Friday, January 23, 2015
In 1997, North Carolina Supreme Court recognized a state constitutional right to "the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education" in a long-running education equity lawsuit, Leandro v. State, 346 N.C. 336, 354 (1997). The job of monitoring the state's compliance with Leandro fell to N.C. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. Yesterday, Judge Manning questioned whether the state was trying to lessen its responsibility to meet Leandro’s guidelines by redefining student achievement. In March 2014, the North Carolina Board of Education expanded its definition of student readiness to include students who still needed substantial remedial help in the classroom as ready to advance to the next grade. In an earlier order, Judge Manning questioned whether the added level was “academic double speak” that indicated improved student outcomes on paper that were not actually occurring. Yesterday, Deputy State Superintendent for Public Instruction Rebecca Garland explained that the changed definition is in line with higher proficiency requirements and more challenging courses. Nevertheless, Judge Manning concluded the hearing by observing, “The system is not on track” and “is not producing any substantive gains whatsoever.” Read more at here and here.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
In an Op-Ed the Philadelphia Inquirer, Secretary Duncan weighed in on funding inequity in Pennsylvania and the nation in general. He wrote, "until some glaring funding injustices are fixed, in Philadelphia and in many school systems around the country, we will never live up to our nation's aspirational promises of justice." He cited heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education as the source of our problems. The result, he said, is to make the quality of education dependent on geography, which disparately impacts the highest need, lowest-income students. "The key to a fair funding formula is quite simple: Target aid to students who need it most, and adjust current levels of state aid to the districts that are already well supported," he wrote.
This is welcome commentary to school funding advocates and scholars. It mimics what they have said for decades. Duncan penned a similarly welcome Op-Ed on school segregation a year ago. Unfortunately, although there are exceptions, Duncan's activity on these issues has larger been confined to op-eds. In the last year, the Department has issued helpful policy guidance on both issues, but that guidance only came after several years of charters, curriculum, and teacher reform. Those latter agendas might be useful, but none of them touch fundamental inequalities in regard to funding and race. In other words, op-eds and stated intentions to begin tacking discrimination pale in comparison to what the Secretary has done in other areas.
One might excuse the Secretary on race (although I do not) because of the tight rope the Supreme Court requires him to walk, but the failure to address school funding inequity begs the question of what the Department's purpose is. Title I of the ESEA--probably the most important piece of legislation the Department oversees--was designed as a remedy to resource inequity and segregation in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then it has drifted far from its mission. Scholars and advocates have documented its numerous flaws and proposed reasonable solutions. Those solutions, nor anything approximating them, have been found in any of the Secretary's recommendations for reauthorizing Title I or his competitive grant programs.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education. The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product. So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.
Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple. Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable. The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
On its face, the title of this post is rhetorical, but the authors of Badass Teachers Unite! would argue it is the key question dividing themselves and "reformers." For those unfamiliar, Badass Teachers is a group--not quite as radical as their name might suggest-- that "is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning." They charge that reformers are taking the position
that schools in depressed areas can be radically improved without doing anything to improve conditions in the neighborhoods they are located in, [which] flies in the face of the common sense of anyone who lives or works in such communities, so much so that it represents a form of collective madness! The idea that an entire urban school system (not a few favored schools) can be uplifted strictly through school-based reforms, such as eliminating teacher tenure or replacing public schools with charter schools, without changing any of the conditions driving people further into poverty is contrary to anyone’s lived experience and has in fact, never been accomplished anywhere in the world. Let me break down for you what the no excuses approach to school reform means in commonsense terms.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Last week, the Obama administration announced an expansion of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative, which is aimed at improving educational and life opportunities for African American and Latino boys. Sixty of the nation's largest school districts, which educate about 40 percent of the nation's low income African American and Latino boys, agreed to join the President's initiative. They are committing to expand preschool education, expand positive interventions, increase the number of minority boys in advanced courses, reduce their suspension rates, and increase graduation rates.
More on the story here.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
The Education Trust has released The State of Education for African American Students for 2014. It finds widespread opportunity gaps deprive African Americans of many of the school resources and experiences that contribute to academic success. This gap causes African American students’ performance to continue to fall far behind that of white students. The issue manifests itself not only in the lack of courses and experiences available to African American students (fifteen percent of African American high school student attend schools that do not offer any AP courses in the math, English, science, or social studies), but also in the disproportionate way such opportunities are taken away. For instance, African American students are far more likely to be removed from the classroom for extended periods through suspension and expulsion. The report also notes variances across jurisdictions. While “[n]o state is performing as well as it should be African American students . . . wide variations in performance across states show that what states do matters.” Even within states, the variations between different school districts can be drastic, with certain schools “educating African American students to high levels of achievement” and other districts falling short.
The report is not all bad news. It acknowledges progress. In the last twenty years, the number of
Friday, May 16, 2014
The Advancement Project, which represents a coalition of education and civil rights groups, filed three civil rights complaints this week under Title VI alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey, Chicago, and New Orleans. The complaints challenge the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color. The Advancement Project complaints were filed on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities). In a release about the filings, the Advancement Project stated:
- In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed during the last school year alone. These closures targeted African-American communities, with Black students accounting for only 43 percent of all Chicago students but making up 87 percent of the students affected by the closures.
- With the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
- Newark’s public schools have been under state control since 1995, with no local control or community accountability for nearly 20 years. As a result, Newark communities are powerless to stop New Jersey’s plan to close neighborhood schools – many of which are generational schools that fathers and grandmothers of current schoolchildren had attended years before.
Journey for Justice also released a companion report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Cribbed from its description: the report looks at "the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them."
Monday, April 14, 2014
Joshua Weishart's new article, Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy, 66 Stan. L. Rev. 477 (2014), is now available on Westlaw. For those interested in school finance and equal opportunity, it is a must read. It is probably the most in-depth treatment of the theory behind school finance and educational opportunity published in the last one to two decades. Professor Weishart focuses on what others have only hinted at: the reciprocal relationship between equality and adequacy. As such, he proposes that our approach should be to deliver "adequately equal and equally adequate" educational opportunities (rather than just equal or adequate education). His abstract is as follows:
A debate about whether all children are entitled to an “equal” or an “adequate” education has been waged at the forefront of school finance policy for decades. In an era of budget deficits and harsh cuts in public education, I submit that it is time to move on.
Equality of educational opportunity has been thought to require equal spending per pupil or spending adjusted to the needs of differently situated children. Adequacy has been understood to require a level of spending sufficient to satisfy some absolute, rather than relative, educational threshold. In practice, however, many courts interpreting their states' constitutional obligations have fused the equality and adequacy theories. Certain federal laws express principles of both doctrines. And gradually, more advocates and scholars have come to endorse hybrid equality-adequacy approaches. Still, the debate persists over seemingly intractable conceptual precepts and their political and legal ramifications.
Tracking the philosophical origins and evolution of equality and adequacy as legal doctrines, I explain the significance of their points of convergence and argue that the few points of divergence are untenable in practice. Equality of educational opportunity should not be interpreted as pursuing equal chances for educational achievement for all children, because that ideal is infeasible. Nor should educational adequacy be interpreted as completely indifferent to objectionable inequalities that can be feasibly curtailed. Properly conceived, equality and adequacy are not merely congruent but reciprocal. That is, children are owed an education that is adequately equal and equally adequate.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Obama's 2015 Equity Initiative: Quality Teachers, Funding Fairness, School Climate, and Concentrated Poverty
Notwithstanding all the claims that the President's budget is dead on arrival, his new budget is important in the policies and values it is putting forward, particularly since this President has shown his ability to push his policies administratively, even when Congress does not act. The 2015 budget includes "a new initiative called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity), which would create incentives for states and school districts to drive comprehensive change in how states and districts identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps." The initiative focuses on the equitable distribution of school funding, hiring quality teachers, and improving school climate. Tagged on at the end is a new message from the President: "identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty." It is unclear whether the President intends to promote integration strategies, try to make separate equal, or both. The President's own description of his plan states:
Grantees would enhance their data systems to place a sharp focus on the districts, schools, and student groups with the greatest disparities in opportunity and performance, while also being able to identify the most effective interventions. They would develop thoughtful, comprehensive strategies for addressing these gaps, and use the data to continuously evaluate progress. Grantees would invest in strong teaching and school leadership, using funds to develop, attract, and retain more effective teachers and leaders in high-need schools, through strategies such as individualized professional learning and career ladder opportunities.
