Thursday, October 31, 2013
On valuing education, he says this stereotype is an assumption based on less parental involvement at the school building itself by low-income families, but he points out that the inability to be at school is caused by job, transportation, and other barriers poor families face, not a lack of interest. He says there is no information to infer that they actually value education less. The laziness stereotype is easily debunked by the fact that many poor families work more hours and jobs than other families. They just make less money. On substance abuse, he says data shows that wealthier families actually have a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse than poor families. They, of course, also have more money with which to indulge.
The linguistic deficient, however, was the most interesting. He does not contest that lower income parents may have less formal vocabularies, which also manifests itself in their children’s oral communication. He does contest that they are less complex or necessarily eqaute to ignorance. He points to evidence that indicates oral vocabularies are not as closely linked to reading and writing vocabularies as one might think. In short, a child’s oral linguistics are not a limit on their ability to learn to read. This makes sense because, after all, reading is new to all kids, regardless of how well they might speak. Gorski acknowledges that low-income students do tend to start school with fewer reading skills than other students, but he argues this is a function of difference in access to quality pre-k educational opportunities, not necessarily their parents’ communication skills. His debunking of the bad parent stereotype is largely intertwined with the previous four points.
So why are these stereotypes so prevalent and where do they come from? Part of it, he says, is our
In August, Emily Gold Waldman's post on the First Amendment "I [Heart] Boobies" case noted how school policies piecing out acceptable cancer awareness clothing from the "lewd" can get messy. Last Friday, Friendly High School in Prince George’s County, MD, handed out in-school suspensions to students who showed up to school in Breast Cancer Awarness Month t-shirts. Seventy-five students showed up in pink shirts to celebrate October's "Pink Out" breast cancer campaign that readers may have seen during NFL, WNBA, MLB, and PGA Tour events this month. But pink shirts violate the district's uniform policy, and the principal told students in advance that they could not hold their annual “Pink Out.” When students showed up anyway wearing pink shirts, they were ordered to cover up or receive in-school suspensions. The students given in-school suspensions were told that they would receive an unexcused absence and zeros for their classes. Here's the messy part: the first wave of students apparently were ordered to cover up the pink shirts with some acceptable ones that the school had around. Those students went on to class. But the school ran out of acceptable cover-up shirts, so students who showed up later got in-class suspensions. Yesterday, the district posted an apology on Friendly High's website for the "confusion regarding our school’s Breast Cancer Awareness event this year... The student Pink-Out that occurred on Friday has made the school district aware of the issues that can result from inconsistencies in uniform policies for special commemorative events." Instead, the school allowed all students to wear pink ribbons yesterday. I suspect (or hope at least) that the school rescinded the in-school suspensions because of the inconsistent policy. Read more at the National School Boards Association here.
The Pennsylvania’s House Education Committee has passed a bill (the “National Motto Display Act”) that would require all public schools to display the words “In God We Trust.” It is not yet clear when or if the measure will be put to a floor vote. Should it become law, it will inevitably lead to high-profile, divisive litigation which will require some unfortunate federal district judge to confront the Supreme Court’s confusing pronouncements about government religious speech.
