Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Special Education Teacher Jobs Filled with Teach for America Recruits

Schools can expect to spend twice as much on providing special education than on general education, and there is growing evidence that districts have begun dealing with those costs by drafting farm team players—Teach for America recruits—to be special education teachers. The Network for Public Education reports that in many districts, “including NYC, raw TFA recruits are assigned to special education classrooms almost exclusively –because this is the biggest shortage area.” Eighty percent of TFA’s NYC recruits in 2010-11 were working as special education teachers.  In Philadelphia, 46 of 213 corps members taught special education students in 2010. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), special education teachers must be “highly qualified,” which means having a bachelor’s degree and obtaining state certification or being licensed as a special education teacher. Given the number of schoolteachers out of work after education budget cuts in New York and Philadelphia (and all over the country), is TFA these school districts' best option for dealing with a shortage (assuming, for the sake of argument, that two major metropolitan centers could not train or recruit certified special ed teachers) or simply the cheapest? More importantly, are these districts acting legally without proof that special education teachers are otherwise unavailable?


July 31, 2013 in Special Education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Rand Paul on Choice for Inner City Kids

While Eric Cantor may have backed away from unadulterated school choice, Rand Paul is ramping up his calls.  Tuesday he hosted four fellow Republican senators — Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Lee (Utah), Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) — at a school choice forum to highlight his proposal to expand school choice in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.  This was part of a string of other similar forums he has held recently.

“I’m talking about opening up all of the lines, so that kids can go to public, to private, wherever,” said Paul. “Some of these schools are absolutely pitiful, absolutely. What I’m really proposing is helping these kids get out from the grind. . . .  The people being hurt aren’t the rich white kids in the suburbs. It’s poor black and brown kids in the inner city.”

When asked about findings that voucher programs have not resulted in gains for poor kids but have cost the government enormous sums of money, Paul objected that this was the wrong question, arguing “It’s our money. We’re getting back some of the money taken from us. I think when you have choice, people choose the better product. I think it’s presumptuous of anyone to question parental authority.”  He similarly rejected less than exemplary findings by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes about charter schools as "lies and lies. . . People can manipulate statistics all they want. Have you seen the movie ‘Waiting for Superman’?” 

As noted in my earlier post on Cantor, the Republican Party seems to have backed away from Paul's position.  Presumably, enough Republicans believe in statistics and question the ramifications of giving the education budget to individuals with no strings attached that the party is unwilling to support Paul.  The interesting aspect of Paul's continued focus on this issue, however, is that his purpose may be to court minority voters rather than to change NCLB. Recall his recent visit to Howard University.  Somehow, I doubt that minorities would vote for Paul simply because he supports choice.  Also, when one digs a little deeper, it is not clear that he supports minorities communities.  Rather, he supports privatization and libertarian principles, which minorities can see through if they are not being seriously respected.  After all, implicit in Paul's current statements is the notion that he has no interest in improving minority schools or segregation.  He just wants choice.  

While libertarian interests can intersect with minority community interests, James Foreman's article, The Rise and Fall of School Vouchers: A Story of Religion, Race, and Politicals, 54 UCLA L. Rev. 547 (2007), analyzed how a coalition of this sort fell appart in the late 1990s and early 2000s.



July 31, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Call for Papers: Deadline Extended

The Section on Education Law of the Association of American Law Schools issues this call for papers in connection with its program at the AALS annual meeting Jan. 2-5, 2014 in New York City. The program topic is “Law and the Education of Students with Disabilities,” and will be co-sponsored by the Section on Disability Law.

Law and the Education of Students with Disabilities

For generations, public schools excluded students with disabilities or shunted them into separate and inadequate programs. In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, parents of students with disabilities began demanding full and equal educational opportunity for their children. Landmark court cases and legislation followed. In what is now a mature legal regime dominated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other statutory provisions, new challenges have emerged: insuring high achievement, preventing racially segregated placements, dealing with charter schools and other choice initiatives, optimizing inclusive education, and calibrating remedies for denials of appropriate education. A panel of distinguished experts in education and law, including Thomas Hehir of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Robert Garda of the Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, and Terry Jean Seligmann of the Drexel University School of Law, will address pressing legal issues in the schooling of students with disabilities. One additional speaker will be selected from a call for papers.

The Section on Education Law is now soliciting papers analyzing current legal problems regarding education of students with disabilities. The author of the paper that is selected will be invited to join the panel at the Education Law program in January and will also be offered publication of the paper in the DePaul Journal for Social Justice.

Deadline Date for Submission: September 1, 2013.

