Monday, October 14, 2013
Friday, the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University-Newark jointly released two reports on school segregation in New Jersey. The first by the Civil Rights Project tracks racial imbalance in New Jersey's schools from 1989 to 2010, finding increasing levels of imbalance over time. The second report by the Institute on Education Law focuses on the most heavily segregated schools in the state. It finds several urban areas in the state with schools that "enroll virtually no white students but have a high concentration of poor children." These schools, however, "are located in close proximity to overwhelmingly white suburban school districts with virtually no poor students."
This second report, unlike many of the past, goes one step further to analyze the legal implications of this hyper segregation, arguing that it violates the state's constitution. New Jersey's education clause is one of the strongest in the nation and has been used in the Abbott v. Burke litigation to ensure one of if not the highest funded and most progressive school finance formulas in the country. Less tested is the state constitution's prohibition on segregation. For years, scholars have suggested that New Jersey would make a good state to replicate the strategy of Sheff v. O'Neill, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that its state constitution prohibited school segregation, even where the segregation was unintentional.
These two reports should turn up the heat on the state by focusing on it specifically and suggesting a legal battle may be coming.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
As a matter of procedure, the data in Louisiana does not matter. Districts that have maintained de jure segregated schools and are still under court order to remedy the effects forfeit the right to assign students any way they want, even if their means are race nuetral. This has been the law for forty years. This legal principle is irrelevant in most post places because the vast majority of districts have been released from court order. But in other districts, courts are still there to look over their shoulders because these districts have not fixed the problem, nor proved that they can be trusted. Thus, as a matter of procedure, I still maintain no sympathy for Louisiana and its claims that it ought be free of second guessing.
Beyond the procedure, however, the facts are the facts, and new ones are coming out. When complying with court oversight, these desegregating districts should be free to move forward with any legitimate plans that do not negatively effect desegregation. According to DOJ, Louisiana had previously been less than forthcoming with the data necessary to make this determination. Now that the data is becoming available, it looks like some of the facts are favorable to Louisiana. According to a study published by Education Next, the voucher program improves racial balance in the vast majority of schools that students are leaving. (See their data to the left). Rick Hess, a national education commentator, uses these facts to say, in effect, I told you so, and jump on the bandwagon in criticizing and questioning DOJ's motions in this case.
But not so fast. Taking Ed Next and Hess's facts as true, it does not mean that the program is constitutional in its entirety. Desegregation orders are against individual school districts, so in those districts where vouchers increase segregation, they would be presumptively unconstitutional if the effect is more than minimal. In the other districts where racial balance improves racial balance, which is the vast majority, there is no problem and the programs can remain in place. In other words, how the program performs on the state level is largely irrelevant in terms of individual districts. Thus, the fallacy of Hess and others' reasoning is to only look at this program, on the averages, at the state level, instead of at the school and district level which is where segregation actually occurs. But to be clear, I do not have all the facts. The negative effects could be minimal in all of the school districts or overshadowed by other good things the state and district might be doing in within districts. Yet we do not know the answers to these things, hence my contention from the start that we should honor the judicial process and keep national politics over vouchers out of it.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Nearly a decade ago, a few graduates and current students from Maryland's historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), along with a local attorney or two, began questioning the funding and expansion practices of the state's entire university and college system. They filed suit, but soon found they were in for an enormous fight and needed more legal resources. With the help of John Brittain, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic agreed to take on the case. Professor Aderson Francois and his law students largely carried the law suit in the early days. They were later joined by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and pro bono attorneys from Kirkland and Ellis.
Yesterday, the plaintiffs' long road resulted in a victory. The United States District Court for Maryland found in Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission that, in fact, the state had engaged in unconstitutional action in regard to Maryland's HBCUs. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the state's funding practices were unconstitutional, but, on the all important issue of the overall structure of the Maryland system, the court wrote:
I find the plaintiffs have prevailed in establishing current policies and practices of unnecessary program duplication that continue to have a segregative effect as to which the State has not established sound educational justification. Remedies will be required.
In other words, the State formerly operated a de jure segregated higher education system. The constitution imposes a duty on the state to dismantle that system. The state's current practice of creating and expanding new programs at historically white institutions, which duplicate already existing programs at HBCUs that are right down the road, has the effect of keeping Maryland's colleges and universities segregated. By doing so, it is violating its constitutional duty to disestablish segregation.
The court did not issue a specific remedy, but directed the parties to enter into mediation and come up with a plan to current the system's deficiencies.
