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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Superb Article on Endrew F. Closes Bill Crane’s Career as an Advocate for Children with Disabilities

From Special Education Today
A Special Education Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
June 27, 2017

"Bill set the gold standard in every position he has served in our field, bringing sharp insight together with deep compassion."

Bill Crane has just posted an excellent article on the website for Mass Advocates for Children (“MAC”), analyzing and commenting on the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s EndrewF. decision on the required standard for services and placements under IDEA.

Bill Crane
Bill has been one of the most thoughtful and compassionate advocates we have known in the field of special education and disability law, and we want to take this opportunity to wish him well as he turns another page in his life at the end of this month.

Bill left his position as a BSEA Hearing Officer three years ago and has since then volunteered his services on a part-time basis at MAC.

He has also taken the opportunity to become trained and to work as a hospital chaplain, where he is applying his Buddhist practice in support of patients, many of whom are in the last stages of their lives.

Bill has set the gold standard in every position he has served in our field, bringing sharp insight together with deep compassion to his analyses and orders as a Hearing Officer, and most recently offering sterling guidance to practitioners with his blog entries and his frequent contributions to the online and in-person conversations of special education attorneys and advocates about the sticky and complex legal and procedural questions that constantly challenge them in their work.

As a Hearing Officer, Bill unfailingly treated even the most obstreperous and unreasonable of parties and their representatives and witnesses with the utmost of gentleness and respect, and he has continued to relate with everyone he meets in that same manner and spirit. That is not just an approach that he has adopted to make difficult conversations easier to navigate: it is the core of who he is.

We wish him all the very best in his new paths. He will be sorely missed.

Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Charter Schools Do Bad Stuff Because They Can

From the Education Opportunity Network

By Jeff Bryant
June 22, 2017

Charter schools have become a fetish of both Democratic and Republican political establishments, but local news reports continue to drip, drip a constant stream of stories of charter schools doing bad stuff that our tax dollars fund.

An independent news outlet in New Orleans, where the school district is nearly 100 percent charter, reports that two homeless children were kept out of class for a month because they didn’t have monogrammed uniforms.

In Oakland, California, a state-based news outlet reports charter school enrollment practices ensure charter schools get an advantage over district schools when academic performance comparisons are made. The advantage comes from charters being able to enroll students who are more “academically prepared” than students who attend district-run schools.

Oakland charters, when compared to public schools, also tend to enroll fewer students with special needs and fewer students who enter the school year late and are, thus, often academically behind.

In Arizona, which has a higher percentage of students enrolled in charter schools than any other state, the demographic characteristics of charter school students don’t resemble anything close to what characterize public schools in the state. According to a state based news outlet,

“... enrollment data show the schools don’t match the school-age demographics of the state and, in many cases, their neighborhoods. White – and especially Asian – students attend charter schools at a higher rate than Hispanics, who now make up the greatest portion of Arizona’s school-age population.”

In Florida, local newspapers tell of an operator of a chain of charter schools who is charged with racketeering in a scheme to use public education money from the charter operation for his own personal gain.

The charter operator allegedly used more than $1 million for “personal expenses and to purchase residential and business properties.” The charges include falsely marking up bills for school supplies, inflating student enrollments in grant applications, spending public funds on companies affiliated with the owner, and using school money to pay for plastic surgery and cruises and trips to the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Next up, a Philadelphia news outlet reports a charter school, unable to pay employee and other expenses due to a dispute with the district over $370,578 in missed payments to the teacher pension system, simply closed shop over the weekend. It’s unclear how parents would have found out about the closure, and teachers weren’t told until late Monday afternoon, in an email, that students would not be returning.

In Michigan, a charter school recently closed before the school year ended because of a dispute over $640,000 owed to the financial firm supporting the school. Even though the school is closing, it will still get state school aid payments through August.

A news report from Arkansas tells of a charter school that has been in operation for nine years and has never met proficiency standards established by the state.

And here’s a California charter school chain that “misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million” and “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships.” The charter operator was able to divert $2.7 million of public charter school funds without any supporting documents. Eight different entities the charter operator was associated with benefited from doing business with the schools.

Public schools are occasionally plagued with similar scandals, but there is an important distinction to be made from public school scandals and what happens in the charter school industry.

