Monday, July 21, 2014

Arizona Charter School Promoting Religion and Racism through History Texts?

An Arizona charter school, Heritage Academy, is purportedly using two of Cleon Skousen’s books, “The 5,000 Year Leap” and “The Making of America,” in its high school history class.  The books depict American slavery in a racist and sympathetic light.  Skousen, for instance, includes an essay arguing that “if [African-American children] ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”  Professor Garret Epps, University of Baltimore School of Law, explains that  “parts of [Skousen's] major textbook … present a systematically racist view of the Civil War” with a “long description of slavery in the book” arguing that slavery was “beneficial to African-Americans and that Southern racism was caused by the ‘intrusion’ of Northern abolitionists and advocates of equality for the freed slaves.”  The school's founder and principal defends the use of the books, stating that "Our purpose is not to convert students to different religious views.  It is to show them that religion influenced what the Founders did.”

Rushing to judgment in book cases is all too easy, and that is how school boards and state departments of education find themselves in lawsuits.  All books can have value in the classroom. What matters is not the views the books espouse, but how those views are presented to students. As a litany of establishment clause cases has shown us, the Ten Commandments and the Bible can be used in school, if used in the proper context.  The problem is that the proper context is most often lacking.  

Continue reading

July 21, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Constitutional Challenge to Locally Adopted Voucher Plan in Colorado by Molly Hunter

In Larue v. Douglas County School District, plaintiffs charge that a locally designed voucher program violates the Colorado Constitution. The program would funnel public funds to private, mostly religious, schools on behalf of some Douglas County families.

The Larue trial court issued an injunction that prevented the program from going into effect, but the appeals court overruled. Now the case is before the final decision-maker, the Colorado Supreme Court.

On May 29, 2014, several amici, or "friends of the court," filed briefs in support of plaintiffs. The parties and some amici addressed the state constitution's prohibition against spending public funds on religious education and plaintiffs' standing to bring the lawsuit.

Education Law Center (ELC) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) filed a joint amicus brief that provides the Court with the national perspective on key issues relevant to the appeal. This brief explains that:

  1. School voucher programs in other states have not improved student academic achievement.
  2. Due to the design of Colorado's formula for state funding of K-12 schools, this voucher plan would reduce resources available to the public school students in Douglas County and across the entire state.
  3. This voucher plan would send public taxpayer funds to private, religious schools on behalf of well-to-do families.

After the plaintiff parents and taxpayers in the Douglas County School District, a Denver suburb, filed their request for an injunction in 2011, the state district court held a three-day hearing. The court issued its injunction, preventing implementation, and held that the program violates various provisions of the Colorado Constitution and two Colorado statutes.

The Larue case is similar to "Blaine Amendment" cases in Arizona and Florida, where publicly funded vouchers for mostly religious schools were found to violate those states' constitutions. 

June 19, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Putting Louisiana's Education Pieces Together?: Discipline, Vouchers, Data, and the State Dept. of Ed.

In the wake of the recent filing of civil rights complaints in regard to discipline in New Orleans charter schools, there is now a call for the state superintendent of education to resign.  A local blogger, whose veracity I neither doubt nor affirm, suggests that are other problems of disfunctionality at the Department itself.  His story alleges that there is a data crisis at the Department.  In particular, he asserts the data is neither secure, nor accurate, and the Department, thus far, has been unable to clean it up.  If true, his story adds important context to the school voucher fight between the Department (and Jindal) and the US DOJ's equal educational opportunity section.  As readers may recall, that fight ultimately came down to access to basic information and data, with the state requesting extensions of time to turn over the data on more than one occassion.

 

 

June 13, 2014 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Complete Privitization of Public Education in Delaware? Not Yet

The Republican leadership in the Delaware House has introduced legislation that would allow state per pupil expenditures on education to follow the child, even if the student goes to private school. Every state has a funding formula that allots state funds to local school districts based on the number of children they serve.  For each child, the state directs a set amount of funding to the district, typically $7,000  to more than $10,000 per pupil, depending on the state.  The Delaware legislation would allow students to have those funds directed to a private school.  This is distinct from a voucher program, which technically does not draw on the state public education funds and is not tied to per pupil formulas.  Allowing private schools to tap into the state per pupil allotments would be a first.  

From one perspective, the legislation would not entirely revamp the current philosophy of educational choice and funding.  It would create a funding stream analogous to some charter school laws.  Charter schools draw a per pupil allotment from the state and are not part of the traditional public school system.  In addition to a charter, under this bill, students could also go to a private school.