Proposal Requirements: Individuals wishing to be considered should submit an abstract of 200-350 words and a draft paper evidencing substantial work towards a final product. Preference will be given to scholarly contributions that offer a novel insight on issues that relate to the program topic. The expectation is that the paper will be completed by January 1, 2014. Submit by email to Prof. Mark C. Weber, DePaul Univ. College of Law,

Eligibility: Only full-time faculty members of AALS member schools are eligible to submit papers. Faculty at fee-paid schools, foreign, visiting, and adjunct faculty members, and graduate students and fellows are not eligible to submit.

Selection: The paper will be selected by a committee consisting of members of the AALS Section on Education Law. The author of the accepted paper will be offered publication in the DePaul Journal for Social Justice, but the author may publish the paper elsewhere if he or she chooses. All law school panelists will be responsible for paying their annual meeting registration fee and expenses.

July 30, 2013 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trial Starts in Rare School Desegregation Case

We are now just past half-way through a two week trial over school segregation in Pitt County, North Carolina. The case was brought five years ago by a group of African American parents to stop a student reassignment plan that they asserted increased racial segregation in in the district's schools.  Plaintiffs' claims hinge on the fact that the school district was never declared unitary and is still under court order to desegregate. The plantiffs are represented by the UNC Center for Civil Rights.  The school district counters that it is and has been unitary and, thus, is not prohibited from implementing assignment plans that increase racial imbalance (as long as they are not intentionally discriminatory).

A few hundred districts in the country are still under some sort of court order, but few are actively litigated and even fewer produce plaintiff victories.  The rarity in the case arises from plaintiffs' recent victories.   In 2009, the district court declined the opportunity to declare the schools unitary, but in an interesting turn did not demand any specific rase conscious remedial action by the district.  Instead, it allowed that it would be sufficient if the district implemented race neutral measures.  My reading was that the court was concerned that an appellate court would reverse its finding that the schools were unitary (or that the district court would soon find the schools unitary itself), in which case the best chance of the pre-unitary status student assignment plan complying with the post-unitary status requirements of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle would be if the plan was race neutral to begin with.

The school district apparently took this as licence to do whatever it wanted and ignore the racial impact of its new student assignment plan.  And when the plaintiffs' objected, the district court did nothing to stop the district, reasoning that the plaintiffs were seeking a preliminary injunction and the burden rested on plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs appealed and the Fourth Circuit in Everett v. Pitt County Bd. of Educ., 678 F.3d 281 (4th Cir. 2012), gave them a rare school desegregation win, holding that, until a school district is declared unitary, the burden rests on the school district to demonstrate that it is carrying out its affirmative duty to desegregate and that racial imbalances are not a vestige of segregation.  This, of course, has been the law for decades, but it is not often that we see courts hold schools to this standard.

For more on the case, see here.



July 30, 2013 in Cases, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2013

State Briefs

Alabama Accountability Act May Have Little Beneficial Impact for Students in "Failing" Schools

Having branded 70 of its public schools as failing, Alabama is finding that there are even fewer  opportunities for students in those schools to transfer to a better school. We already noted on this blog that students in 25 of the 70 schools on the state's failing school list may not be able to transfer because of federal desegregation orders. With the school year around the corner, only 7 of Alabama's private schools have agreed to take students from failing schools. Thus, most students in failing schools have nowhere to go. No private schools in Alabama's largest two cities, Birmingham and Mobile, have yet said that they will accept transfers. The Accountability Act was sold as helping students in troubled school districts. It seems that for now, the Act will mostly benefit families who can already afford private school tuition.

Former Indiana School Chief Raised Grade for Charter School Founded by Influential Donor

The Associated Press reports former Indiana education superintendent Dr. Tony Bennett ordered the rating for a charter school run by an influential donor to be raised from a "C" to an "A." Last September, Christel House Academy was going to receive a "C" for alegbra under Bennett's grading system. Indiana's Christel House Academy was founded by Christel DeHaan, who has given nearly $3 million to political candidates. Christel House was going to receive the "C" for alegbra under under the state's A-F grading system, which Bennett instituted. According to emails obtained by AP, Bennett wrote his then-chief of staff saying that “anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work." Bennett, who is now Florida's education commissioner, told AP, “This wasn’t just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid.” Read more here. According to Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig (UT Austin) blogging at Cloaking Inequity, education accountability formulas at the Houston Independent School District were regularly changed in the '90s to have politically desirable outcomes.