As University of Connecticut professor Preston Green explains to me in an email, much of the malfeasance of charter schools comes from the entities that manage them. Called education management organizations (EMOs) or charter management organizations (CMOs), these outfits “create an agency issue with charter school governing boards that generally does not occur in traditional public schools,” Green explains.

“Public schools do not sign over operations to EMOS,” Green states. “By contrast, EMOs operate 35-40 percent of all charter schools.” And while nonprofit boards governing charters may want to ensure their schools are operating in a fiscally sound manner, the EMOs running the show “have the incentive to increase their revenues or cut expenses,” says Green.

Those incentives can lead to numerous bad acts including engaging in conflicts of interest or cherry picking students.

Where is the regulatory function that could intervene in these cases and ensure public tax money is being appropriately spent?

In the case of the NOLA charter impeding the education of homeless students, a federal law requiring schools to accommodate homeless students was the basis for any grievances. But the state’s charter school regulations consider such treatment of students a breach of contract that warrants the school to only provide the students with the opportunity for make-up work or tutoring. In other words, the consequences are more of a burden for the student than they are for the school.

In the case of the Oakland charters gaining an edge over public schools because of their enrollment practices, the report that outs the malfeasance notes that state “revenue policies” incentivize charter schools’ bad behavior.

Charter school closings like we see occurring in Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are a feature of charter schools, not a bug. An analysis by the National Education Association finds that “among charter schools that opened in the year 2000, 5 percent closed within the first year, 21 percent closed within the first five years, and 33 percent closed within the first ten years.”

Charter school scandals of the sort we see in Florida and California have become routine occurrences, yet a national organization that ranks state laws governing the charter industry rates Florida in the top ten of its annual assessment of states with the best charter school laws. And efforts to rein in the abuses committed by California charters have been routinely turned back by the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland.

As for that Arkansas charter school that was able to stay in business despite poor performance, the school has “powerful friends,” according to the reporter. “The Walton Family Foundation, [the charity operated by the heirs of the Walmart fortune,] provided cash infusion to fix [the school’s] red-ink-bathed books. The money was passed through an opaque, unaccountable charter management corporation,” and lobbyists in the state legislature “put the cherry on this hot mess sundae” in support of the school.

Whenever I write a post about charter school malfeasance like this I get accused of writing “screeds” that cherry pick negative anecdotes. But these news reports I cite above occurred within just the past two weeks.

Carol Burris, an award-winning former public school principal and the current executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes in a piece for the Washington Post,

“Proponents of charter schools promised that in exchange for freedom from regulations, charters would be more accountable and held to higher standards. Twenty-five years later, however, we find that freedom from the safeguards that regulations provide has too often resulted in theft, mismanagement, fraud, and less transparency.”

The freedom granted to charters to hire third party contractors like EMOs is proving to be especially problematic.

“EMOs have taken advantage of poorly trained governing boards” Green explains, “and the lack of coordination between governing boards and authorizing bodies” ends up benefiting the interests of charter management groups “at the expense of charter schools” themselves and the students who attend them.

I have been reporting the bad stuff done by charter schools since 2009. Most recently, my reporting on the shadowy business of the charter school industry was cited by media watchdog Project Censored as one of the top 25 most under-reported news stories of 2016.

This is the second time I’ve won this award. The first time was for a piece in 2014 on charter schools that Salon published.

When do you think the malfeasance committed by charters won’t be “under reported”?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

(A Really!) Complete Guide to Educational and Special Needs Apps

From One Place for Special Needs

By Dawn Villarreal
June 25, 2017

With over 300,000 apps it's easy to become overwhelmed by the number of app choices. It's also easy to spend a small fortune on a lot of useless apps. As a special needs parent I wanted to get right to the "good stuff" and figured you did too.

Check out our guide that breaks down the best of the apps by skill set so you can easily find and buy apps that most benefit your child. Great for kids with autism, ADHD, apraxia, learning disability, sensory issues and more.

Included are apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Android. Get started right now by clicking on a category. Read on to learn How to pick great apps and What's on my iPad?

Android apps (all)
Android does not have the nice interface of iTunes for viewing apps on the Internet as opposed to your device. Here are the ones I could find.

Aphasia apps
Apps specific to those with aphasia.

Apraxia apps
Apps specific to those with Childhood Apraxia of Speech.

Articulation apps
Apps that focus on articulation.

Assistive technology apps
Here are a variety of assistive technology apps employing voice recognition, text to speech, easy to use technology for impaired motor abilities.

Auditory memory apps
Auditory memory is the ability to remember what you heard. You'll find games here on recalling auditory information and following verbal directions.

Auditory discrimination apps
Children with auditory discrimination deficits misinterpret language sounds or process them slowly. These apps require you to analyze the sound you hear. Some are games and some are sound effects.

Auditory procesing apps (all)
This link takes you to all of the auditory processing related apps. Children with auditory processing deficits have difficulty understanding what words mean and may also show delayed langauge skills.

Autism apps
Apps specific to those on the autism spectrum.

Behavior management apps
Teachers and therapists will find apps on data collection. Parents will find behavior and reward system charts to use with their child.

Choose your own adventure apps
These apps work on creative thinking and "what if" scenarios. You choose the path a character takes which changes the outcome of the story.

Code breaking apps
Code breaking games work on a variety of skills including pattern recognition, critical thinking and sustained attention.

Cognitive skills apps
You'll find tons of fun and challenging apps that work on a variety of cognitive thinking skills. The majority help develop critical thinking which involves logic and reasoning skills.

Communication device/AAC apps
You'll find a variety of communication devices from simple to complex and affordable to expensive.

Drawing board apps
Use these apps for free drawing or as a writing board.

Early learning apps
These are apps that work on numbers, alphabet, phonics, word categorization flash cards and more.

Educational apps
Here are the best of the educational apps iTunes has to offer. I picked apps that had high visual interest or had simplified concepts to accommodate different learners.

Executive functioning activity apps
These are more goal directed game apps that focus on following directions, sustaining focus and multi-step activities. Executive functioning deficits impact goal setting, problem solving and decision making.

Fine motor skills apps
These are games that require finger dexterity, a lot of swiping and hand eye coordination. Fine motor skills can apply to the small muscular movements of the hands, wrists and fingers.

Finger tapping apps
These are games that simply require finger tapping to play. Some are fast-paced reaction games while others are at your own pace.

Fitness apps
These were apps that had step by step visual instructions or videos to help with fitness goals.

Focusing game apps
Improve your mental focus and sustained attention with these fun game apps.

Handwriting apps
A variety of apps that work on finger tracing in lower case, upper case and cursive.

Health apps
You'll find a variety of apps on diabetes management, first aid, gluten free management, heart rate and more.

Hidden object apps
Hidden object games work on visual figure ground, the ability to pick out details without getting confused by the background information.

Holiday apps
These are apps that work on various skills with a holiday theme.

iPad apps (all)
An exhaustive list of all available apps on our list.

iPhone apps (all)
An exhaustive list of all available apps on our list.

iPod Touch apps (all)
An exhaustive list of all available apps on our list.

Jigsaw puzzle apps
Jigsaw puzzles work on hand eye coordination and visual spatial sills. Here you'll find puzzles that are drag and drop as well as those you must actually place like a real puzzle.

Language skills apps
Here you'll find lots of apps that work on expressive and receptive language, pragmatic language and vocabulary building skills.

Matching game apps
Matching games can work on cognitive, fine motor and visual processing skills. You'll find many match three type games here too.

Math academic apps
Apps to support general math, algebra, counting money and more.

Math game apps
Practice math skills from basic math facts all the way to algebra.

Memory game apps
Find all auditory and visual memory games here.

Music apps
Here you'll find many music games and musical instruments that can be played by tapping on the instrument.

Mystery apps
A great way to build on cognitive skills is to solve mysteries. Here are the highly rated apps in this category.

Organization skills apps
Find many great apps that act as task managers for your child at school or for yourself.

Parenting apps
Here is a hodgepodge of apps designed to make parenting a little easier. You'll find chore charts, countdown timers, internet safety apps, toilet training and more.

Physics game apps
Physics games are great problem solving games which introduces the laws of physics. These games involve pulleys, hinges, stacking and more.

Problem solving game apps
Here are the best of the problem solving games that work on critical thinking skills.

Reaction game apps
Working on speed? These are fast-paced games with items on conveyor belts, catching items and breakout type games.

