Annie Waldman

America’s adult education system is broken. Here’s how experts say we can fix it

They never got the help they needed with learning disabilities. Or they came to this country without the ability to read English. Or they graduated from schools that failed to teach them the most crucial skills.

For a number of sometimes overlapping reasons, 48 million American adults struggle to read basic English, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That may leave them unable to find and keep a decent job, navigate the signage on city streets, follow medical instructions and vote. They’re vulnerable to scams and face stigma and shame.

The main remedy available is adult education: free classes where they can improve their reading and earn a high school credential.

But the infrastructure for adult education is profoundly inadequate, a ProPublica investigation found — and, as the nation’s persistently low literacy rates reveal, the government’s efforts haven’t done enough to address the problem. About 500 counties across the nation are hot spots where nearly a third of adults struggle to read basic English. This contributes to disproportionate underemployment. In communities with lower literacy, there is often less economic investment, a smaller tax base and fewer resources to fund public services.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure that, regardless of why people didn’t get an education the first time around, that they get one now,” said Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition who focuses on adult education and workforce policy.

ProPublica interviewed experts, students and educators about some of the best ideas for improving adult education. While many experts have said that more money is critical to improving the national system, many states have developed innovations in spite of their limited funding. There are ways to help adults overcome low literacy, and making that help more widely accessible would solve larger problems, both for individuals and for their communities.

Give adults with the lowest literacy skills more attention.

Strict federal standards prompt states to push adult students to get a high school credential as fast as possible. Students who need more time can flounder in such a system. “It’s so hard to get students at the basic level. They are lacking so much,” said Andrew Strehlow, who directs adult education for Rankin County School District in Mississippi.

The expectation of steady academic gains can be challenging for adult students, particularly for those who have not learned in a classroom in more than a decade. “If you are reading at the sixth-grade level and someone said you have three months to pack in six years of high school because that’s the end of the program, realistically, how many will do it? None,” said Diane Renaud, who directs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. Research has shown that some programs even resort to pushing out struggling students from their classes.

Some programs have focused on providing students with more one-on-one support. The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District offers each student the chance to work with a coach who calls and encourages them as they work toward a high school credential. Jill Hersha, the library’s literacy services manager, said many of the program’s students had worked in the hospitality industry for years and lost their jobs. “But they hadn’t been in school in forever,” she said. Coaches help them define their goals and move forward, step by step.

Increase the availability and flexibility of classes, especially in rural areas.

ProPublica found that large swaths of the country lack adult education classes, and residents must travel dozens of miles to enroll in programs. In Mississippi, about 1 in 5 counties lacks a state-run program. In some parts of rural Nevada, people must take virtual classes or drive up to 70 miles, said Meachell LaSalle Walsh, who directs adult education at Great Basin College in Elko. Even in urban areas, inflexible class scheduling may make it difficult for people to attend.

To increase accessibility, some states have developed partnerships to ensure programming is available across vast areas. A decade ago, after a state report found its vast adult education system uncoordinated and fragmented, California reconfigured it into regional consortia that could better assess local needs and collaborate with community groups. In each of the 71 regions, local community colleges and school districts work together to align their teaching materials, collect data on students across programs and make sure they offer distinct services. The new structure helps ensure students can access programs, regardless of where they live. “The idea is to work together to meet the needs of the students and the workforce within that region,” said Carolyn Zachry, the state’s adult education director.

Train educators on how to work with adults with disabilities.

Experts estimate that as many as half of adult students have learning disabilities, which are sometimes undiagnosed. Many programs don’t have resources to work with these students. “They are horribly underserved,” said Monica McHale-Small, education director for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Nationally, less than 5% of adult teachers are certified in special education, according to federal data. Last year, in the entire state of Tennessee, there was only one teacher for adults who was certified in special education.

