A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

May 17, 2007

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part IV

The fourth in a multi-part rejoinder to a post found on Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook, concerning The GOP Debate, Federal funding of Public Education and NCLB.

This part of my rejoinder to the position that NCLB is not vital policy will concern itself with the lack of teeth in Title I and how teacher retention is not always based on salary, but on other factors found within a particular learning community.

Title I Funding – Putting Teeth in the Title

Part of the solution is supposed to be solved by Title I funding.  While Title I funding is supposed to address these inequities in theory, what happens in practice is often quite different.  Despite enormous growth in expenditures from its early days as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society”, and the astronomical growth of funding stipulated by 2001 NCLB legislation, in most urban districts a systematic bias is built into district allocation legislation.  This bias supports disproportionate funding for schools in the more affluent neighborhoods (Roza, 2005).   Title I funding is meant to equalize educational funding before state and local funds are brought into the mix of school budgets; these funds supplement, not supplant local funding.  To this day this rationale remains the basis of Title I funding. 

However, the “devil lies in the details”.  Typically, schools are resourced at the central district office level by formulas based upon student enrollments.  An example may call for a teacher for every 25 students and add an assistant principal for every 400 students.  Additionally, schools may be able to add staffing on individual needs of schools.  The number of staff, and staffing accounts for typically 80% of a schools budget, are then converted into dollars spent using average salaries for each type of staff.  While this policy makes sense, it can inadvertently hurt schools within the same centralized system that have a needier population. 

Another problem about this centralized system of resource allocation is in human personnel.  Typically, teachers have choice regarding assignments, based upon seniority, and these choices are often part of collective bargaining negotiations.  Typically, these teachers, who choose to leave, are more seasoned, better educated, better compensated, and are allowed to teach in schools with less need, than their less experienced; less well educated, and lower paid counterparts.  These effects are felt greater in larger districts, typically found in inner-city schools, servicing poorer minority students.  

This type of non-categorical allocation of resources has a devastating effect upon high-need schools, which in effect, nullify the legislative intent of Title I.  This effect was shown (Roza, Hill, 2004) by comparing actual spending in five urban districts, Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Houston, Texas; and Denver, Colorado.  It was found that in all school districts, other than Dallas, affluent schools within the same district were funded significantly greater in real dollar value than poor schools within the same system.  The reason for Dallas’ success in its equitable distribution is linked directly to its effective identifier system, in place since the late 1990’s, which tracks student achievement, teacher efficacy, as well as other factors outside the classroom on a longitudinal basis (Hanushek, Kain, Rivkin; 2004).  These findings regarding inequitable distribution of resources are not limited to the cities that were investigated.  Furthermore, districts are allowed to report their salary expenditures on a district wide level, and therefore they can mask the inequities that do exist within their own schools.  The effective result is that money meant to go to schools in need, may not be going where they are most needed, and are authorized to go by Federal statute. The good schools get better, and can be showcased, while poor schools are continually allowed to lag behind.

A casual look into this problem of salary differential may yield a reply that revamping salary structure is the answer to the problem, but this may not be the case.  New York City schools investment in professional development points to other underlying factors, which may be at play, with regard to retaining effective teachers, in hard to staff schools.  Within New York’s Big Five (Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) districts, teachers in general tend to earn more than the rest of New York State (Loeb, 2000), but they have less qualified teachers.  Also, within the districts, the centralized nature allows for error in allocations, reflected by Roza’s (2004) research.  In spite of large increases in Title I expenditures, and federal mandates concerning their distribution, school districts do not adequately finance and staff individual schools that possess the greatest need, and within these larger districts affluent schools are typically over financed.

It’s not ALL about the Benjamins

Other research (Hanushek, Rivkin, Kain; 2004) adds to the body of knowledge concerning factors regarding school staffing.  In research that attempted to answer why teachers choose to work in certain schools over others, it was found that working conditions matter more than salary to most school teachers.  By utilization of Dallas’ impressive data base, information, concerning teachers and students, is able to be measured using a fixed effect, longitudinal approach, which enables research a better opportunity to isolate competing variables.  The four major areas that influence teachers to remain in a school are: (1) characteristics on the job, including salary and working conditions, (2) alternative job opportunities, (3) teacher’s own job preferences, (4) district personnel policies. 

Strong factors in teacher retention are the opportunities that may exist in the private sector for an individual teacher.  As an example, a math or science teacher typically has more options, which may be financially advantageous, than an English or elementary teacher.  This study under review considered that factor by limiting the subjects under consideration to elementary teachers. 

The major findings of this study were: (1) Teachers transfer from one school to another more often as a reaction to the characteristics of their students and perceived working conditions, more than in response solely to better pay in other schools.  (2) Teaching lower achieving students is a strong factor in decisions to leave Texas public schools. (3) The ability of a school district to retain teachers eases as the teacher progresses within a particular school district.  This is due in large part giving up higher salaries that come from experience within a school district. (4) To retain teachers in urban areas, by just salary adjustment, an average increase of 25% to 43% would be needed.

More to follow…….

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