Monday, March 23, 2015
The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is tasked with investigating complaints of race, gender, ethnic, disability, language discrimination, and age, and ensuring that schools are in compliance with the relevant law. In 2009, OCR received 6,364 complaints. In 2014, it received 9,989, which was a record high. The reasons are not altogether clear, but the Washington Post points out two likely causes. First, OCR's recent guidance on sexual assault on college campuses and increasing student advocacy on this issue may have prompted several complaints in that area, although no single area of discrimination has experienced an unusual increase. Second, as Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary at OCR, remarked: “Some of this is about the community believing that we’re here and we’re in business and we’re prepared to do the work.”
The second explanation rings particularly true. As I have noted several times, OCR has begun enforcing anti-discrimination more aggressively over the past year or two. Various policy guidance documents have all but invited individuals to bring complaints that they might have foregone in prior years, thinking that such a complaint was a waste of time.
Not mentioned is the fact that courts have grown so inhospitable to some claims, particularly those requiring evidence of intentional race discrimination. See Alexander v. Sandoval. OCR's continuing authority to enforce its disparate impact regulations leaves it as one of the venues of last resort for communities experiencing educational inequality. This reality, however, is overtaxing the resources of OCR. The time it takes to resolve cases has grown considerable. It is now asking Congress for additional funding to hire 200 additional attorneys and investigators. Of course, what I might term as OCR's successes are termed as overreaches by some in Congress, who are thus skeptical of the efficacy of funding increases.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Richard Kahlenberg thinks so. In a new essay in the Atlantic, Saving School Choice Without Undermining Poor Communities, he discusses the Republican insistence on increasing school choice and making Title I funds portable in the proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Democrats are resisting portability. Moving money to private schools would undermine public education itself, while moving money within public schools could lead the the rich schools becoming richer while the neediest become poorer.
Kahlenberg points out that socio-economic integration has proven to be a more effective and cheaper means of improving educational outcomes than increasing funding in high poverty schools. The "principle of portability, in fact, has in it the seeds of a solution to reduce economic segregation through public-school choice—if, and only if, portability is properly structured. In order to accomplish this, portable federal Title I funding, as well as state and local funding, would need to be weighted heavily enough to give poor kids sufficient money in their 'backpacks' that middle-class public schools would want to recruit them to attend."
Current proposals offer too little in the way of financial incentives to fundamentally alter student enrollment trends. "But," Kahlenberg remarks, "every school has his price. What is the magical amount of extra money low-income students should have in their backpacks to be attractive to middle-class schools? That’s an empirical question that surveys of school administrators could answer definitively. Meanwhile, past experience shows that financial arrangements can be made to assuage middle-class schools."
An important piece of the puzzle that no one other than Kahlenberg is hitting upon is the need to hold the original school harmless. If the program actually grew to the point where it was leading to substantial transfers, the remaining students in the high poverty schools would be harmed through no fault of their own, as Democrats fear. The easy--albeit costly solution--is to expand the financial pot and allow the high poverty schools to retain, at least, a portion of their funding. Kahlenberg notes that the political and practical success of the St. Louis, Missouri, interdistrict transfer program was due the fact that it both incentivized suburban districts to take urban students while also protecting the urban schools left behind. "The state also set aside some financial aid for St. Louis schools to offset the loss of funding to its urban campuses."
Of course, the devil is in detail. For a more detailed discussion of how Congress might use Title I funds to both integrate schools and meet existing need in high poverty schools, see pages 366-371 of this article. The question is not whether we can do this, but whether a critical mass in Congress is willing to acknowledge the solution and entertain a meaningful compromise between the competing positions.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) introduced legislation in Congress last week to prohibit the Department of Education from imposing new conditions on waivers. His main target is Common Core. His press release states:
My bill would return control over education to the states by prohibiting the federal government from using grants or waivers to mandate, incentivize, or coerce states into adopting Common Core. For states that have already adopted Common Core, it would ensure that any previous requirements for waivers would be void, and the U.S. Secretary of Education would be prohibited from requiring states to agree to any new conditions in order to keep their existing waiver.
The bill has about 35 co-sponsors, and Senator David Vitter, from Louisiana, introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The legislation is unlikely to go far because it does not address the practical problem it would create: states keep their waivers for free. Presumably, this would mean that their non-compliance with NCLB would be completely waived. Beating up on NCLB is easy to do in the current climate, but offering states a free waiver, regardless of their past efforts, is problematic. It would undermine the capacity of the federal government to enforce conditions in future new legislation and it would also completely ignore the substantive failings of many states.
