Wednesday, February 1, 2017

New Jersey Supreme Court Denies Gov. Christie's Bid to Change Teachers' Rights by The Education Law Center

This from the Education Law Center:

The NJ Supreme Court issued an order yesterday denying Governor Christie's motion to reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation. ELC, counsel to the plaintiff school children, vigorously opposed the Governor's action.

In the September filing, Governor Christie asked the Court to modify prior Abbott rulings by giving the Commissioner of Education unlimited authority to over-ride terms of teacher collective bargaining agreements and the law requiring teacher layoffs by seniority. The Governor also asked the Court to "freeze" state aid at current levels under the funding formula - the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) which was upheld and enforced by the Court in the 2009 and 2011 Abbott XX and XXI - while the Executive and Legislature developed a new wholly undefined formula to be adopted at some indeterminate future date.

In denying the Governor's motion, the Court noted the challenges to collective bargaining and seniority in layoffs "have not been subject to prior litigation in the Abbott line of cases."
The Court, in its order, "declines to exercise original jurisdiction" to hear the motion "in the first instance," thus deciding not to consider the merits of the Governor's request.
"We are pleased the Court has turned down the Governor's request. Issues related to collective bargaining and teacher layoffs were never in the Abbott case, which has been singularly focused on ensuring adequate funding and resources for students in New Jersey's poorest schools," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead Abbott counsel.
Denying the Governor's request to freeze school funding means that the Court's directives in the Abbott XX (2009) and Abbott XXI (2011) rulings requiring the State to continue to use the SFRA formula to fund New Jersey's public schools remain in full force and effect.

"With this ruling, we anticipate the Governor will follow the Abbott rulings and SFRA statute by using the formula to determine state aid for school districts in the FY18 State Budget," Mr. Sciarra added. "We're prepared to work with the Governor and Legislature to ensure the budget includes a long overdue increase in state aid, targeted to districts most in need."

February 1, 2017 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Governor Cuomo: Dump Formula, Let Politics Drive School Funding by David Sciarra

In his proposed 2017-18 budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for repeal of New York's Foundation Aid Formula, the 2007 law responding to the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE).


The Formula was carefully designed to deliver funding for the essential resources all New York school children need to achieve the state's academic standards, including additional resources needed for students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. The Formula was also designed to drive increases in state aid to high need schools across the state, addressing New York's longstanding disparities between high poverty, low wealth and low poverty, high wealth school districts.
In the 2003 CFE ruling, New York's highest court declared the state's method of funding schools violated New York City students' constitutional right to a "sound basic education." The Court of Appeals sharply criticized the funding system, calling it a "political process" that allocates funds to schools in a way that "does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of" public school children.


In the wake of CFE, the Legislature enacted the Formula to move the state from funding schools based on available dollars and raw politics to year-to-year determinations based on student and school need. The Formula also allocated school aid based on district fiscal capacity to raise local revenue from property taxes. To accomplish this objective, the Formula provided for a four-year phase-in of increases in state aid, or $5.5 billion statewide, the vast majority targeted to the poorest urban and rural districts.
In 2009, the state froze and then subsequently cut Formula aid. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has staunchly resisted increasing aid to move districts towards full Formula funding. The Formula remains underfunded by over $4 billion.


The result of the state's failure has fallen hard on students, especially those in high need schools. Many districts have reduced or eliminated teachers, support staff and other programs deemed essential in CFE for a constitutional education. Yet support for full Formula funding remains strong. Parents, teachers, board members and legislators have stood behind the Formula, demanding Governor Cuomo re-commit to a multi-year phase- in of full Formula aid.


The Governor's announcement that he wants to eliminate the Formula is a stunning reversal of his 2010 campaign position when he made clear the state's responsibility for full Formula funding. The Governor recognized the state "is supposed to equalize or come close to equalizing" school funding, declaring that "the state has yet to fully fund" CFE.
Governor Cuomo is following the playbook of Governors in Mississippi and Georgia, states where the existing funding formulas are, like New York, chronically and substantially underfunded. Rather than fully funding the Formula, the Governor wants to wipe it off the books, and with it the current $4 billion shortfall in state foundation aid. By dumping the Formula, the Governor is attempting to avoid accountability for meeting the needs of New York's school children, needs that the Governor, no matter how hard he tries, cannot pretend don't exist.


Even worse, repeal of the Formula would be a major step backwards. The Governor wants to turn the clock back to the days when school funding was decided by "three men in a room," a crass political process soundly rejected by the CFE rulings. We're confident that legislators will continue to stand behind the Formula and demand that it be fully funded to ensure the needs of school children remain prominent, paramount and fully effectuated in the annual state budget.


David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center. ELC advocates for fair and adequate school funding for New York school children.

January 31, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call for Papers from Journal of Law and Education

The Journal of Law & Education is currently accepting manuscripts for publication in its 2017 volume. Authors should submit manuscript and CV to jled@law.sc.edu .

January 31, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

New School Funding Fairness Report Is Available, Showing Continued Stagnation Since the Recession

The Sixth Edition of the School Funding Fairness Report is now available.  The report is a joint effort of the Education Law Center and the Rutgers University School of Education, with Bruce Baker serving as lead author.  To no surprise, the report "finds that public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for success in school."  It retains the same methodology of the past, analyzing  "Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort and Coverage."  The report also highlights a major trend that I emphasized in Averting Educational Crisis--the failure of state funding systems to rebound since the Recession.  The report "shows almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast differences in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost."

