Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Immigrant Children File DOJ Complaint Challenging Barriers to Enrollment in Two N.C. School Districts
A civil rights complaint was filed with the Justice Department last month alleging that two North Carolina school districts are discouraging immigrants from enrolling in public school. Cribbing from the complaint, plaintiff “C.V.,” a 17-year-old Honduran immigrant, attempted to enroll in high school in Buncombe County, N.C. But school officials twice application telling her that she was too old, even though North Carolina law says all students under 21 are entitled to a public education in the school district in which they live. Plaintiff “F.C.,” a 17-year-old native of Guatemala tried to enroll in high school in Marshville, N.C. last year, but was told that he was too old and was referred to a GED program at a local community college. The community college told F.C. he was too young and suggested that he try enrolling in high school again. At the high school, F.C. was told that he could not enroll until after he took an ESL exam even though his English-speaking skills were limited at the time. Unable to pass the ESL exam in Marshville, F.C. eventually enrolled in the Union County school district. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is co-counsel for the plaintiffs, says that the two incidents are symptomatic of a larger problem in school districts across the state. Immigrant children – who arrive in the United States without a parent or legal guardian and are placed in the care of a sponsor, such as a family member – are being discouraged from enrolling in public school because of limited English proficiency, age or national origin. The plaintiffs are asking the Justice Department to require the districts to adopt a nondiscrimination policy and to provide training to ensure that the civil rights laws and the constitutional protections in Plyler v. Doe are being followed. Read the complaint, filed jointly by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, the North Carolina Justice Center, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, here.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
The Guilford County Board of Education recently voted to challenge a new North Carolina law requiring the board to choose teachers who will get new contracts in exchange for tenure. The North Carolina law requires school district leaders to choose 25% of its teachers and offer them new four-year contracts in exchange for tenure and $500 compounding salary increases over four years. Jill Wilson, the attorney for the Guilford County school board members told the Greensboro News-Record that the law is unconstitutional because “state law protects teachers from having their status changed or salary reduced without due process.” A board member objected to the law because it “represents yet another thinly veiled attack on public education and educators.” The board says that it will refuse to recommend which of the county’s teachers should be offered contracts and instead will sue to challenge the law. Although twenty states have passed laws restricting teacher tenure, local boards suing to opt out of such laws is uncommon.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Given the recent tumultuous times for the Philadelphia school district, this week’s announcement that 130 city educators have been implicated in a cheating scandal is not earth shattering. The cheating investigation, conducted by state education officials and the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, found a suspicious number of erasures and corrections of wrong to right answers on state standardized math and reading tests taken from 2009 to 2011. The test improprieties are alleged to have occurred at 53 Philadelphia area schools, about 20 percent of the total number of schools in the city. The 130 educators have been accused of providing students with answers, erasing wrong answers or supervising those who did without reporting them.
The Philadelphia school system, the nation’s eighth largest school district, has been under tremendous pressure for much of the year. As Derek has covered in this blog, Philadelphia’s schools were hard-hit by the state’s decision to change its education-funding formula from one based on the local costs of educating the district’s children to one based primarily on enrollment. Twenty-three schools were closed. Coupled with an overall $1 billion cut in the state education budget, Philadelphia schools came up well short of the money needed to operate and had to borrow $50 million to open its remaining schools in September. Principals were reduced to asking parents to pay hundreds of dollars per child to attend public schools. The budget crisis led to a $350 million deficit this school year, which created shortages of school nurses, counselors, security officers, and reduced special education services throughout the district.
Like their counterparts in the Atlanta cheating indictments last year, Philadelphia’s educators are under pressure to show gains in proficiency on high-stakes standardized tests. When those gains do not happen within a year or two, the incentive to cheat is strong. Cheating can mean saving jobs, avoiding being branded as a “failing” school, and winning bonuses and federal incentive funds when the students are deemed to be proficient in reading and math.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
No-show college courses and grade changes for student-athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were back in the news this week following a grand jury’s indictment of a former professor for obtaining property by false pretenses. This story has been around since the NCAA’s investigation in 2010, but UNC has held firm on its position that only two employees in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, department chair Julius Nyang’oro and his assistant, were responsible for academic fraud. This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek is more skeptical about the scope of the misconduct in its article, The Scandal Bowl: Tar Heels Football, Academic Fraud, and Implicit Racism. For the writer, Paul Barrett, the university’s lack of commitment to educating black student-athletes that it woos to play sports and the cynical choice of the Afro-American studies department as the incubator for academic fraud shows implicit racism. In an internal investigation in 2012, headed by former NC Governor Jim Martin, UNC reported that the academic anomalies (about 200 no-show or one-meeting courses and grade change rates that were three to six times higher than the university average) went on for fourteen years without the university's knowledge. The investigation found no connection between the high percentage of black college athletes in “phantom” Afro-American Studies courses and the school’s athletic program.
