Topic: Education and Child Policy

“We’re from the Government and We’re Here to Help,” Schoolyard Edition

In an epic case of unintended consequences, government-mandated anti-bullying programs are actually increasing bullying by teaching kids how to bully, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminology:

The study concluded that students at schools with anti-bullying programs might actually be more likely to become a victim of bullying. It also found that students at schools with no bullying programs were less likely to become victims.

The results were stunning for Jeong [the author]. “Usually people expect an anti-bullying program to have some impact—some positive impact.”

The student videos used in many campaigns show examples of bullying and how to intervene. But Jeong says they may actually teach students different bullying techniques—and even educate about new ways to bully through social media and texting.

Jeong said students with ill intentions “…are able to learn, there are new techniques [and gain] new skills.” He says students might see examples in videos and then want to try it.

According to Jeong, some programs even teach students how to bully without leaving evidence behind. “This study raises an alarm,” he said. “There is a possibility of negative impact from anti-bullying programs.”

So under the pretense of helping, the government essentially created a “How To Bully and Get Away With It” program that has made the lives of tens of thousands of schoolchildren more miserable. 

Politico Distorts Evidence on School Choice

Yesterday, Politico ran a story on school choice programs claiming that American taxpayers “will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.” In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence both that school choice works and that it saves money.

On the question of whether school choice results in superior learning, Politico makes the wrong comparisons. For example:

In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

It is not accurate to compare disadvantaged students participating in a school choice program to the general population, which includes children from wealthy families, just as it would be inaccurate to compare all private school students against all public school students (which would show a clear advantage to the former over the latter). That’s comparing apples and orangoutangs. The most accurate comparison is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of social science. As James Pethokoukis and Michael McShane pointed out over at the AEIdeas blog, Politico fails to mention that 11 of 12 RCTs found that choice improves student outcomes. The last study found no statistically significant difference while no study found any harm.

Many of the gains were small, though statistically significant, and often the gains were only for certain subgroups (generally low-income blacks) who had the least schooling options at the outset. However, based on the available evidence, even the most pessimistic reading of the data must conclude that school choice does no harm, on average. Even then, in addition to more satisfied parents, school choice is a great boon to taxpayers as it produces similar (or better) results at a much lower cost.

Facebook Opens Takedown Hotline for Public School Officials

was critical earlier this year when lawmakers in my home state of Maryland enacted “Grace’s Law,” purporting to ban so-called cyberbullying — in this case, the use of hurtful online language as part of a course of conduct that inflicts serious emotional distress or harassment on a Maryland juvenile, apparently whether or not the speaker knows that the person distressed by the speech is a Maryland juvenile. I predicted that the law would run into trouble in the courts for infringing on much speech protected by the First Amendment.

On Tuesday, the new law took effect, and this morning Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler unveiled a joint initiative with Facebook and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) in which Facebook will create a new program for school officials, the Educator Escalation Channel — initially limited to use in the state of Maryland, presumably pending similar enactments elsewhere — allowing the officials to object to Facebook users’ content. Per local radio station WTOP, Maryland school officials will be offered the chance to flag “questionable or prohibited” language. That is to say, they will flag speech that isn’t prohibited by the new law but which they deem “questionable.”

The targets of the new program, according to Gansler as quoted by WTOP, include persons who are “not committing a crime… We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.” That is to say, Gansler believes he has negotiated power for school officials to go after speech that is not unlawful even under the decidedly speech-unfriendly definitions of the new Maryland law, but which they consider hurtful and lacking in “redeeming societal value.”

Already, defenders of the new program are arguing that there’s no problem here, because Facebook as a private entity is free voluntarily to put whatever terms it wants to into its user agreement and enforce them however it likes. Of course, private companies deal voluntarily with a group of state enforcers like the NAAG only in the sense that you or I deal voluntarily with the Internal Revenue Service.

Can we now finally start taking the First Amendment implications of these laws seriously?