Key findings include:

  • Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho.
  • Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems.
  • Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty.
  • Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest.
  • Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts.
  • States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high.

This year's report also comes with a huge bonus for researchers.  They can now download data files on local education agencies, state equity indicators, and basic state fiscal numbers. This is also probably great for Bruce Baker, so that the rest of the world can figure out answers to questions themselves.  We really owe a great debt to group for doing this work and making it available. It is the exact type of fundamental analysis and data that I argued over a decade a ago the U.S. Department of Education should be doing as part of its monitoring of federally funded programs.

Get the full report here and the data files here.

January 30, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 27, 2017

A “Meaningful” Opportunity to Alleviate the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities

Jason Langberg and Sarah Morris have published a new article, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District: A “Meaningful” Opportunity to Alleviate the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities, in the Denver Law Review.  They offer this introduction:

Brandon and Tyler are both sixth grade students with individualized education programs (IEPs) for their serious emotional disabilities. Pursuant to his IEP, Brandon is in a behavioral support class that focuses on social and emotional learning for 60 minutes every day. He also receives psychological services twice a week and his parents receive counseling, twice a month, on how to work with Brandon. A behavioral intervention plan (BIP) that focuses on teaching replacement behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors is part of Brandon's IEP. Finally, his IEP includes specific, measurable, and attainable behavioral goals. Tyler's IEP, on the other hand, mirrors the boilerplate IEP given to most middle school students with emotional disabilities in the district. It provides for 30 minutes of generic special education twice a month and no related services. Tyler has a BIP, but it focuses on punitive consequences.

Brandon graduated from high school and earned a scholarship to college. Tyler spent the next few years frequently suspended, referred to law enforcement, and failing classes. He eventually dropped out of school and became ensnared in the prison industrial complex.

The primary cause of the disparate outcomes for Brandon and Tyler was where they went to school. Under the current state of special education law, as eligible students with disabilities (SWD), both were entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). However, Brandon was entitled to "meaningful" services in his state, whereas Tyler was entitled to services that were only "just above trivial" in his state.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up this incongruity in its upcoming term, with implications well beyond the mere formulation of a consistent legal standard. Its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District[1] will ultimately either worsen or alleviate the "school-to-prison pipeline" for SWD.

Get the full article here.

 

January 27, 2017 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Most Troubling Thing About DeVos May Have Nothing to Do with Education

Trying to get a better sense of where Betsy DeVos stands on education, reporters have descended on Michigan in recent weeks to study what has actually happened.  Jennifer Berkshire canvassed the state and took a close look at its present and past history.  The story she tells is that Betsy DeVos's charter and voucher agenda is a small part of a much bigger agenda.  DeVos' real goal is political and her real target is the Democratic Party.  The basic strategy: undermine public schools and you undermine public school teachers.  Undermine public school teachers and you undermine the biggest unions.  Undermine the biggest unions and you kill the Democratic Party.  

That is pretty somber logic, but fits well with other data points outside of DeVos.  Advocates in California, New York, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits claiming that teacher tenure violates students’ right education under state constitutional law.  On its face, their claims are plausible.  But the motivations behind those claims had relatively little to do with education and far more to do with breaking the backs of unions.  That movement had been underway in several states and when it failed, advocates come up with the idea of these lawsuits.  A major problem in those lawsuits, however, was that advocates overplayed their hands.  They let their policy preferences for how teachers should be hired, fired, and evaluated dominate their constitution claims.  In the end, their policy preferences were masquerading as constitutional claims and courts began to see through it.

I stand by that analysis, but these recent reports out of Michigan suggest that it is niave to consider these claims solely in the context of education policy.  For those funding the movement—although certainly not all those who joined it--the challenge to teacher tenure was not just about policy preferences in education.  It was about seizing political power.  

This adds troubling layer onto the nomination of DeVos.  Over the past few days, those who care about education have been shocked by how little DeVos actually knows about education.  Enforcing disability laws, for instance, may very well be the biggest job of the Department of Education.  Complaints of disability discrimination consume forty percent of the Department’s civil rights docket.  And in terms of day-to-day functioning, ten percent of more the nation’s students are in enrolled in special education, which federal law closely governs.  DeVos could not answer the simple question of whether all schools should have to comply with these laws.  Later, she tried to clear up her lack of knowledge by saying she may have been “confused” about what the law required.  In other words, she did not realize that it is a mandatory obligation of all schools receiving federal funds.  

But if we go back to DeVos’s larger agenda in Michigan, these responses should not be shocking at all. Her desire and qualification for this job may not be about education at all.  It may be about pure politics.  This fits with a fact she was willing to confirm.  Senator Bernie Sanders asked if it was true that her family has donated $200 million to the Republican Party over the years.  After first evading the question, she admitted that it was “possible.”  

The scary idea is not that DeVos knows nothing of education or event that the Secretary of Education position is quid pro quo for politic donations. Those things happen.  The scary idea is that she might use the power of the Secretary of Education to break the Democratic Party.  Parents and families of all political parties want a Secretary of Education who cares about education, regardless of whether they agree with her policies.   

January 26, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Is Texas Following DeVos's Lead on Privatizing Education Before She Is Even Confirmed?