Some states have developed centralized programs to show teachers how to work with adults with disabilities. Minnesota funds the Physical And Nonapparent Disability Assistance program, which gives workshops and consults with programs on best practices. “Individuals who have disabilities, especially the hidden disabilities, you wouldn’t know unless they disclosed it, and they may not have ever even been diagnosed,” said Wendy Sweeney, who manages the organization. “It’s important that we make sure the teachers have some strategies to work with a student in their class and help them with their learning.”

Invest more money in adult education programs.

The federal government provided about $675 million to states for adult education last year, a figure that has been stagnant for more than two decades, when adjusted for inflation. And while states are also required to contribute a minimum amount, ProPublica found large gaps in what they spend. Lower funding leads to smaller programs with less reach: Less than 3% of eligible adults receive services. “When there’s no awareness by these legislators at the state or federal level, they just don’t put the extra money in,” said Michele Diecuch, programs director at the nonprofit ProLiteracy.

This year, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced a bill to expand access and increase the federal adult education budget by $300 million over the next five years. The House passed the bill this spring, but it’s hung up in the Senate and unlikely to become law anytime soon. Some states have also increased their funding for adult education in recent years. After cutting more than a million dollars from adult education in 2021, Georgia chose to restore that money in its upcoming state budget. It also raised pay for full-time state employees by $5,000, which helps some but not all adult education teachers. State lawmakers often need a big push from advocates and educators to increase funding, said Sharon Bonney, chief executive officer of the Coalition on Adult Basic Education. “Talk to your governor about the value of the work that you do, because when governors understand that they’re much more likely to fund it,” she said.

Increase teacher pay and add more full-time teachers.

Most adult education teachers work part time or are volunteers, leading to high turnover and inconsistent instruction. In Tennessee, more than a third of staff teachers are uncertified, and more than 80% only work part time. (Uncertified teachers must take training modules on adult education, according to the state’s labor and workforce department.) Leslie Travis, adult education coordinator at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, dreams about what she could do with more full-time teachers. “I could open a whole lot more classes,” she said. “I need to hire at least six teachers right now.” Travis landed on a less-than-ideal solution to avoid wait-listing students: crowding more than 25 students into classrooms. Similarly, in Nevada, almost all adult education teachers work part time and half of them are uncertified. “Even in Reno and Las Vegas, they’re having trouble staffing,” said Nancy Olsen, the state’s adult education programs supervisor.

Some states have found ways to provide teachers with professional development: Massachusetts and Minnesota have “train the trainer” programs, where experienced teachers train newer ones. In Arkansas, which commits a larger share of funding than other states, all teachers must be certified in education and full-time teachers must be specifically certified to teach adults or working toward a license — sharpening their ability to support nontraditional students. “It really makes a difference when you have teachers who have gone through training of how to teach adult learners of different levels,” said Arkansas’ adult education director, Trenia Miles.

Help students overcome barriers that inhibit them from attending class.

Since she dropped out of high school in 11th grade to care for her newborn daughter, Mississippi-native Rolonda McNair, 27, has long wanted to obtain a high school credential. “You’re not going to get a good paying job without having it,” she said. But between work and child care responsibilities, she could not set aside enough time to attend class. To restart her education this past summer, McNair had to stop working full time and move in with her mother, who could watch her children while she was in school. Many adult learners face similar barriers, from a lack of steady child care or transportation to job inflexibility. Educators are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing these obstacles.

Mississippi has created the MIBEST initiative, providing some students with support like child care, transportation, food assistance, help with testing fees and career counseling. But the program relies on temporary philanthropic funding and mostly directs support to students who enter at the highest levels. “We have never had enough funding to offer that level of support to every single person,” said Nikitna Barnes, an assistant director at the Mississippi Community College Board, which oversees adult education for the state.

Pay adults to return to the classroom.