Reading academic apps
Apps to support reading, Dolch sight words and more.

Science academic apps
Many interactive science apps to make learning fun.

Sensory processing apps
These are apps with high auditory or visual stimulation as well as apps that might help with sound sensitivity. Children with sensory processing disorder typically suffer from sensory defensiveness (hypersensitive) or sensory seeking behavior (hyposensitive).

Sequencing game apps
You'll find games like Simon, Connect the dots and make your own food (e.g. pizza, burger) that require a sequence of steps to complete.

Slider puzzle apps
Slider puzzles are challenging games that build on visual spatial skills, cognitive thinking and concentration.

Social skills apps
Children with social skills deficits can have difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, recognizing the feelings of others and knowing what to do in social situations. Here you'll find apps on understanding body language, emotions, eye contact and hidden social rules.

Social studies academic apps
Apps to support various social studies topics.

Sound effect apps
A collection of various sound effects. These can be used to help desensitize children who have fear of various noises by putting them in control of the noise.

Special needs specific apps
Here are apps that were designed for individuals with disabilities. These include learning American Sign Language or Braille for family members, life skills and many aphasia, apraxia and autism specific apps.

Speech skills apps
Here you'll find apps that work on articulation and speech intellgibiltiy.

Spot the differences apps
Spot the difference games are great at helping your chlid with visual discrimination, an important component to reading.

Strategy game apps
These are excellent games to work on your child's logic and decision-making skills.

Telling time apps
Here are several apps that help your child learn how to tell time.

Test your reflexes apps
Want to know how fast your reaction time is? Try one of these games.

Visual memory apps
These games will help your child remember what she's seen. Many are in the standard memory matching game style while others are more complex.

Visual motor skills apps
Plenty of visual motor (hand eye coordination) apps to choose from here!

Visual procesing apps
Visual processing refers to our ability to recognize and interpret the information we see. Many visual processing skills are integral to reading. Here you'll find all the visual processing game apps including optical illusions and apps that work on eye teaming issues.

Visual spatial apps
Visual spatial skills is the ability to turn and rotate objects in our mind. These games are specific to that skill set.

Visual scanning apps
Visual scanning is our ability to scan a room, for instance, and find an object. These games work on scanning an area while playing.

Visual tracking apps
Visual tracking is an important skill for reading left to right and darting our eyes to various words on a page. These apps work on our visual tracking and scanning skills.

Word game apps
You'll find many word games here from word categorizations, word jumbles, dolch sight words and more.

Writing academic apps
Apps to support writing

Other Resources

Dawn Villarreal runs One Place for Special Needs, a national disability resource that lets you find local and online resources, events and even other families in your neighborhood plus thousands of online disability resources! Stay awhile and check out the site. She is also moderator of Autism Community Connection, a Yahoo group for families of children with autism spectrum disorder. Reprint permission granted by including: Reprinted with permission from One Place for Special Needs

Student Vouchers Aren't Working. Here's Why

From Education Week

By Christopher Lubienski & Sarah Theule Lubienski
June 16, 2017

Do voucher programs get less effective as they’re scaled up?

While vouchers appear to be enjoying a higher profile with Betsy DeVos as the U.S. secretary of education, the research on outcomes from these programs has taken a dramatic turn, one at odds with the direction DeVos and other policymakers are pursuing.

For years, voucher advocates have pointed to a series of more than a dozen reports—usually funded or conducted by voucher proponents—that used randomized approaches, similar to those used in medical research, to isolate the effects of vouchers on treatment groups in citywide programs.

While other researchers have questioned those reports over the last decade and a half, voucher advocates have claimed that these "gold standard" studies showed vouchers boosting achievement significantly for some students. Furthermore, they liked to point out, no students were harmed by school voucher programs.

But that has all changed. In April, the Institute of Education Sciences released a rigorous study showing that the congressionally mandated Opportunity Scholarship Program in the nation's capital caused significant negative effects on student learning. Students who used vouchers through the program to attend private schools in Washington experienced a 7-percentile-point decline in mathematics and an almost 5-percentile-point decline in reading compared with students who applied to, but were randomly rejected from, the program.

