Thursday, May 18, 2017
Georgetown Law Center, First floor, 600 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC, 20001
Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 8:30am to 4:30pm
U.S. public schools now have a majority students of color yet are increasingly segregated by race and class—as are many of the communities around the country. School integration is an important evidence-based strategy that can improve academic and social outcomes for students from all racial and economic backgrounds. In this new era, however, it can be difficult to know what type of diversity policies are both effective and permissible.
School leaders will work alongside one another, advocates, and researchers on learning more about various aspects of designing, implementing, and sustaining student assignment plans that promote racial and socioeconomic diversity. This meeting will include new research about what diversity efforts districts are undertaking and what is known about the effectiveness of these models. Participants will also learn from one another about local successes and challenges regarding the design of diversity plans as well as how to effectively communicate about the plan with local communities. Expected outcomes are:
Establishing on-going support networks for districts and charter schools;
Providing school leaders with research to assist them wherever they are in the process of considering or implementing racial and socioeconomic diversity efforts; and
Learning about other resources that can assist with integration efforts.
To register for this event, complete our registration form by Monday, May 22nd and indicate which breakout session you plan to attend. Breakout session topics are tentative and may be changed to reflect interests of participants. Please contact Erica Frankenberg at email@example.com if there’s a topic you are interested in.
The full agenda follows the break.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Below are two competing views of the relevance on racial disparities on the bar exam and what we should, or should not, do about them. I want to thank both authors. Dan Subotnik asked if he could start the discussion on this blog. While he offers a biting critique, he was gracious enough to allow Deborah Jones Merritt the opportunity to review his essay in advance so that she might respond. Deborah Jones Merritt was quick to offer a response in the middle of graduation and grading. They offered this blog a unique opportunity to host a high level debate.
Owing minority groups little for their support in the election, Donald Trump is not likely to go out of his way for them. It is not surprising, then, that others are taking the lead.
Deborah Merritt Jones is one of these. A leader in legal education, the chaired professor at Ohio State Law School has recently issued a challenge to the profession, Validity, Competence and the Bar Exam. Merritt takes bar examiners to task for devoting too much attention to doctrine, which students will promptly forget and, even more important, for ignoring “fact- gathering, negotiation, and interviewing,” skills that they will need in practice. Lamenting that law schools are not teaching these skills in their classes, Merritt argues for a more practice-focused bar exam that tests these very skills. In short,
This flawed exam puts clients at risk [and] subjects applicants to an expensive, stressful process. . . The mismatch between the exam and practice, finally, raises troubling questions about the exam’s disproportionate racial impact. How can we defend a racial disparity if our exam does not properly track the knowledge, skills, and judgment that new lawyers use in practice?
For purposes here, I will concede the validity argument. Further, I will admit that the skills at issue can be tested in some reasonable manner. The question I raise has to do with race, Without explicitly holding that bar results would be different, Merritt is quick to use racial disparities to help justify a “new” bar exam.
But does this make sense? If not, what are the implications? Consider: if (a) law schools provided solid grounding in research and interview skills and (b) a bar exam was built thereon, and (c) the bar examiners applied the same pass rate, on what basis could we imagine a different demographic outcome? Do different groups have different intuitions in these areas? Whether the exam is valid or not, it has to be that differences in preparation for exams are what create differences in results. It seems fair to conclude, then, that race is being used as a hook to snare support for Merritt’s proposal.
It could conceivably, beyond a hook, be a ploy and part of a larger problem. Black writers in books such as Stanley Crouch, the “All-American Skin Game, or Decoy of Race” and Richard Thomson Ford’s “The Race Card,” have themselves complained of the speciousness of race talk by black authors. White authors, according to Orlando Patterson, earn no higher marks for honest talk.
Can it be surprising under the circumstances that a strong backlash could take place? And is the best illustration not the election of Donald Trump?
Validity is a scientific concept, not a political one. Everyone, whatever their political leanings, should favor a valid bar exam. The current exam does not embody a coherent concept of “minimum competence to practice law.” As a result, it licenses incompetent practitioners—while perhaps also excluding competent ones.
As part of my clinical teaching, I regularly encounter licensed lawyers. Sometimes those lawyers represent opponents; other times, we observe their work while we are waiting in court. Most of those licensed lawyers are excellent professionals, but some are not.
The ones who fall short usually know the law and they almost always know how to argue. But they don’t know how to identify their client’s goals, gather persuasive facts, and negotiate (which is quite different from arguing). Their failures harm clients. In the misdemeanor court, where we work, poor representation means extra days in jail, higher fines, lost employment, and impaired family relationships.
I agree with Professor Subotnik that preparation is the key to professional competence. If our profession develops a realistic definition of lawyering competence, and devises a licensing process to test for that competence, law schools will prepare their graduates for both the test and practice. That will be an important victory for clients.
What does race have to do with it? As I explain in my original essay, we know that the current bar exam has a disproportionate racial impact. An invalid licensing test is bad: it wastes time and fails to protect consumers. But an invalid licensing test with a disproportionate racial impact is even worse: it means that the test wastes time, fails to protect consumers, and disproportionately excludes some racial groups. Three evils are worse than two. And, yes, I believe that an invalid test that disproportionately excludes disadvantaged racial groups is particularly bad.
