Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Report Suggests California Has Improved Its School Funding, But Has Long Way to Go to Meet Student Needs

The Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative has released an interesting new report on how California’s relatively new school funding formula is playing out in the state from the perspective of the superintendents who live with those budgets every day.  California had one of the more problematic funding systems in the nation a decade ago.  The poor funding formula was particularly ironic given that California brought us the pathbreaking fundamental rights litigation, Serrano v. Priest, in the 1970s.  The court was the first to declare education a fundamental right in the modern era and did it while the US Supreme Court was reaching the opposite conclusion under the federal constitution. 

How could a state in which education was declared a fundamental right 40 years ago have such an ineffective school funding formula today? Some argued that the strict equity had created a race to the bottom.  Rather than ensure everyone received sufficient resources, the state appeared to just ensure that everyone received equally insufficient resources.  This spurred dissatisfaction with public schools and potentially played a role in the later desire for a robust charter school sector. Sorting out those causes is far too much for a blog post, but I offer them as background to say that California finally made a major leap forward with its new funding formula in 2013--a move that hopefully moves the state back toward its roots.

As the Research Collaborative writes in its new report:

Adopted in 2013, the [Local Control Funding Formula] provides all districts with base funding plus supplemental and concentration grants for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. The law eliminated most categorical programs, giving local school systems resource allocation authority and requiring Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) be developed with input from parents, community members, students, and educators. The policy intends to promote more equitable and coherent resource allocation decisions and to lead to improved and more equitable student outcomes.

The report takes the pulse on how well this formula has worked.  It uses superintendents’ assessments as the measuring stick.  The report includes several important findings.

94% of superintendents agree that students and districts with the most needs should receive additional resources.  In other words, they agree with the premise of the funding formula.

Unfortunately, three in four believe that the formula has also created new administrative burdens—an odd phenomenon if one of the purposes was to increase local flexibility.

38% also believe that by eliminating the old categorical funding system, the new system removes essential protections that once existed for high-need students. Yet, more than half also said that the flexibility of the new system has allowed them to make innovative changes.  And three in four say the formula has helped them match funding to local needs.

But the kicker—maybe the most important question we can ask if we are concerned about student outcomes and the resources necessary to achieve them—is whether the new formula is providing sufficient funds to districts. 78% say that inadequate base funding remains a moderate or great barrier to improving teaching and learning in their district. 57% say it is a great barrier and 21% say it is a moderate barrier.

So, in short, superintendents believe California’s funding formula has been a significant step forward from the old system, but it is still has a long way to go to ensure students have equal access to the fundamental right to education.

June 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

National Study of Charter School and Voucher Policies Brings Much Needed Balance to the Conversation

Grading-the-states-privatization-report-schott-npeThe Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation have released on new report on the privatization of public education titled, Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools. The report is, in many respects, the one I have been waiting for. It fills in key facts that have been missing from the public debate and will help move it in a more positive direction.

In my forthcoming article, Preferencing Educational Choice: The Constitutional Limits, I also attempt to reframe the analysis of charter schools and vouchers, arguing that there are a handful of categorical ways in which states have actually created statutory preferences for charters and vouchers in relation to traditional public schools.  I explain why a statutory preference for these choice programs contradicts states’ constitutional obligations in regard to education.  I also explain how, even if there is no statewide statutory preference, choice programs can have the effect of undermining the delivery of adequate and equitable education opportunities in particular locations.  When they do, the programs violate state education clauses. We just have to examine the facts on a case by case basis.

My research, however, analyzes the issues from a relatively high level of abstraction, highlighting problematic examples in particular states and districts and synthesizing constitutional principles from various states.  This new report drills down into the facts in a way I have never seen before.  It systematically examines charter and voucher laws in each state with a standardized methodology aimed at identifying the extent to which each state’s laws represent a decommitment to public education.

The report is the “yin” to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ “yang.” Each year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) releases a report detailing charter school laws, with the frame of reference being the extent to which states have law that promote the expansion of charters.  The report normatively assumes that charter schools are good and state laws that overly restrict them are bad.  So the states that it labels as having excellent charter school laws will probably fair poorly on the Network for Public Education (NEP)/Schott Foundation report.  For instance, NAPCS ranks Indiana as the top state for charters, but NEP and Schott rank Indiana in the 40s.

But that is what makes this report so important.  Because there hasn’t been any systemic to response to NAPCS’s reports, it has been able to skew the conversation. This new report brings balance.

Here are some key paragraphs from the executive summary:

Public schools remain a source of pride and hope, helping to level the playing field for children from incredibly diverse racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic groups. Even amid concerns and often unsubstantiated criticism, Americans continue to view public schools as a defining hub for their communities. In the spring of 2001, a national poll found that Americans ranked public schools as “the most important public institution in the community” by at least a five-to-one margin over hospitals, churches and other institutions. Nonetheless, within the past two decades, there has been a fervent push by those interested in privatization who seek to de-prioritize the importance of public schools and effectively undermine their functionality. Ignoring these attacks, most parents and citizens understand that public schools provide a critical service to American society by educating the majority of students with a base level of accountability while protecting their civil rights in the classroom. Moreover, a recent poll conducted in October of 2017 found that among all registered voters, only 40 percent supported vouchers while 55 percent are opposed. This number further decreases to 23 percent with opposition at 70 percent when voters were asked to consider support if it meant less money for public schools.

