An Ecosystems Approach to Federal Legislation

I don’t really update new content at this Schools As Ecosystems blog anymore (see my new blog, Language and Literacy, for newer (yet still, alas, infrequent) writing), but I had to hop back on here to share this new paper from the National Education Policy Center, A Civil Rights Framework for the Reauthorization of ESEA , as it was really exciting to see an ecosystems approach being brought explicitly to bear in advocacy for federal education reform.

In this paper, the authors promote an “equitable, evidence-based, and ecological (EEE) framework” that “places students, staff, school systems, and cross-sector collaboration at the center of ESEA and considers the complexity of racial, socioeconomic, and other inequities along with the strengths nested within communities.” I love this framing and will be stealing the EEE framework!

They structure their recommendations at different levels of scale in education systems: systems, students, and staff.

There’s quite a bit of content in the report, but just to amplify some of the ecosystems specific elements and other areas we may have touched on in this blog’s history, as well as push on some areas I would have liked to have seen expanded upon:

To promote racial equity at the systems-level, they provide recommendations to promote regional and interdistrict racial integration, as well as improving school facilities and infrastructure (yes, yes, yes!).

In developing their ecological framework, they build upon the work of Marcus Weaver-High-
tower, whose work we have also examined on this blog.

I would have liked to have seen a few more specifics for students laid out, however. While I agree with all the general principles they’ve laid out, I would have liked to have seen an emphasis on evidence-based instructional approaches to ensure fluency with foundational language and literacy skills and practice with understanding the hidden norms in a variety of social contexts, explicit instruction through shared and interactive reading that moves from word, sentence, to text-level, and consistent school-wide routines within a coherent high quality curricular platform focused on intellectual engagement with reading, writing, and discussions of a diverse wealth of complex topics from multiple perspectives.

While I fully agree in principle with the call to support students’ individualized needs, I also worry about how this can be interpreted, most particularly in relation to edtech, when it is in the absence of a dynamic, shared, and collaborative curricular platform that is systematically enhanced by teams of teachers.

That critique said, I appreciated the calls for support with high quality childcare, supports for incarcerated youth, and more supports for student well-being and mental health.

I also would have liked to see their recommendations for staff expanded upon. They leaned heavily into anti-bias training, which unfortunately has little empirical support despite the billions of dollars that have been thrown at it (in the pretense of doing something). I’d prefer to see a focus on clear guidance in the expected professional language and behaviors that are predicated on the roles and responsibilities of staff who serve the children in front of them. For example, for teachers who serve children of historically marginalized backgrounds, I’d like to see teachers gain supports in getting to know the children and communities they serve through a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods, guidance and practice in using asset-based language about their students and families, and guidance and coaching in the planning and delivery of responsive instructional supports, based on a shared curricular platform, that values the racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of students while holding high expectations for advanced intellectual success and ensuring access to and progress with grade-level skills and content.

Again, that critique aside, I appreciated the calls for support with educator well-being and mental health and building robust pipelines for educators of diverse backgrounds and languages.

Please check out their full report from an ecosystems here, and kudos to the authors for drawing upon a more complex framework for federal education policy: https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/publications/PB%20DeBray_1.pdf

Two things to read

I’ve realized that part of the reason I don’t post much anymore is that whenever I do think of something to write about (which is all the time), it just feels too big to dig into with the limited time I’ve got.

So I’m just going to start posting tidbits, whenever I can.

Here’s two awesome articles today that excited me because they are both about topics I  care deeply about.

  1. We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does., Alvin Chang / Vox

Some amazing work with the interactives on this one. It tailors to the data of your own school district.

2. Public school buildings are falling apart, and students are suffering for it, Rachel Cohen / Washington Post

We need to keep banging the drum on this one. The greatest overlooked area of education reform.

Smorgasbord: Back to school pep talks and charter accountability

It’s back to school week in New York. As teachers and students dust off their summer-laden books and brains, they head back under the increasing haze of chaos and uncertainty that Trump and his rich minions have ushered in as they slice and dice regulations and public services and norms and institutions willy nilly.

Yet there may be one thing that the Trump “administration,” if you can call it that, is right about when it comes to protections of the children of undocumented immigrants: it really should be on the shoulders of Congress to pass legislation, rather than be based on the whims of the Executive office. Look to advocates from both sides of the aisle to begin applying pressure to Republican legislators to actually create legislation for once that will work for the American people, rather than further subdivide them.

Sara Mead gives ed reformers a pep talk

It may be more comfortable to believe that educational outcomes are fixed and there’s little we can do to change them – but it’s also a moral failure.

Progress Over Pessimism, US News

Are students of color over- or under-identified as having a disability?

A researcher is pushing back on the conventional narrative, which has been formed around raw numbers. Controlling for poverty and academic achievement skews it the other way.

What’s left out this conversation is the fact that kids in the US are over-identified in general, in comparison to top performing countries, with little performance gains to show for the additional money and services.

