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EduLege Tracker 8-6-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 44
August 6, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

It’s just not true…

Despite evidence showing otherwise, it remains the conventional wisdom among many parents that private schools can do a better job of educating students, producing greater academic achievement and superior standardized test scores. It is one of the claims that supporters of school choice always make in arguing that public tax dollars should pay for private school education.

The only problem? A new study confirms that the claim isn’t true.

University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. The study also concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.

The results are especially important amid a movement to privatize public education—encouraged by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—based in part on the faulty assumption that public schools are inferior to private ones.

Secretary DeVos has called traditional public schools a “dead end,” and has long supported the expansion of voucher and similar programs that use public money for private and religious school education.  

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states and the District of Columbia now have policies that allow public money to be used for private education through school vouchers, scholarship tax credits and education savings grants. If re-elected in November, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is expected to again push some form of school vouchers or tax scholarships when the 86th legislative session convenes in January.

The new study was conducted by Robert C. Pianta, Dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, and Arya Ansari, a postdoctoral research associate at the university’s Center for Advanced Study for Teaching and Learning.

“You only need to control for family income and there’s no advantage,” Dean Pianta said. “So, when you first look, without controlling for anything, the kids who go to private schools are far and away outperforming the public school kids. And as soon as you control for family income and parents’ education level, that difference is eliminated completely.”

Students who come from homes with higher incomes and parental education achievement offer young children—from birth through age five—educational resources and stimulation that other children don’t receive. These conditions presumably carry on through the school years, Dean Pianta said.

Click here to review the full study. 

Everybody else has. So, we might as well, too…

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, has defended the use of taxpayer money for religious schools, and—in a case from Texas—backed student-led prayers at high school football games, siding with religious interests in the debate over government entanglement with religion.

In private practice, Mr. Kavanaugh backed the government when it sought to support religious interests and challenged schools when they attempted to exclude religious groups.

Together, legal experts say, these cases suggest he would continue the Supreme Court’s steady shift from a strict separation between government and religion to a far more permeable relationship—a matter with implications for public and private schools.

Judge Kavanaugh is the product of religious education. He graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland’s Montgomery County, a Jesuit school where every class begins with a prayer. His daughters attend Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic school in Northwest Washington.

Judge Kavanaugh’s views on schools and religious liberty are among those being scrutinized by supporters and opponents, as the U.S. Senate prepares to consider his nomination to the high court.

To backers, his advocacy of religious interests shows his understanding of what the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended. Justin Walker, one of his former clerks, called Judge Kavanaugh a “warrior for religious liberty.” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, praised Judge Kavanaugh as a buffer against “a growing assault on religious freedom” that he said developed during the Obama Administration.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State believe that Judge Kavanaugh’s record shows he will not uphold the separation of government and religion, which the group called the “linchpin of religious freedom.”

Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination has also drawn opposition from some education groups.

“Judge Kavanaugh can’t be trusted to protect the interests of students and educators,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. Her reasons included the judge’s support for “rulings and legal theories that justify allowing public money being funneled into religious institutions.”

As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Mr. Kavanaugh has penned few opinions that are directly related to education. But as a private attorney, he waded into several religious liberty cases involving schools.

In 1999, he wrote a “friend of the court” brief in support of the Santa Fe school district to allow student-led prayers over the public address system at high school football games. The brief argued that students were delivering their own messages, not speaking on behalf of the school.

A year later, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the policy was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment.

Rats are apparently okay for a “minimally adequate” education…

Do students at poorly performing schools have a constitutional right to a better education?

A federal judge in Michigan has decided that they did not, and he has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by students at troubled schools in Detroit.

The suit, filed in September 2016, argued that students at some of the city’s most underperforming schools—serving mostly racial minorities—had been denied “access to literacy,” because of underfunding, mismanagement and discrimination.

The federal lawsuit alleged that the schools were overcrowded with students, lacking in teachers and basic resources like books and pencils and featured classrooms that were bitingly cold in the winter, stiflingly hot in the summer and infested with rats and insects.

Conditions like those, the lawsuit said, contributed to dismal test scores and left students woefully underprepared for life after high school.

But in his decision, Judge Stephen J. Murphy III said that “access to literacy”—which he also referred to as a “minimally adequate education”— was not a fundamental right. And he said the lawsuit had failed to show that the state of Michigan had practiced overt racial discrimination.

However, the judge also conceded that the conditions at some Detroit schools were “nothing short of devastating.”

Another election. Another reminder…

According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, most Texas high schools are still not providing eligible students with the opportunity to register to vote.

According to a recent TCRP report, two-thirds of the high schools in Texas are not following the state law that requires them to distribute voter registration applications to all students who will be 18 years old that school year. The law mandates that schools distribute voter registration applications at least twice per year.

James Slattery, one of the report's authors, says much of the blame rests with Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.

“Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents and students, the Secretary of State’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common-sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law,” Mr. Slattery said.

The Texas Civil Rights Project surveyed 290 Texas high schools and found that only 14 percent had received any guidance from the Secretary of State about voter registration.

Secretary Pablos says the state is trying to do better.

“Since we began our efforts last year, compliance has more than doubled among Texas high school principals,” he said. “We have taken a number of steps to remove barriers for principals, encourage community involvement and implement accountability measures to the maximum extent allowed under the current law."

Mr. Slattery of the TCRP belies that the Secretary of State's office should automatically send the voter registration forms to schools. Currently, campus administrators must request them.

The TCRP also says the Secretary of State should create a database that shows which Texas high schools are distributing voter registration forms.

* * *

The Richardson school district has decided to make Election Day this fall a student holiday, citing security risks of having voters at their campuses that serve as polling places while students are also in class.

As a result, all Richardson schools will be closed on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"The change is being made as a precaution due to the thousands of unregistered visitors who gain access to RISD schools serving as voting locations on Election Day," the district said in an email to parents and staff, announcing the change in its upcoming school calendar.

The district also says that it will take extra safety precautions to keep voters separated from staff members who will still be on campus on Election Day.

He won’t miss the meetings…

Don Hisle, who has served on the Leander school board since 1995, has announced that he won’t seek re-election in November.

In his 23 years on the board, the 71-year old Mr. Hisle has overseen three superintendents and multiple school bonds, and watched the district grow from 8,000 students and eight campuses, including a lone high school, to 40,000 students and six high schools.

“It’s been a great run,” Mr. Hisle said. “I know I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the people. I don’t know if I’ll miss the board meetings, though.”

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.