Friday, July 26, 2013
Questions about TFA's impact on public education are more than just disgruntled rumblings from veteran teachers. Some of its graduates have begun criticizing the organization, and in Chicago, TFA is being taken to task by some for being 21st century union busters. While 1,000 Chicago teachers are getting their pink slips this summer, TFA's on-going agreement with the Chicago Public Schools may provide up to 325 TFA corps members, said an executive director of Teach For America on Tuesday. In a statement on the TFA Chicago website, executive director Josh Anderson wrote, "While it’s true that many of our corps members teach in communities facing a severe shortage of applicants, the demand for corps members from principals and district leaders for their open positions is much broader. ... If principals choose to hire corps members for open roles, the district pays a small portion of what it costs Teach For America to recruit, train and professionally develop those hires."
Similar scenarios have occurred in other cities, such as Las Vegas and Dallas. Nevada's Clark County school district, where 419 teachers (and a total of 1,000 school employees) were laid off this summer, announced last Friday that it will hire 50 TFA publicly-funded teachers and that TFA is covering the cost for 40 more recruits for the district this school year. While New York City threatened to layoff thousands of veteran teacher in 2011 (that were narrowly averted through union concessions), 500 new teachers were being recruited from both TFA and the New York City Teaching Fellows to work in shortage areas. Then there is the odd Dallas Independent School District's cycle of sweeping teacher layoffs in one year (more than 250 in 2012) and urgent hiring the next (Dallas is holding "invitation only" job fairs this summer to hire up to 2,000 new teachers before the 2013-14 school year). But one talent pool that Dallas ISD can rely on to fill its cyclical gaps is TFA recruits, and those recruits will be protected from layoffs in a way that veteran teachers are not.
TFA is also shifting from its original mission to place teachers in public school districts where teachers were desperately needed to now placing about a third of its new teachers in already high-performing, well-financed charter schools. To be fair, in some cases, such as with the school district crisis in Philadelphia this summer (discussed by Danielle Holley-Walker on this blog here), some TFA recruits were among the school layoffs, and the organization had to scramble to reassign them wherever they could. But that is not often the case, and it is certainly not true for TFA's partnerships with Newark and Baltimore City Schools.
This fall, TFA will cement its new focus in a partnership with Newark, NJ, and Goldman Sachs as TFA teachers prepare to move into Newark's Teachers' Village. The first tenant, the Discovery Charter School, has already moved in. Teachers' Village will have more than 200 apartments and 70,000 square feet of retail space, along with three charter schools, a private preschool, and a day care center. The eight-building, $150 million project is being built largely through public financing, in part by a $39.5 million Urban Transit Hub tax credit, $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion, and smaller amounts from city contributions, bonds, and casino revenue. The incentive for private investors such as Goldman Sachs is about $100 million in tax credits. Newark's Teachers' Village joins other affordable housing developments for TFA teachers such as Oxford Mills in Philadelphia and Miller's Court in Baltimore and planned new developments in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis. Essential to these housing developments is the federal New Markets program that allows individual and corporate taxpayers a tax credit for making equity investments in eligible projects.
TFA has grown mightily from humble beginnings 22 years ago to becoming a key player in the free-market reform model of education. As badly as kids in underserved areas need TFA, TFA's new partners need them even more. States have dismissed thousands of teachers, and education reformers have to come up with a cheap, readily-available supply of the most expensive cost of doing business: labor. TFA meets that need by supplying fresh-out-of-school workers who are not looking for longevity, security, or benefits from the school system. (Well, at least not directly.) The movement that is fueling teacher layoffs seem to have little backup plan other than TFA and sources of labor like it. With TFA's newfound (and perhaps well-earned) power among nonprofit education providers, it is certainly doing well. Here's hoping that TFA also remembers its mission to do good.
Forty years after school desegregation began in Sumter County, SC, it has come to an end. Last week, a district court in Randall v. Sumter School Dist. No. 2, 2013 WL 3786344 (D.S.C. 2013), declared the school district unitary. The court found that 16 of the district's 26 schools fell within plus or minus 20% of the districts overall racial demographics (61.45% African American, 31.99% white, and 6.56% other). Of the 10 schools more than 20 percent outside of this variance, seven were what the court called racially integrated, meaning that htey were just over half white and about 40 percent or so African American. The three remaining imbalanced schools, however, were almost entirely minority, with less than 10 percent white students. The court found that these significantly imbalanced schools were a result of demographic shifts rather than the vestiges of discrimination.
