Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

Why Rank High Schools?

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Vox recently posted an article titled by Libby Nelson titled  “Ranking High Schools Tells You Which are Rich or Selective“, a title that reveals the content of the article and reveals what any educator in America can tell you even though no politician or major media outlet will never admit as much. As the article demonstrates, the great majority of the highest ranking high schools in America based on metrics devised by the Daily Beast, have two commonalities: they have selective enrollments or they are located in affluent communities with few students on free and reduced lunch. Vox ultimately poses and answers the question at the end of the next paragraph:

Publications know they’re mostly ranking on wealth and selectivity. It’s why there are separate lists for schools that actually enroll low-income students in both the Daily Beastand Newsweek rankings. So why do it?

Because everybody loves rankings. And because nearly everybody went to public high school. And because most people are friends with high school classmates on Facebook, where they will eagerly share lists of where their alma mater is ranked. For all of their complex statistical methodology, high school rankings are really just sheer entertainment.

In other words, nobody should take these rankings seriously — and nobody should expect them to go away any time soon.

I think Vox missed one important point in their response to this question, a point they made in justifying college rankings: when something is ranked one assumes it can be acquired on the open market. Nelson writes:

College rankings, at least in theory, are responding to a need in the market. Students applying to prestigious, selective colleges — particularly students who have the academic qualifications and the financial means to go to college anywhere — have quite a few to choose from. Enter rankings, a way to sort through it all. 

Later in the same section of the article she notes that this isn’t applicable to high schools because:

…knowing what the best high school is doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to live in its attendance area or if you don’t have the test scores to get in.

From my perspective, the idea of ranking public schools is a way to subtly reinforce the notion that if parents had a choice they could get their child placed in one of these schools… and the whole issue of providing an equal opportunity for learning is solved.

In a perfect world, politicians, businessmen, and voters would look at the rankings, look at the correlation between poverty rates and rankings, and conclude that schools serving children raised in poverty need more funds. But, to paraphrase the concluding sentence of the blog post, nobody should expect this to happen any time soon!


Schooling is Now a Commodity

September 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Why Federal Ratings Wont Rein in College Cost”, the Upshot column by Susan Dynarski in today’s NYTimes, asserts that the proposed USDOE college rankings won’t have an appreciable impact on the spiraling costs of college. Why?  Because the costs of public colleges that enroll “the vast majority” of the students enrolled in post-secondary schools are controlled by State legislatures and they are increasingly shifting the burden of those costs to students. Dynarski summarizes this phenomenon in these paragraphs:

First, consider public colleges (attended by about 80 percent of undergraduates), where tuition has grown faster than inflation for decades. From 1988 to 2013, average tuition at four-year public colleges more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation.

Yet here is a surprising fact: Public colleges are collecting about the same revenue per student today as they were 25 years ago. In 1988,educational revenue per full-time-equivalent student at public colleges was $11,300; in 2013, it was $11,500. (These amounts are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 2013 dollars.)

That’s just a 3 percent increase. How can this be? If tuition has doubled, shouldn’t public colleges be getting double the revenue?

This reader was not at all surprised that public college operating costs are flat over the past 25 years. The same is probably true for public education costs. As I noted in the comment I wrote, this same shift is subtly taking place in K-12 schools where fees are increasingly levied for athletics, registration in AP courses, textbooks and materials of instruction, busing, etc. This is happening because politicians do not want to raise taxes for any reason. As a result, the costs of educating the next generation are being borne by local property taxes that only affluent communities can afford leaving economically disadvantaged and minority students in the lurch. Instead of asking taxpayers to cover the costs, the political “leaders” are developing ranking systems for schools that provide parents and students with “consumer information” so they can make “an informed choice”.

After explaining the reality of cost-shifting, Dynarski spends the balance of the article explaining the need for a well-conceived measures based on solid data. This call for ratings accepts the view that schooling is not the responsibility of the community but rather a commodity that K-12 parents and post-secondary students can intelligently “buy” if they have enough money or are willing to take out a loan. This kind of thinking contributes to the inequality of our country and erodes our sense of community. EVERY child is entitled to have access to a high quality education and EVERY citizen should share in that cost.

Fenno’s Paradox and Schools

September 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell’s recent column, “Actually Public Schools are Getting Better, Not Worse”, describes a political science phenomenon known as “Fenno’s Paradox”:

It’s a bit like “Fenno’s paradox,” named for political scientist Richard Fenno Jr.: Americans hate Congress but like their own congressman; they hate the public school system but like the school they actually interact with.

