Thursday Reading List: The White House Makes Moves, North Carolina Ponders Bad Ideas, and Homework

Emma Brown of The Washington Post looks at the White House's latest moves on education:

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that requires Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to study whether and how the federal government has overstepped its legal authority in K-12 schools, a move he framed as part of a broader effort to shift power from Washington to states and local communities ... the order gives DeVos 300 days to conduct a review to identify any regulations or guidance related to K-12 schools that is inconsistent with federal law. The review will be led by a task force headed by Robert Eitel, a senior counselor to DeVos who previously worked for a for-profit college company.

The fact that this review is happening within the department means there will be a lot less transparency than if the process were happening through a legislative process. As this review develops, I'd love to hear from advocates and experts who have either an informed view of the proceedings, or strong opinions about how it should proceed.

Meanwhile in the states, Liz Bell of Ed North Carolina reminds us why charter advocates can't have nice things:

The [North Carolina] House K-12 education committee Monday gave favorable reports to several pieces of legislation that would change charter school laws ... One proposed measure gives priority enrollment to children of employees from a corporation that helps fund a charter school. House Bill 800, which goes before the full House today, would allow corporations called “charter partners” to grant priority enrollment to its employees’ children. To be a charter partner, the business has to donate property or the school building or help the school with renovations or technological resources. No more than 50 percent of the student population would be given priority in the charter school’s lottery.

Wow, this is a truly terrible idea. Not only does this legislation feed the notion that charters exist to benefit their corporate backers, but it also would provide fuel to the fire for folks who insist that charters are not public schools. If you support high quality public charter schools, and you're backing this legislation, you're hurting your cause.

Speaking of North Carolina, Tommy Tomlinson of Esquire profiled Reverend William Barber, who entered the national spotlight after his fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention:

Since 2013, he has led a series of rallies in Raleigh that have come to be known as Moral Mondays. From the beginning, they challenged the state's Republican-dominated legislature and its Republican governor, Pat McCrory. That first year, more than nine hundred protesters, including Barber himself, were arrested for filling the legislative building and refusing to leave. They persisted. Voters paid attention. Moral Mondays helped defeat McCrory in last year's election, even as the state turned red in the presidential race. Barber spent 2016 traveling to twenty-two states to build similar movements around the country ... The opposition to Trump so far has been powerful but leaderless—millions of bodies but not many faces. But Barber is working his way toward the middle of the frame.

Barber is building a progressive, multi-faith, multi-racial coalition, and it's fascinating to understand the opportunities and threats involved in that endeavor. It's been a while since the political left has seen a national leader with a theological background, and the fact that Barber is emerging during a period when the right is departing from evangelicalism to embrace ethnic nationalism is notable.

Finally today, Kyle Spencer is in The New York Times examining parents' perceptions of homework:

Researchers who study academic history said they were not surprised that debate over young children and homework had resurfaced now. Education and parenting trends are cyclical, and the nation is coming off a stress-inducing, federally mandated accountability push that has put standardized testing at the center of the national education debate. Further, many parents say that homework has become particularly stressful since the arrival of Common Core, a set of rigorous and often confusing learning goals adopted by many states. Tom Hatch, a professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, said homework wars were really a proxy fight about what constitutes learning. He added that they were intrinsically linked to the debates over standardized testing that have fueled the national “opt-out” movement. “It’s a small part of a larger conversation about how kids should spend their time,” Professor Hatch said.

The notion that the homework and testing debates are linked through the uber-category of how kids spend time is compelling. I hope that today's technocrats are finding ways to make accountability and measurement more streamlined and less obtrusive. We need to know how children are doing in school, but public sentiment on both sides of the political spectrum has stacked up hard against the current accountability regimes. Have a great day! 

Wednesday Reading List: The School Choices of the Privileged, Career Education, and Rising Ethnic Nationalism

Patrick Wall, writing in The Atlantic, looks at the school choices of the wealthy:

The main way well-off families choose schools is by choosing where to live. Increasingly, they’re settling in districts where most children look like theirs ... Students in some of the richest districts score four grade levels above their peers in the poorest districts, [Stanford Professor Sean] Reardon found. Even within diverse districts, rich and poor students—which often also means white and nonwhite students—are frequently sorted into separate schools. In their analysis of large districts, Owens, Reardon, and Jencks found that segregation between poor and non-poor students in public schools grew more than 40 percent from 1991 to 2012. Rising residential segregation by income has fueled that growth, as most children attend their local public school.

Wall outlines the modest ways in which New York City has tried to curb this segregation by wealth, but the city's - and the country's - schools remain stubbornly divided. While Wall may be  too optimistic about the potential for selflessness among better-off families, he's right to focus on their school choices. De facto segregation is a consequence of the choices of the privileged.