From another perspective, this bill would fundamentally change education in Delaware.  Charters have to be authorized and still operate under some level of state oversight.  This legislation would remove all government oversight and decision making in regard to state per pupil funding outside of public schools. Decisionmaking would be entirely consumer based and, thus, the bill would completely privatize a portion of public education funding.  I have previously warned of the dangers of unregulated public education policies and those that would place public schools in a competitive environment that is per se to their disadvantage, so I won't rehash them here. To the legislation's credit, it does offer one hedge against some of those dangers.  It phases out the applicability of the law for higher income families.

Households with income low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch would receive the same amount as a school district would get to educate their child. For last year, that means $43,568 for a family of four. Families that earn less than 1.5 times that amount would get 75 percent; families than earn between 1.5 times and twice the amount to qualify would get half, and families that earn between 2 and 2.5 times the amount to qualify would get a quarter.

The remainder of that student's allotment would go to their home district as normal.

For those taking the skeptical perspective, take a breath.   The bill was introduced by the minority leadership, not the majority, in the Delaware House.  Even they admit the passage of this bill is a long term project.

June 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mississippi to Welcome First Charter School

Previously, Mississippi's charter law had several conditions and restrictions on the opening of charter schools.  Most important were standards pertaining to local need for the school and its effect and interrelation with traditional public schools.  As a result, no charter application had previously qualified for approval.  Mississippi revised its charter law in 2013 and has now approved the first charter school in the state.  A middle school is set to open in Jackson for the 2015-16 school year, with a capacity of 440 students.  The charter law, however, remains strict, authorizing the opening of only 15 charters per year.  For more, see here and here.

June 5, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

OCR Reiterates That Charter Schools Are Subject to the Same Federal Laws As Traditional Public Schools

Yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights released guidance, stressing that charters are subject to the various statutes that OCR enforces.  The fact that OCR needed to reiterate the status of charters vis-a-vis federal education statutea is troubling in itself.  The question of whether federal statutes apply to charters was never in legitimate dispute.  Most federal education statutes apply to schools not because they are public, but because they receive federal funds.  Since charters receive federal funds, they must comply with various anti-discrimination statutes and affirmative education obligations like anyone else, private or public.    Credit goes to OCR, nonetheless, for reiterating these points.

Constitutional analysis has proven slightly more tricky.  As noted last summer, some courts have been willing to exempt charters from certain due process obligations, reasoning, for instance, that dismissal from a charter school does not deprive a student of the right to education because the student can return to his traditional public school.  I argued that those courts' analysis is seriously flawed, but, of course, it is their opinion that counts.

OCR's dear colleague letter and a link to its new guidance follow below.

Dear Colleague:

The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools. 

The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.

Thank you,

The Office for Civil Rights

May 15, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Civil Rights Complaint Charges that New Orleans Charter Schools Have "Culture of Hyper-Discipline"

A federal civil rights complaint has been filed against three New Orleans charter high schools, George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy, George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy and Sci Academy, run by charter management company Collegiate Academies. A parent-student group along with Loyola University New Orleans College of Law have filed the complaint alleging that students at the three schools are subjected to excessive discipline such as suspension  for minor infractions. The plaintiffs say that Collegiate Academies' "no excuses" model pushes out students for non-violent behaviors and require "a culture of hyper-discipline... such as: (1) requiring all students to firmly shake the hands of their teachers and administrators at the beginning of each day and before each class; (2) walking straight on a line; (3) being required to be silent "at level zero" in the hallways; (4) being required to sit in an upright position all day, hands folded on the desk, feet planted firmly on the floor, and looking straight ahead; (5) being required to raise their hand in lock-elbow position in class or receive demerits if their arm is not straight; (6) being suspended for minor misbehaviors like laughing too much and inappropriate displays of affection." The complaint also maintains that the charter schools' students are deprived of their right to an education when students must sit in a room by themselves for the entire day without any work from their classes to do. The suspensions have been applied to special needs students, which violates the students rights under IDEA by suspending for more than ten days without investigating the reason behind the recurring suspensions. Read the complaint, courtesy of nola.com, here

May 14, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Report on Charter School Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Calls for Additional Oversight

Charter fraudThe Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education have released a scathing report on charter school fraud, waste, and abuse. The main thrust of the report is not that charters are per se bad, but that they have outgrown the underlying theory supporting them.  In plain-peak, the original theory of charters was "to allow educators to explore new methods and models of teaching," which requiring exempting charters "from the vast majority of [school] regulations." This incubation of innovation involved "calculated risks with small populations of willing teachers, parents, and students."  Because the people involved were few in number, the risk was low.  In recent years, however, the numbers have grown and so has the risk.  A corresponding level of innovation has not followed.

In a review of 15 states with large charter school markets, the report found that “charter operator fraud and mismanagement is endemic," falling into six categories: 

• Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain;

• School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses;

• Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger;

• Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided;

• Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and,

• Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools.

In those 15 states, the report identified $100 million in taxpayer losses.  The report calls for oversight legislation to address the problem in the future.

Some might question whether this report is "fair," as it does not offer a picture of the "baseline" fraud that might be find in other institutions, including traditional public schools.  With that said, this report is a followup to the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General's initial findings of similar problems.  In that respect, its impetus would appear legitimate. Likewise, the report calls for more oversight, not a wholesale retreat charter schools.

May 13, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New York Legislation Expands Pre-K and Charter Protections

Late last month, New York reached a budget deal that included a huge victory for pre-k education. New York City will receive $300 million to offer full day pre-k to 4 year olds.  Included in the deal were also significant changes for charter schools.  Per the New York Times, the new legislation requires the city to

find space for charter schools inside public school buildings or pay much of the cost to house them in private space. The legislation would also prohibit the city from charging rent to charter schools. . . . Under the budget agreement, charter schools would receive more money per student. The schools, previously barred from operating early education programs, would also be eligible for grants for prekindergarten.

Some are citing the legislation as providing charters the greatest protections of any state in the country.

April 16, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Pre-K Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Politics and Policy of Opening and Closing Charters Schools

Student First Academy, a charter school in Charlotte, NC, will close tomorrow, leaving 270 students to find some other school to attend for the final two months of the school year.  The state is revoking the school's charter based on various financial irregularities.  The full story on the closure is here.  But without digging into the specifics of this school, its closure raise four troubling issues.  First, the school has only been in operation for about two years.  In some respects, its opening, along with others in the state, was as abrupt as its closure.  Until 2011, North Carolina had capped the number of charter schools in the state at 100 (approximately one per school district). To become eligible for federal Race to the Top Funds, the state lifted the cap.  Numerous charters sprung up overnight, particularly in large school districts like Charlotte.  Now, the number of charter schools in Charlotte are higher per pupil than in most other areas in the state.  Closures of schools like Student First Academy raise the question of whether opening the gates too wide and too quickly lead to the problem these students will face tomorrow.

Second, while this school seems clearly troubled and warranting of closure, I am not sure whom it serves to close it tomorrow, rather than at the end of the semester.  The students are not at fault, but will suffer a serious burden.  Putting aside the problem of finding a new school, I wonder about the curriculum shift, grade calcuations, promotion to the next grade, etc.  My guess is that this mid-semester closure serves political interests.  It shows the state getting tough with a charter, sending a warning to others.  Yet, as some commentators point out, this school, and other schools, would have been less likely to engage in mismanagement if the state had been exercising appropriate oversight in the first instance.  In other words, the state is partially culpable, but is allowing the burden to fall on the students.

Third, this closure drives home an important difference between charters and traditional public schools. Traditional public schools do not leave students without educational options and they do not put them in the position of "looking for a school."  No one would claim our traditional public schools are uniformly strong or without financial misconduct, but they do not close the doors on students. In fact, it will be the traditional public schools that will take--and have no option but to take--the students from Student First Academy.  Charters, certainly if they are fully enrolled, will be free to turn these students away. In fact, they may be obligated to turn them away if they were a lottery school.  It is our traditional public schools that serve as the unwavering last line of defense for education.

Finally, this closure drives home the difference between marketplaces and school systems.  The marketplace failed these students or, at least, is imposing a burden on them.  The process these students will go through now is far different than that of a consumer whose favorite neighborhood grocery closed and who must now drive down the street to buy milk from Kroger's.  Of course, this oversimplifies the market debate, but captures the essence.  For a more thoughtful analysis, see here.  

April 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

OCR Reaches Agreement with South Carolina Online Charters over Access for Students with Disabilities

Seven South Carolina internet-based public charter schools serve more than 8,700 students.  The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights initiated a compliance reveiw of those schools in 2013 to assess whether they were providing equal access to students with disabilities.  "OCR determined that the schools' websites and online learning environments were not readily accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who required assistive technology to access the Internet. The most frequent concerns were lack of alternative text attributes on buttons, especially on video controls; lack of synchronized captioning; inaccessible PDFs; and animations that were not fully labeled. Additionally, some materials provided by third party vendors were inaccessible. These problems prevent persons with disabilities, particularly those with visual, hearing, or manual impairments, or who otherwise require the use of assistive technology to access the website or the online learning environment in an equally effective and equally integrated manner as persons without a disability."

Last month, South Carolina's charter school district entered into an agreement with OCR to address the issues.  Per the agreement, the district "will ensure that all websites and on-line learning environments are accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who use assistive technology to access the internet."  The full agreement is here.

Given the challenges that some students with disabilities have in physically accessing regular public schools, this is an important victory, and probably a much needed one given the various reports last fall regarding virtual charter scandals.  The additional web development costs to make online material accessible to disabled students are likely modest, but an easy place for online schools (or their subcontractors) to cut corners when they try to maximize profit.

April 9, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Charter Bill on the Way

Edweek reports that John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Rep. George Miller, the top Democrat on the panel, will introduce a bipartisan charter school bill in the coming days or weeks.  Apparently, the bill largely mirrors one that the House passed in 2011, which would have allowed charters to access federal funds to replicate successful charters, and included additional facility funds.  That bill did not make it through the Senate.

This new forthcoming bill's only significant shift from the prior bill is to place greater emphasis on funding charter management organizations, as opposed to individual charter operators.  The obvious upside is to reduce the risk in funding untested start-ups.  On the other hand,  preferencing management organizations raises the question of whether this change is a response to an organized lobby rather than  some actual data driven findings.  Funding organizations also potentially adds administrative expense onto the education process, unless the organizations' efficiencies offset the administrative costs.

April 2, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination

Osamudia R. James' new article, Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination, is now available on westlaw at 99 Iowa L. Rev. 1083 (2014).  Her abstract summarizes the article as follows:

Despite failure to improve academic outcomes or close the achievement gap, school-choice policies, advanced by education legislation and doctrine, have come to dominate public discourse on public education reform in the United States, with students of color disproportionately enrolling in voucher programs and charter schools. This Article moves past the typical market-based critiques of school choice to analyze the particularly racialized constraints on choice for marginalized students and their families in the public school system. The Article unpacks the blame-placing that occurs when the individualism and independence that school choice and choice rhetoric promote fail to improve academic outcomes, and the ways in which choice merely masks racial subordination and the abdication of democratic values in the school system. Students of color and their families may be opting out, but their decisions to do so neither improve public education nor reflect genuine choice. This Article ultimately argues that the values underlining school choice and choice rhetoric?like privacy, competition, independence, and liberty?are inherently incompatible with the public school system. The Article concludes by suggesting an alternate legal and rhetorical framework acknowledging the vulnerability of minority students, as well as the interdependence between white students and non-white students in the system, and it advances strict limitations on school choice, even, if necessary, in the form of compulsory universal public school education.

March 17, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Court Holds That Charter Schools Can Tap Into School Districts' Rainy Day Funds

Ne raleighCaptureThe North  Carolina Court of Appeals has issued a set of decisions in companion cases dealing with charter schools' access to locally raised funds.  In Charter Day School, Inc. v. New Hanover County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 619562 (2014), and Northeast Raleigh Charter Academy, Inc. v. Wake County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 640976 (2014), charters schools alleged that they were underfunded for the past several years, relying on a North Carolina statute that provides, “[i]f a student attends a charter school, the local school administrative unit in which the child resides shall transfer to the charter school an amount equal to the per pupil local current expense appropriation to the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year.” N.C. Gen.Stat. § 115C–238.29H(b) (2007).  The Court of Appeals in both cases held that the charter school was entitled to a pro rata share of the local current expense fund of the school district in which they are located.  The local expense fund is, in effect, the district's rainy day fund.  Funds not spent in one year are saved there for a later date.  

This holding, while a reasonable interpretation of the statute, may create some awkward deliberations for school districts.  Regardless of whether they save or do not save money, charter schools' allotment is the same.  If the district decides to save, charter schools would get their money now, whereas traditional public schools would be deferring their funds.  Theoretically, it all evens out in the end, but the notion that a charter school down the street is getting funds for the current school year that traditional public school is not will not be received well by many.

February 24, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Districts Recommit to Magnet Schools to Stave Off Charters

Magnet schools have been stagnate for some time.  For instance, as Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley detail in Choosing Diversity: School Choice and Racial Integration in the Age of Obama, 6 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 219, 244 (2010), federal funding for magnet schools has been flat since the late 1980s.  At the same time, charter school funding has been exponentially increasing.

