In light of the Fiscal Cliff discussion...

Some people are worried that Congress won't pass the legislation necessary to halt cuts to important spending.  Many are also worried that tax rates will increase if the Bush-Era cuts are not extended.  

Though both of these are more about budget priorities than fiscal policy, I thought I might inject a quick clip of the Moral Limits of the Market, from Professor Michael Sandel.  Here he is appearing on the Colbert Report (back in May) with a quick synopsis of his points. 

As a general note, I enjoy lots of these published "Episodes" of Professor Sandel's course on Justice at Harvard University.  Here's a arsenal of others: JUSTICE WITH MICHAEL SANDEL.


Another Atlanta district is on suspension -- UGH!

A few years ago in 2008, the  Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ("SACS") pulled the accreditation of a metro Atlanta school district, Clayton County.  (I wrote about the governance problems in an a co-authored article, "Getting on Board:  How to Make School Districts Represent Students.") Today, it put that same district on "notice" that it still faced major problems with governance. See here.


To add to the community's frustration, another metro Atlanta school district -- neighboring DeKalb County-- has been put on probation.  Yep.  As of today, the school board of DeKalb earned the district a disgraceful mark because of its financial mismanagement.

And, who can forget the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal -- a topic which has consumed many of my posts.

That makes 3 districts of the 6 school systems that many would say form the heart of Atlanta (i.e. Fulton Co, DeKalb Co., Clayton Co., Cobb Co., Gwinnett Co. Atlanta Public Schools).

Clayton County
Atlanta Public Schools
DeKalb County

Begs the question:  what the hell is going on?


[Summer Opportunity] 2013 Policy Leaders Fellowship

Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston is offering an opportunity to attend the 2013 Policy Leaders Fellowship.

According to several sources of information (, Denver St-Cloud Public Schools website, and Ga Tech advertisement):
Seeking Undergraduates, 1L and 2L Law Students, and Graduate Students for 30-50 paid (stipend will be approx. $2000), 6-week Urban Leader Fellowships in Denver, Memphis, and possibly other areas.  
Hiring projections are for 20-25 Fellows in Denver; 6-10 Fellows in Memphis; and possibility of 6-10 Fellows in additional regions.  Fellows will work half-time on high-level policy projects with an elected official.  They will also work half-time alongside community partner organizations.
Denver fellowships are available in 6 areas:  Education, Energy, School Finance, Health, Judiciary, and Transportation, and past community partner organizations have included  Denver School of Science and Technology, Denver Public Schools, Colorado Department of Education, Prodigal Son Initiative (anti-gang violence non-profit), Education Reform Now, Teach for America, Stand for Children. 
Memphis Fellows work on a project-basis, typically in areas such as affordable housing, urban blight, and community engagement; past community partner organizations have included Stand for Children, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Department of Education, and Achievement School District. 
Fellows’ assignments during community partner placement will vary, but all work will be substantive and meaningful for organization.  Fellows working at a school site might run a summer school program or conduct data analysis of student outcomes, while Fellows at non-profit might draft strategic plans for a project or conduct a special research project.  Candidates may indicate location preferences (if any) and issue area preferences during the application process.

There it is, go tell someone.


School District responsible for Bullying -- Ordered to pay $1 million to student's family

Not appropriately responding to bullying could cost school districts, BIG TIME.

The case is Zeno v. Pine Plains Central School District, 10-3604-cv. 

It was heard in the Second Circuit of the the United States Courts of Appeals-- specifically, in the Southern District of New York.  For all the non-lawyers/law students, the case basically says that the federal court of appeals over the federal district court for the Southern District of New York agreed with the final judgment in the trial court.  A jury heard the facts of the case against the Pine Plains Central School District and awarded the student who brought the case, and was bullied for three years with documented complaints, $1 million.

Pages 3- 15 of the Opinion detail the facts.  It lays out the evidence that from a young man's freshman year though his senior year, he was repeatedly bullied because of his race at a school where officials did not do enough. The District argued that its responses to the bullying were reasonable and that the trial court awarded the student too much money as damages.

The Second Circuit disagreed with the school district.

On whether the district was responsible, the Court held that, as a matter of law, the school district could be, and was determined to be (by a jury), responsible for the continuation of the bullying.  It used a legal standard called the "deliberate indifference standard."  Basically, before the school district could be liable for third-party conduct of the bully-ers, the court needed to be satisfied that (1) the school district had substantial control over "both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs," (2) there was severe and discriminatory harassment, (3) the school district had actual knowledge of the conduct, and (4) the district displayed deliberate indifference to the conduct. See pages 22-23.

