The 12 Best Education Articles From January: America’s Most Segregated Classrooms, New Social-Emotional Efforts at (and After) School, the Rise of Esports & More
Every month, we round up our most popular and buzzed-about articles from the past four weeks. (Go deeper: See our top highlights from December, November and across 2019 right here)
It was a month of notable firsts at The 74, from Beth Hawkins’s profile of a gathering of parent-advocates in launching a new National Parents Union to Greg Toppo’s feature on the rise of a co-ed competitive video gaming league and our historical snapshot of the 1912 effort to build the next generation of schools for African-American children across the South. More details on the month’s most popular stories below. (And remember, you can always get our top news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter)
Parents: Frustrated with constantly being asked to endorse education policies drafted in all-white boardrooms, two Latina mothers invited a diverse group of 150 parents, foster parents and grandparents — who might agree only on their love for their children — to come to New Orleans to engage in the messy work of forming a national organizing infrastructure. It took a lot of wordsmithing and the exacting intercession of a middle school English language arts teacher, but the brand-new National Parents Union was born, with a statement of founding beliefs firmly established and the two moms, Keri Rodrigues and Alma Marquez, elected president and secretary-treasurer. And then they held a NOLA-style outdoor jazz funeral for the education status quo. Beth Hawkins was there and brings this account. (Read the full article)
SEL: Who cares how students feel if they can’t read or write? That was the response to Bridget Laird two decades ago, when the now-CEO of the nonprofit Wings for Kids tried to convince people about the power of emotions in the learning process. Now, a new randomized controlled trial — considered the gold standard of research — backs Laird’s program and her argument for why students should learn skills like self-awareness, collaboration and empathy in school. Laird’s program, though, takes place not in school but in afterschool, a rare venue for teaching social-emotional learning. Wings for Kids, which has served 10,000 students in low-income schools in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, combines activities for elementary students with a safe afterschool space where they can learn and laugh for three hours every day. Here’s why Laird thinks her students’ gains in social-emotional skills, as well as reading and vocabulary, are due to the Wings secret sauce: fun. (Read the full profile)
Photo History: In 1912, former slave Booker T. Washington, who was training black teachers in Alabama, persuaded Julius Rosenwald, a first-generation Jewish American from Chicago who built Sears, Roebuck and Co. into a mail-order empire, to provide seed money for six rural schoolhouses that would give black children a chance at a decent education. Over the next 20 years, the Rosenwald Fund staked local partners in the construction of more than 5,000 schools — money that came with strings attached designed to force both black and white communities to invest in educating black kids. Many of the schools operated until Brown v. Board compelled integration, changing during those earlier decades the fortunes of hundreds of thousands of blacks in 15 Southern states. Because Washington and Rosenwald dictated everything from the quality of the lumber to the exact positioning of the schools’ trademark banks of large windows, the construction campaign also left a distinct architectural legacy. Now there is a campaign to preserve the estimated 10 percent of the schools still standing and teach about their legacy. Beth Hawkins took a trip through the Rosenwald archives, finding historic images and fascinating back stories. See the complete photo history.
Extracurriculars: A new co-ed competitive video gaming league, free and open to schools and libraries, promises to expand both the size and diversity of the so-called esports player and spectator base. Led in part by a former U.S. Education Department official who moved from developing ed tech policy to teaching in the classroom — and is transitioning from male to female — the effort downplays the most popular esports titles, first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike, in favor of PG fare that is more likely to pass school board muster. The so-called Mischief League seeks to be inclusive in just about every sense, welcoming schools in rural, urban and suburban districts, and encouraging girls to participate. Its formation coincides with a cultural moment for esports: NBC recently said it plans to air The Squad, a new comedy series about a group of friends who bond over competitive esports. Academia is also taking note: Earlier this month in Washington, D.C., the department held an Ed Games Expo, complete with a conference on esports. Read the full story.
Segregation: The Rust Belt city of Rochester in western New York has the most economically segregating school district border in the country, walling off the high-poverty education system from its affluent neighbors next door, according to a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild. About half the children in Rochester live in poverty, but in the neighboring suburb of Penfield, the student poverty rate hovers in the single digits. The report highlights America’s 50 most egregious examples of segregating school district borders, which researchers say divide communities into haves and have-nots. In the EdBuild analysis, some of the worst offenders are clustered in the Deep South and along the Rust Belt in the North. Read the full story.
Remediation: A first-of-its-kind study of Tennessee schools points to the effectiveness of a reform designed to improve the odds that struggling college students will catch up to their peers. Researchers homed in on “corequisite” courses, an instructional model that allows students to skip remedial math and English and instead take college-level, or gateway, classes with additional instructional support. Compared with students who took the traditional remedial route, Mikhail Zinshteyn reports, these corequisite students passed their gateway courses at higher rates. Researchers studied eight years of student records at the 13 community colleges under the Tennessee Board of Regents, which in 2015 became the first state collection of higher-education institutions to implement corequisite classes systemwide. While the research paper finds no impact on long-term graduation or transfer rates, the effect of these corequisite courses in assisting students in passing their very first college-level math or English course marks a critical breakthrough in advancing their academic careers. Read our full coverage of the findings.