“In God We Trust” began appearing on U.S. coins in 1864 (during the Civil War) and was adopted as the national motto in 1956 (during the Cold War). (In each case, one motivation may have been to proclaim that God was “on our side” of the conflict.) The still-governing principles of Establishment Law (i.e. the Lemon, endorsement, coercion tests) would suggest that these invocations of God are unconstitutional. If the government is supposed to remain neutral in matters of religion and is forbidden from “declaring religious truth” (as Prof. Andrew Koppelman would put it), “In God We Trust” looks to be clearly unconstitutional. Like “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the national motto is a statement of what defines and unites us a people – and what unites us is said to be faith in (read most broadly) the God of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). That is hardly neutral. Nevertheless, it is impossible to imagine that the current Supreme Court (or, for that matter, more liberal past Courts) would actually rule “under God” in the Pledge or “In God We Trust” on currency as unconstitutional. While rationales are harder to foresee, the end results are not. Consequently, we have a strong – and obvious – tension between principles and practice in the Court’s jurisprudence of government religious speech. In her role as median justice on church-state issues, Justice O’Connor sought to resolve the tensions by treating “under God” and “In God We Trust” as instances of ceremonial deism. Today, somewhere between two and five of the Justices might resolve the conflict by abandoning the principle of neutrality altogether and stating that government may embrace “monotheism,” if not Christianity. (This would be a bad idea, in my view, but that is a larger topic than a blog post permits.) Until the Court either explains or dissolves the tension between theory and practice, lower courts face a difficult job.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I had been avoiding posting on Colorado's upcoming vote on education funding until after the vote, but the state is increasingly becoming the focus of national attention. Next week, the state will vote on whether to make a huge additional investment in education--$950 million annually to be precise. The state legislature and governor have already approved the funding, but under Colorado law, citizens must also approve tax increases as well. The funding itself is obviously important, but a few other wrinkles add to the importance. First, this is coming on the heels of a state supreme court decision rejecting a school finance claim. Sometimes you can loose the battle in court, but win the larger war. Unfortunately, you can also win the court battle and loose the larger war. Second, charter schools and public school teachers--normally adversaries--are coming together to support this bill. Not only are they supporting it with votes, they are supporting it with big money from outside the state. Part of the lesson here is that when the pot of school funding is big enough, charters and public schools are not forced to fight over crumbs. Finally, Arne Duncan says that that the success of this bill would make Colorado “the educational model for every other state to follow.” Because this one liner seems to be all that is getting reported, it is not entirely clear why it is a model, but one has to assume he is referring to the wide-spread and bipartisan support of additional investments in education, which is what Duncan believes can happen with a federal pre-k bill.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
After Paying $2.2 Million, Normandy School District Votes to Stop Paying Tuition and Transportation Costs to Transfer Districts
To avoid running out of money by March, the Normandy School District voted Thursday to stop paying tuition and transportation costs for the hundreds of students who chose to attend a transfer district this year. The district in St. Louis County also voted to layoff 100 employees (including 71 teachers) starting next month and to close an elementary school in December. The district estimates that layoffs and school closure will save more than $3 million. The unaccredited Normandy district is struggling to come up with the money to pay for students who transferred out of the district this school year. It has already paid receiving districts $2.2 million in tuition and transportation this school year for students who transferred out of Normandy under Missouri’s new school transfer law. The district estimates the cost of tuition and transportation for students who transferred will be $13 to $15 million. Riverview Gardens, the other unaccredited district, says that it has enough reserves to get through the school year. Read the story here.
Just when you thought the battle over Lousiana's voucher program was fading into the background, Governor Jindal has something new to lash out about. A group of parents, or rather the Conservative Goldwater Institute on behalf of parents, sought to intervene in the desegregation case. DOJ opposes their motion to intervene, primarily arguing that they have no interest at stake in the case because DOJ is not seeking to take their vouchers away but to monitor the program as it moves forward. DOJ also notes that it represents the public at large and, thus, it can adequately represent the interests of these parents. Govenor Jindal reacted vehemently to the motion, saying “The Obama Administration is attempting to tell parents to sit down and shut up. It’s never going to happen. Despite whatever evolving legal argument the Obama Administration comes up with, the voices of thousands of parents will not be silenced.”
My suspicion is that Jindal helped orchestrate this intervention in the first instance because it would give him another wedge to drive in this case. To his defense, orchestrated interventions by the underdog are not that uncommon (query whether governors fit the role of underdog). But the obvious danger with interventions in this type of case is their likelihood of muddying the water. The legal issues in this case do not turn on what voucher families want or need, nor do they have legally vested rights in the vouchers. Rather, the issues in this case turn solely on desegregation law. Thus, whether Jindal likes it or not, these families do not have a clear role in this case; they simply care about its outcome more than most. But, of course, that is par for the course in desegregation cases, as they directly and indirectly affect so many students. In fact, scholars have analyzed the likely role that third parties' interests have played in shaping major desegregation cases like Milliken v. Bradley. Per this reasoning, even if these intervenors do not make it into the case, their interest will likely weigh heavily on its outcome, which is why I noted in my first post weeks ago that the longer Jindal could delay this case the better for him. More parents would have applied for vouchers and the pressure to not impede their expectations would mount.
