Friday Reading List: Sports and Schools Don't Mix, Colleges Engage in False Advertising, and Union Politics

Aria Bendix of The Atlantic looks at a telling survey of American schooling:

American teens spend far more time on sports than they do on their studies. At least that’s how international students see it, according to a report out Wednesday from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution ... And valuing sports over knowledge is distinctly American, according to these foreign students. Nearly two-thirds of foreign-exchange students in the United States view American teenagers as placing a much higher value on athletic success than teens in their home countries do. By comparison, only 5 percent of international students say American teens place a much higher value on success in mathematics than teenagers abroad. Around 65 percent of foreign-exchange students also feel that American teens spend less time on homework than their international peers.

I've heard this observation anecdotally, and the attitudes captured in this study comport with my own conclusions. The coupling of sports and academia in this country - at all levels - has no discernible positive impact on the quality of schooling. I love sports. But they can take place outside of school. Apologists for school sports will argue that elite college sports teams attract incalculable revenue to their host institutions; that argument is true at just a handful of schools, and those programs cannibalize just as many resources as they generate.

Speaking of educational malpractice in higher education, Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report looks at the accuracy of college admissions marketing materials:

At a time of alternative facts, much of the information students get when choosing colleges — which they’ll be doing soon, as acceptance letters show up in their mailboxes — is sometimes inaccurate, almost never independently corroborated and often intended to put the best face on the universities’ performance with carefully chosen wording. This includes not only the important questions of how many graduates get jobs in their fields and how much they’ll make with a degree in a given major, but whether their credits will transfer, how students do on graduate school admission tests and even how much an education will ultimately cost.

Marcus goes on to report that the Trump administration is trying to roll back some of the Obama administration's attempts to introduce more transparency to the system.

There are some pretty stunning details in Marcus's reporting, including misleading offers of financial aid. This happens everywhere - at nonprofit public universities, private colleges, and for-profit institutions - in case you're eager to apply an ideological lens to this problem.

In other news, Eric Gorski of Chalkbeat looks at internal tensions in the Denver teachers union:

... three younger teachers gunning for those union leadership positions portrayed the status quo as ineffective in battling a “corporatist” district agenda and in addressing broader social justice issues harming students and communities ... [Tommie] Shimrock portrayed the Denver union’s current leadership as complicit in an era that has seen erosion of teachers’ rights and rapid growth of charter schools and innovation schools. Innovation schools are managed by the district but don’t need to follow the union contract. Shimrock also criticized the union for failing in efforts to elect candidates to the school board who favor union positions. With four of the seven Denver school board seats up for grabs this November, a high-stakes, big-money election is anticipated.

Denver will be an interesting litmus test for how teachers' unions both organize and engage in politics during the Trump era. The school system in Denver has advanced a series of unique reforms over the years, many of which have led to substantial improvements in children's live. It's not surprising that the union would be grabbing to get power back now, but this sort of rhetoric can cause good ideas to become collateral damage in an ideological war.

Finally, Chris Stewart at Citizen Ed has a list of "new rules" for school reform debates. I particularly like these two:

3. If you don’t believe that poor children and children of color can learn at high levels, don’t teach in their schools.
25. America has thousands of half-empty urban schools. Let’s not “talk” about integration or evil school closures. Solve both, enroll now.

Regular readers will know why that last rule hits home for me. I live in a community - *cough* Brooklyn *cough* - where the rapid influx of wealthier (and Whiter) residents in the last two decades has not caused greater school integration. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: White liberals need to put our money where our mouths are vis-a-vis social justice and school integration, otherwise we are just full ... of ... 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday Reading List: Special Education Law, Protecting Immigrant Students, and School Lunches

Mark Walsh, writing at Education Week, explains how a recent Supreme Court ruling expands rights for special education students:

The decision comes in the case of a Colorado student named Endrew F. whose autism led to behavioral issues in school. After four years in the Douglas County schools, near Denver, the boy's parents believed his academic and functional progress as stalled. Endrew F.'s individualized education programs largely  carried over the same educational goals and objectives from one year to the next, Roberts observed, "indicating he was failing to make meaningful progress toward his aims." The parents pulled the boy from public school amid a dispute over his 5th grade IEP and enrolled him a private school specializing in autism, the Firefly Autism House ... Under established precedents, the family sought reimbursement from the Douglas County district for the private school tuition. They lost before a state administrative law judge, a federal district court, and the 10th Circuit.

