October 11, 2006

Rich School, Poor School

Super teacher TMAO left the following comment in my post about schools not being able to spend their way to academic achievement:
No, you can't spend your way to academic success, but neither can you reasonably assert that funding inequities play no role in the perpetuating low-performance, or in limiting the efforts of those who seek to reverse the tide. My school has lengthened the day to provide increased instructional opportunities. This costs money. We used a High Priority school grant for two years, quadrupled the number of proficient students, and lost the money because we're no longer High Priority. Does this make sense? In areas where kids have more needs, longer days and after school programs are more critical, ADA is relatively less and funding scarce. Does this make sense?
These are all good arguments that deserve closer scrutiny. Let's take each one in order.

You can't reasonably assert that funding inequalities play no role in perpetuating low-performance.

That depends on the schools' actual funding levels. There's a good argument to be made that we live in a time of super-funding of schools. First, you need to know how much money it actually takes to education a student. The estimates I've seen are in the neighborhood of $8,000 per student for a typical public school. Most schools are funded well above this level. If poor school only has $9,000 per pupil, that's enough to educate. If rich school has $16,000 that's way more than enough and will likely buy lots of window dressings. What it doesn't buy is a better education; once you account for SES effects rich schools perform about the same as poor schools.

Urban schools are the worst offenders. Typically they are funded up with the richest schools in the state and yet their facilities are decrepit and crumbling and supplies are scarce. This is pure fiscal mismanagement.

I don't buy into the argument that it's more expensive to educate low SES kids either. Good teaching is no more expensive than poor teaching. However, the result of poor teaching is vastly more expensive since the underperforming kids will be shuffled off to the uber-expensive special ed. Just because a kid starts off well behind his middle class peers does not mean that he can't learn at a sufficient clip to keep-up. That requires good teaching, a commodity in short supply in most schools no matter how well they are funded.

You can't reasonably assert that funding inequalities don't limit remediation efforts

TMAO gives the example of lengthening the school day, which is labor intensive and expensive, to significantly raise student performance.

Certainly this is one way to increase student achievement (output) -- teach for more hours at the same rate (input). The efficiency (input/output) remains the same with this reform, so it is much more expensive. Another, more preferred way to raise student achievement is to increase the efficiency of the school -- teach more in the same time. To this you need an accelerated curriculum and effective teachers. Accelerated curricula are in short supply, but they tend to be no more expensive that other curricula. In the private sector, companies pursuing path one would quickly be put out of business by the companies pursuing path two.

Let's put the argument in layman's terms by analogizing education to a rally race. TMAO is saying that he has to start the race far behind the rich school district's race car but he can catch up to the rich race car by driving the car for longer hours. The rich race car has lots of extra money which it uses to pimp out the car. Instead of using the money on bling, he can use the money on paying the drivers and for extra supplies needed drive the car longer. My argument is that all you need is better drivers to drive the car faster so you can catch up to the rich race car by the end of the race.

Extra money and being in the noncompetitive public sector affords the rich school districts the luxury of inefficiency. So in a sense, TMAO's options are being limited because his school can't be as extravagantly wasteful as the rich school district. But, this is a race to the bottom and is financial impractical. Given more funds, most schools will merely piss them away rather than improve their product. Witness every big city school. Witness the tripling of school funding in inflation adjusted dollars since the 70s.

There's also another argument that all schools, including the poor schools, could be spending their existing money more efficiently and initiate their expensive reforms on their own There's nothing to say that there is not sufficient funding in existing budgets to achieve this. Poor schools, however, want the freedom to continue to operate as inefficiently as they've always done.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

It *should* be more expensive to educate low SES kids because, in general, the working conditions are worse.

High SES kids *tend* to do their homework. High SES kids tend to attend class regularly. High SES kids tend to do better on tests. Etc. This helps to make teaching more fun for the teacher (hey, we're making progress!), which makes for better working conditions.