Real estate investment firm Municipal Acquisitions’ (MA) offer to buy 30 of Philadelphia’s closed schools for $100 million has sparked a feud between the city council, the school district, and the mayor. The School District of Philadelphia has to make up a $304 million deficit, and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke thinks that MA offers a creative way to stabilize the district’s finances. The school district and Mayor Michael Nutter, however, are cautious about the “too good to be true” offer, particularly as MA has not appraised the properties. After the school district passed on MA’s offer, Clarke called for a hearing on the district's financial stewardship. Clarke and Mayor Nutter are already disputing where to find $50 million that the city promised to loan the district in September. Mayor Nutter reportedly wants to borrow the money; Clarke wants to give the school district money for closed buildings that were already at odds over where to find the $50 million the city promised the district in September. Nutter wants to borrow the money; Clarke wants to give the district cash for closed buildings that could be sold to pay back the city. Drexel and Temple universities have expressed interest in seven of the closed schools. MA specializes in offering to buy public buildings from local governments in financial difficulties. If MA’s bid gets serious consideration, get ready for some fireworks, because MA’s attempted acquisition of North Carolina’s Roanoke Rapids’ theatre was a controversial leaseback deal that Roanoke Rapids ultimately rejected.
Last week, there was major press coverage of Rittman High School officials’ decision to kick a 16-year-old football player off the team and suspend him from school because he wrote a poem criticizing his coach. News outlets like Sports Illustrated, and Fox News, as well as many regional papers, reported the story. I was happy to later read that after reconsideration, the school district – located in Rittman, Ohio – reversed the punishment and let the student back on the team. (In fact, I’d been all set to write a post urging precisely this outcome.)
How schools can and should deal with hostile student speech about school officials is a fascinating issue, one that has become even more prominent with the rise of digital speech, where students often feel less inhibited. This particular speech, however, was not digital. Rather, the student, Nick Andre, wrote a poem for an English composition class, in response to an assignment asking him to focus on something that made him angry. His poem, entitled “Stupid,” referred to the head football coach, whose 25-year-old son served as offensive coordinator and whose high-school son was a member of the team. Andre’s poem mentioned “favoritism” on the team, talking about “the inability to separate being a father and a coach” and “continuously doing what doesn’t work.” After Andre read the poem to his class, the principal suspended him and kicked him off the team on grounds that he wrote a “mean and disrespectful poem about another student and our athletic director/head coach.”
In an article I wrote a few years ago on hostile student speech about school officials, “Badmouthing Authority: Hostile Speech About School Officials and the Limits of School Restrictions,” 19 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 591 (2011), I observed that such hostile speech basically falls into three main categories: (1) speech that arguably threatens a school official; (2) speech that is primarily vulgar about a school official, and (3) speech that, while expressing non-threatening hostility toward a school official, also expresses a substantive viewpoint about that official’s behavior. I was particularly concerned that schools were too quick to restrict even the third category of student speech when it occurred at school, running the risk of suppressing legitimate student dissent.
A Las Vegas elementary school joins those in Atlanta and D.C. in facing an investigation into “statistically improbable test scores,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Last week, the Nevada attorney general’s office subpoenaed the principal and six staff members of Matt Kelly Elementary School, where students’ reading test scores tripled in the last two school years. Kelly Elementary School’s test results have historically hovered between 51 and 24 percent in reading and math proficiency across all grades. That pattern was evident in the 2010-11 school year, when fewer than 25 percent of Kelly Elementary School’s fifth-graders read at grade level. A year later, however, the school’s fifth-grade reading scores soared to to 77 percent, more than tripling the previous year’s scores. In the 2012-13 school year, Kelly’s fifth-grade reading scores held steady at 72 percent proficiency. Clark County School District officials said that the district requested in August 2012 that the Nevada Board of Education review Kelly Elementary’s scores. Kelly Elementary is considered one of seven high-need schools in the school district; all seven have high black populations and poverty. Each of those schools receives $400,000 more a year than other district schools.
