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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Kristen Taketa, The San Diego Union-Tribune
A major research project released this week claims California has under-funded its schools by $22 billion, many California students are entering school already behind in learning and California schools don’t have nearly enough teachers, counselors and other personnel. The project, called Getting Down to Facts II, includes three dozen reports and 19 briefs that provide a comprehensive look at California’s education system as the state prepares to choose a new governor, state superintendent and legislators. The San Diego Union-Tribune spoke with Jennifer Imazeki of San Diego State University, the only local researcher who wrote for the project. Imazeki wrote a report and co-wrote a research brief about school funding. She also co-wrote the summary report for the whole project. Imazeki and other researchers found that, even though California’s school funding levels have been increasing, they have still been consistently below the national average. School districts with high numbers of disadvantaged students especially suffer wide funding gaps, Imazeki said.
Susanna Loeb, Christopher Edley, Jr., Jennifer Imazeki, and Deborah Stipek, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)
Over the past 10 years, California has made significant changes to its K-12 public school system, including adopting new academic standards, transforming its approaches to funding and accountability, and shifting toward a more decentralized system of governance and finance. Ten years is a relatively short amount of time for systemic improvements to achieve their desired long-term impact. However, as Californians elect a new governor and superintendent of public instruction, the time is right to ensure we build on what is working and modify as needed for the next 10 years.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles school district began mediation with its teachers union Thursday and also celebrated a contract agreement — but it wasn’t with the teachers. The mediation is confidential, though first-day signs were not so promising. When it was over, United Teachers Los Angeles released a harsh letter to Supt. Austin Beutner, which read in part, “Mr. Beutner, you have proven that you are unqualified, untrustworthy and unavailable.” Both sides have made their cases in public as well as in private. The union wants the nation’s second-largest school system to dig deeper into a financial reserve that appears to have reached a record size. L.A. Unified points to forecasts that predict the current pace of spending — along with future liabilities — could cause the district to go broke in three or four years. The union that reached a deal with the district was the Teamsters, which represents about 3,000 employees, including campus facilities managers, cafeteria managers and school administrative assistants. The school district has now reached contract agreements with the vast majority of its non-teaching employees. The Teamsters settled for a salary increase that mirrors what the district is offering teachers: 3% retroactive to July 1, 2017, plus an additional 3% retroactive to this past July. The teachers have asked for a 6.5% raise that goes back an additional year. Beutner has said the district needs more state funding and that everyone should pitch in to try to get it.
Language, Culture, and Power
Anna M. Phillips and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times
After news broke over the weekend that a woman had accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, AP Government teacher Brandon Cabezas didn’t have to ask himself whether he should talk to his students about it. His students brought it up. “This was definitely a robust discussion,” Cabezas said. “We didn’t talk about anything else for the first half-hour of class.” Most of Cabezas’ 12th-graders at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles are 17 years old. They’re the same age Kavanaugh was when, Christine Blasey Ford said, he pinned her down, groped her and covered her mouth to stop her from screaming. Kavanaugh has denied her allegations. They’re also old enough to have followed the 2016 election, been exposed to then-candidate Donald Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” video and read a year’s worth of #MeToo headlines. In other words, they’re familiar with the debate over how sexual misconduct allegations should be treated. What’s not clear is how this issue should be treated in the classroom. For some social studies and civics teachers, President Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was an ideal, real-world lesson in the separation of powers and the checks and balances built into American government. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings were ready-made course material. But Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers has changed the conversation unexpectedly.
Regan Brooks, The Current
For the Story Works Youth Team, the traditions at the root of their innovation are telling, listening to, and learning from stories. For the past two years, the Story Works Youth Team (all past participants in Story Works Alaska‘s true, first-person, English class-based story workshops) have met outside of school, written grants to support several of their projects, and worked to share the stories of their peers with a wider audience. They call themselves SAYiT and they are a powerful and productive group of young leaders. SAYiT has hosted out-of-school, community-wide storytelling events featuring youth from high schools across Anchorage, developed a three-episode podcast about bullying and bullying prevention using (with permission) stories recorded in classes by other youth, and contributed to the ongoing revision and development of resources to support teachers and students who want to engage in story workshops at schools. (For a sweet example of a past project of their’s check out this storytelling advice video featuring recent Story Works participants.)
