Friday, November 15, 2013
How One School District Bucks Trends in School Choice While Replicating Old Mistakes (And Still Seems to Come Out on Top)
Earlier this week, the Greenville County Schools in South Carolina made a change to their school choice policy, moving from a first come first serve basis to a lottery. The school system may not ring a bell to many, but Greenville has both historical and growning modern significance. For instance, it was the locus of desegregation sit-ins during the 1960s that led to a Supreme Court decision. Today, it attracts national recognition for its quality of life and economic vibrancy. It is regularly listed among the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country and among the top 10 strongest job markets. Several multinational businesses, including BMW and Caterpillar, have set headquarters or major facilities there.
The quality and attractiveness of the school system is necessarily part of this mix. The school district assigns every student to a school based on neighborhood zones, but offers every family the opportunity to transfer out of their neighborhood school. About 18 or so percent of families have opted for schools other than those in their neighborhood. Prior to this year, parents literally had to stand in line at the school of their choice and transfer were accepted on a first come first serve basis. Local news likened it to Black Friday at Best Buy. Some parents would camp out over the weekend to increase their children's chances. Last year, in Best Buy fashion, the first come first serve process resulted in a physical injury to one parent.
This year the board began debating options. Substantial numbers of parents preferred the old system. Why not give the seats to the most eager and committed, they charged. My suspicion is that those with that opinion were disproportionately represented at the school board hearings. Those who can stand in line for enrollment are also those most likely to have the time and ability to go to school board meetings. This skewed voicing of opinions almost resulted in the district retaining its old policy. Better judgment prevailed and the new policy requires parents who wish to transfer to identify three preferred schools. Admissions are then granted on a lottery basis.
After digging at the details, a few unusual facts struck me. First, the old system is the exact type that in the past has perpetuated segregation and inequality. It incentivizes flight from minority schools and flight from underachieving schools, but tends to only give refuge to the advantaged. But based on what I saw in the data, the choice plan was not obviously having this effect, maybe because the African American and Latino population in total is only 25% of the district and the incentives for racial flight are not as high. Maybe, the district is working some other magic. I suspect it is.
Second, families choose to transfer out of schools that would otherwise be characterized as good. The district's explanation is that parents are basing transfers on legitimate concerns like commutes, after-care, proximity to the parent's workplace, etc.
Third, the schools with the highest percentages of African American students tended to have the highest waitlists. Based on historical patterns, I doubt that this is because people are fleeing to African American schools. My assumption is that these schools either had fewer available openings to begin with, they are geographically desirable, or they are just among the better schools. Regardless, race is not having it normally substantial impact.
None of this is to say that Greenville is a model. Parents are responsible for transportation when they transfer, which tends to have substantial socio-economic and racial impacts. In addition, the lottery is completely blind, which from an equity standpoint is problematic. Consider that students from good schools can randomly gain admission to a school of choice over another student with special needs or a student coming from a failing school. For this reason, a blind lottery foregoes the possibility of balancing schools in various important ways.
Despite these flaws, Greeneville has gotten some other important things exactly right. It has somehow fostered an open lottery system whereby choice is often being sought for legitimate rather than illegitimate reasons. Equally important, it has increased capacity in all of its schools so that choice are available. Every school has a substantiall number of available slots for transfers. Finally, the district has gotten people excited about their schools, gauranteed options, and made its school system attractive to business considering locating there. While the story of choice is different in every locality, this one likely warrants special attention and research.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
In the past few months, we have posted on a series of funding scandals involving virtual charter schools. A new policy and research guide by Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon digs far deeper than my posts and the legislative responses-which have been to simply pull the plug in some instances. The guide starts with the question of: based on actual costs, what is the appropriate level of funding for virtual schools? It then offers recommendations, such as paying virtual schools after students complete courses rather than based on basic enrollment. This creative solution might go a long way to stemming corruption and perverse incentives. Those intent on cheating the system can surely find ways to falsify data regarding course completion, but for the vast majority, anchoring funding to course completion does away with the incentive of enrolling students for the sake of enrolling them and then paying little attention to how their education progresses.
Baker and Bathon's full recommendations follow the jump.