The practice of public schools paying private schools to educate students with special needs is widespread. This transfer is possible, because students with disabilities, under federal law, have individual rights to a certain quality of education. No other class of Americans has an individual right to education at the federal level, nor do children who experience disadvantages of other sorts have the sort of legal recourse that special education students have. I'm 100% of supportive of special education students having this "right" ... I also wish that legal recourse were available to other vulnerable classes of children.

Rachel Cohen is in Vice, looking at how schools are protecting undocumented students:

In November, Pew Research Center reported that about 3.9 million kindergarten through 12th grade students in US public and private schools were children of undocumented immigrants, and 725,000 K–12 students were undocumented themselves. Even before President Trump took office, the feds were known to apprehend some of these students and their parents on their way to school. And now, under a White House that has already begun to dramatically reshape immigration policy, undocumented people and their advocates say the simple act of taking a kid to school has become a terrifying ordeal ... Schools have been proactive in hopes of alleviating the anxiety of immigrant children, emphasizing that they remain open to everyone. For example, Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, released a memo in December affirming that it would remain a "safe and welcoming" environment for all students and staff. And in February, CPS announced guidelines for principals should agents arrive on school grounds.

It seems inevitable that we'll see some sort of clash - in the near future - between immigration officials and educators. I've spoken with immigrant advocacy groups, and experts tend to agree that, at the very least, educators can be a bulwark against deportation. When educators testify on behalf of students in deportation hearings, their input can have a significant effect on judges' rulings. Some schools even have adopted affirmative policies that encourage educators to speak up in these situations.

In other news, Yesenia Robles, writing in Chalkbeat, looks at how municipal transportation patterns can work against the goal of providing families with schooling options:

For a number of reasons — including limited resources, logistical difficulties and the hardships of getting multiple agencies with different goals to agree on a plan — solving the transportation puzzle remains elusive in Denver and other cities. A research report last month from the nonprofit Urban Institute identified transportation barriers in five cities, including Denver, and called choice an “empty” promise for many families. While the Success Express has grown, it still only serves a limited part of the city. At the same time, school district and city officials are not on the same page with the region’s transportation agency about a separate proposal to increase transportation for another group of students by providing more public bus passes for high schoolers.

Most big school districts have some form of intra-district school choice for families ... in theory. In practice, however, options are limited by convenience and proximity. Robles looks at the specific complications involved in transportation, but other factors - like housing and employment patterns - play a role as well. At the risk of oversimplifying this issue, I believe that: A) parents, irrespective of their wealth, should have some options with respect to schooling, and B) no matter what other options exist, everyone should have unfettered access to a public school, near their home, that exceeds some baseline standard for quality.

Finally, Melinda D. Anderson, writing in The Atlantic, looks at research to see whether there's a connection between healthy school meals and academic achievement:

As detailed in a recent paper, economists set out to determine whether healthier school lunches affect student achievement as measured by test scores. The intense policy interest in improving the nutritional content of public-school meals—in addition to vendors’ efforts to market their school meals as good for the body and the mind—sparked the researchers’ curiosity and led to an unexpected discovery: Students at schools that contract with a healthier school-lunch vendor perform somewhat better on state tests—and this option appears highly cost-effective compared to policy interventions that typically are more expensive, like class-size reduction.

GIven this result, improving the overall quality of school lunches should become low-hanging-fruit for policy makers ... PUN INTENDED!

Whether or not healthy food has an impact on student achievement, we should feed children well. For some vulnerable children, school is the only place that provides significant nutrition. Anderson is right to highlight the financial tradeoffs. Relative to other expensive reforms, this change seems like a complete no-brainer. Have a great day!

Wednesday Reading List: School Budgeting, Discrimination in Schools, and Cultural Appropriation

Sarah Darville of Chalkbeat explains how the Trump administration's budget might force schools to spend money in different ways:

The budget proposal calls for expanding Title I with money “dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables Federal, State, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.” In calling for student-based budgeting, Trump joins a host of big-city school leaders and education reformers who argue that money should follow each student, no matter where they enroll. It sounds like a simple idea, but it’s far from how most school districts operate. Districts traditionally create school budgets based largely on how much it costs to pay the salaries of the adults who work in a building. That can mean schools serving high-needs students, which often have less experienced and lower-paid teachers, get less money than schools with more affluent students.