This is a hard case on which to form a strong opinion without knowing a lot more about the facts on the ground. With that said, I can't help but offer a few observations. First, the level of racial balance in most of the district's schools is to be commended. I have seen a lot worse backsliding in districts that were under heavy court supervision. Sumter has not been under heavy supervision as of late and, thus, this balance is a testament to the school board and the community. Yet to be clear, twenty percent is a wider variance than many districts courts have required, and it does not necessarily represent significant racial balance. For instance, in a 50% African Amerian-50% White school district, half of the schools could be 70% African American and 30% White, while the other half of the schools were 70% white and 30% African American. I would find it hard to call that a racially balanced distirct.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Texas is a leader in the high stakes testing movement. Three years ago, the state awarded testing firm Pearson a five-year contract worth nearly a half-billion to produce, administer, and score student tests. Pearson's $468 million contract with Texas is more than ten times what New York state pays Pearson for standarized testing (albeit for fewer services than Texas contracted for). Austin's KUT News writes, "With 1,800 staff members in offices in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, the state is essentially contracting Pearson to act as a for-profit arm of the state’s educational infrastructure." But Texas' education budget is under the same pressures as every other state, and the state experienced sticker shock when Pearson's bills started showing up. That cost was compounded when students who did poorly on the tests had to attend summer classes to progress or to graduate--at local districts' expense. Former State Representative Jim Dunnam quoted in the New York Times in April said, "Legislators may not have recognized the influence of testing companies. There is just an inertia to not appreciating the money being made by private industry in public education.” Texas is learning that lesson by moving to pare down the amount of standardized testing. The state auditor also plans to increase state oversight of student testing contracts.
Update-Friday, July 26: The Texas Tribune reports today that a bill has been introduced in the state legislature to allow students who excel on reading and math tests to skip some standardized tests in a following year. To pass the bill, however, Texas may have to ask the Dept. of Education for a No Child Left Behind Waiver, something that the state may be loath to do given its prior commitment (and political allegiance) to NCLB. Read more at the Texas Tribune here.
Stephen J. Elkind (NYU) and Peter Kauffman (NYU) have posted Gay Talk: Protecting Free Speech for Public School Teachers on SSRN. From the abstract:
In the Shadow of Gratz and Grutter: Grieving Diversity at the University of Michigan on SSRN. From the abstract:
In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court held that public employees are not entitled to free speech when speaking “pursuant to their official duties.” In most situations, this strips teachers of First Amendment protection when they discuss controversial subjects, such as homosexuality, with their students. To ensure their classrooms are tolerant and accepting environments for homosexual and questioning youth, teachers need free speech protection against adverse employment action their schools might take. The Garcetti Court, acknowledging that “expression related to academic scholarship and classroom instruction implicates” unique constitutional concerns, explicitly left open whether its decision applied in the education context. Due to the harms restricting teachers’ speech about homosexuality can cause students, not to mention community members and the teachers themselves, this paper argues that when the Supreme Court revisits the question it left open in Garcetti, it should create an exception for both university professors and public school teachers.
At the same time the affirmative action cases of Gratz and Grutter were winding their way to the Supreme Court, an internal grievance alleging discrimination and the failure to consider the value of diversity in the tenure process was being considered inside the University of Michigan Law School. This article explores the interconnected histories of Gratz, Grutter and the grievance, examining the internal difficulties and contradictions universities face in living up to their public commitments to fight discrimination and cultivate meaningful forms of diversity. The year following the Supreme Court decision, the University celebrated its accomplishments in 'Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan', co-authored by Patricia Gurin, the University’s lead expert witness on the effects of diversity in higher education and Jeffrey S. Lehman, Dean of the Law School through most of the litigation. In the internal grievance, Jeff Lehman advocated an interpretation of the Law School Grievance Policy that prohibited the grievance of any matter relating to tenure, including the crassest forms of discrimination or the failure of the faculty to consider the virtues of diversity. The Grievance Review Board, chaired by Patricia Gurin, adopted Dean Lehman’s position and categorically barred all grievances. Ironically, the hearing took place the very same day the University filed its response to plaintiff’s petition for writ of certiorari, where the University actively maintained that diversity in higher education constituted a compelling state interest. Meaningful progress on civil rights requires deep institutional change. It is often difficult to get even good people to do the right thing. The interconnected stories of Gratz, Grutter and the grievance – the same institution, with the same actors, at the same time the cases were being litigated – illustrate broader lessons about the challenges often preventing universities from making progressive change.