The city of Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, attracts families because of its highly rated school system. That attraction may be lessened next year because the school board voted to eliminate school bus service for most students in 2014. The Hoover City Board of Education’s school budget will have a $17 million deficit next year ended bus service to save money. This week, parents, activists, and the NAACP held a press conference in downtown Birmingham to protest the decision. First, they said, there is little evidence that cutting bus service will realize substantial savings. Yesterday, we posted an infographic by Trisha Powell Crain of alabamaschoolconnection.org that questions the district’s estimated savings of $2.5 million (Crain’s numbers shows that the savings will likely be under a million dollars). Protestors say that costs have little to do with the decision—that the real motive for stopping school bus service is to ease out students who perform poorly on standardized tests. A Hoover mother of three said in al.com that"[w]e all know the elephant in the room is there's a demographic of black children and Hispanic children that they don't want here. [Diversity was] OK when you were importing all the black kids to come and play football. You just didn't count on their cousins coming with them.” School officials deny that the move is an effort to get rid of black, Hispanic, or low-income children in Hoover. Critics of the decision also point out that families will avoid buying homes in Hoover without any bus service for their children, which will affect property values. Hoover mayor Gary Ivey has rebuffed that criticism, saying property values in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s wealthiest suburbs, have not declined even though they have no school bus transportation. Meanwhile, another city leader, Hoover Councilman Gene Smith, has paid nearly $30,000 of his own money for a study of the impact of the school bus cuts on Hoover's property values and socioeconomics. Smith says that he will reveal the results of the study on November 18. Spokespersons for the Department of Justice and the Alabama Board of Education say that they are monitoring the Hoover situation. In this age of accountability testing, declining test scores has implications for school funding, teachers’ jobs, and property values. Three Hoover schools are discovering those stakes when they landed on Alabama’s “failing schools” list last year for not making adequate yearly progress.
School Funding Versus Major League Baseball: The Braves Get a New Stadium While Students Get Fewer Teachers
Cobb County schools in Georgia are being asked to tighten their belts to the tune of $86 million at the exact same time as the County is committing to cough up $450 million to build the Atlanta Braves a new baseball stadium. Of course, leaders claim the new stadium is good for taxpayers, while the superintendent of schools is warning of the risk at which schools are being place. The newly approved school budget includes five furlough days for all school district employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a smaller central administration staff. Just to keep the pain this mild, the district had to pull $41 million from its rainy day emergency funding reserves. In doing so, its reserves dwindle to a level that only amounts to one month's basic operating budget.
The stadium funds will not, of course, come directly out of the schools' budget. Georgia's schools are funded by a combination of state appropriations and local real estate taxes reserved solely for schools. Supportors of the stadium claim that it will be funded solely by a special tax on the businesses around the stadium, but skeptics point out that there are not many business in the area and certainly not enough to raise $450 million. In other words, regular taxpayers will likely foot much of the bill. Slice it and spin it any way you want. In the end, Cobb County's elected leaders can find money for a baseball stadium, but they cannot find money for its students. Seems odd given that an adequate education is mandated under the state constitution and baseball is but a past time.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Education Next ran a long story on diverse charter schools this past winter. Last week ,the New Orlean's Advocate ran its own story about a new diverse school in its own backyard. These schools are remarkable because they have tended to sprout up in districts that are otherwise racially and socio-economically diverse, like as New York City and Washington, D.C. They show that charter schools are capable of achieving ends that otherwise allude regular public schools. Some of them also show the capacity to draw students from across district lines, thus evading the primary driver of segregation, which Milliken v. Bradley indicated was beyond the power of courts. For these reasons, Jim Ryan touted the possibility of charter schools in his book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart.
While these schools show promise, they remain tiny drops in a huge bucket of segregation. The Century Foundation has identified 24 diverse charters that have sprung up in recent years. As of 2010, there were over 5,300 charters and their numbers have increased since then. In addition, some local communities charge that this diversity has come with a price. Some claim the schools have exclusively catered to and recruited middle income families, fostering the perception that they are schools of exclusion rather than inclusion. Likewise, advocates in NYC have emphasized that their diverse charter schools are not diverse in all respects, but rather enroll far fewer special education students than other schools. The bottom line seems to be we must push far much harder for diverse schools and not lose site of the fact that it matters how we achieve diversity. We must be equally mindful that they are open and diverse in all respects.
A few commentators recently noticed how Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had changed the rules for distributing Title I funds (federal anti-poverty money). The major shift occurred when the district changed its standard for determining which schools are eligible to receive Title I money. Previously, a school had to enroll 40% low income students. In 2011, the requirement moved to 50%. As a result, about 24 schools in the district lost Title I funding. Commentators now claim that some schools were charterized or new charters sprung up because they could avoid this rule and seek other grants.