North Carolina eliminates college IDs as acceptable form of identification for voters; ends preregistration for teens

North Carolina's General Assembly has been in the news this summer for a number of things, including cutting the state education budget, as Derek posted last week, placing abortion measures into a motorcycle safety law and repealing the Racial Justice Act. Last Thursday, in the legislative session's final hours, the General Assembly passed a voting law to exclude college ID cards as a form of acceptable photo identification to vote. The law also shortens early voting by a week, prohibits counties from extending voting hours for extraordinary circumstances, and eliminates straight-ticket voting, same-day voter registration, and pre-registration initiatives for high school students turning 18 by Election Day. The president of the North Carolina chapter of the NACCP, the Rev. William J. Barber II, says the voting law is "the most comprehensive attack on the right to vote that this state has enacted since the institution of Jim Crow laws." North Carolina was one of nine states that had to submit voting changes to the Justice Department for pre-approval under the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). That requirement is now gone after the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder in June holding Section 4 of the VRA (containing the formula for identifying jurisdictions subject to preclearance) unconstitutional. Despite a frank admission by NC Governor Pat McCrory that he has not had time to read the bill, there is little doubt that he will sign it. There are several ways to look at North Carolina's new voting laws. One view is that the law is justified is to prevent voter fraud, as NC lieutenant governor Dan Forest told the Charlotte Observer in April. Another view is that North Carolina's legislative session, newly-freed from DOJ oversight, is the beginning of a nationwide effort by Republican-majority legislatures to disenfranchise segments of the voting population, particularly those that were part of President Obama's support in 2012. Others characterize this as a cynical move of one party to rid the state of undesirable (failing to vote for the right party) voters, particularly as the state's demographics are changing. We welcome comments from our North Carolina readers about the need and predicted effects of this law.


July 29, 2013 in News, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Limits of Federal Law in Protecting Students from Sexual Harassment

In Hill v. Madison County School Bd., 2013 WL 3712330 (N.D.Ala.,2013), a female student filed Title IX, Equal Protection, Substantive Due Process, and various state law claims against the school district and its employees for an alleged sexual assault/rape by one of her male classmates.  The facts of the case are extensive.  It suffices to say that the male student had been disciplined in some form or another for around a dozen different incidents.  Most of the incidents were non-sexual in nature and were directed at different students.  A few, however, were sexual in nature and disciplined by in-school suspension and a short term suspension.  

Eventually, his sexual advances and harassment were directed at plaintiff.  The first few times, she did not notify the school, but when he asked her to meet him in the bathroom for sex, she told two teachers.  The teachers then concocted a plan whereby the girl would agree to meet him in the bathroom so that they could catch the boy in the act.  They also informed a principal of this plan, who apparently did nothing to stop or prevent the plan.  The plan, however, went awry because the teachers did not get to the correct bathroom in time  When the arrived, the boy had already pulled down the girl's clothes and attempted to have sex with her against her will.

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July 29, 2013 in Cases, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Teach for America's New Clothes

Photo by Jeremy Wilburn_CCTalk about Teach for America is lively this summer and not all of it is positive. With there being more than enough ugly in the world to go around, reproaching TFA for not measuring up to some external vision of social reform feels akin to criticizing the Peace Corps for not instituting electoral reform in a developing nation. However, since taxpayers are paying more than ever for TFA's services, some additional scrutiny is warranted.

Questions about TFA's impact on public education are more than just disgruntled rumblings from veteran teachers. Some of its graduates have begun criticizing the organization, and in Chicago, TFA is being taken to task by some for being 21st century union busters. While 1,000 Chicago teachers are getting their pink slips this summer, TFA's on-going agreement with the Chicago Public Schools may provide up to 325 TFA corps members, said an executive director of Teach For America on Tuesday. In a statement on the TFA Chicago website, executive director Josh Anderson wrote, "While it’s true that many of our corps members teach in communities facing a severe shortage of applicants, the demand for corps members from principals and district leaders for their open positions is much broader. ... If principals choose to hire corps members for open roles, the district pays a small portion of what it costs Teach For America to recruit, train and professionally develop those hires."

Similar scenarios have occurred in other cities, such as Las Vegas and Dallas. Nevada's Clark County school district, where 419 teachers (and a total of 1,000 school employees) were laid off this summer, announced last Friday that it will hire 50 TFA publicly-funded teachers and that TFA is covering the cost for 40 more recruits for the district this school year. While New York City threatened to layoff thousands of veteran teacher in 2011 (that were narrowly averted through union concessions), 500 new teachers were being recruited from both TFA and the New York City Teaching Fellows to work in shortage areas. Then there is the odd Dallas Independent School District's cycle of sweeping teacher layoffs in one year (more than 250 in 2012) and urgent hiring the next (Dallas is holding "invitation only" job fairs this summer to hire up to 2,000 new teachers before the 2013-14 school year). But one talent pool that Dallas ISD can rely on to fill its cyclical gaps is TFA recruits, and those recruits will be protected from layoffs in a way that veteran teachers are not.

TFA is also shifting from its original mission to place teachers in public school districts where teachers were desperately needed to now placing about a third of its new teachers in already high-performing, well-financed charter schools. To be fair, in some cases, such as with the school district crisis in Philadelphia this summer (discussed by Danielle Holley-Walker on this blog here), some TFA recruits were among the school layoffs, and the organization had to scramble to reassign them wherever they could. But that is not often the case, and it is certainly not true for TFA's  partnerships with Newark and Baltimore City Schools.