Kathryn Iski, 56, entered a Nashville, Tennessee, adult education program last year as a beginner in both reading and math. Iski, who did not attend school as a child, studied for months and progressed multiple grade levels in reading. But this June, she had to stop after her job at a Target deli required her to work overtime. After more than three months, she fell behind in her studies and had to work hard to catch up. Adult students like Iski often must skip classes when they conflict with work schedules. They may fall behind and take longer to achieve their goals.

Some of the most innovative programs combine adult education and actual jobs to encourage attendance; experts say these opportunities are rare because of insufficient federal and state funds. ProPublica’s story highlighted Detroit’s Skills for Life, which pays residents to return to school two days a week and pays them to work city jobs the other three days. Last year, in Georgia, DeKalb County’s sanitation department offered employees without high school diplomas an opportunity to take virtual classes on company time. The department also covered fees for credential exams. “We had 100% retention,” said Meghan McBride, who leads adult education at Georgia Piedmont Technical College and helped start the workplace program.

Open education programs to all students, regardless of immigration status.

A handful of states, including Arizona and Georgia, prevent adult education programs from using state funding to serve undocumented people. Arizona denies enrollment to hundreds of people each year because they did not provide evidence of citizenship or legal residence in the country, as required by a law passed by voters in 2006. In Georgia, which passed a law in 2010 requiring programs to verify that applicants are in the country legally, three federally funded groups that serve mainly immigrants and refugees are denied state funding because they allow undocumented students. Arizona’s Department of Education declined to comment on the policy’s impact on enrollment or programs. Georgia’s assistant commissioner of adult education, Cayanna Good, said undocumented immigrants without programs to serve them are falling through the cracks.

In these states, undocumented immigrants who want to learn English, obtain a high school credential or improve their reading skills have few choices, and even fewer that are free. This decision comes with a price, according to adult education expert Bergson-Shilcock. “The ‘price’ in this case is not only lost earnings and tax revenue from less-educated workers, but the human cost of creating a two-tiered society in which some people are explicitly being told that their lives and aspirations are not worth investing in,” she said. “The immediate cost of educating a person is far cheaper than the long-run social costs of not educating them.”

Weave together technical and academic instruction to prepare people for jobs.

In the 2000s, adult students in Washington were, at best, obtaining high school credentials, but they were not progressing to further education or jobs that paid a living wage. “We were hemorrhaging people up and down the pipeline,” said Will Durden, a state adult education director. The programs were poorly connected to college classes or work credential programs. “You’re spending all this time learning math that doesn’t seem relevant, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to help you get ahead in life,” he said. “So students drop out.”

Washington pioneered the I-BEST program, which allows adults without high school diplomas to pursue academic skills and job training at the same time. Two teachers — one providing reading and math skills, and the other job training — work in tandem, putting lessons into context and allowing adults to advance more quickly. Recent studies show I-BEST students were more likely to attain a technical credential than adult students who did not go through the program. It has been replicated in other places, including Mississippi.

Protect a right to literacy for school children.

Experts say the best way to improve literacy rates is to teach children to read proficiently before they become adults. Even though all state constitutions include a right to an education, the U.S. Constitution does not — although 170 other countries affirm that right in their constitutions. Without this commitment, children and their families have struggled to hold schools accountable for appalling proficiency rates.

In recent years, a handful of lawsuits have challenged whether children have a right to literacy. In 2016, a group of Detroit students sued the state, claiming its failure to provide an adequate education left a district serving almost exclusively low-income children of color struggling to read, in violation of the 14th Amendment. “Literacy is fundamental to participation in public and private life and is the core component in the American tradition of education,” plaintiffs said in their complaint.

A federal judge initially dismissed the case, agreeing with the state’s position that “access to literacy is not a fundamental right.” Two years later, in 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed part of the ruling, declaring students should have a “fundamental right to a basic minimum education, meaning one that can provide them with a foundational level of literacy.” Michigan settled the case about a month later, promising $94 million for literacy programs in Detroit’s schools.

