Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mathematica Report on Teach for America: More Effective Math Teachers or a Case of "Irrational Exuberance"?

The conversation about Teach for America (TFA) has been reignited by a new study by Mathematica Policy Research last week, which concludes that TFA teachers were more effective in teaching secondary math than their peers who entered teaching from traditional routes or from alternative teaching programs. The study focused on secondary math because this it is an area experiencing teacher shortages. Mathematica evaluated the effectiveness of Teach for America and Teaching Fellows (an alternative teaching fellowship program) teachers and found that “[o]n average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers,” an impact “equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.” The study found no significant difference between Teaching Fellows and traditional teachers in secondary math assessments. The report, The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Programs, was sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, and is available here.

 Below is Mathematica's video presentation of the study's findings:

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September 17, 2013 in Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

What About the Rural Districts?

Several states like Nebraska, Wyoming, Tennessee and Wyoming, to name just a few, have seen school finance litigation on behalf of rural districts.  Other states like North Carolina have included rural districts as a distinct class of disadvantaged districts within broader litigation. Notwithstanding these examples, it is sometimes easy to miss the plight of rural districts, particularly in states that are not rural.  In states like New York and New Jersey, the neediest districts and students find their homes in the same places as school finance litigators: large urban centers.  Advocates and reasearchers do not have to look far to find obvious and gross inequity.

A new article by Kyle E. Gruber, Bringing Home the Bacon: A Case for Applying the New Jersey Urban School Funding Remedy from Abbott v. Burke to Poor Rural School Districts, 2 Colum. J. Race & L. Rev. 167 (2012), highlights how rural districts have been overlooked in New Jersey, the home of the strongest school finance precedent in the nation.  Litigants filed suit and apparently established constitutional violations 15 years ago, but unlike urban districts, have yet to receive a remedy.

September 17, 2013 in Cases, Scholarship, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rob Garda on Third Circuit's Recent Disability Misidentification Case

Rob Garda offers the following:

The Third Circuit recently held that a student who is not an eligible “child with a disability” cannot seek redress under the IDEA for misplacement in special education.  S.H. v. Lower Merion School District, 2013 WL 4752015 (May 23 2013).  LaJuana Davis summarized the facts and the holding of the S.H. case on this blog here.  The key holding - that the plain language of the IDEA permits only a “child with a disability” to bring claims under the statute – does not hold up under scrutiny.  The Court relied on the general introductory language of Section 1415(a), requiring that states establish procedures to protect “children with disabilities,” to conclude all the remaining specific procedural safeguards in Section 1415 apply only to eligible children.  But in identifying who may bring a due process claim, the IDEA allows “any party to present a complaint with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of the child . . .”  20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(6) (emphasis mine).  The Third Circuit’s presumption that the introductory language of subsection (a) limits the specific procedural rights listed under subsection (b) is wrong because many of the subsection (b) rights distinguish between “child with disabilities” and simply “child.”  For example, only a “child with disability” may inspect records, 1415(b)(1), but any “child” is entitled to notice when the school proposes to initiate an identification or evaluation.  1415(b)(3). Many procedural rights are granted to children that are not eligible and the right to file for due process is one of them.  Further, the mediation and due process subsections make no mention of being procedures available to only eligible children.  1415(e) and (f).  While the Third Circuit purports to apply the plain language of the IDEA, it apparently ignores that “any party” may contest “any matter” relating to the evaluation and placement of a child, which is exactly what S.H. did in the case.

The Third Circuit’s conclusion that IDEA eligibility is a jurisdictional prerequisite to bringing a due process claim also ignores a long line of cases permitting students to contest eligibility determinations.  Courts and hearing officers are often asked to determine whether evaluation procedures were followed in eligibility determinations or whether the substantive eligibility determinations were correct.  For articles discussing the eligibility cases see here and here.  Many of these courts and hearing officers conclude that the child is not eligible under the IDEA, but none of them question the child’s right to contest eligibility in a due process hearing. 

Maybe a jurisdictional line can be drawn between parents contesting denial of eligibility, as occurs in most cases, and misplacement into special education, as happened in this case.  But the Third Circuit did not draw such a line, nor should it.  As counsel for S.H. pointed out, the IDEA is equally concerned with non-placement and misplacement into special education, particularly for minority students.

