Key Takeaway From International Educator Survey: At a Time of Growing Protests, U.S. Teachers Say They Feel Satisfied but Undervalued
Teachers in the United States work long hours and feel undervalued by the public — but like their jobs anyway.
Those findings, from an international education survey released Wednesday, offer fodder for all sides of a debate about teacher pay and working conditions that is mobilizing teachers to protest across the country.
The Teaching and Learning International Survey, coordinated by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, surveyed teachers and their principals in 49 industrialized countries, including U.S. teachers and principals involved in grades 7-9. Educators were quizzed on a host of issues, including their backgrounds, professional development and attitudes toward the profession.
Here are five key findings from the report:
1 American Teachers: Satisfied but Undervalued
Despite the recent surge in teacher unrest, 90 percent of U.S. teachers who participated in the survey reported that they’re satisfied with their jobs. But another finding offers important shading: Despite the high personal job satisfaction, the survey found that only 36 percent of U.S. teachers believe that society values their work.
That yawning gap is not unique to the U.S. Across countries that participated in the survey, job satisfaction was generally high. Teachers in Mexico reported the highest level of job satisfaction, with 98 percent of educators saying they felt positive about their careers. The lowest rate of job satisfaction was in England, with 77 percent.
U.S. educators also hewed close to the international average on the question of whether they believe society valued their profession. But the results varied widely between the countries: 92 percent of teachers in Vietnam reported feeling valued, compared with 5 percent in the Slovak Republic.
Results from the survey don’t speak directly to the recent rise in teacher activism, said Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, which administered the survey in the U.S. But she said the findings do provide some insight.
“Teachers love their jobs all across the globe,” she said, but they also feel undervalued. “There’s a message there, I think, that we need to think about.”
While the surge of recent teacher protests centered largely on education funding and salaries, the international survey didn’t touch on those issues directly. But another finding, Carr said, could play a role in educator unrest:
2 American Teachers Work Longer Hours
Educators in the U.S. reported spending more time teaching than those in other countries. U.S. teachers spend an average of 28 hours per week teaching and 46 hours each week at work. Educators across the surveyed countries reported working an average of 38 hours each week, with 20 hours spent teaching.
Educators in Chile also reported teaching an average of 28 hours per week, while those in Kazakhstan reported teaching only an average 15 hours a week. But classroom instruction is only one part of teachers’ jobs. When factoring in other duties, like grading and planning, teachers in Japan boasted the longest workweeks, lasting 56 hours on average.
3 U.S. Educators Are Better Educated but Less Experienced
Among U.S. teachers in the survey, 98 percent reported they have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with an average of 93 percent across the surveyed countries. But teachers in the U.S. are also slightly less experienced. Teachers in the U.S. had 15 years of teaching experience on average, compared with an average of 17 years internationally.
The same held true for principals. In the U.S., 99 percent of participating principals reported they hold a master’s degree or higher, significantly greater than the international average of 61 percent. While principals in the U.S. and across the surveyed countries have nine years of leadership experience on average, American principals tend to have less of a background in teaching: 12 years, versus 20 years among their global counterparts.
4 A Global Gender Divide Between Teachers and Principals
In the U.S. and elsewhere, women make up the majority of the teaching workforce. The opposite is true for principals.
Among surveyed teachers in the U.S., 66 percent are female, compared with 69 percent across participating countries. Meanwhile, men comprise just over half of principals in the U.S. and internationally.
5 Teachers in the U.S. Report Little Need for Professional Development
The survey asked teachers whether they needed professional development in 14 separate areas, such as teaching students with special needs, communicating with people from different cultures or countries, and school management and administration. Regardless of the category, however, few American teachers reported a “high level of need” for professional development. The value of professional development in the U.S. remains a major point of controversy. A 2015 study by the nonprofit TNTP found that despite significant spending on professional development, the efforts often fail to help teachers improve in the classroom.
Outside the U.S., educators were more likely to report a high need for professional development on each of the 14 areas. For example, 9 percent of U.S. teachers reported a need for professional development on teaching students with special needs, compared with the international average of 24 percent.
No Exceptions: New York, Washington, Maine Abolish Religious Exemptions for Measles Vaccine, California Looks to Limit Medical Exemptions
Update, June 18: California Sen. Richard Pan updated the proposed legislation there to expand the list of medical conditions for vaccine exemptions and loosen the role of government oversight in granting exemptions. The state Assembly Health Committee is expected to vote on the measure Thursday, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The measles outbreaks that have spread through different parts of the country this year are causing lawmakers and advocates in several states to rethink their policies about vaccinations, despite ongoing skepticism and sometimes-fierce political pushback from anti-vaxxers.
New York, Maine and Washington state have all taken steps to restrict vaccine exemptions based on religious beliefs this year, and California is considering a measure to tighten up its existing policy governing medical exemptions.
Since Jan. 1, 1,044 cases of measles have been reported in the United States. The disease was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but the Centers for Disease Control warned in May that if the outbreaks continue through the summer and fall, the United States could lose its status as a country that has eradicated measles.
New York lawmakers voted last week to end religious exemptions for all required vaccines. The state does not allow for personal or philosophical exemptions, so now all children must receive the mandatory vaccinations to attend school unless they have a medical reason they cannot receive them. The law went into effect immediately but gives students 30 days to catch up on immunizations after they enroll in school.
New York has seen the worst of the current measles outbreak, with New York City alone reporting 588 cases since September.
Assemblyman Nader Sayegh, a Democrat from Yonkers, voted in favor of the bill to allow it to advance out of the health committee but voted against the measure when the Assembly voted. The law ultimately passed with a narrow margin in the Assembly amid protests.
Sayegh, who previously worked as a principal and school board member, told The 74 he is not against vaccinations — all of his children are immunized, he said — but he was concerned about taking away parental freedom and children potentially missing class because of their immunization record.
“Having my educator hat on, having kids out of school really is upsetting for me,” he said.
Still, Sayegh said he thought the full Assembly should be able to debate the measure and take a vote.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill ending religious exemptions as soon as it reached his desk. The New York outbreak has largely been concentrated in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, where misinformation has spread rapidly and some see vaccine refusal as a religious freedom issue.
“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis.”
All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have vaccine requirements for children to attend school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1905 case Jacobson v. Massachusetts that states have the authority to make vaccines mandatory. That ruling was reaffirmed in a 1922 case that allowed the San Antonio, Texas, school district to exclude unvaccinated children from school.
All states allow medical exemptions, such as for children with allergies or autoimmune disorders who cannot receive immunizations, and most allow exemptions for philosophical or religious reasons as well.
A Massachusetts lawmaker has also introduced a bill to end religious exemptions there.
On the West Coast, actress Jessica Biel raised eyebrows this week when she lobbied against an effort by some California lawmakers to tighten the state’s policies regarding medical exemptions. After a 2014 measles outbreak originated at Disneyland, California enacted some of the country’s strictest vaccine policies, requiring students to have a doctor’s form citing a medical reason if they are not vaccinated.
Biel said that she is in favor of vaccines generally but thinks the proposal goes too far.
“I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians,” she wrote on Instagram.
The bill in question would take away doctors’ ability to grant medical exemptions and instead require parents to request exemptions from the California Department of Public Health, submitting documentation from a doctor with the application. California has reported 52 cases of measles in 2019.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also expressed some concern about putting the power in the hands of government officials instead of medical professionals. “I’m a parent, I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family,” the Democrat said.
Vaccinate California, the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, are co-sponsoring the bill.
Research published last year in Pediatrics indicated that some doctors in California were granting medical exemptions for children who did not need them, sometimes charging parents a fee in exchange for the exemption form.
Lawmakers in Washington state have also reacted to the measles outbreak. They were not able to get enough support to fully end nonmedical exemptions, but they did pass a law that ends the personal and philosophical exemptions from the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) shot. Washington was an early epicenter of the measles outbreak, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency in January.
“We would have preferred removing the personal exemption for all vaccines, but we weren’t able to — there was so much political pushback,” said Washington state Rep. Monica Stonier, a Democrat. “We just wanted to get something done.”
Correction: There have been 52 reported cases of measles in California in 2019. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the year-to-date total.
7 Surprising Lessons From the 2019 Measles Outbreak: Teens Defying Parents on Vaccines, Affected Children Left More Susceptible to Other Illnesses & More
EduClips: From a No-Confidence Vote Against Las Vegas’s Superintendent to the New York City Mayor’s Teenage Education Critic, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts
EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.