The Dallas Morning News reports that top legislatures in the state a supporting an expansive new voucher program or what they call an education savings account:

Parents would get money to pull their kids from Texas public schools and educate them elsewhere, under divisive proposals that two of the state’s three top GOP leaders endorsed Tuesday.

Under a plan generating the most buzz, those families would get taxpayer dollars to spend on private schools, tutoring or related expenses through something called education savings accounts.

At a Capitol rally for “school choice” that hundreds attended, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick mentioned the accounts as one of two school voucher-type proposals he said the Senate would work on this session.

Gov. Greg Abbott, without elaborating on a particular version he wants, promised the audience at the rally he would sign a bill to “authorize school choice.” He also seemed to frown on a pilot program in specific geographic regions, speaking of a “right of every child from every ZIP code across the state” to pick a private or public school that is most suitable.
 
Some may recall that Nevada's education savings plan got struck down as an unconstitutional diversion of education funds last year.  I have no initial sense as to whether similar concerns would exist in Texas.  What I would venture to guess, however, is that like all things in Texas, this education savings plan would be big, which is why the Dallas Morning News seems so alarmed by the proposals.  The governor said he favors the “'right of every child from every ZIP code across the state' to pick a private or public school that is most suitable."
 
The news story characterizes the proposals as legislation that would pay parents to not send their kids to public school.  It uses this phrasing because the savings accounts do not have to be spent on private school tuition.  The savings account "can also be used for things like tutoring, therapists, home-schooling supplies and textbooks."  In other words, the state might actually pay a family to keep their kid at home.
 
For those interested, Hillel Levin has done some great legal analysis in this area.
 

January 25, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Charter School Operator Sues Superintendent for Criticizing Him, Court Throws Out Lawsuit

Baker Mitchell, Jr. runs charter schools in North Carolina.  When his application for a new one went forward a few years ago, it drew criticism from the superintendent of the local school district.  The superintendent purportedly made a lot of disparaging comments about the charter school.  Baker Mitchell then sued the superintendent for what he calls defamatory statements.The North Carolina summarized the plaintiffs'allegations:

[The superintendent said] public charter schools were “dismantling” North Carolina's public education system and that they have “morphed into an entrepreneurial opportunity.” On 4 December 2013, a video entitled “Dr. Pruden Superintendent of the Year Video” was published on YouTube. In that video, defendant falsely stated that BCS was superior to the “competition” because BCS “does not operate schools for a profit.” In that video, defendant falsely stated that BCS was superior to the “competition” because BCS “does not operate schools for a profit.”

 
Plaintiffs alleged that defendant's reference to “competition” was “clearly a reference” to the public charter schools for children of Brunswick County.
 
The second amended complaint further alleged as follows: In 2013, RBA submitted an application to the Office of Charter Schools for a new public charter school named “South Brunswick Charter School” (“SBCS”). Defendant began an “obsessive public campaign to derail approval” of the new school, “viciously defaming the character and reputation” of Mitchell. First, defendant submitted a “Local Education Agency Impact Statement” to the Office of Charter Schools on 9 April 2013 and a revised impact statement (“impact statement”) on 14 May 2013. At some time after 20 May 2013, defendant's impact statement was posted to a website maintained by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Plaintiffs alleged that the impact statement contained statements that “maligns” plaintiffs and “casts aspersions on Mitchell's honesty, character and moral standing in the community[.]” Defendant also privately petitioned at least one member of the Charter School Advisory Council (“CSAC”) to manipulate the approval process such that approval of the charter would be denied. The vice-chair of the CSAC, Tim Markley (“Markley”), “issued repeated challenges” to the SBCS. On 16 July 2013, a motion was made to approve the SBCS conditioned upon a change in the CDS Board. Markley met with defendant in the hall after the meeting and Markley was overheard expressing his regrets and apologizing for not being able to prevent approval of the SBCS charter.
 
Plaintiffs alleged that defendant, acting in his individual capacity, began submission of “a parade of documents” to the North Carolina State Board of Education (“SBE”), including copies of defamatory letters written to Mr. Bill Cobey, chairman of the SBE, expressing false allegations and his concerns about what defendant claimed were conflicts of interest between Mitchell, RBA, and public charter schools. In a letter dated 7 August 2013 to Mr. Cobey and the SBE, defendant urged that the SBE consider information regarding conflicts of interest before taking action on the application for SBCS. Plaintiffs alleged that this letter contained statements which were “false, libelous and intended to impugn the ethical reputation and character of Mitchell.”
 
 
Mitchell v. Pruden, No. COA16-428, 2017 WL 163754, at *1–2 (N.C. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2017).
 
The North Carolina Court of Appeals through the lawsuit out last week.  It did not reach the issue of whether the statements were true or defamatory.  It did not need to.  It held that the statements were within the scope of the superintendent's official duties.  Moreover, his "actions were consistent with the duties and authority of a superintendent and constituted permissible opinions regarding his concerns for the approval of a new charter school."  Thus, he was immune from suit.
 
In any event, one might also criticize Mitchell for wanting to have his cake and eat it too.  A public school superintendent would have a hard time suing any member of the public for criticizing him for his discharge of his public duties.  The Supreme Court in NY Times v. Sullivan made suits by public officials for defamation and libel considerably harder. The Court reasoned that they have the benefit of self-help through the media and that the nature of their job is to be open to criticism, even when it is off-base.  If charter schools are public schools, those that run them may need to have little thicker skin.
 

