox) — unless a doctor provides a medical reason for why it would be unsafe to do so. It was the first time in 35 years that a state had gotten rid of personal belief exemptions, and it made California only the third state — along with Mississippi and West Virginia — to have such a strict requirement. By the most basic measure, it worked. In the 2017-18 school year, 95.1% of kindergartners had all of their immunizations, according to the California Department of Public Health.
D’Artagnan Scorza, LA School Report
Los Angeles is currently home to the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. In my hometown of Inglewood, improving public safety is among our biggest priorities. We care about safety and care about the wellbeing of our communities. However, I firmly believe that losing faith in and ceasing to invest in our young people is one of the biggest threats to public safety. This is why we must move away from the current juvenile justice system and invest in youth development. I believe that no one is hopeless, and I am particularly firm on this when it comes to youth. Even children born into disadvantaged circumstances and teens facing limited choices that threaten to continue negative cycles in their families and communities have the potential to succeed. I can speak from experience, both personally and professionally. When we invest in youth and families in our community, we find that they have the ability to thrive. It’s why I do the work that I do, and why it’s so important that we rethink how we prescribe the future of youth involved in the justice system. When it comes to thinking about a new path for juvenile justice, it is essential that we replace mandatory pathways to punishment with pathways of opportunity. Education and rehabilitation play a huge role in changing the lives of youth involved in the justice system. Research and experience tell us that young offenders’ brains are still developing and are malleable to change. We must allow them to reclaim their lives and affirm their value in our society and communities instead of locking them up, where they run out of opportunity for the rest of their lives.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
National Education Policy Center (NEPC)
More than 14 percent of the nation’s high school students attend schools where at least three quarters live in poverty. Most of these 1.8 million pupils are students of color. These low-income students and students of color are much less likely than their white and more affluent peers to attend and complete college. A new analysis illustrates one of the reasons why: These high schools with concentrated poverty are less likely to offer the coursework students need if they are to attend and succeed in four-year colleges. The analysis is presented in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last month at the request of U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, ranking member on the House Education Committee. Below are five charts from the report that shed light on the connection between poverty, race, and college attendance. “High-poverty” schools have free or reduced-price meal rates of at least 75 percent. “Low-poverty” schools have rates under 25 percent.
Larry Gordon, EdSource
California high school students showed gains on the 2018 SAT college entrance exam but less than half of the test takers in the state scored at levels considered college ready in both reading and math skills and big gaps remain among ethnic and racial groups. California students’ average scores were 540 in reading and writing and 536 in math, on a scale of 200 to 800 points each. That was up from 531 and 524 last year, according to results released by the test sponsor College Board. In addition, Californians did better than the national averages of 536 in reading and 531 in math. The College Board also analyzed whether students were ready for college. That readiness is based on benchmarks that are supposed to predict whether a student is likely to earn at least a C grade in entry-level college courses. Such readiness would require a 480 or better SAT score in the so-called evidence-based reading and writing section and a 530 minimum in math.
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Welcome to another installment of “Answering Your ESSA Questions,” where we try to demystify the Every Student Succeeds Act in its first year of implementation. This one comes from Alex Sabin, a graduate student at Harvard University. Question: An ESSA accountability system can include a school success “measure” outside of test scores such as college-and-career readiness. However, what exactly does college and career readiness look like? A large portion of students are entering into college and must take the noncredit-bearing “refresher” courses, which indicate their lack of college preparation. Additionally, college retention rates are still lower than many would like. Are these components of how college and career readiness is viewed in the accountability systems? Or what does that metric include? Answer: The short version is that nearly every state is measuring college and career readiness in some way. Even though there are some common elements (like Advanced Placement test scores, industry certification, workplace experience), the details look different everywhere. But only a small handful are looking at postsecondary enrollment. And most don’t consider whether students need to take remedial coursework once they get to college. For more detail, we reached out to Ryan Reyna, the director of the Education Strategy Group, an organization that works with states on K-12 and postsecondary transitions.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
Equity in education means that schools and education systems provide equal learning opportunities to all students. As a result, during their education, students of different socio-economic status, gender or immigrant and family background achieve similar levels of academic performance in key cognitive domains, such as reading, mathematics and science, and similar levels of social and emotional well-being in areas such as life satisfaction, self-confidence and social integration. Equity does not mean that all students obtain equal education outcomes, but rather that differences in students’ outcomes are unrelated to their background of to economic and social circumstances over which students have no control. As this report shows, there is no country in the world that can yet claim to have entirely eliminated socio-economic inequalities in education. While some countries and economies that participate in PISA have managed to build education systems where socio-economic status makes less of a difference in students’ learning, well-being and post-secondary educational attainment, every country can do more to improve equity in education.
