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
Friday, October 25, 2013
• Encouraging innovation, such as giving priority to multi-district charters that seek to serve a socio-economically and racially diverse student body, or that address the needs English language learners or students at-risk of dropping out
• Ensuring that charter schools are not impeding access, through means explicit or subtle, to any and all students who are eligible to enroll, including very low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
• Requiring public transparency in the lottery process; in maintaining waiting lists and documenting transfers and attrition; in adhering to state and federal due process in student discipline matters; and by disclosure of annual budgets, including funds and other support received from private sources.
Their full statement is available after the jump.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The article, “Public School Money Should Only Go to Public Schools,” raises policy concerns regarding the use of school vouchers to supplement tuition for private schools that the authors suggest may lead to a challenge under the Oklahoma state constitution that are relevant. This article describes the differences in accountability that private schools in Oklahoma enjoy (not having to be graded A-F as public schools) as well as concerns regarding access to private school for students who cannot afford to go there.
Monday, October 7, 2013
This summer Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang released a study through the National Bureau of Economic Research that analyzes the effect that high stakes testing has had on graduation rates, employment and incarceration. The study found that high stakes testing had a negative effect on graduation, but that the effect was minimal and potential only transitory during the period of high stakes testing implementation. The study found no effect on employment outcomes. The major finding of the study was "a robust adverse effect of standards-based exams on the institutionalization rate." High stakes exams "increase incarceration" by "about 12.5 percent." The National Education Association and the Congressional Black Caucus are also pressing this line of argument as a critique of current federal policy and the school-house-to-prison pipeline. Also of concern is the fact that low test scores are now also being used to create "parent triggers," whereby parents can transfer their children out of a school, which tends to adversely affect the school and community they leave.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
At the start of the school year, I posted about the continuing expansion and rise in school fees and the constitutional problems they potentially present. Now comes a story out of Colorado noting the rise in the state's school fees and how unpaid fees can mount over time for some families. When those unpaid fees reach a certain level--$250--some schools are turning families over to a collection agency.
While I object to the fees in the first instance, I can appreciate the schools' frustration with people who can pay but just won't. After all, it is unfair for the costs of fees to be unevenly distributed. On the other hand, it is possible, if not likely, that many of these families are low-income or just struggling, even though they may not have formally been classified as such. Turning poor, or near-poor, families over to collection agencies for educational services that the state mandates they receive seems perverse, if not unconstitutional. The ACLU of Colorado is now pressing this latter point of whether the fees implemented by some local school districts violate the state's guarantee to a free education. Mark Silverstein of the ACLU said:"As far as I can tell, in Colorado the state constitution provides for a free public education, not a fee public education. It's almost as though some school districts got a flawed copy of the state constitution and the 'R' was missing." One parent laments that some children do not get to participate in extracurricular activities due to the fees: "It's getting to the point where it is going to separate the haves and have-nots, and that doesn't seem right to me." See more here.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A la the thesis of Diane Ravitch's new book, which I posted on yesterday, it is worth stepping back to consider what is really going on with the takeover of six Virginia schools. As LaJuana posted a few days ago, the state passed legislation creating the Opportunity Educational Institution, which grants this entity the power to take over schools that have failed to gain accreditation four years in a row. At least one district has filed suit arguing that the takeover violates the state constitution. Putting the constitutional issues aside for a moment, the persistant failure to meet accreditation standards suggests that these schools are in crisis, but are they? And if so, who is to blame?
The state's accreditation standards require elementary and middle schools to achieve the following pass rates: English – 75 percent or higher; Mathematics – 70 percent or higher; Science – 70; percent or higher; and History – 70 percent or higher. High schools are fully accredited if students "achieve pass rates of 75 percent or higher in English and 70 percent or higher in mathematics, science and history; and [a]ttain a point value of 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)." (For further definition of the GCI see here). These flat and simple standards are the whole of the accreditation requirements.