January 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lawsuit Alleges West Virginia Public School System Offers Bible Classes

Somehow, every year the Freedom from Religion Foundation manages to find cases that, if the allege facts are accurate, boggle the mind because the obvious constitutional problems they raise. This year is no different.  The organization just released this press release regarding what it claims is a 75-year old practice of Bible study classes at school.  The press release offers this summary: 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed its first lawsuit of the year to end egregiously unconstitutional "Bible in the Schools" classes in Mercer County Schools, W.Va. 

Joining FFRF as primary plaintiffs in the case filed on Jan. 18 are Jane Doe, an atheist and member of FFRF, and her child, Jamie Doe. FFRF and Jane Doe contend Jamie faces "an untenable choice" next year — whether to participate in unconstitutional bible indoctrination or face likely ostracism by conspicuously opting out.

The bible instruction, taught by itinerant teachers who possess "a degree in Bible," begins in first grade. Classes are held in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools. The classes meet weekly and last 30 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in middle schools.

The defendants are Mercer County Board of Education, Mercer County Schools, and Superintendent Deborah S. Akers.

Bible indoctrination classes have been taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years. Between 1939 and 1985, the bible classes were designed, financed, administered and staffed by a small group of Mercer County citizens. Following complaints by parents of eight students in 1985, the Mercer County schools took over the instruction in 1986, claiming to follow nine guidelines from the Office of the Attorney General.

Financing is provided by the "Bluefield Bible Study Fund, Inc.," which operates a fund to pay bible teachers to instruct about 4,000 students. Bible teachers must follow lesson plans almost without deviation. There are 70 to 90 visuals used in each lesson. Lessons have included images of Jesus being tortured, nailed to the cross, and ascending into heaven.

The curriculum is the equivalent of sectarian Sunday school instruction. Goals include developing a "positive attitude" toward biblical literature, "understanding the importance of the Ten Commandments," and "harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus."

FFRF's legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students are asked to "picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn't that be so wild!"

Lesson 6 exhorts students to follow the Ten Commandments and to "have no other god than the Lord God!" Lesson 25 indoctrinates young students in the core narrative of Christianity — the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes: "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such religious instruction unconstitutional more than 65 years ago, in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education. It's unacceptable that such clearly unconstitutional indoctrination is still being conducted in any public schools." FFRF won a court victory before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ending similar bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn., schools in 2004.

Mercer County, whose county seat is Princeton, has a population of about 63,000.

FFRF v. Mercer County Board of Education was filed on Jan. 18 in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia, with Marc Schneider serving as primary litigating attorney and FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott as co-counsel. FFRF thanks FFRF extern Chris Line for his research and preparation of the complaint.

Get the complaint here.

January 23, 2017 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does Money Matter in Education? Bruce Baker's New Report Says Yes

In 2012, Bruce Baker released a report that surveyed all the literature on the effects of school funding.  It was the first singnificant survey of the literature since Greenwald, Hedges and Laine's study from the mid-1990s.  Baker has now released a new update to his prior work.  The report finds:

  • On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
  • Schooling resources that cost money, including smaller class sizes, additional supports, early childhood programs and more competitive teacher compensation (permitting schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher-quality teacher workforce), are positively associated with student outcomes. Again, in some cases, those effects are larger than in others, and there is also variation by student population and other contextual variables. On the whole, however, the things that cost money benefit students, and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives.
  • Sustained improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes. While money alone may not be the answer, more equitable and adequate allocation of financial inputs to schooling provide a necessary underlying condition for improving the equity and adequacy of outcomes. The available evidence suggests that appropriate combinations of more adequate funding with more accountability for its use may be most promising.

He boils the research on those points down to this:

While there may in fact be better and more efficient ways to leverage the education dollar toward improved student outcomes, we do know the following:

• Many of the ways in which schools currently spend money do improve student outcomes.

• When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t.

• Arguments that across-the-board budget cuts will not hurt outcomes are completely unfounded.

In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and a more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.

Get the full report here.

January 23, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Edushyster Says DeVos Was Playing the Long Game in Michigan

Edushyster (Jennifer Berkshire) has a new story on DeVos in Michigan.  The story opens with this:

By the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. *Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.* But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.

Get the full story here.

January 20, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Betsy DeVos May Be in the Top One Percent in One Category, But She Is in the Bottom Half in Another and That Makes Her a Hard Sell

When I first read the exchange between Betsy Devos and two senators on the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), I was speechless.  As a professor, this is a relatively rare occurrence.  Once I came to my senses, a few potentially poignant ideas came to me, but before I share them, I will give you an opportunity at speechlessness.  Here is the exchange:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked DeVos if all schools that receive federal funding should meet the requirements of IDEA.

DeVos: “I think they already are.”

Kaine: “But I’m asking you a should question. Whether they are or not, we’ll get into that later.” He then repeated his question.

DeVos said: “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states.”

Kaine responded: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and, what then, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how kids are being treated?”

Devos repeated: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Kaine said: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.”  He repeated his initial question again.

DeVos then offered an anecdote about a Florida voucher program for students with disabilities.

Kaine interrupted her: “Just yes or no. I think all schools that receive federal funding — public, public charter, private — should be required to meet the conditions” of IDEA. He asked if she agreed.

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Kaine: “So you cannot yet agree with me.”

[Later]

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) explained that the IDEA is a federal civil rights law that must be followed. She asked DeVos if she stood by her statement that it was up to the states to follow it.