States would collect data on school-level expenditures, make that data transparent and easily accessible, and use it to improve the effectiveness of resources and support continuous program improvement. Participating districts would be required to ensure that their state and local funds are distributed fairly by implementing a more meaningful comparability standard based on this school-level expenditure data.
RTT-Opportunity funds also would be used, for example, to provide rigorous coursework; improve school climate and safety; strengthen students’ non-cognitive skills; develop and implement fair and appropriate school discipline policies; expand learning time, provide mental, physical, and social emotional supports; expand college and career counseling; and identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Erika Wilson's new article, Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education, is forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review. The article is aimed at addressing the longstanding problem of inequity and segregation across school district lines, which were sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley and San Antonio v. Rodriguez. Wilson says the problems are further exacerbated by the "a strong ideological preference for localism" in state education laws that "do not require or even encourage collaboration between school districts in order to address disparities between neighboring school districts." Thus, she calls for a reconsideration of "the wholesale commitment to localism in public education" and argues that, "in some instances, the dissemination of public education should be made on a regional basis rather than a local basis. [Her article] examines how enacting regionalism — a theoretical framework, which advocates for the installment of regional governance structures — might occur in public education. Borrowing from two specific theories of regionalism, equitable regionalism and federated regionalism, [her article] proposes a framework entitled 'Equitable Federated Regionalism' for disseminating public education on a regional basis."
This new article builds on her prior work, Leveling Localism and Racial Inequality in Education Through the No Child Left Behind Act Public Choice Provision, 44 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 625 (2011). Both works are insightful attempts to push us beyond old ways of thinking. They are fit nicely with both positive and negative developments in a few localities. Consider Omaha, Nebraska's cooperative school district zones, which suggests Wilson's proposals are more than feasible. Or consider the current school transfer provision in Missouri that is wreaking havoc on both accredited and unaccredited school districts. Wilson's proposals might offer a far more orderly means of dealing with the problems there. The same is true of the problems that will follow the rise of parent triggers, school closures, and the like in other localities.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Progressive and Conservative Groups Align Around Equal Access to Teachers, While Dept. of Education Goes the Other Way
The Center for American Progress has released a new report, Giving Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers, that fits in well with much of the conversation coming from other outlets over the past week or two. The report offers a summary of why access to excellent teachers is so important, emphasizing that:
Excellent teachers—those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress—produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students. On average, children with excellent teachers make approximately three times the progress of children who are taught by teachers in the bottom 20 percent to 25 percent. Students who start behind their peers need this level of growth consistently—not just in one out of four classes—to close persistent achievement gaps. Students in the middle of the academic-achievement continuum need it to exceed average growth rates and leap ahead to meet rising global standards.
The report is skeptical of current policies' approach to expanding access to excellent teachers. Current policies "focus intently . . . on boosting the number of excellent teachers in America’s schools" by "recruiting more high achievers into the teaching profession, creating incentives for better teachers to stay in teaching and teach less-advantaged children, and dismissing the least-effective teachers." But the report concludes that these policies are insufficient in the short term to expand access for the majority of students who need it. Thus, the report offers four proposals through which the federal government could expand access immediately:
1. Structure competitive grants to induce districts and states to shift to transformative school designs that reach more students with excellent teachers and the teams that these teachers lead. Incentivize innovation by awarding funds to districts and states with strong, sustainable plans to transform staffing models in ways that dramatically expand access to excellent teaching and make the teaching profession substantially more attractive.