Monday, October 28, 2013
News broke last week of a 6th grade teacher at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary in Mississippi duct-taping a male student's mouth shut for talking too much. According to the student, he was taped and forced to sit in a corner for 10 minutes. Aside from the horrific nature of the act itself, the troubling question is whether it violates the constitution. In Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), the Supreme Court held that neither the Fourteenth nor the Eighth amendment prohibited corporal punishment of public school students. The Fifth Circuit, in which Mississippi rests, has taken Ingraham's holding and ran with it, sanctioning egregious instances of corporal punishment. See generally Deana Pollard Sacks, State Actors Beating Children: A Call for Judicial Relief, 42 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1165, 1194-1209, 1222-23 (2009).
Of course, corporal punishment is not duct-taping, but both are subject to the same "shocks the conscience" standard (although I and others would argue that this this standard should not be extended from police cases to school cases). This standard, as current applied, places relatively few limits on outlandish school disciplinary actions. Some courts have been willing to reject student claims arising out of cases such as a teacher slapping a student or locking a student in a closet. Smith ex rel. Smith v. Half Hollow Hills Cent. Sch. Dist., 298 F.3d 168, 173 (2d Cir.2002); Bisignano v. Harrison Cent. Sch. Dist., 113 F.Supp.2d 591, 599–600 (S.D.N.Y.2000). Courts have certainly gone the other way under similar facts, JG & PG ex rel. JGIII v. Card, 2009 WL 2986640 (S.D.N.Y.,2009), but a "win" for the student is never a foregone conclusion.
Last week, I posted on the uniqueness of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's suit against the state board of education for engaging in secret meetings. I was most interested in how the courts would react here as compared to suits filed by students. Before the courts do anything, however, the case is already taking a surprising twist. Four of the state board's members penned an open letter asking her to drop the suit. The full text of the letter is after the jump.
For those who do not immediately recognize the name, Steve Morrison was a long time partner of Nelson Mullins, one of the most influential law firms in the South. But most know Steve not for his work representing paying clients, but for his pro bono work. Steve is near and dear to the hearts of school children in South Carolina and school funding advocates nationally because he devoted so much of his time over the past 15 years litigating a school finance case for free. I only had the good fortune to meet Steve a few times, but I was most impressed by his willingness to take on not just school finance, but race. School finance litigation can often devolve into no more than a debate over data. The state's motivations are not necessarily relevant. And, in some cases, beyond poverty, the demographics of the children may not be of explicit concern either.
Steve, however, just as recently as last year's arguments before the Supreme Court, insisted that race mattered. He did not charge a racial segregation case per se, but he insisted that that the story of South Carolina's poor schools was heavily intertwined with the state's history of segregated schools. He said that the state had condemned its poorest minority children to educational ghettos. He sent chills through the room as he levied this and other charges at the state. These are not the sort of arguments one would normally expect a white, male, esteemed partner in one of the South's most prominent firms. He was truly a remarkable man. His presence will be sorely missed. More details on Steve's life are available here.
President Obama announced his intent to expand pre-k opportunities in his state of the union address earlier this year. Since then, we have seen a lot of good press. A major step was the administrations willingness/ability to convert remaining Race to the Top funds into a pre-k initiative. With that prompting, 16 states have submitted applications detailing their plans to expand pre-k. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. This weekend, the New York Times ran a well timed op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, who argues that, while Obama has not pushed hard enough, there is reason to believe we might see universal pre-k coming to fruition. "One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan." Arne Duncan told Kristof "'There’s this magical opportunity; now to get a national early education program in America," and Duncan plans to introduce a bipartisan bill before Congress this year.
At the beginning of this year, I had remarked that maybe certain portions of education presented low-hanging fruit that both sides could use to come away feeling good. Maybe, Kristof and Duncan are right. It is hard, however, to put much faith in our current political process in the short term. Then again, as Kristof points out, pre-k is such a no brainer that it may happen with or without the federal government.
William J. Mathis, Managing Directer of the National Education Policy Center, released a policy brief, Effective Educational Spending: Getting a Good Bang for Our Bucks, earlier this year that summarized effective educational spending as quickly and directly as I have seen. For the expert reader, the brief only touches the surface of various complex questions, but it provides a good starting point, particularly for people new to the field. Each year, I supervise any number student papers and law review notes dealing with school finance in one way or another. Because it is such a complex area and students often come to it with huge assumptions, Mathis's brief is a good place for them to start because it does not overwhelm them and focuses on basic.
