national newsletter

Teacher protests are marching on

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

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The national wave of teacher activism is about to sweep across two more states, as months of smaller protests culminate in a statewide walkout in Arizona and rallies that will close schools across Colorado.

Our Colorado team has been carefully tracking the lead up to a protest at the state Capitol that’s expected to draw thousands of teachers over the next two days. Denver and the state’s other large districts have plans to cancel classes Thursday or Friday as teachers push for more education spending.

“I think both movements, both nationally and locally, show that teachers have had enough,” said the teachers union president in Pueblo, where teachers have separately said they intend to strike after their raises were rejected. “Teachers are walking into classrooms that are not funded.”

In an email to supporters Wednesday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten asked for support for Colorado and Arizona teachers. She also connected their fight to one that she’s helping Puerto Rico teachers undertake right now, to block a plan that would create a charter school pilot program in 10 percent of its schools and close many others. 

The protests are rankling some Colorado lawmakers, who introduced a bill that would bar teachers from going on strike. It has practically no shot at becoming law but illustrates the sharp tensions at play locally and beyond as teachers speak out — and gain some support. A poll out this week found that most Americans of all political persuasions think teachers are underpaid and would pay more in taxes to raise their salaries.

Local stories to watch

  • Tennessee’s recent testing troubles are still reverberating. Lawmakers there have called for the state education commissioner’s ouster. But it’s worth remembering that they were the ones who pushed Tennessee to leave the PARCC testing consortium several years back.
  • Detroit may soon be able to better compete for veteran teachers. The teachers contract there only gave educators credit on the pay scale for two years of experience elsewhere. A new agreement would change that.
  • New York City is pouring more money into its schools. A $125 million infusion will bring the city closer to its funding goals at a time when Democrats in the state are divided over how much to spend on education.
  • State takeover is back on the table in Indiana. Lawmakers there ran out of time during the legislative session to take control over two low-performing districts. Now they’re working on another approach.

Matt’s research round-up

  • Louisiana’s voucher program may have boosted college enrollment rates. That’s the surprising finding of a new study, which found that students who won a voucher to attend their first-choice private high school were 6 percentage points more likely to enroll in college. The result were not statistically significant, though.
  • Career and tech-focused high schools boost graduation rates, according to a new study of Massachusetts’ regional CTE high schools. It’s the latest in a string of research finding that career programs can substantially increase students’ chances of completing high school — a welcome, if unexpected, benefit of such initiatives. More here.
  • The Democracy Prep charter network seems to be achieving one piece of its mission. Its students are more likely to vote as adults, according to a study released last week.
  • Do charter schools suspend students more often? It depends on how you look at the (rough) data. Charters do have higher rates of out-of-school suspensions than traditional public schools. But if you break that down by race, charters have slightly lower rates in each category. That paradox is largely due to the fact that charters tend to have more black students, which are suspended at higher rates in all kinds of schools.

Names to note

The next head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District is Sharon Griffin, the chief of schools for Shelby County Schools. Eric Mackey is Alabama’s new state superintendent of education. No news on the Los Angeles superintendent search, for now.

What we’re reading

  • A Houston school board meeting got heated last night, and ended without a vote on a proposal to hand over governance of 10 low-performing schools. Houston Chronicle
  • Here’s why more than a million teachers aren’t eligible for social security (and what it has to do with the recent teacher protests in Kentucky). NPR
  • Hillsborough County, Florida may get its own “achievement zone” for low-performing schools. Tampa Bay Times
  • A donor’s $25 million gift to a single public high school had many, many strings attached. Inside Philanthropy
  • It’s still pretty easy for Florida private schools that take vouchers to hire teachers with criminal records or revoked teaching licenses. Orlando Sentinel
  • Betsy DeVos is set to headline a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party next month. WMUR

Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post.