Broward County — Arrest of Parkland Deputy Poses Thorny Legal Questions for Florida’s Armed Teachers: Following the arrest of a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy who hid outside during the 2018 Parkland school massacre, the sponsor of a Florida bill that allows classroom teachers to carry guns said it’s possible armed teachers could face similar legal ramifications if they fail to keep kids safe during a shooting. “Whether it’s involving a firearm or not, if there’s an employee who did not do everything in their power to protect students in that situation, they would be open up to facing those kinds of charges,” Sen. Manny Diaz, a Republican representing Hialeah, said. Representatives of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union, said the arrest of Scot Peterson has the potential to make the law even more dangerous by shifting legal responsibility to teachers. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)
Philadelphia — Is Race a Factor in Closure of Minority-Owned Charter Schools?: The CEO of Eastern University Academy Charter School in Philadelphia said that his school is facing closure partly due to race. The school has repeatedly underperformed on standardized tests, and one year, none of its seventh- or eighth-graders tested proficient in math. But CEO Omar Barlow notes that nearly 75 percent of its students went to college in the fall after graduating last year, compared with just half of the district’s. “What else could they be targeting, when a number of traditional public schools that our young people would attend if we closed are failing miserably?” he asked. The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests the closure may be part of a pattern: “Over the last five years, nine of 14 Philadelphia charter schools that have closed or agreed to close if they didn’t meet conditions were minority-run, according to district officials. Four of five pending nonrenewals earlier this year were minority-run.” (Read at the Philadelphia Inquirer)
New York City — Meet Tiffani Torres, Mayor de Blasio’s 16-Year-Old Gadfly: In a very short time, a 16-year-old junior at Pace High School in Manhattan has become a gadfly for New York City mayor and presidential aspirant Bill de Blasio. Tiffani Torres, an activist with Teens Take Charge, which advocates for integrating the city’s schools, has pressed the mayor on issues of integration and segregation. Though she has appeared twice on the “Ask the Mayor” call-in segment of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor has refused to see her. He told her that she “isn’t hearing what we’re saying to you.” In a wide-ranging interview with Chalkbeat, Torres said the mayor has it backwards. “He’s kind of just disappeared even though we’ve been there supporting him every step of the way,” she said. “And for him to say that we aren’t hearing him, I could definitely say the same thing, except me saying that is accurate and him saying that is just deflecting.” (Read at Chalkbeat)
Los Angeles — CA Charter Task Force Delivers Report Calling for Greater Oversight, Funding Assistance: In a much-anticipated report, a California charter school task force outlined four unanimously approved measures, including one that would maintain funding for district schools one year after a student transfers to a charter school. Other recommendations would create a statewide entity to oversee charters and train their authorizers, and allow greater discretion for schools to examine academic outcomes and enrollment saturation when considering new charter petitions. The report’s release may put pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to stake out a position on the simmering debate. “There’s been the cover to say, ‘Well let’s not act yet because we want to wait and see what this task force says,’” said Julie Marsh, professor of education policy at the University of Southern California. “Once that is out, you can no longer stall in acting on these issues.” (Read at The74Million.org)
Clark County — Las Vegas-Area Principals Deliver No-Confidence Vote Against Superintendent: Seventy-two Las Vegas-area middle and high school principals unanimously passed a no confidence vote against Superintendent Jesus Jara this week. The move came two days after Jara announced in a video that he would eliminate all 170 secondary school dean positions. The district chief said the cuts would help the district recover $17 million to close its deficit, but critics said the move would jeopardize school safety, an area the deans had previously overseen. School leaders bristled at not being consulted beforehand about the eliminations and because the affected deans learned of their dismissal through a video posted online. (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Noteworthy Essays & Reflections
EDLECTION 2020 — You’re a Democrat Who Opposes Vouchers. But You Benefited From Private Schools. Are You a Hypocrite? (Read at Education Week)
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE — Eden: Studies and Teachers Nationwide Say School Discipline Reform Is Harming Students’ Academic Achievement and Safety (Read at The74Million.org)
CHARTER SCHOOLS —Do the current Democratic politics spell doom for charter schools? (Read at the Brookings Institution)
CLIMATE CHANGE — The silence of school leaders on climate change (Read at The Hechinger Report)
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE — The Harsh Discipline of No-Excuses Charter Schools: Is It Worth the Promise? (Read at Education Week)
Quotes of the Week
“We’re taught to live in the present. Right now, my children are healthy.” —Melissa (last name withheld), who said her Buddhist views prevented her from vaccinating her children unless they became very sick, and one of several parents who successfully sued Rockland County, New York, to overturn a measure that barred unvaccinated children from schools. (Read at The New York Times)
“My fear is that other police departments will see this and they will start training in a more militaristic fashion in order to prepare for the very rare [school shootings.] …Look, 99.99 percent of school resource officers are going to get through their entire career and this isn’t going to be the thing they ever have to think about. But when you prime them to think about that, you get military models of policing.” —Nadine Connell, associate professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, after former Broward County Sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson was charged with criminal negligence in connection with the 2018 massacre at a Florida high school. (Read at The74Million.org)
“We’re at a very, very difficult impasse.” —Gov. Jim Justice (R) of West Virginia, who said he would sign a measure that recently passed the state senate that would make teacher strikes illegal. (Read at ThinkProgress)
“I made a judgment call — obviously there’s a lot of hurt feelings that I have to repair with the deans.” —Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara, after his call to eliminate all 170 deans from the district’s middle and high schools triggered a unanimous vote of no-confidence from the schools’ principals. (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)
“Even though you might be scared, you never turn down a story, and it taught me you never know what’s going to happen.” —Amelia Poor, 13, one of 45 students who form the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps that writes for Scholastic’s classroom magazine. Despite her fear of canines, she successfully covered a recent Westminster Dog Show. (Read at The74Million.org)
Exclusive: During Booker Era, Study Shows Newark Schools Took Huge Steps Forward — and It’s Not Just Charters That Improved
In a study with broad implications for education and perhaps presidential politics, new data indicate that schools in Newark are performing at a much higher level than a decade ago.
According to the report, released by MarGrady Research and funded by the nonprofit group New Jersey Children’s Foundation, academic performance in New Jersey’s biggest city saw huge improvements beginning in 2006, when now-Sen. Cory Booker was elected mayor and initiated a slate of ambitious reforms. Both traditional public schools and charter schools — the expansion of which was a major component of Booker’s agenda — saw significant growth over a 12-year period.
The reforms unleashed political turbulence while they were being implemented, and Booker’s commitment to education reform has followed him on trips to woo Democratic voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, many of whom have soured on charter schools in recent years.
EXCLUSIVE: Senator Cory Booker Speaks Out About Newark School Reform, Equity, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Millions Ahead of a Possible Run for the Presidency
Addressing the controversy over Newark’s disruptive transformation, NJCF Executive Director Kyle Rosenkrans said he hoped the study would showcase the city as a model of change for others to follow.
“One of our key goals is to promote a fact-based conversation about education as it relates to Newark,” he said. “The history of Newark provides empirical proof that you can grow the nation’s highest-performing charter schools alongside a district itself in improvement mode, and there can be a net improvement in outcomes for children. The report speaks to this.”
The study represents the latest data point in the ongoing analysis of whether the reforms — pursued under both Booker and current mayor Ras Baraka, and financed with hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic funding — actually succeeded in lifting achievement. It builds on previous research released by MarGrady and Harvard University professor Tom Kane, which found initial evidence of improvements in reading.
To date, the assessment of the reforms’ impacts has been processed through bitter disputes around their origins and implementation. In particular, Booker’s administration has been criticized — by Baraka, among others — for its use of a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The massive gift, and the controversy around it, was chronicled in the 2015 book The Prize, in which journalist Dale Russakoff painted a picture of unaccountable technocrats acting without transparency.
Today’s release lengthens the time horizon of previous studies, combing through standardized test scores between 2006 and 2018. It also takes advantage of Newark’s use of the PARCC exam, which allows for comparisons with student performance not just throughout the rest of New Jersey but also in several other states.
In the study, lead author and MarGrady founder Jesse Margolis noted that while the upward trajectory in student scores occurred during a time of dramatic policy shifts, he couldn’t credit the academic improvements to any individual cause.
“We do not argue that any single reform or set of reforms caused the gains documented here,” he wrote, noting the city’s important milestones over the past 12 years, including Booker’s election and New Jersey’s adoption of the Common Core state academic standards. “We simply argue that the gains happened, they are real, and they are meaningful.”
Margolis drew on math and reading test scores for students between grades 3 and 8, including both New Jersey’s NJ ASK assessment and PARCC, which the state adopted in 2015. Over the 13 years under examination, he found steady improvement among Newark schools compared with New Jersey schools as a whole, and much more substantial growth compared with other low-income areas in the state.
For background: Cities and towns in New Jersey are categorized into eight District Factor Groups — essentially swaths of localities that share broad socioeconomic characteristics, such as family income, poverty rate and educational attainment. Newark falls under District Factor Group A, which encompasses the highest-need communities in the state, including Trenton, Camden, Paterson and Atlantic City.
In 2006, Newark students posted average state test scores in the 39th percentile among its peers in Group A; as of 2018, they had risen to the 78th percentile. In order of performance, they had improved from 23rd out of 37 to eighth out of 37.
When measured against the combined cities and towns grouped in District Factor Groups A and B (the roughly 100 most disadvantaged areas in New Jersey), Newark improved substantially in both reading (from the 18th percentile to the 47th percentile) and math (from the 18th percentile to the 51st percentile). And in comparison with New Jersey schools as a whole, Newark improved from the 4th percentile to the 14th percentile in both subjects.
That means that, even after a decade of consistent improvement, Newark still ranks among the lowest tiers of educational performance across the state. In an interview, Margolis said his findings showed that there remained “a lot of room for continued growth” in the city’s schools.
A good deal of the upward movement measured in the study is powered by improvements in the charter school sector, which now enrolls roughly one out of every three Newark students. In 2006, Newark charter students scored in the 14th percentile of New Jersey students in reading and the 11th percentile in math; they now score in the 49th and 48th percentiles, respectively, for students statewide.
In other words, charter students in Newark, a city so beset by educational challenges that its school district was taken over by the state for 23 years, attend schools that fall roughly in the middle of New Jersey’s test scores.
Black students, who have historically attended some of the city’s worst schools, were among the biggest beneficiaries of the citywide improvement. In 2006, just 7 percent of black students in Newark attended a school that beat the New Jersey proficiency average; today, 31 percent do.
“I feel like those gains we look at in the past have come from both the charter sector and the district sector, but some of the charter gains have been particularly impressive,” Margolis said. “The charter sector was strong before; it’s now, if anything, stronger, yet it’s grown to enroll a third of the students in [Newark].”
The organization that funded this research is not divorced from the debate around education reform. The New Jersey Children’s Foundation is partnered with the City Fund, a group that formed last year to raise millions of dollars for reform-aligned organizations throughout the United States. Rosenkrans, NJCF’s executive director, has been tied with charter schools as both a director of strategic initiatives at KIPP and the CEO of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. He also headed a political action committee that donated heavily to a slate of school board candidates backed by both Mayor Baraka and charter supporters.
The study comes at a time when the author of Newark’s tumultuous period of change, Booker, is facing a reassessment of his educational legacy and his relationship with the education reform movement. Margolis notes that, given the senator’s presidential run, “there is … significant national interest in understanding what progress, if any, has been made in Newark’s schools.”
With charter advocates on the defensive among Democrats after decades of general party support, Booker is the presidential candidate most closely tied with school choice — thanks almost exclusively to his time in Newark. In an interview with The 74 last year, Booker defended his tenure as mayor, though he has also stated his misgivings about charter schools in some states, which he has accused of “raiding” from public schools.
The Booker campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
EXCLUSIVE: Senator Cory Booker Speaks Out About Newark School Reform, Equity, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Millions Ahead of a Possible Run for the Presidency
The legacy of Newark’s reform period is still up for grabs in Newark itself, where Booker’s successor, Baraka, has called on the state to halt further charter school expansion, arguing that it draws resources away from the school district. The city only recently emerged from statewide control over its school system, and many of the changes instituted over the past decade — which included school closures and the replacement of many principals — left scars.
These Kid Reporters at Scholastic Interview National and Global Leaders. Answering Their Questions This Week: Education Activist Ziauddin Yousafzai, Father of Malala
New York City
On a Tuesday afternoon after school, most students might be headed to soccer or band practice. But five New York City-area kids donned bright red polo shirts and press badges and headed off to interview Ziauddin Yousafzai, an education activist and the father of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Sitting under bright lights and cameras at Scholastic’s headquarters in Manhattan, these 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds clutched their notebooks and nervously twisted their pens as they waited for Yousafzai to arrive. These five were members of Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, a group of 45 students across the U.S. and the globe who follow presidents on the campaign trail; interview authors, athletes and actors; and write stories that appear online and in Scholastic’s classroom magazine.
The students were nervous but prepared. When Yousafzai entered the room, they jumped up from the couch and shook his hand. Over the weekend, they’d read Yousafzai’s book, Let Her Fly, his memoir about growing up in a tiny village in Pakistan where he transformed from a privileged son among five sisters into an activist for gender equality, girls’ education and human rights.
Sitting up straight, the students took turns carefully reading their questions for Yousafzai from their notebooks:
“What would you tell young boys and girls to encourage them to respect women?” Marley Alburez, 13, asked.
“What made you question mistreatment of Pakistani women even though you grew up in a patriarchal society?” said Josh Stiefel, 13.
