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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

There Is No Sustained Social Justice In Schools Without Adequate and Equitable Funding

Twitter wars are stupid, and I'm stupid for engaging in them:

Diane Ravitch cares about school segregation now? That's new.

If you read "Reign of Error," you will find a chapter on the importance of desegregation. How can you judge without reading?

It's true: Diane did write an entire chapter in Reign of Error about the effects of segregation on schooling. I know because I pointed that chapter out in my review of the book, and included an excerpt:
But the wounds caused by centuries of slavery, segregation, and discrimination cannot be healed by testing, standards, accountability, merit pay, and choice. Even if test scores go up in a public or charter school, the structural inequity of society and systematic inequities in our schools remain undisturbed. For every “miracle” school celebrated by the media, there are scores of “Dumpster schools,” where the low-performing students are unceremoniously hidden away. This is not school reform, nor is it social reform. It is social neglect. It is a purposeful abandonment of public responsibility to address deep-seated problems that only public policy can overcome.
So, from my perspective, Russo is just dead wrong about Ravitch's views. He disagrees:

Over-testing & under-funding are fine but they're not cops out of schools, classroom bias training, etc.

There's really no point in continuing to debate whether Diane Ravitch has adequately addressed segregation -- and other issues related to education, race, and class -- or not. Russo has his opinion and I have mine (not that Diane needs me defending her). I do, however, find it odd that a guy who has publicly admitted he doesn't follow Ravitch's work thinks he has a grasp on her world view:
As you already know, I don't think that's very constructive for CPS over all for Ravitch or anyone else to keep bashing at failed or imperfect reform efforts rather than begin working on some joint efforts. And the truth is that while I like her personally I've basically stopped paying attention to Ravitch because she's become so rigid, ideological, and almost cartoonish in her positions. [emphasis mine]
So whatever. But I'd like focus for a bit on Russo's last tweet...

One reason (among many) that Twitter wars are dumb is that most people's view of the world can't be condensed accurately into 140 characters. But I don't think I'm mischaracterizing Russo here in saying that he seems to believe over-testing and under-funding, while perhaps important issues, are not the totality of the conversation we should be having about race, class, and our public schools.

I agree. Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline certainly requires de-criminalizing our students, which means putting in place structures and procedures that maintain order in schools without denying students -- particularly students of color -- agency.

Classroom teachers most certainly need to reflect on their practice and improve when it comes to issues of race (and class and gender and creed and sexual orientation). I know it's sometimes hard to have those conversations; I'll admit I've had times, as a straight, white, middle-class man, where I've been clueless about my privilege until someone pointed it out to me, and I've had to acknowledge the effects of that privilege on my work as a teacher.

So there's lots of work to do here -- and we haven't even touched on things like the racial composition of school faculty, or disparities in school governance, or racial and other bias in curricula, or a dozen other issues.

But let's note how Russo framed his tweet: apparently, over-testing and under-funding is one set of issues, and more immediate concerns about social justice in schools is another. I, however, would argue these issues are not separate; to the contrary, they are tightly intertwined.

Because there will be no sustained social justice in our schools in the absence of adequate and equitable funding.

The first reason why is obvious: you can't claim our school system is just when students are receiving fundamentally unequal educations due to resource disparities. As I noted recently, one of my great frustrations with the charter school sector (or, more accurately, a large part of it) is their continuing insistence that the "choices" they are offering their students and families are somehow equivalent to the "choices" suburban families have when enrolling the children in well-funded public district schools.

There is no equivalence. Even the highest-flying charters cannot match the offerings, atmosphere, and resources of more affluent suburban schools. And the students know this -- they know the system is unequal. They know their "choice" -- underfunded, crumbling, neglected public district schools or "no excuses" charter schools -- is not the "choice" kids in the leafy 'burbs get.

Research has clearly shown that schools serving more at-risk students need more resources to achieve comparable results. And yet even progressively funded states, like New Jersey, have reneged on their commitments to fully fund urban public schools -- even though that commitment is probably still not enough to provide an adequate education for those students.

But even if we set this reality aside, there's another problem with separating funding and social justice in education: bringing restorative practices to schools costs money. As Rethinking Schools points out:
But simply announcing a commitment to “restorative justice” doesn’t make it so. Restorative justice doesn’t work as an add-on. It requires us to address the roots of student “misbehavior” and a willingness to rethink and rework our classrooms, schools, and school districts. Meaningful alternatives to punitive approaches take time and trust. They must be built on schoolwide and districtwide participation. They are collaborative and creative, empowering students, teachers, and parents. They rely on social justice curriculum, strong ties among teachers and with families, continuity of leadership, and progress toward building genuine communities of learning.
Too often, this is not what we see in places that tout a focus on restorative justice. At far too many schools, commitments to implement restorative justice occur amid relentless high-stakes “test and punish” regimens—amid scripted curriculum, numbing test-prep drills, budget cutbacks, school closures, the constant shuffling from school to school of students, teachers, and principals.
Meaningful restorative justice also requires robust funding. It can’t mean a high school teacher released for one class period to “run the program” or a mandated once-a-year day of staff development training. Under these circumstances, announcing one’s embrace of “restorative justice” is hypocritical window dressing.
And so we see also the importance of moving beyond a test-and-punish curriculum if we really want social justice in our schools. Over-testing and under-funding make achieving social justice in education much more difficult. Evans, Lester and Anfara (2013) note:
Despite its many benefits, restorative justice in schools remains largely an abstract idea, while punitive discipline remains the norm. One obstacle to wider implementation of a restorative justice disciplinary model in schools is the cost of developing such a model. In Minnesota, the State Legislature authorized a $300,000 grant for four districts to develop alternative disciplinary measures. In Denver, a non-profit organization supported the schools implementing restorative justice models. Without supplemental sources of funding, it is unlikely that schools will have the financial resources to develop their restorative justice programs, given the existing pressure on schools' budgets and personnel resources. [emphasis mine]
A quick tour around the web finds plenty of examples to confirm this. California, for example:
If they had more money to improve discipline in their schools, administrators would spend it on counselors, staff training, conflict-resolution programs, support services and rehabilitation services, rather than security, a study released Monday reported.

But of course they have less money. And the study, by the Oakland-based education resource and research group EdSource, found that state budget cuts are affecting the ability of administrators to deal with student discipline and behavior. Overwhelmingly, the respondents -- from 315 school districts around the state -- said they were concerned about discipline and also whether it varies by students' racial and ethnic backgrounds. [emphasis mine]
Another example:
But the data—along with interviews with parents, students, and educators—reveal that progress so far is halting and uneven. Critics say that’s because the transition from punitive to restorative justice is haphazardly evaluated and underfunded. In fact, Peer Courts, a model program extensively promoted in the Board’s 2009 resolution, was forced to close this year due to budget cuts. Meanwhile, suspensions and expulsions are actually rising in some schools that have yet to embrace restorative practices, often in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. At one, Thurgood Marshall High School, suspensions have almost tripled since 2007. 
The resulting picture is a school-by-school patchwork, at best an unfinished project to reform the traditional juvenile discipline paradigm. It’s a work-in-progress that contains lessons for educators and parents in other districts who are looking for effective disciplinary policies in a time of severe budget cuts. [emphasis mine]
How about Pennsylvania?
But in states like Pennsylvania, budget cuts have endangered districts’ ability to dedicate and train staff in new approaches to discipline. Thirty-four states will spend less this year on education than they did before the recession. The School District of Philadelphia lost $300 million for the 2013–2014 year and had to close 23 schools and fire almost 4,000 staff members, including all its assistant principals, more than 250 counselors, and more than 600 teachers. The district’s projected shortfall is estimated to rise to $320 million next school year.
Restorative-justice programs don’t cost a lot to implement—two-year training for faculty runs between $50,000 and $60,000—but they do require schools to have sufficient staff. The support staff on which the programs rely—counselors, assistant principals, restorative-justice coordinators—are often the first to go when budget cuts hit. [emphasis mine]
Let me be clear: I don't think budget cuts should be used as an excuse for schools to not examine their  disciplinary practices. I think administrators and teachers must improve in making their schools places of true social justice, even when short-sighted politicians refuse to do their jobs and adequately fund schools.

