Thursday, January 9, 2014
The last time we saw activity in the Louisiana voucher case things were deescalating. My reading of Jindal's comments then was that he was disappointed. This was a fight with DOJ that he was itching to drag out. Playing the victim served any number of local and national political ends. It took him six weeks, but Jindal figured out a way to revive the fight. Since there was not much more to say about vouchers (because DOJ is only asking for reporting data), Jindal has now moved to terminate the underlying desegregation order altogether.
The underlying order arose out of a 1976 case, Brumfield v. Dodd decision, in which Louisiana had facilitated white flight out of integrating public schools into segregated private schools--the same concern DOJ has with the current voucher program. The burden for terminating desegregation orders generally rests with the state, but in an interesting turn, Jindal's argument attempts to flip the burden. By his reasoning, unless DOJ can show the current program is violation, the state is entitled to terminate the standing order. As noted in earlier posts, the reason why DOJ has always, at least procedurally, been on the right side of this case is that, once a violation was found (in Brumfield), it is the state that must show its policies do not perpetuate segregation, not the plaintiff who must show that they do.
Given recent history, I am sure there will be something new to report soon.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
In The American Prospect this week, Richard Rothstein reviews Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality, a new book by sociologist Patrick Sharkey. Cribbing from the article: Sharkey’s evidence shows that low-income black children in the United States tend to be concentrated at the low end of the poverty line and are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods for multiple generations, as opposed to white children, whose family poverty tends to be episodic. For example, 48 percent of black families have lived in poor neighborhoods over at least two generations, compared to 7 percent of white families, and young blacks are ten times more likely to live in a poor neighborhood than their white counterparts. Sharkey argues that “the consequences of multi-generational exposure to concentrated poverty in neighborhoods of considerable violence, unemployment, single parenthood, environmental degradation, and hopelessness” compounds the effects of being poor. Sharkey presents evidence that “living in poor neighborhoods over two consecutive generations reduces children’s cognitive skills by roughly eight or nine points … roughly equivalent to missing two to four years of schooling.” Sharkey’s findings shed light on the factors that have stalled progress to close the African American educational achievement gap. Stuck in Place should also encourage conversation on the efficacy of federal K-12 education policies. Read the article here.
Federal Guidance on Racial Disparities in Discipline Released, Calls for Vigilance in Enforcing Disparate Impact and Limiting Zero Tolerance
The new discipline guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education is now available here. The guidance breaks its analysis into disparate treatment (treating minority students and whites differently in terms of discipline) and disparate impact (a facially neutral policy that results in racially disparate outcomes). The first amounts to identifying and stopping intentionally discriminatory discipline. There is not much new here, but the point appears to be to encourage district to recognize that they may be treating similarly situated students differently without realizing it.
The disparate impact analysis is where the controversy abounds. It is directed at bringing down racial disparities in discipline even if there is no clear evidence of disparate treatment. I would posit there there is not any new substance in the guidance here either, but there is transparency and a clear signal that the Departments are serious about enforcing the substance. The guidance spells out very clearly how they will address racial disparities:
In determining whether a facially neutral policy has an unlawful disparate impact on the basis of race, the Departments will engage in the following three-part inquiry
(1) Has the discipline policy resulted in an adverse impact on students of a particular race as compared with students of other races? For example, depending on the facts of a particular case, an adverse impact may include, but is not limited to, instances where students of a particular race, as compared to students of other races, are disproportionately: sanctioned at higher rates; disciplined for specific offenses; subjected to longer sanctions or more severe penalties; removed from the regular school setting to an alternative school setting; or excluded from one or more educational programs or activities. If there were no adverse impact, then, under this inquiry, the Departments would not find sufficient evidence to determine that the school had engaged in discrimination. If there were an adverse impact, then:
(2) Is the discipline policy necessary to meet an important educational goal? In conducting the second step of this inquiry, the Departments will consider both the importance of the goal that the school articulates and the tightness of the fit between the stated goal and the means employed to achieve it. If the policy is not necessary to meet an important educational goal, then the departments would find that the school had engaged in discrimination. If the policy is necessary to meet an important educational goal, then the Departments would ask:
(3) Are there comparably effective alternative policies or practices that would meet the school’s stated educational goal with less of a burden or adverse impact on the disproportionately affected racial group, or is the school's justification pretext for discrimination? If the answer is yes to either question, then the Departments would find that the school had engaged in discrimination. If no, then the Departments would likely not find sufficient evidence to determine that the school had engaged in discrimination.
The report also focuses in on zero tolerance as one of the problematic sources of disparate impact and questions whether such policies for minor misbehavior are necessary to achieve educational goals. The report also goes into depth in explaining what the remedies it might require for call for violations.
This morning in Baltimore, the Department of Justice and Department of Education will issue new guidance on school discipline. My expectation is that it is going to be important, if now other reasons than it is already generating a lot of buzz. Education Next is already panning it before it is released because it will bring "the tortured logic of disparate impact to school discipline." Others complain it will hold schools accountable for all discipline that occurs under their roofs, including that of police officers. For those most concerned about racial disparities and overly harsh discipline, this added accountability is good news. Reducing racial disparities is not, as Josh Dunn at Education Next, asserts a disregard for student misbehavior, but rather a recognition that what amounts to misbehavior often has a racial lens to it.
