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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Kyle Stokes, KPCC
Ref Rodriguez has given up the role of president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board — but is not resigning his seat on the board altogether — one week after the announcement he’d face felony charges for alleged campaign finance violations during his 2015 run for office. Rodriguez made the announcement Tuesday in posts on Twitter and Facebook just minutes after the board convened a regularly-scheduled, non-voting meeting — and only months after his fellow board members chose him to be their president in July. “I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues,” Rodriguez’s statement read, “or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals, and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day.” Rodriguez’s office declined a request for an interview. Last week, the L.A. District Attorney’s office announced they were bringing charges against Rodriguez for allegedly reimbursing almost $25,000 in campaign donations back to donors. He faces three felony counts, including conspiracy and perjury, in what the L.A. City Ethics Commission termed an alleged “political money laundering” scheme.
Madeline Will, Education Week
States and districts must find ways to keep teachers in the profession—or they’re staring down the barrel of a growing teacher shortage, researchers and policymakers said at a panel discussion here on Tuesday. The panel was hosted by the Learning Policy Institute, a California-based think tank led by Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, which released a new analysis,
. About 8 percent of teachers leave the teaching profession each year, and another 8 percent move to a different school, making the overall turnover rate about 16 percent. (LPI was using nationally representative survey data from the 2012 Schools and Staffing Survey and the 2013 Teacher Follow-up Survey.)
Legislation roundup: STEM school, later school start, ‘meal shaming,’ budget reserves; what passed and what didn’t
In the final hours of the California legislative session, there was lots of drama without passage of bills to mandate a later start to middle and high schools and create a state STEM school in Los Angeles. There was success without drama for bills to end “meal shaming” of children without money for school lunches and to let districts keep more money in their budget reserves. Those were among the important education bills that lawmakers acted on — or put off till next year. What follows are a recap of other bills that EdSource followed.
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Educators who thought Congress would leave schools alone and not pass a big health care overhaul any time soon might want to reconsider. Senators are making one more push to end President Barack Obama’s signature health care law before Sept. 30. The legislation now getting the attention has Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as the lead co-authors. After Sept. 30, the Senate would in practice have to pass any repeal of Obamacare with 60 votes, which is all but impossible politically given that Republicans control only 52 seats in the chamber. So time is short for this latest GOP effort to send an Obamacare repeal bill, even though some are skeptical that it’s a “true” repeal of the ACA, to President Donald Trump. Like previous recent efforts to overhaul health care and ditch Obamacare, the Graham-Cassidy legislation would significantly impact the $4 billion in Medicaid money schools receive annually. That dollar amount makes Medicaid the third-largest source of federal funding for K-12, and covers some special education costs as well as other services. School advcoates worked to defeat the last GOP attempt to repeal the ACA over the summer.
Language, Culture, and Power
Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei is director of the Youth Well-Being Project of the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization, and the chair of Time to Thrive, an annual national conference about LGBT student inclusion. He spent more than 10 years as a middle school teacher and high school counselor in the Paramount and Val Verde unified school districts in Southern California. Pompei is also a past president of the California Association of School Counselors. On Oct. 5 at the EdSource Symposium in Oakland, Pompei will speak at the plenary session “Vulnerable Children: Is California on the Right Track?” and will lead a break-out session on “creating inclusive and supportive school environments.”
George White, EdSource
Los Angeles middle school teacher Miriam Gonzalez is among many educators who have been helping undocumented students cope with anxieties about recent news reports that they or their families may be at greater risk of deportation. However, Gonzalez has special insight on those anxieties and strong connections with those students because she — like them — was brought to this country by undocumented parents. Her need to connect with those students has grown in the wake of the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement that it is phasing out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has protected nearly 800,000 foreign-born sons and daughters of undocumented parents from deportation. That announcement prompted Gonzalez — a DACA recipient — to lead classrooms discussions about immigration issues. “I want my students to be critical thinkers when it comes to complex immigration issues,” Gonzalez said. “I want students to know our story.”
