Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Federal Guidance on Racial Disparities in Discipline Released, Calls for Vigilance in Enforcing Disparate Impact and Limiting Zero Tolerance

The new discipline guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education is now available here. The guidance breaks its analysis into disparate treatment (treating minority students and whites differently in terms of discipline) and disparate impact (a facially neutral policy that results in racially disparate outcomes).  The first amounts to identifying and stopping intentionally discriminatory discipline.  There is not much new here, but the point appears to be to encourage district to recognize that they may be treating similarly situated students differently without realizing it.  

The disparate impact analysis is where the controversy abounds.  It is directed at bringing down racial disparities in discipline even if there is no clear evidence of disparate treatment.  I would posit there there is not any new substance in the guidance here either, but there is transparency and a clear signal that the Departments are serious about enforcing the substance.  The guidance spells out very clearly how they will address racial disparities:

In determining whether a facially neutral policy has an unlawful disparate impact on the basis of race, the Departments will engage in the following three-part inquiry  

(1) Has the discipline policy resulted in an adverse impact on students of a particular race as compared with students of other races? For example, depending on the facts of a particular case, an adverse impact may include, but is not limited to, instances where students of a particular race, as compared to students of other races, are disproportionately: sanctioned at higher rates; disciplined for specific offenses; subjected to longer sanctions or more severe penalties; removed from the regular school setting to an alternative school setting; or excluded from one or more educational programs or activities. If there were no adverse impact, then, under this inquiry, the Departments would not find sufficient evidence to determine that the school had engaged in discrimination. If there were an adverse impact, then:

(2) Is the discipline policy necessary to meet an important educational goal? In conducting the second step of this inquiry, the Departments will consider both the importance of the goal that the school articulates and the tightness of the fit between the stated goal and the means employed to achieve it. If the policy is not necessary to meet an important educational goal, then the departments would find that the school had engaged in discrimination. If the policy is necessary to meet an important educational goal, then the Departments would ask:

(3) Are there comparably effective alternative policies or practices that would meet the school’s stated educational goal with less of a burden or adverse impact on the disproportionately affected racial group, or is the school's justification pretext for discrimination? If the answer is yes to either question, then the Departments would find that the school had engaged in discrimination. If no, then the Departments would likely not find sufficient evidence to determine that the school had engaged in discrimination. 

The report also focuses in on zero tolerance as one of the problematic sources of disparate impact and questions whether such policies for minor misbehavior are necessary to achieve educational goals.  The report also goes into depth in explaining what the remedies it might require for call for violations.

January 8, 2014 in Discipline, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Big Day for School Discipline

This morning in Baltimore, the Department of Justice and Department of Education will issue new guidance on school discipline.  My expectation is that it is going to be important, if now other reasons than it is already generating a lot of buzz.  Education Next is already panning it before it is released because it will bring "the tortured logic of disparate impact to school discipline."  Others complain it will hold schools accountable for all discipline that occurs under their roofs, including that of police officers.  For those most concerned about racial disparities and overly harsh discipline, this added accountability is good news.  Reducing racial disparities is not, as Josh Dunn at Education Next, asserts a disregard for student misbehavior, but rather a recognition that what amounts to misbehavior often has a racial lens to it.

Today's release also follows a new report by the Vera Institute for Justice that concludes based on generation of research on zero tolerance:

Certain facts are clear: zero tolerance does not make schools more orderly or safe--in fact the opposite may be true.  And policies that push students out of school can have life-long negative effects.

I will follow up with DOJ's report and more commentary on it once it is released.

January 8, 2014 in Discipline, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

As Budget Deal Looms, Districts Want Their Title I Money Back

As discussed here back in the fall (here and here) , the federal sequestration had perversely uneven effects on schools.  Most federal money for public education flows through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its funding formulas revolve around the number of poor students a district has.  So, the more poor kids a district had the more it lost under the sequestration.  As federal negotiators discuss a two-year budget deal, the question is what, if any, funds to restore to education.  Initial stories indicate that education would be spared continued cuts and will see some money come back.  

