Archive for January, 2016

The Inherent Inequity in Parent Engagement Between Schools Serving Children Raised in Affluence and Those Raised in Poverty

January 29, 2016 Comments off

Laura McKenna’s recent Atlantic article describes how school fundraising by affluent parents contributes to inequities in overall school funding and offers an interesting solution to the problems such fundraising creates. She also describes– but underestimates– how the inequity in parent engagement goes beyond funding.

The inequities in fund raising capacity between schools serving affluent children and schools serving middle class and poor children is stark. While wealthy parents can stage auctions that include Super Bowl tickets that pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars poor parents stage ongoing bake sales that yield five figures over the course of a year if they are lucky. These funds are used to acquire playgrounds, technology, field trips to distant museums, and— in some cases— additional staff to reduce class sizes. The booster clubs at these schools— and those of many middle class schools– fund athletic equipment, pre-season trips to Florida for baseball teams, and uniforms that the athletes can keep once they graduate. The disparities that result are obvious to anyone who has worked in both worlds and to anyone who attends sporting events between affluent schools and those serving children raised in poverty.

But Ms. McKenna also notes another more critical difference between the parent engagement in these schools— time and social capital:

Clearly, affluent communities have greater financial resources to support their schools. Parents there also have the time and social capital needed to organize elaborate fundraisers and fill out the lengthy legal paperwork required to establish these foundations. With these enormous resources, parents in affluent communities can raise far more money for their schools than parents in other locations.

But time and social capital provide advantages far beyond the capacity to raise money. A single parent who is working two jobs to make ends meet or two parents who work split shifts often cannot attend their local school’s PTO meetings, cannot be released from work to attend parent-teacher meetings, and do not have the time to help their children with school work or science fair projects. Despite what the middle class media and school reformers believe, the number of time-limited parents far exceeds the number of helicopter parents and this has an even more devastating impact on inequality than money spent on schools…. and does not lend itself to an easy fix.

Ms. McKenna does have an interesting idea for how to close the gap between affluent and poor schools:

Rather than restricting affluent parents from contributing to their public schools or shaming them for their efforts, perhaps they could be encouraged to think about public education beyond their town boundaries—partnering with schools in less affluent areas and forging a fellowship over time. In better understanding that public education extends beyond the five-mile radius of their communities, parents might be willing to share a portion of their considerable resources and social capital to benefit other kids.

The college town I live in— like many communities in New England– has a sister community abroad. Maybe the schools in our town which do an admirable job of raising funds for the children in town could partner with a deprived urban or rural school in our region. In doing so we might emphasize that the impact of poverty is not limited to third world countries but hurts children in our nation as well and that as citizens we should do everything possible to help our nearby neighbors as well as our global neighbors. To those whom much is given, much should be expected.

The Conversation I’m Tired of Writing About: Funding Equity

January 28, 2016 Comments off

My daughter sent me a link to a blog post written by Nate Bowling titled “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having”. The post is full of insights and great quotes about the state of public education today and the public indifference that led to the state of affairs. The first paragraph sets the tone for the post:

I want to tell you a secret: America really doesn’t care what happens to poor people and most black people. There I said it.

Bowling buttresses this assertion with a series of observations underscoring the fact that white suburbanites would never stand for the deplorable physical conditions visited upon poor minority students nor would they tolerate the kind of leadership and instruction that occurs in those school districts. But, analogizing the desegregation and equity arguments to gun control, he notes that the public’s indifference to the horrific conditions in Detroit and the political will to solve the problem are no different than the public’s indifference and lack of political will to address gun control after the killings of innocent school children at Sandy Hook. Bowling then concludes his overview of the current state of affairs with this paragraph:

So what is to be done? The pessimist in me says nothing can be done. Polite society has walled itself off and policymakers are largely indifferent. Better funding for schools is and will remain elusive, because middle class and wealthy people have been conditioned over the last 35 years to think of themselves as taxpayers, rather than citizens. They consistently oppose higher taxes–especially tax expenditures for programs for “the other.”

Having abandoned hope for funding reform, Bowling looks to teachers themselves. Instead of getting involved in sideshow arguments over the Common Core, teacher evaluation models, or privatization, Mr. Bowling, a Teacher of the Year, pledges to devote his energy to:

  • Fighting the impacts of systemic racism and white supremacy in our schools and among teachers.

  • Helping, through my speaking opportunities, to recruit passionate people, especially people of color into the profession. 

  • Supporting policies aimed at identifying, developing and retaining effective teachers.

  • Advocating for the creation of systems that encourage our most effective and passionate teachers to stay in the profession and supporting them in working with our most needy schools.

  • Encouraging policymakers to make the work of effective teachers rewarding and sustainable by trusting them and not burdening them with new and ever changing mandates.

  • Giving teachers opportunities to lead, within the profession, while remaining in the classroom.

These are all worthy goals… but their success relies on providing idealistic and dedicated teachers who share Mr. Bowling’s attitudes with wages and working conditions that will enable equally idealistic and dedicated administrators and school boards to create “…systems that encourage our most effective and passionate teachers to stay in the profession and supporting them in working with our most needy schools”…. and that leads back to the need for more funding for schools. From my perspective this ISN’T a chicken-egg argument. You cannot expect urban schools that, on average, receive $1700 per student less than suburban schools, to perform at the same level…. and you can’t expect a gifted and hardworking teacher to stay in a job in a dilapidated school with a salary that is 80% of that in a well-heeled suburban district unless that teacher’s talent and grit is matched with a high level of idealism. In the end, money matters and while Mr. Bowling works on his end to provide good teachers for children raised in poverty I will try to find ways to get middle class and wealthy people to think of themselves as citizens instead of taxpayers.



VAM Nailed in NYS as 250 Educators Receive Erroneous Ratings

January 27, 2016 Comments off

An article by Elizabeth Harris earlier this week drove another nail into the Value Added coffin. The article uses lots of obfuscatory verbiage to paper over the blunt headline, “Over 200 Educators in New York Receive Erroneous Scores Linked to Student Scores”. Using language from a letter sent by the NYSED, Harris writes that the errors in calculations effected “less than 1 percent of the more than 40,000 educators who received such feedback” and to further diminish the impact quoted Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the Education Department, who noted that “…that while about 250 principals and teachers received incorrect scores, the error was large enough only to change the growth ratings for 30 educators, all of whom were principals.” The NYSED insinuation seems to be that just because “only” 30 principals got bad scores the system is just fine…. but their actions speak louder than their words:

Nonetheless, (Tompkins) said scores for the more than 40,000 educators would be recalculated at the contractor’s expense; the higher score would be the one that counts.

Sorry, reformers, the recalculation will not restore credibility to VAM….