Friday, November 13, 2015

Black Minds Matter

The Education Trust's new report, Black Minds Matter, argues that "though it is abundantly clear that Black children can achieve at the highest levels, most of the data paint a dire portrait of an education system — preschool through college — that systematically squanders Black talent."  It frames that argument around basic data points.  Just to list a few:

  • African American children are "less like to have access to high quality preschool and early learning opportunities. The result? Achievement gaps begin early, even before children reach school age."
  • "[I]nstead of organizing our K-12 school systems to ameliorate [the fact that African American children often start kindergarten behind], these children get less in school too."  They attend the most challenging educational environments.  
  • African Americans attend schools that are predominantly poor and predominantly minority.  
  • African Americans are twice as likely to feel unsafe at school and three times as likely to be suspended.
  • African Americans are far less likely to be enrolled in rigorous courses.

The report then offers a series of recommendations.

  • Offering and ensuring academic relevance, rigor, and supports
  • Ensuring equitable access to effective educators
  • Extending learning time
  • Improving school climate and fixing school discipline
  • Providing a broad range of health, wellness, and socio-emotional supports.

November 13, 2015 in Discipline, Equity in education, Pre-K Education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Segregation, Ability Grouping and the Challenges of Fairness

Yesterday, Bill Garfinkel, in response to my post on a new segregation study and my reference to ability grouping raised the question  of whether we hurt our strongest students and society overall by not offering some form of ability group that offers them the most challenging work they can do. And if so, how do can we deal with this issue in a way that is fair to all?  His question is sufficiently important and complicated that it warrants a full explanation.

At the highest level of abstraction, ability grouping is not per se bad or good.  It comes in many different forms, good and bad.  Thus, the issue may be more one of implementation and form than ability grouping versus non-ability grouping.  As to form, ability group can start at various different stages in school.  Some elementary schools begin informally grouping students within classrooms and labeling them as rabbits, turtles, etc. as early as kindergarten.  Grouping students, even if only within classrooms, is problematic at this very early stages, for reasons further suggested below.  

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October 21, 2015 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Teacher-Student Relationships and the Achievement Gap

A fascinating new study by Hunter Gehlbach, et al, Creating Birds of Similar Feathers: Leveraging Similarity to Improve Teacher-Student Relationships and Academic Achievement, finds that a significant portion of the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and others relates to how closely students and teachers relate to one another.  The study also finds that administering surveys to teachers and students and using the results to help them focus on their common responses and interests significantly reduced the achievement gap--by as much as 60%.  Although the researchers did not study it, I would speculate that relationship gaps also correlate with negative school discipline responses, which, of course, drive down achievement.  If so, this survey intervention might also have a positive impact on reducing harsh discipline responses.   The abstract offers this summary:

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October 19, 2015 in Discipline, Equity in education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New Study Says Education Reform in New Orleans May Have Served Whites' Interests, But Not African Americans'

Adrienne Dixson (University of Illinois), Kristen Buras (Georgia St.), and Elizabeth K. Jeffers (Georgia St.) have released their new paper, The Color of Reform: Race, Education Reform, and Charter Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 21 (3) Qualitative Inquiry (2015).  They argue that

By most media accounts, education reform in post-Katrina New Orleans is a success. Test scores and graduation rates are up, and students once trapped in failing schools have their choice of charter schools throughout the city. But that's only what education reform looks like from the perspective of New Orleans' white minority -- the policymakers, school administrators and venture philanthropists orchestrating and profiting from these changes. . . 

From the perspectives of black students, parents and educators -- who have had no voice in the decision-making, and who have lost beloved neighborhood schools and jobs -- education reform in New Orleans has exacerbated economic and cultural inequities.

Get a summary of their research here and the full article here.

May 5, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Equity in education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Office for Civil Rights Releases Report to Congress: This Time It Is a Must Read

The Office for Civil Rights has released its 2013-2014 report to Congress and the President.  From my perspective, past reports have been dense and un-illuminating.  This current one strikes a very different approach.  First, it is very well written.  Second, it is very well framed and organized. Third, and maybe most important, it is incredibly informative.  Fourth, it is analytical.  Fifth, it is visually appealing.  Sixth, it implicitly suggests courses of action or concern.  Overall, it presents as a study in the state of civil rights and equity in our nation's schools, rather than a bureaucratic account of the beans counted in the past two years.  

