Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
Please share and encourage colleagues and friends to subscribe.
Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The two men who could determine whether Los Angeles teachers go on strike sound almost as if they inhabit different worlds. They don’t even agree on a set of basic facts, which makes negotiation difficult. L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner speaks of a school system teetering on insolvency and failing so many students that aggressive changes are needed, including new ways to assess teachers and quickly push out ineffective ones. Alex Caputo-Pearl, who leads the teachers union, says teachers at traditional public schools try valiantly but are besieged — even sabotaged — by outsiders who want to dismantle the district and by officials like Beutner who would rather stockpile money than use it to help teachers and make schools successful. In the gulf between these competing realities, a teachers strike seems increasingly likely.
Louis Freedberg and John Fensterwald, EdSource
A major thrust of landmark education reforms introduced during Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure has been to emphasize local control of schools and to view the state’s primary role as providing support to districts to improve. But the state’s ability to provide that support is constrained by the weakness of the California Department of Education, according to a new report issued as part of the Getting Down to Facts research project. The report, written by Brown University associate professor Susan Moffitt and seven other researchers, says that the department “remains a vital component of instructional support with its responsibility to gather and distribute data, to support the development of curriculum frameworks and oversee county offices of education.” But it states bluntly that currently “conditions in the CDE constrain the agency’s ability to support frontline practice,” referring to the department’s ability to assist districts directly. The department also finds itself caught between two conflicting strands of state education policy: pushing more decision-making to the local level and away from sanctions-heavy mandates emanating from Sacramento and Washington, while also being called on to provide more support to districts and to exercise oversight over districts most in need of help.
Sarah Holder, CityLab
Taylor Swenson doesn’t want to leave San José. She doesn’t want to leave the teachers in the San José Unified School District she’s been training for three years, or abandon the kids she’s been supporting for almost a decade, or stop going to the downtown street festivals she’s been attending since childhood. But along with hundreds of her fellow educators in San José, she’s grappling with the reality that living in housing-stretched, inhospitably expensive Northern California on a teachers’ salary is getting impossible. One by one, they’ve been getting out. “We don’t have our heart set on somewhere else,” Swenson says, “because our heart is set on here.” She and her husband are lucky: They rent a two-bedroom apartment downtown for close to the zip code’s $3,100-per-month average, she says, near to the San José Unified schools she started teaching for in 2010 and now works as a teacher coach. Many of her colleagues drive up to two hours into the city center each morning, from places like Tracy and Stockton and Livermore. Others make ends meet by living with multiple roommates. But if things don’t change, Swenson will be forced to join the exodus of less-affluent Bay Area residents who are leaving the region for more-affordable climes.
Language, Culture, and Power
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, Kentucky Teacher of the Year
I feel a certain patriotic pride when I hear the phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville, “the Great American Experiment.” Inherent in this idea is that our country and its mission is ever evolving — that from the beginning, the social, political and cultural fabric that built us was meant to shift and change over time. The word experiment connotes best guesses, curiosity and even potential failure. But even the most inexperienced of scientists know that valid experiments require a control, a contrast, a foundation with which to measure any change, in order to arrive at a conclusion that warrants belief. The foundations of our society — the control of this great experiment — are our institutions. We rely on them to provide some semblance of continuity when inevitable evolution takes place. So given the events of the last few weeks pertaining to one of our most honorable institutions, it is no surprise that so many have taken to the streets, some even finding themselves behind bars as a result, to protest the Brett M. Kavanaugh nomination and ultimate confirmation to the Supreme Court. … It is hard as an educator to watch the Kavanaugh events unfold while understanding innately that the obvious and more nuanced facets of the issues facing our country at this moment begin and develop in classrooms.
Charlotte Alter, TIME
When Chyanne Duhart arrived for her freshman year at East Stroudsburg University in central Pennsylvania in September, she was overwhelmed with options: she considered singing a capella, joining the Latin Association Club, or signing up for the Black Student Union. Instead, she got a fellowship with NextGen, an organization funded by Democratic superdonor Tom Steyer to register and mobilize young people to vote. Duhart had been old enough follow the 2016 election, but too young to cast a ballot in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state. When Trump won her state and then the election, “I cried myself to sleep that night,” she says. This November, she’ll be old enough to vote, like more than 8 million young Americans who weren’t eligible in the 2016 election. To many of them, the 2016 election was yet another example an older, less diverse generation of voters making decisions that they disagree with on everything from the environment to the Supreme Court. Trump won solid majorities of voters over 45, but people under 29 voted against him by almost 20 points. The Republican-led Congress has a median age that’s gone up almost 10 years since 1981. Back then, the average age in Congress was 49 in the House, and 51 in the Senate; today, the average member of the House is 58 and the average Senator is 61. “I think they probably don’t really care what’s happening because they’re probably not going to be here that long,” says Duhart. “We care more because we’re young, we intend to be on Earth for a long time.”
