Friday Reading List: Education Secession, Measuring Equity, and the Future of a Movement

(Note to Loyal Readers: due to both professional travel and family vacation plans, my posting during the second half of June will be sporadic. My apologies for the extent to which this causes severe lapses in your news and/or gif consumption.)

Denisa Superville of Education Week looks at the phenomenon of whiter, richer communities seceding from school districts:

Since 2000, 47 communities have broken away from their old school districts to form new ones—often creating school systems that are wealthier and less racially diverse. And nine others are in the process of seceding from their current school districts, according to a new report released Wednesday by EdBuild, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that focuses on school funding inequity. The secessions have been happening largely under the radar as some communities—with the help of state law and policies—seek to wall off their wealth and resources, said Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild's founder and CEO. Thirty states have laws that allow communities to break away from their current school districts, according to the report.

You can read the entire EdBuild report here, which has great interactive visuals. I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: this is both racist and classist. I'm not making a value judgment, I'm making a statement of fact. In all of these instances, individuals and communities with more power and privilege have isolated their capital - real, social, and otherwise - from individuals with less power and privilege, in a way that amplifies racial wealth and opportunity disparities. That's racism. It's not "prejudice" or "racial hatred," which are personal phenomena. It IS, however, the systematic use of institutional power to hoard resources and reinforce racial divisions. Textbook racism.

On the other hand, some communities have prioritized serving students with less privilege. Mike Elsen-Rooney of The Hechinger Report looks at the leaders in that category:

Texas cities were top performers on a new measure designed to compare how well schools in the nation’s 300 largest cities are teaching their poorest students. The study’s authors surveyed a variety of test results from low-income students in those cities, and used them to create a measurement called the Educational Equality Index that assigns a score to each school and each city based on how effectively it teaches low-income students ... While schools in the 300 largest cities were surveyed to develop the index, only 213 cities provided complete enough data to receive a final score and ranking in this initial survey. Overall, the study confirmed that low-income students are still performing well below national averages.

One caveat here: this research has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, and the last iteration of this study had significant methodological flaws. That said, there are interesting things to glean from the data, and as with the EdBuild study above, Education Cities - the organization behind this research - offers rich tools for data analysis.

In other news, Darren Sands of BuzzFeed wants to know what's happening with the Movement for Black Lives (sometimes called "Black Lives Matter") which has had a lower profile since the election:

Outside Washington, the left has been revitalized; protesters have organized some of the biggest demonstrations in US history. Inside Black Lives Matter, some activists have argued that their lowered visibility on the national scene is because the movement is focused on policy ... Inside the larger movement, many of the movement’s young activists — some of whom had never organized before joining — lack experience in dealing with the realities and challenges of a national effort, and the tricky alliances and factions involved in many political movements. Some have also come up against the hard reality of full-time activism and don’t know what to do: There are no tactics for helping organizers feed themselves ... Black Lives Matter is still here. Its groups are still organizing. But Black Lives Matter is on the verge of losing the traction and momentum that sparked a national shift on criminal justice policy.

Sands did some deep reporting, and it's worth reading the whole thing to understanding the complexities of scaling, maintaining, and activating a movement for the long term. Whatever happens to the current iteration of Black Lives Matter, the need for an organized response to racism, inequity, and police violence is more necessary than ever. Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker reflects on this week's ruling in the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who killed Philando Castile:

... there was some feeling that the verdict in Philando Castile’s death would be different from the decisions in similar cases that had preceded it. That thought hinged on a belief that his status as a lawfully licensed gun-owner, his long-standing employment as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school, and his general lack of serious missteps might exempt him from the idea that his death was his own fault ... In the end, however, the result was indistinguishable from those in previous cases. There were no appeals for a less vitriolic dialogue, no impermeable hope that this time things would change. There was simply the numb reckoning that we’ll all go down this road again.

Strong words to consider over the weekend ... 

Wednesday Reading List: Voluntary Integration, Disempowering Principals, and Stark Inequity

(Note to Loyal Readers: due to both professional travel and family vacation plans, my posting during the second half of June will be sporadic. My apologies for the extent to which this causes severe lapses in your news and/or gif consumption.)

Dana Goldstein of The New York Times looks at the Dallas Public Schools and that district's attempt to cultivate socioeconomic integration:

Dallas is one of just a handful of cities trying ambitious integration programs, even though nationwide, public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970. A third of black and Hispanic students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite, according to research from the Century Foundation, and those racially segregated schools are overwhelmingly low-performing. Research shows that poor children who attend school alongside more privileged peers score higher on standardized tests and earn more money as adults.  But fearful of stoking a fresh round of middle-class flight or another busing revolt like Boston’s in the 1970s, most cities have shied away from addressing the issue. A typical approach is New York’s, where gifted programs and magnet schools have not made a great dent.