“What role does education play in helping to achieve gender equality?” questioned Sunaya DasGupta Mueller, 14.
Yousafzai answered each student’s question, smiling and leaning forward in his chair, occasionally apologizing for how long he spoke.
“Quality education is the most powerful equalizer,” he said. “I think that education, if it does not teach us equality, there must be something wrong with its quality. It makes our inner beings fair, just and beautiful.”
Yousafzai and his daughter, Malala, have been activists for gender equality, speaking out when the Taliban took over their home in the Swat Valley and forbade girls from attending school. That activism made Malala a target for the Taliban. In 2012, a masked gunman boarded her school bus, asked, “Who is Malala?” and shot her in the left side of the head.
After her recovery in England, her family was empowered to continue their work: they started the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls around the world to receive a quality education, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brazil, India, Nigeria and the Syria region. In 2014, at the age of 17, Malala became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
As Malala and her father often say, she used to be an advocate for 50,000 girls in the Swat Valley. Now, she’s the voice of 130 million who don’t have access to school.
“What is your advice for parents who want to empower their children?” Amelia Poor, 13, asked.
Yousafzai’s new book details what it’s like to be a father and endure the Taliban’s attack on his child. Many people ask him what he did to raise a daughter like Malala.
“I will say, they should believe in their children,” Yousafzai responded. “Because if parents don’t believe in their children, who will believe in them?”
The students thanked him for his time. One of them, Alburez, leaned over and told Yousafzai that she had met Malala, when she got to interview her for another story.
“I think the question-and-answer we had in one hour, she would have answered in 15 minutes,” he joked.
Becoming a kid reporter
In 2000, the kids press corps at Scholastic was created to follow the presidential campaign. Presidential elections were teachable moments for students, but the editors at Scholastic thought kids would be more engaged if they read about them from a peer’s perspective rather than an adult’s.
Applications open every year for new reporters to join this press corps, which includes students ages 10 to 14. The students are selected based on writing and interviewing skills as well as attention to detail. Editor Suzanne McCabe helps train the students, holding practice phone interviews, giving tips on asking short, pointed questions and editing their stories. Some students write nearly a dozen stories a year, pitching their own ideas and being assigned to cover others. All of the stories appear online, and some make it into Scholastic’s classroom magazines, which reach 25 million students.
“The world is their classroom,” McCabe said. “They go from shy, not very self-confident kids sometimes or kids who think adults are in a different realm … and they realize their voice carries a lot of power and they’re representing their generation.”
The students said they love working with McCabe and that even though it can be hard to take criticism, they feel as if they’re growing as writers and speakers. When they first started, they might have exchanged multiple emails with McCabe for edits, but now they only have to send a few.
“Working with an editor is like you’re climbing a mountain but you have a safety belt on your harness,” Alburez explained.
Poor wants to be a political journalist or politician, and she often pitches stories based on the news she sees on TV. She’s interviewed Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to be nominated by a major party to run for governor, and Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Teacher of the Year from Connecticut who went on to to win a seat in Congress. But Poor has also grown in areas she’s not as comfortable. Like, dogs.
Troubled Student, Teen Mom, Teacher of the Year: Is Connecticut Congressional Candidate Jahana Hayes the New Face of the Democratic Party?
When McCabe suggested that Poor cover the Westminster Dog Show, Poor didn’t want to tell McCabe that she was afraid of dogs. But when she attended, she found herself enjoying it, walking around Madison Square Garden with her microphone and interviewing the handlers and their competitive canines, even striking up the courage to pet a few.
“Even though you might be scared, you never turn down a story, and it taught me you never know what’s going to happen,” Poor said. But she’s still scared of dogs.
‘News for kids, by kids’
Even though they are still at the age where their parents need to drive them to interviews, the student reporters said the adults they talk to are welcoming and eager to answer their questions.
They can also go places other kids can’t go. Stiefel got to attend the New York Toy Fair in February, an event that was open to retailers and press but not children. While he was there to interview people about the new toys, he found himself being sought out by many of the adults in the room.
“Everyone at the toy fair wanted to talk to me to see what I thought about their toys because I was really the only person in the room who was qualified to talk about it,” he said.
Not Your Average Student Council: How Chicago’s Student Voice Committees Are Giving Kids a Real Say in Their Schools
As members of the youngest generation, the students said, they can bring a unique perspective to their news coverage. Liset Zacker, 12, recalled how her dad often marvels at how different her and her peers’ thinking is from adults’.
“My dad said one time, ‘Adults always kind of see the entire picture, and kids skip all the tiny details and go straight to the point,’” Zacker said.
Showing their peers that kids can write stories about important events is also empowering, whether it’s an article about a political rally or a sporting event.
“Kids are the future, and I feel like that’s why it’s important for me and for us to share stories of people around the world who are doing really great things,” said DasGupta Mueller. “That is hopefully going to inspire kids.”
The State of LGBTQ Curriculum: Tide Is Turning as Some States Opt for Inclusion, Others Lift Outright Restrictions
Update, June 13: Erik Adamian’s title changed from “education and outreach manager” at the ONE Archives Foundation to “associate director of education” before the original publish date of this story.
Bayard Rustin was a lead organizer of the March on Washington in 1963, a close confidante of Martin Luther King Jr. and a fiery voice for desegregation. In most U.S. history classes, that might be all students are asked to learn about him. But Rustin was also openly gay, and he became a prominent gay rights advocate. That fact in particular might now receive new attention in public school classrooms in Colorado and New Jersey.
Those two states are the first to follow in California’s footsteps by mandating recognition of the contributions of LGBTQ people in history and social studies curricula earlier this spring. The legislation — combined with similar measures under consideration in New York and Illinois and votes to lift curricular restrictions on LGBTQ content in Alabama and Arizona — marks a flurry of state policy changes on the subject this year.
Nationally, most states don’t have explicit rules around if and how teachers discuss gender and sexuality in the classroom. But the impact of LGBTQ-inclusive course content can be powerful, advocates say. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national LGBTQ education organization, has found that schools with inclusive curricula were more likely to report feelings of acceptance toward LGBTQ students and have lower rates of student absenteeism linked to feeling unsafe.
So far, however, LGBTQ representation in curriculum has been slow to take hold. Although only eight states have some kind of legislation restricting LGBTQ content in the classroom, including Texas and Florida, a 2015 GLSEN study found that only about a quarter of teachers incorporate LGBTQ topics into their lessons.
In states without clear guidelines, teachers often report feeling unsure about how to make their curriculum more representative, says Mara Sapon-Shevin, professor of inclusive curriculum at Syracuse University. They’re also concerned about pushback from parents.
“Most teachers want to do it right and want to do it well but feel underprepared and not well resourced,” she says.
A growing number of national organizations have been working to help equip teachers with the tools to tackle potentially controversial topics, including LGBTQ history. ONE Archives Foundation is the oldest active LGBTQ organization in the country and has long worked to build public awareness of queer history. Recognizing the growing demand for LGBTQ content, the organization has begun collaborating with the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to produce tailored history lessons on feminist writer Audre Lorde, slain San Francisco official Harvey Milk and other LGBTQ figures and groups.
Starting This Fall, New Textbooks & Guidance to Help California K-12 Teachers Cover LGBT Issues and Historical Figures in the Classroom
The other obstacle teachers can face is fear over parental objection — especially in states that haven’t passed inclusivity statutes.
“I talk to teachers a lot about these issues, and they’ve very engaged … but also scared about getting in trouble,” Sapon-Shevin says.
ONE Archives is based in Los Angeles, and it focuses mostly on California, which passed the FAIR Education Act, ensuring LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, in 2011. But the organization has begun to work with teachers across the country and recognizes how complicated introducing LGBTQ content can be in a state without protections for it, says Erik Adamian, associate director of education for the ONE Archives Foundation.
“The only reason why backlash can’t and does not go any further than a bunch of protests [here] … is because we have the FAIR Education Act,” says Adamian.
“Sometimes the best thing we can say [to teachers] is ‘Hang in there.’ If there is an effort like the law in California, then we will be there,” he says.
For states with restrictions on LGBTQ content, the policies apply specifically to sex education and how teachers can describe safe practices to their students. The details of these measures run the gamut, according to Clifford Rosky, a law professor at the University of Utah.
In South Carolina, for example, state legislation prohibits health education teachers from engaging in any “discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships.” But in North Carolina, teachers are told simply to explain “the benefits of heterosexual relationships.”
Although these policies only specifically cover sex education lessons, many teachers run into confusion over whether mentioning a historical figure’s gender identity or sexuality counts as sex education content, Rosky said.
“The design of the laws was to make broad ambiguous prohibitions so that the topic would be ignored altogether,” he said.
Since 2017, Utah, Arizona and Alabama have lifted LGBTQ curricular restrictions — a move Rosky says generally garners more bipartisan support than instituting inclusivity mandates. Legislation that bans discussions of LGBTQ people increasingly lacks broad support, even among conservative groups. The repeal votes in the Utah House and Senate were both nearly unanimous. The reasons more states haven’t removed these policies, says Rosky, have more to do with the cost, time and potential for outing LGBTQ children in lawsuits than ideological opposition.
On the other hand, conservative groups have strongly challenged mandates, arguing that references to gender and sexuality shouldn’t be forced in schools and are best reserved for family discussions. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent conservative Christian organization, has fought against incorporating LGBTQ content into public school curriculum.
In ‘Enormous Victory for Transgender Students,’ Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in Doe v. Boyertown; Prior Ruling That Kids Can Use Facilities Matching Gender Identity Stands
The ADF did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but a section of its website discussing “parents’ rights” reads, “Today, sexually explicit or homosexual materials are frequently mandated for children as young as kindergarten, many times against their parents’ will, and often in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘safe school lessons.’”
Republican officials have also expressed skepticism about mandating LGBTQ history lessons. After the Illinois House of Representatives approved an inclusivity mandate, state Rep. Tom Morrison told NPR, “Here’s what parents in my district said: ‘How or why is a historical figure’s sexuality or gender self-identification even relevant? Especially when we’re talking about kindergarten and elementary school history.’”
Ultimately, however, the call is rising for students of color, students with disabilities, immigrant students and those from other marginalized groups to learn with materials that reflect their experiences, says Sapon-Shevin. LGBTQ curriculum is just one part of that shift.
Rosky agrees, noting that throughout history anti-LGBTQ discrimination was justified by a desire to protect children.
“What we saw in the last several decades is an increasing recognition that actually discrimination against LGBT people doesn’t protect any children — what it does is harm children,” he says. “It harms LGBT children and the children of LGBT people.”
Noting the prominent anti-gay activist Anita Bryant’s 1970s “Save Our Children” campaign, Rosky said, “In some sense, the LGBT movement is saying, ‘No, no, no, save our children.’”
A Former School-Based Police Officer Was Charged With Negligence in Connection With the Parkland Massacre. Experts Call the Move Extremely Rare. But What Are the Broader Implications for School Safety?
