Monday, April 05, 2010

Equity Red Herrings


Education Trust has released another BIG statement about an issue that I would argue is a minor distraction – at best. At worst, this issue becomes a major policy distraction, diverting attention from far more significant equity concerns.

Education Trust’s summary bullet points for their new report are as follows:

  • Federal law permits hidden funding gaps to persist between high-poverty schools and more affluent counterparts within the same district.
  • These gaps occur partly because teachers in wealthier schools tend to earn more than their peers in high-poverty schools and because of pressure to “equalize” other resources across schools.
  • By closing loopholes in the comparability provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress could promote funding equity within school district budgets.

    The report is grounded in this premise:

    Many states have made progress in closing the funding gaps between affluent school districts and those serving the highest concentrations of low-income children. But a hidden funding gap between high-poverty and low-poverty schools persists between schools within the same district. District budgeting policies frequently favor schools with the fewest low-income students. This undercuts the aim of Title I and robs poor children of funds intended to help them.

    The layers of problems with this premise and Education Trust’s major conclusions are downright baffling. I am not suggesting that we should not be concerned with inequities that might occur between schools within districts, inappropriately as a function of district budgeting practices or teacher assignment practices. These are a concern. They are just not the major equity concern du jour. And further, while Title I funding might be leveraged better to correct this concern, the role of Title I funding in improving equity overall across states is minimal.

    Read the whole thing. Also, beyond all the above problems, I have trouble imagining how this would be implemented in the real world of politics. Are you really going to move the best teachers out of high income neighborhood schools and into low-income, low-performing schools? Would the author's of the study be ok doing that with the teachers in the school their child attends?


    Tyson said...

    I agree that inter-district inequities is really the greater issue. And transferring teachers would definitely be difficult to implement. But another option would be to hire more teachers in the low-income schools to lower class size.

    Tyson said...

    Also, on a somewhat related note:

    Anonymous said...

    In New York City the mayor used this sort of argument to implement "Fair Student Funding" where each school would be budgeted $X based on a formula involving # of students plus some extra factors, and then the principals would "spend" this paper money how they saw fit...

    For the first time ever, principals would need to look at teachers' actual salaries (and have reason to discriminate against senior teachers when comparing potential transfers).

    Note: This has not resulted, forgive the mayor this lie, not his only one, not his worst, has not resulted in struggling schools getting a better proportion of senior teachers. Exactly as one may have expected, this has created a pool of teachers who need to transfer (their school closed or reorganized) who no principal will pick up (financial penalty).


    Tom Hoffman said...


    It will be interesting to see how the new Hanushek study you link to will be spun. Certainly one interpretation is that the quality of teachers in low-achieving schools might not be as low as reformers think.

    Certainly that's my observation from Providence.

    And it is another level in which the whole teacher-quality approach seems doomed. Not only is it politically and practically difficult to move teachers out of high-performing schools, but once they get in a low-performing school you'll probably find that most of them aren't as great as they seemed to be, or are just not well suited to a more difficult population.

    Then what do you do?

    John Thompson said...

    The best solution would be to improve the learning culture of the toughest schools so that discipline problems don't burn out and drive away so many teachers. So, why not shift expenditures to fund interventions and alternative schedules and alternative schools?

    The worst approach would be to replace collective bargaining with top down dictates that try to move around teachers like chess pieces.

    Tom Hoffman said...

    Well, the best solution would be to reduce poverty to the level of other developed countries. The second best solution would be to make sure that no school has an excessive burden of difficult to educate students.