Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is The American Prospect's senior writing fellow. 

Recent Articles

Q&A: The Economic Consequences of Denying Teachers Tenure

A California court recently reversed a decision that would have weakened teacher employment protections. Economist Jesse Rothstein discusses the tradeoffs between job security and attracting new teachers.

(Photo: AP/Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight)
(Photo: AP/Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight) Third grade teacher Lynn Haskins talks to students at a school in Shingletown, California, on May 25, 2016. P olitical and legal battles surrounding teacher tenure and seniority have been raging in California over the past couple of years. In 2014, in Vergara v. California , a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that a variety of teacher job protections worked together to violate students’ constitutional right to an equal education. This past spring, in a 3–0 decision, the California Court of Appeals threw this ruling out. The American Prospect ’s Rachel Cohen interviewed Jesse Rothstein, the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and a current public policy and economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who testified during the Vergara trials in defense of California’s teacher tenure and seniority statutes. This conversation has been edited and condensed. Rachel Cohen: Your research suggests...

Q&A: The Education Stakes in Election 2016

A conversation with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on what 2016 means for K-12 education.  

AP Photo/J. David Ake
AP Photo/J. David Ake, File National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Last October, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, gave Hillary Clinton one of her earliest organized labor endorsements. Since then, the powerful group has been one of Clinton’s most vocal supporters. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have spent much time discussing public K-12 education issues during the primary season. But recently, elementary and secondary education topics have attracted more attention. Clinton began articulating her education policy ideas at union conventions this month and Republican leaders championed school choice at their national convention last week. The American Prospect’s Rachel Cohen sat down in Philadelphia with Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the three million-member NEA , to discuss the upcoming election, and what’s at stake for teachers and students. What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of that...

Education Reform Democrats Look Ahead to Life After Obama

School choice activists met at a Democratic National Convention forum to discuss the party’s education stances, but unions were conspicuously absent from discussion.

(Photo: Sipa USA via AP)
(Photo: Sipa USA via AP) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the annual conference of the National Education Association on July 5, 2016, in Washington, D.C. L ately on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has been talking about how she wants to end the “so-called education wars.” The Democratic presidential nominee wants to see the factionalism among education groups end and instead see new coalitions form to advance policies on which all can agree. Clinton took this message on the road to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers conferences earlier this month, and her campaign proffered another education olive branch to the Democrats for Education Reform on Monday in downtown Philadelphia. Virtually every speaker lauded President Obama’s education legacy, highlighting his support for charter schools and test-based accountability at the organization’s day-long Democratic National Convention forum. Shavar Jeffries, the president...

Indiana Court Overturns Purvi Patel’s Feticide Conviction

The Indiana Court of Appeals last week overturned the 20-year prison sentence for Purvi Patel, the first woman in the United States to be convicted under a feticide law for having an abortion. The 3-0 decision marks a victory for reproductive rights advocates, who argued that using feticide laws to convict women who end their pregnancies sets a dangerous precedent for abortion rights and criminalizing the procedure.

Legal experts warned that if the conviction were upheld pregnant women would be prosecuted for all sorts of things—from self-inducing an abortion to smoking cigarettes, or even slipping down the stairs. Feticide laws are on the books in 38 states, and were originally passed to protect pregnant women who were victims of domestic violence.

Indiana strengthened its feticide law in 2009, after a pregnant Indianapolis bank teller was shot during a bank robbery, and lost the twin girls she was carrying. In the appeals decision, the judges wrote, “We hold that the legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions.” They called Patel’s conviction under a feticide statute “an abrupt departure” from earlier cases.

However, while Patel’s Class A felony charge was vacated, the judges did not drop the second charge in the case. She is still left with a neglect conviction—a felony offense—though the court said it should be reduced from a Class A neglect charge to a Class D one. The minimum sentence for a Class D neglect felony is six months, and the maximum is three years. Patel has already been sitting in jail for more than a year.

Attorneys for both sides continue to review the decision; neither has indicated whether they planned to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

Kate Jack, an Indiana-based attorney who has provided legal advice to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Indianapolis Star that while the issue is not entirely closed, she does think the decision “will really give pause” to anyone considering bringing future feticide charges against pregnant women.

The decision comes on the heels of the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Reproductive rights groups have already been organizing against Trump’s incendiary rhetoric around women and abortion rights, and the selection of Pence as his vice president has only angered advocates further.

Aside from being the chief executive of the only state to convict a woman who ended a pregnancy under a feticide statute, Pence has also achieved notoriety for supporting other reproductive health-care limitations. While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives he backed an unsuccessful 2011 federal effort to defund Planned Parenthood. When Pence became governor of Indiana in 2013, he continued to attack the organization. By 2014, state funding for Planned Parenthood had been reduced by nearly half of its 2005 funding levels: Nearly a decade of cuts forced the closure of five clinics.

In March, Pence went even further, signing an omnibus bill that included some of the strictest abortion measures in the country, including a ban on women who wish to end their pregnancy if their fetus has genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. The law also called for prosecuting doctors who provided abortion services to women suspected of wanting to terminate a pregnancy based on genetic problems. A federal judge blocked this law from taking effect last month, saying it was likely unconstitutional.

While reproductive rights groups say they are heartened that the court reversed Patel’s feticide conviction, they disagree with the judges’ decision not to drop the neglect conviction. Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, issued a statement saying that the court’s new decision does not go far enough to restore full justice. By allowing the prosecutors’ argument that Patel could have prevented the death of her child to stand, Hernandez says, the judges have rejected “both medical science and compassion for a woman who needed medical care, not to be sent to prison.” She argued that ultimately people of color will “bear the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced moral outrage.”

Patel remains in prison for now, and advocates are continuing to call for her release. Reproaction, a group focused on abortion access and reproductive justice, released a statement calling upon Mike Pence “to be pro-life for real and release her immediately.” They add that the state of Indiana “owes Purvi Patel a profound apology.”

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