Interestingly, Nyang’oro had taught the course that reportedly is the basis of the indictment, “Blacks in North Carolina,” for years but never sought payment. A university dean insisted that Nyang’oro be paid for the course in summer 2011. In August 2011, the Raleigh News and Observer received a student’s transcript showing that an incoming student took a 400-level class with Nyang’oro the summer before taking English 100 in his freshman year, which ultimately led to Nyang'oro's resignation. Barrett predicts, “[F]urther investigation will reveal that the fraud reached deep into the Tar Heel athletic hierarchy and that senior academic officials will also turn out to have been at least aware of improprieties.” Perhaps, although a lot of dominos will have fall in Chapel Hill for this case to mirror the Penn State inquiry. Click the links to read more about the UNC case in the New York Times and Businessweek.com.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its decade-long study showing an increase in reading and math scores for urban districts. NAEP is the organization that produces the "Nation's Report Card." Cribbing from the press release about the report: "Ten years after The Nation’s Report Card began measuring progress in America’s urban school districts, the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) shows that most districts that participated in the first reading or math assessments scored higher this year at both grades 4 and 8, and none of the participating districts scored lower than in the first testing year. The District of Columbia Public Schools was the only one of the 21 districts that participated this year to show gains in both mathematics and reading at both grades compared with 2011. In Los Angeles, scores improved in reading at both grades, and in mathematics at grade 4."
NPR ran a story this morning about the report. Focusing on the District of Columbia Public Schools, which was the only city to improve in all four grade and subject combinations, the news is being hailed as a barometer of the success of the education reform movement. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told reporters that the city's new curriculum is making a significant difference: " We actually shifting our work to the not-sexy stuff. We're bringing the revolution to the classroom. We're changing what we're teaching and learning." Some observers are less impressed. While D.C.'s overall scores improved, the achievement gap between white and black students is the largest of all the tested cities. Others point to D.C.'s changing demographics (including a decrease in black residents) as affecting its scores, but there is no evidence yet of any demographic effect.
The new superintendent of Camden, NJ, said that yesterday's reports that only three Camden high school students scored as "college ready" on the recent SATs was a "kick in the stomach." The College Board, which administers the SAT, defines "college readiness" as achieving a score of 1550, which it predicts will give students a 65% probability of maintain a B- average or higher in college. Students with scores of 1550 or higher, the College Board says, are more likely to enroll in a four-year college and to be retained for their second and third year than those students who did not attain that benchmark. Paymon Rouhanifard was appointed superintendent of Camden City Schools by Gov. Chris Christie this summer in a state takeover of the troubled school district. Camden's troubles are well documented as highlighted in a Rolling Stone magazine story this week. Approximately 42% of the city's 80,000 residents are living below the poverty line, and Camden frequently appears on the most dangerous cities in America list.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Eight Kansas school districts have applied for innovative status under the state’s 2013 Coalition of Innovative Districts Act that would exempt them from most state education laws and from Kansas Department of Education regulations. The Innovative Districts Act allows ten percent of the state's school districts to opt out of most state laws if they can show how flexibility will improve student outcomes. The eight districts announced plans to use more college- and career-focused goals instead of state achievement assessments. Critics say that the Act clears the way for districts to replace veteran teachers with unlicensed (and less expensive) ones and are concerned that student outcomes would suffer without consistency in instructors. Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker told the Lawrence Journal World that allowing unlicensed teachers in innovative districts could also expose the state DOE to complaints that students are not being taught by legally-required “highly qualified teachers.” DeBacker says that her agency “might be on the hook for that” even though it will have little say in approving or monitoring the innovation districts’ plans. Second, the Act allows the innovative district to define what is student achievement for five years (until the renewal period), so it may be some time before anyone recognizes whether the innovation program is working. And some of the plans to improve student outcomes give pause. One district plans to offer multiple ways for students to get a high school diploma, including one that would require only two full years of classroom work in core subjects of English, math, science and social studies, followed by career training at community college or technical school, and “a year of on-the-job work experience that would involve only minimal supervision by the district to ensure the training program is meeting academic standards.” There may be nothing wrong with this proposal on its face, but it may be tricky in application when turning students over to unmonitored voc-tech programs and jobs to fulfill public education goals. Cutting out two years of high school instruction may also be troubling if low achieving students are steered into alternative job programs rather than education classes. One district leader indicated that its program may do just that—“we were trying to raise our test scores in the state more than what was best for the kids.” He told the Lawrence Journal World that “students can gain the additional skills and knowledge through job training and work experience as well as they can through classroom instruction.” The Kansas DOE has asked the state attorney general for an opinion of the statute’s constitutionality. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt declined to issue an opinion because the issue is part of pending school finance litigation. Read the story here.
