Education Department to propose Title IX rule amendments, undo Trump-era protections for victims and the accused
Initiating what could be a years-long project to undo Trump-era protections for college sexual assault victims and the accused, the Biden administration on Tuesday launched its audit of Education Department policies outlining how universities handle sexual misconduct investigations.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced it would begin a “comprehensive review” of Title IX rules that prescribe how university administrators deal with sexual misconduct cases. In a letter to students and educators, the office requested input on the department’s Title IX regulations—specifically, the August 2020 rule changes implemented under former education secretary Betsy DeVos.
Tuesday’s announcement follows President Joe Biden’s March 8 executive order on sex and gender discrimination, which asked the department to undertake a complete review of Title IX policies. The department’s letter marks the first step toward dismantling DeVos’s rules—a process that could take months or even years through the notice and comment rulemaking process, as outlined by federal policies.
“Today’s action is the first step in making sure that the Title IX regulations are effective and are fostering safe learning environments for our students while implementing fair processes,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination, including in extracurricular activities and other educational settings, threaten access to education for students of all ages.”
President Joe Biden pledged to bring a “quick end” to DeVos’s Title IX rules during his campaign and faced pressure from progressive legal organizations to do so. DeVos’s changes drew ire from feminist activists because they allowed students accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine their accusers through a third-party representative. The August 2020 changes also delegated misconduct cases that occurred off-campus to local authorities.
In addition to due process protections, DeVos established the first federally mandated protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses. University administrators are required to provide victims with necessary support—for example, allowing the student to change his or her class schedule and providing the victim with a chaperone.
The Biden administration on Tuesday began what could be a lengthy procedure to unravel DeVos’s rules. The Trump-era guidance replaced the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letters, which provided a framework for university administrators to handle sexual misconduct cases. Unlike the Obama administration’s directions, the DeVos rules were added to federal law through a rulemaking procedure called the Administrative Procedures Act—a process that took nearly two years.
Those regulations could take just as long to undo. The civil rights office must respond to each public comment, as they requested in their letter. Secretary DeVos’s civil rights office received more than 124,000 separate comments during their 2018 Title IX review, which took 18 months to resolve.
Candice Jackson, a counsel in DeVos’s Office for Civil Rights, insisted that universities must continue to address sexual misconduct as outlined by federal law while the department proceeds with their investigation.
“[The Office for Civil Rights] should be applauded for initiating a review process that centers around public input,” Jackson, one of the architects behind the 2020 Title IX changes, told the Washington Free Beacon. “In the meantime, the current 2020 regulations continue to provide schools with clear, legally binding obligations that take sexual harassment seriously, promote educational access, and respect the constitutional rights of all students and faculty.”
Progressive legal groups pressured the Biden administration to act on the DeVos Title IX rules. Public Justice and the National Center for Youth Law filed a lawsuit in California last month on behalf of the Berkeley High School Women’s Student Union. The plaintiffs claim the DeVos regulations made it more challenging for schools to investigate sexual misconduct cases and therefore caused an uptick in sexual assaults.
The suit asked for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, would have suspended the Education Department’s enforcement of DeVos’s Title IX rules.
The Office of Civil Rights will conduct a hearing in the coming weeks to give the public additional opportunities to comment, after which the department expects to release a proposed rulemaking notice.
Fairfax County Schools recently ditched merit-based admissions process
A group of parents at the nation’s top high school is suing the county school board for adopting new admissions practices that would slash the number of incoming Asian-American students.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed a complaint Wednesday on behalf of the Coalition for TJ, a parent organization at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. In recent months, the Fairfax County School Board changed how students are admitted to the Alexandria, Va., magnet school in an attempt to boost enrollment of black and Hispanic students.
The coalition claims that the Fairfax County School Board’s newly adopted admissions processes are unconstitutional and would reduce the number of Asian-American students in the incoming freshman class by 42 percent.
In October, the Fairfax County School Board eliminated the merit-based entrance exam for the elite STEM-focused school. In December, the board limited the number of students each of the county’s middle schools can send to the high school. The lawsuit claims that this new process targets Asian Americans because the three Fairfax middle schools known for funneling students to Thomas Jefferson have predominantly Asian-American populations.
Thomas Jefferson is one of several U.S. high schools that have recently moved away from merit-based admissions in favor of practices that achieve desired racial quotas. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Education abandoned the admissions test for the city’s prestigious public high school in favor of a lottery system, claiming the former system “perpetuate[d] the culture of white supremacy.”
Harry Jackson, the parent of a black student at Thomas Jefferson High School, said that the new admissions process hurts gifted students in addition to Asian Americans.
“This is an attack on Asian Americans and on gifted education,” Jackson said at an online press conference on Wednesday. “It represents anti-intellectualism. Under the guise of trying to diversify Thomas Jefferson, they’re not doing anything to uplift the black and Hispanic community. It’s a targeted hit on the Asian community.”
Julia McCaskill, the parent of three students in Fairfax schools, said the district is blaming its failure to boost black and Hispanic enrollment rates on Asian Americans.
“Diversity is the goal for all of us and Thomas Jefferson does not belong to a certain race or group of people,” McCaskill said. “The lack of diversity of black and Latino students is a failure of the [school board], and instead of fixing those issues, they are focusing the hate on Asian Americans.”
Thomas Jefferson is a majority-minority high school. Roughly 70 percent of enrolled students are Asian. Another 20 percent are white and the remaining 10 percent comprises black, Hispanic, and other minority students.
Fairfax County Public Schools communications director Lucy Caldwell told the Washington Free Beacon that the district maintains that its new admissions process “continues to be race neutral and merit-based.” The district values diversity and says it contributes to the “richness” of education at Thomas Jefferson.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions.
In a recent edition of the Stanford Review, scholars Scott Atlas, Victor Davis Hanson, and Niall Ferguson wrote a statement defending themselves against the baseless attacks of leftist colleagues at Stanford University who accused them of encouraging extremism, conducting illicit opposition research, and causing the deaths of “tens of thousands” from COVID-19. Atlas then discussed the issue at a virtual student meeting.
These accusations are completely untrue and tied to an antisemitic activist who aligns himself with Antifa. Nevertheless, Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson felt the need to make their case even if it’s unlikely they will face any real threat to their livelihoods or reputations, as the Hoover Institution and Stanford have backed them.
All of them are highly accomplished intellectuals who have amassed large followings. It is they who bring clout to Stanford, not the other way around.
The real tragedy here is that they have to bother explaining themselves at all. It’s beneath them. They could be writing books, articles, giving talks, and continuing their work, but now they have to waste time with nobodies. Even the leadership of Stanford could see this, which is why this effort to cancel fell flat. Unfortunately, as writer Jonathan Tobin explains, their survival of this cancellation attempt was an exception to the rule.
After all, who in the world is David Palumbo-Lieu, one of the four professors leading the charge against these conservative scholars? Has he spoken out against the blunders of the American government’s COVID-19 policy? Does his CV include so many well-written books and countless articles on a limitless range of topics? Did anyone see him on a popular television series celebrating the key successes of Western culture?
No, Palumbo-Lieu’s great work appears to be praising his students “who occupied and blocked the San Mateo Bridge at peak commuting hours, endangering lives, causing minor car crashes, and getting themselves arrested.”
This episode is reminiscent of the great theologian St. Augustine of Hippo exerting so much energy denouncing the Donatist heresy. Much like today’s left, the Donatists were intellectually bankrupt and frequently resorted to the same petty tactics of destroying their opponents’ reputations with slander, false accusations, and the intervention of corrupt politicians.
That Augustine wasted so much time with them means that he had less time to write another “City of God” or “On Christian Doctrine.” Tallied with every other instance of a great mind taking on what’s beneath him, this Stanford kerfuffle amounts to a great loss in progress. The world is shallower, less informed, and less healthy as a result.
So what should happen in these cases? How do the attempted cancellations stop? As Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson demonstrate, it isn’t through compromise or complaining; rather, it is through excellence. As the saying goes, success is the best revenge against one’s enemies. It is also the best way to overcome cancel culture.
This doesn’t mean that defending free speech is not important, but it shouldn’t become a fixation. Otherwise, it can detract from the work of building a competing culture and undermine the very reason to preserve free speech itself.
Free speech is the means, not the ends. This point is sometimes lost when people respond to yet another canceling or instance of censorship. Because it seems like conservatives are constantly defending themselves, they end up making the same points repeatedly and struggle with moving forward. As such, leftists can dismiss conservatives for having “no content,” no vision of what they want.