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May 1, 2015 in Bullying and Harassment, Discipline, Discrimination, English Language Learners, Equity in education, Federal policy, Gender, Racial Integration and Diversity, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 16, 2015

African American Male Graduation Rate Falls in Comparison to Others

The Schott Foundation has released its 5th edition of the 50-State Report on Public Education and Black Males.  Explaining this focus, John Jackson remarks:

While all lives matter, we cannot ignore the fact that, as this reports once again reveals, Black male students were at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates in 35 of the 48 states and the District of Columbia where estimates could be projected for the 2012-2013 school year (Latino males are at the bottom in the other 13 states). This fact provides clear evidence of a systemic problem impacting Black males rather than a problem with Black males.  Simply stated, while most will say Black lives matter and are important, the four-year graduation results in this report indicate that most states and localities operate at best, and have created at worse, climates that often don’t foster healthy living and learning environments for Black males.

It is widely accepted in policy and administration that you measure what matters. Yet, as we highlight in this report, in most states and localities it is easier to find data on the incarceration rates of Black males than their high school graduation rates, or any other data that reinforces Black males’ positive attributes.

But he also adds:

although this report historically focuses on Black males (and state level data on Latino males), we highlight in each edition the systemic disparities that are identifiable by race, ethnicity or socio-economic status impact all.  

A summary of the findings indicates:

Black males graduated at the highest rates in Maine, Idaho, Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey — each with estimated graduation rates of over 75%. The majority of the states with the top ten highest Black male graduation rates have smaller than average Black male enrollment. New Jersey and Tennessee were the only two states with significant Black male enrollments to have over a 70% Black male graduation rate.

[S]ates with the lowest estimated graduation rate for Black males [include] Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Nebraska, the District of Columbia and Nevada, each at 55% or less.

With over a 25-percentage point gap respectively, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Nevada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have some of the largest gaps between the Black male graduation rate and the White male graduation rates. The majority of the states with the largest gaps are in the Midwest region of the country.

The the full report and supporting materials here.


February 16, 2015 in Equity in education, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 23, 2015

N.C. Judge Questions State's Redefinition of Student Progress in Long-Running Equity Suit

In 1997, North Carolina Supreme Court recognized a state constitutional right to "the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education" in a long-running education equity lawsuit, Leandro v. State, 346 N.C. 336, 354 (1997).  The job of monitoring the state's compliance with Leandro fell to N.C. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. Yesterday, Judge Manning questioned whether the state was trying to lessen its responsibility to meet Leandro’s guidelines by redefining student achievement. In March 2014, the North Carolina Board of Education expanded its definition of student readiness to include students who still needed substantial remedial help in the classroom as ready to advance to the next grade. In an earlier order, Judge Manning questioned whether the added level was “academic double speak” that indicated improved student outcomes on paper that were not actually occurring. Yesterday, Deputy State Superintendent for Public Instruction Rebecca Garland explained that the changed definition is in line with higher proficiency requirements and more challenging courses. Nevertheless, Judge Manning concluded the hearing by observing,  “The system is not on track” and “is not producing any substantive gains whatsoever.” Read more at here and here.

January 23, 2015 in Cases, Equity in education, K-12 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Duncan Authors Nice Op-Ed on School Funding, But Where Is the Action?

In an Op-Ed the Philadelphia Inquirer, Secretary Duncan weighed in on funding inequity in Pennsylvania and the nation in general.  He wrote, "until some glaring funding injustices are fixed, in Philadelphia and in many school systems around the country, we will never live up to our nation's aspirational promises of justice."  He cited heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education as the source of our problems.  The result, he said, is to make the quality of education dependent on geography, which disparately impacts the highest need, lowest-income students.  "The key to a fair funding formula is quite simple: Target aid to students who need it most, and adjust current levels of state aid to the districts that are already well supported," he wrote.

This is welcome commentary to school funding advocates and scholars.  It mimics what they have said for decades.  Duncan penned a similarly welcome Op-Ed on school segregation a year ago. Unfortunately, although there are exceptions, Duncan's activity on these issues has larger been confined to op-eds.  In the last year, the Department has issued helpful policy guidance on both issues, but that guidance only came after several years of charters, curriculum, and teacher reform. Those latter agendas might be useful, but none of them touch fundamental inequalities in regard to funding and race.  In other words, op-eds and stated intentions to begin tacking discrimination pale in comparison to what the Secretary has done in other areas.

