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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice
Sarah Jaffe, The New Republic
Teachers are expected to do their jobs for the love of it. For years now, that has meant getting by with tattered, aged textbooks, in buildings that are falling apart, and spending their own money on toilet paper, food, hygiene items, and socks for students, even as their own wages fall and their health insurance premiums spike and pensions are carved away. It has meant, too, that any action by teachers to improve their working conditions—which, they have stressed since the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, are their students’ learning conditions—is immediately depicted as selfish, uncaring, improper. There is no amount of money that bankers must be happy with, but our culture tells us that workers whose job is not the production of widgets (or toxic financial products) but the care and education of others must accept any sort of misery out of their devotion to their work.
Mary Dunn, PBS News Hour
I teach broadcast journalism to high school students in Louisville, Kentucky — the latest on the growing list of states where teachers are fighting for adequate funding for public education. Kentucky teachers first gained national attention for a large rally on April 2. My school was on spring break, but when we returned Monday, April 6, the excitement was palpable. And then we heard about the plan to protest at the Capitol on April 13 when the Legislature was back in session. It was the only topic students could talk about. Even the ones who are usually silent were finally interested in something. Are the teachers going to do it again? Do you think we’ll have school on Friday? My job is to teach students to ask good questions and to keep their ears to the ground and to always look and listen for the bigger stories to tell. As a PBS Student Reporting Labs’ Connected Educator, my students learn to research and have healthy debates about issues that not only affect them now, but in the future. Most of all, I prepare them to go out and “chase” the bigger stories. You know, the impactful stories that aren’t just about their school or their neighborhood, but about those things that everyone has a stake in: like the unifying issue of public education, or most recently, school safety. We’ve all watched those incredible students from Parkland, showing that youth voice matters, that their voices matter. They have shown the world that civic engagement is messy, but must be hands-on, out front and center, and most of the time, very loud.
Desiree Carver-Thomas, Learning Policy Institute
Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races—a fact that is all the more relevant in light of persistent gaps between students of color and students from low income families and their peers who are White or from more affluent families. Unfortunately, although more teachers of color are being recruited across the nation, the pace of increase is slow and attrition rates are high, leaving growing gaps between the demand for such teachers and the supply. These are among the findings in this report by the Learning Policy Institute, which examines national data and recent research on the barriers teachers of color face to both entering and staying in the profession. It includes recommendations intended to help policymakers increase teacher workforce diversity—an especially important strategy to advance greater cultural understanding and to combat achievement gaps. This report finds that while the population of teachers of color overall is growing, Black and Native American teachers are a declining share of the teacher workforce and the gap between the percentage of Latinx teachers and students is larger than for any other racial or ethnic group. The report also examines how the lack of diversity in the teaching workforce impacts students, and offers district and state policy solutions.
Language, Culture, and Power
Ashley Hopkinson, EdSource
Boosting the language development of students whose first language is not English is critical if California is to narrow the wide and persistent gaps in math test scores between its nearly 1.4 million English learners and their English-proficient peers. That is the recommendation in a recent report by Education Trust–West, which highlights the successful strategies that five California districts implemented to improve the academic performance of English learners. The report, titled, “Unlocking Learning II: Math as a Lever for English Learner Equity,” also identifies practices that schools and districts can use to provide more support to English learners and recommends state-level strategies that the California Department of Education could consider to better support districts’ English learners. The school districts highlighted in the report are Westminster School District, Rowland Unified, Alhambra Unified, San Francisco Unified and Kerman Unified School districts. Some examples of successful strategies include schools that reduced tracking in math classes to provide more access to advanced classes for English learners. One school recorded morning announcements in students’ languages to help them feel welcome and one of the districts trained 550 teachers on how to integrate language development skills into other subjects for English learners.
Leila Fadel, NPR
A Muslim family in California pushes back against bullying and intimidation, at school and the local political arena.
Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times
Five months after the release of sweeping research into its deep historical connections with slavery, Princeton University announced on Tuesday that it would name two prominent spaces in honor of enslaved people who lived or worked on its campus. Both spaces will be the first such commemorations on a campus dotted with statues and other physical markers honoring slaveholders, a university spokesman confirmed. A publicly accessible garden between the university’s main library and the main commercial street of the town of Princeton will be named for Betsey Stockton, an enslaved woman born around 1798 who worked in the home one of Princeton’s early presidents, became a missionary in what is now Hawaii and later helped found the town of Princeton’s only public school for African-American children. An arch that students pass through at ceremonial occasions, including graduation, will be named for James Collins Johnson, a fugitive slave from Maryland who worked as a janitor and vendor on campus for 60 years and in 1843 was nearly sent back south after a Princeton student identified him as a runaway.
Whole Children and Strong Communities
Since its premiere in 1969, Sesame Street has been at the forefront of socially conscious children’s television. The show was inclusive by design and unafraid to tackle difficult subjects. It’s since grown into a global empire with local productions in more than 20 countries, and it hasn’t lost its conscience. Last year, the U.S version of Sesame Street introduced Julia, a character with autism. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind the show, has also built an online portal to help kids deal with trauma. And it received a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to bring both television content and on-the-ground help to refugee children in the Middle East. What does it take to make a show go global, promote social impact thousands of miles away and create children’s programming that’s socially conscious while still being entertaining?
Samuel Gelb and Timo Hemphill, Homeroom
April is Financial Capability Month. To help mark this occasion, two students offer their perspectives on their very different experiences in obtaining financial education.
Alyssa Rosenberg, The Washington Post
When the Pulitzer Prizes were announced on Monday, few felt more genuinely surprising or groundbreaking than the prize for music, which was awarded to the rapper Kendrick Lamar for his album “DAMN.” It was a groundbreaking decision for the Pulitzer committee — which had never recognized a rap or hip-hop artist — one that placed the Pulitzers squarely in the mainstream of American popular culture and ahead of other, supposedly more hip awards-giving bodies such as the Recording Academy. The refreshingly straightforward explanation of how the Pulitzer jurors made their recommendation signaled a welcome willingness to consider the sorts of music that haven’t typically been in Pulitzer contention before. But Lamar’s win also provoked a certain amount of anxiety in the classical and new-music communities, which have traditionally dominated the Pulitzer music category. To learn more about that response, I chatted with the composer, writer and performer Alex Temple, who I’ve known since college, and who introduced me to musicians such as John Cage. We talked about generational divides in the classical and new-music communities, the economic pressures artists face, and what classical and new musicians can learn from Lamar’s Pulitzer victory. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Access, Assessment, and Advancement
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
Thousands of children will get access to subsidized child care as a result of a massive increase in child care funding approved by Congress last month. Congress approved — and Trump signed, albeit reluctantly — a $1.3 trillion budget that includes a nearly $2.4 billion increase in funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. The program is the largest federal child care assistance program and is intended to provide child care to low-income parents so they can work or attend an educational or job training program. The increase brings the total amount for the program this year to $5.6 billion, and a similar amount for next year. This includes an additional $610 million for Head Start nationwide. Based on estimates from the Federal Funds Information for States, an additional $236.7 million will come to California, said Jonathan Kaplan, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget & Policy Center. That’s on top of the $305 million it was already slated to receive.
Natalie Wexler, The Atlantic
Every two years, education-policy wonks gear up for what has become a time-honored ritual: the release of the Nation’s Report Card. Officially known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the data reflect the results of reading and math tests administered to a sample of students across the country. Experts generally consider the tests rigorous and highly reliable—and the scores basically stagnant. Math scores have been flat since 2009 and reading scores since 1998, with just a third or so of students performing at a level the NAEP defines as “proficient.” Performance gaps between lower-income students and their more affluent peers, among other demographic discrepancies, have remained stubbornly wide. Among the likely culprits for the stalled progress in math scores: a misalignment between what the NAEP tests and what state standards require teachers to cover at specific grade levels. But what’s the reason for the utter lack of progress in reading scores? On Tuesday, a panel of experts in Washington, D.C., convened by the federally appointed officials who oversee the NAEP concluded that the root of the problem is the way schools teach reading. The current instructional approach, they agreed, is based on assumptions about how children learn that have been disproven by research over the last several decades—research that the education world has largely failed to heed.