What results is a growing despair over free speech. If the fruits of free speech are partisan mudslinging and rehashing the same arguments, many people stop seeing the point of protecting the freedom to express one’s views.
It also doesn’t help that the left always frames these debates over free speech as about hate speech and misinformation, never around truth and reason. As a result, conservatives have to defend themselves from being called white supremacist Nazis or crackpot conspiracy theorists while leftists tell (often fabricated) sob stories about the many victims of conservative speech.
Since this is what seems to prevail, most people, particularly young people, simply shrug and give up the fight. If this is what free speech looks like, even if conservatives are right and progressives are wrong, it still seems mostly frivolous and needlessly stressful. Like the villain Cypher in “The Matrix,” they prefer to accept that their lies go unchallenged and declare, “Ignorance is bliss.”
This doesn’t mean that Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson were wrong to write their statement, nor does it detract from their point about free speech. It’s just a shame that they and so many others have to worry about this kind of thing. Rather, Stanford should worry that their best people feel the need to speak out in this fashion.
It’s time to think bigger. Change will only happen when conservatives have their own Stanfords. If elite universities want to go down the paths of critical race theory, social justice activism, and an abandonment of standards, conservatives should build and support alternatives.
As Arthur Milikh points out on last week’s American Mind podcast, conservatives need to stop slamming Ivy League universities only to confer their respect on these places in the next breath. Instead, they need build their own equivalent and dominate. Otherwise, these places won’t change. One would think that the very people who support movements like school choice would understand this.
In all of her novels, Ayn Rand spoke exactly to this problem and offered a vision of what could happen. Whether it’s “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead,” or “Atlas Shrugged,” the primary conflict was always the same: a protagonist is a brilliant creator, but he lives in an envious world that seeks to tear him down.
How does the protagonist resolve this? Not only by making impassioned speeches (although, admittedly, there are few of those), but by continuing to create on his own terms and let his excellence carry the day. Conservatives today need their own version of Galt’s Gulch.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions. There is a dearth of excellence that needs to be filled.
Instead of enlisting the best and brightest conservatives for defending conservatism, conservatives should defend their best and brightest so that they can be left free for excellence. That means giving them space and time to do their work, understanding that this is the whole purpose behind preserving freedom. Not only conservative ideas, but the country and the culture, will be all the better for it.
Parents across the country are increasingly tired of fights between school-district leaders and teachers’ unions over whether classrooms should open for in-person instruction.
Extended public-school closures and one-size-fits-all school systems have provided free advertising for school choice over the past year. Parents across the country are increasingly tired of fights between school-district leaders and teachers’ unions over whether classrooms should open for in-person instruction. And as their children’s learning continues to suffer, they are increasingly desperate for more options. Their desperation might just make school choice more popular, even after the pandemic is behind us.
One key factor driving parental exasperation is the obvious contrast between what public schools have done during this period and what private schools have done. While public schools in many cities remain closed, private schools and daycare centers have been fighting to safely reopen their doors for months. In fact, private schools in Kentucky went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to provide in-person services to their customers. A private school in Sacramento County, Calif., even rebranded itself as a “daycare” by training its employees as child-care workers in an attempt to get around the government’s arbitrary closure rules. Nationwide and state-specific data confirm that private schools have been substantially more likely to reopen in-person than nearby public schools. And four rigorous studies have each found that public-school districts with stronger teachers’ unions have been significantly less likely to reopen in person.
Even more frustrating, there is no major medical reason for this disparity. In fact, keeping schools closed for in-person instruction flies in the face of the science. Last month, Center for Disease Control (CDC) researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “the preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring” and that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” In New York City, for example, the latest positivity rate reported in schools was less than a tenth of the positivity rate in the overall community. Additional studies from other countries — including Sweden, Ireland, Norway, and Singapore — similarly suggest schools are not major contributors of community spread. UNICEF also reported that “data from 191 countries show no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.”
Yet certain examples of public-school behavior are particularly egregious even by these standards. For instance, while some public K–12 providers insisted on keeping classrooms fully remote, they were opening the same school buildings for in-person childcare services and charging families hundreds of dollars per child per week out of pocket. If the schools could reopen for in-person childcare services, why couldn’t they open for in-person learning? And more recently, a Chicago Teachers Union board member was caught vacationing in Puerto Rico while rallying teachers on social media to not return to work in person. But if was safe enough to travel to another country and vacation in person, then why wasn’t it safe enough to return to work in person?
Of course, some high-risk teachers have real health concerns and are looking for good-faith ways to make schools safer for them to be in. Unfortunately, unions have largely taken an all-or-nothing approach to their demands for reopening. In fact, many teachers’ unions across the country have been fighting to remain closed since the start of the pandemic. The public-school monopoly sought to protect itself at the expense of families as soon as the lockdowns began last March. The Oregon Education Association successfully lobbied that same month to make it illegal for families to switch to virtual charter schools. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators lobbied for the same thing that month to prevent desperate families from taking their children’s education dollars to schools that had years of experience operating virtually. California took similar action by passing a bill that effectively prevented families from taking their children’s education dollars to public charter schools.
That’s not the only evidence that some teachers’ unions often prioritize politics and power over the needs of families. Take a look at some of their demands. In their report on safely reopening schools, the Los Angeles teachers’ union called for things unrelated to reopening schools, such as defunding the police, Medicare-for-All, a wealth tax, and a ban on charter schools. At least ten teachers’ unions joined with the Democratic Socialists of America to hold a “National Day of Resistance” to “Demand Safe Schools” on two occasions in less than a year. Included in their list of demands, in addition to more funding and staffing, were police-free schools, rent cancelation, unemployment benefits for all, and a ban on standardized tests and new charter schools.
Meanwhile, families have been left scrambling for nearly a year now and many children are falling behind academically, mentally, and physically. After all this, parents are beginning to realize that it is time for a change in the relationship between students and schools. They’ve recognized that it does not make any sense to fund closed school buildings when we can fund students directly instead. Think of it this way: If a grocery store doesn’t reopen, families can take their money elsewhere. If a school doesn’t reopen, families should similarly be able to take their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars elsewhere. After all, education funding is supposed to be meant for educating children, not for protecting a particular institution.
Recent nationwide polling from RealClearOpinion Research found that support for the concept of school choice jumped ten percentage points in just a few months — from 67 percent in April to 77 percent in August 2020 — among families with children in the public-school system last year. Another national survey conducted by Morning Consult found that support for several types of school choice — education savings accounts, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and charter schools — all surged between the spring and fall of 2020. The same national poll found that 81 percent of the general public — and 86 percent of parents of school-aged children — now support funding students directly through education savings accounts.
These initiatives allow families to take a portion of their children’s K–12 education dollars, which would have otherwise automatically funneled to their residentially assigned public-school district, to cover the costs associated with any approved education provider, such as private schooling, tutoring, homeschooling, microschooling, and “pandemic pods.” And, of course, families would still be able to take all of their children’s education dollars to their residentially assigned public school if they prefer.
It isn’t just voters who are changing their minds. Legislators in at least 23 states have introduced bills in the past two months to fund students instead of systems. Five of these states — Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kansas — have already passed school-choice bills out of a chamber, and three others — Florida, Missouri, and South Dakota — have passed bills out of committees.
Language in some of this new legislation also suggests that the push to fund students instead of systems is the direct result of the inability or unwillingness of some teachers’ unions and school systems to reopen in person. Legislators in states including Utah, Maryland, and Illinois introduced bills to allow families to take their children’s education dollars elsewhere if their public schools didn’t reopen in person. The proposal to fund students directly in Georgia includes several eligibility categories — one of which happens to be for students assigned to public schools without full-time in-person instruction. Congressman Dan Bishop also introduced federal legislation to allow families to take some of their children’s K–12 education dollars to private providers if their public schools don’t reopen in person.
The good news is that teachers’ unions and others who oppose safe in-person instruction have done more to advance school choice in the past year than anyone could have ever imagined. The pandemic has revealed the main problem with K–12 education: There is a massive power imbalance between the public school system and individual families.
Families have always gotten the short end of the stick on K–12 education. But it’s more obvious now than ever, and families are figuring out they’re getting a bad deal. The only way that we’re ever going to fix that uneven power dynamic is to give families real options by funding students directly.
It’s about time we get our priorities right and fund students, not systems.
Iowa is considering legislation that would fund students directly to allows more families to access educational alternatives.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and school reopening battles across the country prompt families to search for alternative educational options for their children, school choice policies are increasingly being looked at as a solution.