I also don't believe adequate funding, by itself, is enough to overcome the systemic inequality built into our public schools. And even desegregation, by itself, isn't enough -- we have too many examples of discriminatory practices within more integrated schools to ever be sanguine about this.

But expecting a sustained, meaningful change in our schools' social justice outcomes in the absence of adequate funding and the presence of a punitive, testing-driven curriculum is not realistic.

I'm going to grant Alexander Russo a courtesy that he refuses to grant Diane Ravitch: I believe he wants the best for all of our students, especially those who are victims of systemic racism and economic disadvantage. But I think his framing needs to change. Inadequate funding and over-testing are part and parcel of social injustice in our schools. They must be part of any larger program of establishing our schools as places where our best American ideals are realized.


StateAidGuy said...

You make a lot of points here, but I will only comment on two aspects of your argument.

1. Who would really disagree that all schools need "adequate" funding? The problem is that different people define "adequate" differently and different people place different importance on other state obligations.

Education research is rarely cut and dry. If higher spending was so critical a factor in school success, then districts with clear budgetary advantages would clearly outperform districts who have budgetary disadvantages.

And yet this isn't true.

I realize this is anecdotal, but Asbury Park exists and defenders of very high spending have to explain how it can spend $30k per student and still do so badly.

Union City is the beacon district for people who believe in the importance of high spending, and yet Union City is actually $5k per student below Adequacy.

Dover is the 10th lowest spending district in NJ and in the bottom 10% demographically, and yet Dover is actually above average in statewide performance.

2. Sometimes what a politican can do isn't what he or she wants to do. You can have a governor who 100% believes that high-FRL schools need to spend $20,000 per student, but if that governor has debt to pay off and stagnant revenue, they can't give high-FRL districts that much money.

Gov. Dannel Malloy passed two very big tax increases in CT but he's given up on tax increases now and is now cutting spending. He has even expressed a wish to lower CT's estate tax.

Malloy explains his shift by saying a state can't raise taxes enough that it makes itself uncompetitive.

You can say that we should return to Eisenhower levels of taxation, but it would be economic suicide for a state to try that on its own.

laMissy said...

Looks like the reformsters have latched on to social justice as their new cri du coeur. Check out this completely scambled post by Erica Sanzi in which she blames the teachers of the wealthy Boston suburb, Newton, for opposing raising the cap on charter schools in MA. "These Teachers are Proud and Happy to Block Low Income Families From Accessing Schools Like Theirs" http://goodschoolhunting.org/2016/06/teachers-proud-happy-block-low-income-families-accessing-schools-like.html

According to her "reasoning," teachers are somehow responsible for patterns of wealth accumulation and housing segregation, as well as the fact that funding of public schools comes from local property taxes.

Though she fronts as a mom of 3 and a former teacher (10 years, part timein MA, RI and CA!), she's a regular on the $12 million Ed Post. Don't worry, though; Erica is on the task from Rhode Island to assure that MA gets more charters.

Christine Langhoff

Leonie Haimson said...

Restorative justice and alternative approaches to discipline are important, but the research shows that the number of disciplinary issues are far less frequent when class sizes are reduced. students don't act out nearly as much when they feel valued and they are more engaged and recieving positive and continual feedback in a small class. And class size is of course directly linked to sufficient and equitable funding.

Duke said...

Hi Jeff:

"Education research is rarely cut and dry. If higher spending was so critical a factor in school success, then districts with clear budgetary advantages would clearly outperform districts who have budgetary disadvantages.