This fall, TFA will cement its new focus in a partnership with Newark, NJ, and Goldman Sachs as TFA teachers prepare to move into Newark's Teachers' Village. The first tenant, the Discovery Charter School, has already moved in. Teachers' Village will have more than 200 apartments and 70,000 square feet of retail space, along with three charter schools, a private preschool, and a day care center. The eight-building, $150 million project is being built largely through public financing, in part by a $39.5 million Urban Transit Hub tax credit, $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion, and smaller amounts from city contributions, bonds, and casino revenue. The incentive for private investors such as Goldman Sachs is about $100 million in tax credits. Newark's Teachers' Village joins other affordable housing developments for TFA teachers such as Oxford Mills in Philadelphia and Miller's Court in Baltimore and planned new developments in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis. Essential to these housing developments is the federal New Markets program that allows individual and corporate taxpayers a tax credit for making equity investments in eligible projects.

TFA has grown mightily from humble beginnings 22 years ago to becoming a key player in the free-market reform model of education. As badly as kids in underserved areas need TFA, TFA's new partners need them even more. States have dismissed thousands of teachers, and education reformers have to come up with a cheap, readily-available supply of the most expensive cost of doing business: labor. TFA meets that need by supplying fresh-out-of-school workers who are not looking for longevity, security, or benefits from the school system. (Well, at least not directly.) The movement that is fueling teacher layoffs seem to have little backup plan other than TFA and sources of labor like it. With TFA's newfound (and perhaps well-earned) power among nonprofit education providers, it is certainly doing well. Here's hoping that TFA also remembers its mission to do good.


July 26, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unitary Status in Sumter, SC

Forty years after school desegregation began in Sumter County, SC, it has come to an end.  Last week, a district court in Randall v. Sumter School Dist. No. 2, 2013 WL 3786344 (D.S.C. 2013), declared the school district unitary.  The court found that 16 of the district's 26 schools fell within plus or minus 20% of the districts overall racial demographics (61.45% African American, 31.99% white, and 6.56% other).  Of the 10 schools more than 20 percent outside of this variance, seven were what the court called racially integrated, meaning that htey were just over half white and about 40 percent or so African American.  The three remaining imbalanced schools, however, were almost entirely minority, with less than  10 percent white students.  The court found that these significantly imbalanced schools were a result of demographic shifts rather than the vestiges of discrimination.

This is a hard case on which to form a strong opinion without knowing a lot more about the facts on the ground.  With that said, I can't help but offer a few observations.  First, the level of racial balance in most of the district's schools is to be commended.  I have seen a lot worse backsliding in districts that were under heavy court supervision.  Sumter has not been under heavy supervision as of late and, thus, this balance is a testament to the school board and the community.  Yet to be clear, twenty percent is a wider variance than many districts courts have required, and it does not necessarily represent significant racial balance.  For instance, in a 50% African Amerian-50% White school district, half of the schools could be 70% African American and 30% White, while the other half of the schools were 70% white and 30% African American.  I would find it hard to call that a racially balanced distirct.

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July 26, 2013 in Cases, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Texas-Sized Lesson in For-Profit Education Services Oversight

MP900402266Texas is a leader in the high stakes testing movement. Three years ago, the state awarded testing firm Pearson a five-year contract worth nearly a half-billion to produce, administer, and score student tests. Pearson's $468 million contract with Texas is more than ten times what New York state pays Pearson for standarized testing (albeit for fewer services than Texas contracted for).  Austin's KUT News writes, "With 1,800 staff members in offices in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, the state is essentially contracting Pearson to act as a for-profit arm of the state’s educational infrastructure." But Texas' education budget is under the same pressures as every other state, and the state experienced sticker shock when Pearson's bills started showing up. That cost was compounded when students who did poorly on the tests had to attend summer classes to progress or to graduate--at local districts' expense. Former State Representative Jim Dunnam quoted in the New York Times in April said, "Legislators may not have recognized the influence of testing companies. There is just an inertia to not appreciating the money being made by private industry in public education.” Texas is learning that lesson by moving to pare down the amount of standardized testing. The state auditor also plans to increase state oversight of student testing contracts.

Update-Friday, July 26: The Texas Tribune reports today that a bill has been introduced in the state legislature to allow students who excel on reading and math tests to skip some standardized tests in a following year. To pass the bill, however, Texas may have to ask the Dept. of Education for a No Child Left Behind Waiver, something that the state may be loath to do given its prior commitment (and political allegiance) to NCLB. Read more at the Texas Tribune here.  


