Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Upcoming Civil Rights Conference

This year marks several significant civil rights milestones both in terms of furthering advances in civil rights & education such as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision.  It also is the 40th anniversary of the Milliken v. Bradley decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which was the first decision to begin limiting desegregation remedies after Brown. On June 6-7, 2014, the Penn State College of Education will host a conference, Education and Civil Rights: Historical Legacies, Contemporary Strategies, and Promise for the Future, to review what we’ve learned from these important milestones and the social movements that led to them, and what we know about how we might renew our efforts to expand access for all students.

As we wrote in our call for proposals last year, the conference has the following aims:

The primary goal of the conference is to address the inability of many students of color to access high-quality pre–K through higher education — still uneven for young people from historically marginalized groups and/or in many urban and increasingly in suburban settings. While many policy proposals have focused on access to education, there has been much less attention to racial inequality and segregation in access to P–20 education, even as the percentage of students of color is rapidly increasing. The conference seeks to explore what strategies have been effective in expanding educational opportunities for these students — and how we can implement additional best practices that will ensure equity in public education for the future.

From this call for proposals, we received nearly 80 proposals, and selected 30 for presentation at the day and a half long conference in June. This set of thirty new papers includes a multidisciplinary range of scholars focusing on a variety of interrelated topics. Panels will include:

·      Students Experiences and Outcomes in Diverse Schools
·      Politics, Law and Policy Contexts of Contemporary Integration and Equity Efforts
·      Higher Education Access
·      How Boundaries and Geography Matter for Stratification
·      Segregation Within K-12 Schools
·      Possible Solutions to Existing Segregation and Inequality

In addition, we are hosting an Emerging Scholars Symposium for graduate students to network and receive feedback on their work from senior scholars in the field, to be held the morning of June 6th. The keynote speaker on Friday night will be Lani Guinier, who has written extensively on civil rights law and policy.

The planning committee that I chair is excited about the rich array of new work that will be presented and discussed at the conference, and we hope it will stimulate new ideas that will extend beyond the conference to improve opportunities for students who still, more than 60 years after Brown, may attend schools that provide unequal learning opportunities. In a fall blog post, I hope to share more about some of the insights from the conference.

For more information or to register for the conference, click here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Double MAP!

In his 2014 State of the State address, Governor Quinn proposed doubling funding for the Illinois Monetary Awards Program (MAP). “So, over the next five years – let’s double the number of MAP college scholarships for students in need in Illinois. Our MAP scholarship program currently helps 140,000 students go to college.” He argued that “By doubling the number of MAP scholarships, we can make sure deserving students in need are equipped to excel in the 21st century workplace.”

I applaud this initiative from Governor Quinn. Doubling MAP funding will go a long way towards helping students in Illinois afford postsecondary education. I have blogged about MAP grants on the Education Policy blog before, but in this post I will look more closely at this recent proposal from Governor Quinn to get a better understanding of what doubling MAP funding would mean.

Will doubling MAP result in all eligible students receiving an award?
If we use the number in Governor Quinn’s speech, then currently 140,000 students receive MAP. Doubling the number of MAP recipients would enable 280,000 students to receive awards.

Data from the 2012 ISAC Databook shows that there were a total of 158,349 recipients who received MAP awards. With this base, doubling MAP would actually yield 316,698 awards.

In FY 2012 there were 369,674 students eligible for MAP. In that year, less than half – 158,349 students – received MAP awards.

If MAP had been doubled in FY 2012…

… and 280,000 students had received MAP grants, then 89,674 eligible students would have gone without MAP awards.
… and 316,698 students had received MAP grants, then 52,976 eligible students would have gone without MAP awards.

Even with my quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, it is clear that doubling MAP funding will not provide awards to all eligible students in Illinois. Even doubling the awards will still leave approximately 50,000-90,000 eligible students without MAP awards.

I applaud Governor Quinn’s proposal. Doubling MAP will go a long way towards enabling all eligible students to receive awards. However, even this level of investment is not enough to meet the current needs of the state. A larger investment in MAP is likely needed.

What will it cost to double MAP?
In FY 2012, the state spent a total of $411,604,561 on MAP grants. If we assume that there will not be any changes to the MAP program, then doubling the number of recipients could be financed by doubling the state appropriation for MAP to $823,209,122. Unfortunately, it is not clear if there will be approximately $823 million available for the MAP program in the state budget.

Do students who are eligible for MAP really need the award?
In FY 2012 there were 211,325 eligible students who did not receive a MAP award. These are individuals who applied for MAP funds and would have received an award if there had been enough funds available.

