Thursday, November 30, 2006

Income-Based Tie-Breaker

Danny Westneat suggests an idea that I and many others have been talking about --- the income-based tie breaker for enrollment to desirable schools. Read Seeing our way to diversity. He also discusses some of the arguments in favor of the race-based tiebreaker, while his colleague presents the opposing viewpoint: There's no compelling reason to manage race in schools.


Melissa Westbrook said...

You could use an income tie-breaker. It had been suggested 3 Boards ago but got shot down as racism by the-then one AA Board member.

I'm not sure which way the Supreme Court will go with this when they hear opening arguments today (or Monday). On the one hand, they did uphold its use at Michigan and the district has the fact that it was used evenly, helping minoritites in some cases and whites in another. But this court skews right so I find it doubtful that it will be upheld.

The real issue is transportation. If the district were to choose to keep an open enrollment policy for high school (as they should) but say that they can't afford yellow bus transportation (sending all kids on Metro), it WILL change the face of who goes where. Bruce Ramsey forgets that point because the district provides yellow bus transportation.

I live 2 blocks from Roosevelt and I remember Roosevelt kids coming down to a couple of Board meetings to protest Metro buses because they knew that many kids would have to take 2 buses and change downtown and it would be too difficult. One thing they didn't realize for the future (and this would probably affect Franklin as well) is that once the light rail stations are built, kids from the south end, at least, could access Roosevelt and Franklin fairly easily.

The district is moving to make the high schools equally rigorous and attractive. The problem is we don't have cookie-cutter high schools and we the variety of programming, it's important to let kids go where the programs interest them most.

Anonymous said...

So how would an income tie breaker work? Would people who wanted to go to the high school that was closest to them have priority over the income tie breaker?

Beth Bakeman said...

I think there are different possibilities for setting up an income-based tie-breaker so that it works well and is fair. It would definitely take further discussion.

I realize that people who buy a house near a good school feel (and in my belief rightly so) they should be able to send their children there.

But on the other hand, parents of children who can't afford to live in those neighborhoods should also be given a chance to send their children there.

The current discussion about PTSA fundraising is connected to this issue. The schools in this district are not of equal quality, and that inequity is increased by the PTSA fundraising that allows for additional staff, enrichment activities and smaller class sizes.

Currently, there are families who can't afford to live in neighborhoods with schools that are perceived to be better who would like to send their children there, but are unable to get in. They also can't do the kinds of fundraising that would add teachers or reduce classes for their neighborhood schools.

From my perspective, that's immoral. We are perpetuating inequity.

When the race-based tie-breaker was in place, one of the women who runs a daycare where my daughter went in the Mt. Baker neighborhood used to drive her children to John Hay (in Magnolia) every day. She wanted her children to attend a high quality school, she liked what she found at John Hay, and she arranged her life to do whatever was necessary to make it possible for her children to attend.

If her children were just starting school now, that wouldn't be possible.

Melissa Westbrook said...

To answer Anonymous' question;
It would depend on the order of the tiebreakers. Sibling has always been first. If they used distance, it would work for those closest to the school. If that was followed by income (between two people who live equally close), then the student from the lower income family would get in. I think if they used income before distance, you'd get A LOT of angry people especially for places like Ballard, Garfield, Roosevelt.

Charlie Mas said...

I think we need to examine
"schools that are perceived to be better" and measure the benefit of attending such a school.

To what extent is the perception of the school based on results that are driven by the school's demographics? Say, for example, that school A has a low concentration of poverty and high concentration of White students. Both of these factors have high correlation with test scores and discipline rates, so we might expect this school to have high test scores and low discipline rates. The question, then, is the individual achievement of minority students from low-income households better at these schools than it is at other schools? In short, how much does the child sitting next to yours impact your child's performance? Does it matter at all? Does it not matter until some tipping point?

I have no pre-conceived ideas of what the answers might be. There are certainly people on both sides of the debate. John Stanford says that minority children don't need to sit next to White children to learn. Don Alexander, however, might say that schools don't get resources unless there are enough White children there. I see the general trend all around the country, and I see Maple Elementary in my neighborhood.

It seems likely that schools that get a lot of students from low-income households would know better how to teach them - if they are to be taught any differently. But if that were true, then wouldn't their achievement be as high as students from affluent households?

