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.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
President Obama's administration has taken a great interest in protecting Americans from predatory practices, as evinced by his planned remarks on predatory lenders today in Alabama. The Education Department (and the Justice Dept.) have been watching a few higher education institutions where there have been accounting irregularities with federal funds. In keeping with those efforts, the Ed has placed 67 nonprofit and for-profit institutions on heightened cash-monitoring status, which means among other things that they are restricted from drawing Title IV funds until students receive disbursements from their institutions. The Ed will not reveal which colleges and universities are on its watch list, however, despite requests from Inside Higher Ed and other media to publish the list. Inside Higher Ed reports today that the administration is considering releasing that list. The Ed had not done so before because of the risk, quoting an unnamed Ed official to Higher Ed, that "any public release of the confidential financial standing of these institutions will likely cause the institutions substantial competitive injury.” When it is made public that an institution is on the list, as Computer Learning Centers (CLC) was before its closure, it can be subject to shareholder suits.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has petitioned the state supreme court to reverse a finding that a new state law unconstitutionally removed powers from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) in favor of the Governor. The law, called Act 21, required that the Governor approve the scope and drafts of new administrative rules proposed by the state education superintendent. In February, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that Act 21 unconstitutionally took away the SPI’s supervisory rule making power in public education. The case is Coyne v. Walker, No. 2013AP416, 2015 WL 686178 (Wis. Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2015).
Friday, March 6, 2015
Connecticut Sees Overall Decrease in Student Suspensions, But State BOE Concerned About Rise in Younger Students' Discipline Rates
The Connecticut Board of Education released a presentation this week reporting an overall reduction in the state's suspension and expulsion rate for K-12 students. The state BOE reports that the number of suspensions and expulsions was reduced by 17.1% over the last five years, from 127,000 in 2009-10 to 105,000 in 2013-14. Connecticut BOE officials expressed concern, however, about the rising suspension rate of children younger than 7-- about a ten percent increase in out-of-school suspensions for younger children in the 2012-13 school year. Connecticut BOE Chair Allan Taylor told The Hartford Courant, "The under 7 numbers remain astounding. It strikes me that if a kid is that difficult to deal with, then it's a reason to be providing intensive support. There is no evil intent in kindergarten students and it's hard to see how taking that kid away from the place where he could be getting help is going to improve that child's prospects." Racial differences in statewide suspension rates remained steady, with more than 15 percent of black students and over ten percent of Latino students suspended or expelled last school year compared with fewer than five percent of white students suspended or expelled. See the full presentation, courtesy of NPR, here.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments to Decide Whether Teachers Act as Law Enforcement Agents When Interviewing Children About Suspected Abuse
Although the confrontation clause case that the U.S. Supreme Court heard this week is not an education case, Ohio v. Clark has important implications for teachers who interview children under abuse reporting statutes. In Clark, the Court will review an Ohio Supreme Court decision that day-care teachers and social workers should be treated as law enforcement agents because of a statutory duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The case arose when teachers noticed that a three year old boy at daycare was bruised and withdrawn. The child reported to teachers that his mother's boyfriend caused the injuries. Further investigation revealed that the boy's younger sister also showed signs of abuse. The teachers and social workers testified at the boyfriend's trial about the child's report of abuse; the boy did not testify because of a state law presumption that children under age ten are incompetent to testify in court. The Ohio Supreme Court found that the teachers' testimony about the child's statements violated the defendant's confrontation clause rights. Lyle Dennison at SCOTUSblog posted an analysis of the oral argument in the case this week, excerpted below:
Prosecutor Meyer came to the Court with a simple proposition: because the teacher is not a police officer, and not working for the police, she should be allowed to take the stand and recount the boy’s tale. The Confrontation Clause, he argued, should only bar the use of evidence gathered by government agents if they don’t come to court. A private citizen, he meant in his closing comment, is “just not the same” as a government agent like a police officer.
But Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher, speaking for the man convicted for harming that boy, asked the Court to provide a simple opportunity: give defense lawyers the same opportunity to talk with the little boy as the teacher, the police, and the prosecutors had as they prepared evidence for the trial. There are ways to conduct an interview with even a small child, Fisher said, that will be sensitive and caring, and have a chance to test the reliability of any story the child told. Fisher’s own suggested approach to the Confrontation Clause was that, if an adult has heard the child’s accusations out of court, and was working within a system that ultimately leads those accusations to become evidence of a crime, the Confrontation Clause should govern.
