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ESEA Reauthorization

Waiver Watch: Can States Go Their Own Way?

September 13, 2012
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With fresh, third round ESEA flexibility requests from Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and West Virginia, along with Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education, the U.S. Department of Education has received 47 waiver proposals since last November. Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. have been approved to date, leaving only Illinois, Idaho, and Iowa with outstanding requests from the second round. Initial concerns about the “strings attached” to the waivers – i.e. college- and career-ready standards and assessments, differentiated accountability and improvement systems, and educator evaluations based on student achievement – haven’t slowed the process. Only six states have failed to take the Department up on their offer for increased flexibility under No Child Left Behind: California, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming (although an additional state, Vermont, submitted a request and later withdrew it from consideration).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean these states are rejecting the waiver game altogether – rather, they are rejecting the rules spelled out by the Department and making their own. While Montana, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have all requested limited waivers which would allow them to freeze their performance targets, California and Texas are pushing the boundaries further and going rogue. Instead of using the Department’s application, which requires states to sign off on waivers for at least ten provisions of NCLB and agree to 15 assurances, they are picking, choosing, and in some cases, adding to what the Department is offering. Although both states’ attitudes toward the feds’ flexibility deal appear similar – for instance, they both want to rely solely on their long-standing state accountability systems for schools – below the surface, California and Texas have completely different visions for ESEA flexibility.

Short, and Not So Sweet

While most states took hundreds of pages to document their efforts to adopt college- and career-ready expectations, differentiated accountability and support plans, and effective instruction and leadership systems, California needed only nine. Why so short? Is California really committed to these reforms? The state has been criticized for its lack of effort and resources in implementing Common Core and for its minimum expectations when it comes to teacher evaluations. Coupled with the state’s fiscal crisis, the Department should seriously question California’s capacity and will to improve. California is asking to waive only two of the ten required NCLB provisions – both of which would allow the state to use its existing and hardly perfect Academic Performance Index (API) to hold schools accountable. The State Board of Education will “consider” revising the performance targets and measures within the API, but California, it seems, is determined to make no promises and put in as little effort as possible.

With California blatantly ignoring the Department’s “all-or-nothing” approach to waivers and the commitments to all the principles of ESEA flexibility made by other states, California officials cannot possibly expect the feds to go along with their anemic request. Sure, California has a lot of political clout in an election year. But it is not worth undermining the credibility of the Department and the flexibility process – not to mention the education of millions of California students – to shore up a state that is already leaning heavily toward President Obama.

Bigger, Definitely Not Better

California may have thumbed its nose at most of the substance within the Department’s flexibility plan, but Texas is actually embracing it. The Lone Star State intends to apply for every one of the ten waivers included in the flexibility request, in addition to the three optional waivers offered by the Department related to extended learning time, prioritizing Title I funds for eligible high schools with low graduation rates, and removing Adequate Yearly Progress determinations from school report cards. While not a Common Core state, Texas appears more than willing to make the case for its own standards and assessments and demonstrate how they are aligned with college and career readiness. And although the state has not passed teacher evaluation reform to date, most of the states applying for waivers do not have all of the principles of high quality evaluations in place – and are essentially pledging to adopt them and implement them by the 2014-15 school year. So if Texas is already committing to most of what the Department is asking, why are they still going their own way?

Because Texas wants more. Namely, they’d like to rewrite the entire Title I funding formula and decide how the state’s nearly $1.4 billion allocation should be distributed to districts. Texas has not yet specified an exact methodology (or what it finds so offensive in the current formula – though there are many valid criticisms), but promises to account for districts’ identified needs in terms of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and whatever “educationally disadvantaged” students means. And since one of the standard waivers Texas is requesting would give the state the option to transfer funds from other ESEA programs to Title I, the state is essentially requesting limitless funding flexibility within ESEA – without actually specifying how the new, Texas Title I formula would work.

The state may be promising to hold schools accountable, but how can the federal government hold Texas accountable for improving outcomes for disadvantaged students if the state won’t describe how the funds will be distributed? Giving a state this much discretion within Title I, in addition to what the feds are already offering, would be unprecedented, quite possibly illegal, and potentially disastrous for Texas’ Title I schools and the students they serve.

To add insult to injury, Texas also wants to waive the provision that defines annual measurable objectives (AMOs), opening the door for the state to lower, or even eliminate, performance targets for students and subgroups. AMOs stirred up controversy in other waiver winners (like Virginia), as states attempted to alter, or even undermine, subgroup accountability in their AMOs, particularly through the use of “super subgroups.”

