national newsletter

‘If we can’t talk about that, we can’t ever talk about diversity honestly’

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! We’re Matt Barnum and Sarah Darville, Chalkbeat’s national team. Our goal is to help you make sense of the messy, fascinating, often controversial efforts to improve education for poor students across the country. Did someone forward? You can subscribe here.

The big story

Sarah here: Matt’s been on vacation this week, and I’ve gotten myself sucked into a story alongside my New York City-based colleagues. It’s not a national story by any means — it involves a plan to change admissions rules for 16 middle schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and it may change things for fewer than 200 students. But it is a case of one community grappling publicly with questions that are relevant nationwide about the role of public schools, the best ways to help low-scoring students, and how to desegregate classrooms.

Here’s a quick guide to the plan, which would set aside a quarter of each school’s seats for students who didn’t pass the state math and reading tests. Video featuring angry parents’ reactions went somewhat viral, and spread further as New York City’s new chancellor tweeted it out with the headline, “Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.” (He’s since apologized for the words but not the sentiment.)

The brouhaha has pushed the city’s policymakers to talk about school segregation for nearly a week now, though New York City’s mayor still avoids that phrase. A longtime teacher weighed in yesterday with this point: “Many white parents are uncomfortable being in the minority, even though they absolutely are a minority in New York City’s public schools. If we can’t talk about that, we can’t ever talk about diversity honestly.”

Local stories to watch

  • New York may be about to reverse course on teacher evaluations. Top lawmakers are pushing legislation that would eliminate the use of standardized tests, and state education leaders aren’t pushing back very hard.
  • Some of Indianapolis’s “innovation schools” will be spared from district’s budget cuts. A handful of the schools, which operate like charters but are technically district schools, have multi-year contracts that will buffer them.
  • A Colorado high school is asking parents to help improve the school experience for black students. The school’s African American Parent Committee even sits in on classes and offers feedback.
  • Plans for a shared district/charter bus route in Detroit have hit a speed bump. It would be an unusual cooperative effort between the historically combative groups of schools. But costs could get in the way.

Names to note

Andres Alonso may be in the mix for the Newark superintendent role. Amie Baca-Oehlert is the new head of the Colorado Education Association. Austin Beutner, the former banker and L.A. Times publisher, is the new Los Angeles schools chief. Steven Galbraith is the new board chair for the Success Academy charter school network. Bridget Terry Long will be the next dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Marcus Robinson is stepping down as head of the Memphis Education Fund. Former D.C. chancellor Antwan Wilson is no longer consulting for Denver Public Schools. And Melissa Wu is the new head of Education Pioneers.

DeVos watch

The country’s state teachers of the year met with the education secretary yesterday, and it was more than a little tense, according to several of the teachers.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Oklahoma’s representative criticized public spending on charter and private schools, though DeVos is a big supporter of both charters and private-school vouchers. Pennsylvania’s teacher of the year described DeVos’s response about needing to redefine public education as “almost like Orwellian double-speak.” And the Huffington Post has video of DeVos responding to the teacher strikes, saying she hopes “adults would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids.”

DeVos also spent time in Detroit this week, spending a day at a student robotics competition in the city where she’s known for her involvement in education policy. She didn’t answer questions about local schools, or visit any, while in town. But she did talk to a group of Detroit Girl Scouts taking part in the competition.

What we’re reading

  • Teacher pay is so low in some places, including Arizona, that districts are turning to bringing in workers from developing countries, who are willing to work for less. New York Times
  • Buffalo, New York’s school district is set to spend $90,000 for a school turnaround expert, though board members aren’t sure what she is supposed to do. Buffalo News
  • It looks like one of the latest targets of the conservative Project Veritas’s undercover videos was the Albuquerque teachers union. New Mexico Political Report
  • Miami Heat players helped to welcome the KIPP charter network to South Florida. Miami Community Newspapers
  • The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative just gave $14 million to add “personalized learning” to 100 Chicago public schools. Chicago Tribune
  • A plan to increase teacher pay in Arizona, where many teachers have been on strike for a week, wouldn’t exactly deliver the intended results. Arizona Republic
  • Several teachers at a notoriously strict charter network in Chicago say reports that menstruating students routinely bleed onto their clothes because they are not allowed to go to the bathroom have not been overstated. NPR Illinois