In my article, Federalizing Education by Waiver?, I argue that the conditions placed on NCLB waivers were beyond the scope of the Secretary's statutory power, if not unconstitutional. But this legal conclusion would have merely reset the negotiations over waivers and undercut some of the Secretary's compulsive power. It would not have given the states a free waiver.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Coalition of Education and Civil Rights Groups Advocates for Maintaining Federal Role in ESEA Reauthorization
Related to Derek's post on moves in Congress during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to lessen the federal role in education, a coalition of more than twenty civil rights organizations recently called for maintaining the federal government's insistence on standardized statewide assessments. The group released a statement that "college and career-ready state standards, aligned statewide annual assessments, and a state accountability system to improve instruction and learning for students in low-performing schools" are essential to promoting "educational opportunity and protecting the rights and interests of disadvantaged [students]." The full text of the principles can be found here.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Cary Coglianese, Professor of Law and Director of Penn Law's Program on Regulation, has brought together a series of commentators on the Common Core. Over the next two weeks, a series of commentators will publish essays here. The topics and commentators include:
- Common Core Creates Professional Possibilities, Maddie Fennell
- The Common Core is a Remedy Worse than the Disease, Anthony Cody
- Stay the Course, or Turn the Page?, Michael J. Petrilli
- The Common Core is Passable in Theory but Problematic in Reality, Frederick Hess
- Common Misperceptions, Annice Brave
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Common Core, Josh Stumpenhorst
- Testing is Destroying the Common Core, Anna Baldwin.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Since the start of the new year, discussions regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have become part of the daily news cycle. This much substantive discussion of reauthorization has not occurred since the presidential election of 2008. These signals are strengthening the possibility that Republicans can and will pass a reauthorization bill. At least, they are clearly indicating they will. Whether President Obama would veto the legislation is less clear, but based on yesterday's comments by Secretary Duncan, the likelihood of veto also seems likely, unless the two sides mediate their positions.
Republicans are discussing legislation that would significantly unravel the current role of the federal government in education and turn education leadership back to the states. While consistent with traditional Republican values, such a move is surprising on several levels. First, No Child Left Behind was one of President George W. Bush's signature pieces of legislation. John Beohner was also heavily involved in its drafting, and the bill passed with heavy bipartisan support. Second, while NCLB significantly expanded the federal role in education, the federal role had been growing steadily over the previous decades. Few seemed to mind. Many, of course, disliked the substance of No Child Left Behind and the recent waivers issued under it, but the federal role in education (and the money it brought) was not normatively problematic to the mainstream. As I pointed out in an article in 2012, NCLB was a smashing success in terms creating and cementing the accountability structures for federal leadership on education. In short, the federal role in education was no longer new or controversial.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Should the Education Department withhold federal funds from states and school districts that are failing to comply with the conditions on the funds? As the Supreme Court noted in NFIB v. Sebelius, the 2012 case about the Affordable Care Act, federal funding for education is second only to federal funding for Medicaid. It's therefore critical to understand this important enforcement mechanism. Although funding cut-offs are a powerful tool -- think desegregating southern schools in the 1960s through the combination of Title VI and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- they are a controversial one. In my forthcoming article in Yale Law Journal, Agency Enforcement of Spending Clause Statutes: A Defense of the Funding Cut-Off , I unpack the controversy, focusing on federal grants more generally, not just education grants, but I use a lot of education examples throughout, given the importance of federal funding to federal education law.
The abstract explains:
[F]ederal agencies ought more frequently to use the threat of cutting off funds to state and local grantees that are not adequately complying with the terms of a grant statute. Scholars tend to offer four arguments to explain — and often to justify — agencies’ longstanding reluctance to engage in funding cut-offs: first, that funding cut-offs will hurt the grant program’s beneficiaries and so will undermine the agency’s ultimate goals; second, that federalism concerns counsel against federal agencies’ taking funds away from state and local grantees; third, that agencies are neither designed nor motivated to pursue funding cut-offs; and fourth, that political dynamics among state governments, Congress, the White House, and the agencies themselves make funding cut-offs difficult to achieve. This article argues that these critiques are deeply flawed. Among other problems, the critiques fail to account for the variety of types of grants, grant conditions, and rationales for grantee noncompliance; reflect lack of a nuanced understanding of the ways in which distinct federalism concerns play different roles at different times in the development and implementation of grant programs; and unrealistically assume static and unified agency incentives and political relationships. After debunking these critiques, the Article offers a new conception of the potential benefit of funding cut-offs in the enforcement of federal grant programs: the threat of a funding cut-off may be appropriate when it can promote change by the noncompliant grantee and when it can signal to other grantees that the agency is serious about enforcement, thereby increasing grantees’ compliance. The article concludes by assessing the implications of this argument for administrative regime design and judicial review. This work opens up new avenues for research in administrative law on the distinct features of the federal grants regime.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Plaintiffs Secure First Victory in Nation Challenging Federal Role in Common Core, But Reasoning Is Unclear
The skepticism I expressed in September regarding a lawsuit challenging Missouri's funding of the consortium developing Common Core standards and assessments may have been misplaced, at least, for now. Plaintiffs claimed that the state funding of the consortium amounts to an "illegal interstate compact" that cedes state sovereignty over education to the consortium. They also charged that the U.S. Department of Education's funding of the consortium was not authorized by Congress. As I have noted several times, there are plenty of legal flaws to go around with how the federal government has rolled out teacher and Common Core policy, but an unauthorized funding of a consortium did not appear to be one of them.