First of all, that's A+ journalist-shade from Goldstein, given New York's lack of progress on this issue.

Second, the details of the Dallas plan are important. The superintendent is working to attract more privileged families from outside of the city to the district, on a voluntary basis. Achieving that goal will mean catering to those families' interests, which may not always jive with those of the district's current students and families. Pay attention to whether or not that tension becomes a manageable challenge, or an existential crisis.

Speaking of New York City, Monica Disare of Chalkbeat examines how the role of principals has shifted under the current administration:

While principals’ opinion of Chancellor Carmen Fariña started high, their satisfaction with her handling of school oversight has dropped by 10 points on a city survey since 2014. In more than a dozen interviews, principals told Chalkbeat that while the administration had brought some welcome changes to the city’s schools, it has also ramped up its scrutiny of their daily decisions and made it harder to get some of the help they need. Part of Fariña’s goal in trying to rein in a disjointed system was to make it tougher for struggling principals to slip through the cracks. But for some principals, the shift to centralized decision-making — with newly empowered superintendents playing a leading role — has had unintended consequences.

Later in the article, we learn that paperwork requirements have increased under the new administration, and that principals' supervisors often ask for multiple rounds of revisions of compliance documents. There are few issues on which I take a hard stance, but I'm comfortable saying that there is literally no upside in having school principals conduct more paperwork. When it comes to principal empowerment, the pendulum tends to swing from greater autonomy to more centralized control - or vice versa - when administrations change. Chancellor Carmen Fariña argues that struggling principals need more support; that's all well and good, but paperwork is not support, and you cannot prop-up your struggling leaders in a way that hampers the capabilities of your stronger ones.

Finally today, Erin Einhorn of The Atlantic looks at how disparities manifest in Detroit pre-k programs:

LaWanda Marshall and Candace Graham both teach pre-kindergarten at the Carver STEM Academy on Detroit’s west side. Both have colorful, toy-filled classrooms, computers for students to use and assistant teachers to help guide their 4- and 5-year-olds as they learn and explore ... Marshall’s students—part of the Grow Up Great program funded by the PNC Foundation—go on regular field trips and get frequent visits from traveling instructors. The parents of her students get access to support programs like one that connects job seekers with employment opportunities ... Graham and her students, meanwhile, hang back when the kids down the hall board the bus to go on field trips. Few packages or visitors arrive.

The dramatic tension is high in this article, because the disparities are so stark and present within a single school. But let's be clear: this sort of disparity is not unusual; it is the absolute norm in American schooling. The divisions can appear more inequitable when they are juxtaposed in a single pre-k hallway, but the financial disparities within - and across - communities lead to enormous differences in the quality and magnitude of schooling from pre-k through college in America. There are interesting tidbits in this article, but folks who read this piece shouldn't leave with the impression that private funding of pre-k extra is somehow responsible for education inequities. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Seeing Students as Family, School Closures, and Scaling Back Civil Rights Investigations

(Note to Loyal Readers: due to both professional travel and family vacation plans, my posting during the second half of June will be sporadic. My apologies for the extent to which this causes severe lapses in your news and/or gif consumption.)

In honor of Father's Day, Sharif El-Mekki of Philly's 7th Ward reflects on the relationship he has with his students:

The reason why people describe schools as families is because of the deep relationships that must be present, nurtured and restored, and invested in in order for schools to function at the optimal levels. That is no different than our biological and/or chosen families. As a father or an educator, the required level of commitment means not only thinking about who is in front of you at the moment, but who is yet to come ... When faced with the incessantly tough decisions that principals are faced with, I am grateful that my North Star, and that of my leadership team, continues to be, not only what’s best for kids, but what would we want for our own kids.

Educators should consider El-Mekki's sentiments and reflect upon their own practices. If you're not capable of considering your students kin, and treating them as such, why not? I understand that some folks need to create emotional barriers at work, but that's not the only reason educators fail to see the students in front of them as peers of their own children.

Denisa Superville of Education Week looks at the community impact of school closings, through examining the effects of an Arkansas law:

Hughes elementary and secondary schools closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year, when the Arkansas education department mandated that the district consolidate with West Memphis because its average daily attendance had fallen below 350 students—a threshold set by a 2004 law known as Act 60. It requires districts that enroll fewer than 350 students for two consecutive years to consolidate or annex with another school system. Hughes' former schools are among the hundreds of schools nationwide that close for a variety of reasons. But research suggests that such closures sometimes have a disparate—and disruptive—effect on communities ... The university's analysis found that black students made up 33 percent of the enrollment in the schools that closed, compared with 20 percent of the enrollment in schools that had not been closed. And, while the consolidated districts had smaller minority populations overall, their students were more likely to be poor: 64 percent of students in consolidated districts qualified for free and reduced-price meals, according to the report. In nonconsolidated districts, 49 percent of students qualified for the reduced-price-meal program.

