Education

  • August 13, 2014
    Video Interview

    by Caroline Cox

    This year marked the 50th anniversaries of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Freedom Summer, but these victories have not erased many persistent racial inequalities in the United States. In a discussion about race, education, and the legacy of Brown v. Board decision at the 2014 ACS National Convention, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at Harvard University, explained how the world has changed in the years after these civil rights landmarks.

    While Brown-Nagin argued that the United States has managed to achieve the promise of Brown in many respects, these successes are qualified. The decision slowly eliminated de jure segregation, but de facto segregation continues and even thrives in the post-Brown world. Brown-Nagin explained that public support is “shifting away from support for an affirmative movement of students across neighborhood lines, away from even having students of different races in the same school building.”

    The majority of people, according to Brown-Nagin, agree with the principle of racial equality. But this belief does not in and of itself mean that inequality no longer exists. This is not the inequality seen during the Warren Court, but rather are the result of “social conditions related to race” that are largely ignored because “people don’t understand them as related to racial animus.”

    The way to bring the ethos of Brown into a new era, Brown-Nagin argued, requires the formation of new coalitions and policies that can address inequality but are not necessarily race-conscious. Race does matter, but in a time when Parents Involved has made addressing racial inequality in schools more difficult, Brown-Nagin made clear that the real solution is “to be creative and innovative in the policies that we choose.”

    ACSblog hosted a symposium on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Freedom Summer, and a collection of blog posts on the legacy of Brown v. Board. Watch the brief interview with Tomiko Brown-Nagin below or here

  • June 17, 2014

    Although law and ideology are the main factors that impact a judge’s ruling, Adam Liptak reports on a new influencing interest: having a daughter. Writing for The New York Times, Liptak discusses why personal experience is informing the law.
     
    The Supreme Court denied certiorari in Elmbrook School District v. Doe, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that it is unconstitutional to hold a graduation ceremony in a church. At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Leslie C. Griffin examines Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent.
     
    Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on “straw purchases,” the purchase of a gun by one person for another. Nina Totenberg at NPR explains what the victory means for gun control advocates.
     
    A growing number of today’s inmates are women. Oliver Roeder at the Brennan Center for Justice reports on this growing phenomenon.
     
    The Associated Press notes that Texas has the highest number of judicial vacancies in the country. 
  • June 16, 2014
    Writing for Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost argues why Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the California tenure system for teachers was a “drive-by assault on teachers unions” while Slate’s Jordan Weissmann comments on the false statistic cited in Judge Treu’s opinion that between 1 and 3 percent of California’s teachers are “grossly ineffective.”
     
     
    At The Huffington PostGeoffrey R. Stone, former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter shares some facts about the most religious states in America.
     
    At The National Law Journal, Tony Mauro examines Justice Elena Kagan’s opinion in Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio
  • June 13, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Ann C. Hodges, Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law

    Reading the opinion of Judge Treu in Vergara v. California, one gets the sense that the state did not fight very hard to defend its teacher tenure protections from constitutional challenge. From the judge’s recitation of the evidence, it appears that the state “defendant” conceded or provided evidence that there were thousands of grossly ineffective teachers in the California system, that school administrators didn’t bother to try to fire them because they thought it was too hard, that poor teachers adversely affect students’ education and that poor teachers are disproportionately found in schools with large populations of minority and low income students.  

    Based on this evidence, much of it generously submitted by the state defendant, Judge Treu found that the laws that provide teachers with tenure, due process prior to termination and seniority protection from layoff deprive minority and low income students of their fundamental interest in an education of equal quality. Further, and not surprisingly given the recitation of the evidence, the judge found that the defendants did not show a compelling interest to meet the high burden required by the application of strict scrutiny to these laws.

    The California statutes at issue included the following: 1) the statute that provides for teacher tenure after a two year probationary period; 2) the statutes that provide due process for tenured teachers that school districts intend to terminate; and 3) the statute that provides for layoffs on the basis of seniority, with limited exceptions. The judge held that each of these statutes denied students a quality education by allowing poor teachers to remain in the classroom. While the opinion mentions that two unions representing teachers were permitted to intervene, there is little mention of any evidence supportive of the statutes at issue, which might have provided the justification required to establish their constitutionality. 

  • June 12, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alice O’Brien, NEA General Counsel

    Sixty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and uprooting the deep roots of segregation in our society. The victory came after decades of legal work, by a small group of fierce civil rights advocates, paid little and subjected to threats and public denigration. Over the past two years, a team of corporate lawyers, retained and paid by multi-millionaires, have sought to cloak themselves in that rich legacy. 

    Their case, styled Vergara v. California, challenges the statutes that provide California teachers with their most basic employment protections – 1) the right to notice and an opportunity for a hearing before an impartial panel before an experienced teacher is terminated; and 2) the rule that layoffs for budget reasons proceed in qualification (credential) and seniority order unless the district has a special need to depart from that order. None of the challenged statutes determine a teacher’s class assignment or classify teachers or students in any respect; rather they each apply to all teachers in California across the board.

    As an initial matter, the two month trial demonstrated that none of the nine student plaintiffs in the case had been harmed in any way, much less denied their fundamental right to an education under the California Constitution. Two of the plaintiffs go to charter schools, which are not subject to the challenged statutes and two more attend Los Angeles pilot schools in which teachers may be released at the end of each school year without regard to the challenged statutes. The remaining plaintiffs failed to prove that they had ever been assigned to a “grossly ineffective” teacher due to the challenged statutes, which is the term plaintiffs coined to describe the type of teachers whose assignment to a classroom could implicate students’ fundamental rights. In fact, many of their teachers that they sought to tar as grossly ineffective had stellar evaluations and one was recently selected as a teacher of the year.  

    Despite this basic failure of proof, the trial judge struck down all of the employment protections for all teachers in California. The judge applied strict scrutiny to the statutes, finding that some small fraction of teachers—on the order of 1-3 percent—are “grossly ineffective,” and that those teachers’ students have been deprived of their fundamental right to an education. Because, in the judge’s view, each statute could be improved in some respect (by extending teachers’ probationary period, stripping down dismissal rights, and reconfiguring layoff criteria), the judge concluded that none could survive strict scrutiny.