Students across the country are fighting to hold states accountable to their constitutional commitments. In California in 2017, students sued for a right to literacy, arguing that it was essential to a person’s ability to participate in democracy. They eventually settled with the state. Recent litigation in Minnesota and North Carolina has also argued for access to a quality education.

“There is no defense of a system that fails to teach kids how to read,” said Mark Rosenbaum, the attorney for students in both the Detroit and California cases. “You deny students access to literacy, it’s the most effective strategy you can develop to disenfranchise communities.”

The federal government gave billions to schools for COVID relief — where did the money go?

This was first published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

After the pandemic shut down schools across the country, the federal government provided about $190 billion in aid to help them reopen and respond to the effects of the pandemic. In the year and a half since millions of children were sent home, the Education Department has done only limited tracking of how the money has been spent. That has left officials in Washington largely in the dark about how effective the aid has been in helping students, especially those whose schools and communities were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We've been in the pandemic now for nearly a year and a half," said Anne Hyslop, the director of policy development at the education advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education. “There is a responsibility to the public to make sure the funds are spent responsibly, but also make sure that the funding that is spent is accountable to supporting students and educators."

Provisional annual reports submitted to the federal government by state education agencies underscored the dearth of clear, detailed data. Agencies classified how the funds were spent using six very broad categories, including technology and sanitization. According to a ProPublica analysis of more than 16,000 of the reports covering March 2020 to September 2020, just over half of the $3 billion in aid was categorized as “other," providing no insight into how the funds were allocated.

In the absence of a centralized and detailed federal tracking system, the monitoring of relief funds flowing to the nation's more than 13,000 school districts has largely been left to states. Some districts have been found to be spending their federal funds on projects seemingly at odds with the spirit of the aid program, such as track and field facilities and bleachers.

While such spending is not prohibited by the federal government, the stated goals of the relief program were to open schools safely to maximize in-person learning and, more broadly, to address the impact of the pandemic.

The Biden administration wants to collect more data. But its efforts have come more than a year after the previous administration began disbursing the relief funds, and some school districts have bristled at the belated push for more detailed data collection.

Hyslop said that while this may place an added burden on districts, the information is essential. “We need this data to make sure the needs are met, to make sure high-needs schools are not being shortchanged. … We have to make sure this is actually supporting students."

The majority of the school aid was allocated from March 2020 to March 2021 and funneled through state education departments into K-12 school districts, which have until 2024 to budget the last of the funds.

Under the terms laid out by the federal government, states are responsible for developing tracking systems to ensure districts are spending the money on countering the effects of the pandemic.

The federal government has long given states considerable latitude in setting standards and curriculum. Christine Pitts, a fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, said responsibility for tracking COVID-19 relief funds has similarly been delegated to the states, creating a patchwork of oversight practices. “There's 50 states, and oftentimes in education that means there's 50 different ways of doing the business," said Pitts.

The federal government has started to request limited information from states on how districts have spent their funds. The department also requires spending plans from states, and those plans must be approved before the last round of funds is released.

These limited reporting requirements reflect the early, urgent days of the pandemic, when officials wanted to get money to school districts as quickly as possible.

In June 2020, as the first federal relief dollars were beginning to flow to districts, the office of inspector general of the Education Department warned in a report that the department must improve its oversight, monitoring and data collection to reduce potential fraud and waste. The OIG noted that after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the Education Department was responsible for allocating $98 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which led to numerous investigations into abuse and waste.

When the OIG raised concerns last year to then-Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, Zais said the pandemic aid legislation itself had created “enormous pressure" to distribute funds quickly, according to an OIG report.

A spokesperson for the OIG, Catherine Grant, said that while distributing pandemic aid presented its own challenges, oversight and monitoring were “longstanding" issues for the department.

Luke Jackson, a spokesperson for the Education Department, said in an emailed statement that the department was working with states and districts to collect preliminary data to “to ensure federal funds are being spent to best serve the needs of students, educators, and school communities."