The Trump administration did not invent this concept of "student based budgeting," as New York City, Denver, and other major cities have used this procedure for years. What's unique about this plan is the idea that federal money could be used to support religious schools, private schools, and other institutions without accountability to the public.

That lack of accountability includes adherence to civil rights laws; many private schools have selective admissions procedures that are easy to exploit for the purposes of discrimination. If you're not worried about this problem, Dominic Holden of BuzzFeed has this story of a student in Pennsylvania who is suing his school district because transgender children are allowed to use the bathroom:

By allowing the transgender student to share the facilities, the lawsuit alleges, the Boyertown Area School District has violated the boy’s civil and constitutional rights. Lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy legal group representing the plaintiff, have asked a federal judge to suspend a school policy that lets transgender students use facilities that match their gender identity. The case inverts arguments made in the past by several transgender students in other lawsuits that attempt to overturn school-district rules that restrict access to bathrooms. Among those students is Gavin Grimm, whose high-profile case is winding through federal appeals courts.

Not allowing transgender students to use public bathrooms is discrimination, period. Moreover, if you think that these lawsuits are JUST about the ability to discriminate against transgender students, and not about rolling back broader civil protections for LGBT folks in the public and private spheres ...

Hate rhetoric, of many varieties, is more prevalent in this country than it has been at any other point in my lifetime. This rhetoric is creating a context that will embolden legislatures and courts to infringe on civil rights. Anyone who cares about freedom, civil liberties, and the protection of individual rights should be enraged at every attempt to encroach on those rights. Preventing people from using bathrooms is a way to discriminate against marginalized people. It always has been ...

In other news, Randy Kennedy of The New York Times has the story of a painting at a New York museum, which is drawing protests:

The open-coffin photographs of the mutilated body of Emmett Till, the teenager who was lynched by two white men in Mississippi in 1955, served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement and have remained an open wound in American society since they were first published in Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender at the urging of Till’s mother. The images’ continuing power, more than 60 years later, to speak about race and violence is being demonstrated once again in protests that have arisen online and at the newly opened Whitney Biennial over the decision of a white artist, Dana Schutz, to make a painting based on the photographs. An African-American artist, Parker Bright, has conducted peaceful protests in front of the painting since Friday, positioning himself, sometimes with a few other protesters, in front of the work to partly block its view.

I was actually at this exhibit over the weekend, but I didn't see this painting, or the protest. There's a long history of white artists - visual and otherwise - appropriating both the joy and pain on nonwhite cultures to score artistic points. Bright is drawing attention to that history with this protest, and both Schutz and the Whitney ought to engage in that conversation. Have a great day ...

Tuesday Reading List: Diversity on Campus, Special Education, and Promise Neighborhoods

Emily DeRuy of The Atlantic looks at the University of Michigan's attempt to diversify its campus:

A recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project that was covered extensively by The New York Times found that the median family income of a student at the university is $154,000, the highest out of nearly 30 public colleges the report classified as highly selective. Fewer than 4 percent of students come from families in the bottom 20 percent income-wise. (For reference, the state’s median household income is around $50,000) ... Less than 5 percent of undergraduates in 2015 were black, and a similar number were Hispanic. The numbers aren’t much better at the graduate level. According to the university’s student paper, just 17 percent of students in 2016 were eligible for Pell grants. All of those not-great-on-paper numbers make for a day-to-day experience that isn’t always pleasant for students on campus who aren’t white and wealthy ...

The challenges at the University of Michigan stretch from staff to students to donors. This work seems particularly important at public universities, which serve as gatekeepers to privilege and power not just in their home states, but nationally. America's universities need to reframe what constitutes top performance. Admitting already-wealthy students and greasing their pathway to financial success isn't a terribly difficult thing to do, but that's what many "elite" high education institutions do.

Timothy Pratt of The Hechinger Report looks at how Georgia serves special education students, in its proprietary state system called "GNETS":

The Georgia program caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which launched an investigation that lasted several years, and resulted in a 21-page letter of findings in July, 2015, and a lawsuit in August, 2016. According to that lawsuit, the GNETS system violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, both by segregating children with disabilities and by denying them access to an equal education ... The GNETS program is spread across Georgia in 24 locations. Since opening in Athens, in 1970, the program has admitted tens of thousands of children, with a range of disabilities, under the umbrella of “emotional and behavioral disorders.” The Justice department’s case is the first time that the agency has charged a statewide educational system with violating the ADA, Title II, which guarantees people with disabilities full access to the same public services as the general population.