Many worry that students of color are too often identified as disabled. Is the real problem the opposite?, Chalkbeat

Even when identified, students of color in poorer communities may not receive services

The city’s data show students from underserved districts in the south Bronx and Brooklyn are most likely to be deprived of the services they need to learn in comfort and safety.”

NYC denies nearly 9,000 kids with disabilities the services they need, NY Daily News

Oklahoma prioritizes oil companies over the education of its children

Just goes to show you what happens when you prioritize short-term interests over that of the long-term. A lesson for America.

Big Oil, Small Schools, US News

John King suggests that actual leadership from Department of Ed would be nice

“The department spokeswoman said Moran asked DeVos for ‘any resources we may have,’ and in response, officials provided a seven-page readiness and emergency management guide drafted by the department to specifically address Charlottesville.”

A readiness and emergency management guide? King slams Devos for her tepid tweets and bureaucratic response:

“The job of education leaders, whether it’s secretary or state chief or superintendent, is to every day be a voice for equity and civil rights protections, and we haven’t seen that from this administration.”

John King: DeVos, Trump Administration Not Doing Enough After Charlottesville, US News

Sony envisions a future of AI harvesting student data off a blockchain

“In the future, Sony believes student data can be analyzed using artificial intelligence to suggest improvements to specific educational institutions’ curriculum or management.”

Sony and IBM Team Up to Make Education Data More Secure – and Easier to Share — with Blockchain System, The 74

Bullying on social media is a real problem. Maybe it’s time to hold those platforms accountable like we hold schools accountable

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Most schools–you know, the ones that care about their children–stick their noses in kids’ private business because that’s where all the trouble happens. But as bullying increasingly moves into online spaces, where it’s more difficult for nosy administrators and teachers to monitor, maybe we need to start applying more pressure to those platforms to actively monitor the activity of minors.

This is a part of a bigger problem–that we’re increasingly ceding both our private and public lives to private platforms that are unaccountable to the public.

New Teen Survey Reveals Cyberbullying Moving Beyond Social Media to Email, Messaging Apps, YouTube, The 74

Can you imagine if this was the culture of school districts?

Elon Musk sends a message to his employees about the problems with communication as a chain-of-command:

“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.”

Sure would be nice to work in an organization like that!

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Describes What Great Communication Looks Like, Inc

How schools are governed determines their effectiveness

One has to look beyond the averages to see the truth: In states where charter authorizers close or replace failing schools—a central feature of the charter model—charters vastly outperform traditional public schools, with students gaining as much as an extra year of learning every year. But in states where failing charters are allowed to remain open, they are, on average, no better than other public schools.

What matters is not whether we call them charter schools or district schools or “innovation schools” or “pilot schools,” but the rules that govern their operation.

David Osborne, in the introduction from his book, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System; To Save Public Education We Must Reinvent It, The 74

Because charter systems with no accountability can be devastating for children

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse.

Michigan Gambled On Charter Schools. It Lost., NY Times

And we should not give up on public schools, because it’s not only about performance — it’s about serving our democracy

Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.

Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake., The Atlantic

CREDO and Clown Shows have equal weight in education world

…the larger problem is that chaos is a ladder and too many people in the education world see a clown show article by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post and an RCT or CREDO analysis as all having equal weight.

Great Moments For School PIOs, State ESSA Reviews, Buried Voucher Ledes, Charter Funding, Success At Success, RCTs V. Credo, Screaming Armadillos! Much More…, Eduwonk

Segregation, Diversity, and More

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This week is the last week of this legislative session in NY. While the political hoopla is around mayoral control, don’t let the noise detract you from something that has been simmering for decades: NY’s pervasively, deeply segregated schools.

There’s been some great momentum on the issue, at long last, both from NYSED and NYC. Yet the fact remains that there is no existing legislation on the issue that has been passed.

There is a bill that can begin the first steps in addressing that deficiency: Bill S3794 in the Senate and Bill A5795 in the Assembly.

Since I wrote my last post, there’s been some promising momentum: Senator Jesse Hamilton co-sponsored the senate bill, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley co-sponsored the assembly bill.

But the bill still needs to be put on a very busy agenda and made a priority in order to make it to the floor. Please call your senator and assembly person and ask them to help move this bill forward.

Thanks in advance. On to other news related to school diversity:

NYSED drafts a stronger statement against segregation than NYC

“Last week, the mayor’s drew headlines — and criticism — for his long-awaited diversity plan. Among the concerns — the mayor chose not to use words like “integration” or “segregation” to define the problem.

The state, on the other hand, isn’t mincing words. On Monday, the Board of Regents discussed its own draft diversity statement. “More than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education,” it states in its opening paragraph, “New York is the most segregated state in the country.”