Officials tend to close schools for two reasons: financial stress, driven by enrollment, like the examples above; or performance. Whatever the cause, communities - for justifiable reasons, rooted in history - tend not to differentiate one cause from another. When a school closes, the community loses an important institution, and in vulnerable communities, the school carries outsized importance. However logical the closure decision seems to the "powers that be," good luck explaining that reasoning to the parents and children who just lost their community's central institution.

Finally today, Erica Green of The New York Times reports that the department of education will "scale back" Civil Rights investigations:

According to an internal memo issued by Candice E. Jackson, the acting head of the department’s office for civil rights, requirements that investigators broaden their inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims will be scaled back. Also, regional offices will no longer be required to alert department officials in Washington of all highly sensitive complaints on issues such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses. The new directives are the first steps taken under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reshape her agency’s approach to civil rights enforcement, which was bolstered while President Barack Obama was in office. The efforts during Mr. Obama’s administration resulted in far-reaching investigations and resolutions that required schools and colleges to overhaul policies addressing a number of civil rights concerns.

The critical point here is that the department will not treat individual cases as potential evidence of systemic issues. Often, however, a single visible case of injustice is exactly what's needed to provide visibility into a problem that's been festering below the surface for years. To use an example from another context, police violence against people of color is terrible on its own. Those incidences of violence, however, also illustrate other quotidian injustices within the criminal justice system, like sentencing disparities, predatory ticketing practices, and the over-incarceration of Black men. Systemic problems are perpetuated by the explicit and implicit consent of actors within the system, and the federal government should be a bulwark against abuse. This is bad news, pure and simple.

Have a good week ...

Thursday Reading List: Political Violence, Science Education, and Propaganda

Five officials from Flint, Michigan are being charged with manslaughter for their roles in the poisoning of the city's water. Scott Atkinson and Monica Davey of The New York Times have the story:

It is the closest investigators have come to directly blaming officials for the deaths and illnesses that occurred when a water contamination crisis enveloped this city. The tainted water has been tied to lead poisoning in children and prompted officials to begin a costly, yearslong process of replacing pipes all over the city. Even now, officials recommend that only filtered tap water be consumed, and many residents say they can trust only bottled water, given false assurances they once received from state and local officials. The latest charges reached farther than before into Michigan’s state government, affecting two cabinet-level officials in the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder and leaving open the possibility that the investigation would go higher still.

The ACLU of Michigan has a strong body of investigative reporting on the story. The emails and documents that have emerged in the last year demonstrate that the governor's team knew about the contamination of the water and not only failed to remedy the situation, but also seem to have lied to obscure the severity of the problems. The state of Michigan was complicit in an act of violence against an entire city. That's why a lot of folks had problems when Ezra Klein tweeted this yesterday:

Michael Harriott of The Root calls it "The Whitest Tweet Ever":

The point of Klein’s tweet is mostly correct, but the way he categorized political violence isn’t just “troubling” or “problematic”; it’s wrong. Klein thinks it’s scary when a powerful white politician is killed because of a person’s political belief, but doesn’t classify the statistic that black men are about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for using marijuana as meaning that the war on drugs is violent against black men. The fact that white men are 354 percent more likely to get away with murdering a black man in “Stand your ground” states might not seem like “political violence,” but it is ... It is indicative of white entitlement to casually think that a singular white woman shot in the head or one president murdered in a parade 50 years ago is indicative of lessening violence when political ideology has redlined black children into lower-funded schools, makes them 21 times more likely to be killed by police, or has been actively seeking to break up families of immigrants and Muslims. Political violence is better than it was 50 years ago ... for white people. 

Harriott is correct, and his piece illustrates the limitations of the technocratic Vox-style of journalism and public policy analysis. It's not that Klein is wrong or ill-intentioned, it's just that letting "the numbers tell the story" can obscure what's happening just as often as it illuminates.

In other news, Carolyn Jones of The Atlantic explores the potential for bringing scientists into public school classrooms:

Named a rookie-teacher-of-the-year in Los Angeles Unified last year, [LaTeira] Haynes, 30, is among a growing number of science, technology, engineering, and math professionals in California who’ve forsaken the comforts of laboratories, office parks, and six-figure salaries to teach high school—often in schools with a majority of students living in poverty, learning English, or facing other challenges ... Over the next decade, California will need 33,000 new math and science teachers, according to California State University’s Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative Annual Report. And although the California State University system has increased its output of math and science teachers from 750 in 2002-03 to more than 1,500 in 2014-15, it’s still not enough. The shortage reflects a national trend ...