July 25, 2013 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Recent scholarship

Elkind & Kauffman on Gay Talk: Protecting Free Speech for Public School Teachers

Stephen J. Elkind (NYU) and Peter Kauffman (NYU) have posted Gay Talk: Protecting Free Speech for Public School Teachers on SSRN. From the abstract:

In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court held that public employees are not entitled to free speech when speaking “pursuant to their official duties.” In most situations, this strips teachers of First Amendment protection when they discuss controversial subjects, such as homosexuality, with their students. To ensure their classrooms are tolerant and accepting environments for homosexual and questioning youth, teachers need free speech protection against adverse employment action their schools might take. The Garcetti Court, acknowledging that “expression related to academic scholarship and classroom instruction implicates” unique constitutional concerns, explicitly left open whether its decision applied in the education context. Due to the harms restricting teachers’ speech about homosexuality can cause students, not to mention community members and the teachers themselves, this paper argues that when the Supreme Court revisits the question it left open in Garcetti, it should create an exception for both university professors and public school teachers. 

Hammer on In the Shadow of Gratz and Grutter: Grieving Diversity at the University of Michigan

Peter J. Hammer (Wayne State) has posted In the Shadow of Gratz and Grutter: Grieving Diversity at the University of Michigan on SSRN. From the abstract:

At the same time the affirmative action cases of Gratz and Grutter were winding their way to the Supreme Court, an internal grievance alleging discrimination and the failure to consider the value of diversity in the tenure process was being considered inside the University of Michigan Law School. This article explores the interconnected histories of Gratz, Grutter and the grievance, examining the internal difficulties and contradictions universities face in living up to their public commitments to fight discrimination and cultivate meaningful forms of diversity. The year following the Supreme Court decision, the University celebrated its accomplishments in 'Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan', co-authored by Patricia Gurin, the University’s lead expert witness on the effects of diversity in higher education and Jeffrey S. Lehman, Dean of the Law School through most of the litigation. In the internal grievance, Jeff Lehman advocated an interpretation of the Law School Grievance Policy that prohibited the grievance of any matter relating to tenure, including the crassest forms of discrimination or the failure of the faculty to consider the virtues of diversity. The Grievance Review Board, chaired by Patricia Gurin, adopted Dean Lehman’s position and categorically barred all grievances. Ironically, the hearing took place the very same day the University filed its response to plaintiff’s petition for writ of certiorari, where the University actively maintained that diversity in higher education constituted a compelling state interest. Meaningful progress on civil rights requires deep institutional change. It is often difficult to get even good people to do the right thing. The interconnected stories of Gratz, Grutter and the grievance – the same institution, with the same actors, at the same time the cases were being litigated – illustrate broader lessons about the challenges often preventing universities from making progressive change.

Waldman on Identity Aggression and Student Speech

Ari Ezra Waldman (New York) has posted All Those Like You: Identity Aggression and Student Speech (Missouri Law Review, forthcoming) on SSRN:

Online and face-to-face harassment in schools requires a coordinated response from the school, parents, students, and government. In this Article, I address a particular subset of online and face-to-face harassment, or identity-based harassment. Identity-based aggressors highlight a quality intrinsic to someone’s personhood and demean it, deprive it of value, and use it as a weapon. This Article argues that identity-based aggression need not be conflated with identity-affirming speech, both as a matter of its social effects and the First Amendment. Only a limiting liberal/libertarian approach to free speech would prevent schools from disciplining identity cyberbullies and face-to-face harassers and simultaneously force schools to silence speech that is necessary to make minorities full and equal players in education and in society as a whole. Implications of this theory are discussed.


July 25, 2013 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Missouri's School Transfer Provision Upheld

This summer has had a string of school choice news, including the Arkansas race based transfer case, the Louisiana voucher case, Title I funding portability proposals, and the expansion of Florida's vouchers.  Missouri has now added itself to the list. Missouri has a statute that permits students who attend school districts that loose their accreditation to transfer to another school district.  Pursuant to the statute, a parent sought to transfer her two children from the St. Louis School District to the neighboring Clayton School District.  The statute also provides that the unaccredited school district shall pay the tuition and transportation for the students to attend the other district. 

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July 25, 2013 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Florida Court Rules that Students May Stand Their Ground on the School Bus

In the wake of George Zimmerman’s recent acquittal for the death of Trayvon Martin and the national debate that has followed about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, comes a case that shows the broad reach of that law. In T.P. v. Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a juvenile delinquency adjudication of battery, finding that the trial court below misconstrued Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law to only apply to homes and vehicles and not to public spaces such as a school bus. The Stand Your Ground law provides immunity from prosecution if the defendant is justified in the use of force under Fla. Stat. 776.013. The battery allegedly occurred while T.P., a middle school student in Broward County, and the complainant, A.F., were riding a school bus. The school bus driver saw A.F. grab T.P.'s jacket and punch him as T.P. was getting off the bus. The two students began fighting. T.P.'s relatives saw the incident, boarded the bus, and tried to stop the fight. Sheriff's deputies were called and arrested T.P. In her testimony, A.F. remembered the incident differently than the bus driver: she said T.P. was the initial aggressor and denied that she had pulled on his jacket.

