Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Florida’s system of public school alternatives should serve as a warning, not a national model as Betsy DeVos argues. And that warning flashes brighter red by the day. It all started with the state’s willingness to take money directly out of the general public education appropriation and spend it on vouchers. The Florida Supreme Court declared that practice unconstitutional in 2006. Then the state cooked up a complicated tax credit system to achieve the same result through a different means. That system has been alive, well, and growing dramatically for a decade. This is what DeVos calls the “awesome [Florida] example.”
The flashing red danger sign is that the state does not want any constitutional oversight of this system. State legislators recently packed a constitutional revision commission with people who support changes the state’s constitutional education obligations. Those changes would remove almost any limits on legislators when it comes to education. More specifically, the proposed changes could drastically undermine the state’s obligation to its public schools by giving the state free reign to act as it wishes with charters.
A limitless charter school system is troubling based on what is already happening in the state. Take the news out of Flagler County. According to the Palm Coast Observer,
Several days before the Florida Standards Assessments began near the end of the school year, 13 third-grade students suddenly transferred from the Palm Harbor Academy charter school to a newly created private school on the same school campus, run by Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover.
With one exception, all of those 13 students had one thing in common: They were at least one full grade behind grade level. Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.
The students’ transfer to a private school meant that they didn’t take the state assessments required of public school students — and, therefore, didn’t drag down the school’s state scores and school grade. A failing school grade would have meant shuttering the school, School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, because the school got a D last year.
The school district has portrayed the moving of the students as an attempt by Palm Harbor to skirt the school grade process, at a cost to the students: Those with disabilities who were moved were not being provided state-mandated support, district officials said, at the newly created private school, the Academy of Excellence.
This is the system that the legislature voted to radically expand just a year ago. And this is why education clauses exist in state constitutions—why we need them.
Florida legislators, through their deeds and experiments, have shown they cannot be trusted to protect public education, to protect students, to put public education first. Florida legislators have shown that the only thing that limits them in playing with children’s educational futures is the state constitution. And that state constitution is in their crosshairs right now.
Saturday, May 26, 2018
This oped originally appeared in The Detroit News. David Sciarra and Kary Moss explain the next steps in addressing the catastrophic harms that students have suffered. Fortunately, they now, at least, have path-breaking legal victories on their side:
A major milestone has been achieved in the struggle to vindicate the rights of Flint students. In response to a class-action lawsuit filed by Flint children and their families, a federal court in Detroit approved a settlement agreement making universal screening, and in-depth evaluations when necessary, available to every Flint child exposed to lead in the water supply.
The Flint children in this case are represented by the ACLU of Michigan, Education Law Center and global law firm White & Case LLP.
The facts about the Flint water crisis are now well known. In what many describe as an “American catastrophe,” the state-appointed fiscal manager in 2014 switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a reckless attempt to save money. The water corroded the city’s aging pipes, causing them to leach lead into the system. The lead impacted the water in every home, business and school.
Much of the focus since the lead crisis came to light has been on providing Flint residents with bottled water and replacing the city’s contaminated pipes. But too little attention was paid to another major consequence of the crisis: the plight of Flint’s children and the potential long-term effects on their learning and success in school.
Children are especially vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead. Lead exposure can negatively influence a child’s development, cognitive functioning, and behavior. Its impact on learning can be life-long and profound.
In Flint, community-wide exposure to elevated levels of lead over an extended period put the entire school-aged population at risk of developing a disability that affects their education. Under federal law, these children are entitled to special education programs and services.
Friday, May 25, 2018
The National Coalition for School Diversity has released a new research brief by Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena. So much of today's education research focuses on standardized scores, but his brief goes back to one of Brown v. Board's key premises the need for intergroup contact and the harm of not getting it. And as Anda Adams, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction of Cambridge Public Schools, explains integrated schools alone won't ensure intergroup contact: “It is clear to me that racially integrated schools are necessary but not sufficient. We must ensure that our classrooms are integrated, and even beyond that, activities are intentionally designed to bring students from different racial or ethnic groups, socio-economic groups, and special education status together into regular, meaningful contact that can lead to the ultimate outcomes of empathy and caring for others to achieve social change.”
The new research brief offers this summary:
Schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring youth together across racial and ethnic lines. New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society. This brief aims to summarize much of this new evidence, with special attention to its practical implications for the social relations and contexts within schools.
In order to prepare youth to thrive in a multiracial society, social science demonstrates the importance and value of increasing opportunities for youth from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to have sustained contact with one another.
Fostering cross-racial friendships, implementing cooperative learning strategies, and promoting supportive norms in schools and among peers are some of the factors that are likely to enhance the positive effects of contact.
Providing youth with opportunities to experience meaningful intergroup contact is especially important because children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences for their developing intergroup attitudes and beliefs. It also helps to reduce anxiety about difference, builds capacity for empathy and caring about others, develops leadership competencies and plants seeds for social change.
To foster effective interracial contact in schools, ensure that policies and practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easy to achieve, and prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact within the processes of teaching and learning.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Gavin Grimm's Transgender Discrimination Claim Moves Forward (Again), But This Time It Is an Even Bigger Victory
In 2015, Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy in rural Virginia, grabbed national headlines when he took the brave step to file a lawsuit and stand up against his school district. The district had for a while allowed him to use bathrooms consistent with his gender only to later deny him that right when concerned parents and school board members caught wind of it. He alleged that assigning students to restrooms based on their biological sex violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
After a victory in the Fourth Circuit, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari. He also had the US Department of Justice and Department of Education on his side. He seemed prized to make history, although the limelight was not something he had sought. But then everything suddenly changed. President Trump won the election and the Departments of Justice and Education changed their position. Then an even stranger thing happened, the Supreme Court decided to not hear the case based on a change in the parties’ positions. The Court remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit, which vacated its earlier injunction against the school district. At least two judges on the Fourth Circuit lamented this result and praised Grimm, but agreed it was the correct result.