With the ongoing debate on the relevance and benefit of public schools versus private schools, the historical context of this debate must be understood. The commitment to a free education for American children has its roots in the 17th century and has evolved along with the laws of the nation to include a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all children. Those of privilege have always understood that education is the cornerstone to success and inclusion in society. Yet the reality is that disadvantaged groups including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, the poor, those with disabilities and others have always had to fight for inclusion. For many generations, structural racism inherent in American society maintained a segregated system for African Americans and people of color. From passage of Massachusetts’s first compulsory education law to present day, historically disenfranchised communities have fought for the right to receive a free education.

. . . .

The public education system was developed to serve all children and can continue to do so with the appropriate support from the federal, state and local levels. Public schools offer a rich opportunity for all children to learn from their peers of other racial, ethnic, religious or other identities. Private schools, including charters, were not created to serve all children. Although parents always have a right to send their children to private schools at their own expense, they are not and never can be the model for educating of all this nation’s children, nor should they be supported by public dollars.

The report evaluated education privatization based on the following, assigning numerical values to each:

  • Types and Extent of Privatization
  • Civil Rights Protections
  • Accountability, Regulations and Oversight
  • Transparency
  • Other Factors (charter schools)

It found that:

Overall grades were assigned based on the extent of privatized school choice in the form of vouchers, neo-vouchers and charter schools, as well as the quality of the state’s laws that promoted accountability, oversight, transparency and civil rights. States earned an. The states with the best overall grades for resisting school privatization are predominantly rural states with a strong commitment to community public schools and an aversion to public dollars leaving already cash-strapped rural schools[, although]... rural state support for public education is not a universal pattern.

There are 22 states with grades between a C and a B+. Six states and the District of Columbia received a grade of D or D+ and 17 received a grade of F.

In addition to giving each state an overall grade, we assigned grades for voucher and charter policies as well. There are 22 states that earned an A+ for resisting attempts to give public funds in the form of vouchers and/or neo-vouchers to their public schools.

The six states with an A+ for their charter laws are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. However, there were also 37 states plus the District of Columbia that received a Grade of F based on their charter laws — states that embrace for-profit charter management, weak accountability and other factors that make their charter schools less accountable to the public.

For more detailed findings, see here.

June 27, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Education: A Call for Papers




Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Education

(Co-sponsored by the Section on Education Law)

 The AALS Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law is happy to announce a call for papers to be presented as works-in-progress in our committee session at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA, from January 2-6, 2019.

Theme: Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Education

Education has been changing and it is not clear that nonprofit law is keeping up.  In both post-secondary and primary/secondary education, there continue to be more and more growth of for-profit, nontraditional nonprofit, and mixed forms of educational institutions.  In addition, changes to charitable giving and endowments, including legal changes in the recent tax reform, may have an impact on educational organizations.  This program focuses on legal issues faced by educational organizations and regulators as education changes.

Eligibility: Scholars teaching at AALS member or nonmember fee-paid schools

Due Date: Friday, August 10, 2018

Form and Content of Submission: Please submit scholarly articles or drafts that address the theme (Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Education) in some way.  The theme should be interpreted broadly, and we invite submissions from a wide variety of methodological approaches.  Articles may range from early drafts to articles that have been submitted for publication, but not articles that will have already been published by January 6, 2019.

Submission Method: please submit papers electronically in Microsoft Word format to with "AALS Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law" in the email subject line.

Submission Review: Papers will be selected for inclusion in the program after review by members of the AALS Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law section and representatives of the Education Law section.

Additional Information: Unfortunately, the section is not able to provide any funding to presenters, who will be responsible for their own expenses.  If you have any questions, please contact Benjamin Leff at 

June 26, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Money, Markets, and Public Education, A Call for Papers

The AALS Education Law Section is pleased to announce a call for papers for our 2019 Annual Meeting session, called “Markets, Money, and Public Education.”

Panel details:
Law reform efforts vary as to the role they assign to markets and money in improving the field of public education, but one thing is certain: debates about markets and money are not going away. As alternative models of schooling (such as charters, publicly funded voucher programs, and online school systems) continue to grow, they are disrupting traditional public education in ever increasing ways. From stressing budgets to sinking enrollment, municipalities, counties, and states are struggling with how to fund and operate new schooling models while striving for high quality in their traditional public schools. Meanwhile, litigation efforts challenging state funding systems proceed in both traditional and new formats, and questions about equity pervade the debate. This session will explore these and related topics.

Submission information:
Please email submissions to Professor Eloise Pasachoff at by Friday, August 10, 2018. Papers that address this theme of markets, money, and public education, broadly construed, are welcome. The Education Law Section executive committee will review the submissions and select one paper to be presented at our section’s program in January.

Although there are no requirements for the length of the submission, the review committee will preference completed drafts over abstracts or outlines. The paper selected may have the option of publishing in the Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, although publication in that journal is not a requirement of participation in the panel; authors interested in this opportunity should so note on their submission.

