Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Some of you may have already seen Eloise Pasachoff’s article, Conditional Spending After NFIB v. Sebelius: The Example of Federal Education Law, which appeared in the American University Law Review. If not, it is worth reading for both your education law and constitutional law classes.
Building on that article, she just posted a detailed essay on the American Constitution Society’s website that compares education spending conditions and environmental spending conditions. Her bottom line is that, like environmental programs (which Erin Ryan recently analyzed), education programs will survive Sebelius. The full essay is here.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Over the summer, scholars and advocates poured over the question of whether and how much the Court's opinion Fisher v. Texas changed the legality of affirmative action. According to the Departments of Education and Justice, not much has changed. In a "Dear Colleague" letter released Friday, they wrote:
On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education. Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation. The future workforce of America must be able to transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.
This statement to be more than just rhetoric supporting theoretical diversity. The letter goes on to say that its pre-Fisher guidance on voluntary desegregation in K-12 and diversity in higher education remain in effect. Most important, many read Fisher to increase the burden on universities and colleges to justify their affirmative action programs under the narrowly tailored prong of strict scrutiny, but in a "Question and Answer" document that accompanied the letter, the Departments said Fisher did not even change the narrowly tailored prong. Rather, Fisher just emphasized what the law already was.
Kudos to the Departments for taking a stand on these key issues. This is something they had been reluctant and slow to do during Obama's first term. They waited for over three years before retracting the Bush administration's misleading and inaccurate guidance on Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle's holding regarding voluntary integration. Now, they have positively acted in a matter of just months on Fisher. This should go a long way toward avoiding the uncertainty and fear among districts and universities that persisted following Parents Involved.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Please join the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice for a panel discussion, “Creating and Supporting Diversity in Higher Education,” on September 27, 2013 from 9:30-11:00am ET at the U.S. Department of Justice. Higher education leaders will join Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education, and Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Justice, to discuss the importance of creating and supporting diversity on college campuses and the parameters for using in race in admissions as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, will deliver opening remarks, and Ada Meloy, General Counsel for the American Council on Education, will moderate the discussion. The event will coincide with the release of a document, “Questions and Answers About Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin,” developed jointly by the Departments.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
When the NCLB waiver process began last year, I commented at a few conferences that Arne Duncan had become the School Superintendent of the United States of America, a position which he obviously had not been elected or appointed. I offered this characterization of his new role not as a substantive critique of Duncan's policies, but as a legal scholar/contrarian questioning the exercise of power, regardless of whether that power was exercised benevolently or well. To be clear, I have long favored the federalization of education in certain respects and have argued that the federal government should exercise far more control over states and districts in terms of equity, school finance, and integration. All of those proposals, however, are predicated on existing or new legislation that gives the Department of Education the necessary power.
NCLB does not give Duncan the power he has exercised in the waiver process. NCLB includes the short statement: "The Secretary may waive any statutory or regulatory requirement of this Act for a State educational agency, local educational agency, Indian tribe, or school through a local educational agency.” 20 U.S.C. § 7861 (2006). Missing from this text is any mention of the Secretary placing conditions on waivers. A logical argument can be made that conditional waivers are implied in this power in so far as conditions are necessary to or further eventual compliance with the Act. For instance, the Secretary might waive a state's failure to meet NCLB standards in 2013 on the condition that a state reach compliance by the following year. Or more heavy handily, the Secretary might condition a waiver on a state taking steps X, Y, and Z, which directly relate to the state's ability to reach compliance the following year. In both instances, the conditions are embodied within the conditions and requirements that the Act had already placed on the state. In other words, the conditions would not add not substance to NCLB. To infer that the waiver power gave the Secretary broader power would be to infer that the waiver was intended as an independent and open ended policy making or judgment power for the Secretary. If it were, it would be the equivalent of making the Superintendent of the United States School Districts.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Last week, I posted on a law enforcement organization's support for pre-k as a way to reduce crime and save money. This week, the Alliance for Excellent Education has released a report that looks at the other side of education: high school graduation rates. The report offers extensive details of the current costs of crime and how a five percent increase in the male graduation rate would affect those costs. According to the report, the nation could save as much as $18.5 billion in annual crime costs and generate an additional $1.2 billion in tax revenues (from workers who would otherwise be involved in crime or jail).
Of course, the benefits extend beyond money and include a reduction in the number of victims of crime. Per year, the report estimates 59,000 fewer assaults, 17,000 fewer burglaries, 37,000 fewer larcenies, 31,000 fewer vehicle thefts, 4,000 fewer rapes, and 1,500 fewer robberies. Missing from the report is an exact indication of how much it would cost to increase the graduation rate by 5 percent, but the report's comparisons between the per pupil costs of education and the costs of crime argue the cost of increasing graduation rates would only be a fraction of our current crime costs.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Across the country, advocates for children with disabilities are grappling with the impact of sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that kicked in when Congress failed to reach an agreement to reduce the federal budget. Although the cuts took effect March 1, the impact did not reach schools until the start of the current school year because of the way many education programs are funded.
