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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
‘I work 3 jobs and donate blood plasma to pay the bills.’ This is what it’s like to be a teacher in America
Katie Reilly, Time
Hope Brown can make $60 donating plasma from her blood cells twice in one week, and a little more if she sells some of her clothes at a consignment store. It’s usually just enough to cover an electric bill or a car payment. This financial juggling is now a part of her everyday life—something she never expected almost two decades ago when she earned a master’s degree in secondary education and became a high school history teacher. Brown often works from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. at her school in Versailles, Ky., then goes to a second job manning the metal detectors and wrangling rowdy guests at Lexington’s Rupp Arena to supplement her $55,000 annual salary. With her husband, she also runs a historical tour company for extra money. “I truly love teaching,” says the 52-year-old. “But we are not paid for the work that we do.” That has become the rallying cry of many of America’s public-school teachers, who have staged walkouts and marches on six state capitols this year. From Arizona to Oklahoma, in states blue, red and purple, teachers have risen up to demand increases in salaries, benefits and funding for public education. Their outrage has struck a chord, reviving a national debate over the role and value of teachers and the future of public education.
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
We finally have an idea of how much Congress wants to spend on education. After months of wrangling, top lawmakers for the education budget struck a deal to fund the U.S. Department of Education for the upcoming fiscal year. It’s not a done deal, because it still needs to pass the House and Senate, and President Donald Trump then has to sign it. But through this agreement, members of Congress who oversee spending are sending the Trump administration a pretty clear signal about what they want to pay for and how much they want to pay. But is there any general theme for how various programs and their constituencies made out in the deal? We’ve identified a few of them below.
Michael Stratford, Politico
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ various delays of Obama-era regulations governing loan forgiveness for defrauded borrowers were illegal. U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss sided with consumer advocates and Democratic attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia who had challenged the Trump administration’s postponement of the regulations, which are known as “borrower defense to repayment.” DeVos had taken actions to delay those rules until July 1, 2019, in order to give the Education Department enough time to rewrite them. But in a sweeping 57-page decision, the judge ruled that DeVos’ actions were “unlawful”, “procedurally invalid” and “arbitrary and capricious.” The final delay of the regulations, the court ruled, was “procedurally defective” because DeVos failed to conduct a negotiated rulemaking on whether to postpone the rules.
Language, Culture, and Power
Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, The Washington Post
An entirely new cartography of immigration is unfolding in real time. Today, a quarter of children in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are from immigrant homes, meaning they are either foreign born or have at least one parent who is foreign born. According to the latest data, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, two-thirds of children belong to immigrant or refugee families. In Berlin, approximately 40 percent of children do. In California, over half of the children who walk through the classroom door live in immigrant-headed households. In the United States, 26 percent of children have immigrant parents. If the 20th century was the century of mass migrations, the 21st century will be the century of the children of immigrants. The reality is that the children of immigrants are the only sector of the population in nearly all high-income countries that is growing, and we must seek to integrate them. After all, when these children successfully integrate in the United States, they gravitate toward American cultural norms, fully embrace the English language, and improve the education levels, occupational distribution and incomes of their immigrant communities. As a new report further reveals, the children of immigrants in OECD countries are more motivated to achieve in school than their non-immigrant peers.
New textbooks and guidance help California K-12 teachers cover LGBT issues and historical figures in the classroom
Beth Hawkins, LA School Report
As the new academic year gets rolling for California public schools, instructional materials are available for the first time that ensure every K-12 classroom has access to accurate and unbiased depictions of the sexual orientation and gender identity of historical figures. The state’s FAIR Education Act — FAIR stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful — requires history and social studies curriculum to include references to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. The law went into effect in 2012, but it wasn’t until late 2017 that the California Department of Education approved both frameworks and textbooks that a coalition of LGBT advocates, academics, and K-12 educators spent several years drafting and revising. Doubtless there will be continued pushback from some who oppose the discussion of gay and lesbian figures in a positive light, some of those involved in developing the materials told journalists at the Education Writers Association’s 2018 National Seminar in Los Angeles.
