Saturday, July 02, 2005

Another possible Supreme Court case

In keeping with the weekend theme of the recent vacancy on the Supreme Court, there's another case that might make it's way to the Supremes directly related to education. Like the one I wrote about earlier today, this one also affects colleges mainly, but could have an implication for secondary schools as well.

In Hosty v. Carter, the 7th Circuit ruled that college administrators may censor the political views of student-run newspapers. From an analysis by David Hudson of the First Amendment Center:

The closely watched case involved the actions of Patricia Carter, dean of student affairs and services, in reaction to articles published in the student newspaper, the Innovator, that were critical of school administrators. Carter called the Innovator’s printer and told it not to print any more articles until she had reviewed them. Because of Carter’s actions, publication of the newspaper stopped in November 2000.

Hosty and two other journalists on the newspaper, Jeni Porche and Steven Barba, sued Carter and other school officials in federal court. A federal district court judge dismissed many of the defendants but held that Carter could be held liable. This decision was affirmed by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit in 2003. However, Carter appealed and prevailed 7-4 before the full panel of the appeals court.

Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the majority, not only ruled that the Hazelwood framework applied but also wrote that “there is no sharp difference between high school and college papers” with respect to education officials’ “goal of dissociating the school from ‘any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.’”

The Hazelwood case was from the late '80s when the Supremes ruled that high school administrators could censor the political views of high school students. That standard has remained in effect ever since. The ruling by the 7th Circuit in Hosty, however, is the first time that standard has ever been applied to college writers.

Judge Diane Wood dissented, along with three colleagues, in Hosty. She wrote that “these restrictions on free[-]speech rights have no place in the world of college and graduate school.”

Wood added that if the plaintiffs’ allegations were true — that Carter tried to censor the Innovator — then they were punished for engaging in political speech critical of the school administration. “Few restrictions on speech seem to run more afoul of basic First Amendment values,” she wrote. “The court now gives the green light to school administrators to restrict student speech in a manner inconsistent with the First Amendment.”

So what will happen to the case?

The plaintiffs say they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “My co-plaintiffs and I had decided going into this litigation nightmare that we would go as far and for as long as the law would permit us to do so,” said Hosty, who is still enrolled in graduate courses at GSU.

Whether the high court will take the case is anybody’s guess. “I think there is a chance the supreme court will take this case,” [Mark] Goodman [of the Student Press Law Center] said. “We do have a clear division among the circuits on the application of Hazelwood in the college environment.”

Kennedy could go either way on this. If he sides with Thomas, Scalia, and Rehnquist -- and the other four stay together -- O'Connor's replacement would decide whether to affirm the First Amendment rights of college student writers or trample on them.

Who will decide what's FAIR?

One of the cases that the O'Connerless Supreme Court will hear next year directly affects education.

It's Rumsfeld v. Fair and -- as usual -- Kennedy and O'Connor would have been swing votes.

In the case, a coalition of 31 law schools that have very explicit anti-discrimination policies (i.e., no company may recruit on campus if they discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sex, religion, or sexual orientation) sued the Department of Defense which threatened to cut of all federal grants if they were not allowed to recruit.

That's not fair (sorry, that was a bad pun) according to the plaintiffs, because the Dept. of Defense (headed by Rumsfeld) discriminates against gays with it's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Don't tell, yes, but if they find out, you're out (in more ways than one).

The Third Circuit Court (in Philly) sided with FAIR (aka the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights-- great acronym). The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and will do so in their next term, when Cornyn (?), Garza (?), Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez or some other Bush appointee will be on the bench. Their vote -- considering Kennedy usually has no sympathy for gay rights -- will probably be the tiebreaker.

For more info on Rummy v. Fair, click here. For more info on the rampant speculation on O'Connor's replacement, check out the incomparable SCOTUSblog.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Public schools perform better than charters

I am not anti-charter school. But I am only pro-charter school to the extent that they have strict financial oversight and are subject to the same standards as public schools.

It was after all Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers who created the idea. He envisioned charters as little engines of educational innovation. As such, they should be encouraged.

And yet, today I read this, from yesterday's Cincinnati Enquirer:

More than half of 112 charter schools rated by the state for student achievement are labeled in "academic emergency" or "academic watch" - the lowest rankings possible.

