national newsletter

“Gloves off, in your face”

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Sarah Darville and Matt Barnum here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education across the country. Sign up for any of Chalkbeat’s newsletters here.


The big story

We were at the NewSchools Venture Fund conference last week, where advocates, leaders, and funders gathered in Oakland to talk about charter schools, ed tech, and the changing education landscape. The state of the charter school movement was a hot topic, and charter supporters were playing defense.

NewSchools attendees were reminded of the opposition when dozens of protestors, organized by the Oakland Education Association, gathered outside the conference hotel downtown.

“Our movement is facing an existential threat,” said Myrna Castrejón of the California Charter Schools Association, speaking about the proposed legislation in California that would halt charter expansion. “We are mobilizing — gloves off, in your face — across the state.”

Some charter leaders are as worried about what they see as a problem in their own ranks: charter school teachers going on strike or hoping to unionize.

“It is our very ability to be autonomous, to be nimble, to be flexible that’s at stake,” said Dahlia Aguilar of Mundo Verde, a D.C. charter school in the midst of a union drive.

Participants were feeling a change illustrated in new polling data: Opposition to charter schools is growing among Democrats. That’s being driven by white Democrats, according to a new poll conducted by Democrats For Education Reform, a pro-charter group.

We were curious whether other data backed that up. So we asked Education Next — which has been asking about charter schools in its own poll for years — to break down their results by party.

The results, released to Chalkbeat, was striking. Among black and Hispanic Democrats, support for charter schools held steady from 2016 to 2018, at about 47 percent. But among white Democrats, approval tanked, dropping from 43 to 27 percent.

Read the polling story here and details about what charter leaders are saying here.


Local stories to watch

  • There’s a new cloud of suspicion over Tennessee’s voucher legislation. A bill creating a new voucher-like program is waiting for the governor’s signature. But Nashville TV station WTVF has reported that FBI agents have interviewed state lawmakers about whether any improper incentives were offered for “yes” votes.
  • Chicago is about to have a new mayor. Will it get new school governance, too? Illinois lawmakers are pressuring Lori Lightfoot to support a state bill that would create an elected school board in Chicago, transitioning the city away from mayoral control. Lightfoot says she’ll support an elected board, but the current proposal for a 21-member body isn’t quite right.
  • Some are pushing New York City to adopt the Flint, Michigan’s protocol for lead-poisoned children. They point to kids like Brooklyn 10-year-old Bishop Ashburn, who was one of almost 14,000 city children under the age of 6 with worrying levels of lead in their blood in 2010. He only recently got a full neuropsychological evaluation, the type of testing now legally mandated in Flint.

Research roundup

  • Test scores in D.C. voucher program bounce back in year three, according to the latest federal study of the program. But there’s no evidence that students see any gains from using a voucher. That said, voucher students do have lower rates of chronic absenteeism and rate their schools more highly. The results stand in contrast to research elsewhere showing those declines in test scores persist for three or more years.
  • The benefits of early childhood education can extend across generations, according to the latest analysis of the Perry preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Strikingly, siblings and children of preschool participants were less likely to be involved in crime as a result. A key caveat is the small sample size — just over 100 kids. But the results look similar to research on the much larger federal Head Start initiative.
  • The share of predominantly non-white schools is rising. In 1988, 6 percent of public schools were composed of 90 percent or more students of color; by 2016, that number had tripled to 18 percent. Part of that has to do with changing demographics. Over the same period, the share of predominantly white schools fell from 39 to 16 percent.
  • New Orleans schools continue to see gains. Student test score gains in the nearly all-charter New Orleans school district outpaced the state, controlling for student demographics, a recent analysis by CREDO found. It’s a different story in Baton Rouge, where schools posted average achievement gains.

DeVos watch

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has no public events scheduled this week. Meanwhile, at least one D.C. restaurateur says he seats DeVos in a back corner so that no one “realizes she’s dining with us.”


2020 vision

Joe Biden discussing his education plans at an event in New Hampshire: “Send everybody to a community college for free.”

Michael Bennet and Cory Booker signed on to a resolution celebrating National Charter Schools Week. ”High performing charter schools was part of our larger solution,” Booker told CNN. “And I stand by that.” He also inaccurately stated that 3 percent of public schools nationally are charters; it’s actually 6 percent.

Julián Castro’s education plan: “universal, high-quality, publicly-funded, full-day” pre-K, tuition-free public college, and a federal tax credit designed to raise teacher pay.

Kamala Harris says she wants to reform school funding, but didn’t explain exactly how she’d do it.

Amy Klobuchar toured schools in Yonkers this week and promised to improve school infrastructure.

Elizabeth Warren promised to appoint an education secretary who has worked as a public school teacher. “I want someone who has seen tattered textbooks or who has tried to manage when there are too many kids in a classroom,” she said at an event hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.


Names to note

Brenda Cassellius will be the next head of Boston Public Schools.

Terry Dade will be the next schools chief in Rochester, New York.

Jackie Goldberg was easily elected to the Los Angeles school board. She campaigned with the support of the local teachers union.


What we’re reading

  • A new Pew survey finds black respondents valued school diversity more than white respondents, while white respondents valued going to school “in their local community” more than black respondents. Education Week
  • Brown v. Board at 65: Will Schools Ever Be Integrated? The 74
  • Charter school advocates in Philadelphia fight back over mayor’s comments suggesting there should be fewer charters. Inquirer