Monday, September 30, 2013
A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation
The American Educational Research Association is hosting its tenth annual Brown lecture in educational research on October 24th. Gary Orfield is this year's speaker. His lecture is titled A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation. More details here.
Over the summer, scholars and advocates poured over the question of whether and how much the Court's opinion Fisher v. Texas changed the legality of affirmative action. According to the Departments of Education and Justice, not much has changed. In a "Dear Colleague" letter released Friday, they wrote:
On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education. Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation. The future workforce of America must be able to transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.
This statement to be more than just rhetoric supporting theoretical diversity. The letter goes on to say that its pre-Fisher guidance on voluntary desegregation in K-12 and diversity in higher education remain in effect. Most important, many read Fisher to increase the burden on universities and colleges to justify their affirmative action programs under the narrowly tailored prong of strict scrutiny, but in a "Question and Answer" document that accompanied the letter, the Departments said Fisher did not even change the narrowly tailored prong. Rather, Fisher just emphasized what the law already was.
Kudos to the Departments for taking a stand on these key issues. This is something they had been reluctant and slow to do during Obama's first term. They waited for over three years before retracting the Bush administration's misleading and inaccurate guidance on Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle's holding regarding voluntary integration. Now, they have positively acted in a matter of just months on Fisher. This should go a long way toward avoiding the uncertainty and fear among districts and universities that persisted following Parents Involved.
Priscilla Wohlstetter, Joanna Smith, and Caitlin C. Farrell have published In Choices and Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective (Harvard Education Press, 2013). The book analyzes more than 400 journal articles and think-tank papers regarding charter school innovation, student performance, accountability outcomes, competition and more.
Cribbing from the press release:
On student achievement, which Wohlstetter calls the “lightning-rod issue,” she says “the-big finding that continues to hold up in state after state” is that “charter schools are over-represented at both the higher and lower ends of student achievement.” Which raises the policy question: “Why are we not replicating schools at the high end, and why are authorizers not closing down schools at the low end?”
On the question of how charter schools use their autonomy, the answer seems to be: not much and not terribly well.
On Friday, the Mississippi Board of Education was told that it must takeover any school next year that receives a third consecutive "F" on its state academic report card. Under Mississippi's 2010 "New Start School" law (MS Stat. § 37-167-1), schools that fail to get a "C" or above in their third probationary year must go into conservatorship. The Board member in charge of conservatorships, Larry Drawdy, estimated that the Board may have to take control of 30 schools next fall, which means terminating schools' entire staff--from principals to custodians. Drawdy called the law "wrongheaded" and warned that it may be impossible to takeover that many schools at once. Board members also expressed dismay about the mandatory dismissals of non-program staff. Under the New Start School law, the schools will be placed under the administration of the Mississippi Recovery School District. A new superintendent can then either rehire school staff or start fresh. The State Board of Education is also seeking to take over the Claiborne County and Leflore County school districts this month. The Board controls six school districts in the state. Fifty schools got failing grades this year for a second year; 92 schools in Mississippi currently have "F" ratings. Mississippi has 151 school districts.
Friday, September 27, 2013
On November 8-9, 2013 in Hartford, CT, One Nation Indivisible is hosting a conference titled Where Integration Meets Innovation. Its focus will be on creating, sustaining, and improving dynamic and diverse public schools. More information on the conference is available here.
In a recent post about the federal indictment of Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber school, Derek said that “the incentives for bad behavior, whether it be fraud or just low quality services, appear to run high in cyber schools.” Recently, the media, some school districts, and investors are seeing Derek’s point. The largely uncontrovered evidence is that children in full time virtual schools are more likely to fall behind in reading and math. Cyber student graduation rates are less than half of traditional schools. Industry leader K12 Inc., has been hit with a flurry of lawsuits in 2013 by investors for lying about its financial forecasts and about student outcomes. Apparently, the market is getting skittish about cyber charters. This week a hedge fund manager warned investors away from K12 Inc., telling Reuters that the school is overagressively recruiting students who are unsuited for online learing. But despite growing evidence that cyber charter schools are delivering abysmal academic outcomes, states continue to funnel billions of tax dollars to the nation’s 311 full time cyber schools. This week, Politico explores why the money is still flowing to virtual education as brick-and-mortar schools face austerity measures here and here.
