Thursday, October 24, 2013
Earlier this summer, I posted on a law enforcement analysis of why we should put more money into pre-k education as well a report by the Alliance for Education on the broader fiscal impacts of graduation rates. The Alliance has now turned its report into an interactive tool that allows viewers to parse out the effects based on local tax revenues, federal tax revenues, lost income, gross domestic product, home sales, jobs etc. The national effect of increasing our graduation rate to 90% would be to generate an additional $1.3 billion in federal tax revenues and $661 million in state an local taxes off of an additional $8.1 million in additional earnings by the graduates. I would assume, however, that those numbers would compound over time as the previous year's graduates stay in the market and are followed by new cohorts each year. It is not clear whether that effect is already cooked into the Alliance's data. If not, it needs to be. Regardless, the harder question is how much it would cost to increase our graduation rates to 90%. Right now, the federal government spends about $15 billion on primary and secondary schools (excluding the one time Race to the Top grants). Thus, the assumed additional tax gains would cover only about a 10% increase in federal education spending, although based on law enforcement's report, we might be able to double federal spending on education if we accounted for the savings we would generate from lowered crime and incarceration rates. But again, is that enough? Based on my rough sense of costing out studies performed in various states, that would probably get us close. A national costing-out study performed by DOE would certainly help close that knowledge gap.
The value/fun of this new tool, however, may be its local uses at the state and city level. I found that South Carolina is missing out on $18 million in taxes and the city of Columbia $3.5 million (based on $194 million and $37 million in additional incomes, respectively). Those sound like big numbers at the local level, although South Carolina's are proportionally bigger than many other states given how low our current graduation rates are.
Below is a picture taken of a Standord CREDO presentation. I have tried to find the underlying report on CREDO's website, but maybe it is still in the works. (If anyone knows better, please contact me). My interpretation of the slide is that, contrary to common beliefs, legal restrictions on charter schools are not necessarily a cause of slowed growth. For instance, the first row indicates that charter school growth is the slowest in states that never had a cap on them to begin with. And the greatest growth is in places where there has always been a cap. Similar patterns pop up in the other rows. One might surmise then that restrictions on charter schools serve as political lightening rods, against which charter advocates react and which potentially causes greater growth. Let's hope a report is forthcoming that provides more clarity.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
University of Toledo Law Review Symposium this Friday: “From Kindergarten to College: Brainstorming Solutions to Modern Issues in Education Law
The University of Toledo Law Review's annual symposium focuses on education law this Friday in “From Kindergarten to College: Brainstorming Solutions to Modern Issues in Education Law." The symposium is a free, public event at the Law Center McQuade Law Auditorium from 8 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. Cribbed from the event brochure:
Four panels will discuss salient legal issues in education, including the development of modern disability law and the legal requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act; affirmative action and desegregation; legal issues surrounding school safety; and the successes and failures of the conventional education model and its alternatives. Justice Judith French of the Supreme Court of Ohio, who argued Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the landmark school voucher case, in the United States Supreme Court while in practice, will deliver the keynote address. The symposium is expected to draw attorneys who practice education, disability and administrative law; state and federal education agency employees; and educators and school administrators.
Two major for-profit higher-education companies, the Apollo Group (parent of the University of Phoenix) and the Education Management Corporation, (Argosy University, the Art Institutes, etc.), have announced that they are each laying off 500 nonfaculty employees each. Apollo’s flagship school, the University of Phoenix, had an 18-percent annual drop in enrollment and a 36-percent annual decline in operating income in the last year. Education Management reported a loss of $268 million for the 2013 fiscal year and reported a $1.51 billion loss in 2012. Nevertheless, Barron’s reports that major investment firms are bullish about Apollo’s stock because of the company's cost reduction plans (laying off employees). The Motley Fool, on the other hand, is unimpressed with Apollo’s 25% stock jump, saying that the gain is a better reflection of optimizing a declining business than real growth. Apollo has also announced that it will focus on certificate and nondegree programs.