David Washburn, EdSource
More than 200,000 California teenagers have pre-registered to vote since 2016, further evidence that the youth vote might play a larger role than usual in this year’s mid-term elections. The pre-registration milestone, announced Tuesday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla during a news conference at Francis Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, includes 100,000 pre-registered voters who will be 18 by the November election and eligible to vote. “This is not only a huge number, but it reflects the interest and appetite that young people have right now for being engaged in the process,” Padilla said in an interview with EdSource, noting that the number had nearly doubled in less than six months. “We thought we were putting together an ambitious goal — but young people have stepped up.” Last September, the pre-registration number stood at just under 65,000 and crossed the 100,000 mark in April. The party preference for pre-registered voters skews heavily away from the Republican Party. Nearly half (47.5 percent) have no party preference, about a third (34.4 percent) identify as Democrat and just 9.6 percent as Republican.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Linda Darling-Hammond, School Administrator
While educators intrinsically know how important social and emotional well-being is to the welfare of our young people, it is sometimes hard to keep this reality in focus as we deal with the press for school accountability and ever higher standards. Yet students respond powerfully to being cared about, well known, appreciated and seen for their assets rather than their deficits. When students are motivated and feel a sense of belonging, their learning improves. As the old saying goes, “Students often learn as much for a teacher as they learn from a teacher.” This was apparent to me from the day I first student taught in the under-resourced summer school at Camden High School in New Jersey, where students who had failed English class the year before dreaded receiving remediation. But these students responded eagerly to opportunities to create poetry and life narratives that revealed their strengths — and were willing to learn grammar, revise their work and sharpen writing skills in the cause of being better understood.
Forum on Child and Family Statistics
The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (Forum) was chartered in 1997 by the authority of Executive Order No. 13045. The Forum fosters collaboration among 23 Federal agencies that (1) produce and/or use statistical data on children,
and (2) seek to improve Federal data on those children. Each year, the Forum publishes a report on the well-being of children. This series of reports, entitled America’s Children, provides accessible compilations of well-being indicators drawn from the most reliable Federal statistics. A goal of the series is to make Federal data on children available in a nontechnical, easy-to-use format to stimulate discussion among data providers, policymakers, and the public. The Forum alternates publishing a detailed report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, with a shorter report, America’s Children in Brief. In some years, America’s Children in Brief highlights selected indicators while other editions focus on a particular topic and measures of child well-being not featured in the detailed report. America’s Children in Brief, 2018describes selected characteristics of children whose well-being may be at highest risk.
Nico Savidge and Daniel J. Willis, EdSource
Gaps in a new California law requiring schools to test their drinking water for lead could leave children vulnerable to the toxic metal. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October, puts California among only seven states and the District of Columbia nationwide that require schools to test their drinking water for lead. Thousands of schools across the state have already tested the water flowing from their drinking fountains, sinks and other sources. But California’s law establishes a limit for lead in drinking water that is far too lenient, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a national pediatricians’ group. The law requires schools to shut down or replace lead-contaminated fixtures only if tests find lead concentrations in their water higher than 15 parts per billion, the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No action is required at hundreds of schools across California where tests found lead in drinking water at levels at or under 15 parts per billion. Public health advocates, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the consumer group CALPIRG, say no amount of lead is safe and have pushed for lead limits to be lowered to 1 part per billion. The organizations warn that water with levels lower than 15 parts per billion can still increase lead concentrations in children’s blood, limiting their brain development and putting them at increased risk for behavioral problems. “We know there is no safe lead level,” said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health. “Schools ought to work to remove that source of lead for these kids.”
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Deborah Kollars, California Forward
Children aged 0 to 5 were the centerpiece when business leaders joined early childhood advocates in San Francisco last week for a meaningful conversation about a critical bottom line: ensuring that California’s youngest residents have the support and education they need to reach their full potential. As participants noted, prioritizing investment in early childhood care and learning is important not only for the well-being of individual children and families, but for the state’s economy as a whole. The gathering was hosted by the First 5 Association of California and California Forward and drew participants from all corners of the state. Their shared goal for the day was to develop recommendations for the 2018 California Economic Summit aimed at forging new cross-sector partnerships to advocate for and achieve greater early childhood investment in California.
