Thursday, November 30, 2023

GenZ on the Rise: The GOP Is Pushing to Steal Students’ Votes, Rolling Stone, 11.28.23

This Nov. 28th Rolling Stone piece by Tessa Stuart made me think of this quote out of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Doesn't this resonate for the moment we're all experiencing right now? I know it does for me.

GenZ youth are a clear force in state and national politics. Born sometime around 1996-2012, they are between the ages of 10 and 27. Many of these are our students in our classes in high school or college. They're the younger ones in our graduate, especially master's, programs. 

They're unlike any previous generation. They are, for example, the most generationally diverse age-generational cohort in U.S. history (e.g., as compared to Boomers, Gen X, or Millennials). The generation following them, "Gen Alpha," will be even more diverse. Key quote:

“Young people are the reason why Biden won in 2020 and Democrats up and down the ballot won in 2022 and 2023,” says Abhi Rahman, national communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “If Gen Z continues to vote, we’re on the cusp of the most progressive era in our country’s history. Republicans know this as well, and that’s why they’re doing everything they can to stop young people from voting, including the fight for restrictions that we’re seeing play out in states like Wisconsin today.”

Yes, they are progressive and within GenZ, this attribute applies more strongly to females than males (Twenge, 2023). I can't help but think about reproduction rights and resistance to macho, misogynist culture playing into this. GenZ youth are also "digital natives." At least in developed countries, they only know this digital, online world that we have created for them—for better and for worse. 

To their credit, Gen Z has normalized greater openness on mental health and illness. That's also a good thing so that folks don't suffer from stigma or fail to get the mental health services and supports they need.

The pandemic, curiously, gave not only a bump to Boomers and Gen X-ers with expanded computer skills like Zoom conference calls, but GenZ did, too, albeit from a different, more skillful starting point. 

We also got pronouns from GenZ. The right, and some on the left, decry this, but it's probably because this generation, more than any other one prior, has simply shown more of themselves and who they are by virtue of social media. I've been studying this for awhile. I find it all so fascinating. Pronouns are not at all about political correctness, but about inclusion in being one's full self and that's a great thing.

What works for GenZ is the one-on-one. They pay attention to people they know and trust and who are authentic with them. So they take in information not just differently, but, I think, with a modicum of healthy skepticism. Tik Tok, specifically, I hear, is also huge for information sharing within this generation and for younger millennials—and for strategizing their next moves, too. Incidentally, older Millennials prefer Instagram and Facebook. I got this specific information from a friend who works at the UT library.

My message to GenZ and younger Millennials is the following: 

First, you are genuinely feared. This Rolling Stone article attests to this.

Second, no matter what, do not let the GOP or anybody or anything try and keep you from voting. Your vote is precious, now more than ever. If all of you vote, you WILL get the outcomes you seek and you WILL position the planet for its most progressive era in human history.

Third, yes, we need world peace and I'm with you on prioritizing the environment.

Fourth, your best resistance to oppression is to resist anyone or anything that seeks to take away your right to an abundant, fulfilling life—even as you always seek justice so that all may share in this abundance.

Fifth, get grounded in community and build ethical relationships that nurture your sense of self and that speak to the value you add just by being exactly who you are. 

Finally, always be ethical and responsible in your uses of power, considering always a role that caring adults, family members and elders play, or can play, in your life as mentors, advisers, and role models. Your thriving depends on your being in community. It's great for your health!

Much love and cariño to all of you in these worst and best of times.


-Angela Valenzuela


Twenge, J. M. (2023). Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America's Future. Simon and Schuster.

The GOP Is Pushing to Steal Students’ Votes

Instead, they're seeing increased turnout and lawsuits challenging new restrictions
Instead, they're seeing increased turnout and lawsuits challenging new restrictions

LAST WEEK IN Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could invalidate the state’s comically, ludicrously, preposterously gerrymandered maps. If the court strikes those maps down, it will likely mean the end of the GOP’s decadeslong domination of the statehouse — and it will be because of what happened in Dane County in April.

