Monday, June 29, 2015
The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas to revisit race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court remanded the Fisher case in 2013 for the Fifth Circuit to conduct a "searching examination" of whether UT's policies were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in addition to the Fifth Circuit's upholding UT's policy, the justices may also consider new evidence that then-UT Austin President William C. Powers Jr. intervened on behalf of well-connected applicants (the elephant in the room for racial diversity policies in college admissions). The Chronicle of Higher Education's story is here.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Last weekend, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation ending Texas' criminal penalties for the "failure to attend school" law. The controversial law made Texas one of two states that prosecuted schoolchildren (and their parents) when students skipped school or class without a valid excuse. Last year, for example, Texas reportedly prosecuted 100,000 children and their parents for truancy. Now, instead of treating truancy as a Class C misdemeanor, the new law requires schools to address students’ truancy problems, such as homelessness, illness, or other difficulties, before referring students to court. Additionally, truancy matters will now be referred to civil rather than criminal court. With a coalition led by legislators and Texas Appleseed, H.B. 2398 received broad-based support from Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Association of Business, the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas, Texas Justices of the Peace & Constables Association, and the Texas PTA. Texas was under investigation by the Department of Justice for the truancy law this spring, and a class action suit was filed challenging the law. Read more about the bill at the Courthouse News Service here and H.B. 2398 here.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Florida Gov. Rick Scott acquiesced in April to complaints that teachers' evaluations were too heavily weighted to how well their students performed on state standardized tests, signing into law a measure to the reduce the percentage that student scores made up of teachers' evaluations from half to one-third. But one Florida county, Polk County, recently announced that student standardized scores would have no impact on its teachers' evaluations this year. Polk County says that it is bound by a clause in a collective bargaining agreement with a teachers union and therefore it cannot follow state law. The clause prevents the Polk County school district from using student scores as a job-performance factor until both the district and the union, the Polk Education Association, mutually agree on the evaluation system. If the contract provision prevails, similar clauses could impact Florida's teacher evaluation system throughout the state. Read the article about the district's stance here.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Flagler County Schools (FL) agreed to change its disciplinary practices after being sued for racial discrimination against African-American students, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Flagler Co. Schools in 2012 for removing and arresting black students more harshly than white students. The complaint alleged in the 2010-11 school year, black students made up 16% of the Flagler Co.'s school population, but were 31% of the in-school and out-of-school suspensions and 69% of expelled students. The complaint also alleged that black students were retained at a disproportionate rate of 22%. Flagler Co. school officials told the media that it will, subject to the school board's approval, reduce out-of-school suspensions and form a citizens’ committee to monitor discipline practices. The district also reportedly agreed to reserve out-of-school suspensions for situations when there’s a safety concern, and require district approval for suspensions lasting five days or more. Starting in August 2016, the district will require approval for any suspension of three days or more and consider eliminating out-of-school suspensions altogether.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
The Department of Education reportedly plans to fund a $1.6 million study to review the effectiveness of online community education, following a number of smaller studies that have found that some students are less likely to complete or to do well in online courses. Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California's study of online community college courses found that student success rates in online courses are between 11 and 14 percentage points lower than in traditional courses. The PPIC's study was noteworthy as California has the nation's largest postsecondary education system. Some good news in the PPIC study found that students who take at least some online courses were more likely than those who take only traditional courses to earn an associate’s degree or to transfer to a four-year institution. More data is available in a 2013 study at Columbia University, Teachers College, Di Xu & Shanna Smith Jaggars, Examining the Effectiveness of Online Learning Within a Community College System: An Instrumental Variable Approach.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Quoted from ED.gov: The Department of Education announced in a press release Monday that the Miccosukee Indian School (MIS), the only school of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, has received flexibility from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. The waiver allows the tribe to use a different definition of Adequate Yearly Progress than the State of Florida where it is located. The MIS is funded by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Education and educates approximately 150 K-12 students. Secretary Arne Duncan says that the waiver allows the tribe to define its own academic and culturally-relevant strategies to reach students. Although the graduation rate increased four percent for Indian youth in recent years, the ED noted that the BIE school graduation rate is 53 percent, compared with 83 percent nationwide. The ED's efforts supports an initiative of the White House Council on Native American Affairs to restructure the BIE from a provider of education to an education service-provider to tribes.