September 17, 2013 in Analysis, Cases, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Cost Savings of Improving Education

Alliance report CaptureLast week, I posted on a law enforcement organization's support for pre-k as a way to reduce crime and save money.  This week, the Alliance for Excellent Education has released a report that looks at the other side of education: high school graduation rates.  The report offers extensive details of the current costs of crime and how a five percent increase in the male graduation rate would affect those costs.  According to the report, the nation could save as much as $18.5 billion in annual crime costs and generate an additional $1.2 billion in tax revenues (from workers who would otherwise be involved in crime or jail).

Of course, the benefits extend beyond money and include a reduction in the number of victims of crime.  Per year, the report estimates 59,000 fewer assaults, 17,000 fewer burglaries, 37,000 fewer larcenies, 31,000 fewer vehicle thefts, 4,000 fewer rapes, and 1,500 fewer robberies. Missing from the report is an exact indication of how much it would cost to increase the graduation rate by 5 percent, but the report's comparisons between the per pupil costs of education and the costs of crime argue the cost of increasing graduation rates would only be a fraction of our current crime costs.

September 16, 2013 in Federal policy, School Funding, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

When Agencies Won't Act: Mississippi Department of Education's Alleged Failure to Enforce IDEA

The district court in E.H. v. Mississippi Dept. of Educ., 2013 WL 4787354 (S.D. Mississippi 2013), issued its first opinion last week in a class action claim against the Mississippi Department of Education for its failure to force Jackson Public School District to comply with the IDEA's mandate of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  In September 2010, the first plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the Mississippi Department of Education.  The Department investigated the complaint and found that Jackson was, in fact, violating IDEA and ordered the district implementa a remedy.  In follow up monitoring of the district, the Department found that Jackson had not remedied its violations of IDEA.  The Department set November 1, 2012 as a deadline for compliance and indicated that failure to comply would result in the state stripping the district of its accreditation.  But when November 1 arrived, the district was still non-compliant. Rather than take action against the district, the state extended the deadline (and did so again later). The deadline as it currently stands is February 28, 2014.

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September 16, 2013 in Analysis, Cases, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Court Finds that Student’s Fourth Amendment Claim Challenging School Strip-Search Is Valid

The Eastern District of North Carolina has found that an elementary student presented a valid claim in a § 1983 suit against a North Carolina school district after the student was strip-searched by a female assistant principal. On the day of the search, J.C., a ten-year-old male 5th grader, helped another student retrieve some money that had been dropped in the school cafeteria, but $20 of the money remained missing. The school’s assistant principal was told that J.C. might have taken the $20, which J.C. denied. The assistant principal ordered J.C. to her office where she made him strip to his underwear and ran her fingers around the inside of his waistband of the undershorts and lifted his undershirt. She did not find any money on him. (Later, the $20 was found on the cafeteria floor.) J.C. sued the school district, arguing that its strip-search policy violated his Fourth Amendment rights. To comply with the Fourth Amendment, school searches must be “reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction,” under New Jersey v. T.L.O. The federal district court in J.C. found that the assistant principal had less justification to strip search him than what was present in a Supreme Court case, Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, in which the Court found that the search of a student’s underclothes for drugs violated the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the district court concluded that J.C.’s Fourth Amendment claim survived the school district’s motion to dismiss. Decisions on Fourth Amendment school strip searches seem fairly consistent: school administrators should not strip-search students (particularly of the opposite sex) absent a serious justification—generally, something more than searching for evidence of minor infractions. Even when a school strip search for a minor infraction is upheld, the distress to the student and the time, money, and aggravation of a lawsuit for a school district hardly seems worth it. Read Cox v. Sampson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 7:12-CV-00344-FL (E.D.N.C. Sept. 9, 2013) here.