Friday, January 16, 2015
The Justice Department filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education in late December, alleging that an elementary school principal discriminated against pregnant teachers in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint alleges that, from 2009 to 2012, a principal at a Chicago elementary school lowered the performance evaluations and moved to terminate eight teachers who announced their pregnancies. The principal also made negative comments to and about pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary, including: “responding to a teacher's announcement of her pregnancy by saying, “I can't believe you are doing this to me. You are going to be out right before [mandatory] testing!;” asking a Scammon staff member if a teacher who had been pregnant was pregnant again; ignoring a teacher after the teacher announced her pregnancy; ignoring a teacher's request to meet regarding her upcoming maternity leave; repeatedly asking a teacher who was nursing and expressing breast milk questions such as, “That isn't over yet?” and “When will you be done with that?”; and stating that a teacher who requested an accommodation to express breast milk complained too much and was too high maintenance.” The complaint filed December 23, 2014, can be found at United States v. Chicago Board of Education, et. al, 2014 WL 7384980 (N.D.Ill.)
Friday, December 12, 2014
SMU Enters Compliance Agreement with OCR to Correct Title IX Violations in Handling Sexual Assault and Harassment Complaints
The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), released its findings yesterday that Southern Methodist University (SMU) failed "to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of gender and sexual harassment of which it had notice." OCR's investigation letter is here. OCR investigated three complaints by SMU students between June 2011 and March 2013 alleging gender harassment, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. One complaint alleged that SMU violated Title IX when the school failed to appropriately respond to a male student's report that he had been sexually assaulted by another mail student, and that SMU also failed to protect him from the retaliatory actions of the alleged perpetrator’s fraternity brothers and friends. The victim was subjected to taunting and harassment on campus after reporting the sexual assault. SMU did not conduct its own investigation of the complainant’s sexual assault allegation, and the complainant alleges that the school discouraged him from reporting the incident to off-campus law enforcement. A second complaint was from a former SMU employee who alleged that SMU's policies subjected female students to sexual harassment and staff members who complained were retaliated against. Another complaint involved a SMU law student whose law professor referred to her during class sessions and meetings at his home as a “prom/beauty queen,” “hired bimbo,” “bitchy,” “catty,” and “doody blonde." Although SMU investigated the complaint and required the professor to receive sexual harassment training (but did not require the law professor to write a letter of apology to the complainant), OCR noted that SMU never informed the complainant of the results of its investigation. As part of its compliance agreement with OCR, SMU has agreed to:
- Revise and, following the office's review and approval, finalize its "interim" Title IX grievance procedures.
- Create a pocket-sized card for all SMU employees with information about how to support students who report sexual misconduct and a checklist for staff members who may meet with a student to outline their rights and the resources available; clearer protections against retaliation.
- Develop bystander intervention training.
- Develop a procedure for sharing information between the SMU police and the school's Title IX coordinator.
- Notify students and employees about the university's Title IX coordinators and their contact information in its nondiscrimination notice and in other publications.
- Track harassment reports, investigations, interim measures, and resolutions.
- Train staff and students on the revised university policies and procedures.
- Conduct annual climate surveys.
- Reimburse the law student complainant for university-related expenses and counseling.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
An Arizona school district joins Texas and Ohio in facing content-based challenges to school textbooks that Derek has discussed on this blog here and here. Arizona’s Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board has announced that it will delay deciding how to redact references to abortion in several of its textbooks, including a biology textbook used in the district’s honors classes. The Board members reportedly disagree about how to comply with an Arizona law that prohibits schools from presenting any information about elective abortion “that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options” (A.R.S. 15-115). The board voted 3-2 at an Oct. 28 meeting to redact pages from its textbooks given to students that do not offer childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortions. Late in November, however, some board members challenged whether A.R.S. 15-115 requires that all abortion references be removed (including terms such as “spontaneous abortion,” an alternate term for a miscarriage), or simply those that discuss elective abortions. Gilbert’s District Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said that schools can keep the textbooks intact and still comply with the statute by offering instruction on abortion alternatives. The school board’s decision has attracted national media interest, including a coverage by the New York Times and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Two years after the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) ended its old Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, the district continues to be pulled between Arizona politicians’ disapproval of ethnic studies classes and TUSD’s efforts to show remedial progress in the federal desegregation case brought against the district in 1974. Arizona education officials increased the pressure on TUSD this Tuesday making a surprise visit to an ethnic studies class to determine if the district is violating a state law that prohibits any class that promotes “the overthrow of the United States government,” racial resentment, and “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (HB 2281). After HB 2281 was passed and the state threatened to withhold ten percent of the district's funding, TUSD closed down the MAS program in 2012. TUSD’s school board subsequently began offering ethnic studies courses after a federal court ordered the district to develop a culturally responsive curriculum as a part of its remedial action in Fisher and Mendoza v. TUSD, the federal court desegregation case.
