Thursday, February 17, 2005

The soft bigotry of the achievement gap

Just noticed this post from Jenny D. So you want improvements to No Child Left Behind, huh? Well, I've got a list of things you could do to tinker with it here and there. But if you really want to get to the heart of it, there's one glaring problem with NCLB and so far, we, as a country, simply haven't had the political will to deal with it. It doesn't solve problem of equity.

Where are the failing schools? Why, says the supporter of NCLB, they're in the inner cities and barrios and rural areas. That's why NCLB is so swell. It will close the achievement gap.

No, it won't. Testing does not necessarily improve instruction or increase learning.

There is an alarming and abundantly clear correlation between schools that fail to make AYP and schools that are in high poverty areas. Before you roll your eyes and say I'm making excuses, remember that school districts generate revenue from property taxes. Property poor districts get portable buildings and leaky roofs; property rich districts get new playgrounds and computer labs. It's a fact of life.

So how do we fix NCLB? Quit handicapping inner city and rural schools and talking about an achievement gap and call it what it really is: a funding gap. Equity is what is needed and frankly, I think there's more than a little subtle racism in the term achievement gap: as if African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and rural students haven't achieved as much as their suburban white peers. They haven't been entitled to as much. Really, looking at the hands they've been dealt, I'd argue that they've achieved more than the suburbanites.

Let's equalize funding for schools (yes, it can be done with statewide property taxes) and give Black, Hispanic, and rural kids a chance at much more than merely passing test scores.


Blogger Joe Thomas said...

You wrote:

No, it won't. Testing does not necessarily improve instruction or increase learning.Quite true. You don't fatten a pig by weighing it.

David Berliner of ASU has a great paper (and book, Manufactured Crisis) that 1) shows some American schools rank 1st and 2nd internationally when separated from the pack, 2) that when you disaggregate SAT scores by ethnicity, ALL subgroups (white, hispanic, black, asian) score higher than they did 20 years ago, and 3) that the only true "crisis" in education is that we do not fund all of our schools equitably.

His paper is here. It is an excellent read.


4:10 AM  
Blogger Mike in Texas said...

Just wanted to write and say congratulation, I noticed Joanne Jacobs removed the link to your site from her page.

Did you point out too many inconsistencies in the Business Roundtable Agenda she pushes?

5:22 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Okay. Let's say you're right. Newark NJ is now spending $15,000 perstudent, mroe than any district in NJ, including rich, white suburban districts. It has been spending at this level for a couple of years, thanks to increased state funding.

How many years will it take to close the achievement gap now that the funding equity gap has been not only closed, but surpassed?

9:00 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Also, if you look at Michigan, Kentucky, and few other states, you'll notice that the funding gap between urban and suburban districts is quite narrow, thanks to several court decisions and legislative moves there.

In Michigan, the gap was closed in 1994 was the passage Proposal A, the funds schools almost entirely through the sales tax, the lottery, and taxes on cigarettes.

So now that the gap is closed, why is there an achievement gap still, ten years later?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Uh... who is Joanne Jacobs?

"You don't know me, but you don't like me.
"You say you care less how I feel."

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Polski3 said...

I tend to look at education of a student as a pentagon; one side each for parent(s)/home, student, teacher(s), school and "community". All have to pull their share of the responsibility for educating a student. When the sole responsibility is placed on the teachers and schools, folks, it is highly unlikely that much progress will be made.

Yes, IMO, equalizing the funding for schools might help. But, if there is no/not enough support from the parent(s), the student or any of the other sides of the pentagon, improvement will not be too great.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could agree with the comments that equitable funding would solve the problem. Our district just published the data on the actual funding of each school by school and by tier. The funding breakdown includes title I moneys, grants, etc. (There is a separate breakdown of tech funding per school.) What the facts show is that our under-performing schools (generally the schools not meeting AYP)receive more funding than our highly performng schools. The funding gap is $3,923 in elementary schools, $2,177 in middle schools and $1,604 in high school.

I think NCLB showed the schools were masking the needs of the students of all NCLB subgroups from lower SES backgrounds. It is clear these students have different needs of the middle and upper middle class students who attend public schools.

I would encourage each of you to demand that your district breakout the funding of each school and include title I, grant, funding for special programs and other moneys that go directly to the school. The funding should also include teacher salaries but no administrative stuff. What you think your district spends on each school may surprise it. I think you will also be surprised when you see the global funding per student that is reported (this includes administrative overhead, maintenance and who knows whatelse) and the actual amount of per pupil funding at the school level. It has opened my eyes as well as that of our school board chairman.

It took four years for our district to provide this information.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Anonymous, if you do not agree with the comments, will you agree with the research?

What research says about unequal funding for schools in America Your breakdown referred to AYP. AYP compares last year's students to this year's students. It is a shaky measurement because it assums all classes (and all students) learn at the same rate.

AYP is a political tool. It is ineffecive as a measurement tool because it will always fluctuate at the class and grade levels.

If you are seeing NCLB accomplishing anything positive for poor or inner-city kids, please elaborate. By all critical accounts, these students look to be the first group of children to be "left behind" under NCLB.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

The Council of Great City Schools represents the nation's 64 largest districts, including NYC, LA Unified, Detroit, Chicago, etc. Superintedents from these districts comprise the working organization.

In June 2004, the executive director of CGCS testified before the US Senate committe on Education on behalf of his organization, and spoke about whether NCLB had improved student achievement in the nation's 64 largest and urban districts. He said studies by CGCS using data from their districts showed that student achievement had improved since the adoption of NCLB. His group supports NCLB.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Mike in Texas said...

Jenny D.,

If you look at Michael Casserly's bio, no where does it mention having any education credentials. He just another political hack who knows nothing about schools but likes to pretend he does.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Mike in Texas said...

Also, here's a list of their corporate tie-ins:

ARAMARK Facility Services
Bank of America
Chancery Software, Ltd.
Chartwells School Dining/Thompson Hospitality
Harcourt School Publishers
Houghton-Mifflin Companies
McGraw Hill Companies
Pearson Education
Scholastic, Inc.
SchoolNet, Inc.
Scientific Learning Corporation
Sodexho, Inc.
Texas Instruments
Voyager Expanded Learning, Inc

All companies involved in trying to force their programs upon schools, in particular Aramark, who has been clamoring for the privitization of school cafeterias (and who were recently caught cheating on a federal lunch program in Houston) and McGraw-Hill who pushes the "research-proven" phonics instruction that isn't on public schools.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Thanks for the list of accomplices, Mike. I emailed Susan O'hanian and asked her about the Coucil of Great City Schools. She mentioned being a little wary of them, especially with their connection to ARAMARK. I noticed that they did some work with the Education Leaders Council and their leader, Lisa Graham Keegan. Lisa is still mad someone dropped a house on her sister, and she is taking it out on public education. I hope to have a nice post on her done by next weekend. She and her cronies rubbed elbows with the Black Alliance for Education Options. Which, of course, was a little known advocacy group for vouchers until Armstrong Williams put them on the map. :)

9:33 PM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Michael Casserly is the exec dir who has worked there in various roles for more than a decade. His bosses are the board members, all of whom have stellar educational credentials. (They run the school districts in the group.)

This group is anything but a bunch of hacks and partisans, and I imagine the superintedents of the school districts would be surprised to hear that you would imply that about their organization.

Besides, this was supposed to be about equal funding. Again, we have equal funding in many places, like NJ where it's been in place for years. So tell my why achievement in Jersey City and Newark is still so lousy?

4:48 AM  

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