This is happening nowhere more prominently than Iowa, where a bill to enact an education savings account program has passed the State Senate and is being considered in the House. But the proposal has also sparked substantial debate, the kind that tends to feature a lot of anti-school choice myths. Iowans cannot afford to let these myths block better educational opportunities for their children.
At the heart of Senate File 159 is the creation of new “Student First Scholarship” education savings accounts, into which the state would deposit funds. Eligible families could use the funds for private school tuition, like a traditional voucher, but also for myriad other educational uses, including after-school tutoring, therapy for children with disabilities, and more. Students in public schools flagged for poor performance would qualify for the scholarship and have around $5,200 put into their education savings accounts each year.
A common concern is that such a program would “siphon” money from cash-strapped public schools, hurting the children left behind. As the Des Moines Register editorialized, calling for choice “is an attempt to put lipstick on the pig of siphoning taxpayer money from public schools to funnel to private schools.”
At first blush, that may seem like a reasonable concern: having state dollars following a child to another education provider could, indeed, leave a public school with fewer funds. But that is not siphoning. It is connecting the money to the people it is most supposed to serve — children — and the funds only leave if a family has found an education provider it prefers.
Look at it this way: A family taking money for their child’s education from a public to a private school no more siphons dollars from a public school than choosing to go to Price Chopper siphons from Hy-Vee. Pell Grants similarly do not “siphon” money from community colleges just because they can be used at private universities chosen by students.
Education funding should not belong to any particular institution. It is meant for educating children.
Moreover, since only state funding would follow a child, a lot of money would stay with the public school, increasing resources for each child remaining in the public school. With Iowa spending an estimated $13,774 per public-school student according to the Census Bureau, a $5,200 savings account deposit would leave money behind.
Imagine if Hy-Vee were able to keep most of your grocery budget after you started shopping at your preferred Price Chopper. That would be a fantastic deal for Hy-Vee. The public schools similarly get to keep large sums of money for children they are no longer educating.
Perhaps the per-pupil financial gain for public schools is one reason research has found that in regions where there is more private school choice, public schools perform better. Or perhaps public schools’ improvements have to do with competition — as schools have to up their game when someone else could get their funding. Regardless, 26 of 28 studies on the topic find that school choice leads to better outcomes for children who remain in public schools.
It is the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats.
And let’s be clear: Anti-choice myths disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from having educational options. The most advantaged families already have school choice. They can afford to live in neighborhoods that are residentially assigned to the best public schools. They can afford to pay out of pocket for the costs of private education.
Funding students directly allows more families to access educational alternatives. School choice is an equalizer.
Ultimately, the need for choice is simple: It is unfair to have a child’s ZIP code determine their future. Iowa should fund students, not institutions.
Despite admin pledge to reopen schools, nominee sides with unions to keep San Diego public schools closed
President Joe Biden’s pick to be deputy secretary of education is still fighting to keep students out of the classroom in San Diego, where she’s school superintendent.
Cindy Marten, the longtime superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, has been a vocal opponent of bringing back in-person instruction for public school students. The district had pledged to give a timeline for reopening on Jan. 13, but Marten failed to follow through, announcing after the deadline that no date for return will be set.
“Despite the progress that is being made and all of the best efforts of all of our employees, it’s important that we recognize that the virus continues to spread and it’s out of control in our communities,” Marten said. “This is not the time to let up on our efforts to defeat this deadly virus.”
Marten’s refusal to set a timeline for schools to reopen is in direct contradiction with Biden, who has vowed to have schools reopen within the first hundred days of his presidency. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has said the government’s “default position” should be to get kids back in the classroom.
Recent peer-reviewed studies confirm that transmission of COVID-19 in schools is “extremely rare,” but teachers in some of the biggest districts in the country continue to resist going back to the classroom until there is mass vaccination of both teachers and students.
Former San Diego county supervisor Kristin Gaspar, a Republican who lost her district race in November, praised Marten’s “passion” for her work but said she has been hamstrung by her commitment to pleasing the unions.
“Superintendent Marten should be praised for her passion at the reins of San Diego schools,” Gaspar told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, Marten has consistently favored the loudest voice at the decision-making table, and that is the teachers’ union. It’s alarming to us as parents to witness the strong influence of labor unions on the continued closure of public schools.”
As she works to keep public schools closed, Marten, who also serves on the board of the California Teachers Association benefits organization, continues to make over $300,000 in the taxpayer-funded role, between salary and benefits. While San Diego’s public schools continue their restrictions on in-person education, a majority of their private counterparts have opened their doors for in-person learning. A November survey found that 84 percent of San Diego students in private schools are attending in person to varying degrees, compared with only 32 percent of those in San Diego public schools.ADVERTISING
The actual curriculum of San Diego Unified School District’s classes may pose additional hurdles to Marten’s nomination. A report from the City Journal found that, amid a global pandemic, the district has prioritized abolishing deadlines for homework, mandating diversity trainings where teachers were told they are guilty of “spirit murdering” black children, and instituting an ethnic studies curriculum.
Five years into her tenure as superintendent, a Voice of San Diego report found that “gains have been incremental and difficult to measure” and that “the achievement gap Marten pledged to tackle at the outset has gone virtually unchanged.” Katrina Hasan Hamilton, the local NAACP education chair, criticized Marten’s “historical pattern of allowing the excessive suspension and expulsion of black students in San Diego.”
Marten has received support from her fellow California Democrats, including Tony Thurmond, California’s superintendent of public instruction, who has made institutionalizing sex education a priority from kindergarten onward.
Gaspar said she hopes Marten will reverse course if confirmed as deputy secretary of education and make the well-being of children her top priority.
“The inability to open our schools has led to severe increases in anxiety, depression, higher incidences of child abuse, doubling of child sex trafficking, and a rapidly growing socioeconomic divide,” she said. “As deputy secretary of education, may Cindy Marten find the strength and grace to first prioritize the well-being of students across this country that will be entrusted to her care.”
Marten’s confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled. Neither Marten nor the White House returned requests for comment.
An executive order on LGBT rights signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday signals the start of a bitter cultural clash that will loom large over his presidency.
Biden’s directive broaches almost every aspect of domestic policy, from housing to refugee resettlement to transgender student athletes. The order requires every federal agency to make clear that civil rights laws banning sex discrimination also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, citing the Supreme Court’s landmark gay rights ruling in June 2020.
Many changes resulting from Biden’s order, like a ban on anti-gay discrimination in renting, are unlikely to cause controversy. Other mandates will accelerate long-simmering cultural disputes, like those allowing trans students to participate in women’s sports or use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. While Biden says his focus is fixed on the coronavirus pandemic and economic stimulus, cultural conflict is poised to play a defining role in the coming years of his presidency.
The Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is the basis for Biden’s directive. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans discrimination “because of sex” in employment. The question for the justices was whether that sex discrimination ban also covers sexual orientation and gender identity. A six-justice majority led by Justice Neil Gorsuch said it does. Gorsuch wrote that it is “impossible” to discriminate against LGBT workers without discriminating in some way “because of sex.”
Biden’s order says the logic of Bostock—that discrimination against LGBT people is necessarily discrimination “because of sex”—should apply to every other federal law and regulation that bans sex-based discrimination. The order thus requires any agency that enforces statutes banning sex discrimination to likewise prohibit bias against LGBT people.
For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development administers a sex non-discrimination law called the Fair Housing Act. Under Biden’s order, HUD will enforce that law to ban LGBT bias when selling homes or renting apartments. The Immigration and Nationality Act likewise promises assistance to refugees regardless of sex, meaning Biden’s order also guarantees protections for gay and transgender migrants.
All told, the list of forthcoming changes is a long one.
“Biden’s executive order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life.”
While many new policies will likely enjoy broad support, some may inflame the hottest cultural disputes. Biden’s Education Department will be a flashpoint.
The Education Department administers Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in federally-funded schools. The department, consistent with Biden’s order, will make rules requiring any school that takes federal dollars to allow trans students access to their preferred bathrooms and locker rooms. Another rule granting trans-women access to women’s sports will almost certainly be promulgated. The order expressly contemplates those steps.
“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” the order reads.
Critics say those moves are tantamount to repealing Title IX, which was passed to put women on equal-footing with men in athletics.
“This isn’t equality, and it isn’t progress. President Biden’s call for ‘unity’ falls flat when he seeks to hold those receiving federal funds hostage if they don’t do tremendous damage to the rights, opportunities, and dignity of women and girls,” said Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Christiana Holcomb.
The Trump administration took the same view, arguing Bostock shouldn’t apply to Title IX because Title IX serves a different and unique purpose—protecting girls and ensuring equal athletic opportunities for women. Forcing women’s athletic leagues to accept transgender competitors would defeat the law’s purpose, the Trump Education Department argued in a 2020 memorandum.
In the months following Bostock, two federal appeals courts sided with transgender students challenging bathroom access policies, an early indication that many courts are ready to apply the case to education.
Implementing Biden’s order will take time. In the short term, agencies will issue advisory notices to forewarn employees or industry leaders about the new enforcement practices. That will give schools, banks, and employers time to implement changes on their own without formal government action.
Agencies will then move to enshrine the new policy in an official rule. Crafting rules is time-consuming. Agencies must give adequate notice of a change and allow a public comment period. Settling the finer points is likewise slow work, often involving officials from different parts of the government. For example, former education secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded an Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter on campus sexual assault in 2017, but a long-promised rule setting due-process requirements for campus tribunals wasn’t finalized until 2020.
And whatever changes are achieved may be stymied in court. Advocacy groups and Republican attorneys general are sure to file legal challenges to the new rules. It’s not clear if they’ll ask judges to halt Biden’s policies on a national basis. Conservatives castigated so-called nationwide injunctions during the Trump administration, though with Biden in the White House they may be back in style.
Justice Samuel Alito foresaw a long slog in his wide-ranging 54-page dissent in Bostock.
“Although the Court does not want to think about the consequences of its decision, we will not be able to avoid those issues for long,” Alito wrote. “The entire federal judiciary will be mired for years in disputes about the reach of the Court’s reasoning.”
States should broaden policies to support the school choice parents are demanding.
Nothing in the historical record has disrupted American schools quite like COVID-19. Millions of students will lose more than a year of classroom instruction. Only the most hopeful think schools will return to normalcy before next September. An entire generation can expect a drop in lifetime earnings of 5% to 10%, economists tell us. Even worse, social and emotional development have been stunted. Schools no longer provide eye and ear exams, nurse office visits, and ready access to social services. Children from low-income backgrounds are suffering the most.
Parents desperately search for alternatives. In affluent communities, neighbors have formed learning pods, with tutors and fellow parents sharing the instructional burden. Home schooling is on the rise. Families are shifting their children to private and charter schools. Entrepreneurial high school seniors are taking dual enrollment courses, hoping to finish high school and begin college at the same time. But too many children are occupying their time in other ways, with ever more high school students simply dropping out. Enrollment at public schools is falling by 5% or more. The opportunity gap is almost certainly widening between rich and poor children.ADVERTISING
But what happens after the vaccine arrives and the virus has been cornered? Will parents return to the status quo? Or are they going to demand more choices and greater control over their child’s education? Before COVID-19, nearly a third of all students attended a school of choice, including district-operated magnet schools (7%) other district options such as vocational and exam schools (6%), charters (6%), home schooling (3%), and private schools (8% using family and other private funds and 1% with school vouchers or tax-credit scholarships).
If parents have any say, the demand for choice is almost certain to increase. During the pandemic itself, parents reported teachers at charter and private schools were more likely to provide direct instruction. Loss of learning occurred everywhere, but it was less, parents said, at these schools of choice.
What state policies should govern choice practices in the coming decade? How can states ensure that choice facilitates, not hinders, equal educational opportunities? There is no one answer, as every state has its own history and geography. But as the COVID storm has raged, researchers at Stanford’s Hoover Institution came up with a few principles and recommendations that might serve as a guide.
Most important, school choice should reduce the achievement inequalities the pandemic has aggravated. Traditionally, choice has been mainly available to those who could afford to rent or buy a home in a neighborhood that had good schools.
Magnet schools were the first to break this connection between school and residence. To foster school desegregation, they offered specialized programs — math and science, performing arts, bilingual instruction, career and technical training — to attract students from all ethnic groups from all parts of the school district. Most studies indicate that, on average, students are learning more at magnets than in other district schools. In many cities, including Miami, Denver and New York, the magnet concept is being broadened to encompass the entire district. Every school is a school of choice. The schools that go unchosen are earmarked for special attention or may be closed for lack of enough students. States should facilitate more of these districtwide choice programs.
Charter schools — publicly authorized schools that operate under private auspices — are also broadening family options. In 2018 Texas charters served more than 330,000 students at nearly 800 schools, about 6% of all public school students.
Initially, studies showed little difference between the performances of students at charters and district schools, either in Texas or elsewhere. But recent studies show that cohorts of students who attend charters in Texas and nationwide are improving at twice the rate of students at district schools. The biggest strides forward are among African American students.
To facilitate their expansion, states can authorize more schools, but limit fiscal harms to school districts. In Texas and most other states, funding follows the child when the student moves either to a charter school or from one district to another. Although the fiscal policy makes sense, districts that lose enrollment still bear legacy costs, most importantly, pensions and medical benefits for retired employees. States can mitigate the political controversies by absorbing more of these legacy costs.
Some worry that charters undermine district-operated public schools by attracting the most engaged families. Fortunately, that has not happened so far: Recent evidence shows gains in student performance at district schools when they are competing with charters.
School segregation is another concern. But even though racial isolation remains widespread in most metropolitan areas, a recent study by the liberal Urban Institute finds that choice has little effect on the racial composition of schools, one way or the other.
Still, there is much that state policymakers can do to make sure that school choice enhances equal opportunity. Charter schools can be placed in locations that foster integration. States can fund transportation costs for all students, no matter what school they attend. That is both efficient and equitable. And once legacy costs are protected, choice of school should not be skewed by favorable funding for one type of school rather than another.
Going forward, states should focus on middle and high schools. Research tells us that students in fourth grade public schools have been learning their letters and numbers as well or better than in the past. The challenge schools face comes with the onset of adolescence.
Achievement slippage is well underway by eighth grade, and it becomes increasingly severe as students proceed through high school. Rising high school graduation rates are mostly a function of easier grading practices and undemanding credit recovery courses, as shown by the astoundingly high dropout rates at community colleges. Half of all students just out of high school leave a two-year college within the first year.
Choice by itself will not solve the malaise that continues to plague too much of our educational system, especially in the middle and high school years. But if students are given a wide range of options, leading to multiple types of meaningful certificates, chances improve that young people will become more adequately prepared for what comes next. The COVID-19 crisis can become the equal opportunity moment.
Joe Biden’s education transition team lead has a long history of praising China’s school system—a system the Chinese Communist Party designed to indoctrinate students.
Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor and the president of the California State Board of Education, has praised the Chinese Communist Party’s education system for its “magical work” in establishing a strong teacher-government presence in student life. In her 2017 book Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World, she explained the centrality of the teacher to Chinese students’ lives.
“Teachers in China are revered as elders, role models, and those whom parents entrust to shape the future of their children,” Darling-Hammond wrote. “In the Tao traditions of ritual, the phrase ‘heaven-earth-sovereign-parent-teacher’ is repeated and becomes ingrained in how people see themselves holistically governed and supported.”
The Stanford educator failed to mention that any other teacher-student “relationship” could result in imprisonment. The Chinese government continually cracks down on “Western values” in the classroom by sending state-sponsored inspectors to monitor teachers—particularly in higher education—for “improper” remarks. Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has said that China’s schools and teachers must “serve the Communist Party in its management of the country.”
Not serving it can carry steep consequences. In July, for example, Chinese professor Xu Zhangrun was placed under house arrest after he criticized Xi’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. He was subsequently fired from his teaching position at Tsinghua University—one of China’s most elite institutions—after he spoke out against Xi’s removal of presidential term limits.
In her book, Darling-Hammond also praised China for dramatically increasing spending on education. But that money has been unevenly distributed, resulting in persistent inequalities. Sixty percent of rural students drop out by the time they reach high school, and of the remaining 40 percent, only a small fraction take college entrance exams.
Similar disparities apply to teachers—yet in a 2011 Washington Post article, Darling-Hammond lauded China for boosting spending on teachers’ professional development. She also took a “detailed statement” from the Chinese minister of education at face value, in which he claimed that China had allocated “billions of yuen” to improving teachers’ “working … and living conditions.”
Such omissions appear in Darling-Hammond’s Twitter feed as well. In 2018, she tweetedthat the United States had 71 times as many school shootings as China, but declined to note that Chinese crime statistics are notoriously inaccurate. She also ignored the numerous stabbings that plague Chinese schools. In October 2018, a woman stabbed 14 children in a kindergarten class. In April 2018, nine students were murdered at a middle school.
