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Weekend To-Do List
9/15 - 9/17
1. Educators Don’t Have Time to Fight the Culture Wars
READ: Washington Post columnist Jim Geraghty wrote about his son’s back-to-school night, where the middle-school teachers seemed more focused on their responsibility for teenage learning and development than leading the charge over which ideological books should be banned from or included in the classroom:
Sure, you can find teachers making disturbing boasts about proselytizing their personal views to children, as tracked by Libs of TikTok, but your child’s teacher is unlikely to be one of them. No, your child’s teacher is probably dealing with matters that are much more mundane but still thorny and persistent. These students aren’t just trying to make up for learning loss from the pandemic; they’re also trying to make up for one to two years’ worth of missing socialization and maturity.
Read more here.
2. PragerU To Provide Curriculum for Oklahoma Students
READ/LISTEN: The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced a partnership with PragerU, a self-described conservative nonprofit focused on changing minds through digital media, to produce “educational, entertaining, pro-American kids content” for the state’s teachers and students. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) quickly responded with a statement:
OEA continues to believe that curriculum offered in Oklahoma classrooms should meet the high standards set by our local education professionals. PragerU isn’t a legitimate accredited education organization; it is a media organization, whose creator has admitted PragerU material ‘indoctrinates’ kids.
The OEA also clarified that families will have an opt-out option and that districts will not be required to use the material. Read more from Caroline Sellers and Xavier Richardson at KFOR here. Rikki and I also discussed PragerU’s influence on Lost Debate this week. Listen here.
3. Anti-Choice Union President Chooses Private Schools
READ: The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board penned a scathing condemnation of Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates after she confirmed she pays $16,000 annually for her son to attend a private Catholic high school. The Board empathized with Gates’ explanation that Black students in Chicago have limited schooling options but noted the hypocrisy of an anti-choice advocate exercising choice for her own child:
Ms. Gates’s son deserves a quality education, but so do his neighbors. With any luck this controversy will improve the odds of renewing the Invest in Kids program. But the real moral and political scandal remains the same: that thousands of Chicago’s children are locked into failing public schools as part of a political job-protection program for the teachers union.
Read more here.
4. Idaho’s School Facilities and Red Tape Fail Children and Staff
READ: Becca Savransky of the Idaho Statesman investigated Idaho’s continued failure to provide proper facilities for students and teachers nearly 20 years after the state’s Supreme Court ruled Idaho had failed to provide “a safe environment conducive to learning” and created a $25 million fund to address structural issues. The fund has only been used twice, largely due to prohibitive eligibility requirements, which state buildings must post an unreasonable risk of death, serious bodily injury, or health risk. Savransky interviewed a school cook in Salmon, Idaho, who said she works in constant anticipation of pending disaster:
Becky Harbaugh, the head cook at Salmon’s Pioneer Elementary School, has made do with ovens that don’t cook evenly and kitchen drawers and cabinets without handles that she opens with pieces of string. In the winter, her hands have stuck to door handles in subzero temperatures as she gets food from outside storage rooms. The district hasn’t renovated the kitchen, in part because the cost to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act would be too high, Superintendent Troy Easterday said.
Students who use wheelchairs at Harbaugh’s school can’t access the cafeteria lunch line because there’s no ramp. Read more in ProPublica here.
5. Denver Charter Mainstay to Step Down After 20 Years
READ: Melanie Asmar reported on DSST CEO Bill Kurtz’s decision to step down at the end of the 2023-2024 school year. Kurtz has been with the organization, now Denver’s largest charter school network, for 20 years and is credited with producing results that made the city eager to welcome more high-performing charters for many years. While the landscape around choice has changed, with the Denver School Board regularly turning down requests for new or expanding charters, Kurtz says local politics didn’t influence his decision:
“The adult politics around all this is necessary because we live in a democracy,” Kurtz said in an interview. “But ultimately, especially post-COVID, we need to have a laser focus on, ‘How are we serving students and families?’”
Read more in Chalkbeat here.
6. VELA Tests New Philanthropic Model With Launch of VELA DAO
READ: The VELA Education Fund announced the launch of the VELA DAO, an intriguing new philanthropic model. The fund, which will distribute $300,00 in grant funding during its pilot, will be run entirely by current VELA grant recipients. VELA CEO and President Meredith Olson celebrated this core component of the DAO model as part of the organization’s announcement:
“We know that for this work to be sustainable there must be real ownership and decision-making power among creators, and we are excited to learn from our community as they leverage the DAO and Web3 for experimentation with trust-based, collaborative philanthropic models.”
Read more here.
7. Portland’s New Practices Raise Questions About the Purpose of Grades
READ: Thomas Shults at KGW8 covered Portland Public Schools’ decision to implement ‘equitable grading practices.’ Teachers have been instructed to refrain from assigning grades to participation, effort, and homework, must give a minimum grade of 51% to incomplete assignments, and need to assign at least one point to late or missing assignments. While the district says these practices will reduce bias and increase fairness, some parents are skeptical:
"An A is effort and an F is failing,” Lamarr Hardy, a parent of two PPS students said. “And so if a child doesn't do their work, you know they need to get an F." Hardy said finishing all work assigned to his children is an important way for them to learn to finish work on time. "That's responsibility, that's how we teach our kids responsibility," he said.
Read more here.
8. Could More KIPP Schools Close the Degree-Completion Gap?
READ: Mathematica research group released a new report this week that found students who attend a KIPP middle school and KIPP high school are nearly twice as likely to graduate from a four-year college than students who tried to get into a KIPP school but lost the lottery. Jay Mathews at The Washington Post analyzed the report, which cited a college-going culture and participation in AP courses as key drivers behind the outcomes. Mathematica noted that the findings hold high relevance for education policy:
“For example, these impacts match or exceed the gaps in college attainment rates in the United States among Black and Hispanic students, compared to White students … An effect of this size, extrapolated nationwide, would be large enough to nearly close the degree-completion gap for Hispanic students or entirely close the degree-completion gap for Black students in the United States.”
Some education researchers and reporters have questioned the study’s methodology. Education policy professor Brendan Bartanen tweeted a lengthy thread on the topic, leading Mathematica to share more information about their approach.
Read more from Mathews here.