Thursday, April 9, 2015
According to local news in Duncan, Oklahoma a local third-grade teacher distributed Bibles to her students in class. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has threatened to sue unless the school takes action, although it is not clear what that action would be. The Center learned of the Bible distribution when one student complained that he or she had been pressured into accepting a Bible.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Who knows what the House of Representatives will hold, but the Senate took an enormous step toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act yesterday. After the President made clear in February that he would veto legislation that gutted the federal role in education, Senators Alexander and Murray did something brave--at least brave by current standards. The eschewed grandstanding, went into closed door sessions, avoided leaks, and sought to hammer out a bi-partisan proposal. The ESEA has a tradition of wide bipartisan support. As controversial as NCLB was after its passage, it had broad bipartisan support when it was passed, ranging from Ted Kennedy to John Boehner. Uncharacteristic of the current Congress and Senate, Alexander and Murray went back to the drawing board to rekindle that tradition.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council invite you to attend a Capitol Hill Briefing on a new report, A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education.
New Scholarship on School Funding, Segregation, Native American Culture, Formerly Religious Charter Schools, and Tenure
The Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal has released its new issue, which includes several interesting articles. The titles and abstracts are as follows:
In 2008 fifteen-year-old Abel Limones collapsed in the middle of a high school soccer game. When he was unable to get up, Thomas Busatta, his coach, ran onto the field to check on Abel. Within a few minutes Abel had lost consciousness and appeared to have stopped breathing. Busatta, who was trained and certified in the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), called for an AED. There was an AED in the game facility at one end of the field, however it was never brought to Busatta. EMS responders brought their own AED and were only able to revive Abel almost half an hour after his initial collapse. Due to the delay and a lack of oxygen, Abel suffered severe brain injury, placing him "in a nearly persistent vegetative state that will require full-time care for the remainder of his life."
Last week, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state's privacy law did not protect the names of public school employees who are on paid administrative leave during an investigation for misconduct. The case arose when media outlets sought information about district employees on administrative leave, which included two Spokane school employees who, incidentally, are cousins, one a high school counselor and the other a teacher. The employees sued to enjoin the district from disclosing the records, claiming that they were exempt under the state privacy statute as personal information maintained in an employee's file and as records compiled by an investigative agency. The Washington Supreme Court stated that the records were not protected because a "public employer's investigation is certainly not a private matter: it arises exclusively from the employee's public employment." Interestingly, the court drew parallels to Ferguson, Missouri, and what can happen when "public trust can be eroded when the public suspects the government is withholding information to protect its own." The Washington case is Predisik v. Spokane Sch. Dist. No. 81, No. 90129-5. In late March, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a court of appeals decision in State ex rel. Quolke v. Strongsville City School Dist. Bd. of Ed., No. 2015-Ohio-1083, holding that the names of replacement teachers were subject to disclosure under the state public records law. After a 2013 teachers’ strike, the president of the Cleveland Teacher’s Union requested the names and identification numbers of all replacement teachers employed by the Strongsville City School District Board of Education under the public records law. The Board argued that releasing the names would violate the replacement teachers' privacy and put them in danger from striking teachers and their supporters. The Board’s concern was not entirely hypothetical, as there were skirmishes between the striking teachers and replacements during the strike that generally were non-physical. A teachers’ organization also posted a “wall of shame” on its website with the pictures of replacement teachers. But those concerns about the teachers’ privacy or well-being ended with the strike, the Ohio Supreme Court stated. Thus, interest in protecting the replacement teachers’ privacy did not outweigh the public interest in the records.
Monday, April 6, 2015
NPR reposted its earlier view about the Atlanta cheating trial which discusses how high stakes testing can cause unbalanced allocations of teachers' time and resources to students "on the bubble," students who appear closest to passing standardized tests. Students who can pass the test without intensive help and students who appear less able to pass get less time and attention from teachers. Read NPR Ed.'s take here.