So yesterday’s news that Grimm had again won a legal victory was likely a surprise to most. I must admit that I thought his case was over. But alas, the procedures of justice are complex and longsuffering. Indeed, Grimm did secure a major victory yesterday. And it actually makes perfect sense.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that courts answer very narrow issues. Sometimes, for instance, the question in a case is not whether the plaintiff has good argument, but whether he filed his case on time. A plaintiff might very well have had his rights violated, but if doesn’t file the case within the statute of limitations, he case will be dismissed. Likewise, a plaintiff might file on time and make a great argument that his rights have been violated, but if he asks for the wrong remedy, a court might dismiss that case as well. When it does so, it is not a judgment on the “merits” of the claim, but on the appropriateness of the remedy or, even more narrowly, on the court’s authority to grant the remedy plaintiff wants.
Okay, so what does that have to do with Grimm’s case. Well, Grimm did not do anything wrong in his initial case, but the easiest route to victory when he filed—or the easiest grounds on which a court could rule for him—was to largely ignore the question of whether Title IX or Equal Protection as stand-alone legal principles entitled him to access to a restroom consistent with his gender. The Fourth Circuit did not answer the question of what his rights are under those laws. Instead, it sought to answer the question of whether the Department of Education’s judgment in the case was owed deference.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Betsy DeVos Again Shows That There Is No Level of Knowledge That We Can Assume on Her Part; Yes, Undocumented Students Do Have a Right to Attend School
Last week, I wrote that Secretary Betsy DeVos is not nearly as niave as we might want—or desperately need—to believe. She has an agenda and her moves over the past few weeks and months reveal that she is deadset on wreaking havoc and more than willing to use every ounce of power she has to do it. What I forgot to emphasize is that she still has a huge competency problem. Her performance on Capitol Hill yesterday showed that there is no baseline of knowledge or competence that we can safely assume on her part. As one commentator remarked of her performance, Devos "makes Sarah Palin look like a Rhodes scholar." I generally try to avoid personal attacks of this sort, but it struck me as revealing a painful underlying truth. Screaming about DeVos's flaws or just reporting events does not really do justice to the problem. It takes comparative analysis with facts and law to appreciate the problem.
But let’s recap her agenda first. She has claimed that the way to “make education great again in this country” is to let “states set their own high standards” and let “let control” reign free. But what she really means is that she hates federal power, except when she likes it. And she likes it more and more when it suits her interests, like when she is evaluating state education plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. She called her questionable exercise of power “tough love.” She also likes federal power when it means she can pick and choose which investigations to push and which ones to shut down when they cut too close to her personal interests and agendas. That's why she effectively shut down investigations into widespread abuses by for-profit colleges, even though the Department of Education may be the only one who can provide meaningful help to victims at the local level. There is no obvious local control issue here. It is quite simply a federal job she doesn't want to do.
We could say the same about the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). This office is devoted exclusively to the fastest growing student populations in the country—English Language Learners (ELL). Public schools enroll more than 5 million ELL students. English Language Learners hold a unique place in federal education law. Under federal law, schools owe ELLs, unlike every other student group save those with disabilities, an affirmative obligation. Thus, it is strange that it is here that she wants to use her federal power to close this office and shift its work to another office in the Department of Education.
But then hearings like yesterday happen. We have to remind ourselves that although she has an agenda, she really doesn’t know what she is doing. Time and again, she reveals that she has absolutely no grasp of the basic rules of the road on which she is traveling. She instead makes her way based on gut instincts that are wrong more often than not. They are wrong because her instincts are grounded in political agendas that do not come close to approximating the law as it stands—the law that is her job to administer and reinforce, not twist and ignore.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Democrats New Multi-Billion Dollar Promise to Teacher Has Been a Long Time Coming; Shows Just How Much Power Teachers Have Now
Democrats are finally sympathetic to the plight of teachers. This morning, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi penned an oped in the USA Today titled Democrats have a better deal for teachers and our kids, too. They go on to outline a strong starting point for a better deal. It's a five part platform:
First, we will dedicate $50 billion for states and school districts to increase teacher compensation and recruit and retain a strong, diverse workforce over the next 10 years. During the recession, public investment in K-12 schools declined dramatically. We should support states and school districts who want to reverse the trend and bolster teacher and school staff salaries.
Second, we will establish a new $50 billion fund for school infrastructure and resources. Students and educators deserve 21st century classrooms and up-to-date educational technology and materials. We tell children that education is important and send them a different message by putting them in substandard schools. Improving our nation’s school infrastructure will help retain our best educators.
Third, we will give additional support to initiatives that improve Title I schools serving low-income children, and ensure that all students have access to academic opportunities like computer science, music and civics. We need to provide all students with a well-rounded education to get them ready for today’s changing economy.
Fourth, we will protect teachers’ freedom to negotiate for better pay and conditions by safeguarding the right of public employees to join unions, collectively bargain, and engage in collective action to support each other. Currently, no federal law provides teachers and other public servants with collective bargaining rights. Democrats want to guarantee teachers the same freedoms that private sector workers have to negotiate collectively for a better deal.
Monday, May 21, 2018
The new lawsuit by the Latino Action Network and New Jersey NAACP takes a bold swing at school segregation and connects. The facts are both straightforward and damning. New Jersey’s schools--traditional public schools and charters—are extremely segregated. The state is responsible for the segregation in both sectors. And the state constitution prohibits it.
The million-dollar question is whether they can win. I believe they can, if courts are brave enough to follow the facts and law where they lead. Plaintiffs’ cite to Sheff v. O’Neill, a 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court case that ruled in plaintiffs’ favor on similar facts and similar constitutional language. The New Jersey claim, however, is probably even stronger.