And yet this isn't true."

As Bruce has been arguing with you via Twitter: you can't make that assertion w/o properly accounting for differences in student populations and other factors. In quant research, we say there has to be an "equality in expectation."

I don't know the particulars of Dover or Asbury Park. Hopefully I'll get to that at some point, b/c I think it's important.

That said: we have a big and growing body of research that suggests funding makes a significant difference in improving student outcomes.

One thing I'll say about Malloy (I probably shouldn't b/c I've only followed CT sporadically) -- he seems to have concentrated his last state school aid cuts on districts that can afford to tax themselves as higher rates locally. Given the realities you speak of, that seems to me to be a good thing.

My point here is simple: you can't talk about making schools havens of social justice and then not give them the resources to make that happen. Faculty training costs money. Increased staff to deal with student discipline and other environmental issues costs money. If you want to make the case the money is not there, I disagree, but fine... then don't expect sustained, meaningful changes in public schools.

Adequate funding is the necessary precondition for meaningful and sustained school reform. Schools should strive to improve without it, but the reality is they will not get where they need to be unless they have the money to do the job.

As always, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Duke said...

Hi laMissy:

The EdPost crew is scrambled b/c they refuse to confront the people who write their checks. The minute they come out and tell the Walton Family it's time to start ponying up so we can have some real economic justice in the country, the tap will be turned off.

Can't have that...

Thanks for commenting.

Duke said...

Leonie, as always you are right about this. One thing I want to explore more is how much of the racial disparity in special education classification can be traced back to the racial disparity in resources. When you have crowded classrooms, you're going to have a greater likelihood of both disciplinary issues and manifestations of learning disabilities.

As always, thanks for all you do for America's schools.

Anonymous said...

It takes a social justice crime fight to recognize a social justice crime fighter.

StateAidGuy said...


I’m not philosophically anti-tax, so my objection really isn’t to highly progressive education aid, it’s to Abbott in specific. If New Jersey had a smooth continuum of state aid according to district need and a flourishing economy, I’d be a lot less angry and I’d invest my free time in things other than blogging and posting comments on other people’s blogs. But what New Jersey has isn’t a smooth continuum of aid at all. We have an extremely “lumpy” distribution of aid that corresponds to need as it was in the 1980s, not today.

I think all reasonable people should support progressive aid, but reasonable people can disagree with what Adequacy targets should be and I think Abbott/SFRA Adequacy targets are too high. If NJ’s economy and debt situations were better, the excess aid wouldn’t bother me, but given that NJ’s economy has not done well for 15+ years, our debt is very high, and need has never been higher in non-Abbotts I think the high Adequacy targets and aid levels for the Abbotts are unsustainable and drive deep unfairness. I wouldn’t want Newark and Paterson’s aid to actually be cut, but I don’t want them to get any more until poor non-Abbotts get justice.

We’re at the point now where it is very hard to assess the success of Abbott. Most of the Abbotts aren’t that high spending anymore anyway, so high spending can’t be tested because it doesn’t really exist. Depending on how you define Adequacy and spending, only 6-8 of the Abbotts are above official Adequacy spending. Moreover, several of the Abbotts are “chartered up” and that negatively affects district-run schools.

However, I think a deep skepticism about the efficacy of high-spending is justified because when you look at the academic performance of the few Abbotts who are still very high spending and not chartered up, the academic results just aren’t there. They don’t even do better than the lowest spending, high-FRL non-Abbotts.

I haven’t looked at academic performance in every single high-FRL, low-budget non-Abbott, but of the ones I’ve looked at, only Lakewood seems to be doing really badly and Lakewood is notorious for bad management. Even Red Bank Boro, which is chartered up, is actually doing decently (it’s not above average, but the kids are doing better than demographics and spending would predict.)