September 16, 2013 in Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Special Education Teacher Who Objected to School’s Inclusion Plan Failed to State Valid Retaliation Claim Under § 504 or First Amendment

The Tenth Circuit has rejected a former special education teacher’s § 504 and First Amendment retaliation claims based on her reassignment to a general education classroom in Duvall v. Putnam City Sch. Dist. No. 1. The federal circuit court found that the teacher’s reassignment, after she protested her school’s special education policies, was supported by a legitimate reason and that her statements were made as part of her official duties, for which she was subject to employer discipline under the Garcetti/Pickering test. The teacher, Louise M. Duvall, was a special education teacher in Oklahoma when she protested her school’s decision to adopt a “full inclusion” model for providing special education services in the 2007-2008 school year. The full inclusion model integrates special education students into general classrooms by having special education teachers co-teach in those classrooms. Duvall was concerned that this inclusion model would not allow her to provide special education services such as “pull-out services”– one-on-one or small group instruction for special education students away from general education classrooms. She voiced her concerns that the inclusion model did not comply with federal disability education laws. Duvall also dissented to most of the IEPs with which she was involved during the school year and asked state agencies for information about “services for children.” She believed that those acts got her into trouble with school administrators. The next school year, the principal reassigned Duvall to a first-grade classroom, because he “believed she would be happier and more comfortable in that position and that such a move would greatly benefit her, her students, and the school.” Duvall protested the move, saying that she did not want to lose the extra five percent of pay that she received as a special education teacher. Duvall then resigned and sued the Putnam City School District and the school’s administrators under the Rehabilitation Act and the First Amendment, claiming that her reassignment to teaching first-grade was in retaliation for her opposition to the inclusion model. The Western District of Oklahoma granted summary judgment in favor of the school district on all of Duvall’s claims.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed that while Duvall’s reassignment was an adverse employment action, Duvall did not prove that the district’s stated reason for reassigning her was illegitimate or pretextual under McDonnell Douglas. Given that the school district was committed to a special education model to which Duvall was strongly opposed, the district’s stated reason for reassigning her—because the move would benefit her and the school—was not unworthy of belief, the circuit court found. The Tenth Circuit also found that Duvall’s letters and IEP dissents were not protected speech that was insulated from employer discipline under the First Amendment. The circuit court, applying Garcetti/Pickering, found that Duvall’s duties as a special education teacher included ensuring compliance with state and federal law, and thus her speech about the district’s meeting those obligations was undertaken in the course of her official duties. The Tenth Circuit further found that Duvall could not show that her statements to the State Department of Education about the full inclusion model caused her reassignment, because she failed to show that her direct employers were aware of the content of her views about the full inclusion model. Read the full opinion in Duvall v. Putnam City Sch. Dist. No. 1, No. 11-6250 (10th Cir. Aug. 5, 2013) here.

September 16, 2013 in Cases, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Students in Integrated Schools Outperforming Their Old Schools

ConnCaptureThe Connecticut Department of Education has released a report comparing the performance of Hartford city students who are enrolled in a magnet school or surburban school to the performance of those who remain in their local school.  "The data indicate that Hartford-resident students enrolled in choice programming opportunities perform at higher levels than those who are enrolled in the city public schools," said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education.   In fact, the differences are quite stark.  As the CT Mirror explains

[I]n a typical fifth grade Hartford classroom of 25 students last school year, 12 students were not proficient in reading. In a magnet school run by the Capitol Region Education Council with students from all over the region, just two of the 25 students from Hartford were not proficient. 

The option to transfer to a suburban school or apply to a magnet school stems from the seminal case Sheff v. O'Neill (1996), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Hartford's racially isolated schools violate those students' right to an equal education under the state constitution.  This new report by the state is the first to examine the achievement affects of the program.  After seeing the data, Martha Stone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, was emboldened. “I challenge the state to show any other mechanism that is closing the achievement gap as quickly,” said Stone. “The state should be looking at regional solutions if we really want to solve the problem in a robust way.”

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September 13, 2013 in Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Policy Reversal on School's Hairstyle Code

Last week, Danielle Holley-Walker's post alerted us to some public schools' racially disparate hairstyle codes and the raging facebook discussion over them.  The story of Tiana Parker in Tulsa, Oklahoma--a student subject to such a policy--made it onto Michelle Martin's Tell Me More on NPR today.  Martin interviewed the father of Tiana, who had been told her dreadlocks were a violation of school policy.  When asked whether the hair policy was racist, the girl's father said no.  His critique was simply that the policy was stupid.  He suggested the school should focus on education instead of things that have no affect on education.   Regardless, after the story caught attention, this particular school district reversed its position and actually apologized to the family. The full transcript and audio of the interview is here.

