Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alabama's School Tax Credit Law Overturned on State Constitutional Grounds

A state judge struck down struck down Alabama's tax credits law yesterday on state constitutional grounds. The Alabama Accountability Act gives tax credits for parents who move their children from failing public schools to private schools. Montgomery Judge Gene Reese ruled the  Accountability Act violated the Alabama Constitution because it provided public funds for private education, put more than one subject in a bill, changed from its purpose of flexibility, which had virtually no cost, to potentially costing $40 million in annual tax credits. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says that his office will appeal the ruling. The Alabama Accountability Act has been troubled from its inception and hit more speed bumps in its implementation, as we have covered here and here. The tax credit law's reality as we posted here, is that tax credits are not feasible for students in "failing" schools to use to transfer when many students live in areas where there is no alternative non-failing public school or private school. According to the Alabama Revenue Department, taxpayers donated $25 million in 2013 to pay for scholarships through Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs, for children leaving failing schools under the law. The Alabama Department of Education estimates that 52 students statewide transfered using tax credits to go to private schools. There were 78 schools on the Alabama failing schools list. Read the ruling here.

May 29, 2014 in Cases, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Consumer Law Group Sues to Disclose Amount ED Pays Private Collection Agencies for Student Loan Debt

The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) sued the U.S. Department of Education under the Freedom of Information Act last week, seeking the amounts that the Department pays private student loan debt collection agencies. The NCLC says that private collection companies can get 11-percent commissions if they can get a delinquent loan rehabilitated, but may receive only $150 if they get a borrower into a forgiveness program. From the NCLC's release:

In March 2013, as part of efforts to protect student loan borrowers, attorneys with NCLC’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project requested that the Education Department turn over public information about the incentives it provides to its private debt collector contractors. ... Outsourcing debt collection activities is not cheap. Taxpayers paid about $1 billion in commissions to private student loan debt collectors just in 2011. Department projections show the outsourcing to private debt collectors growing to over $2 billion by 2016.

The suit was filed in federal district court in Boston. Read more here.

May 27, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Office for Civil Rights Goes After Tracking in New Hampshire and Language Access in Pennsylvania

Last month, OCR reached two significant settlement agreements.  The first was with New Hampshire’s Manchester School District, School Administrative Unit #37.  The settlement agreement was in response to tracking and unequal access to college and career preparatory courses for black and Latino students.  The most stark disparities were in the district’s AP courses. "Despite the enrollment of 381 black students and 596 Latino students at the high schools, only 17 seats in AP classes went to black students and only nine seats in AP classes went to Latino students, out of the total of 434 seats in AP courses. At two of the three high schools, there were no Latino students enrolled in the AP courses."  OCR found a number of structural barriers in the district's policies that lead to these disparities.  The district agreed to several steps to address the disparities, the most notable of which were:

  • Identify and implement strategies subject to OCR review and approval to increase student participation in its higher-level learning opportunities, particularly for underrepresented groups such as black, Latino and ELL students.
  • Consider increasing the numbers and types of courses, adding more teachers qualified to teacher higher-level courses and revising selection criteria for enrollment in higher level learning opportunities if these are barriers to increased participation.
  • Specifically assess the impact of assigning students to academic “levels” upon arrival at the high schools on their participation in higher-level learning opportunities, and consider eliminating the system of student assignment to levels or altering the current criteria or method of implementation.
  • Specifically consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
  • Provide increased support for students enrolled in higher level learning opportunities through counseling, peer support groups and tutoring.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.