In related news, Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat looks at the city's plan to expand universal pre-K to three-year-olds:

The latest initiative will take a while to reach every 3-year-old in the city. The city plans to fund eight districts on its own by 2021, but also wants to raise enough outside funding to make it universal by that time. Once fully rolled out, the city expects to serve 62,000 children in 3-K at a cost of more than $1 billion — though de Blasio called that price tag “an early estimate.” The city expects to contribute $177 million, on top of $200 million already being spent by the Administration for Children’s Services. The remaining $700 million would come from state and federal sources. Over the past two years, the city has enrolled at least 50,000 additional students in pre-K programs for 4-year-olds, bringing the total to more than 70,000. Still, research has shown the city’s program is highly segregated — a reality schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has described as a product of parent choice.

First of all, universal early childhood education is a step in the right direction, as a rich pre-K experience seems to have profound effects on literacy. That said, I'm troubled by the segregated nature of the program, and particularly the city's hapless response to that fact. The addition of pre-K is probably the largest expansion of public services in the city since high school became compulsory in the last century, and acquiescing to de facto segregation further entrenches racial and socioeconomic segregation in this public system.  "Parent choice" isn't a new phenomenon, as the decisions of wealthier families are the exact reason that northern schools became de facto segregated during the 20th century. The mayor and chancellor should know this, but they're just shrugging like, "The privileged gonna privilege."

Moving south, Nichole Dobo of The Hechinger Report looks at a new career program in Tennessee:

This student flourished at the Mechatronics Akademie, a modern iteration of career and technical education for high school students. Created through a partnership between the local department of education, the Volkswagen Chattanooga factory and Chattanooga State Community College, it uses online and in-person instruction in an out-of-school setting to prepare students who might not pursue higher education after high school. But this isn’t the easy way out. The students are tackling tough courses, such as advanced math, and classes that qualify them for college credits and job certifications.

When it comes to these sorts of programs, my big questions are twofold. First, do the skills and certifications acquired lead to real jobs with good wages and benefits? "Living wages" aren't enough. Second, are the skills and credits sufficiently transferable, such that the students who participate have some immunity from economic shifts and market vicissitudes. Being ready for a job is great, but being ready for just that job can be economically fatal to individuals and a community. See also: coal.

Finally today, David Leonhardt of The New York Times puts the domestic surge in ethnic nationalism in an international context:

Too many people — well-meaning people on both the left and right — have grown complacent about nationalist bigotry. They are erring on the side of putting other priorities first, and ethnic nationalism is benefiting. Let’s start on the political left. And, no, I’m not about to lapse into false equivalence. Ethnic nationalism is largely a force of the right. But the left needs to decide how to respond, and it hasn’t been effective enough so far. It has underestimated the threat and put smaller matters ahead of larger ones. After France’s first round of voting, the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse the last person who can prevent [far right ethnic nationalist candidate Marine] Le Pen from becoming president, Emmanuel Macron. A Le Pen presidency, to be clear, would likely tear Europe asunder, marginalize French citizens who hail from Africa and the Middle East and lead to a big expansion of security forces. It would be the biggest victory for Europe’s far right since World War II, by far.

Leonhardt's argument is likely to annoy some people, and that's why it's worth reading. Some of us - whether due to our race, ethnicity, religion, or gender - are uniquely attuned to the risks inherent in the rise of ethnic nationalism. Those risks are much more severe than those that come with empowering deal-making centrists. Have a great day ...

Tuesday Reading List: Eradicating the Symbols of Oppression, Fighting Bias, and Listening to Communities

On Sunday, HBO aired a film adaptation of Rebecca Skloot's landmark book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Panama Jackson of VSB puts Lacks's story in historical context:

Her cells have helped in the fight to cure and treat everything from polio to in vitro fertilization. Henrietta Lacks’ cells are an industry unto themselves. Johns Hopkins University, the famous research institution in Baltimore, MD, is where her cancerous cells were removed, studied, and discovered to have the reproductive properties necessary to do the type of research doctors had been attempting to achieve for some time ... the cells were harvested and then used without her consent (apparently some of her cancerous cells were taken during the autopsy) and then used far and wide by companies that profited because of them ... This begs the question: how exactly do you compensate for such a significant wrong that was done to a family, one in which money was being made hand over fist? And who cuts that check? This reminds me of another recent case: Georgetown University. Georgetown profited from slavery, recently acknowledging the sale of 272 slaves to pay off debts and basically keep the doors open. Once you acknowledge something so heinous, you have to do something about it.

If you haven't read the book (or seen the HBO adaptation), check it out. While the injustices perpetrated on the body of Henrietta Lacks are clear, not to mention documented, the use of her body for profit is symbolic of the broader harm inflicted on the Black community over the centuries. As the Associated Press reports in the New York Post, the city of New Orleans is finally starting to reckon with a different kind of symbolism:

Workers in New Orleans began removing the first of four prominent Confederate monuments early Monday, the latest Southern institution to sever itself from symbols viewed by many as a representation of racism and white supremacy. Trucks arrived to begin removing the first memorial, one that commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government in New Orleans, around 1:25 a.m. in an attempt to avoid disruption from supporters who want the monuments to stay, some of whom city officials said have made death threats ... Three other statues to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis will be removed in later days now that legal challenges have been overcome.

