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February 03, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Digital Education

Some Educators Are Calling The Concept of ‘Grit’ Racist

“Grit” has in recent years captivated the imagination of educators and policymakers, leading many to embrace the idea that schools should seek to cultivate in their students a set of personality traits demonstrated by researchers to be closely tied to academic and personal success.

Increasingly, though, critics are offering a different take, arguing that grit is, in effect, a racist construct and has harmed low-income students by crowding out a focus on providing children with the supports they deserve and the more-flexible educational approach enjoyed by many of their more affluent counterparts.

That view was on full display recently at EduCon 2.7, an education technology conference held in Philadelphia.

“We keep [hearing] this narrative that the only way children in poverty are going to succeed is by working harder than their peers who are [in the] middle class,” said Pamela Moran, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Albemarle County, Va., public schools.

“We have to think about our own cultural biases, why grit appeals to us, and why we want to focus on it in our schools,” she said during a panel discussion on the topic.

The presentation represented a direct attack on the work of Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania professor who was recognized with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 2013 for her pioneering research.

“I’m sorry my work is perceived in that light. It certainly isn’t intended as such,” Duckworth wrote in an email to Education Week in response to a query. “I don’t believe we’ve ever written a single word that would suggest we are ignorant of structural problems, including poverty.”

Proponents of Duckworth’s research say the concept of grit is really just about setting long-term goals and working hard in pursuit of those goals. Nothing in the research precludes recognition of the societal forces that also limit opportunities for some students, they say, and nowhere do the researchers advocate that the cultivation of grit should be focused primarily on low-income students and children of color.

-Benjamin Herold

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Guide Shows How to Recognize And Prevent Child Trafficking

If a student in your school was a victim of child trafficking, would educators there recognize it? Do they know the warning signs?

It’s more common and more difficult to identify than many people realize, experts say.

The U.S. Department of Education last week released a guide to help educators recognize, respond to, and prevent cases of child trafficking—"modern-day slavery” that “involves exploiting a child for the purpose of forced labor, commercial sex, or both.” An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide, the agency said, and it’s not an uncommon occurrence in the United States.

“School personnel are uniquely positioned to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to services—actions that can prevent trafficking and even save lives,” the Education Department said in a statement. “Everyone who is part of the school community—administrators, teachers, bus drivers, maintenance personnel, food-service staff, resource officers, and other school community members—has the potential to be an advocate for child victims of human trafficking.”

The guide explains the difference between sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and it explains how traffickers groom and recruit children.

It includes a sample school district policy for responding to suspected trafficking. It also busts myths. For example, not all traffickers are adults; students have been arrested for prostituting other students.

The guidance also includes risk factors and indicators of specific forms of trafficking.

-Evie Blad

| NEWS | College Bound

University Surprises New Admits With In-Person Acceptances

Most high school seniors find out if they got into a college online or in a letter.

But six students who were accepted to the University of Maryland College Park for the fall were notified late last month in person with all the hoopla of the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol.

Admissions-staff members in a bus with a Maryland banner, along with the school’s Terrapin mascot, drove up to the houses of the randomly selected students in the nearby Maryland suburbs to deliver the good news.

This was the first year that the admissions staff made the visits, said Shannon Gundy, the director of admissions.

The parents were told of the visit ahead of time to make sure their children would be home and ready, but the news was kept as a surprise in all six cases, she said. As the bus made its way from one stop to the next, traffic on Twitter picked up, and hopeful applicants tweeted, asking if they would be visited next.

Some colleges give personal invitations to the first admit of each freshman class or lavish attention on athletes when an offer is extended. But Maryland’s approach is unique, according to Jeff Fuller, the president of the National Association of College Admission Counseling. “I think it could definitely be an idea that might catch on, especially to connect with the student and parent,” he said in an email.

-Caralee Adams

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Education Dept. Tussling With Texas Over Teacher Evaluations, NCLB Waiver

The U.S. Department of Education has told Texas that its teacher-evaluation system isn’t coming close to cutting the mustard when it comes to what’s expected for states with waivers from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Texas’ response? Thanks for letting us know. And we can talk about it. But we’re sticking to our principles.

“Well before this waiver, [Texas’] work to develop new teacher and principal evaluation and support systems was under way with the clear intent of offering it to districts as a resource to improve instruction,” Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said in a statement. “I have always made it clear to federal officials that as part of the waiver process [Texas] could not exceed its current authority nor would we do anything to erode our state’s strong commitment to local control in public education. My position on this front has not, and will not, change.”

Not exactly “Don’t Mess With Texas.” But still, not very conciliatory.

Meanwhile, the department has sent the state a letter listing more than a dozen issues that Texas will need to address by the department’s waiver renewal deadline of March 31.

-Alyson Klein

| NEWS | College Bound

Obama Reverses Proposal to Tax Benefits From Popular 529 College-Savings Plans

President Barack Obama’s plan to tax families on money they take out of their 529 college-savings plans proved so unpopular that he withdrew it.

In a reversal, the administration last week announced that a proposal to eliminate the ability to withdraw savings from those accounts tax-free would not be part of his new budget. The proposal was part of the president’s tax package aimed at helping middle class families, but the backlash proved to be a “distraction,” according to a White House official quoted in multiple media reports.

Members of both political parties had called for the administration to take the proposal off the table.

Among the critics was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who issued a statement following the decision saying he was pleased with the president’s turnaround. “This tax would have hurt middle class families already struggling to get ahead,” said Mr. Boehner.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., had also voiced concern with changing the tax rules on the popular college-savings plan, which had been in place since 2001.

Nearly 7 million families have 529 college-savings plans. The average account value is about $20,000, according to the College Savings Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that lobbied against the proposed changes.

-Caralee Adams

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Washington State’s Democratic Party Calls for Halt to Common-Core Rollout

The Washington state Democratic Party’s central committee has voted to approve a resolution calling on state Superintendent Randy Dorn to end the state’s implementation of the common-core standards, Leah Todd of the Seattle Times reported Jan. 27. (The legislature authorized Mr. Dorn to “provisionally adopt” the standards in 2010, and he formally did so in 2011.) Ms. Todd cites party precinct officer David Spring, who posted a copy of the Jan. 24 resolution on the website of his group, Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools.

The resolution lists several reasons why the state should drop the standards, including the federal government’s support of the standards through Race to the Top grant applications and the costs associated with the standards, including the new Smarter Balanced assessments the state is due to give in the spring.

Noting that the state Republican Party has also passed a resolution opposing the standards, Mr. Spring, along with two co-authors, Elizabeth Hanson and Susan DuFresne, write, “It is rare that rank-and-file members of both political parties find themselves in agreement on an issue as important as local control over our public schools.”

In an interview with Education Week, Mr. Dorn—whose nonpartisan office is an elected one—said that the state Democratic Party’s resolution was mistaken on several points, including the claim that Washington state was improperly pressured to adopt the standards by the federal government. He also said that the state parties are in fact “fairly weak mechanisms” for effectively pushing public policy changes. He said he had no plans to act on the resolution.

“They didn’t even call me up. They haven’t talked with me,” Mr. Dorn said of the state Democratic Party. “You’d think if you’re trying to influence me, you’d sit down and try and talk with me. I found out about it in the newspaper.”

-Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the February 04, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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