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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
$43 million and attack ads. It’s the race for California schools chief — and it’s between two Democrats
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
One of the loudest and most expensive state races in the country is between two Democrats vying to win the nonpartisan position of superintendent of public instruction in California. More money is being spent on the race — for a position that has no independent policymaking power — than in most U.S. Senate campaigns. The fight — the costliest in the state’s history for this post, with more than $43 million in campaign contributions, according to EdSource — is between state legislator Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, a former charter school network president. Thurmond, who was elected to the California State Assembly in 2014 from the East Bay, has been a teacher, social worker, city councilman and school board member. Tuck is a former banker who became the first president of the Green Dot network of charter schools in Los Angeles. After that, he founded a nonprofit that used privately donated money from the wealthy to help turn around troubled traditional public schools. Four years ago, he ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent in a race that cost some $30 million (with a lot of it coming from billionaires backing Tuck).
Julie Kasper, The Hechinger Report
It’s easy during the current heated U.S. election season to miss reports on devastating national events, like the news that the Trump administration has cut the number of refugees the nation will admit to 30,000 or fewer in the current fiscal year, its lowest level in 38 years. More than 68 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, with fewer than half of that total designated as refugees awaiting “durable solutions” like third-country resettlement. That means only a fraction of one percent of these refugees have a chance of arriving in the United States over the next year. With desperately few alternatives, they’ll wait in refugee camps and overcrowded urban centers throughout Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan. Many of the children in limbo will miss out on schooling as they wait. Futures and lives are on hold, dreams deferred. Given all of the turmoil in our nation and the world, it’s easy to shrug one’s shoulders, perhaps shed a tear, and say, “But what can I do?” There is so much that each of us can do, particularly when we think about and act within our own communities.
Network Staff, USA Today
A teacher whose income was so low, her child qualified for reduced-price lunch. A teacher whose school was so short on staff, he had to fill a shift as a security guard. A teacher who made meals for other teachers to pay for her grocery bill. We thought we knew teachers, until we followed 15 of them on a single day in September. What we learned: No matter their pay, teachers share in a feeling of disrespect. They work around the clock and sometimes add a second job to make ends meet. They are burdened by state rules. Parents are too involved or not involved enough. Yet through it all, they keep teaching America’s children. Thirty-two journalists, most of them from one of the 109 local newspapers in the USA TODAY Network, covered a teacher on Sept. 17. Along with chronicling a national feeling of disrespect, we profiled teachers for our local audiences. Here’s what we learned.
Language, Culture, and Power
Esmeralda Fabián Romero, LA School Report
This is the first year that early voting centers are open in California, and a group that is working to reach every young adult in Los Angeles County — and 100,000 throughout the state — is holding an early-vote party Wednesday that will draw hundreds of Los Angeles high schoolers.
Students from seven LA high schools will be part of about 400 young people who are already registered and pre-registered to vote in the upcoming elections who will cast their ballots at the event. Key races that will affect education in California are for governor and state superintendent of public instruction. The “Ready To Vote Party” is hosted by Power California in partnership with LA Unified and the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office in Norwalk, where the event will take place. Students will hear from community leaders, including LA Unified’s board President Mónica García. There will also be mobile game centers, art-making stations and voter education activities for the students before and after they cast their ballots. LA Unified is promoting civic engagement and get-out-the-vote efforts outlined in a school board resolution that also declared a High School Voter Registration Day last month when students were able to pre-register and register to vote in the midterms. Since 2015, 16- and 17-year-olds in California have been able to pre-register to vote, and a new law this year automatically registers teens 16 and up to vote when they get their driver’s license or state ID card.
Jeannette Acevedo-Isenberg, Education Dive
Our world is more multilingual and multicultural than ever before. Studies show that the earlier a child is exposed to a second language, the greater the likelihood he or she will gain proficiency. Recent studies also show that students in bilingual education programs outperform their peers in attention and reading. In one study covering six states and 37 districts, the researchers found that, compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems are fewer, and parent involvement is higher. Bilingualism broadens a child’s cognitive control, allowing for improvements in subjects like science, enhancements in problem-solving skills and increases in spatial abilities. Bilingual education paves a way for a child’s future, providing better employment opportunities and preparing them for life in our diverse society.