Almost a quarter million voters turned out in Dane, home of University of Wisconsin, for a spring special election — several thousand more voters than turned out in Milwaukee, a county with almost double Dane’s population. A staggering 82 percent of Dane voters cast ballots to elevate liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz to the state Supreme Court. Protasiewicz — whose vote could decide the gerrymandering case — ended up winning by 11 points.

Coming on the heels of the 2022 midterms — when Wisconsin led the nation in youth turnout in the country — the GOP judicial candidate’s April humiliation stunned the party. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker put it plainly: “Young people are the issue.”

“We’ve got to turn it around if we’re going to win again,” Walker, now the president of a conservative youth organization called Young America’s Foundation, told Fox News. The power that young voters wield was not exactly a revelation to Walker; as governor 12 years earlier, he signed a law making it harder to use a student ID to vote, prompting universities in Wisconsin to offer IDs that met the state’s new standards for free.

Student engagement has only soared in Wisconsin in the years since, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from pulling pages from the same playbook. Across the country this year, targeted efforts to disenfranchise student voters have ramped up as election after election proved just how critical the bloc is to guarantee Democratic victories. With encouragement from influential GOP operatives, those efforts — which met with middling success in ‘23 — are poised to escalate in 2024. And they speak to a growing fear with which Republican officials and strategists regard young voters.

In Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled legislature has seized every opportunity to try and block students from voting. “We’ve seen really strong student engagement in our last couple of elections,” Morgan Hess, executive director of the Wisconsin Assembly Democrats, tells Rolling Stone. “And suddenly, we’re seeing new legislation that would prohibit student’s ability to vote.”

Hess points to GOP efforts over the past several years to make it harder to register, eliminate drop boxes, shorten early voting, increase residency requirements, and reduce polling locations — mostly in Madison and Milwaukee. “These are very targeted operations that serve to further entrench the power that they already have,” says Hess.

Months after their April routing, party functionaries at the Wisconsin GOP’s convention mulled a resolution demanding college students to vote absentee in their hometowns; one supporter of the resolution declared students had “hijacked” his city. The resolution failed to advance after another official raised the possibility that attacking students’ right to vote could backfire — an argument that seems prophetic in retrospect, as a growing number of polls show Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, outpolling Joe Biden with young voters.

Nevertheless, Republicans in state legislatures across the country this year have proposed laws targeting the student vote. In New Hampshire, House Republicans introduced a bill that would have prohibited any college students who pay out-of-state tuition from voting, and require the state’s colleges to provide the secretary of state with a list of eligible voters. Lawmakers “want the elections to be the reflection of those who reside in New Hampshire towns and who ultimately bear the consequences of the election results,” said Republican Rep. Sandra Panek, who introduced the measure in committee. (The bill was eventually killed.)

The same month, a GOP lawmaker in Texas introduced a bill that would ban polling places at colleges and universities. (That bill has not advanced out of committee.) In Virginia, there was a failed effort to repeal a law that allows anyone 16 or older to register to vote if they will be 18 by the next major election. And, according to the Voting Rights Lab, legislation seeking to change the rules around student IDs was introduced or enacted in at least 15 states this year.

It’s all part of a concerted strategy advanced by GOP operatives like Cleta Mitchell — one of the central figures behind Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. At a summit a few weeks after Wisconsin’s April special election, Mitchell told Republican donors that the party must do more to limit campus voting in swing states like Wisconsin “for any candidate other than a leftist to have a chance to WIN in 2024.”

Students and their advocates are pushing back against these efforts. In Wisconsin, leaflets distributed on campus ahead of April’s special election included information educating voters about the state’s ID requirements. In Idaho — the state that saw the largest increase in voter registrations from 18- and 19-year-olds ahead the 2022 midterms — a law set to go into effect Jan. 1, which bans the use of student IDs to register to vote or cast a ballot, is being challenged in lawsuits by the organization Babe Vote, the League of Women Voters and March for Our Lives Idaho. The groups claim that the law violates constitutional protections against age discrimination in voting.

