George W. Bush promised he would change American education with the No Child Left Behind Act. There are certainly significant problems with a system geared toward "teaching the test," as national educators pointed out from the beginning. Betsy DeVos, the former school board member and national vouchers advocate, had her opportunity to usher in new changes to national education policy. As you can imagine, many of them were devastating to the communities who seek opportunity through education.
One of those moments came about with changes in disciplinary guidance offered to states in order to change outcomes for students. DeVos used her office to build policy based on questionable research. As a result of these changes removing restorative justice, discipline, and opportunity, disabled students and students of color suffered. The Biden administration is asking for some feedback about what to do about these DeVos changes. The answer is simple: They have to go.
In making decisions about how to handle in-school discipline, DeVos turned to John Paul Wright, a professor at the University of Cincinnati. From US News:
"Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship," he wrote in 2017. "When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race."
Wright is credited with reigniting interest in using genetics and biology to explain criminal behavior and has written at length about the pushback he gets for it.
"Those who pursue this line of research get branded as racists or even eugenicists," Wright wrote. "We have personally experienced hostile receptions when presenting our work in these areas at professional conferences and have been excoriated in the anonymous-review process when attempting to publish our papers."
Wright starts with an interesting point: Students who come from disadvantaged homes are more likely to have issues, but he fails to address in any way whether or not interference by the school could help mitigate those problems or worsen them. Moreso, when it comes to issues had by disabled students, Wright makes no real assessment at all. In sweeping changes, though, DeVos just moved ahead on policy changes and pushed them out nationally.
From Disability Scoop:
The most recent federal data — from the 2017-2018 school year — indicates that students with disabilities accounted for a quarter of those who were suspended and 15% of expulsions even though they represent just 13% of all students.
Similarly, 38% of students who were suspended were Black though they account for only 15% of enrollment across the country.
The impact of these changes will be far-reaching, with students pulled away from educational opportunities, and disabled students given less of a chance to succeed. The part Betsy didn't want you to know is contained in this paragraph in American Progress:
Many of the state voucher programs, particularly those that target students with disabilities, require parents or guardians to sign away their rights under the IDEA and 504, and sometimes the ADA. Other states are silent on whether participating private schools have to meet federal requirements.26 Under the Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities in Arkansas, for example, parents must "sign waivers that release the State of Arkansas and the student's resident school district from any legal obligation to provide services or education to the student participating in the Program" and "sign an acknowledgement that, by enrolling a child in a private school, the parent/guardian, acting on behalf of the child, waives the procedural safeguards granted by the IDEA."27 In Georgia's Special Needs Scholarship Program, accepting a voucher has the same legal effect as refusing special education services.28
Now, the Biden administration is asking for your feedback. DeVos took away 72 guidelines for schools. There is an opportunity here for us to make positive changes nationally. Prepared to submit a formal comment and bring back some sanity back to public schools? Leaving the Trump administration's damaging policies behind is a great place to start.
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