Tuesday Reading List: Late Night Shenanigans, Teacher Shortages, & Transgender Rights

Peter Cunningham has some tough words for John Oliver, who did a long rant against charter schools that happen to misbehave:

The parents of nearly three million children have chosen charter schools and a million more are on waiting lists. Meanwhile, nearly two million children today are home-schooled and the private school population hovers around five million. All told, the parents of roughly 10 million children have opted out of the traditional public school system ... Charter schools don’t have a monopoly on mismanagement any more than they have a monopoly on poor performance. The best of them are closing achievement gaps. The worst of them are simply replicas of the chronically under-performing traditional schools plaguing low-income communities all across America.

It seems to be fashionable to hate on charter schools right now. That might be the price that reformers have to pay for making it cool to hate on teachers unions for the better part of a decade. Who knows? Rants like Oliver's, though, make it harder to create good schools of any kind, so he should be more careful with both his targets and his facts. Oliver's former employer just cancelled Larry Wilmore's show, single-handedly decimating the largest group of writers of color in the late night comedy industry. Maybe he should focus on his home turf and not industries about which he knows much less? (*SEE UPDATE)

On the other hand, Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of a very high performing charter school in Philadelphia, and he wants his students to be prepared for day one:

We have a lot of new students and families. Onboarding each other into our school culture, our neighborhood, and getting to know each other collectively and individually are also primary goals.  A school community is made up of individuals, yet operates as a collective. We know that with a shared vision, we can achieve great things. We are blessed to serve the 19131 zip code that encompasses 4-5 neighborhoods.  I grew up in the neighborhood that I serve. I went to high school here and attended summer school in the same building I work. I still live here. Having our immediate neighborhoods serve as an anchor for us (and we for them) always brings us great satisfaction, joy, and pride.

El-Mekki's school operates as a charter, but it serves a neighborhood zone, takes all kids, creates lasting relationships with the community, employs a diverse set of educators, and outperforms its peer schools. I cannot fathom why we would not want more schools like that.

In Denver, on the other hand, a recent survey of district teachers found that the city's Black teachers feel mistreated. Melanie Asmar at Chalkbeat has the story:

The district commissioned the report in response to concerns from black educators about how they and their students are treated. Black teachers made up just 4 percent of the teacher workforce last year, while black students comprised about 14 percent of the nearly 91,500 students. That percentage has been shrinking since the 1973 court decision that directed Denver to desegregate its schools, a trend the report partly attributes to gentrification. The 70 African-American teachers and administrators interviewed reported feeling isolated and unaccepted. They said black educators in DPS have had difficulty securing promotions. “African-Americans in DPS are invisible, silenced and dehumanized, especially if you are passionate, vocal and unapologetically black,” one educator told the report’s author. “We can’t even be advocates for our kids."

When a culture of frustration is coupled with factual disproportionality like this, it's clear that something has to change. The district is taking reactive steps, and more cities should take proactive steps. Whenever I visit new cities and meet with civic leaders, one of the first things I ask about is the history of, and present state of, race relations. If the answer I hear is something like, "We don't really have those sorts of problems," it's a huge red flag. Chances are, if you don't think you have those sorts of problems, you're willfully ignoring them.

EdWeek covers teacher shortages:

While the overall U.S. student-teacher ratio has remained relatively steady, shortages of teachers are common in certain subject areas, including special education, science, and mathematics, and in particular regions, like rural districts. In some hard-hit states, the shortages have prompted legislative and administrative action: Arizona, Indiana, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Nevada.

Finally, a Texas court prevented the implementation of the Obama administration's guidance on transgender students and the use of restrooms. Emma Green at the Atlantic has the story:

The ruling is part of an on-going battle between the courts and the executive branch over the meaning of “sex discrimination,” which is outlawed nationally in schools and certain workplaces. Over the last several years, the Obama administration has shifted its interpretation of the term, arguing that it includes discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity—how they act out their male or femaleness, or, in the case of transgender people, if they change genders. This interpretation has been successfully used in just a couple of court cases about discrimination at a school or business, including a recent case concerning a transgender boy in Virginia. But the administration’s interpretation is also widely contested.

Whereas most opposition to transgender bathroom rights seems to be rooted in fear, this judicial action, at least in theory, has more to do with a technical description of "sex discrimination." Students who identify as transgender face discrimination at every turn, and their already turbulent teenage lives are further complicated by having their bathroom privileges subject to court intervention. The Obama administration was right to use executive action. My short message to folks who want to further delay and impinge on transgender students' rights in schools? Get over yourselves.

Update: A couple of smart readers have pointed out - correctly - that my judgment of Oliver here was unfair. I should have tried to make a legitimate argument, rather than making a throwaway, snarky joke without substance. I'll try to do better, but I'm going to leave the original language so that I can be transparent about my mistakes.