How many reports does it take to close the opportunity gap?   12 comments

Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the commercial from which I borrowed (paraphrased) the blog title. Remember the Tootsie Pop commercial with the boy and Mr. Owl? The boy always asked, “Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?” Every time, Mr. Owl would take the boy’s Tootsie Pop and start licking; he eventually just bit into it. The boy could have saved himself the grief and just counted for himself, instead he continued to wait for someone to answer his question. What’s my point? Do we really need another report to tell us that the number of low-income school kids is steadily growing?  Didn’t we read a similar report from the Southern Education Foundation a few months ago? And yes, I weighed-in on that one too. I was surprised that Steve Suitts, the author of the January report and Vice President of the foundation, responded to my comments (and I asked how I could help). Here is an excerpt:

“The reality is that far too many students of color and low income students of all races and ethnicities aren’t getting the education they need. The students who need the most resources and support are now usually getting the least. For large numbers of these students to succeed, this pattern has to change. Our report is a call to arms in fighting for that change. Best wishes.”

So if the first report was a ‘call to arms in fighting’ for change, what does that make the second report? Better yet, what will that make the reports that we know will follow? By no means am I being cynical, but rather practical and realistic. Anyone who has spent time (as a teacher or volunteer) in an urban classroom knows the financial circumstances of the students. We know that the number of students now eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch has increased because the economy is in the crapper, and millions of people, with kids, are now unemployed. Did we really need another report to tell us that? How much money and human resources were spent on this study? Aren’t there better ways to use those resources? How about spending some time with lawmakers and educating them on the unseen effects of double-digit unemployment, e.g., families with fewer financial resources to pay for such novelties as food, school supplies, and after-school enrichment programs? Now I feel as though I sound like a broken record because I talk about the same issues, e.g., school reform, wasteful spending, etc., in almost every post. Stuitts has a valid point about the allocation of resources, but when will we see a detailed study on how these states (15 in the South), spend Title I and Special Education funds? Some districts spend more of those funds on administrative costs (unnecessary training, conferences, etc.) than instructional resources. And they get away with it because the federal government’s accountability system is weak. Unless and until stricter guidelines are developed, implemented, and monitored districts will continue to take advantage and waste free money our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, districts will continue to blame their AYP shortcomings on the fact that there are a large number of low-income students in their classrooms. And the madness will continue. So I am issuing a BOLO for the next study telling us that there are now more poor kids in America than ever before. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

12 responses to “How many reports does it take to close the opportunity gap?

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  1. Great post as usual! Yes, yes, the powers that be continue to feel compelled to spend money to tell us how bad shit is…Next time, they can just call me, I’ll pick them up from the airport take then to the nearest urban neighborhood we can do a poll and write it up. Think of how much money we can save?

    You are right! It’s ridiculous.
    You don’t sound like a broken record though. Just a cd on repeat. It is the system that’s broken and all their records suck!

  2. Great commentary. You’re not broke, the system is and it’s good to hear someone speak up.

  3. I think people do those studies so they can feel as if they’re doing “something”, when in reality, the people who are on the front lines know they aren’t doing anything to truly help.

    Plus, legislators take those same studies, and use the 1-2 “facts” their staff members highlight for them as their “talking points”, still they do little to effect REAL CHANGE!

  4. July 10, 2010

    Dear Education CEO,

    In essence you ask: why do we need another study on low-income students in the public schools? My answer: because the reality of our public schools is not as evident to the voting public and policymakers as it may be to you. Only about one out of every four households – and more likely one out of every five or six registered voters — today have any direct connection with public schools. Because of demographic trends, unlike prior eras, most citizens and voters do not know the issues and conditions of public schools today first-hand or through their own children. Your knowledge is not the knowledge and understanding of those who are the majority of persons who vote on school issues at the polls and in the legislatures.

    You raise a serious, good question about whether all or most school districts spend their federal funds for support of low income students wisely and effectively. It is an issue worthy of study. However, it does not negate the validity of our concern at the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) that a fundamental problem in public education financing is the mal-distribution of available resources: students with the greatest needs get the least help. Our latest report documents that nationally the median school district among those with below 5 percent of their children in extreme poverty (below ½ the poverty threshold) spend annually over $6000 per child more than the median school district with 10 percent of more children in extreme poverty. There may be some districts that are misusing their federal “poverty” funds, but I doubt the amount nationally approaches an average of $6,000 per child. In fact, as our study points out, the maximum average amount of all federal funds to local school district with highest rates of poverty is only about $1,000 per student.

    Finally, I will note simply that this is the first study ever to examine children in extreme poverty in the nation’s school districts. While many often use “low-income” and “poor” interchangeable, the difference between the conditions for a child living in a family with an income of 175 percent of poverty is very different from those below 50 percent of poverty. In the past, many advocates and policymakers have assumed that the national count of “homeless children” (about 1.5 million children) reflected the count for most extremely poor children. This study documents that the number of children in extreme poverty is actually 6 times higher than that low count.