Nonetheless, plaintiffs in the case have secured the first victory in the nation implicating the U.S. Department of Education. Prior cases all involved purely state law issues and contests of power between the state executive and legislative branch. This current case, however, is curious in that it claims the U.S. Department of Education's action was unconstitutional, but the complaint does not name the Department as a defendant. In that respect, it seeks to keep the case state based and the feds out of it, while still claiming their unconstitutional action is central to the case.
Monday, November 24, 2014
President Obama's announcement that he would shield undocumented immigrants from deportation has only emboldened claims that his administration is grossly overstepping the bounds of permissible executive action. Detractors seek to lump immigration, environment, health care, and education policy all together as overarching evidence of an administration acting as a monarch.
Most of the claims, however, ignore a major distinction between the administration's No Child Left Behind waivers and all the other executive action that enervates them. In the other areas, the executive action is to not enforce some existing law. The administration is exercising the equivalent of prosecutorial discretion. The discretion to not enforce the law in some particular instances is well established and amounts to no more than an administrative decision of how to utilize scarce administrative resources (even though the practical policy ramifications are clearly high with immigration, for instance).
NCLB waivers are entirely distinct. The administration did not simply decide to waive or not enforcement NCLB requirements. It supplanted them with an entirely new set of conditions, found nowhere in NCLB. In this respect, the administration made new law, rather than just waiving old law. The distinction makes a world of difference constitutionally and under the relevant statutes. I flesh out these distinctions in detail here. While most conservative commentators entirely miss this point, Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute, to his credit, makes this distinction in his article, Illegal “No Child” Waivers Should Raise Much Louder Alarms.
As a side note, Edweek explains what Obama's immigration announcement means for education here.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Michael Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, has offered his post-election prognostication for education reform. He points out that, following the gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, we saw increases in teacher evaluation systems, the lifting of charter school caps, the expansion of voucher programs, and limitations on "last-in-first-out" teacher retention policies. He labels these changes positive education reform and predicts that this week's election results will spell more good news on these issues.
While I would contest the notion that these are all "good" reforms, I have little doubt that we will see more movement on these fronts. It, however, may not be as robust as 2010. Several important trends have developed since 2010 that may create more roadblocks or speed-bumps for these reforms. First, teachers have fired back with lawsuits in several states, challenging the constitutionality of certain teacher evaluation systems. In North Carolina, teachers won. In Florida, they stand a good chance of winning before the 11th Circuit. Teacher, of course, have lost in other places like Colorado. Overall, the results of the lawsuits will likely be mixed, but the represent an important concerted counter-force and demonstrate that some of these measures may be unconstitutional. Second, charter schools remain popular, but the increase in their number has also brought an increase in scandals and implosions. This has generated more conversation about the appropriate level of oversight state officials should exercise over charters. In some locations, it has led to moratoriums on the riskiest charters--online charters. Third, the aggressiveness with which the Department of Education has pushed these policies has eased considerably, particularly in regard to teacher evaluation systems, due to serious questions as to their validity. States like Utah and Florida have also pushed back and questioned the legal authority of the Department to compel reforms of this sort, absent new legislation at the federal level.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
LaJuana just posted on the Leadership Conference's letter to the Department of Education from yesterday. Today eleven more civil rights groups released recommendations to President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Congressional and State Educational Leaders urging increased educational opportunity and equity for students of color through improvements to local, state and federal accountability systems. The full recommendations and letter are here. The major thrust of the recommendation is that rather that the current approach of wide ranging and general education policy reforms, the administration should maintain NCLB's focus on achievement gaps and accountability for them. Moreover, the administration should insist that that states are delivering equal opportunities that would close those gaps. Thus, they recommend:
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In 1982 in Plyer v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that prohibited school districts from enrolling undocumented immigrant students. The Court held that the statute was discriminatory and unconstitutionally irrational. States have enacted statutes similarly aimed at discouraging immigrant students from enrolling on a few occassions since then. None, however, have gone into practical effect, as all have been deemed unconstitutional in short order. In some instances, legislators allowed that they knew the legislation was unconstitutional, but wanted the Court to revisit the rationale of Plyer v. Doe. The Court, of course, has not done so.