As shots rang out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year, Scot Peterson, a school resource officer assigned to the campus, chose not to engage the gunman — a decision that prompted a fierce national outcry and led to the filing of criminal charges against him Tuesday. Despite the episode’s unique local context, some school safety experts and civil rights advocates fear that the former officer’s arrest could have broader ramifications as anxious administrators and parents continue to grapple with school shootings.
Some critics said the arrest could cause some officers to adopt a more “militaristic” approach to combating school-based violence, or to avoid the job outright if the consequences of inaction could land them in jail.
“My fear is that other police departments will see this and they will start training in a more militaristic fashion in order to prepare for the very rare” school shootings, said Nadine Connell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Look, 99.99 percent of school resource officers are going to get through their entire career and this isn’t going to be the thing they ever have to think about. But when you prime them to think about that, you get military models of policing.”
Given the severity of the accusations against the Parkland officer, however, some school officials expressed doubts that the arrest would set a dangerous precedent. Bob Farrace, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said he reached out to multiple administrators and school resource officers about the implications of Peterson’s arrest but heard no serious concerns.
“Just about all of the SROs who have shared their perspectives” on Peterson’s response recognize that the alleged behavior was “a clear departure from protocol,” Farrace said in an email. “Once upon a time, the protocol was to wait until SWAT arrived, but that has long since changed to the SRO’s engaging right away. Perhaps if there was more of a gray area, the criminal charges might have broader national implications for criminalizing professional judgement.”
In many parts of Florida, there was a sense that justice was finally being offered. Following former Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson’s arrest Tuesday, parents who lost children in the shooting cheered the decision. Among those who lauded the arrest was Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “Accountability is all I wanted, and now it looks like it’s happening.”
The charges against Peterson follow an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which concluded that he failed to investigate the source of gunshots, retreated during the shooting and told other officers to remain 500 feet from the building during an episode that left 17 students and staff dead.
Peterson “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the Parkland shooting, FLD Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement on Tuesday. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
Peterson’s criminal defense attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo of Fort Lauderdale, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The 74. But he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the state’s actions “appear to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution” against Peterson. He said officials “have taken the easy way out” by blaming Peterson “when there has only ever been one person to blame,” referring to the gunman.
Peterson made his first court appearance Wednesday at the Broward County Main Jail, and his bail was set at $102,000.
It’s too early to know how the specific charges against Peterson — which include seven counts of child neglect, six of which are felonies, three counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence and one count of misdemeanor perjury — will pan out, but some legal experts have argued that prosecutors face an uphill battle in a case that may be without precedent.
Multiple school-safety experts said they’re unaware of another case in which a school-based officer was arrested for failure to protect. Meanwhile, multiple legal experts told reporters that officials used a legally dubious interpretation of the law to charge Peterson.
“Although as a father, legislator and human being, I believe that there is no societal defense to cowardice, the law has consistently and recently held that there is no constitutional duty for police to protect us from harm,” Michael Grieco, a Florida-based defense attorney, told the Associated Press. “The decision to criminally charge Mr. Peterson, although popular in the court of public opinion, will likely not hold water once formally challenged.”
In the year since the Parkland shooting, officials across the country have engaged in an often controversial push to increase police presence on school campuses. Proponents say school-based police are necessary to keep children safe. But critics, including civil rights advocates, argue that placing officers in schools leads to the criminalization of student misbehavior that has historically been addressed by school administrators. They have also highlighted federal data showing that students of color face disproportionate arrests at school.
Perhaps most crucially, there’s little research to suggest that school-based officers make campuses safer. Meanwhile, school shootings like the one in Parkland, while high-profile, are statistically rare. When such tragedies unfold, however, Connell said they set a dangerous “precedent for martyrdom,” as evidenced by several recent school shootings in which students hurled themselves at the gunmen to avert greater carnage.
“If we expect that from our school resource officers, the type of people who are going to be attracted to that job are not the type of people that we want to be in charge of the safety of our students,” she said. “You need somebody who can interact in a compassionate way, and you need somebody who is willing to understand childhood development.”
Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and an outspoken critic of school-based police, offered similar concerns. Jordan said Peterson’s arrest raises an important question for school leaders: What kind of officer do they want patrolling their hallways? Because active shooters often use firearms with high-capacity magazines and conclude their attacks in a matter of minutes, he said, an officer with SWAT experience may be best equipped to intervene. But school policing tends to center on the softer skills of developing relationships between students and officers.
“Those are very different types of police officers, both by training and temperament, in my experience,” Jordan said. “There’s a real contradiction in the rationale given for officers being placed in schools and for what these officers are expected to do.”
Though Jordan is skeptical of police in schools generally, he said officers with a SWAT-like mentality could contribute to a negative school climate for students.
“It’s one thing to say that ‘You’re in school because you want to keep somebody from coming in the door who is heavily armed to try to harm kids,’” he said. “It’s another thing when you have to look at each kid who is in the school as a potential suspect and a potential shooter.”
Peterson’s arrest could also hurt recruitment, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the Florida-based School Safety Advocacy Council. Lavarello previously worked as a school resource officer in Broward County, where Parkland is located, in the 1980s before founding and serving as executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
“I think it’s going to have a dramatic impact on school resource officers statewide,” he said. “If I’m an SRO, I’m watching this one really carefully.”
But school security consultant Kenneth Trump, president of the Ohio-based National School Safety and Security Services, said he’s skeptical that Peterson’s arrest will send a “shock wave across the country” absent a mass school shooting that mirrors the precise circumstances found in Parkland. He encouraged school and law enforcement officials to examine their own policing practices. He recommends a model developed by the National Association of School Resource Officers, which urges school-based police to act as educators and mentors in addition to law enforcement officers.
But Jordan predicted that Peterson’s arrest will have ripple effects throughout the education ecosystem. Police departments may reconsider whether to send officers to schools, he said, while school-based police could reconsider their jobs. It could also prompt confusion among school district leaders about their own liabilities.
“When you take one officer and make a national example out of that person,” Jordan said, “there’s no good outcome here.”
Expert: Charges Against Former Broward Deputy in Connection to Parkland Massacre Pose Thorny Questions for School-Based Police
A former sheriff’s deputy, who faced intense scorn over his response to the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, was arrested Tuesday and charged with neglect and perjury, according to local law enforcement officials. But the arrest could alter the way school resource officers across the state respond to emergencies, one school safety expert told The 74.
“I think it’s going to have a dramatic impact on school resource officers statewide,” said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council. “If I’m an SRO, I’m watching this one really carefully.” He argued that the decision could dissuade people from working as school-based police officers, or cause them to enter dangerous situations unnecessarily.
Lavarello has a unique perspective, having worked as a school resource officer in Broward County, where Parkland is located, in the 1980s before founding and serving as executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. His skepticism is not shared by several parents who lost children in the shooting. Among them was Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed in the massacre. Alhadeff, since elected to the Broward County School Board, founded a nonprofit after the shooting that advocates for enhanced school security measures.
“He needs to go to jail and he needs to serve a lifetime in prison for not going in that day and taking down the threat that led to the death of our loved ones,” Alhadeff told the Sun Sentinel. “It was his duty to go into that building and to engage the threat, and he froze and he did nothing.”
The former deputy, Scot Peterson, was accused of inaction following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 people were killed and 17 others were injured. Peterson was employed by the county sheriff’s office but served as a school resource officer at the high school when the shooting unfolded.
Peterson’s arrest follows a 15-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which found that Peterson failed to investigate the source of gunshots, retreated during the shooting and told other officers to remain 500 feet from the building. Peterson was charged on Tuesday with seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury. He was arrested at the Broward Sheriff’s Office headquarters and booked into the Broward County Main Jail.
The investigation found that Peterson “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the Parkland shooting, FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.” Neither Peterson nor his attorney had commented to news sources as of Tuesday evening.
Lavarello said he is “rather disgraced” by Peterson’s response to the Parkland shooting. However, he expressed concern that the charges against Peterson could have ripple effects. Although school-based police are occasionally criticized for overzealous use of force when confronting children, Lavarello said he’s unaware of another scenario in which a school-based officer faced criminal charges for failure to act.
Lavarello called Peterson’s arrest “quite alarming” and said it could affect the way school-based police respond to emergencies. At the time of the shooting, Broward County Sheriff’s Office policy said officers “may” enter the scene of an active shooting, though the wording has since changed to require that they “shall” enter in such scenarios. Lavarello argued that the previous policy afforded Peterson a chance to make a judgment call.
“Is it now going to cause officers to walk into a situation where they know absolutely they may be killed instantly?” he asked.
Boston Massively Expanded Its Charter Sector — Without Sacrificing School Quality. New Research Sheds Light on How Education Reforms Can Remain Effective While Applied at Scale
How do you bring success to scale?
It’s a question that has tormented education experts — and, really, anyone designing public policy — for years. Smart, successful investments in teacher coaching, whole-school reforms and new curricula have attracted rapturous headlines and public interest, then faltered after being brought to more classrooms. When education reforms are implemented in new contexts, by teachers and school leaders who played no role in creating them, their effects fade all too often.
But new research offers evidence that ambitious new policies can remain effective while applied at scale. The working paper, released earlier this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that charter schools in Boston kept hitting high marks even after replicating their model several times over. The city’s charter sector, ranked among the best for systems across the country, saw no decline in its results.
First circulated by MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, the study examined a period of rapid charter expansion in Boston between 2010 and 2015, when the sector roughly doubled in size. Co-author Christopher Walters, an economics professor at University of California, Berkeley, said he wouldn’t have predicted that the expansion would be so successful.
“The effect sizes that we see in these lottery comparisons are some of the larger effects you see anywhere in education policy research,” Walters said. “I expected that the schools would probably produce gains as they expanded, but the fact that they remained just as effective was certainly a surprise to me.”
Those effects were indeed substantial. By the researchers’ calculations, attending a charter school in Boston substantially improved students’ scores in both English and math.
The study covered the years following 2010, when Massachusetts lawmakers lifted a statewide limit on the percentage of education funding that could go to charters. The law was directed specifically at lowest-performing school districts like Boston. As a result, funding for charter schools grew to 18 percent from 9 percent of district funding in those areas, and operators filed dozens of applications for new charter schools.
Of note, the state limited the charter expansion to “proven providers”: existing charter schools whose students had already shown progress. Those schools — identified on the basis of both academic metrics (test scores, high school graduation rates and suspensions) and student data (high-need student populations, as well as student attrition over time) — accounted for four out of Boston’s seven charter middle schools. They would be allowed to expand their existing schools and establish new campuses.
Expansion moved swiftly. Between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of Boston kindergartners enrolled in a charter school rose to 9 percent from 5 percent; sixth-graders enrolled in a Boston charter more than doubled in proportion — growing to 31 percent from 15 percent; and ninth-graders enrolled in a charter climbed to 15 percent from a previous 9 percent.
More importantly, academic data show that those students performed better than they would have elsewhere. The authors found that the charter schools selected for expansion produced larger learning gains over those five years than other charter schools. New and expanded charters posted similar academic results as their original campuses. And the proven providers saw no decline in quality, even as they directed existing staff and resources toward expanding operations.