Natalie Escobar, The Atlantic
When Dolores Huerta took the stage at California State University at Los Angeles to address a room of more than 600 people at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies department on Thursday, she began with a reflection. “It was actually here in the city of Los Angeles where the Chicano movement started,” she said. That activism was the only reason she was in the room at all, the reason this Chicano studies program—the first in the nation—had come to be in the first place. Cal State LA’s program, founded in 1968, came at the beginning of ethnic studies at American universities. It presented a different approach to teaching history by focusing on one ethnic group and its relationship to the rest of the United States, instead of the previously standard “dates and places” approach to American history. This spread across the country; now there are dozens of Latino studies programs and departments at U.S. colleges. Since the founding of Latino/Chicano studies, a similar approach has been used to develop other ethnic studies programs, such as African American studies and Asian American studies. The students who take these classes, the vast majority of whom come from the marginalized communities being studied, have the opportunity to study their own identity and political histories, often for the first time in their academic careers.
Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed
The Trump administration has made free speech on college campuses a signature issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last year that college campuses were becoming echo chambers “of political correctness and homogenous thought.” But civil liberties groups have long warned that a new definition of anti-Semitism quietly adopted by the Education Department would stifle speech on campuses. Kenneth Marcus, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in a letter last month reopening a previously dismissed complaint of anti-Jewish discrimination that the Office for Civil Rights would begin using a more expansive definition of anti-Semitism supported by many pro-Israel groups. The New York Times first reported the letter Tuesday. The definition is one that Marcus himself had advocated for before joining the department this year. It includes arguments against the existence of the Israeli state or double standards applied to Israel “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” as examples of potential anti-Semitism. Marcus also wrote that the term “Zionist” — a political label denoting support for creation of the Jewish state — could be used as code for anti-Semitic discrimination.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report
uring and following the 2016 presidential election, there were many media reports describing bullying in schools. But it was hard to know if bullying had actually increased or if parents and teachers and journalists were simply noticing it more. Or perhaps, in our age of Facebook and Twitter, more incidents were coming to our collective attention. A pair of researchers decided to investigate what happened in middle schools in the political battleground state of Virginia, which voted 49.8% for Hillary Clinton and 44.4% for Donald Trump in 2016. Using surveys that were regularly administered to students throughout the state before and after the election, the researchers tracked how teasing and bullying had changed and mapped that onto election returns. The results: in 2017, both teasing and bullying were significantly higher in schools located in districts that had voted for Donald Trump compared with districts that had voted for Hillary Clinton. Prior to the election, in 2013 and 2015, there had been no divergence in bullying or teasing rates between Republican and Democratic communities. Specifically, the researchers found that bullying in middle schools was 18 percent higher in GOP districts compared with Democratic districts. Almost 20 percent of middle school students in Republican regions reported being bullied, on average. In Democratic districts, almost 17 percent of the students reported being bullied. (Bullying actually decreased a bit from 2015 to 2017 in schools located in districts that primarily voted for Clinton.) Teasing about race or ethnicity was 9 percent higher in GOP districts than Democratic districts in 2017.
David Washburn, EdSource
California ranks at or near the bottom of all states when it comes to the percentage of students with access to health and mental health care at schools. Yet, with $90 in added annual spending per student — which would total about $600 million — the state could provide basic care at all public schools, according to a new report. The report, written by Columbia University economics professor Randall Reback and issued this week as part of the Getting Down to Facts project, pointed to research that shows that school-based healthcare and mental health services have multiple benefits. These include better behavior at school along with improved attendance, lower rates of depression, fewer emergency room visits, fewer teen births and higher rates of educational success. Currently, California has approximately one school nurse for every 2,240 students and ranks 39th on that measure compared to other states. California has one school counselor for every 1,000 students, ranking it last nationally, according to the study, which is part of the “Getting Down to Facts II” report series released this week.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
Allowing an entire school to eat for free, instead of restricting free lunch to students whose families fill out forms, can reduce the number of students who get suspended multiple times, according to a new study. It’s the latest evidence that universal meal programs, which have also been linked to higher test scores and better health in other research, help students. “There are many potential benefits to providing universal free meals in high-poverty schools, including achievement impacts … and of course whatever reduction in kids going hungry comes with it,” said Nora Gordon of Georgetown University, who wrote the paper along with Krista Ruffini at the University of California at Berkeley. The study, which was released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research and has not been formally peer reviewed, focuses on the federal free lunch program’s “community eligibility” initiative, which allowed schools where many students qualified for free or reduced price lunch to provide the free meal to all students. This was designed to reduce the stigma of receiving the meals among low-income students, streamline paperwork, and ensure no student went hungry. (Previous research has shown that in California, for instance, 13 percent of students who were eligible for subsidized lunch didn’t receive it for one reason or another.)
