Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Resignation, Two New Leaders, Three Reasons to Be Troubled

Last week Teach For America (TFA) founder and CEO Wendy Kopp resigned, er, promoted herself out of her CEO position with TFA and to the char of the board, replacing education expert biographer Walter Isaacson (known recently for penning the life story of Apple CEO Steve Jobs).  Kopp will, according to the press release, also continue to serve as CEO of Teach For All – the international spin off version of the domestic TFA.  Replacing Kopp at the helm of TFA will be Matt Kramer (formerly the President) and Elisa Villanueva (formerly the Chief Operating Officer).

I focus here on Kramer’s role in the future of TFA as he, compared to Villanueva, has more experience as a leader of TFA as the former President.  Kramer began his leadership stint within TFA after serving at McKinsey & Company (business and finance consulting).  Additionally, Kramer serves as the lead of TFA’s lobbying arm Leadership for Educational Equity, which seeks to assist TFA alumnae with political campaigns via webhosting and donations.  And while Wendy Kopp certainly has no background in education (a point which made Steven Colbert break character exhibiting a chuckle) there are three concerns, (1) the rise of non-education “experts” in education policy; (2) the disposition of business minded individuals operating within democratic spaces; and (3) viewing human capital as replaceable cogs whether they do good or cause problems.

The rise of non-education “experts” in education policy is a point that has been exercised by others.  And, as stated, while the previous leadership of TFA was no closer to the classroom in terms of practicum, the new leadership is further away in terms of educational dispositions.  In other words, a business model treats individuals as numbers, units, and thus… as replaceable cogs, rather than celebrating individuality.  Workers are to submit and work relentlessly (a phrase TFA prides itself on) towards a prescribed goal…in the case of corporate education reform, that goal is increased test scores.  Moreover, requiring workers (in this case teachers) to work without regard to their own wellbeing requires a repertoire of others who can replace the fallen.  In fact, the founders of KIPP acknowledge that a teacher in their schools could not sustain the level of requirements demanded and thus rely on “fresh blood” provided by TFA (see, for example, Horn, 2011; and Lack, 2011).

Matt Kramer’s rise to the top of TFA highlights the ever increasingly changing goal of the organization.  That is, starting with the goal of filling vacant teaching positions with the “best and brightest” has now fully morphed into an organization that is proud to say that teaching is not the ends, rather, the means.  The goal is to produce corps members who, having pedagogical training only at the hands of TFA, teach for two years, leave as “education experts” who will then take over the reigns – or create them via charters or non-profits – of organizations that seek to further implement myopic educational reforms of “no excuses,” blaming teachers, and testing as an indication of learning and subsequent worth.  If you’ve only ever known one way of perceiving and engaging with the world you will continue to champion that way as appropriate.  As corps members rise through the proverbial ranks of education reform having accepted TFA’s business model, there will be less room for democratic spaces that treat teachers and students as humans within education.  TFA’s insistence on leading the education reform movement with business-minded frameworks will certainly only further exacerbate the subversion of democracy in education in favor of what is most efficient and profitable.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Black Parents and Education in South African Schools

The dismantling of apartheid in 1994 brought an array of democratic changes in South Africa, including changes in curriculum and educational policies. One of the most momentous changes was the desegregation of public schools. While this was significant in South African education politics, it presented some educational challenges, especially to Black and poor children in the township neighborhoods. This article examines Black parents’ perceptions of two major challenges that threaten education transformation in this new democracy: racism in formerly White-only schools and insufficient resources in township schools. It draws on an in-depth qualitative study with the parents of Black students, examining their “common sense” about the desegregated public schools. Based on the findings, I make a claim that parents have clear and informed opinions about the education of their children. They are aware of the lack of resources in township schools and of racism in formerly White-only schools. They make different choices for their children and articulate the reasons for their choice; they articulate a nuanced grasp of the complexities affecting their choice as they respond to these opposing educational problems.

