Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Virginia Schools in Worse Position Now Than Before the Recession

A new report by the Commonwealth Institute  shows a net loss in teachers and resources over the past six years and growing student need.  The net result is a school system in a worse position to serve its students today than before the recession:

Recent headlines have suggested that Virginia has 5,000 fewer positions in its K-12 schools now than before the beginning of the recession. The problem is actually much worse. Taking into account growing student enrollment, Virginia’s schools are missing over 11,000 positions, including 4,200 teachers. Also missing from Virginia’s schools are an additional 1,500 instructional staff, who should be assisting teachers in the classroom and helping students outside of it, and 5,500 support staff, who should be keeping the schools safe and running, getting students to and from class, and caring for student’s physical and behavioral health.

These missing positions stem from a combination of schools eliminating positions that they can no longer afford to support and schools not hiring staff to keep up with growing enrollment. Schools made these tough decisions because the state cut school funding moving out of the recession, pushing a greater share of the cost onto cashstrapped localities. In turn, as school divisions responded to budget pressures, they started to reduce staff and cut salaries.

Get the full report here.

November 11, 2015 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Troubling Trends in Religious and Ethnic Based Bullying

A new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) finds that Muslim students experience high rates of bullying and discrimination in California's public schools.  Among other things, the report calls on Congress to amend Title VI to include a prohibition on religious discrimination. While the CAIR is correct that Title VI does not prohibit religious discrimination, it is not always clear whether the discrimination against Muslim students is ethnic or religious discrimination.  The Office for Civil Rights has tended to treat it as ethnic discrimination, which Title VI would prohibit.   Regardless, the report's empirical findings are troubling:

Ultimately 55% of the American Muslim students surveyed reported being subjected to some form of bullying based on their religious identity. This is twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school. Many students experienced multiple types of bullying; however, the most common type of bullying American Muslim students faced was verbal at 52%.

CAIR-CA also considered gender-based differences in survey responses. Remarkably, more male students reported experiencing bullying. However, the percentage of females who reported experiencing discrimination by a teacher or administrator was slightly higher. Of the female respondents who wear a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, 29% reported being offensively touched by another student, and 27% reported being discriminated by their teacher.

There were also two key findings in the students’ responses to questions about their feelings regarding their school environment. The percentage of students who reported feeling that they were comfortable participating in class discussions about Islam or countries where Muslims live decreased 4 by 4 percentage points, from 80% in 2012 to 76% in 2014. Moreover, only 67% of students felt teachers and administrators were responsive to their religious accommodation requests. American Muslim youth continue to identify student-teacher relations as needing improvement. Many students’ comments referenced increased problems in the classroom during discussions about 9/11, mainly due to teachers either failing to address harassment by other students against Muslim students or discriminating against Muslim students themselves.

November 9, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 6, 2015

New York Charter School Accused of Failing to Provide Services to Special Education Students

The New York Times reported yesterday that five students have sued Brooklyn's Achievement First Charter School, alleging that the charter school has failed to provide federally-mandated special education services to students with disabilities. One plaintiff, a mother of a special education student at the school, stated that her child had not received paraprofessional services to which he was entitled for a year. Achievement First is part of a network with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The suit also accuses Achievement First of improperly disciplining special education students, such as on one occasion, sending a third grader to a second grade classroom as punishment for misbehavior. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, the New York Legal Assistance Group, allege that the problems at Achievement First arise in part from the charter network's culture of strict discipline for even minor infractions, which can result in punishing special education students for behaviors related to their disabilities. The NY Times story is here.

November 6, 2015 in News, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Big Victory for School Funding in Pennsylvania, Maybe

Going into Tuesday's election, the political makeup of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court was 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 3 open seats.  After Tuesday's election, it will be 5 Democrats and 2 Republicans.  I am idealistic or naive enough to reject the notion that those numbers are determinate.  I have also read enough good school funding opinions to know that education is one place where jurists (and politicians) will cross ideological lines in both directions.  But I also know that when some supreme court justices have done the right thing in school cases, they have found themselves looking for new jobs in places like Ohio and Alabama where the judiciary is elected.  This may be what makes Tuesday's election in Pennsylvania so important.

