Not Separate, Not Equal: Feds Look at Native Kids in Public Schools

Senate Committee on Indian AffairsSenate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, listened to testimony at the committee’s hearing on American Indian students in public schools.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, listened to testimony at the committee’s hearing on American Indian students in public schools.


Tanya H. Lee, Indian Country Today


The federal government recently took a look at how American Indian children are faring in public schools—and the results are disturbing.

Minority children in public schools are generally subjected to harsher, more frequent disciplinary measures than are white students, according to the report, “School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion,” released by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The data collection that served as the basis of the report covered all 97,000 public schools in the U.S., which serve 49 million pre-K through grade 12 students. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children are educated in public schools.

“The issue of unlawful racial discrimination in school discipline is… a civil rights issue,” states a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson. “Title VI protects students from discrimination based on race in connection with all academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs and activities of a school, including programs and activities a school administers to ensure and maintain school safety and student discipline.

A few examples of the government’s findings: AI/AN children, who represented 0.5 percent of enrollment of the schools included in this calculation, accounted for 2 percent of single and multiple out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. On the other hand, they accounted for only 0.2 percent of in-school suspensions. By contrast, white students, who accounted for 51 percent of enrollment, comprised 40 percent of in-school suspensions, 36 percent and 31 percent of single and multiple out-of-school suspensions respectively and 36 percent of expulsions. These numbers suggest that the harsher the punishment (with in-school suspension at one end of the scale and expulsion at the other), the less likely is it to be applied to white students and the more likely it is to be imposed on AI/AN children.

Thirteen percent of AI/AN boys received out-of-school suspension, compared with 6 percent of white boys. Seven percent of AI/AN girls received out-of-school suspension, compared with just 2 percent of white girls.

More than twice as many students with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions (13 percent) than did non-disabled students (6 percent). A whopping 29 percent of AI/AN boys with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions, compared with 12 percent of white boys. Twenty percent of AI/AN girls with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions, compared with 6 percent of white girls with disabilities.

“The administration of student discipline can result in unlawful discrimination based on race in two ways: first, if a student is subjected to different treatment in discipline based on the student’s race, and second, if a discipline policy is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race,” explained the spokesperson.

The Office for Civil Rights can investigate potential violations if the data warrants. “The data showing disproportionalities by race and ethnicity provide a basis for OCR to investigate further, including all relevant circumstances, such as the facts surrounding a student’s actions and the discipline imposed, to determine whether there was discrimination.” For example, a September 2012 investigation of Oakland, California schools resulted in a “voluntary resolution agreement [that] addressed issues of whether African American students were disciplined more frequently and more harshly than white students,” says the department spokesperson.

A Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing titled “Indian Education Series: Indian Students in Public Schools—Cultivating the Next Generation,” also found areas of concern, particularly in relation to Impact Aid.

William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on AI/AN Education, noted that the Office for Civil Rights report found other discrepancies in the education of AI/AN kids. For example, American Indian kindergarteners repeat the grade at nearly twice the rate of white children, AI/AN students go to schools with more first-year teachers than do white students and AI/AN students have the highest dropout rate of any racial or ethnic population, with a graduation rate of just 68 percent, compared with 75 percent for all students.

Mendoza testified that Impact Aid to help fund education for schools in districts with untaxable federal lands was funded at copy.2 billion for FY 2014, with half of that money going to public schools that educate children living on Indian lands.

Brent D. Gish, executive director of the National Indian Impacted Schools Association, put that number in perspective. While the Impact Aid program was established by Congress in 1950, it has not been fully funded since 1969. According to Dan Hudson, Wyoming State Impact Aid chairman and assistant superintendent of Fremont County School District #14, the Basic Support component of Impact Aid is currently funded at only 58 percent of authorization while the Payments for Property component is funded at just 3.5 percent of authorization.

Gish also noted that the Impact Aid program is not forward-funded, presenting challenges for planning and hiring. The 2013 federal sequester added to those challenges. “The sequester hit federally impacted Indian land school districts hard and to the detriment of the students, their communities and reservations,” he testified.

RELATED: Every Child Left Behind: Sequester Guts Indian Education, Part 3

But there is good news too, as a number of panelists testified. For example, Alberto Siqueiros, superintendent of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Baboquivari Unified School District, told the committee how his school district is in the process of completely transforming itself from a mediocre educational endeavor into an excelling school district by putting everything—from teacher hiring to community involvement and expectations for both faculty and kids—on the table.

