News in Brief

GRADING DEVOS

Lock out adSecretary of Education Betsy DeVos spends a lot of time listening to pollsters and profiteers who are trying to soften her image and make money off of students and public schools. But when parents, students, and educators went to the U.S. Department of Education in February, to mark the first anniversary of her tenure and deliver report cards and comments from 80,000 people about the needs of our public schools, she locked them out. The comments were intended to give DeVos advice on how to strengthen and support the great work happening in public schools across the country. “She chose once again to reject and ignore the voices of those who educate in, learn in, and send their kids to public schools—the schools that 90 percent of America’s children attend,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. Watch the video here.

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS CAN’T BECOME THE NEW NORMAL

Not even two months into 2018, there had already been 18 school shootings. The latest of these (at press time) occurred on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, where 17 people were killed and many others injured. “When is enough, enough?” asked AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement. “We are devastated and horrified by yet another school shooting in our nation. We will be there today, tomorrow, and however long it takes to help the Stoneman Douglas community, and we will continue to fight to prevent gun violence from becoming the new normal in our schools.” Inspired by those in Broward, students across the country are rallying for gun control, while President Trump has proposed arming teachers in schools. Read more here.

FIRST BOOK SURVEY SHOWS EDUCATOR, STUDENT STRESS

In underserved communities around the country, increased anxiety around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and racism is impeding learning and increasing demands on educators, according to survey results released in February by First Book, a national nonprofit dedicated to donating books and raising the quality of education. The survey asked First Book’s network of educators—who exclusively serve kids in need—to identify the social and political issues that were most relevant to their students in the last year, how those issues affected learning, and what they needed to address the issues in the classroom. Nearly 50 percent of respondents stated that the kids they serve are directly affected by DACA and immigration policies.

STUDENT LOAN CRISIS UNDERSCORES INEQUITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

A recent report by the Brookings Institution shows that, in addition to the debilitating effects of the student loan crisis on students at large, it hobbles particular groups of students far more than others. Not only are default rates soaring, they are significantly worse for students at for-profit colleges, which target vulnerable populations for enrollment, including low-income students, single mothers, veterans, and first-generation students. The report, The Looming Student Loan Default Crisis Is Worse Than We Thought, calls for “robust efforts” to regulate for-profit colleges, improve degree attainment for all students, and address challenges faced by students of color.

FIXING DECREPIT SCHOOL BUILDINGS

Deplorable conditions in schools and decaying school infrastructure result in illness and negatively affect teaching and learning, writes Jerry Roseman on the AFT Voices blog. A veteran environmental scientist with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Roseman has seen his share of asbestos, lead paint, broken heating and cooling units, and water leaks in schools. “These conditions send a clear message to students and their families that their achievement and well-being don’t matter.” While he offers solutions that currently are being negotiated in Philadelphia, he emphasizes that they require the full collaboration of unions, school staff, parents, and the community.

SHEDDING NEW LIGHT ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT STANDARDS

In January, AFT President Randi Weingarten joined representatives of the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League to release How High the Bar?, a new report that demonstrates how students in other countries would fare if measured against U.S. accountability standards, and that seeks to help education officials use assessments to benchmark more constructively. “Teachers know that standards and assessments are essential in the pursuit of both educational excellence and equity,” Weingarten said. “They also know there is an art and a science to this; benchmarks can’t be unreasonably high or unacceptably low. But, too often in the United States, assessment data are used not to inform or improve public schooling but to hold schools to account or, worse, to penalize them.”

American Educator, Spring 2018
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