The law places few restrictions on how districts can spend the federal aid, as long as the investments are loosely connected to the effects of the pandemic. This wide latitude has enabled districts to fund projects that some education experts have deemed questionable.

In Iowa, the Creston Community School District allocated about $231,000 of its pandemic relief funds to upgrade its outdoor stadium, including an expansion of its bleachers. According to district documents, the construction is intended to provide increased space for social distancing and to make the bleachers wheelchair accessible.

Creston's superintendent, Deron Stender, did not respond to ProPublica's requests for comment.

Last month in Pulaski County, Kentucky, the school board approved the reconstruction of its track and field facilities, allocating about $1 million in federal pandemic funding for the track replacement.

“We want to have facilities that are great for our students," the district superintendent, Patrick Richardson, told a local paper after the project was approved. Richardson did not respond to ProPublica's requests for comment.

“There is certainly a lot of flexibility on how the money can be used," said Hyslop of the Alliance for Excellent Education, but said athletic investments are “not in the spirit of the law."

The statement from Jackson, the Education Department spokesman, did not address a question from ProPublica about using relief funds for athletic projects.

In other cases, the spending priorities of school districts have drawn complaints from some parents. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools spent more than $45 million of its early pandemic funding on ventilation systems and personal protective equipment. But some parents said that more federal aid should have been directed to services for students with special needs, who represent about 14.4% of the 178,000 students enrolled in the district.

Debra Tisler, a former special education teacher, said that her 15-year-old son, who has dyslexia, saw the 20 hours a month of specialized instruction that he received before the pandemic cut in half over the course of more than a year of virtual learning.

In January 2021, the federal education department opened up an investigation into Fairfax schools because of “disturbing reports involving the district's provision of educational services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic." Asked on Tuesday about the status of the Fairfax investigation, the Education Department's press office did not have that information readily available.

“They have the ability to do it and they are choosing not to. It's heartbreaking," said Tisler, who has had a contentious relationship with the district. In August, her son went back to school in person.

In the first two waves of pandemic aid from the county, state and federal governments, Fairfax schools received at least $157.5 million, of which it spent $9.6 million on direct services for students with disabilities to help them catch up, according to budget documents. Helen Lloyd, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools, said that much of the initial coronavirus relief funds paid for “systemwide technology, school safety mitigation measures and equipment and PPE costs." She said it is not possible to calculate the proportion of the funding that paid only for services for students with disabilities.

Lloyd did not specifically address Tisler's concerns, citing privacy protections, but the spokesperson said that the district's spending plan was based on extensive community input and that learning loss was found to be a priority. She added that from the third wave of pandemic aid, which passed this year, the district has allocated $46.2 million, which is being used to extend the contracts of special education teachers by 30 minutes a day, and $500,000 to counter learning loss of students with disabilities.

In Texas, the McAllen Independent School District decided to spend $4 million of its education pandemic relief funds to construct a 5-acre outdoor learning environment connected to a local nature and birding center owned by the city. Tory Guerra, whose children attend McAllen's schools, expressed concerns that the project, which will not be completed until December 2024, is not prioritizing the urgent learning needs of children who have been directly impacted by the pandemic.

“There are so many other programs that we could invest in that we could use immediately and see benefits immediately rather than years down the road," Guerra said. She believes that the federal aid should directly address the pressing emotional and academic wellbeing of students, many of whom have struggled to keep up in the classroom. “Half the kids won't even get to reap the benefit because the nature center isn't even built."

Mark May, a spokesperson for the McAllen independent district, said the cost of the project is a small fraction of the district's $139.5 million in aid. He said the outdoor space will provide students with resources and experiences that will bolster children's scientific knowledge.

Some states and districts have developed their own public reporting platforms. In Georgia, the education department built a dashboard that shows how much money each district has received and the programs they have spent it on. But other states have not offered as much visibility into districts' spending. Indiana, for example, has so far made little information public, but it is currently developing an online portal.

