Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated

March 17, 2020 7 min read
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Prop. 13 Loss May Mean Using More Band-Aids In California Schools

Voters have sent a strong message to California’s schoolchildren: Tell the state to use its budget surplus to rid schools of leaky roofs, old wiring, and toxic mold.

Updated vote tallies last week showed a $15 billion bond to renovate aging schools soundly failing, with only 46 percent support. Proposition 13 had promised to provide funds for new construction and repairs at campuses dealing with a lengthly list of problems.

Opponents said California has a large budget surplus and shouldn’t borrow more money. Taxpayers would have owed an estimated $11 billion in interest over the next 35 years as a result of Prop. 13, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Republican state Sen. Brian Jones said voters “rightly wondered why the state was trying to pass more bonds and hike taxes rather than using those budget surpluses to help schools.”

The opposition was led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which took particular issue with a provision that would have increased the limit on what a school district could borrow, from 1.25 percent to 2 percent of assessed property value. The group feared that could have led to future tax increases to repay the debt.

Supporters, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, argued the need for school repairs was crucial. The proposal was backed by teachers and firefighter unions, school boards and Democratic state lawmakers.

The Public Policy Institute of California says 70 percent of the state’s 10,000 public schools are 25 years or older, with 10 percent of them at least 70 years old.

About $9 billion from the measure would have gone to K-12 schools, with priority given to addressing health and safety concerns such as removing asbestos and eliminating lead from drinking water.

Of that, $5.8 billion would have gone to improving school facilities, followed by $2.8 billion for new construction and $500 million each for charter schools and facilities for technical education.

Many districts say they receive inadequate state funding to make repairs and fully modernize their buildings, leading to a Band-Aid approach to repairs.

Collective Bargaining—Albeit Limited— Could Be in the Wings for Va. Teachers

Teachers’ unions may be down, but they’re not out, if what’s happening in Virginia comes to fruition.

Legislation that advocates have described as “historic” passed last week that would allow teachers to have a say over their wages and working conditions.

It awaits Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature. The Democrat hasn’t taken a public position on the bill, which would permit limited public-sector collective bargaining.

“A game changer” is what Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston calls it. “People need to think of this in very, very simple terms—that collective bargaining is a common good for the kids of the commonwealth,” he said.

Virginia teachers haven’t had collective bargaining rights since 1977, when the state supreme court struck down that right. Before then, about a dozen local associations—including those in the Washington suburbs of Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria; Virginia Beach; and Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia—were engaged in the practice. In 1993, Virginia cemented into code an official ban on public-sector employees collectively bargaining via their local unions.

The legislation would allow bargaining only if a local school board authorizes it.

Already, some localities—including the Fairfax County school board, which oversees the largest district in the state—have publicly expressed support for collective bargaining. Others have argued that doing so would be expensive and could lead to higher taxes.

Local union presidents say getting collective bargaining rights would let them advocate to improve learning conditions for students. “We’re the experts in the field and we didn’t have a seat at the table,” said Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association. “It’s like coming up with a new way to do heart surgery without asking a doctor first how to do the procedure.”

A School Counselor’s Lessons on Discipline, Taken From a Prison

Laura Ross, a counselor at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., worked in a men’s prison counseling inmates before she moved into counseling middle school kids.

Ross was recently named counselor of the year by the American School Counselor Association for her work slashing discipline disparities between white students and black and Latino students at Five Forks.

Education Week spoke with Ross, and below is an excerpt of a Q&A that appeared on edweek.org.

EdWeek: What did you find when you started looking at why students were being disciplined disproportionately?

Ross: We have a diverse student population, our staff is not as diverse, we are growing in that area. Our principal is really trying to make sure we have more staff that reflect our student body. We really had to talk about this more with our teachers—really look at and share the discipline data: Here’s what it looks like, here’s how it is skewed. We can’t say, ‘Well these are all bad kids.’

EdWeek: Sounds like working at a correctional facility showed you the need for this kind of reform. Did you learn anything specific working there that has helped you?

Ross: The thing that I really learned just came from the conversations—my case load was mainly gang members. All their stories were all so very similar. They wanted to belong, they wanted to feel important, they wanted to feel like they mattered, and they didn’t find that in a school, they found it in a gang.

‘Learning Science’ an Alien Concept to Aspiring Teachers

Prospective teachers know about learning, and they know about science. Put learning science together, though, and that’s where teacher-candidates fall short.

So says Deans for Impact in a new report. Aspiring teachers are unfamiliar with the basic principles of learning science and should learn how to connect those principles to practice, says the nonprofit group of education school leaders. They created a network of six colleges of education that want to better integrate learning science into their curriculum and clinical experiences through a $1.5 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

To start, the six colleges last fall administered a 54-question assessment about learning science to some 1,000 aspirants.

While the results are not nationally representative, Benjamin Riley, the group’s executive director, said there was not much variation across the six programs—suggesting that “it’s not radically inappropriate to generalize to the broader field.”

The results show there’s a “real conflation between student engagement and student learning,” he said.

For several questions, for instance, teacher-candidates chose instructional strategies that are not aligned with learning-science principles but that the candidates said seemed more fun and engaging. Teachers also referenced appealing to students’ learning styles, which is the idea that students learn more when information is aligned to their individual styles, such as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. Research has not backed up that concept.

There were some bright spots, however. Teacher-candidates do seem to understand the importance of background knowledge when it comes to learning.

Vaping Company Tried to Woo States’ Attorneys General

With face-to-face meetings and, in some cases, campaign-fund contributions, Juul Labs did its best to get states’ attorneys general on board with its ways of dealing with youth vaping. If the nation’s largest electronic-cigarette company’s intent was to buy influence, though, it doesn’t seem to have succeeded.

Thirty-nine attorneys general late last month announced an investigation into whether Juul promoted and sold its nicotine-heavy products to teenagers.

The Associated Press uncovered the new revelations by reviewing Juul’s political donations and obtaining internal emails, meeting minutes, and company records through open-records requests to more than a dozen state attorneys general offices.

Georgia’s Chris Carr was among those who met with Juul representatives. They delivered a 17-page presentation laden with information about the public-health potential of its combustion-free vaping devices for adult smokers and “commitment to ending youth use.” Carr is among the 39 looking into Juul.

Again and again, Juul met with attorneys general and often gave money. But again and again, it was stymied in its efforts to forestall legal action. So far, nine states have filed lawsuits against Juul, and more may come in the wake of the 39-state investigation.

Records show that Iowa’s Tom Miller served as a behind-the-scenes adviser, helping the company respond to media requests and inquiries from government officials. He did not receive campaign contributions from Juul.

A Juul spokesman said the company reached out to attorneys general to “listen and learn” from them on a range of issues, including cracking down on counterfeit vaping products.

Miller said he became involved with Juul to help “bring them into compliance” by stopping underage sales of their products and to reduce the toll of smoking on adults. Juul did not benefit from its association with him, he said, adding that he would take legal action against the company if evidence shows wrongdoing. Miller’s office hasn’t joined the multistate investigation.

Briefly Stated contributors: Associated Press and Madeline Will. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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