The city's mayor, Mitch Landrieu, puts the statues in context:

“The monuments are an aberration,” he said. “They’re actually a denial of our history and they were done in a time when people who still controlled the Confederacy were in charge of this city and it only represents a four-year period ...”

That final point is critical: the Confederacy existed for the express purpose of preserving chattel slavery and only lasted for four years. The people who want to protect the symbols of that era are protecting white supremacy and little else.

Further north, Sharif El-Mekki, writing at Philly's 7th Ward, has some advice for white people who don't want to preserve white supremacy:

There are white people who have engaged in the lifelong and difficult work of deconstructing white supremacy and begin with working on themselves and their people. They read books, attend workshops, have difficult conversations and access resources that will help. Bias impacts us all, it’s like an infective cloud. Often, folks elect politicians who are unwilling to actively confront their biases. These politicians inevitably implement what amounts to racist policies that dovetails with the institutional racism that has oppressed communities of color forever. That’s one area that folks can start. One thing you can do to help is to commit to ending the political lives of those who oppress through policies.

I don't think I have to defend the notion that there are contemporary politicians who harbor racial biases. Those racial biases, when translated into policy, become institutional racism. Personal prejudice and institutional racism are two separate phenomena, but as El-Mekki demonstrates, they are deeply interrelated.

Finally today, Josh Benjamin - a teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts - is in The Hechinger Report discussing how to be an effective teacher in a community that is not his own:

... know your community. I can’t overstate the importance of learning a community’s stories by asking questions from a stance of genuine curiosity and humility. Where do families come from? What languages do they speak at home? What are their hopes and concerns? What has been their past experience with school? If we continually look for the answers to these questions, then we can support families’ aspirations for their children and become a part of their stories. When we move from being outsiders teaching “other people’s children,” as Lisa Delpit put it, to being insiders rallying around a community’s dreams for its kids, we begin to narrow the cultural gap.

Shorter version: Listen!

Benjamin has other tactical advice, but the importance of knowing the community in which you work cannot be overstated. Many of the patterns associated with poverty, institutional racism, and privilege are recognizable from place to place. But whereas the patterns are familiar, the details and histories are unique. You can't empathize if you generalize. Get specific. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Mastery-Based Learning, Veterans in College, and Shady Activism

Tara García Mathewson of The Hechinger Report studied a Connecticut district that ditched traditional "grades" in favor of "mastery":

The small Connecticut town, just south of the Massachusetts border, is in its fifth year under a system that asks students to master specific skills in every subject. They can’t just do all their homework and ask for extra credit projects to obscure the fact that they didn’t truly learn something ... Each semester, progress is the goal. Students who take longer to learn something aren’t penalized for it, and they don’t get the chance to give up and move on. Actual mastery is the new bar for passing classes. Teachers have had to get more creative in helping students understand new concepts, and students have had to take a lot more responsibility for their own learning. Sitting quietly at the back of the room is no longer an option in classrooms that prize student engagement.

In theory, this method of assessing and rewarding progress is far superior to the eighteenth century model we see in most schools. That said, implementing mastery-based instruction is considerably more difficult for teachers; without the concomitant training and resources, this model can fall flat.

Jon Marcus of The Atlantic looks at weak graduation rates for veterans:

Many colleges and universities that eagerly recruit military veterans and the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them offer nowhere near as much support, and their student-veterans rarely get degrees, according to data obtained from the Departments of Defense, Education, and Veterans Affairs ... At nearly a third of the 20 two-year schools that enrolled at least 100 veterans receiving GI Bill benefits and who are eligible for degrees, none of them got one. These aren’t for-profit colleges and universities, some of which Democrats in Congress say treat veterans and service members like “dollar signs in uniform,” targeting them for the billions of dollars in education benefits they bring. They’re public community colleges at which student-veterans’ educations are subsidized not once, but twice, by taxpayers: through support of the colleges directly and with those billions in GI Bill money.

Whereas veterans tend to do better in four-year institutions, the public community college system seems ill-equipped to deal with the particular challenges of educating these students. This article also flags the inherent complications of measuring accountability at community colleges. These schools tend to enroll many more "non traditional students" - like the older population of veterans - with different and more varied goals. Whereas students at four-year institutions are somewhat single-mindedly focused on graduation, success at a community college can look quite different.

Chris Stewart of Citizen Ed looks at what happens when ideologues hunt for scandals. When the Network for Public Education tweeted a picture of a Black male educator, alluding to a criminal record in his distant past, they put education politics over human decency:

His name is Koai Matthews and he is an interim principal at a Memphis area charter school called Lester Prep. When hired by Lester Prep’s charter management organization Matthews went through a thorough process that revealed a felony criminal conviction. He never hid it. He was straight up about it. Took responsibility. He had to produce character witnesses and a written personal statement explaining his journey after the conviction. Since his 2005 conviction Matthews earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Education and Leadership, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and Teaching, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration. By most standards that’s considered a successful story.