Alma Renteria, La Comadre
As a teacher, one of the most consistent challenges for our school was parent engagement. While I recall sending home flyers at least once a week inviting parents to join us for a workshop or parent info session, we usually had no more than ten parents show up, causing us to wonder what we were doing wrong. It wasn’t until I sent home personal invitations inviting parents of my students to join us for a student-led health fair that we had over 40 parents show up. It was that day that we realized that perhaps the issue wasn’t so much that we weren’t sending home enough communication; the issue was that we weren’t allowing parents to be engaged with the presentations, discouraging many from attending. As a coach at an elementary school now, I am often tasked with hosting parent workshops as well. From my first day here, I noticed that there was a clear parent disconnect from the school. Workshop after workshop, we were often left disappointed with the lack of parent engagement. Yet, we had parents often requesting more workshops because they wanted an opportunity to get involved with the school. It was through a more hands-on parent academy that I realized that the issue wasn’t that parents were apathetic; the issue was that we weren’t being creative in the way we led our workshops.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic
Starting in September of 2020, schoolchildren across the United Kingdom will learn from their teachers how to fend off loneliness. In January, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the first “minister of loneliness.” This week, her administration released an 84-page plan detailing the actions it will take to curb loneliness across the country, including measures that will be enacted in schools. Starting in primary school, students will have mandatory lessons in “relationships education,” and such lessons will also be incorporated into sex-ed classes in high school. The Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the foremost scholars on loneliness in the United States, warns that the U.S. has a significant, largely unaddressed loneliness problem of its own—and that schools desperately need to follow the U.K.’s lead and incorporate preventive measures into their lessons. Indeed, according to a recent report by the health-care company Cigna, nearly half of adults in the U.S. reported sometimes or always feeling alone. Marriage rates and religious-participation rates are also dropping, and both are risk factors for social isolation and loneliness. The prevalence of loneliness seems to be especially acute among young adults: One study last year found that Americans ages 21 to 30 reported feeling lonely on twice as many days as adults ages 50 to 70, despite having larger social networks. The health consequences of loneliness can be severe: Studies suggest chronic loneliness is linked to a variety of health issues, such as decreased immunity to viral infections, poor sleep, and cardiovascular issues like hypertension.
Jim Allen, The Spokesman-Review
The young people of Spokane talked politics this week, and they managed to do it without a trace of nastiness. That may be a surprise to adults, but not to the students at The Community School on North Monroe. “A lot of people are stuck in their own views and don’t really want to be open to the other side,” said Jason Powell, a senior at the school. “I’m trying to stay away from that environment and keep my mind open. There aren’t a lot of people like that, but there should be,” said Powell, who just turned 18 and will be casting his first vote this year. The event was “My Vote, My Voice,” a collaborative effort by the upper classmen at The Community School, a project-based high school that has won awards for just this kind of event. “If the student is going to be an aware and responsible voter, they have to learn about the issues and candidates,” principal Cindy McMahon said. After weeks of research, about 60 participants moved from room to room. Discussion centered on the Nov. 6 election, including national and local races, statewide initiatives, and even the pros and cons of voting. “The students looked at the whole ballot and then researched – we really get deep into the process,” said teacher Dave Egly, who’s led this exercise since 2012. “It’s cool to hear 18-year-olds get excited about this,” Egly said.
Dave Perozek, NWA Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Arts Academy eighth-graders are several years away from becoming eligible to vote, but they can still spread the word about the importance of voting. The students used their art skills to design and create more than 200 nonpartisan postcards to send to newly registered Benton County voters. The postcards remind recipients early voting is underway for the Nov. 6 general election. They also provide the website address — www.voterview.org — where people can view sample ballots. “I feel like it was important to say, ‘Hey, you have the right to vote. Don’t forget that,’” said Matthew Andrews, 13, of Bella Vista. Matthew is one of 32 students in the Aspire classes taught by Amy Gillespie, who devised the project as part of a civics lesson. Aspire, a new class this year at the academy, is designed to teach eighth-graders what it means to be an active citizen. It also incorporates preparation for life after high school, whether that’s college or a career, according to Principal Heather Wright. “I felt we needed a class to help eighth-graders better prepare for what high school is like and start thinking about what they wanted to do in the future,” Wright said.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Zaidee Stavely, EdSource
In the face of compelling research showing the importance of providing services for children before they reach kindergarten, four communities in California are going to voters to ask them for special funding to underwrite a range of early education programs. The measures that seek new funding streams for early childhood are in Oakland, nearby Richmond, tiny Capitola, on the Santa Cruz coast, and San Joaquin County in California’s Central Valley. Some of the funds from the measures would also be used for programs serving older children. If passed, these measures would serve a tiny fraction of the state’s youngest children. A just-released study by Sean Reardon at Stanford University and several other researchers showed that children from low-income families arrive in kindergarten substantially behind their peers academically nationwide — and the gap is very hard to make up by the time they reach 8th grade. The fact that the vast majority of communities in California are not even attempting to raise funds for early childhood programs through the ballot box reflects the difficulties of convincing voters to approve these measures. California law requires a two-thirds majority at the ballot box to approve any new tax earmarked for a specific purpose like childcare services, a hurdle that is nearly impossible to attain in many communities. If a measure is to raise funds for the local government’s general fund, it requires only a simple majority to win.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Jack Schneider, University of Massachusetts Lowell
How are America’s public schools doing? The question is a fundamental component of any contemporary education policy discussion. Yet it is also notoriously difficult to answer. With nearly 100,000 schools spread across roughly 13,000 districts, the scale of the enterprise is beyond what any set of individuals can see and experience. Despite this challenge, one answer has emerged over the past 40 years: American schools are failing. Beginning with the “Back to Basics” movement of the 1970s and reaching a fever pitch with the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk,” rhetoric about public school performance grew progressively more negative until it hit its stride during the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. Today, pessimistic policy talk is now so standard as to constitute a form of truth. The crisis in public education is seemingly self-evident. Yet the emergence of this popular belief may illustrate the triumph of rhetoric rather than an actual shift in school quality.
