Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When the Education Reform Chickens Come Home to Roost, It's the Students Who Suffer

The past decade and a half has shown there is no limit to the number of education reforms that states and the federal government can churn out.  I won't try to list them all.  I will just note two of the most vicious: those aimed at public school funding and those aimed at teachers.  States moved large sums of money out of the public school budget and into voucher and charter programs.  On top of that, they just took a hatchet to bottom line for school funding.  At the same time, they attacked teacher tenure, froze salaries, instituted high stakes evaluation systems, and sought to reduce the influence of teacher unions.  The net result was to scare so many current and prospective teachers away that a nationwide teacher shortage developed in 2015.

In Averting Educational Crisis: Funding Cuts, Teacher Shortages, and the Dwindling Commitment to Public Education, I outlined the short and long-term threats of these trends.  But because I was basically tracking the problem in real-time, I indicated things might get worse before they got better.  On the other hand, maybe I was being alarmist.  It will take after-the-fact analysis by statisticians to reach any systemic conclusions.  A new story out of Detroit reveals, however, that many students and teachers can feel exactly what is happening while the education reform world experiments and then looks backwards.

The Detroit Free Press offers this account:

The kindergartners at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy were shouting out words written neatly on small cards — correctly recognizing words such as "after," "red" and "look" — when their teacher Vanessa Parnell noticed a telltale sign that it was time for a classroom potty break.

"I see some of you wiggling," said Parnell, whose University District neighborhood school is struggling with large class sizes because of teacher vacancies in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. 

And when you have 38 wigglers, taking a bathroom break isn't simple. Parnell must first spend time getting her class into two lines, then the students must traipse down a long hall, up a few stairs and down another long hallway to reach the middle school bathrooms. They take this long trek because the middle school bathrooms have more stalls than the elementary bathrooms — and saving time is important when you have nearly 40 students to get through.

It's just one of the frustrations Parnell faces every day managing a crowded class at this crowded school. Here, enrollment is up more than 100 students from last year — good news after years of declines. But a combination of teacher vacancies and building problems — illustrated by the four large buckets that were collecting leaking water in the kindergarten classroom on a recent day — have made classes swell.

Parnell said she and other teachers work hard to help students thrive despite "the hurdles and outside things that impede learning," and she worries that dealing with large classes impacts that work.

 "It's extremely stressful, because I don't get to spend the one-on-one time that's needed with young children," said Parnell, who doesn't have a paraprofessional to assist her.

Palmer Park isn't the only school with large classes. The teacher contract establishes class size limits. In grades K-3, the class size is supposed to range from 17-25 students. In grades 4-5, the maximum is 30. And in grades 6-12, the max is 35 students.

Across the district, 14 out of the district's 115 schools have oversize classes — many of them with multiple classes that are too large. According to fall class data provided by the district:

-Nearly every K-8 class at Palmer Park is teeming with students. A third-grade class has 40 students, a sixth-grade class has 44 and a second-grade class has 39. The school's overall numbers have increased even more since fall.

-An eighth-grade class at Noble Elementary-Middle School has 52 students.A third-grade class at Bow Elementary-Middle School has 48 students.

-An eighth-grade class has 47 students.

-A fourth-grade class at Dixon Elementary-Middle School has 49 students, while a fifth-grade class has 43 students.

-A fourth-grade class at Mason Elementary has 45 students.Meanwhile, a sweeping report on school funding in Michigan that was released last month suggested 20 as the optimal class size for children in grades K-3.

There are now 178 vacancies in the Detroit school district, down from 260 at this time last year. But it's still enough to cause problems.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said a large part of the problem is the district's difficulty attracting teachers, a problem exacerbated by the fact that experienced teachers often must take a pay cut in order to get hired by the district. That's because under the district's teachers' contract, teachers hired receive credit for only two years of teaching experience. That can mean a pay cut for many.

This is why I prefer equity and adequacy to experimentation.

February 28, 2018 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Originalist Defense of the Right to Education Gains Even More Support

Steven G. Calabresi and Lena M. Barsky have published an exciting new article in BYU Law Review titled An Originalist Defense of Plyler v. Doe.  They offer this summary:

This Article offers a defense of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Plyler v. Doe based on the original public meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment when it was enacted in 1868. We argue that at that time, the Fourteenth Amendment granted certain rights, such as life, liberty, and possession of personal property, to immigrants under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, but did not grant them the privileges and immunities of citizenship (e.g. all civil rights and the political right to vote). We also argue that public education is a right of all persons protected by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses and was protected at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification. We thus conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment granted a free public school education to both citizens and immigrants from July 9, 1868, onward.

Calabresi also wrote another incredibly valuable article with  Michael Perl a few years ago: Originalism and Brown v. Board of Education, 2014 Mich. St. L. Rev. 429.  That article begins as an originalist assessment of school segregation, but is equally important in terms of an originalist assessment of the constitutional right to education.  I found it extremely helpful in my article The Constitutional Compromise to Guarantee Education.  Like the article on Brown, this article on Plyler will trigger additional new insights about the constitutional right to education.

If one were keeping score, the last several years have produced a new and consistent interest in originalist analysis of the right to education.  Goodwin Liu's article, Education, Equality, and National Citizenship, 116 Yale L.J. 330 (2006), certainly played a significant role in this line of scholarship.  Barry Friedman and Sara Solow then published The Federal Right to an Adequate Education, 81 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 92 (2013).  Calabresi has, of course, been part of two articles.  And I have written two more--the one noted above and a second that I will post in the coming days. While these article all forward slightly (and sometimes significantly) different doctrinal approaches, the fact that they are being written on the same subject is important.  I do not know any of these scholars, nor had I seriously considered any of their work prior to already reaching my own initial conclusions about the history.  I don't know if the other scholars would say the same, but I do know that they all come to the subject from different places.  Liu focused on education as a scholar, but none of the others do.  Friedman appears to be more of a general scholar of the Court, writing on a variety of topics, and most recently has written about policing. Calabresi is similar.  He is the author of a constitutional law casebook, a book on the executive, and a variety of law review articles on subjects as diverse as marriage, rule of law, capitalism, and liberty.  In short, group think does not seem plausible with this scholars. 

