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Category: Education

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Cyber-charter schools and religious education

I wrote a few days ago about the rise of the cyber-charter school, and its potential to unsettle constitutional and statutory regimes that govern K-12 education. Right now I am finishing off an article that discusses this with respect to religion. A private religious school is not allowed to operate unless it meets state requirements for all private schools, which include minimum standards for the teaching of secular subjects like math and history. But religious schools must bear the cost of that secular instruction, even though their students would receive similar instruction for free were they to enroll in public school. (States may elect to provide various kinds of aid to religious private schools at the margins, but not to the extent of absorbing the costs of secular instruction.) This minimizes interpenetration between the state-funded public school sector and the religious, private-school sector. It also makes religious schooling more expensive than it otherwise would be.

But consider a religious private school that, rather than offering secular education itself, facilitates the enrollment of its students in a state-funded cyber-charter. The instructional program of the cyberschool is completely secular. But many cyber-charters are asynchronous as well as untethered to place; students may log into school when and from where they please. So why not from inside a religious establishment? Under this model, religious school students pursue their secular studies under the physical supervision of religious teachers but the intellectual supervision of the secular charter school operators. The religious school pays for the supervision but the secular one for the teaching. So (and here I am paraphrasing an earlier piece of mine), a religious teacher might work with half the class on some religious topic while the other half, on its own for the moment, engages in secular cyber-study under the same teacher’s passive supervision. Or a cleric might begin a 45-minute English lesson with a prayer—right before secular studies begin—or interrupt a cyber-biology lesson to admonish students that the material that they are covering is a tissue of lies.

The religious school not only saves a fair bit of money by this approach, savings it can pass on to its customers, but it engineers the kind of merger between publicly funded secular education and privately funded religious schooling that our system, until now, has gone to some lengths to prohibit. But I can identify no legal problem with a religious school adopting this strategy. Unlike state aid for secular instruction in religious schools, which raises real risks either of religious schools repurposing secular funds to religious ends or heavy-handed state involvement in quotidian regulation of religious schools’ operations, cyberteaching is 100% secular and under secular state control. Conceptually its use by the religious school is very similar to such a school’s use of a public library, or of state-provided maps or films. Indeed, I think it would be unconstitutional to allow students to log on to cyberschool anywhere and anytime except while under the physical supervision of a religious teacher. It would surely be unconstitutional to prohibit religious teachers from putting their own gloss, on their own time, upon what the students are learning in their secular classes.

But logistically the model is something very new. It creates a religious school whose secular program is state-funded and largely state-directed, but whose scheduling and context is in religious hands.

Short of abolishing cybercharters (which some states have done) can such initiatives be blocked? If not, is that a reason to abolish them? Or might it be acceptable, or even welcome, that the internet can create a new kind of religious pluralism in American education, where secular schooling remains under secular direction but which lacks the firm wall between its pursuit and the acquisition of religious education?

The Centralization of Higher Ed

Last month, I noted some important innovations in teaching, while striking a cautionary note about massive, open online courses (MOOCs). But for those who prefer MOOC-thusiasm, Tom Friedman’s recent column delivers:

You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.

“Where did you get those?” I asked. Well, Sandel explained, he had recently been in South Korea, where his Justice course has been translated into Korean and shown on national television. It has made him such a popular figure there that the Koreans asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game — and gave him the colored shoes to boot!

Friedman spends much of the remaining column arguing that universities need to a) get rid of “sage on a stage” lecture courses, while substituting in for them b) sages on YouTube like Sandel. The critical link to Education 2.0: intensive, individualized assessment & problem solving. So in Friedman’s ideal world, philosophers like Sandel would teach all the intro “Ethics” or “Justice” courses for millions, while local adjuncts would apply them to particular dilemmas (such as: should columnists disclose if they are “heirs to a multi-billion-dollar business empire”?).

The irony here is twofold. Read More

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Virtual Schooling in the K-12 sector

Lots of people are talking about the accelerating penetration of virtual platforms in the higher education sector. It’s of course unknown whether the massive open online course (MOOC) will be the vector that transforms traditional higher ed the way that so many other industries are being transformed by interconnectivity.  But it seems clear that there will be some vector.  (I got my first ad for a law school MOOC this week.)

Virtuality poses two basic challenges to higher education. The first is about pedagogy: What might be gained, and what lost, from shifting from a bricks-and-mortar learning environment to a virtual one?  The second is about money and institutions:  What happens to the business model of colleges and universities as virtual platforms become cheaper, easier to access, and increasingly popular?

