Article

A growing chorus of voices is calling for the rescission of Obama-era guidance addressing discipline disparities by race and special education status in public schools. Mike Petrilli—who wants the guidance scrapped, and who is president of the Fordham Institute, of which I’m a board member—recently summarized it well:

In effect, it said that districts could be investigated for violating students’ civil rights if data collected by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights showed significant disproportionality—as would happen when, for example, African Americans were suspended by their schools at higher rates than whites. It also stated that districts could be found in violation of civil rights laws even if their discipline policies were race-neutral and applied evenhandedly.

I understand the urge to want this guidance removed, but I have seen its benefits firsthand and support keeping it. The federal government has a legitimate role in ending institutional racism when states, districts, and schools fail to act—and, unfortunately, that’s the situation in which we Americans find ourselves.

The guidance is broad, covering behaviors from repetitive class disruption to campus violence. To be sure, as a parent, I want disruptive students removed from my children’s classes so that those...

  1. Pretty busy meeting for the Columbus school board last night. Suspensions were approved for two more data scrubbing administrators. Both will retain their jobs after the sting of that wrist slapping abates. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21/17) The board voted unanimously to reinstate the no-religious-music-at-graduations policy that should never have been taken out in the first place. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21/17) The board also voted unanimously to hire as interim supe the guy who may have been responsible for the deletion of that policy. Quite an unlikely trajectory to that top seat, if I do say so myself. Check out the details in this piece if you doubt. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21/17)
     
  2. Meanwhile, at Dayton’s school board meeting last night, members present voted unanimously to place Superintendent Rhonda Corr on leave, effective immediately, pending the outcome of a likely disciplinary proceeding. (Dayton Daily News, 11/22/17)
     
  3. Meanwhile, the Youngstown school board held a community meeting last night to try and get some support in their dislike for the CEO-style Academic Distress Commission under whose aegis they are operating. One board member from similarly-afflicted Lorain City Schools joined them in commiseration. (Youngstown Vindicator, 11/22/17) Meanwhile, the board’s allies in
  4. ...

As charter school enrollment increases around the country, issues of access and equity are becoming more pronounced. The question is whether charter schools are serving their share of students with disabilities and other challenges and not pushing out kids with behavioral problems. A new report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) examines the ways charter authorizers are addressing these issues.

The report is a case study of two charter authorizers, the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) and Denver Public Schools (DPS). NACSA used interviews with authorizers, charter operators, and city-based education organizations and experts to create a descriptive analysis detailing common struggles and solutions. The report purposefully avoids suggesting “best” solutions, understanding that each community and charter sector has unique circumstances.

The report found that DC PCSB, Washington’s sole charter authorizer, played a critical role in addressing disproportionate expulsion rates and a decentralized enrollment system, requiring separate applications to each charter school. In working through these issues DC PCSB prioritized maintaining charter quality and autonomy. In the case of expulsions, the authorizer, instead of creating mandates, publicized discipline data to encourage charters to change practices. It also provided best-practices training to charter...

Career and technical education (CTE) is a potential strategy to address the widening skills gap in the American workplace. But enrollment in CTE programs and courses is stagnant over the past ten years, despite rising demand for skilled workers.

A recent report by Advance CTE, the membership organization for state CTE directors, gauges the public opinion of career and technical education by surveying students who are considering or already involved in a high school CTE program and their parents. The survey collected responses from several groups of parents and students: 971 adults, comprising 252 parents of CTE students (in grades nine through twelve) and 506 parents of prospective students (in grades six through eleven); and 776 students—252 current CTE students and 514 prospective students. Prospective parents and students are “those who expressed interest (somewhat to extremely interested) in CTE during screening.”

There are three particularly noteworthy findings, each consistent across race, ethnicity, income level, geographic location, and education level of both parents and students.

First, the report finds that current CTE students and parents are more satisfied with their educational experiences than prospective parents and students. Fifty-five percent of CTE students and parents are “very satisfied” with their experiences, compared...

“An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.” 

—Werner Heisenberg

Not three months after graduating from college, I got a job teaching middle school science at a local parochial school. For my orientation, I was given a tour of my classroom and the keys to a closet that contained my students’ textbooks. Whether I used them was entirely my call. It’s the kind of freedom many teachers could only dream of—and a freedom that is perhaps common in the Catholic school world.

As it turned out, the closet held two full sets of eighth grade science textbooks—one for earth science and one for physical science. My first big decision as a teacher was which one to use. When I met with the teacher I was replacing, she recommended I used the earth science textbook because it was “easier.” I followed her advice for one chapter, at which point I realized I didn’t much enjoy earth science and would rather teach physical science. So I switched—pivoting to an entirely different set of content and hoping my eighth grade students would follow along. I had the...