In a forthcoming chapter in a book edited by Kimberly Robinson, I remarked (even before Calabresi's new article and before I had started my second article):

the most striking aspect of theories is how mutual reinforcing these . . . three independent articles are.  . . .  All of theories put forth a core set of facts that are largely beyond dispute.  These facts establish a compelling originalism account of education: in the years leading up to and following the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, those who wrote, enacted, ratified, and enforced the Amendment—Congress and the states—placed an unmistakable emphasis on the governmental provision of public education.  They sought to protect education, fund education, and enshrine it through constitutional protections.  And as [The Constitutional Compromise to Guarantee Education] points out, this collective effort was never in any serious dispute.  Rather, it was one of the few issues upon which all could easily agree.

The Court could deploy this history through a number of different constitutional doctrines, but the result of all should be that education does warrant federal constitutional protection.  An originalist approach, regardless of the doctrinal vehicle, largely relieves the Court of developing rationales that others could more easily label as activist.  By heavily relying on history, the Court need not reinterpret doctrine, rely on modern valuations of education, or amorphous inquiries of liberty.  It need only focus on the facts as they were in the second half of the nineteenth century.

This scholarship is also complemented by three independent federal lawsuits, each raising a distinct claim for federal protection of the right to education.  More on those lawsuits here: The Constitutional Right to Education Is Long Overdue.

With this growing list, I have now come to expect the list will only grow more in the next few years.  Hopefully, it will be followed by helpful judicial analysis.

February 27, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Charter Schools: The New Separate-But-Equal?

Joseph Oluwole and Preston Green just posted a proactive new paper to ssrn: Are California's Charter Schools the New Separate-But-Equal "Schools of Excellence," or Are They Worse Than Plessy?.  "This article explains how charter schools provide California's black and Latino communities the opportunity to create modern separate-but-equal schools of excellence. However, they also pose a danger. Outside entities that prioritize financial gain are also seeking to offer charter schools to black and Latino communities. Unfettered charter school expansion spearheaded by these groups could further drain educational resources, thus creating a situation that would be even worse than Plessy v. Ferguson."  They conclude with this:

California’s black and Latino children are being educated in public schools that are both segregated and unequal. In that respect, their experience is similar to the one received by black students in the aftermath of the Plessy case. If handled correctly, charter schools could provide a tool for the state’s black and Latino children to create schools of excellence in this setting– just like in the separate-but-equal era. However, their unregulated nature could enable outside entities such as EMOs to create schools that drain resources from the traditional public-school systems, thus creating a situation that would be even worse than Plessy.

Because of this analysis of California’s charter schools, the authors suggest that states enact the following safeguards to protect black and Latino communities. First, states should only permit school districts to be charter school authorizers. As the resource-center debacle shows, authorizers that are not under the control of black and Latino communities might be more interested in financial gain than in serving the educational needs of the students whom they are serving. Second, states should seriously consider banning EMOs from operating charter schools because of this same concern. Finally, states should allow school districts to base chartering decisions on their economic impact to serve all of their students. Communities that serve black and Latino communities already have limited resources. California’s experience with charter school construction financing shows that if districts do not have the power to accept or reject charter schools, they might proliferate in ways that will further financially compromise these districts.

February 26, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Data Confirms Earlier Suspicions About Increased Racial Harassment, Begging a Set of New Questions

A 2016 survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center of teachers found:

•More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
•More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
•More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
•More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

Rebecca Klein, at Huffington Post, decided to dig a little deeper and asked those charged with resolving these issues for any data they had.  She offered this summary of the response from the Office for Civil Rights at the Department Education:

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division saw a significant increase in the number of complaints it received regarding racial harassment in schools, including post-secondary institutions, in 2017, according to data the department provided to HuffPost. The increase represents the biggest rise in this category since at least 2009, the earliest consecutive year for which we could find publicly reported numbers in this category.

The number of racial harassment discrimination complaints the department’s civil rights division receives has ebbed and flowed over the last nine years. It did not receive more than 600 complaints until fiscal year 2017, when the number climbed to 675, a nearly 25 percent increase from the previous year. Previously, the number had bounced between a low of 362 and a high of 577. 

. . . .

In general, grievances regarding discrimination related to race and national origin appear to have mostly held steady between 2016 and 2017, per documents related to the department’s budget request released last week. But within that category, harassment complaints underwent a specific leap. Other types of complaints that involve race or national origin might cover disproportionate disciplining of minority students or segregation.

This data begs a few questions.  First, does the Office for Civil Rights have the staff to properly investigate the claims?  The prior Assistant Secretary, Catherine Lhamon, requested more staff in her last report to Congress.  She did not receive them.  The new administration, in contrast, has been shrinking the Office's footprint.  Second, what is the Office learning from these harassment claims?  The uptick in complaints does not necessarily translate into more violations of the law.  But given this significant increase, the Office's next report to Congress (or another public report) should explain whether this increase in complaints involves any increase in the seriousness of the underlying harassment.  Likewise, it should explain whether the percentage of valid complaints has remained steady. 

Finally, to the extent those answers suggest a staffing problem or more serious harassment problems, the Office should at the very least consider issuing policy guidance to assist schools in addressing these problems.  The complaints the Office receives are but a sliver of the incidents that occur in schools.  Policy guidance is crucial in assisting schools in proactive steps that can prevent formal problems and complaints from escalating.  Unfortunately, policy guidance has been an area in which the new administration has retreated.  Whatever the merits of other shifts, racial harassment is one of the most problematic violations of Title VI.  Its effect on the individual student and the overall school community cannot be underestimated.