New Illinois School Report Cards shift emphasis to student growth: ‘Every student can and does grow’
Karen Berkowitz, Chicago Tribune
New ratings will show up on the Illinois School Report Cards set to be released Oct. 31 as the State Board of Education rolls out a new system for reporting school performance. The state will assign each public school a rating that sums up its performance on multiple indicators. Rather than focus on the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations, the rating formula for K-8 schools will now emphasizes students’ academic gains in relation to those of other students across the state. Student growth counts for one-half of a school’s rating at the elementary and middle school level. Rae Clementz, director of assessment and accountability for the State Board of Education, said educators and school leaders have been asking for an accountability system that speaks to the effectiveness of instruction. “They want a system that measures the impact of a school on student learning no matter where a student starts,” Clementz said during a conference call with reporters Oct. 18. The school report cards will continue to report the percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations, or who fall into other categories. “We still have standards that we want all students to meet, so proficiency is still included in the system. But growth, at least at the K-8 level, makes up the biggest slice of the pie,” Clementz said. “Growth is important because it does not correlate to income or other types of demographic factors. Every student can and does grow.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Carolyn Chun, The Stanford Daily
As California prepares to elect a new governor and superintendent of public instruction in November, a study released last month has drawn attention to major challenges the state faces when it comes to education. The study — coordinated by Stanford and conducted by the independent nonpartisan research center Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), located at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) — is one of the most comprehensive studies on California K-12 public education conducted in the past 10 years. Among the findings were evidence of an achievement gap prior to kindergarten and an estimate that an additional $25.6 billion, marking a 38 percent increase in spending, would be required to meet state education goals. The study is a follow-up to another report conducted by PACE on the same subject in 2007. More than 50 researchers from Stanford, Vanderbilt, Harvard, UCLA, UC Berkeley and other institutions contributed to the report. The report indicated that there is a persistent economic and racial achievement gap in California that well surpasses the national average. While students in affluent areas in California match the average performance of students in affluent areas nationwide, students in low-income California districts are scoring an average of a full grade level behind low-income students in other states. “We’re not failing our rich kids,” said Sean Reardon, professor at the GSE and researcher in the study. “We’re not, as a state, providing as much educational opportunity for our low- and middle-income communities and kids.”
John McDonald, Ampersand
The American myth is that there were severe racial problems before the 1960s but the great civil rights laws solved them. While there was historic progress in dismantling the official segregation of the South, profound racial separation and inequality continued in the great cities that were transformed by the Black exodus from the South and, later, by the even larger Latino migration. Both groups faced severe discrimination and segregation. Warnings from Martin Luther King Jr. before his assassination and from the authors of the 1968 Kerner Commission report about the steps needed to create equal opportunities for urban Blacks were ignored. A large drop in the White birth rate and a huge non-White immigration changed society, even as the tools of civil rights reform were abandoned. A major commitment in the United States to ongoing independent production of reliable civil rights evidence is crucial to a renewed commitment to civil rights in this country. The research must confront the central obstacles to opportunity for historically excluded groups and must address key issues their leaders and advocates are facing. There is a heavy flow of disinformation from the present executive branch and from media associated with the administration. If the country is to move forward, powerful evidence, strong enough that it cannot be dismissed, free from political control, is critical. And this research needs to be disseminated through new channels and in innovative ways to inform and engage our communities, and penetrate increasingly isolated and partisan groups.