There are two important themes in this piece, the first of which being the way children with disabilities are treated by schools. On the one hand, creating a specialized system seems attractive, as that sort of system, in theory, can cater to the unique needs of individual students. On the other hand, it's very hard to prevent a system like that from becoming a caste system, which seems to be the case in Georgia. The other major theme of this story is the gap between the promise and reality of technology as an instructional aide. The Georgia system relies on a "personalized" technology platform that adapts to individual students' needs. In practice, that means students are sitting in front of computers all day, with little human interaction. The quality of instruction in these centers tends to range from weak to nonexistent. While I have never visited this Georgia program, I have observed educational centers with this particular design, and I find them not just educationally inadequate, but deeply depressing to boot.

In other news, Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week asked experts to predict which education programs may be vulnerable in the Trump administration's budget proposal. Among the programs on the chopping block is the "Promise Neighborhoods" initiative:

The program, started during the Obama administration, awards grants to local communities and other partners "to implement comprehensive, neighborhood-based plans for meeting the cradle-to-career educational, health, and social service needs of children and families in high-poverty communities." Both [experts] said that this program might be too closely associated with Obama to get much love from Trump's Education Department. Receives $73 million in the current budget.

This program was modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, where a single organization manages a range of services and institutions that serve children and families. At the center of the "Zone" is a public charter school. The Promise Neighborhoods initiative is one of the few policy ideas that marries the best ideas of the "reformers" and the "traditionalists" in public education, and I'm disappointed that it didn't flourish. Policymakers were enthusiastic about replicating this idea, but the original program in NYC relied on a charismatic founder and millions of dollars in private capital from financial elites. It's hard to separate those factors from the program itself.

Finally, Breanna Edwards of The Root picks up a stunning story from southern California:

A California waiter has been fired after asking Latina customers for proof of residency as they dined at an upscale eatery in the city of Huntington Beach. According to the Los Angeles Times, Brenda Carrillo and a friend had just been seated and were waiting for two other companions on the outdoor patio of the Saint Marc restaurant when the waiter posed the intrusive and inappropriate question.

The restaurant tried to make amends:

The restaurant offered to host Brenda Carrillo and her friends as “VIP guests” over the weekend and to donate 10 percent of the weekend’s sales to a nonprofit of their choice. The friends also declined the VIP invitation but asked the restaurant to donate the portion of the sales to the Orange County Immigrant Youth United, which advocates for undocumented immigrants living in the country.

The behavior and rhetoric of our most prominent politicians is providing cover for individuals - like this waiter - to engage in private acts of racial and ethnic discrimination. There's a reason our forebears fought to integrate the lunch counter. Have a great day ...

Monday Reading List: Lawsuits, Remedial Courses, and TV Recommendations

I'm serving up an abbreviated Reading List today, but I promise to return with a real one tomorrow!

Alex Zimmerman is in Chalkbeat with the story of a lawsuit between a New York City charter network and the city's teachers' union.

VSB's Panama Jackson explains why you should be watching TIME: The Kalief Browder Story.

Lillian Mongeau of The Hechinger Report looks at the subset of US states that spend no money on early childhood education.

Finally, Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times looks at remedial programs in the City University of New York.

Have a great day!

Guest Post: John Thompson Responds to My Chalkbeat Article

John Thompson is a retired teacher, historian, author, and regular contributor at The Huffington Post. He writes about public schooling and has been an outspoken critic of "education reform," as it is practiced in this country today. Thompson and I have had regular, spirited, and cordial disagreements about education policy over the years. One time, we even got on the phone to talk about de-escalating the rhetoric between "education reformers" and "education traditionalists." (How delightfully old-fashioned of us!) When Thompson sent me this guest post, as a direct response to something I wrote in January, I couldn't resist posting it in its entirety.

Justin Cohen is “a technocratic public school graduate” who has been contemplating the ways that Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump could “kill the bipartisan education reform coalition.”  If that happens, Cohen will be disappointed, though not surprised, to see the movement dissolve.

Cohen fears that left-leaning reformers will then be “subsumed by the traditionalist agenda” which “still hews to the positions of management interests and labor leaders, and not closely enough to the needs of vulnerable families.”