There is a difference between Congress and public education, though: as Rampell notes in her column there is clear and unambiguous evidence that public education is functioning effectively and improving over time. The problem, as she describes it, is that the public’s expectations are ever increasing, adult’s memories of “the good old days when schools were tougher” are likely distorted, and the media’s “public school’s are failing” meme has gotten more and more traction over time.

She concludes her column with this somewhat measured praise for public education:

The truth is, today’s young people do need more, or at least different, kinds of training and education to succeed in the global marketplace for talent. And plenty of policy changes — like making the most challenging school districts more attractive places to work — could help improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged students. But in the meantime, let’s stop denying the measurable, if modest, progress that U.S. schools have made in the last half-century.

Making the most challenging school districts more attractive places to work” is a nice turn of phrase, but it glosses over the reality that accomplishing this high-minded outcome would require huge sums of money. To make the most challenging districts attractive places to work would require Congress to upgrade facilities, provide support services for children raised in poverty, increase staff so that teachers have manageable class sizes, and improve wages so that teachers in challenging districts have the same baseline compensation as teachers in affluent districts. That would require Congress to improve IT’S performance to the same level as public education… and require voters to insist that funds be available to improve every student’s opportunities. Alas, Congress’ action may be a reflection of the public’s silence on this issue. Another paradox, I’ll call it Goldstein’s Paradox (for the late MD politician Louis Goldstein) is that when it comes to paying taxes everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

Corruption Diminishes Stimulus’ Effect

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

“Did Corruption in the Building Trades Blunt the Impact of Obama’s Stimulus Package?”, a blog post from yesterday’s Naked Capitalism, may include arcane economics information for those who typically read an educational policy blog, but the post DID describe the following:

  • Sub-contractors used 1099 employees to complete work on projects included, thereby avoiding tax collections and payments into unemployment insurance
  • The loss of these taxes resulted in diminished revenues of over 8,500,000,000 to various states across the country where these stimulus projects were undertaken. TX could have used the $1,200,000,000 it lost as a result of these lost taxes.
  • The owners of construction companies, the 1%, were beneficiaries of the stimulus funds more so than the unemployed construction workers who either accepted 1099 wages or stayed home
  • Undocumented immigrant workers got a larger share of wages because they were more than willing to work for less and accept substandard working conditions

None of these talking points will find their way into either parties’ campaigns. The Republicans will blame it the stimulus’ mediocre performance on “regulations” and the Democrats will blame it on the fact it was too small. This post seems to indicate that UNDER-regulation is the issue… which, unfortunately, makes perfect sense because no one is advocating for more regulations OR for more funds to enforce existing regulations. Too bad because we’re all on the hook for more money as a result… except for the 1% who win given the rules of the game.


TX Profs Estimate Poverty $$$ Needed

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A few days ago courts in TX determined that the funding formula for public education was not meeting the needs to the students in the state. As an editorial in today’s Odessa American Online explains, one reason for the ruling was that many property-rich districts who enroll students raise in poverty send their property tax revenues to Austin where they are redistributed to districts who do not have students raised in poverty. The other reason, embedded in the article is that children raised in poverty require 27.6 percent more money than other children. “What’s that?”, you say.

The cost is not higher in a vague, nebulous or metaphysical way. It’s higher by 27.6 percent in Texas. That figure comes from a report by three professors at Texas A&M University — Timothy J. Gronberg, Dennis W. Jansen and Lori L. Taylor — published in 2009.

Their paper was aimed at defending cost functions in educational analysis.

The number might change with time. But the point is that the cost of educating children who are economically disadvantaged can be measured in a reasonably precise way.

If you accept that, the place to start in the debate about funding for public education ought to be obvious.

Having just written a post that criticizes the use of seemingly precise calculations generated by economists you might call me on the use of this seemingly precise number, and in some respects that criticism might be warranted. But from my perspective, it only underscores the fact that politicians are choosing to emphasize the use of “precise” test data while choosing to ignore “precise” data on the cost impact of poverty. Why? Because it costs much less to administer tests to all children than it costs to increase per capita spending for the 25+% of children who are raised in poverty. Because it is a lot easier to score points politically by criticizing greedy teachers than by asking taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets. And it may well be that they gain a lot more political donations by promoting for profit privatized schools as the solution to poverty instead of “throwing money away”. Unfortunately the for-profit money that goes to shareholders only adds to the gap between the next generation of the 1% and those 25+% of children struggling in school.


