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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Laura Meckler, The Washington Post
The school safety commission established by President Trump after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., will not recommend new age restrictions for the purchase of firearms, according to people familiar with the draft report. The commission concluded that there is no evidence age restrictions reduce the likelihood of school shootings and instead will recommend that states increase safety training for gun owners. The findings are expected to be included in a report to be released before the end of the year by the Federal Commission on School Safety, according to two people who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly. The commission is headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, though the section about gun restrictions was handled by the Justice Department.
Sarah Favot, Los Angeles Daily News
Getting on the same page in the nation’s second-largest school district is not an easy thing. As a teachers’ strike looms, teachers, parents and the Los Angeles Unified School District agree that L.A.’s public school teachers should be paid more. But that’s about where it ends. Getting there is where the wall is — just ask a board member who represents the San Fernando Valley, union officials and local parents. On one hand, union leaders and backers argue, more money for teachers will ultimately translate into a financially healthier district. But, say district officials, outsized union demands are a prescription for bankruptcy. Teachers affiliated with United Teachers Los Angeles overwhelmingly voted late last month to authorize their union leadership to call for a strike. More than 80 percent of 33,000 teachers voted in the election and 98 percent authorized a strike. That wouldn’t happen until both sides complete state mediation and fact-finding, which could last weeks. The first mediation session is scheduled for Sept. 27. The union said contract talks, which began 18 months ago, reached an impasse this summer and the state Public Employee Relations Board agreed. The last time teachers went on strike was in 1989. It lasted nine days.
Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times
As students have returned to school, they have been greeted by teachers who, more likely than not, are white women. That means many students will be continuing to see teachers who are a different gender than they are, and a different skin color. Does it matter? Yes, according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students. The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests, to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Over all, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are black and Hispanic. Yet the teacher work force is becoming more female: 77 percent of teachers in public and private elementary and high schools are women, up from 71 percent three decades ago. The teaching force has grown more racially diverse in that period, but it’s still 80 percent white, down from 87 percent. There are many things that contribute to children’s academic achievement, including teachers’ experience and training; school funding and zoning; and families’ incomes and home environment. And teachers have long been predominantly white and female. But new educational opportunities for girls may mean that they can take more advantage of the benefits of female teachers. And studies show that teacher diversity can make a difference in students’ performance and their interest in school.
Language, Culture, and Power
In the age of Trump, there’s a fine line between racism and free speech. Even at high school football games
Howard Blume and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
Maybe in another time, the scene at an Orange County high school football game might have felt different: the home team fans dressed in red, white and blue chanting, “USA!” “USA!,” after a touchdown. But this is an age of polarization from President Trump on down, of us versus them, of viral accounts of racist rhetoric and bullying in schools — and the home team’s campus is mostly white, the visiting team’s almost entirely Latino. The Southern Poverty Law Center has collected disturbing anecdotes nationwide: white students in Arizona raising a Confederate flag during the pledge of allegiance at an assembly, a Georgia high school teacher reporting students who repeated an offensive phrase about women, and joked “about Latino students ‘going back to Mexico.’” In an analysis of 472 hate and bias incidents in K-12 schools over the last three years, Education Week and ProPublica found that “most incidents that took place in schools between January 2015 and December 2017 targeted black and Latino students, as well as those who are Jewish or Muslim.”
Elizabeth Castillo, CALmatters
Oscar Ramos teaches students of migrant farm workers in his classroom at Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas, California. He sees students disappear because they must follow the crops with their parents, moving from town to town, making a steady education difficult. One year, a 4th grade teacher started the year with 28 students and ended with just three. “When the harvest season is over here in the Valley, the Central Coast, a lot of our parents would move to Arizona,” he said. “Everyone, the parents, the children, they would all go. So we would lose a lot of students.” One reason that’s been happening in some California communities: the “50-mile regulation” defining who qualifies to live in one of 24 state-subsidized migrant housing centers. To maintain their housing eligibility, workers have had to move at least 50 miles away for several months out of the year, returning for the next harvest. Some moved across California, or to other states such as Arizona, or even back to Mexico—their children in tow. The regulation originated decades ago, when it impacted mostly single men—but as more families came to use that housing, the rule disrupted their children’s education every year. Until now.
Ann Reid, Education Week
Is it hot enough for you? Five of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last eight years. It’s not just temperature. This summer, the Mendocino Complex Fire became the largest in recorded California history. From simple increases in temperatures to complex feedback effects on ocean currents, weather patterns, and hydrological cycles, the consequences of human-driven climate change are no longer distant theoretical threats, but the subject of near-daily headline news. And yet far too many students are still not learning about this urgent problem in their science classrooms. The consequences of global warming shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The recognition that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere keeps our planet warm dates back to the 19th century. As early as the 1950s, scientists warned that the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels would increase Earth’s temperature. In 1995, the international climate science community concluded that the impact of human activities on the climate was unequivocal. Yet many Americans do not accept the scientific consensus that the world is warming owing to human activity. According to a March 2018 survey, only 58 percent of Americans agree that global warming is mostly human-caused. Alarmingly, public opinion is sharply divided along political lines: According to the same survey, 84 percent of liberal Democrats accept that climate change is caused mostly by human activities, compared to 26 percent of conservative Republicans. The divergence between public opinion and scientific consensus on climate change is political also in its cause—the result, at least in part, of a well-funded campaign to dispute the scientific findings and discredit the climate science community, fueled by a toxic combination of ideology, politics, and corporate self-interest. Dismayingly, the campaign to cast doubt on the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change echoes loudly in our nation’s science classrooms.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
How schools & philanthropists are joining forces to fight back against fake news: Inside the renewed push for social studies, media literacy, and civic engagement
Kevin Mahnken, LA School Report
Two of the oldest questions in Western education, going back to the ancient Greek philosophers, are: What is true? And how do you know? Thousands of years later, as superstition and pseudoscience have been replaced by conspiracy theory and ideological dogma, finding answers to those questions is as thorny as ever. The modern heirs to Plato and Aristotle — K-12 teachers — are increasingly being asked to guide students not only toward the right answers but away from the wrong ones: the farrago of political spin, clickbait, and outright lies known as fake news. We owe the term to the 2016 presidential election, when a political media stripped of gatekeepers generated ludicrous claims, among them that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president and Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. The eruption of false stories has led parents and politicians alike to search for ways to ensure that tomorrow’s voters can peer through the chaos of digital media and see reality with clear eyes. The new goal is to push students toward fuller comprehension of media, government, and democracy. Whole new curricula have been devised to help students select reliable news sources and avoid online crackpots. Social media companies have promised to halt the spread of fake news on their platforms. And philanthropies are seeding initiatives to rebuild trust in traditional news sources with rigorous standards of accuracy.
Ashley McBride, San Francisco Chronicle
Middle and high school students do better when they get an extra hour or so of sleep, according to research and, many parents would say, common sense. But many school districts resist a mandate on start times because it can inconvenience working parents and disrupt bus schedules. That dilemma landed on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown last month as the Legislature approved a bill to require public middle and high schools to start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The governor has until the end of September to decide whether to sign SB328 into law and make California the first to mandate start times. Last year, a similar bill died at the Capitol amid heavy lobbying. Opponents of SB328 say its implementation would lead to millions of dollars in unintended consequences, and that class scheduling should be left to local districts to decide. Busing schedules, before-school care, and teacher contracts serving the more than 3 million public middle and high school students in the state would have to be renegotiated, and parents would have to rearrange their already fraught mornings to get their kids to school.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC
A California bill headed to the governor’s desk would increase the number of mental health therapists at California State University campuses to reach national guidelines. Some campuses have student to counselor ratios that are nearly double of what’s recommended. One unknown: where is the funding coming from to pay for the additional counselors.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Examine the grades and scores that states and the nation earned on the K-12 Achievement Index in Quality Counts 2018, along with how they scored on a host of indicators that go into those rankings. For a description of what these education indicators mean, view the grading scale and methodology.
Diana Lambert, EdSource
The State Board of Education is expected to adopt California’s first-ever computer science standards Thursday afternoon. The standards, while not mandatory, are expected to increase the number of computer science classes taught in California classrooms. “There is a consensus that today’s student needs to understand how the digital world works, in the same way they need to know how the natural world works, so they study science, or how the cultural and political world works, so they study history,” said state board member Trish Williams. If the standards are approved, California will join six other states with computer science standards for K-12 students, according to Code.org, a non-profit organization that promotes computer science education. Fifteen other states have passed policies that provide computer science standards for high school students. Williams said there has been increased recognition over the last four or five years that students are growing up in a world that is progressively more digitized. The state standards will offer school districts guidance as they bring computer science into their curriculum, Williams said.