Alyson Klein, Education Week
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that socialism may be on the rise among young voters because they aren’t getting a strong foundation in civics and government at the K-12 level. Students are “coming into higher education without the background to even know and understand competing ideas and without the ability to discuss and debate them,” DeVos said in response to a question about the trend from Robert Bluey, the vice president for communications at Heritage Foundation, in an interview on the conservative think tank’s Daily Signal podcast.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Victoria Clayton, District Administration
Their surroundings may be idyllic, but educators in one Cape Cod district found themselves confronting the struggles experienced by systems across the nation. Barnstable Public Schools (5,300 students) had over several years seen an uptick in at-risk students and children with complex needs. This, along with promising research from organizations such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, propelled the Massachusetts district—like so many others—to adopt a full-throttle social-emotional learning initiative. But how can districts measure progress when the results can be far less black and white than the outcome of a math test? Enter SEL assessments, which, though varied and evolving, are providing educators with actionable insight into the impact of their efforts. “We knew we wanted a strength-based assessment—something that would tell us what students do well and where they need more support,” says Gina Hurley, director of student services, about the year Barnstable spent choosing an assessment.
The kids are all right: Teens say social media makes them feel better about themselves, less lonely & less depressed
Kate Stringer, The 74
The rise of smartphones, selfies, and social media has made researchers concerned for young adults’ mental health. But ask teens if social media is making them more anxious, depressed, or lonely, and the vast majority say no. In a nationally representative survey of 13-to-17-year-olds from Common Sense Media, about three-quarters say their use of Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook doesn’t have much impact on their mental health. Of the remaining one-fourth, most say social media sites have a positive, rather than a negative, effect. That’s one finding from the survey, which compares teens’ social media use from 2012 to 2018. Unsurprisingly, much has changed in these six years: Nearly 9 in 10 teens now own a smartphone. Snapchat is lit, and Facebook is for messaging grandma. Half of teens used to prefer hanging out with friends IRL — in real life — but now, only one-third do. But are these drastic shifts cause for alarm, or are the kids all right? “We are well past the part where we can say that social media has a singular effect on teens,” said Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media. “Its role in kids’ lives is more complex, it is more nuanced, and it is, at the same time, both positive and negative, and we shouldn’t shy away from that.”
Kristan Gross, EdSource
Imagine trying to learn with blurry vision. Would you know the difference between a circle and a square if you could not see a square’s sharp corners? What about the difference between the letters ‘e’ and ‘o’ if you couldn’t make out that small line and space in the ‘e’? Unfortunately, these scenarios are all too common for many American children. Approximately 24 percent — one in four — of adolescents in the U.S. with correctable refractive error do not have adequate access to vision correction services, according to the non-profit advocacy organization Prevent Blindness. According to experts, 80 percent of all learning occurs visually, meaning children with poor vision are at a major disadvantage. This is not a short-term problem — kids who suffer from vision problems are less likely to do well in school, which can subsequently affect their success later in life. Along with this cost to quality of life for children, the economic costs of children’s vision disorders are also significant, amounting to $10 billion annually in the U.S.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Alyson Klein, Education Week
Few educators are fans of fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests that don’t yield results until after students leave the classroom. But when states had a chance to try out richer forms of assessment under a new pilot program established by the Every Student Succeeds Act, all but two demurred, in part because the pilot comes with tough technical requirements and no extra federal funding. That doesn’t mean, though, that states are planning to stick with the Scantron sheets over the long haul. In fact, several are looking to experiment with new performance assessments that ask students to complete some sort of hands-on task to show what they know or are able to do. Others are moving to use shorter tests throughout the year, instead of one big exam at the end, or redesigning tests to better reflect material students see in the classroom. “We’re seeing a lot of momentum in states across the country around this idea of creating assessments that address student learning in more meaningful ways,” said Lillian Pace, the senior director of national policy at KnowledgeWorks, which supports state and federal policymakers interested in personalized-learning systems. “Nobody right now has the answer, but there is a lot of energy to try to figure out what we could do better.” Some states—like Georgia—are planning to apply to the Innovative Assessment pilot to support this work, now that the U.S. Department of Education has opened a new window for applications. But others—including Kentucky—are keeping their plans separate from the federal flexibility, at least for now.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