Getting to the bottom of the blame game and what is fair is difficult for the average observer because Title I's funding formulas are so complex. Title I money is distributed through no less than four formulas. Some factors are consistent across those formulas, but many key ones are not. (A full explanation of Title I's formulas is available here). For this post's purposes, it suffices to say that Congress sets one threshold for whether a district receives Title I funds, but once those funds get to the district, the district sets its own standards for which schools within the district receive funds. In other words, Congress funds districts, not schools. Districts fund schools.
Commentators, including Diane Ravitch, are blaming LAUSD and charter schools, which I can appreciate, because the district is the place where the effects are most directly controlled and felt. But the locus of the problem is that LAUSD is put in a compromised position of making tough choices between schools because Congress's has set such irrational standards for the distribution of funds to districts. As detailed in my article, The Congressional Failure to Enforce Equal Protection Through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress gives Title I funds to 90% of the school districts in the country because it sets the threshold for eligibility at a mere 2% in the county in which the district rests. Thus, LAUSD has fewer Title I dollars because Congress is sending money to places that do not have a poverty problem. Congress needs to bump up the eligibility requirements significantly and more heavily weight concentrated poverty in its future formulas.
An Alabama town’s decision to eliminate bus service next year is supposed to save money, but may be instead highlighting the perverse incentives of accountability testing reform. The Hoover, Alabama school system, which is in a suburb of Birmingham, controversially decided to end bus transportation for all except children with special needs starting in the 2014-15 school year, saying that it would save $2.5 million of the district’s $160 million budget. The Hoover district denies that getting rid of the buses that serve half of its students has anything to do with test scores, property values, or the increasing ethnic diversity in the area. But eliminating school buses, as Trisha Powell Crain says at alabamaschoolconnection.org this week, will not bring substantial cost savings, or at least not any that will show up in classrooms. She made the attached graphic about school finances. The likely place where the money would go is for the $2.8 million increase on the district’s debt payment. This cost savings disconnect was brought home when Hoover announced its plans to pay for students to have iPads and Nooks in the 2013-14 school year. Locals have two theories about stopping the school buses: the first is that the district ended bus service to discourage recent immigrant families from remaining in Hoover, since their children will not have a way to school. The second theory is that the district is discouraging academically and economically disadvantaged students from moving into Hoover because those students may lower the district’s standardized test scores. I vote for mixed motive. Alabama is famously uncomfortable with immigration, so the increased diversity may be a factor in the changes. Other affluent districts around Hoover do not offer school bus transportation. Lower-income and immigrant families settle in Hoover because of the district’s good school ratings and bus transportation, as school board member Paulette Pearson pointed out this spring, saying that the bus system makes Hoover “as a bit of a haven, so [families] come straight to us. … We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that.” But I also suspect that Hoover is trying to ease out lower-income and immigrant students to keep standardized test scores high. Because accountability testing has been made the divining rod of a good education, school districts feel that they cannot have a critical mass of students who do not perform well on standardized tests. In other words, the district is shedding students who most need a solid education.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
One of the reasons why integration is a powerful tool for improving educational outcomes is that it creates equal access to resources. In a racially and socio-economically stratified education system, the stubborn reality is that the "haves" will almost always out compete the "have-nots" for the best teachers and the "haves" will resist equity policies that interfere with their ability to out compete. These realities are what make the new study from the Department of Education's Institute for Educational Science on teacher transfers so interesting. It was able to answer the question of "what if we could get the best teachers to teach in the neediest schools." Prior programs have be relatively ineffective in getting high quality teachers to transfer or seek jobs in high need districts. Some studies have found that the cost of incentivizing teachers was prohibitively high.
This new study overcomes the incentive problem and founds impressive results. A pilot program in 10 districts across 7 states identified "[t]he highest-performing teachers in each district—those who ranked in roughly the top 20 percent within their subject and grade span in terms of raising student achievement year after year (an approach known as value added)," and offered them "$20,000, paid in installments over a two-year period, if they transferred into and remained in designated schools that had low average test scores."