Darling-Hammond has spent nearly her entire life entrenched in Ivy League institutions, beginning at Yale University in 1969. In 2008, she served as the lead for Barack Obama’s education transition team. Darling-Hammond had been under consideration to be Biden’s secretary of education but claimed she was “not interested” in the position, citing her desire to continue working with California governor Gavin Newsom.
The Biden team did not respond to requests for comment.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bungled response to COVID-19 has turned the nation’s largest metropolis into a disease-infested hotspot rife with economic and social tensions. Now parents in the city’s sizeable Orthodox Jewish community are asking a court to enjoin further restrictions on private education described in a suit as being “unscientific and discriminatory” in their origin because they prevent children enrolled in religious schools from attending them.
On Monday Yitzchok and Chana Lebovits — whose daughters attend the all-girl Bais Yaakov Ateres private school — asked a New York judge to prevent Cuomo’s latest anti-COVID-19 restrictions from taking effect specifically on the grounds they target the Orthodox Jewish community. Backed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, public-interest legal organization protecting religious freedom and the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, the Lebovits want new regulations leading to school closures issued by Cuomo on October 6 set aside.
“We are devastated for our daughters and their classmates who are needlessly suffering because of the governor’s policy,” Mrs. Lebovits said. “Governor Cuomo should not take away part of my daughters’ childhood because other people are afraid of Orthodox Jews. We hope the court will let our daughters go back to school so they can pray and learn together with their classmates.”
The new restrictions ban completely in-person instruction at BYAM and other schools in Jewish neighborhoods in New York City, effectively infringing severely on the rights of parents to direct the religious education and upbringing of their children. The restrictions come after months of Cuomo and de Blasio’s apparent scapegoating of the Orthodox community, blaming them for the virus’s spread throughout the city while they were at the same time not only failing to condemn but praising the mass protests against economic and racial inequality that in some cases led to violence and looting in Manhattan.
In early October, a federal judge in New York found the new restrictions did specifically target the Orthodox Jewish community, laying the groundwork for the suit. “There is no place for bigotry in the Big Apple,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket president, and senior counsel.
“By Cuomo’s own admission, schools are not significant spreaders of COVID-19, and the new policy was not driven by science but was made from ‘fear’—fear of Orthodox Jews. Cuomo and de Blasio need to follow the science, follow the law, and stop scapegoating Jews. The Mayor and the Governor should be ashamed,” Rienzi added, referring to comments Cuomo can be overheard making during a telephone conversation with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community. In that conversation, a copy of which was given to the New York media, the governor admits the policies he has put in place to lock down the state and keep residents confined to the homes and children out of school were based on political concerns, not science.
Critics have argued the measures taken by Cuomo and de Blasio to prevent the virus from spreading may have instead hastened its introduction into vulnerable population groups, especially among seniors and others living in nursing homes. The World Health Organization and others have recently concluded the number of deaths in nursing homes attributed to the disease is considerably higher than those occurring in the rest of the population.
A decade ago, the charter-school movement was moving from strength to strength. As student enrollment surged and new schools opened in cities across the country, America’s first black president provided much-needed political cover from teachers’ union attacks. Yet today, with public support fading and enrollment stalling nationwide — and with Democratic politicians from Elizabeth Warren to Joe Biden disregarding, downplaying, or publicly disavowing the charter movement — the situation for America’s charter schools has become virtually unrecognizable.
This is a strange state of affairs, given the ever-growing and almost universally positive research base on urban charter schools. On average, students in these schools — and black and Latino students in particular — learn more than their peers in traditional public schools and go on to have greater success in college and beyond. Moreover, these gains have not come at the expense of traditional public schools or their students. In fact, as charter schools have replicated and expanded, surrounding school systems have usually improved as well.
To be sure, the research is not as positive for charter schools operating outside of the nation’s urban centers. Furthermore, multiple studies suggest that internet-based schools, along with programs serving mostly middle-class students, perform worse than their district counterparts, at least on traditional test-score-based measures. But like the technologies behind renewable energy (which work poorly in places where the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine), charter schools needn’t work everywhere to be of service to society. And, contrary to much of the public rhetoric, the evidence makes a compelling case for expanding charter schools in urban areas — especially in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, and San Francisco, where their market share is still relatively modest. Indeed, encouraging such an expansion may be the single most important step we can take to improve the lives of low-income and minority children in America’s most underserved urban communities.
It is a particularly cruel irony that many within the Democratic Party — with its historic legacy of standing up for needy urban families — have turned against a policy that could so dramatically improve the lives of their constituents. But despite some Democrats’ about-face on charter schools, it is imperative that America’s dispirited education reformers — who have experienced more than their fair share of disappointment — not throw in the towel just yet. Although the political climate may now entail a serious fight over charter schools in the coming years, the benefits of such schools make them well worth the effort.
THE EVIDENCE ON URBAN CHARTER SCHOOLS
In general, the most rigorous studies of charter schools rely on data from the randomized admissions lotteries that are conducted when individual schools are oversubscribed, which ensure that research resembles a natural experiment.
With few exceptions, these lottery-based studies have found that attending oversubscribed charter schools is associated with higher achievement in reading and math — especially in large, human-capital-rich cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York City. For example, a 2011 study of the Promise Academy charter schools in the Harlem Children’s Zone found the effects of attendance in middle school were “enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics,” while the effects in elementary school were “large enough to close the racial achievement gap in both mathematics and [English language arts].”
If all charter schools were so effective, there would be little to debate. But unfortunately, charter schools that are popular enough to make use of admissions lotteries are likely atypical. Consequently, although studies may tell us something important about the schools in question — and, perhaps, about the potential gains associated with the policies and practices that allow them to do their work — this research can tell us little about the overall performance of urban charter schools.
In an effort to overcome this limitation, many recent studies have used a statistical technique known as “matching” to compare the academic trajectories of students in charter schools to students in traditional public schools with similar characteristics and levels of academic achievement. A 2012 study that used matching found that students in Milwaukee charter schools made more progress in English language arts (ELA) and math than otherwise similar students in traditional public schools, as did a more recent study of students in Los Angeles charter schools.
Although there are many approaches to matching, perhaps the best known in education circles is the virtual control record (VCR) method developed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO has used the VCR method in recent years to generate an extensive collection of national, state-, and city-specific estimates of the “charter effect.” In a 2015 analysis of charter performance in 41 urban locations, for instance, CREDO estimated that students who attended a charter school in these cities gained an average of 28 days of learning in ELA and 40 days of learning in math per year. (For the purposes of this discussion, 180 days of learning can be thought of as the progress the average American student makes in the average school year.) Students who enrolled in an urban charter school for at least four years gained a total of 72 days of learning in ELA and 108 days — over half a year’s worth of learning — in math.
Notably, these gains were concentrated among low-income black and Latino students. Black students in poverty gained 44 days of learning in ELA and 59 days of learning in math per year. Similarly, Latino students in poverty gained 25 days of learning in ELA and 48 days of additional learning in math. Students with English-language-learner status gained 79 days of learning in ELA and 72 days of learning in math.
Nationally, ELA and math achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students are roughly two grade levels. So while most charter schools aren’t erasing racial achievement gaps, the average urban charter is putting a sizable dent in them.
Since the goal of public education is to serve all students effectively, one key question is whether the success of students in charter schools comes at the expense of their peers in traditional public schools. Yet contrary to the assumptions of many charter-school opponents, there is little evidence that this is the case.
In fact, most of the “spillover” effects that charter schools have on the traditional public schools in their vicinity appear positive — or at worst, neutral. To wit, a recent review of the literature on this question identified nine studies that found positive effects, three that found negative effects, two that found mixed effects, and 10 that found no effects whatsoever. As that summary suggests, evidence that charter competition has salutary effects on district-run schools has now been detected in a wide variety of contexts, from the dense urban cores of Milwaukee and New York City to the sprawling suburbs of Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.
Logically, if urban charter schools have a positive effect on their own students’ achievement and a neutral or positive effect on other students’ achievement, it follows that their overall effect on student achievement must be positive. To test that hypothesis, researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently examined the relationship between the “market share” of local charters — that is, the percentage of publicly enrolled students in a geographic school district who attend a charter school — and the average reading and math achievement of all students (including those in traditional public schools). Overall, the data revealed that an increase in the former was associated with an increase in the latter, especially in black and Latino communities and in the largest urban areas. In other words, at least when it comes to charter schools in America’s biggest cities, a rising tide really does lift all boats.