The appellate court noted that Stand Your Ground law grants broad immunity to persons in any situation in which they are acting lawfully and in a place where they are entitled to be. The Fourth District Court stated, “Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute.” The Fourth District also rejected T.P.’s claims that any sort of battery is covered by the Stand Your Ground law. The Court said that while a person may meet “force with force,” an unwanted touching--which is technically a battery--would not justify force in return. The appellate remanded the case for the trial court to make additional fact findings about the incident.

Although George Zimmerman relied on a standard self-defense argument at his trial the death of 17-year-old Martin, the Stand Your Ground law apparently was on the minds of Zimmerman’s jurors, according to this story in the Miami Herald, and has been at the core of the national conversation about the case.


July 24, 2013 in Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Education and Social Mobility

By now, many of you have probably heard or read about the new study on social mobility, which is said to be the most comprehenisve study of it kind to date in the United States.  The headline of most stories is the role that zipcodes play in social mobility.  In short, where a child grows up will have a significant impact on his or her ability to climb out of poverty or stay in the middle class.  The more important question, however, is why geography matters.  The research examined various factors in the attempt to isolate the differing mobility rates and found that:

Although tax policies may account for some of the variation in outcomes across areas, much variation remained to be explained. . . . [W]e found significant correlations between intergenerational mobility and income inequality, economic and racial residential segregation, measures of K-12 school quality (such as test scores and high school dropout rates), social capital indices, and measures of family structure (such as the . . . fraction of single parents in an area). In particular, areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility. In contrast, a high concentration of income in the top 1% was not highly correlated with mobility patterns. Areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility. The quality of the K-12 school system also appears to be correlated with mobility: areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and higher spending per student in schools had higher rates of upward mobility. Finally, some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. Each of these correlations remained strong even after controlling for measures of tax expenditures. Likewise, local tax policies remain correlated with mobility after controlling for these other factors.

A New York Times story reported that "Lawrence Katz, a labor economist who did not work on the project, said he was struck by the fact that areas with high levels of income mobility were also those that established high school earliest and have long had strong school systems."

MobilityIf I read the study's underlying data correctly, the local high school dropout rate has three times the effect on social mobility as does tax policy, and local achievement test scores have two and a half times the effect on social mobility.  Although not as heavily reported, the level of local segregation also had a significant impact on mobility.  But to be clear, the data showed family structure (divorce rate, single parents, and teen mothers) to have the largest impact on social mobility, though only slightly higher than the drop out rate.

My only quibble with the study is its labels.  According to the study's authors, chivement test scores and drop out rates are proxies for school quality.  As school finance litigation and educational social science have demonstrated, those factors are relevant but school quality cannot be reduced to them.  High achievement test scores are also largely a function of underlying student demographics and segregation.  It is not clear to me how the current study controlled for this.  If it didn't control for it, then achievement test scores alone don't really signify school quality.  If it did control for underlying factors, then the study may have a point.  

I am more inclined to recognize drop out rates as having more singular importance (even though the same issues of underlying demographics are relevant).  After all, if a school cannot keep its students enrolled and graduate them, I believe the school is not doing all that it should.  A better school would do more.  With that said, high school drop out rates speak more directly to the need for drop out prevention programs than general school improvement programs.  So again, I would hesitate to treat drop out rates as a general measure of school quality.

Regardless, the bottom line still seems to be that schools matter.  They are the most important public lever we have for creating opportunity.  And other policies, like taxes, look like red herrings.  They certainly can ease the pain on struggling families, but they are insufficient to fundamentally change children's futures.





July 24, 2013 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Qualified Immunity for Principal who Conducted Suspicionless Strip Search of Student

In Doe v. Champaign Community Unit 4 School Dist., No. 11–CV–3355, 2013 WL 3712350 (Jul. 12, 2013), a student has sued under §§ 1983 and 1981 alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was subjected to a strip search at school without reasonable suspicion. The U.S. district court dismissed the student's claims against the school district and the superintendent, but  allowed the claims against the principal to proceed. The case arose when the principal of Champaign, IL's Academic Academy, an alternative school, smelled what she believed was cannabis in a classroom. D.M., a 15-year-old student, was not at school when the principal smelled the cannabis. When D.M. arrived at school, the principal returned to the classroom and ordered only one student, D.M., to come to her office. D.M. was one of only two African–American students in the classroom.