The major findings from the study were:
• The transfer incentive successfully attracted high value-added teachers to fill targeted vacancies. Almost 9 out of 10 targeted vacancies (88 percent) were filled by the high-performing teachers who had been identified as candidates eligible for the transfer intervention. To achieve those results, a large pool of high-performing teachers was identified (1,514) relative to the number of vacancies filled (81). The majority of candidates did not attend an information session (68 percent) or complete an online application to participate in the transfer intervention (78 percent).
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on test scores (math and reading) in targeted elementary classrooms. These impacts were positive in each of the two years after transfer, between 0.10 and 0.25 standard deviations relative to each student’s state norms. This is equivalent to moving up each student by 4 to 10 percentile points relative to all students in their state. In middle schools, we did not find evidence of impacts on student achievement. When we combined the elementary and middle school data, the overall impacts were positive and statistically significant for math in year 1 and year 2, and for reading only in year 2. Our calculations suggest that this transfer incentive intervention in elementary schools would save approximately $13,000 per grade per school compared with the cost of class-size reduction aimed at generating the same size impacts. However, overall cost-effectiveness can vary, depending on a number of factors, such as what happens after the last installments of the incentive are paid out after the second year. We also found there was significant variation in impacts across districts.
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on teacher-retention rates during the payout period; retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred was similar to their counterparts in the fall immediately after the last payout. We followed teachers during both the period when they were receiving bonus payments and afterward. Retention rates were significantly higher during the payout period—93 versus 70 percent. After the payments stopped, the difference between cumulative retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred
A recent survey of 282 colleges and 44 college administrators found that 67% of students experienced harassment on campus and 61% witnessed another student being harassed. Those students reported that the harassment had significant effects on their education. Forty-six percent said harassment caused disappointment with college experience. Twenty percent said harassment interfered with their concentration in class. And 23% said harassment caused them to miss class and other campus activities. Only 17% of students, however, actually reported the harassment to a college officials. Fifty-five percent of college administrators cite the cause of the low reporting rates as begin poor reporting and enforcement mechanism.
The survery is not nearly as nuanced as the ones conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), but its results are largely consistent with the AAUW's last report in 2005, Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus. As some may recall, reports of this sort were important in prompting the Supreme Court to extend Title IX liability to schools for on-campus harassment. Those cases, however, addressed elementary and secondary schools. Given the different and decentralized context of college campuses, the problem of higher education harassment does not easily mess with the rules developed for elementary and secondar schools. These persistently high numbers in college suggest a different approach is necessary (not that the problem has been solved in elementary and secondary schools).
A group of UCLA African American males, led by Sy Stokes, an African American Studies student, created a video to call attention to the dwindling diversity at UCLA. The basic facts as they see them are that only 660, or 3.3%, of the 19,838 males enrolled at UCLA are African American. And 65% of those 660 are athletes. The numbers were even worse for the entering class in Fall 2012. Only 48 were African American, or just over 1 percent of the entering class. They also point out that the graduation rate for African American males at UCLA is only 74%, so only 35 African American males from that entering class will be expected to graduate. They then point out that the school has 109 athletic national championships, more than twice the number of African American males in the entering class. Based on this, they levy the charge that the school only sees African American males as important to increasing the school's athletic winning percentage.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Just last week, I posted on the special education settlement agreement in Schenectady City School District regarding racial disparities, and posited it was unlikely to have ripple effects. Now comes another settlement agreement from Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin regarding racial disparties. I would not call the agreement in Sun Prarire a ripple effect, as it has the relatively high racial disparities that were not present in Schenectady. These higher disparities make Sun Prarie an easier case for inferring bias, whereas I posited that the procedural failures were the linchpin in Schenectady. Regardless, this new settlement agreement is further evidence that OCR is agressively enforcing racial disparities, not just in special education, but across mutliple areas. See also here.
OCR's press release follows the jump.
In what a school board attorney acknowledges is an unusual move, a Kentucky school board filed suit in federal court last week against the Kentucky Department of Education in a special education case. The KDE is named as a defendant in the suit filed by the Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The complaint notes that KDE “is not called upon to answer the substance of the Complaint, but is made a party in order to give full effect to any final order or judgment of this Court and make such order or judgment binding on KDE[.]” The school board is appealing an adverse due process hearing decision by Kentucky’s Exceptional Children Appeals Board (ECAB). The ECAB found that the district denied a student a free and appropriate education during the 2011-12 school year and ordered the school board to provide 540 minutes of compensatory psychological services. Details are not yet available about the grounds for the ECAB’s decision, but are likely to be unsealed soon. The complaint is Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky v. Z.B. et al, No. 5:13-cv-00376-KKC (filed Nov. 4, 2013).
