Just News from Center X – October 16, 2020

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Untangling the Role of Trump, Unions, and Politics in School Reopening Decisions

Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week

There’s evidence that the presence of unions and community support for President Donald Trump had a significantly bigger influence on school districts’ decisions about holding in-person classes than the local spread of the coronavirus, two researchers say. The working paper from two political science professors released earlier this month looked at more than 10,000 school districts’ reopening plans for this school year, and studied the correlation between those decisions and indicators based on politics, public health, and market forces. However, the paper also embodies the challenge of measuring how political considerations have driven school reopening decisions during the pandemic amid a flurry of factors. And some would disagree that political and not practical considerations have been the overriding factor in many districts’ decisions.

What no Trump stimulus means for California schools, unemployment and more

Lauren, Heppler, Cal Matters

Last week, as federal stimulus talks crumbled and California’s unemployment system faltered again, Tracy Greer packed her car with recyclables and hoped the cash would pay for groceries. Greer, 48, is an accountant by training who was furloughed from her job as a restaurant server in the high desert town of Phelan just as the pandemic hit. It took three months to get her first unemployment check, and with no back-to-work date in sight, Greer and many of the other 2.1 million jobless Californians have been hoping for a reprieve with a second round of federal stimulus money. “Right now, they’re playing with fire. They’re making it so people are going to be homeless.”

The Teachers’ “Red for Ed” Movement Is Far From Dead

Eric Blanc, Jacobin

In late February 2018, teachers and support staff shuttered schools in all fifty-five counties of West Virginia. Their strike inspired educators across the country and raised hopes that a long-awaited revival of organized labor finally may have arrived. That spring, school employees in Oklahoma, Arizona, and beyond walked out to demand increased education funding and better pay. Confounding all expectations, these actions erupted in Republican-dominated (Red) states with weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump. The “Red for Ed” movement soon spread nationwide, with strikes throughout 2019 paralyzing school districts in Democratic cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, and Denver.

Language, Culture, and Power

Judge rules against R.I. students asserting right to civics education

Providence Journal

A federal judge has ruled against a group of Rhode Island public school students who argued that their constitutional rights had been violated by the lack of a robust civics education. U.S. District Court Judge William Smith issued his ruling on Tuesday, in a case that was believed to have been the first of its kind in the United States. “Plaintiffs should be commended for bringing this case,” Smith wrote in his ruling. “It highlights a deep flaw in our national education priorities and policies. The Court cannot provide the remedy Plaintiffs seek, but in denying that relief, the Court adds its voice to Plaintiffs’ in calling attention to their plea. Hopefully, others who have the power to address this need will respond appropriately.”

All of Us Are Smarter Than Any of Us

Alfie Kohn, NEPC

For me, the first step was questioning our culture’s conflation of achievement (doing well) with competition (beating others). Only once we realize that the first idea has been collapsed into the second is it possible to see that it’s unnecessary and irrational to set things up — at work, at school, at play — so that one person has to fail in order that another can succeed. Indeed, scholars point out that the ideology supporting this arrangement is just a cultural prejudice: People who weren’t raised to worship winning are better able to understand that competition actually holds back everyone — even the winners — from doing their best.

Mother sues school resource officer for handcuffing, pinning 7-year-old with autism

Cameron Jenkins, The Hill

A North Carolina mother is suing after her 7-year-old son who has autism was handcuffed and pinned down by a school resource officer in 2018. Body camera footage that was obtained by local station WSOC TV shows a school resource officer grabbing the arms of the boy and laying him on the ground before cuffing his hands behind his back. In the incident, which WSOC reported lasted about 30 minutes, the boy is visibly uncomfortable. Officer Michael Fattaleh responded to a call from school staff, who informed him that the boy was spitting, WSOC reported. “Don’t move. Spit on me, and I’ll put a hood on you,” Fattaleh says in the video.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

Nobel laureate: Tens of millions of children worldwide at risk of exploitation, forced labor during pandemic

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

We read a great deal about the damage that children in the United States are suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic, but less so about the consequences for tens of millions of young people around the world who face dire futures without more support. In this post, Kailash Satyarthi, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his global advocacy for children’s rights, explains what is at stake for many children. He is the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a nonprofit organization in India that works to protect children, and he is a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

