national newsletter

Walking out, speaking up

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 a friend forward? The link to subscribe is here.

Consider signing up for Chalkbeat’s newest newsletter, too — it’s focused on Newark, New Jersey schools.


The big story

Our colleagues across the country spent this morning with students in Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Newark, and New York City taking part in today’s national protest pushing for stricter gun laws and memorializing those killed in last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Students sat in silence and chanted on the streets, taking over sidewalks and school courtyards. Some elementary school participants were signed out of school by their parents; other high schoolers led their schools’ demonstrations. We saw at least two governors get involved. Some school districts tweeted support for student protestors.

It was a rare day in which a good share of students across the country seemed focused on the same thing.

At Stoneman Douglas High School, students had gathered on the school’s football field by 10 a.m. David Hogg, a senior who has become one of the most prominent faces of student activism after the shooting, livestreamed the walk-out and thanked school administrators for supporting the effort to remember those who died.

“They don’t have their voices, but we still do,” Hogg said.


Local stories to watch

  • Arts, counselors, and gym are coming to Detroit schools. The superintendent says he’s found money in the budget to pay for those positions, which most schools now do without. The next challenge: finding people to fill the jobs.
  • Teacher tenure? Not in Colorado. Denver teachers who lose their positions when school enrollment drops or course offerings change have a year to be rehired by another principal, after which they are put on unpaid leave. The state Supreme Court upheld the practice this week.
  • A look at Carranza’s to-do list. New York City’s new schools chancellor will have to direct the city’s eleaguered school turnaround program, decide how to tackle school segregation, and figure out how to work smoothly with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has a reputation for micromanaging.
  • How three Denver schools became restorative justice destinations. A civil rights organization helps organize visits, sponsored in part by the country’s largest teachers union.

Matt’s research roundup

  • Discipline reform in Chicago is paying dividends. After schools began cutting back on suspensions for severe infractions, test scores and attendance rose — and students didn’t report feeling less safe, according to a new study. This comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering rescinding federal guidance designed to encourage schools to adopt similar practices.
  • Here’s your cheat sheet to school funding in America. The big takeaway: Poor students don’t necessarily get less money than their affluent peers, but they usually don’t get the extra money that funding advocates say they need. This matters a lot, because a bunch of recent studies have connected more school spending to better outcomes for students.

DeVos watch

DeVos has had her roughest week of news coverage since her confirmation hearing, after a series of TV interviews put her on the defensive about on school choice and her track record in Michigan. She noted that she hasn’t visited any struggling schools, conceding, “Maybe I should.”

DeVos is also set to head the Trump administration’s school safety commission, formed in response to the Florida school shooting. Officials haven’t provided many details on the commission yet, but reporters were told it may target efforts by the Obama administration to limit exclusionary discipline. (Sen. Marco Rubio and some others have connected that guidance to the Florida shooting, even though the Broward County program designed to reduce referrals to police for minor offenses predated the 2014 guidance.)

In a speech Tuesday to the National PTA, DeVos alluded to her rough start to the week, but she was largely back on message, praising school choice and encouraging attendees to rethink education.

DeVos also met with Democratic Senator Patty Murray on Tuesday — but it did not go well. Murray called the meeting “extremely disappointing.” DeVos’s spokesperson fired back, saying it was “just Senator Murray’s latest continuation of the tired, sad politics of division.”


Names to note

The ed reform-aligned group Chiefs for Change named nine “future chiefs” who aspire to lead school districts or state departments of education. They included education officials from Boston (Karla Estrada), Los Angeles (Derrick Chau), and Newark (Robert Gregory).

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will host a fundraiser in New York City with leading charter school advocates including former schools chief Joel Klein and Democrats for Education Reform head Shavar Jeffries. Villaraigosa, a Democrat, is currently running to become governor of California.

In the running for the head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District: Brett Barley of Nevada, and Adam Miller of Florida, Stephen Osborn of Rhode Island, and Keith Sanders, formerly of Delaware.


Portfolio push

Some are pushing for Los Angeles to create a common enrollment system between its district and charter schools, using Denver, Indianapolis, and New Orleans as models.

Chris Barbic, who used to head Tennessee’s portfolio-style Achievement School District, says that effort — which has produced disappointing results to date — needs more time. He was at a gathering last week in Memphis on education put on by Philanthropy Roundtable, a conservative group that advises wealthy donors. The meeting featured a number of advocates for the portfolio model approach.

The Economist also took up the model, arguing that “treating schools like a portfolio, where bad ones are quickly pushed out of business, might work a bit better” than a more free-market approach. (Here’s our review of the evidence on the portfolio model.)


What we’re reading

  • School shootings have changed how local reporters cover education. Columbia Journalism Review
  • There is no epidemic of mass school shootings, but there is a broader problem of gun violence, argues a writer in New York Magazine.
  • Online Advanced Placement classes may increase access for students in rural areas, but the courses aren’t all high quality. Hechinger Report
  • DeVos offered unlikely praise to California’s Democratic governor, who has pushed for more local control of schools. EdSource
  • Oklahoma teachers are threatening to walk out over low pay, saying lawmakers aren’t moving quickly enough to address their concerns. NewsOK
  • Reversing a lower court’s decision, Louisiana’s highest court ruled charter schools constitutional. Daily Advertiser