The state officials’ compliance visit was reportedly prompted by comments that a TUSD high school principal made at the National Association of Multicultural Educators that the district was once again offering culturally responsive classes. The Arizona education department wrote TUSD in late November, asking the district to turn over all assessments, assignments, lesson plans, student work, and materials used in classes that have a “culturally relevant” focus.
Coincidentally, the officials’ visit comes on the heels of a new study linking the MAS program to higher student achievement. The study, Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson, links the defunct MAS program with increased graduation rates and standardized-testing results for students who participated in the program from 2006 to April 2012. The study by Nolan L. Cabrera, Jeffrey F. Milem, Ozan Jaquette, and Ronald W. Marx (Arizona) is available in the American Educational Research Journal here.
Meanwhile, Arizona seeks to intervene in the desegregation case in Fisher, arguing that the state has an interest in ensuring that TUSD’s current ethnic studies classes do not “foster resegregation along ethnic and racial lines.” A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard Arizona’s request to intervene in Fisher this November. Counsel for the Department of Justice opposes Arizona’s intervention, arguing to the Ninth Circuit panel that “Arizona has no ‘protectable interest in this suit’” because the MAS program was ended. The video of Arizona’s oral argument before the Ninth Circuit in November is here. The Ninth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the main case in January.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a class-action lawsuit alleging that a school corporation's decision to end free school bus transportation violated the state constitution's education clause. The state supreme court is reviewing the court of appeals' decision in Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., holding that transportation to and from school is an integral "part of a uniform system of public education" under the Indiana Constitution. The court of appeals found that the school corporation, Franklin Township, acted unconstititionally in discontinuing its free school bus service and in contracting with a third party provider that required students to pay for transportation. The appellate court also noted that school corporations are obligated to provide free transportation for students with disabilities, homeless students, and students in foster care. The court of appeals saw no rationale to exclude any other student who needed transportation to school, even if the student was not in one of the mandatory transportation categories. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a school corporation could not impose a student-services fee that included payment for school counselors, nurses, and security, because those services were part of a publicly-funded education. Nagy v. Evansville–Vanderburgh School Corp., 844 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 2006). Franklin Township Community School Corporation cut its bus service after Indiana's public schools lost hundreds of millions of dollars when new property-tax caps went into effect in 2010. The Township later contracted with an educational service center to provide student transportation for an annual fee. The case set for argument is Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., No. 49A02-1301-PL-44, 2014 WL 2580663 (Ind. Ct. App. June 10, 2014), transfer granted, opinion vacated, 2014 WL 5312934 (Ind. Oct. 16, 2014). Watch the oral argument online here.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Cadwalader Report on UNC Prompts Class Action Complaint Alleging "Shadow Curriculum" for Football Players
The NCAA faces interesting times as it defends its role as integrating student-athletes’ education with playing collegiate sports. In the pending case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, No. 14-16601, the NCAA will defend its rules prohibiting compensation of student athletes by arguing that those rules protect students from exploitation. But the evidence is mounting that NCAA member schools are themselves exploiting students, and the NCAA will have to justify its amateurism defense against claims that colleges promise student-athletes an education through sports scholarships but are still failing to deliver on that promise for many players. A former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) student alleges just that point in a suit filed earlier this month. Former UNC football player Michael McAdoo filed a federal class action complaint against the school, alleging that the Cadwalader Report investigation, which found that that UNC faculty and staff created a “shadow curriculum” for its football players that required little or no academic rigor from 1993 until 2011, shows that UNC officials knew about and facilitated that curriculum. In his complaint, Mr. McAdoo alleges that he wanted to take criminal justice classes but when he arrived at UNC, but football players were steered into three majors: Exercise Sport Science, Communications, or African-American Studies. McAdoo states that he was told these were the only majors that would accommodate his football practice and playing schedule, and that the football program had “relationships” with professors in those departments. McAdoo seeks injunctive relief including, among other things, a court appointee to review football players’ academic schedules for five years and that UNC give four-year guaranteed scholarships to all football student-athletes. McAdoo has sued UNC before in state court after the school declared him ineligible to play college football after he was found to have committed academic misconduct. That complaint was dismissed. McAdoo’s class action complaint can be found on Westlaw: McAdoo v. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2014 WL 5823326 (M.D.N.C.) (filed November 6, 2014).