The extent of the racial isolation in New Jersey schools is shocking. One in four African American students in the state attend a public school that is 99 percent or more minority. Another one in four attend “public schools in which the percentage of Black and Latino students exceeds 90%.” Almost two in three to a school that is “80% or more non-White.” The numbers for Latino students are nearly as bad. Fifty-nine percent “attend schools that are more than 80% non-White.”
Charter schools aren’t helping. According to the complaint, they are making matters worse. Charter schools seem almost exclusively reserved for minority in many instances. Three out of four charter schools in the state have student enrollments that are less than ten percent white. They argue that over 80 percent of charter schools have “extreme levels of segregation.”
The common retort to these sorts of facts is that they are the result of private choice and beyond the control of the state. The complaint acknowledges the role that residential segregation places in school segregation, but reveals that the state cannot wash its hands of the problem for two reasons. First, state education policy plays an additional causal role in this segregation. In other words, this level of segregation is not inevitable. It is a state policy choice.
Second, the state constitution and statutes prohibit this segregation. So even if the state was simply a passive participant, the state constitution and laws would demand a remedy given the negative educational consequences that flow from this segregation.
As to the state’s causal responsibility, “[t]he State has been complicit in the creation and persistence of school segregation because it has adopted and implemented laws, policies, and
Saturday, May 19, 2018
North Carolina used to be remarkable for achieving the most integrated and stable schools in the nation. Save a couple of small exceptions, the state ran its school systems on a county-wide basis, which allowed more integrated, less white flight, and more shared interests in support of public education. This structure alone made North Carolina stand out. And this structure helped facilitate some of the lowest racial achievement gaps in the nation in places like Raleigh. North Carolina also funded it education system relatively well. Its teacher salaries, for instance, were right around the national average—in a state with a relatively low cost of living.
In the last decade, the state legislature has proven bound and determined to undo its successful public education system. First were budget cuts in excess of 20%. In a span of just three years, North Carolina reduced its per-pupil funding from over $10,015 to $7,235.
Next was the enormous growth of charters. Immediately before the recession, North Carolina spent $169 million on charter schools. By 2014-2015, the state had more than doubled its commitment to charters, spending $366 million a year.
Next was the attempt to eliminate teacher tenure. The state passed legislation to take it away from all teachers, although the state supreme court held that taking it away from teachers who already had it was unconstitutional. North Carolina was once a great place for teachers, but policies like these caused the rate of departure to other states jump by 30%.
Next was a voucher program. While seriously constitutional problems existed with it as well, the court allowed the state to move forward.
Next were huge tax cuts. While the state was cutting its education budget, it was also enacting massive new tax cuts for the state’s highest income earners. Those cuts were some of the largest state level tax cuts ever seen.
The state’s economy, however, has done well enough that it eventually began to produce tax revenue surpluses notwithstanding its low tax rates. The reason was that it was refusing to fairly fund public education. Even the poorest of states could run surpluses if they simply started eliminating state funded programs. North Carolina inexplicably maintained its education cuts in 2015 even though it had a half-billion dollar surplus in tax receipts.
Next was a change in the appointment process of statewide education officials. A lame duck legislature changed various rules to deprive the new Democratic governor of the authority to begin reversing regressive policies.
With policies like these, the question is not why North Carolina teachers are protesting, but what took them so long?
Friday, May 18, 2018
Controlled Experiments--The Highest Quality Studies Available--Show That Racial Bias Does Affect School Discipline
As the Department of Education continues to mull the fate of its guidance on school discipline, it is worth revisiting two of the most high quality studies available to us on the subject. They offer incredibly powerful evidence that racial bias does, in fact, place a significant role in which students are punished and how harshly.
The vast majority of school discipline studies are observational. They simply look at the data that schools collect and attempt to draw their best conclusion. They are not controlled studies, meaning they cannot really know what would have happened under a different set of facts. In other words, they cannot really know whether an African American student would have been discipline but for race.
Two recent studies resolve this problem. The first is by Jason A. Okonofua and Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University. In Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students, they sought to test “the hypothesis that [racial] disparities [in discipline] are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters.” Eberhardt explained: “The fact that black children are disproportionately disciplined in school is beyond dispute. What is less clear is why.”
To get at this question, they conducted experiments in which they presented current teachers with written accounts of student misbehavior. They did not explicitly indicate the students’ race in the files, but in some records suggested that the student was black or white through their name—for instance, DeShawn versus Greg. In the first round of the experiment, after reviewing the files, teachers were questioned about their perception of the misbehavior, how the student should be disciplined, and whether they thought the student was a troublemaker. In the second round of the experiment, teachers were given the files of students who had misbehaved a second time. This time, researchers asked teachers whether they thought the misbehavior was part of a pattern of misbehavior and might warrant suspension.
In the first round of the experiment, the researchers found some racial bias, but it was less than one might expect. In the second round, however, when the student had engaged in misbehavior twice, racial bias became pronounced. Teachers were far more troubled by the second misbehavior when the student had an identifiably black name. Teachers were more likely to stereotype black students as “troublemakers” and want to discipline them more harshly. They also more often inferred that the second misbehavior was part of a pattern that would likely lead to punishment again in the future.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Advocates File Suit to Challenge Some of the Nation's Most Intense Racial and Socio-economic Segregation in New Jersey, School District Boundaries and Charters Schools Are in the Cross-hairs
This may be the most exciting Brown v. Board of Education anniversary of my adult lifetime. This morning, I posted an essay lamenting our political will and the challenges to integration. By lunchtime, I learned of an exciting new lawsuit in New Jersey that challenges school segregation on a statewide basis. Get the complaint here: Download COMPLAINT
The Education Law Center issued this statement on the case:
Education Law Center (ELC) fully supports the lawsuit filed today challenging the intense racial and socio-economic isolation of students in New Jersey’s public school system.
New Jersey’s schools are among the most de facto segregated in the nation, marked by extreme isolation of students of color and white students, along with low-income students, in far too many of the state’s public schools. Our state’s history of circumscribing school districts by municipal boundaries, along with decades-old patterns of residential segregation, are the leading factors contributing to this situation.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has interpreted the constitutional guarantee of a thorough and efficient education to require the State to both provide adequate funding and resources for all schools – including high poverty, racially isolated schools – and remedy racial imbalance in our public schools.