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
When students enter school in California, they learn at a pace on par with — if not better than — those in other states. The problem is that they arrive far behind their national peers, and they never catch up. This conclusion, from a sweeping research project aimed at charting future education policy, focuses new attention on what is often overlooked: infant and toddler care, parenting skills, preschool and early childhood education. The researchers argue that if California wants to improve student achievement in schools, it has to start much earlier so that children are prepared when they show up for kindergarten. Many “don’t have access to any care, let alone quality care,” said Stanford University education professor Deborah Stipek, one of the lead researchers. “It’s not just a problem for low-income families, although affordability is a serious issue. It’s a problem for many, many families because fewer people are going into being providers for child care.” Those who tend to be least prepared for school are low-income Latino and black students, including recent immigrants and those in foster care, the experts said.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
Researchers on Monday released a massive collection of education studies timed to inform the next California governor’s and Legislature’s preK-12 agenda. Among the findings of Getting Down to Facts II: 1) The big achievement gap for California’s low- and middle-income children relative to their peers in other states starts in kindergarten, indicating a need to significantly expand preschool and quality child care. 2) California would have to increase K-12 funding by 32 percent — $22 billion — to prepare all children adequately in the state’s academic standards, according to experienced educators and analysts who did the math. 3) California has fewer adults in schools, with higher ratios of students to teachers, administrators and counselors than in most states. 4) The lack of effective data systems is preventing schools and districts from determining which programs and practices are effective and which aren’t. 5) California provides fewer general physical health and mental health services than almost any other state. 6) Principals with the least experience are assigned disproportionately to the lowest-achieving schools. Nearly three-quarters of school districts report teacher openings they can’t fill, with the most severe shortages in special education, math, and science. Two years in the making, Getting Down to Facts II consists of 36 reports and 19 briefs by more than 100 authors, including many prominent researchers from California. They took deep looks into a range of long-standing and pressing issues: the teacher shortage, inadequate funding, disparities in achievement, charter school oversight and English learner achievement. They examined unmet challenges in special education, school facilities, children’s mental health and other issues. Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education or PACE, which is affiliated with Stanford, USC, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Berkeley, coordinated the project.
Bridget Burns, The Washington Post
This time of year always brings a robust debate over college rankings — which ones matter most, and whether to trust what they value. Too often, rankings have asked America’s college and university leaders to face the tough choice of investing in students from low-income families or weeding them out in a quest for prestige. These decisions are critical for both our nation’s economic future and the futures of low-income students and their families. Jobs that once required a high school diploma now demand a college degree. But only 14 percent of students from low-income families graduate with a bachelor’s degree. With an expected shortage of roughly 11 million college graduates by 2025, we cannot remain economically competitive if we focus on middle-class students alone. Colleges ought to pull out all the stops to help more low-income students graduate. Historically, the incentives in place have not rewarded colleges for doing this.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Michael Finch II, The Sacramento Bee
California has made strides to reduce student suspensions for minor classroom disruptions, but a new study concludes the state still has not gone far enough — and in some districts, pernicious disparities remain. Statewide, school districts in 2017 issued some 381,845 suspensions that resulted in an estimated 763,690 missed days of instruction, according to a new report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA. The number of days lost for minor infractions categorized as “defiance and disruption” has fallen since 2011, but reform advocates say the decline has begun to taper off. The report comes as Gov. Jerry Brown considers whether to sign a bill that would ban suspensions for so-called “willful defiance” in all grades. Dan Losen, who co-authored the report, said awareness around the issue and a 2014 state law that banned suspensions in kindergarten through third grade has helped.
Dana Goldstein, The New York Times
It was a searing summer day before the start of the school year, but Julianni and Giselle Wyche, 10-year-old twins, were in a classroom, engineering mini rockets, writing in journals and learning words like “fluctuate” and “cognizant.” The sisters were among 1,000 children chosen for an enrichment course intended in part to prepare them for accelerated and gifted programs in Montgomery County, Md. All of the students were from schools that serve large numbers of low-income families. “It’s one of my favorite parts of summer,” Julianni said. The program is one element in a suite of sweeping changes meant to address a decades-old problem in these Washington suburbs, and one that is troubling educators across the nation: the underrepresentation of black, Hispanic and low-income children in selective academic settings. Amid deepening debate over the issue, sometimes referred to as “the excellence gap,” school officials across the country and at all educational levels are wrestling with possible remedies. Montgomery County is one of several districts that is successfully diversifying its gifted programs, in part by overhauling the admissions process and rethinking the fundamental mission of such programs. This 160,000-student school system, one of the nation’s highest performing and most diverse, has provided a potential model — but not without creating anxiety and skepticism among some parents who feel their children have been hurt by the changes.
