Monday, February 29, 2016
Last week, the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education introduced a bill titled the "Humanity of the Unborn Child Act." The bill would require public schools to include anti-abortion messages in their curriculum. Specifically, the bill would direct the State Department of Education to
- develop programs to education public "about the the humanity of a child in utero."
- to educate students in grades 9 through 12 about the "humanity of the child in utero."
- "[d]evelop and make available materials designed to provide accurate, scientifically verifiable information concerning the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at two-week gestational intervals."
- "[d]evelop, update annually and maintain information concerning public and private agencies and services available to assist a woman through pregnancy, upon childbirth and while the child is dependent, which shall include a comprehensive list of the agencies available,including adoption agencies, a description of the services they offer and a description of the manner, including telephone numbers and email addresses, by which they might be contacted."
- distribute materials "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society."
On March 7, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) will release its latest annual results: How a Decade of Debt Changed the Law Student Experience. The report analyzes law student debt trends during the 10-year period, 2006 to 2015. The report also explores the nature and sources of law student stress. An advanced copy of the report is here: Download LSSSE Annual Report 2015
According to Aaron N. Taylor, director of LSSSE and assistant professor of law at Saint Louis University School of Law:
While we are all well aware that law student debt has increased significantly over the past decade, this year’s LSSSE annual results provide a nuanced view of these trends. Both the extent of the increases and the uneven manner in which they have been distributed among students are concerning. The data strongly suggest that while law school is more expensive across-the-board, the bulk of the increased costs is being born by students in the least favorable positions to incur them.
Noteworthy findings from the report include:
Overall Debt Trends:
Over the 10-year timeframe, increasing proportions of LSSSE respondents reported expecting high law school debt. In 2006, 32% of respondents expected to incur more than $100,000 in debt during their law school matriculation. In 2015, that proportion was 44%. (Page 10)
Debt and Institutional Sector:
In 2006, only 11% of LSSSE respondents attending public law schools expected debt of more than $100,000; by 2015, this proportion had almost tripled to 31%. Among private school respondents, the proportion increased from 38% in 2006 to 50% in 2015. (Page 11)
Friday, February 26, 2016
The U.S. Department of Education is taking steps to address widespread racial disparities in special education. The Department is proposing a new regulation to better guide districts in their programs and set clear standards by which the Department can enforce non-discrimination in the context of disability disparities. The proposed regulation would
amend regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governing the Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities program and the Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities program. With the goal of promoting equity in IDEA, the regulations would (1) establish a standard methodology States must use to determine whether significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity is occurring in the State and in its local educational agencies (LEAs); (2) clarify that States must address significant disproportionality in the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, Note: The official version of this document is the document published in the Federal Register. This document has been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but has not yet been scheduled for publication. 2 including suspensions and expulsions, using the same statutory remedies required to address significant disproportionality in the identification and placement of children with disabilities; (3) clarify requirements for the review and revision of policies, practices, and procedures when significant disproportionality is found; and (4) require that LEAs identify and address the factors contributing to significant disproportionality as part of comprehensive coordinated early intervening services (comprehensive CEIS) and allow such services for children from age 3 through grade 12, with and without disabilities.
After a lot of strong words for the Department over the past several years and initial skepticism of Secretary King, he has taken positions and steps over the past month that cannot help but win him a warm spot in the hearts of civil rights advocates and disadvantaged students. Eight years ago, at the very beginning of the Obama Administration, I published an article on racial disparities in education. I argued that if there was a single place in education in which additional federal guidance was needed and on which the Department of Education would find the surest footing for enforcing and specifying disparate impact standards, it would have been in special education. Secretary King is now attempting to do exactly that. This is, of course, on top of his stance to help fund local efforts to reduce racial and socio-economic isolation just two weeks ago.
The full proposed special education regulation and request for comments is here.
My argument for why the Department should take these steps here on pages 419-423.
The Department's Press release is after the jump.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
The Arizona Senate approved a bill Monday that would open the state’s school voucher program to every Arizona child. If Senate Bill 1279 becomes law, all of the state’s 1.1 million students would be eligible for publicly-funded grants to attend private school by 2020. Arizona’s voucher program, called the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), was created in 2011 to help children with disabilities attend schools that offered targeted services. The ESA program has been expanded through the years to include children of active-duty military members, children in foster care, certain kindergartners, children attending public schools that received a D or an F rating from the state, and to Native American students who live on reservations. Editors at the Arizona Republic newspaper write that if the bill becomes law, it would strip more money from the Arizona public education system that has already “endured some of the nation’s deepest cuts to public education.” The editorial is on the proposed expansion of the state’s voucher program is here.