February 26, 2018 in Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Schools-Focused Public Law Litigation Model for Our Day

James Liebman's new article, Perpetual Evolution: A Schools-Focused Public Law Litigation Model for Our Day, is now available.  The article was part of a Columbia Law Review symposium in honor of Constance Baker Motley.  He offers this summary:

In celebrating the monumental accomplishments of the new form of public law litigation that Constance Baker Motley and her colleagues pioneered, this Essay reinterprets their paradigm-shifting body of work in a manner that obliges the current generation of civil rights advocates to change direction. In the hopes of reengaging the affirmative force of constitutional litigation after decades in which it has waned, this Essay argues that the central lesson to be derived from Motley’s generation lies not in the mode of public law litigation it pioneered but in the design of that litigation in the image of the dominant form of governance of the day: bureaucracy. Today, however, bureaucracy’s penchant for uniformity disqualifies it as a model judges can use to engineer the change needed by millions of children of color and in poverty trapped in failing schools. Today’s advocates can best honor Motley, therefore, by identifying the most generative form of governance of our own day and developing a model of public law litigation in its image. In that vein, this Essay advocates a duty of “responsible administration” of the public schools designed in the image of a more modern and effective form of governance: evolutionary learning. Drawing upon multiple analogies in modern legal practice, this duty requires officials responsible for students’ egregiously deficient and suspiciously disparate levels of educational attainment to track results, develop and test solutions, and use successes to set a progressively rising constitutional minimum for similarly situated students.

Get the full article here.

February 23, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Most States Shortchange Public School Students Despite Growing Evidence That Money Matters

This from the Education Law Center:

The seventh edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), released by Education Law Center today, again shows public school funding in most states is unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity to succeed in school.

The nation's continuing failure to sufficiently invest in public schools stands in stark contrast to a growing body of research demonstrating that increased funding leads to better outcomes for students. Studies show that school finance reforms that increase spending in low-income districts result in improved student achievement in those districts and a narrowing of achievement gaps. In fact, these benefits have been shown to last into adulthood in the form of greater educational attainment, higher earnings, and lower rates of adult poverty.

The National Report Card (NRC) uses data from the 2015 Census fiscal survey, the most recent available. The NRC goes beyond raw per-pupil spending calculations by analyzing factors crucial to educational opportunity: whether states provide a sufficient level of school funding and then distribute that funding to address greater student need, as measured by student poverty.

The latest NRC results confirm a disturbing trend: almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast disparities in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost. The states with the highest funding levels (New York and Alaska) spend more than two and a half times what states with the lowest funding levels spend (Arizona and Idaho).

Key findings include:

  • Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,719 per pupil in New York, to a low of $6,277 in Idaho.
  • The ten states with the lowest funding levels - less than $8,000 per pupil -- include Florida, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Three of those states, Arizona, Idaho, and North Carolina, provide less than $7,000 per pupil.
  • Many low funding states invest a low percentage of their economic output to support public education. These "low effort" states include California, Utah, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Seventeen states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, and Illinois, have "regressive" school funding. These states provide less funding to their higher poverty school districts, even though students in these districts require more resources to achieve.
  • Students in the South and Southwest face a "double disadvantage" because their states provide low funding with no boost in funding for high poverty districts. States with flat or regressive funding include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in the Southwest.
  • Only a few states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wyoming, provide high levels of school funding and distribute more funding to their high poverty districts. Notably, New Jersey and Massachusetts are the top performing states on student outcomes.
  • States with low or flat school funding have poor results on resource indicators crucial for students to succeed in school. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably low.

"The NRC released today is a sobering reminder of why unfair school funding is the most significant obstacle to improving outcomes for our nation's public school students," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and report co-author. "The stark reality is most states still fund their public schools based on pure politics, not on the cost of delivering quality education to all students."

"School finance reform is long overdue," said Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education Professor who developed the report's methodology. "It's long past time for states to develop, and then fund, finance formulas built on the costs of providing essential education resources, accounting for diverse student needs and local fiscal capacity."

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce D. Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; Dr. Danielle Farrie, Education Law Center Research Director; David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director.

February 22, 2018 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Nation's Most Important School Integration Program Is Under Attack

A group of African-American and Latino families have sued Connecticut and the Hartford public school system over the admissions policies at Hartford's magnet schools.  Those magnet schools came into being as a result of Sheff v. O'Neill.  In Sheff, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the extreme racial isolation in Hartford schools deprived minority students of equal educational opportunities.  Moreover, the extreme racial isolation was a result of the school district boundaries that the state set.  The remedy was to create magnet schools that would pull students into Hartford from across school district boundaries. Some students in Hartford would also attend school in the suburbs.

The success of that program has been highlighted several times in the past few years, most notably by the New York Times, which called out the state of New York for dragging its feet on integration when it had a perfectly good model up the road in Hartford to follow.  Likewise, litigants are currently before the Minnesota Supreme Court, asking the court to recognize a challenge to extreme poverty isolation in Minneapolis schools and pointing to Sheff for support.

This new lawsuit against Hartford claims that the admissions policies at the magnet schools discriminate against minority students.  According to local news, "[t]he schools are limited to 75 percent minority student enrollment."  Parents argue this unfairly prevents minority students from gaining access to special programs at the magnet schools and amounts to a quota prohibited by federal law.

The state has yet to respond, but this case is not nearly so simply as plaintiffs would make it.  First, there is unfortunately very little that is fair in education policy.  School funding is not fair.  On average, the nation spends nearly $2000 less per pupil on poor students than it does middle income students.  School suspensions are not fair.  African Americans are suspended at a rate two to six times higher than whites, depending on the jurisdiction.  The very idea of school district lines is not fair.  It locks hundreds of thousands of students out of educational opportunities and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. 

Because I hope I would never dismiss the unfairness that kids experience and am loath to lump one more unfairness those stuck in low-performing schools, I would admit that there is something obscenely unfair about the education these plaintiffs receive.  I would only emphasize that it was an effort to make educational opportunities more fair for more students in Hartford that led to this magnet school plan, not an attempt to just do more of the same for kids in Hartford.  That plan is far from being a solution to all of Hartford's ills, but it is an important step in the right direction.

Second, the courts have never addressed a challenge to a desegregation plan implemented pursuant to a state constitutional mandate.  Courts, however, have tons of experience with integration mandates pursuant to a finding that schools have intentionally segregated schools.  In Swann v. McKlenberg, the Supreme Court made it crystal clear that quotas were an appropriate starting point for creating a desegregation plan.  As a result, hundreds of lower courts entered consent decrees requiring that schools maintain enrollments at each individual school that were within 10 or 15 percent of the overall district's racial demographics.  While Sheff does not involve the elimination of prior intentional or de jure racial segregation, Sheff does involve a mandate to eliminate racial isolation that the Court found was the direct result of the state's actions and which deprived students of equal educational opportunities.  The line between these two circumstances is not so wide that a court could not recognize the authority of the state to implement tight controls on admissions in these magnet schools.

