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March 13, 2017

Kentucky: School Choice for Whom?

The Kentucky House of Representatives has been busy with education policy recently.  In February, they passed House Bill 151, which would allow parents the choice of sending their child to the school closest to their house (as long as it is in the district in which they reside).  If approved by the Senate, H.B. 151 would have the potential to override school assignment boundaries throughout the state.  As reported by the Washington Post and The Century Foundation, H.B. 151 would also have the potential to dismantle a long-standing school integration plan in Jefferson County, which encompasses Louisville.

At face value, it seems reasonable that children be allowed to attend the school closest to their home, creating neighborhood schools.  Most traditional school assignment plans are designed around this concept, with school capacity and population density also playing a role.  The challenge, even for schools with traditional attendance zones, is that school zones could basically disappear if parents claim the right to attend the school closest to their zone.  In Lexington, for example, a student in the southern part of the Breckinridge ES zone (see below) may live closer to Liberty ES than some of the students in the Liberty ES zone, so students who previously would have attended Liberty ES may no longer have a place there (if Liberty ES reached capacity).  The bill has provisions so that students currently attending a particular school may not be displaced by other students, but incoming students, whether kindergarteners or families who just moved in, may not be afforded the same benefit as families who have been in the neighborhood longer.  This legislation has the potential to uproot many school districts’ carefully-crafted  and often-controversial assignment policies, creating uncertainty for families and challenges in assigning students to schools in a manner that accounts for multiple student and demographic factors.

KY

Perhaps the larger reason that this bill is garnering national attention is the effect that it will have on the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) district, which encompasses Louisville.  JCPS has a school integration plan that combines parental preference with balanced diversity.  Parents of elementary school students may choose between neighborhood schools in their geographic cluster or magnet schools that serve the entire district; 90 percent receive their first choice.  Middle and high school students are assigned to schools with boundaries designed to maximize diversity.  JCPS also offers district-wide magnet programs, which would not be affected by H.B. 151.  The district’s school assignments also try to minimize transportation time for students.  The result of this school assignment plan is that many students are not attending the school closest to home.  JCPS analyzed H.B. 151­­­ and concluded that half of their students do not attend the school closest to their home, which means that there is great potential for the shifting of students across schools in the future (current students would not be affected but we can assume that the results would be similar for future cohorts).  Only 38 percent of current middle school and 34 percent of current elementary school students live close enough to their current school to be assigned to it, if school assignments were made on proximity alone.

JCPS also analyzed the effect the bill would have on school diversity.  By their projections, the number of students attending high-poverty and/or high-minority schools (greater than 80 percent of students receiving free/reduced lunch or non-white students) could increase under H.B. 151.  The number of schools that fail to meet the district’s diversity goals, which are based on parental education, income, and race, could increase from 12 to 40.  Currently, all schools serve at least some highly disadvantaged students; under the new requirements, up to 45 schools may have zero of these students.  JCPS’s current plan provides choice, especially to low-income parents who often live in low-income neighborhoods, to attend schools that are diverse instead of segregated.  The new requirements could mean that schools in more affluent neighborhoods reach capacity with just neighborhood students, pushing out lower income students who would have transferred in under the current plan.  Such choices would not be surprising, given research from North Carolina and Washington, D.C. that shows that geographic proximity is highly important to parents in selecting a school.  This would essentially allow for a dual system of haves and have-nots.

We know that schools of concentrated poverty have a negative impact on student achievement.  A Stanford researcher even found that the most powerful factor correlated with the racial achievement gap is the disproportionate exposure of black and Latino students to students in poverty in their schools.  Neighborhood-based school assignments often have the effect of widening the gap between students of color and their white peers by creating more socioeconomically segregated schools.  Additionally, all students benefit from diverse schools through improved cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

Many school choice advocates say that choice is a way out of “failing schools” for low-income and minority students.  However, allowing parents to choose the school closest to them may exacerbate the school segregation already put in place by housing patterns.  It could also create uncertainty across the state as local districts would have to recreate school assignment policies.  Louisville has worked to create a system that provides for parental choice and diversity based on the needs and preferences of their local community; we would hate to see choice erode for the families who can’t afford to live near more affluent schools.






February 21, 2017

Averages mask regional differences in school segregation

We recently released a report on school segregation in the U.S. While we think that following national trends are helpful, and that lessons can be learned from one region to another, we also acknowledge that segregation looks different in each region, state, and metropolitan area. So, even though racial balance overall has been improving over the past 10 years as an average of all metropolitan areas in the U.S., the reality is that it’s been getting better in about 65 percent of cities and getting worse in the other 35 percent. We should definitely be working to learn best practices from those who are improving student integration to apply to areas that are getting worse.

