K-12 Groups Back Racial Diversity as Supreme Court Schedules Affirmative Action Arguments | Big Indy News
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K-12 Groups Back Racial Diversity as Supreme Court Schedules Affirmative Action Arguments



In a pair of U.S. Supreme Court cases about college admissions, several K-12 groups this week filed briefs supporting the consideration of race in elementary and secondary education contexts as well, with one arguing that a ruling against affirmative action would only increase efforts to limit books about and discussions of race in the K-12 classrooms.

The briefs are part of the last major batch of filings in two major cases the high court will hear this fall on the use of race in admissions. On Wednesday, the court set Oct. 31 as the argument date for Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College (No. 20-1199) and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (No. 21-707).

Harvard and the University of North Carolina are defending their lower-court victories in challenges brought by the Students for Fair Admissions, a national group led by Edward Blum, a legal strategist who was behind a challenge to affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin. (The Supreme Court upheld UT’s admissions policy in 2016.) SFFA argues that race-conscious admissions policies discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

Among those supporting Harvard and UNC in briefs filed this week are numerous other colleges, higher-education groups, major U.S. corporations including Apple Inc., Meta Platforms Inc. (corporate parent of Facebook), and Microsoft Inc., dozens of scholars, and President Joe Biden’s administration.

And then there are the K-12 groups, who address the need for racial diversity in education generally as well as certain specific ways school districts take race into account, including admissions to selective schools.

A brief filed by the National Education Association is among the more provocative of those by K-12 groups. It notes that since the Supreme Court last considered affirmative action in higher education in 2016, “our national conversation on race has shifted significantly.”

The brief cites the 2017 march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., the 2020 reckoning on race in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s exposure of racial inequities in health care and education.

“Today, the reality remains that race still carries great weight in our society and continues to carve out lanes of opportunity and of peril based solely on the color of one’s skin,” says the NEA brief, which was joined by the Service Employees International Union.

Although the cases before the court are specifically about college admissions, the NEA uses its brief to discuss recent controversies over teaching about race in the classroom

The brief points to “recent efforts by state legislatures nationwide to censor classroom discussions and limit educator training on issues of systemic racism.”

“Rather than exposing the root causes of racial inequality in schools and equipping our educators and our students to face systemic issues, they promote a whitewashed version of our history and ignore that history’s lasting impact,” the brief says. “The mission of public elementary, secondary, and higher education cannot be fulfilled without affirmative efforts to achieve racially diverse classrooms.”

A group supporting the challenge to affirmative action also addressed race discussions in the classroom in a brief filed in the Supreme Court cases last spring.

Parents Defending Freedom, which has recently raised its profile by supporting challenges to certain books and to what some conservative groups assert is the teaching of “critical race theory” in K-12 schools, argues that the Supreme Court’s main operative precedent permitting race consideration in admissions, 2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger, “infects K-12 classrooms with racial division.”

“From segregated classrooms and extracurricular activities to forced self-identification as oppressors based on race, K-12 schools today are infected by Grutter’s pernicious racial view,” the PDE brief says.

(The briefs of PDE and other opponents of affirmative action and race-conscious school policies were filed in May. The briefs in support of Harvard and UNC were due on Monday.)

Other K-12 groups argue for the importance of racial diversity in the classroom

Among the other K-12 groups supporting affirmative action was the Council of the Great City Schools, representing 76 of the nation’s largest urban school districts. It told the high court that racial segregation in K-12 schools has increased in the last two decades despite efforts to promote racial diversity.

“Diversity is also a compelling interest in elementary and secondary schools,” the council’s brief in support of Harvard and UNC says. “The growing de facto segregation and persistent educational inequity in our nation’s public schools make race-neutral and narrowly tailored race-conscious efforts at the elementary and secondary level more critical than ever.”

A joint brief by the National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and American School Counselors Association, and AASA, the School Superintendents Association argues that K-12 schools generally do not take individual consideration of a student’s race as often as selective colleges do, but do rely on the Supreme Court’s precedents that there is a compelling interest in racial diversity in schools.

“When schools are able to achieve diversity—including but not limited to racial and ethnic diversity—benefits flow to all students,” the groups’ brief says.

Those administrator groups also urge the court not to use the Harvard and UNC cases to reconsider Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the 2007 decision that struck down two voluntary desegregation plans but left school districts a little room to take race into account to promote diversity.

The American Federation of Teachers argues in a brief that access to quality higher education is important for students of color.

“Higher education remains a gateway to many of the most rewarding and important professions. Any young person who dreams of being a K-12 teacher, a member of the academe, an architect or an engineer, a doctor or a nurse, an attorney or a judge or a Supreme Court police officer, must first pursue and succeed in higher education,” says the brief, which was signed by the union’s president, Randi Weingarten.

The court announced that both the Harvard and UNC cases will be argued on Oct. 31.

The court announced last month that it would hear separate arguments for the Harvard and UNC cases, which will allow new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to participate in the UNC case. Jackson, who was a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers until earlier this year, had announced at her confirmation hearing last spring that she would recuse herself from the Harvard case.

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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University



Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals



“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences



“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.


Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.

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