Friday, June 27, 2014

Revised "Diversity Priority" Proposed for Department of Education Competitive Grant Programs

In its June 26 newsletter update, the Poverty and Race Research Action Council offered the following in regard to the Department of Education consideration of diversity in competitive grant programs:

 In 2010, the Department of Education approved a series of funding priorities that could be included as incentives or threshold requirements in Department competitive grant programs - including a priority for promoting racial and ethnic diversity in schools. However, since the priority was approved, it has not appeared in most competitive grant funding notices, with the exception of the charter school notices, where it has been a fairly weak incentive, as compared to program incentives to maximize the number of low income children. This week in the Federal Register, the Department has proposed a set of revised funding priorities, including a revision to the diversity priority that includes socioeconomic diversity (in addition to race/ethnicity). We welcome this development insofar as it signals that the Department will now begin utilizing the diversity priority in all of its K-12 grant programs. However, we are concerned that it could represent a retreat from the Department's stated commitment to racial diversity - and we will be watching how this plays out in the next round of funding notices. Economic diversity is related to and complementary to racial integration in schools, but the two goals are not interchangeable.

The Department of Education's Federal Register notice is here.

June 27, 2014 in Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

ED Announces "Major Shift" in Special Education Compliance Towards "Results-Driven Accountability"

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a "major shift" in the way that the ED measures how well states are educating the nation's 6.5 million special education students. In keeping with the administration's accountability focus, the shift is in how the Department measures state's compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from focusing on whether states have met the IDEA's procedural requirements to charting the reading and math proficiency of students with disabilities. Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education, wrote on ED.gov that while "the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations." Using the new yardstick of student performance, while 40 states are compliant with the IDEA's core procedural requirements, only 18 states would be compliant under the ED's new student reading and math proficiency standards. See the chart at IDEA State Determinations Under Results Driven Accountability: 2014.

June 26, 2014 in News, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Teacher Tenure Litigation Spreading Quickly, Part II: Reasons to Be Cautious

As emphasized at the end of my post earlier today on the spread of litigation (and policy initiatives) attacking teacher tenure, ineffective instruction is a serious problem in disadvantaged schools, but the causes and solutions are not obvious as the cases might imply.  The California litigation is premised on the notion that tenure and due process protections are the cause and getting rid of them are the solution (along with replacing them with value added-metrics).  This may very well be right.  I will reserve judgment for a while longer.  Without endorsing the contrary position either, I offer this from the LA Times as food for thought:

[The]s ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu declaring all sorts of job protections for teachers "unconstitutional" is being hailed by a certain category of education activists.

What's curious about this is that they seem to have a unanimous view about the reason California schools are supposedly so bad: It's the teachers unions.

Not the imbalance of financial resources between rich districts and poor. Not the social pathologies--poverty, joblessness, racial discrimination, violence--that affect educational attainment in disadvantaged communities. Not California's rank at the very bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to the quality index published by EducationWeek. That's 30% below the national average of $11,864, reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state.

But California ranks much higher compared with other states in measures of teacher incentives and working conditions, so clearly those are the factors that need to be changed.

To Judge Treu and the plutocrats who funded Vergara v. California, the lawsuit on which he ruled, what's "unconstitutional" about California's school system is that teachers have too much due-process protection from being fired.

 Observes David B. Cohen, a schoolteacher and associate director of Accomplished California Teachers, an education advocacy group associated with Stanford University, one should be "suspicious of wealthy and powerful individuals and groups whose advocacy for children leads to 'reforms' that won’t cost a cent, but will weaken labor."

June 26, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Teacher Tenure Litigation Spreading Quickly

Over the past two weeks, there has been a steady stream of news of lawsuits and court decisions regarding changes in teacher tenure, evaluation, and rights.  California, North Carolina, Colorado, and Texas have all seen major decisions or lawsuits. See here for a host of posts.  Now, New York is prepared to join the group, apparently emboldened by the California decision finding that teacher dismissal processes were at odds with students' fundamental right to education.  According to Edweek:

The suit will be brought on behalf of plaintiffs across the state, said Devora Allon, a litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which is taking the case pro bono. As with Vergara, it will take aim at three state policies on the grounds that they are preventing poor and minority students from receiving an equitable education under the state constitution. Article 11 of the New York constitution guarantees a right to "sound, basic education," and it's under that clause that the plaintiffs will sue. 