Education funding has been at the top of the political debate in the state for the past two years, ranging from the near implosion of Philadelphia's schools in 2013 to the current budget stalemate that has threatened to shut down the state's schools.  On top of that, a constitutional challenge to the state's funding system is before the state supreme court right now.  In other words, the voters knew exactly what was at stake when they elected this new supreme court.  In fact, this election set a new record for campaign spending in a judicial election in the state.

Whether the current sitting members of the court had intended to issue a decision before the end of the year is hard to say.  Even with good intentions, constitutional school claims generally take at least a year, and this one has not even been argued yet.  Regardless, with two vacancies and a 2-2 split, it is safe to assume that the newly elected members of the court will decide the fate of the state's education clause.  And the will of the voters suggests there will not be repercussions if the court finally, after years of decisions to the contrary, decides to enforce the constitution's education clause.

November 5, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rethinking Public Education Litigation Strategy

An interesting new student note, Rebecca I. Yergin, Rethinking Public Education Litigation Strategy: A Duty-Based Approach to Reform, 115 Colum. L. Rev. 1563 (2015), is now available on westlaw.  She offers this abstract:
With a persistent and, in some places, increasing education achievement gap falling along lines of race and class, advocates have often turned to the courts to improve this nation's public schools. Public law litigation has historically helped to remove some of the most invidious barriers to improvement, but traditional desegregation and school-finance lawsuits have not gone far enough to close the gap. This Note thus seeks to propose a new approach to public law litigation directed at reforming school systems. It presents the principle of a “duty of responsible administration,” which has emerged in other public contexts and requires administrators and officials to assess, monitor, and revise practices that appear to violate civil rights values. In order to explore the application of this duty in the public education context, this Note focuses on one state with a large achievement gap: Connecticut. It presents the state's education landscape and hypothesizes a lawsuit, following the approach proposed by the duty of responsible administration. In doing so, the Note argues for a reconceptualization of the role courts could play in reforming and improving this country's education system.

November 4, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ED: School District's Continuing Refusal to Allow Transgender Student to Use Girls' Locker Room Violates Title IX

Last Friday Derek's posted about the federal government's amicus brief in support of a transgender's student request to use restrooms that were consistent with his or her gender identity. The Office for Civil Rights delivered the administration's position again yesterday when it told an Illinois school district that denying a transgender student access to facilities consistent with the student’s gender violated Title IX. OCR found that Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Ill., unlawfully denied a transgender student access to gender-appropriate school facilities in violation of Title IX. The district had offered a few alternate facilities to allow the student to dress for athletics and physical education classes, but all of the facilities involved isolating the student from the other female students in the school's locker rooms. The district placed the student in a single-occupancy bathroom to which the student had to walk past fitness and weight rooms when male students were present. Moreover, the student told OCR investigators, using the separate bathroom made her feel "ostracized." For its part, District 211 officials have said they allow transgender students to have access to the bathrooms of the gender they identify if there are stalls, but not to locker rooms where students are undressing. As Professor Sacha Coupet (Civitas Child Law Center, Loyola) summed up the district's position, "it's still a matter of opposite-sex body parts being in a gender-specific space." After the district tried other accommodations short of giving the student access to the female locker rooms, OCR and the district reached an impasse. OCR rejected the district's explanation that it separated the student to protect the privacy of other students. In its Nov. 2 letter, OCR gave the district thirty days to come up with a satisfactory solution or risk jeopardizing its federal funding. The OCR letter, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, is here.

November 3, 2015 in Gender, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nationwide Study of On-line Charter Schools Reveals Inherent Flaws and Paltry Results: Is This the Beginning of the End

Three new studies came out last week, all raising red flags about the academic effectiveness of online charter schools.  In the past year or so, a few states have already begun to put the breaks on authorizing on-line charters, primarily due to scandals.  These new studies, with their focus on academic outcomes, may provide the hard systematic data to bring a complete end to them in some jurisdictions. The first study is by Mathematica.  If finds:

  • Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction
  • Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day
  • Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge
  • Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56 , and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction
  • These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the online charter school sector is likely to be effective in promoting the achievement of its student.