One might excuse the Secretary on race (although I do not) because of the tight rope the Supreme Court requires him to walk, but the failure to address school funding inequity begs the question of what the Department's purpose is.  Title I of the ESEA--probably the most important piece of legislation the Department oversees--was designed as a remedy to resource inequity and segregation in the 1960s and 1970s.  Since then it has drifted far from its mission.  Scholars and advocates have documented its numerous flaws and proposed reasonable solutions.  Those solutions, nor anything approximating them, have been found in any of the Secretary's recommendations for reauthorizing Title I or his competitive grant programs.


December 16, 2014 in Equity in education, ESEA/NCLB, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Is Missing from the Five Big Ideas to Reform Education?

Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education.  The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product.  So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.

Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple.  Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable.  The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.

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December 2, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Can Education Be Reformed Without Equality?

On its face, the title of this post is rhetorical, but the authors of Badass Teachers Unite! would argue it is the key question dividing themselves and "reformers."  For those unfamiliar, Badass Teachers is a group--not quite as radical as their name might suggest-- that "is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning."  They charge that reformers are taking the position

that schools in depressed areas can be radically improved without doing anything to improve conditions in the neighborhoods they are located in, [which] flies in the face of the common sense of anyone who lives or works in such communities, so much so that it represents a form of collective madness! The idea that an entire urban school system (not a few favored schools) can be uplifted strictly through school-based reforms, such as eliminating teacher tenure or replacing public schools with charter schools, without changing any of the conditions driving people further into poverty is contrary to anyone’s lived experience and has in fact, never been accomplished anywhere in the world. Let me break down for you what the no excuses approach to school reform means in commonsense terms.

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September 3, 2014 in Equity in education, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sixty Major School Districts to Join President's "My Brother's Keeper" Initiative

Last week, the Obama administration announced an expansion of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative, which is aimed at improving educational and life opportunities for African American and Latino boys.  Sixty of the nation's largest school districts, which educate about 40 percent of the nation's low income African American and Latino boys, agreed to join the President's initiative.  They are committing to expand preschool education, expand positive interventions, increase the number of minority boys in advanced courses, reduce their suspension rates, and increase graduation rates.

More on the story here.

July 31, 2014 in Discipline, Equity in education, Federal policy, Pre-K Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The State of Education for African American Students

The Education Trust has released The State of Education for African American Students for 2014. It finds widespread opportunity gaps deprive African Americans of many of the school resources and experiences that contribute to academic success.  This gap causes African American students’ performance to continue to fall far behind that of white students. The issue manifests itself not only in the lack of courses and experiences available to African American students (fifteen percent of African American high school student attend schools that do not offer any AP courses in the math, English, science, or social studies), but also in the disproportionate way such opportunities are taken away. For instance, African American students are far more likely to be removed from the classroom for extended periods through suspension and expulsion. The report also notes variances across jurisdictions.  While “[n]o state is performing as well as it should be African American students . . . wide variations in performance across states show that what states do matters.” Even within states, the variations between different school districts can be drastic, with certain schools “educating African American students to high levels of achievement” and other districts falling short.

The report is not all bad news.  It acknowledges progress.   In the last twenty years, the number of

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July 10, 2014 in Equity in education, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Civil Rights Coalition Group Alleges that Privatization Trend Creating "School Deserts"

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 9.35.22 AMThe Advancement Project, which represents a coalition of education and civil rights groups, filed three civil rights complaints this week under Title VI alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey,  Chicago, and New Orleans. The complaints challenge the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color. The Advancement Project complaints were filed on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities). In a release about the filings, the Advancement Project stated:

  •  In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed during the last school year alone. These closures targeted African-American communities, with Black students accounting for only 43 percent of all Chicago students but making up 87 percent of the students affected by the closures.
  • With the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
  • Newark’s public schools have been under state control since 1995, with no local control or community accountability for nearly 20 years. As a result, Newark communities are powerless to stop New Jersey’s plan to close neighborhood schools – many of which are generational schools that fathers and grandmothers of current schoolchildren had attended years before.

Journey for Justice also released a companion report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Cribbed from its description: the report looks at "the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them."

The report is available here. See the announcement about the filings here

May 16, 2014 in Equity in education, News, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy

Joshua Weishart's new article, Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy, 66 Stan. L. Rev. 477 (2014), is now available on Westlaw.  For those interested in school finance and equal opportunity, it is a must read.  It is probably the most in-depth treatment of the theory behind school finance and educational opportunity published in the last one to two decades.  Professor Weishart focuses on what others have only hinted at: the reciprocal relationship between equality and adequacy.  As such, he proposes that our approach should be to deliver "adequately equal and equally adequate" educational opportunities (rather than just equal or adequate education).  His abstract is as follows:

A debate about whether all children are entitled to an “equal” or an “adequate” education has been waged at the forefront of school finance policy for decades. In an era of budget deficits and harsh cuts in public education, I submit that it is time to move on.