There has never been much proof offered or required that virtual schools are as good as traditional schools, so cyber schools are now going direct to consumers. K12 Inc. is pushing its products to moms on radio and late-night commericals on women-centered cable TV stations such as Lifetime and Oxygen. This commercial in K12's fall campaign features a tearful mother who says that her son was "stressed out" in 5th grade and that his demeanor changed since starting K12. That ad also has an unidentified person saying, "That student has no way to fall through those cracks at all because the teacher and the parents are working together so hard together that they're going to succeed."
In full disclosure, I have been somewhat skeptical about the premise of full time online education for children. I wonder if most kids, especially kids with learning disabilities or behavior problems, can sit in front of a computer screen all day without social media, Candy Crush Saga, or Grand Theft Auto competing for their attention. I am willing to suspend my disbelief if there is proof that cyber schools work on a large scale, but that evidence has been scant. Evidence justifying skepticism, however, is abundant. Read more after the jump.
Texas' textbook and curriculum adoption committees just cannot seem to stay out of the news. Initially, the states decision to shift textbook selection from the districts to the state raised eyebrows. Then in 2010, it was their decision to purchase books with a conservative slant on history and economics that made the news. The importance of this shift also had national repercussions because the number of textbooks that Texas buys allows them to shift the national market and create trends toward Texas' action. Now, Texas is taking on biology and seeking to include creationism in every biology book in the state. Here are some snippets from the statewide adopters' rationale and comments regarding books they wanted to reject or adopt:
- I understand the National Academy of Science's [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that "creation science" based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.
- Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.
- [We] don't really know that the carbon Cycle [sic] has been altered. [Even if it was,] in reality we don't know what climate change will do to species diversity…Question seems to imply that ecosystems will be disrupted which qwe [sic] simply don't know yet.
- There is no discussion of the origin of information bearing [sic] molecules which is absolutely essential in any origin of life scenario. Meyer's Signature in the Cell easily dismisses any RNA first [sic] scenario. The authors need to get caught up.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
In a story so shocking, it is hard to believe, the superintendent and athletic director of a suburb school district outside of Philadelphia were just removed/allowed to resigned from their positions after an IT employee leaked their electronic conversations containing repeated use of the n-word. Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato apparently had the following to say about their students and teachers:
'All should just have whatever first names they want...then last name is N*****!
'Leroy N*****, Preacher N*****, Night train n*****, clarence n*****, Latoya n*****, Thelma n***** and so on.'
'Great idea! Joe n***** bill n***** snake n***** got a nice ring to it.'
'Could have whole homerooms of n*****!'
'Hahahahaha! Will N***** report to the office, pardon the interruption but will n***** report to nurses office. N***** to lunch now!'
When the superintendent was talking about 23 teachers laid off, Donato asked: 'How many n****** out of 23? Not enough!” The superintendent replied: 'Don't know but think it's only 4-5. At most until last minute rush of firing by Goo of Phoenix and Kamara.' 'Good hangings there,' Donato responded.
Early this summer, I posted on the rising tensions in Missouri, where a statute authorized the transfer of students out of failing schools and districts to surrounding districts. In other words, the state had authorized the crucial interdistrict transfers or reassignments that the Supreme Court had long ago forbade federal courts from ordering in Milliken v. Bradley. As advocates and researchers have lamented ever since, interdistrict reassignments are the only hope of integration in most metropolitan areas.