The author of the paper selected will be responsible for paying all expenses associated with attendance at the AALS meeting.

Please direct any inquiries to Professor Pasachoff at the email address above.

June 26, 2018 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

After Fifteen Years of Litigation, Kansas Is on the Verge of Finally Adequately and Equitably Funding Its Schools

Yesterday, the Kansas Supreme Court issued its third decision in two years regarding the state’s school funding practices.  Yet again, the court found that the state had failed to meet its constitutional duty.  This time, however, the court found that the state was close. 

The two big issues before the court were the equality of its financing system and the adequacy.  The court found that the state had finally developed a plan that would achieve equitable access to school funding.  The prior problem with equity involved what the state calls a “Local Option Budget.” 

The LOB allowed local districts to supplement the funds they received from the state.  Without the local option funds, however, a district would fail to generate the total “foundation aid” necessary to deliver basic education.  The LOB had to be at least 15% of the district received from the state. 

Under the prior law, not all local districts had the capacity to meet their LOB targets.  The new law, according to the court, cures the problem by taking into account the percentage of at-risk students a district serves.  Those with higher percentages will calculate their LOB requirement (and the funds they are entitled to from the state) differently than other districts.  In short, high-need districts will receive more from the state and be expected to generate less locally.  This, reasoned the court, would create equity.

The court, however, found that the state has still failed to fund its schools adequately.  In other words, while the districts have equal access to funding now, the amount they have access to is still not enough. But the gap between current funds and adequacy has shrunk.  The court’s primary concern in the new opinion was that the state had not kept its adequacy calculations in line with inflation. 

The court reasoned that the state come up with a method a few years ago to reasonably calculate the level of funding necessary to reach adequacy.  While there are other higher estimates out there, the court accepted the notion that the state’s estimate would work. But the state has failed to apply the appropriate inflation increases in some years.  If the state cures this relatively small problem, it will have finally, after a decade of litigation, finally come into constitutional compliance.

For the skeptic, it is also worth noting that the court reiterated the basic principle that money does, in fact, matter to student outcomes—and not just in general.  Specific studies of money and achievement in Kansas have shown

that student achievement rose when funding increased after Montoy IV but eventually fell when funding began to decrease in 2009[]. And based upon its finding "that a correlation existed between funding and achievement, the panel determined the inadequacy was caused by underfunding."

I would be remiss, however, if I did not offer one final question. What will the state do for the lost generation? The first equity case in the state was decided by the Kansas Supreme Court on January 24, 2003.  The state has had momentary periods in which it seemed to provide equity, but never adequacy and equity.  The past 15 years, and many that preceded it, were best typified by enormous inequality and inadequacy. That the state has finally inched close to goal of simultaneously providing equity and adequacy means absolutely nothing for the generation (or generations) of students who did not get that opportunity.

Solutions for the lost generation are not easy and I will not purport to offer them here.  I would only emphasize that legislative foot dragging and the failure or inability of courts to stop it necessarily means generations are lost.  There are, in other words, serious and maybe irreparable costs to constitutional violations in education. To the Kansas Supreme Court's credit, it pushed the state probably as hard as any court in the nation.  And unlike others, it did not simply walk away when things got tough.


June 26, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If Classroom Observations Are Biased and Value Added Assessments Are Flawed, Where Do We Go Next to Measure Teacher Quality?

Special_ed_teacherShanyce L. Campbell and Matthew Ronfeldt have published a new study: Observational Evaluation of Teachers: Measuring More Than We Bargained for? They "provide the strongest evidence to date that teachers’ ratings are significantly related to the sociodemographic characteristics of the students they teach apart from differences in teacher quality."  Their abstract offers this longer explanation:

Our secondary analysis of Measures of Effective Teaching data contributes to growing evidence that observation ratings, used as part of comprehensive teacher evaluation systems across the nation, may measure factors outside of a teacher’s performance or control. Specifically, men and teachers in classrooms with high concentrations of Black, Hispanic, male, and low-performing students receive significantly lower observation ratings. By using various methodological approaches and a subsample of teachers randomly assigned to classrooms, we demonstrate that these differences are unlikely due to actual differences in teacher quality. These results suggest that policymakers consider the unintended consequences of using observational ratings to evaluate teachers and consider ways to adjust ratings to ensure they are fair.

This is bad news for those who would replace the flawed statistical assessments of teacher quality with in person evaluations.  As I detail here, attempts to measure teacher effectiveness based on how their students perform on standardized exams haven't worked.  While these statistical evaluations make intuitive sense, the devil is in the detail.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to isolate the effect that a single teacher has on students in a single subject matter areas. This is not to say that teaching effectiveness doesn't matter.  Of course, it does.  But pinpointing precise effects and isolating them from what student may have learned from another teacher this year, last year, and other classes is not easy.  This is to say nothing of the factors that are not even included in the data, but likely explain a lot--home factors, peer groups, etc.

Now this.  We can't even accurately assess teacher quality when we go in the room and what them because racial and socio-economic biases appear to get in the way. 