In her office, the principal searched D.M.'s outer clothing and backpack, then had him remove his shirt, unbutton his pants, remove his belt, remove his shoes, and partially disrobe. The principal's action is reminiscent of the strip search of Savana Redding that the Supreme Court found unreasonable in Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009). Just as in Redding, the principal did not find any contraband on D.M. during the search. The principal did not contact D.M.'s parents prior to conducting the search.

While the Supreme Court has ruled that high school students have a lessened expectation of privacy, school searches still must be reasonable under Fourth Amendment standards. The Court defined reasonable suspicion in Redding as "a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing.” The Court applies a two step analysis to gauge the reasonableness of a school search: first, was the search justified at its inception; and second, was the search conducted in a way that was reasonably related to the search's objective. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). On the facts presented in D.M.'s case, the principal will face a considerable challenge in justifiying her actions or showing that the search's instrusiveness was reasonable under the circumstances.


July 24, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Senate Committee Hears Testimony about Military Tuition Funding Loophole at For-Profit Institutions

Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee took up a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to exclude veteran's benefits and military tuition assistance in calculating the amount of federal student aid those colleges receive. The federal government imposes a 90% cap on the amount of money that for-profit institutions may receive from federal student-aid programs annually. Currently, the GI Bill and other educational benefits for veterans do not count towards that 90%. Closing that loophole has been an on-going effort in Congress for some time, as we noted in an earlier post Are For-Profit Colleges Targeting Military Students?

Last year, 21 state attorneys general wrote to Congress to support closing the loophole, citing their concerns about for-profit colleges' high pressure recruiting tactics and low graduation rates of veterans. The current 90% rule means, a veterans' advocate told the Committee, that "[e]very veteran that a for-profit school recruits is worth nine more students using federal financial aid."  Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education here.


July 23, 2013 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disability Rights Pioneer Dennis Haggerty Dies at 85

HaggertyDennis Haggerty, a special-needs education advocate and a catalyst in the enactment of Pennsylvania's Right to Education law, died last week at 85. Haggerty was a lawyer and a parent of a special needs child in the 1960s. One of his sons was developmentally disabled and, because Pennsylvania state law then barred children who had "not attained a mental age of five years" from enrolling in the first grade, Haggerty briefly enrolled his 8-year-old son at the now-infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

While his son was at the institution, Haggerty discovered Pennhurst's overcrowded and filthy conditions, that students were being abused, and the institution was more of a warehouse than a school. To convince the Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Citizens (PARC, now called Arc of Pennsylvania) to file a class action suit on behalf of Pennhurst's residents, Haggerty impersonated a doctor and clandestinely photographed the conditions. Haggerty later said that he was most affected by talking with a mother who was told that her son had died in a shower accident a year earlier. Haggerty had once seen cuts on his own son and had been given the same shower accident explanation. A skeptical Haggerty convinced authorities to conduct an autopsy of the woman's son. The autopsy revealed that the son actually died in an unreported fire at Pennhurst. Armed with his pictures and stories, Haggerty galvanized PARC to sue the state and to expose the conditions at the school. NBC's 1968 documentary of Pennhurst, Suffer the Little Children, boosted that effort.

The class action lawsuit, PARC v. Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 1257 (E.D. Pa. 1971) ended in a consent decree requiring the state to provide free public education to developmentally disabled children. Using Brown v. Bd. of Education as a template, PARC v. Pennsylvania sparked a deinstitutionalization case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court in Pennhurst State Sch. and Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). The consent decree in PARC v. Pennsylvania left another legacy: the consent decree's language became the model for what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Haggerty later served as a consultant for the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation beginning with President Lyndon B. Johnson to President William Clinton. Haggerty donated his papers to Temple University's Institute on Disabilities' Visionary Voices archives, saying, “When you don’t like a system it is possible to change it, and I would like my papers available to those who have an interest in changing the system.” Read more here.


July 23, 2013 in News, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Education Protests in North Carolina

For the past couple of months, Reverand William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, has helped organize and lead a diverse group of people to protest what they call a legislative war on poor people.  They peacefully march to the state house with sign and songs of protest, until they are eventually arrested.  When the so called war on poor people moved to education, the protesters decided they spend the night at the state house.  When 70 of them (with sleeping bags and toothbrushes) refused to leave at closing time, they were again arrested.

These tensions come out of a shift in political power in the state.  Starting during the fall elections of 2010, North Carolina went through a transition from complete democratic control to complete republican control.  Republicans initially took the state house in 2010 and in 2012 they took the governor's mansion as well.  Since then, agressive legislation aimed at scaling back everything from social services to tax credits that benefit low income individuals have been proposed and sometimes passed. While North Carolina has traditional been moderate in most respects and progressive in education, the new majorities see their mission as rolling back the status quo.

Now that the legislative agenda now includes cuts to public education, the state superintendant of education released this statement:

For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care. With this budget, North Carolina has moved away from its commitment to quality public schools. I am disappointed for the children in our state who will have fewer educators and resources in their schools as a result of the General Assembly’s budget.