Whether big or small, rogue approaches to ESEA flexibility aren’t likely to work for states anytime soon. Even though the Department of Education is willing to negotiate, both California and Texas have a long way to go before their requests should be considered seriously.

But will state officials be willing to change their proposals if the Department’s waivers continue to be the only viable option for states seeking relief from NCLB? By removing the additional requests and their outlandish Title I funding proposal, Texas would likely be able to secure a waiver after some back-and-forth with the Department. California would have more revisions to make to get their proposal in shape (it was only nine pages, after all). Still, the state adopted Common Core, joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and has many of the components of a strong accountability system in place. Evaluations of teachers and principals – and how to pay for them – are the primary sticking point. But at least for now, it appears California and Texas will continue to go their own way… even if it gets them nowhere.

Waiver Watch: Yes, Virginia, There Is an Achievement Gap

September 6, 2012
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Reporters, bloggers, eduwonks, public officials, and civil rights leaders have been weighing in on Virginia’s separate – and very unequal – achievement goals for student subgroups in their ESEA waiver request in droves. And many rightfully cheered the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement last week that Virginia would be revising its achievement targets by month’s end to make them more ambitious for disadvantaged students. The tremendous coverage of Virginia’s AMO (annual measurable objective) debacle undoubtedly encouraged the Department to take action. But unfortunately, they got part of the story wrong – a part that should be highlighted before Virginia goes back to the drawing board.

Virginia’s AMOs failed to close achievement gaps not because the state adopted new, more difficult math tests or because the state set different goals for certain student groups. Virginia’s AMOs failed to close achievement gaps because their waiver completely ignored them.*

Only in Virginia.** Their one-of-a-kind AMO methodology focused on a different sort of gap: the gap between schools where black students perform well and schools where black students perform poorly. And the gap between schools where white students perform well and white students perform poorly. Just not the gap between schools where white students perform well and black students perform poorly.*** You know, the achievement gap educators have been trying to close for decades. By focusing on differences in performance within, rather than between, student subgroups, Virginia officials put their blinders on to real disparities in performance, even in high performing school systems like Fairfax County.

Transforming schools where particular subgroups perform below average is a worthwhile endeavor. A school where 40 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in math and reading could surely learn from a school where 60 percent of Hispanic students are proficient. But shouldn’t those schools also aim for Hispanic students to perform as well as all students? The problem in Virginia isn’t just that some schools do a poor job educating minority and disadvantaged kids relative to others, but that minority and disadvantaged kids lag behind other students across the board. It’s like applauding McDonald’s for making healthier happy meals. While an improvement, it doesn’t mean kids should eat one every day. After all, it’s still a cheeseburger and fries, with a few apple slices on the side.

In the end, Virginia could still choose to set different AMOs for different subgroups, as many other states elected to do in their waivers. But Virginia cannot continue setting goals for subgroups blindly, based on double standards. Sure, goals for black students can be informed by how well they currently perform on state assessments. But goals must also be informed by how well all students should be performing. Maybe that means each subgroup makes progress toward 100 percent proficiency or the 90th percentile overall, with lower-performing students asked to make larger annual gains. Maybe that means expecting at least one year of academic growth from students, with those further behind expected to demonstrate greater growth. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But at the end of six years, Virginia officials shouldn’t be satisfied with mile-wide, persistent achievement gaps.

This week, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli asked: “Why is it so ‘stunning’ that Virginia wouldn’t expect the achievement gap to evaporate in just five years?” He’s right; it isn’t. What is stunning is that Virginia was able to get a waiver by ignoring achievement gaps entirely. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

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*A fact not lost on the peer reviewers charged with reading Virginia’s waiver request: “VDOE’s request does not include recognition of its current challenge of achievement gaps.”

**See: massive resistance to school integration, charter schools, Race to the Top, Common Core, and Ken Cuccinelli.

***For the truly nerdy, here’s the methodology Virginia used to set its AMOs (in this case, for black students in math):

1) rank all Virginia schools based on the percentage of black students proficient on state math tests

2) identify the point on the list where 20 percent of enrolled students attended a school with a lower rate of math proficiency for black students (School A)

3) identify the point on the list where 10 percent of enrolled students attended a school with a higher rate of math proficiency for black students (School B)

4) determine the math proficiency rate for black students at school A and school B – these proficiency rates are NOT equal to the 20th and 90th percentile for black students’ performance, as schools A and B are identified by both school enrollment and subgroup performance.

