Wednesday, May 18, 2016

John King Doubles Down

Suppose you had the highest education job in the nation for another seven months max. What would you do with that time?

If you were U.S. Secretary of Education John King, you would go out with a bang, not a whimper. King took advantage of the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education to declare,

We have failed to close opportunity and achievement gaps for our African-American and Latino students at every level of education. And in far too many schools, we continue to offer them less—less access to the best teachers and the most challenging courses; less access to the services and supports that affluent students often take for granted, and less access to what it takes to succeed academically.

In case people thought he was blowing smoke, the feds came out and found Cleveland, MS, in violation of the constitution after a 50-year court battle. The resegregation of American schools has been a slow-moving but inexorable process since the 1960s. Google "resegregation" to find dozens of intelligent articles about the concept.

King has decided that his best weapon in the battle to equalize resources is the money he controls under Title I. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, currently entitled "Every Student Succeeds Act," or ESSA, proclaims that for schools that serve low-income students to to get Title I money from the feds, they must prove that they are using their other monies—local and state—to serve kids equally. It's about civil rights, which is the unspoken bailiwick of the Department of Education and really, the only reason to have a federal department at all. All those Trumpeters and others who want to get rid of the feds' role in education ought to have their children sent to the wrong side of the tracks in Cleveland, MS.

But of course people are squawking, because no one ever wants to give up what they have to give have-nots what they need. Lamar Alexander and Randi Weingarten are on the same side of the squawk battle, which probably doesn't happen very often.

Arne Duncan, the secretary who preceded King, tried to leverage Title I monies to drive reform. It didn't work. King's focus on specific inequities is more within the latitude of the department, but he's still under fire.

Here's what I think: If School A in Cleveland, MS, doesn't have a lot of low income students, and School B does, so that School A gets almost no Title I money, and School B gets plenty, Schools A and B should get equal monies from local and state taxes. It's the law: Title I is meant to supplement, not supplant local and state dollars. If the district uses Title I money to buy Reading 180 in School B and state money to buy a different reading program in School A, even if everything else is equal, that implies a use of Title I money that is supplanting state money.

It's not an easy fix. Salaries differ between School A (where teachers stay for their whole careers, because it's an easy gig) and School B (where new teachers are dumped and paid less because everyone knows it's a stepping-stone school).

John King doesn't want his legacy to be "that NY Commissioner who messed up on student privacy and Common Core." He wants to be known for something big, something important. This may be it. But it needs to land in the courts between now and December, and I hope that it does.

Nobody wants to give up what they have. But unless the pot is unlimited, what choice is there? What moral choice, I mean.

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