Friday, August 1, 2014
According to a new lawsuit filed yesterday, the Utah State School Board "violated [the] law by adopting the Common Core State Standards without substantive input from parents and educators." The lawsuit was brought by the Libertas Institute, along with six parents and teachers. The plaintiffs contend that "they were denied an opportunity to be consulted" before the standards were adopted and request that the court grant an injunction against any implementation of the Common Core.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Seventeen Louisiana legislators have filed suit, alleging that Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's adoption of the Common Core Curriculum did not comply with the necessary process required by the state's Administrative Procedures Act. This case is the inverse of the one dismissed last week by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. There, the legislature had repealed the Common Core and the state board argued that the legislation violated the board's constitutional authority to supervise education. In Louisiana, the legislature is claiming the board acted unlawfully in adopting the common core.
The Common Core, teacher assessment changes, and NCLB waivers--which prompted the first two reforms, are producing schizophrenic litigation. Almost every week has brought new litigation,
Monday, June 9, 2014
Following a number of school religious expression bills introduced in state legislatures in the last year, the North Carolina House passed a bill last week that allows public school students to pray, express religious viewpoints, pass out religious materials, and assemble "as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression." The N.C. House approved S.B. 370, which also provides that school employees who are viewing student religious expression "shall not be disrespectful of the student exercise of such rights and may adopt a respectful posture." The bill will have to return to the state senate for final approval, where it is expected to pass. The ACLU of North Carolina released a statement objecting to the bill's language which it says could leave school officials unclear about the rules, particularly as adopting "a respectful posture" could communicate approval of one religious view above others. In application, the legislation is certain to highlight the tension between the Establishment and the Free Speech and Exercise Clauses that currently require public school officials to show neutrality in their treatment of religion and not inhibit student expression of privately-held views as long as that expression does not infringe upon the rights of others. For an overview of the constitutional issues, read the ED's Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools here.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Tennessee teachers have filed a second lawsuit this year challenging the state’s use of student standardized test scores to determine teachers' retention and merit pay evaluations. Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman are named as defendants in the suit filed by Knox County teacher Mark Taylor, an eighth grade science teacher who said that he was unfairly denied a bonus after his teacher effectiveness score was based on the standardized test scores of only 22 of his 142 students. In 1992, Tennessee’s General Assembly passed the Education Improvement Act to establish “a statistical system for educational outcome assessment that uses measures of student learning to enable the estimation of teacher, school and school district statistical distributions,” called the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS). TVAAS estimates measure the impact that teachers, schools and school districts have on the educational progress of students based on state standardized tests results in grades 3 through 8. Because Tennessee sought Race to the Top federal funds that require local districts to measure teacher effectiveness on student standardized test scores, the TVAAS is heavily weighted in teachers’ overall effectiveness score for hiring, retention, and incentive decisions.
For the plaintiff Taylor, who teaches four upper-level physical science courses and one regular eighth grade science class, only the standardized scores of his general science class counted in his TVAAS estimate. The student scores in his higher-performing upper-level classes, measured by local tests, were not included in his evaluation. Taylor was denied a bonus under the teacher evaluation program even though he says the observation component of his evaluation showed that he was exceeding expectations. Taylor argues that the state violated his 14th Amendment right to equal protection from “irrational state-imposed classifications” by using a small fraction of his students to determine his overall effectiveness. Last month, Knox County teacher Lisa Trout challenged the TVAAS evaluation system after she was denied a bonus. Trout alleged that she was misled about how her TVAAS estimate would be calculated. The Tennessee case is Taylor v. Haslam, No. 3:14CV00113, 2014 WL 1087776 (E.D.Tenn., filed March 19, 2014). Read more at the Tennessee Education Association here.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Charter schools were envisioned as small-scale laboratories to test innovative educational programs and to reach struggling students who could thrive with more individualized attention. Minnesota is now deciding how to deal with those charter programs that are chronically underperforming. The state legislature seems to be doing the sensible thing this week by considering legislation to require an evaluation process for the state’s lowest-performing charter schools. The proposed evaluation system could prevent charter operators with underperforming schools from opening new schools. The current proposal may make it easier to shut down 17 of the state's chronically underperforming charters. (Charters that that have a high number English language learners or special education students would be exempt.) Minnesota Public News Radio reports that the head of a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity says that that 25-30% of the state’s 150 charter schools are “just really terrible…considerably worse than the public schools.”
