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 the lack of public school bus. 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 either. 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
Thursday, October 31, 2013
In August, Emily Gold Waldman's post on the First Amendment "I [Heart] Boobies" case noted how school policies piecing out acceptable cancer awareness clothing from the "lewd" can get messy. Last Friday, Friendly High School in Prince George’s County, MD, handed out in-school suspensions to students who showed up to school in Breast Cancer Awarness Month t-shirts. Seventy-five students showed up in pink shirts to celebrate October's "Pink Out" breast cancer campaign that readers may have seen during NFL, WNBA, MLB, and PGA Tour events this month. But pink shirts violate the district's uniform policy, and the principal told students in advance that they could not hold their annual “Pink Out.” When students showed up anyway wearing pink shirts, they were ordered to cover up or receive in-school suspensions. The students given in-school suspensions were told that they would receive an unexcused absence and zeros for their classes. Here's the messy part: the first wave of students apparently were ordered to cover up the pink shirts with some acceptable ones that the school had around. Those students went on to class. But the school ran out of acceptable cover-up shirts, so students who showed up later got in-class suspensions. Yesterday, the district posted an apology on Friendly High's website for the "confusion regarding our school’s Breast Cancer Awareness event this year... The student Pink-Out that occurred on Friday has made the school district aware of the issues that can result from inconsistencies in uniform policies for special commemorative events." Instead, the school allowed all students to wear pink ribbons yesterday. I suspect (or hope at least) that the school rescinded the in-school suspensions because of the inconsistent policy. Read more at the National School Boards Association here.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
After Paying $2.2 Million, Normandy School District Votes to Stop Paying Tuition and Transportation Costs to Transfer Districts
To avoid running out of money by March, the Normandy School District voted Thursday to stop paying tuition and transportation costs for the hundreds of students who chose to attend a transfer district this year. The district in St. Louis County also voted to layoff 100 employees (including 71 teachers) starting next month and to close an elementary school in December. The district estimates that layoffs and school closure will save more than $3 million. The unaccredited Normandy district is struggling to come up with the money to pay for students who transferred out of the district this school year. It has already paid receiving districts $2.2 million in tuition and transportation this school year for students who transferred out of Normandy under Missouri’s new school transfer law. The district estimates the cost of tuition and transportation for students who transferred will be $13 to $15 million. Riverview Gardens, the other unaccredited district, says that it has enough reserves to get through the school year. Read the story here.
Real estate investment firm Municipal Acquisitions’ (MA) offer to buy 30 of Philadelphia’s closed schools for $100 million has sparked a feud between the city council, the school district, and the mayor. The School District of Philadelphia has to make up a $304 million deficit, and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke thinks that MA offers a creative way to stabilize the district’s finances. The school district and Mayor Michael Nutter, however, are cautious about the “too good to be true” offer, particularly as MA has not appraised the properties. After the school district passed on MA’s offer, Clarke called for a hearing on the district's financial stewardship. Clarke and Mayor Nutter are already disputing where to find $50 million that the city promised to loan the district in September. Mayor Nutter reportedly wants to borrow the money; Clarke wants to give the school district money for closed buildings that were already at odds over where to find the $50 million the city promised the district in September. Nutter wants to borrow the money; Clarke wants to give the district cash for closed buildings that could be sold to pay back the city. Drexel and Temple universities have expressed interest in seven of the closed schools. MA specializes in offering to buy public buildings from local governments in financial difficulties. If MA’s bid gets serious consideration, get ready for some fireworks, because MA’s attempted acquisition of North Carolina’s Roanoke Rapids’ theatre was a controversial leaseback deal that Roanoke Rapids ultimately rejected.