September 13, 2013 in Discrimination, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Emily Gold Waldman on Garcetti's Application to University Professors and Academic Writings

Emily Gold Waldman shared this analysis with us:

When the Supreme Court held in Garcetti v. Ceballos that public employees do not have First Amendment protection for speech that they utter pursuant to their official duties – even if that speech is on a matter of public concern – it created a special carve-out. Responding to a concern raised in Justice Souter’s dissent about professors’ academic freedom, the majority explicitly stated that it was not deciding “whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.” Since then, lower courts have had to grapple with two questions: (1) how does Garcetti apply to K-12 teachers’ job-related speech? and (2) how does Garcetti apply to university professors’ job-related speech?

So far, the circuits have been unanimous that Garcetti indeed applies to K-12 teachers’ job-related speech (essentially their classroom speech, the main aspect of their job). See, e.g., Johnson v. Poway Unified School District, 658 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2011); Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education, 624 F.3d 33d (6th Cir. 2010); Mayer v. Monroe County, 474 F.3d 477 (7th Cir. 2007). In other words, once the court finds that the teacher was speaking in her capacity as an employee rather than as a private citizen, the teacher loses her First Amendment claim.

By contrast, circuits are starting to hold that Garcetti does not apply to university professors’ job-related speech (i.e., their teaching and writing). The Fourth Circuit so held in 2011, see Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, 640 F.3d 550 (4th Cir. 2011), and the Ninth Circuit reached the same conclusion last week in Demers v. Austin, 2013 WL 4734033 (9th Cir. 2013). Both circuits reasoned that the Garcetti Court had explicitly reserved judgment on this sort of speech, and that applying the Garcetti framework to the teaching and writing of public university professors would imperil their academic freedom. (Indeed, they would have no First Amendment protection for such speech; their only protection would depend on their contractual arrangements with their universities.)

This distinction makes sense, and I think other circuits will probably follow the trend of holding that Garcetti applies to K-12 public school teachers’ classroom speech, but not to public university professors’ teaching and writing. The one odd thing about Demers is that the Ninth Circuit used such broad language in several places– stating that “there is an exception to Garcetti for teaching and academic writing” – that it almost could be read to encompass K-12 teachers as well as university professors. If it weren’t for the Ninth Circuit’s earlier decision in Johnson v. Poway – where it specifically applied Garcetti to a high-school teacher’s classroom speech – I’d really be wondering about this. In any event, it will be interesting to see how other circuits – and ultimately the Supreme Court? – weigh in on these questions.

September 13, 2013 in Analysis, Cases, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pew Center Report: Sequester Hits Special Education Like a "Ton of Bricks"

Graphic: New America Foundation
The Pew Center reported this week on the effects of sequestration on funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the sequester, federal funds for disability services was cut five percent, or about $579 million for IDEA Part B, which supports students age 3-21 who need special education services. The cuts will affect services for 6.5 million disabled children who receive services funded by the IDEA. Any cuts in IDEA federal funding is significant for states because federal IDEA funding has never reached Congress' goal of covering 40 percent of the excess cost of educating disabled children. In 2012, federal IDEA funding covered 16 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. IDEA Part B "full funding" for 2012 would have have been about $17 billion more than was actually appropriated. The shortfall in IDEA funding has been assumed by the states and local school districts. Excerpted from the Pew Center's report:


Across the country, advocates for children with disabilities are grappling with the impact of sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that kicked in when Congress failed to reach an agreement to reduce the federal budget. Although the cuts took effect March 1, the impact did not reach schools until the start of the current school year because of the way many education programs are funded.

The National Education Association estimates that if states and local school systems did not replace any of the funds lost through sequestration, nearly 300,000 students receiving special education services would be affected. The union estimated up to 7,800 jobs could be lost as a result of the federal budget cuts. It is unknown how many states or schools districts will replace some or all of that money from other sources, such as new tax revenues or cuts to other programs. But they may hesitate to replace federal funding even if they have the resources. That’s because by law, states and school districts that raise their funding for special education and then later reduce it, after adjusting for enrollment and other factors, can see their funding from the federal government cut. That requirement, known as maintenance of effort, means that even if the federal government eventually replaces the money cut through the sequester, school districts will be on the hook to spend more than they did before the automatic federal budget cuts.

Read more here

September 12, 2013 in Federal policy, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement with School District on Racially Equal Access to AP and Other Courses

On Tuesday, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the details of its final agreement with Lee County, Alabama's School District regarding discrimination and inequality in its Advanced Placement classes and other high level academic offerings.  This agreement potentially serves as major precedent in many other districts that, while integrated at the school level, experience high levels of classroom segregation. OCR itself calls the settlement "the first of its kind."  The full press release and details on the agreement follow after the jump.