Statutes and policies of this sort remain unconstitutional and fervor for them has died down in the past few years. This year, however, has brought a new, but related problem, particularly in those localities that have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors escaping violence, kidnapping threats, and the like in their home countries. Some school districts say they are overwhelmed by the influx of students, and lacking in the space and resources necessary to serve them. Those excuses, however, would earn the districts no quarter in refusals to enroll the students. Instead, the districts admit the students are eligible to enroll, but have excluded them based on inadequate paperwork and documentation. Yesterday's New York Times tells the story of students in Long Island waiting months to be enrolled in the schools, and points out that the problem is not unique to Long Island:
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
On August 14, 2014, the Department of Education denied Florida's request for flexibility in regard to English Language Learners. Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott requested that the Department refer that denial over to a hearing before an administrative law judge. In his letter to the Department, Governor Scott's first discusses the merits of its ELL program. The letter then addresses the legal issues raised by the denial. First, he first raises the basic issue of process (and the right to a hearing now). Second, he questions whether the Secretary had the constitutional or statutory authority to condition waivers. On that score, he cites the analysis in my article, Federalizing Education by Waiver?, and a memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Majority Staff, which I must admit I had previously missed, but found instructive and will include in my next draft of the paper.
Like David Barron and Todd Rakoff (in In Defense of Big Waiver) and myself, CRS concludes that the Department of Education has broad power to waive various provisions of No Child Left Behind. On the question of the Department of Education's authority to condition those waivers, CRS's analysis probably falls somewhere between myself and Barron and Rakoff. CRS concludes:
On the other hand, if the Secretary did, as a condition of granting a waiver, require a grantee to take another action not currently required under the ESEA, the likelihood of a successful legal challenge might increase, particularly if ED failed to sufficiently justify its rationale for imposing such conditions. Under such circumstances, a reviewing court could deem the conditional waiver to be arbitrary and capricious or in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Ultimately, the resolution of such a question would probably depend on the facts of a given case.
That the fervor against standardized testing is bubbling over may be best evidenced by the fact that Arne Duncan found it necessary to address the use of standardized tests in a Washington Post op-ed last week. His op-ed walks a very fine line, sympathizing and agreeing with critiques of standardized testing, on the one hand, and defending the tests as a necessary tool for benchmarking students and teachers on the other. His most poignant statement may have been:
To be clear: I strongly believe in using high-quality assessments, including annual tests, as one (but only one) part of how adults improve instruction and hold themselves responsible for students’ progress. With my own kids, I know parent-teacher conferences, grades and other feedback round out the picture of whether they’re on track.
That point, however, is not necessarily in serious contention. Most would allow that tests offer a benchmark for consideration. The new teacher evaluation systems in various states do far more than just "round out the picture." State statutes mandate their consideration in particular ways and with particular metrics that create an entirely new set of motivations for teachers and administrators, and raise an entirely new set of legal issues, hence the series of legal battles brewing in the states.
Monday, October 20, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education published the final regulations for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) amendments to the Clery Act today. Below is the Clery Center's summary of college campuses' expanded obligations to report, investigate, and resolve incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking under the new regulations, which require colleges to:
- agree on the law enforcement agencies that will investigate alleged criminal offenses;
- include statements in campus written policies about sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking;
- provide prevention and awareness programs for incoming students and new employees and provide written information to victims;
- allow victims and accused persons to have an advisor, including an attorney, accompany them to meetings;
- establish procedures to follow when an incident of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is reported; and
- set procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- disclose in their annual statistics the total number of crimes that were "unfounded”;
- include gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias for a determination of a hate crime; and
- use updated sex offenses definitions that more closely align with the FBI’s updated definitions and terminology.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Utah's Attorney General Reasons That U.S. Department of Education Lacked Authority to Impose NCLB Conditions
Utah's Governor asked its Attorney General to issue an opinion on various issues surrounding common core. The Attorney General's opinion indicates that the state of Utah followed the appropriate state procedures for adopting the Common Core, but questions the legality of the U.S. Department of Education conditioning NCLB waivers on adopting college and career ready standards. He summarizes his reasoning as follows:
[A] recent law review article by . . Derek Black entitled "Federalizing Education by Waiver?" persuasively maintains that the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has effectively coerced states by imposing ESEA waiver conditions which require states to develop and implement "college and career-ready standards" like the Common Core standards. The article further asserts that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), from which these waivers are derived, does not require these "college and career-ready standards." Thus, the USDOE, by imposing these waiver conditions, has infringed upon state and local authority over public education. States have consented to this infringement, through federal coercion, because they fear severe NCLB consequences to most Title I schools not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.