In the provisional federal reports that categorize how aid money is spent, some of the largest districts in the nation marked all of their aid as going to the “other" category, including Los Angeles Unified, which spent $49.5 million, and New York City's schools, which spent $111.5 million.

Instead of spending the aid on summer school or technology, New York City's district, the largest in the country, used its federal funds to plug a gap in its budget, which had been cut by the state. Katie O'Hanlon, a spokesperson for the district, told ProPublica that the district used the funds to cover the wages and operations of custodial workers. O'Hanlon said the district had followed state reporting requirements. J.P. O'Hare, a spokesperson for the New York State Education Department, said the state is using the “other" category until the federal government provides more direction on reporting requirements.

Shannon Haber, a spokesperson for Los Angeles Unified, said the district's reporting was submitted based on the state's requirements. Many districts categorized their spending as “other" initially, but as the school year progressed, the spending categories diversified, said Scott Roark, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education.

Even if the information is publicly available on a local level, the lack of standardization from state to state makes it impossible to get a national picture of how the funds are being directed.

Some experts said it may be too soon to get a larger view of how the aid was spent. “There's going to be a natural lag between a district receiving the money, spending the money and reporting up to the state," said Paige Kowalski, executive vice president for the education advocacy group Data Quality Campaign.

But other experts say that without real-time insight into district spending, schools will not be able to shift priorities if they find certain programs are working better than others.

“There can be an opportunity to do mid-course corrections, if we find something working well or not well," said Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data & Research at the University of Washington. “We will be in a bad place if we don't have much evidence that $200 billion didn't move the needle."

This past July, the federal Education Department announced plans to increase its data collection from districts in 2022, but dozens of districts and state education agencies said that more oversight could leave them overburdened.

“It will take another block of time," said Brenda Turner, the business manager of Haskell Consolidated Independent School District in central Texas, adding that her district already filed detailed plans to the state's education department explaining how Haskell planned to spend its aid. “They need to figure out how to pull it out of their own system to report to the federal government instead of putting it on us."

The Trump administration drove him back to China — where he invented a fast coronavirus test

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading...Show less

Here's how Teach for America evolved into an arm of the charter school movement

When the Walton Family Foundation announced in 2013 that it was donating $20 million to Teach For America to recruit and train nearly 4,000 teachers for low-income schools, its press release did not reveal the unusual terms for the grant.

Keep reading...Show less

US will investigate discrimination affecting Native American students on Montana reservation

A year and a half after receiving a detailed complaint from tribal leaders, the U.S. Department of Education plans to investigate their allegations that the Wolf Point School District in Montana discriminates against Native American students.

This article is a collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times.

In a Dec. 28 letter, sent hours after The New York Times and ProPublica published an investigation into racial inequities in the school district, the department’s Office for Civil Rights notified the lawyer representing the tribal executive board of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation that it would look into the complaint. The board includes members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.

According to the letter, the investigation will focus on whether Wolf Point schools discipline Native students more harshly than white students, shunt them into remedial programs without appropriate cause, and deny them special education evaluations and services. Native American and mixed-race students make up more than three-quarters of Wolf Point’s enrollment.

The department said it will also examine whether the district failed to respond to a parent’s allegations that a Native student was racially harassed. The student wasn’t identified in the tribal complaint or in the letter.

“Tribal children have suffered unfairly for years in the Wolf Point School District,” said Melina Healey, the lawyer representing the tribal executive board. She called for a “swift and thorough investigation that leads to much-needed reforms.”

The Office for Civil Rights is already looking into a complaint by Louella Contreras that the Wolf Point district failed to provide her granddaughter, Ruth Fourstar, with special education services. The department’s decision to look into the tribal leaders’ broader allegations bucks the Education Department’s policy under Secretary Betsy DeVos of pulling back from investigating complaints of systemic discrimination by schools and colleges, and concentrating on mistreatment of individuals. ProPublica reported in June that, under DeVos, the department had scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that began under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months.