One of the six schools in the state that has failed to meet this standard is Jefferson-Houston (formerly an elementary school, now a pre-k through 8 school) in Alexandria. The school rests on the edge of Old Town Alexandria, one of the DC area's most affluent neighborhoods. When I lived in the DC area, my home happened to be less than a mile from Jefferson-Houston. We didn't live in Old Town, but our son, had he been old enough, would have been assigned to Jefferson-Houston. The school's name also carries special meaning to me. Jefferson is in reference to Thomas Jefferson and Houston is in reference to Charles Hamilton Houston, former Dean of Howard Law School and the original architect of the NAACP's desegregation strategy.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Diane Ravitch has a new book out this week titled "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools." Ravitch does not appear to say American schools are excellent, but she argues that they are not in crisis and that the constant assertion that they are in crisis undermining them. In other words, the tail is wagging the dog in school reform. She also points out that we label students and schools as failing because we set unrealistic goals for them. This is not to say that we should set low goals, but that we can't expect students at severe disadvantage to achieve at the levels of privileged kids unless we first address those factors that make students disadvantaged. Likewise, it is not fair to compare our education system to Finland's--the top performing in the world--because Finland's poverty rate is only 5 percent whereas ours is about 7 or 8 times that rate.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
By a new era, I do not mean a forward looking or an improved era. I mean an era the state has not seen in decades. I mean an era that resembles the days before Brown v. Board of Education. LaJuana's post this morning contained a lot of news on Alabama, but the piece that struck me the most was the enormous decline in support for its schools and the push to amend its constitution in a not so good way.
My comparison to pre-Brown days is not meant to suggest that Alabama wishes to resegregate its schools--although I doubt race is irrelevant to the moves afoot in the state. It is a comparison to stark educational deprivation and inequality. The level of educational defunding in Alabama is mind-boggling and threatens to push the poorest and neediest schools--if not the entire state--into a class of their own, whose deprivations cannot be rivaled anywhere else in the country. On top of that, many wish to strip children of their constitutional right to education, something unheard of and unspeakable in this country for some time.
After accounting for inflation, the Center on Budget Priorities Report reveals a $1,200 decline in per pupil expenditures in Alabama between fiscal years 2008 and 2014. To put this number in local perspective, it amounts to a 20% decline in funding in Alabama. In other words, 1 out of 5 education dollars in the state is gone, or the money for 1 out of 5 children has vanished. To put this number in national perspective, in 2006, the Education Trust reported a national funding gap between the highest and lowest poverty districts of $1,300 per pupil. So in comparison, Alabama's funding shortfall turns the entire state into a similarly underfunded subclass. No matter where a student lives in the state, he or she might reasonably be treated as a poverty class that trails the rest of the nation. Moreover, these cuts come on top of the fact that Alabama already had one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the nation, and distributed those funds among school districts in one of the most regressive ways in the nation. See School Funding Fairness Report. In short, awful is getting much worse in Alabama. In a high poverty, regressively funded school district in a state with an educational system in a subclass of its own, a new era of educational deprivation not seen in decades is a serious risk.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, National Women's Law Center, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council, just release their report on the United States’ Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report is titled, Still Segregated: How Race and Poverty Stymie the Right to Education ( Download Still_Segregated2013). This report is a follow up to an earlier report. The report focuses on three major points: 1) persistent racial and socioeconomic segregation, inequity and discrimination; 2) inadequate court responses to inequity; and 3) inadequate policy responses to inequity.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The Wall Street Journal ran a story Sunday on the rising costs of attending public school. Things that once were free are increasingly coming with a price tag, like bus transportation, extracurricular activities, athletics, music class, debate club. Well, one might say, those are all extra things that go beyond the basics of education. But many schools go beyond charging for optional activities. A school in Colorado charges for foreign language class, math class, and advanced placement class. Some schools charge for textbooks.
I would hope and assume that there are waivers for low-income students, but I am skeptical that this solves the problem. There is already a huge socio-economic and racial gap in terms of who participates in enriched academic programs like AP classes. Placing a pricetag only reinforces that gap. Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that these fees exist in states whose courts have held these children have a constitutional or fundamental right to education. The ACLU picked up on this idea in Michigan and brought suit to enjoin the fees. Fortunately, the district buckled before the beginning of the school year. Without concerted activism or litigation, however, few other districts seem poised to do the same.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Now that school is back into swing, elementary and secondary schools are feeling the full brunt of the sequester, but not all schools are feeling it the same. Most of the federal money in public schools flows through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While my past work has critiqued the formulas through which these funds extensively for their failure to fully account for the effects of concentrated poverty, it is true that the money flows to schools based upon the number of poor kids they have. Thus, the more poor kids a district has the more money it is loosing under the sequester cuts.