The use of the word “segregation,” vs. the more general word “diversity,” is a flashpoint in conversations about integration. Advocates stress that the word must be used because it acknowledges the history of discriminatory policies and choices in loans, housing, zoning, and schools that have led to and perpetuated segregation. Others, such as Mayor De Blasio, view the terminology as secondary—and even a possible impediment to—in moving forward to address inequities as they exist now.

I can see both sides on this, and when I’ve advocated for increasing diversity in schools at a policy level and to the wider public, I tend to phrase it exactly like I just did: increasing diversity in schools. Why?

I think it comes down to whether we are talking about the past, or the future. When discussing the historic conditions and policies and choices that have led to pervasive segregation, we need to call it what it is.

But when looking forward, I think it makes sense to call for increasing diversity. Because it’s not only about race and class, it’s also about making our schools into inclusive spaces, rather than exclusionary places.

Maybe that’s making the bucket too big, but the fact is that active exclusion of others who are “different”—by both children and adults—is a key issue, and that’s a problem that exists in a school of any racial composition.

State’s draft diversity statement addresses ‘segregation,’ a word the mayor’s plan avoided, Chalkbeat NY

How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated?

Seems like an important thing to define. Though I also think if we end up getting caught up in talking about numbers we’re focused on the wrong thing.

What Defines a Segregated School? Debate Over Connecticut Integration Policy Heading to Court, the 74

New research from Ohio puts integration advocates who aren’t pro-choice on the spot

There’s a tension between being pro-desegregation and anti-school choice. Many advocates for integration are also opposed to school choice. A recent study out of Ohio suggests that interdistrict choice can promote improved academic outcomes (and integration).

New Research: Student Gains in Ohio’s Open Enrollment, but Top Districts Remain Closed, the 74

A rezoning effort in Baltimore reveals the difficulty in implementing integration

“Research shows that racial and socioeconomic integration benefits students of all races and backgrounds — but experience reveals the difficulty of achieving it.”

Redrawing school districts could redefine two Baltimore County communities, The Baltimore Sun

The school board ended up passing a compromise between the NIMBYists and the original rezoning plan.

Baltimore County passes compromise redistricting plan for eight schools

Two high school seniors design and publish their own curriculum to teach teachers how to talk about race with students

“Putting the project together required a huge time commitment outside school. Guo and Vulchi often met up at 4 a.m. to work on the book before classes started, and they have spent many hours traveling to schools to train teachers in how to talk about race and host class discussions on the topic.

And their work will only continue after their June 21 graduation. Vulchi has been accepted to Princeton University, and Guo plans to go to Harvard University, but they hope to defer their enrollment for a year to work on a third edition of the book. A crowdsourced fundraising effort is in the works.

“We don’t mind losing sleep for this. We feel the need. We feel the urgency,” Vulchi said.”

2 NJ High School Students Create Racial Literacy Text to Help Schools and Teens Learn to Talk About Race, the 74

Idea for increasing teacher diversity: elevate paraprofessionals

K-12 Teachers Are Disproportionately White and Monolingual. Here’s One Way That Could Change., Slate

Let’s do something about segregated schools, New York

Dear NY readers,

There has been a bill proposed that can provide a solid first step towards a statewide conversation about desegregating our schools here in New York.

The bill number is S3794 in the Senate (sponsored by Senator Bailey), and A5795 in the Assembly (sponsored by Assemblymember Sepulveda).

The bill would establish a commission to examine segregation in primary and secondary schools across the state, specifically to investigate the degree of segregation and it’s relation to funding and long-term economic impacts.

The fact is that there are no existing state-level bills on the issue. Along with the momentum that is happening in NYC (the Chancellor and Mayor announced a diversity plan on Tuesday!), we can leverage this bill to push for future legislation.

The end of the legislative session is fast approaching, and this is an opportunity to make state-level change happen. We have the next two weeks to advocate for the passage of this bill.

If your Assembly members and Senators hear more from all of us about this bill, then it is much more likely to move forward. If you aren’t sure who your assembly person or senator are, you can check here.

Here is a draft form that you can use to speak to or write to your representative:

Dear [state representative],

I am [writing/speaking] to you today to ask for your support of bill S 3794 (Bailey) / A 5795 (Sepulveda), which establishes a temporary commission to examine and review the degree of segregation in primary and secondary schools.

New York operates some of the most segregated schools and districts by race and class in our nation, according to a 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project and 2016 EdBuild report. There is a substantial body of research that suggests there are benefits for all children from learning in socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms. Yet there are no existing legislation to promote greater diversity in New York schools.

Therefore, I strongly support the passage of bill to begin a statewide discussion of how greater diversity can be supported in our schools and districts. This bill will help to firmly establish and clarify the relation between segregated schools and funding. Furthermore, the bill will start an examination of the long-term impact of a segregated education on students.

Establishing a commission to examine the segregation in New York schools will provide a clear direction for future policies.


Thank you for your leadership.

[Your name]