The suit will take aim at teacher tenure, which takes three years to earn in New York; the state's infamous "3020a" disciplinary proceedings for getting rid of a tenured teacher; and the statute governing the order of layoffs in the Empire State.

Politico also reports that former Obama White House aides will also play a major role in shaping a public relations campaign similar to the one that propelled the California case into the national spotlight well before a decision was even issued.  Edweek reports there are another half dozen similar suits in the pipeline.

The White House and major law firm connections raise two significant issues.  First, the White House has had enormous success in pushing value added teacher assessments through Race to the Top funding and NCLB waivers.  There has been some political push-back at the local level, but the White House has basically won.  Why now push even further through less transparent and indirect means?  

Second, why would one of the nation's largest law firms jump into the teacher debate.  In my experience recruiting large law firms to take on civil rights cases pro bono, they tended to like cases where there was clearly a "right" side, either in law or morally.  This is not to say the cases were not controversial or legally difficult.  They always were one or the other, but the cases also uniformly screamed of injustice.  Cases styled after California's do not easily fit this model because the cause of and solution to the problem of ineffective teachers in needy schools is not obvious. Does Kirkland and Ellis not know enough about the underlying educational issues to appreciate they have jumped into an atypical pro bono case?  Has it assessed the case, but reached a reasoned conclusion that it is on the right side?  Or is it just looking for a high profile case?

June 26, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fisher v. Texas Symposium Articles

Howard Law Journal has published its symposium issue on Fisher v. Texas.  The symposium includes an introduction by Aderson Bellegarde Francois, Acts of Meaning: Telling and Retelling the Narrative of Race-Conscious Affirmative Action and the following articles and essays:

Derek W. Black, FISHER V. TEXAS AND THE IRRELEVANCE OF FUNCTION IN RACE CASES 

Gregory S. Parks and Matthew W. Hughey, OPPOSING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION:THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF POLITICAL IDEOLOGY AND RACIAL ATTITUDES

Danielle Holley-Walker, DEFINING RACE-CONSCIOUS PROGRAMS IN THE FISHER ERA 

Deborah N. Archer, COLLECTIVE OR INDIVIDUAL BENEFITS?: MEASURING THE EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS OF RACE-CONSCIOUS ADMISSIONS PROGRAMS 

Aderson Bellegarde Franois, THE BRAND OF INFERIORITY: THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1875, WHITE SUPREMACY, AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION 

The whole issue is available here.

In its newest issue, Howard Law Journal also published Affirmative Action Survives Again in the Supreme Court on a Legal Technicality: An Analysis of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, by John Brittain.  The essay is a more detailed statement of his keynote address at the Wiley A. Branton/Howard Law Journal Symposium entitled Civil Rights at a Critical Juncture: Confronting Old Conflicts and New Challenges.  Professor Brittain's essay is available here:  Download HOW301

June 25, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Expert Witnesses, Judicial Inferences, and the Case of California's Teachers

Two weeks ago, a California trial court sent shock waves through the education system by holding that California statutes that limit the removal of ineffective teachers and disproportionately expose poor and minority students to these teachers violate those students' fundamental right to education.  This holding raises major issues regarding the identification and measurement of ineffective teachers.  We might know that there are ineffective teachers, but reliably identifying them is another matter altogether.  

The current position of the federal government and many other education reformers is that ineffective teachers can be identified through value-added modeling (VAM) that statistical measures the impact that particular teachers have on student growth from year to year.  Two of the leading proponents of this approach are Professors Raj Chetty and Tom Kane of Harvard.   The judge's opinion in Vergara relies heavily on Chetty and Kane for its factual predicates, without directly addressing their underlying assumptions in regard to (VAM) and the identification of ineffective teachers.   In pertinent part, the judge writes:

Vergara

I am one of the most firmly committed individuals to the notion that students' constitutional rights to education are sacrosanct and among the very first obligations of legislatures.  I would also tend to agree that disproportionately exposing poor and minority teachers to ineffective teachers and cutting off remedies to this problem violate students' rights.  But over time, I become increasingly less certain of exactly how we apply those two legal principles to real world facts.  The judge in Vergara identifies the problem, but seems to assume its factual cause and remedy.