On the issue of damages, a federal law,Title VI, "provides a private right of damages against a school district for student-to-student harassment if the school district was deliberately indifferent to the known harassment."  See page 42.  The Court noted that the "ongoing and objective offensiveness of the student-on-student harassment" could support an award for $1 million.  See page 48.

Read the case.  Read the facts.  Think about your child, or any child that you love.  Pay up district.  Pay up.


Student Loan Interest Deduction Benefit -- Not so Impressive

According to an article on Student Loan Interest Deductions (cross checked with the IRS instructions), the maximum one can deduct from income for student loan payments is $2500/year paid to the interest on student loans.  For recent graduates, like me, that are pondering how to reduce my liabilities legitimately (like everyone else), I wanted to know what that means.

Well, basically, it means a tax savings of at most $625 -- for interest payments of $2500.


Of course, I could prepay such that the $2500 interest that I pay doesn't get capitalized into the student loan.  That'd mean I'd see a tax savings and a long-run savings of a reduced principle.  But, that also means I'd have to come up with that money before my first payment was actually due (so that payments down the road would be marginally reduced).


Welcome to the real world.  Congrats on that degree!


How much do you make as an Atlanta City Council Member? As Atlanta Mayor? -- UPDATED

Well, both positions are moving on up in salary.  Last week (in addition to the stalemate/refusal to vote on Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Davis's contract renewal), a separate body, the Atlanta City Council, decided to increase the salary of city council members.

According to that article in the AJC:

The legislation would hike the council’s pay from $39,473 to $60,300, with pay for the council president — usually a nonvoting role — jumping from $41,000 to $62,000.

For comparison, the site lists the salary of an administrative assistant in Atlanta: about $34,679.  An executive assistant in Atlanta?  About $48,083.

This newly passed legislation also raises the salary of the city mayor-- "from $147,500 to $184,300" (according to the AJC article linked above).

For comparison, most large Atlanta law firms pay between $130,000-165,000 for first-year associates.

Deserved?  Merited?  Necessary?  Wasteful?


Here are the reported salaries of Atlanta-area Superintendents of Schools from 2010:
  • $382,819 (Gwinnett); 
  • $344,331 (APS); 
  • $287,992 (DeKalb); 
  • $276,629 (Clayton); 
  • $216,697 (Cobb)  
-- Source:  Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 24, 2010.


More on Superintendent Davis -- His Community Impact

Aside from the comments found in my earlier post, there's another perspective out there too -- about the positive community impact that Superintendent Davis's administration has made.  Here's how one of my neighbors put it in a public email thread to us all:
 OK- so maybe you think, I don't have kids in school, this really doesn't
matter [sic] to me.

You could not be more wrong:
-Take a look at your property tax bill: app. 45% is the APS school tax,
plus bonded indebtedness
-Property values are *directly* related to the desireability of local
schools: go a ahead and re-paint and put in granite counter-tops, but if
you want to be able to sell quickly and for a fair price, fix the schools.
-Crime/public safety are also directly related to the schools: good
schools keep after truants, a major source of mischief and mayhem, plus
they give their students marketable skills, so instead of being a drag on
society, they contribute to it.

Davis can be prickly, but he takes a dispassionate look at problems, and
that is something that is rare in schools systems, because politics ranks
so highly with most involved at the executive level. He doesn't care: he
came out of retirement to do this job, and while APS pays him well, he made
his money during a long, varied and successful career.

Surely the community gets a say, right?

More after the break...


Buy a T-shirt? How about give to a classroom . . .

J. Crew is selling t-shirts in support of Teach For America, Inc.

See here.

 For the past few years, Teach For America and J. Crew have had a partnership in which shoppers could come in and use a friends and family discount with some of the proceeds benefiting Teach For America, Inc.  And, they aren't the only corporate cause (see here for the Minted sponsorship).

What do I think?  As a Teach For America alumna?

Well, I think that Teach For America works relentlessly to move toward its goals.  One of those goals has been an expansion of the corps to impact more underrepresented students in under-served communities.  As most non-profit leaders will tell you, that takes money.  So, no.  I'm not gonna hate on Teach For America for building corporate sponsorships to strengthen its finances.  Nor am I gonna hate on Teach For America for its effort to market itself as hip, cool, and the thing to do among recent and prospective college graduates.  The teaching profession needs electricity and enthusiasm.