The second report is by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.  It found that

  • students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.
  • online charter schools exist in a number of different policy environments due to variation in state charter law and administrative regulation. Most of the existing regulation is reactive to controversy (restrictions on growth and autonomy), rather than proactive policies to guide the unique opportunities and challenges of online charter schools.
  • several drawbacks to forcing online schools into the charter context, including:
    • Open admission requirements that prevent schools from screening for students who are most likely to be successful in an online school.
    • Authorizing and accountability provisions that are not well suited to the unique challenges of regulating online schools.
    • Funding mechanisms that preclude outcomes-based funding.

The last study was by CREDO at Stanford University.  It found:

  • Online charter students had weaker growth than their [controlled counterparts in the study].
  • Pre-online mobility is the same for online charter students and their [counterparts].
  • Positive growth across a sector is possible. Some online charter schools which were part of multischool networks had average impacts on academic growth which were stronger than the typical online charter. Online charter schools in Wisconsin and Georgia had academic growth in reading which on average was stronger than their VCRs. These findings show it is possible for online charter schools to produce stronger growth, but it is not the common outcome.
  • Few school-level practices had a strong relationship with academic growth. A review of the relationship between school practices as reported in the Mathematica survey and student academic growth found mostly insignificant correlations between school practices and growth. Of practices in the survey which had strong positive correlations, attending schools which offered some self-paced classes was the most wide-spread and was found to be consistent across all school levels. The findings on the expected parental roles was also revealing in that placing more instructional responsibilities on parents was strongly correlated with weaker growth across most settings.
  • Teasing out the impact of state-level policies is difficult. The role of state-level policies matters in online charter education. The state-level policy changes included in the study did have significant relationships with the academic growth of online charter students. With the data included in this analysis, it was not possible to tease out which aspects of the particular policy changes led to the changes in academic growth. This is a critical area for future study.
  • Being an online school matters more than being a charter school. Finally, the major impacts of attending an online charter school appear to be primarily driven by the online aspect of the schools.


November 3, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Charter Schools With Lists of Students Who "Got to Go"

Civil rights activists and scholars have long speculated that some charter schools manufacture the student populations they would like to teach so as to produce better results.  On the front end, they could achieve this by bending the rules and discouraging special education and English Language Learner students from applying.  On the back end, they would weed out undesirables that made it in through the lottery system.  Some data has confirmed the front end problem, but the later has been little more than speculation.  Until last week.

[D]ocuments obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.

In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.

Read the full story here.

November 2, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Scholarship: Engle on Mandatory Reporting of Campus Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Prof. Jill C. Engle (Penn State) has posted Mandatory Reporting of Campus Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence: Moving to a Victim-Centric Protocol that Comports with Federal Law on ssrn. Thanks to CrimProf Blog for the tip. Excerpted from the introduction:

Interest in getting campus reactions to [sexual assault] "right" is at an elevated level nationwide in the wake of certain high profile allegations of sexual violence at numerous colleges, including Columbia, Vanderbilt, Yale, Florida State, and the University of Virginia. This Article describes the legal and social landscape of mandatory reporting and the attendant challenges, along with the policies and practices that colleges should adopt for faculty reporting to comply with federal law while still remaining sensitive to victim needs. 


November 2, 2015 in Higher education, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fourth Circuit: Congress' IDEA Amendments Did Not Abrogate Supreme Court's FAPE Definition in Rowley

The Fourth Circuit recently held in O.S. v. Fairfax Cnty. Sch. Bd., No. 14-1994, 2015 WL 6122986 (4th Cir. Oct. 19, 2015), that the standard for a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were not changed by Congress’ 2004 amendments to the IDEA. Thus, school districts are required to meet no higher standard for a FAPE than that set by the Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley (1982). In the case, the parents of O.S., a second-grader, requested a one-on-one aide, extended school year services, and that Fairfax County, VA, school board assign a full-time nurse to O.S.’s school to address O.S.’s disabilities. The school’s representatives on O.S.’s individualized education program team did not adopt those requests, and O.S.’s parents did not agree to the new IEP. O.S. sued in federal district court, which found that the school board had provided a FAPE. On appeal of that decision, the Fourth Circuit rejected O.S.’s arguments that the preamble to Congress’ 2004 IDEA amendment stating its purpose to remedy “low expectations” of children with disabilities,” meant that the IDEA now requires “meaningful” educational benefit as distinct from “some” educational benefit. Following the Tenth Circuit on this issue (and rejecting a contrary Ninth Circuit case), the Fourth Circuit held that the standard for a FAPE remains the same: so long as a child receives some educational benefit, meaning a benefit that is more than minimal or trivial from special instruction and services, a school district has done enough. 