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The Eleventh Circuit ruled today that members of Alabama’s powerful teacher union cannot pay their dues through automatic payroll deductions, thus affecting the union’s largest funding source. In 2010, the Alabama legislature passed a law prohibiting government employees from having membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks if the money went "to a membership organization which use[d] any portion of the dues for political activity." The Alabama Education Association (AEA), later joined by the Alabama State Employees Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters, contested the law saying that the term “political activity” was over broad and an infringement on free speech. The 11th Circuit disagreed, finding that the law’s language “prohibits only the use of state mechanisms to support politically active organizations. The Act does not prohibit “ ‘ private forms of payment, i.e., forms of payment not facilitated by the government. ‘ ” The circuit court concluded, “the Act only declines to promote speech, rather than abridging it, and that the Act does not implicate any constitutionally protected conduct[.]” The 11th Circuit also rejected the AEA's argument that Republican lawmakers passed the law to punish the teachers’ union, whose members largely support Democratic candidates. Read the opinion in Alabama Education Association v. Bentley, No. 11-11266 (11th Cir. Feb. 5, 2014), here.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Opening arguments began Monday in a Caliornia case that challenges the state’s teacher tenure laws. Nine California students, in litigation financed by Students Matter, an advocacy organization headed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, are asking a state court to declare that California’s teacher tenure and seniority statutes, among others, violate the equal protection provision of the state constitution. The plaintiffs argue that the statutes protect “grossly ineffective teachers who cannot prepare students to compete in the economic marketplace or participate in a democracy.” The statutes have a disproportionately adverse effect upon minority and economically disadvantaged students, the plaintiffs maintain, because those students are at greater risk of being assigned ineffective teachers. That risk compounds the damage of disproportionate school budgets in lower-income school districts. The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction against laws that protect teachers' jobs and thus lower the quality of education for children in California. Read the 2012 complaint in Vergara v. California here.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction vowed to return to her job at the department of education this week after the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that a law stripping her of most of her authority was unconstitutional. State school superintendent Cindy Hill sued the state after Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed a law that transferred her supervisory powers to an appointed “director” of public instruction, who took over the state’s $1 billion education budget and 150 employees. Hill was assigned a separate office away from the education department with about six employees. In a 3-2 decision released Tuesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution gives the Superintendent, an elected position, the responsibility of the “general supervision of the public schools” and that the legislature could not constitutionally transfer that supervisory authority from an elected state official to an appointed director. The bill that divested Hill of power, Senate File 104 (nicknamed the “Hill bill”), is now being reviewed to see if it can be saved. Superintendent Hill’s case will return to the Laramie court that asked the state supreme court to rule on the law’s constitutionality. Meanwhile, Hill has announced that she will be running for governor next year but she still faces a mismanagement investigation by a state House committee that could lead to her impeachment. Read court’s opinion in Powers v. State of Wyoming, et al., here.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Given the recent tumultuous times for the Philadelphia school district, this week’s announcement that 130 city educators have been implicated in a cheating scandal is not earth shattering. The cheating investigation, conducted by state education officials and the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, found a suspicious number of erasures and corrections of wrong to right answers on state standardized math and reading tests taken from 2009 to 2011. The test improprieties are alleged to have occurred at 53 Philadelphia area schools, about 20 percent of the total number of schools in the city. The 130 educators have been accused of providing students with answers, erasing wrong answers or supervising those who did without reporting them.
The Philadelphia school system, the nation’s eighth largest school district, has been under tremendous pressure for much of the year. As Derek has covered in this blog, Philadelphia’s schools were hard-hit by the state’s decision to change its education-funding formula from one based on the local costs of educating the district’s children to one based primarily on enrollment. Twenty-three schools were closed. Coupled with an overall $1 billion cut in the state education budget, Philadelphia schools came up well short of the money needed to operate and had to borrow $50 million to open its remaining schools in September. Principals were reduced to asking parents to pay hundreds of dollars per child to attend public schools. The budget crisis led to a $350 million deficit this school year, which created shortages of school nurses, counselors, security officers, and reduced special education services throughout the district.
Like their counterparts in the Atlanta cheating indictments last year, Philadelphia’s educators are under pressure to show gains in proficiency on high-stakes standardized tests. When those gains do not happen within a year or two, the incentive to cheat is strong. Cheating can mean saving jobs, avoiding being branded as a “failing” school, and winning bonuses and federal incentive funds when the students are deemed to be proficient in reading and math.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Special education advocates are protesting the revival of a controversial bill in the Wisconsin legislature to give students with disabilities vouchers to attend private school. Four Wisconsin legislators announced a bill Tuesday that would give up to $14,000 per student for children with disabilities to attend private school. The legislators said that the vouchers would allow special needs students to leave failing schools and instead attend schools of their choice. Parents and advocates for special needs children have formed a grassroots effort called Stop Special Needs Vouchers (SSNV). SSNV says that the vouchers "would funnel critical taxpayer funding out of public schools and into private voucher schools which lack vital accountability." The group argues that the bill would exempt private voucher schools from complying with the standards in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and may leave children with disabilities without a school if the school cannot meet students' needs or suddenly closes, as Milwaukee’s LifeSkills Academy recently did. The group says that the LifeSkills Academy example is particularly important because as a private voucher school, it received $2 million in taxpayer funds then closed abruptly after only one of its students showed proficiency in reading on standardized tests in two years. The school's unannounced closure left its students scrambling to find new schools in the middle of the academic year. (LifeSkills' owners have moved on to open a special needs voucher school in Florida, where legislation for private school scholarships for special education students was passed in 2001.)