Offline and underserved: New study shows ‘homework gap’ most affects students already likely to fall behind
Laura Fay, The 74
The homework gap — a phrase describing the accumulation of missed assignments by students who lack access to technology or the internet outside of school — disproportionately affects students who are already more likely to fall behind academically, a new study shows. While 14 percent of students said they have access to just one device to access the internet outside of the classroom, a majority of those students — more than 8 out of 10 — are considered “underserved.” In other words, they are minorities, will be the first in their families to go to college, or hail from low-income families, according to the new study by the ACT Center for Equity in Learning. By contrast, just 6 percent of students from “served” backgrounds reported being limited to one device. The center surveyed a random selection of about 7,000 high school students who took the ACT in April 2017 about their access to the internet and technological devices at home. Researcher Raeal Moore said she was surprised by the results; she expected the percentage to be in the single digits. Students with a single device were also less likely to spend time outside of class doing school-related activities than their peers. “We basically made this connection between the number of devices that you have access to and how often you actually use those devices for educational activities,” she said, which means some students are less prepared to use technology for school and work.
Richard Cano, CALMatters
Schools in California’s wealthier communities have been reaping far more local bond money than poorer districts, a CALmatters analysis shows—a reality that amplifies existing inequities for the state’s public school students. Districts with the lowest concentrations of students on free or reduced lunch, a poverty indicator, have averaged more than twice as many local bond dollars per student since 1998 as the most impoverished districts. And depending on where your children go to school, they could be benefitting from as much as $270,000 per pupil in local bond money over the past two decades, or as little as $838—or nothing. The amounts of local bonds, typically used for school facilities, are heavily reliant on local property values—a clear advantage to schools ensconced in the tonier parts of California. Disparities in local school bonds are also reflected in state school bonds, although experts say the differences aren’t as stark. Nonetheless, state bonds are often awarded as matching dollars for local bonds. That means richer school districts are typically able to get more bang for their local bucks, because they’re able to collect more state matching money, and hire staff to navigate the state’s cumbersome application process. The result: While voters in many communities have approved unprecedented amounts of local school bonds to modernize facilities, some students, many of them poor, have remained in crumbling classrooms that haven’t been substantially renovated since they were first built in the 1950s or 60s. These imbalances in school facilities across California are “pretty evident and pretty stark,” said Shin Green, an Oakland-based school infrastructure financing consultant. “In my heart of hearts, I think this is something we should address. “I think just because your family decided to live in a rural community, you don’t punish a kid by putting them in a substandard school. They had no choice in that.”
Public Schools and Private $
Madeline Will, Education Week
Teachers at a charter network in Chicago have voted to take the first step toward the country’s first charter-school strike. Earlier this week, 503 of the Chicago Teachers Union’s 536 members at Acero’s 15 charter schools voted to authorize a strike. (Most unionized members turned out to vote.) They are fighting for pay raises, smaller class sizes, increased special education staffing, and extended parental leave. Teachers at four more unionized charter schools in the city—part of the Chicago International Charter Schools network—will vote on whether to authorize their own strike tomorrow. (Update, 11/2: Nearly all of the union members at those four schools voted to authorize a strike. They could now strike for pay raises if bargaining fails.) While there has been plenty of teacher activism lately—from six statewide walkouts this spring to a spate of teacher strikes in Washington state to a potential strike brewing in Los Angeles—charter schools have been mostly immune. Nationally, a small percentage of charter schools are unionized—only about 11.3 percent, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In fact, charter schools were in part created to free school leaders from many state and district regulations, including collective bargaining contracts. The idea is that this allows charter schools more flexibility to innovate and try new things, such as longer school days and school years. But unions are making inroads in the charter space, and earlier this year, the Chicago Teachers Union merged with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which includes Acero teachers. Acero is the largest unionized operator in the Chicago district.