There are a range of nonprofit organizations in California that work with scientists to prepare them for the rigors of the K-12 classroom.

There are good ways to bring science into the classroom, and there are  ... questionable ways. As Jie Jenny Zou writes in The Hechinger Report, the oil industry is creating propaganda in the form of children's books:

Jennifer Merritt’s first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests, state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn. Dressed in suits, the Republican lawmakers read aloud from “Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream,” a parable in which a Bob the Builder lookalike awakens to find his toothbrush, hardhat and even the tires on his bike missing. Abandoned by the school bus, Pete walks to Petroville Elementary in his pajamas. “It sounds like you are missing all of your petroleum by-products today!” his teacher, Mrs. Rigwell, exclaims, extolling oil’s benefits to Pete and fellow students like Sammy Shale ... Decades of documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity reveal a tightly woven network of organizations that works in concert with the oil and gas industry to paint a rosy picture of fossil fuels in America’s classrooms.

The whole story is fascinating, and I was surprised by the depth and breadth of the industry's classroom penetration. The industry argues that the preponderance of engineers and scientists in its ranks make it an ideal partner for the creation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula. On the other hand, the industry also seems committed to denying the scientific consensus on climate change, one of the most critical global issues of our time.

Have a great day!

Wednesday Reading List: Chronicling the History of Lynching and Tempering Technology Enthusiasm

Monique Judge of The Root looks at a new website that chronicles the history of lynching and racial terror in America:

Google and the Equal Justice Initiative launched a new website Tuesday that explores the history and legacy of racial terror in the United States, specifically during the period between the Civil War and World War II, when over 4,000 Black Americans were lynched in this country. Lynching in America is an interactive website created with support from Google and based on a full report completed by the Equal Justice Initiative.

The Equal Justice Initiative is the same organization that is building a national museum in Alabama, in order to memorialize the victims of lynching. It's hard to have an honest discussion about the present when we're still lying about the past

Ulrich Boser of The Atlantic looked at a youth program in Chicago that is aimed at both improving academic success, and lowering incidences of violence, among teenage boys:

Written by researchers at the University of Chicago, the study looks at the success of the counseling program known as Becoming a Man, or BAM, which is run by the nonprofit Youth Guidance. Started in 2001, the BAM program operates in Chicago and has posted tremendous results. One 2015 study found that students in the program were 45 percent less likely than their peers in South Side Chicago to be arrested for violent crimes. What’s more, the researchers believe that BAM students are as much as 19 percent more likely to graduate from high school.  

Boser talks to the program's founder and tries to isolate the parts of the program that are most critical to success. The founder, Anthony Di Vittorio, argues that the quality of the relationships between the adult counselors and the young men in the program are paramount. That's why I'm not surprised by things like this:

An Arizona-born charter school known for its call-center-like appearance has run into trouble as it attempted to expand to other states. Carpe Diem schools, which rely on computer-based lessons and some in-person instruction, began in 2006 and opened five additional schools in Texas, Ohio and Indiana about five years ago. This week, one of the schools in Indiana is closing. The management agency charged with implementing the expansion has been disbanded, leaving the four remaining spin-off schools to rethink their strategy.

That's Nichole Dobo of The Hechinger Report. Click through to look at the picture of the school. It literally looks like a customer service center. Why did people think this was a good idea?

I'm not a luddite when it comes to technology. In this case, however, the deployment of technology was used to virtually eliminate, and diminish the quality of, adult-child relationships. That is the opposite of what is required for our most vulnerable children.

In related news, Education Week just released a series of charts and graphs that illustrate the quality and usage of technology in American classrooms:

Public schools have more classroom technology and faster internet connections than ever before, and teachers and students alike report using the digital tools at their disposal more frequently than in years past. But a new analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress survey data by the Education Week Research Center highlights two troubling trends: Despite the promise of building "21st century skills," such as creativity and problem-solving, students report using computers in school most often for activities that involve rote practice. And even as their classrooms have been inundated with new devices and software, the percent of teachers who say they’ve received training on how to effectively use such technology has remained flat, with a persistent divide between high- and low-poverty schools.

There are many more charts, like the one I included, so be sure to check out the report. The trends are troubling, because the takeaway seems to be that  - as technology has proliferated - educator usage patterns are becoming less, and not more, sophisticated. Not good.

Have a great day!

