Tuesday, July 14, 2015

No Matter How You Define Quality Teachers, Poor and Minority Students Have Less Access

This blog's title is the bottom line takeaway from Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery, and Roddy Theobald's new study Uneven Playing Field? Assessing the Teacher Quality Gap Between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students.  The abstract explains:

Policymakers aiming to close the well-documented achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students have increasingly turned their attention to issues of teacher quality. A number of studies have demonstrated that teachers are inequitably distributed across student subgroups by input measures, like experience and qualifications, as well as output measures, like value-added estimates of teacher performance, but these tend to focus on either individual measures of teacher quality or particular school districts. In this study, we present a comprehensive, descriptive analysis of the inequitable distribution of both input and output measures of teacher quality across various indicators of student disadvantage across all school districts in Washington State. We demonstrate that in elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms, virtually every measure of teacher quality we examine—experience, licensure exam scores, and value added—is inequitably distributed across every indicator of student disadvantage—free/reduced-price lunch status, underrepresented minority, and low prior academic performance. Finally, we decompose these inequities to the district, school, and classroom levels and find that patterns in teacher sorting at all three levels contribute to the overall teacher quality gaps.

July 14, 2015 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

ESEA Reauthorization: Reconcilling the House and Senate, Limiting Waivers, and Altering Funding

Last week, I closed with a post noting how close we are to the finish line of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but reserved any substantive commentary on the potential legislation.  It is hard to speculate on what a final bill passed by both Houses will look like. But right now, the House and Senate bills are substantially different.  This weekend at a conference, I asked Congressman Bobby Scott what we might expect out of the reconciliation process between the House and Senate. He said that the President has made it clear that no bill is better than a bad bill, which Scott believes will offer Democrats more leverage during the reconciliation process.  

From the President's perspective, no bill may even be better than a decent bill because his Secretary of Education has, in effect, already rewritten the ESEA.  In 2012, he began waiving states' requirements under the existing version of the ESEA and replacing those requirements with a new set of policies.  He did this through a conditional waiver process, which 45 states are currently operating under.  In other words, there is the existing ESEA as written into law and the de facto ESEA as imposed through the administrative process.  Those two things are entirely different in substance.  Any legislative amendment to the written ESEA will also wipe out the de facto administrative ESEA.  Knowing that there is policy upside to leaving the existing ESEA in place for the President means there may be even more leverage than Congressman Scott suggested.

The waiver issue also takes us to the substance of current bills in the House and Senate.  The Senate Bill, in particular, is dead set on limiting the Secretary's waiver authority.  Secretary Duncan was able to impose conditions on waivers because the statutory language on waivers was so sparse in the current statute.  It simply said that states can apply for waivers and the Secretary can grant them so long as the waiver applications set goals that will improve education.  As I demonstrate here in Federalizing Education by Waiver?, the Secretary exceeded his statutory authority in conditioning those waivers and probably violated the constitutional as well.  This point is now the subject of litigation in the federal district court in Louisiana.

The solution in the current Senate bill is to take the opposite approach to waiver power.  Rather than a general waiver power, the current bill has various small waiver powers.  Some sections of the bill do not include a power to waive the relevant provisions.  In other words, the provisions cannot be waived.  Other areas of the bill do have waiver provisions, but they only apply to that section and have their own particular standards.  Also, while there is no general waiver authority, there is a general waiver restriction that prohibits the Secretary from imposing things such as the Common Core and its associated tests.  Whether shrinking the Secretary's power is a good thing is not clear yet.  My analysis in Federalizing Education By Waiver? was not a judgment as the substantive merit of the policies embodied in the Secretary's waiver conditions, but simply an analysis of whether he had such authority and whether granting wide waiver authority is permissible or wise.  

Without attempting to identify the optimum level of waiver power the Secretary should have, the current reaction in the Senate bill is probably an over-reaction.  The Secretary should not have the authority to effectively rewrite the ESEA.  Even if granted to the Secretary, such a power would most likely be an unconstitutional delegation of authority.  But it also a mistake to tie the Secretary's hands at all turns.  The entire point of a waiver power is to deal with unexpected events, including catastrophes and innovations.  The current Senate bill may not allow the next Secretary to sufficiently deal with either.