“Long gone are the days of low expectations, mediocre performance and results often seen in tribal educational settings. We insist that the entire BUSD community support our efforts in educating our children,” he said. The results so far include a nearly 40 percent increase in graduation rates in the past five years, six Gates Millennium Scholars and one Dorrance Scholar in the past three years and over $2 million in scholarships in 2013. In that year, 52 seniors graduated, 30 applied to college, 24 were accepted and 19 enrolled in college.





Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, Book Says

9780226088914Published in Print: May 14, 2014, as Authors Contend Public Schools Outperform Private Schools

By Holly Yettick Education Week

The recent publication of a scholarly book has reopened the debate surrounding the academic achievement of public vs. private schools.

Public schools achieve the same or better mathematics results as private schools with demographically similar students, concludes The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, published in November by the University of Chicago Press. The authors are Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, a husband-and-wife team of education professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Central to the controversy is their suggestion that vouchers, which provide public funding for private school tuition, are based on the premise that private schools do better—an assumption that is undercut by the book’s overall findings.

The Lubienskis’ analysis draws on data from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, as well as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99.

After accounting for socioeconomic status, race, and other demographic differences among students, the researchers found that public school math achievement equaled or outstripped math achievement at every type of private school in grades 4 and 8 on NAEP. The advantage was as large as 12 score points on a scale of 0 to 500 (or more than one full grade level) when the authors compared public school students with demographically similar 4th graders in conservative Christian schools.

The Lubienskis also used NAEP data to conclude that regular public schools outperformed independently operated, publicly funded charter schools in 4th grade math and equaled them in 8th grade math.

Finally, the Lubienskis used their longitudinal data to find that public school students started kindergarten with lower math achievement than demographically similar private school peers. By the time they reached the 5th grade, however, they were outperforming those same peers in the subject.

On the basis of the data they analyzed, the Lubienskis offer two possible explanations for their findings.

First, public school teachers are more likely to be certified, meaning they are required to continue to take professional-development courses that expose them to the latest research on teaching math.

Second, perhaps as a result of that professional development, their instructional approaches more closely align with recent studies suggesting that test results improve when students know how to reason and communicate mathematical concepts rather than merely learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

The Lubienskis conclude that “private, autonomous, choice-based schools are not necessarily more innovative or academically effective but instead often perform at lower levels even as they attract more able students.”

Their book adds to a growing and controversial body of research questioning the conventional wisdom that private schools are superior to their public counterparts.

One source of contention is that private schools serve a different and often socially and economically more privileged set of students. So efforts to compare the two sectors necessarily require researchers to account for demographic differences between the groups.

Different Studies

Anytime researchers must consider those kinds of differences, they face the frustrating reality that results can change dramatically depending on the particular combination of demographic factors that they select and how they use them in their analysis.

In 2006, for example, researchers at the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit Princeton, N.J.-based organization that administers and contributes to numerous high-profile exams, including NAEP, reached conclusions similar to the Lubienskis’ when the ETS scholars used the same 2003 database to conduct an analysis of both reading and math for the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

Shortly after that report was released, Paul E. Peterson, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, led an analysis in which he used the same data with a different combination of demographic variables. His results suggested that private schools actually equaled or surpassed public schools.

With this latest study by the Lubienskis, criticisms about demographic factors and other issues have also arisen, this time in a variety of venues including The National Review, a leading conservative magazine, and The Atlantic, which ran an interview with the Lubienskis in October.

Range of Responses

University of Arkansas scholar Jay P. Greene, who was once a researcher for the free market-oriented Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, mocked the study on his blog. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, New York University research professor Diane Ravitch, an outspoken critic of school choice, provided a blurb for the book.

One of the more detailed critiques appears in the summer edition of the school-choice-friendly publication Education Next. In that article, Patrick Wolf, a professor in the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, disputed the idea that the study was even relevant to the voucher debate.

“Voucher recipients make up a tiny fraction of private school students in the data sets the authors examine, especially since the data predate most of what still are very small programs scattered across the country,” he wrote.

Mr. Wolf also raised several methodological issues. For example, he noted that private schools do not necessarily participate in government initiatives such as the free and reduced-price meal program that the Lubienskis used as one measure of poverty, suggesting the Lubienskis’ numbers may be inaccurate.

If the results are biased, they are likely biased in favor of private schools, Christopher Lubienski countered in a response to Mr. Wolf and other critics that was posted on the Education Policy Blog in April. That’s because no data are available to account for what he describes as one of the biggest differences between public and private schools: highly motivated parents.

Two public and private school children may be identical in every measurable way, from income to race to special education status.

