Just News from Center X is a free weekly news blast about equitable and inclusive public education.
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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
Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute
Teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Colorado have raised the profile of deteriorating teacher pay as a critical public policy issue. Teachers and parents are protesting cutbacks in education spending and a squeeze on teacher pay that persist well into the economic recovery from the Great Recession. These spending cuts are not the result of weak state economies. Rather, state legislatures have enacted them to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. This paper underscores the crisis in teacher pay by updating our data series on the teacher pay penalty—the percent by which public school teachers are paid less than comparable workers. Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance.1 To ensure a high-quality teaching workforce, schools must retain experienced teachers and recruit high-quality students into the profession. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.
Dan Walters, San Francisco Chronicle
Aficionados of political jousting will find little of interest in the array of statewide offices to be filled on Nov. 6. The most interesting statewide contest this year is for an office that’s little known to the public but affects arguably the most important state responsibility, K-12 education. The state superintendent of public instruction oversees, along with a state Board of Education appointed by the governor, a system that spends about $90 billion in local, state and federal funds each year to educate 6 million children and adolescents. Tom Torlakson, a former teacher and legislator, is departing after eight years in the office, having barely defeated charter school and education reform advocate Marshall Tuck in his re-election four years ago. Tuck’s back on the ballot this year, facing Assemblyman Tony Thurmond. They virtually tied in June’s primary election. It’s a battle between two Democrats but one that encapsulates the political war over California education that has been raging for years between the education establishment, particularly the California Teachers Association, and an “Equity Coalition” of civil rights groups and Tuck’s fellow reform advocates.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
Members of the Los Angeles teachers union have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, the union announced Friday. Tensions continue to build over contract negotiations, with the union and school district lately accusing each other of acting illegally. A strike authorization does not mean that a strike will occur, but it gives the union’s board of directors the power to call a walkout without returning to the membership for approval. The authorization was expected; the main unknown was the size of the mandate — and it was considerable, which was widely expected. About 81% of teachers cast ballots. Of those, 98% voted for the authorization, according to preliminary totals. “This is a historic number,” said union secretary Arlene Inouye, who chairs the bargaining team. “Our members are pretty upset with Supt. Austin Beutner’s disrespect for educators.”
Mark Walsh, Education Week
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh said on Wednesday that gun violence in schools “is something we all detest,” but that he based a key dissenting opinion in favor of gun rights on high court precedent. Meanwhile, when given a chance to respond at the Senate confirmation hearing to a controversy over his encounter Monday with the father of a Parkland, Fla., shooting victim, Kavanaugh more generally responded that while he bases his decisions on the law, “I do so with an awareness of the facts and the real-world consequences.” On the guns and school violence issue, Kavanaugh was pressed during his first day of questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, about his views that certain semiautomatic “assault weapons” could not be prohibited. Kavanaugh said that in a 2011 dissent to a decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upholding certain gun restrictions, he would have struck down a ban on semi-automatic rifles because they are in common use by law-abiding citizens, a standard set with respect to handguns under the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. “I never thought this would happen in our country, that someone would bring a semi-automatic weapon into a school and just mow down children and staff,” Feinstein told Kavanaugh. “So I’ve been very interested in your thinking on assault weapons.” Kavanaugh said that under the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, and a followup 2010 decision known as McDonald v. City of Chicago, which applied the reasoning in Heller to the states, he concluded that semi-automatic rifles could not be distinguished “as a matter of law” from the semi-automatic handguns upheld by the high court. “Semi-automatic rifles are widely possessed in the United States,” Kavanaugh said.