How would a new bar exam affect pass rates? I don’t know. As Professor Subotnik suggests, that would depend partly on the preparation that law schools provide. Pass rates might rise, fall, or stay about the same. Professor Subotnik, however, errs in assuming that examiners would automatically adhere to the current pass rate. If they did, that would offer strong evidence that state supreme courts are using the exam to restrain trade rather than to assess minimum competence. I assume that, if our profession adopts a new exam, we will conduct one of the recognized psychometric processes for setting an appropriate cut score.
The key question, as I stress in my original essay, is not pass rates but validity. Our profession desperately needs to define the minimum competence needed to practice law, test for those competencies, and educate students to achieve them.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
The Washington Post reports that the Department of Education has killed funding for one of its few voluntary integration programs. The rationale is pretty flimsy. According to the Post, an official said it was not a good use of money because the funds were for planning rather than implementation. What? Doesn't planning often lead to implementation? Aren't planning grants predicated on promises that districts will implement the plan? I hope this is just a poor excuse and not a guiding principle for future policy: act first, plan later. But if this is just a poor excuse, it begs the question of why the Department is killing this program. Is it anti-integration?
In a letter earlier this month, the National Coalition on School Diversity urged DeVos to retain the program. In the letter, it wrote:
[W]e write to express our support for the Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities program (“Opening Doors”), and urge you to make the awards under this program as expeditiously as possible. As evidenced by the large number of districts from all over the country that expressed their intent to apply for the program, there is tremendous interest in this program and what it seeks to do—namely to use school choice to achieve diversity and increase equity in our nation’s public schools. This program gives parents more options, and will help to expand innovation and educational opportunity.
We were excited to hear your recent comments regarding the importance of diversity in American schools. During the Magnet Schools of America 2017 National Policy Training Conference, you eloquently spoke of the “the vital role [magnet schools] played to improve the lives of … students, combat segregation, and provide a quality option to parents and kids alike.” Opening Doors seeks to advance the same goal: combating segregation in our nation’s public schools, for the benefit of our children and future generations. Furthermore, during your confirmation process, you wrote in response to a question by Senator Murray (D-WA), stating: “I believe government policies should not be established to intentionally create racial isolation, especially in our elementary and secondary schools.”
Opening Doors will help combat the rising resegregation we are seeing take hold in many public schools across the country. As the Government Accountability Office noted last year, while schools serving primarily Black and/or Hispanic students represented only 16 percent of all K-12 public schools, they accounted for the majority (61 percent) of high-poverty schools in 2013-14. Diversity is beneficial to all students, regardless of socioeconomic background or race. As you likely know, research shows that students attending socioeconomically and racially diverse schools have better test scores and higher college attendance rates than peers in more economically and racially segregated settings.
For these reasons, we urge you to award the Opening Doors grants to qualified applicants as soon as possible. Doing so will provide school districts with locally-developed tools that will foster diversity, which will benefit all students and our society as a whole.
Monday, March 20, 2017
A new four-part series in the Baltimore Sun offers a sobering look at the politics of school integration. Nikole Hannah-Jones' work over the last couple of years has helped make school integration a topic of public conversation. This new work by Liz Bowie and Erica Green show how integration actually does or does not come about. It explores Baltimore County's recent efforts to redraw school attendance lines. The opening lines begin with Jeff Sanford, a father of two African-American boys in the schools who had volunteered to represent his local community in the process. He "went to the debate at the high school cafeteria with an open mind. The boundary lines for 11 schools in the Catonsville area had to be redrawn to relieve overcrowding. But there was a chance to achieve something more, something that could help improve the lives of all children: integration."
What he and the school district found was that although demographic maps showed a perfect opportunity to diversify some schools, old boundaries and biases were as deep as ever. Many saw integration as a zero sum game where some would win at others expense. This fear opened new wounds that made integration as tough as it was decades ago. An integration plan that would have reassigned 2100 students was voted down and eventually whittled down to one that would only reassign a couple hundred. Read the full story here.
As a follow-up to the debate, The Sun, Maryland Humanities Council and Loyola University of Maryland's Center for Innovation in Urban Education will be hosting a community dialogue about the path forward for school integration.
The forum will be held Wednesday, March 29 from 6:30 - 8 p.m. at Loyola University. For more information and to RSVP go to www.loyola.edu/join-us/bridging-divide.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Members of the Kentucky legislature are taking aim at school integration. If its new legislation succeeds, it will degrade the educational opportunities available to thousands of kids and, ironically, move in the opposite direction of the stated positions of the new Secretary of Education.
After the Supreme Court held in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle that Jefferson County's voluntary integration plan was unconstitutional, the school board reworked its student assignment plan. The problem with the old plan, according to the Court, was that the district had not shown that the consideration of race was necessary to achieve integration. At least in Jefferson County, maybe the Court was right. The district came up with a new plan that relies on race-nuetral factors and appears to work relatively well. And like the old plan, it remains popular among families there. As Barrett Holmes Pitner reports, "[a]s of 2011, 89 percent of Jefferson County residents supported the school system’s desegregation policies (PDF)."
A constitutional plan, a popular plan, local prerogative, and the benefits of integration apparently are not enough to dissuade those in the state legislature from monkeying with education policy. Kentucky House Bill 151 would "provide that those residing within the shortest travel distance to a school be given first priority in cases where the capacity of the school may be exceeded; permit a child to attend a school other than the one closest with permission of the district." The logical inconsistency of this legislation with other education policies and research findings is astounding.
