Education

  • February 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy, National Center for Transgender Equality

    Gavin Grimm, a high school senior in Virginia, had to sit through two public school board meetings during his sophomore year while his neighbors openly discussed his body parts and restroom use while pointedly referring to him as a “young lady,” calling him a “freak,” or comparing him to someone who thinks he is a dog. Gavin is a transgender boy. He had used the boys’ restroom at school for weeks with the full support of his fellow students before those school board meetings, where the school district ultimately decided to bar him from the boys’ restroom. For the over two years since then, Gavin has had to make a “walk of shame” to the nurse’s office each time he needs to use the restroom, a daily reminder that his school thinks he isn’t worthy of being treated like his peers.

    There are hundreds of thousands of transgender students like Gavin in schools all across the country. K–12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, began developing policies over a decade ago to answer everyday questions about supporting transgender students. Today, over 40 percent of U.S. K­­–12 students attend schools with local policies or statewide laws or guidelines that clearly support transgender students’ rights to learn in a safe environment and be treated according to their gender identity, including when it comes to using facilities. 

    Enter Title IX. Starting in 1999, a growing number of federal courts began to rule that federal sex discrimination laws applied to discrimination against transgender people. The rulings relied on two major Supreme Court precedents: Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), which held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), which stated that Title VII applies to any gender-based discrimination, not just specific scenarios Congress imagined in 1964. Eventually, five federal appeals courts and over a dozen district courts agreed that Title VII, Title IX, and other sex discrimination laws applied to anti-transgender bias, while only a handful disagreed.

  • January 19, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Lauren A. Khouri, Associate Attorney at Correia & Puth, PLLC

    This week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. The agency is tasked with promoting student achievement, fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. This means interpreting and enforcing our students’ civil rights laws.

    Prior to the hearing, there was little public record about DeVos’ record on important issues. DeVos has never been an educator, led a school, school district or state agency. She has not been a public school parent or a public school student. Her lack of experience has led numerous education and civil rights groups to denounce her nomination and speculate on how she would lead the Department based on past financial contributions. For example, DeVos’ foundation has donated to organizations that oppose Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault, groups that oppose discrimination against LGBTQ students in schools and efforts to restrict access to birth control and abortion, as well as shame young or unwed mothers. All of these donations called into question whether DeVos would protect Title IX rights for survivors, LGBTQ students and students who are pregnant, parenting or have had an abortion.

    At the HELP hearing, DeVos demonstrated little knowledge about the key issues facing the department she’s been tapped to lead, and she refused to commit to enforcing key civil rights laws and protecting public education. Where DeVos had the opportunity to make her commitment to students’ rights clear, saying nothing actually says a lot.

  • June 9, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    Anyone who has attended law school is well aware of the fanatical attention that is paid each spring to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.  Law students fret over what the rankings mean for their employment opportunities, administrators consider how the rankings will affect their current positions and salaries, and prospective applicants categorize their “reach” and “safety” schools based on the numbers.  If a school’s ranking takes a substantial tumble, it’s not unheard of for the top students to jump ship, transferring to higher-ranked schools.  And although everyone plays along with this annual ritual, most know that U.S. News rankings are not necessarily the best indicator of a quality legal education.

    In an article for Washington Monthly, Alan B. Morrison of George Washington Law argues that the influence wielded by U.S. News rankings “might be warranted if the ratings were based on solid methodology, but they are not.”  For example, he questions the soundness of valuing a “3.4 [GPA] in electrical engineering from MIT as . . . worse than a 3.8 in the history of cinema from Podunk State,” as well as of the assumption that undergraduate institutions use the same curve for grading.  Further, he criticizes the lack of consideration of certain factors, such as location, that may be very important to some students but wholly irrelevant to others.  “The goal of any information system about educational institutions should not be just to provide students with facts,” he asserts, “but also guidance to help them think through the decisional process, including what factors may be important to at least some applicants and why.”

    One of the most fundamentally flawed aspects of the system, Morrison says, is that it assumes there is a “uniformly agreed upon definition of law school quality and that U.S. News uses it in creating its rankings.”  Because there is no acknowledgment of subjective measures of value, there is bound to be disagreement about the rankings ‒ particularly among similarly ranked institutions.  To see what a more practical set of guidelines would look like, check out Morrison’s own list of relevant factors for law school applicants to consider.

  • February 11, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Carreon, M.S.C.J., Policy Researcher, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Sarah Bryer, National Juvenile Justice Network

    *This post is part of our two-week symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

     

    In the past decade, there has been a lot of good news in the field of juvenile justice reform – not least the series of four landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that, beginning with Roper v. Simmons in 2005, recognized the developmental differences that separate children and teens from adults, including their lessened culpability and enormous capacity for change.  At the same time, most states have significantly cut the number of youth they incarcerate.  Between 2001 and 2011, the number of youth confined in the U.S. declined by 41 percent.

    What’s more, new data from Texas shows that incarcerating fewer youth and serving more of them in the community makes communities safer.  Since 2007, the state has closed nine youth prisons, even as the juvenile arrest rate fell to a 30-year low.  In a report released at the end of January, the Council of State Government’s (CSG) Justice Center analyzed 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years and assembled from three state agencies.  CSG found that youth who were incarcerated were 21% more likely to recidivate than youth handled locally.

    But it’s not time to break out the champagne yet: In spite of a decade of reform, racial disparities are worse than ever.  A new national study looking at racial and ethnic disparities between 1980 and 2000 found that Black and Hispanic boys were far more likely to be sent to a secure facility than white boys for similar behavior.  In the U.S. in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available), Black youth were incarcerated five times as often as White youth; Latino youth twice as often; Native American youth three times as often.  If we think of the juvenile justice system as a maze with pathways in and out, it’s clear that youth of color have far more pathways into the maze than White youth do, and they’re lucky to find a pathway out.

    Even in states where significant juvenile justice reforms have been undertaken, the ratio of youth of color receiving dispositions in juvenile court has gotten worse, not better.  In Texas – where the CSG report provides powerful evidence that youth justice reform has produced promising results – one sees disproportionate numbers of youth of color at every decision point in the system, and with Black youth in particular, who appear at almost twice the rate one would expect compared to their numbers in the general population.

  • February 10, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    In recent years, there has been much discussion about whether America is now a “post-racial” society.  The introduction of the first non-white family into the White House was accompanied by some enthusiastic declarations of victory over the scourge of racism.  Observers looked to the president and to other successful minorities and decided that yes, racism is indeed over.

    But focusing on the most successful elements of any demographic group proves little, for wealth has the ability to elevate and to insulate.  One area where this is most evident is in the American criminal justice system.  When navigating the justice system, the ability to hire top-notch legal counsel or to post a significant bond drastically affects the outcome of a case.  This is true for both white citizens and for citizens of color.

    Unfortunately, however, racial inequality in this country remains tightly intertwined with economic inequality, and aspects of the criminal justice system that disadvantage poor people disproportionately disadvantage people of color.  There also exists implicit racial bias, if not outright prejudice, in the hearts of some police, prosecutors, judges and jurors which can manifest itself during any phase of a criminal case.

    The result is that Americans of color face disadvantages at every stage of the criminal justice system.  From arrest to sentencing, obtaining bail to obtaining a lawyer, plea bargaining to jury selection, and even in being put to death, criminal defendants consistently fare better when they are white.