Vergara, Fair Student Funding and Open Market: Do Department Policies Violate the Fundamental Right to Equality of Education?

The judge in the California Vergara tenure decision wrote,

Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and, that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low income and minority students … plaintiffs equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.

What if plaintiffs in New York State argue that high achieving, high wealth schools receive higher per capita funding than low achieving, high poverty schools violating the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights? and, in New York City, discourage schools from hiring experienced teachers?

What if the plaintiffs in New York City argue that high achieving selective schools have more experienced, higher achieving teachers and better educated teachers than high poverty, low achieving schools violating the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights?

The policies in New York City relating to student funding and teacher transfer both result in less experienced and in some cases less effective teachers working in schools serving poorer students.

In pre-Bloomberg days late in the school year Budget Memorandum # 1 would arrive – the hundred plus page document explaining the budget dollars for the upcoming school year was highly anticipated by each school district. The district divided up the dollars in the form of positions to each school.

In the nineties a new idea began to gain acceptance, staffing decisions should be made at the school site, not at a distant district office. Decisions over dollars should be driven by student needs, called weighted student funding.

An innovative process called weighted student formula is a fair and equitable way to distribute funds for school budgets. The amount of money given to a school will be based on individual student need, not enrollment. This means that students with more needs will receive more resources. For the first time, funding will follow students to whichever schools they attend, equalizing opportunities at the student level.

How weighted student formula works:
• A specific dollar amount will be allocated to educate each student enrolled.
• Additional money will be given to educate students with identified characteristics that impact their learning and achievement.

Eric Hanischek, an economist, questions whether the presumption that better decisions are made at the school site has a research support.

The highest-poverty schools in urban areas traditionally have received less funding than more-advantaged schools, not because of programmatic disparities, but largely because they employ more rookie teachers who come with lower salaries than more-senior educators…

A lovely school in Brownstone Brooklyn or Eastern Queens may have many senior teachers while a school in Brownsville many newer teachers, under the old system if you multiplied the school average teacher salary by the number of teachers and divided by the number of students the schools in Brownstone Brooklyn and Eastern Queens would receive substantially higher per capita funding than the school in Brownsville. Under a weighted student funding approach the funds would follow the student and the school budget would be the sum total of the students weights

The underlying motivation for weighted student funding is built on a presumption that districts are making patently bad decisions, either because of a lack of capacity or distorted incentives. Is it the case that these problems appear just at the district level, but not the school level? Why do we believe that school-level personnel—without any prior training and experience—will become better stewards of resources or better judges of personnel, curricula, or instructional techniques?

The reform envisioned is not so much about providing differential dollars based on student needs, but about changing who makes funding decisions.

The Bloomberg/Klein administration jumped on board using the term Fair Student Funding. See the latest Fair Funding Resource Guide, especially pp 49ff which explains the funding of teachers at schools: See Guide http://schools.nyc.gov/offices/d_chanc_oper/budget/dbor/allocationmemo/fy14_15/FY15_PDF/FSF_Guide.pdf

There is a significant flaw in the system, new hires are charged at their actual salary; principals are forced to factor in the cost of the teacher, i. e., should I hire the experienced $80,000 teacher or the newer $60,000 teacher? Since high poverty schools have much higher staff attrition the Fair Student Funding rules push principals to hire the least experienced, namely, “cheaper” teachers.

The Vergara law suit alleges that high poverty schools have the least experienced and least effective teachers and the current Fair Student Funding rules reinforce these claims.

There is a simple “fix,” a way to extinguish the Vergara claim, new hires should be “charged” to the school at the average district salary, not actual salary, experienced and newer teachers would be treated equally.

One of the keys to improving outcomes in high poverty schools is recruiting and retaining the best possible teachers and the current Fair Student Funding rules add an unnecessary word, “recruiting and retaining the best and cheapest teachers.” The current rules are antithetical to the outcomes we seek.

The Bloomberg/Klein administration vigorously attacked the seniority transfer system; each spring the Board posted half of all vacancies and teachers with at least five years of service could file for seniority transfer, and, no more than 5% of could transfer out of a school. Subsequent transfers required five years of service since the last transfer.

Under the Open Market Transfer System any teacher, regardless of seniority can transfer to any school regardless of years of service.

