Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Same As It Ever Was: Study Shows NH Public School Funding is Inequitable and Insufficient… but DOESN’T Recommend Realistic Fix

December 2, 2020 Leave a comment

The headline in our local newspaper of the most prominent front page article, above-the-fold-on-the-right, reads “Panel Calls for School Funding Overhaul”. The article described the work of a “Commission to Study School Funding” created to address the longstanding issue of funding inequities in New Hampshire as described in the opening paragraphs of the article:

The story of New Hampshire’s education funding system has for decades been a tale of two types of towns — the “property-rich” towns, with wealthy tax bases and high property values that can generously fund their public schools, and the “property-poor” towns who struggle to provide even basic funding without a deep tax base.

Property-rich towns typically have better facilities, higher teacher pay, and in many cases, better educational outcomes while everyone’s taxes remain relatively low. In the property-poor towns, facility upgrades languish, staff turnover is more rapid, and property taxes are disproportionately high. Despite multiple state Supreme Court rulings ordering it to be fixed and three statewide commissions to recommend a way out, the divide perpetuates.

I foolishly hoped upon reading the headline that the panel might come up with recommendations that included a demand for substantially more funding and suggest a new method for redistributing those funds in a fair and equitable fashion. They suggested neither. Instead… here was the synopsis of the report:

“For New Hampshire to meet its constitutional responsibilities where all students have an equal opportunity to an adequate education, its state aid distribution formula needs to be altered,” state Sen. Jay Kahn, a member of the commission said in a press conference Tuesday.

Anyone who is associated with New Hampshire public education knew that before even reading the article… they knew this was true in 1983 when I was first hired to lead a school district in New Hampshire and, in all probability, knew it well before then. The “solution” they proposed appears to be a warmed over version of a “donor town” system that was formally abandoned in 2011 though the elements of redistribution originally envisioned were vestigal by that time. As Superintendent of a so-called “donor town” we lost none of our funding to other districts, making the designation essentially meaningless when we developed our budget. I was told that for a brief period of time before 2004 SOME of the funds we raised through local property taxes in our town were “sent to Concord” and distributed to other districts… but because our town wasn’t THAT rich we were able to get all of the funding back.

Much was made about the fact that “an outside group” took a look at the funding this time. Their conclusion, which cost $500,000 to secure was summarized in this paragraph:

“Using 10 years of Department of Education data, we were able to demonstrate and explain what the harm is to districts who spend less and have students with various needs that don’t get met at the same level as they do in other districts,” Kahn said.

No one argued that reality… nor would anyone argue the other anodyne recommendation set forth by the panel: “an increase in “adequacy grants” for underfunded school districts as well as direct property tax relief efforts for town residents.” Inadequate and inadequate funding is a part of the landscape in NH as much as the White Mountains are… and leveling the funding appears to be as difficult as it would be to level those peaks.

Standardized Testing on the Ropes INTERNATIONALLY As Pandemic Opens the Door to Widespread Questioning of their Value

November 30, 2020 Leave a comment

The November 25 Economist featured an article datelined Seoul and Sao Paulo that described the adverse impact the pandemic is having on the use of standardized tests to sort and select the best and brightest students across the globe. Citing examples from South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, and quoting experts from those continents, the article describes how nations have varied in their decisions about administering standardized tests that determine whether most students around the world will qualify for higher education in their nation and thereby gain access to the highest paying jobs. Ultimately, the international debates mirror those going on in our country with traditionalists seeing no reason to suspend or abandon the standardized testing while progressives see the suspension and abandonment of these tests as the only way to overcome the gross inequities that result from poverty. Here’s the traditionalist view: 

Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the oecd, a club of mostly rich countries, thinks more countries could have held exams safely: “You don’t want people to talk; you don’t need them to move around; their desks are quite far apart.” So far it appears that the grades of most pupils who did sit exams this year have been no worse than usual, according to uk naric, a British government agency that keeps track of qualifications in other countries. Candidates in Germany performed a little better.

Mr. Schleicher’s argument is that the results of the pandemic-administered international tests used to benchmark the performance of various countries around the world were no different that the results of the pre-pandemic tests so, therefore, it would have been reasonable to insist that all countries administer these tests… an argument that assumes the test results reflected an even playing field to begin with, which is clearly NOT the case when 11th grade students in European countries who are only admitted to that level of schooling if they past a competitive test are compared with US students who are afforded a universal education through grade 12. 

The progressive perspective is best summarized in this paragraph:

Some psychologists worry that the pressure of exams is raising the risk that vulnerable youngsters will develop mental-health problems, early signs of which often appear during adolescence and early adulthood. Exams can also label children as failures, when they had no choice but to attend bad schools. And rich parents often pay for tutoring to boost their offspring’s chances.

But the subsequent paragraph describes the challenge progressive face: 

Yet abandoning exams creates new problems. Continuous assessment means pupils may simply “learn stuff, get a grade and then forget it”, says Dylan William, a British expert in educational assessment. Coursework can encourage students to tinker endlessly with just a few pieces of work. Junking exams only introduces new kinds of stress if the alternative is that all schoolwork counts towards final grades. Without objective assessments, learners from poor homes are more likely to be judged on their backgrounds than on their actual achievements.

So what is the way out of the woods on the question of how best to assess students? The article offers no clear answer to that question, though it does shed light on one clear consequence that seems to be emerging from the pandemic: the use of a single test as an indicator of preparedness for higher education is likely to wane: 

The pandemic may amplify calls to get rid of exams that some already thought unnecessary. Universities in America traditionally ask applicants to sit the sat or act, tests which are not required by the public school system. This year many universities waived that requirement after many exam sittings were cancelled. This delighted critics of testing, who say the exams advantage richer applicants who can pay for test-prep. About 70% of American universities offering four-year courses now operate “test-optional” admissions policies, up from around 45% before the pandemic.

In England the pandemic has raised fresh questions about the future of gcses, a flurry of exams taken by 16-year-olds. These have become less crucial as a result of reforms that require teenagers to stay in some kind of education or training until they are 18. Developing countries have been gradually junking exams they have traditionally used to decide which children may enter secondary school. This year’s crisis could speed that up.

Ultimately, as educators, psychologists, and policy makers examine the impact of the pandemic and the way technology has been used in a more widespread fashion, a consensus on the way schools are organized might emerge: a consensus that the age-based cohort groupings implemented in the name of administrative efficiency in the early 20th Century might not make sense in an era where everyone has access to self-paced learning… and given the ability to individualize the pace of instruction schools might focus more on their most important function: developing the skills students need to work harmoniously in a democracy. 


COVID Cases and Quarantines Lead to Staffing Shortages… but UNIONS are the Problem!

November 28, 2020 Leave a comment

AP writer Kantele Franko reports that public schools in Kansas are facing staffing challenges because staff members are sidelined due to the contracting of and exposure to COVID. This reality is one of the reasons I ultimately changed my thinking about beginning with even a partial re-opening. While it would make sense epidemiologically to open all schools serving children up to age 12 it could pose a nightmare if a particular district did not have sufficient qualified staff to educate children in socially distanced classrooms. That, in turn, could lead to even more inequities than we are encountering now. I was also afraid that what HAS happened— an expanded breakout due to colder weather– COULD happen which would lead to yet another reversal from the parents’ perspective.

Unfortunately, rather than committing to the provision of the best possible remote learning programs, many of the districts and States facing staffing challenges are instead asking that the quarantine rules be changed. I’m not an epidemiologist… but it strikes me that COVID thus far has not changed its pattern of transmission to make life easier for school administrators, teachers, or parents. It may be wishful thinking to believe that shortening the quarantine period is a solution.