Friday, August 30, 2013
Last week, Derek reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s suit against the Alabama’s school choice/tax credit law here and here. On Monday, a second lawsuit was filed challenging that the Alabama Accountability Act violates the state constitution because of the way the law was enacted and because its tax credits can be used at religious institutions. Plaintiffs Daniel Boyd, the superintendent of the Lowndes County Public School System; Anita Gibson, a teacher and the president of the Alabama Education Association; and state Senator Quinton T. Ross, Jr. are suing the state revenue commissioner and the comptroller as the officials responsible for implementing and administering the AAA. The lawsuit alleges that the AAA is constitutionally deficient for several reasons, including that the enacted version was substantially different than the version that was originally passed by the state House of Representatives. Within the space of a few hours, the complaint alleges, a substitute version of the school choice bill (HB. 84) was adopted that was three times longer than the original, had a new title, and added two new tax credits to fund the education of Alabama children in private schools. The complaint also alleges that the AAA’s tax credits redirects public funds to private religious schools, thus violating Article XIV, § 263 of the Alabama Constitution (“[n]o money raised for the support of the public schools shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school.”) Read the complaint in Boyd, et al., v. Magee, Comm. Dep’t of Revenue here.
Some invitees to Governor Rick Scott’s Education Accountability Summit are annoyed that he skipped this week’s three-day conference in Clearwater, opting to discuss Florida’s educational future in a closed-door meeting on Thursday with GOP advisors in Miami. Gov. Scott’s office said today that he had “a very productive conversation about education in Florida" with former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Sen. John Thrasher, and state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand. Given recent controversy over the state’s adoption of Common Core and the resignation of education chairman Tony Bennett earlier this month, Gov. Scott’s decision to not attend his own summit seems curious. Rita Solnet, founder of the advocacy group Parents Across America told the Miami Herald that she believed the summit was a façade. Solnet said, “This is how education reform gets done in Florida. The real decisions have always been made by Jeb Bush." The summit’s attendees discussed ways to make the Common Core standards more appealing for Floridians, including deflecting criticism by renaming the test. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Gary Chartrand suggested substituting the Common Core’s reading lists with materials "align with Florida's values and culture," saying that the lists may be upsetting to parents because they mention topics such as socialism or homosexuality.
The San Francisco Chronicle is running an in-depth four part series on African American males in Oakland Unified School District. The articles chronicle real day life for the students both inside and outside school. It also include statistical data and analytical commentary. As the chart above reveals, there were more than twice as many African American men and boys killed in 2002 as there were college ready African American males. This college versus death comparison, while grim, pales in comparison to the incarcerated versus college ready data in Oakland.
To the school district's credit, it recognized the crisis and created a special department to address it, the African American Male Achievement Office, which has special classes and programs. Although the trend in improvement started before the formal creation of this office, the number of college ready African American males has tripled in comparison to the 2002 numbers and quadrupled in comparison to 2003. Sadly, the deaths among this group have stayed relatively steady, but those numbers are beyond the full control of schools. In other words, violence and death continue to surround these young men at an alarming rate, but the school district is doing a better of helping some defy the odds.
The full series is available here.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
NY's Success Academy Charter Network Accused of Using Zero Tolerance Policies to Push Out Special Needs Students
Success Academy charter schools in New York suspended nearly twice the number of students suspended by public schools in the same districts during the 2010-11 school year. In an article today in the New York Daily News, parents allege that the Success Academy's zero tolerance policies are pushing out special needs children who commit minor infractions. At Success Academy Harlem, 22% of students were suspended at least once, and the average suspension rate in Success Academy schools was 14%. Over the same period, only two of the traditional elementary schools in the same districts had suspension rates over 9%; the other schools had 7% and 6% rates. Earlier this year, the organization that evaluates and monitors New York’s charter schools, SUNY’s Charter Institute, noted inconsistencies in the Success Academy network’s providing instruction to students with discipline problems. The Success Academy network operates several K-5 charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx and is recognized for outperforming city schools on proficiency tests. This year, 82% of Success’ students met state proficiency standards in math and 58% in English. New York City’s school test scores this year were otherwise dismal with fewer than 30% of city school students showing proficiency in math and 26% in English. Read more about Success Academy and its suspension rates here.