Nationwide, more than 90 percent of Native students attend integrated public schools near or on reservations, which have historically restricted tribal influence over curriculum, funding and staffing. Native American students have some of the worst academic outcomes in public schools: They score lower than nearly all other demographic groups on national tests and less than three-fourths of Native students graduate from high school.

In the early 20th century, white homesteaders prevailed on the federal government to open up unused lands on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to non-Native settlement. In June 2017, the tribal executive board filed a 46-page complaint that described dozens of instances where Wolf Point schools provided limited academic opportunities and social support to Native students.

ProPublica and the Times found that Native students in Wolf Point are twice as likely to receive at least one suspension compared with their white peers, and white students are more than 10 times as likely to take at least one Advanced Placement course as Native students, according to an analysis of federal education data. In interviews, students, staff and parents said Wolf Point’s schools push Native children into a poorly funded, understaffed program for remedial students and truants. Native students said they were dropped from sports teams after giving birth, while a white pregnant student was not.

The Times-ProPublica investigation also found that some Native students have turned to self-harm and suicide. Three months before the tribal executive board’s complaint, a Wolf Point High School junior killed himself following a public rebuke from the principal for poor attendance, two students said. He was the second student at the high school in seven years to take his own life after being chided by district administrators.

Jeana Lervick, an attorney representing the school district, said the district is closed for the holidays and is unable to comment on the federal investigation. “Wolf Point Schools works constantly to address the challenges facing our students and in particular, our Indigenous students,” Lervick said in an earlier statement. “Our district is aware of historical issues in our nation and as educators do everything in our power to address them.”

The district’s superintendent and the high school principal did not respond to emailed questions.

Should civil rights investigators identify violations of federal law, the school district could lose federal funding. Typically, before investigators recommend sanctions, school districts voluntarily enter into an agreement with the department to remedy any wrongdoing and bring the district back into compliance with federal law. Federal civil rights investigations can take up to several years to resolve.

“Instead of providing a safe learning environment, the Wolf Point School District adds to the long history of educational abuses of our tribal communities,” said Roxanne Gourneau, a former member of the Fort Peck tribal executive board, who has worked to reform Wolf Point schools since her son took his life after being disciplined at the high school. “The school district has done more to fuel Native students’ trauma than to support their education. Change is long overdue.”

Keep reading...Show less

DeVos Dumps More Than 1,200 Civil Rights Probes Inherited from Obama

Whether schoolchildren in DeSoto County, Mississippi, are paddled varies by their race. Black students are almost two and a half times more likely than whites to endure the corporal punishment permitted under school district policyfor skipping class, insubordination, repeated tardiness, flagrant dress code violations, or other misbehavior: up to three “licks per incident on the buttocks with an appropriate instrument approved by the principal.”

Keep reading...Show less

Shutdown of Texas Schools Investigation Shows Trump Administration Pullback on Civil Rights

Beside a highway in Bryan, Texas, tucked between a motorcycle bar and the county jail, stands a low-slung, sprawling complex with tinted windows, sandstone walls and barbed wire lining parts of its roof. A roadside sign identifies it as the Brazos County Juvenile Justice Center.

Keep reading...Show less

Failing Charter Schools Have a Reincarnation Plan

This past June, Florida’s top education agency delivered a failing grade to the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in suburban Jacksonville for the second year in a row. It designated the charter school for kindergarten through fifth grade as the worst public school in Clay County, and one of the lowest performing in the state.

Keep reading...Show less

Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Civil Rights Efforts Across Federal Government

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious.