Second, even if these magnet schools were treated as entirely distinct from traditional school desegregation cases, there is good reason to believe that they should pass constitutional muster.  Even under strict scrutiny, the school would have the opportunity to demonstrate that the assignment plan serves a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored.  Ensuring the delivery of equal and adequate educational opportunities should easily rise to the level of a compelling interest.  As Justice Kennedy wrote in his controlling opinion in Parents Involved v. Seattle Schools: "A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue."  

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February 21, 2018 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Teacher Gives Economist the Smackdown on the Value of Education

For those who missed it, Bryan Caplan recently made headlines with his provocatively titled book The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.  The promotional materials explain:

Despite being immensely popular--and immensely lucrative―education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students' skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity―in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy.

Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society's top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers.

I, honestly, did not pay the book much attention.  To me, it seemed like a book trying to do just that--get attention by making an outlandish claim.  Refuting the claim was more effort than it was worth for me.  This morning, however, I read a teacher's response.  It did more for my morning than two cups of coffee could have.

Steve Singer penned a short essay titled Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education, arguing that "economists need to shut the heck up."  Here is a sampling of his essay:

Never has there been a group more concerned about the value of everything that was more incapable of determining anything’s true worth.  [Economists] boil everything down to numbers and data and never realize that the essence has evaporated away. I’m sorry but every human interaction isn’t reducible to a monetary transaction. Every relationship isn’t an equation. Some things are just intrinsically valuable. And that’s not some mystical statement of faith – it’s just what it means to be human.

 . . . .

[Rather than fund education,] it would be far better in Caplan’s view to use that money to buy things like… oh… his new book “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.”

His argument goes something like this: the only value of an education is getting a job after graduation. Businesses only care about school because they think it signifies whether prospective employees will be good or bad at their jobs. And students don’t care about learning – they only care about appearing to have learned something to lure prospective employers. Once you’re hired, if you don’t have the skills, employers have an incentive to give you on the job training. Getting an education is just about getting a foot in the door. It’s all just a charade. Therefore, we should cut education funding and put kids to work in high school where they can learn how to do the jobs they’ll need to survive.

No wonder economics is sometimes called “The Dismal Science.” Can you imagine having such a dim view of the world where THAT load of crap makes sense? We’re all just worker drones and education is the human equivalent of a mating dance or brilliant plumage – but instead of attracting the opposite sex, we’re attracting a new boss. Bleh! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. This is what comes of listening to economists on a subject they know nothing about.

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February 20, 2018 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Appellate Court Finds Alabama School District Succession Was Racially Motivated, But Don't Overlook the Importance of the Lower Court

The Eleventh Circuit has straightened out the school segregation mess in Birmingham, Alabama (or at least part of it).  As many recall from last year, a district court found that Gardendale had acted with racially discriminatory intent when it succeeded from its parent school district.  Yet, the court allowed the succession to proceed, reasoning that stopping it would do more harm than good.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding as to discriminatory intent, but found that the lower court erred as a matter of law in allowing the succession to occur.

As to the discriminatory intent, the Eleventh Circuit recounted much of the most troubling evidence.  For instance, it wrote:

While Harvey was performing the feasibility study, the secession leaders formed a nonprofit entity called Future of Our Community Utilizing Schools (FOCUS) Gardendale. FOCUS Gardendale existed to raise funds and to lobby for higher property taxes to support the proposed school system. FOCUS Gardendale circulated a flyer that depicted a white elementary-school student and asked, “Which path will Gardendale choose?” It then listed several well-integrated or predominantly black cities that had not formed municipal systems followed by a list of predominantly white cities that had. The flyer described the predominantly white communities as “some of the best places to live in the country.”

The most explicit evidence of discriminatory intent was from the statements and online posts of community members.  Gardendale argued that those private motivations could not be attributed to the district.  The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, explaining:

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February 19, 2018 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Feds Needs to Get Their Facts Straight and Stop Misleading the Public About Education Funding

In its summary of the White House's proposed budget, the Office of Management and Budget explained why the White House was making cuts to public education programs.  It wrote:

Quality education exists when parents have a voice in choosing their child’s K-12 schools and students have the tools they need to succeed. Decades of investments and billions of dollars in spending have shown that an increase in funding does not guarantee high-quality education. While the Budget reduces the overall Federal role in education, the Budget makes strategic investments to support and empower families and improve access to postsecondary education, ensuring a future of prosperity for all Americans.

On one level, misleading and inaccurate characterizations of this sort are to be expected of political actors with an agenda.  OMB works for the President, so one might argue this is fair game.  On the other hand, I, probably naively, have understood the OMB to be a professional institution or to play a professional role.  One of its jobs is to help prepare the budget for the President.  The other job is the harder one of assessing the effectiveness of programs.  Even if the first job--preparing the budget--is political rather than just an execution function, the second job is empirical and should be apolitical.  Are programs effective?  Are they financially and administratively efficient, achieving their goals, etc.?  Most of the reports from OMB are snoozers, even for the well-educated.  They get into the nuts and bolts of bureaucracy, regulations, and minute statutory provisions to assess whether they are working.

This second professional role is what makes the OMB's statement on education funding so outrageous.  To be fair, one can defend it as technically accurate if one rips it out of context and its plain implications.  It only says that money does not "guarantee high-quality education."  If that is all that it means to imply, it is accurate, but it has simply said the obvious and is wasting ink and internet bandwidth. 

Nothing guarantees high quality education--not new buildings, not the best teachers, not the most integrated schools.  In education, the question is whether, on average, a particular input strongly correlates with high quality education or improved student outcomes.  Quality teachers, for instance, matter a lot.  Would the OMB ever say that "quality teachers do not guarantee high quality education?"  While that statement might be technically correct in some respect, it is an outrageous statement because the implication of the statement is not really that teachers don't guarantee quality; the implication is that teachers don't matter.

The point of OMB's statement regarding school funding is to say that money does not matter in education.  This implication becomes even clearer in the context of the sentences that precede and follow it.  The first sentence is telling us the White House wants to spend money on choice because choice matters most.  The last sentence is telling us that it is cutting money from public education because, again, money does not matter in public education.

Both of these claims are outrageous and demonstrably false.  The research on the effect of funding increases and decreases on student outcomes is growing stronger by the day.  As I have repeatedly hammered in prior posts:

  • A research team lead by Kirabo Jackson published Do School Spending Cuts Matter? Evidence from the Great Recession.  They found "districts that faced large revenue cuts disproportionately reduced spending on non-core operations. However, they still reduced core operational spending to some extent. A 10 percent school spending cut reduced test scores by about 7.8 percent of a standard deviation. Moreover, a 10 percent spending reduction during all four high-school years was associated with 2.6 percentage points lower graduation rates.
  • A prior study by Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, and Claudia Persico looked at thirty years of data and found that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families. 
  • A Kansas legislative study found, with a 99% confidence level, "that the relationship between student performance and district spending was positive, i.e., that a 1% increase in student performance was associated with a .83% increase in spending. . . . 'Kansas students have made great academic strides ... largely due to the infusion of school funding.'”
  • Bruce Baker's review of all the prior studies on point reveals that "On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters."

Thus, it is misleading, at best, to even suggest that money does not affect the quality of education. 

Even if you focus on the word "guarantee" in OMB's statement and concede that money does not guarantee high quality education, we have to be fair and then apply the same reading to the statements about choice.  The implication is that while money does not guarantee high quality education, choice does or choice is more likely to lead to high quality education.  Or we might say that funding does not guarantee quality education, but choice does.  This latter version is impossible to swallow.

If we are talking about the vouchers and charters that the White House wants to spend money on, the answer is that vouchers have not proven to be effective at all and charters have only proven effective in a relatively small percentage of schools.  Most charters perform no better or worse than their traditional public school counter parts. See herehere; here; and here.

This type of statements are to be expected from the current Secretary of Education, but it is troubling when an organization with OMB's mission a) wades into substantive matters it may know very little about and b) makes misleading, if not false statements, about facts that it should be objectively evaluating.


February 14, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eighty Percent of Southern Voters Want Improvements in School Funding: Why Won't Their States Act?

A group of non-profits conducted a research based poll of voters in the South.  The sample was geographically, demographically, and politically representative of those who actually vote.  The key results were:

  • 74% of voters see differences in quality of education across their states
  • 85% of voters say states should fix differences in education
  • 84% of voters say states should adjust funding to address differences

There were not even significant variations across party lines.  Seventy-five percent of republican men recognized the difference in the quality of education in their state and eight-five percent of that same group said the state should take action.

On one level, these numbers should not come as a surprise.  All but two of the surveyed states have regressive funding systems.  Georgia and  Louisiana are the only two states that actually send additional resources to districts that need it more.  Those efforts in Georgia and Louisiana, however, are offset by relatively low fiscal effort in general.  Louisiana, for instance, earns a "D" on the school funding fairness report card for effort.  Thus, while it may distribute its funds fairly, it doesn't distribute many funds.  Everyone is just equally poorly funded.

Also, if one looks nationwide, seven of the twelve states that have enacted the biggest cuts in education are southern states.  Florida and Alabama, for instance, rank second and third in the nation in terms of the biggest cuts to education.

With these results, one can understand why the vast majority of southern voters see a problem and want a change.  On the other hand, I do wonder if the questions in the poll were too leading.  How many voters would actually say that we should not fix inequality in education?  Yet, a lot of people would surely say that "money does not matter" or that the primary problem is not money (although they would be wrong based on numerous studies).  Thus, the fact that the respondents did not balk at changing the funding formula means that maybe there is some validity to the poll.  

Assuming these numbers are valid, it begs the question of why state legislatures are not doing a better job.  One answer lies in the information deficit.  The Education Law Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have done fantastic work over the last several years in providing national snapshots.  But more than national snapshots is necessary to hold state accountable and move policy.  Most southern states lack institutions that can transparently and consistently shine a spotlight on what the state is or is not doing in terms of education funding.  As a result, the states can mismanage education funding without the general public fully understanding it.  And, thus, there is no accountability.

This network of organizations that sponsored this poll, however, may be the institutions that can help the South take a step in the right direction.  In a separate document, the group also issued a set of policy proposals.  They proposed a set of teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention strategies; giving students the support they need (rigorous, meaningful classes; help with family and emotional issues; better school climates and fairer discipline); strengthening the bridge to college and work; and matching funding to student needs.

They, of course, offer details beyond these broad outlines.  But what struck me was how simple the proposals were and that I basically agreed with them entirely.  Their proposals show how straightforward quality and equity can be.  It is time for legislatures to give it to them.



February 13, 2018 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Education Under Siege or Transformation? Don't Let the Rhetoric Fool You

Two weeks ago, the Koch brothers hosted a retreat in Palm Springs to discuss their upcoming agenda.  Their Institute includes about 700 other groups and individuals who donate at least $100,000 per year to support their agenda.  They were also joined by the Governor of Arizona.  Public education appears to be their primary target for reform.  According to the Washington Post,

Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar. . . . “We’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50,” Koch told donors during a cocktail reception. “The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level. … We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.”  . . . “The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor who has co-founded a group called Texans for Educational Opportunity. “I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

They plan to make their largest offensive in Arizona.  What would have been the largest voucher program in the nation recently failed there.  The legislature settled for a scaled down voucher program rather than one that had the capacity to voucherize the entire education system of the state.  In theory, the public education system could have disappeared over night.  In practice, many parents would probably forego the opportunity of a voucher, and the private system lacks the capacity to absorb everyone anyway, but the legislation would have laid the groundwork to change both.

Now, the Koch Institute is attempting to get a proposal on the November ballot and take the issue to the voters.  They believe they can convince them to voucherize education.  They have the Governor's support.  He said “This is a very real fight in my state. I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”

"Transformation" is an appealing concept in education, particularly in Arizona.  I would venture to guess that a strong majority in Arizona would like to see the education system transformed.  By most objective accounts, it is in shambles.  Arizona's per pupil funding for public schools currently ranks 47 out of 50 states.  It also ranks at the bottom of the nation in terms of equality between districts.  The Education Law Center's 2017 School Funding Fairness Report grades Arizona's funding distribution as an "F."  Arizona spends the least on students who need the most.  That same report also shows that Arizona is doing almost nothing to fix its low funding levels or unequal distribution.  Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in terms of the level of fiscal effort it exerts to fund its schools.  