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September 12, 2013 in Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's Really at Stake in DOJ's Suit to Block Voucher Program in Louisiana

Yesterday, the Brookings Institute released an essay by Grover Whitehurst arguing that DOJ's attempt to block school vouchers in Louisiana "undermines civil rights."  (For more background on the lawsuit, see my earlier posts here and here.)  Whitehurst argues that the numbers of vouchers are too small to have any meaningful effect on the districts and that some of those using the vouchers are African American.  Thus, the net effect is to deny African Americans choice.  He then likens what the DOJ is doing--trying to control and direct the assignment of a few student based on race--to what the districts in Parents Involved in Seattle Schools v. Seattle School District were doing, which the Supreme Court struck down.

This essay shows how little some appreciate the practical dynamics and legal principles of desegregation.  Or, it shows how school choice advocates respect no rules that might stand in their way.  First, Whitehurst assumes a tremendous amount of facts (and admits to doing so) in reaching his conclusion that the voucher program poses no threat.  As I indicated in my earlier post, the point of desegregation law is to affirmatively promote integration and prevent backsliding. These are not things we can do after the fact.   Thus, one of my points was to let the legal process play out. If Louisiana is in the right, the facts will bear it out and they can move forward.  We cannot, however, take their word for it, particularly since the state did not seem to even consider the segregative impacts the program might have until now.  

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September 12, 2013 in Analysis, Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)


BullyThis past April, the documentary Bully was released.  Last night, I finally got the chance to watch it.  While the stories in the documentary were not "news" to me, it was very difficult to watch.  The movie follows the lives of five different children in four different states: two, seemingly middle class, white children; a white female, who came out as gay in middle school; an African-American female, who was an honor student and basketball player; and a white middle school boy, who had been born premature and had some physical effects as result (I am not sure whether they would qualify as disabilities).  The two middle class kids had committed suicide.  The white female was subject to physical assault, and verbal harassment by both teaches and students.  The African American female had apparently be subjected to harassment, but her story focuses on her response, which was to bring a gun to school to stop the harassment  (prior to the documentary).  The other white student was subject to severe verbal harassment, threats, and physical violence.

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September 12, 2013 in Discipline, Discrimination, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eleventh Circuit Upholds $1 Million Sexual Harassment Verdict Against Alabama State University

Alabama State University was awarded $1.54 million grant from the National Institutes of Health on Monday, which makes ASU’s other recent newsworthy event—in the form of a scalding opinion from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals—all the more embarrassing. In Weatherly, et al. v. Alabama State University, released last week, the circuit court upheld a hostile work environment and retaliation verdict for over $1 million against the university. You know that a case will be bad when it opens with a statement that it “should greatly concern every taxpaying citizen of the State of Alabama, especially because it involves a public institution largely funded with tax dollars.” Three ASU female employees alleged that they were racially abused and sexually harassed while working for two ASU administrators: Dr. John Knight, Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and LaVonette Bartley, an associate executive director. The plaintiffs—two of whom are black and one is biracial—were repeatedly called racial slurs by Bartley. Bartley once called one of the women’s sons, a 7-year-old, a racial epithet in his presence. Bartley also routinely commented on the women’s bodies, touching them and pressing against them at their desks. When one of the women complained to Knight about Bartley’s conduct, Knight said that he “was not going to walk on eggshells around [his] office" and that no one was going to tell him “ how to run his office.” (Knight also allegedly made sexual and inappropriate comments to one of the plaintiffs.) Knight warned employees that if they contacted the EEOC, they would be terminated. He made good on that promise by terminating two of the plaintiffs shortly after they filed EEOC complaints. ASU appealed the trial verdict, raising three issues: that the district court abused its discretion by denying ASU’s motion to sever, that the district court erred in finding that the women were entitled to front pay; and that the district court should have granted ASU’s (untimely) motion for judgment as a matter of law timely, or in the alternative, its 60(b) motion. The Eleventh Circuit disposed of these appellate claims on procedural grounds. (Quite frankly, given that ASU did not timely raise its claims below, it probably should not have bothered to appeal at all. Experts estimate that after attorneys’ fees, court costs and interest are added to the plaintiffs’ recovery, ASU’s bill could be more than $3 million.) The circuit court closed its opinion with a blistering indictment:

We are left to speculate who is in charge at ASU. Regardless, however, we are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees. Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university. 
Read the opinion in Weatherly, et al. v. Alabama State University here.