President Obama unveiled a proposal last week to create a national college performance rating system tied to federal student aid. Speaking at the University of Buffalo, the President said that the rating system is part of a package of higher education reforms to make college more affordable. The rating system, proposed for the 2015 school year, would be based on “metrics like how much debt does the average student leave with, how easy is it to pay off, how many students graduate on time, how well do those graduates do in the workforce,” the President said. Under the plan, students who attend better-rated colleges would be eligible for larger Pell Grants and lower student-loan interest rates. Until more details about the metrics and rating system are revealed it is difficult to evaluate the plan, although Florida Governor Rick Scott has invited the President to look at his state’s college reforms. Read the White House’s fact sheet on the proposal here.
Over the summer, I posted a few times on the willingness of some courts to extend the reasoning of Wal-Mart v. Dukes--the Supreme Court case rejecting the nationwide gender discrimination class based on commonality--to special education class actions. Interestingly, most of these cases have arisen out of Chicago and the Seventh Circuit. The most important was Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, 688 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 2012), which rejected class certification based on Wal-Mart's reasoning. Although I didn't want to highlight the point, my lurking fear was that districts under existing court orders--some dating back over a decade--would attempt to use Wal-Mart and Jamie S. to decertify their class and get out from under the obligations. This post facto procedural tactic could completely unravel plaintiffs' hard won substantive victories.
Well, that is exactly what the school district attempted in Corey H. v. Chicago Board of Education. In an interesting turn, the Seventh Circuit (in an unpublished opinion) was not receptive to the decertification argument. As an initial matter, the court said the claim was moot, but wrote:
Even if this case were not moot, we would not grant the relief CPS seeks. As the district court noted, over the past twenty-one years, during which the parties invested thousands of hours and spent tens of millions of dollars in an effort to reform the CPS special education system for the benefit of disabled children, no one—not the plaintiffs, ISBE, or CPS—has ever complained about the class certification definition. Why, at this late date, the CPS would try to obliterate two decades’ worth of effort is mystifying to us. The CPS just reaffirmed its commitment to the decree in 2010, and nothing has occurred since then to suggest that complying with the terms of the decree had changed in any meaningful way. Even if circumstances had changed, however, CPS is no longer under any burden, substantial or otherwise, to comply with any obligations it assumed under the expired decree. As we noted above, the only remaining obligation is for the Monitor, who will file her report at some point presumably in the near future. Thus, even if this case were not moot, no justification exists for vacating the decree.
Thanks to Mark Weber for alerting us to the case.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Students and activists delivered a petition to the U.S. Department of Education’s offices last week to demand stiffer sanctions for colleges and universities that suppress information about sexual violence on campus. ED Act Now, a group formed to stop campus gender-based and sexual violence, has collected more than 170,000 signatures on the petition that they presented to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Citing the “Dear Colleague” letters that ED officials sent to college administrators this spring suggesting that they adopt new sexual harassment standards, the petition asks ED to enforce those standards through levying sanctions and publicly declare offending schools as “noncompliant.” In the petition, the group states that in the past year, “an unprecedented number of survivors of sexual violence have filed Title IX complaints against colleges and universities across the United States, including the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, Occidental College, the University of California - Berkeley, and the University of Southern California.” Members of ED Act Now feel that college and university administrators are breaking federal law by suppressing rape reports and failing to protect victims of sexual violence. The group says that the ED “has only ever publicly found one school to be in noncompliance with the law, even though a recent study suggests nearly two thirds of colleges in America don't comply.” Read the petition here.
In a review of the 41 NCLB waivers that the Department of Education has granted, the Campaign for High School Equity finds:
that many states have failed to address clearly and fully the needs of our most vulnerable students. Some states, with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, abandon a primary focus on subgroup accountability—a central tenet of NCLB—and weaken efforts to close achievement gaps and improve education for all students. Significant progress has been made under NCLB to ensure that the needs of all students—including underserved students—mattered; a school could not be deemed successful, regardless of overall performance, if a subgroup of students was struggling. Provisions of NCLB have ensured that the achievement of all students by subgroup was counted; school progress regarding improving achievement of subgroups of students was publicly reported, and when a school did not adequately improve student achievement for subgroups of students, an intervention was triggered to better support student success. While NCLB has many provisions that need revision, subgroup accountability provisions have shone a bright light on the achievement of all students and have ensured that the children who need it most get help. Yet, our analysis shows that several of the Administration’s approved ESEA waivers undermine subgroup accountability, instead of making it the central focus of statewide accountability systems.