Co-author Sarah Cohodes, a professor of education and economics at Columbia University’s Teachers College, suggested that part of the expansion’s success lay in the fact that Massachusetts had simply chosen the right charter schools to scale. While education leaders always try to pick good candidates for growth, the proven-provider strategy offered a “very promising path forward,” she said.
“Of course, all states and authorizing entities do have processes through which they decide who to authorize — they’re not just willy-nilly saying anyone can do it,” Cohodes said. “But they’re not necessarily focused on operators who have demonstrated success in other schools.”
Some charter advocates disagree. By requiring evidence of prior success, the conservative Pioneer Institute has argued, Massachusetts is deliberately slowing the growth of a resoundingly successful charter school sector. Others lament that if regulators favor charter models that have already succeeded, students will miss out on promising but unproven new practices.
At present, it’s difficult to picture any Massachusetts charters being asked to expand, whether due to their successes or public demand. A 2016 effort to further lift the statewide cap on charters was decisively defeated at the ballot box, and polls indicate that public support for the schools has waned significantly among Democrats, who make up the majority of Massachusetts voters.
Charters Employ More Diverse Teachers Than Traditional Public Schools. Is It Giving Them a Leg Up With Minority Students?
Over the past few years, education researchers have coalesced around a striking, if somewhat unpalatable, observation: Kids learn more from teachers of their own race.
A decade of studies from Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina has shown that K-12 students perform better academically if they’ve been assigned to a same-race teacher. Though the effects have been observed in white students, they are especially pronounced in their black classmates, who are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to complete a college entrance exam if they are exposed to even one black instructor in elementary school. Black educators also issue fewer suspensions to black students, and more referrals to gifted education classes, than white educators.
Why Diversity Matters: Five Things We Know About How Black Students Benefit From Having Black Teachers
A study released today from the conservative Fordham Institute adds a notable new facet to the existing research, finding that black students are much more likely to encounter a same-race teacher in a charter school than a traditional public school. And the study’s author, American University professor Seth Gershenson, says that the greater likelihood of racial matching might help explain charters’ success with minority students.
The study examined all North Carolina public school students between grades 3 and 5, in both district and charter schools, between the 2006-07 and 2012-13 school years. In total, it gathered 1.8 million observations of students, including their race and student year, their teacher’s race, and their score on end-of-year assessments in both math and English.
Those data indicate that, while charter schools enroll a similar percentage of black students as traditional public schools, they employ more black teachers — about 14 percent of their teaching workforce, as opposed to roughly 10 percent of those in district schools. Partly as a result of the greater abundance of black faculty, black students are 50 percent more likely to be assigned to a black teacher in a charter than they are at a traditional public school.
As in previous studies, students in both charters and district schools received a measurable academic benefit from being assigned to a same-race teacher; on average, the effect size was about the equivalent of eliminating 10 teacher absences over the course of one school year. But the boost in test scores for racially matched students was about twice as large for charter students as for traditional public school students.
Though the race-matching impact was nearly doubled for charter students, the difference was not deemed statistically significant, in part because the number of charter students featured in the study was relatively low (just 30,000 observations were made over seven academic years, versus more than 1 million such observations for district schools). But in an interview with The 74, Gershenson said that he believed the distinction would have been preserved over a larger sample size.
“Twice as big of an effect is still twice as big of an effect, and that’s a big deal,” he said. “If we had as many charter schools as we did traditional public schools, I suspect that we would have more precisely estimated that difference.”
National research has indicated that teacher demographics at charter schools tend to be more heterogeneous than those in traditional public schools. A longitudinal report released earlier this year by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 29 percent of charter teachers were black, Hispanic or Asian, compared with 19 percent of those in district schools.
Gershenson said that the higher rates of teacher diversity are a largely unremarked-on feature of charter schools, and one that might go a long way to explaining their relative success with students of color. Though practices differ by jurisdiction, charters are generally allowed to hire employees without conventional teacher certifications; the requirement to attain a teaching degree, which can come at substantial cost, has been cited as a hurdle to achieving a more representative teacher workforce.
“This is an important finding in its own,” he said. “And I don’t think the research world or the charter policy world pay enough attention to this point, precisely because we don’t have a great idea of what makes effective charters effective. You can view racial representation among teachers as a measure of teacher quality, and that’s a dimension of teacher quality that charters have an advantage in.”
Disclosure: Kevin Mahnken was an editorial associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute from 2014 to 2016.
Research Shows That Charters Do Best for California’s Low-Income and Minority Students. Now Lawmakers There Want to Slow Their Expansion
Updated June 10
California’s years-long debate over school choice has taken a decisive turn over the first few months of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tenure — and the shift has come at the expense of charter schools.
In February, Newsom convened a panel of experts to investigate whether charters siphon funding from school districts. The next month, he signed a law — repeatedly vetoed by the previous governor — establishing greater transparency requirements for the schools and their leaders. All the while, attention-grabbing teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland put the issue of charter growth at the top of the state’s education agenda, alongside teacher pay and school funding.
Now a series of bills is moving through the legislature that could dramatically curtail the charter sector’s growth. The most contentious of the package, Assembly Bill 1505, which would grant local districts greater leeway to reject petitions for new charter schools, has passed the state Assembly and now faces consideration in the state Senate. Others, including a measure to cap the total number of charters in the state, have lost momentum.
In the most recent development, the task force convened by Newsom released a report Friday unanimously recommending that districts be given leeway to factor in “saturation” and demand when considering new charter schools. Newsom and the legislature will now decide whether to implement the panel’s report, which includes majority recommendations to reimburse districts for one year of state tuition loss when a student transfers to a charter school and to strip prospective charters of the right to a second appeal to the state board of education.
In a statement, Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, said the report contained “elements that are deeply concerning and require more work ahead.”
Charter School Showdown in California: Assembly Moves Forward with Package of Powerful Regulations as Proponents and Teachers Unions Clash
Taken together, education observers have seen the past five months as signs that California’s long period of virtually unchecked charter expansion may be ending. Foes of the privately operated public schools, most notably the state’s teachers unions, would relish the possibility.
But for the students who gain the most from charters, a slowdown or reversal of the sector’s recent growth might not be cause for celebration. Those students, studies show, are disproportionately black, Latino and low-income children from the state’s biggest cities; ironically, they’re also represented by some of the sector’s most prominent critics — including Newsom himself, formerly the mayor of San Francisco.
The lay of the land
To understand how controversial charters are in California, you have to get a sense of just how prominent a feature they are in the state’s education landscape.
According to state data, more than 650,000 kids attend charter schools in California, or roughly 10.5 percent of all pupils in the state. Those numbers are huge in both absolute and relative terms: It is, by far, the largest statewide charter enrollment in the country, larger than the total populations of Wyoming or Vermont; it’s also proportionately larger than the average statewide charter enrollment across the U.S., which is about 6 percent.
The sector has also reached that impressive scope rather quickly, gaining more than 100,000 new students in just the past five years. That head-snapping pace of expansion came even as California’s total K-12 enrollment saw persistent declines.
In other words: A shrinking pool of enrollees, and the state funding that goes along with them, has put downward pressure on school district budgets at the same time that charters emerged as new competition. In an added wrinkle, California law actually prevents school districts (which authorize the vast majority of charter schools in the state) from rejecting new charter petitions on the basis that they pose a threat to local finances (AB 1505 would revoke that prohibition).
The growing clash for kids and dollars explains why the political battle around the sector has gotten so hot — and expensive.
The past few election cycles have seen record spending from both teachers unions, which adamantly oppose further charter expansion, and the deep-pocketed philanthropists who tend to support it. The money wars erupted again in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, which pitted charter-friendly former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa against then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won the endorsement of the California Teachers Association. Newsom ultimately raised an unheard-of $58 million on his way to earning his party’s nomination, including $1.2 million in donations from the CTA; once that race was decided, the education-related spending migrated to the race for state superintendent — a largely ceremonial job with little statutory power over charter schools.
In that election as well, the union-backed candidate, Tony Thurmond, prevailed over his more reform-oriented opponent. Thurmond, who said during the campaign that he wanted a “pause” on new charter openings, now chairs the commission that released Friday’s report on the impact of charter competition on traditional public schools.
So how good are they?
The increasing focus on charters’ financial effects inevitably leads to the question of their academic effects. But, much the same as with charter schools throughout the country, California’s sector has yielded mixed results.
“The charter sector in California looks like a microcosm of the charter sector nationally,” said Martin West, an education professor at Harvard. “That’s not too surprising, since California charter schools make up a nontrivial segment of the national charter data.”
Indeed, a comprehensive 2014 study from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that students who attended California charters performed a bit better in reading, and a bit worse in math, than their peers attending traditional public schools. That nuanced picture dovetails with charter performance nationally, which is roughly as good, on average, as the public schools run by local school districts.
But tucked beneath the topline results, the data show that charters perform better for the state’s least advantaged citizens. Specifically, CREDO found that poor black students at charters gained an average of 36 extra days of learning in literacy, and 43 extra days of learning in math, compared with those in traditional public schools; poor Latino students gained 22 extra days of literacy and 29 extra days of math. In general, charter schools in urban areas, where many of those students are clustered, were measured as much stronger than those in suburban and rural areas.
Those findings were echoed in CREDO’s 2014 study of Los Angeles charters, released the same year, which found even stronger results for minority students than were measured statewide. In yet another paper, this one released the next year and directed at 41 different urban areas, the research group found that a majority of charter schools in the Bay Area (encompassing the large districts of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose) outperformed traditional public schools in both reading and math.
In a 2018 research brief intended as an update on previous research, CREDO Director Macke Raymond cast the charter results for traditionally underperforming student groups as evidence that academic improvement can be achieved in every educational setting. In an interview with The 74, she did observe that enough time has passed since the original studies that “[she couldn’t] really tell whether the trends are holding fast or whether they’re changing.”
Still, the existing research base strongly suggests that the primary beneficiaries of charter schools in California are historically disadvantaged populations in big cities like Los Angeles and Oakland. But nowhere have the calls for curbing charter growth been louder than in those very cities, where striking teachers demanded official support for a statewide charter moratorium as a condition of returning to work.
Preston Green, a professor of education at the University of Connecticut, has warned that the lack of tighter regulations has complicated the financial state of small districts, potentially leading to a bifurcated school system resembling that of the Jim Crow South. While he told The 74 that he understands the appeal of charters as an option for black and Latino families, he also said that he supported a temporary moratorium on new charters.
“We really need to think systematically about how to permit charter schools to exist in a way that won’t deleteriously impact school districts,” he said. “So understand that when I’m calling for a moratorium, I’m not calling for a backdoor closure but, rather, really thinking deliberately about how they can exist and be situated in a way that their inefficiencies are lessened.”
Harvard’s West, who examined California’s charter authorizing practices in a paper last year, found that local districts often struggle to act as truly capable authorizers for charter schools — a deficiency made worse by the meager funding provided by the state to act in that role. But although greater resources and oversight might improve the sector’s performance, he told The 74 that such proposals have been absent from the debate raging in Sacramento.