Brown v. Board of Education really addressed de jure segregation, or laws that required that black and white students attend different schools. These laws were on the books in 17 southern states at the time of the landmark 1954 court case. States didn’t truly begin to integrate schools until the late 1960s, as the courts enforced Brown v. Board, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1968 court case Green v. County School Board of New Kent County. As the graph below shows, the South saw the greatest decrease of black students in racially isolated schools of any region from 1968 to 1989, as they were the ones that originally had segregation laws that were overturned. Court orders were in place in many southern school districts through the 1980s, with a few still being in place today.

Regional Segregation 1

What should also be noted in this graph is that the Northeast has the highest rate of black students in isolated school settings. Some of this may be attributable to having smaller school districts, which allows for more sorting and separation of students of different races and less ability for school district leaders to truly integrate schools if they have little diversity within their borders. However, Maryland has one of the highest rates of isolated schools for black students, despite having large, county-wide districts (Maryland also has a high proportion of black students). It may also be due to large, segregated urban areas that have greater impacts on statewide segregation rates. For example, New York City public schools have very few white students, which means that black students are isolated, weighing heavily on racial isolation statistics for the entire state. Nearly two-thirds of black students in the state of New York attend schools that are less than 10 percent white, making New York the most isolating state for black students. Chicago has a similar impact for Illinois.

Of the largest 25 metropolitan areas, Chicago has the highest dissimilarity rate between black and white students; 79 percent of black students would have to move to a school with more white students in order to achieve complete racial balance (in which all schools have equal proportions of each student group).  While this, of course, is not practical, as families often live in segregated neighborhoods, it highlights the separation between students living in the same metropolitan area.

Regional Segregation 2

We can do better. We did do better, but we let gains in integration slide. School leaders need to start thinking innovatively across attendance zones and district boundaries to ensure that all students are exposed to a diverse set of peers and equal resources. That means having community support from parents who understand that diverse schools benefit all students.






February 9, 2017

Alternative facts and America’s so-called failing public schools

Hello, Joe and Mika. My name is Patte and I am a compulsive Morning Joe watcher. I enjoy the background chatter, banter and congenial badgering while I’m getting ready for work. And often a segment makes me stop and pay attention.

Which happened during Wednesday’s show. The topic was the to-the-wire confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  But the substance had more to do with our so-called failing public schools. Political strategist and frequent Morning Joe table talker Steve Schmidt kicked it off by calling our public education system “fundamentally broken” and a “total profound failure.” As evidence, he pointed to Los Angeles where, he claimed, “50 percent of Black and Latino students don’t make it to a diploma.” Joe, you piled on, saying that “public education is broken” and “everyone knows that’s the case.”  The generally affable Willie Geist weighed in: “We can’t keep dumping millions into a broken system.”

Admittedly, I’m a little sensitive. After all, being for public education is embedded in our name, the Center for Public Education. But fundamental to our mission is also being data-driven. And the ubiquitous assertion that public schools are failing sets our collective teeth on edge.

Two things:

  • By many measures, public schools are performing better than they ever have.
  • Public schools still need – and want — to do better.

Since Steve Schmidt brought it up, let’s talk about high school graduation. The rate of high school students graduating is at historically high levels. In 2014, public schools posted their highest ever graduation rate — 82 percent — largely driven by gains for Black and Latino students. To be sure, gaps are still present, but they have narrowed significantly.

So what about Los Angeles? The overall grad rate for LA Unified Schools was 72 percent in 2015, up from 62 percent five years earlier. The rates for Black and Latino students were, respectively, 67 and 71 percent, lagging their peers nationally, but clearly better than the 50 percent Schmidt reported.

Other measures may be surprising. Our younger public school students are rocking it in math. According to results of the National Assessment for Educational Progress, today’s fourth-graders score 27 points higher on the NAEP scale than their peers did in 1990. Eighth-graders have higher scores by 19 points. To put it in layman’s terms, that’s about two years more of math learning. Although reading gains aren’t quite as dramatic as math, reading scores have likewise improved over the last two decades. And here’s a shocker: in math and reading, fourth-graders perform significantly above the international average.

I could go on. College-going rates are up. High schoolers are taking higher level math and science. More of our youngest students are enrolled in high-quality pre-k programs.

This is not to say we are where we need to be. High school students aren’t improving as fast as our elementary and middle-schoolers. Despite the progress made with low-income and minority students, schools have yet to close the achievement gap. And an 82 percent grad rate is not 100 percent. Clearly, we have a lot more work to do. But the perpetuation of the notion that our public schools are failing masks the real gains public schools have made. Worse, it sends a discouraging message to the hard-working educators who are making children’s lives better every day.