It has been a summer of bad news for cyber charters. Earlier this summer, I posted abote three states ending or curtailing their cyber charters. LaJuana also posted on increased scrutiny and reports detailing problems with cyber charters. Now the news has only gotten worse. In Pennsylvania, a state where cyber charters have possibly been the most contentious, federal investigators have secured an indictment against Nicholas Trombetta, the operator of the biggest cyber charter in the state. His charter enrolled over 10,000 students and yielded $100 million in revenue in 2012 from the state. The indictment accuses him of creating a ponzi scheme of sorts in which he created various different fake businesses and entities for the purpose of extracting funds for his and others' personal benefit. In total, the indictment includes 11 fraud and tax charges, which total $1 million of theft from the state.
The indictment will only fan the flame of controversy in the state. Cribbing from the Post-Gazette:
"So we've been vindicated then," said Karen D. Beyer, a former state Republican legislator who for years raised concerns about cyber charter school funding in general and Mr. Trombetta in particular. "I'm so delighted. Look, the taxpayers had an opportunity and the Legislature had an opportunity with that cyber charter bill to control this years ago, and they failed to act and now we're seeing the results of that."
The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment and instead issued a statement through the state Department of Education, saying Gov. Tom Corbett "renews his call for comprehensive charter school reform."
To be fair, schemes of this sort are not unique to charters. Some may recall similarly egregious kick back schemes by superintendents like Prince George County, Maryland's a few years ago. But as suggested in my earlier posts, the incentives for bad behavior, whether it be fraud or just low quality services, appear to run high in cyber schools.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Vouchers v. Desegregation: U.S. Department of Justice Seeks to Block Vouchers in Desegregating Districts
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spearheaded the expansion of the state’s voucher program from New Orleans to the entire state this year. He did not, however, bother to assess how the program might affect student assignment and enrollment in districts that are still operating under court orders to desegregate. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a motion in district court to block the application of the voucher program to those districts. The motion argues that students in at least 22 districts that are still under desegregation orders have received vouchers “without authorization from the appropriate federal court frustrates . . . .” Those vouchers “imped[e] the desegregation process in school districts operating under federal desegregation orders.”
Gov. Jindal responded on Meet the Press, stating
We’ve got a scholarship program. One hundred percent of the kids are low-income. One hundred percent of the kids are in failing schools—C, D, or F schools. Ninety percent of the kids are minorities. Eight thousand of those parents have chosen to take these dollars and send these kids to better schools, to other schools where they can get a better education, where it’s a better fit for their children. Now the Department of Justice, using the same rules that were there to prevent discrimination against minority children, is going after some of these parents and some of these kids and saying, ‘We don’t know that we want to allow you to make this choice. We want you to go to a federal judge.’
School choice advocates are also lambasting DOJ and the role this would play in impeding choice. They seem to ignore, however, that it would be impossible to enforce desegregation orders if districts and states were free to create exit options and exceptions that would undermine desegregation. In fact, various creative exit options, albeit race-neutral on their face, were a major stumbling block to the initial creation of integrated schools in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Or, choice advocates assume that the voucher program will have no negative effect on the demographics of these school districts. Even if their assumption proves to be correct, it has always been standard procedure to verify the effect of new policies on student assignments in desegregating districts, rather than wait until after the fact when the damage is already done. While the state and districts are largely free to assign students, however, they see fit in “unitary” districts, there are constitutional constraints on other districts for good reason.
Gov. Jindal's full interview is here.