According to Alyson Klein of Edweek, education advocates and districts are asking that the funding be restored mostly through Title I, not the competitive grant process that has dominated education spending during the present administration.  One can read this a couple of ways: educators are tired of the tough medicine that the Obama administration has been feeding them through the grant process; Title I is effectively an entitlement program and districts want their checks; or Title I, although not perfectly, directs funds to serious student needs and, thus, districts realize they need it most.  My take is that there is varying degrees of truth in all three.  Districts are tired of the medicine because it tastes bad, but also because there are serious questions about whether it works.  Districts also want their checks because everyone likes getting paid, but they also have real  student needs that the money will go toward, particularly in the highest poverty districts like Philadelphia, which almost imploded this past fall due to state and federal cuts.

Regardless of the motivations, a return to formulas is great news for those of us who have studied them intently in recent years.  The formulas have been entirely ignored by the current administration, as it tried to wield power through the grants.  While the grant program certainly spurred a lot of legislative change in the states around expanding charters and policing teachers, it was too random and piecemeal to ensure student need was consistently met.  With that said, Title I's formulas are riddled with their own flaws.  Those flaws, however, are not fundamental and can be fixed by rebalancing the funding weights.  For more on how Title I could meet student need, incentivize changes in state funding formulas, and increase integration, see the solutions section of this article.

 

January 7, 2014 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Office for Civil Rights Continues to Press for Racially Equal Access to Advanced Classrooms

Over the past few months, I have noted some major agreements by OCR that have expanded equal access to AP courses and other high level curriculum for minority students.  The most notable was in Lee County, Alabama.  Based on recent news, OCR appears to be continuing to press that issue elsewhere.  News outlets in Michigan recently reported that, at the behest of/in conjunction with OCR, Grand Rapids Public Schools its revising its classroom assignment and admissions policies in an attempt to remedy the under representation of African-American students in AP, honors and college preparatory courses.  The district and OCR hope to reach a settlement agreement soon. The district indicated that the first suggested step is to hire an outside consultant to analyze its data and identify what current barriers to equality might exist.  The distict has already jumped on that task.  Last week, the board approved a contract with the National Equity Project to begin the research.  Kudos to OCR for staying on top of this issue, which research by Jeannie Oakes and others has long shown is the hidden segregation in our schools, but which has an enormous impact on the education children receive.

I am not sure whether it is related to OCR spotlighting the issue, but the New York Times recently reported on several other major school districts that are independently taking the initative to expand access to AP curriculum for poor and minority students.

December 10, 2013 in Discrimination, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 9, 2013

In Defense of the Superintendent of the United States of America School District

Notwithstanding my railings on the current  use of the NCLB waiver process and my suggestion that some waiver conditions are outside the scope of legislative authority, the issue remains complex and the opposing view worth considering.   Earlier this year, David Barron and Todd Rakoff published In Defense of Big Waiver, 113 Columbia L. Rev. 265 (2013), which focuses on the constitutionality and virtues of the administrative waivers available under No Child Left Behind and the Affordable Care Act.  The main thrust of the article is that, given the complexity of today's statutory and administrative state, the administrative waiver is nearly a necessity and something that works to both Congress and the Executive's advantage.  Among other things, it helps Congress adapt laws to unforeseen circumstances and improves the political accountability of the executive branch.  The abstract explains:

This Article examines the basic structure and theory of big waiver, its operation in various regulatory contexts, and its constitutional and policy implications. While delegation by Congress of the power to unmake the law it makes raises concerns, we conclude the emergence of big waiver represents a salutary development. By allowing Congress to take ownership of a detailed statutory regime--even one it knows may be waived--big waiver allows Congress to codify policy preferences it might otherwise be unwilling to enact. Furthermore, by enabling Congress to stipulate a baseline against which agencies' subsequent actions are measured, big waiver offers a sorely needed means by which Congress and the executive branch may overcome gridlock. And finally, in a world laden with federal statutes, big waiver provides Congress a valuable tool for freeing the exercise of new delegations of authority from prior constraints and updating legislative frameworks that have grown stale. We welcome this new phase of the administrative process.