“Young people are the reason why Biden won in 2020 and Democrats up and down the ballot won in 2022 and 2023,” says Abhi Rahman, national communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “If Gen Z continues to vote, we’re on the cusp of the most progressive era in our country’s history. Republicans know this as well, and that’s why they’re doing everything they can to stop young people from voting, including the fight for restrictions that we’re seeing play out in states like Wisconsin today.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Cost of Turnover Calculator for Business by The Aspen Institute is Good for Cost of School & District Takeover

Thanks to University of Wisconsin Professor Anjalé Welton for helping me locate this Aspen Institute Toolkit on the cost of turnover in business. It strikes me that in this moment of school and district takeovers, that districts ought to prepare themselves and working closely with their legislators to calculate the real cost of such takeovers—also so that the public can be informed on such matters, ideally, of course, before this happens.

This published business tool by The Aspen Institute maps on fairly well in educational contexts. It doesn't capture, of course, all the grief, anger, and trauma as a real cost that we're witnessing right now in the Houston Independent School District after having gotten taken over by the Texas Education Agency. It is nevertheless helpful since folks across the political spectrum do tend to pay attention to money and finances.

-Angela Valenzuela

Cost of Turnover Tool Make the business case to improve retention through upskilling and stability 

March 2019

This Cost of Turnover Tool is a simple, “back of the envelope” calculator to help you estimate how much it costs your business to replace staff. The goal is to reasonably indicate the financial impact of turnover on your company. Some turnover costs – what we’ve called the direct cost of turnover – can typically be calculated using data collected as part of regular firm operations. Other turnover impacts like lower employee morale or poorer customer service – what we’ve called the indirect cost of turnover – are more difficult to quantify, but equally important to consider when assessing the financial impact that turnover may have on your business. Different industries experience turnover in different ways. For example, while a manufacturing firm may engage a staffing agency to hire temporary workers, a retailer is more likely to rely on a fleet of hourly workers who can quickly fill shifts. But a retail business may have longer lines and higher shrink when turnover spikes. This tool allows you to pick the expenses relevant to your organization, and calculate annual cost of turnover by estimating a few costs and using simple calculations. This information can help you make the case for investing in upskilling and other strategies to improve retention. This tool was developed jointly by UpSkill America and Reimagine Retail. To learn more about our work, visit and

Getting Started 

To use the tool, you will need to collect some data on the costs of separation associated with losing a worker and of recruiting and onboarding a new employee to work productively. To help collect this information, you should answer the following questions before you start. 

- What position or occupation do you want to calculate costs for?

 - Who do you need to collect information from? 

- Who in your organization has information about separation, hiring, and onboarding procedures and costs? 

- Who is the manager who can provide information about the effects of vacancy and procedures for onboarding new workers for this position?

Direct Cost of Turnover 

A. Estimate separation costs for 1 worker 

- Separation pay 

- Time of HR and other staff to process separation, including participating in exit interview 

B. Estimate daily vacancy costs for 1 worker

 - Typical daily overtime wages for employee(s) that fill in to cover vacant shift 

- Typical daily staffing agency cost for a temporary worker that exceeds the typical daily wage 

- Estimated lost sales from no-shows 

C. Estimate typical number of days to replace a worker 

D. CALCULATE: Total vacancy costs for 1 worker 

- Multiply daily vacancy costs (B) by days to replace a worker (C) 

E. Estimate recruitment/screening costs for 1 worker 

- Prorated cost of advertising the position 

- Prorated share of fees paid to recruiting services 

- Costs of screening and interviewing the typical number of applicants. For example: 

- Time spent reviewing applications and scheduling and conducting interviews 

- Cost of pre-employment testing; staff time to administer 

- Cost of drug screen or other background checks; include staff time to coordinate 

- Hiring bonus or incentive

Continue reading here

Sunday, November 26, 2023

How social-emotional learning became a frontline in the battle against CRT

I came across this earlier piece and read it in tandem with this one in Vox titled, "Conservatives’ war on emotions in the classroom." While it's not always a good thing to give outrageous ideas any oxygen, both pieces point to how this remains an issue in various legislatures throughout the country while clarifying how SEL has turned into a "boogeyman." The reason seems to be that it, like CRT, is mis-represented as an identity-based curriculum that is not actually taught as such in schools. Moreover, identity-based curricula, it is presumed, equates to "indoctrination." This is an off-putting word that works primarily to put folks on the defensive.

