national newsletter

What America’s new governors have promised schools

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Sarah Darville, Matt Barnum, and Francisco Vara-Orta here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education. Did someone forward this to you? You can sign up here.


The big story

The nation’s share of “I Voted” stickers has been depleted, and most votes have been counted. The result: Democrats have taken control of the House, while Republicans strengthened their grip on the Senate. That has some limited implications for education — particularly because the House will now likely ramp up oversight of Betsy DeVos and her Department of Education.

We were glued to our television screens, interactive maps, and vote-count websites watching the local races set to make the biggest impact on teachers and students.

Here’s our cheat sheet:

Democrats won seven governor’s races in states that had been run by Republicans. The biggest news is that incumbent Scott Walker of Wisconsin — who limited union membership in the state — lost, as did Bruce Rauner of Illinois. Their challengers, Tony Evers and J.B. Pritzker, promise to limit or roll back school choice programs and increase education funding.

In New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected; she’s vowed to revamp the state’s controversial teacher evaluation program. Former teacher Tim Walz won in Minnesota, and Gretchen Whitmer claimed victory in Michigan after campaigning on tighter oversight of for-profit charter schools. In Kansas, Laura Kelly won after campaigning to undo funding cuts to schools and other public services.

But Democrats also lost closely watched races in Florida and Ohio. Republican Brian Kemp is edging Stacey Abrams in Georgia, though the race has not been called. In each of those contests, the Democrats have expressed reservations about charter schools.

Ms. Hayes is going to Washington. Former national teacher of the year Jahana Hayes, a Democrat, won a seat in Connecticut.

A ballot initiative that would have expanded eligibility for private-school vouchers in Arizona was defeated. The issue split school choice advocates, and the American Federation for Children claimed the results were a victory.

A measure that would have increased school funding by raising taxes on wealthy households was easily beaten back in Colorado, a state that saw waves of teacher unrest over low pay.

The race for California schools superintendent — one of the most expensive elections in the whole country — remained too close to call. With just over 97 percent of precincts reporting, Marshall Tuck, backed by wealthy charter advocates, is clinging to a narrow lead over Tony Thurmond, supported by teachers unions.

School boards we’re watching: Charter advocates did notch victories in an Oakland school board race. Two incumbents in the Indianapolis school board race are losing, a blow to advocates of the “portfolio model” there. Supporters of the current approach, though, retain control of the board.


Local stories to watch

  • A national charter network isn’t sure if it still has a future in Memphis. Aspire is considering loosening or cutting ties to its four Tennessee schools, which are in financial and academic trouble. It would be the latest blow to the state’s ambitious school turnaround district, which relied on outside groups taking over schools but has already seen two other networks pull out of schools.
  • You’re about to see more of the hot new thing in teacher prep thanks to California. The state is putting $75 million into expanding teacher residency programs, which give educators-in-training an extra dose of time being mentored in a school.
  • In Chicago, talk of a charter school teacher strike has reached a second network. Educators at four Chicago International schools voted to authorize a strike; if they follow through, or teachers at the 15-school Acero network do, it would be the first charter teacher strike in the nation.
  • Solving an access problem doesn’t always solve the equity problem. New York City attempted to boost diversity at elite high schools by allowing middle schools to give the admissions test during the school day. The result was more white and Asian students, who already make up the majority of the schools, passing.
  • Warm your heart: this Ohio school brought a naturalization ceremony to campus. KIPP Columbus’s leaders described the event as civics education in action.

Research round-up

  • When teachers of color are isolated, they’re less likely to ask colleagues for help. That’s according to a new study measuring teachers’ connections to each other in two school districts. In one district, the teachers of color — often the only staff members of color at their schools — were less likely to seek out colleagues for support in teaching math. This was not the case in the other district, which had substantially more teachers of color. The implication: Making sure teachers of color aren’t isolated could both help them improve and encourage them to stay in the classroom, the authors conclude.
  • Male teachers are more likely to quit under female principals, according to a new paper focusing on New York state. The difference is relatively small — male teachers are about 2 percentage points more likely to leave under a female principal than a male one, controlling for other factors. Female teachers, on the other hand, were no more likely to exit under a female principal. “These results suggest that opposition from male subordinates could inhibit female progress in leadership,” the researchers say.
  • Are schools the great equalizer? The short answer is no, according to past research. But a recent study looks closely at student performance in early grades across the country. It shows that test-score disparities between students from poorer and wealthier families exist when a student enters kindergarten and shrink modestly through second grade, though they remain large. Interestingly, there was not much evidence that gaps grew substantially over the summer, contrary to conventional wisdom.

DeVos watch

Out and about: Secretary Betsy DeVos sung the praises of education technology at a conference on Monday, asking, “Why isn’t technology more widely embraced? Why limit what a student can learn based upon the faculty or facilities available?”

Meeting with teachers: DeVos also met with teachers from Educators for Excellence this week, where a Chicago teacher says she pushed DeVos to send more federal funding toward Title II, which can be used for teacher and principal training.

GOP gets more of DeVos’ time: An Education Week analysis found that had she met with or spoke to Republican policymakers about six times more frequently than with Democrats by July 2018.

Universities plea on behalf of transgender students: A cadre of university presidents sent a letter to DeVos asking her to oppose any changes to how gender is defined by the government that could hurt transgender students of all ages.


Names to note

Former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue is the next chair of the National Assessment Governing Board. She will be the first woman to lead the board setting policy for federal testing in schools.

After 20 years of leading the Chicago area’s largest charter network, Michael Milkie will retire at the end of the year as CEO of Noble Network.


What we’re reading

  • Los Angeles Unified School District is considering a substantial redesign of its central office designed to give schools more autonomy. Los Angeles Times
  • Jeff Bezos wants to expand Montessori-based education, an idea that has gained relatively little traction outside of affluent enclaves. Washington Post
  • Indianapolis Public Schools has paid $1.3 million to a charter network to take over a struggling district school, an arrangement the district says it won’t make again. WFYI
  • The state agency charged with conducting site visits of charter schools in Nevada hasn’t done any, prompting a partisan battle on what to do next. Nevada Current
  • These two male teachers of color have relied on one another to get through tough times. Now, they both fear they may not be able to make it another year, illustrating D.C.’s teacher turnover woes. Washingtonian
  • The Charlottesville, Virginia school board changed its dress code to ban Confederate imagery. NBC 29
  • Matching students from historically marginalized groups with the right higher education opportunities is hard for even KIPP to get right, argues a former student. The 74
  • As the black population decreases in the Oakland area, black parents and students are talking about how to keep the focus on how the school system serves them. KQED

Photo: Blend Images - Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

A correction from last week: The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, of course, happened in Pittsburgh. We regret the error.