The Young Conservatives of Texas appear to be displeased with the outcome of Fisher v. Texas, which upheld the use of race in higher education admissions (although it indicated it wanted a more rigorous narrowly tailored prong review). The Young Conservatives, in a repeat performance of the 2011 diversity bake sale at Berkeley, CA, held a bake sale in which whites would be charged the highest price for brownies at $2, followed by Asians at $1.50, Latinos at $1, Blacks at 75 cents and Native Americans at 25 cents. Women of all races and ethnicities received an additional price break of .25 cents.
A few points of note. First, the struggling economy has held the cost of affirmative action in check. These prices are the exact same ones offered at Berkeley in 2011. I only wish the same were true for potato chips and fountain sodas.
Second, the price differentials are interesting. Conservatives seem to think affirmative action costs whites more than any one else and that everyone but white males benefits from affirmative action. I am skeptical of the notion that it "costs" any racial group anything. Regardless, the young conservatives seem to miss the fact that there are few, if any, higher education diversity programs that treat Asians' ethnicity as a plus factor. In other words, even if the young conservatives general premise is true, I am afraid they are selling brownies too cheaply to Asians. Asians should make a run on the brownies and hold out until the next sale, when surely the average price of brownies will increase, along with a sharp increase on the price for Asians.
Finally, I think they really missed the boat on gender. State universities have more often, in recent years, tilted the scales in favor of men, since women tend to outperform men in high school, particularly in terms of GPA. Remember Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia, 263 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2001), where the University was pressed to give up its affirmative action for white males in the state. While formal boosts for white males have waned for obvious reasons, my understanding is that some universities still employee certain procedures that discount high school GPAs so as to help enroll a slightly higher number of white males and prevent women from overrunning the campus. So it seems men should be getting the 25 cent discount, not women. Then again, maybe the young heterosexual male conservatives who got into the University of Texas support affirmative action for women. The problem is that, given the number of women at flagship universities, the Young Conservatives may go bankrupt unless they are keeping a very close eye on their costs.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Last week, I posted on the release of Diane Ravitch's new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. I am eagerly awaiting its arrival and will post a review once I read it. In the meantime, she offered us a fuller taste Friday in an interview with NPR. The interview indicates a no-holds-barred attack on charters, vouchers, and other reforms of the past decade, which she, of course, signed onto during the Bush administration, but now thinks better of. Speaking of school choice and charters, she threw several hard blows:
When people pay taxes for schools, they don't think they're paying off investors. They think they're paying for smaller class sizes and better teachers. . . . [Charters] have become part of the movement to turn education into a consumer product rather than a social and a public responsibility....What I mean is that you go shopping for a school. I don't believe in school choice. I believe that every neighborhood should have a good public school. And if the parents don't want the good local public school and they want to send their child to a private school, they should do so — but they should pay for it.
After this stinging critique, she emphasized that our schools are not in some new crisis. Rather, they are performing better than ever before. With that said, we do have significant pockets of dropouts and low performance. But these results are not a product of our schools somehow having sunk to new lows in terms of the education they offer. She cites the problem as the continuing presence of concentrated poverty. "Where there are low test scores, where there are higher dropout rates than the national average, is where there is concentrated poverty."
Much to my chagrin, she does not, however, seem to propose policies to deconcentrate poverty. Maybe she considers them unrealistic. Instead, she prescribes smaller classes, pre-k, and arts programs. I would agree that those are important programs that can provide significant help, particularly pre-k. I just hope she is not giving up on remedying the root cause of the problem.
Monday, September 30, 2013
A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation
The American Educational Research Association is hosting its tenth annual Brown lecture in educational research on October 24th. Gary Orfield is this year's speaker. His lecture is titled A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation. More details here.
Over the summer, scholars and advocates poured over the question of whether and how much the Court's opinion Fisher v. Texas changed the legality of affirmative action. According to the Departments of Education and Justice, not much has changed. In a "Dear Colleague" letter released Friday, they wrote:
On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education. Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation. The future workforce of America must be able to transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.
This statement to be more than just rhetoric supporting theoretical diversity. The letter goes on to say that its pre-Fisher guidance on voluntary desegregation in K-12 and diversity in higher education remain in effect. Most important, many read Fisher to increase the burden on universities and colleges to justify their affirmative action programs under the narrowly tailored prong of strict scrutiny, but in a "Question and Answer" document that accompanied the letter, the Departments said Fisher did not even change the narrowly tailored prong. Rather, Fisher just emphasized what the law already was.
Kudos to the Departments for taking a stand on these key issues. This is something they had been reluctant and slow to do during Obama's first term. They waited for over three years before retracting the Bush administration's misleading and inaccurate guidance on Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle's holding regarding voluntary integration. Now, they have positively acted in a matter of just months on Fisher. This should go a long way toward avoiding the uncertainty and fear among districts and universities that persisted following Parents Involved.