But what goes through my mind seeing the J. Crew model sporting a Teach For America t-shirt for purchase is: why didn't that person just give to Teach For America directly?  Or, they could have bought a t-shirt directly form Teach For America at the online store (and it may even be cheaper).

Better yet, to have a direct impact, a person could go to the site, filter through the projects, and select a Teach For America corps member classroom (or, hey, ANY project cause any of these teachers' students deserve it) to which a donation would be greatly appreciated.  I have been on the receiving end of someone donating to my classroom.  As thanks, the donor got pictures of my students using the materials, and my students got days on end of playing bean-bag math and reading in our softly lit corner.  I call that having an impact!

Not Voting on Superintendent Davis's Contract Matters

The Atlanta school board is refusing to vote on whether Superintendent Davis' contract will be renewed.

Here's why it matters:

Superintendent Davis and former-Superintendent Hall were brought in during similar public expectations.  Both Dr. Hall and Mr. Davis were asked to improve APS from the low status many perceived it to have. However, as a necessity, much of Superintendent Davis’s initial efforts have been in direct response to shortcoming of the immediate past administration under Superintendent Hall.  Namely, the previous administration had ambitious plans for success without realistic corrections for failure. The Hall administration accepted the positive trends in ways that the Davis administration is now scrutinizing. Where Superintendent Hall put in place initiatives to spur educators to reach the height of performance, Superintendent Davis is enacting initiatives to discourage educators from dipping below performance expectations. Namely, Mr. Davis addressed five areas immediately upon assuming full superintendent responsibilities: (1) combating cheating, (2) rehabilitating the district, (3) restoring students, (4) employing administrative leave, and (5) applying relevant professional, employment, and criminal penalties. These strategies are likely considered to be sound approaches for managing education systems in the context of responding to crisis, but alone they are not likely to transform the district from operating as it had under Superintendent Hall.
[Superintendent Davis took] positive steps by cleaning up the environments that incentivized cheating behavior in the first place, and he is consulting with experts to put in place professionally sound organizational strategies. What is concerning, though, is that many thought that Superintendent Hall was doing similar things at the time she was managing the district—borrowing reforms and initiatives that the education community thought were effective.  After speaking with former APS employees [during my thesis research], there may be reason to believe that simply changing superintendents and tightening administrative policies may not on their own lead to sustainable solutions. Said more strongly, it is unclear that these new policies will actually result in environments where educators and decision-makers will actually be able to police their own environments.

--excerpted from my Master's Thesis, CRITICAL INCIDENTS IN EDUCATION:

So what am I trying to say?

I'm trying to say that Superintendent Davis may have been just what the doctor ordered to restore order in Atlanta Public Schools.  However, it is doubtful that he is what is needed to push APS to become a district that thrives on its own successes and evaluates its own shortcomings.  For all his well-deserved praise and accomplishments (seriously, no sarcasm), it's fair to say that Superintendent Davis never expected himself to be APS's long-term superintendent.

Nor should we.

But that doesn't mean that his contract must end THIS year.  There is a strong case for keeping him on long enough so that the search for a new APS superintendent isn't rushed.  Renewing Superintendent Davis' contract for another year may provide an opportunity for a meaningful administrative transition and introduction of the new leader to Atlanta's community.  It may signal a maturity and stability that APS has lacked.

You see, APS does not just need someone to stop the bleeding and prescribe the medicine-- APS needs a long-term caretaker.  Someone who helps the district regain its strength and envision new opportunities.  And, most importantly, APS needs new administration’s policies grounded in an APS specific context.

So, am I for or against Davis?

Because I am interested in the long-term stability and PROSPERITY of Atlanta Public Schools, I must be for Superintendent Davis -- he had undeniably done GOOD for the district.  I am ALSO for a predecessor to take the reigns, after an appropriate transition, and build upon the stability Davis has brought.

Anyone know any names of potential candidates that have come up in the superintendent search?


"That's not my Job, YOU teach That"

In the headlines yesterday is an article in the Washington Post about how Common Core State Standards are being misused -- wow, breaking headlines.  Sense my sarcasm?

The rift between policy and practice is deep, wide, and well-documented.  My most fond experience in law+graduate school was walking between campuses (literally) attending education policy-focused discussions at the law school, the education school, the policy school, and (even) the business school.  Those conversations talked past one another.  Every time.  There were such disjointed starting points, that it became very obvious to me how this policy-practice ravine began and why it persists.

Yesterday's latest, on how the curriculum standards for English Language Arts  require more nonfiction texts and the burden that is being placed on English teachers specifically, is but another example of what happens when worlds don't collide.

