Monday, July 14, 2014
DOJ Reaches Agreement with Jefferson County, La. Parish Schools to End Discriminatory Practices Against Latino Students
The Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana (JPPSS) reached an agreement with the Departments of Justice and Education last week to ensure that students can enroll in school regardless of their or their parents' national origin or immigration status. The agreement follows the suggestions in the agencies' May 18 Dear Colleague Letter reminding districts of the permissible means to verify a student's age, residency, and immunizations without discouraging enrollment based on national origin or immigration status. The case arises from a 2012 civil rights complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center alleging discrimination in Jefferson Parish against Latino students, including one school telling a high school student that she could not graduate unless she showed proof of a social security number before her graduation, not providing interpreters for Spanish-speaking parents at parent-teacher conferences, and allowing school staff to use racial slurs when referring to students. The SPLC noted then that Latino students made up about 17 percent of the Jefferson Parish school district's students, and limited English proficiency students were about eight percent of the enrollment. Among the terms of the three-year agreement between the DOJ/DOE and JPPSS, the district has agreed to revise enrollment and registration materials and policies to ensure they do not exclude or discourage students from enrolling based on citizenship or immigration status; ensure that parents and students are not asked to produce any document that requires proof of citizenship or immigration status in order to enroll or graduate; and implement a translation and interpretation policy to ensure that LEP parents receive essential information in a language they understand. More information on the agreement is at the DOJ's site here.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
A U.S. District Court Judge pulled few punches yesterday in rejecting Huntsville, AL's attempts to rezone its school districts in the 51-year-old desegregation lawsuit, Hereford v. Huntsville. The Huntsville city school board moved the U.S. District Court to approve a proposed student assignment plan. Instead, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala took the opportunity in an 107-page opinion to "chart a course towards a declaration of unitary status," something that school districts in desegregation suits are sometimes reluctant to pursue. In Hereford, Huntsville City Schools proposed to redraw school zone lines and reassign students after new school construction and closures. The U.S. Justice Department objected, arguing that the plan would combine two majority black high schools and result in studnts being placed in more segregated environments. The court not only agreed with the DOJ's assessment, but also gently chided the Justice Department for not being tougher with Huntsville as racial inequities have crept into the school system in reading and math proficiency rates, graduation rates, and AP class assignments during its decades of oversight. The court also tapped Huntsville City Schools on the wrist for accusing the DOJ's alternative student reassignment plans on its website as being needlessly complicated, saying that the DOJ plan would result in numerous feeder splits (the court noted that the government's plan in fact has none) and issuing a misleading warning that the district would lose Title I funding under the DOJ plan. Judge Haikala ordered the school board to take down the misleading information about the plans. Ultimately finding problems with both parties' proposals, the court sent the parties back to the table, this time with a magistrate judge as a mediator. In the opinion, the court outlined the "ABC's of Public School Desegregation in the 21st Century" to work towards the present problem - school rezoning - and to resolve the decades-old problem - developing an equitable and unitary system: A for attendance zones; B for building a unitary system; and and C for "for Conduct that Demonstrates Good Faith." The latter point appears to result from the court's observation that Huntsville City Schools have not been fully candid about its reasons for rezoning. The court cited a statement made by the board superitendent in an unguarded moment that students from the predominantly African-American high school “[would] be going into schools that are not accustomed to dealing with students who are below grade level.” Read the opinion in Hereford v. Huntsville here.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a "major shift" in the way that the ED measures how well states are educating the nation's 6.5 million special education students. In keeping with the administration's accountability focus, the shift is in how the Department measures state's compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from focusing on whether states have met the IDEA's procedural requirements to charting the reading and math proficiency of students with disabilities. Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education, wrote on ED.gov that while "the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations." Using the new yardstick of student performance, while 40 states are compliant with the IDEA's core procedural requirements, only 18 states would be compliant under the ED's new student reading and math proficiency standards. See the chart at IDEA State Determinations Under Results Driven Accountability: 2014.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Corinthian Colleges Inc. has been in a few state attorneys generals' crosshairs for consumer fraud, predatory practices, and subprime student loans, so today's announcement that the education company has reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to avoid shutdown is unsuprising. Corinthian Colleges ran afoul of the U.S. government when it failed to timely provide requested data "to address inconsistencies in the company’s job placement claims for graduates, as well as grade and attendance records" to regulators. Corinthian faced immediate shut-down of its 107 campuses after the government threatened to stop federal student aid to Corinthian's students. Under the proposed agreement, which will be finalized on July 1, Corinthian will phase out or sell its campuses. The ED has agreed to immediately release $16 million in federal student aid for students currently enrolled at Corinthian campuses, in exchange for Corinthian to provide enrollment documentation. Read more at ED.gov here.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
The now well-publicized federal lawsuit filed this week by a former high school student after he was suspended for a two-word post highlights the continuing difficulties that school officials have regulating off-campus internet speech. The student, Reid Sagehom, was suspended from Rogers High School in Minnesota for his response to an anonymous question on an unofficial student website asking if he had made out with a female school teacher. Sagehom responded, sarcastically, he says, “Actually yeah.” The school then recommended Sagehom be suspended, ultimately for ten weeks, because he “damaged a teacher's reputation.” Sagehom filed a complaint on Tuesday alleging that his speech was protected and that the subsequent events to the post, including being referred for prosecution and publicly upbraided by a police chief, violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Sagehom's complaint may likely never reach the decision stage, but raises issues that continue to bedevil the federal courts -- when does students' off-campus internet speech actually cause a substantial disruption to the educational environment under Tinker? Read the complaint in Sagehom v. Independent School District No. 728, 2014 WL 2724866 (D.Minn. June 17, 2014) here.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Following a number of school religious expression bills introduced in state legislatures in the last year, the North Carolina House passed a bill last week that allows public school students to pray, express religious viewpoints, pass out religious materials, and assemble "as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression." The N.C. House approved S.B. 370, which also provides that school employees who are viewing student religious expression "shall not be disrespectful of the student exercise of such rights and may adopt a respectful posture." The bill will have to return to the state senate for final approval, where it is expected to pass. The ACLU of North Carolina released a statement objecting to the bill's language which it says could leave school officials unclear about the rules, particularly as adopting "a respectful posture" could communicate approval of one religious view above others. In application, the legislation is certain to highlight the tension between the Establishment and the Free Speech and Exercise Clauses that currently require public school officials to show neutrality in their treatment of religion and not inhibit student expression of privately-held views as long as that expression does not infringe upon the rights of others. For an overview of the constitutional issues, read the ED's Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools here.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
In a decsion of interest to schools with professional graduate degree programs, a federal court has blocked Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) from withholding a medical student's degree because he failed to report a DWI arrest while he was in college. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the student, Amir Al-Dabagh, was about to graduate and begin a dermatology residency on June 17 when CWRU told him that he would be dismissed from the medical school "for continued and serious breaches in the code of conduct and standards of professionalism." Al-Dabagh was convicted of a misdemeanor DWI (from the college arrest) this April, and while he did report the conviction to the hospital where he was working, CWRU learned of it before he had an opportunity to report it to the school. U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin wrote that CWRU "acted arbitrarily and capriciously in finding Al-Dabagh did not satisfy the core competency of "professionalism.'" Judge Gwin stated that CWRU recommended Al-Dabagh for a residency and told him that he would graduate with distinction for his research. While the school listed other misbehaviors as part of its consideration, several of the incidents were off-campus. While there was other misconduct related to the student's fitness to be a doctor, such as complaints from a patient's family, giving patient case summaries where he might not have personally examined the patient, and covering for late attendances, CWRU relied on the DWI prosecution as its basis to expel Al-Dabagh. Judge Gwin found that CWRU's finding that Al-Dabagh lacked professionalism to be a doctor was contradicted by the record, and that Al-Dabagh satisfied "all of the University requirements to graduate and receive his diploma." Read more at The Plain Dealer here.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
The New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) has become the first all-public charter school district in the nation, and among the commentators on the end of the city's traditional public schools, I wanted to mention Professor P.L. Thomas' recent blog post on "disaster capitalism" and New Orleans' charter school reinvention. Professor Thomas notes that RSD has some ways to go both as an experiment in education and as a model for school choice. On the first point, RSD's schools are low-rated -- the majority of RSD schools rank as “failing” schools under Louisiana's school ratings -- but concluding that RSD is a failure on those grounds is likely premature and more complicated than the state's letter grading system. Professor Thomas notes, "By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane, with thousands of students not returning." The Washington Post is also weighing on the second point, whether the RSD truly offers educational equity or school choice:
White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.
John White, former RSD superintendent and now the state’s superintendent of education, agrees that acess to the best schools is not equal in New Orleans, but calls attempts to challenge the system, such as the filing of the civil rights complaint last month that challenged educational equity in New Orleans, "a joke." The state is constitutionally prohibited from forcing schools to participate in One App.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
A state judge struck down struck down Alabama's tax credits law yesterday on state constitutional grounds. The Alabama Accountability Act gives tax credits for parents who move their children from failing public schools to private schools. Montgomery Judge Gene Reese ruled the Accountability Act violated the Alabama Constitution because it provided public funds for private education, put more than one subject in a bill, changed from its purpose of flexibility, which had virtually no cost, to potentially costing $40 million in annual tax credits. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says that his office will appeal the ruling. The Alabama Accountability Act has been troubled from its inception and hit more speed bumps in its implementation, as we have covered here and here. The tax credit law's reality as we posted here, is that tax credits are not feasible for students in "failing" schools to use to transfer when many students live in areas where there is no alternative non-failing public school or private school. According to the Alabama Revenue Department, taxpayers donated $25 million in 2013 to pay for scholarships through Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs, for children leaving failing schools under the law. The Alabama Department of Education estimates that 52 students statewide transfered using tax credits to go to private schools. There were 78 schools on the Alabama failing schools list. Read the ruling here.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Consumer Law Group Sues to Disclose Amount ED Pays Private Collection Agencies for Student Loan Debt
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) sued the U.S. Department of Education under the Freedom of Information Act last week, seeking the amounts that the Department pays private student loan debt collection agencies. The NCLC says that private collection companies can get 11-percent commissions if they can get a delinquent loan rehabilitated, but may receive only $150 if they get a borrower into a forgiveness program. From the NCLC's release:
In March 2013, as part of efforts to protect student loan borrowers, attorneys with NCLC’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project requested that the Education Department turn over public information about the incentives it provides to its private debt collector contractors. ... Outsourcing debt collection activities is not cheap. Taxpayers paid about $1 billion in commissions to private student loan debt collectors just in 2011. Department projections show the outsourcing to private debt collectors growing to over $2 billion by 2016.
The suit was filed in federal district court in Boston. Read more here.
Friday, May 23, 2014
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) settled a law suit this week to create new scoring practices and to compensate 6,000 students who requested testing accomodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The plaintiffs in Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC, Inc., et al., charged that over the past five years, LSAC "flagged" or annotated LSAT score reports for test takers who received accomodations for disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). LSAC agreed to enter a consent decree to pay $7.73 million in penalties for its practice of flagging LSAT score reports. In a press release, the DOJ stated that "unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process. [Moreover,] LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA." For example, the LSAC denied testing accomodations three times to a visually-impaired plaintiff who despite evidence that she attended a school for people who are blind and had received testing accommodations since kindergarten, the LSAC denied nearly all her requested accommodations and refused to provide her a large print test book. Read the DOJ Press Release here.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a story about the University of Texas' work to reduce the graduation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Part of that work was based on psychological studies showing that students' success rates improved when they began to persuade themselves that they belonged at the school. UT created targeted academic support and a self-persuasion script for students who were susceptible to feeling that they did not belong. From the article:
Every college freshman — rich or poor, white or minority, first-generation or legacy — experiences academic setbacks and awkward moments when they feel they don’t belong. But white students and wealthy students and students with college-graduate parents tend not to take those moments too seriously or too personally. Sure, they still feel bad when they fail a test or get in a fight with a roommate or are turned down for a date. But in general, they don’t interpret those setbacks as a sign that they don’t belong in college or that they’re not going to succeed there.
It is only students facing the particular fears and anxieties and experiences of exclusion that come with being a minority — whether by race or by class — who are susceptible to this problem. Those students often misinterpret temporary setbacks as a permanent indication that they can’t succeed or don’t belong at U.T. For those students, the intervention can work as a kind of inoculation. And when, six months or two years later, the germs of self-doubt try to infect them, the lingering effect of the intervention allows them to shrug off those doubts exactly the way the advantaged students do.
Friday, May 16, 2014
The Advancement Project, which represents a coalition of education and civil rights groups, filed three civil rights complaints this week under Title VI alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey, Chicago, and New Orleans. The complaints challenge the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color. The Advancement Project complaints were filed on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities). In a release about the filings, the Advancement Project stated:
- In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed during the last school year alone. These closures targeted African-American communities, with Black students accounting for only 43 percent of all Chicago students but making up 87 percent of the students affected by the closures.
- With the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
- Newark’s public schools have been under state control since 1995, with no local control or community accountability for nearly 20 years. As a result, Newark communities are powerless to stop New Jersey’s plan to close neighborhood schools – many of which are generational schools that fathers and grandmothers of current schoolchildren had attended years before.
Journey for Justice also released a companion report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Cribbed from its description: the report looks at "the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them."
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Education Law Prof Blog co-editor Derek Black has written a commentary that is part of in Education Week's Brown at 60: New Diversity, Familiar Disparities series. In his piece, Black discusses why integration still matters for all students at a time when the Supreme Court and society are less inclined to support remedial solutions. In his commentary, Why Integration Matters in Schools, Black points out the benefits of integration for non-minorities:
Too often, the conversation around integration focuses exclusively on the benefits for poor and minority communities. However, integration holds substantial benefits for middle-income and white students as well. First, integrated schools improve critical thinking. In diverse environments, students are faced with new and varied perspectives and forced to think through their own or new positions more carefully, which improves their critical-thinking skills. Second, integrated schools better prepare students to navigate the multicultural world and global economy they will face upon graduation.
On these two metrics, whites are seriously disadvantaged. Data indicate that, to the surprise of many, whites are actually the most racially isolated student group in the nation (see charts, Page 31). Research demonstrates that this isolation ill prepares them for the future. Major corporations make this point even more concretely in briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. They attest that they want graduates who are prepared to work in multicultural environments. Integrated schools produce these students.
In other words, white families who are concerned about long-term competitiveness need integrated schools as much as anyone.
Read more of Derek Black's commentary at Education Week here.
A federal civil rights complaint has been filed against three New Orleans charter high schools, George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy, George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy and Sci Academy, run by charter management company Collegiate Academies. A parent-student group along with Loyola University New Orleans College of Law have filed the complaint alleging that students at the three schools are subjected to excessive discipline such as suspension for minor infractions. The plaintiffs say that Collegiate Academies' "no excuses" model pushes out students for non-violent behaviors and require "a culture of hyper-discipline... such as: (1) requiring all students to firmly shake the hands of their teachers and administrators at the beginning of each day and before each class; (2) walking straight on a line; (3) being required to be silent "at level zero" in the hallways; (4) being required to sit in an upright position all day, hands folded on the desk, feet planted firmly on the floor, and looking straight ahead; (5) being required to raise their hand in lock-elbow position in class or receive demerits if their arm is not straight; (6) being suspended for minor misbehaviors like laughing too much and inappropriate displays of affection." The complaint also maintains that the charter schools' students are deprived of their right to an education when students must sit in a room by themselves for the entire day without any work from their classes to do. The suspensions have been applied to special needs students, which violates the students rights under IDEA by suspending for more than ten days without investigating the reason behind the recurring suspensions. Read the complaint, courtesy of nola.com, here.
Monday, May 5, 2014
Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that it would longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools affiliated with K12 Inc. to establish a student's eligibility to play college sports. K12 Inc. is the nation's largest for-profit provider of virtual K-12 education. The NCAA did not elaborate on what problems it saw with K12's curriculum, but judging from K12's response, the NCAA apparently objected to low amounts of student-teacher interaction. The NCAA said that it would review coursework from K12 schools that was completed in 2013-14 on an extended evaluation basis. Jeff Kwitowski, K12’s senior vice president of corporate communications responded that the NCAA's standards around nontraditional courses are “vague” and the review process is “unclear,” leaving “schools to only guess what passes NCAA’s eligibility test." The NCAA's eligibility announcement is here. Forbes thinks that the NCAA got it wrong here.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the ED will release new plans this summer that would reward colleges of education that meet certain metrics, including job placement, pass rates on licensing exams, and teacher evaluations. The plan's broad outline is to make colleges of education operate as medical schools do with higher admission standards, better job preparation, and incentives to practice in high-need areas. The New York Times reported that Secretary Duncan commented this week that “[w]e have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other.” The ED.gov Blog outlines the administration’s plans to improve teacher colleges by
- Encouraging states to develop meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities.
- Asking states to move away from current input-focused reporting requirements, streamline the current data requirements, incorporate more meaningful outcomes, and improve the availability of relevant information on teacher preparation.
- Relying on state-developed program ratings of preparation programs – in part – to determine program eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported this week that the percentage of U.S. high school graduates who received a regular high school diploma within four years hit a historical high of 80 percent in the 2011 school year, up one percent from 2010. Nearly 4 out of 5 students receive a regular high school diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade for the first time, the NCES reported. The four-year graduation rate for American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic students also rose between 2010 and 2011, but remained below the national average at 67, 69, and 73 percent, respectively. White students and Asian/Pacific Islander students had 4-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR) above the national average at 86 and 88 percent, respectively. Economically disadvantaged students, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities all had 4-year ACGR rates below the national average for all students at 72, 59, and 61 percent, respectively. The latests ACGR results are being hailed as a predictor for the national graduation rate reaching 90 percent by 2020. There is still some work to do to as fourteen states have over a third of economically disadvantaged students dropout of high school. Read the Public High School Four-Year On-Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates report here.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Two funding inequity lawsuits were recently filed challenging New Mexico's education system. The first alleges that ELL and economically disadvantaged students are receiving a substandard education under the state's funding scheme and A-F grading system. In State v. Martinez, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the plaintiffs assert that New Mexico's underfunding of public education and its school rating system violates the state's education clause, due process, and equal protection. The state's education funding formula, the plaintiffs allege, fails to allocate sufficient supplemental funds for areas were the needs are greatest for at-risk and special needs students. In spending per pupil, New Mexico reportedly spends $9,070 per student, ranking 37th in the nation. The suit also targets "unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner ("EL") and low-income students." The funding inequity, combined with the teacher evaluation system, results in experienced teachers avoiding lower-ranked schools. The MALDEF suit is here.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) is also challenging the state's funding scheme for families of New Mexican students. The CLP suit notes that New Mexico's student standardized test performance has fallen to the bottom of the nation. On standardized tests given in the last two years, New Mexico's students ranked at bottom of the country in 4th grade reading and are just ahead of the bottom -- Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana -- in math. Contributing to the problem is the state's high child poverty rate, which is the second highest in the nation. Given those factors, the CLP suit argues, New Mexico's education system is severely underfunded. The CLP suit is here.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
In a recent article, Philly.com (Philadelphia Inquirer) goes behind the numbers about recent comparisons of the amount of per-pupil spending in New Jersey’s Camden school district. Camden’s per pupil spending is the highest in New Jersey, but only 49 percent of its students graduate from high school. The story quotes David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, who points out that per-pupil figures are misleading because school districts must spend more per student in high poverty districts (43% of Camden residents live below the poverty line) on special needs costs. While there differing views about the impact of education budgets for student learning (see the recent report from the Cato Institute, Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years) and 2013’s Pew Center report showing unprecedented decreases in state education budgets), the article reminds of the complications of tracking money through education budgets and that per pupil school spending is not always what it seems.