“That’s a different set of issues … animating the debate in California at the moment. It seems to me that in California, you’re seeing a much more concerted attempt to prevent charter expansion, at least in districts that don’t welcome it, by empowering districts to deny new charter petitions. More than anything else, that’s what’s going on here.”
CREDO’s Raymond, while lamenting that the data on California’s charter sector isn’t more current, called for more reliance on data during the policy-making progress.
“I’ve spent 25 years studying what happens when monopolies face competition — and I’m on the record here — I’ve never seen any other industry that allows the monopolist to determine the fate of the new entrant.”
Monthly QuotED: 7 Notable Quotes That Made Education Headlines in May, From Charter Schools to Online Credit Recovery — and the Legacy of Brown v. Board
QuotED is a roundup of the most notable quotes behind America’s top education headlines — taken from our daily EduClips, which spotlights morning headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts. Read previous EduClips installments here.
“Our school system can no longer put up fences for black and brown children. On this 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, we are going to tear down those barriers and create an education system that works for all people, not just the wealthy and powerful.” —Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate, unveiling an education plan that would place a federal ban on for-profit charter schools and impose a moratorium on using taxpayer funds to expand charter schools. (Read in USA Today)
“There are very good public schools and very bad public schools. There are very good charter schools and very bad charter schools. The goal should be to make more schools high-quality and effective — not denounce an entire category.” —Founder of Venture for America and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. (Read on Twitter)
“This discussion … has been going on since black people were brought here. And it will go on forever.” —Activist and educator Howard Fuller, on the enduring legacy of racism and segregation in America’s schools 65 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education. (Read at The74Million.org)
“We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. There are kids who come in and they are really motivated to get done, we do believe, and we’ve heard from teachers that some kids wouldn’t be in school if they didn’t have this option.” —Carolyn J. Heinrich, a professor of public policy, education and economics at Vanderbilt University and co-author of a recent paper on online credit recovery. (Read in Education Week)
“Our No. 1 job as adults in this system has got to be that every child who shows up to school can learn feeling safe, being safe, in an environment that’s orderly. If we can’t meet that, we’ve got a real problem on our hands. We’ve got to keep those kids front and center as well.” —Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (Read at The74Million.org)
“It’s become a homeless and vacant spot for people to sleep in. Sometimes they put the cars in front of it, and they burn them.” —Marilyn Rodriguez, who lives around the corner from the former Fairhill Elementary School in Philadelphia, and who once taught in its classrooms. Fairhill is one of seven schools that remain unused and blighted after the district’s School Reform Commission closed them in 2013. (Read at WHYY)
“He’s a pretty chill dude.” —Dunbar High School senior Ciata Lattisaw, on new DC Schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee. (Read at The74Million.org)
Report: Most Students With Learning Disabilities Learn in General Ed Classrooms, but Few Teachers Feel Confident in Their Ability to Teach Them
Even as the majority of students with learning disabilities spend most of their school time in traditional classrooms, just 17 percent of general education teachers feel “very well prepared” to teach children with issues like ADHD and dyslexia, a new study finds.
More than two-thirds of children with learning disabilities spend the bulk of their day included in general education classrooms, according to the report, which was released this week by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood, which provides free resources to families and educators of kids with learning disabilities.
In the survey of 1,350 general education teachers, just 30 percent said they “feel strongly” that they’re able to successfully educate students with learning disabilities. For the report, researchers also conducted 13 educator focus groups and compiled a literature review of 150 academic articles on how to best educate students with special needs.
Nationally, about 1 in 5 public school students struggle with learning and attention issues, according to the report, though not all of them receive special education services at school. A majority of these children perform below grade level, which the report equated to “millions of students across the nation whose strengths and potential are going untapped.” Just half of the surveyed teachers said they “feel strongly” that students with learning disabilities can perform at grade level.
The survey results, however, did find room for optimism. More than 60 percent of educators surveyed said they’re “somewhat prepared” to teach children with mild to moderate learning disabilities. But when educators feel more confident about their own teaching abilities, researchers found, they’re more likely to provide instruction that enables students with disabilities to perform well. In focus groups, educators said they wanted to be well prepared, said Lindsay Kruse, vice president of the educators program at Understood.
“What they said was the preparation they have been given wasn’t effective once they got into the classroom,” Kruse said. “A lot of what they have learned has been on-the-job learning and a little bit of trial and error.”
Part of the problem, the report notes, comes down to teacher preparation. While a growing number of students with disabilities are included in general education classrooms, “virtually all states set a low bar for preparing general educators to teach students with disabilities,” according to the report. Only seven states require general education teachers to receive coursework on how to teach students with disabilities. Meanwhile, a third of teachers reported that they have not received professional development on serving children with special needs.
As such, researchers found that a significant share of educators held several common misconceptions about people with disabilities. A third of respondents blamed students’ learning or attention issues on laziness, a quarter believe such issues can be outgrown, and another quarter pin ADD and ADHD on bad parenting.
Meghan Whittaker, director of policy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said she hopes the report will help combat the stigma and low expectations that students with special needs often confront. Among needed corrective actions, she said, are for additional states to pass laws requiring teacher preparation programs to include instruction in special education. But a more holistic approach is needed, she said.
“We need the people in school buildings, the people making decisions about students, the people writing our laws about students — we need them to understand what students are capable of and really believe that they can achieve at high standards,” Whittaker said. “Without that belief, all of the laws in the world aren’t going to make a difference in practice.”
Disclosure: The report was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides financial support to The 74.
Is School Choice the Black Choice: Photos, Video and Reactions from Philadelphia Education Town Hall
Journalist Roland S. Martin led a group of African-American education leaders in a wide-ranging conversation about school choice Wednesday at Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia. The discussion included the politics of school choice, Philadelphia’s black-white achievement gap, parent empowerment and more.
Is School Choice the Black Choice: A Lack of Student Performance Data and the Need for More Black-Run Charters Focus of Philadelphia Town Hall
At the event titled “Is School Choice the Black Choice?” Martin was joined onstage by Jessica Cunningham Akoto, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia; Bryan Carter, CEO and president of Gesu School; Sharif El-Mekki, a prominent education blogger and principal at Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus; Toya Algarin, a member of the board of trustees for KIPP Philadelphia; David Hardy, executive director of Excellent Schools PA; Lenny McAllister, director of Western Pennsylvania Commonwealth Foundation; and Christina Grant, chief of charter schools and innovation at the School District of Philadelphia.
Lasting more than two hours, the event marked the third education town hall in a national series meant to engage black families on issues of student achievement, parent involvement and classroom equity.
During the second part of the event, Martin interviewed Steve Perry, education advocate and founder of Capital Preparatory Schools in New York City and Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The town hall was part of a national tour being organized in conjunction with The 74’s newest online platform, Keeping It 100, which prioritizes stories, profiles and essays about how schools across the country are serving students and families of color. The series kicked off in December with a town hall in Indianapolis and went to Atlanta in February.
‘Is School Choice the Black Choice?’: Roland Martin’s Education Town Hall in Atlanta Spotlights the Need for a Black Student Agenda and Unity
The event started with a partner networking fair that included education groups from around the city, including the Commonwealth Foundation, the American Federation for Children, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Great Philly Schools, Gesu School, the Association of Christian Schools International, Charter Choices, the Institute for Justice, EnrichED Schools, It Works, and Go Forward Education Foundation.
Watch the full conversation:
National partners for the tour include the American Federation for Children, EdChoice, ExcelinEd, J. Hood & Associates, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Progressive Policy Institute, UNCF and the Walton Family Foundation.
The Commonwealth Foundation, Excellent Schools PA, Gesu School, Mastery Schools, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and Philly’s 7th Ward were local partners for the event.
Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to The 74.
With the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education at hand, it’s a good time to reflect on the racial dynamics at work in American schools.
Here’s what we know: The United States is now more racially diverse than it has ever been, almost entirely because of a decades-long surge in the number of Hispanic students across the country. Yet according to many experts, our schools don’t reflect that diversity. Indeed, by some measures, black and white students are now as segregated from one another as they have been at any time since the 1960s. (I wrote about these startling numbers in greater depth prior to the anniversary: “Will Schools EVER Be Integrated?”)
So what’s really going on here?
To find the answer, we need to check out some charts:
1 American neighborhoods are getting more diverse.
Happily, research shows that levels of racial segregation in neighborhoods have declined steadily over the past half-century. That welcome development can be traced to a few different trends.
Most notably, the nation’s Hispanic population has simply exploded since the time of Brown v. Board, with Hispanics supplanting blacks as the nation’s largest minority group (the numbers of Asian Americans have also risen quickly). At the same time, the formerly adamantine barriers between black urban centers and white suburbs have loosened dramatically, as educated and affluent whites have poured into cities at the same time black families have migrated out of them.
In recent decades, demographer William Frey has found, segregation has declined in 93 out of America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. While black and white populations are still ultra-isolated in a few Northern and Midwestern cities (New York, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland principal among them), they have melded to a substantial degree in Sun Belt communities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Antonio.
2 Whites are shrinking as a percentage of the student population.
The population’s gradual tilt away from whiteness is most pronounced among young people. By some estimates, the K-12 student population is already minority-majority; that completes a long slide in the number of white students as a percentage of America’s entire student body.
Between 1970 and 2013, as immigration from Latin America and Asia took off, whites declined from nearly 80 percent of all public school students to just 50 percent. The percentage of black students has stayed almost identical over that time, while Hispanics have come to account for one-quarter of the student population as a whole.
3 Black and white students see less of one another.
After Brown (well, really after 1970 or so; resistance to integration was so strong that very little progress was made until 15 years after the decision was issued), it became much more common for black students to encounter white classmates at their schools. Between 1970 and 1990, the rate of black-white exposure — i.e., the rate at which the average black student saw white students at his school — roughly doubled.
But the trend began to reverse itself over the past few decades. Now, according to some experts, Brown’s initial successes in bringing black and white students together have been largely forfeited. On the bright side, white-Hispanic and black-Hispanic exposure have both ticked steadily upward over the same period.
4 Districts aren’t looking over their shoulders anymore.
According to some social scientists, there’s a clear link between the shifting racial composition of American students and the precipitous drop in exposure between black and white students. A smaller portion of white students overall means fewer will encounter black students at their schools. Their places have been taken by Hispanic and Asian students through largely race-neutral processes, it is argued.
But other forces have been at work at the same time. Beginning in 1991, after the Supreme Court’s landmark Dowell v. Oklahoma City ruling, school districts began to be released from court-ordered desegregation plans. Hundreds of major city districts have now voided the orders, which were mandated in the wake of Brown to force them to integrate public schools. That’s led to a wide-scale resegregation ever since, according to Gary Orfield, head of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.
In ‘Enormous Victory for Transgender Students,’ Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in Doe v. Boyertown; Prior Ruling That Kids Can Use Facilities Matching Gender Identity Stands
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will not hear Doe v. Boyertown School District, a case in which a non-transgender student argued that accommodations for transgender students in his suburban Philadelphia district violated his right to “bodily privacy.”