Both of Kentucky's U.S. Senators just voted in favor of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos stands on two major policy positions: more local control and more student choice. Just this week, DeVos told the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 68 big-city school districts, of which Jefferson County is a member, that “When Washington gets out of your way, you should be able to unleash new and creative thinking to set children up for success.” Although this statement does not reference state government, it is implied. After all, she was talking to districts, not states. In other words, let local districts unleash their creative thinking.
As far as creativity goes, Jefferson County is in the top one percent. It found a way to make integration work, make it popular, and make it voluntary in a place that was once mandated to desegregation under force of court order because those in power staunchly opposed it. This new bill would crush this creativity and allow the resegregation of schools, even though that result is not what most families there want. So much for respecting parents and local control.
The bill is equally problematic in terms of choice. Jefferson County's current plan does not involve compulsory integration. It works because it allows parents choice of where they will go to school, imposing only a few constraints around the edges when those choices threaten to tip a school toward resegregating. But by giving parents an absolute veto and priority for local neighborhood schools, this new bill would strip many families of the right to choose an integrated school.
This bill does not line up with voucher ideology either. The bill would, in effect, tell families that if you want to exercise school choice outside of your neighborhood, you need to look for a voucher. In your traditional public schools, we will preference neighborhoods. How can choice be a generally desirably things, but bad when it produces integration.
I, however, would rather just put politics aside and have us think about what works to improve educational opportunity. Half a century of research shows that integration is incredibly effective in closing achievement gaps. The reason largely lies in the harms that students suffer in predominantly low-income schools. As I detail here, "It is not just that a student’s individual demographic characteristics make him or her less likely to succeed; rather, high-poverty schools have a negative impact on a student’s educational outcomes regardless of the student’s individual socioeconomic status. In at least six major academic categories, predominantly poor and minority schools cause harm or deliver inferior educational opportunities to students." Access to integrated middle-income schools does the opposite. And to be clear, middle-income and white students receive significant educational benefits from attending integrated schools as well. Contrary to popular belief, the benefits of integration are not a one-way street.
Fortunately, the bill currently appears to have stalled, in part, because of the effect it might have on charter schools, not due to any of the other above concerns.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Case Challenging Segregation As a Violation of State Right to Education Heading to Minnesota Supreme Court
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota ruled that plaintiffs' challenge to segregation in public schools was non-justiciable under the state constitution. Plaintiffs, among other claims, argued that segregated schools deprive students of an adequate education. While the court recognized that the state has a duty to provide a uniform, thorough, and efficient education under the state constitution, the court reasoned that the constitution does not include any qualitative standards or judicially manageable standards. Thus, it lacked a basis upon which to find that segregation did not or did not deprive students of the requisite level of education. The court wrote:
Appellants argue that the Minnesota Constitution does not provide textual support for respondents’ assertion of a constitutional right to an “adequate” education. As appellants note, “[T]he word ‘adequate’ does not appear in Minnesota’s Education Clause.” Instead, the Education Clause sets forth the legislature’s duty to establish a “general and uniform system of public schools” and to secure, “by taxation or otherwise,” a “thorough and efficient system of public schools.” Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1. The clause does not state that the legislature must provide an education that meets a certain qualitative standard. Moreover, assuming without deciding that the Education Clause requires the provision of
an education of a certain quality, the clause does not set forth the relevant qualitative standard.
Respondents’ request for relief therefore requires the judiciary to both read an adequacy requirement based on a qualitative standard into the language of the Education Clause and to define the qualitative standard. Respondents have a different view, arguing 9 that the judiciary merely needs to determine whether appellants have violated the purported constitutional duty to provide an adequate education. We disagree: to determine whether appellants have violated the purported obligation to provide an adequate education, we must also define “adequate” and the attendant qualitative standard.
The problem of justiciability is not new to adequacy claims. Nearly ever court in a school funding and quality cases has had to confront the problem. A majority of courts, when entertaining similar claims, have held that their constitution includes a quality or adequacy competent and that courts could define its rough outlines.
The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Dan Shulman, has already said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court. Dan Shulman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. As Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports,
“Courts all over the country have said that an adequate education is something that courts can determine, and in our view that includes the Minnesota Supreme Court,” he said in an interview Monday. Shulman noted that in a 1993 ruling on a school-funding lawsuit, the Supreme Court established that Minnesota children have a fundamental right to an adequate education.
This case is definitely worth watching. As some may recall, Shulman represented plaintiffs in a segregation case two decades ago that alleged segregation violated the state education clause. The case was successful on multiple counts, so much so that the state settled the case before the state supreme court could rule on it. That settlement handed plaintiffs a desegregation remedy, but failed to establish precedent on which later plaintiffs could rely. Thus, the issue still remains one of first impression in Minnesota.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
The Civil Rights Project has released a new report on school segregation in Washington D.C. The report is particularly interesting because it reveals the ways in which segregation in D.C. is more nuanced than in other major cities like New York and Los Angles. White enrollment in the D.C. Public Schools is up over the last two decades and its total school enrollment is relatively steady. In other words, white flight from DC ended some time ago, and has now reversed to some extent. Likewise, overall "private school enrollment has plummeted in spite of tuition vouchers," although white enrollment in private school remains steady. Public apartheid schools--those with 99%-100% non-white enrollments--have also dropped significantly. Ninety percent of African Americans attended an apartheid school in 1992, but that number dropped to 71% by 2013. Yet, notwithstanding those trends, charter schools have seemingly gone in the other direction. "The charter schools overall have a less diverse and more segregated enrollment than the public schools."