Low SES kids do their homework less, and cut class more. Or vanish for weeks at a time when the family heads off on vacation. My ex-sister-in-law taught math in a low SES school for two years. It was incredibly frustrating for her because the kids *would* *not* do homework and she could not even count on all the kids being present.

Math is harder to teach when some random/varying fraction of the class missed the last two weeks of material and thus can't follow the current material.

So ... given a choice between teaching in a high SES school or a low SES school and making the same pay, I'd guess that many/most teachers will opt for the high SES school. I know that I would.

Additionally, with NCLB, if the school isn't making adequate progress, the state can take over the school and fire the teachers (even those with tenure, I think). This makes working in a low SES school more risky because you are more likely to be out of a job.

To get teachers into the low SES school when they can work in a high SES school *is* going to cost more money if the teachers have a choice (and in California, most got a choice a few years ago when we reduced class sizes ... one side effect was many teachers leaving the poorer schools once they had the chance).

None of which means that the schools don't have enough money already or that they are spending it wisely ...

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

What do you think the shape of a graph of Educational Results versus dollars would look like? It would definitely not be linear. As the dollars go up, the increase in effectiveness goes down. At some point, the curve will really flatten out. If you use a test like NAEP to judge effectiveness, this curve should shift dramatically towards the lower dollar range.

You tell me what dollar amount you need to be effective and I will give it to you, as long as you get the job done.

More money is better than less money is not a valid argument.


If you change to a better curriculum, the shape of the curve might not change very much, but the curve would be a lot higher than before.

Spending more time in school should help, but how much is 10 percent more time in school going to help when you are doing the same poor things as before. The money is used to drive the car longer, but the car isn't any better and the drivers are not any better. If the car only works 30 percent of the time, then 30 percent of 10 percent more time is not very much.

Besides, there is no reason that the kids should be behind in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Urban schools cannot use the kids who don't care or are disruptions to avoid providing the willing and able kids with a good education. The goal is individual educational opportunity; not reducing some real or perceived gap.

SteveH said...

" ... the kids *would* *not* do homework and she could not even count on all the kids being present."

This isn't necessarily a money issue. If schools cannot or will not separate those who can and will from those who can't or won't, then they will make sure that nobody does well. (Some schools really like to hide behind these "external" excuses.)

The assumption is that these kids will not be held back, flunk out, or placed in different sections. This is a philosophical choice (a bad one) and not a money choice. There is some salvation with the tracking by ability in high school, but most of the damage has been done.

In affluent school districts, the problems are low expectations and bad curricula. There are few student issues, but many students are not properly prepared and challenged for high school. By high school, it's all over.

A delta increase in money is not going to fix these problems.

rightwingprof said...

"If schools cannot or will not separate those who can and will from those who can't or won't"

It's not cannot. It's will not. Schools -- and teachers -- give inflated grades that have nothing to do with how well children learn the material, and they do so deliberately.

The only way they'll stop is if they are FORCED to stop.

allen said...

From what I've read repeatedly, the educational-efficacy versus dollars graph wouldn't be linear or non-linear. It would be a randomly distributed cloud of data points indicating no relationship between educational efficacy and funding whatsoever. Which goes right along with a point I've been pounding away at with Cassandra-like results: education isn't important in the public education system.

But let's not limit the resource to funding. Just what is it that more of or less of would inevitably result in better education?

TMAO offers more time in school as one possibility. Another real popular factor to adjust is class size. Along with greater funding there's the not-necessarily-related quantity that many imply would result in greater educational efficacy: raising teacher's salaries.

There's a list of four quantitative resources which, individually and in various groupings, have been made the key factor(s) that are pivotal to the improvement of the public education system. Anybody got any evidence that any of them do any good? My guess is - no but I'm willing to be surprised.

But let's just go with "no" and see where that leads.

Missing from the list is "better teachers". Strictly speaking, that isn't a quantitative measure but what the hell.