October 30, 2015 in Cases, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Government Sides with Transgender Student in Fight to Gain Equal Access to Restroom

In September, a federal district court rejected the attempt of Gavin Grimm-a transgender student-to gain access to the boy's restroom in his public school in Gloucester County, Virginia.  The district had previously allowed him to use the boy's restroom, but withdrew access after religious and other concerned groups raised objections.  Grimm appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit. Wednesday, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice filed an amicus brief in support of Grimm.  The argue in their brief that Grimm simply seeks "a benefit that every other student at this school enjoys: access to restrooms that are consistent with his or her gender identity. . .  . Treating a student differently from other students because his birth-assigned sex diverges from his gender identity constitutes differential treatment on the basis of sex under Title IX."

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education has already enforced this position in a few administrative complaints, but this may be the most visible and clear statement of policy to date.

October 30, 2015 in Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

New York Makes Major Concession in Small Cities School Funding Case: State Shortchanged Districts $1.1 Billion

The Education Law Center released this announcement yesterday:

In court papers filed in the Small Cities school funding lawsuit, the Plaintiff parents and the State agree that over the past 5 years the 8 districts have not received $1.1 billion they should have received under the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula.  

The Foundation Aid Formula was designed to provide New York school districts with adequate resources to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education.  The $1.1 billion funding shortfall caused significant cuts in teachers, support staff and programs, and low academic outcomes, depriving district students of their right to a sound basic education under the State Constitution.

This key finding is among the extensive Findings of Fact based on the trial record filed late Wednesday by the Plaintiffs with Judge Kimberly O’Connor in the Albany Supreme Court as the next step in Maisto vs. State of New York, commonly called the Small Cities case.

The case involves school children from the small city districts of Mount Vernon, Port Jervis, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Utica, Jamestown and Niagara Falls.  The students sued the state for not providing its fair share of funding based on the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, causing their districts to cut teachers, staff and other essential resources and undermining efforts to improve outcomes for students.  

The Foundation Aid Formula, enacted in the wake of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. Stateruling is designed to provide the every New York student with a “sound basic education” as required by the New York State Constitution.


  • The shortchanging of $1.1 billion has resulted in test scores and graduation rates being unacceptable.
  • Lack of funding has caused districts to cut teachers, support staff, and other essential educational resources.
  • These cuts have resulted in Maisto districts being out of compliance with state regulations in such areas as academic support for students with disabilities and special needs.
  • Every expert testifying for the state in the trial, whether on behalf of both the plaintiffs or the state, agreed that additional funding and resources would improve test score and graduation rates, particularly for high-needs students.


  • Poughkeepsie has lost 130 staff between 2009 and 2014. The district now does not have enough special education programs and academic intervention services.
  • Jamestown reduced its staff by 24 percent from 2008 to 2012. The district does not have enough academic intervention services, services for English language learners and early literacy intervention.
  • Port Jervis lost more than 10 percent of its staff in one year. In 2010-11 school year, district per pupil spending for a “sound basic education” had a shortfall of 31 percent.
  • Utica cut 364.6 staff positions from 2010 to 2014. The district does not have enough academic intervention services.
  • Kingston has 115 fewer full-time staffs than it did in 2012.  In 2012-13 school district, district per pupil spending for a “sound basic education” had a shortfall of 23 percent.
  • Niagara Falls cut 207.5 staff positions since 2009. The district has only a 60 percent graduation rate.
  • Newburgh has been shortchanged $239 million by the state.  The district does not have enough social workers, counselors or academic intervention teachers for its students.
  • Mount Vernon simply has not enough teachers to address the needs of the students. The district had to cut “specials” including library, art, music, band, orchestra and reading teachers have been cut to a minimal level.

The attorneys for the plaintiff parents, Gregory G. Little, White & Case LLP; William E. Reynolds, Nixon Peabody LLP ; David Sciarra and Wendy Lecker, Education Law Center; and Megan M. Mercy, Associate Counsel, New York State United Teachers, note that these districts are plagued by low property wealth, higher than average local tax rates and poverty.