In the on-going struggle to ensure equal opportunity for LGBTQ youth, opponents have fought back. In Fairfax, Virginia--one of the nation's more progressive districts--the school district had adopted policies to protect gay and transgender students from discrimination and harassment. In an interesting twist, the Traditional Values Coalition and an individual student sued the school board, alleging that the board lacked the authority to create those protections. Their reasoning was very thin. Because the state of Virginia had not enacted protections for LGBTQ youth, plaintiffs reasoned that local districts were prohibited from doing so. To that they added the claim that the student plaintiff was “terrified at the thought of having to share intimate spaces with students who have the physical features of a girl, seeing such conduct as an invasion of privacy.”
Last week, the Fairfax County Circuit Court threw out the lawsuit. The Washington Post reports:
“We’re very pleased with the Circuit Court of Fairfax County’s decision today to dismiss the lawsuit brought against the School Board by Ms. Lafferty and the other plaintiffs,” said School Board Chairman Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “The School Board remains committed to ensuring that all of our students and employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect.”
Lafferty, reached by phone Friday, said she planned to appeal the dismissal, but referred further comment on the matter to her lawyer. Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, which is representing the student and Lafferty, said the judge dismissed the suit because he said his clients lacked standing.
Staver said Liberty Counsel plans to appeal the case on Monday.
The suit’s dismissal comes as school districts struggle to figure out how to accommodate transgender students. The Fourth Circuit of Appeals in Richmond, Va. recently heard an appeal from a transgender boy who was barred from using the boy’s restroom at his high school in Gloucester County, Va. The decision in that case could have national implications.
The Fairfax County School Board voted to change its nondiscrimination policy to include gay students and staff in December 2014. Six months later, the board expanded the policy to bar discrimination based on “gender identity” despite vocal opposition from Lafferty and some parents in the district.
The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development recently issued a report evaluating the Race to the Top-enabled state Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD has the power to take over any school scoring in the bottom 5% through Tennessee's accountability system; thus far, it has taken over a number of schools, most of which are in Memphis and most of which are now operated as charter schools with the ASD as authorizer. The report's specific focus is on the way in which the ASD has struggled to build community buy-in for its reform agenda, particularly among those in the neighborhoods most directly impacted. The report points out that the political sustainability of these state takeover districts may be dependent on an ability to engage with and be responsive to local constituents. While that point may be somewhat apparent, the report does a pretty good job of documenting the specific dynamics in Memphis and could be useful as traditional school districts continue to cede power (often involuntarily) to non-local school operators.
Get the full report here.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
New Study Finds That When Parents Are Incarcerated, Their Children's Risk of School Exclusion Increases
As part of the Fragile Families project at Princeton and Columbia, Wade Jacobsen has released a new paper, Punished for their Fathers? School Discipline Among the Children of the Prison Boom. He writes:“Prior research finds school discipline associated with later incarceration and other criminal justice involvement but conceptualizes the relationship as a one-way 'school-to-prison pipeline.' This paper suggests that among families, the reverse relationship also occurs—incarceration has a causal effect on school discipline.”
His three main findings include:
- First, results provide strong evidence that children with a recently incarcerated father are at greater risk of being removed from school.
- Second, only 21% of the increase in school exclusions is explained by “variation in student behavior problems,” and that reduced parent involvement is not a cause at all.
- Third, there does not seem to be a racial gap in the effects of paternal incarceration. Of course, the race gaps in incarceration will create a pretty big disparity on their own.
Get the full paper here. Thanks to Josh Gupta-Kagan for the tip on this new study and highlighting its importance.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
On the heels of news that one-third of Louisiana's voucher students are enrolled at schools that are under sanction by the state education department,Tulane's Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released four new studies yesterday on Louisiana's private school voucher program, formerly the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP).The four studies were co-authored by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas and studied students in grades 3-6. The report compared the reading and math scores of LSP voucher students with their public school counterparts, and reported on the effects of vouchers on students' non-cognitive skills, racial segregation effects, and the competitive effects on students in public schools. The report found that LSP voucher students' math and reading scores were initially lower than their public school counterparts, but that the LSP students' reading scores improved somewhat in the second year of study. The study found that had no effect on students' "non-cognitive" skills, including character-building and civic values. Those findings, however, were based on a small sample. Regarding LSP's impact on racial segregation, researchers found a reduction in traditional public schools’ racial segregation levels" with "no discernible impact on private schools." Finally, the researchers found that public schools either showed no or modest competitive effects in response to competition from the LSP, "particularly in those schools that experienced the strongest competitive threat." The studies can be viewed here.
