Education Week - March 30, 2016 - (Page 8)

N.C. Law Restricts Transgender Student Restroom Access Legal conflicts with federal law may arise By Evie Blad North Carolina last week became the first state to set restrictions on the restrooms and locker rooms that transgender students use at public schools after lawmakers included those policies in a bill that passed in a whirlwind one-day special session. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory acted swiftly to sign the measure-over the protests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups-setting the stage for potential legal conflicts between the state's schools and the U.S. Department of Education, which has said that public schools are required to honor transgender students' gender identity under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The legislation drew greater national attention for its other provisions, which nullify a local anti-discrimination ordinance set to go into effect in Charlotte, ban such measures in other cities, and require operators of all public buildings to use a person's biological sex-defined as the sex indicated on their birth certificate-to determine which singlesex restrooms they can access. The bill passed the state Senate 32-0 after Democrats walked out in protest. Earlier, it passed the House 82-26. Privacy Concerns In a statement that focused largely on the Charlotte ordinance, which was intended to protect LGBT residents from discrimination, including discrimination in which public restrooms they are allowed to use, McCrory said such policies violate the "basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room." Lawmakers who spoke in favor of the bill said the definition of biological sex is less ambiguous than that of gender identity, and that men with bad intentions might pose as transgender women to gain access to girls' restrooms if access isn't limited by biological sex. But parents, community leaders, and a transgender student told lawmakers the provision in the bill that requires school boards to adopt policies limiting access to facilities would only further stigmatize transgender students, who already struggle with high rates of dropping out of school, suicide, and depression. And the North Carolina ACLU quickly vowed to challenge the measure. Sky Thomson, a 15-year-old transgender boy, told lawmakers that forbidding him and his peers from using the boys' restroom "gives bullies all the more reason to pick on us." "Imagine yourself in my place: being a boy, walking into the ladies' room," he said. "It's awkward, embarrassing, and even dangerous." Thomson's mother, Deborah Thomson, said that some transgender students avoid drinking water to reduce their need to use the restroom. "On a practical level, telling schools that my son can't use the appropriate bathroom means that my son's education DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > Tracking news and ideas in educational technology Group Probes Ed-Tech Pricing, Buying By Sean Cavanagh A new nonprofit organization has set out to help school districts compare the prices they pay for education technology and examine the fairness and logic of their procurement practices and contracts with vendors. That organization, the Technology for Education Consortium, has come out of the gate swinging-having released data that questions the prices that Apple is charging districts for a popular model of iPads. The consortium says its research, based on surveys of 40 districts, shows that the prices those systems paid for iPads with the same features and design ranged from $367 to $499. That gap can't be explained by the volume of the purchases or related factors, the organization argues. Filling a Void The consortium's evaluation of iPads is the first it has conducted and released publicly. It chose a big venue to unveil its data: the South by Southwest Education conference, an annual event held in Austin, Texas, earlier this month that drew digital providers and educators from around the country. Apple, a giant Silicon Valley tech manufacturer with a major presence in schools, responded to the consortium's data by saying that without having more details on the prices paid by specific districts, it couldn't know if the cost figures are accurate, or skewed by unknown factors. The consortium will soon produce other evaluations of ed-tech pricing, including one focused on what dis- tricts are paying for Chromebooks, said Hal Friedlander, the consortium's CEO and co-founder. Friedlander knows something about the pressures districts face in buying technology. He used to serve as chief information officer for the New York City schools. Harold Levy, a former chancellor with the school system, is board chairman of the consortium, which has received initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Every year American K-12 schools spend billions of dollars on education technology," the organization says on its website. "Until now, they didn't have the tools to know if that money was being spent effectively." The consortium intends to fill that void by collecting data from individual districts about their ed-tech purchases and sharing it with members. The value of the consortium will depend partly on its ability to collect and share information among a large enough stable of districts to make its conclusions about various K-12 ed-tech products and policies both relevant and accurate, said Steven Ross, a professor of educational research at Johns Hopkins University. "The fewer that are involved, the more bias there would be," Ross suggested. But given the pressures district administrators face, and the lack of objective data they have to make big buying decisions, Ross said the goals of the consortium are appealing. Right now, "people don't have information," Ross said. "I don't see where it hurts having more of it available." The organization, which launched 8 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 30, 2016 | earlier this year, focused initially on the price districts are being charged for Apple iPad Airs. In an effort to compare the same devices across districts, the consortium said it focused on iPad Airs with 16 gigabytes and the same standard manufacturer's warranty. The group says it found that the price for the same iPads varied in different districts from about $370 to nearly $500 per unit. The data " Until now, [K-12 schools] didn't have the tools to know if [ed-tech] money was being spent effectively." TECHNOLOGY FOR EDUCATION CONSORTIUM showed that the prices did not follow any pattern consistent with the size of the 40 districts, which included some of the nation's largest, and relatively small systems, such as one with less than 8,000 students. The price was also not connected to volume, or the numbers of units bought by those individual