Does anyone doubt that better teachers result in better education? I think it would be a difficult proposition to argue against yet the idea that teacher A is better then teacher B kicks off all sorts angry responses. The reasons for the angry responses are understandable. What's harder to divine is why those angry responses should be an impediment to identifying those better teachers.

As luck would have it, I've got an answer to that question but it doesn't seem to be a particularly popular answer or even a particularly visible answer since it hardly ever gets a response. It's the reason NCLB is causing such a ruckus and it's the reason teacher A isn't likely to get much more then an ataboy for being good at their job.

The answer is that education doesn't matter in public education.

SteveH said...

" ...the educational-efficacy versus dollars graph wouldn't be linear or non-linear. It would be a randomly distributed cloud of data points..."

I was referring to the graph for one school, but I suppose that for a delta increase in spending (at current spending levels), one cannot predict whether the graph will go up or down. If it goes down, I suppose they will say that the test scores were negatively affected by just a few students.


"The answer is that education doesn't matter in public education."

Our public schools care about education, but conveniently, this definition does not include test results.

Anonymous said...

"You tell me what dollar amount you need to be effective and I will give it to you, as long as you get the job done.

More money is better than less money is not a valid argument."

No argument from here.
My best guess is that for most states, the current amount spent per child is more than sufficient if spent moderately efficiently.

Which doesn't change the fact that lower SES schools need more money than higher SES schools to deliver an equivalent education. One reason is that when bidding for teachers, the lower SES school is at a disadvantage because the working conditions suck. Another is that lower SES schools tend to spend more money on things like metal detectors and graffitti (did I spell that right?) removal.

I'm not arguing that public schools need more money. I am arguing that spending identical dollar amounts on high and low SES students (assuming equal amounts of wastefulness) will result in lower SES students getting a worse education than the high SES students.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"This isn't necessarily a money issue. If schools cannot or will not separate those who can and will from those who can't or won't, then they will make sure that nobody does well.

:

A delta increase in money is not going to fix these problems."

That's right.

I'll also argue that when a solid majority of parents believe that the school *their* kid goes to is good, we won't see any problems fixed.

Most parents think that lousy schools are a national problem, but not a local problem.

I sometimes wonder if we should stop trying to convince the parents otherwise...


-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"From what I've read repeatedly, the educational-efficacy versus dollars graph wouldn't be linear or non-linear. It would be a randomly distributed cloud of data points indicating no relationship between educational efficacy and funding whatsoever."

Sigh.

Actually, I think it is non-linear and points downward.

Think Washington, D.C.
Or Kansas City desegregation (80's and 90's I think ... unless I have the wrong city).

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"The answer is that education doesn't matter in public education."

I think this is pretty close to accurate. My understanding is that most school laws require *attendance*, but not learning.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Spending ... ah, yes.

Kansas City.

Here: http://www.amren.com/9512issue/9512issue.html

-Mark Roulo

Jetgirl said...

There's also another argument that all schools, including the poor schools, could be spending their existing money more efficiently and initiate their expensive reforms on their own

Yes! Exactly.

I bought the "more funds create better education" myth until I met my husband, who was educated in a poor public school in Jamaica. When I say the school was "poor," I don't mean it was comprable with lower-income US schools, I mean most of the students couldn't afford shoes, they had one large room for all grades (separated by blackboards), and the students had a pipe spigot to drink out of in the yard.

His education, especially in math and grammar, was superior. If the Jamaicans can do it with dirt floors, why can't we get it together for "poor" schools in the US?

Until the schools can show me they can do well with what they have, I refuse to vote any more money to the bloated system.

Laura said...

"If schools cannot or will not separate those who can and will from those who can't or won't, then they will make sure that nobody does well."

Call me a commie, but aren't we backing NO CHILD Left Behind? Or is your contention that we separate them and then they won't be can'ts and won'ts anymore? I, for one, am not in it just to educate the easy ones.

"In affluent school districts, the problems are low expectations and bad curricula."

The problem all over is low expectations, and not just within schools. Teaching in a low SES community, I'm telling you now that the academic apathy is a longstanding endemic condition that will not go away without cooperation to restructure priorities in the community as a whole. My kids, I would say, come to me disadvantaged (as compared to Dr. DeRosa's son and classmates) not because they or their schools lacked money, but because the emphasis on things like reading early on did not exist.

And if there is anything I've been taught by reading this blog, it is that there is no hope for them by the time they get to me, thus leaving early emphasis as the only hope.

SteveH said...

"I, for one, am not in it just to educate the easy ones."

Did I say this? Where did I say this? Are you saying that you can only educate kids if you track them by age and not ability or willingness to work. Do you belive in social promotion? Is this educating kids, or, is it just passing them along and making yourself feel better? The only way to educate these lower achievers is by making sure they ruin the education of the more able students?


"... the academic apathy is a longstanding endemic condition that will not go away without cooperation to restructure priorities in the community as a whole."

External forces. We've been here before. So low expectations has nothing to do with the schools and the really crappy or non-existent curricula? In our affluent town, the problem is NOT the kids, but the K-8 schools. the external forces complaint is a cop-out. You won't separate kids by abiliity, you want social promotion, and you want to blame everything on external forces.

" ... thus leaving early emphasis as the only hope."

Yes, and that is the job of the schools. And don't tell me that it has to start before Kindergarten. Look at the standardized tests. They are trivial. There are absolutely no excuses.

Anonymous said...

"How much money does it take to education a student?"

You know, like, in grammar?

Inquiring minds want to know.

KDeRosa said...

Anon, why would you select a clear typo over all the real grammatical and spelling errors to demonstrate how learned you are? A true pedantic jackass, unlike a wannabee poser, would go after the obscure grammatical errors that only Fowler would have discovered.

Laura said...

Steveh, clearly we are dealing with different circumstances. I did not say before kindergarten, but I do not teach kindergarten, but 10th grade English and high school Spanish. Therefore I can do no more about motivating them early than you can; anything either of us did would have to be voluntary, not part of my job any more than it is yours.

Also, I do not teach in an affluent school. I seek applications to my school, not yours.

TMAO said...

Ken et al,

Sorry I'm late to the party.

The racecar metaphor may be apt -- I don't know what really happens in affluent schools and districts -- but I didn't go that far, nor do we, I think, need to. If folks want to pimp out their cars, fine, but we need to make sure the busted up Chevy's are at least running at the same time. Why are the Chevy's busted up? Who cares; they are, and we need to fix it.

I agree, though, with your assertion that many of the problems in education can be fixed with better teaching. That increased monetary expenditures -- as merit pay, as increased salaries, etc. -- could drive or go hand-in-hand with this goal there can be little doubt. Until that happens, however, other solutions are necessary, in which longer school days are one. I'm not a super teacher, but I'm a quality, effective one, and given the students I teach -- I know you've seen the disagnostics -- the traditional 50 minute period, or in truth, even two 50 minute periods are simply insufficient to teach 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade standards in a single year. Thus the necessity of more instructional time, which must be accompanied by quality instruction or it's a waste. This is one of the reasons my school did not extend our day until Year 3 of reform -- the instruction was previously so low it would have been a waste of money.

For the record, here in Silicon Valley, our ADA is about $6,000. Fifteen miles away it's $11,000. And on some level, I think it is more expensive to educate in low-SES environments. You need to fund truancy programs, you need to fund homework centers, you need to invest in a wide-range of curricular offerings, because the one-size thing will be even less effective, and you should have to pay educators more to educate in these more demanding environments.

SteveH said...

"Also, I do not teach in an affluent school. I seek applications to my school, not yours."

Well, go ahead and change the subject, but just don't ask for more money to solve your (high school) problem that started in Kindergarten. You want solutions to your own problems, which is fine, but I am trying to fix some fundamental flaws and assumptions in the whole system. You have to remember that fixing your immediate problems does not fix the system.