To give a sense of the financial need faced by these individuals, I think it is helpful to consider the average family income of students who qualified for MAP. Table 1 shows the burden of college prices for students who qualified for MAP awards. It shows data for both dependent students, who have parental help in paying for college, and independent students, who do not have parental financial support for college.

In FY 2012, mean family income of dependent students who were eligible for MAP awards was $30,822. For independent students, mean family income of students eligible for MAP awards was $15,762. In 2012, the federal poverty threshold for a family of four was $23,492. This means that the average independent student who qualified for MAP was living below the federal poverty line and that many of the dependent students were also below this threshold.

According to the College Board, in the 2011-12 academic year average published tuition and fees in Illinois were $3,259 at community colleges, $12,025 at public four-year institutions, and $29,483 at private non-profit four year institutions. The price at a for-profit institution was $16,814. Students who were eligible for MAP awards were most likely to attend community colleges (44% of dependent students and 65% of independent students). The percent of mean family income needed to pay average tuition at community colleges was 14% for dependent students and 22% for independent students. This is a substantial portion of the family’s total income, but community colleges were the most affordable option. At public four-year institutions, dependent students who qualified for MAP would need to pay nearly 36% of their total family income to cover tuition without a MAP award, on average. For independent students, public four year institutions represented a whopping 85% of their total family income, on average. If a student decided to attend DeVry University (a for-profit institution), then a dependent student would be required to pay over half of their total family income (nearly 54%) to cover tuition and an independent student would need to pay 86% of their total family income to cover tuition, on average. Private non-profit institutions are generally out of reach for MAP-eligible students requiring 71% of total family income from dependent students and nearly a year and a half of total family income (147%) for independent students to attend these institutions without financial assistance, on average. These numbers only consider tuition and fees, not room and board, books, or other expenses that are necessary for attending college.

Feeney and Heroff have shown that students who are eligible for MAP but do not receive an award are less likely to attend college. Hence, college dreams are likely to be dashed for students who are eligible for MAP but do not receive an award. MAP-eligible students really do need MAP awards.

Governor Quinn is on the right track in recommending doubling MAP funding, but more will also need to be done to ensure that financial barriers do not keep students from attending college.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Education Market Failures: Dreams Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
-Lansgton Hughes

Those that believe in the technologies of the market came to education—surveyed it, kicked the tires, looked under the hood, and found it lacking.  To better education, they offered solutions, i.e. market solutions—in the form charters, vouchers, new curricula, “better” teachers, the promise(s) of children not left behind, and a race to the top.  But, what happens when these market solutions—offered most often to families and children in this country’s direst of straits as the cure-all for what ails them—fail?  Or, what happens when, as it did just last year, a Danish venture fund decides that the education of 10,000 Swedish children (and the money that follows them) is not worth their while?   What happens when the market falls short and the charter school closes or the vouchers deliver the same or worse schooling or the “better” teachers don’t stick around or the children are left behind and the race—well the race was to the middle or the bottom?  What happens then? 
I am less concerned with what comes to those who believed wholeheartedly that the market could bring about change in education without addressing issues of locale and society-at-large, as one failure does not necessarily shake their faith.  The large charter operators and edu-preneurs use their capital to capitalize on problems without solutions, and even more, as Kingdon explained, attach their solutions to situations once they are problematized.  These people will more than likely be okay—faith-shaken or not.  

I am concerned, though, with those might-be-dreamers.  The aforementioned children, their families, those communities that may be barely treading water in those straits, and the perception of it all who have placed their stock, in the form of their aspirations for their children, in the solutions offered to them.  To those whom it should matter, is it considered a lesson learned or is simply “nothing ventured, nothing gained?”  I doubt that it is the latter.   When families campaign to have their children in the next, new best thing, buy the school uniform (and the rhetoric) is it, indeed, a dream deferred?  When 10,000 children are displaced, what next?  When children, here or elsewhere, change schools, teachers, and classrooms—all of which can be a difficult experience—and the school is left to close, do they sag under the heaviness of that load?  Are the schools themselves, functionally or actually shuttered—but nonetheless, rendering loss experienced tangibly—the festering sores seeping out onto a community?  Are these a disappointment made real—blight objectified?  I cannot and do not know the answers to these questions (no more than Hughes could have).  But these are questions that are, first, worth asking in the age of market ideologies actualized in schooling, and above that, through the use of empirical methods, worth answering.     