To their credit, Campbell and Ronfeldt seem to have found a way to filter the bias out.  Once they took classroom demographics into account and adjusted the scores that teachers received based on the demographics of the students they taught, the evaluations made more sense.  But this is not something a state would likely ever do. 

Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to the question I posed in the title to this blog post, but I welcome your thoughts or suggestions regarding other new research.

   --image by Dscot018 at en.wikibooks

June 14, 2018 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reasonable Expectations About Education Data Puts a Damper on "Solving Problems No One Has Solved"

Christopher Elmendorf and Darien Shanske recently published the article “Solving ‘Problems No One Has Solved’: Courts, Causal Inference, and the Right to Education” in the Illinois Law Review.  Elmendorf and Shanske advance several important arguments but two in particular. First, the reason that the unavailability of quality data on public schools presents a serious obstacle to litigants in education rights case. This lack of data and the uncertainty it produces around the operation of public schools, Elmendorf and Shanshke rightly note, has been exploited by both the left and right to advance depending on the specific case and legal theory. Their core insight is that while this has been the state of affairs for decades, it need not be: it is completely within the state’s control to design and provide access to these systems. They argue further that judges should do more to direct the state to collect and provide this access in a way that sheds light on key educational questions.

This argument about the accessibility of information is paired with their second key insight: thanks to major advancements in administrative data sets and methodological advancements in data analysis, we are in an unprecedented position to discern the causal relationship between key aspects of our education system. Judges and litigants, Elmendorf and Shanske argue, should embrace this revolution in “causal methods” to banish much of the uncertainty in what “works” in education—a key to adjudicating educational rights and defining appropriate judicial remedies.

This is an important and compelling argument--one we are glad that Elmendorf and Shanske have made. But (you knew there would be a ‘but’) as educational researchers, we  (Ethan Hutt & Morgan Polikoff) think it is important to calibrate expectations about what the embrace of the causal revolution is likely to secure. In our reply, we advance three primary arguments.  First, we underscore just how intractable the problem of access to education information has been historically. Whether one looks at early administrative data from the 19th century, the development of measures like NAEP in the middle of the 20th, or modern administrative data on course taking patterns, data collection efforts have been shaped by political pressures. Collecting accurate information about American schools is hard and it is made even more challenging by the lack of uniformity in our system. So even when we have statistical uniformity it may mask important underlying variation (and inequality).

Second, though the causal revolution is a pivotal moment in education history, it is not a panacea. Despite the major changes in data collection, methodological innovations, and computing power, there are many questions that are unlikely to give way to these new developments. There are still many questions that are unlikely to yield definitive answers and many non-technical questions about the design and operation of our school system will remain.

Finally, to try and ground our consideration of how Elemendor and Shanske’s proposal might work in practice, we consider it in the context of the case of Williams v California. This case sought to secure educational rights by requiring the state to fulfill its responsibility to monitor the operation of schools through the production of better educational data.  We wrote our reply in the hopes of introducing and engaging a broader audience around issues of considerable importance at the intersection of education data, research, and litigation. We would welcome any and all replies to our reply.

June 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tennessee Adopts New Accountability System to Deal with the Fact It Doesn't Have Valid Test Scores, But Does It Need a Federal Waiver?

This Spring has been unusually stressful for the Tennessee education system and its officials. Standardized tests are normally stressful for students and their teachers, particularly when the test are high stakes.  This year, they became stressful for high ranking officials. For weeks, the system basically crashed or malfunctioned.  The problems were so severe and ongoing that they eventually invalidating the results of the tests. In a bygone era, this would have amounted to nothing more than a waste of time and money.  In today's world, it meant huge legal problems.  Without valid test results, how could the state run is federal accountability system that requires it to rate schools, identify those in need of intervention, and report back to Washington?

Tennessee just came up with its solution.  Chalkbeat Tennessee reports that the state has tossed out its A-F grading system for schools--the system that the US Department of Education previously accepted as a proper plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Now the state Education Department has come up with a different approach to help parents and communities understand how their schools performed in 2017-18.

The state will rate each school on a scale of 0-4 on six different performance indicators. And in a major concession to local district leaders, schools won’t receive a single overall grade or rating as initially planned.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the change complies with a new state law ordering that this year’s TNReady scores “shall not be used to assign a letter grade to a school” — a nod to concerns that the test results may be unreliable. She believes it also complies with the Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, the 2015 federal law that requires every state to adopt a rating system that distinguishes each of its schools in a meaningful way.   

McQueen’s approach is drawing mostly praise from education leaders and groups, even as some wonder whether a numeric system will provide the simplicity and clarity of one that grades schools on an A-F scale.

“I give the department credit for going much further than I thought they could or would based on the TNReady law. They were very creative and ambitious,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, who leads the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, which seeks to improve education quality for students of color.

Sen. Dolores Gresham, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, says the numeric system “is not ideal, but it does allow for some accountability and fulfills our requirement” under ESSA.

Federal officials are expected to approve the numeric rating concept and a few other revisions on Tennessee’s updated ESSA plan shared last month with the U.S. Department of Education.