Charter teachers are some of the least qualified in Ohio, with almost half lacking full certification in their teaching areas.

The schools as a whole are performing worse than urban districts, while siphoning money and students from school districts statewide.

Ohio taxpayers are spending more than $424 million on charter schools this year.

..."My concern is that many of these charter schools are not living up to the promise of what charter schools had to offer," says state Sen. J. Kirk Schuring, a Republican from Canton. "In fact, there are many that are really getting some bad results."

And from another Republican lawmaker:

..."The state of Ohio is spending over $400 million on charter schools," says Rep. W. Scott Oelslager, a Republican from Canton. "There has to be a greater degree of accountability to be responsible to the taxpayers."

And lest you think this is unfair, consider this:

...Ohio allows a two-year delay before giving new charter schools state report cards and academic ratings. But of those that were rated in 2003-04, 54 percent were considered substandard - compared with 10 percent of traditional public schools.

Now some supporters insist the comparison isn't fair:

Supporters say comparing charters to traditional public schools is unfair, particularly because state law requires charter schools to open only in the lowest-performing school districts.

"By and large, the comparisons that the opposition is trying to make can't be made," says Stephen J. Ramsey, president of the Ohio Charter School Association. "Of our charter schools open right now ... over a third of them are serving kids who exclusively are dropouts or wards of agencies like juvenile court."

For dropouts, I buy the argument. Any charter that focuses on students that dropped out of public school, should not be held to the same standard. But to claim that kids who are poor or are wards of the courts shouldn't be figured into a school's numbers is ludicrous.

The point is simple: No matter what the school looks like -- whether it be traditional, charter, or private -- it will always be difficult and costly to educate poor kids. (I hate the term "economically disadvantaged," let's call a spade a spade. They're poor.) That doesn't mean it can't be done. It can -- and must -- be done. But there is no panacea. Sorry free marketeers, but competition is not a magical potion.

To continue with the story:

Glenda Brown, superintendent of Phoenix Community Learning Center in Bond Hill, says students come to her charter school two and three years below grade level.

The school is making gains, she says. In the 2001-02 school year, just 2.4 percent of fourth-graders passed the reading test. That climbed to 69 percent by 2003-04.

But Phoenix students still struggled in math. Just of a fourth of them passed that test.

Again, it appears -- in light of that data -- that public schools aren't so bad after all. Consider this:

On average, passing rates for the state's urban districts are better than the rates for charters. For instance, 52 percent of fourth-graders in the state's eight, big-city school districts passed reading, which is 18 percentage points higher than in charter schools.

"There is no body of evidence that says that charter schools do better than traditional public schools," says Gary Miron, chief of staff at the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University, which has studied charter schools nationally.

Some critics say charters' poor results stem from using unqualified teachers.

In charter schools, 45 percent of teachers lack full certification in their content area, compared with 7 percent in all Ohio schools, according to the state Department of Education.

And what does all this "success" and competition cost:

...Ohio charters receive at least $5,169 for every student enrolled. Some of that comes directly from the state, some from the local district where the student resides.

Fairfield is losing $779,352. Oak Hills and Mason each are handing over more than $200,000 this year. Lakota is paying out $677,171 this year to charter schools, an amount school officials say is unfair. Under a complicated funding formula, Lakota receives about $2,800 from the state for each student but pays out about $6,900 for each student it loses to a charter school.

"I'm not anti-charter school," Lakota district treasurer Alan Hutchinson says. "If they are a public educational entity and the students are going there, then how the state funds them is their business. But don't deduct it from us."

Well said.

Does anyone speak Dutch?

It's great to know that you can have an influence -- no matter how small -- on someone 9 or 10 time zones away, without meeting them.

I noticed this link in my sitemeter this morning from a student at the University of Utrecht. It really is a small world.

Oh, and I think I should probably check out " Groot’s 'vijven en zessen'" as someone suggested in the comments. Anyone know Dutch?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Spellings praises voucher grads

Reading this week's New Yorker, this statement in a review of one of my favorite plays (Three Sisters) struck me as particularly relevant to political debate:

Chekhov implies [that] none of us understand, let alone hear, others, particularly if those others truly are other.

How true. And how sad.

I'm trying ever harder these days to keep an open mind. But, as usual, it's not easy when you're passionate about an issue. So when I saw what Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was up to yesterday, I tried to see it from the other side.