Today's release also follows a new report by the Vera Institute for Justice that concludes based on generation of research on zero tolerance:
Certain facts are clear: zero tolerance does not make schools more orderly or safe--in fact the opposite may be true. And policies that push students out of school can have life-long negative effects.
I will follow up with DOJ's report and more commentary on it once it is released.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
No-show college courses and grade changes for student-athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were back in the news this week following a grand jury’s indictment of a former professor for obtaining property by false pretenses. This story has been around since the NCAA’s investigation in 2010, but UNC has held firm on its position that only two employees in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, department chair Julius Nyang’oro and his assistant, were responsible for academic fraud. This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek is more skeptical about the scope of the misconduct in its article, The Scandal Bowl: Tar Heels Football, Academic Fraud, and Implicit Racism. For the writer, Paul Barrett, the university’s lack of commitment to educating black student-athletes that it woos to play sports and the cynical choice of the Afro-American studies department as the incubator for academic fraud shows implicit racism. In an internal investigation in 2012, headed by former NC Governor Jim Martin, UNC reported that the academic anomalies (about 200 no-show or one-meeting courses and grade change rates that were three to six times higher than the university average) went on for fourteen years without the university's knowledge. The investigation found no connection between the high percentage of black college athletes in “phantom” Afro-American Studies courses and the school’s athletic program.
Interestingly, Nyang’oro had taught the course that reportedly is the basis of the indictment, “Blacks in North Carolina,” for years but never sought payment. A university dean insisted that Nyang’oro be paid for the course in summer 2011. In August 2011, the Raleigh News and Observer received a student’s transcript showing that an incoming student took a 400-level class with Nyang’oro the summer before taking English 100 in his freshman year, which ultimately led to Nyang'oro's resignation. Barrett predicts, “[F]urther investigation will reveal that the fraud reached deep into the Tar Heel athletic hierarchy and that senior academic officials will also turn out to have been at least aware of improprieties.” Perhaps, although a lot of dominos will have fall in Chapel Hill for this case to mirror the Penn State inquiry. Click the links to read more about the UNC case in the New York Times and Businessweek.com.
As discussed here back in the fall (here and here) , the federal sequestration had perversely uneven effects on schools. Most federal money for public education flows through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its funding formulas revolve around the number of poor students a district has. So, the more poor kids a district had the more it lost under the sequestration. As federal negotiators discuss a two-year budget deal, the question is what, if any, funds to restore to education. Initial stories indicate that education would be spared continued cuts and will see some money come back.
According to Alyson Klein of Edweek, education advocates and districts are asking that the funding be restored mostly through Title I, not the competitive grant process that has dominated education spending during the present administration. One can read this a couple of ways: educators are tired of the tough medicine that the Obama administration has been feeding them through the grant process; Title I is effectively an entitlement program and districts want their checks; or Title I, although not perfectly, directs funds to serious student needs and, thus, districts realize they need it most. My take is that there is varying degrees of truth in all three. Districts are tired of the medicine because it tastes bad, but also because there are serious questions about whether it works. Districts also want their checks because everyone likes getting paid, but they also have real student needs that the money will go toward, particularly in the highest poverty districts like Philadelphia, which almost imploded this past fall due to state and federal cuts.
Regardless of the motivations, a return to formulas is great news for those of us who have studied them intently in recent years. The formulas have been entirely ignored by the current administration, as it tried to wield power through the grants. While the grant program certainly spurred a lot of legislative change in the states around expanding charters and policing teachers, it was too random and piecemeal to ensure student need was consistently met. With that said, Title I's formulas are riddled with their own flaws. Those flaws, however, are not fundamental and can be fixed by rebalancing the funding weights. For more on how Title I could meet student need, incentivize changes in state funding formulas, and increase integration, see the solutions section of this article.
Monday, January 6, 2014
South Carolina Democrats have renewed a bill that would put "prayer back in schools." I did not know if ever left. No Supreme Court decision has ever done anything to limit a student's voluntary desire to pray. Assuming students still have that desire, they can pretty much pray any time they want, although during classroom instruction may require that they pray silent. What the Supreme Court has held is that school officials cannot lead students in prayer, endorse prayer, construct settings that coerce students to pray, or give students who wish to pray beneficial treatment.
The proposed bill in South Carolina states "All schools shall provide for a minute of mandatory silence at the beginning of each school day, during which time the teacher may deliver a prayer, provided the school allows a student to leave the classroom if the student does not want to listen to or participate in the prayer." I will have to give South Carolina legislators credit for this one. It would seem to violate all four of the above constitutional prohibitions. It provides for teachers to lead prayer. It goes way beyond just endorsement; it mandates time explicitly for prayer. By asking those who do not wish to pray to leave, it asks them to single themselves out as non-believers/non-prayers and, thus, coerces their participation in prayer. Asking everyone who does not wish to prayer to leave the classroom also giver praying students preferential treatment. They get to stay in place while others presumably stand in the hall.
Representative William Gilliard, however, sees this as a compromise bill, reasoning that "students to pray to whomever they want to. If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer that would be fine with us. The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school. There would be no noise, no disruption, no anything. But the teacher would conduct it to let the students know we would have one minute for a moment of silence of prayer. That person can pray to whomever they please.”
For obvious reasons, this bill has stalled in the judiciary committee. But with support from democrats, I would not write this bill off, particularly in a legislature that both now and historically spends a lot of time on "nullification" bills.