The lion's share of education law cases involve students, teachers, and organizations suing school officials. Courts are often reluctant to engage in these cases, with school discipline being the prime example. I, of course, argue that our nation, as well as our schools, are bound by the rule of law. Thus, when constitutional and statutory rights are at risk, courts must engage in a full good faith analysis of the issues.
Yesterday brought news of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, filing suit against the state board of education. She argues that Governor Mike Pence is attempting to strip her of constitutional authority as chair of the state board of education by encouraging the state board to hold secret meetings without her. Doing so, she argues, violates the state's open meetings law. The underlying substance of those meetings involves changing the quality rating system for the state's schools, a significant issue, of course.
I will keep you posted on the courts' receptivity to her claims.
Marian Wright Edleman recently interviewed Jerry Weast, the former superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. Montgomery County is one the highest achieving school districts in the country. Edleman, obviously, wanted Weast's sense of how the district got there. The overall message was that the district focused on early childhood education a lot, and the focus was not limited to the district's own education program. Rather, the district reached out to private pre-school service providers and parents. The goal was to make all of the stakeholders aware of the benchmarks the district expected students to meet when they started kindergarten. Before the district's efforts, only 30% of its incoming kindergartners met the standard. Afterward, 90 percent did. The district also focused on "wrap-around" services for its students once they arrived.
As a strong supporter of pre-k programs and wrap-around services, I applaud the district's efforts. I would note, however, that conspicuously missing from the discussion was Montgomery County's housing integration strategies, which played a huge role in creating integrated and diverse schools and high achievement. In fact, a 2010 study by the Century Foundation, entitled Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland, confirmed that the District's commitment of extra resources to schools with higher need students paid dividends, but integrative housing policy had a larger effect. In other words, the county got more academic bang for its buck by integrating schools than it did by spending money on segregated ones. This is not to say Montgomery County should abandon any of its wonderful education programs or that we should not look to them as a model, but only that integration matters too. Integrated schools with wrap-around services would appear to be the perfect recipe.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Christopher and Sarah Lubienski's newest book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private School, reaches some counter-intuitive and significant conclusions. First, contrary to the assumptions of many and some older research, private schools are not outperforming public schools. To the contrary, public schools are outperforming. There seems to be some nuance not fully explored in this global finding, such as whether some subsets like secular academic private schools are outperforming public schools. Those questions were not answered because the data insufficient to draw firm conclusions comparing private schools amongst themselves. But the overall finding regarding private versus public public schools is clear: while the raw achievement scores in some private schools may be higher than those in public schools, it is only because they disproportionately enroll wealthier and other demographically privileged groups of students. When those demographic factors are controlled, there is no "value-added" benefit of private school. In fact, there is value lost.
This leads to the second question: why are private schools underperforming? The Lubienski's conclusion is that:
It appears that there is a danger in the autonomy that private schools have. The teachers aren’t required to be certified, there is less professional development happening, they’re not held accountable to the same kinds of state curriculum standards and tests. And so when we look at scores on those things it just makes sense that the schools who are hiring teachers who are certified and have been educated in a way that helps them understand all the current educational reforms and the research on learning—that those teachers would be more effective. Particularly more effective at educating students on the state standards...So, yeah, the autonomy of private schools may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
These findings are obviously of crucial importance in the debate over vouchers, as the premises behind vouchers are at odds with these new findings. Moreover, if one drops the assumed academic advantage of going to private school through vouchers, the remaining basis/justification seems more aligned with supporting parents religious motivations. The Court was able to dodge this problem in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, but studies like this would suggest we revisit that question.