The most mind-boggling data, however, comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).  This past fall, it released a report showing that, after adjusting for inflation, school funding in Arizona is down 33.6 percent since 2008.  No one else is close.  The next largest cuts are in Florida.  Funding is down 22 percent there.  As I demonstrate here, the funding is down, in large part, because states like these made no attempt to assess what level of cuts education could sustain during the recession.  They simply hacked away at education, arguably using the Recession as an excuse to target education.  This thesis is only further strengthened by the fact that when tax revenues came back to Pre-Recession levels in 2012, they refused to replenish education funding.  They kept it at low levels, hence troubling numbers like those revealed by the CBPP.  Moreover, vouchers (and charters) did not see these types of cuts.  To the contrary, voucher and charter funding doubled, quadrupled, quintupled, and octupled in several states.

So does education need transformation in places like Arizona?  Absolutely.  But for the Koch Institute, transformation means preferencing choice, not improving public education.  

As I detail here, those who want to preference vouchers and charters have been able to capture public policy debates by focusing on the problems of public schools without offering any solutions.  When they do so, state constitutions may be the average students last line of defense.

February 12, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 9, 2018

School Integration Versus the Insinuation of Black Inferiority

On Wednesday, The Century Foundation hosted a lively debate on school integration between Professor Sheryll Cashin (Georgetown University) and Dr. Howard Fuller (Marquette University).  Former Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. moderated the debate.  Both participants were sympathetic to the other's position at times.  Fuller conceded the value of integration and Cashin conceded the indirect negative consequences that can occur when integration is not implemented properly.  But sharp disagreements emerged as well. 

Fuller charged that African American children need better educational opportunities now, not in some pie-in-the-sky integrated world that does not appear to be on his way.  Thus, he expressed outrage and disbelief that integrationists attack the work of charter schools that are coming into minority communities to expand opportunity.  If those are good schools, he said we should not care that they are segregated.  Critiques of those schools, he argued, are premised on black inferiority.

Cashin responded that no one is seriously attempting to address resource inequity either.  Our schools are segregated and unequal.  She emphasized, however, that there is a well-educated white middle class constituency that supports and seeks out integrated environments because it understands the value.  And fostering those movements and implementing the programs they call for does not require huge expenditures of money.  In other words, integration may be far more plausible and cheaper than most assume.


John King also did a great job interjecting sharp questions to both participants.  You can watch the whole debate here.  


February 9, 2018 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

North Carolina Battle over Education Powers Raises Fundamental Concern about Manipulations of Opportunity

This week, the North Carolina Supreme Court will take up the legality of a statute that transferred certain education powers from the State Board of Education to the State Superintendent.   According to local reports, the statute was passed by the republican controlled legislature as a way of retaining the party's control over education.  A democrat had just been elected governor and would have the power to begin appointing new members to the state board.  The Superintendent, however, was republican.

The drama of the situation has generated a relatively high level of interest in a case that might otherwise look like a bureaucratic battle with low stakes.  The News and Observer frames it as a question of who will be "in charge of North Carolina's schools."  At the micro-level, that is correct.  

The general education provisions of the North Carolina Constitution provide:

Section 1. Education encouraged.

Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Sec. 2. Uniform system of schools.

(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.

The more specific and directly relevant provisions provide:

Sec. 4. State Board of Education.

(1) Board. The State Board of Education shall consist of the Lieutenant Governor, the Treasurer, and eleven members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly in joint session. The General Assembly shall divide the State into eight educational districts. Of the appointive members of the Board, one shall be appointed from each of the eight educational districts and three shall be appointed from the State at large. Appointments shall be for overlapping terms of eight years. Appointments to fill vacancies shall be made by the Governor for the unexpired terms and shall not be subject to confirmation.

(2) Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.

Sec. 5. Powers and duties of Board.

The State Board of Education shall supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support, except the funds mentioned in Section 7 of this Article, and shall make all needed rules and regulations in relation thereto, subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly.

The provisions do not provide a crystal clear answer in the case because they do not include any specificity regarding the Superintendent and Board's power.  Both are, in large part, carrying out the laws enacted by the General Assembly.  Yet, the language would appear to treat the Board as superior to the Superintendent.  The Superintendent is the "secretary and chief administrative officer of" the Board.  "Of" could suggest that he does the work of the Board for it.  Moreover, even if one emphasized that he is "chief" of the board, that would only suggest that he is first among equals on the board, but he is still a member of the board, not its superior.

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February 8, 2018 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Backlash to School Discipline Reform Is Ignoring Two Major Points

Yesterday, Bloomberg published an editorial that summed up the views of those who want the U.S. Department of Education to rescind its guidance on racial disparities in school discipline.  The editorial argued:

When students misbehave in the classroom -- and, so long as the prefrontal cortex continues to be the last part of the human brain to develop, they will -- they should have to answer to their teachers. The federal government need not get involved.

Yet federal policies currently discourage schools from suspending chronically disruptive kids, harming the vast majority of students who actually want to learn. In 2014, the federal government warned school districts that they could be investigated for civil rights violations if their disciplinary policies were found to have a disparate impact on students based on race.

The most remarkable lines of the editorial admit that "black students are suspended at nearly four times the rate as white students, and that African-American students are more likely to receive heavier punishments for the same offenses."  I cannot fathom how this is not the business of the federal government. 

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination in all programs receiving federal funds.  Department of Education regulations further prohibit policies whose effect is to discriminate based on racial.  As a practical matter, these regulations are say that if a school's policies produce large racial disparities, the school should have a good explanation for those disparities.  If it does, fine.  If not, the district should change.

When districts suspend African Americans at four times the rate of whites, they should have to explain the disparity.  If the answer is that African Americans are misbehaving more and the districts need to suspend them, fine, they can continue as is.  But if African Americans are receiving heavier punishments for the same offenses--which the editorial admits--the district must change because the district is discriminating.

I cannot imagine a theory under which the federal government would say, "that's okay.  You guys figure out a solution that suits you."  We certainly would not say that the very people who are engaging in discrimination--whether it is conscious or subconscious bias--are the ones best suited to devise a solution.  Yet, that is exactly what the Bloomberg editorial says: "Student discipline should be handled at the local level -- and as much as possible, left to the discretion of individual principals and teachers."