Even if these were somehow "identity-based," it's mystifying how that's a horrible thing. We all have multiple identities. I'm not just a Mexican American, Chicana, or Indigenous, I am also a woman, a mother, grandmother, university professor, policy advocate, scholar, a loving wife, daughter, preacher's kid, military brat, and a member of the human race who dreams of an Earth-conscious, loving world of unity consciousness where our differences are honored and where all, beginning with children, are treated with dignity and respect.

Why not make all of this and more part of the curriculum? That's where it's at anyway, where the action is. It may be technically "soft," but clearly among the hardest work imaginable considering the seemingly interminable violence, war-mongering, and wars that threaten our very existence as human beings on this planet.

SEL is but a step in this direction as stated:

"You can't have those [SEL] conversations without talking about identity ... Social-emotional learning is so that people can get along better. We also have to talk about why people don't get along," Simmons says.

The story below about a school member who faces parents' concerns over SEL in actual conversations, resonates as a way to steer them in positive directions. This actually proves the point that directly addressing emotions in conflictive situations is a kind of skill and practice that helps build trust and that more of us need to have. SEL puts us on just such a path of being more intelligent with our lives and emotions.

-Angela Valenzuela

How social-emotional learning became a frontline in the battle against CRT

Lucy Engleman for NPR

It's hard to pinpoint when exactly the questions started coming in. Angelyn Nichols, an administrator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, thinks it was sometime in early 2021.

What she does know is that no one really expected them in the first place, and no one expected them to keep coming – week after week, and now, year after year.

That's because the questions involved a decades-old teaching concept many educators thought was settled, uncontroversial territory: the idea that, in order to learn, students need to know how to manage themselves and get along with others.

"Principals were being asked, 'Can you talk to me about how you use social-emotional learning in your school? Are there connections to critical race theory?" says Nichols, who coordinates professional learning for the district. "Families were asking at a PTA meeting. Parents were asking their child's classroom teacher."

But one of the most visible places these concerns emerged was at the school board meetings.

"Our school board meetings have been tense and they've gotten heated," says Natalie Allen, the district's chief communications and community engagement officer. "We saw multiple terms being linked to critical race theory. Social-emotional learning just seems like the latest."

Virginia Beach is not an anomaly.

Although its core concepts have been around nearly as long as public education itself, social-emotional learning is emerging as the latest lightning rod in the battles over what gets taught in schools nationwide.

Across the country, parents and community members have protested angrily at school board meetings, administrators have distanced themselves from the term and legislators have introduced bills trying to ban it. In the last two years, NPR found evidence of disputes specifically concerning social-emotional learning in at least 25 states.
What is social-emotional learning?

Essentially, social-emotional learning teaches students how to manage their emotions, how to make good decisions, how to collaborate and how to understand themselves and others better.

It's more common in younger grades: All 50 states have standards related to SEL in preschool, and more than half have standards in K-12.

It has existed under different names across the decades: character education, 21st century skills, noncognitive skills. In the adult world, they're often called soft skills.

"It was just part of what a good teacher does," says Aaliyah Samuel, president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL.

Samuel says social-emotional learning can be broken down into five areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

"Let's say a student is working on a really difficult algebra problem and they get so frustrated because they can't remember what the next step is," says Samuel. "They have to be self-aware enough to say, 'You know what? I'm feeling frustrated. How do I handle this?' "

A student solving a hard math problem, for example, might use all these skills to recognize and deal with their frustration and ask another student or a teacher for help. Think of any situation that happens in a school, and social-emotional skills probably come into play.

"All academics also have a social-emotional component," says Lisa Xagas, an assistant superintendent for student services in Naperville, Ill. "It's impossible to tease them apart because you can't have academics if you don't have social-emotional learning."

Research shows this type of approach pays off. In 2011, researchers looked at more than 200 SEL programs across the country and saw improvements in behavior and academic achievement. A 2015 study found students deemed more socially competent in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school on time, complete a college degree and get a stable job in young adulthood. From an economic point of view, another 2015 study found SEL programs yield $11 for every $1 spent on them, by reducing crime, increasing earnings and contributing to better health.
Conservatives began connecting social-emotional learning to CRT

All of which is why the educators in Virginia Beach were puzzled when those questions started coming in.