This report follows recent research on voucher programs in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana, all producing large, negative effects on learning for voucher students. In Louisiana, an average student using a voucher would end the first year of the program falling from the 50th to the 34th percentile in math. If the student was in 3rd through 5th grade, he or she would end the year even lower, at the 26th percentile.

The impact of participation in Ohio's EdChoice program was "unambiguously negative across a variety of model specifications, for both reading and mathematics," according to a study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute last year. Similar negative findings are reported for Indiana's statewide voucher program, the largest in the nation.

Vouchers remain a favored program, however, for Secretary DeVos and other school choice enthusiasts. How are they dealing with the results from these new studies? Rather than addressing this research, DeVos continues to defend the $250 million voucher-grant program in President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 budget.

But it's been even more fascinating to watch professional voucher advocates, who have spent their careers arguing that their studies of voucher-program test scores trump all other approaches to measuring the impact of vouchers, now twist themselves into knots to belittle the importance of test scores.

"Do we, as parents, taxpayers, and voters, want to fund programs that elevate choice, but lead to detrimental outcomes for children?"

Some have tried to attribute the negative results to regulations that discourage "better" private schools in certain states from accepting vouchers that would then require their students to take tests. This claim does not hold water when we are also seeing large, negative effects of vouchers in the other states as well.

Another possible explanation is that most of the research of years past that supported the success of vouchers was funded and conducted by voucher advocates who sought a particular result. However, some of these new, negative findings were also produced by pro-voucher organizations and researchers, to their credit.

Perhaps a likelier explanation for these poor results has to do with the actual students and schools themselves, including how students were grouped in private and public schools. Prior to the recent batch of research that has cast doubt on vouchers, studies lauding vouchers tended to be based on local and more targeted programs involving relatively small, nonrepresentative sets of students and schools.

Yet, overall, private schools are actually no more effective, and often less so, than public schools. Indeed, our own research indicates that any apparent advantages for students in private schools are actually more a reflection of the fact that private schools do a better job of attracting—not producing—high-scoring students.

For our book, The Public School Advantage, we examined two nationally representative data sets to determine whether private schools really offer superior educational programs and outcomes, or whether higher test scores in private schools are simply a reflection of the fact that they serve more advantaged students.

Those analyses revealed that, after accounting for differences in demographics, public schools are more effective, particularly in teaching mathematics.

Research as far as back as the Coleman Report in 1966 indicates that private school students enjoy the beneficial "peer effect" of being around affluent classmates who have abundant educational resources at home and parents who have firsthand experience with school success. These students benefit from the experience of having teachers who are able to focus on solely academic content, rather than the nonacademic needs of some students.

This peer effect is a significant factor in student learning, but frankly, there are only a limited number of academically advantaged peers to go around. And so, as choice programs expand, the private-school peer effect is diluted. Hence, despite benefits of greater socioeconomic integration for students from low-income families, the benefits may not be scalable in expanding voucher programs that are based on self-selection.

It makes sense, then, that negative results are now appearing as researchers carefully examine larger-scale programs. Earlier studies looked only at students leaving small groups of (presumably failing) public schools for small groups of private schools that self-selected into the voucher program. Those studies were therefore not representative of the wider populations of public and private schools.

Yet the newer, larger-scale studies are starting to more closely approximate the nationally representative samples we previously analyzed when coming to our conclusion that public schools, in fact, have an edge over private schools in student learning.

There is a disturbing disconnect between the predictable, negative effects that vouchers are having on students, and the continued enthusiasm policymakers show for these programs despite the growing consensus that they are causing harm.

Do we, as parents, taxpayers, and voters, want to fund programs that elevate choice, but lead to detrimental outcomes for children? Is choice a means or an end? Do we want choice for its own sake, or do we want it to improve achievement for all children?

Christopher Lubienski is a professor of education policy at Indiana University, where he studies equity in education reform. Sarah Theule Lubienski, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, uses national data sets to study mathematics instruction, reform, and equity.

Together they wrote The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Monday, June 26, 2017

Child School Nutrition Standards in Transition

From The Doctor's Tablet
by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine

By Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D.
June 16, 2017

I’ve worked with school nutrition managers and staff off and on for years and I’ve never met a more dedicated group of people in the field. Their budgets are low, requirements are high and they’re criticized by everyone, yet most enjoy what they do. What they hate, though, is seeing food go to waste. They know that even the best food isn’t nutritious unless it’s eaten.

