Kevin Carey has an important piece in the New York Times this week, discussing the sometimes opaque ways that the federal funding attached to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the latest revision of which we call "ESSA") exacerbates inequality in schools:
The authors of the original law were wary of administrators in local districts, many of whom were actively discriminating against minority schoolchildren. Because more than 90 percent of school revenues come from state and local sources, lawmakers worried that districts would play a shell game with new Title I funds — transferring a dollar of local resources to rich schools from poor ones for every new federal dollar earmarked for poor schools that arrived. A 1969 report from the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund found examples of exactly that.
That's just the federal side, though. Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative teamed up with National Public Radio affiliates to detail the various ways that local funding is based on wildly inequitable premises:
In a series of stories examining school funding disparities, reporters set out to explain why, for example, a Chicago school district serving mostly low-income students has only $9794 to spend per child annually (well below the national average of $11,841) while a nearby suburban district spends $28,639 per child.
In Chicago and across the country, because school funding relies heavily on local property taxes, the simple answer is that these disparities stem from differences in property values. And from Chicago to Alabama and beyond, differences in property values can be traced to racially discriminatory housing policies and tax laws.
Local funding is the original sin of our public schools, and as I said yesterday, it's time to start questioning this bedrock assumption of public schooling as both racist and classist. Having that conversation might alienate some folks, but that's inevitable when we get to the heart of things. That's what Marilyn Rhames said about last week's New Schools Venture Fund conference, where discussions of race, class, and equity were front and center:
It was the first time I have seen my White allies and funders admit their limitations and take a backseat to leaders of color. Black and Latino speakers gave voice to educational policies and politics that keep them and their low-income students stuck in subordinate roles ... Not everyone is happy about this shift. [CEO Stacy Childress] said some of NewSchools’ more conservative supporters have stopped participating in the summit. As an African-American mother/teacher/writer who founded a nonprofit called Teachers Who Pray, I brought my whole self to the NewSchools Summit. I was unapologetically Black and female and Christian and even when others expressed ideas I didn’t agree with, I felt a sense of belonging. (This is not always the case as I navigate the White liberal education reform space.)
You should read this whole piece, as there are at least a dozen brilliant takeaways. I have been attending the New Schools Summit for years, and I am astonished at how much the conversation has shifted. That said, talk doesn't necessarily lead to action. If the conference circuit pays lip service to tough questions about race and equity - yet the allocation of capital, and positions of power, in the field do not change - the outcome will be disastrous.
New York Magazine cautions us not to put too much stock in "grit," which is starting to feel like the rorschach blot du jour in education circles:
The consequences of hasty applications of grit in an educational context are not yet clear ... But by placing too much emphasis on grit, the danger is “that grit becomes a scapegoat — another reason to blame kids for not doing well, or to say that we don’t have a responsibility as a society to help them.” She worries that some interpretations of her work might make a student’s failure seem like his problem, as if he just didn’t work hard enough.
Andre Perry made similar points a couple of weeks ago.