McQueen recently told the task force advising her on testing matters that the numeric system will still provide useful information about how schools are doing in areas such as chronic absenteeism; out-of-school suspensions; student readiness for college, career and the military; and a variety of student achievement and growth data. The indicators are meant to give families a fuller picture of school performance than test scores alone.

I hate to throw cold water on the plan.  It seems like a good one.  But it is not clear to me how it complies with ESSA.  Under ESSA, states must identify those schools performing in the bottom 5% of their accountability system and then intervene with evidence based solutions.  They are also supposed to examine school funding to determine if that played any role in the low performance.

In Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act, I explain and critique the complexities of these rating systems. Basically, a state can take as many different school quality factors as it wants so long as student achievement measures are a substantial factor and collectively counts more than the others.  These vague outlines are problematic.  While states were to reduce schools to a single rating and rank schools across the state, parents would have no way of knowing what these ratings actually represent.  And almost no one in the state could reasonably predict how schools would fall out each year.

The problem with Tennessee's new plan is that it would not seem to reduce schools to a singular rating that would allow it to rank all the schools in the state.  If it can't rank them, then how can it identify those in the bottom 5%?  If it cant do that, how can it properly intervene in schools? I suppose Tennessee could intervene in schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of each of the data points it does have, but that seems problematic because intervention is not to be based on a single factor.  To be clear, intervention is not required for a few years, but this might even complicate the system more.  Either Tennessee will just ignore the results from the first year, which would not seem to be allowed, or it would have to try to figure out how to combine this year's results with the hopefully valid results next year.  But this involve not just comparing apples and oranges, but combining them into a single fruit.

Again, Tennessee's new plan makes sense of this year.  And to be frank, the state doesn't really have any other options.  Rather than reducing schools to a single measure, they will separate out the factors.  This will actually make sense to the average Joe.  Joe will understand what a school excels in or doesn't.  Joe won't be mislead by an overall score. But Joe will be missing that key achievement data that was required to be part of the system.  

If I were the U.S. Secretary, I would give Tennessee a waiver to operate this new plan, but the point is that it seems to me that Tennessee may need one.  And, of course, my opinion and a few quarters won't buy a cup of coffee, much less a waiver.


June 12, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

School Vouchers, Special Education, and the Supreme Court

Aaron Tang has posted a new paper.  School Vouchers, Special Education, and the Supreme Court is forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.  His abstract provides:

Among all of the contentious debates in education policy, perhaps none is as divisive as the one over private school vouchers. Even as more than 400,000 American students currently use some form of publicly-funded voucher to attend a private school—with the number growing each year—one recent survey found that just 37% of Americans support the practice while 49% oppose it. This divergence of opinion, unsurprisingly, corresponds largely with political affiliation, with Republicans more likely to support vouchers than Democrats.

In this Article, I argue that a path towards consensus on the voucher debate may be discernible in an unlikely place: an arcane pocket of Supreme Court case law regarding special education. In a series of cases, the Supreme Court has offered a vision of private school choice with plausible appeal to conservatives and liberals alike—a fact evidenced by the overwhelming consensus among the Justices themselves. In each of these cases, the Court has permitted parents of students with disabilities to remove their children from public school and enroll them in a private school at the government’s expense so long as a simple condition is met: the public school must have failed to provide the child with an appropriate education and the private school must succeed in its place. The Supreme Court’s approach to private school choice in the special education context, in other words, treats it as a simple question of empirics. We should support school choice when it helps kids, but not when it doesn’t.

Applying this view to the school voucher debate more broadly would call into doubt many of the popular value-based arguments advanced on both the left and right, leaving just one sound reason to oppose (or support) vouchers: the argument that they are bad (or good) for students. That argument, of course, is fundamentally contingent; it turns on what the research evidence tells us. And that evidence is hardly as iron-clad in either direction as the left or right might wish. That, in turn, suggests that liberals and conservatives alike should reconsider their positions on school vouchers in some important ways.

Tang, in his usual fashion, offers a thorough analysis of vouchers.  He also, probably more than any other, seeks to find a middle ground and provides a great primer on the competing positions along the way.  I had once attempted a middle ground on charters, reasoning that they were empty vessels and we could make of them what we wished.  I, like Tang, reasoned that the facts rather than ideology alone should determine the course.  My analysis admittedly was not as thorough as Tang's, but my real failure was wishful thinking. 

I could see what was happening with charter schools and surveyed the trends in my scholarship, but I imagined a world in which charters could move in a different direction, particularly if they are empty vessels.  I also underestimated the ideology that was driving the charter movement.  Those pushing the policies were not interested in the facts or effective policy. They were interested in pushing an entirely different concept of public education.  Cutting deals with that devil is hard to survive.  The ideology almost necessarily wins when the earnest equal educational opportunity types agree to purportedly reasonable compromises.

I don't mean to suggest Tang makes my mistake.  He argues that "one’s support for vouchers should not depend on abstract arguments about resource draining, shared societal values, subordination, or parental liberty. It should turn on what the cold, hard data tells us about the impact of school vouchers on educational outcomes for disadvantaged students."  That is not far removed from a point I make in Preferencing Educational Choice: The Constitutional Limits. I acknowledge that the constitutional train on charters and vouchers has already left the station.  The argument that they are unconstitutional on their face is near implausible, so advocates should stop making it.  