Of course, I reject the implication that we in the traditional public schools - who accept challenges far more daunting than those faced by charter schools – are not closely attuned to the needs of the most vulnerable families. So, I’ll half-seriously counter Cohen’s technocratic game plan with a football coach’s aphorism. Darryl Royal famously said, “Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.”

The contemporary school reform movement’s incomplete pass sowed discord between allies in the fight for students' welfare, making it more difficult for us to come together in support of critical issues, such as healthcare, poverty, civil rights, and jobs.

The dramatic interception prompted by the reform coalition is that it has made so many teachers “miserable.” To his credit, Cohen acknowledged that teachers’ pushback includes “a genuine response to feeling like the teaching profession has become unmoored from joy and creativity,” and “that’s bad for children.”

Cohen counts charters as his conservative/neoliberal/liberal coalition’s completion. Of course, some charters do well. I’d say that Cohen overplays his hand when writing about “amazing charter schools that get stunning results.”  We could debate whether charters have done more good than harm, especially for the poorest children of color left behind in even more segregated schools. But what would be the point of continuing that debate?

I could also chide Cohen for his faith in technocracy.  But what good would that do?

I believe that reformers were terribly misguided when they tried to leverage “teacher quality” to drive increases in student performance. It was a mistake to believe instruction could advance in front of the other interconnected features of schooling. Certainly they misjudged how much could be changed inside classrooms before addressing healthcare, poverty, civil rights, and jobs.

I could say, “We told you so!,” but what good would that do?

On the other hand, I hope Cohen will ask why he and others were so willing to attack teachers and unions even though we had long been allies in the campaign for civil rights and economic opportunity? Why was Cohen so sure that he and his coalition was right, and teachers were so wrong, that they assaulted us so vociferously?

Cohen has campaigned for transformative change. I’ve committed to incrementalism. I believe that the best way to improve schools is to slow down, “plan your work and work your plan.” The biggest gains come from thinking ahead and avoiding “unforced errors.”

So, Cohen and his remaining teammates should take inventory of our differences, and ask how they could see them as equivalent to what separates us from Trump. We who seek improvements in the traditional public school system aren’t perfect, but neither are we evil.  If reformers joined in a Big Tent liberal reform movement, they would not need to be “subsumed by the traditionalist agenda.”

If we can’t unite against Trumpism, however, the consequences could be dire – even world historical. Cohen and other liberal and neoliberal reformers collaborated with quite a team of conservative reformers - who are now comfortable with DeVos and Trump. I don’t claim that that it would be easy for him (or us) to forget the bitter battles of the last 1-1/2 decades, but he should support a truce. I’d think it would be easier for him to bury the hatchet and work with teachers and unions than it was for him to deal with many of his former allies.

Thursday Reading List: Whither Regulations, Mississippi Finally Desegregates, and How NOT to Teach History Part Deux

Last week the education policy world had a collective tantrum as Congress decided to roll back the Obama administration's school accountability rules. Philissa Cramer of Chalkbeat wants to drag people back from the ledge:

You might think that education officials across the country were scrambling to respond to the changes. But in many of the state education departments that are responsible for turning federal rules into local policies, it’s business as usual ... That’s because the rolled-back regulations — which included some guidelines for how states should help low-performing schools and deal with districts where many students opt out of state tests — were not actually written into the federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. Instead, the Obama administration issued them last year in an effort to safeguard its education approach. States are currently locked in a process of translating federal regulations into their own plans.

As I said last week: states that want to keep their high standards will. That said, I'm willing to bet that some states will try to weasel out of older promises.

Speaking of keeping old promises, the city of Cleveland, Mississippi JUST got around to court-ordered desegregation. Aria Bendix of The Atlantic has the story:

School segregation did not end in 1954 with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. For the past 52 years, the Cleveland, Mississippi, school district has faced ongoing litigation in response to its racially divided high schools and middle schools. After decades of legal battles and failed integration initiatives, a settlement was finalized Monday, creating a single high school on the historically white Cleveland High campus and a single middle school on the historically black East Side High campus.

Gif LeBron is right. The irony, though, is that while Cleveland, Mississippi dragged its feet for six decades, the rest of the country re-segregated. School integration in this country peaked in 1988, when I was in elementary school. Since then, through the confluence of personal decisions, municipal zoning, housing law, and education policy, our schools are almost as segregated as they were in the 1950s.