Claudio Sanchez, NPR
Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has pledged commitment to historically black colleges, or HBCUs. And just about every year, HBCU leaders gather in Washington D.C., to lobby Congress and the White House. This year President Trump was not there to greet them, which was just as well because the meeting took place amid simmering frustration with the Trump administration. Much of that frustration is due to what HBCUs consider little or no support from the administration, and what they call a lack of understanding of the financial straits some schools are facing. But there are other reasons some leaders didn’t show up. Among them, President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Also, Trump’s questioning of the constitutionality of federal funding that HBCUs receive for construction projects. “It benefits schools on the basis of race,” the president said back in May. At the time, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisana, called that statement, “stunningly careless and divisive.”
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Brenda Iasevoll, Education Week
Scientists want to make kindness as integral to the curriculum as reading or math. Researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds have created a “kindness curriculum” which they have tested in six schools in that city. The curriculum is available online for free and has so far been downloaded 7,300 times. Twice a week for 20 minutes during pilot testing of the curriculum, pre-kindergartners did activities aimed at helping them to pay attention, regulate their emotions, and practice kindness. Past studies have shown that children who learn these skills tend to become healthy adults who continue their education and end up financially stable. The skills may also better equip them to deal with future life stress. “There is so much research that shows that these skills learned early in life can set kids out on a positive trajectory,” associate scientist Lisa Flook told Education Week. She is part of the team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin center that wrote and tested the curriculum. Starting early pays off, Flook said, in that for every dollar spent on early intervention, the return ranges from between $7 and $11.
Carla Javier, KPCC
About 500 students, parents, and teachers gathered Sunday at the sixth annual Spotlight Academy at the Music Center. There, they attended free workshops in navigating the unique challenges of being a young artist. The Spotlight Academy, which is in its sixth year, is geared towards giving both students and their parents practical lessons in pursuing schooling and careers in the arts. It’s under the bigger Spotlight umbrella, which culminates in a prestigious competition and scholarship program. Alumni include dancer Misty Copeland and singers Adam Lambert and Josh Groban. Director Jeri Galle said it was important to her to include practicing mindfulness among the other practical skills workshops–like how to pick a song to sing or how to film a good audition video–because those focus and relaxation skills can help the young artists not only in auditions, but in everyday life. “Learning how to do mindfulness, being in the moment, not letting your mind spin out of control … are very valuable tools for these students,” Galle explained. “I wanted [students] to be able to have quick tools that they could take with them and that they could use for their auditions, for their performances, for anything that they’re going to do.”
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
When Mitch Resnick was growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, he and his little brother were always making up new games. For example, he says, “In the basement, throw a tennis ball so it goes between the pipes in the ceiling for two points, and bounces off the pipe for one point.” His parents were tolerant of their making noise and rearranging the furniture. One summer he even dug up the backyard for a minigolf course. The design process was a matter of trial and error: Could he use soda cans to make the holes? What path would the ball take as it hit various obstacles? Behind these games, he says, was a positive spiral of imagining, making, playing, sharing with others, reflecting and imagining again. Today Resnick leads a research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab with the delightful name of Lifelong Kindergarten. It’s dedicated to drawing people into that same spiral.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
The Los Angeles Unified School District conducted their ninth annual Student Recovery Day Thursday, with employees and volunteers coming together to locate students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school. When they locate the students, they offer them resources and support in order to help them return to school. Since the first Recovery Day in 2009, 5,219 students have returned through their efforts. Erika Torres, LAUSD’s Executive Director of Student Health and Human Services, told KPCC about a 16-year-old student who she convinced to re-engage with high school on one of the district’s Recovery days. “The reason why he had dropped out was he had to work,” Torres said. “His parents were working but they didn’t have any food in the refrigerator so he wanted to contribute to his family’s income.” She connected him with a youth work force development program that would help him find work and receive job training. “We were able to re-enroll him at his high school that day,” she said, and he went on to graduate from high school in 2015.
Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times
Cal State faculty spoke out Tuesday about what they called “hasty” recent decisions to drop remedial classes and loosen math requirements by next fall. In a resolution by the university system’s Academic Senate, faculty members said they hadn’t been given enough time to weigh in on what could be “rushed and poorly designed implementation” and should be given at least another year to prepare. That fact that administrators were moving so fast, the resolution said, suggested that they are “more attuned to the pressures of outside forces than to the needs of its students and continuing faculty efforts to meet those needs.” The changes, made through executive orders by Chancellor Timothy P. White, are part of a major effort at the nation’s largest public university system to double its four-year graduation rate to 40% by 2025. Last month, White called for dramatic revisions to Cal State’s general education policy, including allowing students to complete the general math/quantitative reasoning requirement by enrolling in courses such as personal finance, game theory, statistics and computer science — courses that do not require the intermediate algebra prerequisite that has stymied thousands of students each year.
Larry Gordon, EdSource
Many graduates of California’s colleges may be anxious about paying off student loans but a new study shows that they actually finish school with some of the lowest average debt in the nation. Only two other states showed smaller student debt loads. The report by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) in Oakland shows that 53 percent of students who started at a four-year, not-for-profit college in California and graduated there in 2016 had incurred any student debt and that their average loan total was $22,744. That shows the persistence of a long trend of relatively modest student debt in California. Researchers attribute that to a strong tradition of public university attendance, relatively low tuition at the CSU system and generous state financial aid.
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
The letters “CFPB” may not be much more than alphabet soup to your average student loan borrower. They stand for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new-ish federal agency — created in 2011 — with a unique mission and a big effect on student lenders and for-profit colleges accused of defrauding or otherwise mistreating Americans. But the U.S. Education Department has just called a halt to the enforcement collaboration between itself and CFPB. This move leaves 44 million student loan borrowers, owing $1.4 trillion in debt, with potentially less, or at least less-coordinated, oversight of their rights. To understand why, let’s look at how the CFPB got here, and how it does its work. The Dodd-Frank Act, passed as part of the federal response to the 2007-08 mortgage crisis, established the CFPB to enforce consumer finance law. Among its tasks, the bureau responds to consumer complaints about loans, mortgages and other financial products. To date, it has collected 20,000 complaints. Those gripes are key to the bureau’s broader work, says Seth Frotman, CFPB’s student loan ombudsman.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times
The California State Board of Education had been focused for hours on how to meet requirements to help its lowest performing schools and districts. But after long, jargon-laden discussions about “building capacity” and “creating new systems,” board member Feliza Ortiz-Licon took a step back and apologized to civil rights groups. Ortiz-Licon, who runs K-16 education programs for the Latino advocacy group Unidos US, said she felt “heartbreak” because, in all the talk, she felt the board had missed an important opportunity to improve its commitment to educational equity. “We haven’t addressed, not even in a minimum way … the notion of achievement gaps,” she said. “I’m sorry, I really apologize to folks that looked to me to help move this along. I wasn’t able to.” There was a brief pause, and then board president Mike Kirst said, “Yeah, OK, we’ll move to public comment.” A little bit later, the board officially approved the state’s draft plan to satisfy the Every Students Succeeds Act, a major federal education law. The plan is due — with Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature — to Education secretary Betsy DeVos by Monday, Sept. 18. Brown signed the plan and the state submitted it to the federal government Wednesday. Whereas the No Child Left Behind Act was reviled for being too prescriptive about how states should identify and sanction failing schools, ESSA gives states more agency — but mandates that they find and help such schools. ESSA requires states to identify the lowest-performing 5% of their high-poverty schools, as well as high schools with persistently low graduation rates, and help them improve.
Anya Kamenetz, NPR
There are more nonwhite teachers than there used to be. But the nation’s teaching force still doesn’t look like America. One former education school dean is out to change that. New research shows that the number of K-12 teachers who belong to minority groups has doubled since the 1980s, growing at a faster rate than the profession as a whole. But big gaps persist, with around 80 percent of teachers identifying as white. Meanwhile, the need for minority teachers is especially glaring since people of color now make up about half of enrollment in public schools. And a growing body of research suggests that these students benefit greatly from the “role-model effect” of having teachers who look like them. Cassandra Herring first confronted this issue as the dean of the school of education at Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia. She left that position, and the security of academia, to found a new nonprofit that has just launched, called The Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity or BranchED. They are aiming programming at the 253 educator-preparation programs at federally-designated colleges and universities that serve African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.
