Equity & Diversity Briefly Stated

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November 26, 2019 8 min read
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Perfection Elusive in Initial Evaluations of Reading Programs

Need help figuring out what supplemental reading programs might come in handy for your early readers?

Nonprofit curriculum reviewer EdReports lends a helping hand—sort of. In its first reviews of foundational reading and writing skills programs, it deemed that none makes the grade.

The organization, which evaluates curricula against the Common Core State Standards, examined five programs. Three partially met EdReports’ criteria: Puzzle Piece Phonics by Catawba Press, Fundations by Wilson Language Training, and the Fountas & Pinnell Phonics, Study, and Word Study System by Heinemann.

The other two—Express Readers and Jolly Phonics, by Jolly Learning—didn’t meet EdReports’ standards.

“None of these programs in and of themselves would be sufficient to get all of the foundational skills for kids,” said Eric Hirsch, the executive director of EdReports.

In this new set of evaluations, EdReports sought something different: programs that focus exclusively on teaching young children in grades K-2 basic skills like identifying letters, sounding out and spelling words, and reading text fluently. These materials are meant to be used alongside a traditional English/language arts program, filling in the gaps where core curricula may not fully address these foundations of reading and writing.

Although the reviews couldn’t identify any “perfect” programs, there were some heartening trends, said Liisa Potts, EdReports’ director of ELA reviews. In general, she said, the programs teach the progression of early reading and writing skills in a systematic way&emdash;a practice that is supported by research.

The reviewed programs all had different strengths and weaknesses, Potts said, and no unified pattern emerged.

Not surprisingly, company representatives took issue with parts of the reviews. Wilson Language Training’s president, for instance, said that “key elements of the program ... were dismissed or omitted.” And its product, Barbara Wilson said, goes beyond some of the evaluation’s requirements.

Justices’ Sentiment Toward Recipients of DACA Appears to Be Unsympathetic

Young people living in the United States under the DACA program better not be making any long-term plans given the remarks made by the conservative—and majority—bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court.

During oral arguments in Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California this month, it became clear that it would be an uphill battle for nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to stay safely and legally in this country.

President Donald Trump wants the program gone, and with his two appointments to the land’s highest bench, he’s got a comfortable, if not firm, majority that is more likely to side with his administration’s way of thinking on the issue.

Despite, or maybe because of, their underdog status, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood program came out in droves, demonstrating along with thousands of others outside the court Nov. 12. Many DACA participants are students and teachers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wondered why a lower-court decision striking down a separate but related program, which the Supreme Court affirmed, was insufficient for the administration’s decision to rescind DACA.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wondered “what good would another five years of litigation over the adequacy of that explanation serve” when challengers concede that the Trump administration may exercise its discretion to end DACA if it is done properly.

Several of the more-liberal justices expressed dissimilar views. Said Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “I’ve always had some difficulty in understanding what’s wrong with an agency saying, ‘We’re going to prioritize our removals, and for those people, like the DACA people, who haven’t committed crimes, who are lawfully employed, who are paying taxes, who pose no threat to our security, and there’s a whole list of prerequisites, we’re not going to exercise our limited resources to get rid of them.’”

Yet Another Report Finds States Dole Out More to Richer Kids

Many states spend more money on wealthier students than on poorer ones. Not exactly a bombshell, is it? Unfortunately for advocates pushing a more progressive model, the state of school funding remains pretty gloomy.

In one of many reports that have been rolled out over the years addressing financial equity, a new one from the Education Law Center indicates that more than a third of the states distribute billions of K-12 dollars in a regressive manner, spending more on wealthier students than on impoverished students. Another 17 spend equal amounts of money on both, even though research shows poor students are more expensive to educate.

In its latest “Making the Grade” report, the organization blames aging state funding formulas and rapidly increasing poverty rates among children for district budget cuts, stagnant teacher pay, and academic-achievement gaps.

Several states, including Alabama, Colorado, and Texas, spend significantly less than their counterparts, the report says, even though they have the economy and tax base to spend more.

In contrast, the authors laud Alaska and Wyoming for it equitable school spending.

The group graded every state based on its funding level, the way it distributes K-12 funds, and how much taxing effort the state puts into school funding.

States in the South and Southwest, including Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas, received especially low marks for spending more money on wealthy districts than poor ones. And Arizona, which has seen a surge of teacher strikes over low pay in recent years, received an F, as did Nevada.

Should All Students Have to Take the Same Math Classes?

You’re ready, with your counselor’s guidance, to pick your high school math classes. Algebra 1 first. Then geometry. Then Algebra 2. Just like Mom and Dad did. Just like Grandma and Grandpa did.

Isn’t it about time to change things up, especially for students not planning to go into a field that demands much math? That’s what a math-advocacy group is asking.

Too often, “irrelevant math hurdles” are becoming stumbling blocks for students who don’t aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. Plus, schools do poorly nurturing and recruiting black and Latino students into challenging math classes, says Just Equations in a report out this month.

To serve all students well, schools must start thinking differently about their math courses, write co-authors Phil Daro, a lead author of the Common Core State Standards in math, and Harold Asturias, the director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Mathematics Excellence and Equity.

They propose a model that would eliminate the classic Algebra 1-geometry-Algebra 2 model in favor of a pattern that would have all students in the same math classes in 9th and 10th grades, followed by a set of choices beginning in 11th grade.

An 11th grade course might delve into statistics, game theory, and math modeling. Such courses “should not be watered-down versions of STEM topics, but instead topics with their own heft and potential relevance in branch fields” like data science, statistics, probability, digital graphics, and robotics, the report says.

All courses should be rigorous and prepare students for college without demanding they master types of math they won’t need down the road, the report says.

Media Classes Aside, Students Can’t Discern ‘Fake’ News

Oh the gullibility that afflicts our nation’s youth.

Case in point: a video on Facebook showing grainy footage of people cramming papers into boxes. A voiceover claims it’s proof of ballot-stuffing in the 2016 presidential election. “Have you ever noticed that the ONLY people caught committing voter fraud are Democrats?” text at the bottom of the post prompts.

Does this constitute strong evidence of voter fraud, U.S. high school students were asked for a study by the Stanford History Education Group. Yes, they replied, it did.

As it turns out, the video scenes are from Russia, not the United States. Even among the students who saw through the ruse, a quarter couldn’t articulate why the video was suspect. Only three of the 3,000-plus responses tracked down the source of the original video.

Students’ weak performance on that task and five others aiming to gauge their online reasoning skills constitutes alarming evidence that a large majority of students are not well prepared to investigate sources of information for their accuracy, relevance, and quality.

And despite more than a decade’s worth of policy chatter about media literacy, whatever schools have been doing doesn’t appear to have been enough to inoculate students against “fake” news.

“Reliable information is to civic health what proper sanitation and potable water are to public health,” wrote the researchers, part of the Stanford History Education Group at Stanford University. “We need high-quality digital-literacy curricula, validated by rigorous research, to guarantee the vitality of American democracy.”

The study is based on results from nearly 3,450 9th to 12th graders who took a series of media-literacy exercises, including examining the Russian video. They also were asked to distinguish between news and ads on Slate’s website, to examine whether a nonprofit’s page on global warming was reliable, compare two webpages, and analyze a tweet from an advocacy group.

The study sample generally mirrored, though didn’t entirely match, the demographic composition of U.S. schools, and it is not nationally representative. Still, the results are sobering: Students can be deceived easily.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Daarel Burnette II, Catherine Gewertz, Stephen Sawchuk, Sarah Schwartz, and Mark Walsh. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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