The National Education Association estimates that if states and local school systems did not replace any of the funds lost through sequestration, nearly 300,000 students receiving special education services would be affected. The union estimated up to 7,800 jobs could be lost as a result of the federal budget cuts. It is unknown how many states or schools districts will replace some or all of that money from other sources, such as new tax revenues or cuts to other programs. But they may hesitate to replace federal funding even if they have the resources. That’s because by law, states and school districts that raise their funding for special education and then later reduce it, after adjusting for enrollment and other factors, can see their funding from the federal government cut. That requirement, known as maintenance of effort, means that even if the federal government eventually replaces the money cut through the sequester, school districts will be on the hook to spend more than they did before the automatic federal budget cuts.
Read more here.
Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement with School District on Racially Equal Access to AP and Other Courses
On Tuesday, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the details of its final agreement with Lee County, Alabama's School District regarding discrimination and inequality in its Advanced Placement classes and other high level academic offerings. This agreement potentially serves as major precedent in many other districts that, while integrated at the school level, experience high levels of classroom segregation. OCR itself calls the settlement "the first of its kind." The full press release and details on the agreement follow after the jump.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In a piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday, NAACP President Ben Jealous believes that the closure of Saint Paul’s College, a historically black college in Lawrenceville, Virginia, may foreshadow financial difficulties for HBCUs in the future. Saint Paul, which was founded in 1888 by Jealous’s grandfather’s uncle, closed this summer after 125 years. Jealous notes that wealthier HBCUs like Morehouse, Hampton, and Howard are facing serious budget shortfalls. He says that federal education loan policy is contributing to HBCUs’ recent financial concerns, particularly the ED’s 2011 decision to tighten the standards for its Parent PLUS federal loan program. He says the stricter standards have had "a devastating effect”:
In the 2012-13 school year alone, the volume of Parent PLUS loans to HBCU families dropped by 36 percent, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Parents of 28,000 HBCU students were initially denied loans under the stricter standards, causing HBCU’s as a whole to lose $150-million in expected revenue. This slow bleed will continue as long as the tighter standards are in place. ... Meanwhile, it is encouraging to see that the department is allowing families with small-scale debt—black, white, or otherwise—to become eligible for PLUS loans through an appeals process.
Saint Paul had been struggling for several years before its closure. The college was placed on a two-year probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2010 because the school had too many faculty without terminal degrees and was deemed financially unstable. Despite the probationary period, the college could not right itself, and lost its SACS accreditation in June 2012. Student enrollment dropped below 100 students on the 85-acre campus. Saint Paul, founded in 1888 by Jealous’s grandfather’s uncle, largely served first-generation, low and middle income students. In the last seven years, two of the four institutions that have lost SACS accreditation have been historically black colleges. (The other is Paul Quinn College in Dallas.) Read Lessons From an HBCU’s Demise at the Chronicle of Higher Education here.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
In yesterday's Federal Register, the U.S. Department called on stakeholders to provide input into the Department's research priorities in regard to English Language Learners. The public notices states:
Education (Department) requests information on priorities for future evaluation and research studies needed to inform effective instruction, assessment, and professional development that is responsive to the needs of English learners (ELs).
Comments are due by October 9, 2013. The full notice is available here.
Monday, September 9, 2013
In an NPR interview last week ranging a few different topics, Secretary of Education Duncan said in regard to integration, "whatever we can do to continue to increase integration in a voluntary way—I don’t think you could force these kinds of things—we want to be very, very thoughtful and to try to do more in that area quite frankly.” Given that in 2011 Secretary Duncan courageously jumped into the firestorm over Wake County, North Carolina's integration plan and urged the district to not go "backward," a sympathetic listener might interpret Duncan's current statements on integration to be a poor choice of words. But outside of that singular stance in Wake County, Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have been almost completely silent on integration. Many would say they have given integration a cold shoulder. In fact, although civil rights leaders have repeatedly requested that integration and diversity be explicitly included as positive factors in the various competitive grant programs like Race to the Top, the Department has refused. Through these competitive programs, the Department has exacted huge changes in state policies, but none in regard to integration. Surely the Department could have conditioned some funding on diversity or integration steps. Would that be "forcing these things" or the federal government simply putting its money where its mouth is and hoping some states would agree? When the Department's past actions are coupled with Duncan's most recent statement, one must seriously question whether Arne Duncan and the Department really believe in pursuing integration any more.
For those wanting to draw their own conclusions, Duncan's full comments on the subject are after the jump.
Friday, September 6, 2013
A national law enforcement organization just released a report titled, “I’m the guy you pay later,” finding that President Obama’s proposed pre-kindergarten program would “reduce the number of people who are incarcerated nationwide by 200,000 every year and lead to $75 billion in cost savings over 10 years.” More than 1,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors also signed a letter urging Congress to enact the President’s program.