Timothy W. Ryback, The Atlantic
Next month, students at the University of Oxford will return for their fall semester, known as the “Michaelmas” term—named after the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels—to a campus strewn with the sort of colonial- and slave-era tinder that has helped fuel the outrage and protests on university campuses across America. A statue of Cecil Rhodes, tucked in a niche of an Oriel College building on the High Street, honors the 19th-century alumnus who founded the De Beers diamond company using cheap African labor and left his fortune to endow Oxford University’s prestigious Rhodes Scholarships. Two years ago, when the Rhodes Must Fall movement staged street protests to demand the removal of the Rhodes statue, Oxford Chancellor Christopher Patten, who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, responded with the composure befitting a former colonial governor. If Oxford students couldn’t show the kind of “generosity of spirit” that Nelson Mandela demonstrated toward Cecil Rhodes, and if they couldn’t commit to open inquiry, Patten observed coolly, “then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere. The response was met with dismay and outrage. Since then, students, and even some faculty, have begun unearthing the English university’s unsavory legacies and benefactions from the slave trade, colonial exploitation, and imperialist wars. They’re the kinds of legacies and benefactions that their American counterparts have been struggling with on campuses such as Amherst, Brown, Georgetown, and many others.
Public Schools and Private $
Alyson Klein, Education Week
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has spent decades advocating for private school vouchers and charter schools, came to Washington with one item at the top of her agenda: to push for a new federal school choice initiative. Her vision is running into trouble on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers in both chambers have failed to fund either of the school choice proposals in the president’s budget. And it’s looking less and less likely that the White House will push to include a federal tax credit scholarship program in a sweeping tax overhaul package that’s slated to be unveiled soon. So where does that leave the secretary? She is not giving up, she said in a wide-ranging interview with Education Week last week. And she wants to make sure the administration pursues the best possible school choice policy. “I think what’s most important that—whatever is done or originated at the federal level—that it not be a new and expansive program to be administered at the federal level, and secondly that we do it at the right time and under the right circumstances,” she told me as we rolled past strip malls on the outskirts of Indianapolis to rural Charlottesville, Ind., the final stop on the secretary’s “Rethink School” tour.
Howard Blume, Anna M. Phillips, and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
Charter school advocates in Los Angeles had been having a great year. With millions of dollars at their disposal, they had won their first majority on the school board and installed a pro-charter board president, Ref Rodriguez. They had ambitious plans for the future and they had the leadership of Rodriguez, a figure in the national education reform movement. Then, on Wednesday, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Rodriguez with three felonies in a 14-page criminal complaint. No one — not district or charter school leaders or his fellow board members — said they knew it was coming before the news broke. Rodriguez had been aware for two years he was under investigation for suspect donations made to his school board campaign, he said on Wednesday. And for two years, his colleagues in the world of education had been kept in the dark.
Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept
A New York-based education reform nonprofit funneled nearly $2.5 million to a related group in Massachusetts, according to new disclosures unearthed as part of a legal settlement. The Massachusetts operation, called Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy, a pro-charter group, was hit with a record $426,500 fine for failing to disclose its donors related to a 2016 Massachusetts ballot campaign — a race that became the most expensive ballot measure in state history. FESA is a 501(c)(4) offshoot of the New York-based Families for Excellent Schools, a 501(c)(3). That connection raises the stakes for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has jurisdiction over Families for Excellent Schools in New York and has made clean campaigns a centerpiece of his agenda. In exchange for their tax-exempt status, federal law bars 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political activity, and some are calling on Schneiderman to investigate why Families for Excellent Schools made a multimillion-dollar contribution, now that the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance has acted. “This group spent $2.5 million on a Massachusetts ballot initiative. That is a screaming siren, a flashing red light,” says Michael Kink, executive director of the union-backed Strong Economy For All Coalition in New York. “I think it’s something the AG absolutely should look into. A number of other groups are aware of this potential violation, and we’re talking to each other. A substantive investigation is clearly needed.”
Other News of Note
Krista Tippet, On Being
From the bottom will the genius come that makes our ability to live with each other possible. I believe that with all my heart.” These are the words of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz. His hope is fiercely reality-based, a product of centuries lodged in his body of African-Caribbean suffering, survival, and genius.