Children’s Books: Grown-Up Lessons

Candy Lee, Inside HigherEd

More people being home with children through the spring and summer during the nation’s Black Lives Matter protests has spurred purchases of children’s books, especially on diversity. And, in fact, quarantining in our homes led to a spike in reading of such books that may actually help drive the change they model. Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi, spent five weeks on The New York Times Children’s Picture Book best-seller list, two weeks at No. 1. The World Needs More Purple People, by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart, was on the list 15 weeks. And All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, remained on it for more than 23 weeks. Eighty years ago this summer, Life magazine published some photographs of an African American boy from Georgia that inspired Ezra Jack Keats, years later, to publish a children’s story that has become a classic. It’s about Peter, who saves a snowball for tomorrow.

How a 2nd-Grade Class Sent a Science Experiment to Space

Kenneth Chang, New York Times

Back in 2015, students in Maggie Samudio’s second-grade class at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, Ind., were contemplating an offbeat science question: If a firefly went to space, would it still be able to light up as it floated in zero gravity? Ms. Samudio said she would ask a friend of hers, Steven Collicott, an aerospace professor at nearby Purdue University, for the answer. “He teaches a class on zero gravity, and he would be the perfect person to answer the question,” Ms. Samudio recalled in an email.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

School Is (Whisper It) a Form of Child Care

Bryce Covert, New York Times

This summer, as debate raged among lawmakers, school districts and parents about whether it was safe to send kids back to school, something strange happened in Howard County, Md. The Howard County school system decided to remain remote for at least the first semester. But to help parents deal with the lack of in-person care for their children, the county offered elementary school students a spot in parks and recreation programs, which provide “support for virtual learning assignments” along with “work sessions” and “crafts, physical activities, and games” — activities not totally unlike, say, school.

Pandemic threatens food security for many college students

Matthew Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller, The Conversation

When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn’t rank very high. Just 14% of the presidents listed food or housing insecurity among their top five concerns. Granted, these academic leaders had plenty of other things to worry about. Some 86% said they were worried about fall enrollment – a concern that has shown itself to be a legitimate one, especially in light of the fact that low-income students have been dropping out of college at what one headline described as “alarming rates.” As researchers who specialize in the study of food insecurity, we see the dropout rate as being related to a host of underlying issues. And not having enough to eat is one of them.

The Pandemic’s Effect on Community College Enrollment

Jacob Jackson and Cesar ALesi Perez, PPIC

As early as April, students at California community colleges cited increased anxiety, mental distress, and income loss as factors affecting their ability to enroll in and complete planned courses. For many students, uncertainty also lingers around whether they will receive the necessary financial support to keep on track for their degree—despite expanded relief from efforts such as the CARES Act and Student Emergency Aid Initiative. Community colleges serve as an entry point to higher education for a diverse body of over two million students, many of whom come from lower-income households. If fewer students enroll, existing gaps in outcomes for Californians may be exacerbated.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Schools need additional funding to cope with pandemic crisis, voters say

Louis Freedberg, Ed Source

California voters overwhelmingly say schools need additional funding to implement safety practices critical to reopening classrooms for in-person instruction, according to a just-released EdSource poll. Moreover, most think the federal government should lead the way in providing those funds, and that the money is more likely to be forthcoming if Joe Biden is president. These are among the key findings of an EdSource representative poll of 834 registered voters conducted online between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7 by the FM3 Research polling firm. Nearly three out of four voters in general, and a similar proportion of parents, say that that additional funding is needed, with 52% saying there is a “great need” and another 20% saying there is “some need.” Only 8% say there is “a little need,” while 11% say there is “no real need.”