Keep reading...Show less

DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She Faced Discrimination for Being White

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

Keep reading...Show less

Big Pharma Recruiting Professors to Justify $1,000-Per-Day Pills

Over the last three years, pharmaceutical companies have mounted a public relations blitz to tout new cures for the hepatitis C virus and persuade insurers, including government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, to cover the costs. That isn't an easy sell, because the price of the treatments ranges from $40,000 to $94,000, or because the treatments take three months, as much as $1,000 per day.

Keep reading...Show less

Is New Jersey's Troubled Student Loan Agency Bribing Students for Good Reviews?

Over the past few years, dozens of borrowers have written devastating reviews of the New Jersey state agency whose student loans, as we have detailed, have strikingly onerous terms.

Keep reading...Show less

New Jersey Legislators Move to Reform Aggressive Student Loan Program

New Jersey lawmakers have announced a series of measures addressing student debt issues this week, including one bill aimed at reforming the state’s controversial student loan program.

Keep reading...Show less

Education Department Recommends Axing Accreditor of For-profit Colleges

A much-criticized college accreditor that regulates hundreds of for-profit schools should have its oversight powers terminated, a U.S. Department of Education staff report has recommended.

Keep reading...Show less

Elizabeth Warren Slams For-Profit College Accreditor for ‘Appalling Record of Failure’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a report on Friday slamming an accreditor of for-profit colleges for its "appalling record of failure."

Keep reading...Show less

Attorneys General Come Down on Accreditor of For-Profit Colleges

Twelve state attorneys general have asked the federal Department of Education to revoke the recognition of the much-criticized Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

Keep reading...Show less

Department of Education Report Calls on Colleges to Step Up Support for Poor Students

Colleges should be doing more to recruit low-income students and to support them as they work to finish their degrees, says a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Keep reading...Show less

Exposing a For-Profit College's Cynical Project to Make Money From Kids With Low Self-Esteem

Perhaps you remember Corinthian Colleges. It was the country's second largest chain of for-profit colleges, before it collapsed into bankruptcy last year amid evidence of phony marketing and predatory loans.

Keep reading...Show less

Department of Education Demands Greater Accountability from College Accreditors

The U.S. Department of Education announced new transparency measures for college accreditors [last week], encouraging the organizations to focus more on student outcomes such as graduation rates.

Keep reading...Show less

New Data Reveals Stark Gaps in Graduation Rates Between Poor and Wealthy Students

A new report released last week provides a detailed look at the graduation rates of low-income college students. At many colleges, low-income students graduate at much lower rates than their high-income peers.

Keep reading...Show less

Colleges Flush With Cash Saddle Poorest Students With Debt

New York University is among the country’s wealthiest schools. Backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, the school has built campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, invested billionsin SoHo real estate, and given its star faculty loans to buy summer homes

Keep reading...Show less

New York City Introduces New Restrictions on Suspending and Restraining Kids in City Schools

New York City educators will face new restrictions on handcuffing students or suspending them from school, as part of regulations proposed earlier this month by the city’s education department. If the proposals are adopted as expected, schools will also have to begin tracking the number of times students are tied down or otherwise restrained.

Keep reading...Show less

One Connecticut Public School Student Was Restrained Over 700 Times in One Year

Connecticut public schools are far too quick to restrain or isolate unruly children against their will, leaving hundreds with injuries and many others with unmet educational needs, a state report released last week found.

Keep reading...Show less

NYC Sends $30M a Year to School With History of Giving Kids Electric Shocks

The Judge Rotenberg Center, a Boston-area school for kids with severe developmental disabilities and behavior disorders, has earned national notoriety for a long record of brutal techniques to keep children in line.

Keep reading...Show less

How Are Public Schools Getting Away With Violently Restraining Students?

In March 2012, police responded to a call from a Brooklyn public school about a five-year-old autistic boy who was having a tantrum. Officers held down the kindergartener, who was then tied to a stretcher and transported to a hospital. The little boy's mother had been called to the school and witnessed the episode. "He was crying and screaming," she said. "They strapped him to that stretcher."

Keep reading...Show less
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by