Wealthy districts, of course, have poor kids too, so they are suffering cuts as well. But those cuts amount to smaller line items and those districts necessarily have more capacity to make up the difference. Whereas, other districts are loosing more money and have less capacity. MSNBC tells the story of the affluent Loudon County, Virginia, district where district officials say the cuts "meant hardly anything," but in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, things are pretty bad.
When Harrisonburg students went back to school in August, there were fewer teachers and staff to greet them: The district lost an English proficiency teacher, a school social worker, a Head Start teacher, and a teacher’s aide when sequestration cut $400,000 from the school budget, according to Harrisonburg school superintendent Scott Kizner. The cuts come to a district where 70% of students qualify for a free school lunch, and more than 40% speak English as a second language.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The San Francisco Chronicle is running an in-depth four part series on African American males in Oakland Unified School District. The articles chronicle real day life for the students both inside and outside school. It also include statistical data and analytical commentary. As the chart above reveals, there were more than twice as many African American men and boys killed in 2002 as there were college ready African American males. This college versus death comparison, while grim, pales in comparison to the incarcerated versus college ready data in Oakland.
To the school district's credit, it recognized the crisis and created a special department to address it, the African American Male Achievement Office, which has special classes and programs. Although the trend in improvement started before the formal creation of this office, the number of college ready African American males has tripled in comparison to the 2002 numbers and quadrupled in comparison to 2003. Sadly, the deaths among this group have stayed relatively steady, but those numbers are beyond the full control of schools. In other words, violence and death continue to surround these young men at an alarming rate, but the school district is doing a better of helping some defy the odds.
The full series is available here.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In a review of the 41 NCLB waivers that the Department of Education has granted, the Campaign for High School Equity finds:
that many states have failed to address clearly and fully the needs of our most vulnerable students. Some states, with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, abandon a primary focus on subgroup accountability—a central tenet of NCLB—and weaken efforts to close achievement gaps and improve education for all students. Significant progress has been made under NCLB to ensure that the needs of all students—including underserved students—mattered; a school could not be deemed successful, regardless of overall performance, if a subgroup of students was struggling. Provisions of NCLB have ensured that the achievement of all students by subgroup was counted; school progress regarding improving achievement of subgroups of students was publicly reported, and when a school did not adequately improve student achievement for subgroups of students, an intervention was triggered to better support student success. While NCLB has many provisions that need revision, subgroup accountability provisions have shone a bright light on the achievement of all students and have ensured that the children who need it most get help. Yet, our analysis shows that several of the Administration’s approved ESEA waivers undermine subgroup accountability, instead of making it the central focus of statewide accountability systems.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Vouchers v. Desegregation: U.S. Department of Justice Seeks to Block Vouchers in Desegregating Districts
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spearheaded the expansion of the state’s voucher program from New Orleans to the entire state this year. He did not, however, bother to assess how the program might affect student assignment and enrollment in districts that are still operating under court orders to desegregate. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a motion in district court to block the application of the voucher program to those districts. The motion argues that students in at least 22 districts that are still under desegregation orders have received vouchers “without authorization from the appropriate federal court frustrates . . . .” Those vouchers “imped[e] the desegregation process in school districts operating under federal desegregation orders.”
Gov. Jindal responded on Meet the Press, stating
We’ve got a scholarship program. One hundred percent of the kids are low-income. One hundred percent of the kids are in failing schools—C, D, or F schools. Ninety percent of the kids are minorities. Eight thousand of those parents have chosen to take these dollars and send these kids to better schools, to other schools where they can get a better education, where it’s a better fit for their children. Now the Department of Justice, using the same rules that were there to prevent discrimination against minority children, is going after some of these parents and some of these kids and saying, ‘We don’t know that we want to allow you to make this choice. We want you to go to a federal judge.’
School choice advocates are also lambasting DOJ and the role this would play in impeding choice. They seem to ignore, however, that it would be impossible to enforce desegregation orders if districts and states were free to create exit options and exceptions that would undermine desegregation. In fact, various creative exit options, albeit race-neutral on their face, were a major stumbling block to the initial creation of integrated schools in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Or, choice advocates assume that the voucher program will have no negative effect on the demographics of these school districts. Even if their assumption proves to be correct, it has always been standard procedure to verify the effect of new policies on student assignments in desegregating districts, rather than wait until after the fact when the damage is already done. While the state and districts are largely free to assign students, however, they see fit in “unitary” districts, there are constitutional constraints on other districts for good reason.
Gov. Jindal's full interview is here.
