Tuesday, November 12, 2013
One of the reasons why integration is a powerful tool for improving educational outcomes is that it creates equal access to resources. In a racially and socio-economically stratified education system, the stubborn reality is that the "haves" will almost always out compete the "have-nots" for the best teachers and the "haves" will resist equity policies that interfere with their ability to out compete. These realities are what make the new study from the Department of Education's Institute for Educational Science on teacher transfers so interesting. It was able to answer the question of "what if we could get the best teachers to teach in the neediest schools." Prior programs have be relatively ineffective in getting high quality teachers to transfer or seek jobs in high need districts. Some studies have found that the cost of incentivizing teachers was prohibitively high.
This new study overcomes the incentive problem and founds impressive results. A pilot program in 10 districts across 7 states identified "[t]he highest-performing teachers in each district—those who ranked in roughly the top 20 percent within their subject and grade span in terms of raising student achievement year after year (an approach known as value added)," and offered them "$20,000, paid in installments over a two-year period, if they transferred into and remained in designated schools that had low average test scores."
The major findings from the study were:
• The transfer incentive successfully attracted high value-added teachers to fill targeted vacancies. Almost 9 out of 10 targeted vacancies (88 percent) were filled by the high-performing teachers who had been identified as candidates eligible for the transfer intervention. To achieve those results, a large pool of high-performing teachers was identified (1,514) relative to the number of vacancies filled (81). The majority of candidates did not attend an information session (68 percent) or complete an online application to participate in the transfer intervention (78 percent).
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on test scores (math and reading) in targeted elementary classrooms. These impacts were positive in each of the two years after transfer, between 0.10 and 0.25 standard deviations relative to each student’s state norms. This is equivalent to moving up each student by 4 to 10 percentile points relative to all students in their state. In middle schools, we did not find evidence of impacts on student achievement. When we combined the elementary and middle school data, the overall impacts were positive and statistically significant for math in year 1 and year 2, and for reading only in year 2. Our calculations suggest that this transfer incentive intervention in elementary schools would save approximately $13,000 per grade per school compared with the cost of class-size reduction aimed at generating the same size impacts. However, overall cost-effectiveness can vary, depending on a number of factors, such as what happens after the last installments of the incentive are paid out after the second year. We also found there was significant variation in impacts across districts.
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on teacher-retention rates during the payout period; retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred was similar to their counterparts in the fall immediately after the last payout. We followed teachers during both the period when they were receiving bonus payments and afterward. Retention rates were significantly higher during the payout period—93 versus 70 percent. After the payments stopped, the difference between cumulative retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred
A recent survey of 282 colleges and 44 college administrators found that 67% of students experienced harassment on campus and 61% witnessed another student being harassed. Those students reported that the harassment had significant effects on their education. Forty-six percent said harassment caused disappointment with college experience. Twenty percent said harassment interfered with their concentration in class. And 23% said harassment caused them to miss class and other campus activities. Only 17% of students, however, actually reported the harassment to a college officials. Fifty-five percent of college administrators cite the cause of the low reporting rates as begin poor reporting and enforcement mechanism.
The survery is not nearly as nuanced as the ones conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), but its results are largely consistent with the AAUW's last report in 2005, Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus. As some may recall, reports of this sort were important in prompting the Supreme Court to extend Title IX liability to schools for on-campus harassment. Those cases, however, addressed elementary and secondary schools. Given the different and decentralized context of college campuses, the problem of higher education harassment does not easily mess with the rules developed for elementary and secondar schools. These persistently high numbers in college suggest a different approach is necessary (not that the problem has been solved in elementary and secondary schools).
A group of UCLA African American males, led by Sy Stokes, an African American Studies student, created a video to call attention to the dwindling diversity at UCLA. The basic facts as they see them are that only 660, or 3.3%, of the 19,838 males enrolled at UCLA are African American. And 65% of those 660 are athletes. The numbers were even worse for the entering class in Fall 2012. Only 48 were African American, or just over 1 percent of the entering class. They also point out that the graduation rate for African American males at UCLA is only 74%, so only 35 African American males from that entering class will be expected to graduate. They then point out that the school has 109 athletic national championships, more than twice the number of African American males in the entering class. Based on this, they levy the charge that the school only sees African American males as important to increasing the school's athletic winning percentage.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Just last week, I posted on the special education settlement agreement in Schenectady City School District regarding racial disparities, and posited it was unlikely to have ripple effects. Now comes another settlement agreement from Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin regarding racial disparties. I would not call the agreement in Sun Prarire a ripple effect, as it has the relatively high racial disparities that were not present in Schenectady. These higher disparities make Sun Prarie an easier case for inferring bias, whereas I posited that the procedural failures were the linchpin in Schenectady. Regardless, this new settlement agreement is further evidence that OCR is agressively enforcing racial disparities, not just in special education, but across mutliple areas. See also here.
OCR's press release follows the jump.
In what a school board attorney acknowledges is an unusual move, a Kentucky school board filed suit in federal court last week against the Kentucky Department of Education in a special education case. The KDE is named as a defendant in the suit filed by the Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The complaint notes that KDE “is not called upon to answer the substance of the Complaint, but is made a party in order to give full effect to any final order or judgment of this Court and make such order or judgment binding on KDE[.]” The school board is appealing an adverse due process hearing decision by Kentucky’s Exceptional Children Appeals Board (ECAB). The ECAB found that the district denied a student a free and appropriate education during the 2011-12 school year and ordered the school board to provide 540 minutes of compensatory psychological services. Details are not yet available about the grounds for the ECAB’s decision, but are likely to be unsealed soon. The complaint is Board of Education of Fayette County, Kentucky v. Z.B. et al, No. 5:13-cv-00376-KKC (filed Nov. 4, 2013).
Education Week writer Christina A. Samuels asked teachers and education scholars to evaluate states’ plans to align Common Core academic standards with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for students with disabilities. An emerging theme is that Common Core is prompting educators to reexamine underlying assumptions about acceptable IEP goals. Margaret J. McLaughlin, a professor in the department of special education at the University of Maryland College Park, said that “the reality of standard-based IEPs has not measured up to [the] promise” because teachers have insufficient time to craft IEPs and measure their effectiveness. Diane M. Browder, a professor of special education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte questions a common IEP emphasis: that special education students show master life skills before academic subjects. Professor Browder said that such IEP life skills goals can impose a double standard—reading instruction, for example, is not delayed for general education students to learn life skills but academic instruction can be stayed for special education students. Prof. Browder said, "Why would we take a whole class of citizens and say you don't get to learn the standards that we say are most important for everyone?" Read more here.
C.G. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Educ. 2013 WL 5912054 (3d Cir. 2013) is an intriguing case with an ambitious theory. The plaintiffs challenged the Pennsylvania special education funding formula, which takes the total amount of state supplementary money for special education and divides it up on the basis of the membership of each school district, acting on the assumption that 16% of the students of each district have disabilities. The plaintiff class consisted of students with disabilities attending schools with a 17% or greater enrollment of children with disabilities and limited taxing capacity. The average per-special education student state subsidy amounted to $3327 for children in the class, but $4108 for children with disabilities not in the class. Originally, plaintiffs said the formula violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA. They lost at trial, and appealed the decision regarding the Rehab Act and the ADA claims.
The court of appeals accepted the proposition that there could be a violation of the Rehab Act and the ADA even if there is no violation of IDEA, and it agreed that discrimination against a subgroup of people with disabilities could violate the Rehab Act and the ADA. But the court said the plaintiffs did not show that, on the basis of their disability, they were deprived of a benefit or opportunity given to non-disabled students or a group of students with some other category of disability. The court assumed that the funding formula had an adverse impact on the class, but said not all adverse impacts are prohibited by the Rehab Act and the ADA. Instead, drawing an analogy to Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985), the court looked to whether the class members had been denied meaningful access to a benefit to which they were entitled. Although the students in the class were in districts where students with disabilities scored more poorly on standardized tests and had lower graduation rates than in other districts, the court said evidence was lacking about a relationship between funding levels and special education student performance, and it said there was no showing any student was deprived of any given service because of the funding formula.
That outcome is not entirely surprising. Michael Stein and Michael Waterstone have written about the difficulty in persuading courts to apply disparate impact reasoning in ADA cases, even in employment cases where it is explicitly provided for in the statute, and Cheryl Anderson has provided a telling critique of the barriers plaintiffs may face in establishing causation in disability cases. As a general matter, the ADA’s legislative history shows an intention to codify Alexander v. Choate. Choate says some negative impacts, but not all, violate the Rehab Act. Although education may be an area where an impact could violate the Rehab Act and the ADA, Choate itself, which upheld Medicaid cuts that it assumed disproportionately harmed people with disabilities, displays a reluctance to cause a major reordering of public resource allocation decisions.
With regard to special education, there are a variety of methods that states use to distribute state – as opposed to federal – special education money. Some authorities express concern that special-education-headcount-based formulas provide an incentive to find too many children eligible for special education. Systems similar to Pennsylvania’s try to avoid this problem, but do so by treating districts alike, even when districts may simply have high concentrations of children with disabling conditions. In some ways, Pennsylvania mimics the way the federal government distributes special education money for increases over the base amount after passage of IDEA 1997 – a headcount of all students in the district, disabled and not, with a modest upward tick for the fraction of students in poverty. The 1997 change was intended to diminish incentives to over-identify. It is true that over-identifying children may cause harm. Labels can hurt, and it’s hardly unusual for expectations to sink once a child is considered a special education student. However, I would rather see the attention focused on getting services to all students who need them, and addressing stigma, separation from the mainstream, and low expectations directly, rather than imposing arbitrary disincentives to designating students as IDEA-eligible when they may really need the help.
Friday, November 8, 2013
A new report by the Altarum Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Business Case for Racial Equity, details the economic impact of racial inequality and the benefits of advancing racial equity, particularly given the evolving demography of our nation. It argues, based on economic and social science studies, that increasing racial equity would benefit businesses, government, and the overall economy. It focuses on housing, education, health and criminal justice as the primary areas of inequality that need to be addressed. In education, the report posits that school integration, pre-k education, and high expectations for minority students would produce significant benefits. The arguments and research in regard to each of these education proposals are not new, but the report, unlike most, does bring these three distinct educational reforms together into a single argument about the economy.
The articles from Denver University's symposium on Keyes v. School District No. 1 are now available on westlaw. The symposium includes articles by Mark Tushnet, Kevin R. Johnson, Michael A. Olivas, Rachel F. Moran, and Phoebe A. Haddon, as well as memoirs by individuals personally connected to the events in Denver. While all address interesting topics, Mark Tushnet's keynote address and article, A Clerk’s-Eye View of Keyes v, School Dsitrict No. 1, 90 Denv. U. L. Rev. 1139 (2013), offer a particularly interesting account of the inner workings of the Court surrounding the case. Tushnet was clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall when Keyes was decided. Relying on his personal experience and other new available materials from the Court, he explores the complexity of the Court's deliberations.
The story of these internal debates is not entirely new. Justice Powell's concurrence, for instance, explicitly reveals the depth of his disagreement with the Court. And, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong's book from 1979, The Brethren, also explored some of these divisions. Tushnet, however, best captures the doctrinal battles occurring on the Court and the personalities behind them. As he notes, seven out of eight justices found there to be a constitutional violation in Keyes. The fractured decision represented not so much a debate over what to do with Denver, but a fight over what Keyes would mean for places like Detroit and Boston.
Although not explicit in the opinion, the fight over busing largely drives the Court's final decision. Powell wanted to reject de jure versus de facto distinctions, but in doing so, he wanted to limit the available desegregation remedies, particularly busing. The majority wanted to keep busing as a way to affirmatively further integration. The only way it could get the votes to do that was by drawing a distinction between de facto and de jure segregation. That distinction would shield many districts from busing, but keep it well alive in throughout the south.
From my perspective , it is not clear that the Court fully appreciated the long term ramifications of its decision. The Court may have been too caught up in the times, which is understandable, and unsure of the best path in regard to its first northern desegregation case. Regardless, Keyes is later cited as the foundation for requiring intent to prove a constitutional violation in all racial discrimination cases. As a result, Keyes drew the line that placed the bulk of racial inequality in all areas of life off-limits. And while the de jure-de facto distinction may have saved busing in some districts (the evidentiary presumption in the case also became a powerful tool in the south), it created the principle by which to later place significant limits on desegregation. In effect, Keyes was the beginning of the end for desegregation.
All of the article titles and authors follow the jump.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Pennsylvania Charter School Reform Bill Proposes Lifting Enrollment Caps and Eliminating School Districts' Oversight
The Education Law Center of Philadelphia (ELC) is advocating against proposed charter school legislation that would lift charter school enrollment caps and shift oversight of charters from local school districts to universities. The proposal aligns with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to encourage charter school growth by making it easier to open charter schools. The Education Law Center agrees that lifting caps will increase charters’ enrollments—but at the cost of financially hobbling local school districts that have to pay those charters per-pupil fees and other costs. Uncontrolled charter school growth may in essence defund public school systems by increasing costs on already-lean school budgets to support them. Moreover, writes David Lapp of the Education Law Center, giving universities the power to authorize and oversee new charters, eliminates any accountability for charter schools to “equitably serv[e] a community’s vulnerable student populations, such as minority students, students with severe disabilities, students for whom English is a second language, students in deep poverty, students experiencing homelessness, or students in foster care.” Pennsylvania has 119,500 students enrolled in 176 charters throughout the state. Readers of this blog have followed the tumultuous year in Pennsylvania education on this blog here, here, and here. Those of us who work at universities might agree with Lapp that higher ed institutions do not have any special expertise or information to become good stewards of a state charter school system. Universities can build such systems, as Drexel and Temple are contemplating, but that too will have costs, particularly as higher ed institutions are themselves facing declining enrollments and tighter budgets. Read the Education Law Center’s paper here.
In a press release yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights disclosed its findings and final resolution regarding sexual harassment and assault in West Contra Costa Unified School District in Richmond, California.
Evidence included verbal and physical conduct by students, including sexual assaults, unwelcome touching, demands for sexual favors, and the use of sexually derogatory language created a hostile environment at district schools. OCR also found that students had been subjected to sexual harassment by employees. In addition, the district was not in compliance with the procedural requirements of Title IX, which include adoption and publication of grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sex discrimination and designation of at least one employee to coordinate compliance with Title IX.
“I am dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault occurring at elementary and secondary schools in West Contra Costa,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Although the district frequently reported known incidents of sexual assaults to law enforcement for prosecution, the district did not fully comply with its legal obligations under Title IX to take immediate actions to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, and to put proper procedures and protocols in place. OCR stands ready to work with the district to help it realize its commitments to preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in its schools through satisfaction of this agreement.”
Although this sounds like an easy case, it comes on the heals of various other significant agreements I have noted in recent months. Credit goes to OCR for what appears to be a more agressive approach to enforcement during Obama's second term.
More details on the agreement here.
In recent days, a few high profile calls to focus on poverty and inequality, as opposed to education innovation and “reform,” have been issued. Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story, In Public Education, Edge Still Goes to Rich, that emphasized the fact that, while our nation proclaims to be the land of opportunity and that education is the gateway to that opportunity, our education system is rife with gross funding disparities. On average, we spend less per pupil in schools with high levels of student poverty than we do in schools with low levels of poverty. Similarly, we also allow poor states to fend for their selves. New York, for instance, spends more than twice as much per pupil as Tennessee.
Last week, everyone from an audience member watching an educational debate between Arne Duncan and Fredrick Hess to Diane Ravitch has charged the Department of Education with chasing a fool’s errand and taking poor kids along for the ride. The audience member charged Arne Duncan with policies that favor the advantaged over the disadvantaged. And Diane Ravitch has charged in her new book and in promotional events that there is no fundamental crisis in education that needs reform. Rather, we need to tackle poverty. Our other so called reforms are but a side show that undermines instead of improves education.
Two weeks ago, the Southern Education Foundation released its report on the growing levels of poverty in public schools and shrinking education budgets available to address it. Fortunately, the media gave the report substantial coverage for a week or so and the report has reverberated through the messaging of various other policy commentators. My post called it a wake-up call. If unaddressed, the diverging trends of poverty growth and budget shortfalls pose a fundamental threat to quality education.
