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 someone forward? You can subscribe here.
The big story
Two weeks ago, when I — Matt here — attended the annual New Schools Venture Fund conference outside San Francisco, the emphasis on “the future” was striking. The ethos of the event, a key gathering of charter leaders and education funders, was the idea that the economy is changing extremely rapidly and schools aren’t keeping up — but they need to, somehow.
So I decided to take a closer look at the data behind that claim and the policies being pushed under its banner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s all a bit more complicated than it’s sometimes framed. Yes, we can expect real changes to the jobs available to future students, but probably not as quickly as some suggest. And there are some oft-cited and alarming stats, like the idea that more than half of jobs by 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, that just don’t seem to have any credible basis. (If you’re like me and want more of the wonky details and the dueling studies, read the whole piece!)
I also take a look at how those ideas are often translated into policy and used to push technology into schools.
The effectiveness of technology in schools remains hotly debated. Stacey Childress, the head of New Schools, though, argues that innovation by its nature means investing in ideas that we don’t yet have evidence for.
Others argue there’s something missing from this policy conversation: greater public investment to help prepare schools and kids for the future. “We want students to learn computer science,” said Nate Bowling, a Washington teacher. “OK – who’s literate in computer science [and] is going to teach computer science for the salary that we pay K-12 teachers in the United States right now?”
Local stories to watch
- Trouble ahead for “early college.” Programs that allow students to stay in high school for a fifth or sixth year to earn credits or even associates degrees, which are increasingly popular, are prohibited by a new state law in Colorado.
- A charter policy turnaround in Detroit. The school district’s superintendent says he wants to focus on district schools, not charters — and board members just opted not to renew the charters of three schools serving 700 students who are now in limbo.
- Denver is considering starting its own police force. Officials say they think the idea could reduce disparities and calls to outside police. Others aren’t sure that’s a good idea.
Matt’s research round-up
- Elementary school teachers should specialize in students, not subjects. There’s been a move in some places to have elementary schools work more like high schools, where each teacher focuses on a single subject. But our team in New York — where fifth-grade math teachers are increasingly specializing — reports on two new studies in Houston and North Carolina suggesting that that’s not a good idea, and may actually hurt student achievement. That’s in line with another recent study showing that students benefit when teachers follow them from year to year, a practice known as looping. The takeaway is common-sense one: students benefit when teachers know them well.
- Displaced students suffer from school closures in Chicago, according to an analysis of the country’s largest single round of closures. Students from the nearly 50 shuttered schools saw somewhat lower math test scores even four years later, compared to similar students whose schools didn’t close. There wasn’t much evidence, though, that the students had worse attendance or suspension rates. The study adds to other research showing that school closures usually don’t help — and can harm — learning, unless displaced students end up at substantially better schools. Keep in mind the latest paper doesn’t look at the effect of closures on all students in the city, or on students who might otherwise have attended the schools that closed. Chalkbeat’s Chicago bureau chief also put together a Twitter thread with more thoughts and questions.
Names to note
Roger Leon is the new superintendent of schools in Newark. Sara Noguchi is expected to be the next superintendent in Modesto. Cynthia Paris was chosen to be the new superintendent in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where a state-appointed board oversees schools. Kris Cheung, the chief operating officer at Success Academy, is headed to Texas for an operations job at KIPP.
The education secretary testified before Congress yesterday. Some key moments:
- Asked whether a school official who knows a child is undocumented should report that to federal immigration authorities, DeVos said, “that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision.” Immigration advocates say no way. Education Week
- The school safety commission she’s chairing will offer recommendations “by year’s end,” she said. The 74
- “Great teachers” deserve to be paid more, she said. Education Week
What we’re reading
- South Carolina teachers rallied for better pay in the state capital last Saturday. Greenville News
- Florida’s virtual school recently told out-of-state teachers they needed to move to the state soon. Some who didn’t are now on administrative leave. WKMG
- A moment-by-moment account of the horrifying shooting at Santa Fe High School last week. San Antonio Express News
- Chicago’s public school system is hiring a chief equity officer. Chicago Tonight
- Andre Perry: Too often, school dress codes unnecessarily restrict students and punish girls. Hechinger Report
- New Jersey faces a new lawsuit arguing that its schools are too racially segregated. Philly.com
- A few charter schools have used cash incentives to try to recruit students, but the prevalence of the practice is largely unknown. The Intercept
- Virtual charter schools are facing closure in five states amid questions about their performance. Education Week
- Washington’s charter schools are back before the state supreme court, facing a challenge to their legality. Seattle Times
- The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing a Kafkaesque teacher grant program. NPR
- The nonprofit Communities in Schools has received a huge recent infusion of philanthropic cash. Inside Philanthropy
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.