Race and the Role of Schools in Shaping Community

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The conversations around race can be tense and difficult, but they must be addressed to improve schools, equality and society on a larger scale. A student named Ahmed Mohammed is an example of how preconceived notions of a person’s intentions based on their race can result in unnecessarily extreme and traumatic measures. After making a homemade digital clock for science class Ahmed was arrested on the spot because it was assumed he assembled a bomb. After being interrogated as a terrorist, as he explained, Ahmed and his family decided to withdraw from the school.
Santa Fe Public Schools has created a unique program, a districtwide Equity and Access Task Force, which is made up of members of various sectors of the community. The group’s focus is to SFPS eliminates racial and ethnic achievement and opportunity gaps by engaging families with courtesy, respect and cultural understanding.
Pictured above: Joel Boyd, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent.

Opt Out Movement

The Opt-out movement continues to stir civil rights groups who know opting out skews test score data. It’s impossible to fix what cannot be measured. Those who opt out are a small but growing percentage of students. Those hurt most by opting out are the poor and minority students. Achievement data is aimed to advocate for the schools and communities most in need.

School Funding & Real Estate

The current school funding system reinforces and divides schools district boundaries between rich and the poor. Keeping resources in wealthy communities while making it very difficult for low-income students to keep from accessing broad opportunities. This past June, the Supreme Court decided Texas v. Inclusive Communities Project, affirming that no government policy may create “artificial, arbitrary or unnecessary barriers” for minority individuals and families seeking quality housing in a good neighborhood. Yet barriers are created by the delineation of schools district boundaries. Where a student goes to school in the United States is still primarily determined by where their family lives. The current system ties school budgets to to the value of local property wealth and incentivizes boundaries between upper and lower income communities. This concentrates education funding within affluent schools and keeps low-income students from opportunities and upward socio-economic mobility.

High Graduation Rates in Chicago

Chicago has seen a double digit increase in the percentage of students graduating from high school. A student who passes ninth grade is almost four times more likely to graduate than one who doesn’t. Chicago was a pioneer of this freshman year strategy in 2007 setting forth initiates to get teenagers to finish their first year of high school. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of freshman in Chicago Public Schools making it to 10th grade grew by 7,000 students. Freshman graduation rates jumped to 84% in 2014 from 57% in 2007. The four year graduation rate jumped from 49% in 2007 to 68% in 2014. Nationally graduation rates are up, but Chicago’s double digit growth is note worthy. These are stand-out results in a school system with a low income of majority and shrinking funding.

Every Child Achieves & Student Success Act Debate

The No Child Left Behind Act, that expired in 2007 may be on its way to becoming fully defunct. The Senate recently debated its Every Child Achieves Act, an updated No Child Left Behind rewrite. The House of Representatives is doing the same with their version called the Student Success Act. It’s unclear what the final bill will look like exactly, but civil rights groups, politicians and teachers agree it’s time for an update. The new bill will maintain an emphasis on standardized testing while giving more control to states’ education policy. A criticism of these new bills in their current state is that they lack accountability measures.

Updating Vocational Programs

Vocational programs for high schooler students are teaching how electricity makes subway cars operate, how to build a model frame home, or programming a computer controlled model ski lift through hands on experiences and advanced academic courses. Students coming out of the programs are more engaged in their learning experience. And often end up pursuing college in fields like engineering. Internships, during high school allow students to see what careers are like before they leave high school. Vocational schools used to be an alternate to college that lead directly into jobs, but now some are designed to push kids towards college while giving them a more hands on experience and specialized focus during high school to help them explore their professional pursuits.

Student Designs Architectural Material that Reacts to Rain

A water-reacting architectural surface, a laminate made from fabric, film and veneer, has been engineered by a student designer in London. During a walk on a rainy day Chao Chen noticed that pinecones close their outer shells when wet. He took this concept to create a building material that would react to the weather. When the veneer takes in water the fibers expand perpendicular to the grain, elongating and curving the materials just like the shell of a pine cone. With this materials Chen is developing a water-reacting shelter for parks or public spaces, that stay open on sunny days and form total shelter when it reacts to rain.  Check out a video of the materials here.

Personalizing Blended Learning Benefits Student Learning and Engagement.

Leadership is important in blended learning. The critical role in-person teachers and mentors, not just monitors, play on students and the learning environment is paramount. As is the important role collecting data plays in responding to students learning needs for personalization. Schools must remain persistence while adapting and navigating the successful implementation of blended learning models. When the focus is on student attainment, persistence and engagement through personalized learning, we see improvement in performance and engagement. It’s important to acknowledge students don’t learn in the same way or time.

The Equity of Opportunity at School is a Civil Right

Common Core Standards and STEM movements, though a masterfully planned frameworks, fail to specifically address and focus on concerns of decreasing existing inequities and reengaging disconnected youth. Student and learning supports have long been marginalized in school improvement policy and practice.  This requires a specific focus on equity in school systems and districts. Current plans need to be transformed rather than just tweaked.

Zack Kopplin and Creationism in Public Schools

Zack Kopplin is a judicious young man who began speaking out against The Louisiana Science Education Act, a law that allows the teaching of Creationism in Louisiana public schools, like his, as part of his senior project. He is now a history major at Rice University and the biggest troll of his father’s friend and current Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal, a Brown Biology major, passed rather than vetoing a popular Louisiana law to teach Creationism in public schools. The law allows biology classrooms to teach a critique of evolution with creationism and intelligent design as an alternative to science. As a family friend Zack is suspicious because Jindal’s own children are learning evolution in school. If Jindal truly opposed evolution he wouldn’t allow them to learn about it in place of Creationism.
Zack sites The Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank, as being a major force in attempts to implement Creationist laws. They started by trying to get creationism written into No Child Left Behind Act. Now with the advocacy of 78 Nobel Laureates, Zack plans to repeal this law that undermines science and instead teaches religious doctrine in public schools within a fundamentally secular country catering to the education needs of students with various belief systems, the diversity of which should be celebrated and respected
Watch an interview with Zack Kopplin here. He has appeared on Hardball, NPR, and Real Time With Bill Maher (alongside Bernie Sanders). Calling out Jindal as a anti-science hypocrite because he passed legislature that is a “back-door invitation to teach creationism.”
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