But the private school child’s family has still “demonstrated particular interest in their children’s education,” Mr. Lubienski wrote, by investing the time to select a particular private school and the money to pay for the tuition.

Because that family-level difference is unmeasured and unmeasurable, the Lubienskis argue, public schools are likely doing even better than their conclusions might suggest.

Lunch Demographics

Marcus Weaver-Hightower is an associate professor of educational foundations and research at the University of North Dakota who is familiar with the Lubienskis’ work but did not contribute to their book. He commented on some of the points raised in Mr. Wolf’s critique.

“Wolf is completely right that school lunch eligibility is a problematic indicator, though not necessarily because it separates the private schools from the public,” said Mr. Weaver-Hightower, an expert on school food policy.

“How much would kids be further behind without the program and its nutritional benefits, for example?” he said, “[What about] problems in certifying kids accurately, declining participation with age, and so on?

“Where Wolf’s critique is wrong, I think, is that a large number of private schools do actually participate in the National School Lunch Program.”

For instance, Mr. Weaver-Hightower said, although private schools are less likely to offer the program, past research has found that 94 percent of all schools, public and nonprofit private included, do participate.

Existing research does not address whether private schools that participate differ from those that do not, he said.

In addition to critiquing the way in which the Lubienskis accounted for demographic differences between sectors, Mr. Wolf also questioned their use of a “narrow definition of school performance” that excluded reading results and relied on the “use of tests that align more closely with public school than with private school curricula.”

In their book, the Lubienskis explain that they focus on math because it “is thought to be a better indicator of what is taught by schools than, say, reading, which is often more influenced directly and indirectly by experiences in the home.”

In addition, the Lubienskis have said that they limited their study to mathematics because it is their area of expertise, and that they did not feel comfortable straying beyond it.

Responses to Critics

In his response to Mr. Wolf, Christopher Lubienski noted that private schools are represented on the expert panels that oversee the creation of exams for both data sets that the Lubienskis’ study uses.

“Really, the tests are more aligned with public school curriculum, but that’s the point,” Mr. Lubienski said. “These tests reflect professional, expert perspectives on the most effective ways of teaching and learning. Both test-makers and public schools have embraced those perspectives more than have private and charter schools.”

Mr. Weaver-Hightower of the University of North Dakota suggested that the Lubienskis had done a thoughtful job of trying to account for as many complexities as possible.

“In the end, no study of public versus private schooling is going to be methodologically perfect,” he said. “It’s just too complicated to try to find a definitive answer when the sectors are so diverse, the confounding factors so many, and the data sets so limited.”

Governor to seek $200M more for schools

By Jerry Cornfield, The Herald

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee surprised lawmakers Tuesday with a call to give public schools $200 million in new funding, with a portion earmarked for the first cost-of-living increase for teachers in five years.

Inslee, who’s been saying he would seek a major investment in education, changed course after the state Supreme Court recently scolded lawmakers for moving too slowly to fully fund basic education as required by the state constitution.

“Promises don’t educate our children. Promises don’t build our economy and promises don’t satisfy our constitutional and moral obligations,” Inslee said in prepared remarks to a joint session of both chambers of the Legislature.

“We need to stop downplaying the significance of this court action. Education is the one paramount duty inscribed in our constitution,” Inslee said during his noontime State of the State Address.

Also Tuesday, Inslee pressed lawmakers to pass a transportation package and increase the state’s minimum wage by as much as $2.50 an hour. Today the minimum wage in Washington is $9.32 per hour.

Regarding education funding, the first-term Democratic governor will propose closing tax breaks to generate the revenue, a change he sought without much success last year. He didn’t spell out which tax breaks he will seek to close.

“You can expect that again I will bring forward tax exemptions that I think fall short when weighed against the needs of our schools,” according to the remarks provided in advance of his speech.

On transportation, Inslee urged lawmakers to find common ground in time to reach agreement before this year’s 60-day session ends in March. The House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

“If education is the heart of our economy, then transportation is the backbone. That’s why we need a transportation investment package,” he said. “The goal cannot be for everyone to get everything they want. Instead, we must get agreement on what our state needs.”

And he said he wasn’t sure how much the minimum wage should climb but knows it needs to be higher than it is today.

“I don’t have the exact number today for what our minimum wage should be. It won’t be a number that remedies 50 years of income inequality,” he said. “But I believe that an increase in the range of $1.50 to $2.50 an hour is a step toward closing the widening economic gap.”

The governor also called for reform that would ensure businesses pay no business-and-occupation tax if they earn less than $50,000 in revenue in a year.