2. Reorient existing formula grants to encourage transition to new classroom models that extend the reach of great teachers, both directly and through leading teaching teams. Dramatically improve student outcomes by putting excellent teachers in charge of the learning of all students in financially sustainable ways. By teaching more students directly and leading teams toward excellence, great teachers could take responsibility for all students, not just a fraction of them.
3. Create a focal point for federal research and development efforts. Spur rapid progress by gathering and disseminating evidence on policies and practices that extend the reach of excellent teachers, directly and through team leadership, and accelerate development of best-in-class digital tools.
4. Create and enforce a new civil right to excellent teachers, fueling all districts and states—not just the winners of competitive grants—to make the changes needed to reach all students with excellent teachers and their teams.
Notable in these recommendations is the alignment and misalignment with recent studies and developments. The report's first recommendation is strikingly similar to the one growing out the Fordham Institute's recent study, Right Sizing Classrooms, that advocates expanding classroom enrollments for strong teachers and shrinking them for weaker ones. For those who follow the politics of these organizations, the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress do not exactly see eye-to-eye. That they seem to agree on this point is worth noting.
All four of the report's recommendations, and the fourth in particular, run contrary to the Department of Education's announcement last week that it was dropping the requirement of access to effective teachers from the NCLB waiver process. As noted in my post on the change, the Department is acting contrary to existing statutory requirements, a substantial body of research, and the pleas of civil rights advocates. Rather than moving backward on access to excellent teachers, the Center for American Progress's new report proposes that this access be statutorily guaranteed as a civil right because it is so fundamental to educational opportunity.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Last week, the Department of Education indicated that it is backing away from the requirement it announced just 2 months ago that low income and minority students have equal access to high quality teachers. This move and the timing of it are troubling. Civil rights leaders and scholars, including myself, had praised the Department for making equal access part of the NCLB waiver requirements. And although I had previously posited that Arne Duncan was inappropriately acting as a de facto superintendent of the United States of America School System in the conditions he was placing on school systems, equal access to teachers was one area that did not raise the same concerns because it was within the scope of existing statutory language of NCLB. The Department just had not been enforcing it and now seemed ready to do so. Backing away now only reignites concerns about the statutory authority under which Duncan is acting. His ability to change course reinforces the notion that he is not acting under statutory standards, but based on his judgement of how best to run "his" national school system.
Legalities aside, this retreat is also problematic on a policy level. In just the past week, two major studies identifying the gains associated with this access have been released. One was a Department of Education funded study showing the efficacy of encouraging top teachers to transfer to needy schools. The second was a Fordham Institute study showing the efficacy of giving the best teachers larger class enrollments. Both studies showed impressive results and only added to the mountain of research that preceded them. Why the Department would back away from existing teacher requirements in the midst of increasingly persuasive evidence on the topic is beyond me.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The typical discussion about classroom size is about whether to make them smaller for disadvantaged students. A new study by the Fordham Institute asks a slightly different question and suggests a different approach: within a single school, would it help to assign more students to the best teachers and fewer to the weaker teachers. The premise of this question is consistent with prior literature that suggested that, generally, the quality of the teacher matters more the the number of students in the class (although that conclusion does not necessarily follow in regard to the most disadvantaged students). The Fordham Institutes's study concludes that schools can, in fact, maximize achievement and more efficiently marshall their resources by assigning strong teachers to larger classrooms, rather than assigning the same number of students to every teacher's classroom.
One unanswered question is what the teachers think about this.
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.
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
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.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
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.
Monday, November 4, 2013
A new decision, Petrella v. Kansas, is out in the Kansas school finance litigation. The litigation has proceeded on dual tracks for some time. Adequacy claims have been litigated in the state court system, while other claims have proceeded in federal court. The state has sought to combine the litigation on various instances, but the courts have declined. The plaintiffs have been very careful in crafting their claims so as to prevent this consolidation.
This new decision is an attempt to undermine the earlier state litigation that had resulted in a liability find against the state. The state responded with a remedy that, among other things, included a cap on the funds that local districts could raise to support local education, with the theory being that this would further equity. A group of parents from a wealthier district then challenged that litigation in federal court arguing it violated various federal constitutional rights, including their fundamental right to direct and control the upbringing of their children. The district court previously dismissed their case for lack of standing, only to be reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit remanded and, last week, the district court issued its opinion addressing the legal theories in the case.