The other settlement agreement was with the Hazleton, Pa., Area School District.  OCR found that English Language Learner (ELL) students in the district did not have access to equal educational opportunities and that the district was not adequately notifying their parents of information made available to other parents in English.  More than 10 percent of Hazleton's students are ELLs, which would suggest a scale that should have allowed the district to operate a more robust program, but OCR found that the district was inappropriately excusing students from the English language development program, not providing the required instructional time for over 240 elementary school ELL students, not evaluating the effectiveness of its program, and not using an effective system to identify and communication with limited English proficient parents.  The district agreed to take the following steps:

  • Ensuring that students whose primary home language is not English will be promptly assessed for English language proficiency to determine eligibility for placement in an English language development program and that students will not be improperly exempted from assessment;
  • Assessing students who were improperly exempted from language proficiency assessment to determine whether they may be eligible to receive English language development services;
  • Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the English language development program at each school level to determine its effectiveness and making modifications to address areas where the program is not meeting the district’s goals;
  • Developing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that LEP parents are notified, in a language they understand, of school activities that are called to the attention of other parents; and
  • Providing training to appropriate staff on procedures for identifying language-minority parents and on policies and procedures for serving language minority parents.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.

May 27, 2014 in Discrimination, English Language Learners, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 26, 2014

School Diversity and Workforce Preparedness

Eric Cooper, President of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, offered this take on school diversity and workforce preparedness at Huffington Post.  Given its interconnection with my recent essay at Ed Week, he agreed to cross-posting it here:

Students Who Encounter Diversity in School Are More Prepared for the Workforce

In May, we photograph high school students before the prom and marvel at these young adults, dressed in beautiful dresses and tuxes and posing against the green lawn and flowering trees of our yards. But what does the image we see through that lens tell us about education, racial progress and the march of history?

I had that thought this month as I watched my daughter and several of her friends being photographed at our house before the prom.

My wife and I listened to their banter. Like most high school seniors, they were comfortable, relaxed and talking excitedly about the prom and college in the fall. Yet in one very important respect, my daughter and her friends were atypical for high school students in many communities across this country. The young men and women being photographed were an unusually diverse group of black, white, Asian and Hispanic students.

Our daughter is lucky. She attends the Academy for Information, Technology & Engineering (AITE,) a regional magnet school in Stamford, Connecticut, that draws students from wealthy Greenwich to impoverished Bridgeport. The student body is as diverse as one finds on the streets of Broadway in nearby New York City. AITE students proudly identify themselves as black, white, Asian, Hispanic, mixed, gay, transgender, Native American, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, atheist or agnostic.

This embrace of multiplicity carries through virtually every aspect of the school. Walk into the cafeteria and you will find students fluidly socializing across tables, rather than choosing to segregate by race, as happens in so many American high schools. Bullying and teasing are, I am told, non-issues, and when they do infrequently occur, the students for the most part "police" themselves and challenge each other to embrace tolerance.

There is no academic tracking. Within the Common Core-required coursework, students can choose to take advanced-level courses such as pre-calculus, The College Board's Advanced Placement Program, and can select college-level courses with participating institutions of higher education. AITE has a 99.4 percent graduation rate. Our daughter will soon graduate to attend a college of her choice.

As the prom pictures were taken, I couldn't help but look at my daughter and her friends through the lens of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. They represent the successes of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools, and our community is so much richer for the example these children set for us today.

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May 26, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Law School Admission Council Agrees to Pay $7.7 Million to Settle ADA Suit

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) settled a law suit this week to create new scoring practices and to compensate 6,000 students who requested testing accomodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The plaintiffs in Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC, Inc., et al., charged that over the past five years, LSAC "flagged" or annotated LSAT score reports for test takers who received accomodations for disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). LSAC agreed to enter a consent decree to pay $7.73 million in penalties for its practice of flagging LSAT score reports. In a press release, the DOJ stated that "unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process. [Moreover,] LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA."  For example, the LSAC denied testing accomodations three times to a visually-impaired plaintiff who despite evidence that she attended a school for people who are blind and had received testing accommodations since kindergarten, the LSAC denied nearly all her requested accommodations and refused to provide her a large print test book. Read the DOJ Press Release here.

May 23, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Cautionary Tale: How Money Is Spent Matters

Many may recall Mark Zuckerberg's announcement in 2010 that he would donate $100 million to Newark schools.  Four years later, it appears the money has had little if any positive effect on the schools.  Does this show money does not matter?  No.  It shows the obvious point: how money is spent matters.  When discussing Newark's situation with a long time school finance advocate, she remarked, "we have always said that school finance litigation is not about money; it's about creating opportunity."  Therein lies the fatal flaw in how the powers that be have spent the Zuckerberg money.  According to recent reports, very little of it has been spent on creating opportunity.

The Business Insider and The New Yorker tell the story of a naive Mark Zuckerberg turning over the money with almost no strings attached, Cory Booker and Mark Christie gaining the freedom to spend the money outside the normal public laws and procedures because it was a charitable donation rather than public money, and half-baked, ever changing educational strategies.  In the end, the money apparently did very little to transform and improve the instructional staff in Newark schools, which was purportedly the original goal.  According to The New Yorker, Between 2010 and 2012, more than $20 million "went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, [and] teacher evaluation," with many individual consultants being paid more than $1,000 a day.  

How could this happen?  The New Yorker posits that venture capitalists, even in their philanthropic ventures, bet on people as much as ideas.  Zuckerberg bet on Booker's magnetic personality, but neither had the educational expertise to put that magnetism to good work.

For details on how the backstory and how the money was spent, see The New Yorker and Business Insider stories here and here.

May 23, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Study Finds that California's Students are More Racially Segregated Than Ever

Plaintiff Sylvia Mendez (in Mendez v. Westminster)  (image: Army Corps of Engineers)

As we remember Mendez v. Westminster, a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education, the UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles released a report this week finding that California students are more racially segregated than ever. The report lists its key findings as  

 - California has had an extremely dramatic increase in the segregation of Latinos, who on average attended schools that were 54 percent white in 1970, but now attend schools that are 84 percent nonwhite.

- In 1993, black and Latino students were in schools with 52% and 58% poor children, respectively, and no racial/ethnic group attended schools of overwhelming poverty, on average; by 2012, blacks, on average, attended a school that was two-thirds poor children and Latinos a school more than 70% poor.

- Black and Latino students attend schools that on average have more than two-thirds poor students, while whites and Asians typically attend schools with a majority of middle-class students.

- The typical black student in California today attends a school with more than 2.5 times as many Latinos as blacks, thus making them a minority within a school dominated by another disadvantaged group.

- Latino and African-African-American students are isolated in schools with lower graduation rates, less availability of college preparatory courses, the overuse of suspensions and the number of experienced teachers.  By contrast, almost half of Asian American students and about 40% of white students attend schools that rank in the top 20% of Academic Performance Index test scores.

- The most segregated of the state’s twenty largest school districts are Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino Unified and Fontana Unified (near San Bernardino).   School districts that are among the most integrated and diverse are in the Sacramento area and Clovis, in the Fresno area.

 - The authors point to these less segregated school districts in California, and stress their value to policymakers seeking models for other communities.  The report details a half-century of desegregation research showing the major costs of segregation and the variety of benefits of schools that are attended by all races.

Read Segregating California’s Future: Inequality and its Alternative 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education here.

May 22, 2014 in Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nation's First Anti-Bullying Ordinance Defeated

A week and a half ago, it was a forgone conclusion that Carson, California, would pass the nation's first anti-bullying ordinance. In a preliminary vote and hearing on May 6, the city council had voiced strong support.  The ordinance would have made it a misdemeanor for anyone, from kindergartners to adults aged 25, to make another person feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.”  First and second infractions would be sanctioned with fines, and a third offense would be sanctioned with a criminal misdemeanor charge. The ordinance had received strong support from anti-cyberbullying advocates.   The purported rational behind the ordinance was that the fines, in particular, would incentivize parents to police their children's use of social media at home. 

Yesterday, the city council made an about-face, rejecting the ordinance.  The shift appears to be a result of the ACLU, Lambda Legal Center, and anti-bullying advocates pointing out that the ordinance was too vague and overly broad.  As such, it stood to sweep in some behavior that would be protected as free speech and would not amount to bullying.  The city indicates it will explore other alternatives to combating bullying, such as preventative programs.

May 22, 2014 in Bullying and Harassment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

North Carolina's Teacher Tenure Repeal Found Unconstitutional

A state trial court judge has ruled that North Carolina's statutory repeal of teacher tenure and the early buyout of tenure rights of some teachers before the statute goes into effect are both unconstitutional.  The judged issued a permanent injunction, although an appeal by the state is sure to follow.

I previously posted on both of those state policies here and here.  For those new to the events, NC Policy Watch offers a precise summary of the background:

Last summer, lawmakers moved to phase teacher tenure out completely by 2018, on the basis that the law makes it too difficult to get rid of bad teachers. The legislature also mandated local school boards to offer temporary 4-year employment contracts beginning this fall worth $500 annually to the top performing 25 percent of teachers in the state. Teachers who accept the contracts would be required to relinquish their tenure early.

Tenure, or career status, offers a teacher due process rights in the event of a dismissal or demotion. Its repeal, said Hobgood, is an unconstitutional taking of teachers’ property rights.

I have yet to actually lay my eyes on the judge's opinion, but once I secure it, I will update this post or write a new one if the opinion warrants analysis.

May 21, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation

America's Promise Alliance at Tufts University has released a new study on students who do not complete high school, Don't Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School  Before Graduation.  Other than in the title and the introduction, the report does not use the word dropouts.  In its interview of 200 students and survey results from 3,000 more, it found that these students do not think of themselves as dropouts.  The "term does not describe their experience of leaving school. Second, most of the interview participants and survey respondents had returned to school or re-engagement programs to complete their education."

Overall, the study made four major findings:

• Clusters of factors, rather than one event or cause, lead young people away from school. Young people disengage from school because of clusters of factors that affect their lives. There is no single cause driving most students to leave school, nor is there a uniform profile of students who leave school before graduation. Young people who ultimately reengage also do so because of multiple influences.

• Toxic environments. Young people who leave high school are likely to be growing up in harsh environments. That is, they describe surviving violence, being exposed to violence, being affected by adverse health events in their families, or experiencing school climates and policies that are unsafe, unsupportive or disrespectful.

• Yearning for supportive connections. Connectedness to others is both a risk factor and a protective factor for disengaging from school. The nature of relationships with parents, other family members, teachers, counselors, and peers can lead young people toward or away from school.

• Resilience, in need of more support and guidance to thrive. Young people who left school typically bounced back from difficult circumstances. Our data suggest that this resilience is a necessary quality for day-to-day coping, but insufficient by itself for longer-term positive development (what we call reaching up”). In order to thrive, young people require consistent support from people and places that combine caring connections with the capacity to help them navigate around obstacles.

May 21, 2014 in Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NYT on UT Austin's Program to Reduce the College Graduation Gap

NYT graduation gap
Courtesy of the New York Times

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a story about the University of Texas' work to reduce the graduation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Part of that work was based on psychological studies showing that students' success rates improved when they began to persuade themselves that they belonged at the school. UT created targeted academic support and a self-persuasion script for students who were susceptible to feeling that they did not belong. From the article:

Every college freshman — rich or poor, white or minority, first-generation or legacy — experiences academic setbacks and awkward moments when they feel they don’t belong. But white students and wealthy students and students with college-graduate parents tend not to take those moments too seriously or too personally. Sure, they still feel bad when they fail a test or get in a fight with a roommate or are turned down for a date. But in general, they don’t interpret those setbacks as a sign that they don’t belong in college or that they’re not going to succeed there.

It is only students facing the particular fears and anxieties and experiences of exclusion that come with being a minority — whether by race or by class — who are susceptible to this problem. Those students often misinterpret temporary setbacks as a permanent indication that they can’t succeed or don’t belong at U.T. For those students, the intervention can work as a kind of inoculation. And when, six months or two years later, the germs of self-doubt try to infect them, the lingering effect of the intervention allows them to shrug off those doubts exactly the way the advantaged students do.

