[10/4] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues - 

As we collectively despair in the aftermath of another mass shooting in our country, we seek answers, grace, and leadership to forge a different future. For me, this time has been a reminder of the erosion in our civics education and discourse, adults and children alike.

The degradation of civics education in the U.S., the dire implications for our democracy, and a potential path forward comprise three posts below. I've also included a local teacher's perspective on teacher evaluation, New Mexico's selection for a sizable grant, and some good news about record numbers of Hispanic students graduating high school and enrolling in college, which ties back to the benefits of college beyond earning potential.

As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: OPINION] Use Evaluation System As an Improvement Tool. In a rare but much needed instance of reasoned discourse, Rio Rancho teacher Amanda Bader shares her clear-eyed take on the real purpose and utility of teacher evaluation. As those of us outside the polemic bubble already know, teacher evaluations are no silver bullet nor consuming sin. Rather, evaluations provide necessary data and credibility to a profession deserving of both. Or, as Amanda writes, evaluation used properly is a tool "for improvement and empowerment, not an obstacle to teachers growing as professionals and students growing as learners."
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Awarded Federal Grant to Expand Charter Schools. The Land of Enchantment was selected as one of only nine states to share $254 million. We received a sizable grant of $22 million to launch 22 new charter schools statewide and expand eight existing schools. Every one of these 30 schools represents the opportunity for parents to select a school that best fits the needs for their children. Kudos to all who put great effort into a stellar application.
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] Making Civics Education Relevant. Two weeks ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor joined a group of experts to discuss the importance of enriching civics education in order to advance political knowledge and social equality. Among the topics covered were how to make civics education more engaging and targeted toward core values in schools and how the reason for college is not financial. "What college does is give you knowledge about the world and that has an intrinsic value that services you as a human being no matter what kind of work you're doing during the day," Sotomayor said. "That ability to become a better person, to become a more curious human being, to have more active knowledge so that you can act or choose not to act in the world, but by choice. That's the value of education."
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Civics is the Key to Our Next Generations. Beyond the three "Rs" of education, schooling has always been in large part about citizen formation: how and who are we preparing our children to become? Political scientists refer to four common measures of citizenship behavior: community service, civic skills, political knowledge, and political tolerance. In nearly all four measures, we are lackluster. For example, in 2014, only 23% of America’s eighth-graders — in public and private schools alike — scored proficient or higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s civics test. Some good news is that evidence from around the world suggests that studying within “distinctive educational communities in which pupils and teachers share a common ethos” vastly increases the odds of students acquiring academic and civic knowledge, skills, and sensibilities. In other words, schools with strongly identifiable culture and purpose offer us a solution to the civics education gap. These findings suggests the possibility that" effective democratic participation relies upon seeing ourselves as more than citizens, and that larger commitments and values inform civic engagement rather than the other way around."
  • [NATIONAL: OPINION] The Failure of Civics Education. Behind much of the erosion of civic discourse in our country is the depletion of civics education in the classroom. For example, when the Annenberg Public Policy Center surveyed American adults in 2014 and found that only 36% could name the three branches of the U.S. government. More alarmingly, the recent release of a survey by the Brookings Institution where college students were asked about their understanding of the First Amendment’s free-speech clause. Overall, "a surprisingly large fraction of students believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive." Here are some frightening responses:

         - “Does the First Amendment protect ‘hate speech’?” Just 39 percent said yes

         - "A public university invites a very controversial speaker to an on-campus event, a person “known for making offensive and hurtful statements and a student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker ... Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?" 51 percent said yes (including 62 percent of those who identify as Democrats)
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] The high school dropout rate among U.S. Hispanics has fallen to a new low, according to recently released data from the Census Bureau. The reduction comes alongside continued increase in Hispanic college enrollment, also at a record high. The Hispanic dropout rate was 10% in 2016, when merely five years earlier, the rate was 16%. The overall high school dropout rate in the U.S. has also fallen substantially in recent decades, matching a record low of 6%. In 2016. Hispanics have accounted for much of that decline. We must ask then, how do we ensure Hispanic students in New Mexico join this widening group of students graduating high school and enrolling in college?