Bruce Baker said that my comparison of high-spending Abbotts to the lowest-spending non-Abbotts was too anecdotal. Ok, that’s fine, but I think anecdotes (or qualitative research) are legitimate. At some point people who defend Abbott will have to explain why Asbury Park does so badly and Dover does so well. Asbury Park and Dover are just two districts of course, but there are echoes of AP’s failure elsewhere among NJ’s highest-spending Abbotts and Dover’s success in NJ’s lowest spending non-Abbotts. Bayonne and Belleville (which isn’t quite demographic Abbott peer) are also very good. Asbury Park’s failure is particularly noteworthy because it’s a small district and small high-FRL districts have a slight tendency to do better.

Union City’s relative success shouldn’t be used as a defense of Abbott (which the ELC did a few days ago) because it is significantly below Adequacy anyway. It isn’t a vindication of high-Adequacy budgets being necessary because Union City’s budget actually isn’t that high. It was $17.5 k for 15-16.

"As Bruce has been arguing with you via Twitter: you can't make that assertion w/o properly accounting for differences in student populations and other factors. In quant research, we say there has to be an "equality in expectation." "

I didn't post this, but (on a district level) the eight lowest spending non-Abbotts I compared to the eight highest spending Abbotts actually have a HIGHER Free Lunch rate.

The percentages of LEP students are the same.

The most significant differences between the non-Abbotts and Abbotts are that the Abbotts spend way more money per student and have Pre-K.

Lloyd Lofthouse said...

There is no "school to prison pipeline" but there is a "poverty/illiteracy to prison pipeline" and high stakes tests linked to rank and punish in addition to segregated corporate charters that cherry pick and filter children will never get rid of that pipeline.

Literacy begins in the home years before a child reaches school age. That is a fact and teachers, even at their best, struggle to overcome that literacy handicap when children come from homes where literacy is not valued by parents/guardians. The most important factor in a child's life when it comes to literacy is parents/guardians --- not teachers or high stakes test scores.

The slogan/myth of the "school to prison pipeline" is just another propaganda tool, another lie, that was generated by the autocratic, often fraudulent, lying, cherry picking, opaque, publicly funded, private sector corporate charter school movement that is based on greed and worships at the alter of avarice.

How many of these autocratic, publicly funded, private sector charter schools pay their teachers the same rate as the community based, democratic, transparent, non-profit traditional public school do?

How many of these autocratic publicly funded, private sector charter schools pay their management and/or owners and investors the same or less than the administrators in the traditional public school systems are paid?

How many of these autocratic, publicly funded, private sector charter schools invest the same ratio of funds into the classroom?

For a peek into the corruption and greed in the corpaote charter school industry that reveals the real agenda of the so-called reform of public schools, I offer this:

"Public districts spent an average of $628 per pupil for all administrative services. Charter schools averaged $1,403 per pupil, more than twice as much. If charter schools had the same administrative efficiency as traditional public schools, the state would save $128 million a year in administrative costs ... The people who run most charter schools are the 'owners' of the schools and run them on a for-profit basis. There would be nothing inherently wrong with that if charter schools were private schools, but they are publicly funded and should be held accountable for at least following state and federal laws related to public schools."


The people own the community based, democratic, transparent, non-profit, traditional pbulic schools.

Corporations or wealthy individuals own the autocratic, opaque, often fraudulent and inferior, publicly funded, private sector corporate charter schools where taking over the education of our children is just another a road to wealth and power.

Becoming a wealthy and powerful CEO is the number one professional choice of psychopaths while becoming a teacher is one of the top ten professions for people high in empathy.

ciedie aech said...

Sadly, in my experience much of our district budget, whether adequate or inadequate, always goes toward the production of more punitive testing.

hi-er-ed-learner said...

There is a critical job outsourcing. This is the main factor to drive middle class to the ground.

There is also NO rent control and food cost control. This is the main factor to cause the minimum wage earners to be destitute.

In short, all governors should work with mayors to educate and cultivate all local business tycoons that their wealth from outsource local economy, from hijack rent and foods and from manipulating with insurance and banking to harm national economy and public education. Back2basic