The key question, however, is not whether the waiver is good policy (I believe I agree that it is), but whether it is constitutional.  On this point, the tail seems to wag the dog in the article;  good policy and practicalities motivate a favorable constitutional analysis.  With that said, the article does give me serious pause in my initial conclusions about the constitutional issues.  In this respect, the article is a success both in itself and for the administration.  

A block quote of the conditional waiver analysis follows the jump.

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December 9, 2013 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Progressive and Conservative Groups Align Around Equal Access to Teachers, While Dept. of Education Goes the Other Way

Cap CaptureThe 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.

December 3, 2013 in Equity in education, Federal policy, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Case for Pre-K in One Picture: Does It Have a Chance?


The picture below by the Center for American Progress sums up why the pre-k bill before Congress may be one of the most important and no-brainer pieces of legislation it has considered in a while.  To be honest, last month, I still thought that Arne Duncan and Nicholas Kristof were delusion when Duncan indicated he would get a bill to Congress this year and both predicted it would pass.  After all, nothing more than keeping the lights on has seems to move in the Congress.  

Getting a pre-k bill before Congress was a small feat, but now that it is there, passage is looking more likely (although probably not before the end of the year).  Thus far, support for the bill has been bipartisan and there has been very little criticism of the substance of the bill. This could be because common core fights are sucking the air out of all other education controversies, but I doubt it.  There has been some debate of the bill, but it has been largely focused on cost, not on whether pre-k is a good idea.  Cost is no small road block in a Congress determined to avoid any new spending, but this bill is beginning to look like one that Congress could pass and, if necessary, figure out how to fund later, including making cuts to other programs so as to not add to the deficit. Those who follow education funding closely know that with federal education funding it is always a two step process.  No Child Left Behind, for instance, promised one level of new funding for schools, but Congress later appropriated something far short of the promise.

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November 26, 2013 in Federal policy, Pre-K Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Unequal Impacts of Federal Cuts on Public Schools

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has released a report detailing the unequal effects of federal budget cuts on public schools.  While all schools and states have suffered cuts, the cuts have been relatively minimal in some places and enormous in others.  Federal Money, for instance, only makes up 5.4% of New York State's education budget, while it makes up 24.8 in Mississippi.  Yet, because much of federal money in based on poverty, there are districts within New York that are more seriously affected as well; the rest are almost entirely unaffected.  In short, flat across the board cuts have very disparate effects on schools.  AASA's map below shows this drastic unevenness. Interestingly, those cuts have been most heavily felt in the heart of Republican party territory, the southeast, due to its high levels of poverty.  (You will notice other isolated areas of concentrated impact going west.  This is due to native american populations, for which the government allots special funding.)  This map also demonstrates why progressive funding of concentrated poverty should be a bi-partisan agenda in Congress, as Republican states stand to benefit the most, but it is not.

Sequester impact Capture

November 25, 2013 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Effective Teachers for Disadvantaged Students No Longer Part of NCLB Waiver Process

DoeCaptureLast 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.

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November 21, 2013 in Equity in education, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 11, 2013

OCR Reaches Another Settlement Agreement Regarding Racial Disparities in Special Education

Just last week, I posted on the special education settlement agreement in Schenectady City School District regarding racial disparities, and posited it was unlikely to have ripple effects.  Now comes another settlement agreement from Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin regarding racial disparties.  I would not call the agreement in Sun Prarire a ripple effect, as it has the relatively high racial disparities that were not present in Schenectady.  These higher disparities make Sun Prarie an easier case for inferring bias, whereas I posited that the procedural failures were the linchpin in Schenectady. Regardless, this new settlement agreement is further evidence that OCR is agressively enforcing racial disparities, not just in special education, but across mutliple areas.  See also here.

 OCR's press release follows the jump.

 

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November 11, 2013 in Federal policy, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

OCR Finds Pervasive Sexual Assault and Harassment, Reaches Settlement Agreement with District

In a press release yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights disclosed its findings and final resolution regarding sexual harassment and assault in West Contra Costa Unified School District in Richmond, California.

Evidence included verbal and physical conduct by students, including sexual assaults, unwelcome touching, demands for sexual favors, and the use of sexually derogatory language created a hostile environment at district schools. OCR also found that students had been subjected to sexual harassment by employees. In addition, the district was not in compliance with the procedural requirements of Title IX, which include adoption and publication of grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sex discrimination and designation of at least one employee to coordinate compliance with Title IX.