Homeless Students Living in Campground Outside of School District Can Stay Put Pending Lawsuit's Outcome
The Easton, Pennsylvania school district takes residency requirements very seriously. On December 9, the Easton school district controversially disenrolled two homeless students because the camper they were living in was at a campground just outside of the district. Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered that the children be re-enrolled while the court decides if the Easton Area School District violated federal law. The students were attending the eighth and twelfth grades in Easton schools when their family lost its home due to foreclosure. Their parents, with the assistance of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, filed suit last December 10 challenging the legality of the school district’s decision under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001. 42 U.S.C. § § 11431-11435 (2002). (I have not yet seen the pleadings in this case, so I am relying on media reports of the complaint’s allegations.) The McKinney-Vento Act mandates that children who become homeless are entitled to a free public education in the district where they are living for the duration of the school year. The Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence ... and includes—(i) … children and youths who are are living… camp grounds due to a lack of alternative adequate accommodations.” Responding to media questions about the move, Easton Schools Solicitor John Freund wrote in an email that the district had “made a studied determination that this family, living outside the boundaries of the district, no longer qualified as homeless for the purpose of free public education in Easton.” The school district vigilantly tracks and disenrolls students that it calls “illegals.” In 2011, the district hired two investigators to follow students and their parents around to track out-of-district students. The district found and disenrolled a dozen students in that effort and had parents prosecuted for lying about their residences. Read more about the campground case here.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The City of Hoover, Alabama rescinded its decision this week to stop school bus service in the next school year, which serves around 5,700 students. The local board of education is in talks with the U.S. Department of Justice and other organizations to find money for the bus system while still addressing the district’s $12 million deficit. If alternative funding cannot be found, the school district may ask parents to pay the difference between what bus service costs and the amount of state funding allocated for transportation. When Hoover City Schools, a district in suburban Birmingham, AL, decided this summer to terminate bus service, parents and community leaders challenged whether the move would mean significant cost savings. Groups such as the Save the Hoover Bus System formed to protest the move. As we noted in earlier posts, some felt that the decision was motivated by a desire to drive out low income families and recent Latin American immigrants by eliminating their children’s transportation to school. For now, however, the buses will be back.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The Kansas City Star has revealed emails showing that Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro made plans with an educational consulting firm to "wipe the slate" on the unaccredited Kansas City Schools system. Those secret plans and a questionable bidding process for the firm has some education officials calling for Nicastro's resignation. We have been closely following the troubled year for Missouri's Kansas City and St. Louis districts, so more controversy is no surprise. That the state had already made a deal to set a new agenda for the schools, however, was unknown until the emails were uncovered by the Star. The plans includes familiar education reforms: new leadership and an office for innovation and charter school expansion. The emails show that the state started planning to takeover Kansas City Schools as early as April and contracted an Indianapolis education consulting firm, CEE-Trust, to overhaul the district. State officials worked on an memorandum of understanding with CEE to that end, but it failed when the Kansas City Schools rejected it and called instead for open bidding. CEE drafted its bid based on its memorandum (which Nicastro's staff helped draft) and got the nod over a highly-rated Massachusetts company whose bid was one-third of CEE's. Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Green is calling foul on the entire process, saying that the state had made up its mind before the district's August report card came out showing dramatic progress on recent proficiency tests. In the past, Nicastro has acknowledged the district's gains, but appears to have concluded that it was too little-too late, particularly as 70 percent of the district's student are below proficiency in reading and math and district has been been unaccredited since 2012 and twice in less than 15 years. Yesterday, Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend stated that he supports Nicastro's decisions, but Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday "that it was a good time for the state Board of Education to 'monitor and evaluate' concerns' raised about her." Read more here.
Friday, December 6, 2013
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results came out last week and prompting the annual reflection about the U.S.' rankings (17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math). The PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to test the math, science, and reading skills of 15 year-olds in 34 countries. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that "the United States’ performance on the 2012 PISA is a picture of educational stagnation. This is a reality at odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.” Michelle Rhee of Students First responded to the PISA results this week in Time Magazine, saying that we will have "more mediocrity for American education" unless the nation fully embraces educational reform.