And what goes into determining the content of those meals is what keeps us all up at night.

Parents of my patients say their kids complain about school meals, but in New York City, schools have done a dynamite job at implementing nutrition guidelines developed during the Obama administration. Kids are learning to enjoy more fruits and vegetables and they’ve adapted to having more whole grains in their sandwich breads, pasta and side dishes and breakfast cereals.

These are all changes that can, and should, continue now that we’re into a new administration. Calories are already tightly regulated, and what does the future hold for how those calories will be allocated?

The source and scope of those regulations are increasingly part of the public debate over food and nutrition. During her time as First Lady, Michelle Obama recognized a need to change dining culture in schools, adopting child nutrition as her platform. Changing a culture is massively difficult, usually requiring someone in a senior position to call out the flaws in our lifestyle and stay the course so that positive changes become ingrained.

Yes, there were hiccups, but overall Mrs. Obama understood her mission—which resulted in two iterations of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in 2010 and 2015.

Gearing Up for Guidelines

Schools have to follow federal guidelines and modify meal menus to qualify for federal dollars. One example of where those regulations get applied is sodium intake. The 2010 guidelines recommended a maximum sodium intake of 1,500 mg for kids. This was probably unrealistic, as it was a more severe restriction than the standard low-sodium 2,000 mg/day diet found in hospitals. Kids had been getting about 1,500 mg of sodium in a single lunch.

The 2015 guidelines got more realistic, allowing kids to get up to 2,300 mg per day, getting there in three stages by 2022.

New Administration, New Rules

Schools nationwide reached stage 1, and they were supposed to reach stage 2 this year and stage 3 within five years. The new administration has delayed the deadline for meeting target 2 until 2020. There is concern that the target will be discarded, and this could be a sign that much of the positive change in school meals will be rolled back by relaxing these regulations.

One area where I’m happy with the new administration is the loosening of restrictions on flavored milk. Given that at least 60 percent of kids 8–18 and up to 90 percent of teen girls don’t get enough calcium, we have a calcium crisis. Currently, plain fat-free and 1% milk and flavored fat-free milk are all that are allowed in schools. That’s going to change so that flavored 1% milk will again be a choice for kids.

The sugar content in those drinks has been decreasing for years, and it’s now down to about nine grams of added sugar—probably less than their parents are adding to their coffee, and less than in any other sweet beverage they might drink.

Ironically, only about 3 percent of the added sugar in their diets comes from flavored milk at school. Milk is one of the most nutrient-rich foods in kids’ (and adults’) diets—if they’d just drink it. When schools take flavored milk out of the lunch options, milk consumption goes down—way down. I’m glad to see it back on the menu, as the issue inappropriately takes up lots of oxygen in the child-obesity discussion.

Are kids only “schooled” in eating well?

Of course, changes to the school nutrition standards have led to some outrage. Howell Wechsler, the CEO of the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, took issue with the new guidelines, saying,

“Shouldn’t our schools be setting an example for our students about the importance of working hard to meet critical goals? We would not lower standards for reading, writing and arithmetic just because students found them challenging subjects, and we should not do it for school nutrition either.”

His analogy is poor, though, since we know that schools frequently graduate students who don’t meet established academic standards. Where I agree with Dr. Wechsler is that schools should set an example of healthy eating. Still, I see children outside a school setting and I wonder if any of their school meal patterns translate to the home setting.

We may be teaching children how to enjoy healthy eating at school, but only at school. After all, school meals have changed a lot for the better, but child obesity persists. Maybe what’s needed is something to address what happens the other 18 nonschool hours of the day.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is director of the Nutrition Clinic at Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore, and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

White, Wealthy Communities Want Their Own Schools

From U.S. News & World Report

By Lauren Camera
June 21, 2017

Some states allow communities to create their own school districts, keeping property tax dollars in the neighborhood but siphoning funds away from poorer, underserved schools.

A student tries to enter a high school in Memphis. The secession of
school districts within the surrounding county has contributed to seven
Memphis-area schools closing in recent years. 

In recent years, Tennessee has been the pace setter when it comes to adopting new education policies, including things like tougher standards and corresponding tests, and new ways to evaluate and pay teachers. It has even been at the forefront of the free college movement.