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Wisconsin education superintendent Tony Evers criticized budget proposals that could bring big changes to the state's public school system. Evers told media yesterday that the proposed 2016-17 budget "erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin's public school system." Evers said that proposed budget will not be enough to counter inflation public school funding in the first year; in the second year, much of a proposed increase will go to expand the state's school voucher program. Moreover, much of the voucher money will subsidize private school costs for families whose children already attend private school, Evers said. Evers criticized another late addition to the education budget that allows each school district to set its own licensing requirements for new teachers. Evers says that proposal is "breathtaking in its stupidity," because it could allow people to teach without a degree or even a high school diploma and bar the state from imposing any other requirements, including criminal history or background checks. Listen to more of Evers' comments here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
U.S. Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in New Orleans Teachers' Challenge to Termination After Katrina
The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ certiorari petition in Oliver v. Orleans Parish Sch. Bd. on Monday, ending the class action suit for 7,600 former New Orleans teachers and school employees. The teachers and other school employees claimed that Louisiana violated due process when the state terminated them after Hurricane Katrina and took over of 102 of the Orleans Parish’s 126 schools. Overturning the Louisiana Court of Appeals decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court below held last fall that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by res judicata and that the Orleans Parish School Board did not violate the employees’ due process rights by failing to recall them after Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs’ claims were the subject matter of an earlier settlement between the OPSB and the Orleans Parish’s teachers’ union, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO)—which included three persons who were also class members in Oliver case—and thus barred by res judicata. On the due process claim, the court found that the issues presented by Hurricane Katrina were so unique that there were only 526 positions available for the over 7,600 class members. Acknowledging that there was no recall list for teachers temporarily displaced by Katrina, the court found that OPSB’s employee hotline to communicate to determine which employees could return to work when the schools re-opened, while imperfect, was sufficient to satisfy due process. Finally, the court found that the plaintiffs had no constitutionally protected property interest in the right to “priority consideration” for employment with a third party, the Recovery School District. The Louisiana Supreme Court's decision is here.
Monday, May 18, 2015
A group representing Asian-American applicants to elite colleges filed a complaint Friday with the Departments of Justice and Education alleging that Harvard University and other private elite colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The complaint by the Coalition of Asian-American Associations, a group of 64 organizations, is based on data from the lawsuit of the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. filed last November. The group’s complaint is backed by Edward Blum and the team that represented plaintiff Abigail Fisher in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin. The complainants ask the government to require Harvard to, among other things to 1) stop using racial quotas or racial balancing in its admissions process, 2) limit subjective components in admissions for education purposes only (rather than for racial balancing), and provide more disclosure of its applicant pool qualifications. The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted the complaint here. The complaint’s introduction sums up the group’s concerns:
Over the last two decades, Asian-American applicants to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges have increasingly experienced discrimination in the admissions process. Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1% GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted. Because of this discrimination, it has become especially difficult for high performing male Asian-American students to gain admission to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) from its nearly $500 million debt prompted a walkout protest by the city's teachers. This week the plan is being examined more closely. The Governor's plan creates two school districts. The first will made up of the current elected DPS Board members that will exist only to retire debt, much like the General Motors bankruptcy model. The plan creates a new district that will absorb all of the city's students, employees, buildings, and labor contracts called the City of Detroit Education District (CDED). The CDED will be governed by a seven member board appointed by the Governor and Detroit's mayor. Currently, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan opposes the current plan, saying that he sees no reason to continue the state's longtime control of Detroit's schools when that control has failed over the last four years. School districts statewide also oppose the plan, worried that raising extra money will essentially require Michigan's school districts to pay $50 per pupil to avoid raising taxes. Interestingly, Detroit's newspapers on opposite sides of the political spectrum argue that Gov. Snyder's plan should given a chance. Read the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News' editorials here and here.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Sweden has been an enthusiastic model for school voucher and choice programs around the world. This week, a new report reopens the debate about Sweden's school choice reforms that may contain lessons for similar efforts in the United States. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the report on Swedish education that in part faults school choice for Sweden's declining performance on international assessments. The OECD report was prompted when Sweden's student performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), dropped significantly from near the OECD average in 2000 to significantly below average in 2012-- the sharpest decline among the 65 participating countries and economies. In Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective, the OECD found that Sweden's school choice reforms were too loosely regulated and that education quality may have suffered from the lack of oversight. The report also points to school choice as a contributor to almost half of Sweden's children from immigrant backgrounds (48%) failing to make a passing grade in mathematics on the PISA. The OECD suggests that Sweden regulate private voucher programs and charters more closely to maintain education quality and improve how disadvantaged families receive information about schools, because the OECD is concerned that disadvantaged families may be overlooking better-ranked schools to stay in more familiar (and at times, more ethnically and socio-economically segregated) environments. When this debate started years ago, economists argued that no one could tell what prompted the decline in Sweden's PISA scores because the country started so many different reforms at once. One economist faulted that the country's largely unregulated entry and oversight in implementing charters and private school voucher programs; another argued that Sweden's schools were hampered in designing their own curriculum and teaching methods. In a Slate article a few years ago, the New Orleans Recovery District Superintendent acknowledged that part of that district's success came from district administrators (rather than market pressures) deciding which charters could stay open and from recruiting top quality teachers and administrators from around the country to start a new district nearly from the ground up, situations unlikely to be replicated in most districts in the nation. Read more about the OECD report and Sweden's response here.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Last month Derek cited a study correlating higher student marijuana use to schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspensions and students reported low policy enforcement. That has not slowed the use of such policies in some districts, however, as the Roanoke Times reports that an eleven year old student was disciplined under circumstances that seem excessive even under zero tolerance policies. Acting on a student tip, an assistant principal at Bedford Middle School (VA) found a green leaf and a lighter in a plastic baggie in a sixth grader's backpack at school last fall. School resource officers from the sheriff’s office field-tested the leaf, which tested negative for marijuana. The student was nevertheless arrested and charged as a juvenile for marijuana possession. Two further tests of the leaf confirmed that it was not marijuana. That confirmation that the bag contained an ordinary leaf was not the end of the matter, however. An administrator told the student's parents that the juvenile's charge dismissal did not resolve the school's zero tolerance policies, and the student was suspended for a year. After sixth months of online education and homeschooling, the student was permitted to return to school (albeit a different school) under strict probationary terms. The student's parents, a current and a retired teacher, have sued the district and the Sheriff's Office for due process violations and for malicious prosecution. The case reportedly has been sent to mediation. Read more about the case here.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Last week, Mississippi enacted a special education voucher law (the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act), and in Tennessee this week another special education voucher bill, the Individualized Education Act, is headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Both bills are roughly modeled on Florida’s McKay Scholarship special education voucher program, which started under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Mississippi’s pilot program provides $6,500 to parents for special needs services and private school tutoring and tuition when parents feel that the local public school cannot meet their child’s needs. In Tennessee, parents would receive $6,000 per student for special education expenses such as physical therapy, private schooling, home schooling, and textbooks. Tennessee’s state comptroller acknowledged that the special education voucher bill would be inaccessible for most special education students. The proposed voucher would not replace public school special education services unless students’ families were affluent enough to cover the additional cost of private school tuition or can homeschool their children. In both states, some legislators and special education advocates unsuccessfully opposed the bills, pointing out the financial limitations, the risk of segregating special education students from mainstream classrooms, and private schools’ lack of accountability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Public education funding is also at issue, considering that public schools will still have to provide special educational services with less money after students leave the public school system. Because of fixed costs such as such as facilities and special education personnel, public schools' special education costs do not balance out simply because some students leave public schools, Professor Ron Zimmer (Vanderbilt) told Chalkbeat Tennessee.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This February, the UCLA Civil Rights Project's school discipline study reported that Oklahoma City Public Schools district (OCPS) was one of the nation's ten highest highest-suspending districts for secondary school students. Yesterday, OCPS Superintendent Rob Neu announced plans to reduce the district's 3,000 annual suspensions through behavior programs and by shortening the length of suspensions. Neu was responding to the results of the district's internal audit which confirmed some of the UCLA report's findings. That study noted that OCPS' suspension rate for minorities exceeded other districts surveyed, with 75 percent of African-American male high school students and 54 percent of African-American female high school students in the district suspended at least once in 2012, and 60 percent of Native American male and 40 percent Native American female high school suspended that year. Neu told the media that the district planned to respond to racial disparity in school suspensions by hiring more teachers and administrators of color and "become more culturally aware of the students that we’re serving.” Links to the OCPS audit are available here.