BEYOND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
While most parents expect their children to leave school with a mastery of critical academic skills and knowledge, the ultimate success of an education lies in the degree to which it empowers students to thrive in adulthood. Consequently, to gauge the true efficacy of charter schools, one cannot simply rely on charter students’ performance record based on standard academic tests.
Fortunately, a growing number of studies allow us to examine the relationship between enrollment in charter schools and long-term, real-world outcomes. One evaluation of a high-performing “no excuses” charter school in Chicago found that, compared to their peers, “lottery winners are 10.0 percentage points more likely to attend college and 9.5 percentage points more likely to enroll for at least four semesters.” Similarly, in a follow-up study of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, researchers found that the same students who had previously experienced large test-score gains relative to their district peers were also “14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college.” Furthermore, admitted female students were “12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant in their teens,” while male students were “4.3 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated.”
Other lottery-based studies encompass multiple schools. For example, one study found that attending an oversubscribed Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) middle school between 2008 and 2011 had a positive effect on post-secondary enrollment. Similarly, a 2016 study found that charter schools “increase pass rates on Massachusetts’ high-stakes [high-school] exit exam, with large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored [college] scholarship,” and that they “induce a substantial shift from 2- to 4-year institutions.” Finally, a recent study of the Democracy Prep charter network found that it boosted students’ odds of voting in the 2016 election by six percentage points.
Like the lottery-based studies of charter schools’ impact on achievement, this research doesn’t necessarily generalize to all charter schools. However, at least two studies have used matching techniques to estimate the long-term effects of charter attendance for entire cities or states.
The first, a 2011 study of charter schools in Florida and Chicago, found that “among students who attended a charter middle school, those who went on to attend a charter high school were 7–15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who transitioned to a traditional public high school,” as well as “8–10 percentage points more likely to attend college.” The second, a more recent study of charter schools in North Carolina, found that students who attended a charter high school were “less likely to be chronically absent, suspended, be convicted of a crime as an adult, and more likely to register and participate in elections.”
In short, although the literature on charter schools’ long-term effects is still developing, the early evidence — like the two studies mentioned above — is extremely encouraging as well as highly consistent with the evidence on charter schools’ short-term effects on academic achievement.
In the absence of any compelling evidence that charter schools’ well-established benefits for low-income and minority students come at the expense of students in traditional public schools, the claim that charter schools exacerbate segregation is perhaps opponents’ most potent line of attack. And though, as of yet, the evidence is neither dramatic nor conclusive, there is some limited evidence to support this argument.
In a recent literature review, for instance, researchers identified 10 studies of charter schools and racial integration, including two that found they increased integration, five that found no significant effect, and three that found that they decreased integration (i.e., increased or at least preserved segregation). Meanwhile, in the most comprehensive analysis to date, researchers at the Urban Institute found that higher charter market share was associated with a small increase in racial segregation within the average school district. Specifically, the authors estimated that if every charter school in the country was eliminated, racial segregation in the average district would decrease by approximately 5%. However, that same study also found that charter schools reduced segregation between school districts. Consequently, when the analysts looked at segregation across entire metro areas, they found no significant effects.
For some charter skeptics, even the faintest hint of “re-segregation” on any level is intolerable. While this objection to charter schools is understandable, an overemphasis on this dimension of their impact risks missing the forest for the trees.
First, it’s important to recognize that American schools are already highly segregated and have been so for the many decades of traditional public-school hegemony. Thus, it’s not as if charter schools are derailing an otherwise successful program of racial integration.
Second, much of the most concerning segregation takes place within outwardly diverse schools. For example, if math or other subjects are tracked, pre-existing achievement gaps can and do lead to highly segregated classrooms, even within schools that look integrated on paper.
Third, some research suggests that, because it “decouples” housing and education markets, expanding school choice makes it more likely that white parents will move into “racially segregated urban communities.” In other words, even if charter schools do lead to slightly less diverse schools in some places, their arrival may mean that neighborhoods become more diverse.
Finally, it is simply a fact that many “racially isolated” charter schools achieve exceptional results for the minority students they serve. At the end of the day, the argument that charter programs will re-segregate America’s schools misses the profound difference between policies of enforced segregation and those that empower black and Latino families to opt out of a system designed by and for the white majority. Parents who choose all-black or all-Latino charter schools that defy society’s expectations of failure are hardly modern-day Bull Connors.
CRITICS OF THE RESEARCH
As should be obvious, much of the pro-charter argument depends on the validity of the methodologies upon which researchers have relied (and of CREDO’s methodology in particular). So, given how much is at stake, it’s worth taking a moment to understand the various criticisms of CREDO’s approach, most of which can be summarized in two points.
First, critics claim that CREDO’s estimates could be biased by unobserved differences between students in charter schools and students in traditional public schools. In other words, it’s possible that the students in charter schools make more progress than “otherwise similar” students (i.e., students with similar demographic characteristics and prior achievement) in traditional public schools because of factors that are hard to measure, like unusually involved parents.
Second, the critics argue that even if CREDO’s estimates are unbiased, they might not generalize to other locations or higher levels of charter market share. For example, if the 25% of Boston’s black students who are enrolled in a charter school are above average, easier to teach, or otherwise different from the rest of the city’s black student population, the same schools that are seemingly serving these students so well might struggle to replicate their results with the other three-quarters of that population. And of course, insofar as the extraordinary success of Boston’s charter schools depends on conditions that are not replicable — such as the city’s unusually deep reservoir of human capital — it may be difficult to reproduce this success in other locations.
For each of these criticisms, there is a compelling counterargument. For example, when the federal Institute of Education Sciences (IES) evaluated non-experimental methods for studying charter schools, it found that matching studies generated “impact estimates that are not significantly different from the experimental estimates.” Other attempts to assess the validity of matching approaches have reached similar conclusions. And in general, it’s difficult to overlook the similarities between CREDO’s estimates and those generated by other experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Like the CREDO studies, for example, those other studies found increased positive effects for disadvantaged students and students of color, as well as a stark gap between the performance of urban and non-urban charter schools, all of which suggests that CREDO’s estimates should be taken seriously.
As for the second criticism, although our knowledge of the opportunities and challenges associated with an exclusively charter-based system is thus far limited to the experience of New Orleans (which made the switch almost overnight following Hurricane Katrina), we now have quite a bit of experience with “charter-heavy” systems, where charter market share is somewhere between 15% and 45%. In general, the evidence collected in such environments suggests that the returns associated with higher charter market share do not necessarily diminish as charter market share increases. For example, one rigorous analysis found that the “average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased…despite a doubling of charter market share.” And CREDO’s 2015 estimates for cities like Detroit and Washington, D.C., were highly positive, despite the fact that charter schools enroll more than a third of the students in these cities. Finally, the evidence suggests that New Orleans’s leap of faith led to substantial gains for students — although it’s not clear how much smaller those gains would have been if the city had stopped at 50% or 75% charter market share instead of going all the way.
Obviously, even if one takes CREDO’s estimates at face value and accepts that there is room for growth in most places, it’s still the case that charter performance varies by location. But what this criticism often overlooks is that charter policy also varies by location. So at best, this line of reasoning is a double-edged sword. After all, nothing but politics prevents states and localities from adopting smarter education policies.
IMPROVEMENTS OVER TIME
Collectively, the research discussed makes a compelling case for expanding charter schools in urban areas. Yet that case would be incomplete without a final, critical, and frequently overlooked point: Charter schools (and urban charter schools in particular) have improved since the movement’s inception — even as their numbers have increased — and will probably keep improving in the coming years.
The first half of this claim is difficult to contest. For instance, after breaking down previously collected achievement data according to school year, CREDO estimated that students in urban charter schools gained 24 days of learning in reading and 29 days of learning in math in 2008-09. Yet by 2011-12, it estimated that these figures had increased to 41 days for reading and 58 days for math. Similarly, meta-analyses of the lottery-based and quasi-experimental charter-school literature suggest a gradual improvement in overall performance. For example, a 2008 review of 17 lottery-based and value-added studies found “compelling evidence that charter schools underperform traditional public schools in some locations, grades, and subjects, and outperform them in other locations, grades, and subjects.” Yet in 2019, the same authors concluded that charter schools had positive effects in the elementary and middle grades, with no statistically significant effects in high school.
