Thursday Reading List: Equity Lawsuits, Creative Testing, and Blurry Lines Between Public and Private

The team at Blavity reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center is bringing a lawsuit against the Mississippi state education system:

The SPLC lawsuit claims that the schools attended by the plaintiffs' children "lack textbooks, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs, and even toilet paper." The group claims that in a white supremacist effort to prevent the education of blacks, the state has effectively watered down education protections that guarantee a "uniform system of free public schools" for all children. "From 1890 until the present day, Mississippi repeatedly has amended its education clause and has used those amendments to systematically and deliberately deprive African-Americans of the education rights guaranteed to all Mississippi schoolchildren by the 1868 Constitution," the suit states.

My prediction is that we're going to see much more litigation on education funding in the coming years. Since the 1990s, state legislatures have been the preferred venues for education policymaking, while the courts have been quiet. It's hard to imagine this particular United States Supreme Court being a friendly venue for an equity suit, so keep an eye on the state courts to see which arguments hold sway among moderate judges.

Elsewhere in the South, Madeline Will of Education Week looks at a Virginia district that is experimenting with new kinds of assessment:

With classmates, parents, teachers, and even the Roanoke County schools superintendent standing before him, high school senior Bubba Smith took a deep breath and set the two-story Rube Goldberg machine into motion. The contraption, which performed a series of complicated actions to lift a banner, was part of Bubba's fourth-quarter grade for his AP Physics class ... Nestled in the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Roanoke County district has joined 10 other districts in the state that make up a Networked Improvement Community focused on implementing student-led assessment to bring about a deeper level of learning ... The project, supported through private philanthropy, is seeding 17 cutting-edge approaches across the country that vary in size and scope, to better understand how assessment can play into a more personalized, student-centered, competency-based learning process.

I'm here for this. The education world needs to find some sort of equilibrium around testing, wherein we use standard assessments for basic skills, but use more creative instruments for deeper learning. The trend in the last generation has been towards greater standardization, so as schools experiment with methods like these, we should be vigilant against over-correction. We need some way to assess basic literacy and numeracy for young students, otherwise we will perpetuate huge opportunity gaps.

Elsewhere, Allie Gross of The Atlantic looks at the blurry line between religious and charter schooling in Michigan:

In March, Cornerstone [School] announced that starting next year, its flagship private Christian school would stop providing primary- and middle-school classes. Instead, a charter, employing the same staff and using the same curriculum, would take over. Families from the religious school would help new families get to know the new school, Brockman explained. The words “Centers of Hope” glimmered in gold typeface above her as she spoke ... Pinpointing where the religious school ended and the charter school began was difficult. Parents sitting in the room may have wondered: Am I at a meeting with Cornerstone Nevada, the flagship, independent, religious school? Or am I listening to a talk about Cornerstone Jefferson-Douglass Academy, the soon-to-open public charter school? The two entities couldn’t help but brush against each other.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, there are two kinds of policy wonks that support charter schools: innovators and privatizers. The innovators think charter schools are a critical part of accelerating change from within the construct of public schooling, whereas the privatizers want to replace public oversight of schools with deregulated market-based accountability. The innovators are committed to the idea that "charter schools are public schools," but instances like the one reported above are a giant complicating factor in that message. That's why innovators should be very concerned when the United States Secretary of Education says that the federal government should not be in the business of dictating education rules to states.

Finally today, Alex MacGillis is in The New York Times Magazine with a long profile of Jared Kushner's real estate empire:

Tenants complained about Westminster Management’s aggressive rent-collection practices, which many told me exceeded what they had experienced under the previous owners. Rent is marked officially late, they said, if it arrives after 4:30 p.m. on the fifth day of the month. But Westminster recently made paying the rent much more of a challenge. Last fall, it sent notice to residents saying that they could no longer pay by money order (on which many residents, who lack checking accounts, had relied) at the complex’s rental office and would instead need to go to a Walmart or Ace Cash Express and use an assigned “WIPS card” — a plastic card linked to the resident’s account — to pay their rent there. That method carries a $3.50 fee for every payment, and getting to the Walmart or Ace is difficult for the many residents without cars ... property managers, instead of putting pink or yellow late notices and court summonses discreetly in mailboxes or under doors, post them in public — on the front doors of townhouse units or on lobby walls or lobby doors of apartment buildings.

Read the whole thing, because the level of disrespect for vulnerable families is stunning. In particular, the Kushner-owned companies have filed hundreds of lawsuits against low-income families to collect small sums; when families are unable to defend themselves against the Kushner's formidable legal teams, courts allow Kushner and his company to garnish former tenants' wages. It seems like making the rich richer on the backs of the poor is a Trump-Kushner family value.

Have a great day ...