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Yesterday, Judge Jerry Baxter, the presiding judge over the Atlanta cheating trial, berated the former educators who declined an offered (and unusual) post-trial deal in exchange for accepting responsibility. (Two of the defendants took the deal; a pregnant defendant has not yet been sentenced.) Because it was a slower news day, Judge Baxter's public scolding that kids could not read because of the defendants' actions made headline news. True to his warning that he would sentenced defendants to prison unless they admitted to guilt and waived their right to appeal, yesterday, the top administrators in the scheme were sentenced to seven years; the teachers' sentences ranged between one and two years in prison. Eleven defendants were found guilty on April 1 on racketeering and false statement charges for participating in a scheme to boost standardized test scores on Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, designed to fulfill the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind. Atlanta Public Schools educators cheated, the jury found, by supplying answers to students or changing answers after the tests. Prosecutors alleged that the educators were motivated by threats from Beverly Hall, former APS superintendent who died before the trial, that their jobs and APS' federal money would be jeopardized if Atlanta's public students failed to show sufficient progress under NCLB. Some voices of criticism are emerging however, including Richard Rothstein's take on the cheating trial on the Economic Policy Institute's Blog as "inevitable when out-of-touch policymakers set impossible-to-achieve goals and expect that success will nonetheless follow if only underlings are held accountable for measurable results." I wonder if the Georgia Supreme Court will be uneasy about the use of Georgia's RICO statute here to expose the defendants to a harsher sentencing range, which has the same "surgery with an axe" feel to it is used to characterize honest services fraud prosecutions. Admittedly, the state's racketeering law gives state prosecutors a lighter burden than their federal counterparts in proving that an "enterprise" existed that the defendants controlled "through a pattern of racketeering activity," but RICO is typically reserved for more than garden-variety fraud.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
New Book on Education Policy: Race to the Bottom: Corporate Reform and the Future of Public Education
The Washington Post has a summary of a new book, Race to the Bottom: Corporate Reform and the Future of Public Education (Apr. 2015) by Michael V. McGill, professor of school leadership at Bank Street College of Education and former superintendent of the Scarsdale, NY schools. In his summary, McGill challenges the modern school reform movement's "silver bullet strategies" that have produced only modest gains in raising standardized test scores and closing achievement gaps. These efforts, he argues, have only succeeded in creating a divisive environment that has undermined the quality of education. Among some concrete suggestions for invigorating educators and school districts, Professor McGill proposes three broad areas of change for education policy:
- recognizing that a strategy of audit and control cannot produce the results of the same quality that human development can, let alone liberate the talent necessary to create an education for the 21st century;
- offset economic disparities and racial discrimination through adequate education funding; and
- re-engaging the partners in the education enterprise—governments, localities, universities, the research community—in relationships that are both authentic and reciprocal, so that the parties respect and draw on each other’s wisdom and energy.
Read Professor McGill's summary of Race to the Bottom here.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Last week, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state's privacy law did not protect the names of public school employees who are on paid administrative leave during an investigation for misconduct. The case arose when media outlets sought information about district employees on administrative leave, which included two Spokane school employees who, incidentally, are cousins, one a high school counselor and the other a teacher. The employees sued to enjoin the district from disclosing the records, claiming that they were exempt under the state privacy statute as personal information maintained in an employee's file and as records compiled by an investigative agency. The Washington Supreme Court stated that the records were not protected because a "public employer's investigation is certainly not a private matter: it arises exclusively from the employee's public employment." Interestingly, the court drew parallels to Ferguson, Missouri, and what can happen when "public trust can be eroded when the public suspects the government is withholding information to protect its own." The Washington case is Predisik v. Spokane Sch. Dist. No. 81, No. 90129-5. In late March, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a court of appeals decision in State ex rel. Quolke v. Strongsville City School Dist. Bd. of Ed., No. 2015-Ohio-1083, holding that the names of replacement teachers were subject to disclosure under the state public records law. After a 2013 teachers’ strike, the president of the Cleveland Teacher’s Union requested the names and identification numbers of all replacement teachers employed by the Strongsville City School District Board of Education under the public records law. The Board argued that releasing the names would violate the replacement teachers' privacy and put them in danger from striking teachers and their supporters. The Board’s concern was not entirely hypothetical, as there were skirmishes between the striking teachers and replacements during the strike that generally were non-physical. A teachers’ organization also posted a “wall of shame” on its website with the pictures of replacement teachers. But those concerns about the teachers’ privacy or well-being ended with the strike, the Ohio Supreme Court stated. Thus, interest in protecting the replacement teachers’ privacy did not outweigh the public interest in the records.