I also argue, like Tang, that we have to look at the facts and look at them in particular jurisdictions. These facts reveal that there are a host of constitutional problems in certain locations.  The difference between Tang's work and mine is the frame of analysis.  Tang seems to ask whether vouchers work for the students receiving them.  I ask how vouchers and charters affect the local education system.  This is not just a question of money.  And it is not just a question of what is taught in those schools--whether private schools might promote the same public values as public schools, as Tang allows.  The question is whether the overall system becomes more segregated, more unequal, more stratified, or more underfunded.  

I believe the overall education system not the outcomes for some subset of individual students within it must be the frame of reference.  It is the one our state constitutional systems were committed to 150 years ago.  And it is an assault on that system, not individual outcomes, that is driving today's school choice and reform agenda.  


June 11, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

School Finance Fellowship Opportunity

José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program

drcardenasThe José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program was established in 2013 by IDRA to honor the memory of IDRA founder, Dr. José Angel Cárdenas. The goal of the program is to engage the nation’s most promising researchers in investigating school finance solutions that secure equity and excellence for all public school students.

Program Framework

Under the leadership of Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President & CEO, the José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program focuses on and fund school finance research that builds cross-disciplinary and inter-sector perspectives on equity. IDRA selects one or more fellows per year who will dedicate themselves to a period of intense study and writing in school finance. IDRA holds an annual symposium that includes release of the fellows program paper. The paper and findings are published in the symposium proceedings and disseminated to the education research and policymaker community. Learn more about IDRA’s inaugural symposium in 2015And learn about our 2017 symposium at AERA.

Call for Applications from 2018

Call for Applications (pdf)

Application Form (docx)

Key Dates

May 2018 – 2018 Call for Applications released

September 30, 2018 – Applications due

November 15, 2018 – Notifications to applicants

December 2018 – Formalize agreements and announce selection

Spring-Summer 2019 – Fellow, in consultation with IDRA, conducts research and develops initial findings, completes one-month post as Fellow in Residence, and submits research paper

Fall 2019 – Fellows paper is finalized and symposium planned; application process begins for 2016 fellow.

Spring 2020 – IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Symposium is held

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June 8, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Washington Legislature May Have Gotten the Supreme Court Off Its Back, But Is It Funding Schools Adequately?

WashingtonYesterday, the Supreme Court of Washington terminated its jurisdiction over the long running school funding case there.  The drama in the case has been second only to possibly Kansas, where the legislature had threatened the judiciary’s budget and appointment process in retaliation for the Court’ school equity decisions. The court then gave the state a deadline and said it would close the schools if the state didn’t fix the problem.

Washington did not threaten its judiciary, but it did sit on its thumbs for an extended period of time.  This led the court to impose a $100,000 a day fine until the legislature acted.  In the grand scheme, however, the fine was not much of motivator. As one legislator there remarked, paying the fine was cheaper than funding school adequately, so there was no hurry.

According to the court, the state has since taken several important steps.  The only missing ingredient—albeit a huge one—had been teacher salaries.  In 2017, the Court found that the state had passed several budget improvements but delayed the implementation of full funding of teacher salaries until 2019-20.  In other words, the state was giving itself another two years to get into compliance with the court’s order.  So the court retained jurisdiction and its fines.

In 2018, the state moved up that phase in phase in period for teacher salaries into the 2018 year. And that was finally enough for the court to find that the state had fully complied with its orders and “purged its contempt.” 

This order brought one the nation’s longest running school funding battles to an end, but two questions of longer term significance remain.  First, what of the fines?  Fining the state is an aggressive move.  I evaluated here whether it was an effective strategy for prompting compliance with school funding orders. My initial analysis was that fines can be effective, but they have to be large enough to be painful and they have to be collected.  Washington’s weren’t large enough.  And initially did not appear to be collected.

The new order reveals at sleight of hand on the sanctions.  In the bill that finally funded teacher salaries, the state also put $105 million into an account to cover its sanctions.  That was, of course, about three years after the court order the fines.  The state then took all the money out of that account and directed it toward teacher salaries and special education.

The plaintiffs, understandably, thought the state had been let of free. Hoping to exact at least some small token of a penalty, the plaintiffs asked that the court-imposed prejudgment interest on those fines.  The court declined.

The second lingering important issue—the most important issue—is whether funding in Washington is now adequate.  Bruce Baker’s recently analysis showed that as of 2015, the state had a long way to go to fund average student outcomes.  That outcome he notes is not the same as an adequate education, but rather the cost of reaching the achievement level of the average student in this country.  He found that Washington school districts in the top 40% of spending in the state were spending enough to achieve average outcomes. Those in the bottom groups had a long way to go.  Those districts in the bottom 20%, for instance, would need to increase funding by $10,500 per pupil to reach average outcomes.  Wow!