Language, Culture, and Power
David Washburn, EdSource
The California Legislature Friday voted to expand the state’s ban on so-called “disruption and defiance” suspensions through the 8th grade. However, the bill approved by lawmakers includes caveats and there’s no guarantee that it will get Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. Originally, SB 607, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, called for the state’s current suspension ban, which covers grades K-3, to be expanded to include all grades through high school. But when it was introduced in February it faced pushback from associations representing school administrators, school board members and charter school operators. And most importantly, Brown, who vetoed a K-12 ban in 2012, gave no indication that he would support an extension of the current ban, which he signed into law in 2014. Brown’s position in the past has been that a full state-mandated ban runs contrary to the idea of local control, which is the cornerstone of his education policy. His office has refused to comment on Skinner’s bill.
Elissa Nadworny and Julie Depenbrock, NPR
Popular culture tells us that college “kids” are recent high school graduates, living on campus, taking art history, drinking too much on weekends, and (hopefully) graduating four years later. But these days that narrative of the residential, collegiate experience is way off, says Alexandria Walton Radford, who heads up postsecondary education research at RTI International, a think tank in North Carolina. What we see on movie screens and news sites, she says, is skewed to match the perceptions of the elite: journalists, researchers, policymakers. Today’s college student is decidedly nontraditional — and has been for a while. “This isn’t a new phenomenon,” Radford says. “We’ve been looking at this since 1996.” So, what do we know about these “typical” college students of today?
Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
On a cool night in August 2016, two UCLA students went to a fraternity party, got drunk and hooked up. The young woman said that the young man had sexually assaulted her, and she pushed his fraternity to take action. Six months later, she filed a Title IX complaint with UCLA. The university corroborated her claims, expelled him and in February rejected his appeal. To the young woman, UCLA had removed an immediate campus danger. But she wanted to do something that would force campus fraternities to do much more to change what she saw as a culture of alcohol abuse and sexual transgression. So last month, as Jane Doe, she filed a civil complaint, naming her alleged abuser. Her lawsuit sues not only Blake Lobato for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress but also three fraternity organizations for negligence. She says Zeta Beta Tau, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the UCLA Interfraternity Council, a student-led governing body for 22 social fraternities with more than 1,600 members, routinely failed to protect her against sexual assault. Lobato’s attorney, Mark M. Hathaway, is seeking a court order to remove his client’s name from the complaint — though it already has appeared in articles in the Daily Bruin and other newspapers. He says the sex was consensual and the UCLA investigation flawed, and last week asked a Superior Court judge to order the University of California to overturn the findings and sanctions against him.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Bill Chappell, KPCC
Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has ordered drinking water to be shut off at the district’s roughly 100 schools, after two-thirds of the buildings in an early test were found to have levels of lead and/or copper that were too high. The initial testing was performed at 24 schools. Vitti says he turned the water off “out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of our students and employees,” while tests are performed at the remaining schools. Detroit’s schools will begin classes for the new academic year next week. For now, the schools plan to offer water from bottles and coolers. “I am turning off all drinking water in our schools until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools,” said Vitti, who took office last year. In a statement about his decision, Vitti says he ordered initial water tests in the spring. He adds that the analysis wasn’t a response to any state or federal laws. Citing other schools that were previously known to have potentially unsafe water, Vittti says at least 34 Detroit schools have water quality issues. The Detroit school system’s water comes from the Great Lakes Water Authority, which says the problem isn’t in its water or delivery systems, but in the antiquated plumbing and fixtures in the city’s school buildings.
Pencils, notebooks — and flu shots? After last year’s deadly flu outbreak, many schools are building the flu vaccine into their back-to-class routine
Laura Fay, The 74
Last year, a Houston principal told Gwendolyn Johnson, the district’s director of health and medical services, that he had a “project” for her. “I want you to bring flu vaccines to my students,” the principal told her. The flu season had been tough on his family and the students in his care. More than 2,150 people died of flu-related causes in the Houston area last year, including 15 children, the Houston Chronicle reported. Johnson made it happen. This fall, for the first time, the Houston Independent School District will give every student in the district the opportunity to get a free flu shot, regardless of whether they have insurance. The program is part of a partnership with Healthy Schools, a company that facilitates school-based healthcare. After last year’s severe flu season, school districts around the country are taking steps to guard against the virus before it arrives in their classrooms. In Houston, for example, parents can sign their children up to get a free flu vaccine between the end of October and the beginning of December. Districts in Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and elsewhere have also put programs in place to facilitate vaccinations for students.
Alice Gomstyn, The Washington Post
I had gritted my teeth through most of the school-related demands at odds with my working mom life. The midmorning concerts and late-afternoon parent-teacher conferences. The mandatory “volunteer” slots at after-school drama club rehearsals. The half days that, for some reason, preceded every school vacation. The final straw came when a new after-school program didn’t have space for my son. I vented on Facebook and quickly learned I wasn’t alone. I heard from fellow working parents who had plenty of their own complaints: limited school transportation options, no full-day kindergarten, unyielding requests for fundraising help, elaborate “spirit week” dress-up traditions that could overwhelm a professional costume designer, and insufficient notice about important upcoming events. Despite the fact that most American households don’t have a stay-at-home parent — a situation that has existed for decades — and employers fall short of providing much-needed flexibility, many schools continue to function as if the opposite is true. The greatest problem for working parents appears to be school hours and frequent closures. A recent report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, lays out stark statistics: Schools are closed for an average of 29 days a year, not counting summer vacations, and fewer than half of public elementary schools offer before- and after-school care.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Esmeralda Fabián Romero, LA School Report
Los Angeles Unified has a multimillion-dollar problem: kids aren’t coming to school. And it’s particularly bad among their youngest students. New district data show that 1 in 4 kindergartners misses 15 or more days of school each year. “I couldn’t believe that when I heard that,” Diane Pappas, the superintendent’s senior adviser, told board members at the August meeting as she presented the district’s four-point plan to decrease chronic absences. Schools get paid by the state for every day a child is in school. In 2016-17, LA Unified lost about $630 million in revenues as over 80,000 students — or 14.3 percent of all students — were chronically absent, which is defined as missing 15 or more days, according to a LA Unified Advisory Task Force’s report. This year’s message to parents and school staff is: Keep the number of days any student is absent to seven or less. And parents will start seeing that message at their schools this Friday, which the district is designating “Attendance Matters Day.”
National Education Policy Center
It was the decision heard round the education world: Almost exactly eight years ago, in August of 2010, the Los Angeles Times published “value-added” scores for thousands of teachers in Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest school district. Based on the prior and predicted performance of their students on California standardized tests in reading and in math, teachers were assigned to one of five levels of “effectiveness”: least effective, less effective, average, more effective, or most effective. The reaction, which began before the scores were even published, was immediate and swift. A statement by the United Teachers of Los Angeles described the decision as “the height of journalistic irresponsibility.” Reportedly distraught by a “less effective than average” rating, one teacher committed suicide. “My major reaction to the LA Times’ value-added analysis of teachers is to pity the principals,” wrote policy analyst Sara Mead in 2010. “How many parents are showing up in their offices right now, value-added results in hand, demanding that their children be assigned a different teacher? You sure can’t blame parents for doing it. But ultimately, it only distracts school leaders, creates combative community dynamics, and locks in inequities between kids with more engaged and savvy parents and those without.”