Cory Turner, NPR
To millions of parents and students, they’re magical words: free college. But is the idea pure fantasy? More than a dozen states now offer grants, often called scholarships, promising to help qualifying students pay for some or all of their college education. In fact, that word, “promise,” shows up again and again in these programs’ official names: Nevada Promise, Oklahoma’s Promise, Oregon Promise, Tennessee Promise … you get the idea. Sometimes referred to as “free college” programs, most are relatively new, sparked by the relentless rise in college costs and by a desire among state leaders to improve college access, especially for low-income students. Hundreds more free college programs have popped up at the local level, too. But a new review of 15 of these statewide programs, conducted by The Education Trust, finds that states vary wildly in how they define both “free” and “college.” “I mean, I get paid to do this,” laughs Katie Berger, a senior analyst at the nonprofit advocacy group, “and it was very challenging for me to understand the nuances in a lot of these programs. … And if it’s hard for me to understand, I can’t imagine how challenging it is for low-income students and first-generation students to wrap their heads around this.” To help measure and make sense of states’ free college efforts, Berger and The Education Trust used eight criteria, with a particular focus on equity. None of the programs managed a perfect score. Only one, in Washington, met seven of the criteria. Berger says that’s because every free college program is a complex balance of priorities and costs. “All of these choices represent trade-offs. There is no truly universal, college-is-completely-free-for-everyone-ever [program].”
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Fifty years after the Kerner Commission report: Place, housing, and racial wealth inequality in Los Angeles
Melany De La Cruz-Viesca, Paul M. Ong, Andre Comandon, William A. Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton, The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Fifty years after the national Kerner Commission report on urban unrest and fifty-three years after California’s McCone Commission report on the 1965 Watts riots, substantial racial disparity in education, housing, employment, and wealth is still pervasive in Los Angeles. Neither report mentions wealth inequality as a cause for concern, however. This article examines one key dimension of racial wealth inequality through the lens of home ownership, particularly in South Los Angeles, where the 1965 Watts riots took place. It also analyzes the state’s role in housing development in codifying and expanding practices of racial and class segregation that has led to the production and reproduction of racial inequality in South Los Angeles compared with Los Angeles County.
Must-see TV: A show that looks at inequality in America at a real high school — with actual students
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
“America to Me” is a 10-part documentary series on Sunday nights this fall on STARZ that looks at race, identity, inequity and education in the United States through the eyes of students at a diverse public school in Chicago. The well-reviewed series was filmed during the 2015-2016 academic year at the 3,200-student Oak Park and River Forest High School in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Oak Park. The school is a successful one; it has a graduation rate of about 95 percent, and it has a diverse student population: 54 percent white, 23 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic, 9 percent multiracial and 3 percent Asian. The series, which follows 12 students as they move through the year, was directed by Steve James, the creator of 1994’s “Hoop Dreams.” James told the Chicago Tribune that he chose the school because his three children had attended it, and he had lived in the community for several decades. The Tribune quoted him as saying: “For years, I thought it would be great to look at issues of race and education in a community such as ours, which has struggled for decades with racial inequities in the classroom. We hope to hold a mirror up to the school and community so that we all have a greater understanding of the personal and educational experiences of our mostly black and biracial students. The series shows some of the ways the school is failing to address inequities, while at the same time showing some incredibly impressive teachers and students.”
Alia Wong, The Atlantic
Americans tend to think of colleges as falling somewhere on a vast hierarchy based largely on their status and brand recognition. At the top are the Harvards and the Stanfords, with their celebrated faculty, groundbreaking research, and perfectly manicured quads. Toward the bottom are the chronically underfunded community colleges and obscure state schools, where part-time students and drab buildings are the norm. And then there are the predatory for-profit colleges that pray on the most vulnerable students—like veterans and single moms. This “prestige hierarchy,” as a higher-education expert once put it, isn’t limited to the United States. A testament to this trend has been the proliferation of global university rankings, including those released annually by the United Kingdom–based publication Times Higher Education (THE) in partnership with Thomson Reuters. To rank the schools for the 2018 list, a team of researchers conducted surveys among a group of more than 10,000 academics across 138 countries, asking them to assess institutions’ “esteem” via questions about research and teaching. The THE rankings have their flaws, but they’re the most influential when it comes to comparing universities from country to country. Plus, in explicitly treating a university’s perceived “esteem” as a proxy for its caliber, THE’s rankings offer a compelling look at how the most prestigious colleges vary depending on where that college is located.
Public Schools and Private $
‘There is an open question’: Four religious school choice cases that could face SCOTUS and Kavanaugh
Carolyn Phenicie, The 74
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who is in the midst of a heated confirmation hearing, has been clear that he backs school choice, predicting that the Supreme Court would uphold vouchers and working in 2000 to defend a publicly funded state scholarship program that allowed Florida students to attend private and parochial schools. Should he be confirmed and join the court, there’s a very good chance he could consider another case concerning school choice and the appropriate role of government funding for religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 last year, in a case known as Trinity Lutheran, that a religiously affiliated preschool couldn’t be excluded from a state grant program that provided upgraded safety materials for playgrounds simply because it was run by a church. Missouri officials had excluded it because a provision in its state constitution prohibits state funding of religious schools. Similar Blaine Amendments are included in many state constitutions. Named after U.S. Rep. James Blaine, who unsuccessfully tried to include one in the U.S. Constitution in the 1870s, they were fueled by animosity toward a growing Catholic immigrant population. Though justices in their majority opinion included a footnote clarifying they “do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination,” several other cases concerning school choice and public funding of religious institutions are percolating in state courts.
Charter school backers sought to change Florida’s constitution. The state’s high court just knocked their effort off the ballot.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
Florida’s Supreme Court voted on Friday to throw off the November general election ballot a controversial measure a lower court judge had said misled the public about its real purpose: to expand publicly funded charter schools in the state. The justices voted 4-to-3 to keep Amendment 8 off the ballot, a move that traditional public education advocates applauded, including the League of Women Voters, which had filed the suit against the measure, with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The measure to change the Florida Constitution had three parts. One sought to add a mandate for civic education in the state constitution and another proposed setting a limit of two four-year terms for members of county school boards. The third part was the most controversial. It sought to allow the state government to create a statewide entity that could open and operate charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — even if local school districts opposed them. Supporters of the charter amendment said it would allow more school choice for families. Opponents say the state’s charter sector is ridden with scandal because oversight is poor and that traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of students, are being hurt by public funding for charter schools. They also say local control of education, which school choice proponents often espouse, would be violated by the amendment.
Associated Press, Education Week
A state legislator who owns a charter school is poised for a payday after the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved the transfer of his for-profit charter-school chain to a newly formed nonprofit company. The vote will let state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth sell for-profit Benjamin Franklin Charter School’s four campuses— paid for with state tax dollars — to the nonprofit company for between $11.8 million and $29.9 million, according to Charter Board records. The longtime Republican state representative also will retain nearly $3.8 million in “shareholder equity” in the for-profit company, and could receive a management contract to continue operating the schools, The Arizona Republic reported. Benjamin Franklin Charter, which reported a $194,241 profit in fiscal 2017, receives about $20 million a year in state funding. Farnsworth, in an interview with The Republic, said he is deserving of a big financial reward because he took the risk in 1995 to start his charter school chain and personally guaranteed millions of dollars in loans to launch Benjamin Franklin. Farnsworth told the board that if he had wanted to make money, he merely could have sold the schools and cashed out. “I make no apologies for being successful,” he said.
Other News of Note
Jack David Eller, Boston Review
In August and early September, millions of U.S. children return to school. For most, their mornings begin with them standing, hand over heart, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag. This is not, however, an antique custom. The Constitution specifies an oath of office for the president, and witnesses in court are customarily administered an oath that binds them to tell the truth. Average Americans, though, were not expected to perform any oaths of allegiance for the first century of the country’s existence, nor, in particular, were children required to make such pledges. Indeed, historian Richard Ellis, whose deeply informative To the Flag (2005) informs much of my writing about the pledge, has noted that “democracies generally do not require their children to pledge allegiance to the nation on a daily or even regular basis.” How, then, did the Pledge of Allegiance come to be seen as such a key patriotic exercise that we require it daily of our children?