Education Week writer Christina A. Samuels asked teachers and education scholars to evaluate states’ plans to align Common Core academic standards with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for students with disabilities. An emerging theme is that Common Core is prompting educators to reexamine underlying assumptions about acceptable IEP goals. Margaret J. McLaughlin, a professor in the department of special education at the University of Maryland College Park, said that “the reality of standard-based IEPs has not measured up to [the] promise” because teachers have insufficient time to craft IEPs and measure their effectiveness. Diane M. Browder, a professor of special education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte questions a common IEP emphasis: that special education students show master life skills before academic subjects. Professor Browder said that such IEP life skills goals can impose a double standard—reading instruction, for example, is not delayed for general education students to learn life skills but academic instruction can be stayed for special education students. Prof. Browder said, "Why would we take a whole class of citizens and say you don't get to learn the standards that we say are most important for everyone?" Read more here.
C.G. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Educ. 2013 WL 5912054 (3d Cir. 2013) is an intriguing case with an ambitious theory. The plaintiffs challenged the Pennsylvania special education funding formula, which takes the total amount of state supplementary money for special education and divides it up on the basis of the membership of each school district, acting on the assumption that 16% of the students of each district have disabilities. The plaintiff class consisted of students with disabilities attending schools with a 17% or greater enrollment of children with disabilities and limited taxing capacity. The average per-special education student state subsidy amounted to $3327 for children in the class, but $4108 for children with disabilities not in the class. Originally, plaintiffs said the formula violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA. They lost at trial, and appealed the decision regarding the Rehab Act and the ADA claims.
The court of appeals accepted the proposition that there could be a violation of the Rehab Act and the ADA even if there is no violation of IDEA, and it agreed that discrimination against a subgroup of people with disabilities could violate the Rehab Act and the ADA. But the court said the plaintiffs did not show that, on the basis of their disability, they were deprived of a benefit or opportunity given to non-disabled students or a group of students with some other category of disability. The court assumed that the funding formula had an adverse impact on the class, but said not all adverse impacts are prohibited by the Rehab Act and the ADA. Instead, drawing an analogy to Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985), the court looked to whether the class members had been denied meaningful access to a benefit to which they were entitled. Although the students in the class were in districts where students with disabilities scored more poorly on standardized tests and had lower graduation rates than in other districts, the court said evidence was lacking about a relationship between funding levels and special education student performance, and it said there was no showing any student was deprived of any given service because of the funding formula.
That outcome is not entirely surprising. Michael Stein and Michael Waterstone have written about the difficulty in persuading courts to apply disparate impact reasoning in ADA cases, even in employment cases where it is explicitly provided for in the statute, and Cheryl Anderson has provided a telling critique of the barriers plaintiffs may face in establishing causation in disability cases. As a general matter, the ADA’s legislative history shows an intention to codify Alexander v. Choate. Choate says some negative impacts, but not all, violate the Rehab Act. Although education may be an area where an impact could violate the Rehab Act and the ADA, Choate itself, which upheld Medicaid cuts that it assumed disproportionately harmed people with disabilities, displays a reluctance to cause a major reordering of public resource allocation decisions.
With regard to special education, there are a variety of methods that states use to distribute state – as opposed to federal – special education money. Some authorities express concern that special-education-headcount-based formulas provide an incentive to find too many children eligible for special education. Systems similar to Pennsylvania’s try to avoid this problem, but do so by treating districts alike, even when districts may simply have high concentrations of children with disabling conditions. In some ways, Pennsylvania mimics the way the federal government distributes special education money for increases over the base amount after passage of IDEA 1997 – a headcount of all students in the district, disabled and not, with a modest upward tick for the fraction of students in poverty. The 1997 change was intended to diminish incentives to over-identify. It is true that over-identifying children may cause harm. Labels can hurt, and it’s hardly unusual for expectations to sink once a child is considered a special education student. However, I would rather see the attention focused on getting services to all students who need them, and addressing stigma, separation from the mainstream, and low expectations directly, rather than imposing arbitrary disincentives to designating students as IDEA-eligible when they may really need the help.