Emily Richmond, PBS News Hour
In a darkened classroom in Essex Technical High School, Anna Maria Miller takes careful notes while watching a subtitled video sampling from Rwanda’s infamous “hate radio,” which helped fuel the genocide of the minority Tutsi population in 1994. Today’s assignment for these high school seniors: Compare and contrast the propaganda methods used by that country’s Hutu majority and by Germany’s Nazi regime in the ’30s and ’40s. The next school day and a just a few floors below, Miller is in the school’s biotechnology lab where students are learning the skills they would need for a job testing specimens for the presence of amalyse, the protein enzyme that breaks down starch into sugar. Using tweezers, she carefully eases a small transparent membrane off a glass tray without allowing it to stick or tear. “Anna has the steadiest hands,” says one of her classmates, observing the deft transfer. “I came here for both — the training and the academics,” says Miller of her decision to attend Essex Tech. She plans to study biology in college. “It’s my best chance to do what I want.” Essex Tech is what used to be known as a vocational school. Massachusetts is turning that traditional model on its head by having many schools combine rigorous academics with hands-on career training, now called “career and technical education.” The state is making a sizable investment in these schools, with an eye toward fueling its economic engines by teaching students how to play a role in high-need, growing fields like advanced manufacturing and health services. Ideally, their high school graduates will be able to handle college-level work or step right into a good-paying job.
Inequality, Poverty, Segregation
Carolyn Jones, EdSource
California’s booming economy has led to a slight drop in the child poverty rate, but the state still has the highest rate in the country when the cost of living is taken into account, according to new data released by Kidsdata and the Public Policy Institute of California. An average of 22.8 percent — or 2 million — of California’s children lived below the poverty threshold in 2013-15, which is $30,000 a year for a family of four, according to the data released this week. The number is down from 24.4 percent in 2011-13. “The economy is good, and more families have at least one parent working at least part-time,” said Caroline Danielson, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. “That said, we still have higher poverty rates than we did before the Great Recession.” Researchers took into account the cost of housing, health care and other expenses in each county when compiling the data, as well as the benefits families receive from social safety net programs like school lunches, tax credits and government food assistance.
Perry Stein, The Washington Post
The District’s public school system has misspent millions of dollars designated to help the city’s most vulnerable students, directing the money instead to cover day-to-day costs, according to government data, D.C. Council members and education activists. The money is intended to provide extra academic attention and social services to boost the academic performance of children who lag behind their wealthier peers. But D.C. Public Schools uses a big chunk of the money to plug holes in the budget, covering routine costs such as paying the salaries of art teachers and aides. “There’s no way we are going to help those students rise out of poverty if we don’t give them what they need,” said Ava Millstone, a parent at Amidon-Bowen Elementary, a school near the Southwest Waterfront with a large population of low-income students. DCPS distributes about $50 million a year to benefit disadvantaged students in the District’s traditional public schools. That amounts to about $2,000 per eligible child. But nearly half of the money in the 2016-2017 academic year was used for other purposes, according to an independent budget analysis conducted by Mary Levy, a longtime schools budget analyst who in the past has worked as a paid consultant to the school system.
John Fensterwald, EdSource
California districts with African-American students, currently the lowest-performing ethnic or racial student group, would receive additional funding under a bill that passed its first legislative hurdle last week with the support of organizations representing both school districts and charter schools. Asssemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, the primary author, said the bill is needed to correct the failure of the Local Control Funding Formula, as written, to address the glaring and persistent low academic achievement of the state’s 350,000 black students. “Now is the time to fix educational inequities and target resources to students most in need,” Weber said during a hearing before the Assembly Education Committee, where the bill passed without opposition and with just enough members present to move it forward.