5) subtract proficiency A from proficiency B and divide in 2 (to cut in half the gap between the performance of black students at the two schools)

6) divide this amount by 6 to get the annual AMO increase for black students (to complete the 50 percent gap reduction between the two schools in six years)

In National Journal Blog: Missed Opportunity for Early Ed in NLCB Waivers

August 17, 2012

This week’s National Journal Education Experts blog asks about the outcomes that could come from the Obama Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver program. (For more background on the waivers give these Early Ed Watch posts a read.)

Are No Child Left Behind Waivers Really Giving States Flexibility?

July 17, 2012

As of July 6, the U.S. Department of Education has granted more than half of states waivers from the most punitive provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.  The Obama Administration is issuing the waivers to address unworkable parts of the 2002 law as key deadlines near and a legislative solution is unlikely. States granted waivers will no longer be subject NCLB’s accountability rules and must instead meet their own benchmarks for student achievement. However, the Obama Administration is taking steps to preserve a key piece of NCLB that has made it harder for schools to hide their lowest performing students – the reporting requirements.

Under No Child Left Behind, states were required to report to the Department of Education’s internal EDFacts system a wide array of data, including student performance by subgroups (racial/ethnic minority students, economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, and students with disabilities), as well as the subgroups’ performances against each state’s annual measurable objectives (AMOs), or state-defined proficiency targets. The Department announced in late May that it plans to keep this system in place and create a duplicate system to capture each state’s self-proposed accountability benchmarks. That will be no small feat for the Department of Education.

A recent Education Week article stated that state and school districts officials who gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual STATS DC conference on data collection were clearly surprised by that news. It means that instead of lessening the load of data reporting those state officials are required to compile each year, the (voluntary) waivers have doubled their work.

States that have received waivers will have to report state, district, and/or school data in 22 more categories – the flexibility version of existing categories. And although each state hammered out the specifics of its waiver in close consultation with the Department of Education, the EDFacts system lays out only eleven categories into which states are expected to squeeze their own particularly-defined subgroups. That may require some extra calculations on the part of state officials who will have to calculate and recalculate state figures so they match both the federal and state definitions of subgroups.

The Department also calls on states and schools to collect all of the new flexibility data for three years, although the waivers are only valid through the 2013-14 school year. That begs the question: Is the Department using the waivers, as it says it is, as a stopgap measure until Congress takes on the long-delayed ESEA reauthorization originally scheduled for 2007? Or does the three-year data requirement suggest it will extend the waivers down the line?

Still, maintaining the strong reporting requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind will help preserve one of the law’s biggest achievements. In maintaining the existing reporting categories and adding in the new waiver-based ones, the Administration is ensuring ten years’ worth of data on student performance retains its relevance and can be compared to future data. Although the Department required that states set clear subgroup definitions on their own to win a waiver, holding onto the current reporting format ensures one thing: No school will be able to conceal a subpopulation’s failures, simply to protect itself.

The Obama Administration billed the NCLB waivers as a way for states to escape some of the punitive and unworkable measures of NCLB. States are now likely to accuse the Administration of a bait-and-switch given the data collection rules. But in spite of the added work, the Department of Education’s data process is ensuring transparency and openness from the schools that fail to serve many of their students well.

The Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, houses many of the state- and school district-level data that states report to the Department of Education in its database. Click here to view the data.

Waiver States with Race to the Top Grants Slow to Reform

May 31, 2012

Since No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, Congress has shown only fits and starts of reauthorization activity for the most recent incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In response, the Obama administration announced last year that it would exempt states from some of the most punitive provisions of NCLB – including one that requires all students to achieve proficiency on state reading and math exams by 2014 – if states proposed, and the Department approved, their own reform plans. The Department approved 11 states’ waivers in the first round of applications. Another 26 states and the District of Columbia applied for the second-round February deadline, and this week the Department approved eight.

Education stakeholders, though, have expressed concerns as to how strictly the Department will require states to adhere to their applications. Naysayers point to Race to the Top (RttT), another key Obama administration initiative, as evidence that once-rigorous reform efforts have been laxly enforced. The Department has come under fire for states’ slow implementation of the ambitious plans they set forth in their RttT applications – in fact, Department officials even threatened to rescind Hawaii’s RttT funds because the state has delayed its implementation timeline so significantly (the state is still on probation).