Friday, November 8, 2013
A new report by the Altarum Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Business Case for Racial Equity, details the economic impact of racial inequality and the benefits of advancing racial equity, particularly given the evolving demography of our nation. It argues, based on economic and social science studies, that increasing racial equity would benefit businesses, government, and the overall economy. It focuses on housing, education, health and criminal justice as the primary areas of inequality that need to be addressed. In education, the report posits that school integration, pre-k education, and high expectations for minority students would produce significant benefits. The arguments and research in regard to each of these education proposals are not new, but the report, unlike most, does bring these three distinct educational reforms together into a single argument about the economy.
The articles from Denver University's symposium on Keyes v. School District No. 1 are now available on westlaw. The symposium includes articles by Mark Tushnet, Kevin R. Johnson, Michael A. Olivas, Rachel F. Moran, and Phoebe A. Haddon, as well as memoirs by individuals personally connected to the events in Denver. While all address interesting topics, Mark Tushnet's keynote address and article, A Clerk’s-Eye View of Keyes v, School Dsitrict No. 1, 90 Denv. U. L. Rev. 1139 (2013), offer a particularly interesting account of the inner workings of the Court surrounding the case. Tushnet was clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall when Keyes was decided. Relying on his personal experience and other new available materials from the Court, he explores the complexity of the Court's deliberations.
The story of these internal debates is not entirely new. Justice Powell's concurrence, for instance, explicitly reveals the depth of his disagreement with the Court. And, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong's book from 1979, The Brethren, also explored some of these divisions. Tushnet, however, best captures the doctrinal battles occurring on the Court and the personalities behind them. As he notes, seven out of eight justices found there to be a constitutional violation in Keyes. The fractured decision represented not so much a debate over what to do with Denver, but a fight over what Keyes would mean for places like Detroit and Boston.
Although not explicit in the opinion, the fight over busing largely drives the Court's final decision. Powell wanted to reject de jure versus de facto distinctions, but in doing so, he wanted to limit the available desegregation remedies, particularly busing. The majority wanted to keep busing as a way to affirmatively further integration. The only way it could get the votes to do that was by drawing a distinction between de facto and de jure segregation. That distinction would shield many districts from busing, but keep it well alive in throughout the south.
From my perspective , it is not clear that the Court fully appreciated the long term ramifications of its decision. The Court may have been too caught up in the times, which is understandable, and unsure of the best path in regard to its first northern desegregation case. Regardless, Keyes is later cited as the foundation for requiring intent to prove a constitutional violation in all racial discrimination cases. As a result, Keyes drew the line that placed the bulk of racial inequality in all areas of life off-limits. And while the de jure-de facto distinction may have saved busing in some districts (the evidentiary presumption in the case also became a powerful tool in the south), it created the principle by which to later place significant limits on desegregation. In effect, Keyes was the beginning of the end for desegregation.
All of the article titles and authors follow the jump.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Pennsylvania Charter School Reform Bill Proposes Lifting Enrollment Caps and Eliminating School Districts' Oversight
The Education Law Center of Philadelphia (ELC) is advocating against proposed charter school legislation that would lift charter school enrollment caps and shift oversight of charters from local school districts to universities. The proposal aligns with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to encourage charter school growth by making it easier to open charter schools. The Education Law Center agrees that lifting caps will increase charters’ enrollments—but at the cost of financially hobbling local school districts that have to pay those charters per-pupil fees and other costs. Uncontrolled charter school growth may in essence defund public school systems by increasing costs on already-lean school budgets to support them. Moreover, writes David Lapp of the Education Law Center, giving universities the power to authorize and oversee new charters, eliminates any accountability for charter schools to “equitably serv[e] a community’s vulnerable student populations, such as minority students, students with severe disabilities, students for whom English is a second language, students in deep poverty, students experiencing homelessness, or students in foster care.” Pennsylvania has 119,500 students enrolled in 176 charters throughout the state. Readers of this blog have followed the tumultuous year in Pennsylvania education on this blog here, here, and here. Those of us who work at universities might agree with Lapp that higher ed institutions do not have any special expertise or information to become good stewards of a state charter school system. Universities can build such systems, as Drexel and Temple are contemplating, but that too will have costs, particularly as higher ed institutions are themselves facing declining enrollments and tighter budgets. Read the Education Law Center’s paper here.
In a press release yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights disclosed its findings and final resolution regarding sexual harassment and assault in West Contra Costa Unified School District in Richmond, California.