Adam Harris, The Atlantic
Every year, scores of gifted students have their college prospects hampered by life circumstances. Imagine a teenager attending a high school where few of his peers make it to graduation, much less college. This student, however, is a high achiever. His grade-point average and test scores show it. In fact, they’re good enough to get into some of the best institutions in the country. But he doesn’t go to any of those institutions—let alone apply for them. Actual high-schoolers like this hypothetical student and the issues they face are very real. The phenomenon—in which students do not attend the most selective colleges their qualifications suggest they could—is called “undermatching.” Few theories have garnered as much attention from the higher-education crowd as quickly as undermatching has. As Matthew Chingos, a policy expert at the Urban Institute, puts it, perhaps the chief problem with undermatching is that it disproportionately happens to low-income and minority students. A range of benefits comes with attending an elite institution: name recognition, more financial resources, and oftentimes an alumni network connected to powerful places. And by undermatching, capable students with unique perspectives on the world might miss out on those advantages—exacerbating a trend in which affluent students dominate the pipeline of those positioned for leadership roles.
Public Schools and Private $
Louis Freedberg, EdSource
It is crunch time for advocates of charter schools who want to see continued growth of enrollments in California’s charter schools and also want to elect a governor who they view as being most sympathetic to their cause. In this case, the candidate they are backing is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who has been at war with California’s teachers unions for years, despite having worked for the United Teachers of Los Angeles for many years earlier in his career, as well as being a consultant to the California Teachers Association at one time. Last week Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings gave a massive boost to Villaraigosa’s campaign by contributing $7 million to Families and Teachers for Villaraigosa, an independent expenditure committee established by Charter School Association of California Advocates, the political advocacy arm of the California Charter School Association. Contributing another $1.5 million was Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, an equally prominent backer of charter school expansion in Los Angeles. Both Hastings and Broad are multi-billionaires.
A. Chris Torres and Joanne Golan, NEPC
A report, Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap, finds that, though charter schools on average perform no better than traditional public schools, urban “no-excuses” charter schools—which often use intensive discipline to enforce order—demonstrate promising results. It recommends that these schools and their practices be widely replicated within and outside of the charter school sector. We find three major flaws with this conclusion. First, the report’s recommendations are based solely on the academic success of these schools and fail to address the controversy over their use of harsh disciplinary methods. No-excuses disciplinary practices can contribute to high rates of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions that push students out of school) and may not support a broad definition of student success. Second, the recommendation that schools replicate no-excuses practices begs the question of what exactly should be replicated. It does not confront the lack of research identifying which school practices are effective for improving student achievement. Third, the report does not address many of the underlying factors that would allow no-excuses schools and their practices to successfully replicate, such as additional resources, committed teachers, and students and families willing and able to abide by these schools’ stringent practices. Thus, while the report is nuanced in its review of charter school impacts, it lacks this same care in drawing its conclusions—greatly decreasing the usefulness of the report.
Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
Massachusetts charter school advocates had the wind at their backs as they set out to lift the state’s cap on charter schools in 2015. Polls showed strong support, deep-pocketed donors stood ready to fund their efforts, and a popular governor was set to champion their cause. A year later, their effort would end in humiliating defeat. The ballot initiative known as Question 2 was shot down by 62 percent of voters, and opponents ended up with an anti-charter playbook that could be put to future use across the country. National charter advocates saw it as a major setback, while opponents were emboldened. “Question 2 marked an important flash point for education reform broadly and charters in particular,” according to a postmortem memo, part of which was obtained by Chalkbeat. “As a test case it was important. And it failed.”
Other News of Note
Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist
When countries develop economically, people live longer lives. Development experts have long believed this is because having more money expands lifespan, but a massive new study suggests that education may play a bigger role. The finding has huge implications for public health spending. Back in 1975, economists plotted rising life expectancies against countries’ wealth, and concluded that wealth itself increases longevity. It seemed self-evident: everything people need to be healthy – from food to medical care – costs money. But soon it emerged that the data didn’t always fit that theory. Economic upturns didn’t always mean longer lives. In addition, for reasons that weren’t clear, a given gain in gross domestic product (GDP) caused increasingly higher gains in life expectancy over time, as though it was becoming cheaper to add years of life. Moreover, in the 1980s researchers found gains in literacy were associated with greater increases in life expectancy than gains in wealth were. Finally, the more educated people in any country tend to live longer than their less educated compatriots. But such people also tend to be wealthier, so it has been difficult to untangle which factor is increasing lifespan.