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February 7, 2018 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Racist Speech, Student Protest, and Institutional Responses

When students first began protesting the fact that names like Woodrow Wilson appear on a building at Princeton and William Saunders on a building at UNC, I had my misgivings.  Yes, the students were correct about the history--these individuals have racist legacies--but the details of the buildings matter.  Was the name placed there to honor the racist legacy?  Was it put there because the family actually donated the money for the building?  Was it because of the alum's political fame?  Is there even a continuing message being sent if no one knows who the person is?

These building names cannot be conflated with confederate memorials, at least not on a wholesale level.  The confederate memorials raise far clearer problems.  The motivation for them has most often been racist and their continuing symbolism can be harmful. Thus, removing them implicates a different analysis.

Nonetheless, I eventually recognized that I am probably too old to have an opinion on what young people do or do not protest about.  I will probably get it wrong.  It is the youth who push us to see the world anew--more clearly--not purported wise elders.  "Wise elders" should offer perspective, but forceful direction is probably more a hindrance than help. 

In retrospect, we should now see that those protesting students elevated a conversation that would have been missed without them.  They have forced a reevaluation of numerous assumptions on main campus.  We owe them thanks.  And we probably owe them deference in the future.

I offer that as backdrop to a student protest at Lake Oswego.  Local news reports that:

Lake Oswego Junior High students staged a walkout at 9 a.m. Monday in response to racist behavior at the school. An estimated 200 students took part in the walkout that lasted a little over and hour. Students could be heard cheering at speeches mode over a megaphone.

More than a week ago, three white students handed a note to another student who is African-American. The note had the N-word on it. The Lake Oswego School District told the boy's mother that two of the three students received "in-school suspensions," but she said not enough is being done.

The mother, Jennifer Cook, said her son has heard the N-word at the school before. She said she was proud of the students for doing the walkout.

"I think it’s incredible, I think it’s great to see the support that the children have for him and their response to this is going to be way better than the school’s response," said Jennifer Cook just prior to the walkout.

The school sent an email message to parents saying they are aware of student plans to walk out Monday. They said they support the students' right to express their opinions and hope to provide a safe environment.

"There will be additional adults including our counseling team on hand, and outside groups will not be allowed on campus," the message said.

According to the Lake Oswego Review, a Facebook post on their site that in part outlined what the mother described as the punishment to the students was shared over 1,800 times.

Sources have told that newspaper that the student who actually passed the note received a one day suspenstion. Two other students were given detentions on campus.

According to the paper, the school and the district office was peppered with angry emails and phone calls. Many were angry over the punishment and or demanded a "zero-tolerance" policy.

The district has issued the following statement on what it intends to do next.

I imagine there a lot of proud parents in Oswego.  I know I would be, but the call for "zero-tolerance" toward the offending students gives me far more concern than the call to take names off of buildings two years ago.  Zero tolerance can be defined in many ways.  It can mean not tolerating a particular type of behavior under any circumstances, but that definition can leave upon the question of what the particular punishment will be.   It could be minor or serious punishment.  Or zero tolerance can mean not tolerating the behavior at all and mandating a severe punishment, such as suspension or expulsion, when it occurs. 

It seems the angry emails to the district in Oswego are calling for the later.  In-school-suspension, to them, is not harsh enough.  

That is a hard position to countenance.  Save situations when a student has intentionally brought a gun to school with a bad purpose in mind or is selling drugs, zero tolerance policies that automatically exclude students from school are a bad idea, if not unconstitutional.  First, they do not actually stop the misbehavior in the long run.  They often make it worse. Second, they impose an enormous harm on the student.  Third, they ignore circumstances that are really important--the age of the child, the seriousness of the behavior, culpability, intent, etc.  When schools ignore those things, they act irrationally and do not do anyone any good.

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February 6, 2018 in Bullying and Harassment, Discrimination, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Measuring Segregation in Your Local School District

Vox has published an incredibly powerful new tool for measuring segregation in your local schools.  For those teaching in the area (or engaging in local advocacy), it allows you to make the issue far more personal and tangible than it otherwise would be.

Just select your local district and the tool will pull up a color-coded picture of the school attendance boundaries in your district.  One version of the map will tell you the current racial demographics of each school.  The other will show you what the demographics would be if students were assigned to the school nearest where they live.  It then indicates whether the current zoning is making school segregation better or worse.  In other words, if we accept current housing segregation patterns as a given, does school zoning make schools even more segregated?  

As Vox chart below indicates, most districts do not make things substantially better or worse, yet there are many that do.  It is, of course, more complex than that and I advise against just looking at the highest level data.  The chart reduces each district to a single category--makes segregation better or worse.  If you look at individual districts, however, you can see that a district might make things better or worse in particular pockets of the district.  This gets lost when reducing the district to an average. 

In Richland One School District in Columbia, SC, for instance, the overall district basically tracks the segregation of the city.  But that is not the case in all pockets of the city.  The district appears to assign students who live in predominantly minority neighborhoods to predominantly minority schools.  Conversely, schools located in predominantly wealthy white neighborhoods tend to pull in an additional percentage of minority students from surrounding areas. In other words, the district does not touch racial isolation in minority neighborhoods, but it whittles at it in white neighborhoods. A district might also whittle out minority students in neighborhoods that are at the tipping point of becoming majority-minority.  This would, presumably, make whites more likely to remain in their local school.  You can assess the merits of this yourself, but it surely raises a host of questions you would miss if only looking at the high level data.



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February 5, 2018 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

California's Every Student Succeeds Plan Fails an Incredibly Low Standard: Are We Missing a Subversive Plot?

In full disclosure, I have not read California's state plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  But if we assume that the Department of Education and the peer reviewers of the plan are minimally competent and fair, California's plan is shocking.  It went out of its way to not comply with ESSA.  This is no small task. The Department is now rejecting California's plan.