To be clear, however, segregation in the public schools remains extremely high and the report focus on missed opportunities that could have achieved significant integration in D.C. The report also contrast D.C. to the surrounding districts, noting that across the river Arlington's schools are predominantly white, while "[t]he relatively small Alexandria district showed positive potential by enrolling a balanced number of each racial group: whites (27%), blacks (33%), and Latinos (32%). The segregation level in the district was the lowest among the six immediate metro districts."
Get the full report here.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
Yesterday, I wrote about how Secretary of Education John King worked until the final days and helped push through the Department's guidebook on racial diversity and integration in public schools. Tuesday also brought news of a major desegregation breakthrough in Mississippi for the Department of Justice. This one, however, is even more surprising and comes on top of another major Department of Justice desegregation victory in Mississippi last year.
The new victory involves the Cleveland School District. It had been operating a freedom of choice student assignment plan that had been producing significant racial imbalance between its two high schools and two junior high schools. One high school, for instance, was forty percent white while the other high school could count its white students on one hand. The district court had ordered the school district to merge its schools per the Department of Justice's proposal. The school district appealed that ruling and the Court of Appeals issued a stay, blocking the order to desegregation. Somehow on Tuesday the Department of Justice managed to secure an agreement with the district, whereby it would drop its appeal and consolidate the schools anyway. The Clarion Ledger reports:
[T]he Cleveland School Board announced at Monday’s school board meeting that it had reached a settlement in the desegregation lawsuit and would drop its petition, which sought to maintain the district’s current open enrollment system.
District lawyer Jamie Jacks said the decision by the board was unanimous.
“It felt moving forward with a solid plan would serve the district, its students, faculty, parents and community best in the long run,” Jacks said in a statement. “The district is looking forward to making 2017-18 a successful year as we all move forward together.”
The work of enforcing decades-old desegregation cases in small little districts across the country easily goes unnoticed. And even when these little districts act entirely contrary to law, it is probably easy enough for some, including our courts, to look the other way. At least, that is my take on a number of desegregation decisions over the past decade. A lot of credit goes to the Department of Justice for pushing this case from the start and seeing it through, even as the keys to the White House changed hands. It is also worth acknowledging that this school board agreed to do the right thing. It is altogether possible it could have avoided doing so.
On a more global level, this case also offers a pristine example of why the leadership in the Department of Justice matters so much.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Former Secretary of Education John King said the Department would work until the last moment, as it had important work still to do. January 19th, 2017 did not disappoint. The Department released a guide for improving diversity in public schools. The introduction states:
This brief provides information to support school districts and stakeholders seeking to improve student diversity in their schools through voluntary, community-led programs as part of an overall effort to increase equity and excellence for all students. Diversity can include many factors, such as race, national origin, disability, socioeconomic status, and language proficiency. What follows is an action-oriented summary of considerations when embarking on efforts to increase student diversity, starting with possible steps to consider when conducting a diversity needs assessment and planning for implementation. Potential diversity strategies and a few examples from the field are included, as well as thoughts on efforts to sustain an inclusive environment once diversity strategies are being implemented.
The guide goes through the nuts and bolts of data collection, decision making, and funding for diversity programs--the basic things a school needs to look at to determine what is or is not necessary. It then focuses on five specific types of programs and policies that schools can use to diversify: magnet schools; controlled choice; open enrollment; high-quality charter schools. The guide also offers suggestions for maintaining an inclusive environment in diverse schools: culturally relevant instruction, detracking/expanding access to advanced coursework within schools; diversifying the teacher workforce; and teacher development.
There is nothing particularly new in the document, but it offers good resources and a strong vote of confidence for districts considering positive changes.
Get the full report here.
Friday, January 13, 2017
The National Coalition on School Diversity has issued an updated report of the Obama Administration's support for school integration. It concludes that "while much remains to be done, the Obama Administration has made concrete progress on school integration policy." The report focuses on four categorical areas in which the administration focused on integration: its 2011 Guidance on voluntary school integration; school diversity language and incentives in USDOE competitive grant programs for K-12 education; school diversity language and incentives in Early Childhood Education programs; and Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and “ESEA Flexibility.” Get the full report here.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
The Law School Admission Council's Diversity Committee Announces a Writing Competition on: WHY PIPELINE PROGRAMS TARGETING STUDENTS FROM UNDERREPRESENTED RACIAL AND ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE FUTURE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is committed to fostering diversity in law schools and the legal profession. Currently, through its Diversity Committee, LSAC sponsors and funds a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the diversity of the legal profession. These initiatives include organizing national and regional pipeline workshops that promote the development of outreach and early educational programs for students from diverse backgrounds; offering grants to support diversity initiatives at LSACmember law schools; maintaining databases and websites such as DiscoverLaw.org with information, resources, and programs that encourage students of color, students living with a disability, and LGBTQ students to pursue a legal career and equip them with the tools for successful admission and graduation from law school; and engaging in ongoing collaborative programs and projects with prelaw advisors and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACUs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).
For decades, studies consistently have shown that students of color, students living with a disability, and LGBTQ students are underrepresented in most law schools. As a consequence, smaller percentages of persons who represent these groups are graduating from law school and entering the legal profession. This writing competition is designed to reinvigorate the dialogue about the recruitment and retention strategies that law schools should deploy to yield a more diverse class of graduates who will enter the legal profession.
Include a cover page with your submission. The cover should only contain the author's name, title of the paper, mailing address, law school affiliation, law school status (lL, 2L, 3L/4L), a telephone number where the author may easily be reached, and an email address.
To allow anonymous evaluations, please do not put your name on the actual paper. The title on the paper must precisely match the title on the cover page that contains the identifying information described above.
Email entries to DiversityOffice@LSAC.org. Only electronic files (PDF or Word) will be accepted.
A panel of law school faculty, legal writing instructors, and LSAC diversity committee members will evaluate each submission and select the winning papers. If no paper meets the standards set forth in this announcement, the panel may decide either not to issue an award or publish a paper. The panel's decision will be final.
All papers must be sent no later than 5:00 PM EST on Friday, March 31, 2017. No extensions will be granted under any circumstances. Papers submitted after the deadline will not be eligible for an award. All submissions become the property of LSAC, and LSAC will retain the copyright of any winning papers selected for publication.
Topic: Why Pipeline Programs Targeting Students from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Backgrounds Are Essential to the Future of the Legal Profession.
Eligibility: Current JD candidates who are in good standing at LSAC -` member law schools
Length and Format: Up to 20 pages (5,000 words or less), 8½ by 11 inch paper, double spaced, 1-inch margins, Word format, 12-point font, with endnotes written in "A Uniform System" of Citation: (The Blue Book) format
Evaluation Criteria: Essays will be judged according to:
• Research and use of relevant sources and authorities (cases; law review articles; other secondary sources, including, but not limited to, books, newspapers, and magazines; and empirical and sociological studies)
• Quality and clarity of legal analysis, persuasion, and writing
• Understanding, interpretations, and conclusions regarding diversity and the implications of diversity in this context
• Full compliance with all competition procedures
Awards: One winning paper will be selected from each of the three (3) qualifying categories of eligible students (1L, 2L, 3L/4L). Each winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and the winning essays will be posted at DiscoverLaw.org. In addition, one winning paper will be submitted for publication in the Journal of Legal Education or similar publication.
Questions: Please send your inquiries to the LSAC Diversity Initiatives
Office – DiversityOffice@LSAC.org.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Erika Wilson's new article, The New School Segregation, 102 Cornell L. Rev. 139 (2016), is now available on westlaw. She offers this abstract:
The South has a long and sordid history of resisting school desegregation. Yet after a long and vigorous legal fight, by the mid-1980s, schools in the South became among the most desegregated in the country. An important but often underappreciated tool that aided in the fight to desegregate schools in the South was the conventional and strategic use of school district boundary lines. Many school systems in the South deliberately eschewed drawing school district boundary lines around municipalities and instead drew them around counties. The resulting county-based system of school districts allowed for the introduction of school assignment plans that crossed racially and economically segregated municipal boundary lines.
Some affluent and predominantly white suburban municipalities in the South are threatening to reverse this progress. They are doing so by seceding from racially diverse county-based school districts and forming their own predominately white and middle-class school districts. The secessions are grounded in the race-neutral language of localism, or the preference for decentralized governance structures. However, localism in this context is threatening to do what Brown v. Board of Education outlawed: return schools to the days of separate and unequal with the imprimatur of state law.
This Article is the first to examine Southern municipal school district secessions and the localism arguments that their supporters advance to justify them. It argues that localism is being used as a race-neutral proxy to create segregated school systems that are immune from legal challenge. It concludes *140 by introducing a normative framework to evaluate the legitimacy of the localism justification for Southern school district secessions specifically and decentralized public education governance structures more broadly.
Monday, November 7, 2016
Last week's New York Times recognized the contribution of David Seeley, who served as Assistant Education Secretary during President Lyndon Johnson administration. In a June 2016 interview with the website The 74, Seeley described himself as a "soldier" in while working for the Eisenhower administration (1956-59), negotiating school districts' "total massive resistance" to desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education, work that he continued in the Johnson administration. Dr. Seelely wrote an influential book on building community schools, “Education Through Partnership," and taught at CUNY after his career in national and city government. Seeley reflected in the June interview that the work on desegregation is far from over:
We got practically all of [the school districts] to come in with plans, but many made it easy for the “separate but equal” doctrine to be kept alive by leaving integration up to a school’s or individual family’s choice … So we didn’t get much integration going, nor did we convert the Southern people, who I think are still unconverted. They’re right in a resurgence of the old Confederacy today — today, right now, we’re still confronting this. … We’re definitely not past the race problem. Right here in Staten Island, too, it’s gotten worse as a matter of fact.
The NYT obituary is here.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Kandice Sumner, a public school teacher, breaks down racial and socio-economic inequality in our public schools in this straightforward and experiential-based Ted Talk. The webpage offers this introductory summary:
Why should a good education be exclusive to rich kids? Schools in low-income neighborhoods across the US, specifically in communities of color, lack resources that are standard at wealthier schools — things like musical instruments, new books, healthy school lunches and soccer fields — and this has a real impact on the potential of students. Kandice Sumner sees the disparity every day in her classroom in Boston. In this inspiring talk, she asks us to face facts — and change them.
One of the more interesting themes of her talk is the argument that our education system has never been designed to offer equal or quality opportunities to communities of color and that when it does occur it is random or potentially a result of private philanthropy rather than the education system itself. In one snippet of the conversation, she offered:
If we really, as a country, believe that education is the "great equalizer," then it should be just that: equal and equitable. Until then, there's no democracy in our democratic education.
On a mezzo level: historically speaking, the education of the black and brown child has always depended on the philanthropy of others. And unfortunately, today it still does. If your son or daughter or niece or nephew or neighbor or little Timmy down the street goes to an affluent school, challenge your school committee to adopt an impoverished school or an impoverished classroom. Close the divide by engaging in communication and relationships that matter. When resources are shared, they're not divided; they're multiplied.
You can watch her talk here.
Monday, September 12, 2016
A School District on the Brink of Collapse: Educational Opportunity at the Intersection of Race, Poverty, and Geography
For the past few years, Pennsylvania's education system has stood at the brink of disaster in some shape, form, or fashion. First came the state's decision to retreat from its new school funding formula and impose new cuts. Then came stories of completely upside down budgets, with public schools bleeding money to brick and mortar charter schools. Those were followed with rampant corruption and a federal indictment of a virtual charter school operator. Mixed in was the story of a Philadelphia girl who fell ill and died on a day when no nurse was present at school due to funding cuts. This brought national attention on the state's policies. This past school year did not look much better. It started with no state education budget. As late as March, the state was still flirting with finishing the school year in the same position--with no school budget. Along the way, there were stories of unpaid teachers, shuttered pre-kindergarten programs, extended winter breaks to save money, and the potential collapse of entire school districts.
The Erie School District was one of those districts pushed to the brink. Its superintendent indicated that the small district might be forced to dissolve itself and allow its students to be subsumed by the much larger neighboring suburban districts if the state did not pass a budget and adopt a more equitable funding formula. The state passed a budget and tinkered with the funding formula, but neither was substantial enough to change the underlying reality in Erie. According to NPR, it still is far from having the resources it needs and is considering dissolution:
Erie's schools have been pushed to the brink after six years of deep budget cuts, and he believes the children in the city's district — which predominantly serves students of color — are being systematically shortchanged.
That's in part because urban school districts in Pennsylvania face a particularly brutal logic.
They serve the poorest, most needy students. Yet, when it comes to state funding per pupil, most of them don't make the top of the list.
Even though Erie is one of the most impoverished districts in the state, and has one of the highest percentages of English language learners, the district currently receives less per-pupil funding from the state than hundreds of other districts.
Excluding pension costs, per-pupil spending in Erie is less than it was in 2008-09.
. . . .
The issue in Erie is even more complicated because of Pennsylvania's education funding policies. For most of the past 25 years, the state has distributed money without a rational, student-based formula.
So although Erie is one of the state's most challenged districts, the state sends more money per-pupil from its main pot of cash to most other districts in the county — including wealthier ones, with less pressing needs, that already have an easier time raising local funds.
"The differences between the resources we have in the county compared to in here are just shocking," said Brian Polito, chief financial officer for Erie Public Schools."
Polito used to have a similar job in North East, a rural district in Erie County. Drawing a comparison, he says last year Erie spent $6,000 dollars on its 18 libraries.
"In the school district that I came from, we had three libraries and our budget for library resources was almost $40,000."
It's examples like these that has Millcreek parent Genene Mattern completely supporting the stand that superintendent Jay Badams has taken on closing the city's high schools.
"People need to get mad. People need to get loud, because the more you just sit and let it happen, I think the more they figure, 'well, they're okay with that,'" she says.
The Erie district did receive a modicum of relief in the state budget that recently passed, including a $3.4 million boost in basic education funds, and a one-time $4 million dollar emergency supplement.
But the systemic issues will persist, and Erie's finances are slated to be in the same straits by the end of the school year.
Talk of dissolving Erie's district, however, is causing a lot of uneasiness in surrounding districts. They are predominantly middle-income and white, while Erie is predominantly poor and minority. Some of the concerns are more explicitly related to race, while some others hearken back to the facially neutral but coded language that opposed busing during desegregation in the south. The problem, they would say, is not race but the difficulties children will face when they attend something other than a neighborhood school. NPR also asks: "Would Erie's crisis even be happening if it was a majority white district?" This question, however, may be best directed at state policy than just local politics.
The unfortunate situation in which Erie's school children find themselves is the sad story of race, poverty, and geography in American schools. Geography is highly determinate of educational opportunity and probably even more so in most northern locales, where school districts are much smaller. The smaller we draw district lines, the higher the capacity to wall-in or wall-out particular neighborhoods. As a practical matter, districts become far more homogeneous than an overall county's or region's demographic population. In other words, small districts increase racial and socio-economic isolation. When this isolation is coupled with state policy that largely bases education funding on local property taxes, it produces highly unequal resources between districts. In other words, the districts become segregated and unequal. When this occurs, state level funding solutions become politically more difficult. The education world has been divided by race, class, and resources and there is little incentive for the "haves" to agree to plans that would send more resources to the "have-nots." In other words, the suburb votes are stacked against urban school districts.
The only apparent solution for districts like Erie is to cut through the structural morass of inequality and blow up the system--to, in effect, say we reject district lines, we reject inequitable funding systems, we reject a system that leaves inner city children to fend for themselves. We give up, and the state and its suburban school districts must now find a way to integrate us into its flawed system. No wonder those who control the levers of power are so upset in Erie. They should be upset in Harrisburg too.