Maimon Schwarzschild's article, A Class Act? Social Class Affirmative Action and Higher Education, 50 San Diego L. Rev. 441 (May-June 2013), is up on westlaw now. She argues that, while class based affirmative action in higher education may have some alure due to the legal challenges that race based affirmative action draws, class based affirmative action is problematic from a policy and justice standpoint. She writes:
But there are good reasons to think twice about class-based affirmative action. Some of the problems with class preference are common to any educational preference based on group membership rather than educational qualifications. But some of the most important reasons for caution are specific to preferences based on social class.
Comparing class preferences with racial preferences helps to point up some of the reasons for the allure of class preferences but also points up some of the problems. A crucial consideration is the question of who is to receive class preference. For example, what about immigrants and their children? In general, social class is difficult to define, and this very difficulty would confer great discretion and power on faculties and academic administrators who undertake to bestow class preferences: discretion that would be open to abuse for political, ideological, and other ends. Finally, there is the question of whether preferential treatment is necessary to increase educational opportunities for the less privileged or whether the call for class preferences reflects a mindset inimical to impartial standards and prone to preferences as a first rather than a last resort.
I am afraid, however, that she misses one of the major premises behind both racial and socioeconomic affirmative action. These policies are not simply to "preference" the underrepresented group, nor to discount "educational qualifications." Rather, when used properly, considerations of race and poverty are an attempt to better identify educational qualifications. Because socioeconomic and racial bias are "cooked into" the typical measures of educational qualifications, such as the SAT, considering race and poverty and necessary to compare apples to apples. More bluntly, a 770 score by a high income student on the reading portion of the SAT is not equivalent to a 770 by a low income score. Social science would indicate that the low-income student with the same score most likely has more aptitude than the wealth student. It is hard to be precise with generalized comparisons, but low income student with a 710 might likewise have more capacity.
As Richard Kahlenberg, similarly, notes: "Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University found that the most socioeconomically disadvantaged student scores 399 points lower on average on the combined math and verbal SAT than the most socioeconomically advantaged student. A socioeconomically disadvantaged student who beats the odds and scores fairly well despite the obstacles she faces is likely to have more potential in the long run than a student who has been given all sorts of advantages in life. To be genuinely meritocratic, we need to consider socioeconomic status."
Monday, October 21, 2013
I will have to admit I had not been following the litigation in Arizona over the state's failure to include inflation adjustments to education, but the state supreme court just delivered a huge win for education advocates. In 2000, voters passed a proposition to require the legislature to make annual inflation adjustments to the public education budget. That initiative had added strength because two years earlier the voters had approved a constitutional amendment that limited the legislature's ability to modify voter referenda. In recent years, however, the state has failed to increase education funding to keep pace with inflation. Plaintiffs brought suit under the prior legislation and constitutional amendment. The Arizona Supreme Court in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey, 308 P.3d 1152 (2013), held that “(1) Arizona constitution did not preclude voters from enacting by referendum a statutory directive that limited legislature's plenary legislative power by requiring that annual state budgets include adjustments for inflation to base support levels for K–12 public schools; and (2) annual state budgets that failed to include adjustments for inflation to base support levels for public schools, as directed by a voter-approved referendum, violated the Voter Protection Act (VPA).”
The Southern Education Foundation's new report, A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and the Nation, is mind-boggling in its implications for the future of educational equity, educational quality, and integration. We have long known of the suburban-urban divide that stalled integration decades ago, as well as the flight of families with means to private schools. This new report shows that things have gotten worse, really worse. Throughout the south and much of the west, poor students are now the majority of enrolled students statewide. In Mississippi, an eye-popping 71% of public school students are poor. The north and midwest are still majority middle income, but only on a statewide basis. Thirty-eight of 50 states' city schools are majority poor.
This is a new phenomenon. It was not until 2007 that the south's schools become majority poor. The south and other states only crossed over into this territory as a result of enormous growth in poor students between 2001 and 2011. The south saw 33% growth in poor students, the west 31%, the midwest 40% and the northeast 21%. School funding has been woeful during this same period. As SEF's chart below reveals, the northeast is the only place where funding has kept pace with with the growth in the percentage of poor students (although this is not to say it has grown enough there either).