"Everything related to social-emotional learning that we are putting out there is research-based and it's in demand," says Allen, who handles community engagement at the district. "Very often there's been a narrative created that's not accurate."

In the last year, in states across the country, parents and community members have increasingly been fighting the teaching of social-emotional learning in schools – largely because social-emotional learning has become linked with another flashpoint in public education: critical race theory, or CRT.

Critical race theory, a decades-old legal framework, is the concept that racism goes far beyond the individual: It is systemic and deeply entrenched in our laws, policies and institutions. Nearly 900 school districts experienced anti-CRT protests between September of 2020 and August of last year, according to a report released this year from the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"We've seen a real freak-out on the right about the so-called teaching of critical race theory in schools. And usually the terms of that freak-out are white children are being taught to hate themselves and all children are being taught to hate America," says Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, an associate professor of history at the New School in New York City and the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture.

But critical race theory itself is not something that is explicitly taught in K-12 schools.

"The defense of most educators has been: 'I don't even know what critical race theory is. I've never heard of it until you, the conservative at the school board, brought it to my attention,' " says Andrew Hartman, a professor and historian of educational trends at Illinois State University. "But of course, all educators now know what social-emotional learning is. It's something much more tangible. It's a curriculum that is officially being implemented in schools all across the country."

A few years ago, conservatives began to connect the two concepts. A 2021 article in the Washington Examiner said conservative activists were calling social-emotional learning a "Trojan horse" for both critical race theory and transgender advocacy. In April of this year, a conservative group referred to it as a "new variant of the "CRT-virus."

"It will be concealed as a number of different things," another article published on the right-wing website The Federalist says. "Most common is something including 'social justice,' 'equity and diversity,' 'multicultural education,' or 'social-emotional learning,' which is the most deceptive because it doesn't sound like it involves race at all!"

An "IndoctriNation Map" on the website of the conservative group Parents Defending Education tracked "incidents" in schools related to gender ideology, ethnic studies and social-emotional learning. The conservative Center for Renewing America includes social-emotional learning in its glossary of "CRT-related terms."
How the SEL-CRT narrative is impacting schools

In some places, these attacks have had real consequences. In Georgia, an administrator tasked with leading a district's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts was forced to resign before she even started, with one protester referring to social-emotional learning as "synonymous" with critical race theory.

In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill last year trying to limit how educators talk about race and racism in the classroom. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, added an addendum of terms he thought were associated with CRT, including social-emotional learning.

And when the Florida Department of Education issued specifications for this year's social studies textbooks, it indicated: "Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Social and Emotional Learning, and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited."

Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, says some of the angry debates about social-emotional learning are a direct reaction to the stories about SEL that conservatives are seeing on social media, Fox News and elsewhere.

"I think a lot of people wind up wedged into these debates about something like SEL, not because they necessarily have paid a lot of attention and have decided that, 'Gosh, you know, in good faith, we really disagree,' " Hess says. "It's more a gut level reaction to the other team and to be with your guys, than it is to really parse like, 'What are we arguing about here? And is there a more constructive way to solve this?' "

For some parents, the outrage is rooted in mistrust – particularly of organizations that provide SEL resources and recommendations to school districts.

Hess says many parents feel "this is a case of big, deep-pocketed, liberal, coastal foundations coming in, led by people who went to elite colleges who aren't from their communities, pushing ideological agendas that they find problematic and then calling them racists and idiots when they push back."

"If there's anything more likely to turn skepticism into full blown rebellion, it's hard to think of what it might be," he added.
SEL has always had an identity component

Hess says many conservatives ultimately feel social-emotional learning spends too much time talking about identity.

But Hartman, the Illinois State University historian, says there actually is an important identity component to teaching students how to get along with others.

"It's pretty impossible to do social and emotional learning without larger social issues coming into play. It's not just about individuals. It's about how an individual is situated in a society," Hartman says. "If you're going to be a healthy, emotional individual, you're going to have to understand your own identity relative to society."