School Choice Lawsuit Roundup

School choice advocates have been winning in the halls of state legislatures and in the court of public opinion, so opponents have taken to the courts of law. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) that school vouchers are consistent with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, opponents of choice have been scrambling to find novel reasons to challenge school choice programs. Here’s a brief summary of school choice lawsuits around the nation:

1) In Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Justice has sued to halt the state’s school voucher program, arguing that it hurts the desegregation effort. The DOJ’s already weak case was further undermined by a new study released today showing that school choice actually improves integration. Since 90 percent of the voucher recipients are black, the DOJ’s lawsuit would have the effect of keeping low-income blacks from attending the schools of their choice.

Earlier this year, Louisiana’s state supreme court ruled that the voucher program was unconstitutionally funded, but otherwise left the program intact. The governor and state legislators adjusted the funding mechanism in response.

2) Two days ago, a group of activists in Oklahoma sued the state over its special needs voucher program, arguing that it violates the state constitution’s ban on using public funds at religious schools. Last year, the state supreme court tossed out a challenge to the program by public school districts, ruling that they did not have standing since they are not taxpayers.

3) On the same day, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the state’s education savings account program, the first in the nation, is constitutional. Anti-school choice activists had argued that it violates the state constitution’s ban on publicly funding religious schools. The court held that students are the primary beneficiaries and that any “aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents.” The decision will likely be appealed to the state supreme court.

Obama Administration Ignores Supreme Court, Encourages Racial Preferences

Two months ago I wrote about the University of Texas’s attempts to delay the final reckoning from the Supreme Court’s near-unanimous ruling in the Fisher case that public institutions must overcome a high constitutional bar when they use race in admissions decisions. Courts must make “a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”

“The university must prove,” Justice Kennedy wrote for the 7-justice majority, “that the means chosen by the university to attain diversity are narrowly tailored.” Far from attempting to prove that, however, UT-Austin is playing lawyer games and trying to re-litigate previously decided procedural issues.

But at least UT-Austin recognizes that its back is against the wall. The Obama administration, for its part, is pretending that nothing has changed, that colleges can continue discriminating based on skin color to achieve their elusive “diversity.”

On Friday, the federal Justice and Education Departments issued a joint “guidance” on the meaning of Fisher v. UT-Austin. This advice, consisting of a platitudinal cover letter and a superficial Q & A. The government’s position, remarkably, is that Fisher simply reaffirmed 2003’s ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which held that educational diversity could be a compelling interest that justified racial preferences at the University of Michigan. “Run along, nothing to see here,” the various civil-rights-division bureaucrats seem to say, “the Supreme Court just vacated the lower court’s decision because it didn’t check all the procedural boxes.

To say that the government is being disingenuous here would be like saying that Ted Cruz has a mild distaste for Obamacare. As Richard Kahlenberg comments at the blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education:

This reading of the two Supreme Court cases as essentially identical would presumably be surprising to the justices of the court. Five Supreme Court justices participated in both Grutter and Fisher, yet four of them switched sides in the two cases. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented in Grutter, in part because universities were not made to demonstrate that race-neutral strategies were insufficient to produce racial diversity, yet those justices were in the majority in Fisher.

Meanwhile, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg switched in the other direction, from the majority in Grutter to the dissent in Fisher. Her dissent complained that the majority would push universities to adopt race-neutral strategies like Texas’ top 10-percent plan, which she viewed as disingenuous. (Justice Stephen G. Breyer, alone, was in the majority in both cases.)

Moreover, the government is green-lighting any and all diversity initiatives rather than giving actual guidance about how to survive the legal minefield that administrators now inhabit. As Roger Clegg put it at National Review Online:

The fact is that this guidance is designed not to help schools follow the law, but to push them to adopt dubious race-based policies that the Supreme Court has warned against, and that have prompted lawsuits in the past, but that the Obama administration and its political allies stubbornly support. The whole tone of the new guidance is to offer encouragement to schools that want to engage in racial and ethnic discrimination: The administration promises that it “will continue to be a resource” for such schools.