The most significant potential alteration to ESEA, however, may be the funding formula.  As I demonstrate here, the funding formulas in ESEA are entirely irrational.  The formulas allocate funds to states and districts based on factors that do not reflect student need, local costs, and equitable funding goals.  As many others have remarked, the primary effect--if there is one--of the formulas is to reward rich states for being rich and punish the poor for being poor.  This is not Congress's intent. It is just how things have shaken out.  

The problem is that any changes to the formulas, even if they make perfect sense, will produce winners and losers.  Losers do not care about what makes sense.  Illinois would be one of the losers. Senator Durbin has said he will vote against changes that produces cuts for Illinois, not because those cuts are irrational, but because he is against hurting his school districts.  Such a change is not yet in the current bill.  But Senator Burr from North Carolina is introducing such an amendment and is getting a lot of attention.  The only way around the problem of winners and losers is to increase the federal financial stake in education so that we could rework the formula without reducing any state's raw dollar allocation.  No one is seriously discussing that.


July 14, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Judges' Decision to Incarcerate Juveniles Just Makes Matters Worse, New Study Finds

Two years ago, Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle published a study finding that juvenile incarceration does not have the deterrent effect that the system supposedly intendeds.  The abstract explains: 

Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the US each year with 70,000 in detention on any given day, yet little is known whether such a penalty deters future crime or interrupts social and human capital formation in a way that increases the likelihood of later criminal behavior. This paper uses the incarceration tendency of randomly-assigned judges as an instrumental variable to estimate causal effects of juvenile incarceration on high school completion and adult recidivism. Estimates based on over 35,000 juvenile offenders over a ten-year period from a large urban county in the US suggest that juvenile incarceration results in large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration. These results are in stark contrast to the small effects typically found for adult incarceration, but consistent with larger impacts of policies aimed at adolescents.

They have now published a second even more nuanced study.  

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July 13, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

With Watered Down Analysis, Eleventh Circuit Holds Florida Can Evaluate Teachers Based on Their Students' Scores In Someone Else's Course

Earlier this week, in Cook v. Bennett, 2015 WL 4086148 (11th Cir. 2015), the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida's teacher evaluation system was constitutional.  Florida statute required schools to evaluate teachers based on their students' standardized test scores, relying on what is called a value added method of statistical analysis.  As demonstrated here, any number of problems render this method of analysis problematic.  But putting aside the general problems, plaintiffs point outed that not all subjects are tested every year and, thus, it is impossible to reliably evaluate those teachers with this system.  Districts nonetheless evaluated these teachers on the test scores that students received in other subjects--math and English-- or school wide average scores.  Either way, they were evaluated based on scores in subjects they did not teach.
The Eleventh Circuit held that this was permissible under the due process clause.  Applying rational basis review, the court found that although the state's value added method "was not designed to evaluate" the teachers in question,
the policies are rationally related to the purpose behind the Student Success Act itself, which is to “increas[e] student academic performance by improving the quality of instructional, administrative, and supervisory services in the public schools of the state.” Fla. Stat. § 1012.34(1)(a). The plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden to refute this justification for the law. While the FCAT VAM may not be the best method—or may even be a poor one—for achieving this goal, it is still rational to think that the challenged evaluation procedures would advance the government's stated purpose.

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July 10, 2015 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Plaintiffs Claim New York Has Failed to Implement Funding Reforms That Court Ordered

This release comes from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University:

In 2014, New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights (NYSER) filed a lawsuit on the behalf of New York State's public school students charging that the state is neglecting its constitutional duty to ensure that every student receives a "sound basic education." In NYSER v. State of New York, plaintiffs argue the state has failed to implement the school-funding reforms that it committed to adopt in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) court decisions.