In the summer of 2013, Indiana passed a new voucher and tax credit bill that vastly expanded opportunities for students to attend private schools. In just ten school districts alone, the program funded $45 million in vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. In several individual school districts, the amount spent on vouchers doubled and tripled from the 2012-13 school year. Local teacher unions complain that the program is too permissive, permitting students who have never even "tried" the public schools to opt for a privately funded private education. They claim approximately half of the voucher students fall in this category.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Last month, the Kansas House took action to move the state further away from the funding adequacy mandated by its Supreme Court. A bill passed the House that would eliminate the existing school funding formula and replace it with block grants. While the prior formula had numerous flaws and failed to properly account for student need and district capacity, it did include some weights that acknowledged those factors. A flat grant system would assume all districts are the same. Whether that such a system is more irrational than the old one, I cannot say, but irrational it too would be. In other words, the funding system would remain unconstitutional.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Eleven Atlanta Public School Defendants Convicted of Racketeering in Standardized Test Cheating Trial
After eight days of deliberations and five months of testimony, the verdicts in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial came in yesterday. The jury convicted eleven administrators and teachers and acquitted one teacher. Prosecutors argued that a cheating conspiracy was motivated by bonuses and promotions that APS educators received when students met proficiency standards mandated by the No Child Left Behind law. The APS defendants were found to have inflated students' test scores at several elementary schools by giving students test questions in advance, assisting students during tests, and having grade-changing parties to erase and fix wrong test answers. Essentially, the evidence showed that APS officials became obsessed with data and showing marked progress in standardized test scores in some APS elementary schools. The wheels came off, however, when those elementary students showed up in high school without the skills indicated by their previous test scores. The verdicts came in without the trial's central defendant, APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, who died in March. Dr. Hall allegedly pressured teachers and administrators to hit NCLB targets or face termination. The APS defendants were tried under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) law, which we discussed in this post. (Georgia's RICO law eases the prosecution's burden to prove "an enterprise" and a "pattern of racketeering activity," both required under the federal RICO statute.) For a take on the pressure placed on teachers and administrators to comply with the APS' demands to show progress, see the New Yorker article on the cheating scandal here.
In Marshall, Michigan, members of the high school's Gay-Strait Alliance recently put up a public display on a hallway bulletin board promoting promoting transgender equality. Their purpose, they say, was to let the LGBTQ community to know they are safe and accepted at school. School policy is to leave information on the bulletin board for two weeks.
Some parents, however, became aware of the bulletin board posting and began complaining to the administration. Shortly thereafter, the school took down the display, before the two weeks had transpired. Kate Samra, president of the Gay Straight Alliance at the high school, said she “met with the principal of my school today and he said he felt like the situation needed to be diffused, so that’s why he did take the board down.” Marshall’s superintendent, Randy Davis, also acknowledged that parental complaints played a role. “We have had complaints once in a while from a parent about that,” he said. “In our environment, it doesn’t feel like there’s any controversy at all; in the world of Facebook, it seems like it’s on fire.”
The bulletin board would seem to have been a public forum. If so, the school could only censor student speech if it created a substantial disruption or was lewd/plainly offensive. Schools cannot censor speech simply because it might generate uncomfortable speech. While we only have sparse facts, the school's intent seems to have been to avoid uncomfortable conversations with parents, not actual disruptions in school. There is no indication that the bulletin posting had caused any disruption within school, but taking it down has set of an entirely new conversation and students are now protesting. If the school thought censoring speech would diffuse the situation, they were mistaken. From the students' perspective, this also suggests a school that is potentially hostile to LGBTQ rights, which could come back to haunt the school should any Title IX harassment claims arise later.
Postscript: My colleague, Josie Brown, also pointed out that a bulletin board is technically part of the facilities and, thus, would be subject to the federal Equal Access Act, which prohibits discrimination in regard to individuals who are announcing or wishing to have meeting. See 20 USC 2071.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In C.W. v. Capistrano School District, No. 12-57315 (9th Cir. Mar. 2, 2015), the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court's award of attorney's fees to a school district as the prevailing defendant in special education services case. Cribbed from the court's summary: School districts are rarely awarded attorney's fees, but can receive such fees when a complaint is either "frivolous" or "pursued for an improper purpose." The Ninth Circuit concluded that the complainant's ADA and § 1983 claims were frivolous, but reversed the district court's award of attorney’s fees and costs related to the complainant's claims under Section 504 and the IDEA. In the case, a mother sued the Capistrano, CA, School District to challenge the denial of an independent educational evaluation for occupational therapy for her child, who had special education needs. While litigating her IDEA claim, the mother alleged that her child’s school district violated the IDEA, Section 504, the ADA and § 1983 by improperly threatening to seek sanctions against her and her counsel if they appealed the administrative denial of the child’s IDEA claims. In a letter to the mother's counsel, the district wrote, "the District reserves the right to seek sanctions against you and your client if the most recent administrative decision is appealed." The Ninth Circuit noted the mother and her counsel did not file a frivolous complaint under the IDEA by doing what the law permits them to do, which is appeal from a denial of occupational therapy that the mother felt that the child deserved. The circuit court found that the outcome of the ADA intimidation claim and the § 1983 claim were more obvious as lacking any legal foundation, however. The circuit court noted that "[b]y its own terms, protection under the ADA against intimidation does not extend to a plaintiff’s attempts to exercise rights granted or protected by the IDEA," and once the district court told the plaintiff that her claim was meritless under the statute's terms, she and her counsel should not have appealed it on the same grounds. Read C.W. v. Capistrano School District here.
The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has released a new report on how the city's charter schools compete for students. The abstract explains:
Understanding how schools respond to competition is vital to understanding the effects of the market-based school reforms implemented in New Orleans since 2005. Advocates of market-based reform suggest that, when parents and students can freely choose schools, schools will improve education in order to attract and retain students. But, for market-based school-choice policies to work, school leaders have to believe they are competing for students, and they have to choose to compete in ways that improve education.
The body of the report offers this more detailed discuss of how leaders have responded:
School-choice policies in New Orleans have resulted in perceived competition among school leaders. Only 1 leader of 30 reported having no competition. However, the responses to this competition, the strategies used to compete, are not necessarily those expected by policy-makers.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
In recent years, a growing body of evidence has confirmed what personal experience and intuition have long suggested: the quality of a child’s teacher has a profound and lasting impact on the child’s academic achievement. According to one expert, replacing just the least effective five percent of America’s teaching force with average teachers could catapult our nation’s K-12 education system from its current place among the worst performing in the developed world to among the top. Yet for complex reasons related to school culture, administrative inertia, and the time and cost associated with dismissing a teacher for poor performance, schools across the country continue to subject students to chronically ineffective teachers in considerable numbers.
Monday, March 30, 2015
On March 3, New York City schools announced that they will begin recognizing two major Muslim holidays beginning in the upcoming 2015-2016 school year. The two holidays to be recognized are Eid al-Fitr, celebrated at the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, a feast of sacrifice celebrated in late September this year. While New York City is the largest district in the United States to include these holidays on its academic calendar, it is not the first. Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey all have districts that have taken similar steps. New York, however, has a proportionally larger number of Muslim students affected. New York City school district has just over 1.1 million students and "[a] 2008 study by Columbia University found that 10 percent of [the district's] student body is composed of Muslims." Some school have a significantly greater percentage of Muslim students. The Brooklyn public school that was referenced in the superintendent's announcement reported that 36 percent of its students missed school on the last Eid al-Adha.
This is in contrast to Montgomery County, Maryland, which rather than recognize Muslim holidays, stripped all formal acknowledgement of religious holidays from its school calendar. The facts there were far different, but I suggested the district probably got it correct under the Establishment Clause. Which side of the line New York falls on is a closer call. The question is whether the school is accommodating the free exercise of religion (because to do otherwise is an administrative burden) or whether it is accommodating religion for the purpose of promoting it/pleasing its adherents. Given the size of the Muslim population in the schools, the City can more easily make the former argument and render the policy constitution, although the mayor and superintendent's announcement of the new policy included potentially problematic statements suggesting the latter. Their statements, however, may be political grandstanding, as opposed to indications of school level motivations.
Friday, March 27, 2015
On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the state constitution's education clause does not require school districts to provide school bus services. Indiana's Franklin Township Community School Corp. ended its bus service in 2011 after losing about $18 million of its budget when a cap on property taxes went into effect and local voters rejected a referendum to increase property taxes. Faced with the decision to provide buses or cut staff and classroom resources, the Franklin County Superintendent chose to end transportation. The Township then decided to provide student transportation for an annual fee through a private contractor. In November 2011, parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the Township challenging the constitutionality of the mandatory transportation fee. In 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the Township's mandatory fee as unconstitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court decided whether the state constitution's education clause supported any requirement for free bus services. The state supreme court found no such requirement to provide free school transportation in Indiana's education clause which mandates a “general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.” While the Court acknowledged that its ruling "will inevitably require some families to make alternative accommodations,  it will not close the schoolhouse doors." After the class action lawsuit was filed, Franklin Township restored bus transportation in 2012, but the case remains important for other districts facing budget shortfalls. Read Hoagland v. Franklin Township Comm. Corp., No. 49S02-1410-PL-643 (Ind. March 24, 2015) here.
Public Advocates Group Calls for More Transparency and Financial Oversight of California's Charter Schools
Although California law allows its county superintendents to request an "extraordinary audit" of charter schools, a California group argues in a new report that the current law does not provide enough protection against charter school fraud or mismanagement. The Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, estimates in Risking Public Money: California Charter School Fraud, that California could lose more than $100 million to charter school fraud if the state does not reform its oversight of those schools. Below are excerpts from the report's executive summary:
California is home to the largest number of charter schools in the country, with over 1100 schools providing instruction to over half a million students. In the 2013-14 school year, California charter schools received more than $3 billion in public funding. Despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, California has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements and monitoring by oversight bodies, including chartering entities, county superintendents and the State Controller, no oversight body regularly conducts audits. ...
