Public School Policies

From unions to vouchers, school budgets to discipline policies, we cover some of the most controversial issues affecting public schools today. Learn more about education reform and how it impacts your family. Keep current on the latest controversies regarding religion, sex-education, civil rights and more.
View the most popular articles in Public School Policies:
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Nation’s Public School Personnel Embroiled in Cheating Scandals
In today’s climate of high-stakes testing, some teachers and administrators are cheating the system by providing test answers to students, changing student answers, and reviewing test questions before state tests are administered in order to feign the appearance of student success.
As the pressure to demonstrate student achievement has increased over the last decade, some educators have begun bending the rules. While cheating scandals involving teachers are nothing new, with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002, the stakes for teachers and students alike rose dramatically.
 
NCLB’s strict testing and performance requirements have gotten the most attention over the years. Students in elementary and middle grades are required to be tested annually in math and reading. High school students must be tested at least once between tenth and twelfth grade. Schools must also demonstrate “adequate yearly progress,” in which students show year-to-year improvement towards the eventual goal that 100 percent of students are proficient on tests in both subject areas.
 
Originally, districts had until 2014 to meet 100 percent proficiency. But by 2011 it became clear that thousands of schools across the country would not meet this goal. As a result, the Obama Administration agreed to award waivers to districts that could not reach the goal, however, districts had to agree to implement teacher evaluation systems that were directly tied to student test scores if waivers were to be granted. Thus, cheating scandals involving educators have since become much more commonplace.
 
Cheating Cases Reported Across the Nation
 
Educators in Philadelphia have been charged with “fostering a culture of cheating” after the state’s attorney general discovered in 2008 that teachers had provided test answers to students, improperly reviewed state assessments, and in some cases changed student answers.
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Should Public School Students be Allowed to Pray Before Lunch?
A recent incident in a Florida elementary school in which a teacher allegedly told a student that she could not pray before eating her lunch has thrust the question of religion in public schools back into the limelight.
The presence of religion, and more specifically, prayer, in public schools has long been a hot-button topic in the United States. Religious parents maintain that their child has the right to pray and engage in other religious activities while at public school. Meanwhile, parents on the other side of the issue argue that their child should not be subjected to state-sponsored religious activities. Numerous court battles have more clearly defined the role religion can play in public schools, however, debate regarding the nature and extent of religious practices at school continues on.
 
Religion in Schools: A Brief Overview
 
In the late 1950s, the Board of Regents of New York’s public schools system composed a nondenominational prayer for students to recite at the beginning of the school day. The prayer was strictly voluntary. A group of parents, including Steven Engel, took exception to the practice and filed suit against the Board. After state courts sided with the Board, thus upholding the school’s right to hold the voluntary morning prayer, Engel appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In 1962 the Court handed down their decision in the landmark case, Engel v. Vitale, in which they declared the practice of school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional.
In the majority opinion, the justices argued that neither the voluntary nature, nor the nondenominational nature of the prayer prevented it from violating the Constitution. The fact that the state of New York composed the prayer and provided time for public school students
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Editorial: Common Core Standards a Good Place to Start, but More Work is Needed
The Common Core Standards were created in order to facilitate greater academic progress among K-12 students, and seek to provide consistent academic benchmarks that students must meet. While Common Core is a step in the right direction, there are some concerns that need to be addressed before they reach their optimal effectiveness.
The Common Core State Standards began, in part, as the brainchild of Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona. As the chairperson of the National Governors Association in 2006-2007, Napolitano created a task force on education that released a report calling for standardized benchmarks in education. That report eventually formed the basis of the Common Core State Standards, which thus far have been adopted by 45 states, Washington, D.C., four U.S. territories and the educational branch of the Department of Defense.
 
Today, the Common Core is a set of high-quality, rigorous standards that outline what children should learn, know and be able to do at each grade level in the areas of math and language arts. The standards seek to address the variability between state-level educational standards that have for years produced high school graduates with widely ranging academic abilities.
 
 
The Common Core Standards are both relevant and rigorous. Students are engaged in activities that build higher-ordered analytical skills, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills that are necessary for success in today’s world. In that regard, the standards are not focused solely on acquisition of knowledge, but the application of that knowledge as well. Additionally, in states where the standards have been adopted, students receive comparable instruction no matter who their teacher is or what school they attend, which helps eliminate variability in student preparedness. Although teachers still have wide latitude in the delivery of lessons, they each have the same target in the end: student
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Vouchers for Special Education: Are They a Good Idea?
Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of public school vouchers as they pertain to the education of students with disabilities.
In an effort to provide families with a disabled child more choices with regard to their child’s education, some cities and states have implemented school voucher programs that provide taxpayer assistance to pay for a child’s private school education. Doing so, supporters say, gives special needs children an opportunity to get a high-quality education at a school their families may not otherwise be able to afford. Yet, detractors of such programs maintain that private schools are not held to the same standard as public schools when it comes to providing special education services. Specifically, some parents worry about the implementation – or lack thereof – of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in private school settings.
 
What is IDEA?
 
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that governs what public schools must do to meet the needs of children with disabilities. As mandated by IDEA, students with disabilities are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Essentially, this means that public schools must make necessary accommodations such that students with physical, mental, developmental or emotional disabilities can learn with the same degree of ease as regular education students. These accommodations can vary widely, from more time to take a test to having specialized technologies or classrooms made available for students with disabilities.
 
Accommodations for disabled students are outlined in the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which also includes educational goals and summarizes how a student will engage in the regular curriculum. The
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Students of Color Disproportionately Disciplined in Schools
Research shows that students of color face a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions in U.S. public schools. Learn about these disparities, as well as the policies that fuel them. Also learn about suggested measures to address this problem.
According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office, widespread racial disparities exist in terms of how schoolchildren are punished. The longitudinal study looked at data from the past 15 years and found that minority students face a disproportional number of disciplinary actions in schools across the country, from those in affluent suburban neighborhoods to those in the poorest urban areas.
Graph from HechingerEd
These disparities have been known for some time in middle schools and high schools, however, this report reveals that unfair discipline procedures begin as early as preschool. The data, which was collected from 97,000 public schools from across the country, paints a troubling picture:
  • Black and Latino students are consistently punished more severely than white students for the same infractions.
  • Nearly 50 percent of preschool children who are suspended multiple times are black, yet black children represent less than one-fifth of the preschool population.
  • Black students are far more likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested for a school-based offense than white students or other students of color.
  • Black girls are suspended at a much higher rate than girls of any other race.
  • Students with disabilities, who represent only 12 percent of the public school population, account for almost 60 percent of students who are placed in seclusion.  
Zero-Tolerance Policies
 
Many students who are suspended or placed in involuntary seclusion are put there because of zero-tolerance policies that schools have put in place over the last two decades.
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Public School Policies

Education Reform

Education reform is in the works, and you can stay updated on the latest changes, debates, and policies here. Learn more about No Child Left Behind and how it impacts your child. Explore how federal and state government is working to improve school performance, student achievement and education standards.

Teachers and Unions

A comprehensive look at teachers, tenure, and unions. Learn how unions impact school performance. Explore the impact of education reform on teaching qualification standards, traditional unions and controversial tenure rules.

Public School Budgets

We offer an overview of public school budgets; where the money comes from, how it’s spent and what schools are doing to get more funding. Learn how schools are cutting budgets and how the cuts will impact your child. Delve into some of the creative ways school districts are trying to raise money and where the extra money is spent.

Vouchers

Explore both sides of the school voucher debate. Learn what your options are, how those choices are funded and the impact on your local school district. From the latest government initiatives to results from recent studies, explore vouchers and the options they provide.

School Discipline Policies

Examine the various discipline methods being put to use in public schools. From detention to expulsion, spanking to handcuffing, school discipline can often be controversial. Does spanking work? Do police belong in schools? Learn more about what is being done to punish out of control students.

School Controversies

The most controversial issues impacting public school students today. From bullying to book bans, this is a comprehensive look at some of the most oft-debated issues. This section features articles on school segregation, religion, over-crowding, civil rights, and green technology.