Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 3
January 20, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Students' rights: A haze of precedents
Free speech laws vary by region
A "third way" on charter-school policy
Toward a charter truce in the Buckeye State
An e(z)-way around class-size mandates
Miami-Dade finds a creative solution
E pluribus unum, and not the other way around
High school ?ethnic studies? courses deserve scrutiny
Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs
A guy walks into a RIF?
Accountability in Action: A Comprehensive Guide to Charter School Closure
Steps one through forty-seven
Race to Nowhere
A movie the Tiger Mother would despise
Only the good die young
Mike welcomes Stephanie Saroki of Seton Education Partners to this week?s Pardon the Gadfly. They lament Catholic school closures in NYC, opine on virtual education, and get heady talking ethnic-studies courses. Amber offers more proof on the detriments of ?last hired, first fired? and Chris shakes his fist at do-gooders who want kids to drop out of school.
January 20, 2011
Under the U.S. Constitution, how may a district investigate a student thought to have stolen a school computer, smoked cigarettes in a school’s back stairwell, or bullied a youngster online? It depends on the location of the district. In Richmond, VA, and other parts of the Fourth Circuit, district personnel may opt to seize and search the student’s cell phone, accessing potentially incriminating text messages. In Boulder, CO, and other communities within the Tenth Circuit, inquisitive staffers may do the same thing—but only with student or parent permission.
Which method is just? Constitutionally sound? Is a school like a parent, with legal protections to read its children’s text messages? Or is it instead like a neighbor, who would face charges for opening the mail of the person next door without consent, or for looking through his email?
These are but a few of the thousands of questions federal courts must answer in the fog that is the field of students' rights litigation.
Students’ rights law—with its strong implications for school safety—is perhaps the most visible element of American educational jurisprudence. And, thanks to the Supreme Court’s vague and sometimes contradictory decisions on this front, it’s also the most contentious. The High Court first weighed in on students’ rights in 1969, declaring in their Tinker ruling that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Since then, educators—and state and local officials—have wrestled with what exactly the Court had in mind.
Now, more than
Terry Ryan / January 20, 2011
Since their inception in 1997, charter schools have been at the center of some of the most politically contentious debates in Ohio. These debates have too often been characterized by two competing camps. One side typically has been organized labor (read: the teacher unions), stalwart Democrats, and citizens groups believing charters represents a threat to “public schools.” The other side tends to be the business sector—represented by large profit-making school management companies—free-market oriented individuals (often Republicans), and activists of all political stripes who advocate for educational equity.
|The Buckeye State needs more than charter-school quantity. It needs charter-school quality, too.|
Interest groups on both sides of the debate have poured
money into political campaigns over the years and have treated the politics of
charter schools as a zero-sum game.
This political polarization has led pro-labor Democrats to support anti-charter legislation while pro-business Republicans have fought to protect extant school operators and have resisted accountability measures that they perceived as anti-charter. True to form, in his first budget in 2007—and again in his second budget in 2009—Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) proposed legislation that would have banned for-profit charter operators, cut charter school funding, and buried the schools in costly regulations.
The political battle long-waged around these schools has hurt charter quality in the state, made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law, and retarded the ability
January 20, 2011
We never thought we’d say this. But, hats off to the Miami-Dade school district! Through a partnership with Florida Virtual School, the district has enrolled over 7,000 of its students in online courses taught by teachers over the Internet. The initiative is a smart, creative counter to the one-two punch of tough economic times and rigid class-size restrictions. (In Florida, elementary schools may only have eighteen students per class and high schools, twenty-five. The e-learning labs are exempt from these stifling and costly limitations.) While the Miami-Dade initiative has left status quo defenders fuming, it’s allowed the district to cut costs while still providing personalized, individual instruction. “Mass customization” they call it. There is no question that these e-lessons must be well-planned and well-implemented if this initiative is to be a plus for students. But to the teachers’ unions and their minions we say: Something’s got to give. Axe the Sunshine State’s ridiculous class-size mandate or start to get comfortable with alternative solutions to stretching the school dollar. ‘Nuff said.
“In Florida, Virtual Classrooms With No Teachers,” by Laura Herrera, New York Times, January 17, 2011.