In this report we describe three fundamental flaws with California’s oversight of charter schools:
Oversight depends heavily on self-reporting by charter schools or by whistleblowers. California’s oversight agencies rely almost entirely on audits paid for by charter operators and complaints from whistleblowers. Both methods are important to uncover fraud; however, neither is a systematic approach to fraud detection, nor are they effective in fraud prevention.
General auditing techniques alone do not uncover fraud. The audits commissioned by the charter schools use general auditing techniques rather than techniques specifically designed to detect and uncover fraud. The current processes may expose inaccuracies or inefficiencies; however, without audits targeted at uncovering financial fraud, state and local agencies will rarely be able to detect fraud without a whistleblower.
Oversight bodies lack adequate staffing to detect and eliminate fraud. In California, the vast majority of charter schools are authorized by local school districts that lack adequate staffing to monitor charter schools and ferret out fraud. Staff members who are responsible for oversight often juggle competing obligations that make it difficult to focus on oversight and identify signs of potential fraud and abuse.
Risking Public Money is available here.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
President Obama's administration has taken a great interest in protecting Americans from predatory practices, as evinced by his planned remarks on predatory lenders today in Alabama. The Education Department (and the Justice Dept.) have been watching a few higher education institutions where there have been accounting irregularities with federal funds. In keeping with those efforts, the Ed has placed 67 nonprofit and for-profit institutions on heightened cash-monitoring status, which means among other things that they are restricted from drawing Title IV funds until students receive disbursements from their institutions. The Ed will not reveal which colleges and universities are on its watch list, however, despite requests from Inside Higher Ed and other media to publish the list. Inside Higher Ed reports today that the administration is considering releasing that list. The Ed had not done so before because of the risk, quoting an unnamed Ed official to Higher Ed, that "any public release of the confidential financial standing of these institutions will likely cause the institutions substantial competitive injury.” When it is made public that an institution is on the list, as Computer Learning Centers (CLC) was before its closure, it can be subject to shareholder suits.
The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has released its newest report on discipline in Chicago public schools. The reports are monitoring the efficacy of Chicago's move away from harsh discipline toward more restorative justice practices. It is not all good news, as suspension rates are still high, but the general trend is positive and discipline rates continue to fall. Alex Nitkin offers this summary:
[The report] found that students and teachers report feeling safer as harsh discipline practices have eased. That’s another good-news finding, since some observers feared that cutting arrests and suspensions would worsen school climate and security.
However, the report also notes that Chicago still has a lot of work to do to further reduce suspensions of young black men, who are still the most likely to be kicked out of school for discipline reasons. One-third of black males received an out-of-school suspension last year, compared to 13 percent of Latino boys and 6 percent of white and Asian boys.
Other Consortium findings:
- Some schools are replacing out-of-school suspensions with in-school suspensions: Out-of-school suspensions for black male students declined by about 3 percent, while in-school suspensions rose by 7 percent. Most other groups also saw slight increases.
- Most suspensions in high schools are handed down for “defiance,” with only a third the result of fights or other threats to safety. The report notes that with so few suspensions for physical altercations, schools probably have more room to cut suspensions without compromising safety—but teachers need training on how to deal with students they perceive as being disrespectful.
- The overall arrest rate for high school and middle-grades students was 2 percent, but the rate for black males was double that, according to Chicago Police Department data analyzed by the Consortium. Schools called police for just 43 percent of serious incidents that require police notification under the district’s discipline code.
One troubling fact is that the Consortium still could not get access to complete discipline data from charter schools. This missing data, of course, is also crucial to yesterday's post about comparing urban charters' academic achievement to that of traditional public schools.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
In a fourth challenge to Tennessee's school funding system, seven county boards of education sued the Governor and the State of Tennessee in Hamilton County Bd. of Educ. v. Haslam, filed on March 24. The plaintiffs are asking a state court to find that the state has neglected its duty to fund public education under the Tennessee Constitution. The plaintiffs, according to a release by the Education Law Center, are asking for relief on several claims, including "an unfunded mandate claim  based on what plaintiffs state are extensive additional and costly responsibilities placed on schools by the state with no funding to cover them." The plaintiffs also allege that the state ignored its responsibility to fund 75% of classroom costs; the plaintiffs allege that the state is only funding about 70%, resulting a $134 million shortfall. The plaintiffs further claim that the state has failed to phase in funding under laws passed to comply with previous judgments in three school funding cases, Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter I, II, and III), which they allege resulted in additional funding shortfalls of about $600 million. (For more on the Small Schools litigation, see the National Education Network here.)