It is as if the FBI offered eager encouragement to state and local police that wanted to engage in racial profiling without violating the law. Whether such discrimination may sometimes be legally permissible or not, why should the federal government issue a document the tone of which is not a stern warning about the many legal pitfalls, but cheerful encouragement to the police to do as much of it as they can get away with? Why urge schools to get as close to the legal line as they can, when it is unnecessary and bad policy for them to approach it at all?

In short, the government not only pretends that the Supreme Court didn’t mean what it said, but is encouraging college officials in their massive resistance to yet another Supreme Court ruling on civil rights. These actions enable the type of “holistic” racial balancing that results in greater racial-achievement gaps than illegal quotas ever did. Racial preferences today, racial preferences tomorrow, racial preferences forever.

It would be comical if it weren’t so sad – and if it weren’t backed by the full force of the nation’s chief law enforcement officers.

Wheels Coming Off Common Core? Let’s Debate!

Not long ago I thought the Common Core couldn’t be stopped, or really even slowed down.

Oops.

A couple of days ago Florida governor Rick Scott declared that he wanted to reexamine state implementation of the Core and withdraw from the PARCC assessment consortium, one of two national groups the federal government funded to create Core-aligned tests. Though hardly a complete withdrawal from the Core, the move is huge. Why? Because arguably the biggest, most influential backer of the Common Core is former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and his own state, and a governor of his own party, bucked him. Florida is also, well, a pretty big state. Not surprisingly, now two more GOP governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin – are signaling desires to unbuckle their states from the Core.

What happened that caused this suddenly powerful – and at least to me, unexpected – revolt? It is almost certainly that the Core is now reaching the district and school level, and parents and citizens are becoming fully aware of standards most of their states adopted lightning fast in 2010 to get federal Race to the Top money. They’re becoming aware, and either don’t like what they see in the standards, or don’t like federal imposition. They may also be getting increasingly sick of being told that the federal government wasn’t a driving force behind Core adoption when it absolutely was, and being called ignorant or unhinged for pointing out reality.

Case in point for calling opponents misinformed, alas, is Jeb Bush, who just last week said that Common Core resistance “is political,” and implied that anyone against the Core is “comfortable with mediocrity.” He also suggested once again that the Core is fully voluntary for states, implying that opponents are either misinformed or lying when they fear “a national takeover.” Of course, there are numerous reasons to oppose the Core that are all about what’s best for kids.

DOJ Backpedals on School Choice Lawsuit

In response to withering criticism and political pressure, the U.S. Department of Justice is backpedaling on its lawsuit against Louisiana’s school choice program, which provides school vouchers to low-income students assigned to government-run schools receiving a D or F rating for performance. The lawsuit sought to “permanently enjoin the State of Louisiana from awarding any school vouchers to students attending schools in districts operating under federal desegregation orders” unless the state receives permission from the federal government. Now the DOJ is claiming in a carefully-worded letter to Congress that they were just looking for information:

To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana’s school voucher program nor seeking to revoke vouchers from any student. […] Our goal in filing a motion for further relief […] was straightforward: The United States is seeking the court’s assistance in ensuring that the information Louisiana collects in connection with its school voucher program is provided to the United States in a timely fashion and that Louisiana implements its program in full compliance with federal law, including the desegregation order in this case.

Unfortunately, the DOJ is being disingenuous. While their lawsuit would not have revoked vouchers that the state had already distributed, it would have blocked all future vouchers to students in districts under desegregation orders without federal permission. In other words, rather than leaving the choice of school in the hands of parents, parents would have to beg the federal government to allow their children to escape from failing government schools. This is problematic since the DOJ’s absurd definition of segregation would prevent black students from leaving a school that the DOJ deems “insufficiently black” because there are a greater percentage of black students than black people living in the district. For example: