Back in 2005, the Committee on Public Education and Literacy of the National Council of Churches released a statement, Ten Moral Concerns in No Child Left Behind. As number 9 on its list of concerns, the Committee wrote:
“The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as ‘in need of improvement.’ Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts.”
This blog, commenting on Ohio’s recent release of 2013 state report cards for its over 600 school districts, described how the editors of Rethinking Schools frame the very same observation—that school accountability based on high-stakes standardized tests merely disguises class and race privilege as merit. When the state calls some districts “excellent” and others “academic failure,” or when it awards grades of A, B, C, D, and F to its school districts, it is telling parents that if they want their children to be well educated, they should move (if they can afford it) to one of the “excellent” or “A-rated” school districts. This blog’s recent post on the state’s ratings of school districts compared school lunch data identifying the number of children living at or below 130% of the federal poverty level attending school in several greater Cleveland school districts with the state’s “performance index” rating for the same school districts and pointed out that the top-rated districts are wealthy, often outer-ring school districts, while the low-rated districts serve masses of children in poverty and include the city and many of the suburbs located in the inner ring.
Earlier this week one of Ohio’s major newspapers, the Columbus Dispatch, published an article about expert research that reached the same conclusion. It is heartening to see the press drawing attention to this very significant issue. Jim Siegel, the reporter cites research conducted by Howard Fleeter of the Education Tax Policy Institute for the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of Business Officials, and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (The research report itself has not been made publicly available.) that demonstrates the correlation between the economic level of each school district’s families and scores on standardized tests:
“A recent study found that on the performance index, a weighted average that measures how well students do on state tests in grades 3-10, districts scoring below 90 have an average 83 percent poverty rate, compared with 14 percent for districts that score above 105. In between, results show that the higher the scores, the lower the poverty. No school district with more than 50 percent poverty scored an A on the performance index. The study also found that the racial gap remains significant.”
Also encouraging is the fact that legislators seem to be paying attention. According to Siegel’s story, state senator Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, and chairwoman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, has committed to holding “hearings on the poverty gap to highlight the issue and search for answers. It’s going to take a significant investment, but I can’t think of a better way to jump-start the economy.” Lehner is reported to believe the data confirming the link between family income and student achievement supports investment in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten.
According to Siegel’s story, members of the Ohio House of Representatives are also paying attention: “House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, D-Columbus, called the education disparity ‘the biggest issue that we have because it impacts everything. It impacts health-care disparities, crime, business and the workforce….”
Howard Fleeter, the consultant who conducted the study, is reported to be unsurprised by the results of his new study: “Howard Fleeter, who analyzed the data on behalf of Ohio’s major public-education organizations, knows the correlation between poverty and performance isn’t exactly a breakthrough. The issue has been discussed nationally since at least the 1960s….” Fleeter is quoted: “The fact that we’re still looking at a graph in 2014 that shows this pattern is disturbing.”
In his daily e-mail blast on September 25, 2014, Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, commented on the correlation of the new state rankings with family income, and the state’s failure adequately to address what is a massive structural problem: “Historically, poverty communities have not had the political clout to entice or force the state to provide the essential compensatory funding. In the past, state officials have thrown a little money at the problem and provided a way for some students to escape the traditional public schools located in poverty environments.”
In a speech at a Washington, D.C. town hall not long ago, the Rev. Jessie Jackson made a very similar and profound observation about our nation’s current competitive, rank-and-rate school accountability policies: “There are those who would make the case for a Race to the Top for those who can run. But ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”