In July, I posted on a new challenge to the constitutionality of Washington's charter statute here and here. I noted that these challenges had not been particularly successful in the past, but that the specific nature of Washington's state constitution and the charter law made that case a potential winner. Now, some in Tennessee seem to have the same feeling about their charter law and constitution. John Borkowski, a long time education law attorney, who represents large school districts in civil rights and other major cases, argues that Tennessee’s 2002 charter law in violates the state constitution because it “seems to impose increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state.” Cribbing from the Tennessean (the state's major newspaper):
A section of the Tennessee Constitution says that no law shall impose “increased expenditure requirements on cities or counties” unless the Tennessee General Assembly ensures the state shares those costs. Under the state’s charter school funding formula, the combined state and local per-pupil dollar amount follows students to their new schools. This equates to about $9,200 per student in Nashville.
“The charter school receives all of the state and local per-pupil expenses, while the [local districts] still must cover existing fixed costs,” Borkowski wrote, adding: “There does not appear to be any state subsidy to share in these increased costs.”
Monday, August 26, 2013
As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the UNC Center for Civil Rights is representing a group of parents in Pitt, NC, who allege that the district has taken steps that violate its affirmative duty to desegregate. In reviewing their proposed findings of fact, the crux of their claim is that the school district had three student assignment options on the table in 2008 and choose the most segregative of the three. Plaintiffs evidence at trial indicates that the district chose the segregative plan because, during its previous student reassignment plan in 2001 or so, white parents had objected to sending their children to some schools with substantial percentages of minority students and the district sought to avoid this reaction this time. In other words, the plaintiffs allege that the district is segregating students to avoid white flight and that white flight is not a legitimate factor upon which to assign students.
Friday, August 23, 2013
The Goverment Accountability Office had been tasked with comparing the enrollment of English Language Learners (ELLs) in traditional public schools versus charter schools. Last month, it issued a report finding that it could not make the comparision because the "only available data on school-level ELL enrollment were unreliable and incomplete. Specifically, for over one-third of charter schools, the field for reporting the counts of ELLs enrolled in ELL programs was left blank. These blank fields cannot reliably be interpreted to mean that the charter schools did not have ELLs enrolled." This national number, however, grossly understates the problem in many states. Over 60% of charter schools in Idaho, Lousiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio failed to provide ELL data. The GAO also emphasized that this data failure in regard to ELL, while significant in an of itself, is likely an indicator of overall problems in data collection and reporting for charter schools.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Several pieces in this week's featured scholarship focuses on the reality of resegregation in American schools and the struggle to realize the equality envisioned in Brown v. Board of Education. We start with a study of English language learners in Texas schools by two UT-Austin professors that is making an impact in the media and educators as the new school year begins.
Heilig and Holme (UT Austin): Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL students in Texas.
University of Texas at Austin Professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme's study of school segregation in Texas shows that ELL learners are being isolated by racial, economic, and linguistic factors, suffering what has been termed “triple segregation.” Their study finds that despite nearly two decades of accountability policies, their statistical analyses show that a majority of ELL students in Texas still attend high-poverty and high-minority schools. Segregation by socioeconomic status (SES) and race and ethnicity is highly significant for predicting whether schools will be low performing relative to high performing.
From the abstract and summary of their findings:
Many school districts in the state of Texas have adopted “open enrollment” policies that allow students to transfer between schools within the same district. These policies, as research has shown, tend to advantage more well-resourced students (particularly because transportation is not provided with most such policies). Due to differences in cultural and social capital, it is likely that students whose home language is not English are less likely to take advantage of choice (Vasquez Heilig, 2011a) due to lack of familiarity with the application process.
One of the most significant contributions to segregation in schools, however, is housing. ELL students, who are often Latina/o, are increasingly residentially isolated in urban and, increasingly, suburban neighborhoods. As Gandara and Contreras (2009) observed, “Housing segregation has particularly onerous effects on Latina/o students learning English. When students’ lack appropriate language models and individuals with whom to interact in English, their acquisition of academic English is delayed." This lack of opportunity is exacerbated when students residing in high-poverty and linguistically isolated neighborhoods attend schools isolated by race/ethnicity, poverty, and language.