Equality of educational opportunity has been thought to require equal spending per pupil or spending adjusted to the needs of differently situated children. Adequacy has been understood to require a level of spending sufficient to satisfy some absolute, rather than relative, educational threshold. In practice, however, many courts interpreting their states' constitutional obligations have fused the equality and adequacy theories. Certain federal laws express principles of both doctrines. And gradually, more advocates and scholars have come to endorse hybrid equality-adequacy approaches. Still, the debate persists over seemingly intractable conceptual precepts and their political and legal ramifications.

Tracking the philosophical origins and evolution of equality and adequacy as legal doctrines, I explain the significance of their points of convergence and argue that the few points of divergence are untenable in practice. Equality of educational opportunity should not be interpreted as pursuing equal chances for educational achievement for all children, because that ideal is infeasible. Nor should educational adequacy be interpreted as completely indifferent to objectionable inequalities that can be feasibly curtailed. Properly conceived, equality and adequacy are not merely congruent but reciprocal. That is, children are owed an education that is adequately equal and equally adequate.


April 14, 2014 in Equity in education, Scholarship, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obama's 2015 Equity Initiative: Quality Teachers, Funding Fairness, School Climate, and Concentrated Poverty

Notwithstanding all the claims that the President's budget is dead on arrival, his new budget is important in the policies and values it is putting forward, particularly since this President has shown his ability to push his policies administratively, even when Congress does not act. The 2015 budget includes "a new initiative called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity), which would create incentives for states and school districts to drive comprehensive change in how states and districts identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps."  The initiative focuses on the equitable distribution of school funding, hiring quality teachers, and improving school climate.  Tagged on at the end is a new message from the President:  "identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty."  It is unclear whether the President intends to promote integration strategies, try to make separate equal, or both.  The President's own description of his plan states:

 Grantees would enhance their data systems to place a sharp focus on the districts, schools, and student groups with the greatest disparities in opportunity and performance, while also being able to identify the most effective interventions. They would develop thoughtful, comprehensive strategies for addressing these gaps, and use the data to continuously evaluate progress. Grantees would invest in strong teaching and school leadership, using funds to develop, attract, and retain more effective teachers and leaders in high-need schools, through strategies such as individualized professional learning and career ladder opportunities.

States would collect data on school-level expenditures, make that data transparent and easily accessible, and use it to improve the effectiveness of resources and support continuous program improvement. Participating districts would be required to ensure that their state and local funds are distributed fairly by implementing a more meaningful comparability standard based on this school-level expenditure data.

RTT-Opportunity funds also would be used, for example, to provide rigorous coursework; improve school climate and safety; strengthen students’ non-cognitive skills; develop and implement fair and appropriate school discipline policies; expand learning time, provide mental, physical, and social emotional supports; expand college and career counseling; and identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty.

March 5, 2014 in Equity in education, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education

Erika Wilson's new article, Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education, is forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review.  The article is aimed at addressing the longstanding problem of inequity and segregation across school district lines, which were sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley and San Antonio v. Rodriguez.  Wilson says the problems are further exacerbated by the "a strong ideological preference for localism" in state education laws that "do not require or even encourage collaboration between school districts in order to address disparities between neighboring school districts."  Thus, she calls for a reconsideration of "the wholesale commitment to localism in public education" and argues that, "in some instances, the dissemination of public education should be made on a regional basis rather than a local basis. [Her article] examines how enacting regionalism — a theoretical framework, which advocates for the installment of regional governance structures — might occur in public education. Borrowing from two specific theories of regionalism, equitable regionalism and federated regionalism, [her article] proposes a framework entitled 'Equitable Federated Regionalism' for disseminating public education on a regional basis."  

This new article builds on her prior work, Leveling Localism and Racial Inequality in Education Through the No Child Left Behind Act Public Choice Provision, 44 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 625 (2011).  Both works are insightful attempts to push us beyond old ways of thinking.  They are fit nicely with both positive and negative developments in a few localities.  Consider Omaha, Nebraska's cooperative school district zones, which suggests Wilson's proposals are more than feasible.  Or consider the current school transfer provision in Missouri that is wreaking havoc on both accredited and unaccredited school districts.  Wilson's proposals might offer a far more orderly means of dealing with the problems there.  The same is true of the problems that will follow the rise of parent triggers, school closures, and the like in other localities.  