Based on these findings, I see four enormous problems. First, meaningful integration has become even less possible than before. If one accepts the dominant social science findings of the past several decades that attending a middle income school is a major predictor of success, these crucially import schools and districts are disappearing. In other words, there are fewer and fewer people with whom to integrate. Second, the political pressure against integration and for neighborhood schools is going to mount among those middle income families that remain. Although not often talked about, one of the key events in Wake County, North Carolina in the past few years was that it became majority poor. Thus, it is no surprise that this district, which had a long commitment to integration, has seen enormous tensions and took steps to undo integration. In short, Tea Partiers may have flamed the fire in Wake County, but tipping over into a majority poor district started the fire.
Third, funding for schools just became a lot more problematic because the important political base that would otherwise support it is no longer a majority. It has bled off into private schools and wants vouchers and tax breaks, both of which have seen rapid growth in just the past few years. Moreover, another significant chunk of middle income families has left or may leave for charter schools in hopes of isolating themselves at public expense. Either way, support for the traditional public school is in serious jeopardy.
Fourth, the public schools got dumped into a deep hole over the past decade. Most research indicates that poor children require 40% more funding than middle income children to receive an adequate education. Even if we assumed that 2001 levels of funding were adequate, the growth in funding since then has been insufficient to cover the cost of the additional poor children entering public school. But, of course, funding was not adequate in many, if not most, districts in 2001. Thus, school funding has gone from bad to awful.
I wish I could offer constructive thoughts on the way forward, but this report is just too much at the moment. It calls for nothing short of serious, crisis mode conversations about our commitment to public education that very few leaders are willing to have. After all, their constituents are already pursuing other options. A change of course will only occur if they take this report as seriously as I do.
The National School Board Association reports that the American Humanist Association has filed a lawsuit against the Greenville (SC) County School District arguing that the District violated the Establishment Clause violated the Establishment Clause by including prayers in an elementary school graduation ceremony and by conducting the ceremony in the chapel of North Greenville University, a private religious school affiliated with the Southern Baptist convention. The matter of the prayers seems straightforward and is mainly interesting as a reminder that even fifty years on, the school prayer decisions are not always treated as law. Although the prayers were led by students, the complaint alleges that the prayers were listed in the official program and that school officials asked students to write the prayers and reviewed their content. If this is true, the practice seems plainly unconstitutional under Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992). Indeed, the District’s general counsel already seems to have conceded as much by stating that any future student-led prayers at school-sponsored events would be conducted “under different circumstances than that of the May 30, 2013 program.” Still, the District has refused to meet the plaintiffs’ demand for a “policy that prohibits student-initiated and led prayer” at all future school events. In holding open the possibility of a different approach to student-led prayer in the future, the District gestures toward the idea that under certain conditions, an island of “truly private” (and thus constitutionally permissible) student religious speech might exist in the context of a graduation ceremony. While there is some case law supporting this notion, Santa Fe Indep. Sch. District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) signals that rendering student prayers at school events “wholly private” is no easy matter. Given the young age of the children here and the history of obvious constitutional violations, courts would and should take a skeptical eye toward future variations on the student-led prayer strategy.
