Monday, April 20, 2015
Bruce Baker posted what may be the best school finance and teacher quality post in a while. He was responding to the New York State Education Department's most recent response to the fact that students in high poverty schools in the state have teachers whose salary is $21,000 per year less than teachers in the lowest poverty schools. The state also acknowledge that "students in high poverty schools are nearly three times more likely to have a first-year teacher, 22 times more likely to have an unlicensed teacher, and 11 times more likely to have a teacher who is not highly qualified." NYSED's proposed strategy to resolve the problem, however, was troubling. Its sole solutions were:
- Hiring and recruitment
- Professional development and growth
- Selective retention
- Extending the reach of top talent to the most high-need students
Baker demonstrates how illogical the state's "strategery" is through a few basic graphs. First, these schools with $20,000 salary gaps for teachers also happen to have huge budget shortfalls caused by the state's inequitable funding systems. In many instances, ,the gap between what they need and what they can get was four, five, six, seven, and almost eight-thousand dollars per pupil. In other words, one hundred to two hundred thousand dollars per classroom.
Second, the label of "ineffective teacher" appears to correspond heavily with resource deprivation. Teacher effectiveness, as measured by the state's system, goes steadily up as the percentage of poor and minority students goes down. Ineffective teachers also tend to have the largest class sizes and highly effective teachers the smallest. Likewise, ineffective teachers are in the schools with the largest budget shortfalls and highly effective teachers in those with the smallest shortfalls. See Baker's full analysis here.
I see two possibilities here: 1) the most effective teachers leave high poverty schools for "greener" pastures, and/or 2) the teacher evaluation system is flawed, and what it treats as teaching ineffectiveness is actually a reflection of resource inequity. Either way, however, resource inequity is at the heart of the teacher inequalities. The state's response ignores this. The state's response is premised on the notion that teachers will stop leaving high need schools or return to them from their well resourced schools (taking pay cuts along the way) if we just trained and recruited them a little better.
These funding and teacher distribution issues also bear heavily on my recent article, The Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure, analyzing the California and New York lawsuits that claim teacher tenure is depriving students of their constitutional right to a quality education. I allow that plaintiffs' legal claim may have theoretical merit, but their causal assumptions are simplistic and flawed. I point out that they made no attempt to control for larger market forces that drive teacher quality, hiring, and firing, and that those forces are crucial in assessing the potential causes of ineffective teaching in disadvantaged schools. Baker's graphs substantiate this point pretty emphatically.
The irony here is that the plaintiffs may very well be correct that students are suffering from ineffective teaching and that it is the state's fault, but the state is likely correct that plaintiffs' claim should fail. But the state is only correct because plaintiffs are focusing on the wrong facts (and distracting the public from underlying structural inequities).
Friday, April 17, 2015
After languishing for the better part of a decade with no real prospects of forward movement, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is starting to defy odds. After President Obama indicated he would veto the republican proposals moving forward in February, one would have expected the status quo of gridlock to quickly settle in. Then something unusual happened, party leaders stopped posturing and Senators Alexander and Murray went into to closed door sessions to hammer out a deal. They were also successful to preventing leaks. Last week, they released a bipartisan bill--an enormous accomplishment in and of itself.
The sniping, however, soon arose from both sides, and the strong possibility of countless partisan amendments suggested the bill might get sunk. Added to the mix was a division between the nation's two largest teacher unions as to whether they favored the bill.
Yesterday, reauthorization defied the odds again. Members of the Senate education committee put aside the personal interests in marking up (and bringing down the bill) and voted 22-to-0 to move the bill to the full Senate.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Female Teacher’s Discrimination Suit Can Proceed Against District Alleged to Prefer Male Coaches as Driver’s Ed Teachers
A federal district court in Alabama recently allowed a female teacher’s gender discrimination claim to proceed upon her sufficient showing that a school district preferred male employees as a driver’s education teachers. A female teacher in Mobile County, Alabama sought a driver’s education teaching position to allow her more free time to pursue coaching opportunities. She was turned down for two driver’s ed jobs and was told by school officials that male employees were preferred because they could also coach male sports. At a motion for summary judgment in federal court, the school district countered the plaintiff's claim, saying that the actual reason for the decisions was that the male employees had “good working relationships with the administrators at each school” and were held in high esteem. The Southern District of Alabama found that the plaintiff showed that the district’s reasons were pretextual because the jobs were never posted or interview procedures followed. The case is Shaw v. Mobile Cnty. Pub. Sch. Sys., No. CIV.A. 14-0111-CG-B, 2015 WL 419805 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 2, 2015).
