national newsletter

What the ‘busing’ debate means now

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! We’re working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education across the country. We also have a new addition to the lineup this week: Kalyn Belsha, who just joined Chalkbeat as a national reporter based in Chicago. Want to say hi? She’s at and @kalynbelsha.

The big story 

Who would have thought that education would play such a prominent role in one of the first Democratic debates? Not us! 

But Kamala Harris jumpstarted a national conversation on the issue of school segregation and “busing” by confronting Joe Biden on his track record vocally opposing court-ordered desegregation while a Delaware Senator. 

  • If you want to catch up: Here is the Harris–Biden exchange, with a full transcript of what she said and how he responded.
  • If you’re looking to understand the debate about “busing,” and why a consensus formed that it didn’t work: Read our interview with Matt Delmont, a historian who argues that “busing” only failed because politicians and the media prioritized the feelings of white families over the education of black students.
  • Research actually shows that those desegregation efforts were largely effective. Take a look at our summary of research on school integration, including research on more recent programs. 
  • And if you’re wondering whether all of this talk has translated into policy ideas: We asked all of the candidates’ campaigns whether and how they’d address the issue, and rounded up their records. Learn about each candidate’s stance here. 

We’ll be watching to see if the issue comes up again during Friday’s presidential forum hosted by the National Education Association. Biden and Harris will both make appearances.

Also from the national desk

Can Laurene Powell Jobs reinvent the American high school? That’s been the goal of XQ, an organization she’s backed that has spent millions making the case that high schools need dramatic change. XQ has also offered 19 teams up to $10 million to build innovative schools. We take a deep look at the progress of the initiative, which has seen successes and some setbacks — including the fact that four of the 19 schools haven’t opened as planned, and internal concerns that its network TV special didn’t get the traction XQ had hoped for. Read more.

Amid growing backlash, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools president Nina Rees says the charter school movement is a “battle for survival.” On Monday, she told charter school conference attendees, “We need to start fighting back against the attacks far more aggressively.”

Local stories to watch

  • Pockets of New York City are taking their own approaches to school integration. City officials are funding five local districts to explore ideas ranging from sweeping changes, such as altering middle school admissions, to smaller steps, like starting public dialogue. The hope is that these plans will build support for change in a city with schools very divided by race, but some critics say these efforts are too small to solve the systemic problem.
  • Popular Tennessee reading camps are in jeopardy. Some 9,000 Tennessee students are attending summer camps aimed at motivating young readers and preventing students from low-income families from “sliding” backwards while school is out. The camps have been successful, but it’s unclear if state lawmakers will fund them next year after federal funding dried up.
  • Chicago has reduced punishments for students who use alcohol or drugs in school. Under revisions to the district’s code of conduct, students won’t face expulsion if they’re caught smoking pot or drinking on school grounds. The change comes shortly after Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • Newark has expanded a program that keeps students safe during their commutes to school. The city’s five-year-old “Safe Passage” program pays outreach workers to mentor students and protect them from gang violence, is set to operate at four more schools. Newark’s program is small compared to similar ones in Los Angeles and Chicago, but the city’s superintendent wants to expand it even more — if the district can find the funds.
  • New York City’s outgoing head of teaching and learning talks reading. In an exit interview, the 35-year veteran educator said the renewed national dialogue about how to teach reading led to curriculum changes in some city schools. But he admitted: “We’re not able to track exactly what schools are doing.” He predicted that city education officials would know if those changes had an impact “in a year or two.”

Research roundup

  • Two studies point to positive results for North Carolina charter schools. In one, researchers found that students who moved from a district middle school to a charter high school in North Carolina were more likely to vote and less likely to be arrested as adults than similar students who remained in traditional public schools. Another study finds that math test scores increased slightly in areas of the state where charters expanded after the state cap was lifted in 2011. That’s relevant to the charged debates about how charters affect nearby district schools. 

DeVos watch

“Education clearly has not been at the top of his list of priorities to address directly, but he has been very supportive of all the work that we’ve done,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said of President Trump in an interview last week. 

The Supreme Court will hear a case in its next session challenging a ruling that killed Montana’s tax-credit voucher program as violating the state’s prohibition on public dollars going to religious schools. School choice advocates hope the court will strike down similar “Blaine amendments,” which have been a hurdle to voucher programs in a number of states. DeVos tweeted her support Friday. 

DeVos touted her proposed Education Freedom Scholarship federal tax credit at an event in Colorado Springs last week, calling it a “game changer.” Around 60 teachers protested outside the venue. 

2020 vision

Jahana Hayes, the Connecticut congresswoman and former national teacher of the year, is endorsing Kamala Harris for president, saying that listening to Harris talk about her experience with desegregation efforts was a “defining moment.” 

The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank that supports charter schools, released a set of education ideas for the Democratic candidates. They include ramping up funding for public schools and taking a “balanced approach” to charters.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a critical open letter to Bernie Sanders, signed by a number of charter leaders and advocates of color. 

Names to note

E. Toby Boyd became the president of the California Teachers Association.

Patricia Hoben will lead a new organization called City Forward Collective focused on “increasing the number of quality school seats available to Milwaukee families.”

Nicole T. Johnson will be a deputy superintendent in Newark. 

Richard Vladovic is the new president of the Los Angeles Unified school board. 

What we’re reading

  • “Long before Johns Hopkins University reported that the Providence public schools were in meltdown mode, students activists were calling out racism in the system, mold and mice in the classroom and a curriculum that didn’t address their culture.” Providence Journal
  • Emails show that California charter backers laid out plans to “take back” the Los Angeles mayor’s office, and elect more supporters to the school board, after the teachers strike there. Los Angeles Times 
  • After a tumultuous six years, AltSchool will no longer operate its private schools, which focused on “personalized learning.” Forbes

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images