The Network for Public Education, on the other hand, called this "another charter scandal," without considering the fact that they were perpetuating a series of myths about the criminality of Black men. I truly despise this sort of "activism." You'll never see the Network for Public Education commenting on "scandals" in traditional public schools, because that would compromise their ideological agenda to lambaste a certain kind of school. For the record, I also get pissed off when folks on the other side of the charter debate cherry-pick scandals at traditional public schools to score political points.

Have a great day!

Wednesday Reading List: Teens Organize to Fight Sexual Assault, How Not to Increase Teacher Pay, and 2017's Most Awkward Road Trip

Tyler Kingkade is in BuzzFeed, following a group of Orgeon teens who are reshaping how public schools respond to sexual assault:

 Bella brought about that change, turning her frustration with how Ashland High School dealt with her sexual assault report into activism that galvanized her classmates and forced the school district to overhaul its approach to sexual violence. And she did it with little more than help from friends and guidance from a single advocate at a local rape crisis center ... Over the past few years, student activism has pushed the US government to crack down on how colleges handle sexual assault cases, prompting a sixfold increase in federal Title IX investigations of campuses. Meanwhile, the rate of K-12 schools being investigated for the same problems has grown at the same rate, from 23 in July 2014 to 141 today, yet combatting sexual violence among teens hasn’t gotten nearly as much government attention as college sexual assault has.

Kingkade tells the Ashland story, while also exploring how schools might play a more proactive role in preventing assault. One way to do that would be through more robust sex education in schools, but alas, that area continues to be a minefield of local politics.

Speaking of local politics, Justin Davidson is in New York with a long piece on the urban-rural political divide in America:

The power struggle between urban and nonurban America has gone on since the 18th century and will likely continue for generations. The tension is baked into the Constitution, which tilts the balance of power toward rural states. Thanks to the vagaries of the Electoral College, today’s Wyoming voter has nearly four times the clout in a presidential election of a voter in California, and both states get the same number of senators. That deliberate imbalance is why Trump was able to carry the election while not just dismissing cities but denigrating them ... Already liberals are deploying formerly Republican positions (and legal precedents handed down by a conservative Supreme Court) to argue in favor of local independence, while conservatives insist on imposing the will of a federal government they claim to despise. It’s a liberal cities’-rights movement as opposed to a conservative call for the rights of states.

The tension between "red state" and "blue city" is a very real phenomenon in education right now. Davidson doesn't provide any real solutions here, but he does a nice job of summarizing the historical political problems. Surprise surprise: there's a racial component to the breakdown, as rural areas are about 80% white, whereas white people tend to be one of several minority populations in cities.

Andy Rotherham and Kaitlin Pennington are in The 74 analyzing a California proposal to eliminate income taxes for teachers. Spoiler alert, they don't like it:

... if you want teachers to make more money, well, then pay teachers more. Providing teachers with tax incentives is a gimmicky and confusing way to raise teacher compensation. Right now the federal tax code has a “feel good” provision allowing teachers to claim a tax deduction for school supplies they purchase out of pocket. But many can’t use it because of how they file their taxes. A better idea would be to just adequately resource schools so that teachers aren’t paying out of pocket for work supplies as though they were contractors. If California legislators wish to raise teacher salaries, they should do just that.

This position seems reasonable to me. Teachers should make more money, especially earlier in their careers, but the tax system is a terrible venue through which to accomplish that goal.

Finally, Alyson Klein of Education Week offers a first nomination for 2017's "Most Awkward Road Trip" award:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, will be making their very first appearance together, in the Van Wert, Ohio, school district Thursday. The visit has been a few months in the making. Shortly after taking office, DeVos agreed to visit a traditional public school with Weingarten. And in return, Weingarten, who vehemently opposed DeVos' confirmation, said she would tour a "school of choice" with DeVos. (That visit hasn't been scheduled yet.) Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, told Politico that she didn't want to have a relationship with DeVos at all.

I've been able to secure some live footage from the event ...

If you're old enough to get the joke, and are offended by it, don't @ me ...

Tuesday Reading List: Rehashing the 1990s, SCOTUS & school choice, and White Male Identity Politics

Morgan Freeman is planning to produce a new film about Rodney King. Monique Judge of The Root digs in:

April 29 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, also known as the Rodney King Riots, and the man whose beating by police was captured on film and brought the topic of race to the forefront of the national conversation may soon be the subject of a new docuseries ... King’s youth with an alcoholic father, the behind the scenes turmoil of his civil trial, his life post-trial and his reluctant status as a civil rights figure will be explored and told through his own voice with the use of intimate home video footage. Revelations [Entertainment], along with director Sheldon Wilson, has acquired the rights to 20 hours of newly discovered and never-before-seen video footage of King that was filmed over a 12-year period before his 2012 death ...