Mathis says “[t]he public debate has shifted from does money matter to where money matters.” Most obviously, it matters in terms of "clean, adequate schools and learning supplies, qualified staff, and a 'well-organized climate.'" In terms of things likely to increase student outcomes, Mathis offers the following, non-exclusive set of policies, each of which he indicates rest on a strong body of research:
- Ameliorating negative effects of concentrated poverty;
- Providing high-quality early education;
- Engaging families continuously, including providing family, social and medical services;
- Providing enriched learning opportunities after school and over the summer;
- Providing high-quality full-day kindergarten;
- Reducing class size, particularly for grades k-3;
- Providing high-quality teachers; and
- Providing increased funding and program support for economically disadvantaged children and English language learners.
His full brief is available here. It is the 6th out of 10 briefs on the page.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Students from a Dallas Fort Worth School allege that a music teacher separated the African American students from the white students and then demeaned the African American students, including calling them "stupid." Charges of racism are now being leveled at the teacher. The district is investigating. In my attempt to track down the facts-- which are pretty fuzzy--on thisstory, I ran across a few other similar stories. I would have thought that blatant classroom discrimination segregation would be an isolated story, but two stories suggest it may not be.
The first story relates to another teacher in Minnesota calling African American students "fat" and "stupid" in class. The families subsequently filed a discrimination lawsuit. If these were only isolated statements, they would be unlikely to lead to liability under Title VI, but the claim is that the teacher had repeatedly used such language and the school had refused to address it, which makes their claim stronger.
The second story was not malevolent, but even more remarkable. In 2011, school officials in Lancaster, PA admitted to segregating African American students from the rest of a school's students and then dividing the African American students further by gender. The separation is purportedly brief, lasting just six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month. When brought to light, the officials defended the plan, indicating it was motivated by their desire to address the specific challenges that African American students face and to close the achievement gap. The school, however, seems to be overlooking its own biases as one of the likely causes of the underachievement of African American students. That these biases are in play is reinforced by their stereotypical notion that African Americans are the only students in the district with risk factors that need to be singled out and that all African Americans are seriously at risk. Were these assumptions not below the surface, the total and rigid segregation of African American students would have been illogical to the district. In short, the district appears to have been well intentioned, but good intentions do not keep bias or discrimination at bay.
• Encouraging innovation, such as giving priority to multi-district charters that seek to serve a socio-economically and racially diverse student body, or that address the needs English language learners or students at-risk of dropping out
• Ensuring that charter schools are not impeding access, through means explicit or subtle, to any and all students who are eligible to enroll, including very low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
• Requiring public transparency in the lottery process; in maintaining waiting lists and documenting transfers and attrition; in adhering to state and federal due process in student discipline matters; and by disclosure of annual budgets, including funds and other support received from private sources.
Their full statement is available after the jump.
In 2013, Pittsburgh Public Schools district rolled out its plan to deal with financial and academic problems in a report called “Envisioning Educational Excellence: A Plan for All of Pittsburgh's Children." Among other things, the plan calls for school closures. But a group of parents and educators called the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition, are worried that closing more schools will exacerbate the district’s problems, as we've seen in Philadelphia and Chicago this school year. (See Derek and Danielle Holley-Walker's posts about Philadelphia’s Perfect Storm, here and here.) GPS is even more concerned that the Envisioning plan (financed in part by the Gates Foundation), chose ineffective methods to gather community input about the school closures. Community views were solicited primarily through a few one-on-one meetings with selected parents and online surveys and feedback. The problem is that some parents, who are living at or near the poverty line, do not have ready access to the online tools that Envisioning used to gauge community views. Envisioning’s authors may have already decided what the affected communities' views would be—that closing schools as reform measures is disfavored. One part of the plan is to change “community attitudes” so PPS will learn “how reform-minded urban districts have driven change in … community attitudes, values, and buy-in.” So GPS instead went door-to-door to ask nearly 1,000 parents what they thought about school closures in their communities. The graphic below is a snapshot of the survey results. Read what else the community had to say at Yizercation, What Pittsburghers are Really Saying about School Closures.