Friday, September 27, 2013
On November 8-9, 2013 in Hartford, CT, One Nation Indivisible is hosting a conference titled Where Integration Meets Innovation. Its focus will be on creating, sustaining, and improving dynamic and diverse public schools. More information on the conference is available here.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Early this summer, I posted on the rising tensions in Missouri, where a statute authorized the transfer of students out of failing schools and districts to surrounding districts. In other words, the state had authorized the crucial interdistrict transfers or reassignments that the Supreme Court had long ago forbade federal courts from ordering in Milliken v. Bradley. As advocates and researchers have lamented ever since, interdistrict reassignments are the only hope of integration in most metropolitan areas.
After the enactment of the Missouri statute, thousands of students in St. Louis and Kansas City have availed themselves of this opportunity. The problem was that the surrounding districts claimed they could not accommodate them and the districts loosing them claimed they could not afford the financial hit because the students' per pupil expenditures would leave with them.
To the surprise of many, the surrounding districts were able to absorb these students and work out the logistics of enrolling them in a very short time period. The financial fears of the districts from which these students departed, however, are coming true. Edweek reports that some districts are on the edge of bankruptcy. Normandy school district, for instance, has an operating budget of $49 million, but will loose $14 million under the statute's funding shifts. The hope is that the state will come up with a fix for these districts. These districts were already unaccredited, which is the basis for the transfers, and have little hope of reaccreditation in the context of bankruptcy.
I would grade this statute as a good job half-way done. Interdistrict transfers are a great solution to the ills of school segregation. For that reason, I have consistently argued that Congress must similarly use its Title I funds to incentivize integrative transfers, but I also point out that Congress must include hold-harmless provisions for the schools left behind. Otherwise, Congress would be helping some students at the expense of others. Moreover, hold-harmless provisions theoretically free up resources for the original schools because they now have fewer students. This could present the opportunity for them to take steps to improvement rather than just treading water. Let's hope Missouri can come up with the money and sense to achieve this end. For more on using Title I to facilitate integration and improve schools, see here.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Monday DOJ filed a motion to amend its complaint in the ongoing saga over Louisiana's voucher program. Some interpret this as a softening of DOJ's position from an attempt to block the voucher program to a simple attempt to monitor and verify that the program is operating in compliance with desegregation orders. In addition, if this is a position shift, DOJ indicates it is only in response to Louisiana's new-found willingness to comply with information requests and be otherwise cooperative. These two events suggests a deescalation that will allow the parties and the courts to address the merits in the case and remove it from the daily news feed. Governor Jindal, however, is still displeased, calling DOJ's recent actions and statements a "PR stunt" and "disingenuous." I wonder whether it is Jindal who is enjoying the politics and media coverage of this dispute. Maybe, he doesn't want this case to fade into the legal process and an analysis of the merits. Regardless, this finally seems to be where this case is heading.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The UNC Center for Civil Rights has launched a multi-year Inclusion Project Project, "which is dedicated to understanding, documenting, and addressing the persistent and related impacts of the legacy of residential segregation." It will analyze the effects of residential segregation on public education, municipal underbounding, and environmental racism. The Center's first report, The State of Exclusion, is now available. In addition to housing opportunity and environmental hazard exposure, the report offers a sophisticated empirical analysis of each of North Carolina's communities and shows the disparities in access to racially integrated schools, middle income schools and high performing schools.
A la the thesis of Diane Ravitch's new book, which I posted on yesterday, it is worth stepping back to consider what is really going on with the takeover of six Virginia schools. As LaJuana posted a few days ago, the state passed legislation creating the Opportunity Educational Institution, which grants this entity the power to take over schools that have failed to gain accreditation four years in a row. At least one district has filed suit arguing that the takeover violates the state constitution. Putting the constitutional issues aside for a moment, the persistant failure to meet accreditation standards suggests that these schools are in crisis, but are they? And if so, who is to blame?
The state's accreditation standards require elementary and middle schools to achieve the following pass rates: English – 75 percent or higher; Mathematics – 70 percent or higher; Science – 70; percent or higher; and History – 70 percent or higher. High schools are fully accredited if students "achieve pass rates of 75 percent or higher in English and 70 percent or higher in mathematics, science and history; and [a]ttain a point value of 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)." (For further definition of the GCI see here). These flat and simple standards are the whole of the accreditation requirements.