"There is no excuse for the State's failure to provide every student with their constitutional right for an opportunity to have a sound basic education,” said Gregory Little of the White Case firm and a lead counsel in the case.  “We trust the legal system will enforce their education rights.  It would be far better, however, if the State simply agreed to provide the funding these students and their peers desperately need.”

“For too long, children in these districts have been deprived of essential resources, such as academic intervention, social workers, reading specialists and special education services,” said William Reynolds of the Nixon Peabody firm and also counsel to plaintiffs.  “The State enacted the 2007 formula to provide those resources, but then walked away from its promise to these children and their schools.”

“This lawsuit is essential. The State is underfunding these schools and both the State and the plaintiffs agree on that fact,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. "The failure of the state to fulfill its obligations to students is shortchanging students of their educational opportunities and parents and students have had to resort taking the state to court."

The case was heard by Judge O’Connor in New York Supreme Court over a span of eight weeks from January 21 to March 19, 2015.  At the close of the trial, Judge O’Connor directed the plaintiffs lawyers and the Attorney General to submit findings of fact based on trial evidence that support their respective positions.

The parties will now file legal briefs, which finalize the trial proceedings and allow Judge O’Connor to make a ruling in the case.

The findings of fact can be found here.


October 30, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Right to an Education or the Right to Shop for Schooling: Examining Voucher Programs in Relation to State Constitutional Guarantees

Julie Mead's new article, The Right to an Education or the Right to Shop for Schooling: Examining Voucher Programs in Relation to State Constitutional Guarantees, 42 Fordham Urb. L.J. 703 (2015), explores the question of "at what point, if any, does a state's funding of private education subvert its constitutional obligation to provide adequately for public education, thereby converting a child's right to an education to merely the right to shop for one?"  The key issues courts have addressed in answering this question are:
First, the cases draw attention to the distinction between a constitutional obligation and a discretionary benefit. Second, the reasoning makes clear the relationship between school funding and legislative fulfillment of constitutional obligations. Third, the cases demonstrate that the source of a school's funding does not define its public-ness or lack thereof. Finally, the cases raise the issue of uniformity in the public sector as one measure of a legislature's execution of its constitutional mandate.
Based on her review of the cases, Professor Mead concludes that
The state constitutional obligation of state legislatures to fund and nurture the common public school is paramount and may not be subordinated to a legislative desire to subsidize the private choices of individual parents. Legislatures may enact private school choice provisions, but state constitutions direct that legislaturesmust provide public schools. State constitutions have clearly established that children have a genuine right to a quality public education, not merely the privilege to shop for schooling in the educational marketplace.


October 29, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

California Bans Term "Redskins" As School Team and Mascot Names

Earlier this summer the Washington Post reported that a U.K. based English tutoring school changed its name from ISIS Schools to prevent confusion with the terror group called ISIS. Many companies around the world are doing that. What stood out was the ease with which ISIS Schools did it, compared with the hand-wringing that we go through in the United States to replace offensive or anachronistic school names. California just took a step forward Sunday with Governor Jerry Brown signing the California Racial Mascots Act, which prohibits public schools from using the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname beginning January 1, 2017. California the first state to ban the use of the term "Redskins." Gov. Brown declined, however, to sign SB 539, which would have prohibited "the use of an elected leader or senior military officer of the Confederate States of America to name state or local property." Gov. Brown said in a veto statement that "[l]ocal governments are laboratories of democracy which are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom."

October 28, 2015 in News, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Scholar Finds That Some North Carolina Charters Are Likely Violating State and Federal Non-profit Law

Tom Kelley's new article, North Carolina Charter Schools' (Non-?) Compliance with State and Federal Nonprofit Laws, 93 N.C. L. REV. 1757 (2015), is now in print.  The debate has long raged over whether charters are really non-profits.  Too much of that debate is rhetoric that paints with a very broad brush.  Kelley's article is deep on specifics and legal analysis, concluding that some charters in the state of North Carolina are no more than fronts for for-profit education management organizations (EMO) and that, as such, they are probably violating federal and state non-profit law.  His article is a serious indictment that will surely generate some attention.  He goes so far as to call for an investigation of a particular EMO--Roger Bacon Academy.  His abstract offers this summary:

In North Carolina, as in most jurisdictions across the country, state law requires that charter schools be governed by nonprofit corporations. This Article examines the governance practices of a select group of North Carolina charter-holding nonprofits and asks whether they are complying with state and federal nonprofit law. It scrutinizes with particular care a group of North Carolina charter-holding nonprofit corporations that have entered into comprehensive management agreements with for-profit educational management organizations, also known as EMOs. Based on an exhaustive analysis of the nonprofit corporations’ board meeting minutes, contracts, financial reports, tax filings, and real estate records, this Article concludes that certain North Carolina charter-holding nonprofits have very likely violated nonprofit law by in essence handing the keys of the charter schools over to the for-profit EMOs, permitting them with minimal supervision or disclosure to convert public educational dollars into significant corporate profits. This Article calls for legal and regulatory reform to rein in abusive practices by for-profit EMOs and more effectively safeguard the public funds that North Carolina citizens have devoted to education.

October 28, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pre-school to Be the First Victim of Pennsylvania's School Funding Fight

News outlets in Pennsylvania report that without a budget solution in the next week and a half, state funded pre-kindergarten programs will begin closing their doors.  All schools and students will soon feel the effects of the education budget battle, but this result is particularly perverse.  And I guess this answers my prior blog post--Could School Funding in Pennsylvania Be Any More Problematic?--in the affirmative. Pre-k for disadvantaged students is often the primary remedy that plaintiffs seek in school funding litigation.  It is the one program that has the potential to offer the surest and longest lasting results.  In Pennsylvania, it is set to be the first thing to go.

October 27, 2015 in Pre-K Education, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Resource Officer's Violence Toward Student Raises Fundamental Question That Most Miss

A resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, pulled a female student from her desk by her neck, threw her to the floor, and then dragged her across the floor to another part of the room.  The incident was caught on video and has gone viral.  Apparently, the student had been disruptive and, at the moment of the incident, was refusing to follow instructions. The incident almost exactly mirrors one described in the U.S. Department of Justice's report on police involvement in Ferguson, Missouri's schools.  At pages 37 and 38, DOJ cited that incident as part of a problematic trend of unreasonable enforcement action and added that it

demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with such arrests. In fact, SROs told us that they viewed increased arrests in the schools as a positive result of their work. This perspective suggests a failure of training (including training in mental health, counseling, and the development of the teenage brain); a lack of priority given to de-escalation and conflict resolution; and insufficient appreciation for the negative educational and long-term outcomes that can result from treating disciplinary concerns as crimes and using force on students. See Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Education.

During the media rounds last night, the video prompted predictable debates over whether the use of force was reasonable.  Those debates included mind numbing defenses and recriminations that, in effect, repeated the conversations we have heard for the past year in regard to the deaths of several African Americans at the hands of police.  While that conversation is obviously a very important one that should continue, it is the wrong one here.

The question here should not be whether the resource officer used reasonable force.  The question should be why he was in the school to begin with and why, at this very moment, he was the one directed to resolve the situation. This is a question I have raised and implied on this blog several times.  In the last two years, I have noted numerous stories of school resource officers choking, handcuffing, restraining, and locking up in isolation rooms elementary and middle school students, including students with special needs.  One Georgia school even saw fit to begin housing rifles on campus.    

The answer is simple.  Save exceptional circumstances, law enforcement does not belong in school. School resource officers are not educators. They are not sufficiently trained to deal with students. They are not dispute resolution specialists. No doubt, incidents arise when school officials believe that the brute force of law enforcement is beneficial.  Even were that the case, the rare benefit that they provide far outweighs the regular burden they bring.  They change the culture for students and teachers in ways that are not productive.  They bring official confrontation to school.  They bring violence into school.  They bring real weapons into school.    And even if a school were to unwisely accept all of these things as necessary evils, the school should minimize the circumstances when law enforcement is brought to bear on a student.  Schools must always be the front line of school discipline and almost always the end line as well.  They should only absolve themselves from that role when absolutely necessary.  It seems relatively clear that this was not the case in Spring Valley High School.

