Monday, May 2, 2016
The Toxic Mix of Segregation and Achievement Gaps--A Problem That Money Alone Won't Fix
The past few weeks have included a bevy of data and new resources on school funding, segregation, and academic achievement. NPR developed a multi-week story on school funding, slowly and methodically teasing out its complexities. Last week, Sean Reardon and his colleagues released analysis of a new data set looking at academic achievement, school resources, and segregation. Both go an extremely long way toward documenting educational inequality and making it easily accessible to the average person. They come on top of a slow burning advocacy for integration at the state, local, and federal levels over the past few years. Finally, educational inequality and segregation are back in the mainstream conversation.
Reardon's new research, which is now dominating the most recent news cycles, makes an extremely important nuanced point worth emphasizing--a point the media could easily miss with all the fancy info-graphics and interactive charts showing just how unequal achievement is. Reardon and his colleagues state the following major findings:
- One sixth of all students attend public school in school districts where average test scores are more than a grade level below the national average; one sixth are in districts where test scores are more than a grade level above the national average.
- The most and least socioeconomically advantaged districts have average performance levels more than four grade levels apart.
- Average test scores of black students are, on average, roughly two grade levels lower than those of white students in the same district; the Hispanic-white difference is roughly one- and-a-half grade levels.
- Achievement gaps are larger in districts where black and Hispanic students attend higher poverty schools than their white peers; where parents on average have high levels of educational attainment; and where large racial/ethnic gaps exist in parents’ educational attainment.
- The size of the gaps has little or no association with average class size, a district’s per capita student spending or charter school enrollment.
This very last finding is a bombshell and could be used for good or bad. Some would use it to say money does not matter to educational outcomes. That simplistic conclusion overlooks two major points. First, there is plenty of research to demonstrating that money matters a lot when spent on the right things. Second, Reardon's point is not that money is irrelevant, it is that "racial segregation is inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools; and that policies that don’t address this will fail to remedy racial inequality. 'In sum, racial integration remains essential for reducing racial disparities in school poverty rates.'” This reminds me of an argument James Ryan made 17 years ago: