I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, May 5, 2016

StudentsFirstNY: Supporting School Funding Equity, Except When They Don't!

We take a quick break from our look at school vouchers and segregation to present a study in hypocrisy by one of the Northeast's most reformy outfits: StudentsFirstNY. Here, in a "sponsored post" at Politico New York*, SFNY joins NYCAN, the Buffalo Urban League (who are having some troubles of their own), and others to make the case for standardized testing as a necessary tool for achieving educational equity:
Parents of African American and Latino children have always recognized the value of the assessments. That’s why New York’s “Big 5” cities opt in to the tests in such overwhelming numbers, this year included.
I'm not going to say there isn't some truth to the argument that the opt-out movement has many of its roots in the white suburbs... but it's not the whole truth. In New Jersey, according to SOSNJ, black students, who make up 15.3% of all Grade 3 through 11 students, are 17.0% of all students who didn't test -- not a big difference (also see Bruce Baker's post about socio-economic status and opting-out).

But let's set that aside and get to the meat of the sandwich:
However, the campaign driven by a small group urging parents to opt their children out of statewide tests threatens to do great damage to our mission of ensuring an equal education for every child no matter where he or she is growing up. This movement is essentially rejecting all objective measures of educational achievement and, subsequently, lets children, including a disproportionate number of minority children, fall through the cracks. This year’s tests were shorter, sharper, essentially untimed, and only used for diagnostic purposes. They were stronger and less stressful for children. There is always more work to be done to further improve the assessments, but it’s time for opponents to understand the incredible value these exams provide for helping us reach equality in education. [emphasis mine]
Really? The tests are "helping us reach equality in education"? Please, tell us more:
Nearly one hundred years after emancipation, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education found what communities of color had known for generations: the system of “separate but equal” was not only unconstitutional, but fundamentally unfair. And yet, here in New York, it took until the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s victory just nine years ago to provide equal education funding for New York City and minority students.
That lawsuit relied on standardized test scores to make the case against separate and unequal funding, with the chief litigator arguing, "From our point of view, testing has been very helpful in pinpointing the problem and showing exactly which kids are not making the grade."
First of all, Michael Rebell, who led the CFE lawsuits, did indeed say that tests were helpful in making the case for adequate funding. That makes sense; you need some sort of academic measure if you're going to show that districts need a base level of funding if they are to achieve a certain level of educational achievement. But here's the thing:

New York State continues to have "separate and unequal funding" years after the courts, partially on the basis of test scores, demanded otherwise -- but StudentsFirstNY and NYCAN apparently haven't noticed!

Let's have Bruce Baker tell the tale:
The 2007 foundation aid formula was adopted by the state specifically to achieve compliance with the high court’s order in Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The state argued that this new formula was built on sound empirical analysis of the spending behavior of districts that achieved adequate outcomes on state assessments. The state argued that the foundation formula applied this evidence, coupled with additional evidence-based adjustments to address student needs and regional cost variation, in order to identify a specific target level of per pupil spending for each district statewide, which would provide comparable opportunities to achieve adequate educational outcomes. The state determined the share of that target funding to be raised through local tax revenues and estimated the amount to be paid by the state toward achieving each districts’ sound basic funding target. 
Then, they simply failed to fund it.
It's true. The New York foundation aid formula -- which admittedly has plenty of problems (if you want to get into the weeds, read this by Baker -- it's quite eye-opening) -- is still the law of the land. It is what the state itself says schools need to provide adequate educational opportunity. It was set to be phased in over four years. And yet it has never been fully funded, as the Alliance for Quality Education notes when commenting on this year's budget:
The total aid increase of $1.35 billion is $400 million less than the 2008 record increase of $1.7 billion. The struggle for educational equity is focused on ensuring that high needs schools get enough funding which means Foundation Aid. AQE called for $1.47 billion in Foundation Aid, the Board of Regents called for $1.3 billion and the Assembly’s budget proposal was for $1.1 billion. But the enacted budget included only $627 million in Foundation Aid. To the credit of the Assembly Majority, of the Foundation Aid delivered a higher proportion than usual to high need districts.
Unfortunately the enacted budget included no multi-year phase-in of the full $4.4 billion in Foundation Aid that is owed to schools. The Assembly budget proposed a four-year phase in of full foundation aid, but both the Senate the Governor rejected such a plan. Now we must demand that the remaining $3.9 billion is paid over the next three years. [emphasis mine]
And so it goes in New York State: Angry Andy Cuomo refuses to even consider the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy (he wouldn't even if they begged him -- oh, wait...) while simultaneously denying schools the money the state itself says they need to educate their students.

Now, keep in mind that StudentsFirstNY lauds the "incredible value these exams provide for helping us reach equality in education." Surely, they must be furious with Cuomo for denying the funding the state itself says is needed for the schools that serve New York's neediest children!

Surely, they must have felt betrayed by Cuomo when he, once again, slighted schools in favor of low taxes for the one percenters!

Surely, after explicitly citing the use of test scores in the CFE lawsuits, SFNY must be pounding the table, demanding that Cuomo come through with adequate and equitable funding for the Empire State's schools!


StudentsFirstNY's Statement on Budget Deal Supporting Parent Choice

POSTED [...] ON APRIL 01, 2016 
"Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie should be congratulated for reaching a budget agreement that supports parental choice. Public charter schools are doing phenomenal work in the state's most underserved communities and the increased aid and rental assistance will help them continue to deliver for kids," said StudentsFirstNY's Executive Director Jenny Sedlis.
And there it is: so long as there's "choice," screwing over New York's neediest students is just fine with StudentsFirstNY.

I have to wonder: does StudentsFirstNY even know that New York's schools have been chronically underfunded according to the law the state itself passed? Does NYCAN understand that New York, despite spending an overall high amount per student, does a lousy job distributing more of those funds to districts with high needs?

Do they even care?

It's fine to talk about using tests as a tool to bring equity to school funding. Of course, we could have all the data we need for that purpose with far less intrusion and far less cost... but these fine reformy folks aren't ready to hear about that, are they? So I'll save that argument for another day and merely conclude by pointing out this:

It is utterly cynical to complain about opting-out under the guise of caring about school fiscal equity while simultaneously praising a highly inequitable state budget.

I know SFNY is funded by the wealthiest of the wealthy, and will pretty much defend any horrible policy so as long charter schools get a little more scratch. But even I thought there was a limit to their hypocrisy.

Fool me once...
Angry Andy says: "Thanks, StudentFirstNY!
I couldn't screw over NY's neediest schools without you!"

* Why does Politico New York even have "sponsored posts"? I mean, I can understand why newspapers or magazines have "sponsored content," even if it's a little ethically shady: the buyers are paying to have their message distributed. 

But why do that on an internet platform? I mean, anyone can host a website, right? Why not just buy ads on PNY and have them link to your own servers? Why does the content have to be on Politico's server, wrapped in Politico's branding, accompanied by Politico's graphics and links to more Politico content?

Unless the point is to make a reader think the content had gone through Politico's editorial process. But no, that couldn't possibly be the reason...

Could it?

1 comment:

Peter Greene said...

Test pushers could cement their argument just by saying, "Look. Right here at Imaginary High School, test results were just too low, so using those test results we mobilized state and local resources and got IHS the money and people that it needed to improve." They don't say it because it never happens. For all the argument that we need testing to help find the schools that need help, no schools have ever received actual help thanks to their test results. (Note: "actual help" does not mean an infusion of turnaround companies, takeover bids, or charter intrusion into the local market).