Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ford-supported research on “New Regionalism”

My colleagues Profs. Kara Finnigan, Jennifer Jellison Holme, and Sarah Diem, received a grant from the Ford Foundation between 2011 and 2013 to lead a study of selected inter-district school transfer policies, as well as one regional plan in Omaha, Nebraska.  I wanted to draw attention to some of the papers they have written, both conceptual and empirical.

Much has already been written about the growing inter-district school segregation, which now accounts for the majority of school segregation in the United States – it was estimated at 67% of all white-non-white segregation in 2009 (by Kori Stroub and Meredith Richards in2013 in the American Educational ResearchJournal) -- and the challenges it presents for equality of educational opportunity.   What this new work does is apply contemporary scholarship about metropolitan and regional governance to that of K-12 education policy.  They don’t shrink away at all from describing what the obstacles have been and will be; at the same time, they challenge us to think about what could encourage more metro-wide agreements.

In an article in Educational Policy, titled “Regional Educational Policy Analysis: Rochester, Omaha, and Minneapolis’ Inter-District Arrangements”, colleagues Myron Orfield, Tom Luce, Allison Mattheis, and Nadine Hylton, compare inter-district transfer plans in Rochester, Minneapolis, and Omaha.  They draw comparisons among the governance-related, financial, and political considerations.  On regional councils, such as those in Omaha and Minneapolis, representation is an issue that is constantly disputed and negotiated: a one-district, one-vote structure can leave large city school districts feeling “out-voiced,” for instance (as in Minneapolis), or the “advisory only” role of local superintendents can leave them resenting their perceived token involvement (as in Omaha).  Many educators and parents also voice concern that participating suburban districts participate in high levels of student and family selectivity, contributing to what they allege is a drain of talent from the urban core.

In another piece in Teachers College Record, Holme and Finnigan pose two questions:  What types of structures could serve as potential vehicles for cross-metro collaboration by school districts to address the problems of fragmentation? and How can regional cooperation between school districts be incentivized?  On the second question, they write (see p. 24):

One potential strategy, pushed by Orfield (2002), is to appeal to self-interest, helping school district officials (particularly in the urban core and inner-ring suburbs) to realize the ways in which their district is harmed by fragmentation and the benefits that they would accrue in greater regional cooperation (Orfield, 2002). Another potential strategy is the provision of incentives to encourage the cooperation and involvement of suburban school districts (see e.g., Wells et al., 2009). One possible source for incentives could be the federal government, which is currently using an incentive-based approach to stimulating educational reform in states and districts through the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation programs. The federal government may also consider providing some exemptions to—or special provisions in— federal accountability requirements as an incentive for greater cooperation to improve cross-district diversity.

As a matter of fact, President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget contains a new Race to the Top initiative for “Equity and Opportunity” for school districts, which could partly be used “to identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty.”  It’s very encouraging to see the federal government incentivizing equity, especially given that the federal courts have greatly inhibited districts’ use of race-based assignment plans, while school district and municipal fragmentation continues, especially in the South.  I hope that if and when the feds move forward, they will consider some of the lessons of Finnigan, Holme and Diem’s Ford grant, and fund a few metropolitan or regional demonstration projects and evaluations.


Finnigan, K. S., Holme, J. J., Orfield, M., Luce, T., Diem, S., Mattheis, A., & Hylton, N. D. (2014).  Regional Educational Policy Analysis: Rochester, Omaha, and Minneapolis’ Inter-District Arrangements. Educational Policy, published online January 30, 2014.

Holme, J., Finnigan, K. S., (2013).  School Diversity, School District Fragmentation and Metropolitan Policy.  Teachers College Record, 115(11), 1-29.

Stroub, K. J., & Richards, M. P. (2013).  From Resegregation to Reintegration: Trends in the Racial/Ethnic Segregation of Metropolitan Public Schools, 1993-2009.  American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 497-531.

By: Elizabeth DeBray