September 12, 2013 in Cases, Gender, Higher education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NAACP President Says Closure of Saint Paul’s College Is a “Canary in the Coal Mine” for HCBUs

HBCU LogoIn a piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday, NAACP President Ben Jealous believes that the closure of Saint Paul’s College, a historically black college in Lawrenceville, Virginia, may foreshadow financial difficulties for HBCUs in the future. Saint Paul, which was founded in 1888 by Jealous’s grandfather’s uncle, closed this summer after 125 years. Jealous notes that wealthier HBCUs like Morehouse, Hampton, and Howard are facing serious budget shortfalls. He says that federal education loan policy is contributing to HBCUs’ recent financial concerns, particularly the ED’s 2011 decision to tighten the standards for its Parent PLUS federal loan program. He says the stricter standards have had "a devastating effect”:

In the 2012-13 school year alone, the volume of Parent PLUS loans to HBCU families dropped by 36 percent, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Parents of 28,000 HBCU students were initially denied loans under the stricter standards, causing HBCU’s as a whole to lose $150-million in expected revenue. This slow bleed will continue as long as the tighter standards are in place. ... Meanwhile, it is encouraging to see that the department is allowing families with small-scale debt—black, white, or otherwise—to become eligible for PLUS loans through an appeals process.

Saint Paul had been struggling for several years before its closure. The college was placed on a two-year probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2010 because the school had too many faculty without terminal degrees and was deemed financially unstable. Despite the probationary period, the college could not right itself, and lost its SACS accreditation in June 2012. Student enrollment dropped below 100 students on the 85-acre campus. Saint Paul, founded in 1888 by Jealous’s grandfather’s uncle, largely served first-generation, low and middle income students. In the last seven years, two of the four institutions that have lost SACS accreditation have been historically black colleges. (The other is Paul Quinn College in Dallas.) Read Lessons From an HBCU’s Demise at the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

September 11, 2013 in Federal policy, Higher education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Third Circuit Holds IDEA Provides No Remedy for Student Misdiagnosed as Disabled

The over-identification of low-income and students of color in special education classes has been a problem for decades. But do children who are misidentified and placed in special education have a cause of action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? No, according to the Third Circuit in a decision released last week in S.H. v. Lower Merion School District. S.H. is an African-American student who received Title I remedial instruction services from first grade to her sophomore year in high school. After testing in high school, several experts and the school district concluded that S.H. had been misdiagnosed as disabled. The experts found that while S.H. had underperformed on proficiency tests in her early education, earlier assessments that S.H. was learning disabled may have failed to consider the impact of a family tragedy that deeply affected S.H. in third-grade, when a murder-suicide took the lives of five of her relatives, and of the accidental death of one of S.H.’s best friends four years later. S.H. told her teachers that she did not think that she belonged in special education and protested her placement by refusing to attend speech therapy. In the 5th grade, her reading scores showed proficiency, and she made the honor roll in 7th and 8th grades. While S.H. was in special education, there was not time in her schedule to take some core courses such as eighth-grade science and Spanish. When S.H. was reevaluated in high school, evaluators concluded that she was not, and likely never was disabled. S.H. was removed from special education in her last two years of high school. She sued the school district for compensatory education and damages under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court dismissed the IDEA claim outright for failing to state a claim and granted the school district’s summary judgment motion on the § 504 and ADA claims.

The Third Circuit found that the protections and remedies of the IDEA extend do not extend beyond children with disabilities. The Court interpreted the plain language of the IDEA to apply only to “children with disabilities and their parents” that does not include “children who are mistakenly identified as disabled, but who are, in fact, not disabled.” But S.H.’s § 504 and ADA claims were not barred by the statutes’ plain language because those laws protect disabled persons and persons who who are “regarded as” having a disability. The Third Circuit then turned to another issue of first impression: which standard of intentional discrimination to apply to S.H.’s claims. The court adopted the majority of circuits’ view that the deliberate indifference standard “is better suited to the remedial goals of [Section 504] and the ADA than is the discriminatory animus alternative.” However, the circuit court upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that S.H. could not show that the school district knew of or was deliberately indifferent to her misdiagnosis before S.H.'s evaluation in 2010. Read the opinion in S.H. v. Lower Merion School District here.