systems, Friedlander said. The consortium released its data in aggregate, and did not reveal the names of the individual districts, or what each of them paid. Friedlander said the organization's rationale is will be compromised," she said. The new law allows students to use single-occupancy restrooms, but LGBT student advocates have said such accommodations are stigmatizing and amount to unequal treatment. Uncharted Territory North Carolina's law takes its schools into uncharted territory. Although other states have introduced bills that would limit facilities access in schools, North Carolina's is the first that has been signed into law. Tennessee's legislature is currently considering such a bill. South Dakota lawmakers recently passed similar restrictions, but Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed that bill, saying it interfered with local control and did not "address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota." Sponsors of the South Dakota measure said they drafted it in response to "federal overreach." The federal Education Department has asserted in court and in civil rights guidance to schools in recent that it did not want to embarrass school systems saddled with heftier costs than others, but rather to provide them with useful comparisons. But as a service to the districts, the consortium will provide them with national and regional pricing data. It also expects to share pricing data between administrators in comparable K-12 systems, with their consent, Friedlander said. Apple officials, in a statement to Education Week, would not comment in detail on the consortium's findings, saying the data were not specific enough for them to judge individual districts' prices or what factors may have shaped those costs. But the company argued that a number of factors could potentially alter the results. One of which is that the price Apple charges for iPads- as with many products in the market-tends to be highest when products are initially released, then falls after that. It was not clear from the consortium's data at what point individual K-12 systems bought the iPads, and what prices they paid, Apple said in its statement. In addition, Apple officials also said that even if districts evaluated by the consortium were using the same devices, it was possible that the company negotiated to provide those individual K-12 systems with other products attached to the devices, such as software or professional development. That could have affected the cost, the company said. The company forwarded a previous statement from its CEO, Tim Cook, in which he spoke of the company's desire to "create products that are a whole solution for people-that allow kids to create and engage on a different level." Friedlander was skeptical of Apple's explanations. He said the consortium's data do not show any pattern of districts paying less if they bought the iPads at a later time. years that Title IX's protections for sex also extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. In November, the department's office for civil rights found an Illinois district in violation of the law because it would not grant a transgender girl unrestricted access to the girls' locker room. Under threat of penalties, including a possible loss of federal funding, the district hung privacy curtains in the locker room and agreed to allow the student to use it. School law experts say the department's interpretation of Title IX isn't legally binding. A federal judge in Virginia rejected the interpretation last year in a transgender student's lawsuit, and a review of that decision is pending before an appeals court. "The department is committed to protecting the rights of transgender students under Title IX, and will continue to work diligently to ensure that all students receive equal access to educational opportunities in accordance with federal law," Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said in a statement. He also was not convinced that other features or services were attached to districts' iPad purchases in ways that would have raised the devices' costs. Those additional features and services would likely have been broken out by the districts, and noted by the consortium's researchers, he said. Eliminating Silos The consortium hopes that administrators from districts participating in the study will share information with each other. Some districts could use the data to negotiate better deals with vendors on their own. Or districts could use the information to band together and make cooperative purchases, Friedlander said. When he was a school administrator, Friedlander said he would often speak with other chief information officers around the country, "all having the same frustrations." He hopes his organization will ensure that more of those discussions take place. For most chief information officers, "there are a lot of fires to put out every day," he said, and many administrators "operate in silos." Ross agreed, noting that K-12 officials buying ed-tech are often forced to make decisions about buying technology that is constantly evolving-often faster than academic researchers studying it can keep up-and as state and local academic standards shift. Partly as a result, district officials rely on word-of-mouth recommendations about ed tech from other K-12 system administrators. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though efforts like the consortium's project could bring valuable structure to the peerto-peer information sharing, he said. "School district administrators are really overburdened these days," said Ross, and they need information about ed-tech quickly: "They don't have the luxury of being researchers."

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 30, 2016

Education Week - March 30, 2016
State Boards Feel New Need To Flex Muscles
Distress Call Issued On K-12 Facilities
Can ‘Micro-Credentialing’ Salvage Teacher PD?
Sanders Gets Educators’ Attention Despite Limited Specifics on K-12
Table of Contents
DAVID GAMBERG: What Makes a School?
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting To Dissipate?
ACT’s New 10th Grade Test Provides Competition for PSAT
N.C. Law Restricts Transgender Student Restroom Access
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Group Probes Ed-Tech Pricing, Buying
Home Schooling Gains Popularity With Military Families
Blogs of the Week
‘Teach to Lead’ Projects Face Uphill Climb at State Level
Hearing Weighs Student-Data Privacy Concerns
High Court Weighing Birth-Control Mandate
ESSA Rule Negotiators Grapple With Issues of Flexibility, Equity
ROBERT EVANS: Principals, Get Your Irish On
PATRICK O’CONNOR: Why Good Teachers Don’t Have to ‘Like’ Teaching
JONATHAN ECKERT: Finding Joy in Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace

Education Week - March 30, 2016