Well, we haven’t run the numbers yet, but here’s me guessing that Washington’s school funding measure didn’t close that gap, which is why the plaintiffs continued to dispute the adequacy of the state’s funding formula, even if the state had finally managed to take the steps the court had ordered. A local organization, Washington Paramount Duty, offered this statement:

We strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s termination of McCleary. Any parent can walk into a classroom in Washington State and immediately see that our schools are not receiving the full and ample funding promised to our students in the state constitution.

June 8, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

School Discipline Reform Is About Far More Than Just Suspension Numbers

This spring, the debate over school discipline reform reignited.  Those who have long opposed the Department of Education and Department of Justice's policy guidance on racial disparities in suspensions in expulsions knew they had a friend in the Secretary's office.  The turned on they heat. They argued that schools couldn't suspend students anymore and student were growing unruly.  As a result, school discipline policy was hurting the good students.  In Reforming School Discipline, I warned that so long as we allow this to be the framing of the this, effective school policy would loose out.  No matter what the data shows, the good student-bad student narrative will always come out bad for the "bad" student.  The proper framing has to be about school quality, and school discipline and school quality are directly linked.  That also means that school discipline is about far more than just telling teachers that they can or cannot suspend students.

The so-called failure of the federal policy guidance is not that it prohibits suspensions--it doesn't.  The failure is by those districts that think that is what the policy does.  Those who understand it correctly are showing how we can improve school quality and discipline at the same time.  Here's a wonderful example.  The Texas Tribune reports:

Two years ago, Bammel Middle School students were often fighting each other in the hallways when the bell rang, and teachers who lost control of their classrooms were regularly handing out three-day suspensions.

These days, more students and teachers report being happy at the Spring ISD school north of Houston, and the number of three-day out-of-school suspensions dropped from 94 last school year to 47.

Principal La'Quesha Grigsby attributes the improvement to a simple schedule change at the beginning of this academic year: a carve-out of 35 minutes twice a week for teachers and students to circle up and talk about their feelings. Bammel Middle School is one of a growing number of Texas schools that have adopted "restorative justice," which encourages students and teachers to talk through their problems and build stronger relationships in order to prevent conflict and violence before it happens.

"Sometimes those behaviors we see as discipline problems really are because the student is struggling with their academics," Grigsby said. "We're in a situation where we have to do something drastic ... because what we've been doing is not working."

Hummm. . .  Sounds like the intuitive points and social science that I lay out in Ending Zero Tolerance.  Students misbehave for a variety of issues and it is rarely because they just have a penchant for disruption.  Misbehavior tends to stem from emotional challenges they face at home (poverty, homelessness, divorce, abuse), learning disabilities, or simply struggling academically.  Figuring out the problem requires that we spend time understanding students and giving them the room to communicate.  Only then can we come up with solutions that might actually improve their behavior.  Suspension almost never does that.  It ignores the problem and tends to make it worse because the student feels he or she has lost an ally at school.

Before DeVos makes any final decision on the policy guidance, she should kick the talking heads out of her office, hang up the phone on the rest, and get on a plane to a place like Bammel Middle School.  Then she too might listen to students and understand what discipline reform is all about.

Interestingly enough, no less than the President of the United States used to be humble and thoughtful enough to listen.  The picture above and his My Brother's Keeper Initiative are worth a thousand words, so I will stop at 615 of my own.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

School Teacher Who Refuses to Call Transgender Students by Their Name Raises Interesting Claims, But They Are All Wrong

PFLAG_of_the_Lower_Shenandoah_07_-_DC_Capital_Pride_-_2014-06-07An Indiana teacher is challenging his school district’s policy that requires teachers to call students by their chosen name.  More specifically, the district requires that teachers call transgender students by the name that comports with their gender identify rather than their biological sex. The teacher says that the requirement violates his First Amendment rights. "I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."  He believes that using the students’ preferred name implies that he agrees with the student’s decision to identify as transgender.

By all accounts, the teacher treats his students fairly and respectfully.  His only sticking point is this policy.  He wrote in a letter to the school: "It appears that the real intolerance at Brownsburg High School lies in the hands of the administration against teachers who hold a sincere faith and a sacrificial love for their students," the form letter reads in part.”

The timing of the dispute is interesting.  He challenged the policy shortly before the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission this week, but the overlaps are interesting.  In Masterpiece, the baker said he would not make a cake for a same-sex couple’s marriage because he objected to their marriage on religious grounds.  He said he would sell them cookies and other items, but would not make a custom cake because it amounted to an endorsement of same sex marriage.

On Monday, the Court ruled in favor of the baker, but on narrower grounds than the baker would probably like.  The Court rejected the idea that a business owner had a general right to refuse service to individuals based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  So if a cakeshop sold stock, non-customized cakes, it would have to sell those cakes to anyone. Selling cakes, cookies, wine, and other basic goods and services does not involve compelled speech.

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June 6, 2018 in Gender | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Games Private Industry Plays with Public Education Dollars--Or Should We Say Business As Usual

ScamCharter critics have long railed that industry is running a sham--or rather, states are completely okay with what ought to be labeled a sham.  States hand out charters to non-profit organizations and those organizations often transfer the entirety of their revenues to a for-profit organization that runs the school.  States know this, but do not seem to mind.  And when they do not, a new set of norms take over. 