Monday, April 6, 2015
NPR reposted its earlier view about the Atlanta cheating trial which discusses how high stakes testing can cause unbalanced allocations of teachers' time and resources to students "on the bubble," students who appear closest to passing standardized tests. Students who can pass the test without intensive help and students who appear less able to pass get less time and attention from teachers. Read NPR Ed.'s take here.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Eleven Atlanta Public School Defendants Convicted of Racketeering in Standardized Test Cheating Trial
After eight days of deliberations and five months of testimony, the verdicts in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial came in yesterday. The jury convicted eleven administrators and teachers and acquitted one teacher. Prosecutors argued that a cheating conspiracy was motivated by bonuses and promotions that APS educators received when students met proficiency standards mandated by the No Child Left Behind law. The APS defendants were found to have inflated students' test scores at several elementary schools by giving students test questions in advance, assisting students during tests, and having grade-changing parties to erase and fix wrong test answers. Essentially, the evidence showed that APS officials became obsessed with data and showing marked progress in standardized test scores in some APS elementary schools. The wheels came off, however, when those elementary students showed up in high school without the skills indicated by their previous test scores. The verdicts came in without the trial's central defendant, APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, who died in March. Dr. Hall allegedly pressured teachers and administrators to hit NCLB targets or face termination. The APS defendants were tried under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) law, which we discussed in this post. (Georgia's RICO law eases the prosecution's burden to prove "an enterprise" and a "pattern of racketeering activity," both required under the federal RICO statute.) For a take on the pressure placed on teachers and administrators to comply with the APS' demands to show progress, see the New Yorker article on the cheating scandal here.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Public Advocates Group Calls for More Transparency and Financial Oversight of California's Charter Schools
Although California law allows its county superintendents to request an "extraordinary audit" of charter schools, a California group argues in a new report that the current law does not provide enough protection against charter school fraud or mismanagement. The Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, estimates in Risking Public Money: California Charter School Fraud, that California could lose more than $100 million to charter school fraud if the state does not reform its oversight of those schools. Below are excerpts from the report's executive summary:
California is home to the largest number of charter schools in the country, with over 1100 schools providing instruction to over half a million students. In the 2013-14 school year, California charter schools received more than $3 billion in public funding. Despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, California has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements and monitoring by oversight bodies, including chartering entities, county superintendents and the State Controller, no oversight body regularly conducts audits. ...
In this report we describe three fundamental flaws with California’s oversight of charter schools:
Oversight depends heavily on self-reporting by charter schools or by whistleblowers. California’s oversight agencies rely almost entirely on audits paid for by charter operators and complaints from whistleblowers. Both methods are important to uncover fraud; however, neither is a systematic approach to fraud detection, nor are they effective in fraud prevention.
General auditing techniques alone do not uncover fraud. The audits commissioned by the charter schools use general auditing techniques rather than techniques specifically designed to detect and uncover fraud. The current processes may expose inaccuracies or inefficiencies; however, without audits targeted at uncovering financial fraud, state and local agencies will rarely be able to detect fraud without a whistleblower.
Oversight bodies lack adequate staffing to detect and eliminate fraud. In California, the vast majority of charter schools are authorized by local school districts that lack adequate staffing to monitor charter schools and ferret out fraud. Staff members who are responsible for oversight often juggle competing obligations that make it difficult to focus on oversight and identify signs of potential fraud and abuse.
Risking Public Money is available here.