DeVos: “Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.”

Hassan: “So were you unaware when I just asked you bout the IDEA that it was a federal law?”

Devos: “I may have confused it.”

My guess is that if you are reading this post, you already knew what the IDEA is and, if so, that makes you more qualified to serve as Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos.  You may also know the following, but I offer it for the good of the order.  Students with disabilities typically make up roughly 10 or 11 percent of the public school population.  In some schools, it dips to around 8 percent.  In others, it is around 14 percent.  It is the second largest chunk of funding that the federal government spends on public education.  Title I funds, directed at low-income students, are the biggest chunk at around $14 billion.  IDEA funds are a close second at $12.5 billion.  Nothing else comes close.  

The Office for Civil Right at the Department of Education is charged with investigating discrimination complaints in education.  It protects against race, gender, disability, language status, and age.  Of all the complaints it receives, 39% are in regard to disability.

How any Senator could deem a person qualified who is not sure of, misunderstands, or thinks that the most (or second most) important law she will be charged with enforcing is voluntary is . . . .  Well, I just cannot find the word to finish that sentence.  Is it shocking, astonishing, unbelievable, or maybe just the new world order where basic knowledge and facts do not matter.

Then a snarky light went off.  Betsy DeVos may be part of the top one percent in terms of wealth and that may qualify her to do a lot of things.  It may have offered her a lot of skills. But on education, she may very well be in the bottom half in terms of knowledge.  Owning charter schools is a lot different than knowing something about education.  I own several stocks and I know very little about any of them.  I own a couple of cars--one for a decade and I still cannot manage to get the driver's seat to return to its original position as I am told it is supposed to when I get in.  Nor can I sync my garage door opener to my car.  And I have read the owner's manual on these topics a couple of times.  And I am generally a pretty hand person.

But, of course, no one is nominating you to be Secretary of Education and no one is asking me to fix their car or offer stock advice, so those are not really accurate points of comparison.  If we compared DeVos to those who actually follow public education, either closely or casually, I would venture to say she is, at best, in the bottom 25% in terms of knowledge.  Now, let's get serious.  Is this someone any Senator should confirm as the Secretary of Education?

January 19, 2017 in Discipline, ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Will Obama's Last Act Be a Major Reform to Address School Funding Inequity?

CNN reports that the "Obama administration is considering a major last-minute policy shift that could force hundreds of school districts to cut spending at well-financed elementary and secondary schools and move nearly $1 billion dollars to schools with large numbers of low-income students."  The story does not dig into the details, but my assumption is that they are referencing Secretary of Education King's plan to use the supplement, not supplant provision as a mechanism to force intra-district funding equity.  While inequities between school districts tend to be much larger than inequities within school districts, the later is arguably more perverse.  Data shows that many school districts simply do not fund their own schools equally.  They use federal funds at low-income schools to replace local dollars and then move those local dollars to schools serving more affluent students.  The net result is to cancel out the added boost that federal dollars are supposed to have.

As a matter of basic fairness and protecting the integrity of federal dollars, the Obama policy is entirely reasonable.  Under prior law, I argued here that for the past several decades the Department should have been doing something along the lines of what Obama is proposing.  Prior administration simply failed to do their job and looked the other way.  

There is, unfortunately, a major problem with Obama's new proposal: the Department probably lacks the legal authority to impose it.  A year ago, when Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the form of the Every Student Succeeds Act, it severely limited the Department's overall authority, stripping the Secretary of several powers he/she had previously held.  On the hole, it reversed the federal role in education.  Recognizing as much, Secretary John King tried to find a loop-hole for exerting continued authority.  Supplement, not supplant was his chosen vehicle.  

As I argue here, however, I am afraid the funding equity regulation is a square peg that will not fit in this round hole.  If the Department makes this last minute move, it may not stand long.  The next administration would likely take steps to reverse it. And in the meantime, school districts would surely file suit in federal court challenging the validity of the regulation.  In fact, Senator Lamar Alexander has already urged them to do so if the regulation goes into effect.

January 18, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Federal Support for School Integration: An Obama Administration Review

The National Coalition on School Diversity has issued an updated report of the Obama Administration's support for school integration.  It concludes that "while much remains to be done, the Obama Administration has made concrete progress on school integration policy."  The report focuses on four categorical areas in which the administration focused on integration: its 2011 Guidance on voluntary school integration; school diversity language and incentives in USDOE competitive grant programs for K-12 education; school diversity language and incentives in Early Childhood Education programs; and Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and “ESEA Flexibility.”  Get the full report here.

 

January 13, 2017 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pipeline Programs to Increase Diversity: A Writing Competition

The Law School Admission Council's Diversity Committee Announces a Writing Competition on: WHY PIPELINE PROGRAMS TARGETING STUDENTS FROM UNDERREPRESENTED RACIAL AND ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE FUTURE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION


The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is committed to fostering diversity in law schools and the legal profession. Currently, through its Diversity Committee, LSAC sponsors and funds a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the diversity of the legal profession. These initiatives include organizing national and regional pipeline workshops that promote the development of outreach and early educational programs for students from diverse backgrounds; offering grants to support diversity initiatives at LSACmember law schools; maintaining databases and websites such as DiscoverLaw.org with information, resources, and programs that encourage students of color, students living with a disability, and LGBTQ students to pursue a legal career and equip them with the tools for successful admission and graduation from law school; and engaging in ongoing collaborative programs and projects with prelaw advisors and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACUs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

For decades, studies consistently have shown that students of color, students living with a disability, and LGBTQ students are underrepresented in most law schools. As a consequence, smaller percentages of persons who represent these groups are graduating from law school and entering the legal profession. This writing competition is designed to reinvigorate the dialogue about the recruitment and retention strategies that law schools should deploy to yield a more diverse class of graduates who will enter the legal profession.

