Friday, June 20, 2014
In my previous posts, I noted how pulling out of Common Core does not pose a per se threat to NCLB waivers. States do, however, have to replace Common Core with a functional equivalent to meet the conditions of their NCLB waivers. The problem is that coming up with a functional equivalent at this late stage in the process is nearly impossible. Thus, in practical terms pulling out of Common Core would poses a serious threat to a state's waiver. Are states really pulling out of Common Core? In South Carolina, the answer is no.
South Carolina appears to be playing a game of spin. One state senator states, "We’re getting out of Common Core and will write our own standards.” But another senator says, “The spin is that we did away with, abolished, Common Core. We didn’t do anything to it this year other than move up in time the cyclical review, probably to the detriment of the review.” The State newspaper reports "[t]he compromise law essentially steps up a review process that would have occurred anyway. It calls for the panel to review current math and reading standards, which are Common Core."
South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee Director explains that it takes two years to write new standards and there is no way that can be done now. Instead, Common Core will be tweaked. What we will see in South Carolina are standards that look very similar to the Common Core, but are called something else. I am guessing that will be good enough to keep both the Common Core detractors and the U.S. Department of Education happy.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Does Arne Duncan read my blog? Absolutely not (although hopefully at least one person in the Department does). But a few hours after my blog post yesterday, he did answer the question I posed in it. He indicated that Oklahoma (and by extension South Carolina) was not at risk of having its NCLB waiver or funding revoked as a result of pulling out of the common core. That does not, however, negate the next step. Per my comments yesterday, those states still must come up with an alternative to the common core or they will find themselves in trouble.
Monday, June 9, 2014
For the most part, I have avoided posting on the common core because the controversy has practically involved a 24 hour news cycle over the past several months, and most of it was politics and activism, not law. Now it is becoming law. Over the past two week, Oklahoma and South Carolina's governors signed laws pulling their states out of the Common Core State Standards initiative. They joined Indiana, which had officially withdrew from the common core earlier. Florida is reportedly considering pulling out as well.
For educators, the Common Core is a matter of pedagogy and curricular content. But these pull-outs also have potentially serious legal consequences, meaning the issues is equally important for bureaucrats and lawyers. The No Child Left Behind waivers granted last year were conditioned on states adopting academic standards that were benchmarked across states, rather than just within states. Adopting the Common Core met that condition. States pulling out must find an alternative. To my knowledge, there is not one readily available, meaning their waivers may be in jeopardy in the future.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Last month, OCR reached two significant settlement agreements. The first was with New Hampshire’s Manchester School District, School Administrative Unit #37. The settlement agreement was in response to tracking and unequal access to college and career preparatory courses for black and Latino students. The most stark disparities were in the district’s AP courses. "Despite the enrollment of 381 black students and 596 Latino students at the high schools, only 17 seats in AP classes went to black students and only nine seats in AP classes went to Latino students, out of the total of 434 seats in AP courses. At two of the three high schools, there were no Latino students enrolled in the AP courses." OCR found a number of structural barriers in the district's policies that lead to these disparities. The district agreed to several steps to address the disparities, the most notable of which were:
- Identify and implement strategies subject to OCR review and approval to increase student participation in its higher-level learning opportunities, particularly for underrepresented groups such as black, Latino and ELL students.
- Consider increasing the numbers and types of courses, adding more teachers qualified to teacher higher-level courses and revising selection criteria for enrollment in higher level learning opportunities if these are barriers to increased participation.
- Specifically assess the impact of assigning students to academic “levels” upon arrival at the high schools on their participation in higher-level learning opportunities, and consider eliminating the system of student assignment to levels or altering the current criteria or method of implementation.
- Specifically consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
- Provide increased support for students enrolled in higher level learning opportunities through counseling, peer support groups and tutoring.
The other settlement agreement was with the Hazleton, Pa., Area School District. OCR found that English Language Learner (ELL) students in the district did not have access to equal educational opportunities and that the district was not adequately notifying their parents of information made available to other parents in English. More than 10 percent of Hazleton's students are ELLs, which would suggest a scale that should have allowed the district to operate a more robust program, but OCR found that the district was inappropriately excusing students from the English language development program, not providing the required instructional time for over 240 elementary school ELL students, not evaluating the effectiveness of its program, and not using an effective system to identify and communication with limited English proficient parents. The district agreed to take the following steps:
- Ensuring that students whose primary home language is not English will be promptly assessed for English language proficiency to determine eligibility for placement in an English language development program and that students will not be improperly exempted from assessment;
- Assessing students who were improperly exempted from language proficiency assessment to determine whether they may be eligible to receive English language development services;
- Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the English language development program at each school level to determine its effectiveness and making modifications to address areas where the program is not meeting the district’s goals;
- Developing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that LEP parents are notified, in a language they understand, of school activities that are called to the attention of other parents; and
- Providing training to appropriate staff on procedures for identifying language-minority parents and on policies and procedures for serving language minority parents.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Last week, the American Statistical Society released a report on "Value Added Models" that attempt to assess the effectiveness of teachers. The report would appear to be a word of caution to current policies that rely heavily on students' standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Rather than misstate the report, I offer its own bullet point summary:
The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models, and designed experiments for
improving the quality of education.
• VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to
develop the models and interpret their results.
• Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a
discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are
particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.
o VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure
potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.
o VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative –
attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in
o Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a
different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to
evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.
• VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes
aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to
individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find
that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the
majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level
conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences
that reduce quality.