The article's main assertion is that the new common core standards in English require more nonfiction, rigorous texts that can appropriately be spread across teaching subjects.  It asserts that teachers from other subject areas (non English Language Arts teachers) are hesitant (if not opposed) to increase the teaching of nonfiction texts in their subject areas.  So, in practice, English Language Arts teachers will be forced to cut poetry, fiction, or some other beloved, endearing text to replace it with government reports.  (I'm summarizing and paraphrasing here.)

More after the break...


Voters in Georgia Passed the Charter Schools Amendment, and then the Hype was Gone

Voters in Georgia Passed the Charter Schools Amendment, and then the Hype was Gone

One of the initiatives on the voting ballot this November was a proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia.  The Amendment, aptly named the "Charter Schools Amendment," read as follows:

 - 1 - 
Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.

"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"

Of course, many complained about indirect and ambiguous language.  Aside from the obvious critique that "improving student achievement and parental involvement" is being directly linked to "public charter options" (I've seen the research-- in some cases this assertion is true and in others it is not so accurate), the language also fails to distinguish the new addition to the Georgia Constitution-- that the state (or a state board of representatives) would be authorized to approve public charter schools separate from (or perhaps in an appellate capacity) local approval processes.  Now, the state authority to approve charter schools that would operate in local districts is what all the hoopla was about.  So, let's cut to that.

Georgia voters approved the Amendment with results of approximately 58% to 42% (or 58.5% to 41.5% depending on who you consult).

Those that Vote "Nay"
National education voices, like that of Diane Ravich suggested that the measure would ultimately "gut local control."

Other local, Metro-Atlanta columnists agreed that a NO vote on the Charter Amendment was deserved for at least 10 reasons.  See also this article on the 8 Myths of the Proposed Charter Amendment.  Persuasively for some, even the editorial board of the major state newspaper published a piece urging a NO vote.

Those that Vote "Yay"
The Vice President of the Georgia Charter Schools Association had this to say.  Further, there were even reports that President Obama supposedly supported the Amendment (which would fall in line with the President's education "Blueprint" plan (old and new) that has been a mantle piece for some time).

And the Rest...
Still other journalists tried to distill the issues for voters.  Even in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, which I lovingly remember as having an activist/involved education population, there were open forums and discussions on both sides of the issue.

More than Just Georgia
According to the New York Times, here's more on the political breakdown:
  • "Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, has contributed to campaigns supporting the measure"
  • "several companies that manage charter schools, including K12 Inc., Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies" supported
  • "committees supporting the ballot measure have collected 15 times as much as groups opposing the measure, according to public filings."
 A Mixed Bag
Many tried to cast Amendment 1 as a partisan issue, but I believe it is a bit more complicated than attaching an "R" or "D" label.  (I acknowledge that Republicans were supposedly responsible for the language of the Amendment.).  Evidence shows that some Democrats joined Republicans in support of the Amendment.
"conservatives who typically champion decentralized government are giving the amendment full-throated support. Meanwhile, some Tea Party members have joined Democratic legislators, including State Senators Jason Carter and Vincent D. Fort, in opposing the measure. The state’s school superintendent, John D. Barge, a Republican, has come out against it as well." (NYT)
Further, as the creation of Democrats for Education Reform attests, the policies of U.S. education splice creed, regionalism, and background.  I could continue with the examples, but I think you get the point.

So what's my point?
Well, my point is that there was all this political speech-- ads for a YES vote, ads for a NO vote all over the airwaves on this issue.  Even among my friends, there were chatty talks about "the future of public education in Georgia."  But now?  Radio silence.  I hear not one chirp, besides the articles that I am digging up for this blog post, about what the passage of the Amendment means for Georgia charter schools-- and Georgia schools more broadly.

And, I would like to hear more.  I'll keep you tuned.


Entering a new world

I graduated yesterday from Harvard University.  Harvard Kennedy School first and then Harvard Law School, to be precise.  And I feel whole.

I feel whole because now I’ve completed all of the formal education that fulfills my innermost desires, and now I can begin to act on the changes that I would like to see in the world.  For me, formal education has been about taking steps towards an end—obtaining the means by which my achieving the ends I desire will come with the respect it inherently would have deserved on its own, save these other “prerequisites.”  So, I have attained those.  Any now, the excitement begins.



The following writing is excerpted from the beginning pages of my Master's Thesis submitted to the Professors and Administrators of the Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School Joint Degree Program in Law & Government as part of my Integrated Written Work Requirement. Submitted on April 20, 2012, I retain all original rights and privileges. For followup questions or inquiries, email 

Atlanta Public Schools is in the process of adopting more functional administrative policies in response to the system-wide cheating scandal that caused national attention last year.  This research is offered to help the new APS administration fill a potential gap in input from key stakeholders.  It argues that policy solutions must be grounded in Atlanta-specific contexts so that they are sustainable even after administrative leadership changes.  By applying the critical incidents technique to field interviews within a larger reflective practice framework, three key insights emerge about the scandal and potential solutions are proffered to the district.

More after the jump.


Which ideas and policy proposals should be translated into ESEA reauthorization (NCLB) legislation? How does that happen?

An evaluation of ideas from Scott Abernathy, No Child Left Behind and the Public Schools (2007).

Money, resources, efficiency. Abernathy writes that money matters such that “careful thought into where it goes and on what basis it is handed out” become important (p. 133). An ambitious proposal would be for local education agencies (LEA) to encourage cultures of efficient spending to stretch each federal dollar farther—but this is more of a policy opportunity than a legislative proposal.  However, this might be done legislatively by larger appropriations for technical assistance to LEAs and through guidance that encourages LEAs to let accounting and budgeting contracts to companies that can partner with the school district central offices.  (Abernathy echoes that rewards (and resources) “should be both financial and bureaucratic” (p. 134).)

Expanding charter advantages.  Abernathy takes the ideology of choice and charters head on in boldly suggesting “we should consider extending the bureaucratic advantages of charter schools to all public schools” (p. 137). I think this suggestion is worth policymakers really considering for several reasons. First, because it does call into question why traditional public schools that house high-need student populations should bear burdens other schools don’t.  Secondly, because it would ironically create real public choice in the market, as traditional schools are unhinged to actually compete with charter and private counterparts.  And, thirdly, because it would require a serious analysis of whether the fewer burdens on charter schools have produced the raving results people often associate with them—whereas researchers and education policywonks acknowledge the mixed results (Abernathy, p. 136). I read what Abernathy proposes, however, as different from the flexibility for local schools rhetoric that some Congressmen have displayed. Instead, he is asserting that accountability still be in place but bureaucratic requirements lessen (whereas some congressional proposals use the term flexibility to reject some accountability measures altogether). Upon consideration, however, it appears that this proposal might actual bifurcate political groups—especially those that position themselves in favor of public choice but fundamentally against traditional schools or those that rely on teacher unions because unions contracts may strain school flexibility in some areas. 

Assessment of Managers as part of school culture.  Abernathy hits the nail on the head when he notes that teachers’ assessments of principals regarding school performance is needed in NCLB modifications (p. 139). Let’s call this a school culture metric.  Since much of the performance-accountability structure is adapted from private sector metrics, Abernathy’s observation points out a fatal lack of fidelity to accountability models. “It is difficult to imagine a private-sector system that fails to incorporate subordinates’ assessments of their managers in assessing whether those managers are performing adequately” (p. 139). I concur! Teacher retention data attributable to school management practices might be a part of the school culture performance metric as well.  Perhaps this can be done legislatively by including teacher satisfaction surveys with leadership as school culture metrics, which are but one of the many achievement indicators (alongside traditional indicators like graduation rates and student test scores).


The Status of Georgia Race to the Top and What should be done moving forward

This memo assumes that there is a new governor in Georgia as of 2013 for the purposes of an assignment from my HGSE course, Federal Government in the Schools. However, in reality, Georgia's elections for governor fall on mid-term years.  That said, the recommendations for Georgia work out just right if none of that is assumed. So, enjoy the substance, nevermind the exact audience.

Fictional Assignment -- What is the Status of Georgia's Race to the Top Implementation? What are your recommendations for a new governor?

This memo outlines challenges Georgia faces in implementing nearly $400 million in incentive funds received from the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) for a successful Race to the Top (“RTTT”) application. Georgia’s challenges are not drastically different than those of other RTTT winners, but our issues were mostly around data systems, timeline delays, and increasing charter opportunities. These and other issues can be addressed using eight strategies. Four of the eight strategies should be championed by the Office of the Governor: (1) require implementation checks for future RTTT applications, (2) garner local district enthusiasm for Georgia’s state-wide Innovation Fund, (3) maintain vigilance over graduation rates and teacher supports, and (4) encourage and support state legislative efforts to expand equitable opportunities for local charters. The other four strategies, discussed on page 4, should be implemented by the Georgia Department of Education (“GaDOE”). The sections below are instructive. 