It's hard to overstate the impact of 1992 and its immediate aftermath on my psyche. At the risk of oversharing, I was in elementary school in 1992, and my life's first two political memories are: 1) arguing with a close friend when he defended the police who assaulted Rodney King, and 2) writing a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to lift the ban on gay men and women serving in the military (seriously ... the link=receipts). I trace my own personal and political awakening about issues of race and justice back to this period in history; I'm sure I'm not alone. There is a direct through-line from the video of King's beating, to the cell phone videos of police violence today.

In other news, Mark Walsh of Education Week is watching a current Supreme Court case for signals about the future of school voucher programs:

The court's decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (Case No 15-577), which it was slated to hear this week, could weaken or eliminate one of the last legal barriers to vouchers and tax credits for use at private religious schools: state constitutional provisions that strictly bar government aid to religion ... If the Supreme Court were to rule that the Missouri state constitution's language that "no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion" had to give way to Trinity Lutheran's federal constitutional right to participate in the recycled-tire grant program, that would put the court's stamp on "government funding of a church," [Willamette Professor Steven K.] Green said. "That would set in motion [a situation in which] the government could fund other aspects of religion," including private school vouchers, he said. "There is a larger principle at stake."

The case itself involves the use of recycled tires to make materials for a church playground. I'm not a constitutional scholar, but those facts are tailored to tug at the public's heartstrings. The principles undergirding the case are much more foundational than church playgrounds, though. Call me old fashioned, but providing public money to subsidize private religious schooling does not advance the project of having an educated populace with a collective stake in social mobility for all people.

That's not say that our public institutions always do an admirable job of fostering inclusiveness over divisiveness. Here's Nicholas Garcia in Chalkbeat, covering the recent deliberations of the Colorado State Board of Education:

The State Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved Colorado’s federally required education plan, but not before two of its most outspoken members questioned whether it would make any difference and clashed over which students would benefit. “Unless you’re poor or a minority or from another identity politics group, there is nothing in this plan that will benefit you,” said board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican. “There’s nothing in this plan to improve the education of your children" ... Colorado’s public schools serve about 905,000 students. About 42 percent qualify for free or discounted lunches, a proxy of poverty. A similar proportion of students are non-white. Both populations are growing in the state.

First of all, lol at the term "identity politics group." 

I want to share a little secret with everyone ... come in close ...

*whispers* All politics are identity politics.

Whether or not Steve Durham realizes this fact, he is a white Republican man from Colorado Springs. That particular identity informs his political interests. Those interests emerge from some amalgam of his values and experiences of the world, and in this particular case, cause him to think that people who share his identity should be the beneficiaries of education policymaking. That's literally how politics works, it's just that some people (mostly Republicans and political centrists) like to label things pejoratively as "identity politics" when non-white, non-male groups realize their political goals and preferences.

Finally today, the team at Blavity looks at a new online course, based on Hidden Figures:

The book-turned-blockbuster smash has now been readied for the classroom in an online course from Journeys in Film. According to the organization's website, the curriculum will be "grounded in the empowerment of women in historical and contemporary STEM leadership" ... Journeys in Film offers lesson plans rooted in the legacy of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson. Each lesson, eight in total, will use both the book and the film as a source of inspiration while challenging course-goers to really examine the implications race, gender and class have on a society.

Someone should enroll Colorado state board member Steve Durham in this course. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Senator Bennet on Bipartisanship, Quantifying Privilege, and Privacy

Chalkbeat's Eric Gorski interviewed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. They discussed the protection of immigrants' rights and the Denver public  schools, but Bennet reserved his sharpest words for US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos:

I read the other day that she said when asked about the results that had occurred in the Michigan schools and the Detroit schools, her answer to that was that she wasn’t a numbers person, and that she was just for choice. Choice is not choice for choice’s sake. Choice is about improving outcomes for kids and you cannot do that without real accountability that ensures that there is rigor, that we are moving towards rigor, for kids that are choosing schools in the system. I wish she would come to Denver and take a look at the work that’s been done here, both in terms of choice and in terms of trying to move our traditional schools forward.

Hmmm, where have I heard that position before. Bennet subsequently confirms that bipartisanship feels like a lost cause, even in the august halls of the United State Senate. If you were still wondering whether there was a chance to advance education policy at the federal level during the Trump era, Bennet's comments should be a nail in the coffin for your fledgling hopes.