Spellings spoke at the graduation ceremony of 200 students from the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a Rovian/Orwellian name that really means a federally funded voucher program. The students all would have gone to the much maligned DC public schools, but instead were provided with vouchers of up to $7500 to go to private schools

On the one hand, it's hard to fault the kids or the families for getting out. Any rational person would try to get their kids or themselves out of a school that is in decay (often literally, because the buildings are falling apart). And it's understandable that politicians and policy makers would want to give a few hundred kids a way out.

But still, it's unfortunate that the dedication and energy and focus given to the few kids who got out, couldn't be funneled into the whole system. It's great that those 200 graduated and will have opportunities, but what about the thousands that are -- no pun intended -- left behind? Private schools simply don't have the capacity for all of them. And I just don't see that competition, as Spellings suggested in her speech, is really going to make a difference.

It also appears that Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), want to expand the program even though it's only in the second year of a five-year pilot program. Can you say filibuster, boys and girls?

I'm interested in learning more about the DC voucher program. Anyone know of any great articles about it?

Meanwhile, I at least appreciate Secretary Spellings' sense of humor and excellent advice, delivered in her speech at the previously mentioned graduation ceremony:

You know, my own daughter Mary graduated from high school last month. I paid extra close attention to the speakers at her graduation so that I would know what to say to you today. I think I'm supposed to give you all some advice now. So here goes: Floss your teeth every day. I'm a devout flosser myself.

Me, too, Madame Secretary. Now there's something everyone could get behind: a federally funded Ed. Dept. initiative to get all kids flossing. Let's put aside our differences and come together to fight gum decay. Drop vouchers and get the Senate to pass that.

Where can I register my support?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"You can't spend enough money on education"

Today, my National Champion Texas Longhorn baseball team showed up to take a bow at the Texas Capitol. Speaking from the Speaker's podium, baseball coach/Zen master Auggie Garrido made a short speech and finished it with a simple statement: "You can't spend enough money on education." Well said, Coach.

Republican House Speaker Tom "I never saw a tax break I didn't like" Craddick looked like someone had just punched him in the gut. He quickly ushered him off the podium. It was a hilarious moment.

Congratulations, Longhorns and thanks, Auggie for embarassing the penny pinchers in the Texas House. Click here for a slide show, including -- fellow Longhorn fans -- a picture of Governor and Aggie alum Rick Perry giving the Hook 'Em sign. Think he'll ever be able to go to College Station again?

Shut Up and Link

Many apologies to Joe Thomas, who pointed out that his blog was not linked in the blogroll. That problem is now corrected; if you ever want to access the consistently excellent content at Shut Up and Teach, you can do so directly from Education at the Brink.

Go ahead, I dare you.

And thanks, Joe.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Who's to blame?

I just want everyone to notice the conversation that followed a Sunday post. Particularly, Joe Thomas's comment rings true:

If we really (and I mean really) want to make a difference in America, we will agree that the "problems" in public schools are in truth problems of society and merely easier to see in the context of public schools.

At that point we can implement the family services and adult education and training needed to break the cycle of poverty, increase the reach of social mobility, and provide all Americans the "opportunity" we know a democratic society can provide-- if its citizens demand it.

At present, we demand 'accountability' but refuse to provide the appropriate resources to achieve our lofty goals.

Spot on, my friend. Spot on.

The point is simple: the fundamentalist free-marketeers are trying to blame anyone they can think of (parents, teachers, teachers' unions, bureaucracies, Democrats, etc.) for the "failure" of the public schools.

Want to blame someone? Sure, it's counterproductive and trite, but if you really want to blame someone, point the finger at yourself. It's our collective fault. As a society, we are failing large segments of our society. And sorry folks, no amount of testing or accountability will fix it. No buzzwords or savvy PR phrases (e.g., No Child Left Behind) will achieve the goal of success for all.

What will? Consider the comment section your personal soapbox, but let's focus on solutions -- not blame -- dear readers. I challenge you to try; it's not as easy as it sounds.

Public education is killing America

Some have questioned the motives of the fundamentalist right wingers involved in the voucher/public school debates. Generally, I don't attribute bad motives to them. I think people of good will have vastly divergent ideas about how to improve education. Many think that the free market will make education stronger. I, of course, happen to disagree.