To hold back or not to hold back? For many policymakers in the early 2000s, the answer was clear: it was time to stop allowing struggling students to keep moving through school. “It’s absolutely insidious to suggest that a functionally illiterate kid going from third grade, it’s OK to go to fourth. Really?” explained Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, where he curtailed the practice known as social promotion. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt the same way. He introduced a policy of holding back low-performing students and fired appointees to the city’s school board who pushed back in 2004. The idea was that the stricter standards would help students and schools alike. More time in school would give students the chance to catch up, allowing them to avoid the academic failure that could result from being continually promoted with big gaps in their skills. Thousands of additional students in Florida, New York, and across the country were held back in line with that theory. Now, enough time has passed to see what happened to some of those students years later — and two recent studies reach a decidedly dire conclusion. Being held back a grade in middle school, researchers found, substantially increased the chance that students dropped out of high school. In Louisiana, being retained in either fourth or eighth grade increased dropout rates by nearly 5 points. In New York City, the spike was startling: dropout rates were 10 points higher than similar students who weren’t held back.
Larry Gordon, EdSource
Millions of Californians who began their college education but never finished deserve special support and policy changes to help get them across the finish line later in life, a new report urges. The study from the non-partisan California Competes organization estimates that 4 million Californians, ages 25 to 64, earned some college credits at various times but no associate or bachelor’s degrees and are not in school now. As a result, their employment and financial prospects have suffered and they face “diminishing opportunities in labor markets that increasingly rely on workers with degrees,” said the report entitled “Back to College: California’s Imperative to Re-Engage Adults.” The report found that those adults with some college but no degree are significantly less likely to earn more than $75,000 a year compared to those who have at least an associate degree from a community college. Only 14 percent of those who didn’t finish their degrees earn in that upper income bracket, compared to 36 percent of those who have degrees (and 5 percent of those with just high school or less).
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Chronicle of Social Change
After several years of steady increase, we project that the number of youth in foster care is decreasing. But many states often fail to recruit and retain enough homes for the kids in their custody. This project attempts to put numbers on the foster care capacity in each state. This includes the number of youth in care, the availability of foster homes, the reliance on relatives, and the use of group homes and institutions.
Expanding the electorate: How simple changes in election administration can improve voter participation among low-income youth
Reynol Junco, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Lashon Amado, Victoria Fahlberg, Laurel Bliss, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE)
Low voter participation among young people is a persistent challenge to a healthy republic, which requires broad engagement by citizens from diverse backgrounds. Among youth, however, there is a large disparity in voter participation by educational attainment, which is highly correlated with social class. For example, according to Census data, the 2014 midterm turnout among young citizens aged 18-29 was 19.9%—the lowest ever recorded. However, among the same population, turnout was 11.5% for those who had not gone to college and 15.2% for young people whose family’s annual income was below $40,000. Even among registered non-college and low-income young voters, turnout was only about 33% in both of these groups. On the other hand, their affluent and highly educated peers voted at rates similar to that of older populations (46%). Interestingly, while media reports suggest young voters overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, CIRCLE data show this is not the case, with 18 to 29-yearolds having a wide range of ideological backgrounds. Low-income youth are often seen as a “challenging electorate” by campaigns and other political actors. Scholars have historically explored many reasons why low-income youth do not participate in elections, and in civic life overall, as much as their more socioeconomically advantaged peers. Some have focused on a lack of motivation, others on a lack of accurate information, and still others have explored how challenges related to having a low income make it more difficult to vote. Low-income youth often have to juggle multiple jobs with inflexible schedules, along with numerous personal responsibilities. These economic struggles can translate into multiple logistical barriers to voting, such as having to find a ride, securing childcare, or finding someone to cover a shift. While these and other myriad challenges have been posited by researchers, much less is known about how to concretely address them and actually improve voter participation among low-income youth.