February 18, 2014 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Progressive and Conservative Groups Align Around Equal Access to Teachers, While Dept. of Education Goes the Other Way

Cap CaptureThe Center for American Progress has released a new report, Giving Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers, that fits in well with much of the conversation coming from other outlets over the past week or two.  The report offers a summary of why access to excellent teachers is so important, emphasizing that:

Excellent teachers—those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress—produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students. On average, children with excellent teachers make approximately three times the progress of children who are taught by teachers in the bottom 20 percent to 25 percent. Students who start behind their peers need this level of growth consistently—not just in one out of four classes—to close persistent achievement gaps. Students in the middle of the academic-achievement continuum need it to exceed average growth rates and leap ahead to meet rising global standards.

The report is skeptical of current policies' approach to expanding access to excellent teachers. Current policies "focus intently . . . on boosting the number of excellent teachers in America’s schools" by "recruiting more high achievers into the teaching profession, creating incentives for better teachers to stay in teaching and teach less-advantaged children, and dismissing the least-effective teachers."  But the report concludes that these policies are insufficient in the short term to expand access for the majority of students who need it.  Thus, the report offers four proposals through which the federal government could expand access immediately:

1. Structure competitive grants to induce districts and states to shift to transformative school designs that reach more students with excellent teachers and the teams that these teachers lead. Incentivize innovation by awarding funds to districts and states with strong, sustainable plans to transform staffing models in ways that dramatically expand access to excellent teaching and make the teaching profession substantially more attractive.

2. Reorient existing formula grants to encourage transition to new classroom models that extend the reach of great teachers, both directly and through leading teaching teams. Dramatically improve student outcomes by putting excellent teachers in charge of the learning of all students in financially sustainable ways. By teaching more students directly and leading teams toward excellence, great teachers could take responsibility for all students, not just a fraction of them.

3. Create a focal point for federal research and development efforts. Spur rapid progress by gathering and disseminating evidence on policies and practices that extend the reach of excellent teachers, directly and through team leadership, and accelerate development of best-in-class digital tools.

4. Create and enforce a new civil right to excellent teachers, fueling all districts and states—not just the winners of competitive grants—to make the changes needed to reach all students with excellent teachers and their teams.

Notable in these recommendations is the alignment and misalignment with recent studies and developments.  The report's first recommendation is strikingly similar to the one growing out the Fordham Institute's recent study, Right Sizing Classrooms, that advocates expanding classroom enrollments for strong teachers and shrinking them for weaker ones.  For those who follow the politics of these organizations, the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress do not exactly see eye-to-eye.  That they seem to agree on this point is worth noting.

All four of the report's recommendations, and the fourth in particular, run contrary to the Department of Education's announcement last week that it was dropping the requirement of access to effective teachers from the NCLB waiver process.  As noted in my post on the change, the Department is acting contrary to existing statutory requirements, a substantial body of research, and the pleas of civil rights advocates.  Rather than moving backward on access to excellent teachers, the Center for American Progress's new report proposes that this access be statutorily guaranteed as a civil right because it is so fundamental to educational opportunity.

December 3, 2013 in Equity in education, Federal policy, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Effective Teachers for Disadvantaged Students No Longer Part of NCLB Waiver Process

DoeCaptureLast week, the Department of Education indicated that it is backing away from the requirement it announced just 2 months ago that low income and minority students have equal access to high quality teachers.  This move and the timing of it are troubling.  Civil rights leaders and scholars, including myself, had praised the Department for making equal access part of the NCLB waiver requirements. And although I had previously posited that Arne Duncan was inappropriately acting as a de facto superintendent of the United States of America School System in the conditions he was placing on school systems, equal access to teachers was one area that did not raise the same concerns because it was within the scope of existing statutory language of NCLB.  The Department just had not been enforcing it and now seemed ready to do so.  Backing away now only reignites concerns about the statutory authority under which Duncan is acting.  His ability to change course reinforces the notion that he is not acting under statutory standards, but based on his judgement of how best to run "his" national school system.

Legalities aside, this retreat is also problematic on a policy level. In just the past week, two major studies identifying the gains associated with this access have been released.  One was a Department of Education funded study showing the efficacy of encouraging top teachers to transfer to needy schools.  The second was a Fordham Institute study showing the efficacy of giving the best teachers larger class enrollments.  Both studies showed impressive results and only added to the mountain of research that preceded them.  Why the Department would back away from existing teacher requirements in the midst of increasingly persuasive evidence on the topic is beyond me.