More after the break...

If you received a grant for in-school clinic services, what would YOU use it for?

The assumption for this response is that a grant recipient (from the Johnson Foundation) would be able to create a full service healthcare wing of the middle or high school that would be staffed with at least two nurses each of the 5 school days a week.  Given this assumption, here is the plan for specific healthcare services.
More after the break...

Head Start has to keep its Federal Support

Data suggests that enrollment in Head Start is not determinative of whether a child is a successful elementary school student or whether a child is a higher-functioning learner through elementary grades.  Hence, those waiting for Head Start to be the silver bullet to end the achievement gap are sentenced to wait some more.  What Head Start does do (as supported by this study) is ready young children for kindergarten and deliver them to a high-quality kindergarten teacher as eager little sponges ready to grow to their next level of learning (see Exhibits 3a and 3b showing statistically significant cognitive impacts of Head Start for the four-year-old cohort and three-year old cohorts, respectively (p. xxiv-xxvi)).  This is what we should want for all children—to have the skills and readiness to begin to learn.  A program that ensures our nation’s children are ready to learn when they reach school is a program worthwhile.

But the prompt asks whether Head Start is still relevant, which probes not just into the effects of the program (though, excitingly the random assignment of this study allows us to be able to determine actual causality of Head Start), but asks us to explore whether Head Start should continue to take up policy space, research, and public priority.  Should the federal government continue to support the program?

I point to two reasons why Head Start should continue to be supported by the federal government:  (1) the alternative to no federal government support is likely state-only support (rather than no support at all) and states are not currently in positions to take on this additional responsibility and (2) the federal government has societal interest in the secondary benefits Head Start has shown to produce in low-income children and families.

See why after the jump.


Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline [Conference]

March 8, 2012

                The purpose of the conference is to generate multi-disciplinary dialogue about the challenges and foster solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline.  There’s a call for people to work on specific areas of the pipeline, but a greater call for people to see how these pieces fit together.  The speakers are both legal and non-legal, non-profits, juvenile justice officials.  The audience includes service-providers, policy advocates, lawyers, teachers, and students.  Most dynamic, the closing session will be a dialogue from each of the panels applied to a vignette in hopes to find creative ways to approach the particular case.

Panel 1: Education—How do educational institutions add to the problem and how can they solve it?
Moderator:  Susan Cole:  HLS Director of Ed Law Clinic of Trauma and Law clinic
  • ·         Research projects are underway that look at some of the causes of disparate impact that policies have (like “zero-tolerance”).  Also developing research tools that will quantify unconscious/implicit bias in order to push public policy change.

Alana Greer, Advancement Project
  • ·         Work with community groups and national organizations to get their voices heard at the policy table.  See various takes on what the exact issues are.  Works in LA (truancy tickets for walking to class late or criminal record), Philadelphia (transfers to alternative disciplinary schools, zero-tolerance, out-of-school suspensions).  There’s a background principle being applied that students are different than they were and are more violent and need a police state.  One of the goals is getting administrators’ discretion back so that boyscouts stop getting disciplined for having sporks and students with scissors from gift-wrapping stop getting put in alternative schools.

Daniel Losen, UCLA Civil Rights Project, Director of Center for Civil Rights Remedies
  • ·         Focus on school discipline problem—the number of children getting kicked out of school for discipline issues.  For successful remedies have to get to school resources, implicit bias, effective preschool because expulsion is the outcome of these things.  Has promoted a borrowing a disparate impact analysis from administrative law—requiring that a method of administration that has an adverse impact on protected groups (even though it’s facially neutral) can still violate Title XI.  The structure of that disparate impact analysis includes (1) adverse impact on protected group, and either (2) the practice is educationally unsound or (3) less discrimination option exist.  Discipline isn’t just about safety, it’s about students getting time back in school.

Dr. Tim Lisante, New York City Department of Education
  • ·         Spent time in Rikers Island in NYC (where there are many jails) teaching and being a principal with students who were sent to the center from their home school.  At this stage, being in the center is pre-adjudication for the students until they have been through their court process.  Now he’s a bureaucrat (J) and a parent of three sons in NYC.  Works on home-school re-entry to transfer students back into their schools once finished in the court systems. (NYC has over 500 high schools).


Back to the Question: Is a FEDERAL Department of Education Necessary—notes from academia [summary]

So to wrap it up...