In conclusion, nearly 50 years since Jim Crow, the intensity of segregation in Texas schools is still largely problematic. Our statistical analyses show that a majority of ELL students in Texas attend high-poverty and high-minority schools. One positive note is that elementary schools serving ELL students are more likely to be high performing than low performing schools. However, this finding is tempered by the fact that as ELL students progress in the education pipeline in Texas, they are more likely to attend low performing middle schools and high schools (results not shown). Furthermore, ELLs enrolled in secondary schools ultimately have the highest dropout rates and lowest tests scores and graduation rates in Texas. Surprisingly, after almost two decades of Texas-style accountability, the overall finding that segregation by SES and race and ethnicity is still highly significant for predicting whether schools will be low performing relative to high performing suggests that high-stakes testing and accountability as systemic reforms have still not delivered as a cure-all in Texas.
Read the study at Sage Publishing here.
DOE Guidance Letter: Schools’ Failure to Protect Students with Disabilities from Bullying Violates IDEA
The Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services sent a guidance letter to schools yesterday reminding them of their obligation to prevent and address bullying of students with disabilities. The letter states that any “bullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit” violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The letter also notes that changing an educational program of a student with a disability (e.g., placement in a more restricted “protected” setting to avoid bullying behavior) may constitute a denial of a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. The letter also suggests that schools include a reminder in their antibullying policies that harassment against a student on the basis of disability and retaliation against any person are also prohibited under Section 504, Title II, and other Federal civil rights laws. Read the letter here.
I can't decide whether it counts as news, since data has shown us for some time that poor and minority students are exposed to unequal educational opportunities and conditions, but a new poll out confirms that minority and poor parents are well aware of the unequal conditions they suffer. Yet, minority parents are interestingly optimistic citing that their children are receiving a better education than they did. Cribbing from the AP story by Philip Elliot and Jennier Agiesta:
Minority and low-income parents are more likely to see serious problems in their schools—from low expectations to bullying to out-of-date technology and textbooks—than those who are affluent or white, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll.
Overall impressions of the nation's schools and teachers are similarly positive among all groups of parents, but deep demographic differences emerge in the details of how parents see teachers, schools and even their own roles in their children's education.
The divisions fall along the familiar fault lines of income, education and race that drive so much of American life. In many cases, it's as though parents are looking at two very different sets of schools in this country.
Most parents say the school their child attends is high-quality and rate their children's teachers positively. White parents are only slightly more likely than others to give their child's school high marks, and parents of all races give their local schools similar ratings for preparing students for college, the workforce, citizenship and life as an adult.
A majority of parents say their children are receiving a better education than the one they received, but blacks and Hispanics feel more strongly than whites that this is the case. The poll also shows minorities feel they have a greater influence over their children's education.
And the ways parents assess school quality and the problems they see as most deeply affecting their child's school vary greatly by parents' race, education and income level.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
As a followup to my post yesterday on the lawsuit challenging the Alabama statute that provides a $3600 tax credit to those transferring out of failing schools, I wanted to share today's story by the Montgomery Advisor. The newspaper also made the above video of the news conference available. Included is the plaintiff telling her story, which we don't always get. Kudos to SPLC for stepping back and letting her speak in her own words. Unfortunately, the Montgomery Advisor cut the clip short while she was in the middle of her story.
Derek noted earlier this month that the congressional impasse in reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) is unlikely to be resolved by the end of President Obama's second term. That is largely been because the Obama administration has effectively reformed NCLB by granting states waivers from complying with the federal standards. Yesterday, Pennsylvania joined the 40 states that have received a partial waiver from the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Without that waiver, Pennsylvania would have had to show next year that its students’ standardized test scores were at grade level proficiency in reading and math. With the waiver, Pennsylvania will not have to meet that standard in 2014. Instead, the state can now substitute its own system to measure student performance and teacher effectiveness, subject to the approval of the Department of education. As the Department of Education continues its NCLB flexibility program, the Obama administration has seemed less concerned pushing Congress for a replacement, even though reauthorization was a priority at the start of President Obama's second term. While Congress continues to tangle over how best to reform NCLB, the administration has persuaded states to implement the accountability measures that it wanted. Forty-five states have signed on for standardized testing under the Common Core State Standards Initiative.