 

 

June 24, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Education Dept. Allows Corinthian Colleges to Avoid Immediate Shutdown

Corinthian Colleges Inc. has been in a few state attorneys generals' crosshairs for consumer fraud, predatory practices, and subprime student loans, so today's announcement that the education company has reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to avoid shutdown is unsuprising. Corinthian Colleges ran afoul of the U.S. government when it failed to timely provide requested data "to address inconsistencies in the company’s job placement claims for graduates, as well as grade and attendance records" to regulators. Corinthian faced immediate shut-down of its 107 campuses after the government threatened to stop federal student aid to Corinthian's students. Under the proposed agreement, which will be finalized on July 1, Corinthian will phase out or sell its campuses. The ED has agreed to immediately release $16 million in federal student aid for students currently enrolled at Corinthian campuses, in exchange for Corinthian to provide enrollment documentation. Read more at ED.gov here.

June 23, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

State Admits Violating the Education Rights of Philadelphia School Children by David Sciarra

Newsworks published this essay last week by David Sciarra:

In March, Philadelphia's state-operated school district filed an extraordinary legal complaint with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the Court to approve changes in school staffing levels and the way teachers are transferred and laid off, effectively nullifying portions of a collective bargaining agreement between the Philadelphia School District and the teachers union.

Much attention has focused on the district's request for changes in teacher staffing and work rules. But unnoticed is the district's stark admission of the deplorable conditions that Philadelphia's school children must endure after 17 years of direct state control over their education.

In the court filing, the district says it wants to ease lay-off and transfer rules caused by an "unprecedented gap" between available funding and what's needed just to maintain services at "prior year" levels. The district then describes the services it hopes to maintain, levels so palpably inadequate as to fall far below even minimum education standards.

The complaint details the sub-basic education programs and support services now in district-operated schools. The district describes teacher and support staff as "bare bones," at levels "20 percent smaller than the year before and 33 percent than just three years ago." The district concedes it has made "very steep" layoffs, a one-third reduction in employees in just three years, leaving schools with "barely adequate" staffing.

The district goes on to catalogue a parade of resource deficits plaguing the system: over 40 schools with no guidance counselor of its own; three-fourths of schools with no librarian assistant; and "significant cuts" to instructional materials and supplies, enrichment opportunities for students, extracurricular activities, administrative support and school cleaning services. And, of course, as parents of Philadelphia children know all too well: closing 24 neighborhood public schools.

The complaint also acknowledges the "short supply" of school nurses, a fact familiar to Philadelphians in light of the deaths of two young students in schools lacking a full-time nurse in recent months.

Even more remarkable, the district pinpoints the state's $300 million aid cut in 2011-12 as being at the "root" of these serious deficiencies. And the district presents no evidence that the relief it asks for — making teacher layoffs and transfers easier — will generate any real budgetary savings. The district doesn't offer the Court a plan for bringing teacher and support staff back to reasonable levels, reducing class size, providing interventions to struggling students, and keeping neighborhood schools open, safe and clean.

The district's filing is the legal equivalent of asking the Supreme Court for permission to rearrange deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.

What the district's complaint avoids is stating the obvious: the abject failure to provide city students with the basic resources necessary to achieve Pennsylvania's own academic standards. And the reason why is also obvious: The school district — and the entire state — is engaged in an ongoing and severe violation the right of Philadelphia students to a "thorough and efficient" education under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Aside from the school district, the state and the teachers union, Philadelphia school children are not represented before the Court. At a minimum, the Court should appoint special counsel to represent their fundamental interest at stake in the case: the opportunity for an education to prepare them for productive employment and engaged citizenship.

It is also imperative that the Court, in considering the lawsuit, direct the District and State Education Department produce a substantive, concrete plan of action to promptly address the severe deprivation of basic resources endemic in Philadelphia's State-operated schools.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the last-resort guarantor of the right of Philadelphia children to a constitutional education. The evidence in the district's complaint is overwhelming: Education in Philadelphia schools is neither thorough nor efficient. The state, through the school district and the Department of Education in Harrisburg, has utterly failed these children. It's now up to the Court to act on their behalf.