On that basis, he indicates Utah has the authority to withdraw from the Common Core, although there will be AYP issues to sort through if it does.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Office for Civil Rights released a lengthy Dear Colleague letter today that emphasizes the extent of resource inequalities in schools and its legal framework for evaluating whether those inequalities violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Many States, school districts, and schools across the Nation have faced shrinking budgets that
have made it increasingly difficult to provide the resources necessary to ensure a quality
education for every student. Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous
courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective
teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and
modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of
students of color today.
I would add middle income students to the list of "resources" to which students must have equal access. Half a century of research confirms that the most important school level determinate of an individual student's academic outcomes is the socio-economic status of the students with whom the student attends school. Middle income students and families bring social capital and other important resources to schools that heavily affect climate, motivation, and the other tangible resources that the Department references in its letter. In other words, student assignment policies cause resource inequalities. Thus, at the local level, student assignment cannot be separated from the conversation of resources, school quality, and academic outcomes.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Litigants have filed another challenge to the Common Core, this time in Missouri. The theory there is particularly unique. They charge that state funding of the consortium that is developing Common Core standards and assessments amounts to an "illegal interstate compact" and cedes state sovereignty over education to the consortium. They also charge that the U.S. Department of Education has illegally funded the consortium: $360 million to Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which are developing the standards. The lawsuit alleges this funding was not authorized by Congress.
I have not investigated this latter claim, but am skeptical, given that the funds flowed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Education significant discretion in awarding grants to promote education innovation. That level of funding to Common Core developers, however, would give added support to the argument that the college and career readiness requirements in Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind Waivers were de facto requirements that states adopt the Common Core. In other words, the Department funded a private group to develop standards and then required states to adopt standards that could be found in only one place: the place that the Department funded.
More on this argument here.
Monday, September 8, 2014
In the fall last year, I had first raised the question of whether the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver process was being constitutionally and legally implemented. I was initially skeptical, but backed off a little based on the analysis laid out by David Barron and Todd Rakoff in their article, In Defense of Big Waiver, 113 Columbia L. Rev. 265 (2013). They make a compelling argument for "Big Waiver" and conditional waivers. Their argument, however, persuasively answers the question of whether conditional waivers can be constitutional, not whether the conditions placed on NCLB waivers are, in fact, constitutional. I have been analyzing and pondering this question for the past eight months. Based on spending clause, delegation, and statutory interpretation doctrines, the conditions that Arne Duncan imposed on states in exchange for waivers are beyond the scope of his statutory authority and unconstitutional. You can download my full analysis here.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Wednesday Gov. Bobby Jindal filed suit against the Department of Education over its requirement that states applying for Race to the Top Funds adopt the Common Core Curriculum. Yesterday, the Department of Education withdrew Oklahoma's No Child Left Behind Waiver because the state repealed the Common Core Curriculum. In short, a lot is happening very quickly in national education policy, and the courts are being called upon to get involved.
My initial read of Jindal's suit is that it is misplaced. First, Congress extended the Department enormous discretion in shaping the types of reforms and programs the Department could pursue through Race to the Top. A blank check describes it best. Second, no states were forced to apply for Race to the Top funds and many did not. Thus, those who did were acting completely voluntarily. The notion that Congress violated state's rights when these states jumped at the money is a hard narrative to make.
Jindal's only colorable claim is in regard to the general education provision statute that indicates that the Department shall not dictate curriculum to states. This provision, however, may be superceded by the discretion afforded in Race to the Top. Even if not, because the curriculum flowed through a competitive grants it does not easily fall in the category of a federal dictate.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, has far more to complain about. As I demonstrate in my new article here, the Secretary lacked the statutory authority to impose new conditions on states in exchange for NCLB waivers. Moreover, the unilateral imposition of new conditions amount to law making power that an agency cannot possess. Finally, the imposition of new waivers ten years into NCLB violates the clear notice rules required by the Constitution. In short, Jindal may not have much to complain about, but Oklahoma (and Washington) certainly do.