To move the case ahead more quickly, earlier last week, NYSER plaintiffs filed a "motion for summary judgment" that asks State Supreme Court Justice Manuel J. Mendez to bypass a lengthy trial and declare, based on the state's indisputable actions and inactions in recent years, that the state has violated the Court of Appeals' CFE orders and has failed to achieve constitutional compliance. 

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July 9, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Nears Finish Line

Late yesterday, the U.S. House of Representative passed a Bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This reauthorization has been a long, wild, and bumpy ride.  The Act should have been reauthorized seven years ago.  Prior to the financial collapse and changes in Congress, many expected it would.  After those events, the odds just grew longer and longer.  In 2010, the administration made proposals for reauthorization and the Senate and House moved forward on some bills in 2011, but it was clear that an impasse existed and nothing would happen. Reauthorization was simply dead on arrival.  The Secretary of Education used administrative action to deal with the mess that widespread violations of the existing Act was creating.  At that point, no one even mentioned the word reauthorization and insiders thought it might be the next administration before anything happened.

Then early this year, the unthinkable happened: bipartisanship.  Senators Alexander and Murray decided something must be done and went into closed door sessions to develop a plan. The result was a Bill that sailed through committee with a unanimous vote and is now before the full Senate.  That prompted the second unthinkable to happen: the House got serious.  The House revived its old bill, which the President had promised to veto, and made a few changes that moved it a little further away from extreme positions.  It passed by the slimmest of margins: 218-213.  Twenty-seven Republicans voted against it and no Democrats for it.

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July 9, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ProPublica on What Fisher Is Really About

Nikole Hannah-Jones at ProPublica published her take on the cert grant in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin recently in A Colorblind Constitution: What Abigail Fisher's Affirmative Action Case Is Really About, reminding us of a few facts that ought to influence the Supreme Court's next Fisher decision:

1) because UT Austin's policy of admitting the top ten percent of Texas' high school graduates claimed 92% of in-state freshman seats, Fisher faced stiff competition for admission with all other in-state applicants for the remaining eight percent;

2) while some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher were provisionally admitted, only five of those students were black or Latino; 42 were white;

3) Fisher's lawyers concede, as they must, that Fisher's race was likely not a significant factor in UT denying her admission.

Instead, Hannah-Jones writes, what Fisher's lawyers want is a referendum on whether the equal protection clause "also prohibits the use of race to help them overcome the nation's legacy of racism." Read more at ProPublica here.

July 8, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nevada School Districts Face Significant Budget Deficits by Molly Hunter

The final education budget adopted, in June 2015, by the Nevada Legislature for the 2015-2017 biennium does little to improve school funding overall and reduces most districts' general operating budgets for the 2015-2016 school year, an analysis by Educate Nevada Now! (ENN!) shows.

Under the "Nevada Plan," which is the state's 1967 school funding formula still in effect, the general operating budget represents the amount of state and local funding available to each district to support the basic education program for all students. A key component of the general operating budget is the amount of state aid and local revenue allocated by the Legislature to each district, known as the Basic Support Guarantee (BSG). The BSG accounts for 75-80% of districts' operating budgets.

An analysis of the budget adopted by the Legislature in June shows a significant decrease in per pupil BSG in the largest district in the state, the Clark County School District (CCSD), which serves about 322,000 children, over 70% of the state's entire student population. CCSD expects to receive $5,512 per pupil, $15 less than the 2014-2015 school year. In Washoe County, the state's second largest school district, funding remains nearly flat. And, some rural districts are also bracing for less per pupil funding in the coming school year.

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July 8, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

OCR's Dismissal of Asian Americans' Claim of Discrimination Against Harvard Is Much Ado About Nothing

Yesterday, a number of major new outlets, from the Wall Street Journal and the AP to the Bloomberg and US News & World Report, published stories on the fact that the Office for Civil Rights dismissed the complaint that Asian Americans recently filed against Harvard.  The complaint alleged that Harvard systematically discriminates against them in the admissions process.  The substance of the complaint and the prestige of the university against which it was filed are both significant.  See my prior post on the complaint.  That OCR dismissed the complaint, however, is not.  

After filing the complaint, the plaintiffs had also filed a lawsuit in federal court.  The federal court's jurisdiction exceeds and can preempt that of OCR's.  Thus, even if OCR had left the complaint open, the final word would have belonged to the federal court.  That OCR, which has a rapidly growing case load, would choose to avoid devoting resources to this complex case makes perfect sense.  This not a substantive judgement on the merits of the complaint, as some headlines would leave readers to believe, but just good stewardship of federal dollars.  Moreover, if there are issues the federal court does not address, the plaintiffs will be free to revive their complaint with OCR.

July 8, 2015 in Discrimination, Higher education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Can We Fix Poor Schools Without Fixing Poverty?

An article in the Atlantic, drawing on the research of Pamela Cantor, says we can.  Cantor frames the problem as one of childhood trauma.  She finds that poverty has effects on brain and other development that mirrors that of other types of childhood trauma.  

[Poor children] had all experienced loss, violence, neglect, or other adversity. And no matter what traumatic events they had experienced, the results were similar: they showed up distrustful, easily triggered and distractible. I couldn’t make the adversity they faced go away. But I could and did change how they surmounted that adversity.

What I saw in Washington Heights students were the same manifestations of trauma I had seen in my patients. I saw how adversity gets under the skin, into the brains and bodies of children through the mechanisms of stress. And I saw that when lots of kids experience high levels of stress together, it produces a very specific collection of challenges to a school, to a classroom, and to the students themselves.

The solution she says is to develop interventions aimed at the trauma of poverty, rather than chasing the illusive solution to poverty itself.  In a separate paper, she proposes

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July 6, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2015

California Eliminates Religious Exemptions for School Vaccinations

On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation eliminating personal and religious belief exemptions from  public school vaccinations.  The new law makes California's vaccination law one of the most stringent laws in the country. The new law, taking effect January 1, 2016, mandates all children provide proof of vaccination for communicable diseases in order to attend school in California. The only exemptions are for medical reasons and must be approved by the State Department of Health.

California is only the third state to eliminate religious and personal belief exemptions for vaccinations. The legislation comes in the aftermath of a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in California earlier this year. Supporters of the new law advocate that it will protect those children too young or sick to be vaccinated, while opponents of the law say it unfairly restricts parental choice.

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July 3, 2015 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Teachers' Union Dues Case

The Supreme Court granted certiorari Monday to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the case about compulsory teachers' union dues that some observers say will threaten  union financing. Friedrichs challenges California's “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, Friedrichs argues that state's agency shop laws violate the First Amendment particularly when the union's positions conflict with individual teachers' on-the-job interests or personal beliefs. Friedrichs' certiorari petition presents two issues:

(1) whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements (that require teachers to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues) should be invalidated under the First Amendment; and

(2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.

In Abood, the Supreme Court held that nonunion public sectors employees could not be required to fund political or social activities to which they objected, but employees could be required to fund activities that benefitted all employees related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.” Because Abood controlled the outcome of Friedrich's claims, the Ninth Circuit summarily affirmed the district court's ruling against Friedrich.

July 2, 2015 in Cases, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Colorado Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Colorado in Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District struck down a voucher program in Douglas County, finding that the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program violated separation of church and state doctrine under the state's constitution. The ruling reversed the decision in Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, a 2013 Colorado Court of Appeals decision upholding Douglas County’s voucher program.

The voucher program awarded taxpayer money to students who could use that money to pay for private schools, including some religious schools.  The court found that, in doing so, the voucher program facilitated students attending religious schools and amounted to aid of religious institutions. This violates the state constitutional provision that prohibits government aid to “any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school ... controlled by any church or sectarian denomination.” The Supreme Court of Colorado remanded the case, directing the lower courts to reinstate an order permanently enjoining the program.  

This holding based on state law is, of course, in contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.  There the Court held that voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, did not violate the First Amendment, notwithstanding the fact that the program almost exclusively sent kids to private religious school.  Many state constitutions have provision that are more restrictive of the flow of public money to religious institutions.

July 1, 2015 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)