The Court held that the funding cap did not infringe on the parents’ fundamental rights. Those parents still have the right to control their children’s education as they see fit. For instance, they are free to withdraw their children from public school if they wish. The Supreme Court precedent creates a relatively narrow right and plaintiffs attempted to apply it far too broadly. In fact, if school funding remedies were deemed to impinge on parents’ fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children, almost every aspect of educational policy might do the same. The court also emphasized the Supreme Court’s holding in San Antonio v. Rodriguez, which had rejected school finance challenges as violating a fundamental right to education. The district court perceived the instant case as an ill-advised attempt to circumvent the more relevant holding and rationale in Rodriguez.
Finding no fundamental right, however, only rules out the application of strict scrutiny. The court found that the plaintiffs had still plead a case of unequal treatment, which was subject to rational basis review. The state had asked that the case be dismissed entirely, but the court found that the question of whether the state had a rational basis for it funding structure was not yet resolved and, thus, the case could proceed on this question. The court did, however, dismiss all the plaintiffs’ other claims.
As to the immediate school funding issues in Kansas, this decision is positive. It prevents third parties (ie, wealthy districts) from trying to impede school finance reform. On the broader horizon, I would note that there is/should be room to still bring certain narrow claims in federal court. For instance, if educational is a fundamental right under state law or students have a constitutional right to education under state law, federal equal protection should attach to that right. In other words, a state cannot extend fundamental or constitutional rights to students and then treat them unequally in regard to that right. Moreover, strict scrutiny should apply to that inequality. Often, the federal review would be applicative of bringing a state claim and, thus, would serve little purpose. But in those instances where state courts backtrack from enforcing rights or state legislatures refuse to comply, a federal claim would offer some benefit. The instant case does not directly implicate those types of claims, but it does amount to another case rejecting a Rodriguez work-around, which is implicitly problematic for my theory.
More on this school finance theory here.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Two years after passing a sweeping anti-immigrant bill, Alabama is relenting. The bill had wide-ranging impacts on immigrant communities (and those interacting with them) that touched on almost every aspect of their lives. Some may recall that the bill included a measure that required schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students. The day after the bill went into effect, news reports indicated that scores of Latino students, in particular, went missing from school. This included students who were, in fact, citizens or were legally in the country. I never caught news of these students returning. Alabama apparently achieved its presumed purpose: to encourage these families to leave the state. I imagine that few of those uprooted families have intentions of returning to Alabama, but the settlement agreement negotiated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights group with the state protects them if they do. The state has agreed to permanently abandon this and other aspects of the bill. See here for more details.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
On valuing education, he says this stereotype is an assumption based on less parental involvement at the school building itself by low-income families, but he points out that the inability to be at school is caused by job, transportation, and other barriers poor families face, not a lack of interest. He says there is no information to infer that they actually value education less. The laziness stereotype is easily debunked by the fact that many poor families work more hours and jobs than other families. They just make less money. On substance abuse, he says data shows that wealthier families actually have a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse than poor families. They, of course, also have more money with which to indulge.
The linguistic deficient, however, was the most interesting. He does not contest that lower income parents may have less formal vocabularies, which also manifests itself in their children’s oral communication. He does contest that they are less complex or necessarily eqaute to ignorance. He points to evidence that indicates oral vocabularies are not as closely linked to reading and writing vocabularies as one might think. In short, a child’s oral linguistics are not a limit on their ability to learn to read. This makes sense because, after all, reading is new to all kids, regardless of how well they might speak. Gorski acknowledges that low-income students do tend to start school with fewer reading skills than other students, but he argues this is a function of difference in access to quality pre-k educational opportunities, not necessarily their parents’ communication skills. His debunking of the bad parent stereotype is largely intertwined with the previous four points.
So why are these stereotypes so prevalent and where do they come from? Part of it, he says, is our