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Reminiscent of Groundhog Day, some education discussions just seem to resurface, again and again. The state of teacher education is one of those.

In April, I had the privilege of speaking at the annual American Educational Research Association conference, where I participated in a presidential session that aimed to challenge the public and policy discourses surrounding teacher education—by featuring the work of four equity-minded teacher educators and scholars from across the country: Elizabeth M. Dutro, University of Colorado Boulder; Antero Garcia, Colorado State University; Bettina L. Love, University of Georgia; and Bree Picower, Montclair State University.

I offered some thoughts on the future of teacher education. Here’s what I said.

Good morning.

As a writer, I enjoy metaphors. They allow for creativity, and nuance, and imagery. Metaphors can make complicated concepts more accessible, and add depth to your writing. And successful metaphors conjure up mental pictures that are vivid – and sometimes unforgettable.

So I’d like to invite you to think of teacher education not as a beleaguered system that deals with the study of teaching … and the learning process … and its application – but rather as a much-maligned reptile.

Teacher education – like crocodiles – generally suffers from bad press. Although revered in some quarters, the mere mention of teacher education – like crocodiles – can evoke negative sentiments. And over time, the prevailing narrative surrounding teacher education becomes so ingrained in our minds – like crocodiles – that some begin to call for drastic measures, even elimination.

But metaphors can be tricky. Basically, not all metaphors are created equal. The best ones not only enhance our understanding of the topic at hand, they help us grasp associations and characteristics we might have overlooked.

The photojournals from Antero, Bettina, Bree, and Elizabeth offer a strong and powerful image for teacher education’s future. So perhaps it’s helpful for us all to think of teacher education not as a crocodile, but rather as a system on the brink of a revolution.

What I see in the pictorial displays – and what I hear in the video and audio – is a promising and underutilized path – a strategy that can effectively disrupt the hegemonic whiteness that supports the current system of teacher education, and that informs how pre-service teachers are currently prepared and inducted into the profession.

And it’s the perfect time – considering the magnitude of demographic changes now underway. A few years ago, AACTE conducted a comprehensive analysis of data collected from nearly all of its more than 800 teacher preparation program members. The findings are startling, but not surprising: classrooms are growing more racially and ethnically diverse, while those leading classrooms remain predominately white.

According to the data, 82 percent of bachelor’s degrees in education are awarded to white students. Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American teaching candidates were each in the single digits. This is contrasted against the rapidly changing racial and ethnic makeup of public school students – more than half of public school students today are non-white, and according to the Census Bureau, by around 2020, non-white children will make up more than half of Americans under the age of 18.

Against this shifting landscape, we have teacher educators like our presenters who are upending the model for teacher education. With laser-like precision, they are demonstrating how equity and social justice and excellence can work in harmony – and be elevated to an imperative. Through their work and scholarship, the aim is not to reform teacher education, but to revolutionize it – not to tweak, but to transform.

Author, historian, and journalist Lerone Bennett, Jr. – a shrewd observer of American society and its racial injustices – had a piercing take on the teaching profession that immediately comes to mind as I reflect on the presenters’ journals. The photojournals capture the lives and the work of teacher educators as liberators. Any discussion on teacher education and scholarship that fails to include the intersection of race, culture, and opportunity cannot build a road map to the future.

Allowing for the trends I noted, for the foreseeable future, the teachers in our public schools will be primarily white and middle-class. And because of widespread housing and school segregation, they themselves will have likely lived in primarily white neighborhoods and attended primarily white schools.

Today, these prospective teachers enter preparation programs and complete their schooling without ever having their ingrained and widely-accepted beliefs about the students they’ll be teaching challenged or even questioned. And let’s be frank – it’s not just white teachers. The same applies to aspiring teachers of color as well. Because as people of color we also can internalize ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that mire us in our own oppression.

The quarterly magazine Rethinking Schools incisively describes the work that must be embraced in teacher education. Changing the dominant narrative requires changing the way that teacher educators teach – which the photojournals illustrate – as well as changing the way that teacher education research and scholarship is used to inform policymakers and the public.

To influence and sway opinion means writing not to impress and dazzle your colleagues – who already have an established interest in the topic – but writing clear and readable materials for a general audience. It means producing works – in written or other formats – that challenge established thinking and practices – and therefore have the capacity to generate new visions and directions. And that doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your work – as evidenced by the work of our presenters, which is rigorous and insightful.

What I see in their pursuits is what all education research should be: fresh and inviting, with a real-world connection that underscores its relevance and validity.

Teacher education needs to show that you have some skin in the game. Countless time, energy, and resources are spent trying to improve the field of teaching to meet the needs of a growing, diverse student populace – and no one wants to speak the words “race” or “culture” or “racism.” That’s a shell-game and not a solution.

In my research for this session, I came across a piece in the journal “Teaching Education” written by Cheryl Matias, an assistant professor in urban teacher education at University of Colorado Denver. True to form, it seemed to have caused quite a firestorm, because the article expressed some seldom-heard, and for too many, difficult-to-accept truths.