Monday, August 26, 2013
As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the UNC Center for Civil Rights is representing a group of parents in Pitt, NC, who allege that the district has taken steps that violate its affirmative duty to desegregate. In reviewing their proposed findings of fact, the crux of their claim is that the school district had three student assignment options on the table in 2008 and choose the most segregative of the three. Plaintiffs evidence at trial indicates that the district chose the segregative plan because, during its previous student reassignment plan in 2001 or so, white parents had objected to sending their children to some schools with substantial percentages of minority students and the district sought to avoid this reaction this time. In other words, the plaintiffs allege that the district is segregating students to avoid white flight and that white flight is not a legitimate factor upon which to assign students.
Friday, August 23, 2013
The Goverment Accountability Office had been tasked with comparing the enrollment of English Language Learners (ELLs) in traditional public schools versus charter schools. Last month, it issued a report finding that it could not make the comparision because the "only available data on school-level ELL enrollment were unreliable and incomplete. Specifically, for over one-third of charter schools, the field for reporting the counts of ELLs enrolled in ELL programs was left blank. These blank fields cannot reliably be interpreted to mean that the charter schools did not have ELLs enrolled." This national number, however, grossly understates the problem in many states. Over 60% of charter schools in Idaho, Lousiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio failed to provide ELL data. The GAO also emphasized that this data failure in regard to ELL, while significant in an of itself, is likely an indicator of overall problems in data collection and reporting for charter schools.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
I can't decide whether it counts as news, since data has shown us for some time that poor and minority students are exposed to unequal educational opportunities and conditions, but a new poll out confirms that minority and poor parents are well aware of the unequal conditions they suffer. Yet, minority parents are interestingly optimistic citing that their children are receiving a better education than they did. Cribbing from the AP story by Philip Elliot and Jennier Agiesta:
Minority and low-income parents are more likely to see serious problems in their schools—from low expectations to bullying to out-of-date technology and textbooks—than those who are affluent or white, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll.
Overall impressions of the nation's schools and teachers are similarly positive among all groups of parents, but deep demographic differences emerge in the details of how parents see teachers, schools and even their own roles in their children's education.
The divisions fall along the familiar fault lines of income, education and race that drive so much of American life. In many cases, it's as though parents are looking at two very different sets of schools in this country.
Most parents say the school their child attends is high-quality and rate their children's teachers positively. White parents are only slightly more likely than others to give their child's school high marks, and parents of all races give their local schools similar ratings for preparing students for college, the workforce, citizenship and life as an adult.
A majority of parents say their children are receiving a better education than the one they received, but blacks and Hispanics feel more strongly than whites that this is the case. The poll also shows minorities feel they have a greater influence over their children's education.
And the ways parents assess school quality and the problems they see as most deeply affecting their child's school vary greatly by parents' race, education and income level.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
A new article by Jared S. Buszin, Beyond School Finance: Refocusing Education Reform Litigation to Realize the Deferred Dream of Education Equality and Adequacy, 62 Emory L.J. 1613 (2013), applies state constitutional education rights to local district practices. His first premise is that school finance litigation and its focus on money has not made a significant difference in equalizing educational opportunities and certainly has not closed the achievement gap. His second premise is that school finance principles should apply to local district policies just as they do state wide policies. I would quible some with the breadth and implications of his first claim, but agree entirely with his second claim. In fact, I devoted significant time to the same premise in Middle Income Peers as Educational Resources and the Constitutional Right to Equal Access, 53 B.C. L. Rev. 373 (2012), because my entire legal argument that state constitutions placed limits on local student assignment policies hinged on it.
Buszin, however, puts the premise to a different task. He argues that access to quality teachers is the most important "skills based education input" available to schools and that the "last in first out" rule of teacher layoffs works to protect seniority and ignores teaching quality. He points to examples like a teacher of the year being layed off and analyzes a trial court decision in California that enjoined a district's teacher layoff policy as interfering with students' fundamental right to education. He then posits how the theory might apply in other states.
In the end, I believe Buszin is a little too dismissive of the importance of money and the impact of school finance litigation, and I am a little leary of pitting student rights against teacher rights given the attack by conservatives and some moderates on teachers over the past two or three years (even though I am sympathetic to his point about student rights coming first). Those concerns, however, are overshadowed by a strong and creative argument for extending school finance precedent to new contexts, and his ability to apply it to a very precise context. For those interested in analogous arguments, it is worth the read.