Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Response to "How much longer can our district's children wait?"

Jean Jordison recently wrote an op-ed in the Press-Citizen. I made a rather long response as a comment, and I am including it here.

I'm rather new to Iowa City, but I share your concerns about allowing older facilities to deteriorate while new ones are built. I believe these matters significantly affect the achievement gap, and I think there is good research to back that up.

Nevertheless, I have a few concerns about framing equity primarily in terms of facilities: first, I think it misses the point that equity needs to be thought of much more comprehensively as (a) a matter of educational interventions, (b) a product of class and school size, (c) a product of underlying racial and economic demographics, (d) related communal problems, as well as (e) equal facilities. (I don't intend this list to be exhaustive.) Second, the current iteration of the FMP is, in effect, conditioning a number of renovations to older facilities on expanding the size of those facilities. The land problem at Mann Elementary is a significant barrier to its expansion (at least in the next couple of years), and tying its renovation to its expansion delays its renovation. And we are conditioning renovations on expansions dispite significant evidence that larger schools tend to exacerbate the achievement gap.

Second, I think we have to be careful about equivocating on what "equity" means. If there isn't good reason to think that a certain change will reduce, say, the achievement gap, then we should be careful about imposing too rigorous a standard. A too rigorous standard might, for example, require that each of the comprehensive high schools have the exact same capacity according to a standard measurement. In one sense, it is more equal but it isn't clear what benefit that conveys on those who are least well off in our district. In fact, larger facilities at all levels are correlated with increases in the achievement gap, and at least that feature of the FMP is likely to harm the least well off in our district.

I should also note that I strongly support many features of the FMP -- bringing older facilities up to code, making them ADA accessible, having better heating and AC systems, building sufficient capacity to remove our temporaries, and so forth. But, for reasons of equity, I am vigorously opposed to the idea that we need larger and fewer schools that are significantly further apart, on average, from its students. That's a recipe for further exacerbating the achievement gap.

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