After the enactment of the Missouri statute, thousands of students in St. Louis and Kansas City have availed themselves of this opportunity. The problem was that the surrounding districts claimed they could not accommodate them and the districts loosing them claimed they could not afford the financial hit because the students' per pupil expenditures would leave with them.
To the surprise of many, the surrounding districts were able to absorb these students and work out the logistics of enrolling them in a very short time period. The financial fears of the districts from which these students departed, however, are coming true. Edweek reports that some districts are on the edge of bankruptcy. Normandy school district, for instance, has an operating budget of $49 million, but will loose $14 million under the statute's funding shifts. The hope is that the state will come up with a fix for these districts. These districts were already unaccredited, which is the basis for the transfers, and have little hope of reaccreditation in the context of bankruptcy.
I would grade this statute as a good job half-way done. Interdistrict transfers are a great solution to the ills of school segregation. For that reason, I have consistently argued that Congress must similarly use its Title I funds to incentivize integrative transfers, but I also point out that Congress must include hold-harmless provisions for the schools left behind. Otherwise, Congress would be helping some students at the expense of others. Moreover, hold-harmless provisions theoretically free up resources for the original schools because they now have fewer students. This could present the opportunity for them to take steps to improvement rather than just treading water. Let's hope Missouri can come up with the money and sense to achieve this end. For more on using Title I to facilitate integration and improve schools, see here.
Protecting and preventing sexual violence has been one of the ED’s priorities this year, notably with the agency’s “Dear Colleagues” letter sent in the spring. However, activists continue to have serious concerns about colleges’ treatment of rape victims. Last week, the LA Times reported that Occidental College quietly settled with at least 10 of 37 sexual assault victims who signed a federal complaint about rape on campus. The disturbing part of the settlement is that in addition to payments, Occidental allegedly barred the complainants from any further participation in the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition, the campus group that organized the campaign that resulted in the federal investigation. The attorney representing the ten complainants, Gloria Allred, said that she could not speak about the settlement, but the Occidental professor who organized the federal complaint is speaking out against its terms. Danielle Dirks, a criminology professor, told the Times that requiring “the women to remain silent and not to participate in campus activism could have a chilling effect at Occidental.” The settlement, Dirks said, “effectively erases all of the sexual assaults and the college’s wrongdoing.” Investigators from the federal Office for Civil Rights are expected to visit Occidental soon to investigate the complaint. The Tennessean is also running a series about the rape case involving members of Vanderbilt University's football team and steps that the school is taking to stop sexual violence on campus.
October is National Anti-Bullying Month, and Florida International University (FIU) College of Law is hosting National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment (NVEEE) for the “Not on My Watch” Anti-Bullying Summit on Saturday, October 19. Panelists will include Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi, a gay teen who ended his life several days after a cyber-bullying incident by jumping off the George Washington Bridge; Cassidy McMillan, Producer and Director of the Award-Winning Documentary “Bullies and Friends;” Trish Behnke and Tracy Fentress, the mothers of 14-yr-old best friends Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz, whose double suicide pact due to bullying and harassment shocked the nation; April L. Vance, President and CEO of Advance Project; and Jowharah Sanders, Founder and Executive Director of NVEEE. Middle and high-school students, parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff, faith-based communities, members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, elected officials and policy makers have also been invited. The summit is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 S.W 8th Street Miami, FL 33199 from 8:30a.m - 2:30p.m. Registration is required. To register, visit https://tinyurl.com/ksays7q. Click here to see a slideshow about the summit.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
For those interested in analyzing senseless exclusions, suspensions and expulsions, you might find this link interesting. It captures the stories of individual students. The saddest to me were a low income student sent home for violating the dress code and truant girl sent to jail. A five-year-old low income student in Mississippi was sent home in a police car because he didn't have on black shoes. According to the story, his parents could not afford to buy him new shoes and, instead, had used a magic marker to make his red and white shoes black. In Texas an 11th grader was placed in jail for 24 hours and charged with a misdemeanor for truancy. As I understand it, this punishment is not aberrational in Texas. But the reason behind her crime reveals its absurdity. She exceeded the permissible absences because she was holding down two jobs to support her two siblings. In an exercise of wisdom and judgment that the state and schools seem to lack too often, the court dismissed the charges against her.