In other news, Michael Harriott of The Root wants to start quantifying the concept of white privilege:

Imagine the entire history of the United States as a 500-year-old relay race, where whites began running as soon as the gun sounded, but blacks had to stay in the starting blocks until they were allowed to run. If the finish line is the same for everyone, then the time and distance advantage between the two runners is white privilege. Not only can we see it, but we can actually measure it. If we begin viewing it as an economic term—the same way we use “trickle-down economics”—then it might be debatable, but it becomes a real, definable thing that we can acknowledge, explain and work toward eliminating. Race might be a social construct, but white privilege is an economic theory that we should define as such: "White privilege: n. The quantitative advantage of whiteness"

Harriott posits four primary factors that might contribute to the aggregate quantitative advantage: education, income, spending, and employment. Regular readers will guess that I think real estate ought to be on this list as well, as housing constitutes the primary source of property wealth for many white families. I think Harriott is on to something here; too often we talk about privilege as some ephemeral concept, but when we boil down the economic realities of systemic racism, it's hard to argue with the numbers.

Olivia Deng is in The Atlantic, wondering if the push for gender equity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) might have an equal an opposite effect on the arts:

In the U.S., women make up close to 50 percent of the workforce but hold less than 25 percent of jobs in “STEM” professions—science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a gap the country has long been on a campaign to fix, with government initiatives, privately funded diversity programs (including Apple’s), colleges that offer special STEM support for women, and other incentives. But now, Donald Trump has thrown women-in-STEM advocates for a loop. Last month, his budget blueprint proposed significant cuts in funding for science and health agencies, draining resources for researchers. For women in science, who receive less funding than their male counterparts, such cuts could be especially crippling. For some women outside of the sciences, however, the proposed cuts only underscore a parallel problem women face in the arts—one that they say hasn’t received the same amount of attention. While Trump recently signed two bills to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM, there are no arts-and-humanities equivalents. And Trump’s budget proposes doing away with the National Endowment for the Arts entirely.

First of all, gender equity - including both representation and pay parity - should be our goal for the workforce, across fields. The fact that increasing focus on the sciences comes at the expense of the arts is indicative of how much work we have left to do. Second, Deng shares troubling statistics, namely that women outnumber men in formal art training programs, but are underrepresented vis-a-vis commercial representation in galleries. In other words, this is not a "pipeline issue," as contrarians often will argue about gender and racial representation.

Finally today, Sarah Sparks of Education Week looks at the fine print of user agreements for education apps:

A 2016 survey by the Consortium for School Networking found nearly all its members (mostly school district education-technology officials) are using or plan to use digital open educational resources in the next three years, but fewer than half have clear policies on how apps are selected and used to safeguard students' privacy and teachers' intellectual property ... A 2016 study led by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University compared the written privacy policies of nearly 18,000 free apps targeted to children to the actual computer code that ran the applications. It found that out of more than 9,000 apps that had a privacy policy, more than half had conflicts between what the privacy policy said the app did and what the code revealed that it actually did. Among the most common sins were those of omission: companies that collected location or time-on-task data without disclosing that information. For example, more than 40 percent of the apps collected location information, and 17 percent shared data with other companies without saying so in their privacy policies.

I'm not a privacy expert, but this seems like a big vulnerability for both schools and technology companies. Concerns like these have tanked education projects in the recent past. Have a great week!

Thursday Reading List: Making Shady Student Loans Shadier, Police Brutality Continues, and Big Data in College Admissions

Earlier this week, I wrote about the shady practices in the student loan industry. (And by "shady," I mean "Amoral, and possibly illegal.") Today, Monique Judge of The Root examines how the laissez-faire approach of secretary of education Betsy DeVos might enable that sector to become even shadier:

Amid consumer complaints over poor communication, mismanaged paperwork, and payment processing delays, the Obama administration included some contract requirement intended to improve the quality of loan servicing, but companies complained that the requirements would be expensive and unnecessarily time consuming ... According to the [Washington] Post, DeVos withdrew three memos issued by former education secretary John King and his undersecretary Ted Mitchell, including one that called for companies to be held accountable for providing borrowers with accurate, consistent and timely information about their debt.

Ah yes, just what we need ... less transparency in education policy. Regular readers know that I have seen no evidence that Betsy DeVos and her boss, Donald Trump, care about the quality of education outcomes. I have seen lots of evidence that both of them share an ideological commitment to "choice" as an educational panacea, and a concomitant aversion to regulating the private sector. This evasion of transparency is a further indicator that the secretary will continue to favor the rights of industry over the rights of vulnerable people.

Jeffery Selingo of The Atlantic looks at how Saint Louis University leverages "Big Data" to recruit its incoming freshmen:

Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has reduced the number of names purchased from the College Board and ACT by 40 percent and enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010—and about 22 percent of the university’s students are eligible for Pell grants, meaning they mostly come from families earning less than $30,000. (By comparison, fewer than 20 percent of students at most of the wealthiest colleges in the U.S. receive Pell grants). While other universities have achieved similar success using Big Data to target and personalize their outreach, admissions deans wonder how much longer the strategy will yield positive results. For one, as more campuses copy data-mining techniques from their peers, its effectiveness is diluted if schools find and recruit many of the same students. Second, the output from data mining is only as good as the initial information students supply to the College Board and ACT.