Integration: As efforts to desegregate the nation’s largest school district become increasingly localized, a New York City advocacy group has released a report showing how much the student makeup of individual schools differs from the diversity of their surrounding district. A data analysis by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York found that 41 percent of the city’s 1,800 public schools do not have representative racial and ethnic compositions. The divide is starkest on the Upper West Side, where 83 percent of schools in 2018-19 weren’t representative. At District 3’s P.S. 87, for example, 65 percent of students are white, even though the district’s student enrollment on the whole is just 27 percent white. The organization hopes its work will propel local integration efforts. Looking at the segregation status quo through that lens is an important step toward wider diversity, advocates say. “Integration has never been a one-size-fits-all approach,” high school senior and student leader Leanne Nunes told The 74. “Each community and district has its own unique obstacles, and if we want to respect the people and uplift their power, they should be allowed to change their environments in ways that are best for them.” Read the full story.
Appreciation: Conor Williams had much in common with Courtney Everts Mykytyn, the Los Angeles-based founder of Integrated Schools who became a friendly mentor and was tragically killed this month after being struck by a car. “We shared a demographic — white Ph.D.s parenting in cities and concerned about what that meant,” Williams writes in this tribute to her. “How to live our progressive values? How to raise our children intentionally without hoarding opportunities? How to do our best for our kids while also doing what was best for other kids in our communities?” The difference, Williams says, is that he was frequently anxious about his decision to send his children to a school where they would not be surrounded by wealth or other white kids. On the other hand, Everts Mykytyn “lived her daily life as if the consequences mattered for both her kids and the public. She also managed to remain generous toward those who struggled to do the same.” In doing so, she created a network of white parents around the country who sought more equitable, diverse schools, sharing the sacrifices and the rewards while checking their own inclination to run the show. “Courtney was irreplaceable in her public work, a goodhearted soul whose faith in her progressive convictions was powerful enough to catalyze the courage of so many of the rest of us.” Read the full tribute.
Essay: David C. Banks remembers clearly the impact writers and leaders like Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson, Phillis Wheatley and Malcolm X had on him growing up. “As a young man, I was forever changed by their scintillating prose, their brash, daring ideas and the fact that these men and women wrote about people like me and shared dimensions of my experience as an African American,” Banks writes in this Keeping It 100 essay. Banks has dedicated his life to educating young men of color, serving as president and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, which oversees a network of six all-boys public schools located in each of New York City’s five boroughs as well as Newark. In 2018, Banks was approached by Scholastic to help curate the Rising Voices Library, a collection of 300 books, 25 titles per grade for grades K-5, all celebrating the aspirations and accomplishments of young black and brown men. “We want readers to reflect on the characteristics that make someone a hero as well as a resilient problem solver. We also think it’s essential that the books emphasize how their protagonists dreamed big and then actualized those dreams.” Read the full essay.
Analysis: As a student at Brown University, contributor Wendy Castillo found her two loves: education research and her husband. He came from the wealthy, white suburb of Chatham, New Jersey, where the annual income is $220,281 and the bachelor’s degree attainment rate is 76 percent; her poorer, Latino hometown of Commerce, California, has an 8 percent college graduation rate and an average annual income of $50,135. Test scores in her home school district were 1.91 grade levels below the national average, while Chatham’s were almost three grade levels above (2.91) — a difference of almost 5 grade levels. On average, each year, students from Commerce learned 23 percent less than students in Chatham did. But beyond these glaring differences were opportunity gaps far more difficult to quantify. In addition to a high-quality education, Castillo’s Brown classmates received piano, tennis, swimming and sailing lessons, to name just a few out-of-school experiences — students from middle-income backgrounds participate in 6,000 more hours of extracurricular activities by sixth grade than those from low-income homes. What’s needed, she says, as more and better data are developed about students’ experiences, is a recognition that learning also occurs outside school walls. “Entering college, I had no idea that opportunity gaps existed,” she writes. “Learning about educational inequities and privilege inspired me to pursue a career in education. My goal now is to ensure that data and rigorous research inform policymakers, educators and communities, as they work to develop effective solutions.” Read the full article.
Teacher-Parent Relationship: Social-emotional development is not like math, where kids learn everything they need to know at school, says Sharon Wanless, who directs the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Instead, imparting SEL skills is very much intertwined with a student’s home life, where identity, values and culture are forged. Because of that, teachers who bring social-emotional learning into their classrooms need parents to be their partners — but building those relationships can be tricky, says Jennifer Miller, author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids. “I think it is scary for teachers to reach out to parents,” she says, because what comes back may be skepticism, criticism or daunting challenges at home. Miller and Wanless are research partners who have studied the parent-teacher relationship in SEL and the “careful negotiation of sharing but not overstepping,” writes Bekah McNeel. McNeel reports on their work and that of a Los Angeles teacher who excels at partnering with her fifth-grade parents. Read the full article.
Preview: America’s schools will face countless challenges this year, from persistent segregation and mental health concerns to teacher shortages, decaying facilities, weakening standards and state takeovers. In a special New Year’s edition of EduClips, Laura Fay runs down some of the stories we’ll be watching in 2020 across America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students attend class every day. See the full preview.
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