During the great recession, mayoral or state level takeovers of our nation's major public school became increasingly commonplace. In Washington, D.C., New York City, Little Rock (Ark.), and St. Louis, the mayor's office or state level officials were touted as the solution to local dysfunction and incompetence. A nicer version was that even if these districts' failings were not of their own making, they needed reforms that local school boards would be too slow to enact. Executive action would be swift and decisive. Putting aside the question of net benefits for students--which remains a contested empirical question--the actions were swift. New York City and D.C. were are the front-edge of reforms, such as changes to teacher compensation and evaluation, that would later sweep the nation.
More recently, however, the takeovers have appeared to slow, but a the Illinois governor's office is now talking of a take over of the nation's fourth largest school district--Chicago. The district is in financial district and undergoing an investigation by the Illinois State Board of Education. Governor Bruce Rauner says that he believes the state legislature will soon grant give the authority power to takeover of Chicago schools. He believes the investigation will reveal "financial mismanagement, patronage, too much bureaucracy, misappropriation of funds, not paying into the pensions; just mismanagement, and we’ve got to fix that.” Thus far, however, leaders in the state house and senate have rejected the Governor's proposal to take over the district. Whether the results of the investigation will change their position remains to be seen.
According to radio station KPCC, plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the Pasadena Unified School District, alleging that the district maintains a school called Focal Point Academy at which it concentrates students with serious mental health needs. The complaint claims that the students are separated from other children, receive inferior educational programs, and are subjected to improper discipline including isolation and restraint, arrests, and needless suspension. Disability Rights California, Mental Health Advocacy Services of Los Angeles, the Bazelon Center, and Morrison and Foerster are representing the plaintiffs.
The suit is a reminder that after forty years of special education law guaranteeing that children with disabilities receive aids and services to enable them to be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with children without disabilities, fully separate, segregated facilities still exist. Concentrating children who may have serious behavior problems into one institution looks more like a way to push the children out of sight than to give them tools to make educational and social progress. Giving poorer services to children with greater needs would be a further dysfunctional policy.
Using seclusion and restraint often reinforces negative behavior and has resulted in serious injury and death. Congress has not yet acted on the Keeping All Students Safe bill, H.R. 927, and the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools bill, J.R. 2268, which would help end inappropriate physical interventions in school settings. Ample material on the misuse of isolation and restraint is collected by the U.S. Department of Education (see here) and discussed in sources such as a recent article in the Atlantic.
For additional information on the Pasadena suit, go to Disability Rights California.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Mississippi's chairman of the House Committee on Education, John Moore, has renewed his bill to place limits on teacher's activities while at school. Some call the bill a directive for teachers to "shut up" or to "muzzle teachers." Given the larger context of education budget battles over the past year or two in the state and teachers' role in it, the bill may be aimed at tamping down political activity among teachers while at school. A local reporter offers this summary of the bill:
[The bill levels] $10,000 fines and revok[es] teacher licenses. But without any provision for who can file a complaint, or to whom, it appears the education chairman's bill is reactionary and not well thought out. Snowden's bill, while similar, is not as toxic and is more measured. It only has fines of $100 for the first offense and $250 for each further offense, to be investigated by the secretary of state's office. Complaints can be filed by "any state or federal oversight, enforcement or regulatory governmental entity," which includes those poor, harassed legislators.
In the past year, two different school funding lawsuits have been filed against the state of Tennessee--one out of Memphis and another in Nashville. Last week, the trial court in the Nashville denied the state's motion to dismiss, permitting the lawsuit to move forward. Interestingly, the judge denied plaintiffs' class-certification request. Without an opinion, it is hard to infer what exactly is going on. But the denial highlights several important issues.
Given the relatively small number of districts in the state, class-certification is not necessary as a general matter. From that perspective, the denial is not remarkable. In most school funding lawsuits, cases proceed with interested districts affirmatively agreeing to join a coalition to bring the suit. In Georgia, for instance, a consortium spent a year or two simply organizing school districts to come together to bring a lawsuit. By the time they filed suit, they had garnered a substantial portion of Georgia's districts as coalition members. In Tennessee, however, only five districts--all located in Nashville's metropolitan area--joined together to bring this instant suit in Hamilton County. Yet, there is no reason to believe that the issues they raise are related solely to their region. Thus, the narrow coalition is somewhat aberrational. Perhaps, plaintiffs thought class certification could do the heavily lifting of organization for them. With a "forced" or de facto coalition through certification, actively recruiting others will be crucial.