Monday, August 29, 2016
In a Rare Case, School District Does Not Use Demographic Change As an Excuse to Give up on Integration
In 1970, the United States brought suit against the Tyler Independent School District in Texas. That lawsuit initiated what would become nearly a half-century desegregation case. Last week, both the United State and the school district agreed that the district had reached unitary status, meaning that it had eliminated the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable. The district court then entered an order closing the case.
For those that have read this blog before, you might expect a series of critiques to follow news that a court had relieved a district of its desegregation obligation, but based on the court's description of the facts, this one appears to be the real deal. The court explained that "the number and percentage of Hispanic students enrolled in TISD schools has risen dramatically since 1970, from 0.6% to 37.1% in the 2007-08 school year to 45.7% now." This is normally the type of fact that precedes the conclusion that demographic shifts have overwhelmed a district's desegregation efforts and, thus, it cannot be held accountable for current segregation patters. In fact, this was the exact line of reasoning in Freeman v. Pitts, in which the Court held that DeKalb County, Georgia, no longer needed to pursue integration in student assignments.
The district court in the instant case, however, did not have to go there because
[a] review of the parties’ statistical report, Joint Motion at 6-7, and the recent Compliance Report, reveals that there are few schools in any of the grade-level categories that reflect either a higher or lower percentage of student enrollment by race. None is significant when viewing the TISD enrollment statistics overall. Further, as the parties point out, of the eight categories of enrollment showing a somewhat higher or lower percentage compared to the averages for TISD overall, four of them reflect schools that are proceeding under one or the other of the Court’s two most recent attendance zone modifications approved in conjunction with the construction and opening of new or renovated schools. . . . These coincide with four of the five highest variations from the average, none of which is concerning.
. . .
Here, the enrollment statistics convincingly reveal that TISD has achieved the desegregation goal for student assignments in its schools at all levels. Further, having reviewed the statistical compilations from the last several years of TISD’s Compliance Reports, the Court finds that TISD has maintained this student assignment status and operated as a unitary system during that period.
First, assuming no egregious inequalities were papered over, credit is due the school district for taking steps to maintain integrated schools for an extended period of time, notwithstanding significant demographic changes in the district. Second, that this district had the capacity and commitment to do so begs the question of why the United States Supreme Court and lower courts have been so quick to absolve other districts of their obligations. As I have argued elsewhere, the mere instance of demographic shifts is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether a district has carried out its affirmative obligation under Green v. New Kent County to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination root and branch. The question of whether the district has discharged its duty should always precede the question of demographic shifts. Otherwise, a district acting in less than good faith could just stall in its desegregation efforts in hope that inevitable demographic shifts will eventually relieve it of its duty. Unfortunately, far too many districts seemed to adopt this route over the decades.
Third, demographic shifts raise causal questions, but demographic shifts are not dispositive on those questions. Demographic shifts might be a result of a district's student assignment policies themselves, might account for only a portion of segregation, might have produced segregation only because the district failed to act, or might have been the dominant cause of current segregation. Too often, however, courts have jumped to the last conclusion without giving any serious attention to the other possibilities. In effect, the occurrence of demographic shifts has acted as an affirmative defense for districts, placing the burden of proof on plaintiffs, which, of course, is counter to the doctrine articulated in Keyes v. New Kent County.
Fortunately, the Tyler Independent School District appears to have cut through all these legal questions and loopholes by simply doing the right thing.
Friday, August 26, 2016
EdBuild has released a report of what it calls the most segregated schools in the country. The goal of the study was "[t]o explore how school district borders isolate the neediest students [by] conducted[ing] an analysis of each of these boundaries across the country." It found that
A typical school district border in the United States separates a pair of districts whose student-age poverty rates differ by seven percentage points. The difference between the 50 most segregated neighbors ranges from 34 to 42 percentage points: an average that is more than five times the national mean. Among the 50 pairs, the wealthier school districts have a poverty rate of just 9 percent, while their neighbors average 46 percent— 400 percent higher. This means that wealthier peers enjoy a poverty rate that is less than half the national average; whereas their neighbors enroll over 150 percent more impoverished students than the average US district. The 50 higher-income areas are also far smaller enclaves of wealth– their schools serve 15,000 less students on average. Additionally, the average homes in the wealthier districts are worth $131,000 more than their neighbors’. Because local funds for education are tied to property wealth, high-poverty districts are not able to generate as many funds locally. In fact, even though several of the 50 high-poverty districts tax themselves at a higher rate than their neighbors, they generate $4,500 less per student from local taxes. The 50 most segregating borders are found in only 14 states. Ohio contains nine, more than any other state. Alabama has seven. New York and Pennsylvania each contain six. Twenty-nine borders, almost 60 percent of the top 50, are located in the Rust Belt region. States with countywide school districts, like those in the south and the west, are almost entirely absent from the list.