Shifting focus to the criminal justice system, Eli Hager of The Marshall Project looks at a little-known "feature" of incarceration in America:

Today, mothers and fathers are billed for their children’s incarceration — in jails, detention centers, court-ordered treatment facilities, training schools or disciplinary camps — by 19 state juvenile-justice agencies, while in at least 28 other states, individual counties can legally do the same, a survey by The Marshall Project shows. Groups of law students, juvenile defense lawyers and others have begun to challenge this payment system, arguing that it is akin to taxing parents for their child’s loss of liberty — and punishing them with debt ... Because these parents are so often from poor communities, even the most aggressive efforts to bill them seldom bring in meaningful revenue.

Hager did an interview on WNYC with Leonard Lopate yesterday, which is worth a listen. This practice is a vestige of decades-old thinking in juvenile justice, which sought to generate more "parent buy-in" for disciplinary practices. The levels of depravity in our criminal justice system never ceases to amaze me.

Also, remember the segment from earlier this week on how NOT to teach the history of American slavery. Well:

On Thursday, March 9, a white Howard University professor opened Frederick Douglass’ slave narrative with the intention of teaching the class about the hardships of slavery, and turned his classroom into a mock slave auction. 

Just ... no.

Wednesday Reading List: School Principals, Reaching Off-Track Kids, and Vouchers

I'm a few days late to the party on this, but David Leonhardt has a great piece in The New York Times about the power of the school principal:

To be clear, teachers matter enormously. Rigorous research has found that high-performing teachers don’t only help their students do better on the standardized tests everyone loves to hate; their students also graduate from college at a higher rate and earn more money as adults. Great teachers, quite simply, change lives. On the other end of the spectrum, struggling teachers do not get enough support, and it’s too hard to fire those who fail to improve. Principals are so important because they offer one of the most effective means to improve teaching ... Tom Boasberg, Denver’s superintendent, put it this way: “Your ability to attract and keep good teachers and your ability to develop good teachers, in an unbelievably challenging and complex profession, is so dependent on your principals.”

This isn't an either/or conversation; education policy should focus on the quality of both the principal and the teacher. That said, I sense that most Americans have a picayune, outdated view of the school principal ... in the meantime, that school leader manages a multi-million dollar budget, has a staff of dozens, and bears the ultimate responsibility for the educational health of a community. The gap between the perceived importance of the job, and the actual magnitude of the role, is vast.

The more adverse the circumstances, the harder the job. Monica Disare interviewed Tim Lisante for The Atlantic; Lisante oversees all of the schools that serve children who have fallen behind in high school in New York City, including the school at the jail on Rikers Island:

New York has come under scrutiny for how it treats youth in the criminal-justice system. It is one of two states nationwide that still prosecutes all youth as adults when they turn 16, though legislators are engaged in a battle this year to change that. A 2014 report by the former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara found a “deep-seated culture of violence” at the adolescent facilities on Rikers Island, and the city proposed a plan to move 16- and 17-year olds from the island to a facility in the Bronx. Against that backdrop, Lisante is working to restore hope. He said the worst part of his job is seeing teenagers who seem to have given up, but the best part is watching those same young adults turn a corner.

While the children who struggle the most are an afterthought in most school systems, this interview hits you over the head with the consequences of not attending to the educational, and socioemotional, needs of the most challenging students. The criminal justice system in America has become the placement-of-last-resort for off-track children, and nothing makes that point in so devastating a way as the fact that there are 16- and 17-year olds at Rikers Island.

In other news, Laura Faith Kebede of Chalkbeat looks at the tension emerging from the push for school vouchers in Tennessee:

The strongest voices against Tennessee’s leading school voucher proposal this year are coming from the very community it’s supposed to help. Public school advocates in Memphis say the bill that advanced last week in the state legislature is more about establishing a voucher toehold in Tennessee than helping children in their city’s lowest-performing schools ... Their bill, which breezed through two legislative panels last week in Nashville, is to be debated next in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee. Sponsors have offered an alternative bill to the legislation that died on the House floor last year, and the goal is to get vouchers passed this time. That means singling out the city with one of the state’s highest poverty rates.

There's a lot of subtext here, so I want to excerpt a second section from the very end of the article:

Knowing the failures of previous statewide voucher proposals, [Memphis resident Feroza] Freeland said she is skeptical of the intentions behind the Memphis bill. “Lawmakers from rural areas across the state were like, ‘No, we don’t want this,’” she said. “But now, they think if they just target it to Shelby County, all those lawmakers who voted no before are going to say, ‘Well, it doesn’t affect my county. I don’t care, I’ll vote yes,’ and I really think that’s a sneaky way to go about that.”