The location of the graduation ceremony in a Christian Chapel at a private Christian university raises more interesting questions. The leading case is Doe v. Elmbrook Sch. Dist., 687 F.3d 840 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). There, the court found an Establishment Clause violation where two local high schools held their (wholly secular) graduation ceremonies in the sanctuary of an evangelical “megachurch.” The majority conducted a fact-specific analysis and emphasized the overtly Christian character of the surroundings, while dissents by Judges Posner, Easterbrook, and Ripple thought the use of the church permissible in the absence of evidence that the site had been chosen for any reasons other than secular considerations such as size, air conditioning, parking, and more comfortable seats. A petition for certiorari in Elmbrook is pending before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Greenville schools have responded that if they use North Greenville University’s chapel in the future, they will ensure that the space is “devoid of religious iconography that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that the district is endorsing religion.” This language may well be based on a reading of the Elmbrook majority opinion, which appears to suggest that a “church building” would be acceptable if sufficient steps were taken to temporarily de-sacralize the space. But perhaps the purportedly fact-specific majority analysis would not work with younger children, and having courts decide how much “religious cleansing” is enough seems unappealing for reasons given by the Elmbrook dissenters. To my mind, a better approach might focus less on the church environment than on the question of the available alternative spaces and the light they shed on why a religious site was chosen for an important school ceremony. (Even the Elmbrook majority opines that if the megachurch were the only suitable space in town, the case might have come out differently). The Greenville complaint alleges that there were other suitable sites, which (if true) would lead me to conclude that using the university chapel was unconstitutional. Much would depend, though, on the definition of “suitable” and presumptions about proof of suitable alternatives. I suspect the Supreme Court’s ideas about those matters might be different from mine.
Philadelphia’s school budget crisis means nearly every area is understaffed, as Derek noted last week, and services to the city’s 20,000 special education students have not been exempt. (The Philadelphia school district lost 3,000 employees this school year, ofwhich about 800 have been recalled so far.) The school district says that it made special education services a priority by not eliminating any positions or funding, but acknowledges that because state funding for special ed has been flat for six years, some vacant positions have not been filled. Kenneth Cooper, who was an assistant general counsel in the Philadelphia district's special-education law department for eight years, talked to NPR last week about the challenges that the city’s budget crisis will create this year in special education. Cooper left his position over his concerns about the quality of special ed services. Cooper said that it is nearly impossible for Philadelphia to provide the services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) with its available resources. Cooper said that the problem was not getting the district to acknowledge problems in special education services, it was getting someone to respond to them. Instead, the district seemed resigned to defending itself against lawsuits. When the district is found to have violated federal disability laws like the IDEA, it can lose big—last year the district budgeted $6.2 million for losses and judgments in special education cases, which contributed to an $8.7 million overrun in all losses in judgments that year. That $6.2 million did not include the cost of support services or school tuition that the district may be ordered to pay for. So how does the district benefit with this approach? Cooper says that the district counts on a “dirty little secret”—that kids will not use all of the support services after they are ordered, so the district will not have to pay for them. Read more here.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Federal Budget Bill Extends Flexibility to Count Teachers from Alternative-Certification Programs as "Highly Qualified"
As part of the agreement this week that ended the government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling, Congress extended states’ permission to count alternative-route teachers as “highly qualified” to the 2015-16 school year. In a provision of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, Congress allowed states to continue to include teachers from alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows Programs as part of their educational improvement plans. Alternative-route teachers often do not have the requirements to be counted as “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act. The 42 states and D.C. that have waivers from NCLB must hire and evenly distribute “highly qualified teachers”—defined as having state certification and a degree in the subject that they teach. The Continuing Appropriations Act 2014 extends states’ ability to redefine NCLB’s highly qualified teacher requirement that Congress passed in 2010. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, authored the language in the 2010 bill and the extension in this week’s budget bill. Sen. Harkin’s spokesperson said that the flexible definition of highly qualified teachers “is a short-term fix until Congress can have a long-term conversation about the future of ESEA.” The extension of the flexible definition of “highly qualified” reignites criticism that it allows states to replace career teachers with cheaper, short-term teachers-in-training as education professor Kenneth Zeichner (University of Washington) wrote in an essay in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet here.
Two weeks after revelations that operators at Options Charter School were misappropriating funds for themselves, the D.C. Public Charter School Board is considering instituting more oversight of the city's charters. The new oversight would center around accurate and timely disclosure of charter school contracts, conflicts of interest and salaries of top-paid officials. Apparently, charters are already required to submit contracts worth more than $25,000 to the board, as well as disclose any conflicts. The board says, however, that those submissions have not been timely in the past.