CASEL is quick to emphasize that social-emotional learning is not tied to any political viewpoints. But the organization acknowledges that questions of identity and culture might come up, for example, in conversations about social awareness, one of the organization's key SEL competencies.

"Social awareness is about developing a better understanding of people around you so that you understand different perspectives and build healthy relationships," Samuel, the CEO, says. "For students, this might mean learning about different cultures, reading about different people's experiences and perspectives, or studying historical figures and their strengths."

Some SEL advocates want those conversations to be more explicit about systemic racism.

Dena Simmons, the founder of LiberatED, an organization which aims to center racial social justice in social and emotional learning, says being able to talk about social-emotional learning without talking about identity is an example of white privilege.

"You can't have those conversations without talking about identity ... Social-emotional learning is so that people can get along better. We also have to talk about why people don't get along," Simmons says. "If we don't apply an anti-racist, abolitionist, anti-oppressive, anti-bias lens to social-emotional learning, it can very easily turn into white supremacy with a hug."

Some prominent SEL programs do talk about racial justice and racism. The website for Second Step, for instance, has a section dedicated to Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Resources. When educators don't acknowledge that identity component, it can make things worse, Mehlman Petrzela at the New School says.

"I know it's really hard to have these nuanced conversations, especially when often some of these attacks are scary, and they're bad faith, and they're distracting from teaching kids," she says. "But I do think it's really incumbent upon people to paint the full picture of what's going on here. Because without that, I don't really think we can move forward."
The fear that teachers are indoctrinating children is not new

The actual term "social-emotional learning" has existed since at least the 1990s. In 1997, researchers at CASEL published a book titled Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators. But social-emotional learning, in a broader sense, has existed for much longer.

"One of the great ironies of the backlash around teaching morality or values in American education through social-emotional learning today is that American schools have always been about teaching values and character," says Mehlman Petrzela. "And for much of American history, that focus has been on pretty conservative values, quite honestly."

In the mid-1800s, small books called McGuffey readers sought to instill morals in young readers. Around the same time, Horace Mann, an education reformer and proponent of public education, saw schools as the "great equalizer" in society.

"This is where you impart in children not only academic learning, but the sort of beauty of the American experiment that one can transcend," Mehlman Petrzela says. "You work hard. You are industrious. You don't lie. You are a good member of your community. Those are values."

In the early 20th century, John Dewey advocated for the idea that schools should educate the "whole" child. By the 1950s, there was "life adjustment" education, which focused on social order and patriotism as a response to growing fears of communism. Coronet Instructional Films were shown in schools, with titles like "marriage is a partnership" and "mind your manners."

Volume 90%

Credit: Coronet Instructional Films

Then the 1960s happened. Some teachers began to address topics like social justice and racial equality – and, much like we're seeing today, those teachers faced a backlash.

The fear that teachers are trying to brainwash or indoctrinate children has been around for a while. Today, it's present not just in the disputes over SEL and CRT, but also in the current debates around sex education, transgender rights and banned books, says Mehlman Petrzela.

"I sometimes cannot believe how much what we are experiencing right now feels so similar to what we have gone through in other moments, particularly in the 1960s and 70s," she says. "The rhetoric is the same."
How one school district is finding common ground with parents

But in places like Virginia Beach, educators weren't there 50 years ago. They're in schools now, stuck in the middle of a political fight that feels new, at a time when many students are struggling and need more support managing their emotions, not less.

Angelyn Nichols, the district's lead for social-emotional learning, says 2020 put a heightened scrutiny on public education – one that's been rapidly evolving. First, it was about COVID policies. Then, after the police murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against racism, the conversation shifted to critical race theory. Now, it has spread to any topic deemed to be related to critical race theory.

That's when Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, wrote an op-ed for The Virginian Pilot.

"Conflating good and longstanding work — such as our work around social and emotional learning — with things that simply aren't happening in our schools, debating who is more invested in our children, and undermining the credibility of public education with accusations of indoctrination is disappointing at best and debilitating at worst," he wrote.

