Wednesday Reading List: Confirmation Hearings, Budget Cuts, and STEM on Flim

Peter Cunningham at Education Post wants to know if accountability will matter to the incoming Trump administration:

So far, President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for secretary of education, philanthropist Betsy DeVos, have not said much about the federally-required, state-designed systems of accountability. Like many conservatives, she believes that giving parents the ability to vote with their feet and choose their child’s school is the best form of accountability and that government oversight, especially of charter schools, should be limited. If, however, DeVos is interested in winning over—or at least not alienating—the civil rights community and progressive education reformers, she will need to send two clear signals, starting with her upcoming Senate confirmation hearing: 1. Does DeVos advocate for all kids ... 2. Does DeVos appreciate the federal role?

Even if DeVos can assuage these concerns, Democrats might still balk at her nomination. Alyson Klein at Education Week shares a few big things to watch as the Trump administration rolls out its education priorities, and she thinks that the DeVos confirmation is a solid "maybe":

... don't expect her confirmation hearing, which could be held on or around Jan. 11, to be smooth sailing. Democrats told the Washington Post that DeVos is one of four cabinet nominees they intend to oppose most vehemently. Expect scrutiny around the $5.3 million in unpaid fines and late fees that All Children Matter, DeVos' now-shuttered political action committee, owes Ohio. There will also likely be a close examination of her controversial record on school choice in Michigan, as well as opposition to her nomination in the civil rights community and among educators. And she could be asked about whether she has a plan to end the Common Core State Standards, something she's not legally able to do under the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

It's unclear what "vehement" opposition means given the level of power the Democrats have in the Senate, where the confirmation hearings happen. Not to mention the fact that there are other nominees who inspire just as much, if not more, ire. Jeff Sessions, for example, has a long history of both being on the wrong side of Civil Rights issues and saying overtly racist stuff. Annie Linskey of The Boston Globe looked at one particular Sessions case from the 1980s, during which Sessions tried to prosecute three civil rights leaders for helping voters get to the polls. That case pit him as a prosecutor against future Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick:

Patrick called the Alabama native “the wrong person to place in charge of our justice system.” He recounted his experience against Sessions in the 1985 trial, saying the prosecutor should never have pursued the case. “To use prosecutorial discretion to attempt to criminalize voter assistance is wrong and should be disqualifying for any aspirant to the nation’s highest law enforcement post" ... The confirmation hearings have been set for next week, despite several pleas by the Democrats on the committee who want more time to investigate Sessions. The hearing is likely to be one of the most contentious, since Sessions will oversee the implementation of some of Trump’s most controversial proposals, including unconventional positions on torture and racial profiling. The Alabama branch of the NAACP is already protesting by staging a sit-in in the senator’s Mobile office.

Prosecutorial discretion is a powerful thing, as it basically allows prosectors to decide which laws to prioritize, and which ones to ignore. Prosecutorial discretion is part of the reason that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson never had a trial for killing Mike Brown, for example. It is both scary and telling that Sessions used his power as a federal prosecutor to prevent people from voting.

Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report looks at state funding cuts in higher education:

States have cut spending on higher education since the last recession by a collective $8.7 billion a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or CBPP. That will come as no surprise to students and families who have seen their tuition at four-year colleges and universities rise as a result by an average of 33 percent during that time. But the cuts have been uneven. A closer look shows they’re taking a greater toll on colleges and universities such as Chicago State that serve low-income and nonwhite students, while flagships that enroll larger proportions of whites from higher-income families have been less affected ... the trend is further widening the racial and socioeconomic divide among different types of universities and colleges, shifting money away from those whose students generally need the most support in favor of the ones whose students generally need the least.

That last sentence captures a critical divide in education policy, the relevance of which has been whitewashed in the last generation of policymaking, especially at the federal level. When the center-right and center-left collaborated to create the accountability era, they basically agreed to disarm on the question of resource allocation. I'm not sure that this particular detente is relevant anymore.

Finally, Panama Jackson at Very Smart Brothas talks about the new film Hidden Figures, and what that movie does for women engaged in STEM work:

To know that there was an entire group of women period, but especially Black women, all of extraordinary intelligence and acumen, working at NASA ensuring the continuation of the early space program and having ZERO idea about their contributions is exactly why we need to support movies like this ... My daughter wants to be a scientist when she grows up. She’s not sure exactly what kind yet, and sometimes she wants to be a doctor and a scientist and a songwriter and a spy. Part of this desire is that many of the television shows for kids now feature kids, and girls specifically, who are conducting experiments and using their brains to change the world or whatever. I’m glad that my daughter can watch KC Undercover or Doc McStuffins and see girls of color being who she wants to be without any obstacle or roadblock. Because of those television shows, my daughter’s imagination is wide open.

You know I'm a fan of greater inclusivity and representation across professional and creative endeavors, so I appreciate the fact that this particular film is receiving attention. The educational component is gravy. If you're not sure whether or not this matters for kids, I encourage you to talk to some families of color about their children's experiences - or relative lack thereof - with seeing themselves represented in the media.