David also addressed similar issues in the California school teachers' lawsuit here.

June 23, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Do Common Core Pullouts Jeopardize NCLB Waivers? Part III

In my previous posts, I noted how pulling out of Common Core does not pose a per se threat to NCLB waivers.  States do, however, have to replace Common Core with a functional equivalent to meet the conditions of their NCLB waivers.  The problem is that coming up with a functional equivalent at this late stage in the process is nearly impossible.  Thus, in practical terms pulling out of Common Core would poses a serious threat to a state's waiver.  Are states really pulling out of Common Core?  In South Carolina, the answer is no.

South Carolina appears to be playing a game of spin.  One state senator states, "We’re getting out of Common Core and will write our own standards.”  But another senator says, “The spin is that we did away with, abolished, Common Core. We didn’t do anything to it this year other than move up in time the cyclical review, probably to the detriment of the review.”  The State newspaper reports "[t]he compromise law essentially steps up a review process that would have occurred anyway. It calls for the panel to review current math and reading standards, which are Common Core."

South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee Director explains that it takes two years to write new standards and there is no way that can be done now.  Instead, Common Core will be tweaked. What we will see in South Carolina are standards that look very similar to the Common Core, but are called something else.  I am guessing that will be good enough to keep both the Common Core detractors and the U.S. Department of Education happy.

 

June 20, 2014 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Department of Education Seeks Proposals to Address Racial Disparities in Special Education

Request for Information (RFI) on Significant Disproportionality

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) published an RFI in the June 19, 2014 Federal Register requesting public comment on the actions that the Department should take to address significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity in special education.

 

The Department is requesting input from the public on actions the Department should take related to:

  1. significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity in the:
    1. identification of children as children with disabilities, including identification by disability category;
    2. placement of children with disabilities in particular educational settings; and
    3. the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary action taken with respect to children with disabilities; and
  2. ensuring that funds reserved for comprehensive, coordinated early intervening services under Part B of the IDEA are used to effectively address significant disproportionality.

The RFI includes information about how to submit public comments. Responses must be received by July 21, 2014.

Link to OSERS Page:  http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/disproportionality.html

Link to Federal Registerhttps://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/06/19/2014-14388/request-for-information-on-addressing-significant-disproportionality-under-section-618d-of-the

June 20, 2014 in Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Student Internet Speech Draws Media Interest after Lengthy Suspension

The now well-publicized federal lawsuit filed this week by a former high school student after he was suspended for a two-word post highlights the continuing difficulties that school officials have regulating off-campus internet speech. The student, Reid Sagehom, was suspended from Rogers High School in Minnesota for his response to an anonymous question on an unofficial student website asking if he had made out with a female school teacher. Sagehom responded, sarcastically, he says, “Actually yeah.”  The school then recommended  Sagehom be suspended, ultimately for ten weeks, because he “damaged a teacher's reputation.” Sagehom filed a complaint on Tuesday alleging that his speech was protected and that the subsequent events to the post, including being referred for prosecution and publicly upbraided by a police chief, violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Sagehom's complaint may likely never reach the decision stage, but raises issues that continue to bedevil the federal courts  -- when does students' off-campus internet speech actually cause a substantial disruption to the educational environment under Tinker? Read the complaint in Sagehom v. Independent School District No. 728, 2014 WL 2724866 (D.Minn. June 17, 2014) here.

June 19, 2014 in First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Constitutional Challenge to Locally Adopted Voucher Plan in Colorado by Molly Hunter

In Larue v. Douglas County School District, plaintiffs charge that a locally designed voucher program violates the Colorado Constitution. The program would funnel public funds to private, mostly religious, schools on behalf of some Douglas County families.

The Larue trial court issued an injunction that prevented the program from going into effect, but the appeals court overruled. Now the case is before the final decision-maker, the Colorado Supreme Court.

On May 29, 2014, several amici, or "friends of the court," filed briefs in support of plaintiffs. The parties and some amici addressed the state constitution's prohibition against spending public funds on religious education and plaintiffs' standing to bring the lawsuit.