Although the causes behind this improvement are complex, it stands to reason that it is at least partly attributable to the inevitable learning process that occurs whenever a new idea is introduced. As skeptics are quick to note, “charter schools” often feels like an unhelpfully broad category. Fortunately, thanks to nearly two decades of research, we know quite a bit about what sorts of charter schools work best, for whom, and under what circumstances. Another landmark CREDO study (and other research) tells us that non-profit “charter management organizations” (CMOs) are, on average, higher performing than for-profit networks or independent “mom-and-pop” charter schools. And numerous studies suggest that “no excuses” schools have had a particularly positive effect on black students’ achievement. Finally, as noted previously, we know that charter schools in urban areas outperform those in rural and suburban districts, especially when it comes to serving black and Latino students.
Though it’s unlikely to persuade the critics, one obvious implication of all this research is that we should allow high-performing CMOs like KIPP, Success Academy, and IDEA to expand their footprints in major urban areas. And in fact, that’s more or less what has been happening in places where charter schools in general have been allowed to grow: Since 2015, the share of newly created charter schools run by for-profit entities has fallen from 20% to around 10%, while the share of new schools run by CMOs has increased to 40%.
Once one starts looking for them, the signs that states and localities are learning from one another’s experiences are everywhere. To wit, at least half a dozen cities have now adopted common applications that make it easier for parents to choose from and apply to multiple schools. Or take Texas, which historically has had a relatively low-performing charter sector. In 2013, the Lone Star State boosted funding for its charter schools while also moving to close its lowest performers. Following the law’s passage, CREDO’s estimate of Texas charter schools’ effect on math learning went from negative 17 days per year in 2013 to positive 17 days per year in 2015, with even larger gains for poor students and the state’s ever-expanding Latino population.
This improvement is too recent to be reflected in CREDO’s national estimates, as are the widely recognized improvements in several other states’ charter sectors. But the more important point is that, even after 25 years of “learning” on the part of both states and localities, charter-school policy in most places is far from optimal. Additionally, a 2018 study found that, once the cost of facilities and other unavoidable expenses was taken into account, charter schools received 27% — or about $6,000 — less per pupil than traditional public schools. And in more than a dozen major urban districts — including Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. — it has been estimated that charter schools receive anywhere from 25% to 50% less revenue per pupil than traditional public schools. In other words, urban charter schools are achieving their remarkable results despite spending far less money per pupil than their district counterparts. If and when legislators begin funding charter schools more equitably, one can only imagine the levels of success they — and their students — will achieve.
RENEWING THE PROMISE OF CHARTER SCHOOLS
In recent decades, education reformers have experimented with numerous approaches to boosting the achievement of disadvantaged children of color — from reducing class sizes to insisting that teachers receive “National Board Certification” to investing heavily in failing schools. Yet ultimately, most of these ideas were abandoned because they were politically untenable or, in hindsight, unscalable or ill-conceived. In contrast, the case for charter schools has only strengthened over time — and the experiences of places like New Orleans, Newark, and D.C. suggest we have only begun to realize their potential.
Precisely why urban charter schools work so well for students of color is difficult to say. In theory, freedom from district bureaucracies and teacher-union contracts should allow them to make better hiring decisions, appropriately reward strong performance, and let go of ineffective teachers when necessary. But it’s also possible that more intense competition between schools encourages them to make better use of their resources. Or perhaps the periodic closure of low-performing charter schools leads to a gradual improvement in quality. Or maybe allowing more school choice improves the “match” between students and schools in ways that disproportionately benefit at-risk students. Since research supports each of these theories, the best possible answer to the question of causal mechanisms may simply be “all of the above.”
Despite what many may have heard, the growth of charter schools is not out of control. To the contrary, where growth has been permitted, it is completely under the control of disadvantaged populations that can now exercise their right to pursue a better education. And despite the overheated rhetoric that dominates public conversation, the truth is that charter schools enroll a modest percentage of students in most major cities. In New York City, for instance, they enroll just one in five black students and one in 10 Latino students. Yet at the start of the 2019-20 school year, nearly 50,000 families in the Big Apple were denied a place in a charter school.
Nationally, roughly one-quarter of black students and perhaps one in six Latino students in urban districts attend a charter school. So how much progress could we make by expanding charter market share for these groups? Although any concrete estimate is subject to criticism, our back-of-the-envelope arithmetic suggests that moving from 25% to 50% charter market share in urban areas could cut the achievement gap in half for at least 2.5 million black and Latino students in the coming decade. And of course, with more equitable funding, improved oversight, and an expanded role for truly high-performing networks, the dividends might be even larger. With so much to be gained for America’s most poorly served children, there is simply no reason not to prioritize the expansion of charter-school policies and programs in the years ahead.
The Department of Education published a final rule Wednesday that expands religious liberty protections on college campuses and allows DOE to suspend or cut federal funding from colleges that violate the First Amendment.
Known as the “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” final rule, it ensures the equal treatment of religious student groups at public universities, and “provides clarity for faith-based institutions with respect to Title IX.”
“This administration is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organization should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
If public universities fail to give religious student groups the same rights as other campus organizations, such as use of campus facilities and access to student fee funding, they could lose federal funding.
The final rule also seeks to promote “free inquiry” and to protect “academic freedom” on college campuses. “Denying free inquiry is inherently harmful at any institution of higher education because students are denied the opportunity to learn and faculty members are denied the opportunity to freely engage in research and rigorous academic discourse,” the rule reads.
In extreme cases of First Amendment violations, DOE can determine a university is ineligible for future grants. Private universities can also face the same consequences if found violating their own speech codes.
“These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations, and they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals,” DeVos explained.
While the final rule claims that universities must allow for differing ideas and viewpoints on campus, it also gives private or religious institutions the freedom to adopt their own speech standards, so long as they comply with them.
“Religiously affiliated institutions, in freely exercising their faith, may define their free speech policies as they choose in a manner consistent with their mission,” the rule states.
The rule also states that “religious student organizations should be able to enjoy the benefits, rights, and privileges afforded to other student organizations at a public institution” as well.
The final rule will going into effect 60 days after the date of official publication in the Federal Register.
The journalism school at Arizona State University caves to student activists.
Walter Cronkite said on receiving a global-governance award in 1999: “I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.”
Today, those who attend the journalism school named after the famed broadcaster are not so lucky.
The spread of “cancel culture” in newsrooms — declaring people henceforth “canceled” from society owing to ideological disagreements — is nothing new. Look no further than the hysterical reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging government to use its authorities under the Insurrection Act to “restore order to our streets” amid riots and looting. Newsroom activists flooded Twitter, objecting to its publication. The opinion editor was forced out. And the Times attached a note at the top of the op-ed (nearly 40 percent as long as the piece itself) apologizing for daring to publish the opinion of a sitting U.S. senator.
It was entertaining that Cotton’s tame commentary provoked such a disproportionate meltdown from those who consider themselves serious journalists. But that this scourge is seeping into local campus newsrooms is deeply worrisome — and seep it has.
The first sign of cancel culture bubbling up at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication involved Sonya Duhé, whom the university named dean this spring. Her tenure was cut short almost instantly after she published a tweet praying for “the good police officers who keep us safe.”
The protest-allied campus revolted against the incoming dean’s “racist” tweet and provoked a former student to accuse Duhé of committing “four years of microaggressions” against her. Other students would come forward to allege that she had made similar “microaggressive comments” to them.
It wasn’t one week before the Cronkite School revoked its offer and pledged to be more “inclusive” moving forward.
Things have only gotten worse — and, now that administrators have gotten used to the sweet taste of cancel culture, it appears that student journalists themselves are on the dinner plate.
When Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, published a poll following a May looting spree in Scottsdale, progressive students complained that the poll’s language was too friendly toward police officers — so Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It deleted the poll and apologized for causing “divisiveness”: “It was not our intention to downplay the actions of law enforcement.”
When a second young journalist published a Q&A with a former police officer in June, students complained that this exchange also was too friendly. Once again, Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It wiped the Q&A offline and replaced it with an apologetic note pledging to “better serve and represent our communities, especially the black community and other communities of color.”
The list goes on.
The most recent “cancel” target is Rae’Lee Klein, a young journalist at the Cronkite School’s Blaze Radio. After the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Klein, on her personal Twitter account, linked to a New York Post investigation and wrote: “Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.”
Progressive students were apoplectic. The board voted to remove her as station manager, threatened to resign if she did not, and released a statement from “Blaze Radio alumni” condemning her for trying to “dehumanize and insinuate blame on the victims of police violence.”
Luckily, Klein has refused to resign or succumb to this cancel culture flare-up, explaining on-air her decision to push back against “a situation where our opinions and our beliefs are held against us or [are] characteristic of our ability to lead.”