Tuesday Reading List: $100 Million for Criminal Justice Reform, Defining Integration, and Charter Mania

Robin Pogrebin of The New York Times reports that art collector Agnes Gund is starting a fund to reform the criminal justice system, with the proceeds from selling a single painting:

This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein ... The effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever ... The impetus for the fund was personal. Six of Ms. Gund’s 12 grandchildren are African-American ... She added that she was also deeply affected by Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and by Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, “13th,” about African-Americans in the prison system.

The fact that Gund's own family is affected by issues of racial inequality is a great example of what Bryan Stevenson calls "proximity." Unfortunately, due to racial wealth disparities, it's extremely unusual for someone in this country both to have Black family members AND to have the ability to give away money in $100 million chunks. The other important point here is that Gund is encouraging her peers to make similar decisions with their pricey art assets. I'm not mad at this.

Naomi Nix of The 74 looks at Connecticut state court rulings for signals about how the judicial system will think about segregation in the coming years:

Since [the 1996 ruling in Sheff v. O'Neill], Connecticut policymakers have struggled to answer a wonky but critical question: How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated? The court left it to the state to negotiate with local civil rights groups over the remedy to segregation and its definition. The state’s current agreement with those groups, which expires June 30, defines a segregated school as having a student population that is 75 percent or more black or Latino ... But most Hartford students attend regular public schools that are still segregated — and are lower-performing and more poorly funded than the magnet schools.

It's important to remember that court-mandated school integration strategies never solved the actual problem of racial segregation in this country. There's a bit of magical thinking about this issue, especially among political progressives like myself. When public school racial integration peaked in the 1980s, we were still woefully segregated. It's also remarkable that many of the same people who lambaste charter schools - for not solving the problem of racial integration -are unmitigated boosters of Connecticut's selective-admission magnet schools ... which haven't solved the problem of racial segregation either, while admitting a small number of students who post high scores on standardized tests. It's almost as if performance and equity aren't the real issues ...

Speaking of charter schools, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at the most recent results from Stanford's ongoing study of charter performance:

A number of well known “no excuses”-style school networks like KIPP and YES Prep come out looking good, but others — including large virtual school networks and for-profit charters — don’t. And the authors of the report say too many schools aren’t being held accountable for their results. “Charter school authorizers are charged with acting as the gatekeepers to ensure schools of choice are beneficial to their students,” the authors write. “Some of them seem to be abdicating that responsibility" ... Students attending a school run by a charter management organization seem to benefit the most. CMOs lead to small but statistically significant annual gains in math and reading, relative to both traditional public schools and other types of charters.

Perhaps the most interesting result of the analysis is that for-profit charters and virtual schools worsen student performance. Overall, this study confirms the unsexy, pragmatic consensus on charters: the best ones are great, the average ones are average, and the worst ones are bad.

These results are unsatisfying if you are either:

1) An ideologue who wants to make the case that an all-charter system would be a radical improvement on our current one;

2) An ideologue who wants to stop the proliferation of charters at all costs; or

3) An organization like K12 Inc., whose for-profit schools do active harm to student performance.

Whatever the case, I'm sure everyone will have a totally balanced reaction to these results.

Finally today, Chris Stewart of Citizen Ed takes the NAACP to task for what he perceives to be an instance of #2 above:

Last year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a moratorium on charter schools. They said we need a “pause” until we can make sure charters are held to the same standards as district schools ... the NAACP could have used their considerable social capital to call a national convening of black educators who have demonstrable success with educating black children. They could have drawn from the best examples in traditional, charter, private schools, and even home schools. They could have asked these leaders the cardinal questions we need answered, like “what do we know about educating black children, what policies enable better outcomes for our students, and what is our evidence?" ... And, they could have asked black teachers, often pioneering teachers frustrated by incremental change in district schools, teach in charter schools. Alas, they didn’t ask. 

I share this piece, first and foremost, because Stewart raises important points about how it's specious to single-out one small segment of the entire American public schooling sector as responsible for the miseducation of Black children in this country. Beyond that, I think it's important for White readers to understand that no single organization or leader has a monopoly on what constitutes Black public opinion. I'm a White dude, and if my own lack knowledge is any indication, I know that my White peers, as a whole, have an unsophisticated perspective on the range of perspectives within the Black community.