Instances like this do a nice job of revealing the incoherence of the conservative position on vouchers. It's very hard to argue that we ought to "make educational decisions locally," when the Tennessee legislature passes laws that only apply to the city of Memphis.

Finally, Damon Young at VSB has a helpful list of the most dangerous kind of "'Good' White People." For example:

10. The Self-Flagellating And Lazy Liberal ... Won’t actually do any social justice work in their own lives and won’t actually examine themselves to see how they contribute to and take advantage of bias and privilege, but will definitely share the shit out of piece from The Atlantic about racism on their social media platforms; ultimately believing that feeling really, really, really, really, really bad about racism is enough to replace actually doing something about it.

I found elements of myself that I'm not proud of in at least three of the ten archetypes on this list, in particular the one above and "The Point Seeking Progressive," a version of the character I once called "Wokey McWokerson." If you're white, and you're not thinking about racism in a way that is both personal and that applies to your own behaviors, you're doing it wrong. Have a great day!

Tuesday Reading List: Advanced Courses, College Financial Aid, and How NOT to Teach History

Sarah Butrymowicz, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at the effect of placing more high school students in advanced courses:

Rogers High School’s work is modeled off efforts by Steven Gering, Spokane’s chief innovation and research officer and a former principal at another Spokane school. During his tenure, North Central High School recorded the largest increase in the state in the percentage of students attending college after graduation, according to Gering’s analysis of state data. But Rogers High, in an imposing building in the city’s poorest neighborhood, may be a tougher test for whether the idea can work with all students in this economically diverse city of roughly 200,000. About 78 percent of Rogers’ 1,500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and nearly a fifth receive special education services, according to state data. Rogers has the lowest college-going rate in the district. But it has made the most improvement in the last five years, raising that rate from 43 percent in 2011 to 53 percent in 2015 ...

Getting more low-income students into college requires a combination of more rigorous coursework, support for byzantine application requirements, and financial assistance. Persistence in college, however, might be a more important statistic than admission, as many vulnerable students leave colleges within two years of matriculating. There's compelling evidence that advanced courses can have a significant impact on persistence.

The financial leg of the college persistence stool became more difficult this month. Sarah Dynarski has the story in The New York Times:

To get aid for college from the federal or state governments, as well as from colleges, students and their parents must fill out the Fafsa (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The notoriously complicated form, which is longer than the typical 1040, collects detailed information from students and families about income, expenses and taxes. On March 3, families logging onto the website for federal aid found that a key component of the online application had stopped functioning. The broken element, known as the Data Retrieval Tool, automatically fills in a Fafsa application with information from an applicant’s tax return ... Completing the Fafsa is now going to require more legwork, more paperwork and more time ... Fafsas completed without using the data tool are more likely to be chosen for “verification,” an audit that requires applicants to submit additional paperwork to prove that their tax information is accurate.

The Fafsa process is unnecessarily complicated, in part because our tax system is unnecessarily complicated.  The Obama administration took steps to simplify the application process, but this rollback will make the college application and financing process harder for the families whose children most need higher education as a pathway to economic opportunity.

In other news, Erin Einhorn, writing at Chalkbeat, tries to pin down the school rating system in Michigan:

[Education professor Sarah] Lenhoff ran an analysis of the 2014 and 2016 rankings that identified 74 Michigan schools that saw their rankings go up or down by 50 or more points between 2014 and 2016. That includes 31 schools that fell precipitously in the rankings and 43 that leapt from the bottom to the top. More than 500 schools saw a change of at least 25 percentage points — roughly a fifth of the more than 2,500 schools that were ranked in both 2014 and 2016.

That's a lot of volatility. I'm a big fan of transparent school accountability, and while states should continuously tweak and improve their ranking systems, wild swings in school ratings are counterproductive. Ratings systems cannot maintain their legitimacy when schools move arbitrarily up and down from year to year. Stories like this are perfect cannon fodder for groups that want to curtail - or outright kill - school accountability.