ENTRY PROCEDURES
Include a cover page with your submission. The cover should only contain the author's name, title of the paper, mailing address, law school affiliation, law school status (lL, 2L, 3L/4L), a telephone number where the author may easily be reached, and an email address.

To allow anonymous evaluations, please do not put your name on the actual paper. The title on the paper must precisely match the title on the cover page that contains the identifying information described above.

Email entries to DiversityOffice@LSAC.org. Only electronic files (PDF or Word) will be accepted.

JUDGING
A panel of law school faculty, legal writing instructors, and LSAC diversity committee members will evaluate each submission and select the winning papers. If no paper meets the standards set forth in this announcement, the panel may decide either not to issue an award or publish a paper. The panel's decision will be final.

DEADLINE
All papers must be sent no later than 5:00 PM EST on Friday, March 31, 2017. No extensions will be granted under any circumstances. Papers submitted after the deadline will not be eligible for an award. All submissions become the property of LSAC, and LSAC will retain the copyright of any winning papers selected for publication.

Topic: Why Pipeline Programs Targeting Students from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Backgrounds Are Essential to the Future of the Legal Profession.

Eligibility: Current JD candidates who are in good standing at LSAC -` member law schools

Length and Format: Up to 20 pages (5,000 words or less), 8½ by 11 inch paper, double spaced, 1-inch margins, Word format, 12-point font, with endnotes written in "A Uniform System" of Citation: (The Blue Book) format

Evaluation Criteria: Essays will be judged according to:


• Research and use of relevant sources and authorities (cases; law review articles; other secondary sources, including, but not limited to, books, newspapers, and magazines; and empirical and sociological studies)
• Quality and clarity of legal analysis, persuasion, and writing
• Understanding, interpretations, and conclusions regarding diversity and the implications of diversity in this context
• Full compliance with all competition procedures


Awards: One winning paper will be selected from each of the three (3) qualifying categories of eligible students (1L, 2L, 3L/4L). Each winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and the winning essays will be posted at DiscoverLaw.org. In addition, one winning paper will be submitted for publication in the Journal of Legal Education or similar publication.

Questions: Please send your inquiries to the LSAC Diversity Initiatives
Office – DiversityOffice@LSAC.org.

January 12, 2017 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Betsy DeVos Will Not Bring the Disruption the Department of Education Sorely Needs

Betsy DeVos's lack of expertise has been cited as a point of opposition to her appointment, but as this morning's commentators remarked, DeVos was not appointed for her expertise. She was appointed to shake up the system.  She, in fact, describes herself as a disruptor.  This is her claim to fame.  If this is the basis for her appointment, however, she is still not a good choice for Secretary Education.  The problem with some disruptors is that they do not know enough about the thing they seek to disrupt to actually disrupt it.  They speak with bluster, but in the end, that is all it is.

Anyone who thinks the Department of Education has not been disruptive as of late and is just doing the same old things has not been watching closely.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shook up the education status quo like no one in a long time.  He went after teacher rights and public school monopolies.  Teacher unions and tenure have long been seen as immovable aspects of the status quo that prevented serious reform.  Likewise, traditional public schools' "monopoly" on education made competition and institutional reforms similarly difficult.  

Arne Dunce broke the backs of both of these pillars of education.  Through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers, he encouraged, cajoled, coerced, and compelled more than forty states to institute teacher evaluation systems that fundamentally altered the way teachers are hired, fired, retained, promoted, and tenured in many places. These changes were so radical that they generated a series of lawsuits in places like Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New York, alleging that teachers' constitutional rights had been violated.  

Likewise, when state education budgets were in free-fall during the recession, Duncan told states that if they did not lift their caps on the number of charter schools they would create, he would, in effect, kill their applications for new federal funding.  This move, combined with other factors, resulted in the number of students attending charter schools doubling during the recession.  Although Duncan did not compel it, while states were at it, several also drastically expanded their voucher programs.  Caps on who could apply for a voucher were lifted and voucher funding doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and septupled in some instances.

These are the same types of policies DeVos supports.  So the policies she wants to bring to Washington are already there.  In fairness, she would seek to significantly expand these policies, but this is not disruption; this is fueling the system.  If we look back at Duncan's tenure, would she say she wants to fuel much of his system?  If that is all she would do, is she really the leader she claims to be?  Would parents be excited about her ideas?

The one type of disruption we need and have not seen in Washington in decades is a serious commitment to equal access to learning opportunities.  The Every Student Succeeds Act is one of the worst examples of gutting this concept from federal policy.  And charters, vouchers, and other choice-like reforms are insulting substitutes for equal access to learning opportunities.  They espouse the premise that all students are entitled to equal learning opportunities and reason that since students are not getting those equal opportunities in public school, they should be allowed to go elsewhere.  The irony is that the people promoting these policies are so often unwilling to do much of anything to ensure students get equal access to learning in regular public schools.  Likewise, they are unwilling to place oversight on vouchers and charters to determine whether opportunities are equal there either.  In other words, they are pursuing choice for choice's sake, and the reasoning in support of choice is circular.