In the journal, she describes whiteness as a disease —emphasizing that a colorblind society is impossible in the United States. She stresses that we can’t even begin to address the education debt – commonly referred to as the racial achievement gap – without addressing the underlying maladies of racism and whiteness. And she calls on schools of education to own and prioritize this work before teaching novices land in classrooms.

I found her words very illuminating – and for me it encapsulates the real test ahead for schools of education.

Teacher education programs must actively engage preservice teachers in the work of unpacking and reassembling how race, ethnicity, culture, language, and social class manifest in schools, in their students’ lives, and in the communities in which they are privileged to teach. And I reiterate – privileged. Because as a parent, I turn my most-prized and treasured asset over to teachers every day.

Teacher education can recreate what teaching practice looks like, re-envisioning the role of teachers and schools in historically marginalized communities. You have the tools and the means to create schools where social, political and economic equality is fostered and nurtured and grown.

Can you enthusiastically and openly move in this direction? The presenters here today show me it’s possible. Let’s make it permanent.

Thank you.

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Two new reports on school integration were published this month. “Socioeconomic School Integration has More Than Doubled and Millions of Students Stand to Benefit” was the headline on the press release. True. And. Efforts to make racially and socioeconomically diverse schools a reality have ultimately lagged. While more districts are rightly opting for diverse schools, others continue to face resistance. The promise of integrated schools is far from fulfilled.

“If you successfully bring these resources to high-poverty schools, it is possible to produce strong results for kids—and we know examples of excellent high-poverty schools that are doing that,” Potter said. “But these successful high-poverty schools are sadly still the outliers,” she stated, stressing that the majority of education reform strategies “focus on this long shot … rather than pursuing integration to break up the concentrations of poverty that we know are so harmful for kids.”

The most common method listed by districts to achieve this integration was redrawing neighborhood school boundaries, a controversial approach that is often accompanied by public outcry. But the researchers, while conceding the politically contentious nature of school-boundary decisions, admittedly offer scarce guidance to help school leaders that are considering changing attendance zones. Much of the pushback, like school segregation, cuts along racial and class lines. One illustration of the inherent challenges is seen in New York City, where parents on the Upper West Side and in the neighboring borough of Brooklyn opposed recent school boundary changes that would bring racial and socioeconomic integration.

Read more.

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In December, just days before Christmas, an Idaho cafeteria worker was fired for giving a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old student who was hungry but didn’t have money to pay for her school meal. After the story went viral, the lunch lady was rehired. This story—along with several cases of schools tossing kids’ lunches for nonpayment—prompted me to take a closer look at how districts handle students who don’t have the money to pay for school breakfast and lunch.

A debate on school nutrition—trading pizza, fries, and cookies for whole grains, fruits and vegetables—has raged for years, while a parallel debate has gone somewhat unnoticed and unaddressed: What should be the consequence for children with delinquent school-meal accounts? While the most pressing issue in some school cafeterias is students tossing healthier school lunches in the trash, in others it is school employees dumping children’s lunches in the trash for nonpayment. And the result is hungry children, stunned parents, and increasing questions about how school districts handle overdue payments.

The notion of taking children’s lunches away and throwing them in the trash—in some cases, in front of the child and their peers—angers parents and exposes school officials to scorn. But behind the outrage lurks a larger issue. Survey data from the advocacy group School Nutrition Association shows that overdrawn lunch accounts create real financial challenges for school districts, forced to weigh mounting costs against unsatisfied students and families.

Read more.

(Photo: Berkeley Unified School District)

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About 50 million students attend U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. And according to data, 7 percent have at least one undocumented parent. That’s 3.5 million children. What I found this week in writing about immigration raids and deportation scares is that the emotional and educational impact is staggering. Current immigration policy is shattering families and leaving U.S.-born children parentless, as they watch one or both parents deported. Immigration policy is education policy.

A CNN feature in 2013 profiled teen siblings in Florida orphaned after their father was deported while they were at school. It was the second time the children, who are both legal residents, lost a parent to deportation—their mother was returned to Nicaragua in 2008. “Constantly worrying that their parents will be snatched away, children often feel angry, helpless, and trapped,” CNN’s Cindy Y. Rodriguez and Adriana Hauser wrote. A study by the advocacy organization Human Impact Partners published the same year, “Family Unity, Family Health,” found that the deportation scares take a mental and physical toll on undocumented immigrants’ children. Researchers linked the threat of detention and deportation to poorer educational outcomes, concluding: “U.S.-citizen children who live in families under threat of detention or deportation will finish fewer years of school and face challenges focusing on their studies.”

This research provides important insight given the current round of federal raids triggering deep-seated fears in the Hispanic community. As immigration agents target adults with school-age children in several states, even those exempt from the sanctions are anxious and scared.

Read more.

(Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock)

 

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History reveals a long-standing tradition of student activism in education. Young people, often high school students, mobilizing and organizing their peers to create change. Courageous youth leaders demanding that those most affected by education policy and politics have their voices heard and respected. My interest in student activism predates my latest piece in The Atlantic. With a wave of protests rolling across college campuses, however, it’s timely to revisit the other student activists spearheading movements.