The federal government has a role in ensuring that individuals can participate in the liberties that have been secured to them. And while the Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized a fundamental right to education, it has gone a long way to imply that a basic education is a prerequisite for enjoying other democratic rights that are enumerated and protected.  I believe there should continue to be a federal department of education.
·        I am persuaded by Hess + Darling-Hammond’s four duties of the federal government, though I would quibble with their “transparency for school performance and spending” role because I think transparency should also encompass resources available, constraints, and inputs not just the politically convenient ends, outputs, and outcomes that transparency usually means.  I’d also like for spending disclosures to go beyond raw data and encompass best budgeting practices and cost accounting.  Further, I see the federal government having a role in in incentivizing and supporting state education agencies to make their own administrative and structural changes that might unlock best practices for reducing bureaucracy and supporting local education agencies.
·        Of course Madison’s Federalist No. 10 supports a federal department of education because his proposition extended means that there are factions that exist to act from the outside on education decisions—and logically also factions that exist within education to act on decisions the public should make about education.  These individual factions, working from within and working from the outside, level out in a representative environment such that only those ideas worth bringing to a higher, next level decision-making get discussed: those ideas that are duplicative of efforts in other places, those ideas that are deeply believed, those ideas that are innovative enough to curry favor, and/or those ideas that are so much a part of the identity of the representatives that they cannot be left behind. 
·        However, I am unmoved by Friedman’s economics-based justification for no federal administrative role in education, though I do appreciate the separation of the two questions about what the federal government should finance versus what the government should administer.  I see obvious problems with the voucher idea—for practical reasons and for definitional reasons. Putting black markets aside, a successful “free market” voucher system also relies on parents/individuals having the same access and amount of information about each educational choice and not having transaction costs (like the amount of time it take to pursue the voucher purchase, energy to devote to education research, distance and means to travel chosen schools, etc.).  I don’t see this happening practically.  By definition, a voucher would not, as Friedman wants it to, reveal an individual/parent’s absolute preference for schooling because as long as money can be added to the voucher to indicate an increased preference, individuals/parents will be faced with a substitution calculation choice—do I add money to the voucher I have to reflect my absolute preferences for education or do I accept my comparative preference and use the additional money to do something else that will bring me closer to fulfilling my basic needs?  I don’t see how this escapes some of the conundrums we have now. 


Back to the Question: Is a FEDERAL Department of Education Necessary—notes from academia

On Hess and Darling-Hammond
About two months ago, Rick Hess and Linda Darling-Hammond joined forces to tell New York Times subscribers what the federal government is good at doing as it relates to education.[1]  Four things were on their list—and “[b]eyond this list, the federal government is simply not well situated to make schools and teachers improve.” Of the four, I’d probably be in 75% agreement, but as my previous posts would suggest, I’d also add other things to the list that I continue to be comfortable that the federal government has a role (like incentivizing and supporting state education agencies to make their own administrative and structural changes that might unlock best practices for reducing bureaucracy and supporting local education agencies).  Here’s my quick and dirty thoughts:
1.      Hess + Darling-Hammond: The federal government is good at encouraging transparency for school performance and spending.  à Transparency is a great-sounding sound bite for whatever comes after it.  Who wants systems to operate from behind the curtain anyway?  The scary part is that transparency is usually only talk about the ends, outputs, and outcomes rather than about the resources available, constraints, or inputs.  It is though, a good place to start.  Hess + Darling-Hammond think reports of school and district-level spending would square with the public.  My concern is that raw spending is less important and can easily be manipulated out-of-context.  I would like to see contextualized spending that incorporated best budgeting practices and cost accounting.  How much overhead is needed?  Why? Is money being spent EFFICIENTLY?  Who cares whether $5,000 more was spent in one school than another if that $5,000 was spent on floor cleaner for the cafeteria?  I’m more concerned with which programs or activities use the most resources and of those, which groups they are servicing, for how long, and what those investments are allowing the groups to do and community to enjoy.  I’d rather pay more for a program that fully services its clients’ needs.  Isn’t that what the money’s supposed to be for in the first place?
2.      Hess + Darling-Hammond: The federal government is good at enforcing civil rights laws and ensuring that low-income and SpEd dollars are spent appropriately.  à Full agreement here.
3.      Hess + Darling-Hammond: The federal government is good at financing reliable research for fundamental questions.  à Agreed
4.      Hess + Darling-Hammond: The federal government is good at voluntary, competitive federal grants that support innovation. à  Hess + Darling-Hammond give a backhanded compliment to Race to the Top by acknowledging its effect of “providing political cover for school boards, union leaders and others to throw off anachronistic routines” but then basically degrade the policy of using consultants to implement because they don’t see the implementation as true innovation.  I understand the critique that the federal education agenda might be too engrained with what is needed to win the Race to the Top monies in the first place, but we should remember from whence we have come.  Fewer than fifteen years ago, we didn’t even have comparable data on our children, few believed (and many, many still don’t) that all children are capable of learning and mastering material, and, if we are being honest, we didn’t know how severe the performance and achievement gaps were in our systems (though to a small subset this has always been evident). In my idealism, what I hope that Race to the Top is doing is more like giving states and LEAs the opportunity to rid themselves of the low-hanging fruit so that they can begin to paint on the fresh canvas.