Gifted programs worsen inequality. Here’s what happens when schools try to get rid of them

Rachel Blustain, The Hechinger Report

It was 7:58 a.m., and Bruce Hecker’s 12th grade English class at South Side High School had the focused attention of a college seminar, with little chitchat or sluggishness despite the early hour. Students discussed the relevance of Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” to the McCarthy hearings and to current competing fears of terrorism and technological surveillance. The conversation that morning in December 2019 followed the lead of the seven or eight most vocal students. Occasionally, Hecker interrupted to encourage participation from a handful of students who receive support services to keep up with the class’s rigorous curriculum. The students Hecker called on hesitated, cleared their throats and said “um.” But when they did speak, their comments were clear and cogent.

Schools Update: Remote Learners At City’s Homeless Shelters Still Struggle To Get Internet Access

Sophia Chang, Jessica Gould, David Cruz, Gothamist

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless are threatening to take the city to court after finding homeless students without any reliable internet service for remote learning inside shelters. In a letter addressed to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and city Department of Homeless Services commissioner Stephen Banks, the groups focused specifically on the Flatlands Family Residence shelter in Brooklyn. There, students were given iPads by the city Department of Education in the spring, but could not use them after finding “unreliable or nonexistent cell service inside the building.” The data service was provided by T-Mobile under its contract with the city.

Public Schools and Private Dollars

Who’s Opposing Proposition 15? Land Developers and Big Business

Michael Hiltzik, CityWatchLA

The old saying about judging people by the company they keep applies equally to ballot measures. So let’s take a look at who’s spending the most to fight Proposition 15 on next month’s ballot. That’s the measure that would close a loophole allowing many commercial and industrial property owners to dodge reassessments under Proposition 13 for some four decades. According to the most recent disclosures filed with state campaign finance authorities, the big spenders on the “No on 15″ side include land developers, agricultural interests and golf and country clubs.

A New Vision for American Education

Joe Levine, TC Columbia

The Politics of Education Policy in an Era of Inequality: Possibilities for Democratic Schooling, co-authored by Teachers College’s Sonya Douglass Horsford, Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Founding Director of TC’s Black Education Research Collective (BERC), often feels as though it is speaking directly to the COVID pandemic and its impact on America’s school system. In fact, the book was published in 2019 — but it seems no accident that a text with profound insights into how the politics of reform and competition in K-12 education have worsened school inequality has been recognized by the American Educational Studies Association with one of its coveted Critics’ Choice Book Awards for 2020.

Nonpartisan watchdog group raises questions about $40m yacht tied to DeVos family

Grant Hermes and Dane Kelly, ClickonDetroit

Investigative watchdog group Checks and Balances Project has questions about a luxury yacht tied to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The nonpartisan group wants to know if the DeVos family is avoiding paying millions of dollars in taxes on the luxury yacht. These allegations come after an investigation into nearly a decade of travel reports from the DeVos family’s luxury vessel — adding to a list of potential ethical violations that have plagued the Secretary since she was put in place.

Other News of Note

Under the Tree [Audio]

Bill Ayers

We’re altering the framework for Episode Eleven because we’ve reached a milestone of sorts—a small milestone, to be sure, but a milestone nonetheless—and, therefore, this offering represents a kind of interlude, a time to reflect and recap, reimagine and rebuild. With ten episodes of Under the Tree live—a decathlon run—and a zillion episodes up ahead, let’s look back at where we’ve been, listen to a few excerpts, and then plunge ahead into a brief dialogue between Ayers, Alim, and Professor Stovall as we prepare for the road ahead.

Getting to Freedom City

Robin D.G. Kelley, Boston Review

In the summer of 1969, my mother decided we were moving to Los Angeles. Her friend Luther, an older Black gentleman and fellow devotee of the church established by Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), had moved there the year before and sent her letters extolling the city’s virtues. It didn’t take much convincing. My mother regaled us with Luther’s stories, adorning the walls of our tiny New York tenement apartment on 157th and Amsterdam with clippings from Sunset Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens—images of palm-lined streets, beaches, the Hollywood Hills, gorgeous rooms flooded with sunlight. She imagined herself meditating at SRF’s beautiful Lake Shrine property in Pacific Palisades just blocks from the ocean. “The flowers and the weather,” she told me recently, “reminded me of growing up in Jamaica.” LA would fulfill her dream of having a house, good schools for her children, freedom from violence, and spiritual peace.

Moments of Interruption [Video]

Cornel West