That said ... I also see White folks - particularly those engaged in politics - engaging in the lazy strategy of finding the one non-White person who shares their political perspectives, then latching onto that person as a validator of their own heterodox beliefs. It's important to be wary of both fallacies. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Competency-Based Education, Student Press Freedoms, and LET US KEEP SCIENCE

Lillian Mongeau of The Hechinger Report looks at how some schools in Maine are changing what it means to make educational progress:

The law requires that by 2021, students graduating from Maine high schools must show they have mastered specific skills to earn a high school diploma. Maine is the first state to pass such a law, though the idea of valuing skills over credits is increasingly popular around the country. “Maine is the pioneer,” said Chris Sturgis, co-founder of CompetencyWorks, a national organization that advocates for the approach in K-12 schools. This year’s nearly 13,500 eighth graders will be the first students required to meet the changed requirements, which are being phased in gradually. By 2021, schools must offer diplomas based students reaching proficiency in the four core academic subject areas: English, math, science and social studies. By 2025, four additional subject areas will be included: a second language, the arts, health and physical education.

Until further notice, I will file this idea under "great in theory, wait-and-see in practice." The current regime, wherein both content and time are rigidly standardized, delivers pitiful results for many students. I'm eager to see how this plays out in Maine, and if it delivers measurable gains, I will be the first person in line at the parade. 

Madeline Will of Education Week looks at a new effort to offer student journalists more rigorous legal protections:

The New Voices movement, led by the Washington-based nonprofit Student Press Law Center, started with a law passed in North Dakota in 2015. Last year, such laws were victorious in Illinois and Maryland but failed in a handful of other states, including Michigan and Missouri. In addition to the newly signed law in Vermont, legislation has passed this year in Nevada, and bills are moving through the legislatures in New Jersey and Rhode Island. Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said bills are also on the runway in New York and Wisconsin, and once again in Michigan, Missouri, Washington, Texas and Indiana for next year's legislative sessions ... In some states, the bills have garnered opposition from administrator groups, school lobbyists, or state school boards, who fear that the legislation could lead to unchecked, irresponsible student journalism.

That last point sounds like a frivolous concern; the only time I hear school boards and administrators complain about the quality of student journalism is when their own weaknesses or malpractices are the subject of that reporting. More than ever, we need to prepare young people to tell the truth about a complicated world. Facts matters.

In other news, Erica Green of The New York Times looks at Betsy DeVos's educational background:

Public neighborhood schools — the vast majority of schools in this country — were hardly present in the billionaire’s childhood or adult life. Critics say this lopsided exposure fueled Ms. DeVos’s staunch support of privately run, publicly funded charter schools and voucher programs that allow families to take tax dollars from the public education system to private schools ... Ms. DeVos has maintained that she is “agnostic” about the type of schools that parents choose for their children.

First of all, if you're not following Erica Green's reporting, you should be, because she has done an admirable job of covering the DeVos administration in a way that is both pointed and fair. Second, public money should not be used to support private religious institutions, no matter how academically strong those institutions are. If you're so committed to social justice that you want to run schools for vulnerable kids, you should do that, but in a secular way that doesn't exclude people of other faith backgrounds.

In the meantime, as Katie Worth of Frontline reports, folks are trying to pin-down DeVos's beliefs about climate change:

Four Democratic senators are sharply criticizing a conservative think tank’s efforts to bring climate change skepticism into the nation’s public schools as “industry funded” and “possibly fraudulent” and demanding to know whether federal education officials have been in contact with the group ... The senators asked DeVos whether any Education Department officials have had contact with individuals associated with the Heartland Institute “on climate, science, or science education issues,” and whether any informational resources put out by the department have been created in collaboration with Heartland ... Heartland is perhaps best known for its position as a leader in the movement to reject the scientific consensus on global warming.

It's possible to believe the scientific consensus on climate change, yet maintain opposition to enacting government measures aimed at curbing the phenomenon. Maybe you believe that such measures will be harmful to certain industries, or that the likelihood of successful intervention is low. Those are short-sighted, morally questionable positions, but if you have a pecuniary interest in industries like oil, coal, and gas, you stand to benefit from perpetuating their profitability as long as possible. If that's what you think, you should make those arguments.

What troubles me more than maintaining those honest, yet disagreeable, positions is the systematic attempt to undermine science. Those efforts are contributing to the erosion of a common basis for understanding the world in which we live. It's pre-enlightenment, return-to-the-middle-ages style bullshit. If you don't give a shit if climate change happens, just say that. Don't throw the rest of us into a second round of the Dark Ages on the back of your selfish, ignorant beliefs.

Oh yeah ... have a great week :)

Friday Reading List: Have a Great Weekend!

It's a busy Friday, so here are some articles to get you through the day. I'll be back on Monday with a full reading list!

According to Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times, NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio released a lukewarm plan to integrate schools, but refuses to say that the city's schools are segregated ...

An Indiana elementary school suspended a child for not saying the pledge of allegiance. Yesha Callahan of The Root has the story.

Megan Garber of The Atlantic reviews a new book, which argues that adolescence lasts ... 

