Author Archives: Hailly Korman

Story-driven Education Reform — That Doesn’t Burden the Storyteller

“I don’t talk to many people about this,” she started. “But if you’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, then I want to tell you.” And then this young woman, a student we met through our work on education fragmentation, told us the story of how her stepfather sexually abused her and how her mother pulled her out of school after she reported it to a teacher. Erica (a pseudonym I’m using to protect her privacy) didn’t go back to school until six months later, once she’d moved cities to live with another family member. As far as she knew, her previous school never asked any questions — no one ever called the house or came looking for her.

This student was one of more than a dozen who we spoke to in schools across the country that shared their experiences of major disruptive life events that changed their education trajectories. Erica’s story in particular has stuck with me and makes me wonder: How we can help education systems better meet the needs of students for whom education may be the only consistent through-line in an otherwise chaotic time?

I believe that one of the first steps is to share stories like Erica’s. Many times, the people working to improve systems fragmentation for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways are themselves removed from the direct impact of this work. Stories help practitioners know why this work matters and better understand the consequences of getting it wrong.

While empathy is a powerful tool for change and is, perhaps, a fundamental precondition for it, how do we account for the cost of sharing a personal story to the storyteller?  Continue reading

Media: “High-quality education behind bars can reduce recidivism” in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

I have an opinion piece out today in the print and online editions of Hawaii’s paper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (note that the online version is behind a paywall). Hawaii senator Brian Schatz is the author of a bill that would expand Pell Grant access for people in prison. I argue that more access is essential, but that more without better isn’t enough:

The research is clear that education during incarceration reduces recidivism and improves outcomes. These programs save money and make everyone safer. Having more and better programs should be a no-brainer. But since there are so many types of programs, and the people who participate in these programs didn’t get to choose their college, it’s essential that we also think about quality and equity: Is everyone getting access to a high-quality program that meets their needs?

Read the full op-ed here. And check out some of our other work on education opportunity and quality behind bars.

Media: “Everyone’s job but no one’s responsibility” in The Hechinger Report

Some of our country’s most vulnerable students get too little from too many people. Read more from me and Kelly Robson over at The Hechinger Report:

Approximately five million students who are served by public care agencies have multiple official adults in their lives — judges, lawyers, therapists, volunteers, teachers, counselors, case managers, social workers and more — people paid to support them when they experience significant life circumstances like homelessness, foster care or incarceration.

That five million does not include those students who experience instability resulting from uncounted experiences like evictions, parental arrests, prolonged family medical crises, migrant work and other major life disruptions. These are generally not students who are “falling through the cracks” and being served by no one. Quite the opposite — they are instead being served by everyone.

Bellwether is currently partnering with California’s El Dorado County to address education fragmentation. Our Hechinger piece is a great story about the folks we’ve been working with and the impact this work can have. For more context, check out our recent report: “Continuity Counts: Coordinated Education Systems for Students in Transition.”

Media: “Long Live Unions, Unions Are Dead” in The Hill

More than 30,000 teachers are still striking in Los Angeles, so clearly the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. ASFCME didn’t kill the unions yet. Will it ever? Maybe someday — and maybe soon.

I wrote about the unions’ legal road ahead for The Hill last month:

Janus has teed up a challenge to how employees become members of a union in the first place — and if that challenge is successful, its effects will be seismic. On its face, the question is straightforward: If non-members now have to opt in to paying agency fees, then why don’t employees have to opt in to joining the union in the first place?

I don’t have a prediction for how this strike will resolve, but it’s unlikely to have any effect on the long-term prognosis for the unions.

There Are No Schools In New Carolina

In the imaginary state of New Carolina, there are no public schools. The citizens and the state legislature have decided that general public education is not a worthwhile use of limited resources, so they’d rather not be bothered with it. Anyone who wants to go to school has to go to a private school or get a tutor. The state will have to pass up any federal education dollars, but that’s okay: there aren’t any schools to fund with it so it’s a wash anyway.

Under the United States Constitution, New Carolina isn’t doing anything wrong.

The Constitution is the articulation of our country’s fundamental rights and the basis upon which we hammer out the contours of those rights by litigating individual cases in federal courts. In these cases, the role of the courts is to interpret the language of the Constitution: What exactly is included in the right to vote? When do you have a right to a jury trial? What’s covered by a right to privacy? States are free to add protections in their own constitutions, they just cannot sink below the minimum guaranteed in the federal constitution.

A 1972 school finance case, San Antonio v. Rodriguez, established that there is no federally protected fundamental right to education in the United States. Rodriguez has been challenged over and over again, but it’s a durable Supreme Court precedent.

Two cases, one in Michigan and one in Rhode Island, have taken up unique but related arguments in favor of recognizing a fundamental federal right to education.  The first, in Michigan, argues that while there may not be a right to education, there ought to be a right to basic literacy. In Rhode Island, the lawsuit argues that the federal courts should recognize a right to the minimum skills needed for basic civic participation. In both cases, the plaintiffs — students challenging the inadequacies of their states’ education programs — are aiming to get federal recognition of a baseline for what schools must provide. A win in a case like this would mean that New Carolina would have to find a way to provide all of its young people with some minimum standard of education, a standard that many existing school systems struggle to meet.

Both cases are moving through the federal courts, and it remains to be seen whether one (or both) will make it up to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In any case, both cases have the potential to radically alter the relationship between state and local school systems and the federal constitution.

It’s important to note that some real New Carolinas do, in fact, exist. There are a number of places in this country where some of our most vulnerable students are legally denied access to the education programs that they would otherwise be able to participate in: juvenile justice facilities and immigration detention. In some of these places, education programs are diluted versions of local schools. In many of them, “education” consists of a packet of worksheets or some online tutorials. And in others, there is simply no school at all.

If the plaintiffs in either Michigan or Rhode Island prevail, that may change.