Of the eight states that have been granted waivers so far in Round Two, six of them – Delaware, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island – also received Race to the Top grants. (Connecticut and Louisiana also received waivers in round two, but were not granted RttT awards.) That begs the question: Have those states proven themselves to be effective reformers thus far?

Across these six states, the Department has so far approved 38 requests for amendments (some requests included more than one amendment) to the states’ RttT proposals. Although some of those amendments are fairly innocuous, or even represent a positive development (for example, an increase in the funding level for a program included in one of the proposals), others suggest that the states face major hurdles in implementing the reforms outlined in their original applications.

Perhaps most noticeably, each of those six states submitted at least one request to push back their timeline for implementation of teacher and principal evaluation systems. Of the four key components of the Race to the Top applications, teacher and leader effectiveness – including evaluations – was allocated the most points out of the possible 500 in the application scoring. (The three other components were developing high-quality standards and assessments, building and using comprehensive data systems, and turning around states’ lowest-performing schools.)

Stakeholders should be concerned that these six states struggled to comply with the timelines they laid out in their RttT applications. This raises questions about states’ capacities to implement other massive reform efforts – like setting in place the entirely new accountability systems described in their NCLB waiver applications. Implementing these systems, as well as many of the other reforms required in the waivers, will be no easy task because they will require new infrastructure.

Furthermore, states will be on the hook for implementation expenses under the NCLB waivers. With many states facing budget shortfalls, the costs of the waivers could be high; one California estimate found that a waiver would cost the state more than $2 billion to implement. That’s another potential stumbling point for states. States faced challenges in implementing Race to the Top in spite of a large pot of federal dollars available explicitly for that purpose (for the six states discussed here, awards ranged from $75 million for Rhode Island to $700 million for New York). But in the case of NCLB waivers, states aren’t even provided federal dollars for implementation.

The No Child Left Behind waivers release states from the restrictive proficiency targets and other requirements set forth in NCLB, and therefore hold a lot of potential for states to experiment with alternative accountability systems and other reform efforts. But as in Race to the Top, states may struggle to find the capacity – and the cash – to implement major reforms. Whether states will be able to live up to the Department’s, and their own, standards for excellence remains unclear.

Will ED Take a Stand on Subgroups in ESEA Waivers This Time?

May 3, 2012

Ever since the Department of Education (ED) released guidance on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers, policymakers have debated the merits and problems surrounding the new accountability systems that states proposed. The waivers, if ED approves them, allow states to replace the accountability system Congress put in place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – Adequate Yearly Progress – with their own rules.  ED just released letters from their peer reviewers to each of the 27 states that submitted waiver applications in the second round. After comparing these letters to the first round of approved waivers, it looks like ED is not holding states to the reviewers’ recommendations.

Thanks to EdWeek, 13 of these letters are publicly available. Among the many shortcomings the reviewers identified, states’ treatment of student subgroups (students with disabilities, English language learners, minority students, and students living in poverty) in their school accountability grades featured prominently in the letters. It is not surprising that the reviewers were concerned about the treatment of subgroups in the waivers – many stakeholders have expressed similar concerns. Indeed, even the Department of Education’s guidance on how it will evaluate ESEA waiver applications explicitly requires states to address subgroup achievement. Has ED changed its tune after recognizing the challenges this created for the majority of schools?

For example, reviewers dinged Kansas’ waiver application for proposing to measure the achievement gap by comparing the performance of the top- and bottom-performing 30 percent of students instead of separating out student subgroups. Kansas also proposed using alternative assessments for subgroups and failed to demonstrate how they would collect data on individual subgroups over time to identify trends. The reviewers concluded that as it stands, the state’s new accountability framework could potentially mask the performance of struggling subgroups.

This is not the first time that reviewers have been concerned about subgroups. We recently examined three state waivers—from Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico—approved in the first round of waiver applications. ED approved Florida’s and New Mexico’s applications even though their school grade frameworks did not include the achievement of individual subgroups.

From our read of Florida’s original waiver application and the reviewer feedback on the proposal, reviewers criticized Florida’s application because, like Kansas, the state did not include individual subgroup achievement in school grades. Specifically, Florida’s plan ditches traditional ESEA subgroups and instead accounts for the performance of the 25 percent of students with the least test score growth from year to year, assuming that this 25 percent captures most of the students in these subgroups.