 

This leaves us in a tough place.  Those who want disruption through DeVos will not get it.  And if they understood enough about the system to know what real disruption is, they probably would not want it.

As a small update, DeVos's hearing has been postponed from today until next week so that she can complete her financial disclosures and other paperwork.

January 11, 2017 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Are Pence and DeVos a One-Two Knock Out for Education Policy? Recent Reports Out of Indiana Suggest Yes

My recent posts have focused on DeVos and the problems she presents for public education, although I emphasize that without new legislation she does not have power to do too much.  Some new information out of Indiana regarding the education system Governor Pence has overseen suggests more trouble on the horizon and give me pause about assuming an incompetent education administration.  Pence actually has a track record of getting things done in Indiana and what he has accomplished should raise red flags for those invested in improving public education.  

Most notably is the state's teacher bonus system.  By law, the state mandated that $40 million in bonuses be handed out to the state's teachers.  I am all in favor of increasing teacher pay in ways that make the profession more attractive to new teachers and encourage others to stay.  Indiana's incentive pay, however, has two major problems.  First, it is having a very inequitable effect on teachers and driving most of the money to school systems that need it the least. Cory Doctorow offers this summary:

[The state gives] bonuses for teachers who preside over high-achieving classes. This year, the biggest payouts will go to schools teaching the richest kids in the state, while schools for poor kids will get little-to-none of the payouts.

The biggest winner in the giveaway are the Carmel Clay Schools, where 9% of kids qualify for free or subsidized lunches, where the teachers will get $2422 each. The Indianapolis district -- the largest in the state -- will give each teacher a $128.40 bonus.

Emanuel Felton adds:

Carmel Clay Schools, where just 9 percent of their 16,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will get the most— $2.4 million or roughly $2,422 per teacher. Another well-off Indianapolis suburban district, Zionsville Community Schools, where fewer than 5 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, will receive about $2,240 per teacher. Meanwhile, Indianapolis, the state's largest district will receive just around $330,875, or $128.40 per educator. So teachers in those wealthy suburban districts will get bonuses nearly 20 times larger than effective and highly effective educators in Indianapolis.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith calls it a "flawed" system.

"While educators at well-resourced schools performed well and received a much-deserved bonus, the educators teaching in some of the most challenging districts where socioeconomic factors can negatively impact student and school performance, were left out," she said in a statement. "We need high-quality educators to teach at our most-challenged schools, and this distribution of bonuses certainly won't compel them to do so."

Even if Indiana fixed this inequity, the performance pay has a second big problem: no evidence shows that these systems actually improve student performance.  Instead, they tend to frustrate teachers because the metrics that determine whether teachers receive a bonus are ones over which teachers have little control.  The distribution of bonuses appears random or keyed to who gets to teacher certain students.  More on these problems here.

Of course, the more obvious problem in Indiana is a voucher system on steroids that increasingly drives public funding to middle and upper income families in private schools while funding for public schools falls short.  Indiana was among the nation's worse offenders on that score in recent years.  More on that here.

All of this spells trouble.  While one could hope for an isolated and irrelevant Secretary of Education, this one, should she be confirmed, may have an ally in the White House who knows how to implement new education frameworks.

January 9, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Addressing the Recent Increase in Bullying: A Webinar for Parents

On Wednesday, January 11, 2017, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP) in partnership with the Center for Safe Schools and the Center for Education Equity will host a free webinar for parents and advocates on school bullying in response to a surge of recent hate crimes and acts of discrimination in schools nationwide.  During the webinar, participants will learn how to recognize and report school bullying as well as how to engage their community and what parents can do. The webinar will take place at 3 p.m. EST in English and at 6 p.m. EST in Spanish. Please RSVP here.  For more details, please see the attached flyer below or visit the website at www.prepparents.org.

Prep Capture

El miércoles, 11 de enero, El Programa de Preparación y Capacitación de Padres (PREP por sus siglas en inglés) de El Comité de Abogados Para Los Derechos Civiles Bajo la Ley en colaboración con el Centro para Escuelas Seguras y el Centro para Equidad Educativa ofrecerán un webinario gratuito para padres y defensores acerca del acoso escolar en respuesta a un aumento de recientes crimines de odio y actos de discriminación en las escuelas a nivel nacional. Durante el webinario, los participantes aprenderán cómo reconocer y reportar actos de acoso escolar y también cómo involucrar a su comunidad y lo que pueden hacer los padres. El webinario tendrá lugar a las 3 hora del este en inglés y a las 6 hora del este en español. Por favor inscríbanse aquí. Para más detalles, por favor vean el folleto adjunto o visiten nuestro sitio de web www.prepparents.org  

 

January 6, 2017 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Assessing the Effectiveness of Obama's Education Policies

Secretary of Education John King is set to give his final reflections on the work that the U.S. Department of Education has accomplished over the past eight years.  The Atlantic reports that he will release a 14 page exit memo titled "Giving Every Student a Fair Shot: Progress Under the Obama Administration’s Education Agenda.”  I would expect that it is largely a summary of the 60 page document the White House released back in May under the exact same title.  Get that report here.

The most notable accomplishments it will tout are Race to the Top, changes to the teaching profession, expansion of pre-kindergarten education, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and civil rights enforcement.  With the new administration that lies ahead,  many on both sides of the aisle will soon enough long for the one that just left and, thus, I hesitate to be critical. Nonetheless, I cannot count many of this administrations accomplishments as positives.  