May 20, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Higher Education: Gateway to the American Dream or Perpetuation of Inequality?

Suzanne Mettler has written a new book, Degress of Inequality: How Higher Education Politics Sabotaged the American Dream.  She argues that our higher education system, rather than creating a opportunity for the disadvantaged or leveling the field somewhat, skews it further.  Her promotion materials summarize the book as follows:

America’s higher education system is failing its students. In the space of a generation, we have gone from being the best-educated society in the world to one surpassed by eleven other nations in college graduation rates. Higher education is evolving into a caste system with separate and unequal tiers that take in students from different socio-economic backgrounds and leave them more unequal than when they first enrolled.

Until the 1970s, the United States had a proud history of promoting higher education for its citizens. The Morrill Act, the G.I. Bill and Pell Grants enabled Americans from across the income spectrum to attend college and the nation led the world in the percentage of young adults with baccalaureate degrees. Yet since 1980, progress has stalled. Young adults from low to middle income families are not much more likely to graduate from college than four decades ago. When less advantaged students do attend, they are largely sequestered into inferior and often profit-driven institutions, from which many emerge without degrees—and shouldering crushing levels of debt.

In Degrees of Inequality, acclaimed political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains why the system has gone so horribly wrong and why the American Dream is increasingly out of reach for so many. In her eye-opening account, she illuminates how political partisanship has overshadowed America’s commitment to equal access to higher education. As politicians capitulate to corporate interests, owners of for-profit colleges benefit, but for far too many students, higher education leaves them with little besides crippling student loan debt. Meanwhile, the nation’s public universities have shifted the burden of rising costs onto students. In an era when a college degree is more linked than ever before to individual—and societal—well-being, these pressures conspire to make it increasingly difficult for students to stay in school long enough to graduate.

By abandoning their commitment to students, politicians are imperiling our highest ideals as a nation. Degrees of Inequality offers an impassioned call to reform a higher education system that has come to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, socioeconomic inequality in America.

For those of us teaching in higher education, the book will likely ring painfully true.  The most obvious problem in law school, for instance, is the almost complete disappearance of need based aid.  Those students least in need of aid more frequently go to law school for free, or near free, and tend to land higher paying jobs upon graduation. For these students, law school is an extremely great deal.  Those students more in need get almost nothing and often secure lower paying jobs.  None of this is to say that students receiving scholarships have not earned them, nor that law school fails to deliver substantial benefits to high need students.  My only point is that students who "need" help rarely get it in law school today.  

Aaron Taylor has provided some great posts on these issues here and here.

For an interview with Mettler, see here.

May 20, 2014 in Higher education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Brown at 60: The “Pay Later” Approach to U.S. Education by Kimberly Jenkins Robinson

In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unlawful the segregation of African American schoolchildren from others in the nation’s schools. The Court boldly proclaimed that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Indeed, given the importance of education, the Court stated that a state opportunity to receive an education “is a right that must be available to all on equal terms.”

In many ways, the Brown decision represented a “pay now” approach to education. The Court recognized that relegating a substantial segment of the population to separate and inferior educational opportunities would prevent African Americans from effectively entering into the civic, economic and cultural life of the nation as equals. The Court was not blind to the hard work that school desegregation would require. Instead, it recognized that this work was necessary to ensure a strong democracy, economy and international reputation. It recognized that it must “pay now or pay later” and it chose to “pay now” to begin closing the educational opportunity gap.

Unfortunately, the Court and other branches of the federal government ultimately abandoned this “pay now” approach to education. In fact, all three branches pushed for effective school desegregation for only a short time. Through a series of Supreme Court decisions and the retreat of the executive branch from school desegregation, the federal government invited a return to racially isolated schools and rejected any federal constitutional protection of a right to equal educational opportunity. In addition, the citizenry of the United States has failed to consistently call on its leaders to end longstanding disparities in educational opportunity.