Legitimate Security Concerns Cannot Override Prisons' Obligation to Provide Special Education Services
The Middle District of Pennsylvania recently held that while special education services can be modified for an incarcerated student who presents security concerns, an institution cannot restrict the student’s access to the extent that it denies his right to a free appropriate public education. The plaintiff, Stephen Buckley, was incarcerated at a restricted housing unit (RHU) at a young adult offender institution. Before his move to the RHU, Buckley was receiving special education services under the IDEA. While in the RHU, Buckley committed assaults and other rule infractions and thus was not permitted to attend the classrooms in the institution. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows incarcerated students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to be modified where the state proves a bona fide security interest that cannot otherwise be accommodated. In keeping with that provision, the prison provided Buckley a teacher at his cell and “self study packets” provided through the tray opening in his cell door. Buckley sued, alleging that that he was being denied a free appropriate public education and requested compensatory education. Buckley argued that the change from his previous IEP to the new arrangement at the RHU essentially eliminated his special education services. The in-cell study was inadequate because the self-study packets were not individualized to him, Buckley claimed, the teachers were only available once or twice per week, and the cellblock was too loud for instruction. The district court agreed, awarding compensatory education and finding that Buckley's “IEP contained no meaningful academic or functional goals, and the record is clear that the cell study program, as implemented, offered no more than a de minimis educational benefit.” The court rejected the institution’s suggestion that Buckley did not show any interest in interacting with the teacher or the self-study packets, noting that “appropriate education under the IDEA [is a right], not a privilege to be taken away.” The court hoped that restoring incarcerated students' opportunity for an education would interrupt “the vicious circle of incarceration for this at-risk population.” The case is Buckley v. State Corr. Inst.-Pine Grove, No. 1:13-CV-2022, 2015 WL 1610446 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 13, 2015).
Florida is considering a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons at school. The pros and cons of such bills have been rehearsed here, here, and here over the past several months. I am glad to report that one Osceola School Board member, who also happens to be an attorney, finally states the issue in the most simple terms possible. Sputnik News offers this summary:
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Yesterday, Judge Jerry Baxter, the presiding judge over the Atlanta cheating trial, berated the former educators who declined an offered (and unusual) post-trial deal in exchange for accepting responsibility. (Two of the defendants took the deal; a pregnant defendant has not yet been sentenced.) Because it was a slower news day, Judge Baxter's public scolding that kids could not read because of the defendants' actions made headline news. True to his warning that he would sentenced defendants to prison unless they admitted to guilt and waived their right to appeal, yesterday, the top administrators in the scheme were sentenced to seven years; the teachers' sentences ranged between one and two years in prison. Eleven defendants were found guilty on April 1 on racketeering and false statement charges for participating in a scheme to boost standardized test scores on Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, designed to fulfill the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind. Atlanta Public Schools educators cheated, the jury found, by supplying answers to students or changing answers after the tests. Prosecutors alleged that the educators were motivated by threats from Beverly Hall, former APS superintendent who died before the trial, that their jobs and APS' federal money would be jeopardized if Atlanta's public students failed to show sufficient progress under NCLB. Some voices of criticism are emerging however, including Richard Rothstein's take on the cheating trial on the Economic Policy Institute's Blog as "inevitable when out-of-touch policymakers set impossible-to-achieve goals and expect that success will nonetheless follow if only underlings are held accountable for measurable results." I wonder if the Georgia Supreme Court will be uneasy about the use of Georgia's RICO statute here to expose the defendants to a harsher sentencing range, which has the same "surgery with an axe" feel to it is used to characterize honest services fraud prosecutions. Admittedly, the state's racketeering law gives state prosecutors a lighter burden than their federal counterparts in proving that an "enterprise" existed that the defendants controlled "through a pattern of racketeering activity," but RICO is typically reserved for more than garden-variety fraud.