In general, I'm in favor of technical innovations that create more opportunities for vulnerable kids. To the extent that this sort of data mining allows colleges to find students that otherwise might not have entered, and ultimately succeeded in, college, that's great. That said, any time the manner in which institutions collect, aggregate, and parse data changes, there are sure to be unintended consequences, of which we should be vigilant.

Speaking of remaining vigilant, Molly Roecker of NBC News covers a violent incident of police brutality:

The Sacramento Police Department on Tuesday announced a formal investigation into the actions of one of their officers who was seen slamming a black man to the ground and beating him — all sparked by an alleged case of jaywalking ... In a statement, the Sacramento Police Department said the officer originally "attempted to detain a pedestrian for allegedly unlawfully crossing the street" ... "For an unknown reason, the officer threw the pedestrian to the ground and began striking him in the face with his hand multiple times," the SPD statement said.

Now that my rage has cooled, I will ask America's police officers the same question I repeat after each of these incidences: "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?"

Finally today, Evie Blad is in Education Week, examining how teacher preparation programs are incorporating research on social-emotional learning:

While a majority of states include at least some social-emotional-learning competencies and whole-school factors in teacher-certification requirements, very few teacher-prep programs address such issues in mandatory coursework, according to a report by researchers at the University of British Columbia that was prepared for the collaborative. Advocates for social-emotional learning point to research showing that the approach can help boost students’ academic performance and that employers are increasingly seeking recruits with strong relational and emotional skills ... In 14 states, a majority of the programs reviewed addressed three of the five social-emotional learning dimensions for teachers. In the rest of the states, a majority of the programs addressed fewer of the competencies. Researchers did not identify any state where the majority of teacher-prep programs they reviewed covered more than one of the student social-emotional-learning skills.

If this comes as a surprise to you, it's important to remember that teacher preparation programs are notorious for not actually preparing teachers with the skills needed to educate children. Someday, this country will take teacher preparation at least as seriously as we take medical school. If you're tempted to scoff at the idea of elevating the teaching profession to that level of dignity, consider the fact that this is how teachers are revered in the countries whose schools routinely outperform ours. Have a great day!

Wednesday Reading List: Free College (Sort Of), Adversity & Cognition, and Hiking While Black

New York has become the first state in the country to make college tuition free for most in-state students. Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has the story:

The "Excelsior Scholarship" provision of the budget will allow students from families earning less than $125,000 per year to attend all two- or four-year institutions in the City University of New York and State University of New York systems tuition-free. Projections about how many students will benefit from the program vary; according to the New York Times, Gov. Cuomo's office said 940,000 families are eligible for the benefit, but a legislative analysis said it would be closer to 32,000.

But Monica Disare, writing at Chalkbeat, says there's a catch:

The plan promises to cover the cost of college tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for families making less than $125,000 per year. But it has a major snag that has so far gone under-the-radar, experts say. Students must live and work in New York after they graduate for the same length of time as they received the scholarship. If they do not, their full scholarship will be turned into student loans, according to the law. “This is a killer,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “This is something you can’t trust. And you’re bringing back debt, which is the thing that everybody is trying to avoid" ... The provision, Goldrick-Rab says, which was not in the governor’s original proposal, could force students and families to make tough choices after college — about whether to take the best job they can find, for instance, enter the military or take care of a family member. She also argues that since it creates an incentive for students to stay in-state while unemployed, it is not good for the state’s economy. More importantly, it could saddle students with debt they didn’t expect, she said.

I'm going to file this incident under, "This is why we can't have nice things, America." If a state wants to make college "free," they should make it, you know, actually free. American productivity is sagging under more than $1 TRILLION in student loan debt; we should not solve the college affordability problem by exacerbating the debt load, particularly in an underhanded way. There was a time in American history when a high school degree was considered superfluous, decadent even ... something to which not all Americans were entitled. Today, that seems crazy. The contours of higher education will change dramatically in the coming years, but the days in which a high school degree was sufficient preparation for the complexities of our world are over.

In other news, Olga Khazan is in The Atlantic, looking at new research on the effects of adversity on cognitive development:

"We have been documenting deficits in children from high-stress backgrounds forever,” said Bruce Ellis, a psychology professor at the University of Utah ... “We fill libraries with all the things that are wrong with them. But this paper was the first systematic attempt to understand what was right with them.” Switching between tasks isn’t the only cognitive enhancement that a difficult childhood can bring about. In a forthcoming paper in the Perspectives on Psychological Science, a team of researchers led by Ellis reviewed a number of studies that found boosts in various types of thinking among people from harsh or unstable backgrounds.

It's hard to make sweeping statements about this research, because it's so new. That said, this is further evidence that applying a "deficit mindset" to children - whatever backgrounds they come from - is counterproductive. Should we hold all students to high standards? Of course. Do different backgrounds have a differential effect on school performance? Of course. Is it the educational system's responsibility to adapt to those challenges, find the unique strengths in each child, and help all students achieve those high standards? Of course.