Sixty years after Brown, the United States has fully embraced a “pay later” approach to education. In the face of robust research that reveals that low-income school districts demand greater resources to effectively educate their children, only 17states provide these communities with greater funding, according to a 2012 report entitled “Is School Funding Fair?” Although racial isolation in schools is too often accompanied by inferior educational opportunities and outcomes as well as concentrated poverty, the nation is permitting, and sometimes inviting, a return to separate and unequal schools, as Gary Orfield’s Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented in numerous reports.

As a result of these decisions, the United States is forging a path toward economic colonization. The U.S. tolerance for an entrenched achievement gap has imposed upon the United States “the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession,” as a 2009 report from McKinsey & Company found in “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.”

Continue reading

May 19, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Civil Rights Coalition Group Alleges that Privatization Trend Creating "School Deserts"

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 9.35.22 AMThe Advancement Project, which represents a coalition of education and civil rights groups, filed three civil rights complaints this week under Title VI alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey,  Chicago, and New Orleans. The complaints challenge the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color. The Advancement Project complaints were filed on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities). In a release about the filings, the Advancement Project stated:

  •  In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed during the last school year alone. These closures targeted African-American communities, with Black students accounting for only 43 percent of all Chicago students but making up 87 percent of the students affected by the closures.
  • With the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
  • Newark’s public schools have been under state control since 1995, with no local control or community accountability for nearly 20 years. As a result, Newark communities are powerless to stop New Jersey’s plan to close neighborhood schools – many of which are generational schools that fathers and grandmothers of current schoolchildren had attended years before.

Journey for Justice also released a companion report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Cribbed from its description: the report looks at "the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them."

The report is available here. See the announcement about the filings here

May 16, 2014 in Equity in education, News, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rhode Island Rejects School Funding Challenge

Molly Hunter, Education Law Center, offered this summary and analysis of the case:
RI Supreme Court is 'Deeply Concerned' but Denies Relief to School Children
On May 3, 2014, the Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed the fair school funding case, Woonsocket v. State. The Court concluded that conditions in the plaintiffs' schools "make a strong case" against the current funding system. Nonetheless, the justices denied plaintiffs the chance to present their evidence in a trial on the merits of the case.
The Court wrote, "We emphasize that we are deeply concerned by the conditions of the schools in Pawtucket and Woonsocket as alleged by plaintiffs, as well as by the alleged predicaments of those municipalities regarding their inabilities to allocate the funding required to meet state mandates. Installing a means of providing adequate educational opportunities to every child in the state is not only an admirable goal; it is 'perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.'" (quoting the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education)
In its written opinion, the Court summarized plaintiffs' allegations, which detail the state's adoption of higher and higher standards while failing to align funding to those standards. Insufficient resources mean students do not have the opportunity to reach the standards, plaintiffs assert. More recently, the state went so far as to cap local taxing authority so that municipalities attempting to make up for state shortfalls were not allowed to do so, plaintiffs add.
The Court also quoted plaintiffs' complaint with regard to the most recent funding formula adopted by the state in 2010, noting that the formula "fails to provide adequate resources to allow children, especially in poor, urban communities, to obtain a quality education [and] a reasonable opportunity to meet the [state's] academic standards." The Court summarized plaintiffs' description of the dire state of school facilities, books, and supplies, and the low test scores that flow from the state's allegedly inadequate funding.
The state defendants filed a motion to dismiss this case, and the Court explained that its decision on the motion depended on interpretation of the Rhode Island Constitution's Education Clause, which states that:
The diffusion of knowledge, as well as of virtue among the people, being essential to the preservation of their rights and liberties, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to promote public schools, and to adopt all means which they may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.
Although earlier precedent held that the Rhode Island General Assembly has exclusive authority over school funding, plaintiffs argued that repeal of a particular clause in the state constitution rendered that precedent irrelevant for the Woonsocket case. Plaintiffs also claimed that changes since the earlier precedent meant the state had replaced local control with state mandates. However, after an analysis of the impact of that repeal and other changes, the Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly's broad discretion in how it complies with the Education Clause was not impaired.
The Court indicates that the political branches could solve the problem of school funding without a court order by improving the states' system. But the justices appear to ignore the General Assembly's history of allocating inadequate funding for schools in low-wealth communities.
Based on that history and the current ruling, it appears that meaningful relief and educational opportunity will come to the students in under-resourced Rhode Island communities only if and when voters amend and strengthen the state constitution's education clause. Only then will future plaintiffs with similar claims finally be granted their day in court. Some education advocates are proposing such an amendment.