January 20, 2011
The Gadfly and Fordham have forever embraced multiculturalism: All students should learn about the history (and cultures) of all Americans. Standard U.S. history courses should recount the good and bad chapters of our nation’s past, helping our young people understand the origin of our high ideals as well as ways we’ve fallen short of them, our triumphs as well as our sins, and the stories of all peoples, from whites to blacks to Latinos to Native Americans and onward. But we cannot condone courses designed for students from one ethnic group about the history of said group alone. African American-studies courses just for African Americans? Latino-studies courses just for Latinos? Count us out. That’s why we were disappointed (if not surprised) when the New York Times editorial page condemned a new Arizona law that bans such courses for “inject[ing] nativist fears directly into the public school classroom.” Currently at issue are the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American-studies courses, in which, according to some reports, including one from a former teacher of the program, the students are taught that “the United States was and still is a fundamentally racist country in nature.” It’s hard to know from afar if these courses do in fact cross the line, but it’s completely appropriate—and not at all “nativist”—for states to ensure that their public schools don’t teach hate, divisiveness, or an ideology of victimization.
“Tom Horne: Tucson Unified School District runs afoul of ethnic studies law,” by Mark K. Reinhart, Arizona Republic, January 3, 2011.
“Arizona, in the Classroom,” by the editorial board, New York Times, January
Nick Joch / January 20, 2011
Add this credible and quantitative research to the growing list of reports finding seniority-based layoffs to be detrimental both to student learning and to the bottom line. From the CEDR, the report analyzes data on over 2,000 Washington state teachers who received reduction-in-force (RIF) notices during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years—primarily on a first hired, last fired model. It then compared these seniority-based layoffs to a number of proposed performance-based layoff models—each using a different metric for value-added. In a computer simulation, the seniority-based model caused student learning to lag by two to four months compared to a performance-based model, and under it African American students were 50 percent more likely to have their teachers laid off than were white students (compared to 20 percent more likely in the performance-based scenario). Further, the study found that performance-based layoffs would save up to 10 percent of the state’s teacher workforce, as fewer tenured, higher-paid teachers would need to be pink-slipped to meet budget quotas. Many states, including Fordham’s home state of Ohio, have laws that require all teacher layoffs to be based on seniority alone—laws that, in light of this study’s findings, legislators would do well to cut.
Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald, “Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs,” (Seattle, WA: Center for Education Data and Research, December 2010).
Marena Perkins / January 20, 2011
While it’s no one’s idea of a good time, there’s little doubt that charter authorizers need to get better at shuttering bad schools. To that end, this guide from NACSA pulls together solid advice from consultants, lawyers, and charter authorizers on how to support students and families through the closure process. It also supplies the reader with appendices providing sample school-closure material—from a forty-seven step action plan to a press release and resolution for charter revocation. Although the fill-in-the-blank nature of some of these documents arguably belong in a black and yellow How to Close a Charter School for Dummies, the sample action plan for charter-school closure is explicit and useful, detailing a timetable and point-person for tasks ranging from U.S. Department of Education filings to the simpler to-dos like compiling parent contact information. This guide may not provide political cover. But, if used widely, it will help to ensure that quality prevails in the charter market.
Kim Wechtenhiser, Andrew Wade, and Margaret Lin, eds., “Accountability in Action: A Comprehensive Guide to Charter School Closure,” (Chicago: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, October, 2010).
Gerilyn Slicker / January 20, 2011
While surely not the norm in American education today, the daunting, competitive, and stressful world in which some affluent U.S. students live is still worthy of attention—and a movie. Race to Nowhere, a new film by mother-come-documentarian Vicki Abbels explores the negative effects of the high-stakes, highly competitive world of middle-to-upper class families. It argues that, when students begin to over-prioritize GPAs and college applications, learning becomes an afterthought, not the primary focus of education. This is a common meme—see books from the same genre, such as Pressured Parents, Stressed out Kids and Doing School. But Vicki Abbels, the film’s director, deserves credit for including some oft overlooked subgroups of American students. Along with the affluent, she connects with a few high schoolers from lower-income families, pressured by their parents to win college scholarships or to be the first in the family to attend post-secondary school. This grassroots documentary has caused quite a stir in well-to-do communities and surely adds to the current debates on A.P. restructuring, “Chinese parents,” and the American education system writ large. Unfortunately, while Abbels and her team do well framing the issue—creating overworked, sleep-deprived, college-application-obsessed kids is no good—her proposed solutions disappoint. In fact, she offers but one, simple and inadequate: Assign less homework.
Vicki Abbels, director, “Race to Nowhere,” (Lafayette, CA: Reel Link Films, 2010).