And finally, Marva Hinton of Education Week looks at disparities in pre-K access and funding around the country.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday Reading List: Stop Suspending Little Kids, Don't Handcuff Older Ones, and Some Other Stuff

Sarah Gonser of The Hechinger Report tries to determine why schools suspend so many younger children:

Last school year, the School District of Philadelphia suspended 5,667 children under the age of 10, including kindergarteners through third graders. Of the district’s 134,041 students, 50 percent are black and 20 percent Hispanic. Acknowledging the long-term harmful impact of kicking young children out of school, the district revised its Student Code of Conduct last summer to ban suspending kindergarteners unless their actions resulted in serious bodily injury. Since then, however, some say the needle hasn’t moved much. “It’s fair to say that young kids are still suspended in Philadelphia in violation of the policy,” said Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “The district administrators have not come through with implementing the new policy, even when it comes to kindergarten.”

Gonser looks for districts where the changes are more promising and finds a glimmer of hope in Connecticut, where schools in the state's "Commissioner's Network" are seeing significant reductions in suspensions and expulsions (Full Disclosure: in my last job, I advised the state of Connecticut on the design of that network). Teaching kids with behavior challenges is more difficult than just throwing them out of school, which is why we have this problem in the first place. Schools need to set hard, non-negotiable targets for reducing suspensions and expulsions.

Otherwise, you end up with this, from Raquel Reichard of Latinx:

Black and Latinx students are severely more likely to be handcuffed by police officers in New York Public Schools. In fact, according to a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, 99 perecent of the students placed in handcuffs in 2016 were Black or Latinx. To break that down further, 262 young people were shackled while on campus last year, and only three of those incidents involved white students. With Black and brown students making up two-thirds of the city’s more than 1 million public school students, the percentage of them who have been restrained is clearly disproportionate.

 

Not. Okay. At. All.

The disproportionality is stunning. Police and school-based security personnel should be treating children of color as the people they serve, but instead they treat them as a threat. There's a short, direct line from suspending kids in kindergarten to cuffing them in middle school.

In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at how public schools in suburban Ohio segregate themselves by not accepting students from neighboring cities:

Suburbs might close their doors to city students simply because their schools are at capacity and accepting more students would place a strain on the system. But the study authors say that’s not the case: enrollment in the districts that don’t participate in the program actually declined on average. On average, districts that refused open enrollment had higher achievement levels and lower poverty rates. While the largest eight cities in the state were composed of more than 70 percent students of color, the surrounding districts that declined transfers had fewer than 30 percent non-white students. This suggests that the suburbs’ decision not to take students from other districts may perpetuate school segregation.

Let's be clear: the primary reason that the suburbs exist in their current form is that during the latter half of the 20th century, White families abandoned cities and their public systems. We can debate all day long whether those decisions were rooted racial animus, class prejudice, neither, or all of the above. The downstream effect of those decisions, though, has been the perpetuation of socioeconomic and racial segregation in schools, not through school policy, but through real estate purchasing behavior and wealth accumulation. That's why I'm 0% surprised that the denizens of the Ohio suburbs are continuing to hoard their wealth and privilege.

Finally today, Christina Samuels of Education Week looks at how states are measuring progress among special education students:

The Education Department has long been responsible for evaluating how well states were meeting the mandates spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The law and its accompanying regulations can be exacting: For example, states have 60 calendar days to evaluate a child once a disability is suspected. Over time, states have been meeting such procedural compliance provisions of the law. But when it comes to standards connected to how well students are doing academically—test scores and graduation rates, to name two—the performance of students with disabilities has been stagnant. That was the impetus for results-driven accountability: States would still be responsible for meeting the procedural aspects of the federal special education law, but they were also prompted to create a "state systemic improvement plan" that would focus on improving academic results.

The embedded chart, reproduced here, describes the various ways in which states are measuring progress. The vast majority of students who receive special education have mild disabilities that, when accounted for and understood, should have little impact on academic achievement. Even students with the most severe kind of disabilities can achieve at high levels. Unfortunately, most special education policy since the 1970s has focused on compliance and not results, so the stagnation of progress shouldn't surprise us. Here's hoping that the next generation of special education policy doubles-down on helping students to reach their full potential. Have a great day ...

Wednesday Reading List: Tech Titans Wield Influence, Rules for Effective Teaching, and Disambiguating Racism

Natasha Singer has a long reported piece in The New York Times about the influence of the tech sector on American public schools:

Captains of American industry have long used their private wealth to remake public education, with lasting and not always beneficial results. What is different today is that some technology giants have begun pitching their ideas directly to students, teachers and parents — using social media to rally people behind their ideas. Some companies also cultivate teachers to spread the word about their products. Such strategies help companies and philanthropists alike influence public schools far more quickly than in the past, by creating legions of supporters who can sway legislators and education officials.