May 16, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Distorting Brown v. Board of Education

Anniversaries always run the risk of distortion, as some attempt to recast past events in ways that further their own agenda.  Meagan Hatcher-Mays, of Media Matters, wrote an interesting article yesterday surveying "conservative" media's reporting on the anniversary of Brown.  She wrote:

On May 13The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by former National Review Online contributor Abigail Thernstrom and her husband, Stephan Thernstrom, who misrepresented both the importance and legacy ofBrown by declaring it "an American success story" and its promise "fulfilled," while pushing the myth that the U.S. Constitution is "colorblind." Because apartheid schools are now technically prohibited, the Thernstroms also dismissed statistics that show schools have been rapidly resegregating in recent years, called integration efforts "racist," and ignored the well-documented link between housing segregation and the growing separation of schools based on class and race. Instead, the Thernstroms blame "the differential fertility rates of immigrants and natives" for our separate and unequal schools.

This most recent attack is part of a larger right-wing pattern of denying the continuation of systemic racial discrimination and advocating for the rollback of half a century of civil rights precedent and legislation.

When conservative media discuss Brown at all, it is usually to misrepresent the case's condemnation of a racial caste system designed to maintain white supremacy in order to champion education policies like voucher programs and school choice, or take offensive shots at civil rights leaders. For example, when Louisiana's voucher program was scrutinized for violating several long-standing desegregation orders, outlets likeNational Review Online compared Attorney General Eric Holder to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, famous for blocking the University of Alabama's doors to black students in the wake of theBrown decision.

She goes on to discuss Justice Roberts' simplistic treatment of Brown in his opinion in Parents Involved v. Seattle Schools.  

These mischaracterizations of Brown and its legacy pose serious dangers to our educational system.  First, Brown is misused in the service of educational policies that are in question like charter schools and vouchers.  Putting aside for the moment whether these are or are not good policies, these policies should stand on their own feet without distorting Brown.  Distorting Brown robs us of legitimate debates over these policies.  Second, distorting Brown distorts the problem of segregation, racial isolation, neighborhood schools or however one might phrase it.  No one can deny our schools are and have been sorely unequal.  No one can deny our schools contine to be racially isolated.  Only by distorting Brown can one even begin to disconnect and minimize the importance of these two intertwined, undisputed facts.

May 16, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

OCR Reiterates That Charter Schools Are Subject to the Same Federal Laws As Traditional Public Schools

Yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights released guidance, stressing that charters are subject to the various statutes that OCR enforces.  The fact that OCR needed to reiterate the status of charters vis-a-vis federal education statutea is troubling in itself.  The question of whether federal statutes apply to charters was never in legitimate dispute.  Most federal education statutes apply to schools not because they are public, but because they receive federal funds.  Since charters receive federal funds, they must comply with various anti-discrimination statutes and affirmative education obligations like anyone else, private or public.    Credit goes to OCR, nonetheless, for reiterating these points.

Constitutional analysis has proven slightly more tricky.  As noted last summer, some courts have been willing to exempt charters from certain due process obligations, reasoning, for instance, that dismissal from a charter school does not deprive a student of the right to education because the student can return to his traditional public school.  I argued that those courts' analysis is seriously flawed, but, of course, it is their opinion that counts.

OCR's dear colleague letter and a link to its new guidance follow below.

Dear Colleague:

The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools. 

The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.