More than 50 years later movements for racial and educational justice are once again building momentum. A surge of student activism has swept across academia in recent weeks as black students and their allies forcefully call attention to racist climates on American college campuses. And even as some college-student leaders cite the Black Lives Matter social-justice movement as their inspiration, what’s happening in higher education is being matched by younger peers. High-school youth are flexing their collective muscles for equity: fighting budget cuts and out-of-school suspensions as they take on racial issues and academic offerings.

2012 paper on youth and social movements, a collaboration between Lady Gaga’s Born this Way Foundation and Harvard University’s Berkman Center, found young people to be powerful agents for social change, crediting undocumented-youth sit-ins for convincing President Obama to grant DREAMers a reprieve from deportation in 2012. The paper’s author writes of youth activists primed to “call out or identify systems of oppression, speak up, and mobilize their peers.”

Read more.

(Photo: Liz Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)

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As bilingualism becomes a coveted commodity, the popularity of dual-language immersion continues to grow. Native English speakers are building their linguistic skills in a wide variety of programs teaching highly sought after languages. But what is the upshot for English learners in two-way immersion? It has the potential to become a resource that benefits English-dominant students as it further marginalizes language minority students. Making social justice central to these programs is key to averting this unintended consequence.

In a break with tradition, more schools are adopting language-immersion programs, in which English and another language are integrated into the curriculum and instruction. The Center for Applied Linguistics, a D.C.-based nonprofit, found an exponential growth in foreign-language immersion in a comprehensive survey of public schools and some private schools. Over a 40-year span language-immersion schools grew steadily, with the largest increase in the decade that started in 2001. Spanish remains the most popular for immersion programs at 45 percent, followed by French (22 percent) and Mandarin (13 percent), with a wide array of languages rounding out the list of 22 selections—from Hawaiian and Cantonese to Japanese and Arabic.

As two-way immersion grows, the variety of language options now available marks a turning point in the evolution of bilingual education. Once the mainstay of immigrant children, bilingual instruction has a new band of converts: English-speaking parents, lawmakers, and advocacy groups. Research shows that students gain cognitive and academic benefits from bilingualism. Yet an overarching reason for the heightened interest is giving U.S. students a jump on the competition in a global workforce. And some activists find even with this flurry of attention, equal access to dual-immersion remains a thorny issue and persistent challenge.

Read more.

(Photo: John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune) 

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I took Latin in high school. This basically qualifies me to read prescription abbreviations. In retrospect I wish I had studied French or Spanish. I don’t take excessive pride in the fact that I only speak English – I find it limiting and somewhat stifling. In a country as diverse as the U.S., being bilingual is something to treasure rather than discard or reject. And when the push for children to learn English in schools supplants their first language, culture and heritage, we have to ask whether something critical is lost.

Even as states struggle to reach a common definition of what it means to be an English language learner, the proportion of these students continues to rise—and with it, the temperature of debate surrounding the purpose and goals of bilingual education. It remains an unsettled issue that continues to challenge America’s self-image as welcoming and inclusive: The value of linguistic assimilation is pitted against the values of a culturally diverse nation of immigrants, leaving education systems and its students caught in political crosshairs. The divide is exacerbated by financially strapped schools with skyrocketing numbers of English learners—meeting all of the mandates for their education can be expensive—and the national discourse on immigration, which saw the 2016 presidential contender Donald Trump advise his competitor Jeb Bush to “really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.”

Today, schools are still twisting in the wind of politics, with 31 states passing laws naming English the official language over the last two centuries and voters in CaliforniaArizona, and Massachusetts approving ballot measures in recent decades that replace bilingual education with English-only policies. Meanwhile, a growing contingent of educators are promoting the cultivation of bilingualism to support the social and emotional needs of English language learners.

Read more.

Produced by YWCA Madison

School discipline reform is gaining traction in cities – Los Angeles, New York, Miami, to name a few – and states like California and Maryland. Suspended students lose millions of days of instruction and exclusionary discipline has other negative consequences. Urged on by activists and civil rights groups, a growing number of school districts and states are moving from zero tolerance to restorative justice. This week at The Atlantic I look at the status of some new policies and legislation on school discipline and how things are shaking out in the effort to close the discipline gap.

Excerpt:

“We go to schools where there are more SSAs than guidance counselors. For us, it makes us feel that they expect us to end up in jail rather than in college,” said Rodriguez, 17. “I’ve been to public school my whole life. I’ve experienced the school-to-prison pipeline”—a term commonly used to describe the trend in which largely disadvantaged students are funneled into the criminal-justice system—“and criminalization (of students). And I’ve questioned why all of these things happen to our communities.”

Policymakers and educators, among others, are beginning to question the harsh discipline policies and practices that have in recent decades became popular in certain districts, too. Research shows that the reliance on punitive school discipline like suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests—“school pushout”—deprives students of learning time and takes the greatest toll on nonwhite students, students with disabilities, LGBT youth and other vulnerable student groups. Suspensions can even harm the education of non-misbehaving students, according to some research.

Read more.

(Photo: YWCA Madison)