Education Policy

  • December 30, 2010
    Education Policy

    By James C. Foster, a professor of political science at Oregon State University-Cascades.
    When Joseph Frederick and his thirteen buddies hoisted their now (in)famous banner at the moment the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch Relay passed Juneau-Douglas High School, their stunt - and Principal Deborah Morse's reaction - set in motion a controversy that eventually reverberated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The outcome was what I term the "messy Morse" decision. The nine Justices wrote five separate opinions. The slim majority itself is deeply fragmented being, in effect, a 2-1-2 mélange ranging from Justices Alito's and Kennedy's wary concurrence, to Justice Thomas' belligerent rejection of Tinker v. Des Moines, with only Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia embracing an unvarnished "drug speech exception" to secondary school students' First Amendment rights.

    The January 24, 2002 incident on Glacier Avenue did not have to come to this pass. Among the insights I garnered from researching, thinking about, and writing my book on what blew up into "a perfect constitutional storm in Alaska's Capital," I want to highlight two here. Perhaps these are better described as lessons learned. First, in the event, when push came to litigating, Alaska state courts would have been the preferable venue in which Frederick could have contested his claims (under Article I § Five of the Alaska Constitution). Second, and fundamentally, push need not have come to litigating at all.

  • December 8, 2010
    Education Policy
    Guest Post

    By Julie Murray, Margaret Fund Fellow, National Women's Law Center
    Around the country today, bloggers are clacking at their keyboards, writing about the impact that playing sports had on their lives. Their collective efforts are part of the Blog to Rally for Girls' Sports Day, organized by the National Women's Law Center.

    As the stories add up, they form a powerful narrative about the life of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs, including athletics. Nearly all of us now know women and girls who had the chance to play sports and relished it. And we know that when asked, women often credit the chance to compete with shaping their physical, social, and even professional development.

    Nevertheless, many people still routinely argue that girls just don't want to play sports, so schools shouldn't be penalized for athletic programs in which they receive fewer opportunities to play than boys. The National Women's Law Center heard this argument repeatedly just last month when it filed administrative complaints with the U.S. Department of Education against 12 school districts around the country for violations of Title IX's requirement to offer equal athletic opportunities to high school girls and boys.

  • November 29, 2010
    Education Policy
    Guest Post

    By Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Sen. Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
    For-profit colleges have seen explosive growth in recent years. Top executives have made fabulous fortunes, and shareholders have profited richly. But for many students at for-profit colleges, it has been a very different story. Despite glowing promises of a diploma followed by a good job, most students leave without graduating, many with few employment prospects, and nearly all with massive debts that could follow them the rest of their lives.

    This is a shame, because many for-profit colleges offer innovative options for students juggling work and family obligations. With more focus on students and less on shareholders, they could be a more valuable part of our higher education system. Regrettably, an ongoing investigation by my Committee has exposed an industry stained by widespread fraudulent and deceptive recruiting practices, overpriced programs, and staggering dropout rates.

    Just as subprime lenders used the promise of homeownership to lure Americans into loans they couldn't afford, some for-profit schools are using the promise of higher education to lure students into taking on large amounts of student loan debt without delivering the promised increase in earning power.

    An undercover General Accountability Office investigation found that all 15 schools they visited in May/June 2010 were using deceptive recruiting practices to convince students to enroll and take out loans. Witnesses at HELP Committee hearings have told horrifying stories of taking on massive debt only to find that the programs they enrolled in weren't accredited or that the clinical programs they had been promised did not exist.

  • November 22, 2010
    Education Policy
    Guest Post

    By Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy and legal-services organization based in Arlington, Va.
    If hard facts make bad law, then how can easy facts make worse law?

    The facts are these. A Texas high-school cheerleader (referred to in court papers as "H.S.") reports to police that she was raped at an off-campus party. One of the accused assailants, Rakheem Bolton, plays for the basketball team. Despite Bolton's presence, the cheerleader dutifully reports to the sidelines and performs her routines - until the squad gets to a routine that incorporates the accused player's name. Rather than cheer for Bolton by name, the cheerleader sits it out. Audience members notice the silent protest and heckle her.

    School officials order H.S. to perform the routine, and when she says she cannot, she is kicked off the team for the rest of the school year. The student and her parents file suit, alleging the school violated H.S.'s First Amendment rights. (The criminal case against Bolton, unresolved at the time of the First Amendment case, ended with a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault.)

    Easy facts, right? "Right" and "wrong" don't get much clearer.

    That's what three judges on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals thought, too - when they ruled, 3-0, in the school's favor, in a perfunctory unsigned opinion, Doe v. Silsbee, jarring for its tone-deafness.

    Here is how the panel - Judges Emilio Garza, Edith Brown Clement and Priscilla Owen - summarily dispatched the student's First Amendment claim in their Sept. 16 opinion:

  • October 28, 2010
    Education Policy
    Before Brown
    Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
    Gary M. Lavergne

    By Gary M. Lavergne, director of admissions research for the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of four books.

    Writing about race is emotional and difficult. Telling the story of Heman Marion Sweatt was a task in which I took great care. For the few who know the story, it is generally known that he was a mail carrier from Houston who applied for admission to University of Texas School of Law in February of 1946 and that the University of Texas President Theophilus S. Painter followed Texas's Constitution, statutes, and an attorney general's opinion and rejected Sweatt's application " and except for the fact that he is a negro [sic]."

    It is not generally understood that Heman Marion Sweatt was at that time an integral key to an NAACP master plan aimed at breaking down racial segregation in education. His lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who eventually became the first African American member of the U.S. Supreme Court, took Sweatt v. Painter to the highest court, and the result was that Sweatt became the first African American ever ordered admitted to an all-white institution. The 1950 opinion predated Brown v Board of Education, which explicitly ended legal racial segregation in the United States. In my book, Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice, I argue that the Court in Sweatt had already implicitly done so by prohibiting Sweatt's "isolation from . . . individuals and institutions" that he would have to eventually deal with as a lawyer. Moreover, "equality," as the Court defined it under Sweatt, required that law students be exposed to the "interplay of ideas and exchange of views." After Sweatt, any judicially acceptable separate equality became a practical impossibility.