Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Matt Barnum here (Sarah’s out on vacation, but thankfully for my sake, she’ll be back next week). Our goal is to help you make sense of the messy, fascinating, often controversial efforts to improve education for poor students across the country.
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The Big Story
Yesterday was election day. And that means a number of races that will have a big impact on schools. Here’s a roundup of what happened and why it matters:
- Virginia and New Jersey voters elected Democratic governors. The results in both races are likely good news for those advocating for greater investment in district schools, and bad news for school choice initiatives.
- New Jersey’s largest teachers union fell short in its multi-million dollar effort to oust the top Democrat in the state senate by backing a pro-Trump Republican instead.
- In Denver, skeptics of the district’s direction — in favor of charter schools and tight accountability for performance — were on track to oust two incumbents, but fell short in two other races. That means supporters of the current approach still hold a majority.
- In Douglas County, Colorado, opponents of the district’s voucher program swept to victory. The voucher program is tied up in court, and the election winners have promised to stop defending the case. School choice supporters were hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would use the suit to set a wider precedent, but if the local board ends the case, that won’t happen.
- As expected in New York City and Boston — where mayors control the schools — incumbents Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh easily won reelection.
LOCAL STORIES TO WATCH
New York City debates selective high schools. Should public schools sort students by their academic ability? Here are the arguments — and the evidence — on both sides of the issue.
Keeping kids in school. As many schools start to be held accountable for student absences, here’s how one Denver social worker tackles chronic absenteeism.
How school choice is reshaping Indianapolis schools: More and more students are leaving district-run schools, encouraged by state and local policies. It’s a trend that many districts in the country are experiencing.
Trump’s immigration policy reverberates through schools. An Indianapolis high school designed for new immigrants is seeing fewer students than expected — and those who are enrolled are more fearful than they were a year ago.
MATT’S RESEARCH ROUNDUP
Higher test scores = less happy students? On average, teachers who raise test scores also seem to have students who report being less happy in class, according to a new study. This suggests that test scores only measure part of what it means to be a good teacher. But before suggesting test scores are useless, remember other research shows that higher test score gains have been linked to positive long run gains, like higher income and college GPA. Also we’ve asked on Facebook: Does this finding resonate with you? What do you think explains the findings? Join the discussion.
Oh, and also, teachers judged by test scores tend to get lower ratings: A recent study finds that teachers who are evaluated by value-added measures — statistical estimates of teachers’ impacts on students’ tests — tend to score lower on their evaluations. That’s because classroom observations scores tend to be quite high, while value-added is created on a bell curve, meaning not everyone can score well. That means teachers in traditionally non-tested areas — think gym, social studies, first grade — get higher ratings since they don’t receive an individual value-added score.
Did you see the viral stories suggesting that Betsy DeVos is about to resign? Don’t worry — or rejoice. That was fake news.
DeVos hadn’t released a public schedule since the week of Oct. 16 — and in that schedule no public events were listed. But this week the Department finally released a new one, which featured remarks at the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony and the Department of Education Veterans’ Day program. (Also be sure, to check out our reviewof the first several months of DeVos’s personal schedule, released in response to a public records request.) Today, DeVos is visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where schools have been hit hard by recent hurricanes.
NAMES TO NOTE
A new coalition the Education Civil Rights Alliance recently formed to “provide resources to those seeking to ensure students get the education promised under education civil rights laws” according to the group, which include longstanding civil rights organizations, local community groups, and the nation’s two largest teachers unions.
Speaking of teachers unions, “American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten met one-on-one with then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon back in March,” according to The Intercept. Weingarten later explained why she took the meeting in a Facebook post.
EDTECH IN THE NEWS
Three big stories this week took stock of ed tech, which many advocates, philanthropists, and Betsy DeVos think is key to improving schools. A Mother Jones article takes us inside Summit Public Schools, a charter school pioneering “personalized learning,” a tech-infused approach that has enthusiasm among philanthropists but a thin evidence base. Another Silicon Valley darling, the Mark Zuckerberg-backed AltSchool, is closing one school and scaling back its ambitious plans. Finally, the New York Times details the aggressive — and ethically murky — steps that technology companies are taking to woo school leaders to purchase their wares. “If benefits are flowing in both directions, with payments from schools to vendors,” one political scientist told the Times, “and dinner and travel going to the school leaders, it’s a pay-for-play arrangement.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
- The House GOP tax bill would eliminate classrooms supplies deduction for teachers and subsidize private schools largely for affluent families. Education Week
- “Private schools serve only about 17 percent of the D.C.’s students, but almost 60 percent of its white students.” Shanker Institute
- Philadelphia’s mayor is making an aggressive push to return city schools to local control, after nearly two decades of state governance. The Notebook
- The New York Times editorial board endorses the controversial plan to allow certain NYC charter schools to certify their own teachers. New York Times
- An investigation into a small Houston charter school find a well-paid leader and a luxury condo purportedly used for records storage. Houston Chronicle
- An agreement was reached to avoid numerous charter school closures in Los Angeles. SCPR
- A struggling virtual charter school in South Carolina is using its political muscle to fight efforts at closure. The 74 (Sound familiar? Here’s our investigation into a low-performing virtual charter school in Indiana that has so far evaded consequences.)
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