The fact that these voices are joining in a chorus is good news. It is going to take a sustained and aggressive campaign to put poverty and equality back at the top of the agenda. For a couple of sessions of Congress, Representative Chaka Fattah, for instance, has introduced student bills of rights that would require equity as a condition of receiving federal education funds. As one of the sole advocates for equity in Congress, his efforts have yet to go any where.
At the local level, we are got mixed messages in the elections this week. In Colorado, the referendum to increase taxes for schools failed (which many consider a remedy for the state's currently constitutionally inadequate system). But in the New York City mayoral race, Bill de Blasio won. His platform called for stemming the charterization of public education and supporting the neediest rather than closing them.
Once could attempt to write off the loss in Colorado to the fact that voters had another option on the ballot that they approved--school construction funding--and that the tax increase had a few wrinkles in it. The voters did not know exactly what the money would be spent on, nor that all the money would necessarily stay with schools. The tax itself also would have instituted a graduated tax system rather than the flat one they had before. One could also discount the de Blasio win, as many other issues were on the table. But regardless of how one interprets these results, the chorus of voices reminding of us the core problem of inequality and poverty will have to grow for serious change to occur.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
In a brief released today, Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center, emphasizes what I have argued in several posts regarding the litigation over Louisiana's voucher program: the politics of vouchers are attempting to run roughshod over the basic constitutional doctrines of school desegregation. In a far more detailed way than I could through blog posts, Welner's brief details how this litigation got transformed into "Much Ado about Politics." The brief's introduction:
explains that Louisiana Gov. Jindal and other opponents either misunderstand or misrepresent the actions of the US Department of Justice, which is attempting to bring Louisiana’s voucher program within the scope of existing law and to avoid predictable harm to children that would occur if their racial isolation were increased. Research evidence does not support claims that vouchers advance educational or civil rights. The evidence does, however, establish that racial isolation is harmful to children and to society. Such racial isolation was not acceptable when Freedom of Choice plans were first proposed in the 1960’s, and it is no more acceptable today. Whereas the goal 45 years ago was to maintain segregation, the goal today is to forcefully push aside concerns about segregation. Neither goal is consistent with core American values.
The full brief is available here.
Broward County, Florida, School District has taken a punitive approach to discipline in the past and the results have been racially disparate. African American students, for instance, were suspended at twice the rate of whites and at high levels of frequency. To make matters worse, the district frequently referred students to the criminal justice system, or sought its involvement. Yesterday, the school district entered in to a memorandum of understanding with various other state agencies and actors, including the police department, to reach different results. The goal is to do away with “zero tolerance,” involve the police only as a last resort, and rely on less punitive forms of discipline. The district and police have reduced their decision making process into a flow chart. As you will notice, the flowchart tries to route discipline into the no-arrest category, even in regard to student conduct violations that require consultation with the police. To avoid arrests, it asks whether, for instance, the matter could be resolved by talking with the parents or referring the students to problem solving team or a community based program. Of course, the success of this shift will not be borne out by simply producing a flow chart, but by the individuals administering it and their willingness to take these alternatives seriously. This agreement, however, is the first major step in that direction.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the South Carolina Supreme Court's failure to issue a final decision in the school finance case that has been on its docket since 2008. The case has been before the court so long that it reheard the case in September 2012. Based on the oral argument, three of the five justices appeared willing to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but two others were far less certain, if not adverse. Since early this spring, I have speculated that the hold-up in a final decision was related to the Court's attempt to reach consensus. In South Carolina, consensus might be especially important.
South Carolina's Supreme Court justices are elected by the legislature. A large percentage of justices are also former legislators. And South Carolina's legislature pays less respect to its governor and its courts than most other states. In that climate and given the enormity of school finance, a supreme court justice might question how seriously its legislature would take at 3-2 decision. A legislator might say: why not stall and wait till the odds change or we appoint a new justice who sees it our way?