Secretary Duncan made a speech at Harvard Graduate School of Education-- here's what I think

Below is an analysis of Secretary Duncan's speech to HGSE students in Feb 2012.  Of course this post is part of an assignment to connect the talk to larger policy frameworks--notably, John Kingdon-- but, all the same, it's my analysis of where I think Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration are in the education space.

Find the speech HERE.

Consistent with Kingdon’s description of political appointees, Secretary Duncan laid out issues that are of particular importance to him, even though his policy agenda has been set by President Obama.  Secretary Duncan believes in the real world and wants debates rooted in the actual challenges on the ground.  He talks about the sense of urgency ingrained within him, and he talking about the kids and communities he lived in, worked in, and understands.  The policy agenda that he delivers, however, does not seem to be his own.  He delivers an agenda about how brokered policies are better for our country than stubborn faithfulness to absolutist solutions.  He’s trying to soften up the system such that when a window opens—perhaps post November 2012—the policy agenda he is delivering about mutual respect and collaboration will be heard.

The field of education is filled with opposite choices, remarks Secretary Duncan.  He finds incompatibility that being for one choice means that one is necessarily not in agreement to other choices (i.e. flexible state funders being against accountability, English and math tests for performance being against well-rounded curriculum, etc.).  He suggests that win-win is possible and compromises of “both . . . and” exist.  But what he is really saying is that a policy community of people who should all care about kids has splintered—that this policy community is fragmented by the specialists who avow their approaches are best in their pure form: the perfect has become the enemy of the good, he says. 


Back to the Question: Is a FEDERAL Department of Education Necessary—notes from academia

On Madison’s Fed. 10
            Evaluating the appropriate federal role in education—well, really in anything—deserves an analysis of what many will point to as the best source of authority about government roles: the federalist papers, of course.  Federalist Paper Number Ten, Authored my James Madison circa 1787 rests of a certain view of our nation.  Namely, “[t]hose who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.”  As between the two options of either stifling the liberty that creates the faction in the first place or controlling the effects that follow from factions, Madison uneasily settles on the latter.  He finds that factions will almost by definition be mischievous, but where there is a democratic government—which is astute to define: “consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person”—the effects of factions will be minimized but not eradicated.  For Madison, a republic, not a true democracy has the potential to override factions.
            It is through Madison’s “scheme of representation” in a republic that a cure can be found for factions.  So what does this have to do with federal education?  Well, Madison’s proposition extended means that there are factions that exist to act from the outside on education decisions—and logically also factions that exist within education to act on decisions the public should make about education.  These individual factions, working from within and working from the outside, level out in a representative environment such that only those ideas worth bringing to a higher, next level decision-making get discussed: those ideas that are duplicative of efforts in other places, those ideas that are deeply believed, those ideas that are innovative enough to curry favor, and/or those ideas that are so much a part of the identity of the representatives that they cannot be left behind.  Madison’s representative state, the republic, thus is less about the capture of factions and more about the conclusions drawing process that stems from the experimentation or novelty from the polity.


Audio tapes show former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent bullying state official...

Audio tapes show former superintendent bullying state official...

Just a brief update to let you know that "yes" I am still infatuated with the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal and will probably have some very interesting news for you by the end of the semester.


Back to the Question: Is a FEDERAL Department of Education Necessary—notes from academia

From Friedman's assessment (mostly rejected)

Milton Friedman writes of the appropriate federal role in public education in an economics-based article from 1955.[1]  His analysis begins with pointing out the huge role government has assumed in financing and administering education for a nation that believes in individual freedoms, family, and free enterprise.  He gives three plausible ways to justify such heavy government involvement:  creating competition where there would otherwise be a natural monopoly, “neighborhood effects” (or what I am conceptualizing as negative externalities) of which there is no coercive compensation mechanism and a strong form of paternalism over children and the vulnerable.  The article then goes on to differentiate between common education and vocational education.