Wisconsin's previous attempt to provide private school vouchers to special needs children came under sharp scrutiny prompting a lawsuit and an advisory letter from the DOJ to Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction in 2013 warning that "[t]he state cannot, by delegating the education function to private voucher schools, place students beyond the reach of the federal laws that require Wisconsin to eliminate disability discrimination in its administration of public programs." The measure was shelved then because of strong opposition. A paper by the National Council on Disability, School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities, supports SSVN's concerns. Two findings from the paper note the difficulty of using vouchers in private schools if the vouchers do not cover the cost of needed supports in students' Individualized Education Programs:" Because vouchers can only cover a portion of costs of special education over and above the cost of private school tuition in many cases, particularly for students with moderate, low-incidence and severe disabilities, such programs may benefit only the affluent who can afford to supplement vouchers to cover actual costs. Since school districts will lose students and a proportion of state funds due to transfers to private schools, it is possible that public schools will be left to serve only poor students with more significant disabilities, and at a reduced level of financial support. ...  The principle of school choice, and voucher programs in particular, have not been adequately shown to be internally consistent and mutually reinforcing with regard to the other three principles of IDEA reauthorization (accountability for results, increasing local flexibility, and a focus on what works) outlined by the U.S. Department of Education." Read more about the Wisconsin bill here.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Gainesville, Georgia School District has approved a measure that would allow their school resource officers to carry rifles. The deal came as part of an agreement with the local police department, which will share half of the cost of the safes in which the rifles are to be kept at school. The discussions began shortly after the Newton shootings, when the police department approached the district about safety measures. At risk of stating the obvious, it is problematic when police departments help set school policy, even when that policy pertains to safety. Police expertise is certainly important on such matters, but should not "steer the bus." This sounds like a militarization of an environment that is supposed to be education. Second, it has never been my understanding that any of these mass school shootings are a result of insufficient firepower at school. Rather the problem is that weapons entered the school in the first instance. I know Jason Nance has written a lot around these issues right in recent months. See here for his most recent article.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
This past summer, North Carolina passed legislation altering the tenure rights of public school teachers. Teachers who have not already accumulated four years of service in a district are deprived of any opportunity for career services and only qualify for year-to-year teaching contracts. Teachers who previously qualified for or earned tenure will lose their protections beginning in 2018.
Yesterday, the North Carolina Association of Educators and six tenured teachers filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation. They put forward two theories. First, they assert that taking away tenure violates the state constitutional protection against deprivations of life, liberty, and property. They argue tenure is a vested property right. To take it away, the state would have to compensate teachers, which it has not here. Second, they assert the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against impairing contracts. The tenure relationship between teachers and districts creates contractual rights on the part of teachers and now the state has stepped in and impaired those rights.
The full complaint is available here.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The city of Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, attracts families because of its highly rated school system. That attraction may be lessened next year because the school board voted to eliminate school bus service for most students in 2014. The Hoover City Board of Education’s school budget will have a $17 million deficit next year ended bus service to save money. This week, parents, activists, and the NAACP held a press conference in downtown Birmingham to protest the decision. First, they said, there is little evidence that cutting bus service will realize substantial savings. Yesterday, we posted an infographic by Trisha Powell Crain of alabamaschoolconnection.org that questions the district’s estimated savings of $2.5 million (Crain’s numbers shows that the savings will likely be under a million dollars). Protestors say that costs have little to do with the decision—that the real motive for stopping school bus service is to ease out students who perform poorly on standardized tests. A Hoover mother of three said in al.com that"[w]e all know the elephant in the room is there's a demographic of black children and Hispanic children that they don't want here. [Diversity was] OK when you were importing all the black kids to come and play football. You just didn't count on their cousins coming with them.” School officials deny that the move is an effort to get rid of black, Hispanic, or low-income children in Hoover. Critics of the decision also point out that families will avoid buying homes in Hoover without any bus service for their children, which will affect property values. Hoover mayor Gary Ivey has rebuffed that criticism, saying property values in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s wealthiest suburbs, have not declined even though they have no school bus transportation. Meanwhile, another city leader, Hoover Councilman Gene Smith, has paid nearly $30,000 of his own money for a study of the impact of the school bus cuts on Hoover's property values and socioeconomics. Smith says that he will reveal the results of the study on November 18. Spokespersons for the Department of Justice and the Alabama Board of Education say that they are monitoring the Hoover situation. In this age of accountability testing, declining test scores has implications for school funding, teachers’ jobs, and property values. Three Hoover schools are discovering those stakes when they landed on Alabama’s “failing schools” list last year for not making adequate yearly progress.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