I'm glad Singer differentiates this era of "American Tycoon Drives Reform" from its earlier iterations, otherwise you could have changed the proper nouns in this piece and published it in each of the last 35 years. The direct cultivation of parents and students as both customers themselves, and as sources of demand pressure upon school systems, is unique to this period in time. I've had dozens of conversations with technology entrepreneurs, and this strategy of reaching out to children with free products to build demand for both reform and technology is 100% intentional. Some people will interpret this strategy as morally questionable, while other folks view the approach as an indispensable mechanism for accelerating improvement in intransigent systems. Either way, the topic deserves public debate. I could talk about this piece forever, so do me a favor and just ... 

In other news, Daarel Burnette II of Education Week examines how the concept of effective teaching has shifted with new federal rules:

ESSA requires states to provide a single definition of "ineffective teachers" in the plans they submit to the federal government and then describe how they will ensure that poor and minority students aren't being taught by a disproportionate number of them. This shift in policy has reignited battles over who should stand in front of America's classrooms, whether state or local leaders should make those decisions, and what information about teachers' performance should be reported. Civil rights advocates and teacher accountability hawks have expressed deep frustration with how some states ignored this portion of the law in the 17 plans submitted so far. They are pushing the Education Department to get tough as those plans undergo peer review before the education secretary rules on them.

And you thought we were done discussing teacher accountability as a state- and federal-level policy issue?

Fact: low-income children are disproportionately harmed by having an ineffective teacher.

Fact: a disproportionate number of our least effective teachers end up in schools serving high concentrations of poor children.

I hope that today's policymakers can leverage the laws at their disposal to protect the educational interests of vulnerable children ... without designing overly-byzantine systems that both piss everyone off, and are impossible to execute. Good luck!

Finally today, I want to juxtapose two stories from this week that illustrate the interconnectedness of "personal racism" and "institutional racism." First, here's Hannah Natanson of The Harvard Crimson:

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat. A handful of admitted students formed the messaging group—titled, at one point, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”—on Facebook in late December, according to two incoming freshmen. In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups.

Whatever you think about the actions of Harvard in this instance, it's pretty clear that the students involved were sharing noxious ideas and images. Does that make the individuals involved "racists" and "sexists" themselves? Frankly, I don't care. It's irrelevant what's "in the hearts" of these students, because their actions encourage prejudicial beliefs, and they're willfully spreading stereotypes that undergird discrimination.

Now, consider this story, from Flint, Michigan, reported by Breanna Edwards of The Root [Note: the excerpt contains both profanity and a racial slur]:

A Flint, Mich., official has tendered his resignation after water activists recorded him using a racial slur and racially charged stereotypes as he pointed blame for the city’s water crisis. Phil Stair, the sales manager of the Genessee County Land Bank, handed in his resignation after being recorded blaming the city’s water crisis on “fucking niggers [who] don’t pay their bills” ... Stair made his comments while attempting to explain to the activists his version of how the water crisis went down, claiming that the city was forced to use the contaminated water from the Flint River after Detroit jacked up prices to account for its own unpaid water bills ... [Genessee County Land Bank] takes over tax-foreclosed properties and carries out demolitions, rehabilitations and sales.

This situation is different, and not because Phil Stair seems any more "personally racist" than the students in the prior example. In this case, the person in question wields considerable power; the Genessee County Land Bank is a government entity that happens to be the largest property owner in Flint. Readers will remember that Flint is still struggling with a manmade water crisis, and as The New York Times has reported, Stair's bank forecloses on properties with unpaid water bills. These foreclosures disproportionately affect Flint's Black residents, who are still being forced to pay the state for poisoned water.

All of which is to say, the personal prejudices of Phil Stair have a direct effect on wealth distribution in Flint, through the power his bank wields over foreclosures, demolitions, and repossessions. That's TEXTBOOK institutional racism:

Power + Prejudice = Racism

I know people who think that we will never eradicate personal racism, and that shaming individuals for expressing prejudiced views is a waste of time. I agree that we may never drive out racially-motivated prejudices from this world, but I'm okay with imposing social penalties on people who perpetuate prejudice. The students at Harvard are quite literally on a fast track to acquiring power and privilege. Some day, many of them will hold institutional roles with exponentially more authority than a middle manager at the Genessee County Land Bank can even imagine.

I don't know if revoking the admissions of these students will have any effect on lessening their prejudices, but it might curtail their short-term access to power. "Personal racism" and "institutional racism" are two different things. But we're kidding ourselves if we think they're not related. Have a good day ...