A leading African American female engineer: STEM companies don’t do nearly enough to promote women and minorities
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Corlis Murray, Abbott
When I was 17, I dressed up each day for work in a yellow and orange shirt to assemble tacos, burgers and fries at Jack in the Box. I made $1.76 an hour. My boss thought I had a bright future ahead of me there, and even told me I was an ideal candidate for the company’s manager track program. Around the same time, IBM came to my inner-city Dallas school asking to take on a summer high school engineering intern. My guidance counselor and math and science teachers recommended me. I didn’t know of any engineers in my family — or among my friends. In fact, I didn’t even know what an engineer did. But I quit my fast-food job for the internship opportunity. My mother, who had no idea what engineering was, supported my decision. Today, I’m one of the only African American women I know of who is a top engineer at a Fortune 500 company. I oversee engineering and a $400 million budget at a company with 99,000 employees in more than 150 countries. Still, the lack of representation of women and minorities in STEM is stubbornly persistent. With the world’s population made up of half men and half women, just 15 to 25 percent of people working in STEM are women, and only 1 in 7 engineers is a woman. And just 1 in 50 is an African American woman. The issue is not a lack of interest or desire. The problem is that many young women and minorities with an aptitude for math and science never explore related fields and never convert to working in them, because they are not exposed or encouraged in a way that helps them see what could be possible.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle
Nearly half a century after a federal law barred gender discrimination at schools and universities, blatant inequities remain, with girls and women routinely cheated out of academic and athletic opportunities, research shows. The inequities leave girls at a disadvantage on playing fields and in life. Oakland Unified School District recently offered an extreme example when it eliminated sports programs to save money, ignoring a disproportionate impact on girls, according to civil rights attorneys. Across California, 819,625 students participated in competitive sports last school year — 57 percent were boys and 43 percent girls, even though enrollment is nearly equal, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported in its annual survey. A legal advocacy group found that less than half of California school districts are complying with a state law requiring them to report gender participation in sports. “The public does not seem to have that grasp, nor do the schools, that it is a systemic problem,” said Amy Poyer, senior staff attorney at the California Women’s Law Center. Girls are “just so used to being pushed to the side.”
Delece Smith-Barrow, The Hechinger Report
Low-income college students with jobs are more likely to have lower grade-point averages and less likely to graduate than their higher income peers. A report released this week from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce highlighted these drawbacks, and many others that come with working as an undergraduate student. It’s common for students from all income brackets to work, the report notes, but students from more modest backgrounds often perform work that doesn’t match their career and academic goals. They are more likely to work in food services, sales and administrative roles, which often offer low hourly wages and fewer opportunities to develop sought-after skills. Only 6 percent of students from low-income families work in lucrative fields such as science, technology, engineering or math (STEM); business or healthcare, according to the report. Fourteen percent of higher-income working students have jobs in these fields. Where a student works and the type of work he or she does can set the stage for career outcomes. “Students from higher-income family backgrounds are far more likely to work in a job related to their major or field of study than students from low-income families,” the report states. “Interning or working in a job that aligns with their field of study improves both academic and career performances for these higher-income young people.” Students from more financially strapped households are also inclined to work longer hours, which leaves less time for studying. About 48 percent of low-income students work 15 to 35 hours per week, and 26 percent work more than 35 hours.
Mara Gordon, NPR
Senior medical student Giselle Lynch has plenty of accomplishments to list when she applies for a coveted spot in an ophthalmology residency program this fall. But one box she won’t be able to check when she submits her application is one of the highest academic awards medical students can receive, election to the honor society Alpha Omega Alpha. It’s not because she didn’t excel. It’s because her medical school, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, put a moratorium on student nominations because it determined the selection process discriminates against students of color. The award is open to the top 25 percent of a medical school’s graduating class and can be a valuable career boost, making students more competitive for desirable residencies and jobs. Icahn administrators say the disparities in the selection process reflect deeper issues of racial inequality in medical education. “AOA perpetuates systems that are deeply flawed,” says Dr. David Muller, the dean for medical education at Icahn. “We can’t justify putting people who are historically at a disadvantage at an even greater disadvantage. It just doesn’t seem fair to dangle in front of our students an honorific that we know people are not equally eligible for.”