Advocates for gifted and talented education will always face an uphill struggle. Garnering support for policies that, by definition, benefit a small subset of students is hard—and harder when so many people assume that these kids will do fine regardless.

The inevitable—but foreseeable—result is the emaciated condition of programs designed to serve such children in U.S. public schools: scarce, often thin, and frequently staffed by ill-trained educators.

Weakness in gifted education undermines the country’s long-term prosperity. It’s also inequitable and bad for social mobility. The students most harmed are able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who depend far more than upper-middle-class students on the public education system to support them.

One partial remedy for this neglect is to ensure that policies that focus on all students truly benefit high achievers, too. Properly crafted, such policies can be significant boons for bright, motivated pupils, while sidestepping the “elitist” label that too often gets applied to gifted-centric initiatives.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) presents just such an opportunity for broad-gauged policy improvement at the state level—and it’s heartening that most of the new state accountability plans for schools under that statute are likely to do some good for...

Max Eden

Abel Cedeno, a bisexual eighteen-year-old high school student, sits at Rikers Island charged with manslaughter. Cedeno claims he killed another student in self-defense, and Wednesday appeared in court to plead not guilty. He insists his school did nothing to address years of homophobic bullying. And that on September 27, two teachers in his history class did nothing as classmate Matthew McCree confronted Cedeno—who, claiming to fear that Matthew was armed, snapped and stabbed him with a serrated knife.

While the families of the perpetrator and victim dispute some details, they agree that, in the words of Matthew’s brother, “Nobody had the kids under control” at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx.

Five years ago, a nightmare like this would’ve caused a call to action from education reformers for higher disciplinary standards and perhaps more charter schools. Today, the outcry has been conspicuous by its absence...

Click here to read the rest of the article at the New York Daily News, where it originally appeared.

Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute....

Simon Whitehead

Editor’s note: This is a lightly edited version of prepared remarks that Mr. Whitehead delivered to senior U.S. Department of Education officials at Friday morning’s listening session concerning the agency’s school discipline guidance. Mr. Whitehead is a retired high school teacher with thirty-seven years of teaching experience, the last twenty-five years of which were in Minneapolis.

I am here today because I am very worried about the direction some of our urban and suburban schools are taking.

Over the past four to five years, there have been strong expectations to discipline students differently depending on their race. We were told that too many students of color were being suspended and this looked bad, especially in the case of African American boys. This was definitely the case in Minneapolis.

However well-intended, this policy actually disrespects a whole class of students by lowering the expectations for their behavior, their work ethic, and inevitably their academic progress. When students walk though my classroom door, I have high expectations for them—no matter what they look like.

Another great area of concern is that students are now increasingly emboldened to get together and collaborate to “get teachers in trouble.” Those teachers can lose...

The controversy brewing over Obama-era school discipline policy has all the makings of a polarizing debate. For progressives, it taps into deeply held beliefs about fairness and justice. And for conservatives, it taps into deeply held beliefs about order and safety. Throw in race, Donald Trump, and Betsy DeVos, and you have a potentially toxic stew.

That’s a shame because this is an issue that desperately needs pragmatism and a good-spirited search for common ground. Let me propose how we might find it.

First a little background: In 2014, the Department of Education and Department of Justice published a “dear colleague” letter addressing discipline disparities by race and special education status in public schools. It was lauded by civil rights groups—and bemoaned by conservatives—for applying “disparate impact theory” to the issue of school discipline. In effect, it said that districts could be investigated for violating students’ civil rights if data collected by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights showed significant disproportionality—as would happen when, for example, African Americans were suspended by their schools at higher rates than whites. It also stated that districts could be found in violation of civil rights laws even if...

Next September, Ohio districts and schools will receive an overall grade on their report cards. While the Buckeye State has generated overall ratings before—using labels such as “effective” or “academic watch”—this will be the first time Ohio assigns an overall A-F grade. Akin to our final GPAs in high school or college, these summative ratings roll up the disparate parts of Ohio’s report cards into a single, user-friendly rating. This letter grade will stand out: Parents, the public, and media will inevitably focus their attention on it.

Because of its prominence, the way Ohio determines these grades is of utmost importance. Ideally, policymakers would create a formula (i.e., weighting system) that strikes a balance between indicators of pupil achievement and growth over time. This ensures that schools are held responsible both for meeting proficiency, graduation, and post-secondary readiness targets—the achievement side of the equation—as well as boosting the year-to-year growth of all students, including those who have not yet met achievement goals or advanced pupils who easily surpass them. Given true differences in school quality, summative ratings should reflect those variations. For instance, a system that assigns D’s or F’s to the vast majority of schools is not helpful to...

Pages