A bright spot in this budget is the end of the discretionary reduction. By ending this budgeting strategy, North Carolina is being more transparent and even-handed in our budget processes and providing relief for districts that have struggled to locate funds to return to the state coffers.

While the end of the discretionary reduction represents a move in the right direction, I am troubled by the lack of progress on teacher pay. Having an excellent teacher for every classroom is essential. North Carolina teacher pay is dismal compared to the nation and to all of our bordering states. Starting teachers can earn $10,000 more per year in some of our neighbor states, while a teacher with six years of experience will make the same as a first-year teacher here in North Carolina. Why should these teachers stay in our state? Add to that the end of pay increases for master’s degrees beginning in 2014-15, and there is even less incentive to work in North Carolina’s public school classrooms. We must quit talking about the goal of bringing our teacher pay to the best in the nation and start putting action behind those words.

 There are many other details that are troubling. I am concerned that this budget will cost schools thousands of teacher and teacher assistant positions. Our already-large class sizes will continue to grow.

This budget fails to provide resources for textbooks, instructional supplies and technology that our schools desperately need to remain up-to-date, especially as our student population grows.

North Carolinians want strong public schools. Polls show it. My interactions with parents and students show it. Our own state leaders claim it. But this budget doesn’t deliver it. Teachers are working as hard as they can. Materials and supplies are wearing thin. Classrooms are crowded, and there are fewer adults in each school today than there were five years ago but there are more students than ever across our state. The rest of the nation is not sitting still, and neither are our competitors across the globe. Our children deserve more support. Their futures depend on it.

I admit to not following the details of the legislation closely, but I have followed North Carolina's school finance litigation closely for years.  If things are as bad as the superintendant and protestors make it seem, I wonder how the state can possibly defend its actions once they are eventually raised in court.  The state has an ongoing obligation to deliver a sound basic education to all students, including a duty to remedy past findings that the state was failing to deliver such an education.  Then again, maybe this new legislature is less impressed by courts and constitutions than others.

For more on the protest story, see here.



July 23, 2013 in Equity in education, News, School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

NLJ: How an Obscure Regulatory Process Could Spark an Education Revolution

The National Law Journal reported yesterday about the Federal Communications Commission meeting that may make President Obama's ConnectED initiative -- to connect 99% of America’s classrooms with high-speed internet within 5 years -- closer to reality. On Friday, the FCC will take a step towards revamping the E-Rate program, which the NLJ says may be the real education revolution of the summer. The E-Rate program is the government's largest educational technology program which subsidizes broadband connectivity at schools and libraries across the country. If the FCC succeeds in restructuring the rate this Friday, the move could soon bring digital technology into classrooms across the country. Telecommunication consumers can expect a temporary increase of about 35 cents in their monthly E-rate fee per phone line and perhaps less if the FCC can find savings from the existing program. Like all funding issues, providing internet connectivity to students is more complicated than it sounds. Telecommunications companies' pricing schemes are rarely transparent or uniform across geographical areas and it will not be easy to decide if the per pupil cost of high speed broadband is feasible in smaller school districts. Read more at the National Law Journal here.

July 23, 2013 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 22, 2013

More on Chicago School Closings: Special Education Lawsuits in Addition to Teachers' Lawsuit

This summer has been filled with news of school closings and Chicago has been at the center of it.  Earlier, I posted on the teachers union's lawsuit challenging the Chicago closings andChicago's new turnaround plan.  Professor Davis also posted a report on national trends.  Now, two different groups of special education students have filed suit to challenge the closures in Chicago.  The court held the first hearings in the cases last week.  Cribbing from the Chicago Tribune, they allege:

[T]hat CPS is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to set up an orderly process of closings for special-needs children. The second suit alleges racial discrimination, saying the closings disproportionately affect African-American students, and argues that thousands of special-needs children will be destabilized by the closings.

More than 5,000 special education students are expected to be affected by this year's closings.

These suits are remniscent of the one filed against the District of Columbia Public Schools in May.  The district court there denied their preliminary injunction.  For more on that case, see my earlier post.


July 22, 2013 in Cases, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District

Go PublicThe Post's The Answer Sheet today praised a documentary about public schools called Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District, which has been called "an antidote to the war on public schools." Go Public focuses on the Pasadena (California) Unified School District, where two-thirds of the 18,000 students come from low-income families. The film follows 50 people – teachers, students, parents, a school board member, principals, a baseball coach, librarians, a school psychologist, volunteers, and the district superintendent – during one day (May 8, 2012), from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed.  Go Public is not commercially available yet, but filmmakers Jim and Dawn O'Keeffe have made the each of the 50 films from which they assembled Go Public available on the documentary's website.


July 21, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)