Buying Civility

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Mark Walsh wrote a straight-faced report for Education Week on the creation of a new group seeking to dial down the “toxic debate” going on in public education policy. Funded by— you guessed it— the Waltons, the Broads, and the Bloombergs, Education Post intends to “…bring in voices of a lot of people who are turned off by the toxic nature of the conversation to see if we can facilitate a more productive and respectful conversation,” according to Peter Cunningham, the executive director of the new group. And what is Mr. Cunningham’s background? Why he was assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the U.S. Department of Education for most of President Barack Obama’s first term. Here’s the comment I left on the Education Week, which violates my resolution to avoid sarcasm and stay positive:

I LOVE the idea that this group wants to debate “…what works in education” and wants to challenge “…people repeating things that are not true”. Let’s start the debate by looking at the repeated “fact” that high-stakes testing will improve academic performance of all children.

I DO think the level of civility has diminished in public policy debate, but the tone of the debate was set by political leaders like Chris Christie and Scott Walker who’ve characterized teachers as “greedy Government employees” and the education reformers who’ve used test scores to prove that TEACHERS and especially teacher’s unions are the problem in public education. They do this while ignoring the fact that test scores correlate with parent wealth and education and do not correlate with union membership. Indeed, since affluent districts pay higher salaries than non-union districts there is likely a positive correlation between teacher pay and test scores!

Bottom line: an increase civility in public discourse will occur when we stop bashing the classroom teachers who work tirelessly to help all children learn.

Efficiency is the Enemy Redux

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post “Worst “Report” Yet” outlines the results of a report issued by two British economists ranking nations based on their educational “efficiency”. Here is a summary of their findings as it applies to the US:

The index ranks Finland as the most efficient country in the OECD. According to the index’s econometric model, which calculates the proven statistical link between teacher salaries or class size and PISA scores, the US could match Finland high PISA’s results and still make efficiency savings by increasing class sizes and making a modest cut in teacher salaries. It finds that these results could be achieved even if the US was to increase its pupil/teacher ratio by 10 per cent.

Alternatively, if it were more efficient, the US could match Finland’s PISA results and still reduce teacher salaries by 4.7 per cent from the US average teacher salary of $41,460 to $39,520. The index argues that the US should consider addressing both teacher salary and class sizes to improve its education efficiency. As the largest country in the OECD, its overall education spend is five times that of any other country in the study and its teacher salaries are comparatively high.

The report brought to mind a report issued in NH in 2003 that linked school spending with standardized test scores to determine which districts were getting the most for their money. Shortly after the report was issued, I was appointed Superintendent in Hanover, one of the most affluent districts in the state, whose scores on this index were poor. My predecessor shared the report with me and indicated that it was used by taxpayers groups as evidence that Hanover was spending too much on its schools. It was quickly evident that the problem with the report was that the standardized tests used to measure “school district performance” were flawed: they did not have sufficient “headroom” to measure growth of students who scored in the 95th percentile! What frustrated both of us was that most of the members of the taxpayers group knew this was the case but nevertheless used the report’s result as “evidence” of overspending.

With that as background, I offered the following reaction to the column:

Here’s one of the reasons the inequality in US schools may lead to “inefficiency”:

“…higher salaries given to teachers who are already achieving excellence, such as those paid in Switzerland and Germany, may fail to increase performance and therefore harm efficiency.”

Substitute “Scarsdale” and “New Trier” for “Switzerland” and “Germany” and you can see why our schools are “inefficient”. 10+ years ago a group in NH did a similar study. Hanover, where I was starting out as Superintendent, fared poorly on the “efficiency” rating because our students’ test scores did not improve as much as those in less affluent neighboring districts whose cost/pupil was lower than ours. Why? Because our students scored near the top of the scale on the standardized tests making the ability to “improve” an impossibility. School districts who serve children raised in poverty have a similar difficulty “improving” because standardized test results are invariably linked to demographics more than anything else. This “inefficiency” phenomenon is a by-product of economic segregation and our political desire to lower taxes.

Here’s another paragraph where you might substitute “Scarsdale” and “New Trier” for “Switzerland” and “Germany”:

The report acknowledges that some countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, which both spend lavishly on their education system and achieve good results, may choose to pursue policies in which educational efficiency is not their priority. For instance, they may feel that PISA does not capture all the student outcomes that their system is aiming for.

My belief: the affluent districts, like the affluent countries, don’t put nearly as much credence in test scores as USDOE because they know that tests do not “capture all the student outcomes that their system is aiming for”.

The title of this post reinforces that belief. If we want “efficient” schools we should continue to use blunt measurements like test scores to serve as a proxy for “performance”. If we want to meet the unique needs of all students we might want something more sophisticated.