An overarching theme of this administration is what I would call the econometrics and corporatization of education. I use econometrics to refer to the notion that we could precisely measure student growth and teacher effectiveness.  These notions became the basis for using extremely complicated mathematical analysis to compare one teacher to another, one school to another, and to take action against them when officials did not think the results were good enough.  

Intuitively, the approach made perfect sense--far more than No Child Left Behind's nonsensical assumption that it could force schools to make 100 percent of students proficient by 2014.  The problem is that the Obama administration's policies rested on the same fundamental flaw as No Child Left Behind.  They both assumed that standardized tests are an accurate measure of learning.  In many ways, the Obama administration made things worse because it upped the ante.  Not only would it rely on the test results, it would attempt to draw far more information and conclusions from them.  As I detail here, this approach is inherently unfair in a number of ways and produces random and unreliable results. What the Department should have done is the opposite.  Keep the tests but use them only for what they are good for: rough global measures of a slice of student learning that can serve as a trigger for further inquiry into a school (and maybe a teacher).  

Corporatization is somewhat of a rough characterization, but I use it as a proxy for the notion that schools can run like businesses and on the whole operate like markets. This notion led the Department to demand that states lift caps on the number of charter schools and resulted in an enormous expansion.  Charter school enrollments roughly doubled during the Obama administration.  While it is true that there are scores of very high performing and beat-the-odds charter schools across this nation, they are the exception, not the norm.  There is no evidence to show that a school, simply by virtue of being a charter, is likely to perform any better than a traditional public school.  Rather, the evidence shows quite the contrary.  

And even putting achievement results aside, the profit motives, potential corruption, lack of transparency, and lack of legal protection are, in fact, inherent risk in charters as currently structured.  Thus, these past several years saw a sharp spike in these problems.  What charter schools require and neither the federal nor state governments have been willing to impose are serious oversight and standards that align them with the core values of public education.  As I detail here, without that oversight and alignment, they can undermine public education itself.

Finally, the Department is quite proud of the fact that it got rid of No Child Left Behind.  I concede that is an accomplishment.  The problem is that the Department overreached so much through Race to the Top and the waivers of No Child Left Behind, that the final legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind was more about eliminating the federal role in education than it was improving it.  In that respect, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a major step backward for the students who need federal leadership the most.  That is no accomplishment at all. For a full explanation, see here.

Those critiques, however, do not mean that the Department was without success.  To be absolutely clear and reiterate what I wrote a few weeks ago, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education has done an outstanding job, particularly in the past four years.  For the first time in a very long time, the Office for Civil Rights once again became an institution that families believed would take their claims of discrimination seriously.  The Office once again became an institution that would insist that districts comply with anti-discrimination law, regardless of the politics that surrounded doing so.  Thus, it is no surprise that the cases filed with the Department grew, so much so that the Department requested additional resources to do the work that the law demanded of it.

As we turn to the next administration, signals indicate that we will miss the Office for Civil Rights more than most appreciate now.  Whether we will miss the general Department of Education's substantive policies remains to be seen, but things can certainly get a lot worse.

January 5, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Texas Special: Purge Students with Disabilities

Identifying students with a disability is not an exact science.  Scholars have long-since documented both the over- and under-identification of certain demographic groups with certain disabilities.  As Theresa Glennon argued in Race, Education and the Construction of a Disabled Class, educational disabilities can be a proxy for the perception that a student diverges from the cultural norm.  Thus, year-to-year variances in the number of students identified as having a disability that affects educational opportunity are to be expect.  Minor upward and downward shifts are not necessarily an indicator of negligence or ulterior motives.

With that said, the Houston Chronicle has made the case that the state of Texas has systematically reduced its special education population for no legitimate reason.  This chart shows that the state's special education population has shrunk by more than 25% in the past decade.  The numbers are even more drastic when the state is broken down by region.  A number have seen their special education population shrink by a third.  See here.

The reason, cites the Chronicle, is clear: the state mandated a cap on the number of students in special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

Once the message went out to districts, things moved quickly.

The Texas Education Agency had determined that they had too many students in special education, the administrators announced, and they had come up with a plan: Remove as many kids as possible.

The staffers did as they were told, and during that school year, the Laredo Independent School District purged its rolls, discharging nearly a third of its special education students, according to district data. More than 700 children were forced out of special education and moved back into regular education.  Only 78 new students entered services.

"We basically just picked kids and weeded them out," said Maricela Gonzalez, an elementary school speech therapist. "We thought it was unfair, but we did it."

Gonzalez's account, confirmed by two coworkers and district documents, illustrates how some schools across Texas have ousted children with disabilities from needed services in order to comply with an agency decree that no more than 8.5 percent of students should get specialized education.

The Chronicle did a multiple series and data collection.  See here.  

Given the costs of special education, I suppose it does not entirely surprise me that the state might give such a ploy a shot.  What does surprise me is that it was allowed to happen under the watch of the U.S. Department of Education or courts, if they were alerted.  Yet, given the individual nature of special education determinations, courts and agencies can often demand a showing that each individual student has been denied their rights.  As a result, larger trends can go unchecked until a number of individual cases are substantiated.  In any event, the Department announced this past fall that it was sending officials to the state to investigate the matter.

 

January 4, 2017 in Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)