Public Schools and Private $
John Fensterwald, EdSource
Frustrated by being mistaken for their money-making cousins, the organization representing California’s charter schools, which are overwhelmingly run by nonprofit boards, is calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill that would outlaw for-profit charter schools. Organizations representing teachers unions, school boards and school administrators also want Brown to sign the bill, Assembly Bill 406, which would ban charter schools that operate as, or are controlled by, for-profit corporations. It’s a rare instance in which teachers’ and school officials’ organizations find themselves agreeing with the California Charter Schools Association. There’s a question, however, whether the bill will work as intended. A spokesman for K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter school corporation, said the company believes it wouldn’t have to change its operations to comply with AB 406. And the near-unanimous support for the bill may not persuade Brown to sign it. Three years ago, the governor vetoed a similar bill. “I don’t believe the case has been made to eliminate for-profit charter schools in California,” he wrote in October 2015, in his message veto for Assembly Bill 787.
Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post; Carol Burris, Network for Public Education
New Orleans, post-Katrina, is undoubtedly the most cited example of the success of state takeovers, charters and choice. Former education secretary Arne Duncan once said that Hurricane Katrina was the “best thing” that ever happened to education in the city (though he later apologized). The New York Times’s opinion columnist David Leonhardt recently praised the city in his series on New Orleans school reform. And the City Fund, led by Neerav Kingsland, the former chief executive of New Schools for New Orleans, uses New Orleans as a tool to pry open the coffers of philanthropy for its portfolio approach of school governance — one that would replace 30 percent to 50 percent of traditional public schools with charter schools in 40 cities. When the data slides go up to pitch replacing public schools with “portfolios” and charter schools, you inevitably see research from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, led by Tulane University economics professor Doug Harris. Harris and his team have studied the post-Katrina school reforms of New Orleans for years. He and his colleague Matthew Larsen recently published the latest update on NOLA schools in a policy brief entitled, “What Effect Did the New Orleans School Reforms Have on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes?” Their analysis found that test scores, high school graduation rates and college outcomes all improved for students who attended school in New Orleans post-Katrina. It is true that outcomes are up. The important question to ask is why the improvements occurred.
Laura Meckler, The Washington Post
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos came to Washington to promote the cause of her life — school choice. Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. President Trump had promised a $20 billion program. But more than a year and a half later, the federal push is all but dead. That’s partly because DeVos herself emerged badly damaged from a brutal confirmation process, with few people — even in her own party — interested in taking up her pet cause. She’s also been stymied by division among Republicans over the idea of federal incentives for school choice. And Democrats are united against her. “She’s certainly not a very effective lobbyist” for her cause, said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “She has enthusiastically pushed it, and arguably the politics of choice are more complicated than they were two years ago, and the choice community is more split.” That has left DeVos with the bully pulpit. She uses it to promote alternatives to traditional public schools, typically plans that allow tax dollars to follow children when they leave for private schools. She may have won some converts, but she’s alienated many others.
Other News of Note
Elizabeth Todd-Breland, The Washington Post
It’s back-to-school season. Kids mourn the end of summer and excitedly meet new classmates. Parents rejoice for the end of the summer child-care scramble. And teachers set up their classrooms, finish lesson plans and, increasingly, protest. This last step has become more visible with the wave of #RedForEd protests over the course of the past year in such places as West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina. These protests have continued into the new school year, as teachers went on strike in southwest Washington state and educators in Los Angeles and Seattle considered following suit. These educators are protesting not just for better pay, but also for increased funding for public education to benefit students and communities. These protests remind us that our government and the social safety net are failing. The result: Teachers have been forced to triage the symptoms of economic inequality. In addition to planning and providing academic instruction, teachers are often tasked with serving as social workers, counselors, nurses, food pantries, technology support specialists, accountants, facilities maintenance staff and janitors. As the first responders to the needs of children, teachers are leading the fight to increase funding for education. Activist teachers have always faced charges that their organizing was selfish, hurt students, diminished learning or harmed taxpayers. But in reality, when teachers organize collectively, their advocacy for better teaching conditions has improved public education more broadly.
The Guardian US edition
A team of American public school teachers will serve as guest editors of the Guardian’s US edition from 5-7 September. Teachers are guest-editing Guardian US to highlight underfunded schools, falling pay and a new wave of activism.