The high court’s pass means that a lower court ruling, which upheld the school district policy allowing transgender students to use locker rooms and restrooms matching their gender identity, stands.
Ria Tabacco Mar, an attorney with the ACLU, in a statement called the news “an enormous victory for transgender students across the country” and said the decision allows schools to move forward with policies that support transgender students.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law group that brought the student’s case, decried school districts that are “adopting radical changes” and “ignoring the privacy rights of all students.”
As we covered previously at The 74, the Doe v. Boyertown legal arguments marked a new turn in the escalating fight over transgender students’ rights: Up to this point, most lawsuits in this area have been brought by transgender students seeking to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity rather than their biological sex. The newer lawsuits flip those arguments on their head, alleging that accommodations for transgender students violate the “bodily privacy” of non-transgender students.
Prior to May 28, justices had delayed the decision to take up Doe v. Boyertown School District several times. Another case, Parents for Privacy v. Dallas School District, came from Oregon and is currently awaiting a July 11 hearing in the Ninth Circuit. Lower courts in both cases sided with the school districts that adopted policies accommodating transgender students.
That’s not to say that the first wave of lawsuits, brought by transgender students seeking accommodations, has died down.
The 11th Circuit in Atlanta could soon hear the case of Drew Adams, a transgender boy who was required to use gender-neutral facilities.
“Trans people are still being discriminated against, so when that happens, cases are going to be brought. I think that in terms of activism and litigation from more conservative corners, that has picked up. They’re no longer just playing defense,” said Scott Skinner-Thompson, an associate law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The Boyertown lawsuit was brought by a former student at a public school in suburban Philadelphia referred to as Joel Doe, who said he was was marked down in gym class for failing to change clothes in a locker room with a transgender student and “eventually felt forced to leave the school entirely,” according to his lawsuit.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit law firm that works to protect religious rights, wrote that Boyertown’s policy violated Doe’s “constitutional right to bodily privacy,” deprived him of equal access to an education guaranteed by Title IX, and violated Pennsylvania privacy laws.
Justices “can and should say that it is not reasonable for a student’s privacy rights to change based on what someone else believes about their own gender,” the attorneys wrote in their petition asking the Supreme Court to take the case.
Arguments that expansion of civil rights protections for one group infringes on another “have not been terribly successful to date,” both in other areas of civil rights generally and in this case specifically, Skinner-Thompson said.
The Third Circuit, which sided with the school district, cited in its decision the availability of single-user facilities for students who chose to use them, and said that the minimal privacy concerns that remain are outweighed by the need to protect transgender students.
Advocates for transgender students argued that the case’s primary argument — that expanding protections for transgender students necessarily comes at the expense of cisgender students, as non-transgender students are called — is both inaccurate based on schools’ experiences and harmful to transgender people broadly.
Kicked. Punched. Whipped. As Schools Struggle to Support Students With Special Needs, Educators Report Abuse on the Job
At a ceremony in 2014 to honor Brett Bigham with Oregon’s Teacher of the Year award, he slouched over in his chair — hoping blood wouldn’t seep through his shirt.
Just days earlier, Bigham wrote in a 2018 op-ed, he had endured a brutal beating in his classroom, one that sent him to the hospital. On this occasion, he wrote, a student bit him and whipped him with a television cable. It was far from the first time he endured physical violence or death threats on the job. It wasn’t the first time a classroom injury sent him to the hospital, either.
He’s been bitten, punched and kicked. He was hit over the head with a chair so hard he quit teaching for seven years.
Bigham’s story is likely an extreme example of the challenges special education teachers face as schools struggle to adequately support children with special needs, like those living with significant trauma or other conditions that affect their ability to regulate behavior. But special education teachers from across the country responded to Bigham’s op-ed, saying they too had experienced violence on the job.
During the 2015-16 school year, 10 percent of teachers reported that students had threatened them with injury and 6 percent said they had been physically attacked, according to an April report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The federal report didn’t include specific data on special education teachers. However, previous research has found that employees in special education classrooms are about three times as likely to be the victim of physical assault as those in general education classrooms. One report, published in 2014 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that educators who had faced attacks reported lower levels of job satisfaction and were more likely to consider leaving the teaching profession. As a contentious debate over school discipline plays out in Washington, the federal data show that schools have actually become safer in recent years. But exclusionary discipline, like suspensions, isn’t the answer to solve the situations Bigham faced in the classroom, he said. It’s greater support for special education teachers.
Bigham is currently not teaching full time. He is a self-proclaimed “troublemaker,” and he’s no stranger to conflicts with school administrators. Although his last full-time teaching job ended following an unrelated legal battle, he no longer wants to work in high schools. Bigger kids, he said, hit harder.
Before leaving the teaching profession last year, Dante Fuoco faced similar challenges. For six years, he taught special education in Louisiana, specializing in teaching children with behavioral and emotional instability — though he had no previous experience working with that population.
“They actually saw on my résumé that I was a swimmer and they thought, ‘Well that’s good, that probably means he’s physically strong,’ and they told me that afterwards,” Fuoco told The 74. “Just like, ‘Oh, this is somebody who could actually restrain kids.’”
Fuoco said he was kicked, punched and spit on “hundreds of times.” On one occasion, a student whipped him with a belt and he began to bleed. A school nurse offered Fuoco ice but said there was little more she could do.
“It stuck with me as a metaphor for what it’s like to be a special ed teacher working with kids who have trauma, working with kids who have challenging behavior,” Fuoco said. “Teachers aren’t afforded the space to grieve or to be upset or to get hurt. And I didn’t afford myself that space in part because it’s just part of the culture.”
For Fuoco, a punch to the throat was the final blow. Burned out by the job’s emotional toll, he quit to pursue a career in acting.
‘The second hit to my head’
Sandra Lewandowski, superintendent of Minnesota’s Intermediate District 287, is well aware of the challenges special education teachers confront on the job. Education leaders in the district, which serves roughly 1,000 children in suburban Minneapolis, have been transparent about the safety concerns educators confront — and have called on state lawmakers to help.
“I don’t want my school district to be known as a dangerous district — that doesn’t help us or it doesn’t help the students,” Lewandowski said. But “what we do need to talk about is students with very intense mental health needs.”
Intermediate District 287 serves some of the highest-needs students in the region, a majority of whom experience trauma stemming from factors like community violence. As a result, special education teachers in the district are frequently confronted by aggressive student outbursts. Last year, more than 300 educators sustained injuries on the job, according to district data.
Oftentimes, Lewandowski said, staff injuries occur when an educator needs to restrain a child who is experiencing emotional dysregulation. Part of the problem, she said, stems from a lack of high-quality mental health services available to students, both in and outside of schools.
“Most of us have dedicated our entire careers to this population of students, and they’re terribly misunderstood. They don’t get the help they need,” she said. “For our kids of color, they often get in the trajectory in the pipeline to prison very quickly. We see that happening, and it’s a tragedy in real time for us.”
After a teacher is injured on the job, Lewandowski said, administrators meet with staff involved because “they don’t want to feel like they’re alone in this work,” and provide time off for recovery if necessary. If educators feel unsafe, they can be reassigned.
Bigham, who has spent the bulk of his career teaching at a district in the Portland suburbs, said he often lacked support from administrators when confronted by a student’s violent outbursts. After an incident in the early 2000s, he took a seven-year hiatus from teaching.
Each day, he said, a student would hit teachers and classroom assistants. After complaining to school leaders and advocating for more help, Bigham was told he could pin the boy to the ground if the child swung at him more than 300 times. Under those conditions, he warned, someone could get seriously injured.
Bigham was working with another student when the boy hit him in the back and the head with a chair. As Bigham fell to the ground, the boy took a second swing. Bigham said he sprung into action when he realized the other student was about to get hit.
“Instead, I wrapped my arms around that kid and I took the second hit to my head,” he said.
After the seven-year break, he found himself back in the special education classroom, and he was soon recognized as Oregon’s Teacher of the Year — the first special education teacher in the state to receive the honor — before his career quickly hit a snag. Bigham was one of the first openly gay educators to receive the recognition nationally and, after he used the platform to confront bullying against LGBT students, the district reportedly retaliated against him and he was fired. In 2015, Bigham settled with the district for $140,000.
Although he’s currently working as a substitute teacher, he hopes to return to the special education classroom full time — this time at an elementary school.
Finding a solution
A few years ago, school leaders at Intermediate District 287 realized they needed to do more to support their highest-needs kids. They created a “mobile response team” of psychologists, therapists and behavioral specialists who address critical incidents at schools and coach staff on how to de-escalate violent situations. The district also removed school-based police officers from their campuses “because we don’t want to criminalize mental health,” Lewandowski said.
Violent incidents with students happen “every single day, it’s not a once-a-year kind of experience,” Lewandowski said. “That’s what is so challenging.”
The district is also experimenting with a “therapeutic teaching model” that blends mental health services in some elementary classrooms. Under that model, which was funded through a one-time state grant for nearly $2 million, a full-time therapist works alongside educators with children and another therapist works with students’ families. The district has lobbied the state legislature to make funding for the program permanent.
For Bigham, a bulk of the problem comes down to inadequate staffing — not just with special education teachers, but also among counselors, psychologists and paraprofessionals. For example, the American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1, yet few states meet that goal, with a national ratio of 482:1 — a tally that’s remained relatively stable over the past decade.
Indeed, schools have long faced a special education teacher shortage, according to a 2017 report by the Brookings Institution. The challenges schools face in hiring special education teachers has become more acute in recent years. But there are several strategies districts could use to attract educators to their schools. Among them: cash incentives.
“I get paid the same as all the other teachers, and they’re not getting beat up,” Bigham said. “We are about to have a huge crisis in staffing schools in this country, in special education especially, and this is one of the reasons.”
Such a straightforward solution isn’t so easy, however, because of collective bargaining agreements between districts and teachers unions, said Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford University who co-wrote the Brookings report. The failure to compensate special education teachers more, particularly given their violent encounters in the classroom, offers a disincentive for quality teachers to continue educating children with special needs, he said.
“You end up with this cycling of teachers that accelerate,” Dee said. “If teachers are leaving those special education classrooms — as they’re honing their craft and becoming more experienced — just so they can find better working conditions, the kinds of teachers you’ll have with the most needy students are relative novices who haven’t yet mastered their craft.”
Over the past decade, however, the number of special education teachers has dropped 17 percent while the share of students with disabilities has stayed relatively constant, according to a recent analysis by the Education Week Research Center. On average, there was one special education teacher per 17 students with disabilities during the 2015-16 school year. That year, 6.7 million children, or 13 percent of all public school students, received special education services.
Overall, the teacher workforce has increased slightly over that time period, with a student-to-educator ratio of 16 to 1.
Educators serving students with disabilities have long highlighted challenges they face on the job. Special education teachers have cited an overwhelming burden from paperwork, a heavy workload and a lack of support from school management. Bigham said he’s observed each of these challenges over the course of his career.