Such moves, driven in large part by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, have helped make the state one of the most respected in the country when it comes to trying to find ways to help close achievement gaps and better serve historically disadvantaged students – namely, poor students of color.


But unbeknownst to many, the state has also embraced a much less publicized education policy – one that makes it easy for communities to create their own school districts, and one that wealthy white communities have taken advantage of in order to splinter off from larger, more diverse and poorer school districts, taking with them millions of dollars in property taxes.

Since the Republican-run state legislature voted to enact the law in 2010, six communities have peeled away from Shelby County, the southwestern most corner of the state that includes Memphis. At least four more in other parts of the state are looking to do the same.

“It's almost criminal,” says Rebecca Sibilia, founder of EdBuild, a nonprofit that focuses on education funding and inequality, which published a report Wednesday that tracks school district secessions around the country.

“This isn’t a story of one or two communities,” Sibilia says. “This is about a broken system of laws that fail to protect the most vulnerable students. This is the confluence of a school funding system that incentivizes communities to cordon off wealth and the permissive processes that enable them to do just that.”

Indeed, the impact just one year after the six communities seceded from Shelby County was stark: Its budget was slashed by 20 percent, according to the report, and declining enrollment has since forced seven Memphis-area schools to closed and the district to lay off about 500 teachers in both 2015 and 2016.

The secession of the six communities in Shelby County is just the latest in a long and complicated history of school funding operations and shifting boundaries and demographics in and around the southern Tennessee city.

That history that largely began in 1973, when a federal court ordered Memphis to desegregate its schools by busing – an order that resulted in astounding white flight from the city to various neighborhoods in Shelby County, the school district that encircled the city.

Memphis is geographically part of Shelby County, but until recently it had autonomy to operate its schools separately from the suburban county, despite being funded in part by it. Shelby County residents had long sought to splinter off in order to retain the funding they generate through property taxes, but a 1982 state law had prevented them from doing so.

When Republicans gained control of the state legislature in 2010, and it became clear that lawmakers planned to repeal the 1982 law, the Memphis school board voted to dissolve itself into Shelby County entirely, ceding its autonomy as a way to ensure it wouldn’t lose the financial support.

But the legislature not only repealed the 1982 ban, it also put in place a process that makes it startlingly easy for municipalities to peel away, giving the green light to six communities that have already seceded from Shelby County and others across the state seeking to do that same.

Today, Tennessee has one of the most lax secession policies in the entire country: In order to create a new city school district, according to EdBuild’s analysis, the only requirements are that a municipality has a student population of 1,500 and the support of a majority of municipal voters.

Tennessee is one of three states – the others are Alabama and Mississippi – that does not require approval from any county or state authority.

“The repeal of the ban on new districts cleared the way for almost any Tennessee community seeking to segregate itself from its poorer neighbors,” Sibilia says.

Four communities in Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga, are considering secession from the district, according to the EdBuild report.

Signal Mountain, for example, a Hamilton County suburb where the U.S. Census estimates no children live in poverty and where the county’s top-performing schools are located, has already begun studying the feasibility of seceding from Hamilton County, which has a 21 percent child poverty rate. Signal Mountain also enrolls a very small percentage of students of color.

At a recent school board meeting, the Signal Mountain committee conducting the feasibility estimated that the new district would have an additional $1.8 million as a results of seceding and retaining its tax base.

The issue of secession only recently began garnering attention last month, when an Alabama judge ruled that Gardendale, a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood outside Birmingham, would be permitted to secede from majority non-white Jefferson County School District.

But according to the EdBuild report, 30 states have laws on the books that allow communities to secede from their school district, and it’s an allowance that many municipalities have taken advantage of over the years – at least 47 since 2000.

“Across the country, wealthy communities are drawing their own school district boundaries, often creating bastions of wealth next door to high-poverty, poorly funded districts,” Sibilia says.

Of the 30 states that allow secession, the researchers at EdBuild found that only four require that seceding communities gain the majority support in the school district being left behind and only six require consideration of the racial and socioeconomic effects of the separation. Moreover, only nine states require a study of the financial impacts of dividing communities.

Currently there are nine active secession efforts in various states across the U.S., including Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She’s covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s competitive education grant, Race to the Top.