Right to Legal Advice Endangered by Policy Proposal

A policy change under consideration by the School Board would affect requests by Board members for a legal opinion from the School Board Legal Counsel.  As the policy currently stands, any Board member seeking such a legal opinion makes the request to the Chairman, who must forward the request to Legal Counsel.  The proposed change, however, would require a majority vote of the Board in order to obtain the legal opinion.

This change must be opposed with all vigor.

Among its many duties, the School Board is charged with ensuring that the operations of the school district are in full compliance with federal, state, and local laws.  In its deliberations and decisions, the members must therefore have unfettered access to legal advice.  Board members themselves are not necessarily experts in the law; that expertise is provided by the School Board Legal Counsel.  Consistent with this vital need, the policy as currently written properly compels the Chairman to forward requests for advice to the appropriate professional attorneys.

The proposed change, however, taints the process of obtaining this advice; it alters what should be a purely legal request into a political one.  Instead of obtaining the legal opinion that a Board member needs, she or he might be stonewalled or denied outright by political opponents.  This situation puts at risk the rights of the minority, and places in grave jeopardy the ability of the Board to discharge its responsibilities.

Lenient Disciplinary Policies Enabled Parkland Shooter

An intriguing article by Paul Sperry of Real Clear Investigations points to school discipline policy reforms as a significant factor enabling Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, to commit his heinous crime.  These reforms, aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and referrals to law enforcement, are said to have kept Cruz out of the reach of authorities when their involvement might have prevented the massacre.

According to the article:

“Despite committing a string of arrestable offenses on campus before the Florida school shooting, Nikolas Cruz was able to escape the attention of law enforcement, pass a background check and purchase the weapon he used to slaughter three staff members and 14 fellow students because of Obama administration efforts to make school discipline more lenient.

“Documents reviewed by RealClearInvestigations and interviews show that his school district in Florida’s Broward County was in the vanguard of a strategy, adopted by more than 50 other major school districts nationwide, allowing thousands of troubled, often violent, students to commit crimes without legal consequence. The aim was to slow the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“‘He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the [NCIS] system,” veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RCI. “He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.’

“Disclosures about the strategy add a central new element to the Parkland shooting story: It’s not just one of official failings at many levels and of America’s deep divide over guns, but also one of deliberate federal policy gone awry.

“In 2013, the year before Cruz entered high school, the Broward County school system scrapped and rewrote its discipline policy to make it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel problem students, or for campus police to arrest them for misdemeanors– including some of the crimes Cruz allegedly committed in the years and months leading up to the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at his Fort Lauderdale-area school.

“To keep students in school and improve racial outcomes, Broward school Superintendent Robert W. Runcie — a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department — signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Instead of the criminal justice system, students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, were referred to counseling, which included participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.

“Asserting that minority students, in particular, were treated unfairly by traditional approaches to school discipline, Runcie’s goal was to slash arrests and ensure that students, no matter how delinquent, graduated without criminal records.”

Read the whole thing here:  https://tinyurl.com/yau7uvte

Letter Grades Under Attack

Jennifer C. Braceras, a Senior Fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum, has written a very timely article for the Wall Street Journal titled “The War on Grades Deserves to Fail.”  Schools across the country are abandoning traditional letter grades in favor of systems that purport to measure “progress toward competency” — rather than actual academic achievement.
“This type of ‘standards-based grading’ (as it is called) represents more than a change in nomenclature.  Whereas letter grades (or numeric percentages) measure the work a student has completed, the new system is concerned primarily with what the student will be able to do by year’s end…. This method of assessment makes even less sense in high school, where students are savvy enough to know that they need not work hard in October to show proficiency in June.”
Braceras points out that these alternative grading systems say little about whether students have in fact learned anything, whether they can meet deadlines, or whether they engage actively in the classroom, all of which are captured  via traditional grading, and which are critical for success after graduation.

Teacher Collective Bargaining Hurts Students

I came across an interesting study performed by Michael F. Lovenhiem and Alexander Willen, both of Cornell University.  Titled “The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” this study analyses the effects of teacher collective bargaining laws on life outcomes of the students.  More specifically, the study examines how the people educated in a state were affected after a state had enacted a duty-to-bargain law for public school teachers. 
 
A link to the original study appears here (along with related studies on the societal effects of public sector unions): 
 
     https://tinyurl.com/y77gls5j
 
An article based on that study appears in EducationNext, a website sponsored by the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Here is a link to it:
 
     https://tinyurl.com/ybebap5r
 
The results are startling.  According to the article, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”  The study further notes that “teacher collective bargaining reduces [their students’ total] earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually… [and] leads to sizable reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults.”

The authors report that “Collective-bargaining laws strengthen teachers unions and give them greater influence over how school districts allocate their resources. A typical collective-bargaining agreement addresses a remarkably broad range of items: unions negotiate over salary schedules and benefits; hiring, evaluation, and firing policies; and rules detailing work and teaching hours, class assignments, class sizes, and nonteaching duties. By increasing union membership, collective-bargaining laws also heighten the influence of teachers unions in education politics at the state level….  Critics of teacher unionization argue that collective bargaining in public education has reduced school quality by shifting resources toward teachers and away from other educational inputs and by making it more difficult to fire low-performing teachers. Stronger unions may also have made it  harder for states to adopt policies aimed at improving school quality through enhanced accountability or expanded school choice…. Our evidence points to the conclusion that collective bargaining in public education has been a bad deal for American students.”

Fortunately, in Virginia, public sector employees are prohibited from collective bargaining, absent specific statutory authorization.  This study affirms that this is the right policy for our state.

Federal Regulatory Changes to Affect K-12

An article in the Washington Examiner by Emily Jashinsky looks at reforms being considered by the administration that will affect K-12 and higher ed. Titled “Betsy DeVos Looks to Curb Federal ‘Overreach’ in Education,” the article begins
The Department of Education has its sights set on regulatory reform in 2018. Led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often speaks out against what she calls a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, the department is focused on reviewing rules and requirements issued by previous administrations, seeking to curb what she says is federal overreach.
This effort will include continued review of Title IX guidelines to colleges and universities on the handling of sexual assault cases.  The previous guidelines, which have given rise to concerns for the due process rights of the accused, were rescinded in September.
The … department’s broader goal [is] “reducing overreach the department has engaged in in the past,” in an effort to “[free] up educators and administrators and institutions to actually serve students rather than be more worried about compliance.”
Indeed, teachers and administrators currently expend a great deal of time and energy on data collection and paperwork related to regulatory compliance, and this is a factor affecting morale at schools.
The article continues
On the K-12 level, a possible two-year delay of the “significant disproportionality” rule will likely be opened up for comment as well. The rule is a requirement that states note “when districts … discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers.”
With disciplinary reforms already being of great current interest, critical examination of this rule might light the way toward better solutions overall.
Other possible changes include a school choice program (“vouchers”), and expansion of 529 savings plans to include K-12 expenses.
Original article here: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/betsy-devos-looks-to-curb-federal-overreach-in-education/article/2644402

The Downside to Recent Disciplinary Reforms at VBCPS

An article in today’s Virginian-Pilot (https://tinyurl.com/y8wdvyo2) informs us that “Virginia Beach schools see a drop in suspensions. But teachers feel less safe.” These changes have followed the adoption of certain disciplinary practices that have already been implemented in numerous other school districts throughout the country. Termed “restorative justice,” these practices seek to reduce the number of suspensions by employing alternative interventions. Such an intervention could range from a teacher-student dialogue to a more formal conference involving students, staff, teachers and family members; in any case, the goal is to encourage students to reflect on their actions, take responsibility for them, and resolve to be better behaved in the future.

Although the number of suspensions has gone down in the past year, this reduction has come at a price. According to the Pilot, “more than 1 in 8 teachers said their school did not provide a safe and orderly place to learn,” about double the ratio from the previous year. The article continues, “Some students are more comfortable acting out…because they’re not worried about punishment.”

Let’s have a look at the effects that these disciplinary policy changes have had in other school districts. In New York City, according to a study published by the Manhattan Institute, there have been fewer suspensions; however, there have been dramatic increases in violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. Furthermore, the non-elementary schools with the greatest percentage of minority students have suffered the worst declines in climate. The same study reports that in Chicago, a teacher told the Chicago Tribune that the new disciplinary policies resulted in “a totally lawless few months” at her school. Says Max Eden, the study’s author, students in Denver threatened to harm or kill teachers “with no meaningful consequences” under the new practices. A teacher is quoted as saying “classes are being disrupted, student learning is being decreased…in all grade levels” in the Omaha World-Herald. In Oklahoma City, “Good students are now suffering because of the abuse and issues plaguing these classrooms.” (See the full report here: https://tinyurl.com/ybggk628.)

It is clear that these are not trends we would like to see in the Virginia Beach schools. Disciplinary policy reform for reducing the number of suspensions is a laudable goal. The challenge, as ever, is to reduce the number of disciplinary cases by getting to their organic causes. This should not be done at the expense of school climate and classroom safety. Let us work with the school administration, teacher advocacy groups, our elected officials, and other concerned members of the community to ensure that these policy reforms are truly in the best interests of our children and teachers.