Get Wonky: Education Reform, Part II

If you haven’t read the first part of this report, click here. That article has been updated with the result of my correspondence with the Georgia Board of Education, where I found out that there is, statistically speaking, no correlation between graduation rate and participation in the Free & Reduced Lunch Program. That throws off a lot of my assumptions, and going forward, I will attempt the following measures to address them:

First, I want to take another look at my numbers, which, again, can be viewed here. It’s possible that, if I were to weight the data based on school population, and not just the percentage, we’d see a stronger correlation.

Second, I want to take another look at my methods for determining what makes a school “successful.” For example, Georgia uses four categories to measure the “climate” at its schools: Safety, Relationships, Teaching & Learning, and Institutional Environment. It could be that the school climate should be the target of this initiative. The plan below, certainly, would be a boost to the “Relationship” score. The “Institutional Environment” can be improved with block grants to school districts to modernize and improve buildings. Reduction of “test-stress” might be sufficient to increase the “Teaching & Learning” score. So that might be the target I use going forward.

Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to try and figure out what it is I’m trying to accomplish with this education reform plan, and why I think it matters. Thus:

I’m operating on a handful of assumptions:

#1: All children want to succeed.

#2: All parents want their children to succeed.

#3: For children to succeed in school, parental involvement is vital.

And finally,

#4: Some parents, for a variety of economic or social reasons, are unable to provide that involvement.

For evidence of this, we can turn to the American Psychological Association, which says (emphasis mine)

  • Children’s initial reading competence is correlated with the home literacy environment, number of books owned and parent distress (Aikens & Barbarin, 2008). However, parents from low-[socioeconomic status] communities may be unable to afford resources such as books, computers, or tutors to create this positive literacy environment (Orr, 2003).
  • In a nationwide study of American kindergarten children, 36 percent of parents in the lowest-income quintile read to their children on a daily basis, compared with 62 percent of parents from the highest-income quintile (Coley, 2002).
  • When enrolled in a program that encouraged adult support, students from low-[socioeconomic status] groups reported higher levels of effort towards academics (Kaylor & Flores, 2008).

They go on to say that, “The following factors have been found to improve the quality of schools in low-[socioeconomic status] neighborhoods: a focus on improving teaching and learning, creation of an information-rich environment, building of a learning community, continuous professional development, involvement of parents and increased funding and resources (Muijis et al., 2009).”

Based on these findings, I propose the following (this was written before I received my poorly-correlated data, and will be updated. The original text is preserved here for posterity):

  • Using a formula briefly discussed in the previous post, all schools will receive additional funding based on how many of their students are in the Free & Reduced Lunch program (which is not perfect, but is, I think, as good an indication as any of the broader socio-economic status of the student population). Furthermore, schools with a percentage of the student population on Free and Reduced Lunch over a certain amount (we’ll call these the Need Schools) will be granted access to certain resources, described below.[1]
  • These funds will be used to provide for each school in the district much-needed supplies, but will primarily be used by Need Schools to hire new personnel. The key of this plan would be for every Need School to have a full-time counselor to act as a parent-teacher liaison and student support officer. These counselors would be tasked with locating low-performing students and building relationships with the students parents; with ensuring that the parents were kept informed of the student’s academic activity and performance; with maintaining communication with the parents; and providing emotional support and connecting parents and students with official support systems.

In practice, this would mean having a school employee who was focused on communication, both with students and parents. It would mean, for example, following up with parents who never signed report cards. It would mean buying a pre-paid cell phone for a parent so a teacher could contact them. It would mean buying a gas card or a bus pass so a parent could attend a parent-teacher conference or even a PTA meeting. It would mean connecting parents with government and non-government assistance programs to make sure the lights at home stay on, or that food stays in the refrigerator.

Obviously, this is a Band-Aid. This won’t help schools with outdated buildings or study materials, nor will it decrease class sizes or take stress off of administrators worrying about testing. But it will allow teachers to focus on teaching and not social work, and will provide the most at-risk students with the attention they need.

That’s the thing about Band-Aids. They’re terrible for curing a disease. But they’re great for stopping bleeding.

[1] I think this makes the most sense. Using this method, the schools with the most students on F/RL will receive the most funding. Under ideal circumstances, the funding formula that gets worked into the QBE will be such that all “Need Schools” pass a certain “break even” point, which would be the point at which the additional funding from the F/RL student population is enough to pay for the additional teachers and counselors.



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  1. Get Wonky: Education Reform, Part III – The Georgia Wonk

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