Less discussed but potentially just as important is the penetration of virtuality into K-12 ed.  Cyber-charter schools are becoming ubiquitous, enrolling  tens of thousands of children. Several states have created virtual school districts.  In Florida, I’m told, you cannot graduate from high school without taking at least one virtual course.

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Education Reform: Agendas, Influence, and Capital

In 21st century America, inequality is the foundational social reality. Institutions that reinforce inequality thrive; those that counteract it are targeted as socialistic or Luddite. Even more insidiously, the same movements that try to fight extreme inequality are, as often as not, co-opted by its beneficiaries.

Co-optation is a particular danger in the education sector. Aaron Bady is one of the best writers & thinkers on the topic. To understand co-optation in higher ed, one could do worse than dive in to his latest salvo against Silicon Valley-style “disruption” in the classroom:

[Clay] Shirky thinks in terms of “disruption” and what can come of it, in theory. I think in terms of what the “disruption” of the University of California system looks like in practice, as a complex of politicians, financiers, and career administrators move in lock-step to transform it into a self-sufficient corporate entity, and to enrich private industry in the bargain. I see a group of decision-makers . . . for whom “online” is code word for privatization. If I am against MOOC’s [Massive Open Online Courses], I am against the way “MOOC” is being experienced in California, in practice: as an excuse to cheapen education and free the state . . . from its responsibility to educate its citizenry.

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The Stanford Law Review Online: School Security Considerations After Newtown

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Jason P. Nance entitled School Security Considerations After Newtown. Professor Nance writes that strict school security measures may be ineffective but have a balkanizing effect:

On December 14, 2012, and in the weeks thereafter, our country mourned the deaths of twenty children and six educators who were brutally shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since that horrific event, parents, educators, and lawmakers have understandably turned their attention to implementing stronger school security measures to prevent such atrocities from happening again. In fact, many states have enacted or proposed legislation to provide additional funds to schools for metal detectors, surveillance cameras, bulletproof glass, locked gates, and law enforcement officers. Because increased security measures are unlikely to prevent someone determined to commit a violent act at school from succeeding, funding currently dedicated to school security can be put to better use by implementing alternative programs in schools that promote peaceful resolution of conflict.

He concludes:

The events at Newtown have caused all of us to deeply consider how to keep students safe at school. A natural response to this atrocity is to demand that lawmakers and school administrators invest our limited public funds into strict security measures. But this strategy is misguided. Empirical evidence suggests that these additional investments in security equipment and law enforcement officers may lead to further disparities along racial and economic lines. Further, it is imperative that all constituencies understand that there are more effective ways to address violence than resorting to coercive measures that harm the educational environment. Indeed, schools can make a tremendous impact in the lives of students by teaching students appropriate ways to resolve conflict and making them feel respected, trusted, and cared for. These are the types of schools that can make a real difference in the lives of students.

Read the full article, School Security Considerations After Newtown at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Expanding Bob Jones University v. United States

In Bob Jones University v. United States, the IRS revoked the tax exempt status of two religiously affiliated schools because they discriminated on the basis of race. One school (Goldsboro Christian Schools) refused admittance to black students, the other (Bob Jones University) barred interracial dating and marriage. Both schools claimed that the discrimination was religiously mandated, and that the loss of their tax exempt status violated the Free Exercise Clause. The schools lost. The Supreme Court characterized tax exemptions as a taxpayer subsidy for charitable organizations that, at the very least, do not contravene fundamental public policy like our commitment to racial equality, and held that racist schools did not satisfy that requirement: “[I]t cannot be said that educational institutions that, for whatever reasons, practice racial discrimination, are institutions exercising beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life or should be encouraged by having all taxpayers share in their support by way of special tax status.” In addition, the Court held that eliminating race discrimination in education was a narrowly tailored and compelling state interest. The bottom line is that a university may discriminate based on race, but it should not expect to be considered a beneficial organization entitled to tax subsidies.

Assuming Bob Jones was correctly decided, should its holding be limited to discrimination in education, or discrimination on the basis of race? I think not. In fact, the IRS denies tax exempt status to any nonprofit organization, religious or not, that invidiously discriminates on the basis of race. If you are a church that excludes blacks, or won’t let blacks become ministers, you may have the constitutional right to exist, but you won’t get any government money to help you prosper. Should the same policy apply to organizations, religious or not, that invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex?