Joe, Mika – I love what you do every morning. But on this topic, you are flirting with joining the culture of alternative fact. It’s not too late to pull back and we can help. We even have charts. Have Steve Rattner give us a call.

Your fan,

Patte Barth






February 7, 2017

School Improvement Grants: Why didn’t $7 billion change results for students?

Mathematica recently released a study of the federal program of Student Improvement Grants (SIG). Their findings? Schools receiving the extra funds showed no significant improvement over similar schools that did not participate. With a price tag of $7 billion (yes, with a “b”), this strikes many as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Interestingly, the study also found no evidence that the SIG schools actually had significantly higher per-pupil expenditures than similar schools that didn’t receive the grants, which may have contributed to the mediocre results.

SIG awarded up to $2 million annually to 1,400 schools, which was administered by states. The program began in the 2010-11 school year and continues through the end of the 2016-17 year. Starting in 2017-2018, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will allow states to use up to seven percent of their Title I allotments to improve the bottom five percent of schools. States may choose to dole out funds via formula or competitive grants, but districts are the ones responsible for using evidence-based practices to improve schools.

Under the old SIG rules, the federal government required schools to choose from one of these four turnaround models:

SIG 1

The new report analyzed transformation, turnaround, and restart models, and found no statistically significant effects for any of them. The authors did find positive, but not statistically significant, effects on math and reading scores for schools receiving the grant, but lower high school graduation rates. Critics of the new report have noted that the mathematical model chosen was not sensitive enough to detect small effects. The authors did find mixed effects each year, which many studies would have the power to find as significant, but due to the design, these remain insignificant. To give perspective of the magnitude of these effects, the effect of decreasing elementary class sizes by seven students is about 0.2 standard deviations; the effect of urban charter schools compared to their neighborhood schools after one year is 0.01 in math and -0.01 in reading (0.15 and 0.10 after four years). According to the Mathematica study, the results of SIG in 2012-2013 were 0.01 standard deviations in math and 0.08 standard deviations in reading, with a drop of in the graduation rate (note that SIG had a positive impact on the graduation rate in 2011-2012, which suggests that these results are not statistically significant, or could be zero). Not enough to conclude a positive effect, for sure, but not nothing, either.

 

SIG3

I’ll offer a couple of my own thoughts (based on research, of course) on why SIG didn’t have the success that was hoped for:

1. The authors found no evidence that the grant funds actually increased per-pupil spending. In government-speak, the funds may have supplanted other funding streams instead of supplementing them, even though the law states that federal funds are supposed to supplement other funds spent. They found that SIG schools spent about $245 more per student than similar non-SIG schools in 2011-2012, and only $100 more in 2012-2013 (again the results are not statistically significant, meaning that we can’t confidently say that the difference isn’t zero). Recent studies have shown that spending makes a difference in education, so this may help explain why we didn’t see a difference here.

2. Students in many priority schools (the bottom five percent of schools), which are the ones that qualified for SIG grants, may have had the option to transfer to higher-performing schools. While the report doesn’t address this, it seems that students with more involved parents and better academic achievement may have been more likely to utilize this offer, thus lowering the average scores of the schools they left behind. Students perform better when surrounded with higher-performing peers, which means that the lack of overall effect could have been influenced by the loss of higher achieving students.

3. Schools receiving SIG grants were high-poverty and high-minority. The average rate of students eligible for free-and-reduced price (FRL) lunches in the study group was 83 percent, with non-white students making up 91 percent of the school populations (as compared with the overall school population being about 50 percent FRL-eligible and 50 percent non-white). While the resources allocated through SIG to these schools should have made spending more equitable, schools may have still struggled with recruiting and retaining experienced, qualified teachers, which is often a challenge for high-poverty, high-minority schools. Research is clear that integrated schools have better outcomes for students than segregated schools. Yet, the reform strategies used under SIG (replacing school staff and/or converting to a charter school) did little to improve school integration.

Hopefully, states and districts will learn from these lessons and use school reforms that fundamentally change the practices of the school, not just a few personnel: increased funding, school integration, changes in instructional practices, meaningful teacher/principal mentoring and development, and/or wrap-around services for students in poverty or who have experienced trauma.






February 6, 2017

School district partnerships with afterschool can help meet ESSA goals

Today’s post is from guest-blogger Jillian Luchner, who is a Policy Associate with the Afterschool Alliance.  The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children and youth have access to affordable, high-quality afterschool programs.

 

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the long-awaited successor to No Child Left Behind, creates a unique framework for school boards, teachers, administrators and communities to work together to make sure all children have access to high-quality, well-rounded education.

At the NSBA’s January 19 forum, “Public Education Agenda for America’s Success,” panelists discussed how the new law, new administration, and new Congress would affect education across the nation. Despite some level of uncertainty, panelists spoke to how school boards and local – even family level -decision making could be expected to play a larger role than in the recent past. When asked specifically about what school boards might do, much of the panelists’ conversation focused on the regular school day, but panelist Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute noted that afterschool programs are a time-tested, research-based part of the solution that should not be overlooked.

Afterschool and summer programs across the nation have a strong history of supporting school systems’ efforts to provide students with a well-rounded education that puts them on the path to wellness and success. These out-of-school-time programs provide students with educational opportunities, enrichment activities, access to physical activity and nutritious meals and snacks, as well as opportunities to build leadership and social connections. Notably, afterschool programs do all that during what’s sometimes called “prime time for juvenile crime” – the afternoon hours when children are most likely to be either perpetrators or victims of crime  and when working parents worry most about their children’s safety.

Research shows that students who regularly attend quality afterschool programs improve their academics, have better school attendance and are more likely to graduate. Moreover,  , the Afterschool Alliance’s recurring, nationally representative parent survey, consistently finds that parents strongly support afterschool programs. In the 2014 survey, the most recent, 89 percent of parents with a child in a program reported being satisfied with the program. In addition, 84 percent of all parents supported public funding for afterschool, while more than 7 in 10 said they think afterschool programs reduce the chance that their child will participate in risky behavior. Additionally, 80 percent of parents report that their children’s programs offer students opportunities for physical activity, and three in four parents are happy with the healthy snacks their student’s program provides. Despite high demand, for every child enrolled in an afterschool program, the parents of two more children say they would sign their children up, but cannot either because a program isn’t available or because it isn’t affordable.

District school boards often play an important role in leveraging resources to expand access to afterschool and summer opportunities. Afterschool and summer programs are frequently operated as a partnership among community nonprofits and school districts, with funding from federal, state and local sources as well as businesses, foundations, parent fees and other contributions. The average 21st Century Community Learning Center (a federally funded program that supports competitive grants in every state) has nine partner organizations with which it coordinates, which contribute in financial and in-kind support.

Across the nation, school system partnerships with afterschool programs have expanded opportunities for students while helping districts meet their goals for student success and family involvement.

  • The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Public School System has an out-of-school-time office that works with 80 different district partners to oversee summer programming for thousands of district students. Using research-based systems of support, the office coordinates closely with out-of-school time providers in the district and supports data, quality and systems-building to meet the city’s goals of graduation and college- and career-ready students.
  • In the early 1990s, the Corbin Independent School District (Kentucky) created the Redhound Enrichment afterschool program after conducting a community needs assessment in the district. Originally focused on providing a much-needed safe place for children in the afternoon hours, the program subsequently expanded its offerings to include more academic components, with the support of a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. Twenty-five years later, the program is still in operation, employing a project-based learning model to provide a mix of academic supports, hands-on activities, physical activity and opportunities to primary and secondary students.
  • In Redwood City, CA the district builds partnerships with non-profit and private providers including youth centers, parks and recreation, Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA to offer afterschool opportunities. The programs give children opportunities for academic support, developing new skills and relationship building as well as other opportunities. Parent surveys show 97% satisfaction with the programs.

Such efforts are the tip of the iceberg, as afterschool programs across the nation work with school districts to promote student success.

With the Every Student Succeeds Act going into full implementation this year, now is a perfect time for districts to coordinate more closely with afterschool and summer learning programs. Final state plans are due to the federal Department of Education in either April or September and many state drafts (see our map) are out now. As part of that process, school districts will engage parents and other community stakeholders to consider how to meet state goals for improving graduation rates, academic achievement and student engagement and reducing chronic absenteeism.

Afterschool and summer programs are well-poised to help meet all these goals, and the 50 statewide afterschool networks stand ready to help connect school districts with afterschool and summer learning programs in their communities.

 

Jillian joined the Afterschool Alliance team as a Policy Associate in 2015. Her work involves tracking trends in afterschool policy and programs at the state and federal level and communicating successful and innovative approaches toward supporting youth during out-of-school time. Jillian worked for years as a teacher and afterschool educator in the Washington D.C. region. She also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and community development director in California’s Central Valley. She holds undergraduate degrees in Economics and Geology and a Master’s in Public Policy specializing in education from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Filed under: After School,ESSA,Guest Blog,Parents,Public education — Tags: — Chandi Wagner @ 12:53 pm





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