Many districts perceive charters as non-public schools or anti-public schools.  Motoko Rich's story in the New York Times indicates that some school districts are now re-embracing magnet schools as a way to fight back or push back against the pressures of charter schools.  She points to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington as examples, but focuses on Miami, where the number of students attending magnet schools has increased 35 percent in the last four years.

For those who follow the segregation debate, this pushback is more important than just charters versus magnets or public schools.  Various reports charge charter school with exacerbating school segregation (although I have argued their point may be exagerated).  In the past, the primary purpose of magnet schools, however, has been to increase integration.  In fact, federal funding for magnet schools has been explicitly conditioned on their ability to help districts meet mandatory desegregation obligations or voluntarily desegregate.  

Beyond the differing roles that they play in segregation and their differing public school status (perceived or real), magnets and charters share a tremendous amount in common.  This commonality, however, begs the question of why the federal government and reformers have placed so much support behind charters and so little behind magnets in recent years.  Is it that they object to integrated or public schools?  My article Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, 48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 445 (2013), explores theses issues further.  It refrains from labeling charters, magnets, and vouchers as inherently "good" or "bad" schools and instead asks whether they have been implemented in ways that can promote or have promoted the overall public good, which I posit is the primary question of public education.

For the New York Times story on magnets, see here.

 

February 21, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Minnesota Legislature Considers Requiring More Accountability for Charter Schools

Charter schools were envisioned as small-scale laboratories to test innovative educational programs and to reach struggling students who could thrive with more individualized attention. Minnesota is now deciding how to deal with those charter programs that are chronically underperforming. The state legislature seems to be doing the sensible thing this week by considering legislation to require an evaluation process for the state’s lowest-performing charter schools. The proposed evaluation system could prevent charter operators with underperforming schools from opening new schools. The current proposal may make it easier to shut down 17 of the state's chronically underperforming charters. (Charters that that have a high number English language learners or special education students would be exempt.) Minnesota Public News Radio reports that the head of a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity says that that 25-30% of the state’s 150 charter schools are “just really terrible…considerably worse than the public schools.”

February 11, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Indiana's Private Schools' Creationism Curriculum Raises Questions


Slate-charter-creationism-map-e1391141275856.jpg?w=600&h=349In Indiana, Establishment Clause questions are being renewed this week about private schools that receive public funds doing what public schools cannot: teaching Christian-based intelligent design doctrine and creationism with taxpayer-funded vouchers. Indiana's South Bend Tribune reports that the state's Choice Scholarship Program funds nearly 20,000 students to attend private schools with about $81 million of public voucher funds. Some of those private schools expressly state that they do not teach evolution as part of their curriculum, substituting faith-based texts for reading, history, and science classes. A recent article in Slate shows the growing amount of tax-credit scholarship and voucher programs going to schools that teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program has not been challenged under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, although the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that the Choice Program did not violate the state constitutional probihibition against funding religious institutions because the direct beneficiaries of the program were schoolchildren rather than the schools selected, and the state clause did not exclude religious teaching from public schools. Meredith v. Pence, 984 N.E.2d 1213 (Ind. 2013). Meredith's lawsuit challenged the state's voucher system generally (Indiana now has one of the most expansive voucher systems in the country), but Establishment Clause challenges could be coming.

February 11, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Voters Don't Know Much, But They Know They Like Choice; But Why?

A new report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, Interstate Survey: What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education in Six States?, found that heavy majorities in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York favor expanding school choice through charters, vouchers and tax-credits.  Respondents did not, however, favor all public school alternatives.  They opposed virtual schools by even larger majorities.  The Foundation uses these results to support its agenda, but these results don't impress me that much.  Instead, the overall survey results suggest knee-jerk reactions, or guesses, rather than thoughtful or personally-held positions on the part of many respondents.  

For instance, the survey also assessed respondents' basic knowledge of their state's funding levels, graduation rates, and achievement scores.  On these objective measures, a large percentage, and sometimes a majority, were way off.  Of course, not knowing the facts is not a bar to voting and, thus, policy advocates and politicians probably don't care.  But to me, these responses indicate there was a fair amount of guessing going on.  Moreover, the guessing may have been influenced by what the guessers thought the questioners or public preferred  on the issues of vouchers, charters, and tax-credits.  Consider that strong majorities indicated that they favored expanding charters, but only 8 to 14 percent of respondents indicated they would select a charter for their own child.  