While she plants her feet, other young journalists at ASU understandably are reaching for the escape hatch. In August, two such undergraduates founded The Western Tribune, an “independent student journalism” website, as a home to “the oft unheard voices of our generation.” They won’t be the last.
These campus newsrooms are a means for tomorrow’s leaders to write down, or say out loud, the opinions they’ve been keeping in their minds and to see if those ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the real world. These young ideas rarely do — and the invaluable lesson that students glean from that realization will be lost forever if administrators cut them off at the knees by continuing to appease oversensitive cry-bullies whose antics threaten these vital sandboxes.
If things continue as they do, soon there will be no conservatives left to cancel, and progressive journalists will only be left to cancel themselves like a scorpion stinging itself to death.
And that’s the way it will be.
A new study shows African-Americans and children from poorer backgrounds outpace their peers in traditional district schools.
Public charter schools were once viewed as a nonpartisan compromise between vouchers for private schools and no choice at all. Not now. In its 2020 national platform, the Democratic Party calls for “stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards” and says federal funding for charters must be conditioned on “whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students.” Charter schools are indeed acting as good stewards by outpacing district schools on achievement growth—especially for the most at-risk students.
In a new study we compare the progress made by cohorts of charter and district school students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2005-17—a sample of more than four million test performances. Overall, students at charters are advancing at a faster pace than those at district schools. The strides made by African-American charter students have been particularly impressive. We also see larger gains at charters, relative to district schools, by students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Sometimes known as “the nation’s report card,” the NAEP administers math and reading tests every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in all 50 states. Ours is the first study to use this vast storehouse of information to analyze changes over time in the charter and district sectors. By adjusting for student background characteristics—sex, ethnicity, income, and (for eighth-grade students) computer availability and the number of books in the home—we made direct comparisons between student outcomes at charter and district schools. Because NAEP data don’t allow us to track specific students, we looked at changes in performance from one student cohort to the next over 12 years.
In 2003 an exploratory precursor to these NAEP surveys revealed that the average performance in reading and math of fourth-grade students attending charter schools trailed that of students attending district schools. When these results became public, the finding garnered widespread media attention.
Much has happened since then. For one thing, the charter sector has grown to include 6% of all U.S. public-school students—up from 2%. Just as important, we are now able to report that student achievement at charters has been rising at a considerably faster pace than at district schools. Nationwide, eighth-graders attending charter schools show learning gains over students at district schools amounting to three months of learning from 2005-17. The differences between charters and district schools is smaller at the fourth-grade level.
Relative to district schools, the most striking gains at charters are for African-American students, who constitute about 30% of the charter-school student population nationwide. Even after adjustments for background characteristics, their achievement gains in eighth grade exceed those at district schools by about six months of learning. African-American student performance in fourth grade rose by an extra four months of learning. Progress at charters by white students was more measured. Gains for charter-school student cohorts were two months of learning above those in the district sector.
Eighth-grade student cohorts from poor families are also making more-rapid progress at charters than at district schools. The scores of those in the bottom 25% of the socioeconomic distribution increased nearly twice as much as those of students in the district sector.
The charter advantage isn’t universal—Asian-American and Hispanic students are doing equally well in both sectors, as are students in the Western U.S. more generally. But the sizable gains for African-Americans and students from poorer backgrounds bolster President Trump’s claim that school choice is a civil-rights issue. Much more progress needs to be made to close the achievement gap. But if charters haven’t resolved social divides, they have proved to be a healthy tonic for the American educational system. Charters are improving outcomes even without the “stringent guardrails” proposed by the Democrats.
A disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.
The kitchen table will once again serve as a makeshift desk for millions of students when they head “back to school” in the next few weeks. Seventeen of the nation’s 20 largest school districts have said that they’ll reopen with zero in-person instruction. Nationally, only about 40 percent of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another ten percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction).
In short, close to half the nation’s K–12 schools may begin the new year remotely, a figure that will be far higher in the systems serving the most students. This painful reality, combined with teacher resistance to reopening and parental concerns about student safety, has prompted districts to work overtime promising that remote learning will be much better this fall.
While we’re big fans of making the best of a bad situation, we fear that this misplaced optimism has made it easier than it should be for school leaders to keep the doors locked this fall and has undermined commitment to the contractual arrangements, training, supports, and instruction needed to ensure that remote learning is more than an oxymoron. To be clear, remote learning is wholly in order where the public-health situation has rendered classrooms untenable. But it’s critical that parents, teachers, and school administrators in those locales proceed with no illusions.
This spring’s virtual-learning experiment was underwhelming, to say the least. Researchers at NWEA, Brown, and the University of Virginia have estimated that students will begin the coming school year already woefully behind, with just two-thirds the learning gains in reading and as little as half of the gains in math that we would normally expect. This is hardly a surprise, given that nearly a quarter of students were truant and that, even as the spring semester ground to an end, only a fifth of school districts expected teachers to provide real-time instruction.
Despite assurances from district officials that this fall’s remote instruction will be much improved, there’s a lot of cause for skepticism. For one thing, the evidence is pretty clear that, for most learners, virtual learning today is significantly less effective than classroom instruction. Research suggests that is likely to be particularly true for disadvantaged students.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that school systems worked out the kinks of virtual learning over the summer. Consider New York City’s dismal experience with summer learning. In the nation’s biggest and biggest-spending school district, despite New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza’s pledge that the city’s summer learning plan would get kids “ready to hit the ground running come September,” the program was plagued by the same problems that befell schools last spring — from technical glitches to poor curricula to sky-high truancy rates.
Less than half of districts offered any sort of professional development to their teachers over the summer, and just 20 percent have plans to provide support to teachers in a remote-learning setting. Parents have expressed frustration about the dearth of communication or guidance from their schools, and educators themselves have fretted that they’re not sure, after a lost spring, how they’ll convince students that this fall’s remote learning should suddenly be taken seriously. And, however tough it was for teachers to connect with students this spring, they’d already had six months of in-person instruction to build from; things are going to be exponentially tougher this fall for those teachers who know their students only as pixels and email addresses.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have served as another impediment. Even when the concerns sometimes seem exaggerated, one can appreciate why teachers may be hesitant about in-person schooling. Extraordinarily troubling, however, is that — once schools have gone fully virtual — more than a few union locals seem to be intent on pursuing provisions designed to hinder remote teaching and allow teachers paid as full-time educators to operate as part-time employees.
In Los Angeles, the “tentative agreement” between the district and the union stipulates that teachers will only need to deliver one to three hours of live instruction a day, with the exact amount determined by a complicated distance-learning schedule that incorporates grade level and, weirdly, the day of the week. In San Diego, the tentative agreement between the union and the district calls for three hours of live instruction a day, one “office hour” a day, and two hours of prep time for teachers (during which students are supposed to be doing “asynchronous” work, i.e. watching videos or filling out worksheets).
All of this leaves parents in a tough spot as they contemplate another lost semester, knowing their kids need more than the two hours of Zoom calls and busywork that many schools are offering. Some parents have been found a solution in “learning pods,” small, parent-organized classrooms led by a tutor or teacher that deliver a lot of the benefits of in-person schooling while minimizing risk. Others have turned to virtual charter schools with more purposeful, robust online programs. Still others have sought to transfer to smaller private schools offering some form of in-person learning.
Yet far from celebrating these attempts to do what many schools won’t, the nation’s scolds have apparently decided this a good time to upbraid and obstruct parents who dare to do more than sit and fret. Parents who form learning pods have been lambasted in the New York Times for choosing “to perpetuate racial inequities rooted in white supremacy” and criticized in the Washington Post for “weakening the public education system they leave behind.” Those trying to move their kids to virtual charter schools have been fought by union leaders who, in Oregon, pressured state officials to block such transfers. And in Montgomery County, Md., parents who’d turned to private schools found local officials striving to shutter these options just weeks before the start of school.
When the public-health situation warrants it, remote learning is better than nothing. But, even before we turn to the crushing impacts on working parents and children’s mental health, it’s crucial to appreciate just what a dismal substitute today’s remote learning really is. And, while it’s far from clear that district and union leaders are focused on putting in place the measures that might help, a disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.33
The takeaway is pretty straightforward. In most places, remote learning is going to be a mess this fall. School and system leaders should be doing all they can to reopen schools as rapidly and thoughtfully as their local health context permits. And, in the meantime, educators, community leaders, and policymakers should do all they can to help families find solutions that will work for them.