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The on-going spectacle surrounding the closure of Philadelphia's Walter D. Palmer Charter School highlights the challenges that states and school districts face when charter schools abruptly close. For Palmer, among other claims of financial mismanagement, the school was forced to close immediately this October when it enrolled 1,300 in grades K-12 although the Philadelphia school district was only required to reimburse Palmer for 675 students in grades K-8. Stories like Palmer's emergency closure stranding students during the school year are echoed around the country, but in isolation, those stories seem insignifcant and anecdotal. But as states begin to realize that they are not getting better academic outcomes if they saddle local public school districts with hundreds of extra students when a charter school closes abruptly, the laws authorizing charters and allowing them operate without significant oversight are being questioned this week in Florida (and more Florida here) and North Carolina. Education Week also reported last on Arizona's efforts to limit the damage when charter schools fail here.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
New Lawsuit Alleges that Pennsylvania’s School Funding Arrangement Denies Students an Adequate Education
Yesterday, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania sued to have the state's funding formula declared unconstitutional, alleging that the General Assembly has failed its state constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. Read the complaint and watch interviews with the plaintiffs at Thorough and Efficient, a joint blog of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Cribbed from the plaintiffs' press release:
The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia sued Monday on behalf of six school districts, parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public ducation. According to the complaint, the Commonwealth has known for nearly a decade that Pennsylvania’s schools are badly underfunded.
Beginning in 2011, however, state officials abandoned [a working] funding formula, reduced funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to prevent local communities from increasing local funding. The complaint alleges that these actions have had devastating consequences for students, school districts, and the future of the Commonwealth. Districts across the state are unable to provide students with the basic elements of a quality education, including sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and staff, appropriate class sizes, suitable facilities, and up-to-date text books and technology. ...
Plaintiffs allege that this underfunding and consequent underperformance has created a system of public education that is neither “thorough” nor “efficient,” nor “serves the needs of the Commonwealth.” In a second cause of action, the complaint alleges that the current way in which the Commonwealth funds public education denies students equal educational opportunities by creating gross funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.
Monday, November 3, 2014
The Huntsville, Alabama school district is under media scrutiny for a secret program it started last year to monitor students' social media activity. Two of the five Huntsville school board members have said that they were never told about the program. The surveillance program, called SAFe (Students Against Fear), paid a consulting firm over half of a million dollars last year to monitor students' social media postings. SAFe is also being targeted by the Alabama ACLU for being used to discipline African-American students at a disproportionate rate. Al.com reports that of the 14 expulsions for infractions related to SAFe, 86% impacted African-American students; African-American students comprise about 40% of the school system. Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski has said that since January, about 600 social media accounts of the district's 24,000 city students have been investigated for images of guns or gang signs on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. The SAFe program reportedly started when a high school student posted a series of jokes on Twitter at the end of his junior year that allegedly caught the attention of the National Security Agency. The NSA then called Huntsville to tell officials about a student making violent threats on social media, although the federal agency denies making the contact. The student's posts raised no national or international threat, but the NSA connection is suspected because one of the student's family members from Yemen was part of the group chatting with the student during the tweets. School security searched the student's car shortly after the school system was contacted and found a jeweled dagger from a Renaissance fair in the glove box. The student was expelled for the first semester of his senior year for threats and for a weapons violation. Taking a picture with a gun in Alabama may get you expelled, but in Nebraska, you may pose with one in your senior yearbook portrait, as long as it is done "tastefully."