The Obama administration has reversed course on the high-stakes, high-frequency federal testing policies of the last decade. Following the policies of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind, programs like Race to the Top encouraged tests that were used for crucial decisions like school funding, teacher hiring, and school takeovers. They also increased the amount of time students spend testing, reducing their instructional time and contributing to curriculum that reduced breadth and depth of learning for more test preparation. Now, while not wholly abandoning standardized testing, the administration finally responded to mounting criticism against these tests and is calling for capping the amount of time students can spend on them.
Last week was Dignity in School’s national week of action to end school pushout. All week parents, students, educators, and activists held events across the country to engage their communities and spread information about ways we can rethink discipline in public schools. The national week of action had four major demands: to shift funding to restorative discipline practices, to use positive behavioral interventions instead of suspensions and expulsions, to fully implement restorative justice practices, and to engage parents and students about discipline policies.
Under a beautiful October sky on the edge of the French Quarter, 700 people from around the country converged on New Orleans. Students, parents, teachers, community activists, labor organizers, policy experts, and advocates of a multitude of issues came together for a weekend of education, collaboration, and engagement.
Organized by the Schott Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers, with more than a dozen co-sponsoring local and national organizations, our key theme was community and labor organizing together for racial justice.
A new report by a trio of racial justice and LGBTQ+ organizations highlights an important but overlooked facet of the school to prison pipeline: LGBTQ+ students are also at risk from harsh disciplinary policies. The Equality Federation, the Advancement Project, and the Gay Straight Alliance Network worked together to publish their report, called Power in Partnerships: Building Connections at the Intersections to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The report not only emphasizes how crucial this issue is, but also serves as a valuable resource for groups looking to form partnerships to fight against all of the many ways the school to prison pipeline hurts students.
A new report by the Shanker Institute brings attention a major problem in education: while the percentage of students of color has been rising, the number of teachers of color has failed to keep up. For black educators, the situation is even worse. Over the past decade, the number of black educators has declined in all the cities surveyed in this study. In some places, like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., that drop has been huge.
Despite fair funding recommendations, parents speaking out, and even state-wide bus tours, Pennsylvania is still without a budget that guarantees fair funding for education—in fact, the entire state budget remains unresolved. Now districts, teachers, and students are beginning to feel the effects. In the Chester Upland School District, teachers have decided to work without pay to keep schools open, and recently received even more bad news. Because of their long-term lack of funding and continually worsening financial situation, they have now been placed under review for a possible debt rating downgrade.
Walter H. Dyett High School is the last public, open enrollment high school in its historic Chicago Black neighborhood, and its community, led by education organizers and advocates, are rallying to save it. After the high school was closed due to low enrollment and performance, the community came up with a carefully designed plan to turn Dyett into a Global Leadership and Green Technology high school that would continue to serve both its students and its neighborhood. However, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointees at Chicago Public Schools have thus far refused to agree to this community-driven plan. Now activists are in the fourth week of a hunger strike, attempting to save their school.
There has been some good news recently for all supporters of community schools: the U.S. Department of Education has awarded 12 new grants to organizations developing full-service community schools. These 12 grantees will join the 30 others who have received grants from 2008 onwards. The awards total is close to $6 million, and will help districts and other groups develop and implement schools that can meet all of their students' needs.
The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools' new report, called Out of Control: the Systematic Disenfranchisement of African American and Latino Communities through School Takeovers, illuminates the undemocratic and unjust ways school takeovers shut these communities out of a voice in their own educational resources. When the state takes over a school district and replaces it with charter schools, they deprive parents and community members of a locally-elected school board and thus a voice in the process.
Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the surrounding Gulf Coast, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and communities. When the waters receded, the true story of Katrina's impact on the city and its future was just beginning: larger political and economic forces would reshape New Orleans and the lives of its residents over the next decade, often making public services like housing and education worse for the city's poorest and most underserved families.
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