Finally today, Rahawa Halle is in Outside, sharing a first-person account of hiking the Appalachian Trail as a Black woman:

It will be several months before I realize that most AT hikers in 2016 are unaware of the clear division that exists between what hikers of color experience on the trail (generally positive) and in town (not so much). While fellow through-hikers and trail angels are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ll ever encounter, many trail towns have no idea what to make of people who look like me. They say they don’t see much of “my kind” around here and leave the rest hanging in the air.  The rule is you don’t talk about politics on the trail. The truth is you can’t talk about diversity in the outdoors without talking about politics, since politics is a big reason why the outdoors look the way they do. From the park system’s inception, Jim Crow laws and Native American removal campaigns limited access to recreation by race. From the mountains to the beaches, outdoor leisure was often accompanied by the words whites only. The repercussions for disobedience were grave.

I loved this story for a bunch of reasons. In particular,  it does a beautiful job of capturing how thoroughly the history of race and racism manifests in activities that White people perceive to be totally blasé and quotidian, but which are imbued with outsized complications for people of color. Read the whole thing, even if you don't normally read travelogues from backpackers. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Obstacles to College Graduation, Predatory (Student) Loans, and Terrorizing Immigrant Families

Meredith Kolodner, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at the most typical reasons college students do not graduate on time. Balancing school with earning is a big one:

There is no doubt that a student debt crisis exists in the United States, and an entire generation is buckling under its weight. But that doesn’t mean debt should be avoided at all costs, experts say. “Students who are worried about debt sometimes work more and then reduce their course load,” said Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall who studies student debt ... About 40 percent of undergraduates work 30 hours a week or more, though a new study finds that anything more than 25 hours can get in the way of passing classes, especially for low-income students. Only 45 percent of students who work more than that are able to keep their grade-point averages above 3.0, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The percentage goes down as the hours go up.

Most of the people who write, and make policy, about education went to selective colleges and universities. The fact that almost half of college students are working nearly full-time hours while pursuing a degree suggests that the "elite" experience is far from the norm. Policymaking should better reflect the needs and perspectives of the students who depend on higher education as a mechanism for social mobility, and don't have the luxury of choosing between "school" and "work."

For those lucky enough to graduate with a degree, student loan repayment can be a lifelong albatross. Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg are in The New York Times examining a particularly predatory lender:

In recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students ... that never should have been made in the first place. “These loans were designed to fail,” said Shannon Smith, chief of the consumer protection division at the Washington State attorney general’s office. New details unsealed last month in the state lawsuits against Navient shed light on how Sallie Mae used private subprime loans — some of which it expected to default at rates as high as 92 percent — as a tool to build its business relationships with colleges and universities across the country.

So, basically Sallie Mae and Navient were using the most vulnerable families and students as loss-leaders in attempt to squeeze money out of the system. If the predatory relationship among unaccountable universities and unscrupulous student loan providers doesn't both you, you might want to see if your moral compass is functioning correctly. There are lots of galling details in this article so be sure to read the whole thing.

In other news, public officials in Denver are mad that federal immigration officials violated the local government's attempt to create safe learning environments for children. Eric Gorski of Chalkbeat has the story:

In a letter Thursday to the acting chief of the local ICE field office, officials including Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg asked that the agency follow its own policy in respecting such “sensitive locations” while carrying out their duties. The letter in part was triggered by a March 14 incident that rattled one Denver school community. That morning, federal immigration agents dressed in black arrived at a residence directly adjacent to Colorado High School Charter in west Denver, a neighborhood that is home to many immigrant families, according to the letter. The enforcement action, which was planned, came during morning drop-off in plain view of students and families, it said.

ICE's own policy - which these employees did not follow - reflects the idea that arresting families adjacent to school property is reprehensible. If you don't think that these activities have the effect of terrorizing families, you should talk to children and parents in immigrant communities. You'll change your mind. Fast. I'm glad that the mayor and superintendent of Denver are taking action.

Finally, Tara García Mathewson is in The Atlantic, looking at the complexity of starting a dual-language school in Boston:

[Geralde] Gabeau has been part of a committed group of Haitian leaders who have spent much of the last decade pushing Boston Public Schools to open a dual-language program, in which children can take their classes, from math to social studies, in both English and Haitian Creole. The language is the third most-spoken language in Boston Public Schools, second only to English and Spanish—and the Spanish-speaking community has had a dual-language program that caters to its children since 1970. Dual-language programs have been growing in popularity nationally for several years now, spurred on by demand among native speakers of common languages as well as monolingual English speakers who want all the benefits that come from bilingualism.

It's hard to find anyone who will deny the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, and the most fertile context for bilingual education is where a dual-language community exists organically, like in the Boston Haitian-Creole community. That said, there is significant cultural and linguistic subtext in the debate about bilingual education, much of which revolves around power and privilege. García Mathewson does a nice job of tackling those themes in this piece, so please check it out. Have a great week!