Education Law Center (ELC) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) filed a joint amicus brief that provides the Court with the national perspective on key issues relevant to the appeal. This brief explains that:

  1. School voucher programs in other states have not improved student academic achievement.
  2. Due to the design of Colorado's formula for state funding of K-12 schools, this voucher plan would reduce resources available to the public school students in Douglas County and across the entire state.
  3. This voucher plan would send public taxpayer funds to private, religious schools on behalf of well-to-do families.

After the plaintiff parents and taxpayers in the Douglas County School District, a Denver suburb, filed their request for an injunction in 2011, the state district court held a three-day hearing. The court issued its injunction, preventing implementation, and held that the program violates various provisions of the Colorado Constitution and two Colorado statutes.

The Larue case is similar to "Blaine Amendment" cases in Arizona and Florida, where publicly funded vouchers for mostly religious schools were found to violate those states' constitutions. 

June 19, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Linking Special Education Funding to Poverty

A western Pennsylvania newspaper did some number crunching on school funding, disability, and poverty levels in the area.  The paper found that "[o]f the 117 school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania, 40 educated a higher-than-average population of both special education and low-income students during the 2012-13 school year."  And "that districts that serve low-income families are more likely to have higher percentages of special-education students. All but 12 of the 52 districts that serve communities with more than 41 percent of students identified as low-income also have a higher than average percent of special-education students.  Comparatively, of the 65 districts serving fewer low-income families than average, only 21 have more than 15.3 percent of students identified as special education."

The paper turned to experts to help explain the phenomenon.  The response "districts serving poor families deal with several issues that can affect whether a student is identified as special education, . . . including inadequate prenatal care, poor nutrition, and a fetal drug and alcohol problems."  Lump on top of that the fact that these poor communities tend to have low tax bases, which means their capacity to fund educational in general is limited.  In short, these poor communities experience a perfect storm: student poverty, high levels of disability, and underfunded schools regardless of demographics.  

The proposed solution was to make a district's socioeconomic status a factor in special education funding, rather than relying on flat amount.  At first glance, that sounds like an appropriate response, although countermeasures are likely also necessary so as to ward of perverse incentives in the identification of disability, which may already exist to some extent and explain so overidentification.  Regardless, raising these issues in the context of western Pennyslvania is particularly important because, other than  Pittsburgh, the area is is largely rural and white, with significant percentages of poverty and undereducation.  These demographics take race out of the picture.  All too often, issues of poverty are equated with or clouded by issues of race, impeding a fair and objective look at and response to the problem.  That does not, however, mean a solution will be forthcoming.  My suspicion is that, as poor and rural districts, these Pennsylvania communities still have limited political sway.

As a side note, those interested in poverty and disability should read James Ryan's recent article discussing the relevance of poverty in the identification of individual students' disabilities.

June 18, 2014 in School Funding, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

High Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluations on the Retreat?

In a surprising about face, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called for a moratorium on relying on high stakes testing in connection to teacher evaluations and student promotion.  The Gates Foundation has played an outsized role in education policy over the past decade and has been instrumental in bringing business perspectives to education, which many educators argue is at the root of ill-conceived reform and reform churn.  Regardless, this announcement may also have outsized importance.  It could be a momentary pause by the business reformers to give them time to regroup, or it could be a sign of the pendulum swinging back toward more reform from within the education community.  If it is to swing back, there is certainly a growing grassroots movement behind it.  Moreover, it should be no surprise that this statement comes in the wake of several recent high profile lawsuits in regard to teacher rights and evaluations.  See here for more analysis of the Gates release. 

June 17, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Future of Affirmative Action

The Century Foundation and Lumina Foundation are releasing The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v. University of Texas today.  The volume includes an introduction by Richard Kahlenberg and chapters Danielle Allen, John Brittain, Nancy Cantor, Anthony Carnevale, Dalton Conley, Arthur Coleman, Peter Englot, Matthew Gaertner, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Scott Greytak, Catharine Hill, Jessica Howell, Benjamin Landy, Richard McCormick, Nancy G. McDuff, Halley Potter, Alexandria Walton Radford, Stephen Rose, Richard Sander, Jeff Strohl, Teresa Taylor, and Marta Tienda.

[T]he authors tackle the critical questions: What is the future of affirmative action given the requirements of the Fisher court? What can be learned from the experiences of states that created race-neutral strategies in response to voter initiatives and other actions banning consideration of race at public universities? What does research by higher education scholars suggest are the most promising new strategies to promoting diversity in a manner that the courts will support? How do public policies need to change in order to tap into the talents of all students in a new legal and political environment?

The book proceeds in five parts: The Stakes; The Legal Challenge; State Experiences with Race-Neutral Strategies; Research on Promising Race Neutral Strategies; and Public Policy Proposals.  You can read the book here, watch a webcast discussion of it here, read press coverage here, and get a summary of the key research from the Chronical of Higher Education here.      

 

June 17, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Case Involving Public School Graduation in Church Auditorium

The Elmbrook School district in suburban Milwaukee conducted high school graduation ceremonies in the auditorium of a church.  The district's decision was based on its school's inadequate space and air conditioning.  The graduation itself was completely secular, but some the church's religious symbols remained in the auditorium during graduation.  The Court of Appeals held that holding the graduation there conveys the message of government endorsement of religion and, thus, struck down the practice.  The Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case today, although the denial drew dissents from Justices Scalia and Thomas.  You may recall that earlier this term the Court upheld the practice of prayer at the beginning public meetings as a non-coercive historical practice.

 

June 16, 2014 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Texas Lawsuit Argues "Value Added" Evaluations Violate Due Process and Equal Protection

The Houston Federation of Teachers and  a group high-achieving individual teachers have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the "value added" teacher evaluation system recently implemented by the Houston Independent School District.  This system is part of the nationwide change in teacher evaluation ushered in through conditions placed on grant applications for Race to the Top and NCLB waivers by the Department of Education.  The plaintiffs allege that the evaluation system violates Due Process and the Equal Protection.  In particular, they argue the tests and curriculum are not aligned and that they have no ability to challenge the results of the evaluation system.  Teachers are then treated unequally and aribitrarily based on these results.

As proof that the system does not work as a practical matter, they point to an award-winning history teacher who has received low marks under the system. In 2011-2012, prior to the new system, the district labeled him as one of the top teachers in the entire district, but the new evaluation system indicates that he makes "no detectable difference” on student learning.

June 16, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Putting Louisiana's Education Pieces Together?: Discipline, Vouchers, Data, and the State Dept. of Ed.

In the wake of the recent filing of civil rights complaints in regard to discipline in New Orleans charter schools, there is now a call for the state superintendent of education to resign.  A local blogger, whose veracity I neither doubt nor affirm, suggests that are other problems of disfunctionality at the Department itself.  His story alleges that there is a data crisis at the Department.  In particular, he asserts the data is neither secure, nor accurate, and the Department, thus far, has been unable to clean it up.  If true, his story adds important context to the school voucher fight between the Department (and Jindal) and the US DOJ's equal educational opportunity section.  As readers may recall, that fight ultimately came down to access to basic information and data, with the state requesting extensions of time to turn over the data on more than one occassion.

 

 

June 13, 2014 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Colorado Court Upholds the Constructive Dismissal of Veteran Teachers Without Process

Back in January, the Colorado Education Association filed a class action lawsuit citing concerns over the “mutual consent” provision of the state’s teacher effectiveness law. Under this provision, school districts cannot force different schools to accept veteran teachers who lost their jobs (usually due to budget concerns at low-performing schools). Rather, the teachers can only be placed in new schools if the principal agrees to hire them.  A problem arises when a teacher is unable to find a new position within a year and is subsequently placed on unpaid leave.  At this point, the teacher has been dismissed as a practical matter, although not formally.  The teachers union argued that this violations the normal process that requires a hearing before an impartial officer for dismissals and layoffs under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act.

The trial judge recently dismissed the case. The court found that Colorado’s revised teacher-tenure act makes clear that teachers are not guaranteed contractual rights to continued employment at all. Second, the court emphasized that there is a difference between a teacher being removed from one school and put on leave and a teacher being dismissed from the district entirely.  Since the teachers are not being dismissed, but merely put on leave, there is less, if any, process due to them in these situations. 