Ari Ezra Waldman (New York) has posted All Those Like You: Identity Aggression and Student Speech (Missouri Law Review, forthcoming) on SSRN:
Online and face-to-face harassment in schools requires a coordinated response from the school, parents, students, and government. In this Article, I address a particular subset of online and face-to-face harassment, or identity-based harassment. Identity-based aggressors highlight a quality intrinsic to someone’s personhood and demean it, deprive it of value, and use it as a weapon. This Article argues that identity-based aggression need not be conflated with identity-affirming speech, both as a matter of its social effects and the First Amendment. Only a limiting liberal/libertarian approach to free speech would prevent schools from disciplining identity cyberbullies and face-to-face harassers and simultaneously force schools to silence speech that is necessary to make minorities full and equal players in education and in society as a whole. Implications of this theory are discussed.
This summer has had a string of school choice news, including the Arkansas race based transfer case, the Louisiana voucher case, Title I funding portability proposals, and the expansion of Florida's vouchers. Missouri has now added itself to the list. Missouri has a statute that permits students who attend school districts that loose their accreditation to transfer to another school district. Pursuant to the statute, a parent sought to transfer her two children from the St. Louis School District to the neighboring Clayton School District. The statute also provides that the unaccredited school district shall pay the tuition and transportation for the students to attend the other district.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
The appellate court noted that Stand Your Ground law grants broad immunity to persons in any situation in which they are acting lawfully and in a place where they are entitled to be. The Fourth District Court stated, “Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute.” The Fourth District also rejected T.P.’s claims that any sort of battery is covered by the Stand Your Ground law. The Court said that while a person may meet “force with force,” an unwanted touching--which is technically a battery--would not justify force in return. The appellate remanded the case for the trial court to make additional fact findings about the incident.
Although George Zimmerman relied on a standard self-defense argument at his trial the death of 17-year-old Martin, the Stand Your Ground law apparently was on the minds of Zimmerman’s jurors, according to this story in the Miami Herald, and has been at the core of the national conversation about the case.
By now, many of you have probably heard or read about the new study on social mobility, which is said to be the most comprehenisve study of it kind to date in the United States. The headline of most stories is the role that zipcodes play in social mobility. In short, where a child grows up will have a significant impact on his or her ability to climb out of poverty or stay in the middle class. The more important question, however, is why geography matters. The research examined various factors in the attempt to isolate the differing mobility rates and found that:
Although tax policies may account for some of the variation in outcomes across areas, much variation remained to be explained. . . . [W]e found significant correlations between intergenerational mobility and income inequality, economic and racial residential segregation, measures of K-12 school quality (such as test scores and high school dropout rates), social capital indices, and measures of family structure (such as the . . . fraction of single parents in an area). In particular, areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility. In contrast, a high concentration of income in the top 1% was not highly correlated with mobility patterns. Areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility. The quality of the K-12 school system also appears to be correlated with mobility: areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and higher spending per student in schools had higher rates of upward mobility. Finally, some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. Each of these correlations remained strong even after controlling for measures of tax expenditures. Likewise, local tax policies remain correlated with mobility after controlling for these other factors.
A New York Times story reported that "Lawrence Katz, a labor economist who did not work on the project, said he was struck by the fact that areas with high levels of income mobility were also those that established high school earliest and have long had strong school systems."
If I read the study's underlying data correctly, the local high school dropout rate has three times the effect on social mobility as does tax policy, and local achievement test scores have two and a half times the effect on social mobility. Although not as heavily reported, the level of local segregation also had a significant impact on mobility. But to be clear, the data showed family structure (divorce rate, single parents, and teen mothers) to have the largest impact on social mobility, though only slightly higher than the drop out rate.
My only quibble with the study is its labels. According to the study's authors, chivement test scores and drop out rates are proxies for school quality. As school finance litigation and educational social science have demonstrated, those factors are relevant but school quality cannot be reduced to them. High achievement test scores are also largely a function of underlying student demographics and segregation. It is not clear to me how the current study controlled for this. If it didn't control for it, then achievement test scores alone don't really signify school quality. If it did control for underlying factors, then the study may have a point.