One of the six schools in the state that has failed to meet this standard is Jefferson-Houston (formerly an elementary school, now a pre-k through 8 school) in Alexandria. The school rests on the edge of Old Town Alexandria, one of the DC area's most affluent neighborhoods. When I lived in the DC area, my home happened to be less than a mile from Jefferson-Houston. We didn't live in Old Town, but our son, had he been old enough, would have been assigned to Jefferson-Houston. The school's name also carries special meaning to me. Jefferson is in reference to Thomas Jefferson and Houston is in reference to Charles Hamilton Houston, former Dean of Howard Law School and the original architect of the NAACP's desegregation strategy.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Please join the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice for a panel discussion, “Creating and Supporting Diversity in Higher Education,” on September 27, 2013 from 9:30-11:00am ET at the U.S. Department of Justice. Higher education leaders will join Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education, and Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Justice, to discuss the importance of creating and supporting diversity on college campuses and the parameters for using in race in admissions as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, will deliver opening remarks, and Ada Meloy, General Counsel for the American Council on Education, will moderate the discussion. The event will coincide with the release of a document, “Questions and Answers About Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin,” developed jointly by the Departments.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
When I first posted on DOJ's motion to enjoin vouchers in Louisiana until the district court could determine whether they had the effect of violating standing court ordered desegregation, I assumed that no one but the few remaining desegregation junkies and the few students affected by it would pay it much attention. DOJ's motion was standard fare for a desegregation case and, in comparison to other current desegregation battles, is of relatively small importance. I seriously underestimated the politics of this case, which explains why I am a law professor.
I have no doubts on the law here, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that no one else really cares what the law is. All that seems to matter are the politics and, rather than a story dies quickly, this one has legs due to the ratcheting up of the politics. Two cases in point. The Chicago Tribune issued a stinging editorial on Sunday titled United States v. minority children. Now, former Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education are joining Governor Jindal in hosting a press conference at the National Press Conference tomorrow to discuss the lawsuit. Earlier, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, asked why Obama wants to keep poor kids out of good schools.
Maybe, the escalating politics suggest a new answer to the question in my second post: why is Louisiana seeking to delay the hearing in this case? The new answer may be that it gives the state more time to turn up the politics and distract the district court from the legal question, which is a slightly different game--albeit still a game--than the one I posited earlier.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Connecticut Department of Education has released a report comparing the performance of Hartford city students who are enrolled in a magnet school or surburban school to the performance of those who remain in their local school. "The data indicate that Hartford-resident students enrolled in choice programming opportunities perform at higher levels than those who are enrolled in the city public schools," said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education. In fact, the differences are quite stark. As the CT Mirror explains,
[I]n a typical fifth grade Hartford classroom of 25 students last school year, 12 students were not proficient in reading. In a magnet school run by the Capitol Region Education Council with students from all over the region, just two of the 25 students from Hartford were not proficient.
The option to transfer to a suburban school or apply to a magnet school stems from the seminal case Sheff v. O'Neill (1996), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Hartford's racially isolated schools violate those students' right to an equal education under the state constitution. This new report by the state is the first to examine the achievement affects of the program. After seeing the data, Martha Stone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, was emboldened. “I challenge the state to show any other mechanism that is closing the achievement gap as quickly,” said Stone. “The state should be looking at regional solutions if we really want to solve the problem in a robust way.”
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement with School District on Racially Equal Access to AP and Other Courses
On Tuesday, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the details of its final agreement with Lee County, Alabama's School District regarding discrimination and inequality in its Advanced Placement classes and other high level academic offerings. This agreement potentially serves as major precedent in many other districts that, while integrated at the school level, experience high levels of classroom segregation. OCR itself calls the settlement "the first of its kind." The full press release and details on the agreement follow after the jump.
Yesterday, the Brookings Institute released an essay by Grover Whitehurst arguing that DOJ's attempt to block school vouchers in Louisiana "undermines civil rights." (For more background on the lawsuit, see my earlier posts here and here.) Whitehurst argues that the numbers of vouchers are too small to have any meaningful effect on the districts and that some of those using the vouchers are African American. Thus, the net effect is to deny African Americans choice. He then likens what the DOJ is doing--trying to control and direct the assignment of a few student based on race--to what the districts in Parents Involved in Seattle Schools v. Seattle School District were doing, which the Supreme Court struck down.
This essay shows how little some appreciate the practical dynamics and legal principles of desegregation. Or, it shows how school choice advocates respect no rules that might stand in their way. First, Whitehurst assumes a tremendous amount of facts (and admits to doing so) in reaching his conclusion that the voucher program poses no threat. As I indicated in my earlier post, the point of desegregation law is to affirmatively promote integration and prevent backsliding. These are not things we can do after the fact. Thus, one of my points was to let the legal process play out. If Louisiana is in the right, the facts will bear it out and they can move forward. We cannot, however, take their word for it, particularly since the state did not seem to even consider the segregative impacts the program might have until now.