I haven't seen an actual opinion in this case, but based on reports, I find it hard to square this decision with the one reached in North Carolina recently.  There, the court found that teachers had vested rights and legislatures are not free to change vested rights without implicating constitutional protections regarding the impairment of contracts and taking of property.  If the Colorado decision is defensible, it is because it is correct that this "leave" is not the same as dismissal.  But after being at home for a year without pay, those teachers would seem to have a job only on paper.

June 13, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

School Not Liable for Off-Campus Suicide, But May Be for Emotional Injuries Suffered at School

A New York trial court held in Elissa v. City of New York, 2014 WL 2216883, that a public school was not liable for a student's suicide (prompted by bullying) because the suicide did not happen at the school, but the student could assert a claim for emotional injuries sustained prior to the suicide that occurred at school.  The dismissal for the suicide is not surprising, but permitting the emotional harm claim was somewhat.  As posted here before, courts often easily rationalize away school responsibility on theories of "no duty" under both state and federal law, and back it up with precedent.  This case is remarkable for the amount of precedent to which it cited in favor of holding the district liable.  In pertinent part, the court wrote:

the duty to adequately supervise the students is co-extensive with the school's physical custody and control over them ( See Pratt v. Robinson, 39 N.Y.2d 554, 560 [1976]; see also Maldonado v. Tuckahoe Union Free Sch. Dist., 817 N.Y.S.2d 376 [2d Dept.2006]; Chalen, 814 N.Y.S.2d 254; Morning v. Riverhead Cent. Sch. Dist., 811 N.Y.S.2d 747 [2d Dept.2006]; Tarnaras v. Farmingdale Sch. Dist.,  694 N.Y.S.2d 413 [2d Dept.1999] ). . . . However, the plaintiff's claim of emotional injuries was not dismissed, since that harm was inflicted when the student was within the school's physical custody.

...

With respect to plaintiff's causes of action seeking to recover damages for the emotional injuries sustained by the decedent prior to his death, defendant's have failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to dismissal of such claims.

These emotional injuries were allegedly sustained by the decedent during school hours and on school premises and, as such, plaintiff may seek recovery of these damages based on a theory of negligent supervision. Therefore, plaintiff is not required to plead the existence of a separate and distinct special duty to recover damages for the emotional injuries sustained by decedent prior to his death ( See, e.g., Miccio, supra at 543, 735 N.Y.S.2d 202).

Moreover, a claim that a school failed to adequately address the ongoing harassment of the decedent and that the decedent sustained emotional injuries as a result is a cognizable cause of action ( See Cavello v. Sherburne–Earlville Cent. Sch. Dist., 494 N.Y.S.2d 466 [3d Dept.1985]; see also Barmore v. Aidala, 419 F.Supp.2d 193, 206 [N.D.NY 2005] ).

As such, defendant's claim that a school district's response to harassment and bullying is a discretionary governmental function for which no liability may attach is without merit ( See Barmore, supra, at 206). Indeed, the adequacy of a school's supervision of its students generally presents a question of fact ( See Braunstein v. Half Hollow Hills Cent. Sch. Dist., 962 N.Y.S.2d 340 [2d Dept.2013]; Palmer v. City of New York, 970 N.Y.S.2d 583 [2d Dept.2013]; Oakes v. Massena Cent. Sch. Dist., 797 N.Y.S.2d 640 [3d Dept.2005] ).

Plaintiff's deposition testimony demonstrates that she and the decedent made multiple complaints to multiple school officials regarding the harassment of the decedent, while testimony by the school officials shows that they may not have been aware of the severity of the bullying. In addition, the school addressed harassment by visiting classrooms to educate students regarding the use of the word “gay.” They also hung posters and distributed brochures to educate students on harassment and the steps to report it. However, not all of the students alleged to have harassed decedent were disciplined.

Clearly this demonstrates the existence of triable issues of fact regarding the school's knowledge of the harassment of the decedent and the adequacy of their response thereto ( See Wilson, supra, at 1000–01; Cavello, supra, at 255, 494 N.Y.S.2d 466).

June 12, 2014 in Bullying and Harassment | Permalink | Comments (0)