Most previous studies of parents have shown that upper and upper middle-class parents often get better educational opportunities for their children because of their cultural capital and abilities to relate to or negotiate social structures, including schools (for example, Ball (2003); Ball, Bowe, and Gewirtz (1994); Bourdieu (1984); Ciabattari (2010); Gillborn and Youdell (2000); Lareau (1989); Lauder and Hughes (1999)). Most of these studies have suggested that wealthy parents are most likely to understand the intricacies of their children’s education. I believe these are insightful and significant studies, with which I also agree. However, this study shows that working class parents are also sophisticated about these issues. My sample was a mix of working-class and middle-class parents and all were aware of the minute practices of racism and the details of educational resources. Both middle and working class parents seem to know that all policies have hidden effects and have been able to read the current situation very well. None of these parents are unaware of the continuing educational inequalities in post-apartheid South Africa.

This article can be accessed at

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Study examines whether it really does "get better" for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth

Forum fellow Joseph Robinson recently published a study in Pediatrics:

Young people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) tend to experience higher rates of bullying. The study, “Developmental Trends in Peer Victimization and Emotional Distress in LGB and Heterosexual Youth,” in the March 2013 Pediatrics (published online Feb. 4), collected data from adolescents and young people in England over a seven-year period to examine how rates of bullying change as adolescents grow older, and what effect bullying has on their emotional distress. On average, bullying of LGB youth declined significantly as they left high school. For example, 57 percent of lesbian or bisexual girls reported being bullied at age 13 or 14, compared to 6 percent at age 20 or 21. Among boys, the bullying declined from 52 percent to 9 percent over the same time period. However, compared to heterosexual peers, LGB boys and girls were about twice as likely to be bullied throughout high school. After high school, lesbian or bisexual girls were no more likely to be bullied than heterosexual girls; gay or bisexual boys’ likelihood of being bullied actually increased after high school compared to heterosexual boys. The study authors found that LGB youth demonstrated significantly higher levels of emotional distress than their heterosexual-identified peers  -- only some of which can be attributed to bullying. The findings suggest the answer to “does it get better?” is nuanced and depends on whether one looks at absolute or relative levels of victimization and the interplay among age, gender and sexual identity.