Emily Tate, EdSurge
While most schools in the U.S. boast broadband access these days, and plenty of assignments require the internet, when students head home, their connections are not quite in lockstep with schools. Thus, there is a homework gap—the problem created when students who use digital learning in class can’t get online at home to finish up their schoolwork. This topic has gained some attention in recent years, as the mission to connect all U.S. schools to high-speed broadband nears completion. Many schools are left with two options: keep moving forward with digital learning—and risk leaving some students behind—or keep homework assignments offline, holding back the students who might otherwise benefit from software and tools available on the internet. The issue is pervasive—and it disproportionately affects underrepresented minorities and students in rural areas. A report published earlier this year from the Institute of Education Sciences, the independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, found that 80 percent of 8th graders use a computer at home to complete their schoolwork during the week. But 18 percent of all students in remote rural areas have no access to the internet or only a dial-up connection, compared to seven percent of students in suburban areas. Within rural areas, students of color are especially disadvantaged: 41 percent of black students lack access, versus 13 percent of white students.
Public Schools and Private $
Does attendance in private schools predict student outcomes at age 15? Evidence from a longitudinal study
Robert C. Pianta and Arya Ansari, Educational Researcher
By tracking longitudinally a sample of American children (n = 1,097), this study examined the extent to which enrollment in private schools between kindergarten and ninth grade was related to students’ academic, social, psychological, and attainment outcomes at age 15. Results from this investigation revealed that in unadjusted models, children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated. There was also no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.
Huriya Jabbar, The Hill
Earlier this month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited two of the highest performing charter schools in New Orleans and praised the city as a “great example” for education reform. It’s not a surprise that DeVos chose New Orleans for her visit. The Trump administration has championed charter schools, and researchers have shown that the school reforms in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina have improved student outcomes. But these reforms are not the best we can do. Charter schools—publicly funded, but privately managed organizations that are typically released from many district regulations and union contracts—have rapidly expanded in urban areas across the U.S. over the last three decades. In New Orleans, over 90 percent of public school students now attend charter schools. In Detroit and Washington, D.C., half of all public school students do. Several other cities are emulating New Orleans, working to bring charter schools ‘to scale’ so that they make up the majority of schools in an area. But New Orleans has a long way to go before its schools provide a high-quality education to all students, at least one that is worth emulating. Even reformers in the city commonly say that most schools there are no longer failing, but they have only improved from an “F” to a “C.” The hard work is going from a “C” to an “A.” That requires hiring and retaining the best teachers. But the deregulated hiring practices that are characteristic of the charter movement may actually make it difficult for schools, in New Orleans and elsewhere, to ever reach that “A.” Because what’s bad for teachers is bad for students.
Theresa Harrington, Edsource
A California school district’s threat to shut down a charter school for allegedly inadequately training teachers on their legal responsibilities to report suspected child abuse is highlighting the challenges districts have in overseeing charter schools. The issue has stirred controversy in West Contra Costa Unified — a district in the San Francisco Bay Area that serves Richmond and surrounding communities — along with passionate pleas from school supporters. It comes at a time when districts around the state are under more pressure to exercise greater oversight over charter schools. West Contra Costa Unified threatened to shut down John Henry High School in Richmond on grounds that administrators put students in danger because teachers allegedly were not trained properly to spot and report suspected child abuse. The district argued that if teachers do not report their suspicions that a child has been abused, that presents a “severe and imminent threat to student safety.” Under state law,that is one of the grounds for revoking a school’s charter. As mandated reporters, teachers must report to authorities any time they suspect a child has been abused by anyone. The district’s allegations related to improper training of John Henry High teachers did not include any reports of child abuse inside the school. However, during a training session in 2017 an administrator allegedly referred to a child who in 2012 claimed he had been abused at home. The administrator investigated the claim and determined it was unfounded. That incident was allegedly used to illustrate why teachers should investigate child abuse allegations before reporting them.
Other News of Note
David Thigpen, The Chicago Reporter
Historian and political activist Barbara Ransby is professor and director of the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her newest book, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century, Ransby examines the emergent Black Lives Matter movement, discussing its roots and motivations, its politics and its future as part of what she calls a new Black Freedom movement. This contemporary history is especially meaningful to Ransby who works closely with the movement herself. Ransby spoke to Chicago Reporter editor David Thigpen.