Florida’s response to the comments? Not much. Florida did concede by adding that they would use school improvement plans to intervene in schools in which any subgroup of students failed to meet the state’s achievement goals for two years in a row. But as far as we can tell, Florida made no changes to its school grade system in its approved waiver plan. Instead, Florida justified its use of the lowest-performing 25 percent of students by claiming that many schools did not have enough students in each subgroup to be properly measured under NCLB’s accountability system.

So the real question is—is ED taking the reviewers’ feedback about subgroups seriously? In the case of Florida, the Department approved the waiver even though the state made no substantive changes to its inclusion of subgroups in school grades. Will ED take a firmer hand with this second round of waivers? Or will states be allowed to obscure the performance of their neediest students in their school accountability grades? 

State NCLB Waiver Plans Lax on Subgroup Accountability

April 12, 2012

Under the accountability structure put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), states are required to bring all of their students to proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Schools and districts are held accountable for the performance of students in particular “subgroups” as determined by race, socio-economic status, and participation in certain programs like special education. Because states aren’t going to achieve this goal, the Department of Education announced in November 2011 that states could apply to have the requirements waived if they proposed – and the Department accepted – alternative student performance plans.

Many have argued that the waivers are turning the original intent of NCLB on its head. States have submitted extremely complicated, opaque, and watered-down accountability measures. Look no further than the myriad ways states propose to measure schools by how student subgroups perform.

Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico are three interesting cases. Despite the Department’s guidance requiring states to include data from individual subgroups in their plans, Florida and New Mexico chose to forgo subgroups defined in NCLB and instead create one “low-performers” subgroup. Colorado, on the other hand, hews to NCLB subgroups and the Department’s guidance, but still makes key changes. Below we discuss how each state’s approved plan treats student subgroups.

Colorado uses subgroup performance in three components of its performance framework: what the state calls growth; growth (or achievement) gaps; and postsecondary- and workforce-readiness. The framework accounts both for growth that English Language Learners make in traditional categories, as well as improvement in their English skills as measured by the Colorado English Language Acquisition Proficiency Assessment (CELApro). The state also disaggregates graduation rates and scores on state math and reading tests by subgroup to determine the degree to which schools are effectively reducing the achievement gap. In total, subgroup performance makes up 37.5 percent in a school’s grade in Colorado. So, while Colorado may not give the same focus to subgroups as they received under NCLB, the state still provides substantial weight to the performance of traditionally high-needs students.

Florida more or less scraps the NCLB subgroup framework and focuses instead on the 25 percent of students showing the least improvement from year to year, as well as students deemed “at-risk.” At-risk students are those who enter high school below grade level based on their eighth grade Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores in reading and math. Although in theory this measure likely captures the performance of subgroups, it has the potential to mask the degree to which individual subgroups are struggling or succeeding.

The state uses test outcomes of the lowest-performing 25 percent of students in its measure. But the state further complicates the issue by choosing to focus on the graduation rates of at-risk students instead – a likely overlapping but different population of students. In total, at-risk and low-performing students make up about 18.75 percent of a school’s grade in Florida’s model. But the metric also includes the performance of “acceleration” students, accounting for 18.75 percent of a school’s grade, too. (Acceleration refers to the number of students who took assessments higher than their grade-level and the scores on those tests—the top performers at schools.) By including the performance of accelerated students in a school’s grade and giving it the same weight, the state essentially negates the impact of struggling students on those grades.

Similar to Florida, New Mexico does not include disaggregated subgroup data for student growth or graduation rates. Instead, the state accountability metric separately accounts for the performance on state math and reading tests of the top 75 percent and lowest 25 percent of students. And rather than accounting specifically for the graduation rates of low-performing students, New Mexico includes graduation rates both for students who graduate in four years and those who graduate in five years. In total, low-performing and high-performing students each account for 15 percent of a school’s grade, and five-year graduation rates make up four percent of the grade. New Mexico, too, seems to allow the performance of its top performers to overshadow that of its lowest-performers in its metric.

Why did the Department grant the waivers to these states even though some of them stopped disaggregating subgroups—the explicit goal of NCLB? Certainly, the Department needed to give states a way out of the current system. But did they throw the proverbial accountability “baby” out with the bathwater? Or did the sheer complexity of the state proposals, some over 500 pages, obscure the reality of the new accountability measures by making them appear more rigorous?