The study can be found here

Monday, February 04, 2013

School Vouchers - Legal Watch

This past week was National School Choice WeekSchool Choice continues to be a major area of discussion in the current education policy debates. The National School Board Association recently released facts on voucher programs to counter National School Choice Week.  As school reform advocacy strengthens, this Country will continue to face increased pressure to develop voucher programs.  In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris[1] , held that an Ohio school voucher program was not in violation of the Establishment Clause.  This ruling opened up the opportunity for other states to create similar school voucher programs. The increase in voucher programs has lead to an increase in litigation regarding the constitutionality of these programs.  The success of these legal challenges depends on the language in the individual state’s constitution.
Currently there are several school voucher cases that have been recently decided or are awaiting a decision. These decisions can shape the future of voucher programs.  On November 30, 2012, a Louisiana state court held that its state voucher program is unconstitutional.[2]   The Louisiana Scholarship Program is a program designed to provide students with additional opportunities to attend high quality schools. The voucher program provided vouchers to student within a certain income bracket to allow the opportunity to attend private schools.  Judge Timothy Kelley of State District Court ruled that the Louisiana voucher program is financed in a way that is in violation of the state constitution. The state used their Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the state’s public school funding formula, to pay for the program.
Another voucher case, Meredith v. Daniels[3], is currently in front of the Indiana Supreme Court.   Meredith, questions the constitutionality of the Indiana school voucher program, the Choice Scholarship Program, hereafter “CSP”.[4]  CSP allows Indiana primary and secondary school students, within a certain household income, to receive voucher scholarships to attend private schools.[5]   The Indiana Marion County Superior Court held that CSP was not in violation of the Indiana Constitution.[6]  The court summarized that “interpreting Article 1, Section 6 to prohibit programs like the CSP would cast double on the validity of a host of other longtime religion-neutral state programs whereby taxpayers funds are ultimately paid to religious institutes by way of individual choice.”[7]  The Plaintiffs appealed this ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.  On November 21, 2012, the Indiana Supreme Court held oral arguments for MeredithWe are awaiting a decision on this case.  After listening to the oral arguments in this case, I did not anticipate there not being a decision two months after the arguments.   
The case of Larue v. Colorado Board of Education[8] is currently in the front of the Colorado  Court of Appeals.  Larue, challenges the Choice Scholarship Program, not to be confused with the Indiana CSP.[9]  “The Program, enacted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, takes public funds provided by the State of Colorado—which are required by law to be spent on public schools—and uses them to pay for tuition at private schools. The vast majorities of these private schools are religious, are controlled by churches or other religious institutions.”[10]  The Plaintiff’s allege that the voucher program is in violations of six sections of the Colorado Constitution, and a public finance act.  The lower court agreed with the plaintiffs and issued an injunction in August 2011.[11]    Oral arguments for this case were held on November 19, 2012.  We are currently awaiting the Colorado Court of Appeals decision.  
In an Oklahoma case, Independent School District No. 5 of Tulsa County v. Spry,  the school district sued the parents regarding the constitutionality of a voucher program that provided vouchers to students with disabilities.[12]  The lower district court ruled that the voucher program was unconstitutional, however, on appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to address the constitutionality of the voucher program because the school district did not have standing to sue the parents.  It stated in its unpublished decision, that “the school districts are not taxpayers themselves, whom this Court has long recognized have a right to challenge the illegal expenditure of public funds.”  The court further states, “the parents are clearly not the proper parties against whom to assert these constitutional challenges. We hold that the school districts have neglected to meet the threshold standing requirement for constitutional challenges.” [13] Considering that the court did not make a determination regarding the constitutionality, one could anticipate that the school district will look into possible future action.  This matter will most likely be brought again with individual citizens and taxpayers as the Plaintiffs and the Education Agency as the defendant. 
These school voucher decisions will impact education policy for the years to come.  As more organizations advocate for education reform, we will see more and more states create voucher programs.  The complication or ease in the creation of these programs will depend on the language in that state’s constitution.  The litigation involving these programs will continue to transform the definition of Public Education. Only the future will tell us what that definition will be.  On another note, what is going on with virtual charter schools in Pennsylvania?  I can smell the litigation!!!

 By:  Tiffany Puckett

[1] Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).
[2] Louisiana Association of Educators, et al, v. State of Louisiana, case number and opinion not available.  The case was decided by the 19th District Court in Louisiana.  Information regarding the opinion retrieved on December 1, 2012 from various websites, including, the Louisiana Association of Educators website located at 
[3] Meredith v. Daniels, No. 49S00-1203-PL-00172, (Ind. filed Jan. 20, 2012).
[4] Id. 
[5] See Ind. Code §§ 20-51-1-4.7; 20-51-4 et seq.; 20-51-4-1.
[6] Meredith v. Daniels, No. 49D07-1107-PL-025402, slip op. (Ind. Sup. Ct. Jan 13, 2012).
[7] Id. at 9.
[8] Larue v. Board of Education, No. 11CA1856 and 11CA1857. (Colo. Ct. App. filed Sept. 2011).
[9] Id.
[10] Plaintiff’s complaint, Larue v. Board of Education, No. 11CA1856 and 11CA1857.
[11] Larue v. Board of Education, No. 11cv4424 and No.11cv4427.  District Court, Denver County, unpublished opinion. 
[12] Independent School District No. 5 of Tulsa County v. Spry, 2012 OK 98, __ P.3d __, decided November 20, 2012, has not been released for publication.  Until such time it is subject to revision or withdrawal. 
[13] Id. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Worth a Read: Educational Delusions? Why Choice can Deepen Inequalities and How to Make Schools Fair

Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA have collaborated once again on a weighty book, one that looks at the civil rights implications of choice.  Just published this month by University of California Press it makes a central contribution to the policy analysis field.
I will give more space to selected excerpts here than I will consume with my own observations.  Two facets of the book I would highlight, however, are that it includes important new empirical studies, and also that it is not anti-charter and choice.  Indeed, the authors provide many examples throughout the book of ways that choice has always held integrative potential, and still does – if policymakers pay careful attention.  
The authors write:

Our intent was to produce a volume that would be accessible and based on clear evidence, to help readers critically assess assumptions about school choice and the civil rights implications of the choices and decisions being made in their communities. Because much of the debate in this arena is ideologically driven, we grounded our examination in specific cases as a way to illustrate the relationships between policies and their effects on segregation and opportunity for poor and minority families, evidence from which readers could draw their own conclusions about school choice (pp. ix-x).