David L. Kirp, Los Angeles Times
Talented teachers keep students glued to their seats, and even kids who regard school as deadly dull make it a point of going to their classes. But while the quality of teaching can be improved, we won’t make every teacher a pedagogical wonder — someone like the character played by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds” — capable of pied-pipering every child into coming back again and again. We need more prosaic techniques that can keep youth in school. Nationwide, students are absent in alarm-bell numbers. Staying away for a day or two is not a big deal. But missing 15 days or more — which educators consider chronic absenteeism — is a ticket to academic failure. A new report documents that in California, three-quarters of a million students — that’s one out of eight — were chronically absent in 2016-2017. That’s more than 10 million school days lost. This no-show problem starts very young. Astonishingly, one child in six misses at least 15 days in kindergarten. Those kids are much less likely than their classmates to be reading proficiently by third grade, and they are four times more likely than adept readers to drop out of school. As students get older, even more are chronically absent. Those youngsters are more likely than their classmates to get Fs in middle school and to quit school before earning a diploma. The Los Angeles Unified School District has invested in a new, low-cost approach to curbing absenteeism that’s been proven to move the needle. It’s a simple, potent idea: Enlist parents as allies in keeping their kids in school.
Cory Turner, NPR
At midnight, Oct. 1, the rush begins. That’s when first-time and returning college students can get their first look at the 2019-’20 FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Anyone who wants the government’s help paying for college has to finish the notoriously complicated form. But this year, in an effort to make it easier, the U.S. Department of Education has given the FAFSA a new look: a smartphone application. “Every year, we handle over 250 million transactions of some shape, form or fashion,” says A. Wayne Johnson, the chief strategy and transformation officer at the department’s office of Federal Student Aid. The problem, Johnson says, is that students who most need help paying for college often have the hardest time filling out the FAFSA. It asks questions about families’ income and tax status that many low-income students struggle to answer because the only computer in their lives is at school — where their parents can’t help them. That’s why, when Johnson arrived at the department last year, he says, “the very first thing that I wrote on my board was FAFSA.” As in: How can the department make this thing easier? Considering the government received 19 million FAFSA forms in 2016-’17, making it easier could help a lot of potential borrowers.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
The opportunity myth: What students can show us about how school is letting them down—and how to fix it
The New Teacher Project (TNTP)
We’ve been telling students that doing well in school creates opportunities—that showing up, doing the work, and meeting teachers’ expectations will prepare them for their futures. Unfortunately, that’s a myth. Far too many students graduate from high school still unprepared for the lives they want to lead. They enroll in college and land in remedial courses, or start jobs and discover they’re missing skills they need. We wanted to understand why. To do this, we followed nearly 4,000 students in five diverse school systems to learn more about their experiences. What we found was unnerving: classroom after classroom filled with A and B students whose big goals for their lives are slipping further away each day, unbeknownst to them and their families—not because they can’t master challenging material, but because they’re rarely given a real chance to try. In fact, most students—and especially students of color, those from low-income families, those with mild to moderate disabilities, and English language learners—spent the vast majority of their school days missing out on four crucial resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers with high expectations. Students spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them—the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject. And middle and high school students reported that their school experiences were engaging less than half the time. In classrooms with more access to these resources, students did better—particularly if they started the school year behind their peers. This lack of access isn’t random. It’s the result of choices adults make at every level of our educational system. We’re asking all adults whose choices affect students’ experiences to commit to unraveling the opportunity myth.
Beth Hawkins, The 74
In the nation’s most economically segregated city, an innovative new approach to school integration designed to address poverty, trauma, and parental choice is working
Larry Gordon, EdSource
California scored third highest in the nation in a new study that seeks to rank public universities on the basis of enrollment and graduation of black students and their numbers compared to black faculty. But that score is not reason to celebrate, says the lead author, University of Southern California professor Shaun Harper. To be sure, some California universities did well, especially UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, Cal State Monterey Bay and Cal State Fresno. Still, Harper said that the state’s overall score, equivalent to a “C” grade, actually was mediocre and that its national ranking was the result of other states doing even worse. “It’s not that California is exceptional. It’s that the rest of the United States, including California, can and should do better,” said Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center. The center published the report, “Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities,” which is being released Tuesday.
