Quote of the DayJanuary 18, 2012
Finally, Chris Cerf Gets an Unequivocable TitleJanuary 20, 2012
The U.S. Department of Education has just published a report on an issue that permeates discussions of school equity: comparability of state and local expenditures among schools within districts. When educators talk about “school comparability” they usually mean how much different schools within a district spend per student, but with one large variable left out: teacher salaries. Here’s Stephen Sawchuk’s excellent discussion of this missing piece of the pie:
Under the current comparability calculation, districts are allowed to exempt teacher salary differentials. The problem is, however, that factors like high turnover in high-poverty schools result in a concentration of novice teachers in such schools—and therefore, less per-pupil funding overall. The resulting disparities can be quite large in dollar terms.
Dr. Bruce Baker is cited in the Sawchuk piece as explaining that teacher salary comparability is “a very small piece of a much larger equity puzzle.” Certainly, that’s true for NJ. After all, our public school structure — lots of tiny wealthier districts, poor kids mostly segregated in large cities — renders intradistrict comparability numbers less meaningful. More relevant for us is inter-district analysis — differences in cost per pupil with a specific focus on teacher salaries. It’s widely accepted that wealthier districts attract more experienced (and expensive) teachers. That’s why the NJ DOE is trying to push some salary differential so that poor kids get a share of seasoned veterans or/and effective teachers.
Still, the comparability question is interesting to look at, and that’s the focus of the U.S. DOE’s report.
The Feds compiled their data through the auspices of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). In order to receive ARRA funds, each school district was required to “report a school-by-school listing of per-pupil education expenditures from state and local funds for the 2008-2009 school year to its state education agency and required states to report these data to the U.S. Department of Education.”
All states complied and were included in the analysis. Except, it turns out, New Jersey.
From the report:
One state (New Jersey) reported expenditure data that included expenditures from federal funds and therefore could not be included in the analyses presented in this report… The data reporting instructions developed to implement this ARRA requirement offered flexibility in defining the expenditures to be reported, in recognition of the challenges for districts and states in compiling these data retroactively. New Jersey interpreted this flexibility as permitting the state to include federal funds in its school expenditure reports. All other states reported that they excluded federal funds from the reported data.
In other words, the Feds instructed state to calculate comparability among districts by omitting money from Federal funds, specifically Title I money, which supplements funding for poor children. But NJ, unlike the other 49 states, included federal money.
The report notes that an additional project on comparability, the Civil Rights Data Collections, will include 7,000 districts across the county and 260 NJ districts. “The Department is following up with New Jersey districts to ensure that their CRDC reporting includes only those expenditures that were made from state and local funds.” I.e., we’ll follow the rules this time.