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November 21, 2013 in Equity in education, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Study on Right-Sizing Classrooms: Give the Best Teachers the Most Students

Fordham CaptureThe typical discussion about classroom size is about whether to make them smaller for disadvantaged students.  A new study by the Fordham Institute asks a slightly different question and suggests a different approach: within a single school, would it help to assign more students to the best teachers and fewer to the weaker teachers.  The premise of this question is consistent with prior literature that suggested that, generally, the quality of the teacher matters more the the number of students in the class (although that conclusion does not necessarily follow in regard to the most disadvantaged students).  The Fordham Institutes's study concludes that schools can, in fact, maximize achievement and more efficiently marshall their resources by assigning strong teachers to larger classrooms, rather than assigning the same number of students to every teacher's classroom.  

One unanswered question is what the teachers think about this.  

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November 20, 2013 in Equity in education, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 15, 2013

How One School District Bucks Trends in School Choice While Replicating Old Mistakes (And Still Seems to Come Out on Top)

Earlier this week, the Greenville County Schools in South Carolina made a change to their school choice policy, moving from a first come first serve basis to a lottery.  The school system may not ring a bell to many, but Greenville has both historical and growning modern significance.  For instance, it was the locus of desegregation sit-ins during the 1960s that led to a Supreme Court decision.  Today, it attracts national recognition for its quality of life and economic vibrancy. It is regularly listed among the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country and among the top 10 strongest job markets.  Several multinational businesses, including BMW and Caterpillar, have set headquarters or major facilities there.

The quality and attractiveness of the school system is necessarily part of this mix.  The school district assigns every student to a school based on neighborhood zones, but offers every family the opportunity to transfer out of their neighborhood school.  About  18 or so percent of families have opted for schools other than those in their neighborhood.  Prior to this year, parents literally had to stand in line at the school of their choice and transfer were accepted on a first come first serve basis.  Local news likened it to Black Friday at Best Buy.  Some parents would camp out over the weekend to increase their children's chances.  Last year, in Best Buy fashion, the first come first serve process resulted in a physical injury to one parent.

This year the board began debating options.  Substantial numbers of parents preferred the old system.  Why not give the seats to the most eager and committed, they charged.  My suspicion is that those with that opinion were disproportionately represented at the school board hearings. Those who can stand in line for enrollment are also those most likely to have the time and ability to go to school board meetings. This skewed voicing of opinions almost resulted in the district retaining its old policy.  Better judgment prevailed and the new policy requires parents who wish to transfer to identify three preferred schools.  Admissions are then granted on a lottery basis.

After digging at the details, a few unusual facts struck me.  First, the old system is the exact type that in the past has perpetuated segregation and inequality.  It incentivizes flight from minority schools and flight from underachieving schools, but tends to only give refuge to the advantaged. But based on what I saw in the data, the choice plan was not obviously having this effect, maybe because the African American and Latino population in total is only 25% of the district and the incentives for racial flight are not as high.  Maybe, the district is working some other magic.  I suspect it is.  

Second, families choose to transfer out of schools that would otherwise be characterized as good. The district's explanation is that parents are basing transfers on legitimate concerns like commutes, after-care, proximity to the parent's workplace, etc.  

Third, the schools with the highest percentages of African American students tended to have the highest waitlists.  Based on historical patterns, I doubt that this is because people are fleeing to African American schools.  My assumption is that these schools either had fewer available openings to begin with, they are geographically desirable, or they are just among the better schools.  Regardless, race is not having it normally substantial impact.

None of this is to say that Greenville is a model.  Parents are responsible for transportation when they transfer, which tends to have substantial socio-economic and racial impacts.  In addition, the lottery is completely blind, which from an equity standpoint is problematic.  Consider that students from good schools can randomly gain admission to a school of choice over another student with special needs or a student coming from a failing school.  For this reason, a blind lottery foregoes the possibility of balancing schools in various important ways.

Despite these flaws, Greeneville has gotten some other important things exactly right.  It has somehow fostered an open lottery system whereby choice is often being sought for legitimate rather than illegitimate reasons.  Equally important, it has increased capacity in all of its schools so that choice are available.  Every school has a substantiall number of available slots for transfers. Finally, the district has gotten people excited about their schools, gauranteed options, and made its school system attractive to business considering locating there.  While the story of choice is different in every locality, this one likely warrants special attention and research.


November 15, 2013 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)