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Numbers Don't Always Equal Evidence: Revisiting IPI's Argument for School Choice in Rockford

On February 23rd, Joshua Dwyer wrote an article for the Illinois Policy Institute in which he argued that policymakers should focus on increasing school choice in responding to Rockford's failing school system. First, I want to make clear that I am agnostic about school choice policy as lever for improving the education system, as I feel that neither "side" of the argument has adequately demonstrated the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of school choice as a lever for system-wide improvement. However, I am not agnostic about the appropriate use of evidence and argument. This response is not about school choice, but is about misusing evidence to build a poor argument; which is fitting, because Mr. Dwyer's argument wasn't really about school choice either. 

Dwyer’s argument that Rockford is second highest in number of low-performing schools, while being the third highest in population (152,871 pop.) blatantly exploits the fact that Aurora, the city second highest in population (197,899 pop.), is split into two districts while Chicago and Rockford are only single districts. Most cities in Illinois have a single public school district, but Elgin is split into an east and a west district. So, while Dwyer is correct that Rockford is the third largest city with the second most low-performing schools, it is also true that Rockford is the second largest district with the second most low-performing schools.

Dwyer’s misuse of the numbers continues as he laments the low test scores in Rockford. In 2013, the percentage of students in Rockford meeting and exceeding standards dropped dramatically, as did the same percentage for most of the state. This is because the “cut scores” for determining whether a student taking the ISAT met or exceeded standards changed in 2013. Prior to the change in cut score, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card, 60% of Rockford’s 3rd graders met or exceeded standards in reading, and 75% of Rockford’s 3rd graders met or exceeded standards in math.

The biggest, and most unforgivable, transgression in the article is the assertion that the lack of school choice is the only explanation for Rockford’s crisis (ignoring the fact that Chicago is home to some of the most aggressive charter expansion in state, perhaps the country; but, as Dwyer points out, Chicago has 45% of the lowest performing schools in the state). 78.8% of Rockford’s students are identified as “low-income,” up 26.2% since 2000. In fact, while only 36% of Rockford’s low-income 3rd grade students met or exceeded standards in reading, 70% of Rockford’s 3rd grade non-low-income students met or exceeded standards in reading. In mathematics, the split was 32% to 65%; and in science, 41% to 64%.  According to the 2013 data from the Illinois State Board of Education, 23,094 of Rockford’s 28,663 students are identified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; and, only 277 of Rockford’s students attend a school where less than 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. While, as Dwyer points out, the majority of Rockford’s students are not performing at grade level, he does not acknowledge that the majority of Rockford’s students are also low-income, or that the students that are not low-income are, for the most part, performing at or above grade level.

Mr. Dwyer presents all of his evidence of Rockford’s failure to educate students in order to arrive at the predetermined political argument that Rockford needs more school choice — although none of the evidence he provides supports the expansion of choice in any way, and none of his evidence is in any way related to school choice. Unfortunately for Mr. Dwyer, the evidence that school choice improves outcomes for students in choice schools is inconclusive (Rouse & Barrow, 2008; Usher & Kober, 2011). The evidence that school choice improves outcomes for students not in choice schools is also inconsistent (Linick, in press). However, there is a voluminous amount of evidence that demonstrates that a student’s socioeconomic status or family’s financial situation matters a great deal (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Coleman et al., 1966; Newman & Chin, 2003; Sacks, 2007).

The existing base of evidence suggests that it is possible that increasing school choice in Rockford may improve district-wide academic achievement, but it is also suggests that school choice may hinder academic achievement, or have no effect on academic achievement at all (Linick, in press). If the Illinois Policy Institute is truly invested in improving “real-life” outcomes like high school and college graduation, employment, incarceration, and income for Rockford’s students, the evidence suggests that the better bet is focusing their attention on improving the financial stability of Rockford’s families, not promoting school choice. Of course, the Illinois Policy Institute is an “organization that advocates for the free market ideas developed by the Illinois Policy Institute,” apparently, regardless of whether those ideas align with the evidence or not.

by Matt Linick


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Coleman, J. S., Campbell, E. Q., Hobson, C. J., McPartland, J., Mood, A. M., Weinfeld, F. D., & York, R. L. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Linick, M. A. (in press). Measuring Competition: Inconsistent definitions, inconsistent results. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22 (33).

Newman, K. S., & Chin, M. M. (2003). High stakes: Time poverty, testing, and the children of the working poor. Qualitative Sociology, 26(1), 3-34.

Rouse, C. E., & Barrow, L. (2008). School vouchers and student achievement: Recent evidence, remaining questions. New York: National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education.

Sacks, P. (2007). Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Usher, A., & Kober, N. (2011). Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.