“I am dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault occurring at elementary and secondary schools in West Contra Costa,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Although the district frequently reported known incidents of sexual assaults to law enforcement for prosecution, the district did not fully comply with its legal obligations under Title IX to take immediate actions to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, and to put proper procedures and protocols in place.  OCR stands ready to work with the district to help it realize its commitments to preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in its schools through satisfaction of this agreement.”

Although this sounds like an easy case, it comes on the heals of various other significant agreements I have noted in recent months.  Credit goes to OCR for what appears to be a more agressive approach to enforcement during Obama's second term.

More details on the agreement here.

November 7, 2013 in Federal policy, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

DOJ Supports Texas Affirmative Action Plan on Remand and Argues Texas Still Entitled to Deference Regarding the Existence of Critical Mass

The Department of Justice filed its amicus brief in the remand in Fisher v. Texas last week.  The key question on remand is whether the University of Texas's consideration of race in admissions is necessary. Bound up in that question the first time around was the level of deference that a court should afford a University in reviewing its admissions policies. The Department of Justice argues in its brief that, while the Supreme Court indicated that the lower court must independently review whether the admissions policy is narrowly tailored, the University is still entitled to "due regard" of its educational goals and how the consideration of race furthers them.  In particular, the University is still entitled to a level of deference in terms of what  constitutes a "critical mass" of minority students necessary to achieve the benefits of diversity.  The pertinent part of DOJ's brief states:

In this supplemental brief, the United States will address the Court’s question whether “the University [is] due any deference in its decision that ‘critical mass’ has not been achieved.” Grutter used the term “critical mass” as shorthand for the point at which a university has attained sufficient diversity to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. 539 U.S. at 330. The question for this Court is therefore how it should review the University’s conclusion that it lacked sufficient diversity in 2004 and 2008 to provide the educational benefits of diversity to its students. That question entails a qualitative assessment of the educational experience the University is providing, rather than, as appellant suggests (Appellant Supp. Br. 23-24), a rote calculation of the number of minority students enrolled in the University, a number that might seem “substantial” in the abstract.

This Court should independently review the University’s determination that it lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity, while giving due regard to the University’s exercise of its educational judgment and expertise in reaching its conclusion. The determination that the University lacks sufficient diversity is a necessary predicate for its ultimate conclusion that it is “‘necessary’ * * * to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Fisher, 133 S. Ct. at 2420. Because the University bears the “ultimate burden” on that question, ibid., the Court must be able to meaningfully review the University’s conclusion that it currently lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity. The Court should therefore verify that the University has amply supported its conclusion with concrete evidence and a reasoned explanation of why that evidence indicates that the University is not providing the educational benefits of diversity. At the same time, because the University’s assessment of such evidence rests on the application of educational expertise and judgments about the University’s institutional mission, this Court should evaluate the University’s conclusions with due regard for the multi-faceted educational assessments underlying those conclusions. 

DOJ's full brief is here.

November 5, 2013 in Federal policy, Higher education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Three Members of U.S. Equity and Excellence Commission Issue Separate Statement on Charters

David G. Sciarra, James E. Ryan and Randi Weingarten just issued a Compendium Paper to the U.S. Deptarment of Education's Equity and Excellence Commission, which issued its report this past spring.  All three were part of the Commission itself.  Their paper speaks solely to charter schools.  They write:
The number of charter schools is increasing, with growing debate about their proper place in state public education systems. To ensure equity and excellence in those systems, states must create a policy environment built on the expectation that charters will be fully accountable to the public, and operate effectively and equitably in the communities they serve. After all, the states have the responsibility to ensure students the quality education they must have to succeed and are legally entitled to receive, regardless of how the state allows its local schools to be governed. 
In response, they recommend:

• 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.