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On the Colloquy: Perspectives on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Just in time for oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the online companion to the Northwestern University Law Review is pleased to feature an article by Professor Ellen Katz entitled Grutter‘s Denouement: Three Templates from the Roberts Court. Katz argues that while Fisher is widely expected to end the race-based affirmative action in higher education upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger a decade ago, it remains to be seen exactly how the Roberts Court – which has not been shy about voicing its hostility to race-based criteria in a variety of contexts – will express its condemnation. In particular, Katz identifies three very different ways in which the court may resolve Fisher, each based on one of the Court’s previous approaches to disavowing precedent.

Earlier this year, the Colloquy featured an essay by Professor Allen Rostron entitled Affirmative Action, Justice Kennedy, and the Virtues of the Middle Ground. In his article, Rostron notes that critics have condemned  the failure of Justice Kennedy – who often casts the decisive vote in ideologically charged chases – to establish clear rules of law through his opinions. Rostron argues that in Fisher, however, Justice Kennedy’s irresolute nature may prove to be a blessing, in that it may help him accommodate the American public’s conflicted feelings about racial preferences while simultaneously forcing serious thinking about how racial components of affirmative action can be phased out in a manner that will minimize disruption and bitterness.

Read these articles and more on the Colloquy.

 


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Stanford Law Review Online: The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Andrew Kloster entitled The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education. Mr. Kloster argues that proposed changes to the Violence Against Women Act have potentially serious implications for persons accused committing sexual assault in university proceedings:

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), set to expire this year, has elicited predictable partisan rancor. While there is little chance of the reauthorization being enacted by Congress so close to an election, the Senate draft includes a provision that raises interesting issues for the rights of students involved in sexual assault disciplinary proceedings on campus. The Senate version of VAWA could arguably condition a university’s receipt of federal funds on a requirement that the university always provide an appeal right for both accuser and accused. Setting aside the massive rise in federal micromanagement of college disciplinary proceedings, the proposed language in VAWA raises serious, unsettled issues of the application of double jeopardy principles in the higher education context.

He concludes:

Whatever the legal basis, it is clear that both Congress and the Department of Education ought to take seriously the risk that mandating that all universities receiving federal funds afford a dual appeal right in college disciplinary proceedings violates fundamental notions of fairness and legal norms prohibiting double jeopardy. College disciplinary hearings are serious matters that retain very few specific procedural safeguards for accused students, and permitting “do-overs” (let alone mandating them) does incredible damage to the fundamental rights of students.

Read the full article, The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Affirmative Action and Merit

The Supreme Court is set next week to hear the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Many people are troubled by affirmative action because they are convinced that it means less qualified (non-white) students are admitted over more qualified (white) ones. To them, that just seems unfair. (One may wonder how it compares to the unfairness of a public education system that generally offers much better schooling to suburban (white) students.)

In any case, how reliable is their measurement of merit? As an initial matter, if diversity in itself is valuable, then the ability to add to it makes you more qualified then someone who cannot. Of course, what people usually have in mind are test scores, grades, and recommendations. Yet do the best grades and recommendations, for example, necessarily go to the best students? Studies on unconscious biases suggest the answer may be no. Take the most recent entry in a long series of studies revealing that identical qualifications are evaluated differently based on the race or sex of a candidate. In this randomized double-blind Yale study, science professors were asked to evaluate men’s and women’s resumes. The resumes were exactly the same except that some bore a man’s name (John) and some bore a woman’s (Jennifer). Both men and women rated the male candidates higher, and were willing to pay them more. Again, these were the exact same resumes. It is not a huge leap to think the same kind unconscious bias regularly occurs in classrooms across the country — and this is only one way that unconscious bias might lead to unfair assessments.

Granted, affirmative action may be a crude way to compensate for structural inequality and unconscious biases. But realistically, what are the alternatives?

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Is IP for People or Corporations?

Another day brings another cornucopia of exciting and important comments on my book, From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice. I thank Professors Molly Van Houweling, Jessica Silbey, Michael Madison, and Mark McKenna, and earlier Concurring Opinions commentators —Professors Deven Desai, Lea Shaver, Laura DeNardis, Zahr Said, and Brett Frischmann—for reading my book so carefully, and engaging it so helpfully. I focus here on Professor Van Houweling’s framing of an important issue arising in the discussion.

Professor Van Houweling has provoked stimulating discussion with her astute observation of two competing visions of intellectual property within the emergent “capabilities approach” school of intellectual property we identified earlier this week. Professor Van Houweling contrasts Professor Julie Cohen’s alternative justification of copyright as a tool for promoting corporate welfare (sustaining creative industries), with my attention to intellectual property laws as tools for promoting livelihood and human welfare (sustaining human beings in their quest for a good life).

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