My suspicion that a desire for a fourth or fifth vote was holding up the opinion was confirmed this week in a public hearing before the state's judicial merit selection commission. Before the commission, the Court's chief justice, Jean Toal, acknowledged that Court was "struggling" to decide the case. Even more poignantly, she stated that cases like the school funding case “take an awfully long time to try to speak with anything like one voice.” Also tied up in the delay may be the fact that an Associate Justice, Costa Pleicones, is running to take Toals' place as chief. His primary complaint: the lag time on deciding cases. The problem is that I had initially pegged Pleicones as the Justice who might be willing to go with the majority but was openly concerned about the wisdom of intervening in school finance. In other words, while he raises a valid general point about lagging decisions, but he may very well be the 4th vote that Toal is waiting on in the school finance case. Regardless, the question is whether unanimity or near unanimity is worth the cost?
The U.S. Supreme Court certainly saw it as being of the utmost importance in Brown v. Board of Education, as well as other decisions that followed. It believed the public would never accept integration if the Court itself was divided on the issue. School finance is not desegregation, but it does strike at the core function of local government and its biggest budget item. Thus, the stakes and the contentious surrounding it cannot be discounted. From this perspective, reaching for unanimity makes sense. On the other hand, if unanimity never comes, then each day wasted on unanimity was a day the Court abdicated its responsibility. A 3-2 decision serves students far better than no decision at all. Students do have rights and the law is what the majority—even if it is just a 3-2 majority--says it is, not what a hold out judge wants the law to be.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
DOJ Supports Texas Affirmative Action Plan on Remand and Argues Texas Still Entitled to Deference Regarding the Existence of Critical Mass
The Department of Justice filed its amicus brief in the remand in Fisher v. Texas last week. The key question on remand is whether the University of Texas's consideration of race in admissions is necessary. Bound up in that question the first time around was the level of deference that a court should afford a University in reviewing its admissions policies. The Department of Justice argues in its brief that, while the Supreme Court indicated that the lower court must independently review whether the admissions policy is narrowly tailored, the University is still entitled to "due regard" of its educational goals and how the consideration of race furthers them. In particular, the University is still entitled to a level of deference in terms of what constitutes a "critical mass" of minority students necessary to achieve the benefits of diversity. The pertinent part of DOJ's brief states:
In this supplemental brief, the United States will address the Court’s question whether “the University [is] due any deference in its decision that ‘critical mass’ has not been achieved.” Grutter used the term “critical mass” as shorthand for the point at which a university has attained sufficient diversity to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. 539 U.S. at 330. The question for this Court is therefore how it should review the University’s conclusion that it lacked sufficient diversity in 2004 and 2008 to provide the educational benefits of diversity to its students. That question entails a qualitative assessment of the educational experience the University is providing, rather than, as appellant suggests (Appellant Supp. Br. 23-24), a rote calculation of the number of minority students enrolled in the University, a number that might seem “substantial” in the abstract.
This Court should independently review the University’s determination that it lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity, while giving due regard to the University’s exercise of its educational judgment and expertise in reaching its conclusion. The determination that the University lacks sufficient diversity is a necessary predicate for its ultimate conclusion that it is “‘necessary’ * * * to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Fisher, 133 S. Ct. at 2420. Because the University bears the “ultimate burden” on that question, ibid., the Court must be able to meaningfully review the University’s conclusion that it currently lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity. The Court should therefore verify that the University has amply supported its conclusion with concrete evidence and a reasoned explanation of why that evidence indicates that the University is not providing the educational benefits of diversity. At the same time, because the University’s assessment of such evidence rests on the application of educational expertise and judgments about the University’s institutional mission, this Court should evaluate the University’s conclusions with due regard for the multi-faceted educational assessments underlying those conclusions.
DOJ's full brief is here.
As a follow up to my post last week about the myths about poor students, I wanted to explore the practical implications of Paul Gorski’s book and the myths he addresses. Gorski is on target in laying bare our stereotypes about poor children and how stereotypes can negatively affect poor students’ educational outcomes. In reading the excerpt from his book, however, one could get the impression that, but for stereotypes and inequality of opportunity, poor students would be on par with middle income students. After all, he asserts that poor families value education as much if not more than others; poor families’ linguistics are just as complex and intellectually stimulating as middle income families’; and that poor parents are just as effective and attentive as other parents.