Friday, February 19, 2016
South Dakota Legislature Passes Bill Prohibiting Transgender Youth from Using Restrooms and Lockerrooms That Match Their Gender; Governor's Stance Unclear
No single civil rights issue in education seems to have garnered more attention over the past year or so than transgender students rights, particularly in regard to restrooms. See here, here, here, here, and here. Earlier, this week South Dakota added itself to the list of controversies and, unfortunately, regressive action. Both houses of the legislature have now passed a bill that, according to Edweek, “would make the Mount Rushmore State the first to approve state-level restrictions on the bathrooms and locker rooms that transgender students use at school, potentially setting its schools up for legal battles with federal officials.” The bill applies to both bathrooms and locker rooms and requires that students use facilities that “match their biological sex, defined as ‘the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person's chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth,’ even if that sex doesn't match the gender they identify with.” The bill is now before the Governor, who indicates he will review the legislative record before making his decision on whether to sign it. Hopefully, he will also consider the Office for Civil Rights' interpretation of the law, which deems such a policy a violation of Title IX.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Claim That State's Voucher Program Inappropriately Supports Religious Schools
Plaintiffs in Oklahoma challenged the state’s voucher program for students with disabilities. Their primary claim seemed to be that the program was unconstitutional because such a large percentage of those students used those vouchers at private religious schools. Of course, the U.S. Supreme court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), previoulsy held that this bare fact alone did not rise to the level of a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court emphasized that student choice, not public policy, drove state funds to religious schools and the state policy itself was facially neutral.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court took a similar approach in upholding the voucher program against challenges based on the Oklahoma Constitution.
In Oklahoma, the Department funds the scholarship by issuing an individual warrant payable to the parent or legal guardian; it is not payable directly to the private school. The parent or legal guardian then endorses the payment warrant to the independently chosen private school providing the contracted educational services. Scholarship funds deposited to a private sectarian school occur only as the result of the private independent choice by the parent or legal guardian. The Department has no influence on which private school the parent chooses, or the subsequent endorsement of the payment warrant. The Department never directs whether the scholarship payment is made to a private sectarian or non-sectarian school.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Charter Schools, Raising Other Concerns Regarding Consistency
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set aside conditions and enrollment caps on the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School, reasoning that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission lacked the power to impose those conditions. The decision has a complicated procedural history and the Court's decision is equally complex and technical. It suffices to say that a state statute granted school reform commissions the authority to assume control of distressed school districts. Philadelphia was deemed one of those districts a few years ago. When the school reform commission took over, it also took over the role of granting and renewing charters. When West Philadelphia Achievement Charter came up for renewal, the school reform commission exercised its statutory power to impose conditions on the renewal.
The charter school, however, refused to consent and challenged the commission's authority in court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the charter school and relied on the non-delegation doctrine to reach its conclusion. Non-delegation doctrines, in effect, provide that legislatures cannot delegate legislative powers to the executive branch. In the current case, the Court reasoned that this was exactly what the legislature had done because it did not set out the standards by which school reform commissions should act. Thus, the school reform commission had unbridled discretion and power, which is a hallmark of an impermissible delegation.
Acting Secretary John King Apologizes to Teachers; Can He Take Federal Policy in an Entirely New Direction?
I was skeptical when President Obama first announced John King as the Acting Secretary of Education. In his previous job as New York's Secretary of Education, King had been the subject of significant criticism and controversy. He was effectively run out of one town hall meeting in which he was promoting the state's adopting of common core standards. Coming out of that meeting, he cancelled his next four public appearances. This was not enough to keep organizations in New York from calling for King's resignation. His rise to the U.S. Department of Education, however, made perfect sense. He seemed like a guy committed to the administration's vision for education regarding testing, teacher evaluations, and common core standards. But I have to admit that in his new position King is showing signs of an entirely different vision.
Yesterday, he offered a somewhat stunning apology for the Department's actions over the past several years. As one media outlet reported:
In his first major speech, the acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King apologized to the nation’s teachers.
Speaking to a small group of teachers, students and local politicians here last month, just three weeks after taking over the post, King admitted the USA’s education debate over the past few years has been “characterized by more heat than light,” and that despite reformers’ best intentions, “teachers and principals, at times, have felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces.”