The five most-segregated were the following:
- Detroit Public Schools - Grosse Pointe Public School System: Difference in School-Age Poverty of 42.7 percentage points
- Birmingham City School District - Vestavia Hills City School District & Mountain Brook City School District Difference in School-Age Poverty of 42.3 & 42.0 percentage points
- Clairton City School District - West Jefferson Hills School District Difference in School-Age Poverty of 41.7 percentage points
- Dayton City School District - Beavercreek City School District & Oakwood City School District Difference in School-Age Poverty of 40.7 & 40.3 percentage points
- Balsz Elementary School District - Scottsdale Unified School District Difference in School-Age Poverty of 40.3 percentage points
The reports concludes that
When the Supreme Court established that desegregation orders could not be enforced across district boundaries, it significantly reduced the possibility of achieving meaningful integration. And because America relies so heavily on local property taxes to raise funds for education, the inability to cross district boundaries institutionalizes income segregation and contributes to vast funding disparities among public schools. In this report, we highlight the worst examples of socioeconomic segregation across school district borders as illustrations of a problem that can be seen all across the country. These divisions are harmful for all students, but especially for those who reside on the wrong side of these borders. There you will find 26 million children living within high-poverty school districts, effectively trapped by impermeable borders, while greater educational opportunities often are being enjoyed by their better-off peers right next door. The fact, too seldom acknowledged, is that district boundaries themselves compound the inequalities that our public schools were intended to conquer. In present day America, we allow invisible lines to determine the fate of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. While many focus on policies that will bring more resources into these underserved districts, very few question why these lines exist in the first place. Our wealthy are consigning lower-income students to a lesser caste by cordoning off their wealth and hiding behind the notion of “local control”. We’ve created and maintained a system of schools segregated by class and bolstered by arbitrary borders that, in effect, serve as the new status quo for separate but unequal.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Lawsuit Revisits the Question of Education As a Fundamental Right Under the U.S. Constitution, But Is There More To It Than That?
Plaintiffs in Connecticut have filed a new lawsuit against the state challenging the "inexcusable educational inequity and inadequacy" in its school "that prevent inner-city students from
accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options." The complaint argues that these problems are a result of:
First, Connecticut has instituted a moratorium on new magnet schools (Conn.
Gen. Stat. § 10-264l(b)(1); Public Act No. 09-6, § 22 (Spec. Sess.); Public Act No. 15-177, § 1), despite the fact that a large majority of Connecticut’s magnet schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.
Second, Connecticut’s arcane and dysfunctional laws governing public charter
schools (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-66ee(c)-(d), 10-66bb(a), 10-66bb(g)) prevent high-performing charter schools from opening or expanding in the State, despite the fact that Connecticut’s few charter schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.
Third, Connecticut’s inter-district Open Choice enrollment program (Conn. Gen.
Stat. §§ 10-266aa(c), 10-266aa(e), 10-266aa(f), 10-266aa(g), 10-266aa(h)) penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts, thus dooming the viability of the very program ostensibly designed to provide Connecticut’s students with quality public-school options.
As a remedy, plaintiffs ask:
for a simple declaration that would have immeasurable benefits for many thousands of children: By forcing Plaintiffs and thousands of other students to attend public schools that it knows are failing, while impeding the availability of viable public educational alternatives through the Anti-Opportunity Laws, Connecticut is violating students’ federal due process and equal protection rights. Connecticut should be required to take any and all steps necessary to ensure that neither Plaintiffs nor any other students within its borders are forced to attend a failing public school.
The case is a hard one to pigeonhole. On the one hand, it attempts what I and others have long advocated for: a reconsideration and overturn of San Antonio v. Rodriguez. As the Connecticut Mirror reports,
Forty-three years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled in the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez school-funding case that education was not a constitutional right and that the disparate spending on education for students from low-income neighborhoods was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
"The time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education. We felt Connecticut was a very good place to bring it," said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the attorneys representing the seven student plaintiffs from low-income families.
Boutrous told reporters during a Wednesday conference call that the Rodriguez decision "left open the possibility that a claim like ours could succeed" since that case focused on school funding disparities while this lawsuit focuses on the limited options students have to leave failing schools.
. . .
Experts observing this case say a lot is at stake.
On the other hand, the case takes a factual angle in making out this claim that sounds a lot like free market thinking in education. Moreover, Students Matter, the group that has lead the constitutional challenge to teacher tenure, is backing the case. As a factual matter, the case would appear to be about student choice. It holds up the interdistrict magnet schools created as a result of the Sheff v. O'Neill litigation, which are designed to further integration, as important models for improving educational opportunities for minority student, but argues those type of magnets are not the only viable option. More charter schools, it argues, could create similar options to escape currently unconstitutional traditional public schools. In this respect, the plaintiffs are trying to, in effect, piggy back off of the success of Sheff.
My initial response is that there is a big gaping hole in this use of Sheff magnets. Sheff magnets are an integrative cure to a segregative injury. It is not clear that charters are a proportional or analogous remedy to anything, nor did I notice any indication that these charters would follow the lead of Sheff magnets. With that said, the complaint follows up its charter school claim with the suggestion that the state expand inter-district magnet opportunities, which is consistent with Sheff.
On the whole, however, these limited opportunities are evidence that the plaintiffs say shows that the state is failing to offer even a minimally adequate education, which Rodriguez indicated might be protected. The big question for me is what the plaintiffs really want. Is it to right the wrong of Rodriguez or to dress up a charter school plea in language that sounds appealing to a lot of civil rights advocates that might otherwise be adverse? I do not know enough about the key players in the case to have a firm opinion, but the prior constitutional challenge to teacher tenure offers some hints. What I am confident of, however, is that danger lurks if issues as weighty as Rodriguez are in the wrong hands.