Finally, Breanna Edwards of The Root reports on how NOT to teach history:

A New Jersey elementary school is facing heat after attention was brought to a mandatory fifth-grade assignment that asked students to draw “examples of an event that would occur during [your] assigned colonial time period, including a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction.” The posters were seen hanging in the hallway at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange during parent-teacher conferences. School Superintendent John Ramos said in a note to parents that the assignment was part of a larger Colonial America unit ... Jamil Karriem shared images of some of the posters on Facebook, emphasizing that educating young students on the harsh realities of [slavery] was not the problem, but adding that “the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent.”

I don't think I need to add much here. Have a good day ...


Monday Reading List: Improving Schools, Teacher Pensions, and Michelle Obama's Pop-Ins

Last week, Mitchell Chester and John White - the state education commissioners of Massachusetts and Louisiana respectively - wrote in The Washington Post about improving chronically underperforming schools:

Bringing dramatic change to such schools has rightly become a national priority, in part because of the federal government’s multi-billion-dollar investment in School Improvement Grants, or SIG, Now, however, the U.S. Education Department’s own research arm reports that the massive federal effort has not demonstrated meaningful gains. Despite local bright spots, some analysts issued a tough verdict: No one knows what to do about chronically struggling schools. Not only is that false, it perpetuates an unproductive dichotomy: Throw more money into broken systems, or write off the schools we have today and focus exclusively on small-scale alternatives. The first is indefensible; the second fails to help kids stuck in awful schools where alternatives are unlikely to emerge in the near future. With more than $1 billion available annually under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, now dedicated to improving bad schools, states cannot afford philosophical debates.

Chester and White describe the successful strategies they have seen, which - in the interest of full disclosure - I advised them about when I was president of a nonprofit that supported this sort of work. I have seen schools make massive improvements, but not without major changes to both the school itself, and to how the school relates to, and draws on the support of, the broader community.

In other news, Mary Williams Walsh, writing in The New York Times, looks at the precarious structure of teacher pensions in Puerto Rico:

Pension funds are supposed to be giant, largely self-sustaining pools of money, contributed by taxpayers and often workers, that earn investment income. Over time, the money is supposed to grow enough to pay retirees. Knowing this, teachers might reasonably expect to get a pension worth more than what they invested. But that is not always the case.  In Puerto Rico, for instance, the pension funds are so short of cash that money contributed by working teachers basically flows straight out to retirees. None of Puerto Rico’s current teachers can expect to get their money back, because the fund is due to run out of money in 2018, long before they retire. That is, essentially, a Ponzi scheme. But this structure is legal in Puerto Rico because of a complicated series of changes in the law brought about in recent years by the island’s financial crisis.

The financial position of public pension systems is fragile just about everywhere in the United States, but the Puerto Rico situation is on the extreme end of danger. Teacher retirement financing is an issue that wonks love to stress about, but it never seem to capture attention beyond a small group of fiscally conservative doomsayers. That said, this storyline is another indicator that the Baby Boomers will be the last generation that can count on any sort of collective retirement security, unless something substantial changes in the next couple of decades.

Matt Krupnick, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at how college scholarship programs sell student data for a profit:

Known by the sales term “lead generators,” these companies pass along email addresses, phone numbers and home addresses to marketing partners, such as colleges and textbook companies, and students soon find themselves getting calls and emails they didn’t know to expect. Colleges and publishers pay anywhere from a couple of dollars per click to hundreds of dollars for students’ personal information ... Edvisors declined to say how many students win awards through ScholarshipPoints. The odds of winning one of the random drawings vary depending on the number of entrants. The Federal Trade Commission has been trying to shine a light on lead generators in all sorts of industries and has sued companies that offered homeowners low mortgage rates only to collect and sell their personal and financial information to other lenders.

I guess the old internet age adage applies to this situation: if you're not paying, you're the product.

Finally, on a more encouraging note, Panama Jackson at VSB explains why Michelle Obama's pop-ins at Washington DC schools are so meaningful:

The fact that Auntie Michelle has done this twice means that on any given day, she might show up anywhere, change your life for a few minutes, wipe the dirt off her shoulders, then ride off into the sunset back to Kalorama and do whatever it is the Obama’s do in the evenings in preparation for the next day ... I think that Auntie Michelle’s willingness and desire to go talk with students who might not realize how important they are speaks volumes about why we love her (and them) so. She gets it. She has a platform and she knows that her presence can change a day, and possibly a life. And she’s not squandering that responsibility. She’s out here giving life affirming hugs.

I can think of no better advice to start your week than, "Give life affirming hugs."