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The national shortage of teachers reported by the New York Times last fall has only gotten worse. Based on recent news reports, Clark County, Nevada--the nation's fifth largest district--may be suffering the worst. Ironically, at the same time that the schools are suffering for money and teachers, the state is dumping money into vouchers. David Sciarra offers this critique in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Aggressive [teacher] recruitment has had some success. Yet low pay, poor working conditions and rising enrollments make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers. Thousands of students are in classrooms lacking a properly licensed teacher.
The teacher shortage is just one of the challenges the district faces as it struggles to provide quality education to 320,000 students.
It's no secret that many Clark County schools are over-capacity. Buildings need repair and system upgrades. Bilingual and special education services are lacking. Quality preschool, extended learning time and help for at-risk students are in short supply.
It's also no secret that the way Nevada funds public education is outmoded and inadequate. In the Education Law Center's "National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?" Nevada consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states on funding level and receives an F for failing to fund the needs of poor children. Nevada also gets an F on investing in education, despite an improving economy.
The ABA formed a School-to-Prison Pipeline Task Force two years ago and has hosted a series of town hall meetings across the country over the past year. Now the Task Force has released a report, co-authored by Sarah Redfield and Jason Nance. The report is copious in its description of the problem and its causes, as well as recommendations for reform. The Executive Summary offer this description of its findings:
The school-to-prison pipeline—the metaphor encompassing the various issues in our education system that result in students leaving school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system—is one of our nation’s most formidable challenges. It arises from low expectations and engagement, poor or lacking school relationships, low academic achievement, incorrect referral or categorization in special education, and overly harsh discipline including suspension, expulsion, referral to law enforcement, arrest, and treatment in the juvenile justice system. . . . While many have known about the problems associated with the school-to-prison pipeline for years, recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection now elucidate their magnitude and that magnitude is unacceptably large and out of proportion to the population of our young people. This disproportionality manifests itself all along the educational pipeline from preschool to juvenile justice and even to adult prison for students of color, for students with disabilities, for LGBTQ students, and for other groups in particular settings. These students are poorly served at every juncture. Students of color are disproportionately
- lower achievers and unable to read at basic or above
- damaged by lower expectations and lack of engagement
- retained in grade or excluded because of high stakes testing
- subject to more frequent and harsher punishment
- placed in alternative disciplinary schools or settings
- referred to law enforcement or subject to school-related arrest
- pushed or dropping out of school
- failing to graduate from high school
- feel threatened at school and suffer consequences as victims 11 For students with disabilities, disproportionality manifests itself in similar ways, and race and ethnicity, gender, and disability compound.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Christian Science Monitor covered the recent controversy about an animated video called "Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race" that was shown at a Virginia high school assembly for Black history month. After the short video was shown to 1,500 students of Glen Allen High School in Henrico County, Va., parents complained that the video fostered "white guilt." School officials promised to ban the video, calling it racially divisive. The video shows a track race during which minorities are delayed by walls, holes, and bars while words such as “slavery,” “manifest destiny,” “genocide,” and “segregation” appear on the screen. White racers sprint forward unimpeded during the race. Henrico Co. school officials apologized for the video, and the school superintendent told local media that it “was not the best way to deliver” a lesson about American history and racial discrimination. Missing from the school official's statements is any elaboration on what was wrong or offensive about the video, other than uncomfortable feelings about its message. Rather than using the video as an opportunity for healthy debate, the Monitor argues that suppressing the video is another sign of our reluctance to talk about race directly. See the video at the Monitor's site here.
Virginia currently has very few charter schools, due in large part to the fact that local school districts, rather than the state board of education or third parties, must authorize them. The Virginia Senate has been working on a plan to "fix" the "problem." Their solution was to amend the constitution. Apparently, all was going well from the reformers' perspective, but on Monday the measure suffered a surprising defeat. According to the Washington Post, conservatives had gotten "the Republican-led House and Senate to pass an identical resolution last year. But this time, two Senate Republicans voted against it. Neither one spoke against it during the floor. However, Democrats who led the charge against the bill said it would undermine the authority of local school boards."
Given the national political and economic organization that has successfully pushed similar changes in other states, the issue is sure to return to Virginia. Massachusetts, for instance, is under enormous pressure and it is not letting up. Advocates there are challenging the state's cap on charters as a violation of the state constitution's education clause. The merits of that claim are highly questionable, but it is nonetheless creating significant political pressure for new legislation, which some predict is coming soon. With this defeat in the Virginia Senate, Virginia will solidly remain one of the nation's rare hold-outs on the issue of rapid expansion of charters for, at least, a few years.