September 11, 2013 in Cases, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Can Schools Operate Like Markets?

A new and robust study of 20 years of data from Australia--The Myth of Markets in School Education--concludes that its schools do not operate as markets.  The conclusion/assertion rests on two major factual findings: most public schools do not face any real competition because there are no competitors; and the connection between school autonomy and student performance is weak.  I am sure that opponents and supporters of school choice, charters, and the like will seize on or discount this report in the coming days.  In the end, I am not sure how much it can tell us about our own system.  

Most obviously, it is from Australia and based on a different system, geography, and demography. Putting those differences aside, it seems to conceptualize different issues than the ones we often debate here.  For instance, while many in the United States support school choice and charters on the premise that they will increase competition and reform the whole system, a major motivation of those policies in the United States is based on individual autonomy and exit strategies.  Some would go further and claim that this global reform is just window dressing for policies really meant to undermine the traditional public system.  Even short of this extreme claim, the effect on the education system as whole is a secondary concern for major school choice constituencies.  For them, the primary motivation is to allow parents to choose/decide their children's educational fates.  Thus, choice, charters, and vouchers are ends in an of themselves.  If this is the case, the Australian study may address points that are potentially irrelevant to many here.  

My quibble with the report itself is that it seems to equate operating like a market with operating like an effective and beneficent market.  To the extent school autonomy and competition policies do not have a positive effect, the report concludes there is a market myth.  In my article, Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I frame the problem slightly differently.  Charters, vouchers, and choice necessarily create a market in the places where they exist.  The question then is what effect--positive or negative--these policies have on education systems, whether it be global or local.  My analysis, like the Australian report, finds little evidence of an effective and beneficent market, but, unlike the Australian report, finds a market of sorts anyway.  This market, however, can operate to the detriment of public schools because public schools are premised on concepts of the public good that are antithetical to markets.  That these policies have nonetheless gained so much traction in public policies is a testament to the fact that they resonate so deeply with those concerned about personal autonomy.  It also highlights the importance of making moral, or pseudo-moral, claims in education, a point which I argue civil rights advocates need to remember here.

September 11, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still Segregated: How Race and Poverty Stymie the Right to Education

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, National Women's Law Center, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council, just release their report on the United States’ Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The report is titled, Still Segregated: How Race and Poverty Stymie the Right to Education ( Download Still_Segregated2013).  This report is a follow up to an earlier report.  The report focuses on three major points: 1) persistent racial and socioeconomic segregation, inequity and discrimination; 2) inadequate court responses to inequity; and 3) inadequate policy responses to inequity.  

September 11, 2013 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

States Mull Relaxing Rules for Homeschoolers


Fifteen-year-old Whitney Hershberger and her two older sisters are homeschooled and receive class credit for working at their family’s business in Iowa. (Photo courtesy: Kevin Schmidt / Quad City Times)
Recent changes to homeschooling regulations in two very different communities show the tricky balance states must make between oversight and freedom. Pennsylvania’s current scheme is being criticized for regulating homeschoolers too closely, requiring dozens of pages of paperwork from homeschooling parents. Some observers, however, such as the head of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, support oversight to help students get a consistent and sufficient education. A few homeschooled students might need that protection, such as the Virginia student who Derek recently profiled who wanted to attend a local public school—against his family’s wishes. Another homeschooled student told the Altoona Mirror that he did not earn his high school diploma because he refused to give a sermon at his father’s church as a public speaking assignment.


Iowa, in contrast to Pennsylvania, ended most state oversight over homeschooling in this year’s legislative session. Iowa’s education reform bill essentially ended reporting requirements for most home-school parents, requiring only some to submit information upon request by the school superintendent. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier-Journal is examining homeschooling in the state, including the story of 15-year-old Whitney Hershberger, pictured left. Whitney is being homeschooled and receives class credit for working at her family’s business, a situation that may prove controversial in the national wave of testing accountability reform. About 2.3 percent of Iowa’s school children are homeschooled. About two million of the approximately 74 million school-age children in the United States are homeschooled.

Read more about homeschooling in Iowa and Pennsylvania, here and here

September 11, 2013 in K-12, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)