Monday DOJ filed a motion to amend its complaint in the ongoing saga over Louisiana's voucher program. Some interpret this as a softening of DOJ's position from an attempt to block the voucher program to a simple attempt to monitor and verify that the program is operating in compliance with desegregation orders. In addition, if this is a position shift, DOJ indicates it is only in response to Louisiana's new-found willingness to comply with information requests and be otherwise cooperative. These two events suggests a deescalation that will allow the parties and the courts to address the merits in the case and remove it from the daily news feed. Governor Jindal, however, is still displeased, calling DOJ's recent actions and statements a "PR stunt" and "disingenuous." I wonder whether it is Jindal who is enjoying the politics and media coverage of this dispute. Maybe, he doesn't want this case to fade into the legal process and an analysis of the merits. Regardless, this finally seems to be where this case is heading.
Even though Louisiana's fiscal effort levels rank at the bottom of the nation, its funding formula is slightly regressive (sending less money to the neediest districts), and many of its school facilities can only be described as deplorable, litigants have never been able to break through with a school funding victory. Courts have fallen back on the notion that the state constitution only requires a "minimum" education. See, e.g., Jones v. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, 927 So.2d 426 (La. App. 1 Cir. Nov. 4, 2005); Charlet v. Legislature of the State of Louisiana, 713 So.2d 1199 ((La. App. 1 Cir. 1998). Although not an attack on the state's funding practices as a whole, litigants did get a victory earlier this year in Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 2013 WL 1878913 (Supreme Court of Louisiana, 2013). See also LaJuana's post on the case from earlier this summer.
The case was brought by teachers, school boards and parents. The primary theory of the case was that the state's voucher program diverted funds away from public schools to non-public schools in violation of the state constitution. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that while the state constitution only mandates a minimum education program, once the state determines the cost of the minimum program, it cannot then take a portion of those minimum funds and give them to nonpublic schools. Doing so necessarily drops support of the public schools below "minimum."
I revisit this case for two reasons. First, it is an example of courts' willingness to intervene in school funding if they can identify a technical violation, even if they they have previously indicated an unwillingness to address substantive questions of school funding. Recognizing this technical versus substantive approach, we have seen a few other cases this summer attack charters and/or vouchers on technical constitutional grounds. Second, this victory early this summer adds further context to the current DOJ lawsuit to block the voucher program (although it is not softening on the notion of "blocking" the program). The DOJ suit is based on federal desegregation law, whereas Louisiana Federation of Teachers is based on state law, but the plaintiffs victory this summer shows how embattled the state's voucher program is. Right or wrong, the Governor is understandably testy over one of the state's signature programs. He is obviously unwilling to let it sink without a big fight.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) and the Atlanta Board of Education could not withhold $38.6 million from charter schools to pay APS’s pre-existing unfunded pension liability. Under Georgia law, local charter schools are entitled to a proportional share of its school system’s local revenue. Last year, the APS decided deduct money from local revenue for charter start-up schools to help cover a $550 million unfunded pension liability for APS employees that has been accruing since the 1980s. Charter schools sued to force APS to distribute the money without any deduction for APS’s pension liability, arguing that they should not have to pay for debts that they had not incurred. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the charter schools’ position that the statutory funding formula in Georgia’s Charter Schools Act did not authorize the APS to subtract the $38.6 million from its calculation of local revenue. The Supreme Court determined that because the statute established a separate and distinct local revenue funding formula for start-up charter schools, the General Assembly intended to fund local schools unequally with regard to local revenue. Read the opinion in Atlanta Independent School System, et al. v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc., et al. here.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013