While I credit the board for trying to do something, timeliness does not seem to be the problem here. Rather, the perverse incentives that come with handing public money over to private operators with little or no strings attached seem to be the problem. It is not clear how timeliness will change that. I would also note that these perverse incentives reach well beyond just money, but, of course, we rarely talk about that.
We often grow so accustomed to racial disparities and horror stories in school discipline that good news comes as unexpected. Today, I have not one but four instances of good news. First, Los Angles Unified School District had a high suspension rate just six years ago and came under the heat of the Office for Civil Rights. Many of those suspensions were for "willful defiance." In 2007, the district adoped a new school discipline policy. In 2011, it entered into an agreement with OCR to make additional changes to stop suspending students for defiance. These two steps, along with a lot of hands-on work, has resulted in a dramatic change in the district. The suspension rate has fallen from 8.1% of students to 1.5% in just six years. More on that story here.
Second, Calvert County, Maryland announced a change to its weapons policy. The policy previously had been applied in an extremely broad way and had resulted in the suspenion of students who did not have weapons, but rather had pointed their fingers like guns, carried toy guns and chewed a a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun. The final story made national news. At least in the area of weapons, we should expect a significant drop in suspensions in the future.
Third, the Boston Public School Committee adopted a new Code of Conduct that centers on alternative discipline and intervention and rehabilitative services. With this move, Boston became the first school district to revise its Code of Conduct to implement a new state law that requires schools to exclude students only as a last resort. More information here.
Fourth, OCR confirmed that it will investigate a complaint that NAACP LDF and Texas Appleseed filed in regard to the racially “disparate impact” of Bryan Independent School District’s discipline policies. The district issues criminal citations for minor misbehaviors and African-Americans receive these tickets at four times the rate of their peers. Credit goes to OCR for stepping up in the area of discipline in recent years. It obviously played a major role in the changes in Los Angeles. Hopefully, it can do the same in Bryan.
New Pre-K Study Emphasizes Long-term Positive Effects on Graduation, Employment and Criminal Behavior
The Society for Research in Child Development just released its new report, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. The report does not offer any striking new findings, but it does an excellent job of presenting pre-k research in a very reader-friendly manner. Reader-friendliness, however, was not the enemy of nuance. The report focuses on specific studies and specific limitations. For instance, it indicates that, while pre-k produces impressive short-term academic improvements in math, literacy and language, studies often find the gains fading across time in later grades, at least as measured by standardized tests. This problem has been used by opponents to argue that pre-k is not a good investment. The report provides a powerful rejoinder.
First, the fact that initial gains do not always show up on later tests does not mean that the gains are lost. It may mean that the gains are not being properly measured. Later standardized tests may be testing student knowledge differently or later schools have moved to a different method of instruction and curriculum. Even if the tests were valid measures of learning, which many question, I would say that different methodologies and tests are both are highly possible explanations for the purported "fading of pre-k gains," particularly given the constant churn in tests and standards in recent decades.
Second, the hypothesis of the first point is strongly supported by the fact that students who were in pre-k programs do show significant educational and life outcomes on measures other than standardized tests:
We do not fully understand why the gains of pre-k appear to fade in later grades, but it programs also produced striking results for criminal behavior; fully 60-70% of the dollar-value of the benefits to society generated by Perry Preschool come from impacts in reducing criminal behavior. In Abecedarian, the Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education treatment group’s rate of felony convictions or incarceration by age 21 is fully one-third below that of the control group. Other effects included reductions in teen pregnancy in both studies for treatment group members and reductions in tobacco use for treatment group members in Abecedarian.
Added to this impressive criminal justice, pregnancy, and tobacco results are positive effects on high school graduation and employment after high school. The study also points out that, whatever might be said of pre-k in general, it has the strongest impact on the neediest students.