Spence asked community members to look for common ground. For Nichols, that's been easier to find outside of the school board meetings, in one-on-one conversations with parents.

"We can sit down together and say, 'Can you share with me what part of this is a concern for you? Which skill here do you feel is a threat, feels like indoctrination, or is of a concern for you?' " she says. "I've never exited one of those conversations where both parties didn't say, 'I actually think this is really important.' "

She feels good about the progress they've made so far this year. In September, the school board passed a resolution that, in part, supports the continued teaching of social-emotional learning in schools.

Cease-fire is "the only way forward to stop" the Israel-Hamas war, Jordanian ambassador says

It's hard to be a blogger in these times and not comment on the Middle East so here are a few thoughts. I think we should all heed Jordan's ambassador to the U.S. Dina Kawar's words for "strategic" thought and action, particularly in the absence of humanitarian feelings or a moral compass. 

Common ground is a call for peace.

Hence, the only way to be for both Palestinians and Israelis is to call for a ceasefire of the kind that takes leaders back to the negotiating table.

We should be additionally haunted and forewarned by Kawar's wise words that, in effect, Netanyahu is only re-creating Hamas when considering that a majority of Hamas fighters today are themselves already orphans. 

An additional 18,000 orphaned children and counting, will ultimately only find a home among other similarly orphaned children and youth, spelling ever-more trouble for Israel in the near and distant future—and just as importantly, to Gaza. Why add to that count by bombing indiscriminately? 

It is also wise and accurate to not conflate Hamas with either Palestinians or the Palestinian Authority. To understand this in greater depth, read What is the Palestinian Authority and what is its relationship with Israel?

All should also be aware that there is a growing Jewish movement for a
ceasefire and that there are organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace at national and local levels like Jewish Voice for Peace Austin that are calling for a ceasefire and asked via petition for Jews and allies to sign-on for peace on their Facebook page, as well.

Add your name now.
Sign the petition at
The [New York Times] ad copy:
B’Tzelem Elohim * All life is precious
Never Again. For Anyone.
Those of us grieving both Israeli and Palestinian loved ones this week know there is no military solution. The only future is peace and safety for all – grounded in freedom, justice, and equality.
Half of Gaza’s population are children. They have nowhere to flee to. The Israeli government has trapped them in Gaza and cut their water, food, and electricity. It is starving them while bombing their neighborhoods one after another.
Join us – American Jews and allies – in demanding the Biden administration facilitate an immediate ceasefire, and stop sending the Israeli military more weapons.
Millions of lives depend on it.
All people of conscience are invited to sign on:

This ad already appeared in the New York Times. There is still time to sign. I just did. Not sure whether a two-state solution is where this is all headed or something else. What we do know is that before any policy solution can occur, a ceasefire must be in place. Not a "pause" or "pauses," but a ceasefire with all the hostages, civilians, and detainees on both sides returned. 

Thanks to Gary Bledsoe for sharing this insightful peace.


-Angela Valenzuela

NOVEMBER 19, 2023 / 1:27 PM EST / CBS NEWSWashington
 — Jordan's ambassador to the U.S. said her country is calling for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas because her country's leaders believe the conflict will fuel radicalism. 

Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that up to 18,000 children could be orphaned from the war in Gaza. 

"What do we do with that?" she asked. "Some studies have shown that some of the Hamas — the majority of Hamas fighters were orphans. Our call here is for a cease-fire. … Not because we want to think differently from the rest of the world, but because we feel that with the Arab countries and with Islamic countries, this is the only way forward to stop this war and to sit around the table and go back to negotiations." 

Kawar also questioned the strategy behind the Israeli military ordering civilians in Gaza to evacuate the northern half of the territory as it prepared for a ground invasion in the days after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas militants. In recent days, Israel has told Palestinians to leave parts of southern Gaza. 

"These displaced people were asked to leave the north in no time to go to the south, and now they're asked to leave the south. Didn't didn't anybody think that if Hamas is in the north, they would go to the south?" Kawar said. "Our worry is that this violence is going just to breed violence and it's putting pressure in the region. And if we cannot talk to the moral compass of the world, nor to the humanitarian feelings, let's talk strategic thinking." 