From South Carolina to California, charter school-loving billionaires are plowing money into midterm local and education races
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
In Charleston, S.C., advocates for the public school district are worried. They have watched some of the state’s wealthiest people — including billionaire financier Ben Navarro — form a coalition this year to back school board candidates who support a broad expansion of charter schools. The Charleston Coalition for Kids has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising as 11 candidates vie for four seats on the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees. The coalition, which is run by a former Teach For America executive in charge of recruiting educators in the state, has won big endorsements in town, including from former mayors and school board members. And it has links to Michelle Rhee, the controversial former D.C. schools chancellor and pioneer in the school “reform” movement that sought to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, principals and students and pushed for alternatives to publicly governed school districts. Coalition leaders say they simply want to improve education in the city. But some residents — including pastors, former and current school board members and parents — say the group’s real aim it to expand charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. Those residents say that will harm the 50,000-student school system. “Though Charleston Coalition for Kids claims to seek to disrupt the status quo, its record suggests it aims to continue experiments in privatization that continue to fail those who need quality public education the most,” said Allison Mackey of the nonprofit Quality Education Project. What’s happening in Charleston is mirrored in cities, counties and states across the country: The super-wealthy are using their influence and money to elect candidates in education races who support the movement to find alternatives to publicly funded and governed school districts.
Theresa Harrington, EdSource
At the same time that the question of charter schools expansion in California is becoming an issue in both the race for governor and superintendent of public instruction, East Bay school board races are attracting campaign contributions from both charter supporters and critics. In the Oakland Unified School District, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given $120,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting Gary Yee, a former interim superintendent. Bloomberg has contributed more than $4 million to California pro-charter groups and candidates since early 2017, according to state campaign finance records. Yee, who previously served on the school board and has been a teacher and principal, says he’s not pro or anti-charter. “I’ve been at the forefront of being highly critical of charters. But when charters have been successful, I’ve praised them. I think that makes me pro-school.” He is running in District 4 against Clarissa Doutherd, executive director of an education advocacy organization called Parent Voices, who is calling for a moratorium on charter schools in Oakland and who is critical of existing charters, saying they don’t serve enough “high-need students,” including those in special education. The California Teachers Association and Oakland Education Association teachers’ union are supporting Doutherd, with the CTA contributing $23,900 and the local union spending $12,617 on her race.
Other News of Note
Tina Trujillo, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
The midterms are tomorrow. Voting is without a doubt a bare-minimum civic responsibility for anyone in the United States who is eligible, but I can’t stop thinking about what we can do in the days after. If we want to save what’s left of our fading democracy, we must strengthen the common good. Words mirror and shape values, and our words suggest that our democracy is in real danger. Even before the fateful election two years ago, I’d been noticing that Americans’ everyday language divulged the degree to which many of us cherish individual gain and exclusivity. This was and is true particularly when we speak about schooling. I hear parents talk about needing the best school for their child because their child is exceptional. Their neighborhood public school won’t make them competitive enough for the most selective schools or the most lucrative jobs. I have witnessed moms, usually white and middle-class, repeatedly justify their choice to choose private or home schooling because the local school — the racially, socioeconomically diverse alternative — isn’t sufficiently safe or rigorous for their special children. By elementary school, students have figured out that the goal of their learning, of their time together, is to score high on tests which, so many believe, show how smart and good they are. Education, a public good, has become a private means to individual economic gain, not common civic benefit.