The current rules facilitate teachers moving from school to school and the movement is from high poverty, low achieving to higher achieving schools; there is considerable research,

Urban schools, in particular, have lesser-qualified teachers; and New York City stands out among urban areas. Low-income, low-achieving and non-white students, particularly those in urban areas, find themselves in classes with many of the least skilled teachers.

and, another study finds,

… we find that teachers with better pre-service qualifications (certification exam scores, college competitiveness) are more likely to apply for transfer, while teachers whose students demonstrate higher achievement growth are less likely. On the other hand, schools prefer to hire “higher quality” teachers across measures that signal quality. The results suggest that not only do more effective teachers prefer to stay in their schools but that schools are able to identify and hire the best candidates when given the opportunity.

Current Department policy is accelerating the movement of more effective teachers out of high poverty schools to higher achieving schools thereby violating the equal protection rights of minority students by adversely affecting the quality of their education.

The Department could remedy the issue by reinstituting the “five year rule” or limiting the number of teacher allowed to transfer from, “focus” and “priority” schools.

“Rules” that disadvantage one class of students passed by a prior administration are not written in stone, and, in fact, if the “rules” violate the civil rights of a class of students, if the rules adversely impact the quality of education, the courts could embarrass the current administration.

Perhaps the Chancellor should consider the recommended changes.

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10 responses to “Vergara, Fair Student Funding and Open Market: Do Department Policies Violate the Fundamental Right to Equality of Education?

  1. Nice!

    I particularly like the reference to charging schools the ‘average teacher salary’ and it should be the City average. That will singlehandly evaporate the practice of Principals hiring the cheapest staff, and remove any incentive to find fault with experience. Now all we need is equitable per pupil funding and decent class sizes and the achievement of the kids should really improve. All without the statistical games now being played by the various educational agencies like the Regents.

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  2. This funding method is flawed, it will accelerate and increase the number of rookie or inexperienced teachers to high poverty schools; if the school is funded at an average salary, the more teachers that make below the average salary a school has, the more money the school will have available for other purposes. This will incentivize high poverty schools to hire rookie and less experienced teachers to fund other activities, and to try to encourage experienced, higher paid teachers to leave. Isn’t this the problem we’re trying to cure, to get more experienced, higher quality teachers (I know the more experience doesn’t always equate to higher quality instruction) into high poverty schools?

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    • If teachers are hired at average district salary there is no incentive to hire less expensive teachers, other districts in the nation who use weighted student funding use average district salary.

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  3. It’s my recollection, and these days those recollections may be faulty, that the changes that you mentioned above were pretty much celebrated by the union when Klein/Bloomberg made them. With the exception of leaving senior teachers in the lurch, the opportunity for all teachers to apply for transfers each year without the former criteria and to stop the practice of coercing excessed teachers to accept undesirable assignments (the formation of the ATR list) were celebrated as a good thing. How circumstances with time change!. You could also make the same argument about the recent changes in tenure – teachers with inferior tenure packages may be more apt to leave the profession, thereby placing high poverty schools in a further state of a transient faculty and thus even more disadvantaged. The stakes are high, so let’s get the story straight.

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  4. Prior to FSF, schools in the poorest sections of town were subsidizing schools in the wealthiest communities by as much as $2000 per students. What a thing to aspire to return to!

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  5. Weighted Student Funding formula in other cities uses “average district salary,” only NYC uses “actual teacher salary,” in the hiring process … hring committees should hire the best candidate without having to factor the salary of the teacher.

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  6. Once again, Eric uses a slanted, partial point to make a broad generalization. FSF was designed PRECISELY to victimize experience, and encourage the hiring of Teach For America six week ‘wonders’ and other UNQUALIFIED staff. If there is a concern, AND THERE SHOULD BE, about the difficulty of bringing kids from difficult backgrounds up to academic standards, there are funding streams that address those concerns, and more can be created. The existence of pay subsidies for staff serving in schools with those issues has been around for decades and perhaps needs enhancement. There was nothing fair about the Fair Student Formula!! Principals did away with libraries, licensed counselors, gym, art, music, etc. all with the full knowledge of Eric, and others at the TWEED building. Why retain an experienced educator when two nubies can be hired at the same cost under this ‘formula’?

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  7. How about the fact that not all schools are funded at 100% of FSF? Schools that operated on smaller budgets prior to the introduction of FSF have not been brought up to 100% of FSF, while all new schools since the introduction of FSF are funded at 100%. My school only receives 85% of the dollars supposedly attached to each of our students, regardless of student needs. This is another area of inequality that is rarely reported on.

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  8. I have stated repeatedly that the “Fair Student Funding” encourages principals to hire the “cheapest” and not the “best teachers” for their school.

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