These are twin and complementary constitutional obligations necessary to ensure every child receives an education in schools that are not only sufficiently funded, but also diverse and inclusive.
Achieving Brown v. Board's Promise and the Roadblocks Ahead: It's Ultimately a Matter of Public Will
How far do we have to reach its promise?
The number of intensely racially segregated schools has more than tripled over the last twenty-five years. In 2013, low-income students became a majority in public school for the first time in history. The average African American student now attends a school where nearly 70% of his peers are poor—almost double the percentage from 1993. These segregated schools are also often grossly unequal. The Education Trust reports that “[n]ationally, districts serving the most students of color receive about $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student than districts serving the fewest students of color.”
What are the roadblocks?
Neighborhood Schools. A substantial portion of school segregation correlates with housing segregation. So long as housing segregation persists and the neighborhood in which a child lives strictly dictates the school the child will attend, our schools will be segregated.
Discretionary School Assignment Policies. Our schools are more segregated than our neighborhoods. So while housing segregation accounts for most of our school segregation, school assignment choices make matters worse in many locations, intentionally zoning in and zoning out certain neighborhoods. Two recent studies — one by Meredith Richards and another by Tomas Monarrez — find that most districts draw school assignment zones in ways that perpetuate the underlying residential segregation. As the Brookings Institute explained, for instance, "When we compare Long Island schools to neighborhoods within districts, they look racially balance. The schools in Floral Park-Bellrose Union Free School District, NY, for example, have an overall racial imbalance score of around -1 percent for whites and just under 1 percent for blacks. But if we ignore the district boundaries and define our neighborhoods purely on the basis of the two-mile radius, the results are dramatically different: a racial imbalance score of +42 percent for whites and -23 percent for blacks."
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
When Betsy DeVos first sought the Secretary’s office at the Department of Education, I was disappointed, but not all that worried. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) had already gutted most of the Department’s power. Only the most skilled and knowledgeable education leader could make a discernible difference one way or the other.
DeVos simply wasn’t up to the task. She showed herself to be ignorant and relatively disinterested in things that mattered. For her, the job would be more akin to a disappointing vacation of a niave traveler.
For the rest of us, we need not worry. How much damage can naive travelers do? Yes, they may stand in the middle of the sidewalk. Yes, they may be rude to service workers. But in the end, they are, at worst, annoyances. They don’t have any meaningful effect on city policy.
DeVos, however, is showing she isn’t content to fit this mold and I may have been wrong all along. She may be ignorant and full of bad ideas, but she is not naive. Nor is she content to serve out her role as an irrelevant itinerant. She is deadset on wreaking havoc and using every ounce of power she has to do it.
While I have long explained that the Secretary of Education now lacks the power to tell states how to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, DeVos doesn’t care. She has found some “play in the joints” of the Act and is leveraging it for everything its worth. And in doing so, she is doing the exact opposite of what she promised.
When auditioning for the job, she said: “It’s time to make education great again in this country. . . . This means letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core. . . . The answer isn’t bigger government — it’s local control, it’s listening to parents, and it’s giving more choices.”
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
What Do the War on Teachers, Charter Schools, Vouchers, School Accountability, and Standardized Testing All Have in Common?
What do the war on teachers, charter schools, vouchers, school accountability, and standardized testing all have in common? They ignore school segregation. At worst, they each harbor the assumption that their given policy prescription is the magic bullet to educational opportunity—that if we could just solve this one policy problem, educational opportunity would become equal. At best, they assume that their respective issues are more important to student achievement than other factors. In other words, poor teaching, a lack of school choice, or unaccountable schools are the primary cause of low student achievement and inequality.
Take teacher tenure. Education reformers are convinced that eliminating teacher tenure is the necessary first step to any meaningful reform because tenure locks in the status quo. Their argument is simple. If teachers could not hide behind tenure, schools could easily remove the worst teachers and the rest would be motivated to improve. Given what we know about the effects of quality teaching, this, they say, would dramatically improve student outcomes and shrink achievement gaps.
But as I explain in the Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure,
Monday, May 14, 2018
More Evidence That the Movement to Defend Public Is Not a Blue Wave; It's a Purple One Sweeping Both Parties
As support for public education swept the nation this spring, some on the far right argued that teacher protests were a ruse. Schools had enough resources, they said, and the Democratic party was using teachers as their puppets in a larger political theater. The truth is that education has been so mistreated so much for the past decade that the defense of the public education has become bipartisan--as it should be. Criticism of this movement is a simple act of misdirection to obscure the underlying misdeeds.
The mistreatment of public education has been well covered in recent weeks. I won't belabor that point here. It is enough to say that more than half of states were funding public education at a lower level in 2015 than they had before Great Recession. So education funding has been negative over the past decade in most states. The stagnant and declining real wages of teachers followed naturally.
These numbers were already affecting public opinion before the teacher strikes. As I posted in February, a geographically, demographically, and politically representative survey of Southern voters showed:
- 74% of voters see differences in quality of education across their states
- 85% of voters say states should fix differences in education
- 84% of voters say states should adjust funding to address differences
As I told my students, those numbers were so overwhelming that I had trouble crediting them. I simply had not seen anything like them before. But the most jaw-dropping data point was that these numbers held constant, even across party lines. Seventy-five percent of republican men recognized the difference in the quality of education in their state and eight-five percent of that same group said the state should take action.
Those numbers foretold what we saw across the nation this spring, including that it would be bipartisan. The most recent, and arguably more compelling evidence of this, is the race for Georgia's state superintendent. The AJC reports:
They don’t agree on whether Georgia is doing well with its schools, but all the candidates for the state’s top education job say the same thing about money: There isn’t enough.
Even the two Republicans say funding for schools is among their top priorities. Both have unrivaled experience among the five hopefuls, having served in the job already. The experience allows them to argue that they have the knowledge to get things done, but it also puts them in the position of defending the state Department of Education’s performance under their leadership.
Friday, May 11, 2018
DeVos's Rationale for Eliminating the Federal Office for English Language Learners Ignores a Major Point
Education Week reports that Betsy DeVos is considering scrapping the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). The work of this office would be subsumed by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, which administers a broad range of federal education programs. As the title of OELA suggests, this office is devoted exclusively to the fastest growing student populations in the country—English Language Learners (ELL). Public schools enroll more than 5 million ELL students.
DeVos argues that this consolidation would lead to more efficient administration of federal programs. According to her spokeswoman, "The department is in the early stages of considering how best to break down silos, improve policy and program coordination and ensure all students have the support, attention and resources they deserve from the department."
From the DeVos’s perspective, this is about bureaucracy. From those advocacy groups opposing the consolidation, this is about which is office is likely to do a better job.
Both of those arguments go to a level of detail that the average person might struggle to evaluate. Let me offer a more simple framing.
English Language Learners hold a unique place in federal education law. Schools owe ELLs, along with students with disabilities, an affirmative obligation. In 1974, Congress passed the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. The Act makes it unlawful for schools to fail to take “appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs.”
Most people are relatively familiar with the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). It, similarly, requires schools to create individualized education plans and support services for students with disabilities. The point is that these students face unique education barriers and schools must take affirmative steps to help them overcome them.
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Large Teacher Salary Increases Reveal the Depth of States’ War on Teachers, Not a Commitment to Make Things Better
Are the raises that states have given teachers recently fair? The size of the raises ought to disturb the public not because teachers are reaping windfalls, but because they reveal just how dismissively states have dealt with education in recent years. And these raises—large though they may be—do not indicate that states will act differently in the future. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, for instance, supports a 20 percent pay raise for the state’s teachers by 2020, but also touts a school voucher referendum that could drain millions of dollars out of the public education system.
The raises started at five percent in West Virginia, then jumped to 15 and 20 percent in Oklahoma and Arizona. Teachers in other states are now expecting something similar and those states are surely asking themselves how much is enough.
Given that very few Americans have ever seen a raise of 15 or 20 percent, some are criticizing them for holding states hostage for salary increases that they don’t deserve. Others might think the raises are fair might and give states credit for “doing the right thing.” Neither is true.
These salary increases should not even be called raises. They are not pats on the back for a job well done, cost of living adjustments, or estimates of teachers’ market value.
They are closer to being compensatory damages that states are willing to pay now rather than the verdict that the jury of public opinion would award if it heard all the facts. The full picture of what states have done to public education and teachers, in particular, is shocking. The mistreatment of teachers stretches well beyond salaries to include changes to tenure, union rights, and statistical evaluation systems. Magazine covers called it a war on teachers.
Teacher salary increases don’t grapple with these other issues. They are just a partial payout to teachers. The teachers who are protesting have been underpaid for so long that they are far below their peers in neighboring states. But that understates the problem because teacher salaries have fallen nationwide. That’s why teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma continued to march even after their states initially offered increases that would look generous to the outside world. Those raises would not repair the damage done.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Charter Schools Remove Tens of Millions in Funding from Three California Districts, While Severely Under-enrolling Students with Disabilities
Yesterday, I posted on Helen Ladd's pathbreaking study of the cost of charter schools to local school districts in North Carolina. She found an "average fiscal cost of more than $3,500 for each student enrolled in charter schools." Today brings more troubling factual findings out of California. In the Public Interest finds that "Oakland Unified loses $5,643 a year per charter school student while San Diego Unified loses $4,913 a year and East Side Unified loses $6,000 a year."
What was once just rebutted as rhetoric is now increasingly becoming an established fact--charter schools are reducing the amount of funding that is spent on each student who remains in traditional public school. As I recently explained in Huffington Post, states are favoring school choice at a steep cost to public education. From funding and management practices to teacher and student policies, states are giving charter schools and private schools a better deal than public schools.
As people gawk at the dollar signs in this new report, I would, however, encourage them to not overlook more evidence of separate and unequal schools. I argue in my forthcoming research, Preferencing Choice: The Constitutional Limits, that the preferences that states have created for charters, in particular, are helping fuel segregation on any number of levels--race, socio-economic status, language status, and disability. This new report by In the Public Interest adds yet another piece of evidence to prove my point.
As this chart shows, while charter schools enroll 28 percent of all Oakland-area students, they only enroll 19 percent of its special education students. And the special education students they enroll are not representative of the overall special education population. Rather they enroll those who tend to cost less to serve. Most notably, they only enroll 15 percent of the districts emotionally disturbed students, only 8 percent of its autistic students, and only 2 percent of those students with multiple disabilities.
The state then whops a huge advantage on top of all this. It gives charters 28 percent of all special education funding for Oakland-area students.
Let me say it again, as bluntly as I can, Oakland charters only serve 19 percent of the district's special education students and the ones they serve tend to be lower cost, but the charters still receive 28 percent of the districts special education funding.
Here is In the Public Interest's press release:
$142.6 Million Net Loss in School Districts in San Diego, Oakland, and San Jose, While Student Needs Go Unmet
WASHINGTON – In a first of its kind analysis of three California school districts, researchers found that public school students are bearing the cost of charter schools’ rapid expansion. The report calculates the net fiscal impact of charter schools on three representative California school districts: San Diego, Oakland, and San Jose’s East Side Union High School District.
The analysis, Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts, conducted by In the Public Interest, a California-based think tank, with Dr. Gordon Lafer, examines the cumulative effect of charter schools on California school districts, which rank 42nd nationwide in per pupil spending. The number of California charter schools increased by more than 900 percent to more than 1,200 schools over the last two decades.
“Our analysis shows that the continued expansion of charter schools has steadily drained money away from school districts and concentrated high needs students in neighborhood public schools,” said Dr. Gordon Lafer, political scientist and professor at the University of Oregon. “The high costs of charter schools have led to decreases in neighborhood public schools in counseling, libraries, music and art programs, lab sciences, field trips, reading tutors, special education funding, and even the most basic supplies like toilet paper.”
The California Charter Schools Act does not allow school boards to consider how a charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications. However, when a student leaves a neighborhood public school for a charter school, all the funding for that student leaves with them, while all of the costs do not. This leads to cuts in core services like counseling, libraries, and special education and increased class sizes at neighborhood public schools.
San Diego Unified is the second-largest district in the state, with a combined enrollment of more than 128,000 students, and a total of 51 charter schools. Oakland Unified has 50,000 students and has the highest concentration of charter schools in the state. East Side Union High School District has a total enrollment of 27,000 and is comprised solely of high schools. Although the districts face unique challenges and student populations, they share similar financial challenges from charter school expansion.
“Unlimited charter school expansion is pushing some of California’s school districts toward a financial tipping point, from which they will be unable to return,” Dr. Lafer said.
The report recommends that each school district create an annual economic impact report to assess the cost of charter school expansion in its community. With consideration of economic impact, school districts could more effectively balance the value of a new charter school with the needs of neighborhood public school students.
Key findings from the report include:
- Oakland Unified loses $5,643 a year per charter school student while San Diego Unified loses $4,913 a year and East Side Unified loses $6,000 a year.
- Charter schools cost Oakland Unified $57.3 million per year, a sum several times larger than the forced drastic cuts to Oakland’s neighborhood school system this year.
- In East Side Union High School District, the net impact of charter schools amount to a loss of $19.3 million per year.
- Charter schools cost the San Diego Unified $65.9 million in 2016-17, $6 million more than the most recent round of budget cuts in early 2018.
- In Oakland, nearly 78 percent of students come from low-income families, are English language learners, or are foster youth, while 63 percent of students in San Diego Unified and 52.7 percent of students in East Side High School Unified share those backgrounds.
The report builds on previous studies that used different methodologies but came to similar conclusions. In the smaller cities of Buffalo, New York, and Durham, North Carolina, the net impact of charter schools was estimated as a loss of $25 million per year to the school district. In Nashville, Tennessee, the loss is approaching $50 million per year. And in Los Angeles—the nation’s second-largest school district—the net loss is estimated at over $500 million per year.
In the Public Interest is a nonprofit resource center that studies public goods and services.
Monday, May 7, 2018
New Study Finds That Each Charter School Student in North Carolina Costs Local Traditional Public Schools $3500
Helen Ladd is amazing. She is Professor Emeritus and still continues to knock it out of the park with her research. In the past couple of years, she has opened the nation's eyes to demographic trends in charter schools. Unlike the common refrain elsewhere that minority students are further racially isolated in charters, she and her colleagues, Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein, showed that in North Carolina charters are increasing enrolling white students while charters increasing enroll students of color. My thesis has long been that charters are uniquely serving as white flight schools in North Carolina because the state operates county wide public school systems that have traditionally been among the most integrated in the nation (although still far from fully integrated).
This spring Ladd and John Singleton are again pushing the boundaries of our understanding. They recent published The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina. Their abstract explains:
A significant criticism of the charter school movement is that funding for charter schools diverts money away from traditional public schools. As shown in prior work by Bifulco and Reback (2014) for two urban districts in New York, the magnitude of such adverse fiscal externalities depends in part on the nature of state and local funding policies. In this paper, we build on their approach to examine the fiscal effects of charter schools on both urban and non-urban school districts in North Carolina. We base our analysis on detailed balance sheet information for a sample of school districts that experienced substantial charter growth since the statewide cap on charters was raised in 2011. We find a large and negative fiscal impact in excess of $500 per traditional public school pupil in our one urban school district, which translates into an average fiscal cost of more than $3,500 for each student enrolled in charter schools. We estimate comparable to somewhat larger fiscal externalities per charter school pupil for two non-urban districts.
In a new essay with Brookings, they plain speak and contextualize it for us:
In North Carolina, the state is the sole authorizer of charter schools and its authorizing legislation specifies that charter schools are to be funded at the same per-pupil rate as the public schools in the district where the students live. Funding for these purposes includes state funding which accounts for about 65 percent of statewide funding, and local supplemental funding which differs by district based largely on the wealth of the local county.
We collected financial data on school spending from six districts around the state to conduct the analysis. We selected Durham, N.C., (a county district with a traditional public school enrollment of 33,000 students) as our urban district because of: its relatively large share of charter school students (15 percent); its high local funding; and the explicit concerns of district policymakers that charters are adversely affecting the district’s ability to serve its students, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. We selected five illustrative non-urban districts based on their growing shares of charter school enrollments, and our success in obtaining the detailed local expenditure data needed for the analysis.
Estimating fiscal burdens in an art, not a science. Central to the analysis is categorizing local district expenditures into one of two categories. Variable costs–such as spending on teachers–represent those that can be cut back relatively easily with a change in the number of students. Conversely, fixed costs – such as those on administration and facilities–represent long-term funding commitments and are much harder to adjust in the short run.
For the simplest models, we assume that the district can reduce its variable spending on line with the loss of students and that fixed costs cannot be adjusted at all. In fact, however, the district will not be able to adjust its variable spending in this way if the students who shift to charter schools are spread across schools and grades. Hence, we also calculate short-run fiscal burdens that assume some stickiness in variable spending. For some of our estimates, we also vary the treatment of fixed costs by assuming that even in the relatively short run, the introduction of charter schools may allow a fast-growing district to slow its spending on facilities.
Despite these uncertainties and various modeling assumptions, the bottom line is clear. The growth of charter schools imposes clear fiscal pressures on local school districts in the short run. In Durham, for example, the burden is about $500 per traditional public school student. This estimate is somewhat smaller than the comparable per-pupil burdens of $900 and $700 Bifulco and Reback estimated in New York state using similar assumptions. Nonetheless, the potential adverse impact on education quality in Durham is likely to be larger because per-pupil spending in North Carolina is less than half that in New York.
The net fiscal burdens per traditional public school student for our five non-urban districts are lower than what we estimated in Durham, largely because of their lower charter school enrollment shares or reliance on local supplemental funding.
Changing the focus to the excess cost per student enrolled in a charter school, we calculate a burden of about $3,500 per charter school enrollee in Durham, and burdens of comparable or larger magnitudes in two of the non-urban districts.
These impacts, they argue, require a public policy response: state "aid to smooth or mitigate revenue losses for school districts in proportion to the expansion of local charters."
Friday, May 4, 2018
David Sciarra's new essay at LPI provides an excellent snapshot of the continuing inequalities in school funding. Thanks to David, Bruce Baker and Danielle Farrie for the hard work they put in every year on the School Funding Fairness reports. I know my work wouldn't be greatly impoverished if it weren't for the data they produce, which is not even counting the countless other finer points Bruce cranks out in response to questions.
School Funding: Deep Disparities Persist 50 Years After Kerner
Fifty years after the Kerner Commission warned of a nation divided, school funding remains profoundly unfair and inequitable in most states, shortchanging students across the country. Those most disadvantaged by this enduring failure are millions of children from low-income families and children of color, especially those in high-poverty, racially isolated communities.
In the United States, public education is a state obligation. The states, through their finance systems, account for approximately 90% of all education funding in local districts and schools.
Every day in schools across America , the lack of funding deprives students of the qualified teachers, support staff, academic interventions, full-day kindergarten, early education, and other programs they need to be successful in school. Unfair school funding remains entrenched in most states, as it has for decades, impeding efforts to improve outcomes for students, especially poor children, those learning English, and students with disabilities.
The deplorable condition of state school finance is laid bare in the 2017 edition of the National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair? This report goes beyond raw school spending by analyzing both the funding level in each state and whether funding is greater in higher-poverty school districts.
There persists a wide gulf in how much states invest in public education, from $18,719 per pupil in New York to $6,277 in Idaho. Most states also fail to allocate more funding to high-poverty districts so they can deliver the resources necessary to give students from low-income families the opportunity for academic success.
Seventeen states, including Virginia, Connecticut, and Texas, have “regressive” school funding, which means they provide less funding to their high-need districts than wealthier ones. Nevada is the nation’s most unfair, with low spending and less money for a burgeoning population of students from low-income families and those needing English language instruction.
Twenty states, including New York, South Carolina, and Michigan, have “flat” funding. These states fail to allocate additional funds to address the academic, social, and health needs of students in their poorest schools. Some of these states, such as North Carolina and Oklahoma, send a very modest increase to poor schools, but rank at the bottom of the nation in overall spending.
Only a few states, notably Massachusetts and New Jersey, fairly fund their schools. These states provide sufficient funding and significantly higher funding in the poorest districts. They also are the nation’s highest performing overall, with students from low-income families making strong gains.
Even more disturbing is that many states with unfair school funding make little effort to invest in public education. States such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona have economies that can support greater investment, but are unwilling to do so.
California, by contrast, has made substantial new investments in recent years to boost funding to its high-need schools, and recent evidence suggests the new finance system is paying off in higher achievement and graduation rates in those districts. Yet per pupil spending in California is still among the lowest in the country.
For our students, this is not about dollars. Funding levels determine whether effective teachers, Advanced Placement classes, guidance counselors, extra learning time, and other essential resources are available in the nation’s classrooms. In states with unfair funding, children are less likely to have access to preschool, pupil-to-teacher ratios are higher, and wages for teachers are not competitive with other comparably skilled professions. The chronic and severe underfunding of public education is behind the wave of teacher strikes and walkouts now sweeping across the nation.
The sad fact is most states still fund schools the old-fashioned way. Lawmakers decide how much they’re willing to spend, usually based on last year’s budget, and then distribute funding to satisfy powerful political constituencies. Only a handful have enacted finance reforms driven by the actual cost of basic education resources, including the cost of supports for struggling students and other interventions crucial in high-need schools.
In many states, elected officials staunchly resist school funding reform, even in the face of court orders, as is now the case in Kansas. Governors in Colorado, Texas, and Connecticut have fought funding lawsuits rather than use the courts to leverage action by recalcitrant lawmakers.
Unfair school funding is a major reason why our nation remains segregated, separate, and unequal a half century after the Kerner Commission issued its call to action. It’s time to put this issue at the top of the national education agenda.
David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center and a co-author of the National Report Card.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
The joint policy guidance on racial disparities by the US Department Justice and US Department of Education has been under intense debate for the past few months. The Parkland school shooting only fanned the flames, as those who believed the federal guidance is an overreach irresponsibly argued that laxity in school discipline may have been a cause of the shooting. Then Secretary DeVos hosted listening sessions on the guidance.
Those who oppose the guidance would have us believe it is the cause of enormous evil, forcing teachers to leave disruptive students in the classroom and undermining the academic achievement of everyone else. That is a hard pill to swallow for two reasons.
First, the guidance does not prevent schools from punishing anyone. They are free to remove students from the classroom as often as necessary to protect the learning environment. Nor are they prohibited from suspending students. All the guidance does is trigger an inquiry when data shows that a school is suspending one racial group at a much higher rate than others.
But the disparity alone does not demand a remedy. If the school shows that there is a legitimate reason for the disparity and the suspensions are necessary, they don’t have to change their practices. In other words, the school that treats students fairly in discipline need not worry. And in these respects, the guidance did not do anything new. It simply put districts on notice of what the administrative law has always been.
Second, even if the guidance did something new, it was well justified by what we know about school discipline. More than a decade of social science demonstrates that harsh discipline policies don’t help anyone. The harm to suspended and expelled students is pretty obvious. But studies show that innocent bystanders are harmed as well. Harsh and racially inequitable discipline practices erode relationships between students and teachers, creating an environment that undermines rather than reinforces learning. In fact, when students perceive discipline as authoritarian, students begin to resent school leaders. The schools with the highest student achievement are those that proactively address student misbehavior through means other than suspension and expulsion. They try to minimize the incidents of serious misbehavior before they occur rather than addressing them reflexive after-the-fact through harsh punishment.
I don’t doubt that some schools have struggled to transition to discipline systems that are less reliant on suspension. But the fact that they have struggled with the transition to new policies does not mean their old policies were better. Yet, this is logic of those who want the federal guidance withdrawn.
In April 2018, the US GAO—the non-partisan fact based federal agency that provides information to Congress—released a report on discipline. The basic data is pretty shocking:
Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools, according to GAO's analysis of Department of Education (Education) national civil rights data for school year 2013-14, the most recent available. These disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended. For example, Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school—an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points.
This led critics to jump up and down, shouting that disparities don’t prove anything. That may be true, but again, the federal guidance doesn’t demand a policy change based on numbers alone. It asks that we look behind the numbers. And numbers of this magnitude do give us an extremely compelling reason to “look under the hood” of the district’s data.
Again, let's just look at what we have seen in the last month. Christie Norris and Erwin Chemerinsky's new amicus brief explains,
Race and other related variables are consistent predictors of how discretionary decisions are made with regard to school discipline. But how does such discretion result in outcomes that are racially biased? Heilman and Haynes note,
The answer lies in the links between stereotypes, the expectations they engender, and the subsequent impact of those expectations on cognitive processing and evaluative judgements. It is in the last linkthat the role of subjectivity is critical; the greater the subjectivity, the more opportunity for stereotype-based expectations to influence evaluative judgements.
(Heilman & Haynes, Subjectivity in the Appraisal Process: A Facilitator of Gender Bias in Work Settings in Beyond Common Sense: Psychological Science in the Courtroom (Borgida & Fiske edits., 2008) p. 127.) For example, Skiba et al. claim that the racial disparities in school discipline may be at least partially explained by teachers’ misperceptions in that “[t]eachers who are prone to accepting stereotypes of adolescent African-American males as threatening or dangerous may overreact to relatively minor threats to authority, especially if their anxiety is paired with a misunderstanding of cultural norms of social interaction.” (Skiba et al., The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment (2002) 34 The Urb. Rev. 317, 336.6)
Stereotypes reflect a “mental association about a person’s attitudes or actions based on the person’s membership in a group.” This can be an important psychological tool for our minds, as it keeps people from having to encounter each new situation without the benefit of prior knowledge or experience. This not only prevents psychological exhaustion by conserving cognitive exertions, but the ability to make quick and non-conscious associations can help protect people from dangerous situations. For example, the association most people make between a glowing red stove top and being burned helps them automatically and unconsciously avoid harm without having to re-process these variables every time they enter a different kitchen.
However, in a society where the prominence of race and racism in everyday life makes derogatory associations with racial minorities seem like common sense, the proverbial glowing stove top that elicits an automatic association with danger can easily be a child of color in a classroom. This automatic, unconscious association of a group of people with a stereotyped behavior is known as implicit bias – a contrast to explicit bias where people knowingly and consciously choose to discriminate against people because of an association made with their group. Since “human mental machinery can be skewed by lurking stereotypes, often bending to accommodate hidden biases reinforced by years of social learning,” implicit bias has been shown to have an impact in virtually every social situation. (Levinson, Racial Disparities, Social Science, and the Legal System in Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law (Levinson & Smith edits., 2012).) This includes criminal justice and sentencing, employment, and health care. (See generally Bennett, The Implicit Racial Bias in Sentencing: The Next Frontier (Jan. 31, 2017) 126 Yale L.J. Forum8; Krieger & Fiske, Behavioral Realism in Employment Discrimination Law: Implicit Bias and Disparate Treatment (July 2006) 94 Cal. L.Rev. 9979; Chapman et al., Physicians and Implicit Bias: How Doctors May Unwittingly Perpetuate Health Care Disparities (Nov. 2013) 28 J. Gen. Internal Med. 1504.10)
Each of these examples involves institutions where administrators – judges, managers, physicians – interface with the public and exercise considerable discretion in performing their duties. While the principles that they apply – sentencing guidelines, hiring heuristics, clinical protocols – are often facially race neutral, the exercise of professional discretion coupled with pre-existing stereotypes interact to produce differential outcomes for people of color that lead to documented disparities in sentencing, employment, and clinical care. As discussed in in Part I(A), this same pattern exists in school discipline. Extensive research links this racial discipline gap to the toxic combination of discretion and implicit bias. (See Staats, Implicit Racial Bias and School Discipline Disparities: Exploring the Connection (May 2014) Kirwan Institute Special Report.11) When organizations give administrators wide discretion, the socially produced implicit associations that they harbor at an individual level (for example, the belief that Black people are more violent than members of other racial and ethnic groups) can influence decision making in a way that is disproportionately unfavorable to those who they subconsciously dislike and/or fear, i.e. children of color.
With data and science like this, school discipline policy should not be a partisan issue. Well, again, Minnesota just recently showed us that it is not. A new Minnesota Department of Human Rights study showed that
students of color received 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions despite making up 31 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. Only 14 percent of Minnesota students have a disability, but they accounted for 41 percent of those types of discipline incidents.
The disparity falls the hardest on black and Native American students. Native students are 10 times as likely to be suspended or expelled as whites, and black students are eight times as likely.
When the results came out, the state did not fight about it. The state senate scheduled a hearing and, according to local reporting,there is bipartisan support for "more resources for mental health and counseling, improved training for educators and less punitive consequences for students who act out."
--on Twitter @DerekWBlack