Putting aside the merits of the ESSA in general, it asks very little of the states--far less than No Child Left Behind asked for the prior decade and a half.  As I explain in Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act

The ESSA attempted to appease popular sentiment against the No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) overreliance on standardized testing and punitive sanctions. . . . Congress simply stripped the federal government of regulatory power and vastly expanded state discretion. For the first time in fifty years, the federal government now lacks the ability to prompt improvements in student achievement or to demand equal resources for low-income students. Thus, the ESSA rests on a bold premise: states will abandon their historical tendencies by voluntarily providing low-income students with equal educational opportunities.

Although the ESSA remains committed to equality on its face, it does the opposite in practice. First, the ESSA affords states wide latitude on student performance, accountability, and school reform. Wide state discretion opens the door to fifty disparate state systems, none of which guarantee equality. Second, the ESSA directly weakens two existing equity standards and leaves untouched a loophole that exempts eighty percent of school expenditures from equity analysis. Third, the ESSA leaves federal funding flat, eliminating the possibility that additional resources will offset the inequalities that the foregoing provisions permit. These changes to federal education law are so out of character that they beg the question of why the federal government is even involved in education at all.

States were free to devise almost any plan they could conceive, as long as they came up with something--as long as they filled in the blanks.  Pick a word, any word.

The problem with California's plan is that it appears to not have filled in some important blanks.  In particular, it did not set achievement goals.  Those goals could have been high or low.  California apparently chose neither.  As I was railing on the ESSA and how much authority it devolved to the states in Abandoning the Federal Role, I could not imagine a state would go this far.  Instead, I thought states would use the flexibility to manipulate and cover up inequality.  A few of the early ESSA plans did just that.  And the law allows it.  

For some reason, California does not appear interested in manipulation.  

Almost all of the Department's comments go to the issue of picking achievement and graduation targets.  It makes no suggestion of what those targets should be because, of course, California can choose.  I found this comment most telling:

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February 3, 2018 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Study Finds Recession-Era Education Cuts Significantly Impacted Student Outcomes: How Many Constitutional Rights Were Violated?

A research team lead by Kirabo Jackson just released Do School Spending Cuts Matter? Evidence from the Great Recession.  They found:

districts that faced large revenue cuts disproportionately reduced spending on non-core operations. However, they still reduced core operational spending to some extent. A 10 percent school spending cut reduced test scores by about 7.8 percent of a standard deviation. Moreover, a 10 percent spending reduction during all four high-school years was associated with 2.6 percentage points lower graduation rates. While our estimates are smaller than some in the literature, spending cuts do matter.

These new findings are a follow-up to an equally important earlier study.  In 2014, C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, and Claudia Persico released a comprehensive analysis of the connection between school funding and student outcomes.  They "us[ed] a newly compiled database of school finance reforms and a recently available long panel of annual school district data on per-pupil spending that spans 1967–2010."  They then used "an event-study analysis of the effects of different types of school finance reforms on per-pupil spending in low- and high-income school districts."  They found that school finance reforms played a substantial role in equalizing school funding, or rather shrinking existing inequality.

The big question, however, was whether increases and equalization in school funding had a positive effect on students.  Using the same data set, they found

that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families. 

This was the most precise measure of the effect of school funding on student outcomes I had ever seen.  In Averting Educational Crisis: Funding Cuts, Teacher Shortages, and the Dwindling Commitment to Public Education, I used Jackson's work, along with two other analogous studies, to gauge the seriousness of the massive budget cuts that most states enacted following the Recession--much of which still remains in place today, a decade later.   Basic state constitutional law demands equal and adequate educational opportunities (in most states).  If Jackson and other's initial calculations were correct, there was a strong possibility that state legislature's were violating their state constitutions by imposing new educational harms.  The other problem has been that state supreme courts became less aggressive in enforcing education rights during the recession. Thus, violations were going up at the same time that remedies were going down, or disappearing all together.

Jackson’s new study of the Recession-era cuts confirms that my suspicions were correct, and all but a few courts did absolutely nothing about it.  The problem with the typical state supreme court school funding decision--even the positive ones--is that it only addresses education violations after the fact.  And the decisions almost never articulate standards to avert the next disaster.  They assume a world that just does not exist--one in which they explain the constitution to the legislature and it will act accordingly moving forward, even in the face of great challenges.  As a practical matter, this allows a vicious cycle of education violations to inevitably occur, and the students who suffer them are left to carry the full burden. 

February 2, 2018 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Data Is Building to Show That Charters Are Making North Carolina Schools More Segregated and More Unequal

Helen Ladd has followed her poignant charter school segregation study with a new one on the financial impacts of charters on the public school system.  Two years ago, she, Charles Clotfelter, and John Holbein released Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina.  They found that the state's charter schools were becoming increasingly white, while its charters were becoming increasing populated by students of color.  It was probably the most precise and impactful study on the topic of charter school segregation to date. 

I separately theorized that this particular demographic trend was occurring in North Carolina as a response to relatively high levels of integration in the public schools.  In other states, the typical charge is that charters are predominantly minority and more segregated than the traditional public schools.  While far from perfect, North Carolina's traditional public schools have tended to be some of the most integrated in the nation.  This is partly attributable to the fact that there are 100 counties in the state and only 102 or 103 school districts.  So those who object to integration cannot simply flee to a suburban district--at least not easily.

Charters schools potentially change that in North Carolina.  The so-to-speak dissenters can simply enroll in a local charter now.  This is not to say that all North Carolina charters play this role, but Ladd's work suggests that many do.

Her new study suggests that not only are these charters segregating education, they are draining funds from the regular public schools.  Her abstract states:

A significant criticism of the charter school movement is that funding for charter schools diverts money away from traditional public schools. As shown in prior work by Bifulco and Reback (2014) for two urban districts in New York, the magnitude of such adverse fiscal externalities depends in part on the nature of state and local funding policies. In this paper, we build on their approach to examine the fiscal effects of charter schools on both urban and non-urban school districts in North Carolina. We base our analysis on detailed balance sheet information for a sample of school districts that experienced significant charter entry since the statewide cap on charters was raised in 2011. This detailed budgetary information permits us to estimate a range of fiscal impacts using a variety of different assumptions. We find a large and negative fiscal impact from $500-$700 per pupil in our one urban school district and somewhat smaller, but still significant, fiscal externalities on the non-urban districts in our sample.

This study only adds fuel to theory I offer in Preferencing Choice: The Constitutional Limits.

February 1, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)