Thank you,

The Office for Civil Rights

May 15, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Derek Black in Education Week: Why Integration Matters in Schools

Education Law Prof Blog co-editor Derek Black has written a commentary that is part of in Education Week's Brown at 60: New Diversity, Familiar Disparities series. In his piece, Black discusses why integration still matters for all students at a time when the Supreme Court and society are less inclined to support remedial solutions. In his commentary, Why Integration Matters in Schools, Black points out the benefits of integration for non-minorities:

Too often, the conversation around integration focuses exclusively on the benefits for poor and minority communities. However, integration holds substantial benefits for middle-income and white students as well. First, integrated schools improve critical thinking. In diverse environments, students are faced with new and varied perspectives and forced to think through their own or new positions more carefully, which improves their critical-thinking skills. Second, integrated schools better prepare students to navigate the multicultural world and global economy they will face upon graduation.

On these two metrics, whites are seriously disadvantaged. Data indicate that, to the surprise of many, whites are actually the most racially isolated student group in the nation (see charts, Page 31). Research demonstrates that this isolation ill prepares them for the future. Major corporations make this point even more concretely in briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. They attest that they want graduates who are prepared to work in multicultural environments. Integrated schools produce these students.

In other words, white families who are concerned about long-term competitiveness need integrated schools as much as anyone.

Read more of Derek Black's commentary at Education Week here.

May 14, 2014 in News, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (1)

Conference: Making the American Dream a Reality for Boys and Young Men of Color

JCPES Logo 2012 Medium

Ladders of Opportunity:
Making the American Dream a Reality for Boys and Young Men of Color

Tuesday, June 3, 2014
8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
(Light refreshments served at 8:30 a.m.)

 National Press Club
529 14th Street, NW, Thirteenth Floor
Washington, DC 20045
Please join the American Institutes for Research, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and College Bound for a panel discussion about the Obama Administration’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper.
Welcome and Opening Remarks:
The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums
Former Member of Congress
Andrew Ujifusa, State Policy and Politics Reporter, Education Week
Brian D. Smedley, Vice President and Director
Health Policy Institute, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
Darren Woodruff, Principal Researcher
Education Program, American Institutes for Research
Kenneth Ward, Executive Director
College Bound

President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative currently is bringing together leading foundations and organizations to design and develop “ladders of opportunity” for boys and young men of color.   Panelists will identify problems and suggest clear recommendations for pressing issues affecting today’s young men of color.
Please click on the link to register for this event.

May 14, 2014 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massachusetts Upholds Pledge of Allegiance

Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court held in Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District that the pledge of allegiance does not violate the state constitution.  Plaintiffs' claim was a denial of equal protection rather than religious freedom or establishment of religion.  The court reasoned that (1) "the pledge is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one;" (2) "no student is required to recite the pledge;" and (3) "[w]here the plaintiffs do not claim that a school program or activity violates anyone's First Amendment religious rights (or cognate rights under the Massachusetts Constitution), they cannot rely instead on the equal rights amendment, and claim that the school's even-handed implementation of the program or activity, and the plaintiffs' exposure to it, unlawfully discriminates against them on the basis of religion."

Plaintiffs' had argued that the Pledge "stigmatize[d]" and "marginalized" some students, making them "feel excluded."  Per its third point above, the court emphasized that their was no evidence "that their children have been punished, bullied, criticized, ostracized, or otherwise mistreated by anyone as a result of their decision to decline to recite some (or all) of the pledge."  Rather, plaintiffs' claim was

more esoteric. They contend that the mere recitation of the pledge in the schools is itself a public repudiation of their religious values, and, in essence, a public announcement that they do not belong. It is this alleged repudiation that they say causes them to feel marginalized, sending a message to them and to others that, because they do not share all of the values that are being recited, they are "unpatriotic" "outsiders." We hold that this very limited type of consequence alleged by the plaintiffs -- feeling stigmatized and excluded -- is not cognizable under art. 106.(23)

Three weeks ago, I posted on a similar pending suit under New Jersey law.  This Massachusetts decision would suggest the answer to my earlier question of whether state courts might treat Pledge challenges differently than federal courts is no.


May 14, 2014 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)