"[T]he federal cost of the preschool element of the proposal, $75 billion over 10 years, is only one-tenth of the $75 billion that is spent every year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons and local jails. The report also shows that implementing the proposal could save $75 billion over the next 10 years as a result of lowered costs for incarceration, thereby paying for the proposal’s federal costs."
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.
Derek recently posted about the Campaign for High School Equity's concern that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers may dilute efforts to close the achievement gap for at-risk students. The Department of Education's most recent guidance letter may be trying to address that concern by adding new requirements for NCLB waiver extensions. NCLB waivers already require states to develop teacher-evaluations, but the ED will now also require them to "commit to ensuring that poor and minority students are not taught at higher rates than other children by ineffective teachers." Interestingly, the text of the ESEA reads that states must "ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers," which presumably is not intended to define "ineffective" teachers in the renewal requirement. If the ESEA definition governs, it may be a sticky situation for districts that are replacing veteran teachers with temporary ones. Under the new guidelines, renewing school districts must also show that any Title II funds spent for professional development must "deepen [educators'] knowledge of college- and career-ready standards" and that development must be "evidence-based." Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, and eight California school districts have waivers from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (as amended by NCLB). Thirty-five states were approved in the first two rounds of flexibility waivers, which expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Those states and districts may extend their ESEA flexibility waivers to the 2015-16 school year. Read the ED's statement here.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Earlier this summer, we covered three cases before the 9th Circuit that would decide if a Hawaii law ending special education services for students at age 20 violated federal disability laws, when general education students could attend state-funded community schools up to age 22. On August 28, the 9th Circuit ruled that Hawaii’s state-funded high school diploma programs for adults is free public education, so the state must provide the same opportunity for students who need special education services up to age 22. The Individuals with Disabilities Act restricts the power of states to establish age limits on special education eligibility until age 22, but exempts states that do not provide general education services after age 18 from that restriction. A Hawaii statute, Act 163, barred students from attending public school after the last day of the school year in which they turned 20. Hawaii provided education for students older than 20 to earn a high school equivalency diploma by enrolling in one of the state’s ten Community Schools for Adults, but it did not provide special education services for students over 20. Four plaintiffs sued alleging that Act 163 violated federal law by denying public education to special-needs students aged 20 to 21 while offering it, in the form of the Community Schools for Adults, to students without special needs. The Ninth Circuit held that the Hawaii law setting the age limit on public education violated the IDEA and reversed in part the district court’s entry of judgment in favor of the state. Read the court’s opinion in E.R.K. v. Hawaii Dep’t of Education here.
Information via The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting:
President Obama recently proposed tying federal aid for higher education to graduates’ employment outcomes, but tracking results may be more difficult than the administration anticipates. The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting posted its report Friday that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not tracked graduation or retention rates for the nearly one million veterans who used GI Bill education benefits since 2009. The VA has provided $30 billion in veteran student aid under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act for undergraduate and graduate education and vocational training. Because Department of Veterans Affairs does not track student outcomes for veterans who receive student aid, there is little evidence about how the money helped them, making that aid more vulnerable to budget cuts or elimination. Failing to track student aid can also lead to educational institutions profiting from GI Bill money while being largely unaccountable for student veterans’ completion rates or marketable skills. In the first year of Post-9/11 Act payments, a few for-profit schools collected nearly as much funding as all public institutions—more than $639 million for 76,746 veterans, or an average of $8,337 for each student. (Public schools took in more than $696 million to educate 203,790 veterans, with spending averaging about $3,418 a student.) The University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, and the Art Institutes are known for aggressively courting veterans as students, an issue that Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been investigating for two years.
Part of the problem is that the VA’s records contain duplicate entries for students who transfer schools, so the agency has not released a recent breakdown of payments to individual schools. In response to questions about student outcomes during a May 2013 audit, VA officials told the Government Accountability Office that the VA’s job is to provide benefits, “not to be responsible for veterans’ individual academic performance or goals.” The GAO report countered that the VA should collect outcome data to help students and “inform policymakers about the value veterans are receiving for the government’s substantial investment.” Spending on the Post-9/11 GI Bill is estimated to hit $42 billion next year, according to VA and White House projections. Read more here.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
President Obama unveiled a proposal last week to create a national college performance rating system tied to federal student aid. Speaking at the University of Buffalo, the President said that the rating system is part of a package of higher education reforms to make college more affordable. The rating system, proposed for the 2015 school year, would be based on “metrics like how much debt does the average student leave with, how easy is it to pay off, how many students graduate on time, how well do those graduates do in the workforce,” the President said. Under the plan, students who attend better-rated colleges would be eligible for larger Pell Grants and lower student-loan interest rates. Until more details about the metrics and rating system are revealed it is difficult to evaluate the plan, although Florida Governor Rick Scott has invited the President to look at his state’s college reforms. Read the White House’s fact sheet on the proposal here.