Jessica Wolf, UCLA Newsroom
A UCLA examination of 2014–17 data from the police department for the Los Angeles Unified School District shows that in those years 25 percent of those arrested were elementary- or middle school-aged and there was a significant disparity in police interactions for black students. The “Policing our Students” report shows that the Los Angeles School Police Department, which covers the more than 600,000 students and 1,300-plus schools and facilities in the Los Angeles Unified School District, made 3,389 arrests while issuing 2,724 citations and 1,282 diversions from 2014 to 2017. The data show that black students made up 25 percent of the total arrests, citations and diversions, despite representing less than 9 percent of the student population. The analysis is produced by UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project, which uses local arrest and jail records to reveal the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. For this report the researchers shifted their attention from the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments to the Los Angeles School Police Department, the largest department of its kind in the country and the fifth-largest police force in Los Angeles County.
Public Schools and Private $
Jeremy Mohler, Medium
Where there’s smoke there’s fire — and there’s tons of smoke when it comes to the charter school industry pocketing public money meant for school buildings. It seems like almost every week another charter school operator is exposed for taking taxpayer money that was supposed to be spent on renting, building, or buying classroom space. One recent example: a charter school in California, Imagine Schools at Imperial Valley (ISIV), closed its doors in September after years of poor academic performance — but not before its owners made out with a fortune. ISIV was spending a substantial portion of its annual revenue — all public money — on rent paid to a company connected to its owners. In a labyrinthine scheme, the school subleased a converted department store from a related for-profit corporation that leased from another corporation. As of February this year, ISIV had paid $7.9 million in rent even though the store was originally purchased for $3.1 million. Such “related-party transactions” are so common that a professor at the University of Connecticut wrote a report last year comparing the charter industry to the energy-trading firm Enron, which collapsed in 2001 under the weight of massive fraud. “Without strict regulation, some bad actors have been able to take advantage of charter schools as an opportunity for private investment,” he wrote.
Audrey Watters, VICE
High school is broken in America. Its buildings and classes are old and stodgy. As an institution, it’s unchanging, built to crank out factory workers and thus unsuited for our modern, high-tech era. That’s the convenient fiction repeated by business-minded politicians and philanthropists for some time now. Consider what the US secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, told students in Wyoming last year: “For far too many kids,” DeVos said, “this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school. And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that.” Later, while visiting a charter school in Florida, DeVos again said as much: “Far too many schools have been stuck in a mode that is basically approaching things that have been done very similarly to 100 years ago, and the world today is much different.” It’s a popular narrative reflecting the very real fears held by so many young people today when it comes to economic instability, inequality, and their future prospects in the labor market. The thing of it is, it’s just not true.
Annie Sciacca, The Mercury News
The married top leaders of Clayton Valley Charter High School raked in almost $850,000 in less than two years before leaving the school last spring, a county investigation found. The probe also revealed that the couple misused school funds, hired people in secret and created positions without the school board’s approval. An audit report released Friday evening as part of the agenda for the Contra Costa County Board of Education’s Oct. 3 meeting states that the charter school “has not been following best practices” when it comes to “management hiring practices, vendor service contracts, legal fees and credit card purchases.” The report expresses “concern” over former executive director David Linzey’s salary and benefits and states that his contract was vulnerable to potential “manipulation.” Signed by a school board member, Linzey’s contract included a base salary of $23,986 per month, plus 10 “floating” work days at $1,115 per month, for an annual package of $301,212. According to the audit, an amendment in 2015 eliminated payments for health benefits and a car allowance and instead added that money to the salary base, which would have potentially increased pension benefits upon retirement.
Other News of Note
Katie Rice, Medill Reports
Labor activist Dolores Huerta thinks America is standing at a political and social crossroads to do the right thing for workers, women and people of color — especially with the upcoming midterm elections. “We have to support each other,” Huerta said. “We have to protect each other. And we can stop this whole thing of hating somebody else because they happen to be different.” Huerta visited Northwestern University Oct. 11 for “An Evening with Dolores Huerta,” a keynote address hosted by the university’s Graduate Student Association and the Women’s Center. The event kicked off the Women’s Center’s 2018-19 programming focused on “Gender, Work, and Power.” “When you’re out there voting, it’s not just about yourself,” she said. “We have to become the messengers of peace and justice. We have to be the gardeners that are out there sowing the seeds of justice.”