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October 25, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, Equity in education, Federal policy, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Tool to Assess the Fiscal Effects of Increasing Graduation Rates

Earlier this summer, I posted on a law enforcement analysis of why we should put more money into pre-k education as well a report by the Alliance for Education on the broader fiscal impacts of graduation rates.  The Alliance has now turned its report into an interactive tool that allows viewers to parse out the effects based on local tax revenues, federal tax revenues, lost income, gross domestic product, home sales, jobs etc.  The national effect of increasing our graduation rate to 90% would be to generate an additional $1.3 billion in federal tax revenues and $661 million in state an local taxes off of an additional $8.1 million in additional earnings by the graduates.  I would assume, however, that those numbers would compound over time as the previous year's graduates stay in the market and are followed by new cohorts each year.  It is not clear whether that effect is already cooked into the Alliance's data.  If not, it needs to be.  Regardless, the harder question is how much it would cost to increase our graduation rates to 90%.  Right now, the federal government spends about $15 billion on primary and secondary schools (excluding the one time Race to the Top grants).  Thus, the assumed additional tax gains would cover only about a 10% increase in federal education spending, although based on law enforcement's report, we might be able to double federal spending on education if we accounted for the savings we would generate from lowered crime and incarceration rates.  But again, is that enough?  Based on my rough sense of costing out studies performed in various states, that would probably get us close.  A national costing-out study performed by DOE would certainly help close that knowledge gap.

The value/fun of this new tool, however, may be its local uses at the state and city level.  I found that South Carolina is missing out on $18 million in taxes and the city of Columbia $3.5 million (based on $194 million and $37 million in additional incomes, respectively).  Those sound like big numbers at the local level, although South Carolina's are proportionally bigger than many other states given how low our current graduation rates are.

October 24, 2013 in Federal policy, School Funding, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Federal Budget Bill Extends Flexibility to Count Teachers from Alternative-Certification Programs as "Highly Qualified"

As part of the agreement this week that ended the government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling, Congress extended states’ permission to count alternative-route teachers as “highly qualified” to the 2015-16 school year. In a provision of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014,  Congress allowed states to continue to include teachers from alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows Programs as part of their educational improvement plans. Alternative-route teachers often do not have the requirements to be counted as “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act. The 42 states and D.C. that have waivers from NCLB must hire and evenly distribute “highly qualified teachers”—defined as having state certification and a degree in the subject that they teach. The Continuing Appropriations Act 2014 extends states’ ability to redefine NCLB’s highly qualified teacher requirement that Congress passed in 2010. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, authored the language in the 2010 bill and the extension in this week’s budget bill. Sen. Harkin’s spokesperson said that the flexible definition of highly qualified teachers “is a short-term fix until Congress can have a long-term conversation about the future of ESEA.” The extension of the flexible definition of “highly qualified” reignites criticism that it allows states to replace career teachers with cheaper, short-term teachers-in-training as education professor Kenneth Zeichner (University of Washington) wrote in an essay in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet here.

October 18, 2013 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some Districts Getting School Discipline Rates Under Control, Others Coming under OCR Fire

We often grow so accustomed to racial disparities and horror stories in school discipline that good news comes as unexpected.  Today, I have not one but four instances of good news.  First, Los Angles Unified School District had a high suspension rate just six years ago and came under the heat of the Office for Civil Rights.  Many of those suspensions were for "willful defiance."  In 2007, the district adoped a new school discipline policy.  In 2011, it entered into an agreement with OCR to make additional changes to stop suspending students for defiance.  These two steps, along with a lot of hands-on work, has resulted in a dramatic change in the district.  The suspension rate has fallen from 8.1% of students to 1.5% in just six years.  More on that story here.

Second, Calvert County, Maryland announced a change to its weapons policy.  The policy previously had been applied in an extremely broad way and had resulted in the suspenion of students who did not have weapons, but rather had pointed their fingers like guns, carried toy guns and chewed a  a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun.  The final story made national news.  At least in the area of weapons, we should expect a significant drop in suspensions in the future.

Third, the Boston Public School Committee adopted a new Code of Conduct that centers on alternative discipline and intervention and rehabilitative services.  With this move, Boston became the first school district to revise its Code of Conduct to implement a new state law that requires schools to exclude students only as a last resort.  More information here.