Two unrelated recent stories reminds of a similar problem.  One involves student transfers and the other a statewide testing system.  The common thread is that private organizations appear to play games, rely on technicalities, and mislead.  And none of it is illegal.  Our government may even incentivize it with tax loopholes and legal fictions, or just looking the other way.

The first story involves the recent switchero Tennessee just authorized for the folks running its testing system.  Chalkbeat reports that Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that "Educational Testing Service, also known as ETS, will take over design work for TNReady to allow Questar, the exam’s current overseer, to focus on administering the test." But here's the rub, "[w]hile McQueen described ETS as a 'different vendor,' the group actually owns Questar.  The New Jersey-based nonprofit organization purchased Minnesota-based Questar in 2017 for $127.5 million to serve as its for-profit arm. Questar CEO Stephen Lazer came from ETS, where he was senior vice president over student and teacher assessments."

This wouldn't be that big of a deal if the underlying reasons for the change weren't so serious, but the change comes because the testing system has been a disaster. Tennessee has been applauded for having one of the best accountability and evaluation systems in the country, but so far, this praise is based on potential, not reality.  The testing system hasn't worked yet.  For about a month this spring, its statewide online testing system kept having problems.  Over a thousand students lost answers to the questions they had taken.  In some districts, the system apparently gave students the wrong subject matter test--social studies rather than science for instance.  In my old school district, Anderson County, 450 students were administered tests for the wrong grade level

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June 5, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 4, 2018

There Are No Losers When We Invest in Early Child Care, So Why Won't Congress Act?

800px-Rick_Santorum_(17837492455)Believe it or not, this first half of this blog post's title is not my own.  It is Rick Santorum's.  This morning in The Roll Call, he penned an essay arguing that we should invest in early child care.  Here are the key lines:

Forty percent of American children under the age of five today grow up in families that earn less than $50,000 per year, and 70 percent live in households where all resident adults work.

For millions of parents juggling low-wage jobs, it’s a daily struggle to provide the basics, from housing and food to adequate medical care, let alone to afford high-quality child care. In many cases, these pressures and stresses are most acute just at the time when children are going through critical periods of cognitive and emotional development — years that lay the foundation for later learning and career success.

The good news is that the survey, conducted for the Bipartisan Policy Center, also found broad support for efforts to ensure that all children get a strong start in life.

By wide margins, liberal and conservative respondents alike expressed concern about the high cost of quality child care; agreed that many parents have too little time to spend with their children; felt that all children should be guaranteed the shelter, food, education and care needed to thrive; and supported programs to help child care workers earn a living wage. Importantly, a majority (54 percent) said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for programs that help children, even if those programs don’t directly benefit them.

Of course, conservative and liberal views on these topics differ. For example, conservatives are less likely to say that government has a primary responsibility to support early childhood development, are more concerned that government will overstep its role, and place a greater emphasis on parental involvement and teaching values in early childhood programs. Liberals, by contrast, see a greater role for government but are concerned that public programs will be ineffective or inefficient, and tend to prioritize academic and developmental foundations.

Beneath these differences, however, lies remarkable agreement about both the challenges that confront working families and the long-term wisdom of supporting healthy early childhood development for the good of the country.

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June 4, 2018 in Pre-K Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Eight Lessons Learned from the Teacher Protests

V18i2socialstudies2Fig9A new essay by Daniel Krutka, Tutaleni Asino, and Scott Haselwood offers lessons learned from the Oklahoma teacher walkout.  The abstract states:

Teacher activism is increasingly occurring in online spaces, but the implications for educators are unclear. The authors use the recent Oklahoma Teachers Walkout and the active #OklaEd network to offer an illustrative example of the power and fragility of socially networked teacher movements. They offer eight lessons educators may take from the #OklaEd network and the walkout.

Here is a run down of the lesson they draw:

  • Teacher Networks Can Offer Support
  • Teacher Participation Can Disrupt Narratives
  • Teacher Networks Can Amplify Mobilization
  • Teacher Networks Can Encourage Tactical Flexibility
  • Leadership is Critical, but Must Be Representative
  • Online Activities of Teacher Networks Are Not Enough
  • Legislative and Electoral Change are Piecemeal and Ongoing
  • Misinformation and Distraction Tactics Not Evident… Yet

I would emphasize that legislative and electoral change is piecemeal.  As I wrote in the LA Times, “The Arizona teacher walkouts are just a skirmish in the larger war on public education.”  The recent concessions by states like Oklahoma and Arizona do not mean that their fundamental positions have changed.  “State leaders like Ducey are so dead set on privatizing education or spending school funds elsewhere that they are ready to change any rules — even longstanding constitutional and democratic norms — to further that agenda.”  So efforts to resist these attacks on public education must be ongoing.  Education advocates must start guarding the very idea of public education and the various constitutional and democratic norms designed to protect it just as jealously as they are guarding teachers' salaries. Otherwise, they will wake up one day with nothing left to defend.

    -image source:

June 1, 2018 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)