Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SIG Schools Part II – What part does student poverty or affluence play in school performance?

This is the second in a multi-part series about the schools eligible to apply for some of the “Race to the Top”/ “School Improvement Grant (SIG)” funding provided through President Obama’s Education program via the Federal Department of Education.  Race to the Top is the key effort by the administration to raise achievement in America ’s underperforming schools.

In California, SIG funding is targeted at the lowest achieving schools identified as Tier I and Tier II schools, those falling into the bottom 5% in terms of achievement.  As mentioned in part I of this series, our company assisted one school district complete and application for the SIG and we helped another district by reviewing their grant before it was submitted.

Because of our work, we are curious about whether Tier I schools have similar characteristics other than low achievement.  We have undertaken this analysis of publicly available data about the Tier I schools first identified by the California Superintendent of Schools in a press release.

There are 136 schools identified in Tier 1.  Our first question is: Where are these schools and is their location predictive of student achievement levels?  Are these schools located in impoverished counties?

If we examine the income levels of the counties where these schools are located, we find that 67 of the Tier 1 schools are in counties with per capita incomes below the state median while 69 of the schools are located in counties where per capita income is above the state median.  When the median household income is examined, a similar picture emerges with 65 of the schools located in counties where household income falls below the state median and 71 schools are located in counties with household incomes above the median. 

If child lives in a wealthy county like Alameda County, which has the highest per capita income in the state at $44,962, and the third highest average household income at $71,306, how is it that some of the schools are ranking within the bottom 5% and why is it that a wealthy county like Alameda requires additional federal funding to raise student achievement?

County wealth does not appear to be predictive of whether a school will be underperforming or not.  Perhaps county income levels are not a fine enough measurement to use, so let’s zoom in on a school-by-school level.

One accessible form of public data on the economic circumstances of families at a school is the percentage of students for qualifying for the Federal free and reduced price lunch program (FRPL).  Families must apply for this program and they qualify by showing evidence of financial need.

We gathered Free/Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) data on the 136 Tier I schools as well as on 136 of the schools identified by the state in 2010 as “Distinguished Schools”.  The Distinguished schools were selected for comparison in this series were chosen according to several criteria, 1) the school was in a school district that also had Tier I schools, 2) the school was from the same county as some of the Tier 1 schools, 3) where neither condition 1, or 2 could be met, they were randomly chosen from the same region of the state.  Whenever possible, we matched 1:1 using criteria 1 and 2 before using criteria 3.

The results show that on average, 84.1% of students in the SIG Schools qualify for FRPL and in the Distinguished Schools 49.1% of student qualify for FRPL.  This significant discrepancy in the poverty levels between children at Distinguished Schools and those at Tier I schools is striking and may provide one clue to understanding the discrepancy in achievement levels.

What immediate becomes clear, though, is that there are holes in the argument that FRPL is a good indicator for low achievement. Among the group of Distinguished Schools used for comparison, there are 45 schools with significant percentages of students that qualify for FRPL (60%+).  Clearly, there is more to understand than the economic status of the families who send their children to a school.

These are difficult and complicated questions, but the level of investment being made by the taxpayer in these Tier I schools requires that they be asked and answered.  Clearly there is an economic discrepancy between Tier I schools and Distinguished schools.  We will examine other discrepancies in Part III of our SIG series.


Read all of the first post in this series: Low Performing Schools - SIG Schools Series, Part I

No comments:

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.