Fourth, OCR confirmed that it will investigate a complaint that NAACP LDF and Texas Appleseed filed in regard to the racially “disparate impact” of Bryan Independent School District’s discipline policies.  The district issues criminal citations for minor misbehaviors and African-Americans receive these tickets at four times the rate of their peers.  Credit goes to OCR for stepping up in the area of discipline in recent years.  It obviously played a major role in the changes in Los Angeles.  Hopefully, it can do the same in Bryan.

October 18, 2013 in Discipline, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 11, 2013

DC Charter Schools Will Close Unless Government Re-opens

The District of Columbia's charter schools will soon be added to the list of serious personal interest stories that demand that the federal government pass a continuing resolution to fund the government.  The charters are expecting a quarterly payment on October 15th, which will not come if the federal government is still shut down.  DC's mayor indicates that the schools can run on contingency funds, but those will run out in about two weeks, at best.  Some charter schools have no reserves and will be forced to shut down even sooner.  That means that the 35,000 students in the city that attend charters will have no school to go to.  It also means that low-income students will miss free lunch, which is the only meal some eat all day.  More here.

October 11, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

DC Settles Title IX Sports Complaint with OCR

Either OCR has been engaged in vigorous enforcement and negotiation over the past few months or it has been doing a better job of working the media to get the news out.  In recent weeks and months, I posted on OCR settlement agreements eliminating single sex education, expanding athletic opportunities for females, and ensuring racially equal access to AP classes.  All of these settlements were important in their own right and should provide good precedent in subsequent complaints.  

Now, last week OCR announced another settlement in regard to equal access to athletics with the District of Columbia Public Schools.  This agreement, however, is not quite as remarkable as the others.  This agreement does not require DCPS to expand opportunities for females. Rather, it requires the district to closely monitor student interest, participation and disparities.  In the short term, it must administer a student interest survey and, if it finds that females are under-served, it must take action to increase opportunities or demonstrate that they already receive proportional opportunities.  In other words, as Neena Chaudry of the National Women's Law Center says, it is a "good first step," but she cautions that there are also inequalities in coaching and athletic facilities that the neither the settlement agreement nor the district addressed.

As a matter of procedure, OCR seems to have done a good job of boxing the district in by agreeing in advance to act upon the survey results.  On the other hand, I am sure advocates remain anxious regarding whether the district will follow through in good faith.  The available data seems to already show significant disparities, which begs the question of why the district is taking steps to delay action, rather than agreeing to do so now.  One possibility is that the survey mechanism allows the district to save face by not admitting past error.  It also gives the district the opportunity to appear that it is immediately acting once it discovers inequities in the survey.  

October 9, 2013 in Federal policy, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Effect of High Stakes Testing on Graduation and Incarceration

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.

October 7, 2013 in Discipline, Equity in education, Federal policy, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 4, 2013

More Districts Offer Free School Meals to Students and Must Find New Ways to Count Low-Income Students

School districts around the country are making free school breakfasts and lunches available to all students in a continuing rollout of changes to eligibility requirements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA eliminated the requirement for family income-eligibility surveys for free and reduced-price meals for the 2013-2014 school year. (No link to the USDA’s website is available because of the federal government shutdown.) In a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center said that “[m]ore than 2,200 high-poverty schools serving nearly 1 million children in seven states — one in ten children across these states — operated under community eligibility during the 2012-2013 school year.” Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a  “community eligibility option” allows schools in high-poverty areas to offer breakfast and lunch free to all students at no charge. On Wednesday, official from the Dallas Independent School District called the move “a wonderful benefit” as it will help ensure that students are not hungry during the school day and eliminate the paperwork that districts have to complete for meals eligibility. However, eliminating eligibility surveys does have a downside—districts used free- and reduced-price lunch data to Title I aid and measure accountability testing under No Child Left Behind Act for schools that serve low-income students. In a 2002 “Dear Colleague” letter, the ED approved of using school lunch program data to disaggregate student assessment scores, for “student eligibility for supplemental educational services, and under certain circumstances, in prioritizing opportunities for public school choice.” Now that the USDA surveys are no longer required, districts will have to find new ways to identify low-income students for those purposes. The ED offered guidance for districts to gather data in a 2012 policy letter here.

October 4, 2013 in Federal policy, K-12, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)