Monday, March 24, 2014
For those who missed it Friday, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the results its civil rights data collection. OCR is calling it the most comprehensive look at civil rights in education in 15 years. "This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "As the President's education budget reflects in every element—from preschool funds to Pell Grants to Title I to special education funds—this administration is committed to ensuring equity of opportunity for all."
"This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities."
The most troubling findings, according to OCR, were:
Access to preschool. About 40% of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18% of preschool enrollment but 42% of students suspended once, and 48% of the students suspended more than once.
Access to advanced courses. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Asian-American high school students and 71% of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high school. Black students (57%), Latino students (67%), students with disabilities (63%), and English language learner students (65%) also have less access to the full range of courses.
Access to college counselors. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor; in Florida and Minnesota, more than two in five students lack access to a school counselor.
Retention of English learners in high school. English learners make up 5% of high school enrollment but 11% of high school students held back each year.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The Department of Education announced new regulations Friday for-profit career institutions to show that they are preparing students for gainful employment. This is the Obama administration's second round of "gainful employment" rulemaking after a federal district court struck down the ED's first set of regulations, Program Integrity, in 2012. In Ass'n of Private Colleges & Univ. v. Duncan, 870 F.Supp.2d 133 (D.D.C. 2012), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the regulations as arbitrary because the ED had not given a “reasoned explanation” for its student debt repayment rate test that required that at least 35% of an institution's graduates had to be repaying their student loans for a for-profit to qualify for Title IV student aid. The Department said the 35% rate identified the lowest-performing quarter of for-profit institutions. The ED has set new metrics in its latest proposed regulations. From the ED's statement on Friday, the new regulations require that "the estimated annual loan payment of typical [career college] graduates does not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary earnings or 8 percent of their total earnings and the default rate for former students does not exceed 30 percent" and that "institutions must publicly disclose information about the program costs, debt, and performance of their gainful employment programs so that students can make informed decisions." The administration is targeting student outcomes in some of the nation's for-profit colleges, which represent about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. The administration says that 72% of for-profit gainful employment programs produced graduates that earned less than high school dropouts. Read the proposed regulations here.
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.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The state of Washington is now in danger of losing its No Child Left Behind Waiver. The Department of Education has granted waivers on a one year basis, requiring that states reapply in subsequent years to show progress on the conditions in their previous year's waiver. For Washington, that meant using statewide tests in evaluating teacher's and principal's effectiveness. The Washington state senate just voted down a bill that would have implemented that requirement. The no vote came from the Democrats in the Senate and seven Republicans. Democrats charged that the evaluation metrics are just a means to bash teachers. As a result of the state's legislative timing rules, there appears to be no obvious way to come up with an alternative solution before the Department of Education makes its decision on the waiver.
The Olympian reports that
Losing the waiver would mean school districts throughout the state would have to redirect an estimated $38 to $44 million in federal education funding toward private tutoring efforts, rather than spending the money on district programs for poor and disadvantaged students.
It also would mean nearly every school in the state would be labeled as failing, and school administrators would have to send letters home to parents notifying them of their schools' failing status.
It is possible that the Deparment of Education might still extend the waiver based on compliance in other respects, but to do so would also send a negative message to other states regarding their need to comply.
Friday, January 17, 2014
The Obama Administration's Misunderstanding About the Connection Between Higher Education and K-12 Diversity
Civil Rights advocates have been less than enamoured with the Obama administration's approach to diversity in K-12 education, but credit goes to the administration on higher education. DOJ's briefs in Fisher v. Texas--before the Supreme Court and on remand--have been forceful and creative in their defense of affirmative action. Yesterday, the administration continued to emphasize access to higher education as one of its top priorities. The Los Angeles Times billed yesterday's forum as an effort to "encourage economic diversity in higher education."
The administrations efforts are worthy of applause for their symbolism, but they overlook the crucial practical link between integration in K-12 and higher education access. One of the most significant factors in higher education attainment is not higher education policy, but the high school a student went to and the peer influences experienced there. Middle class schools have a culture and expectation of higher education attainment that does not require significant prodding from the outside. Minority students are disproportionately excluded from those schools and, instead, attend schools where graduating from high school is not even necessarily the dominant expectation. In these schools, selling students on college and making it a realistic goal is more of an uphill battle and requires outside influences, which are not nearly as effective (although surely worth the effort). In short, if the administration were serious about higher education access, it would think more seriously about its K-12 integration policy.
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.
This morning in Baltimore, the Department of Justice and Department of Education will issue new guidance on school discipline. My expectation is that it is going to be important, if now other reasons than it is already generating a lot of buzz. Education Next is already panning it before it is released because it will bring "the tortured logic of disparate impact to school discipline." Others complain it will hold schools accountable for all discipline that occurs under their roofs, including that of police officers. For those most concerned about racial disparities and overly harsh discipline, this added accountability is good news. Reducing racial disparities is not, as Josh Dunn at Education Next, asserts a disregard for student misbehavior, but rather a recognition that what amounts to misbehavior often has a racial lens to it.
Today's release also follows a new report by the Vera Institute for Justice that concludes based on generation of research on zero tolerance:
Certain facts are clear: zero tolerance does not make schools more orderly or safe--in fact the opposite may be true. And policies that push students out of school can have life-long negative effects.
I will follow up with DOJ's report and more commentary on it once it is released.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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.
Monday, December 9, 2013
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.
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.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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.
Monday, November 25, 2013
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.
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.
Monday, November 11, 2013
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.