A Las Vegas elementary school joins those in Atlanta and D.C. in facing an investigation into “statistically improbable test scores,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Last week, the Nevada attorney general’s office subpoenaed the principal and six staff members of Matt Kelly Elementary School, where students’ reading test scores tripled in the last two school years. Kelly Elementary School’s test results have historically hovered between 51 and 24 percent in reading and math proficiency across all grades. That pattern was evident in the 2010-11 school year, when fewer than 25 percent of Kelly Elementary School’s fifth-graders read at grade level. A year later, however, the school’s fifth-grade reading scores soared to to 77 percent, more than tripling the previous year’s scores. In the 2012-13 school year, Kelly’s fifth-grade reading scores held steady at 72 percent proficiency. Clark County School District officials said that the district requested in August 2012 that the Nevada Board of Education review Kelly Elementary’s scores. Kelly Elementary is considered one of seven high-need schools in the school district; all seven have high black populations and poverty. Each of those schools receives $400,000 more a year than other district schools.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Two major for-profit higher-education companies, the Apollo Group (parent of the University of Phoenix) and the Education Management Corporation, (Argosy University, the Art Institutes, etc.), have announced that they are each laying off 500 nonfaculty employees each. Apollo’s flagship school, the University of Phoenix, had an 18-percent annual drop in enrollment and a 36-percent annual decline in operating income in the last year. Education Management reported a loss of $268 million for the 2013 fiscal year and reported a $1.51 billion loss in 2012. Nevertheless, Barron’s reports that major investment firms are bullish about Apollo’s stock because of the company's cost reduction plans (laying off employees). The Motley Fool, on the other hand, is unimpressed with Apollo’s 25% stock jump, saying that the gain is a better reflection of optimizing a declining business than real growth. Apollo has also announced that it will focus on certificate and nondegree programs.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The State of California has brought its second lawsuit in six years against Corinthian Colleges, Inc., saying that the company has failed to live up to the terms of a previous settlement with the state. Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI), is one of the largest for-profit post-secondary “career education” companies in North America and reported having 96,631 students in a 2012 10-Q statement. Back in 2007 when Jerry Brown was the state attorney general, Corinthians agreed to settle a lawsuit with the state by paying a $6.5 million fine, including $5.8 million in consumer restitution to students who had been deceived by false advertising. Current California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a complaint last week against the company for not following the terms of the 2007 settlement, alleging that the schools’ ads continue to mislead students, investors, and regulators about job placement and student default rates. California believes that CCI continues to lure students to take on massive student debt to train for jobs at CCI's schools, and when the students cannot find jobs, the students default on their loans.
California’s complaint alleges that CCI targets students who head single parent families and have annual incomes that are near the federal poverty line ($19,530 for a three-person household). The complaint alleges that “CCI targets this demographic, which it describes in internal company documents as composed of "isolated," "impatient," individuals with ''low self-esteem," who have "few people in their lives who care about them" and who are "stuck" and "unable to see and plan well for future." CCI attracts students through “aggressive and persistent internet and telemarketing campaigns and through television ads on daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich,” the state alleges. One of CCI’s deceptive practices, the complaint says, is arranging for a temp agency to employ students for a few days right before reporting post-gradation employment data. The company simply did not report employment data for several of its schools that closed in 2011.
The recession prompts underemployed adults to return to school and with that comes an uptick in aggressive advertising by for-profit technical schools. The problem is that students at for-profit higher education institutions have loan default rates at much higher rates than the national average. California wants to curb CCI’s falsely reporting post-graduation employment data to lure students into taking out student loans that they cannot repay (or discharge in bankruptcy) after they cannot find a job in their chosen fields. Watching for-profit schools is difficult enough but monitoring Corinthians has been particularly hard because the company opens and closes its schools at a brisk pace. During the 2011-12 school year, for example, Corinthians announced closures of its affiliated schools in Washington, Chicago, Illinois, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Decatur, Georgia and Arlington, Texas. Of course, we in legal education have to clean up our own employment data reporting too, as shown in the well-publicized cases of Villanova Law School and University of Illinois College of Law’s publishing misleading data about students' debt burden and employment statistics after graduation.