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Money over merit

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Matt Barnum, Kalyn Belsha, and Sarah Darville here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education across the country. You can sign up for any of Chalkbeat’s newsletters here.

The big story

It was an idea that immediately drew sharp criticism: scrap gifted and talented programs in New York City, recommended an advisory panel. The argument was that such programs advantage some groups while generally excluding others.

Now, a new study using national data backs this up. Elementary school students from the highest income families are nearly seven times more likely to participate in gifted and talented programs compared with their peers from low-income households — 13% vs. 2%.

And it’s not simply because affluent kids score better on tests. When researchers compare students in the same school with similar achievement, the disparity was less extreme, but still persisted.

“We looked at a high-income kid who’s sitting in the same classroom as a kid with similar characteristics but just from a lower-income family, and the system was less likely to identify that lower-income kid for gifted services,” said researcher Jason Grissom.

Advocates for gifted education say that the solution isn’t to throw out the system entirely, but to implement universal screening to try to reduce bias. That might help, but it’s not clear how big of a difference it would make.

“I don’t think that removing opportunity for students is the best path forward for addressing inequity,” said Jonathan Plucker, president of the board for the National Association for Gifted Children.

Read the full story here.

From the national desk

More states say “no thanks, Obama” on teacher evaluation: Several years ago, tying test scores to teacher evaluations took the education policy world by storm, as the Obama administration used federal carrots and sticks to encourage the practice. But in a sign of the times, nine fewer states — from 43 to 34 — require the practice, according to a new report.

Welcome to New York City, XQ: The Robin Hood Foundation and XQ are putting up $16 million dollars to launch 40 new and restructured schools in the country’s largest district. It’s a major move for XQ — the group, backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, has issued large grants to educators across the country trying to “reinvent high school.” We’ve got more details on XQ, including the struggles some of its school teams have faced. And our New York reporters have more on the new initiative.

Chicago has become the latest front for “common good” bargaining. The strategy, in which unions use the fight over pay to bring other issues to the bargaining table, is gaining in prominence nationally and is supported by at least half a dozen local teachers unions. Chicago and Los Angeles are both among them, so it’s not surprising we saw many parallels between the contract battles waged in these two cities this year. And with a Chicago teachers strike planned for next week, our Chicago team has you covered with the latest on contract negotiations and answers to common questions.

Local stories to watch

  • One New York City school is deploying teaching assistants to help struggling readers. A school in Queens once labeled among the city’s lowest-performing is hoping its investment in paraprofessionals will boost student literacy — and it’s paying for the program out-of-pocket now that the city won’t subsidize it. Aides place a heavy emphasis on phonics instruction, which is not offered consistently across the city.
  • A handful of schools have shown enough improvement to leave Tennessee’s turnaround school district. But because that’s never happened in the eight-year history of the district, no one knows exactly how they should be returned to local control. Charter operators who’ve worked to improve the schools don’t want to give them up, but it’s unclear if those operators can stay on once state oversight ends.
  • A teacher residency program that’s been controversial elsewhere has opened an Indianapolis campus. The Relay Graduate School of Education has locations in more than a dozen cities and focuses on practice in the classroom over educational theory. With a teacher shortage across Indiana, there’s hope this program can fill crucial gaps and improve teacher diversity.
  • A private firm is working through a long to-do list to overhaul one of Colorado’s lowest-performing schools. First up: fixing a historically chaotic student registration process in this suburban Denver high school, which was ordered to contract with an outside manager. More difficult work is ahead: Now the company has to build trust with parents and navigate a pending lawsuit from the teachers union.

Research roundup

Can charter schools “lift all boats?” Most research on charter schools doesn’t speak to how they affect the broader community — whether they spur surrounding public schools to improve or hurt their performance by draining resources. Now, two recent studies examine what happens to students — whether they attend a charter or not — as charter schools expand. Both find evidence that charter schools lead to test score growth across the board, but the case is not yet closed, and we still don’t know much about the other ways charter growth affects students. Read our full piece on how to make sense of this new research.

DeVos watch

A federal judge was sharply critical of the Department of Education for continuing to collect loan payments for a defunct for-profit college. “At best, it is gross negligence,” said Judge Sallie Kim. “At worst, it’s intentional flouting of my order.” She threatened sanctions, including fines, and even said, “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability.” (Though, despite what you might have heard, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Betsy DeVos will go to jail over this.) The department points the finger at the loan-servicing companies it contracts with.

North Carolina won an additional $10 million from the federal government to support charter schools — but some officials aren’t sure if the state will be able to spend all the money.

2020 vision

Kamala Harris released a “Children’s Agenda” this week. In it, Harris promised to increase Title I funding and offer federal incentives for states to “adopt more equitable funding formulas.” She also said she would reinstate Obama-era guidance on school discipline, expand the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and restrict the use of seclusion and restraint. She proposed offering toxic stress screenings to all children and universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Read our updated candidate tracker for more.

After teasing it for weeks on the campaign trail, Joe Biden released his “plan for education beyond high school.” It includes free community college, including for part-time students and DREAMers; spending $50 billion on workforce-oriented partnerships between high schools, colleges, and businesses; doubling the maximum size of federal Pell grants; and big investments in historically black colleges and universities.

There was renewed focus on Elizabeth Warren’s brief tenure as a teacher in the early ‘70s. She reiterated that as a speech therapist at a New Jersey school, she was dismissed after one year for being pregnant, and accounts from that time confirm this was a common and legal form of discrimination, even if it was not explicitly documented.

Warren also released an environmental justice plan that includes a proposed federal grant program to abate lead in schools and daycares.

Democrats for Education Reform released a poll, which garnered some press, purporting to show that the vast majority of Democratic primary voters back charter schools. But in fact, the results are a bit more complicated. On the one hand, about 80% of Democrats supported the favorably framed idea of “expanding access to more choice … including magnet schools, career academies, and public charter schools.” At the same time, a slim majority of those same Democrats said they would back a ban on federal funding for new charters, which has been proposed by Bernie Sanders.

First Person

Susan Gonzowitz: I never talked about race in my seven years in the classroom. Now I work to make sure future teachers do.

What we’re reading

  • Should we look at student growth or proficiency to judge schools? That’s a false choice, argues a researcher for the Shanker Institute.
  • A national school reform group has apologized for an inaccurate report on funding disparities in Florida. WLRN
  • Achievement First charter network is moving toward expansion in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence Journal
  • College libraries are becoming fancier, but what if students really just want the basics? CityLab

Photo by Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

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