As an advocate of integration, the immediate question for me was: why, then, would poor students perform better in middle income schools? I doubt there are any fewer stereotypes in middle income schools. And, I doubt it is just a matter of more resources. If that that were the case, regression analysis would show integration does not matter and that, with equal resources, poor students achieve at the same level in schools with high percentages of low income students as they do in integrated schools. But regression analysis shows that socio-economic integration does matter and money alone does not cancel out certain environmental effects. (Money, of course, does matter. But it requires more than equal money to counteract disadvantage.)
The answer to this seeming quandary lies in what Gorski does not say or, rather, the nature of the claim he is making. Gorski’s arguments debunk moral and normative claims about poor families. Most obviously, he responds to the moralistic notion or judgment that poor people are lazy and deserving of their station in life. The moral aspect of the other myths is not as obvious, but there nonetheless. For instance, he debunks the notion that poor people are inattentive and ineffective parents. In other words, many think poor people are not “good” parents or do not care enough to engage with their children. What Gorski really debunks is the notion that poor people do not have the same love for their children as anyone else. Debunking moral based assessments of poor parents, however, does not debunk objective factors. We all know love is not enough. Even if poor families loved their children more than middle income families, that love will not pay high priced college tuition, buy books, provide expensive summer learning opportunities. Nor does love cancel out the educational deficit that a parent might have him or herself. Thus, debunking the moral stereotype about poor people should not be taken to mean poverty does not matter.
While being middle income does not equate with being a “good” or “loving” parent, it does correlate with a lot of other objective measures that do matter to their children’s education. It also correlates with political power and the ability to hold schools accountability in numerous ways that matter. So, middle income students show up to school with built in advantages and they attend schools that are more likely to deliver on their obligations to students. For these reasons, school integration does matter even though stereotypes about poor children are false.
The Office for Civil Rights has reached a settlement agreement with the Schenectady City School District in regard to its special education program. OCR found that the district was enrolling a disproportionate number of black and Latino students enrolled in special education. For instance, 49 percent of the students classified as emotionally disturbed were African American, while African Americans were only 35 percent of the overall student population. Twenty-three percent of students classified as learning disabled were Latino, while Latinos were only 16 percent of the overall student population.
OCR found that the disparity stemmed from the lack of standardized criteria for referring students to special education. For instance, the district did not even have Spanish language materials with which to evaluate English Language Learners, which is specifically required by federal law. OCR also found that the approach to special education identification differed from teacher to teacher and school to school. One of the more obvious problems was in regard to racially diverse classrooms, where it was often the case that teachers only referred minority students for special education. Finally, the district did not have monitoring system in place to gauge whether its special education system was working appropriately.
The settlement agreement--which OCR credited the district for actively collaborating on--calls for the district to hire an outside expert, to develop a uniform screening process, to create building level teams that manage the process, to offer continuing professional development, and to review its existing special education evaluations. The full agreement is available here.
Those familiar with special education disparities might wonder why this district drew OCR’s attention. In comparison to many other districts, the disparities are not that high. The question then is, if this district is in violation, are hundreds or thousands of others as well? Will OCR take action against them? The answer is probably not. The disparities do not appear to be the legal primary trigger here. Rather, the district’s failure to have basic procedures in place made this an easy case for OCR. The lack of procedures, of course, helps create the disparity and, thus, gives OCR a firm ground upon which to act. But when a district has the correct procedures in place, making the case for a violation becomes more difficult. Disparities alone rarely amount to a violation. In short, big win for special education students in Schenectady, but this one is unlikely to have ripple effects.
San Diego Professors Discuss Education, Colonization and the Law: Native American History in San Diego
In recognition of Native American heritage month, two California scholars discussed yesterday the legacy of American education’s suppression of native culture and religion. Professors Michael Connolly Miskwish, (San Diego State) and Bryan Wildenthal (Thomas Jefferson) discussed Education, Colonization and the Law: Native American History in San Diego on KPBS Radio. Listen to the broadcast here.
Monday, November 4, 2013