An Alabama town’s decision to eliminate bus service next year is supposed to save money, but may be instead highlighting the perverse incentives of accountability testing reform. The Hoover, Alabama school system, which is in a suburb of Birmingham, controversially decided to end bus transportation for all except children with special needs starting in the 2014-15 school year, saying that it would save $2.5 million of the district’s $160 million budget. The Hoover district denies that getting rid of the buses that serve half of its students has anything to do with test scores, property values, or the increasing ethnic diversity in the area. But eliminating school buses, as Trisha Powell Crain says at alabamaschoolconnection.org this week, will not bring substantial cost savings, or at least not any that will show up in classrooms. She made the attached graphic about school finances. The likely place where the money would go is for the $2.8 million increase on the district’s debt payment. This cost savings disconnect was brought home when Hoover announced its plans to pay for students to have iPads and Nooks in the 2013-14 school year. Locals have two theories about stopping the school buses: the first is that the district ended bus service to discourage recent immigrant families from remaining in Hoover, since their children will not have a way to school. The second theory is that the district is discouraging academically and economically disadvantaged students from moving into Hoover because those students may lower the district’s standardized test scores. I vote for mixed motive. Alabama is famously uncomfortable with immigration, so the increased diversity may be a factor in the changes. Other affluent districts around Hoover do not offer school bus transportation. Lower-income and immigrant families settle in Hoover because of the district’s good school ratings and bus transportation, as school board member Paulette Pearson pointed out this spring, saying that the bus system makes Hoover “as a bit of a haven, so [families] come straight to us. … We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that.” But I also suspect that Hoover is trying to ease out lower-income and immigrant students to keep standardized test scores high. Because accountability testing has been made the divining rod of a good education, school districts feel that they cannot have a critical mass of students who do not perform well on standardized tests. In other words, the district is shedding students who most need a solid education.
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 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.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Two years after passing a sweeping anti-immigrant bill, Alabama is relenting. The bill had wide-ranging impacts on immigrant communities (and those interacting with them) that touched on almost every aspect of their lives. Some may recall that the bill included a measure that required schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students. The day after the bill went into effect, news reports indicated that scores of Latino students, in particular, went missing from school. This included students who were, in fact, citizens or were legally in the country. I never caught news of these students returning. Alabama apparently achieved its presumed purpose: to encourage these families to leave the state. I imagine that few of those uprooted families have intentions of returning to Alabama, but the settlement agreement negotiated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights group with the state protects them if they do. The state has agreed to permanently abandon this and other aspects of the bill. See here for more details.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
After Paying $2.2 Million, Normandy School District Votes to Stop Paying Tuition and Transportation Costs to Transfer Districts
To avoid running out of money by March, the Normandy School District voted Thursday to stop paying tuition and transportation costs for the hundreds of students who chose to attend a transfer district this year. The district in St. Louis County also voted to layoff 100 employees (including 71 teachers) starting next month and to close an elementary school in December. The district estimates that layoffs and school closure will save more than $3 million. The unaccredited Normandy district is struggling to come up with the money to pay for students who transferred out of the district this school year. It has already paid receiving districts $2.2 million in tuition and transportation this school year for students who transferred out of Normandy under Missouri’s new school transfer law. The district estimates the cost of tuition and transportation for students who transferred will be $13 to $15 million. Riverview Gardens, the other unaccredited district, says that it has enough reserves to get through the school year. Read the story here.
A Las Vegas elementary school joins those in Atlanta and D.C. in facing an investigation into “statistically improbable test scores,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Last week, the Nevada attorney general’s office subpoenaed the principal and six staff members of Matt Kelly Elementary School, where students’ reading test scores tripled in the last two school years. Kelly Elementary School’s test results have historically hovered between 51 and 24 percent in reading and math proficiency across all grades. That pattern was evident in the 2010-11 school year, when fewer than 25 percent of Kelly Elementary School’s fifth-graders read at grade level. A year later, however, the school’s fifth-grade reading scores soared to to 77 percent, more than tripling the previous year’s scores. In the 2012-13 school year, Kelly’s fifth-grade reading scores held steady at 72 percent proficiency. Clark County School District officials said that the district requested in August 2012 that the Nevada Board of Education review Kelly Elementary’s scores. Kelly Elementary is considered one of seven high-need schools in the school district; all seven have high black populations and poverty. Each of those schools receives $400,000 more a year than other district schools.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Last week, I posted on the uniqueness of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's suit against the state board of education for engaging in secret meetings. I was most interested in how the courts would react here as compared to suits filed by students. Before the courts do anything, however, the case is already taking a surprising twist. Four of the state board's members penned an open letter asking her to drop the suit. The full text of the letter is after the jump.