I am more inclined to recognize drop out rates as having more singular importance (even though the same issues of underlying demographics are relevant). After all, if a school cannot keep its students enrolled and graduate them, I believe the school is not doing all that it should. A better school would do more. With that said, high school drop out rates speak more directly to the need for drop out prevention programs than general school improvement programs. So again, I would hesitate to treat drop out rates as a general measure of school quality.
Regardless, the bottom line still seems to be that schools matter. They are the most important public lever we have for creating opportunity. And other policies, like taxes, look like red herrings. They certainly can ease the pain on struggling families, but they are insufficient to fundamentally change children's futures.
In her office, the principal searched D.M.'s outer clothing and backpack, then had him remove his shirt, unbutton his pants, remove his belt, remove his shoes, and partially disrobe. The principal's action is reminiscent of the strip search of Savana Redding that the Supreme Court found unreasonable in Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009). Just as in Redding, the principal did not find any contraband on D.M. during the search. The principal did not contact D.M.'s parents prior to conducting the search.
While the Supreme Court has ruled that high school students have a lessened expectation of privacy, school searches still must be reasonable under Fourth Amendment standards. The Court defined reasonable suspicion in Redding as "a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing.” The Court applies a two step analysis to gauge the reasonableness of a school search: first, was the search justified at its inception; and second, was the search conducted in a way that was reasonably related to the search's objective. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). On the facts presented in D.M.'s case, the principal will face a considerable challenge in justifiying her actions or showing that the search's instrusiveness was reasonable under the circumstances.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee took up a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to exclude veteran's benefits and military tuition assistance in calculating the amount of federal student aid those colleges receive. The federal government imposes a 90% cap on the amount of money that for-profit institutions may receive from federal student-aid programs annually. Currently, the GI Bill and other educational benefits for veterans do not count towards that 90%. Closing that loophole has been an on-going effort in Congress for some time, as we noted in an earlier post Are For-Profit Colleges Targeting Military Students?
Last year, 21 state attorneys general wrote to Congress to support closing the loophole, citing their concerns about for-profit colleges' high pressure recruiting tactics and low graduation rates of veterans. The current 90% rule means, a veterans' advocate told the Committee, that "[e]very veteran that a for-profit school recruits is worth nine more students using federal financial aid." Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education here.
Dennis Haggerty, a special-needs education advocate and a catalyst in the enactment of Pennsylvania's Right to Education law, died last week at 85. Haggerty was a lawyer and a parent of a special needs child in the 1960s. One of his sons was developmentally disabled and, because Pennsylvania state law then barred children who had "not attained a mental age of five years" from enrolling in the first grade, Haggerty briefly enrolled his 8-year-old son at the now-infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital.
While his son was at the institution, Haggerty discovered Pennhurst's overcrowded and filthy conditions, that students were being abused, and the institution was more of a warehouse than a school. To convince the Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Citizens (PARC, now called Arc of Pennsylvania) to file a class action suit on behalf of Pennhurst's residents, Haggerty impersonated a doctor and clandestinely photographed the conditions. Haggerty later said that he was most affected by talking with a mother who was told that her son had died in a shower accident a year earlier. Haggerty had once seen cuts on his own son and had been given the same shower accident explanation. A skeptical Haggerty convinced authorities to conduct an autopsy of the woman's son. The autopsy revealed that the son actually died in an unreported fire at Pennhurst. Armed with his pictures and stories, Haggerty galvanized PARC to sue the state and to expose the conditions at the school. NBC's 1968 documentary of Pennhurst, Suffer the Little Children, boosted that effort.The class action lawsuit, PARC v. Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 1257 (E.D. Pa. 1971) ended in a consent decree requiring the state to provide free public education to developmentally disabled children. Using Brown v. Bd. of Education as a template, PARC v. Pennsylvania sparked a deinstitutionalization case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court in Pennhurst State Sch. and Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). The consent decree in PARC v. Pennsylvania left another legacy: the consent decree's language became the model for what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Haggerty later served as a consultant for the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation beginning with President Lyndon B. Johnson to President William Clinton. Haggerty donated his papers to Temple University's Institute on Disabilities' Visionary Voices archives, saying, “When you don’t like a system it is possible to change it, and I would like my papers available to those who have an interest in changing the system.” Read more here.