It remains to be seen if these new metrics will dramatically change states’ accountability outcomes. However, by allowing states to develop their own accountability systems, the Department likely enabled states to minimize the impact of low-income, limited English proficiency, and minority students on their school accountability measures. This could ultimately give schools an opportunity to ignore the needs of these students, defeating the purpose of federal funds specifically targeted to them.  

Presentation on Early Learning in ESEA

March 12, 2012

Last week I spoke about the future of early learning in federal education policy at the annual policy symposium of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

Early Learning in ESEA

March 12, 2012

On March 7, 2012, Laura Bornfreund presented at the annual policy symposium of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. The presentation highlights the current role of early learning in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the opportunity for an expanded role for early learning in the next reauthorization.

Florida Data Shine A Light On Teacher Comparability’s Shortcomings

March 6, 2012

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) has been fraught with obstacles and years of delay – lawmakers have been fighting over many aspects of the law from fiscal responsibility for state governments and school districts to academic standards. Many stakeholders have weighed in on this still-evolving policy debate. In the latest development, the Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), released an issue brief this week that summarizes recommendations for fixing Title I, the largest funding stream in ESEA.  Their recommendations are based on a series of papers commissioned as part of a conference held in 2011 called “Tightening Up Title I” and range from improving the quality of supplemental education services to bringing more meaning to the “supplement, not supplant” provision.

Perhaps one of the most controversial elements of Title I is the comparability provision.  Disagreements over the provision helped to sink ESEA reauthorization negotiations in 2007. As we have written in the past, the comparability provision of Title I requires that school districts provide their low-income and high-income schools with equitable resources before federal funds are factored in. But it also permits districts to obfuscate those numbers by ignoring variation in teacher pay due to years of experience.

Along with their final recommendations, CAP and AEI released the final version of an analysis of Title I comparability and school-level expenditures conducted by the New America Foundation’s Jennifer Cohen and CAP’s Raegan Miller.  Cohen and Miller used a Florida dataset that included per-pupil expenditures at individual schools to examine actual spending in Title I and non-Title I schools and determine and the degree to which school district spending practices in Florida undermine the comparability provision.

The authors found that for every 10 percentage point increase in a school’s student poverty rate, average per-pupil expenditure at that school increased by $56.  Though this seems positive, the authors warn that an increase of only $56 per pupil is likely too low to indicate that federal funds are actually being used to provide additional services to low-income students. Instead, it is more likely that the districts use federal funds under Title I to both bring funding levels for low-income schools up to the same level as higher-income schools and then provide a little extra. However, it is impossible to know for sure because the Florida data do not distinguish between funds from different sources.

Cohen and Miller’s analysis also examined the relationship between poverty and teacher pay – the biggest driver of school expenditures. For every 10 percentage point increase in a school’s student poverty rate, they found a decrease of more than $200 in that school’s average teacher salary.  Teachers in a school with a 70 percent student poverty rate, then, receive an average salary that is $1,000 lower than the average salary in an otherwise identical school with a 20 percent student poverty rate. If the high-poverty school had had access to that additional funding, it could have hired an additional teacher, Cohen and Miller argue. And because student poverty is also closely intertwined with the percentage of minority students, this means that Hispanic and African-American students typically attend schools with far fewer resources than other students.

Further analysis showed that the association between student poverty rate and average teacher salary is eclipsed by the influence of years of teacher experience on teacher salary. In other words, inequities between Title I and non-Title I schools are driven by policies that base teacher salary on experience and by teacher sorting policies (experienced teachers generally elect to teach in higher-income schools) that typically place the least-experienced teachers in lower-income schools.

The report makes two broad recommendations.  The first is to close the comparability loophole.  We at Ed Money Watch have written extensively about the importance of altering the legislation to lessen the inequities low-income students face, and both the Senate’s Harkin-Enzi proposal for ESEA reauthorization and independent legislation have proposed doing so.  But with reauthorization unlikely in the upcoming election year and a divided, highly partisan Congress, the measure seems unlikely to see much action on the Hill, at least in the immediate future.

The second recommendation asks the Department of Education to require annual school-level reporting of per-pupil expenditures. The Department did so for one year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – data that recently became available for the 2009 school year, a positive step.  Only with rich data like Florida’s can states and school districts be held responsible for protecting their low-income students and providing an even footing for students across all schools.

To read Jennifer Cohen and Raegan Miller’s full analysis, click here.  The Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute also released six additional briefs related to Title I spending this week, available for download here.

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