The other factor is that most respondents' perception of public schools is overly-deflated. A large percent perceiving public schools to be in worse shape than they are, which helps explain why a majority prefers alternatives in various forms.  Regardless, striking to me was the percentage, who, if given the chance, would select a private school.  I find this striking because, as discussed in an earlier post, public schools on the whole outperform private schools. 

Choice Capture

*chart courtesy of Foundation for Educational Choice

Yet, there is serious danger in assuming that the majority of parents who prefer school choice and private schools do so for quality reasons.  The survey does an abysmal job of sorting this out.  The survey asked what the most important factor in selecting a school was and the answers were: standards/curriculum, structure/discipline, test scores, school/classroom size, extracurriculars, religious or philosophical missions, and location.  They did not ask, or respondents did not admit, the relevance of demographics in selecting schools, ie, the school's racial and socioeconomic statistics.  Three of these states were formerly segregated by law and another two of the northern states have extremely high levels of de facto segregation, past and present.  I would not necessarily expect respondents to admit these factors (although I have seen other studies where they did), but leaving these factors entirely out of a survey about school choice hides a key issue.

February 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Investing in Integration: What a Second Year Law Student Knows and the Department of Education Cannot Figure Out

Jennifer Rust, a law student at Loyola University, just published Investing in Integration: A Case for "Promoting Diversity" in Federal Education Funding Priorities, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 623 (2013).  She points out that the Department of Education "first identified school diversity as a priority in granting discretionary federal funding to schools in 2011," but this step "came nearly four years after a majority of the United States Supreme Court declared school integration a 'compelling government interest.'" and only after staunch criticism from civil rights advocates.  Moreover, it is just one of sixteen priorities and not present in all programs.  She then goes on to discuss the Department and "President Obama's rigorous support and funding for charter schools[, which has] catapulted the movement to the forefront of education reform."  

The Department's Race to the Top Fund:

provides over $4.35 billion to eligible schools and awards federal funding to states that lift the cap on the number of charters they allow to operate. However, RTF provides virtually no incentive for charters to promote diversity. Under the current plan, states can win RTF funding without any effort to reduce concentrations of poverty and racial isolation within their schools. RTF is indicative of the failure by the federal government to adequately emphasize the importance of voluntary integration in its programs.

. . .[C]harter schools are uniquely positioned to promote diversity in education, but have fixated on a flawed agenda. By prioritizing high poverty schools over all others, charters have made a failed attempt to overcome the weight of history suggesting that separate schools are not better for anyone.

I was so struck by this law student's ability to capture the Department's error by omission--something not easy to spot--that I asked the usual suspects whether they had played in any role in her work.  Thus far, the answer is no.  Ms. Rust's footnotes indicate she has read several published papers by diversity coalitions and organizations, but came to her idea and conclusion on her own. If only the Department was as observant and considerate.

January 28, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Republican Choice Agenda Explains the Fervor in Louisiana's Voucher Battle

Stephanie Simon's article in Politico Pro this morning explains a lot about the Jindal-DOJ-Voucher fiasco that I have posted on several times.  Simon explores the new Republican agenda to attract minority voters through school choice.  High profile congressional leaders have been pushing choice and the the Republican Growth and Opportunity Project included it as a fulcrum issue.  They believe that, at the very least, talking about choice and opportunity for minorities will soften the party's image.  Even if it doesn't equal minority votes, it could equal votes from moderates.

This concerted national agenda confirms the continual suspicion in my posts that something beneath the surface of Louisiana voucher case was driving Jindal's fervor.  I had intimated it was simply his stumbling across an issue that provided a platform for a national spotlight.  While it achieved that end, it now seems it was probably spurred on by the national party; remember the random editorial by the Chicago Tribune, the letters of support from Cantor, and the outside research by choice advocates.  This effort now seems concerted, not happenstance.  The party had likely been lying in wait to find a case it could blow out of proportion.  All this effort, however, does not seem to account for the fact that this is not the first time the party has tried this strategy.  As James Foreman detailed in The Rise and Fall of School Vouchers: A Story of Religion, Race and Politics, 54 UCLA L. REV. 547 (2007), the republican party and the religious right sought to use minority support as a means by which to present vouchers in religious neutral terms, but the movement for vouchers eventual fell apart because it was not genuine in its commitment to minorities and they recognized it.  With that said, the increased availability and ease of charter schools also disincentivized voucher policies.  Regardless, this means the Louisiana voucher fight will not be the last.  Whether voters will be more receptive to the national agenda than last time remains to be seen.

 

 

January 22, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)