October 27, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Newark Schools' Court Monitor Questions Validity of Key Special Education Records

This from the Education Law Center:

The Court-appointed Monitor overseeing a class action settlement to improve special education in the State-operated Newark Public Schools (NPS) has raised serious questions about the validity of a key record in the NPS files of children seeking special education services. The questionable records are uniformly written, undated letters containing the date for determining whether NPS has complied with a Court-imposed, 90-day deadline for providing services to children with disabilities. The letters were found only in those files taken from district schools to the NPS central office for purposes of the Monitor’s review. 

In a semi-annual verification report issued this month, the Monitor, Priscilla Petrosky, questioned the “credibility” of the boilerplate letters because the dates for implementing special education services contradicted other information in the files. She also found no evidence that NPS actually provided the letter to parents, as required by law. The Monitor noted that if she excluded the questionable cases, “100% of [NPS] case files would have lacked agreement with the 90 day Annual Compliance Report.”

“The Monitor’s findings that the records may not be authentic suggest the undated letters placed in students’ files may have been an attempt by an employee or employees of the State-operated NPS to improperly raise the district’s compliance rate,” said ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “As NPS’s self-reported progress in meeting court-imposed deadlines has inched forward over the last three years, the all-important rate at which that progress can be verified by the Monitor has sharply dropped.”  

Taking the undated letters “at face value,” the Monitor found that Newark’s compliance rate dipped to a dismal 17% of all randomly reviewed cases, even including the cases with questionable records. 

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October 27, 2015 in Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Obama Calls for Limit on Testing: How Will This Affect His Other Policies?

On Friday, the Obama administration took a significant ideological step.  After more than a decade and a half of increased standardized testing--what many call drill and kill--the administration has called for a cap on the amount of time public school students spend on taking tests.  Students would spend no more than two percent of instruction time taking tests.  The administration's goal is to for Congress to reduce "over-testing" in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

On the other hand, it is pretty easy to be against "over-testing" and the administration is arguably late to the game.  A national opt-out of testing movement has been growing in strength for the past few years.  "Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.  As discussed here, so many opted out in New York that the state worried its federal funding would be in jeopardy.

What is far less clear, and probably more important, is how reduced testing will be coordinated with the administration's other policies on teacher evaluation and student progress.  Regular and detailed tests are the fuel that makes those policies run.  This announcement may be a concession that those policies are also flawed, but focusing on over-testing as the enemy may be the means by which to save face as policy moves in a different direction.

More here.

October 26, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Searching for Equity Amid A System of Schools: The View from New Orleans

Robert Garda's newest article, Searching for Equity Amid A System of Schools: The View from New Orleans, 42 Fordham Urb. L.J. 613 (2015) is available on westlaw.  He abstract offers this summary:
Hurricane Katrina leveled both the buildings and governance structure of the New Orleans school system. The system was transformed from one elected school board controlling nearly all the schools to a system of schools with sixty-three school districts operating within the city's geographic boundaries that are run by forty-four independent school boards. There is not a more decentralized school governance structure in the United States. This Article discusses how this new system of schools is attempting to achieve equal educational opportunities for its most vulnerable and at-risk student populations: the poor, minorities, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.
For the first seven years after Katrina, the system of schools operated with virtually no centralized planning or unified services, instead pushing all decision-making and service provision down to the autonomous schools. With little oversight, the schools became balkanized by race, class, and ability because of unequal access, retention, and service provision, and because certain schools are specialized for discrete student populations. It became apparent that centralizing certain services and unifying policies was essential to creating equal opportunities for vulnerable students, which slowly began occurring in 2012.
Today, New Orleans education stands at a crossroads in deciding how to achieve equity for its vulnerable student populations. One route relies on centralizing services, planning, and oversight to ensure that every school provides an appropriate education to any type of student that walks through the schoolhouse door. This path embraces the version of inclusion equality set forth in Brown v. Board of Education: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The other route relies on the market driven reform underlying the charter movement to create specialized schools to fill the unmet demands of vulnerable populations. This route embraces an emerging view of equality--where separate can be equal, possibly even superior, if parents are empowered to maximize their child's academic outcomes in specialized settings. This Article argues that New Orleans is headed down this latter route and identifies the lessons that can be learned from its evolution to a system of schools.


October 26, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)