Progressive funding for schools fails to alleviate racial achievement gap, study says

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UC Berkeley researchers found that progressive financing in public K-12 schools fails to alleviate the racial achievement gap.

The study specifically looked at the impact of a 2013 California education reform that distributed $1.1 billion to high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, or LAUSD.

According to the study, the reform used “weighted-pupil finance strategies,” or WPF, to distribute funds to schools based on the number of disadvantaged students enrolled. Schools serving disadvantaged students received more funding than schools serving middle-class students did.

The study attributes the popularity of WPF-based education reforms to three main factors: recognition of the higher costs involved in ensuring poorer students reach proficiency standards, the move from categorical aid to block grants and schools having greater autonomy over budget and over teacher hiring practices.

The study found that, while student test scores increased overall, the achievement gap between English learners and economically disadvantaged students and nondisadvantaged students grew.

This gap is attributed to high-poverty schools utilizing the newly acquired funds to hire more novice and probationary educators. Additionally, these schools often assigned these teachers to English learners.

Researchers found learning disparities when comparing Black and English-learning students to white and Asian students.

According to campus assistant professor of education Travis Bristol, it would be ideal for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to be taught by “veteran teachers.”

The study also found that high-poverty schools receiving funding began offering fewer college-prep classes and that disadvantaged students and English learners did better when placed in low-poverty schools rather than high-poverty schools.

According to the study, this inequity between schools was allegedly rarely discussed within LAUSD and not taken into account when distributing state funding.

“I think it’s important to know resources matter, but the resources have to be targeted to specifically address policy problems,” Bristol said.

Despite the reform’s apparent failure to close the achievement gap, the study highlights the success of the state funding in changing organizational structures within LAUSD high schools as a promising find.

The study mentions two limitations: the lack of research of interaction between new resources entering schools and how campus leaders translate that into organizational change and the lack of budget data for individual LAUSD schools before the reform.

These limitations serve to highlight the need for additional research into the subject area, according to the study. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of whether and how money is distributed.

“If we’re spending an increase of $24 billion a year on education, why can’t we close these achievement gaps?” said Bruce Fuller, education professor and co-author of the study.

Blake Evans is a race and diversity reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.