School Closure Concerns Matter for Election Polls

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge sympathized with parents that link city school closures with discrimination, but ruled that election polls, not the courts, are the venue for their frustration.
     A group of parents whose children were displaced when the city closed their schools for underperformance sued the D.C. Chancellor of Public Schools Kaya Henderson, claiming that the closures smack of discrimination because of the disparate impact they have on poor and minority children, and that charter schools and teacher performance pay ultimately harm black students.
     “The core problem here is that the parents’ fight is one for the ballot box – not the courts,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in his ruling. “Although plaintiffs dislike charter schools, performance pay, and the increasing number of D.C. school closures, there is simply no real evidence that these policies are discriminatory. As a result, federal courts have no authority to intervene in these sensitive policy choices, and judges should not be the ones to render the final verdict on charter schools, school turnarounds, and teacher evaluations.”
     The judge added: “Instead, those decisions must be made by the policymakers and experts who have, for better or worse, always controlled public education.”
     The parents sued the city in 2013, seeking a preliminary injunction after then-public school chancellor Michelle Rhee instituted a bevy of school reforms, closing 23 under-enrolled neighborhood schools as the proportion of students in charter schools shot up to 40 percent.
     “When she left office after [Mayor Adrian] Fenty’s defeat in the polls, she was considered a scourge of D.C. public education by some and a hero by many others,” the judge states of Rhee.
     Henderson, her former deputy and the current chancellor, continued with Rhee’s agenda, instituting rigorous teacher evaluations and performance bonuses. She also cooperated with charter schools.
     According to the ruling, Henderson closed down more schools, all existing in poor, minority neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park.
     “In [D.C. public schools] as a whole, according to plaintiffs’ expert, 69 percent of students are black; 16 percent are Hispanic; 4 percent are Asian, other or unknown; and 11 percent are white,” the judge states. “In the closed schools, by contract, 93 percent of students were black; 6.6 percent were Hispanic; and few than .2 percent (six students) were white.”
     The parents argued that those numbers show a clear discrepancy, but Judge Boasberg ruled that the court doesn’t have the authority to affect change.
     “Whether charter schools, performance pay, and school turnarounds are worthwhile policy tools is a question for school superintendents and state legislatures. There is no governable legal standard for assessing the promise of those reforms. Careers in the education sector will likely be launched and shattered on the success or failure of those movements,” states the judge in the ruling. “It is not for the courts to say whether, in the faraway future, researchers will finally concur on whether these initiatives succeeded or failed. Instead, the only question for the Court to address is whether these reforms are illegal – in other words, are they inherently discriminatory or discriminatory as applied to plaintiffs’ children? Answering that question, as it turns out, is a tough hill for plaintiffs to climb.”
     Ruling that “nothing in the record points to discrimination based on race or residence,” the judge granted the city’s motion to dismiss.

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