Evidence included verbal and physical conduct by students, including sexual assaults, unwelcome touching, demands for sexual favors, and the use of sexually derogatory language created a hostile environment at district schools. OCR also found that students had been subjected to sexual harassment by employees. In addition, the district was not in compliance with the procedural requirements of Title IX, which include adoption and publication of grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sex discrimination and designation of at least one employee to coordinate compliance with Title IX.
“I am dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault occurring at elementary and secondary schools in West Contra Costa,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Although the district frequently reported known incidents of sexual assaults to law enforcement for prosecution, the district did not fully comply with its legal obligations under Title IX to take immediate actions to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, and to put proper procedures and protocols in place. OCR stands ready to work with the district to help it realize its commitments to preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in its schools through satisfaction of this agreement.”
Although this sounds like an easy case, it comes on the heals of various other significant agreements I have noted in recent months. Credit goes to OCR for what appears to be a more agressive approach to enforcement during Obama's second term.
More details on the agreement here.
In recent days, a few high profile calls to focus on poverty and inequality, as opposed to education innovation and “reform,” have been issued. Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story, In Public Education, Edge Still Goes to Rich, that emphasized the fact that, while our nation proclaims to be the land of opportunity and that education is the gateway to that opportunity, our education system is rife with gross funding disparities. On average, we spend less per pupil in schools with high levels of student poverty than we do in schools with low levels of poverty. Similarly, we also allow poor states to fend for their selves. New York, for instance, spends more than twice as much per pupil as Tennessee.
Last week, everyone from an audience member watching an educational debate between Arne Duncan and Fredrick Hess to Diane Ravitch has charged the Department of Education with chasing a fool’s errand and taking poor kids along for the ride. The audience member charged Arne Duncan with policies that favor the advantaged over the disadvantaged. And Diane Ravitch has charged in her new book and in promotional events that there is no fundamental crisis in education that needs reform. Rather, we need to tackle poverty. Our other so called reforms are but a side show that undermines instead of improves education.
Two weeks ago, the Southern Education Foundation released its report on the growing levels of poverty in public schools and shrinking education budgets available to address it. Fortunately, the media gave the report substantial coverage for a week or so and the report has reverberated through the messaging of various other policy commentators. My post called it a wake-up call. If unaddressed, the diverging trends of poverty growth and budget shortfalls pose a fundamental threat to quality education.
The fact that these voices are joining in a chorus is good news. It is going to take a sustained and aggressive campaign to put poverty and equality back at the top of the agenda. For a couple of sessions of Congress, Representative Chaka Fattah, for instance, has introduced student bills of rights that would require equity as a condition of receiving federal education funds. As one of the sole advocates for equity in Congress, his efforts have yet to go any where.
At the local level, we are got mixed messages in the elections this week. In Colorado, the referendum to increase taxes for schools failed (which many consider a remedy for the state's currently constitutionally inadequate system). But in the New York City mayoral race, Bill de Blasio won. His platform called for stemming the charterization of public education and supporting the neediest rather than closing them.
Once could attempt to write off the loss in Colorado to the fact that voters had another option on the ballot that they approved--school construction funding--and that the tax increase had a few wrinkles in it. The voters did not know exactly what the money would be spent on, nor that all the money would necessarily stay with schools. The tax itself also would have instituted a graduated tax system rather than the flat one they had before. One could also discount the de Blasio win, as many other issues were on the table. But regardless of how one interprets these results, the chorus of voices reminding of us the core problem of inequality and poverty will have to grow for serious change to occur.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
In a brief released today, Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center, emphasizes what I have argued in several posts regarding the litigation over Louisiana's voucher program: the politics of vouchers are attempting to run roughshod over the basic constitutional doctrines of school desegregation. In a far more detailed way than I could through blog posts, Welner's brief details how this litigation got transformed into "Much Ado about Politics." The brief's introduction:
explains that Louisiana Gov. Jindal and other opponents either misunderstand or misrepresent the actions of the US Department of Justice, which is attempting to bring Louisiana’s voucher program within the scope of existing law and to avoid predictable harm to children that would occur if their racial isolation were increased. Research evidence does not support claims that vouchers advance educational or civil rights. The evidence does, however, establish that racial isolation is harmful to children and to society. Such racial isolation was not acceptable when Freedom of Choice plans were first proposed in the 1960’s, and it is no more acceptable today. Whereas the goal 45 years ago was to maintain segregation, the goal today is to forcefully push aside concerns about segregation. Neither goal is consistent with core American values.
The full brief is available here.