I don't have answers, but I think we need some data to inform this discussion. Do these schools that are perceived to be better actually do a better job of closing the gap?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good points, Charlie.

Ballard has been full and with a waitlist since it was rebuilt (which kind of fed the perception that if you rebuild more people will come - this has not borne out for other schools). But, I have a number of friends who quietly say that the teaching corps there is just okay and that while they believe it is a good school, it isn't great. People perceive it as a top high school because it is full and does relatively well on the WASL (I'd have to check to see how well.)

You also have schools like Hale who are deliberately small and is on BEX III for a total rebuild (except for the athletic field which was on BEX I and the Performing Arts Hall, courtesy of BEX II). I have no doubt that given Hale's reputation, a new building will give it even more status. The problem is the school does not want to get bigger (currently around 1050) and the district is building it to around 1600. Hale claims it won't be able to give the same program at that size (and high schools don't directly get more money to run themselves because they are a bigger high school).

I think a good experiment can be seen in the New School (partially funded by the New School Foundation). They have a whole kid approach that does not just apply to academics but they have yoga, health care and pre-K. Meeting kids' needs on multiple levels and not just academically might help when parents aren't able to. However, there's a tremendous amount of money involved to do that and it's just not feasible that it could happen elsewhere because it isn't just about program or class size.

Beth Bakeman said...

Charlie, when I find some time (the way things are going that might be in 2007...) I'll post some research links and quotes, but for now, I'll tell you that from past research I remember that it is the concentration of children living in poverty that has the strongest correlation with low performing schools. So that the likelihood of a given child living in poverty performing well at school is lower if the school that child is attending has an extremely high concentration of children living in poverty.

Anonymous said...

Interesting correlation, Beth. I think I have read something similar. Correlation is of course not the whole story. Do poor kids in majority non-poor schools do better because of the school or because this means their parents have gone out of their way to get the child enrolled there? Perhaps the causal relationship goes back to the parental involvement? And of course one must control for teacher experience, class size, etc.

Have you read the New York Times Sunday Magazine article 11/26 on the Achievement Gap? Includes some information I already knew about KIPP and similar charter schools --- that they succeed because they don't just try to teach academics, but they teach the kids how to act "middle class" (remember 'To Sir, With Love'?)--- and some I didn't --- that an unintended consequence of the success of KIPP is that they started getting higher achieving kids (who don't need this emphasis on character building) in incoming classes, since the parents who already are engaged with academic success are applying for the lottery spots with higher frequency than those that aren't.

what does that say about our city's issues with the gap, school choice and racial (or income) tie-breakers?

y'know, it might be like 401K participation. When you had to apply, only the savvy and concerned (and higher income on average) applied. but many employers now require you to opt out instead. Much better participation. So, is this a realistic analogy for schools? Unfortunately I have no wonderful ideas.

Sure would be nice if we had better access to the value-added data that has been collected. Would perhaps answer Charlie's questions.

(can I also add that these sorts of semi-anonymous internet conversations are often non-productive because folks with conflicting views just slam each other, however this has not been the case with this group. I applaud you each and every one. I have learned a lot by reading what you have to say. thank you.)

Charlie Mas said...

The data that Beth references describes a "tipping point". The school can close the gap for students from low-income homes so long as the concentration of students living in poverty stays under X%. Data such as that would be a STRONG argument for an economic tie-breaker.

I read - and LOVED - the New York Times Magazine article, and I can see how the cultural re-education described in that article could happen naturally if the middle class students form a culturally dominant majority in the building.

I daresay that the cultural re-education that KIPP schools do is unlikely to occur by design in a Seattle school. First of all, it is simply NOT politically correct. In fact, we're going in the opposite direction; we're re-educating the teachers to appreciate the students' cultural communication style.

Just the same, even without any explicit effort by the school, students from low-income homes must surely adopt cultural cues, views, and habits from middle-class students if they are subjected to them as part of a dominant culture in the building. If these habits are a critical element in closing the gap, that would match the tipping point idea.

So let's say that there is a school in a middle-class neighborhood that isn't fully subscribed. After students from the reference area, the district could use FRE as a tie-breaker.

I think it should only be a prioritizing tie-breaker, however. I don't think the District should use it at schools that are not fully subscribed. They shouldn't use it to keep schools underenrolled.

They will have to develop some kind of reference area for the high schools, probably based on feeder patterns.

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