Jordan's King Abdullah has criticized the Israeli offensive, calling on the international community to push for an immediate cease-fire to end the killing of innocent Palestinians and allow humanitarian aid into the region.

U.S. officials have said anything more than a temporary cease-fire to allow for the release of hostages and delivery of humanitarian aid would empower Hamas, while Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas. 

"It is putting a lot of pressure on His Majesty, on the government because people are angry," Kawar said of whether the war could destabilize relations between Jordan and Israel. "They see the images every day. I mean, we're all angry. It's very humiliating. It's very hurtful and it's inhuman. And we're just wondering how far is this going to go? We're calling for a cease-fire. We're calling to go back to negotiations." 

Test-Optional Policies Now Dominate Higher Ed, by Jacquelyn Elias, Chronicle of Higher Education

Many colleges and universities have prolonged their test-optional policies for this past year's 2023-24 admissions cycle, and in certain instances, for an extended period. Harvard applicants have posted this related notice on application requirements website:

"For the College Classes of 2027-2030, students may apply for admission without standardized test scores."

From College Curators, 2022-23
Similarly, UT-Austin is test-optional as are and many other highly selective institutions that you can learn about here.

It's so interesting, if not aggravating, to ponder why so many of our nation's universities are increasingly test-optional but our K-12 schools are not. What we do know is that increasing the numbers through diversity is a need for higher education institutions increasing drops in enrollment numbers (see previous blog: The Shrinking of Higher Ed In the past, colleges grew their way out of enrollment crises. This time looks different.

Clearly, higher education is different from K-12 public education such that we can all surmise what's going on here. I have looked at high-stakes testing over the years and land on the view this agenda is not about truly providing our children and youth with opportunity, but about profits for the test companies, while disempowering our youth who test poorly so that they don't grow up to be critical and threaten the incumbencies of those in power. Tests are also about reproducing white privilege in society and serving the neoliberal ends of privatizing, marketizing, and corporatizing public schools. 

If you know anything about how the Houston Independent School District (HISD) got taken over by Mike Miles' charter management organization, test scores are key. Accordingly, read this piece in Texas Monthly titled, "Welcome to Houston’s No-Longer-Independent School District." 

What about "test-optional?" It actually sounds patronizing to me. How about grasping the bigger story here on how these tests are anti-democratic. To be clear, I totally believe in assessment, just not these offensive mind-numbing, disempowering, reductive, and objectifying tools we have to hurt some kids, while providing others with a false sense of superiority. 

Eyes wide open. It all connects.

-Angela Valenzuela

Test-Optional Policies Now Dominate Higher Ed

Admissions policies that give applicants the option of whether to submit their standardized test scores have been growing steadily over the years, sparked by long-running concerns about how the tests can contribute to racial and socioeconomic inequality and more-immediate pandemic-driven logistical challenges.

Lately, a sea change has overtaken higher education: Over 800 institutions shifted to test-optional policies between the fall 2019 and fall 2021 admissions cycles, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education. Only about 160 institutions still classify themselves as requiring test scores.

The change has become sufficiently widespread that the Education Department will incorporate choices for test-optional, test-blind, and test-required in its data collection, the first update to this part of its admissions table since it was created seven years ago.

Which institutions have made this change, and what effects has it had? See below.

What happened to test scores at test-optional institutions?
To see how submission rates and test scores changed from 2019 to 2021 at institutions that went test-optional, search below. (Go to link search 850 organizations).


This analysis looks at over 1,400 institutions that reported their admissions data to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Ipeds) for the fall 2021 admissions year. The data set does not include institutions with an open-admissions policy. Only Title IV, degree-granting, four-year institutions that admitted more than 50 students in the fall of 2021 were included. For-profit institutions were excluded.

Ipeds presents four categories for universities to choose from when reporting their admissions considerations: “required,” “recommended,” “considered but not required,” or “neither required nor recommended.” Test-optional is defined as any institution that did not report that test scores were “required.” This includes all institutions that listed test scores as “recommended,” “considered but not required,” and “neither required nor recommended.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 9, 2022, issue.