national newsletter

‘Personalized learning’ meets teacher prep

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.


The big story

Imagine that you’re a new teacher. You overhear two students disparaging Black Lives Matter protests and know that other students heard it, too. You’re worried the comments will damage your classroom culture.

“What are you going to do in the exact moment? What do you do in the next month to make sure your classroom is a safe environment?”

That’s one type of scenario that prospective math and science teachers will face at Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, a soon-to-launch graduate school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its students will move through the program at their own pace and graduate when they demonstrate more than 40 specific skills.

We took a closer look at the Academy after it won a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative earlier this month. They’re one of the major education funders supporting this new effort, which will operate in partnership with MIT. (A couple of those funders support Chalkbeat too.)

It amounts to a combination of two major efforts in American education: long-running attempts to improve teacher training so that teachers are better prepared for the toughest classrooms, and a newer effort to “personalize” education.

There are a lot of questions about whether the Academy will be able to achieve its goal of transforming teacher education with this unproven model. But it has the funding, prestige, and handle on the zeitgeist to suggest that we should pay attention. You can read the full story here.


Local stories to watch

  • In Indiana, post-Parkland teacher training. A Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher returned to her alma mater, Indiana University, to talk to prospective teachers in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 at her school. “Please don’t let this type of event discourage you,” she told them.
  • Discipline reform, plus lavender spray. A Denver elementary school is holding yoga class instead of traditional detention. The classes feature poses like “rock ‘n’ roll star” and teach breathing exercises students can use any time.
  • New York City’s teachers union is projecting confidence. As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could take a bite out of teachers unions, the UFT sent around pictures of teachers with posters that said, “I’m sticking with my union!”
  • House calls for a Colorado high school. Parent-teacher conference attendance was low, so a Colorado school shifted gears and now holds conferences at students’ homes. Teachers have already logged 400 meetings.
  • Color-coded wristbands as a key to college culture? Detroit’s schools chief has a slew of ideas about how to boost the district’s 12 percent “college-readiness” rate, including incentives such as wristbands that would show off their skills to their classmates.

Matt’s research roundup

  • A mixed verdict for vouchers. Two new studies found that D.C.’s voucher program did not improve students’ likelihood of enrolling in college, while Milwaukee’s did. But the Milwaukee program did not have clear effects on whether students actually earned a degree. Read our full write-up for the gory but important details — or catch up with this now-updated overview of voucher research.
  • Time to abolish middle school? Not so fast. A new study comes to a different conclusion than past research, which has found that students do better in K-8 schools than in traditional middle schools. It’s the latest reminder of how complicated it is to use research to inform policy.

DeVos watch

  • Peter Thiel, Sean Hannity, and the education department. Candice Jackson, appointed the acting head of the Office for Civil Rights last April, touted those recommendations when applying for a job, according to emails obtained by BuzzFeed News. (U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos herself had breakfast with Thiel, the PayPal founder known for his on-again/off-again friendship with Trump, at his house in July.)
  • Getting involved in Puerto Rico. A team from DeVos’s department helped craft a bill that could remake the island’s education system in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
  • Making the delay official. DeVos has moved to officially delay the implementation of an Obama-era rule meant to make sure students of color aren’t wrongly identified as having a disability.
  • The latest school choice proposal involves military families. DeVos wants them to have access to “education savings accounts.”

The portfolio push

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools was an effort started 10 years ago to improve struggling district schools by turning over some aspects of their management to an outside nonprofit. It has similarities to efforts in Denver and Indianapolis, and that appeals to funders who are skeptical of giving money to school districts. A new report looks back favorably at the approach, which was spearheaded by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, now running for governor of California. But the report can’t conclusively say to what extent the approach caused gains in student achievement.

Speaking of Denver, more schools want to join one of its “innovation zones,” which give more autonomy to district schools.


Names to note

The 74 editor Steve Snyder’s love story was featured on This American Life a few weeks back. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse, and Jeanne Allen started a firestorm by expressing support for him on Twitter. Lori Phillips, who founded Memphis’s first “community school” is the new director of family and community engagement for Shelby County Schools. Detroit teen Alondra Alvarez is one of the leaders of a national protest against gun violence.


What we’re reading

  • West Virginia teachers are getting a 5 percent raise after shutting down all of the state’s public schools for four days in a wildcat strike. NPR
  • Plus: Striking teachers packed lunches for students who would otherwise go hungry. HuffPo
  • And a 12-year-old who spoke to West Virginia’s governor at a town hall meeting appears to have influenced the governor’s decision. Weelunk
  • ESSA requires districts to be more transparent about how schools are funded, and that could lead to pushes for greater spending equity. The 74
  • Chicago and New York are both voting on school closure plans tonight — and community members aren’t happy. WBEZ and Chalkbeat
  • Some South Carolina charter schools are hoping to switch authorizers — from a state board to a private university — which critics say is designed to avoid accountability. Index Journal
  • Meet the Stoneman Douglas educator who was teaching about NRA’s influence and how to counter it the day of the shooting at his school. Splinter News
  • The latest in D.C.’s enrollment scandals: A secret and possibly intentionally slowed investigation suggests that dozens of students could be illegally enrolled at one of the city’s most elite schools. Washington Post