Public Schools and Private $
Two L.A. schools compete for students on the same campus as charter schools boom and attendance drops
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
For three days, an SUV was parked in front of Sunrise Elementary in Boyle Heights, with homemade posters taped onto its windows. They featured photos of teachers and administrators at a new charter school along with warnings that they lacked both experience and adequate professional credentials. Don’t trust Excelencia Charter Academy — that was the clear message, which the new charter’s supporters saw as nothing less than harassment. For some staff members at Sunrise Elementary, however, the display was justified. The two schools are in a competition for survival that may be especially fierce because they share the same campus. Excelencia ended up at Sunrise because of a state law that allows charter schools to use available space — at cost — on public school campuses. Dozens of local charters take advantage of this opportunity. But this gunshot marriage of competing programs can be fraught, and tensions were exacerbated here because the neighborhood is saturated with old and new public schools during a time of steadily declining enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is by no means certain that both schools will attract enough students to survive, which makes some at Sunrise particularly bitter.
Laura Waxmann, San Francisco Examiner
A resolution calling for more oversight and accountability for charter schools opening and operating in San Francisco passed unanimously at the Board of Education Tuesday. The resolution, authored by Board Vice President Stevon Cook and Commissioner Mark Sanchez, drew dozens of supporters as well as opposition from charter school leaders who argued they were already adhering to many of the same standards and regulations that San Francisco’s public schools are required to follow. “I also honestly struggled the first time I read the resolution — the language within it — the way it felt as if it was an attack on what we do, who we are, without being part of the process,” said Sharon Olken, executive director at Gateway Public Schools, a charter school network that has been in operation in San Francisco since 1998. “It felt unfair, honestly, based on all that I think we have in common, and the ways in which we are working in partnership.” The resolution alleges, among other things, that some of The City’s most vulnerable and most challenging students to serve are not admitted into charter schools, namely “those with special education needs … social-emotional needs, newcomers, English learners, foster youth and homeless/transitional students.” According to the resolution, these student subgroups are “at times ‘counselled out’ of charter schools, undermining the communities these schools purport to support.” The resolution directs the district to conduct a “thorough” analysis of the “fiscal, educational and socio-emotional impacts” that charters have on San Francisco’s students.
Kevin McGill, Associated Press
A federal appeals court has ruled that a New Orleans charter school must recognize a union whose members have voted for collective bargaining rights. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruling, dated Sept. 21, upheld a National Labor Relations Board ruling affecting the International High School of New Orleans. The charter is operated by the nonprofit Voices for International Business and Education, formed in 2009. The ruling says the school’s employees voted to have United Teachers of New Orleans represent them in collective bargaining. Voices had refused, saying charter schools are political subdivisions of the state and are therefore exempt from federal collective bargaining laws. But a three-judge 5th Circuit panel unanimously ruled that a charter is a privately controlled employer — not a political subdivision. Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations under charters granted by state or local education boards. They generally have broad autonomy and independence from school boards, which can decide whether to renew or revoke the charters. Lawmakers first legalized charter schools in Louisiana in 1995. Most public schools in New Orleans are charters, the result of changes in the law made after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The 5th circuit ruling does not appear to apply to all charter schools. The ruling noted, for instance, that the NLRB had ruled that a Texas charter school did qualify as a political subdivision. But, in that case, Judge Gregg Costa noted in the ruling, the Texas Education Agency retained authority to reconstitute the charter school’s board. That wasn’t the case in Louisiana.
Other News of Note
Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week
Puerto Rican students missed 78 days of school on average after two hurricanes struck the island just over a year ago, and one in 10 students with special needs are still not receiving special education services, according to a study released Tuesday. The Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, a research and advocacy group, also found that the biggest observable impact of Maria on children’s behavior at school was problems concentrating, followed by “low academic achievement” and “lack of interest in further study.”