As we read the results and ponder what they mean for American education, we should keep in mind that some countries played by different rules. Tom Loveless, a senior fellow with the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings pointed out that the top scores from China are meaningless because "China does not take the PISA test." The results from China are really from the country's most elite educational systems, such as Shanghai:
Shanghai has an economically and culturally elite population with systems in place to make sure that students who may perform poorly are not allowed into public schools. Second, the media should not present Shanghai’s scores as if they are indicative of China’s national performance in education. They aren’t, and no one will know how well China can perform on an international test until it participates, as a nation, under the same rules as all other nations.
An unlevel playing field with some countries does not mean that the United States should be complacent--there are countries on the list such as Japan and Estonia that have a diverse group of students doing better than America. In fact, improving education is the only thing that everyone agreed on in this divisive year. But as we look back at the year in education, the education reform movement must also be held accountable for results.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Education Week is running a series of stories, videos, timelines, and commentaries this week called Education in Indian Country. The series highlights the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and Morongo Indian Reservation in California, as well as the history of Native American education in the United States. The Pine Ridge Reservation, the subject of the video above, is home to nearly 40,000 members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux nation. Pine Ridge's residents are trying to increase outcomes for students to overcome a history of poverty, unemployment, and early mortality. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians in the San Bernardino mountains is trying to turn its casino-generated wealth into a new school to reverse decades of low achievement. Unlike every racial and ethnic category of students in which graduation rates are rising, American Indian graduation rates have dropped since 2008. Read the series here.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced that new indictments have been issued in the nationally-publicized Steubenville teen rape case. The indictments charge school administrators and staff with having information about the rape and breaking state law by failing to report it properly. In August 2012, a minor girl was raped at a party, and the case received national attention after photos and videos of the incident were posted on social media. Two Steubenville High School football players were convicted of the rape: one recieved a mininum one year sentence in a juvenile correctional facility; the other player got two years. Last week, a special grand jury reviewing additional crimes in the case has indicted Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey and Matt Belardine, a former assistant high school football coach for Steubenville City Schools. Superintendent McVey was indicted for tampering with evidence, three obstruction crimes, and falsification. Belardine was charged with four misdemeanors: allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, making a false statement and contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child. William Rhinaman, Steubenville City Schools' director of technology, was previously indicted for tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstructing official business and perjury. Last week's grand jury indictment also included separate charges for three other educators in an April 2012 rape case in Steubenville that was never prosecuted.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Derek and Danielle Holley-Walker discussed the Ohio and Tulsa hair cases last week, and yesterday, blogs were buzzing about Orlando's Faith Christian Academy threat to expel a 12-year-old for having long natural hair. The student, Vanessa VanDyke (pictured left) was given one week to decide to whether cut her hair or leave Faith Christian Academy, a school that she has attended since third grade. VanDyke's hair has been long and natural all year, but recently became an issue when she complained about students bullying about her hair. School administrators turned the complaint back on the student by saying that her natural hair was a distraction that violated the school's dress code. The school dress code has the following statement about hair: “Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction," and cites "mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails" as prohibited hair styles. The problem with African-American natural hair is that it is just that--it is not a "style," unlike the critiques of braided and locked styles that courts have made in employment cases.
UPDATE: 12/4/2013: The school has withdrawn its threat to expel the student, but school administrators told a local tv station that it was standing by its request for the student to change her hairstyle, saying “we’re not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Yesterday, NPR had a story about Milliken v. Bradley, the landmark school desegregation case holding that the federal courts could not impose desegregation plans on local districts absent evidence that those districts engaged in racial discrimination. Next year will mark Milliken's 40th anniversary, and Professor Joyce Baugh (Central Michigan University), told NPR that "[t]he Detroit public school system is in dire straits, in large part because of that decision. I don't think enough people realize the impact of that case. Not just in Detroit, but across the country," Baugh said. NPR also interviewed Ray Litt, father of one of the plaintiffs and Frank Kelley, then-Michigan's attorney general. The case changed the course of school desegration policy and remains relevant as third party interests continue to play a central role in school law, as Aaron Taylor mentioned yesterday in a post about the Missouri transfer law and Derek noted in the Lousiana voucher litigation. Listen or read the transcript of the interviews on How Court's Bus Ruling Sealed Differences in Detroit Schools here.