    In a data-driven society, SEF believes its studies can be an important contribution to improving education for poor children. And we will continue our efforts to put the findings of this study and our prior studies on poor students before policymakers and the general public in Washington and in the Southern states in various ways.

    I dare say that if most members of the voting public and legislative bodies were as well-informed as you are, our policies and practices in education for low income children would be much different. Until that day, SEF is committed to using evidence-based studies in our work to help reshape public will and public policies to improve public schools for the neediest children. Our strategies at SEF may not always suit you, but I think we share the same goal.

    Best wishes.

    — Steve Suitts

  5. Is SEF sending these reports to the governor, superintendents, and politicians in those states mentioned? Are they asking SEF what can and should be done about this phenomenon? If not, then what purpose does another study serve? I am asking that question with sincerity, just as asked the last time how I could help. How many more will we see before those who are positions to make some significant changes actually act? That is the real question.

  6. Of course, SEF is sending reports to those decisionmakers and others. And following up with meetings when possible. We encourage others to do so. An SEF report is only a evidenced-based tool in our work, not an end.

    Regrettably, it will probably be a long march on this issue until we reach real progress — whether we like it or not. As Adam Clayton Powell used to say often, “Keep the faith”… and do the work. That is what SEF is trying to do. Best wishes.

  7. I do not buy the argument that policymakes and voters do not know the condition of our public schools. As the Ed CEO indicated, there have been numerous studies on the issue already. Remember by Jonathan Kozol? That book is nearly 20 years old, and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. What I do believe, is that the problems have been IGNORED and that it’s time for everyone involved in a child’s education to get their priorities straight and to stop treating education as if it is a privilege and not a right.

    “Low income” students need to feel that they are a part of the educational process, which will take resources (money) to do this. Reaching out to students who need it will take not only teacher training/accountability, but also strong mentoring and parental support. This needs to take place nationally, not just in some districts or at some schools. Perhaps we could use some money to make more public service announcements or something, instead of politicians using it to argue about everything else.

  8. I love Kozol’s work. A college professor introduced me to his work. And you are right, it is old….too old to still be ‘talking’ about it. Here’s my issue: Districts have the financial resources-don’t believe for a second that they don’t. The federal government has not cut funding for Title I, Special Education, or ESL programs. Districts need to be held accountable for EVERY penny of federal funds they spend. Sending administrators to numerous conferences is inexcusable, especially if they are not bringing the information back into the schools to share with teacher and parents. The stuff they learn at conferences can be learned from books, web sites, talking to parents, and emailing some of these ‘experts’ to ask questions. Spend the money where it is most needed: Programs that will help students and parents; programs that will address immediate needs.

  9. One bit of research I would like to see are from the Republican/Democrats’ political statements that poverty and class sizes don’t matter, that good teachers is the main difference in student learning (Race to the Top Fund requires an effective teacher clause for school systems to qualify). I think it’s just another way to divert what the problems are and to divert proper spending of education funds. Good teachers do make a difference, but we cannot overlook other key issues in student achievement. Everyone cannot just pull up their boot strings and be successful. Selling that story is just America’s cheap way of making excuses for the failures of our society instead of taking ownership of them. As my professor used to say, “America wants things three ways – good, cheap, and easy…and good is always left out.”

  10. In my district, the Title 1 schools get far more resources (teachers and materials) than the non-Title 1 schools, especially at the elementary level. They get class size reduction monies and extra support specialists.

    However, what I see is a persistent lack of quality leadership at many of these schools. The communities are not empowered to demand better and thus, they don’t get it.

    Until a few years ago, shuffling bad teachers to these schools was commonplace. A superintendent finally ended that practice, but I suspect that damage persists.

    In addition, in my state anyway, since the reading standardized test can be passed by a child not on grade level AYP is a meaningless measure. Except the parents in these communities don’t understand this and have been given false confidence in the neighborhood schools because of NCLB.

    • You are right about the resources that get disbursed to Title I schools but you have to realize that it’s because large numbers of students from low-income families attend those schools. In more affluent districts, parents can afford private tutors, activities, music lessons, etc. As a parent who volunteered in my kids
      s school, I can assure you that there are no class size reductions happening in Gwinnett County. In fact, the State Board of Education (SBOE) just voted to increase class sizes. I should also add that many districts have implemented a salary freeze and furloughs are mandatory statewide. I agree with your statement on lack of quality leadership in schools and sometimes that is the culprit responsible for low parental involvement or low teacher morale.A lot of the parents at our school strongly dislike the administrative staff and disagree with decisions. In reality, the only to bring about change (in our case) is to start attending board meetings and speaking on the record. I plan to do just that this school year. Don’t give us a Black principal simply because the majority of the students are Black. Give us a principal who is compassionate about education and displays respect for the teachers and parents.

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