The Arkansas currently has a bill before it to create the Achievement School District. The bill would would give the Commissioner of Education the authority to assign a public school or public school district that is in academic distress to the Achievement School District. Once assigned there, all education statutes, rules, and regulations of general applicability would vanish. Almost all policies would fall within the discretion of the Commissioner, who could then simply transfer the school or district to the control of a private education management organization, which could also operate with near total impunity. The following most notable laws would be waived:
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
On April 2, the school nurse at Pennsylvania's Carlisle Area School District purportedly "berated, humiliated, and otherwise mistreated" a student for opting out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The nurse purportedly threatened to not serve the student. This type of coercion is clearly prohibited under the Supreme Court's decision in West Virginia v. Barnette. The American Humanist Society has filed a letter of complaint on the student's behalf. Unfortunately, the is more conformation of my musings last week that action that is plainly prohibited by First Amendment precedent may be more normative in schools than we might otherwise imagine. More on the current story here.
Dafney Blanca Dabach's new study, Teacher Placement Into Immigrant English Learner Classrooms Limiting Access in Comprehensive High Schools, is now available here. The abstract is as follows:
This qualitative study examined how secondary teachers were assigned to teach courses intended to expand English learners’ (ELs’) access to academic subjects. Theoretically, this research extends the “contexts of reception” framework from immigration studies into the educational realm by investigating how teachers—as one important contextual variable—entered into settings designed for immigrant-origin ELs. Analysis examined institutional processes, norms, and policies as well as participants’ practices. Findings suggest that novice teachers were most likely to be placed into separate EL content-area classrooms, unless more senior teachers requested these assignments or administrators intervened. Ultimately, this article uses teacher assignment processes to illustrate how contexts for immigrant-origin youth are constructed and contested and how ELs’ opportunities to learn were jeopardized in local settings.
Monday, April 13, 2015
A new study by the Center for Public Integrity collected law enforcement referrals for public schools in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The variety across states was startling. Ohio, Nevada, and D.C. only referred one percent of their students to law enforcement (1.9, 1.3, and 1.2 percent respectively). Virginia topped the list, referring 15.8 percent of all students, which is 13 times the rate of D.C. Six more states had rates above 10 percent.
The analysis of sub-populations was also troubling. Virginia referred 25 percent of its African American students (which is 16 times the rate of DC) and 33 percent of its disabled students--a number so high that one must wonder if there is an error in the data or if Virginia is under-identifying students with non-behavioral disabilities (which could skew the referral number upward). Wyoming referred 32 percent of African Americans. In short, the state-by-state comparisons show not all states find law enforcement to be a necessary aspect of school discipline, but others integrate it as part of their standard operating procedure.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
New Book on Education Policy: Race to the Bottom: Corporate Reform and the Future of Public Education
The Washington Post has a summary of a new book, Race to the Bottom: Corporate Reform and the Future of Public Education (Apr. 2015) by Michael V. McGill, professor of school leadership at Bank Street College of Education and former superintendent of the Scarsdale, NY schools. In his summary, McGill challenges the modern school reform movement's "silver bullet strategies" that have produced only modest gains in raising standardized test scores and closing achievement gaps. These efforts, he argues, have only succeeded in creating a divisive environment that has undermined the quality of education. Among some concrete suggestions for invigorating educators and school districts, Professor McGill proposes three broad areas of change for education policy:
- recognizing that a strategy of audit and control cannot produce the results of the same quality that human development can, let alone liberate the talent necessary to create an education for the 21st century;
- offset economic disparities and racial discrimination through adequate education funding; and
- re-engaging the partners in the education enterprise—governments, localities, universities, the research community—in relationships that are both authentic and reciprocal, so that the parties respect and draw on each other’s wisdom and energy.
Read Professor McGill's summary of Race to the Bottom here.
According to local news in Duncan, Oklahoma a local third-grade teacher distributed Bibles to her students in class. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has threatened to sue unless the school takes action, although it is not clear what that action would be. The Center learned of the Bible distribution when one student complained that he or she had been pressured into accepting a Bible.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Who knows what the House of Representatives will hold, but the Senate took an enormous step toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act yesterday. After the President made clear in February that he would veto legislation that gutted the federal role in education, Senators Alexander and Murray did something brave--at least brave by current standards. The eschewed grandstanding, went into closed door sessions, avoided leaks, and sought to hammer out a bi-partisan proposal. The ESEA has a tradition of wide bipartisan support. As controversial as NCLB was after its passage, it had broad bipartisan support when it was passed, ranging from Ted Kennedy to John Boehner. Uncharacteristic of the current Congress and Senate, Alexander and Murray went back to the drawing board to rekindle that tradition.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council invite you to attend a Capitol Hill Briefing on a new report, A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education.
New Scholarship on School Funding, Segregation, Native American Culture, Formerly Religious Charter Schools, and Tenure
The Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal has released its new issue, which includes several interesting articles. The titles and abstracts are as follows:
In 2008 fifteen-year-old Abel Limones collapsed in the middle of a high school soccer game. When he was unable to get up, Thomas Busatta, his coach, ran onto the field to check on Abel. Within a few minutes Abel had lost consciousness and appeared to have stopped breathing. Busatta, who was trained and certified in the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), called for an AED. There was an AED in the game facility at one end of the field, however it was never brought to Busatta. EMS responders brought their own AED and were only able to revive Abel almost half an hour after his initial collapse. Due to the delay and a lack of oxygen, Abel suffered severe brain injury, placing him "in a nearly persistent vegetative state that will require full-time care for the remainder of his life."
Last week, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state's privacy law did not protect the names of public school employees who are on paid administrative leave during an investigation for misconduct. The case arose when media outlets sought information about district employees on administrative leave, which included two Spokane school employees who, incidentally, are cousins, one a high school counselor and the other a teacher. The employees sued to enjoin the district from disclosing the records, claiming that they were exempt under the state privacy statute as personal information maintained in an employee's file and as records compiled by an investigative agency. The Washington Supreme Court stated that the records were not protected because a "public employer's investigation is certainly not a private matter: it arises exclusively from the employee's public employment." Interestingly, the court drew parallels to Ferguson, Missouri, and what can happen when "public trust can be eroded when the public suspects the government is withholding information to protect its own." The Washington case is Predisik v. Spokane Sch. Dist. No. 81, No. 90129-5. In late March, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a court of appeals decision in State ex rel. Quolke v. Strongsville City School Dist. Bd. of Ed., No. 2015-Ohio-1083, holding that the names of replacement teachers were subject to disclosure under the state public records law. After a 2013 teachers’ strike, the president of the Cleveland Teacher’s Union requested the names and identification numbers of all replacement teachers employed by the Strongsville City School District Board of Education under the public records law. The Board argued that releasing the names would violate the replacement teachers' privacy and put them in danger from striking teachers and their supporters. The Board’s concern was not entirely hypothetical, as there were skirmishes between the striking teachers and replacements during the strike that generally were non-physical. A teachers’ organization also posted a “wall of shame” on its website with the pictures of replacement teachers. But those concerns about the teachers’ privacy or well-being ended with the strike, the Ohio Supreme Court stated. Thus, interest in protecting the replacement teachers’ privacy did not outweigh the public interest in the records.
Monday, April 6, 2015
NPR reposted its earlier view about the Atlanta cheating trial which discusses how high stakes testing can cause unbalanced allocations of teachers' time and resources to students "on the bubble," students who appear closest to passing standardized tests. Students who can pass the test without intensive help and students who appear less able to pass get less time and attention from teachers. Read NPR Ed.'s take here.
In the summer of 2013, Indiana passed a new voucher and tax credit bill that vastly expanded opportunities for students to attend private schools. In just ten school districts alone, the program funded $45 million in vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. In several individual school districts, the amount spent on vouchers doubled and tripled from the 2012-13 school year. Local teacher unions complain that the program is too permissive, permitting students who have never even "tried" the public schools to opt for a privately funded private education. They claim approximately half of the voucher students fall in this category.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Last month, the Kansas House took action to move the state further away from the funding adequacy mandated by its Supreme Court. A bill passed the House that would eliminate the existing school funding formula and replace it with block grants. While the prior formula had numerous flaws and failed to properly account for student need and district capacity, it did include some weights that acknowledged those factors. A flat grant system would assume all districts are the same. Whether that such a system is more irrational than the old one, I cannot say, but irrational it too would be. In other words, the funding system would remain unconstitutional.