When Higher Functioning Follows Form: Special-Needs Students Flourish in Sensory-Designed Schools
For Bigham, it’s a simple equation: Pay to adequately support students with disabilities now, he said, or shell out the money on prison sentences later. Fuoco agreed.
“The population I was working with,” Fuoco said, “is exactly the population that will get incarcerated, or is set to get incarcerated, if things don’t profoundly change.”
U.S. News and World Report released its annual national rankings of public high schools, and the well-known — and often-contentious — list got a serious remodel. As it has in the past, the site worked with the North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute RTI International, and drew from school-reported public data. But this year, the magazine cast a wider net in an effort to make the rankings more inclusive and less volatile.
Here are five takeaways from the results of that new calculation:
1 Many more factors affect the rankings.
In past years, U.S. News has focused closely on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, looking both at how many each school offers and how well students perform on them. Those figures still influence the rankings, but new factors also impact where schools fall on the list, including how well students performed on state math and reading tests, state test performance (specifically for black, Latino and low-income students) and graduation rates.
That shift better aligns with recommendations from national organizations representing high schools, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals. On its website, the association urges rankings to include “multiple indicators of school progress.” It goes on, however, to suggest factors U.S. News still hasn’t incorporated, including teacher salaries and class-size ratios.
The rankings have drawn criticism in the past for not acknowledging the systemic challenges some schools face. Kevin Welner, professor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education and founder of the National Education Policy Center, has been a vocal critic. He appreciates how changes to the process recognize different school contexts, but he’s still concerned that national rankings ignore underlying inequities.
“Societal ills like poverty and racism lead to unequal opportunities to learn inside and outside of our schools … Rankings like this just feed into that cycle, with no serious attempt to confront self-deceptive beliefs that students compete within a fair meritocracy,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
2 The list is much (much) longer.
For those who want to check out every ranked school, be prepared to scroll. This year’s list, released on April 30, is about seven times as long as last year’s. For the first time, U.S. News included every public high school in the country with a senior class of at least 15. That adds up to just under 17,000 schools, compared with about 2,700 last year. The top three quarters of the list are ranked individually, but the bottom quarter are all listed as one group.
The additions were meant to give more readers information about their local schools, according to Eric Brooks, a data analyst who worked with U.S. News. And with such a bigger pool to sort through, Brooks says, some schools saw their rank shift dramatically.
“More than half of schools ranked in 2018 dropped in their ranking in 2019 because the rankings expanded,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
Schools whose rank jumped aren’t necessarily any higher-performing than in the past; they’re just getting more recognition for strengths outside of AP and IB test scores alone. Schools at the very top of last year’s list, however, didn’t budge much. The top 20 from last year all found a spot in the top 70 this year.
3 The top of the charts still aren’t very diverse.
The highest-performing schools continue to have disproportionately low black and Latino representation, even with the list’s greater focus on underrepresented students. For schools that report high minority enrollment, the disconnect can sometimes still be striking. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, ranked third in magnet schools and fourth overall. It reported a 77 percent minority enrollment, largely bolstered by a high proportion of Asian students. But enrollment levels for black and Latino students at the school measured at just 4.3 percent, according to the State Department of Education’s School Quality Profiles.
Nationally that dynamic persists. Black and Latino enrollment at the top 50 ranked high schools averaged about 23 percent, according to 2015 data from the Office for Civil Rights — the most recent available. That’s significantly lower than the 41 percent national black and Latino enrollment in high school, measured in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education. Enrollment for black and Latino students at the top 10 ranked schools averaged only about 12 percent.
4 BASIS schools in Arizona slip out of the top positions.
The BASIS chain of charter schools — schools that are privately run but publicly funded — no longer occupy most of the top spots. BASIS is a corporation that owns and operates both public charter and private schools, and its schools consistently place at the highest end of the high school rankings. Last year, BASIS charter high schools, none of which had more than 100 seniors, took the first through sixth positions on the list. This year, they are more dispersed throughout the top 100.
BASIS: Inside the Acclaimed School Network That’s Blended Together the World’s Best Education Practices
How much of this change comes from the new methodology isn’t clear, but the schools’ low diversity — coupled with the list’s emphasis on underrepresented students — could be one contributor. Most of the top BASIS schools report small minorities of black or Latino students. At BASIS Peoria in Arizona, the chain’s top-ranked school this year, just seven out of 67 students identified racially as something other than “white” or “Asian.”
5 The new rankings are designed for more accurate year-to-year comparisons
Because older versions of the list used fewer data points and included fewer schools, they were more sensitive to minute changes, according to the U.S. News site. If a school saw a dip in AP testing scores, even if most other factors remained steady, it could fall out of the ranking altogether.
The wider web of factors influencing the list, and the higher number of ranked schools, mean small changes in a school’s data are now less likely to lead to huge swings. And even if they do shift significantly, readers should be able to trace their position over time, at least moving forward. The site won’t release older versions of the rankings, saying they’re no longer comparable with the current list.
Overall, U.S. News is confident that the new standards will help the rankings better inform families as they decide where to send their children, Brooks says. But for critics, including Welner, the revisions are only the first step toward rethinking how to evaluate public schools.
“They’re doing the wrong thing, but they’re doing it better,” he wrote.
New Study Highlights How Divisive Political Rhetoric Can Seep Into America’s Schools, Prompting Heightened Bullying
Heated political debates that center on marginalized communities can lead to negative consequences for students, according to a study published Monday that found an uptick in anti-LGBTQ bullying at California schools during a statewide push to ban same-sex marriage.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that high-profile debates involving marginalized groups can lead bullies to target young people who are central to those conversations.
The 2008 California voter referendum, Proposition 8, restricted same-sex marriage in the state. The referendum was later struck down, and in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. However, researchers argue that the findings offer cause for concern when lawmakers and the public engage in divisive policy debates — such as those surrounding efforts to heighten immigration enforcement — that target marginalized populations.
“Racism and homophobia is real, and deploying it for political gain … is damaging for people who are marginalized,” said Stephen Russell, a professor in child development at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the report. “That’s the biggest advice: Don’t do it. Please don’t be homophobic or discriminatory.”
For the study, researchers analyzed middle and high school student surveys from more than 5,000 California campuses between 2001 and 2015. The California Healthy Kids Survey asked students whether they were bullied or harassed at school because they are gay or lesbian, or because someone perceived them to be. While student surveys indicated an uptick in anti-LGBTQ bullying in the years leading up to the voter referendum, harassment rates began to decline in the years after Proposition 8 was approved. Public discourse about same-sex marriage faded after the referendum was approved, Russell said, which likely contributed to the decline in anti-LGBTQ bullying in subsequent years.
During the 2001-02 school year, roughly 8 percent of students reported homophobic bullying. But the 2008-09 school year “served as a turning point in homophobic bullying,” according to the report. That year, when voters approved Proposition 8, the rate of such bullying jumped to nearly 11 percent. This spike occurred against the backdrop of declines in other types of bullying, including discrimination based on race or religion.
During its peak, the number of students who reported homophobic bullying exceeded the estimated population of LGBTQ youth in California schools, suggesting straight students were also targeted with abuse.
Though troubled by the trends, Russell said he wasn’t surprised. He pointed to an advertising campaign on television before the Proposition 8 vote that alleged schools were indoctrinating students to promote an LGBTQ agenda.
Though less comprehensive, another recent study documented a connection between divisive political rhetoric and student bullying. The study, published in January in the journal Educational Researcher, found a spike in school bullying incidents in Virginia counties that voted for President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. School bullying was stagnant in counties, however, where Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton won.
Despite the chief findings, the study on California bullying offered up at least one promising sign. California schools with Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, designed to foster supportive school climates for LGBTQ students, didn’t experience a similar increase in anti-LGBTQ bullying. Though previous research suggests that the presence of Gay-Straight Alliances at schools leads to positive student outcomes, Russell said his report adds to the literature in favor of the clubs.
However, he said schools should do more to support LGBTQ youth. Anti-bullying initiatives in schools, he said, could do more to address prejudice and discrimination directly.
“Most teachers were not trained to think about anti-oppression education and how to do it and what it means in schools,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do to think about how — through education policy — we can promote non-bias and anti-discrimination in schools.”
A poll released Friday by the advocacy organization Democrats for Education Reform casts new light on how race aligns with support for charter schools inside the party.
More than half of both black and Latino Democratic primary voters view charter schools favorably, according to the poll, which was conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group. But only 26 percent of white Democratic primary voters agree. On average, just over one-third of Democratic voters support charter schooling, and about half do not.
Those racial gaps also exist among millennials, according to a GenForward poll DFER included in its report. Findings suggest that millennial voters as a whole support charter schools, but they also report that over 75 percent think boosting teacher pay would do more to improve public education than creating more charters.
To Charles Barone, chief policy officer for DFER, those results aren’t surprising. “Both things are important. We have 6 percent of students [nationwide] enrolled in charters … In some ways, raising salaries for teachers naturally is more impactful,” he says.
Majority support for charter schools among black and Latino Democrats has remained relatively consistent, Barone said, but opposition from white Democrats has ticked up slightly in recent years. The polling research doesn’t explain what is contributing to the racial divide, but data in the past have shown that black and brown children are more likely to attend low-performing schools and their families are less likely to be satisfied with traditional public schools.
The results come at a time of heightened attention on Democratic candidates and their position on charter schools in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential campaign. As the report notes, among those who voted for president in 2016, supporters of public charter schools outnumbered opposers by 22 percentage points. So far, few Democratic primary contenders have expressed detailed policy positions on charter schooling.
The most notable exception is Sen. Cory Booker, who pushed to invest in charter schools and school choice in Newark, New Jersey, during his tenure as mayor. He continues to support that work today.
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Former congressman Beto O’Rourke has also praised charter schools — and his wife founded one — but unlike Booker, he has been noticeably quieter on the subject since declaring his candidacy. Like most Democrats, O’Rourke is courting support from teachers unions, which have generally been critical of charter schools. These privately run public schools typically aren’t unionized.
Historically, charters schools have had stronger bipartisan support, says Sarah Reckhow, associate professor of political science at Michigan State University, noting steadily rising favorability through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. But political orientation on a more liberal-conservative spectrum may be starting to exert a stronger influence on public opinion.
“What seems to be happening with charter schools is the beginning of that process of polarization,” she says.
The Benenson poll DFER commissioned surveyed 1,004 Democratic primary voters nationally over the phone between May 31 and June 7, 2018. The GenForward survey included 1,910 adults ages 18-34 between July 26 and Aug. 13, 2018. The margin of error for both samples is plus or minus 3.8 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. The polls are tied to DFER’s second edition of its Democratic Guide to Public Charter Schools, which comes out next week.
Overall, the findings offer one path candidates may follow in their effort to appeal to voters of color. It also presents a potential counter-narrative to the idea that support for charter schools is absent from the Democratic party.
“Our polling indicates it depends on who you’re talking about,” says Barone.