Study: Grade inflation more prevalent at wealthy schools, where parents have greater ability to game the system
Kevin Mahnken, The 74
Grade inflation — the phenomenon of large numbers of students receiving ever-higher grades in class, regardless of how much they’ve actually learned — is more prevalent in higher-income schools than less affluent ones, according to research released today by the Fordham Institute. Many pupils who received passing grades nevertheless failed to score proficient on their end-of-course exam for the same subject, the author found. The study was authored by Seth Gershenson, an education economist at American University. Fordham is a reform-oriented think tank that has issued influential publications warning against false notions of academic success common among American students. The undeniable trend toward grade inflation has raised concerns in recent years, with high school graduation rates soaring around the country even as students make no comparable progress on benchmark tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In a few high-profile examples, swaths of high schoolers have been granted diplomas despite falling far short of their schools’ academic and attendance requirements.
Public Schools and Private $
Eric Blanc, Jacobin
The teachers strike wave has reached Los Angeles: teachers there recently voted overwhelmingly to strike. They are fighting against school privatization, wage and benefit cuts, and the nationwide project to dismantle public education.
Jeremy Mohler, Medium
Like many reports, the latest from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) drops a number of disturbing facts. Between 2005 and 2017, the federal government neglected to spend $580 billion it was supposed to on students from poor families and students with disabilities. Over that same time, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people grew by $1.57 trillion. Seventeen states actually send more education dollars to wealthier districts than to high-poverty ones. Over 1.5 million students attend a school that has a law enforcement officer, but no school counselor. The school policing industry was a $2.7 billion market as of 2015. But Confronting the Education Debt doesn’t just throw numbers against other numbers to see what sticks. It tells a tragic story: the rich are getting richer, and our public schools are broke on purpose. And it comes to an indisputable conclusion: black, brown, and low-income students and their schools are owed billions of dollars. That’s because many public schools do in fact work, but only when they are fully resourced, which tends to be in white, middle class, and affluent communities.
Andre Perry, The Hechinger Report
At 3 p.m. when most schools let out, some kids will stay back to attend an after-school program, some will be picked up by parents, relatives or paid caregivers to be taken home or to a soccer or swim class, and some others will hang out, on a street corner, or in the playground nearby with friends, or in an empty home. If you are a working parent with regular office hours, the group that your child belongs to depends on how much you can afford to pay for after-school care. Unfortunately, the free, public part of education ends when the bell sounds. Turns out that most of those who can’t afford to pay private school tuition can’t dole out funds for after-school programs either. In 2016, the online education news outlet Chalkbeat reported that only 18 percent of children nationally are served by before- and after-school programs. Many have no choice but to leave children in settings that won’t teach them skills that will help them get to college or snag a high-paying job. The federal government could help. Students’ social and economic needs don’t end in the afternoon, and neither should the safety net that public schools provide. With the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos so eager to pass out school vouchers like Halloween candy, “to choose the learning environment that is right,” why isn’t there a voucher scheme for after-school programs?
Other News of Note
Robin D. G. Kelley, Boston Review
Raymond “Boots” Riley, director of the new film Sorry to Bother You, sported a big Afro after it went out of style and before it came back. He called himself a revolutionary when it was politically incorrect. For three decades he has read, written, spoken, worked, organized, studied, taught, directed, acted, organized, partied, parented, made music—and organized some more. One cannot understand the film without appreciating his background. Riley started out organizing as a teenager with the Progressive Labor Party and its offshoot, the International Committee Against Racism. He protested police violence on both sides of the San Francisco Bay, participated in the founding convention of the Black Radical Congress in 1998, and became a fixture at Occupy Oakland in 2011. He has organized migrant farm workers in Central California, worked in telemarketing, loaded packages onto UPS planes, helped launch the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective, and co-founded a militant group called the Young Comrades (YC). And two decades before YouTube curiosity Jennifer Schulte called 911 in fear of a black cookout at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, Riley and the YC organized a “Take Back the Lake” rally where the community not only temporarily took back the commons but partook of free barbeque chicken and potato salad. When Riley wasn’t moving boxes or moving masses, he studied film at San Francisco State University’s School of Cinema.