The authors have largely achieved this goal.  One chapter that ought to be assigned reading for education law and policy students, by Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, focuses on the lack of directives at the state level to regulate charter school segregation levels.  In the absence of clear federal policies about preventing segregation in charters that receive federal funding, states also feel little pressure to enact such policies.  This is not only a dereliction of responsibility, but a missed opportunity:

Aside from diversity requirements and nondiscrimination obligations, there are other, seemingly race-neutral decisions about charter schools that could have significant consequences for their ability to attract a diverse student enrollment. For instance, the lack of legislation extending charter transportation across district lines undercuts one of the sector’s integrative strengths: the opportunity to attract a diverse student body across such boundaries. Since most school segregation today exists between districts, charters represent an important opportunity to override the lines dividing school systems. (p. 134)

Case studies from Louisville, Hartford, and Berkeley show such integrative possibilities and explain the policy tools used to achieve them (i.e. controlled choice, magnets, and use of planning zones), while Amy Stuart Wells and colleagues update what is known about the outcomes of inter-district transfer programs.  A recurring theme throughout is that parents are still eager for diverse schools for their children, as evidenced by competitive admissions for many urban-suburban interdistrict plans, and demand that exceeds supply for magnets in just about every metropolitan area. 

Barus Gumus-Dawes, Tom Luce, and Myron Orfield of the Institute for Race and Poverty make a sound contribution to the gridlocked debate about charter school outcomes in New Orleans, which ought to be read widely -- but probably will not be.  First, they examine achievement data to show that the achievement differences among sectors – Recovery School District (RSD), Orleans Parish Schools, and suburban schools – outweigh those between RSD charters and the city’s regular public schools.  In the RSD, the authors write, “charters can use admission requirements, enrollment processes, discipline and expulsion practices, transportation policies, location decisions, and marketing or recruitment efforts to shape their student bodies clearly implies that selection bias is almost certainly working to make pass rates in charters, all else being equal, greater than those of traditional schools” (p. 175).  They encourage a consideration of the use of magnet schools as an addition to the current almost exclusive focus on charters.  Also viable, they write, would be to explore a regional plan, similar to Raleigh’s or Louisville’s:
 “In 2009 there were three times as many students in suburban public schools as in the city system. The racial and income mix of the full regional school system clearly provides much more potential for integration efforts than the city alone. An effective regional system would also likely fare better in competition with the private system than the city alone” (p. 179).  If, that is, there are constituencies left there who would embrace higher levels of integration as a goal.  With Governor Jindal’s private-school voucher plan newly expanded, discussions of racial segregation aren’t particularly lively in Louisiana, unless you are a federal judge noting that it interferes with a standing desegregation order

I will give Gary Orfield the last word about the application of market incentives, unfettered, to public schools.  He writes in his chapter entitled “Choice Theories and the Schools”:

Getting the best results from competition requires enforcement of the rules of the game by government. When one uses the promise of private gains as the basic engine of change, one must channel that great force to produce real gains and limit harm. The drive for profits is a powerful motivator, and if it is possible to get more while doing less by cheating, the market will be corrupted…It is ironic that the same ideology that assumes people are inherently inclined toward evil and corruption in politics and therefore need to be watched and limited somehow believes that people in markets are not subject to the same temptations. What we see in many discussions of school choice is a school produced by an ideal type of market instead of the real situation facing the most disadvantaged schools.  (p.47)

Lesson learned: Federales necessarii sunt.  Federal regulation is not the answer to every problem in education, but in this case, some ground rules desperately need clarification and enforcement.