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The city of Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, attracts families because of its highly rated school system. That attraction may be lessened next year because the school board voted to eliminate school bus service for most students in 2014. The Hoover City Board of Education’s school budget will have a $17 million deficit next year ended bus service to save money. This week, parents, activists, and the NAACP held a press conference in downtown Birmingham to protest the decision. First, they said, there is little evidence that cutting bus service will realize substantial savings. Yesterday, we posted an infographic by Trisha Powell Crain of alabamaschoolconnection.org that questions the district’s estimated savings of $2.5 million (Crain’s numbers shows that the savings will likely be under a million dollars). Protestors say that costs have little to do with the decision—that the real motive for stopping school bus service is to ease out students who perform poorly on standardized tests. A Hoover mother of three said in al.com that"[w]e all know the elephant in the room is there's a demographic of black children and Hispanic children that they don't want here. [Diversity was] OK when you were importing all the black kids to come and play football. You just didn't count on their cousins coming with them.” School officials deny that the move is an effort to get rid of black, Hispanic, or low-income children in Hoover. Critics of the decision also point out that families will avoid buying homes in Hoover without any bus service for their children, which will affect property values. Hoover mayor Gary Ivey has rebuffed that criticism, saying property values in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s wealthiest suburbs, have not declined even though they have no school bus transportation. Meanwhile, another city leader, Hoover Councilman Gene Smith, has paid nearly $30,000 of his own money for a study of the impact of the school bus cuts on Hoover's property values and socioeconomics. Smith says that he will reveal the results of the study on November 18. Spokespersons for the Department of Justice and the Alabama Board of Education say that they are monitoring the Hoover situation. In this age of accountability testing, declining test scores has implications for school funding, teachers’ jobs, and property values. Three Hoover schools are discovering those stakes when they landed on Alabama’s “failing schools” list last year for not making adequate yearly progress.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
An Alabama town’s decision to eliminate bus service next year is supposed to save money, but may be instead highlighting the perverse incentives of accountability testing reform. The Hoover, Alabama school system, which is in a suburb of Birmingham, controversially decided to end bus transportation for all except children with special needs starting in the 2014-15 school year, saying that it would save $2.5 million of the district’s $160 million budget. The Hoover district denies that getting rid of the buses that serve half of its students has anything to do with test scores, property values, or the increasing ethnic diversity in the area. But eliminating school buses, as Trisha Powell Crain says at alabamaschoolconnection.org this week, will not bring substantial cost savings, or at least not any that will show up in classrooms. She made the attached graphic about school finances. The likely place where the money would go is for the $2.8 million increase on the district’s debt payment. This cost savings disconnect was brought home when Hoover announced its plans to pay for students to have iPads and Nooks in the 2013-14 school year. Locals have two theories about stopping the school buses: the first is that the district ended bus service to discourage recent immigrant families from remaining in Hoover, since their children will not have a way to school. The second theory is that the district is discouraging academically and economically disadvantaged students from moving into Hoover because those students may lower the district’s standardized test scores. I vote for mixed motive. Alabama is famously uncomfortable with immigration, so the increased diversity may be a factor in the changes. Other affluent districts around Hoover do not offer school bus transportation. Lower-income and immigrant families settle in Hoover because of the district’s good school ratings and bus transportation, as school board member Paulette Pearson pointed out this spring, saying that the bus system makes Hoover “as a bit of a haven, so [families] come straight to us. … We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that.” But I also suspect that Hoover is trying to ease out lower-income and immigrant students to keep standardized test scores high. Because accountability testing has been made the divining rod of a good education, school districts feel that they cannot have a critical mass of students who do not perform well on standardized tests. In other words, the district is shedding students who most need a solid education.
Monday, November 11, 2013
In what a school board attorney acknowledges is an unusual move, a Kentucky school board filed suit in federal court last week against the Kentucky Department of Education in a special education case. The KDE is named as a defendant in the suit filed by the Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The complaint notes that KDE “is not called upon to answer the substance of the Complaint, but is made a party in order to give full effect to any final order or judgment of this Court and make such order or judgment binding on KDE[.]” The school board is appealing an adverse due process hearing decision by Kentucky’s Exceptional Children Appeals Board (ECAB). The ECAB found that the district denied a student a free and appropriate education during the 2011-12 school year and ordered the school board to provide 540 minutes of compensatory psychological services. Details are not yet available about the grounds for the ECAB’s decision, but are likely to be unsealed soon. The complaint is Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky v. Z.B. et al, No. 5:13-cv-00376-KKC (filed Nov. 4, 2013).
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
San Diego Professors Discuss Education, Colonization and the Law: Native American History in San Diego
In recognition of Native American heritage month, two California scholars discussed yesterday the legacy of American education’s suppression of native culture and religion. Professors Michael Connolly Miskwish, (San Diego State) and Bryan Wildenthal (Thomas Jefferson) discussed Education, Colonization and the Law: Native American History in San Diego on KPBS Radio. Listen to the broadcast here.
Monday, November 4, 2013