Accountability, Assessment and Equity: Part 1

Education conversations toss around terms, without any agreement on the definition of the terms. This is the first of three blogs investigating the terms.

What do we mean by equity? 

The most common discussion re equity centers on the funding of schools and the use of the funding to address the needs of poorest the students.

The federal government has authorized over $100B, dollars that must be spent within a narrow time frame. How are states using this windfall of dollars and how do we think the dollars should be expended? Ed Trust finds the information about the use of the dollars “murky” and in a recent Report makes a number of recommendations,

Ed Trust evaluated American Rescue Plan (ARP) spending plans across the nation in search of districts that are using ARP funds on “promising practices” — those that research suggests will advance equity. We evaluated district spending plans based on the five things we believe are most important:

 • Accelerating student learning, including targeted intensive tutoring and expanded learning time

 • Student, family, and community engagement

 • Safe and equitable learning environments

 • Teacher recruitment and retention

 • Data equity and reporting transparency

ARP dollars sunset after a few years and we have to face state funding priorities.

In New York State schools are primarily funded through local property taxes, school funding is tied to the value of your house, and the wealthier the school districts the more the dollars for schools. Some districts are building new facilities others have trouble paying their fuel bills. Advocates have attacked state fundng through the courts since the early nineties, The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) filed a law suit in 1993, the suit inched its way through the courts and in a landmark decision Judge Leland DeGrasse sustained the appellants,

… the New York State constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a “sound basic education,” defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation.

Governors Pataki and Cuomo opposed the decision, appealed through the appellate courts and when they lost used the 2008 recession and refused to comply with Justice de Grasse’s decision; in 2021 Governor Hochul settled the issue by agreeing to fully comply. (See here)

While the settlement of the almost thirty-year old lawsuit is laudatory education dollars in New York State are still far from equitable.

Michael Rubell, who led the Campaign for Fiscal Equity fight, now, continues the battle at the Center of Education Equity at Columbia University,

In New York City education dollars are part of the city budget and the city is a “strong mayor” system, the 51-member City Council has limited powers, all the commissioners, including the schools chancellor, are selected by the mayor. The Council must approve the budget. This past June the Council approved a budget that included a substantial decrease in education dollars and when a group of advocates filed a lawsuit most Council members supported the lawsuit and also did not restore the dollars. The budget included substantial dollars for each council member for local capital projects selected by the member. Ah, the wonders of politics ….

Once the budget is approved the Department of Education uses a formula, called Fair Student Funding (FSF) to distribute the dollars to schools, the formula, devised during the Bloomberg days is highly controversial, Mayor de Blasio appointed a task force to explore, no suggestions have yet been issued, and a new working group has been exploring the formula See a detailed discussion of the working group discussions here.

The formula “weights” the funding based upon a range of student categories and needs – see the link above.

About a decade ago the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School University released a report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” (revised 2014) aside from a deep dive into chronic absenteeism and student achievement the report identified 18 factors that influence poverty and suggested creating a Poverty Risk Load Index

Inspired by recent research on truly disadvantaged public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools. When, for example, some 80 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful. Instead, we concentrated on indicators of what can be called “deep poverty,” such as the percentage of the student body living in temporary or public housing, the number of students’ families that have at some time faced allegations of child abuse or neglect, and adult educational attainments in the community served by the school. Our risk load assessment also took account of each school’s own stability and viability, including data on school safety, turnover among administrators and classroom teachers, and student suspensions …

Effective school leadership can indeed make a big difference in even the most deeply impoverished communities. At the same time, the evidence is undeniable that the most appalling levels of persistent chronic absenteeism are found where deep poverty’s burdens are heaviest; lightening those burdens is a duty New York City can’t shirk

New York City appears to be edging towards an equitable distribution of the budgeted dollars.  The budget, of course, is a political document.

An example of a complex issue is teacher salaries that vary from district to district:  school receive budgets in dollars, do you use actual teacher salaries or average teacher salaries?  Citywide average or District average? In other words should a principal have to decide on which teacher to hire based on the salary (experience) of the teacher?  One of a number of difficult decisions.

While the current FSF task force is involved in important work we can’t limit “equitable” to funding?  For example,

Should we be satisfied until every school becomes a Community School?

Does the City have policies to address the issues external to schools, namely in the Poverty Risk Load factors metric?

Next blog: assessment

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