But every once in a while you come across something so egregious that it needs to be acknowledged so that people realize there are some with very bad motives, indeed. So, my friends, especially those of you who don't think there's at least an active core of radical anti-educationists out there, witness Texas state Representative Debbie Riddle, who, in 2003, said the following:

Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight from the pit of hell.

And it's cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It's ripping the heart out of this country.

There you have it folks. You -- and those money grubbing, free loading, mooching good-for-nothing kids of yours -- are draining this country of its life. You're ripping the heart out of this country. You don't deserve free education. You should pay for it. And if you can't afford it, too bad. Work harder. Oh yeah, and God bless America.

Get it straight, folks, if you support public education, you're a commie. And don't forget it.

Link fixed

Thanks, Joe, for pointing out the link at the bottom of a previous post didn't work. It does now. It's the link for the study that shows that public schools perform better than private ones.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Bullies are good, according to Sommers

Wacko flavor of the month Christina Hoff Summers, co-author of One Nation Under Therapy, was featured briefly on a great Daily Show bit about bullying (called Raging Bully, if you're looking for it from the link).

Said Summers, "There are all sorts of lessons a bully can teach you…”

Yes, more bullies. There's something everyone -- liberal or conservative, pro-testing or anti-testing -- can agree on: We need more bullies.

Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee's response was absolutely perfect:

Kids do have to learn that life is a humiliating charade of endless disappointment and tragedy ultimately culminating in pain, decay, and death... My parents used to sing me to sleep with that one.

On that note, I'm going to get some shut-eye.

Public schools perform better than private

There was a great column in this morning's Dallas Morning News by Joshua Benton. In it, he analyzes the data from a study done by a couple of University of Illinois researchers who were trying to figure out if private schools are -- as most people believe them to be -- better than public schools. They used traditional metrics (NAEP test scores in this case) and -- and here's the key -- adjusted for variables like income level, education level of parents, etc.

What do you think they found? Private schools aren't any better, they just have far easier to educate populations. But Benton says it so much better than me:

[The researchers] found that, at all class levels, public schools had a small but consistent edge over privates. Their suspicions were supported by the numbers: The reason private schools look better on paper is because they serve more middle- and upper-class kids.

Or, to be even plainer: Poor kids in public schools did better than poor kids in private schools. Middle-class kids in public schools did better than middle-class kids in private schools. And rich kids in public schools did better than rich kids in private schools.

I've got no grudge here. I attended both public and private schools. And there may be plenty of reasons to send a child to private school that aren't about test scores – religion, for instance.

So actually, dear voucher proponents, it would appear that public schools do better than private schools. Hmmm... And no, I have absolutely nothing against private schools whatsoever. There are many good reasons to send kids to private schools, but failing public schools is NOT one of them since private schools don't perform as well as public schools.

Back to Benton:

Real estate agents in the northern suburbs love to talk up how great the local schools are. Their scores have been among North Texas' highest for years. But were they "great" because they employed great teachers and brilliant principals? Or were they coasting on the fact they were handed a group of upper-middle-class kids with involved parents – the kind of kid that's easiest to teach?

Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine Plano West High's [affluent] student body were suddenly switched with South Oak Cliff's [impoverished].

Plano's test scores would collapse; South Oak Cliff's would skyrocket. But would that mean the teachers at Plano West have suddenly forgotten how to teach? Would it mean the maligned schools of Dallas' southern sector suddenly became world beaters? Nope on both counts.

Interesting point, huh? And especially considering that in most voucher schemes, private schools do not have to accept all-comers. Wanna bet their test scores will be high? Sure. Give any principal the ability to pick their student body and they'll be successful.
Finally, the Lubienski study suggests that changing how a school is governed isn't an easy way to "fix" education.

In the 1990s, some education reformers argued that schools were being held back by the systems that run them. If you could just find a way to get rid of the school boards and the public-education bureaucracies, they argued, schools would flourish.

It's one of the core arguments for vouchers and charter schools. Change the governance structure – or let private schools get public dollars – and kids' performance will improve.

The Illinois study is just one study, and it's certainly an area that needs more research. But it's a sign that the old public-school model may not be as troubled as some argue.

Indeed. For the study itself, click here.

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