Report highlights school segregation by district

A new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit organization that focuses on school funding issues, shows that America’s schools remain starkly segregated by race and economic status 65 years after the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.

The report identifies nearly 1,000 school district boundaries – including 30 in Indiana — that separate “advantaged” from “disadvantaged” school districts. In each case, the disadvantaged district has significantly more poor students and students of color but spends substantially less money.

Across the country, almost 9 million students attend schools on the losing side of those district lines.

“Their schools, when compared to those of their more affluent neighbors, are a glaring reminder that our education system remains divided by race and resources over half a century after the iconic Brown v. Board of Education ruling,” the EdBuild report concludes.

The report was issued on the 45th anniversary of another Supreme Court decision, Milliken v. Bradley, which ruled that school districts could not be required to desegregate across district borders. The decision facilitated white flight and locked in school segregation behind district boundaries.

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‘Teaching penalty’ large in Indiana

The salary gap between teachers and comparable professionals is larger in Indiana than in most other states, according to a new report from researchers at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the Albert Shanker Institute.

The report, “School Finance and Teacher Pay Competitiveness,” supports the argument that Hoosier teachers have fallen behind their peers in other states, despite Indiana’s healthy state budget.

Using education and census data, the researchers examine what’s commonly called the teaching penalty: the difference in average pay between teachers and non-teachers who are similar in terms of education, age and the number of hours they work.

“Overall, the magnitude of the teaching penalty varies quite widely by state,” authors Bruce Baker, Matthew Di Carlo and Mark Weber conclude, “but it is at least meaningfully large in all states, and the gap is larger for veteran versus young teachers in all but a handful of states.”

They estimate that Indiana teachers at age 25 are paid 24.1% less than comparable professionals in the state. At age 55, the gap widens to 31.1%. Those differences are on the high side among the states.

States with the biggest teaching penalties include Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado, all of which were hit by recent teacher strikes.

The report is based on salaries and doesn’t include benefits, which can be generous for teachers. Including benefits in the estimates might reduce the teaching penalty, but it would still be sizeable, the authors write. Also, the data sample includes private school teachers, who tend to be paid less. But they make up a small percentage of teachers and likely don’t skew the overall findings.

The report finds the teaching penalty is smaller in states that spend more on education (adjusted for labor market costs and other factors) and in states that spend a bigger share of their economy on schools. That suggests states could reduce the penalty – and make it easier for schools to recruit and retain teachers – with better school funding policies. The researchers recommend that states boost funding, but they take no position on whether teacher raises should be targeted or across the board.

A national focus on teacher pay has led to calls for federal action. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris wants to boost teacher pay by an average of $13,500. But Baker, Di Carlo and Weber argue that any federal teacher-pay program should give priority to states that spend a larger share of their gross domestic product on education.

In other words, the feds should help states that help themselves. Unfortunately, Indiana isn’t one of those. An earlier report by the same authors shows that Indiana ranks near the bottom of the states for school funding “effort.” And that effort is getting weaker.

As Ball State University economist Michael Hicks writes, “If today we (Indiana) spent the same share of GDP on education as we did in 2010, we would have more than $1.56 billion extra this year alone.”

Stevens was right on vouchers

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died Tuesday, is being remembered for a lot of things: His evolution from Republican corporate attorney to a leader of the court’s liberal bloc. His common-sense and non-ideological approach to the law. And yes, his snappy bow ties.

Those of us who care about education should remember his forceful dissent in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the 2002 decision that said it was OK for states to pay for tuition vouchers allowing students to attend private schools, including religious schools.

Justice John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens (uscourts.gov)

Zelman was a 5-4 decision. If just one more justice had agreed with Stevens’ reasoning, the school choice landscape in 2019 might look very different.

The case involved a small pilot program in Cleveland that let about 5% of the city’s students receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools. Susan Zelman, the Ohio superintendent of public instruction, challenged the program as an unconstitutional violation of church-state separation.

The majority decision, by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, reasoned that vouchers were allowable because the state money went to the parents, not directly to religious schools. He justified the decision with a discourse on the poor quality of Cleveland public schools and the choices available within the public system.

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Reckoning for virtual schools

Is Indiana finally getting serious about cracking down on abuses by virtual charter schools? It sure looks like it, but we’ll have a better idea after Wednesday’s meeting of the State Board of Education.

The board will decide whether to try to recover tens of millions of dollars that two of the schools – Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy – received for students who were enrolled but apparently didn’t take classes or earn credits.

State officials estimate the schools inflated their enrollment figures and were awarded more than twice the appropriate funding in the past three years. The estimate comes from the head of the State Board of Accounts, which is auditing the schools’ books after they fell years behind in filing financial reports.

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‘Good schools’ or ‘affluent schools’?

What do we mean by “a good school”?

Is it a school where all children are loved and respected and made to feel safe and valued? Where trained and caring educators know all students can succeed and work hard to help them reach their potential? Where children smile and laugh when they walk through the doors and enjoy being with each other and their teachers?

Or is it a school where most of the students are middle- or upper-class and at least a clear majority are white? Where families can provide their children with healthy food, a comfortable home and enriching after-school activities. Where average test scores are high, and GreatSchools ratings are near the top.

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Debate puts ‘busing’ back in the news

Three years ago, I read Matt Delmont’s “Why Busing Failed” and wrote a post about it. It never occurred to me that the book’s theme would emerge as a theme in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Yet here we are. Since last Thursday’s Democratic candidate debate, when Kamala Harris called out Joe Biden for working with segregationists to oppose busing, the reality of America’s segregated schools has become part of the national conversation.

Reporters are revisiting the history of school desegregation efforts – especially in Berkeley, California, where Harris rode a bus as a young student. And pundits are weighing in with various hot takes, often to the effect that busing is unpopular and would be a losing issue for Democrats.

But as Delmont, a historian at Dartmouth, has made clear, the busing story isn’t straightforward. Court-ordered busing made great progress at desegregating public schools. But resistance by white parents in Northern cities captured the media lens, and politicians jumped on board.

Today, the conventional wisdom is that we tried busing and it didn’t work. It’s not that simple.

“In public-policy debates and popular memory … the perspectives of students have been overshadowed by those of antibusing parents and politicians,” Delmont writes this week in the Atlantic. “As a result, the successes of school desegregation have been drowned out by a chorus of voices insisting busing was an inconvenient, unfair, and failed experiment.”

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