For the past couple of months, Reverand William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, has helped organize and lead a diverse group of people to protest what they call a legislative war on poor people. They peacefully march to the state house with sign and songs of protest, until they are eventually arrested. When the so called war on poor people moved to education, the protesters decided they spend the night at the state house. When 70 of them (with sleeping bags and toothbrushes) refused to leave at closing time, they were again arrested.
These tensions come out of a shift in political power in the state. Starting during the fall elections of 2010, North Carolina went through a transition from complete democratic control to complete republican control. Republicans initially took the state house in 2010 and in 2012 they took the governor's mansion as well. Since then, agressive legislation aimed at scaling back everything from social services to tax credits that benefit low income individuals have been proposed and sometimes passed. While North Carolina has traditional been moderate in most respects and progressive in education, the new majorities see their mission as rolling back the status quo.
Now that the legislative agenda now includes cuts to public education, the state superintendant of education released this statement:
For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care. With this budget, North Carolina has moved away from its commitment to quality public schools. I am disappointed for the children in our state who will have fewer educators and resources in their schools as a result of the General Assembly’s budget.
A bright spot in this budget is the end of the discretionary reduction. By ending this budgeting strategy, North Carolina is being more transparent and even-handed in our budget processes and providing relief for districts that have struggled to locate funds to return to the state coffers.
While the end of the discretionary reduction represents a move in the right direction, I am troubled by the lack of progress on teacher pay. Having an excellent teacher for every classroom is essential. North Carolina teacher pay is dismal compared to the nation and to all of our bordering states. Starting teachers can earn $10,000 more per year in some of our neighbor states, while a teacher with six years of experience will make the same as a first-year teacher here in North Carolina. Why should these teachers stay in our state? Add to that the end of pay increases for master’s degrees beginning in 2014-15, and there is even less incentive to work in North Carolina’s public school classrooms. We must quit talking about the goal of bringing our teacher pay to the best in the nation and start putting action behind those words.
There are many other details that are troubling. I am concerned that this budget will cost schools thousands of teacher and teacher assistant positions. Our already-large class sizes will continue to grow.
This budget fails to provide resources for textbooks, instructional supplies and technology that our schools desperately need to remain up-to-date, especially as our student population grows.
North Carolinians want strong public schools. Polls show it. My interactions with parents and students show it. Our own state leaders claim it. But this budget doesn’t deliver it. Teachers are working as hard as they can. Materials and supplies are wearing thin. Classrooms are crowded, and there are fewer adults in each school today than there were five years ago but there are more students than ever across our state. The rest of the nation is not sitting still, and neither are our competitors across the globe. Our children deserve more support. Their futures depend on it.
I admit to not following the details of the legislation closely, but I have followed North Carolina's school finance litigation closely for years. If things are as bad as the superintendant and protestors make it seem, I wonder how the state can possibly defend its actions once they are eventually raised in court. The state has an ongoing obligation to deliver a sound basic education to all students, including a duty to remedy past findings that the state was failing to deliver such an education. Then again, maybe this new legislature is less impressed by courts and constitutions than others.
For more on the protest story, see here.
Monday, July 22, 2013
This summer has been filled with news of school closings and Chicago has been at the center of it. Earlier, I posted on the teachers union's lawsuit challenging the Chicago closings andChicago's new turnaround plan. Professor Davis also posted a report on national trends. Now, two different groups of special education students have filed suit to challenge the closures in Chicago. The court held the first hearings in the cases last week. Cribbing from the Chicago Tribune, they allege:
Sunday, July 21, 2013
The Post's The Answer Sheet today praised a documentary about public schools called Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District, which has been called "an antidote to the war on public schools." Go Public focuses on the Pasadena (California) Unified School District, where two-thirds of the 18,000 students come from low-income families. The film follows 50 people – teachers, students, parents, a school board member, principals, a baseball coach, librarians, a school psychologist, volunteers, and the district superintendent – during one day (May 8, 2012), from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Go Public is not commercially available yet, but filmmakers Jim and Dawn O'Keeffe have made the each of the 50 films from which they assembled Go Public available on the documentary's website.