Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Facebook Page

I created a Facebook page, which will largely publish my blog posts, shorter reflections, and other interesting posts/topics I read. You can follow along (Tilley's Topics in Education), if you are so inclined.

Perhaps the biggest benefit will be that it will protect my personal Facebook account from annoying my friends and family about school politics.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How to Take Socioeconomic Status into Account in Redistricting?

At last night's Policy and Engagement Committee meeting, the ICCSD administration informed the committee and the community that they had received a cease and desist order concerning the Diversity Policy from the State Board of Education based on feedback from the USDA. See the Press-Citizen report (here). In the USDA letter, it becomes clear that it is illegal to use free and reduced lunch status to, for example, create density maps for the purpose of redistricting. A necessary part of redistricting.

As I have argued previously, the particular provisions in the policy are (a) not being implemented currently and (b) would have required substantial revision in order to be workable. So, I'm not sure what losing the Diversity Policy really means at this point. Still, I believe it would be best for the Board of Education to think more about the end goal they want to create (reducing the achievement gap, reducing barriers to education in target populations, improving the academic success of all students particularly those who are least advantaged, or some other such goal) and to let the administration work out the details of how to realize that goal. I argued for that previously (here). Not only do I think that would work better, but it also exemplified how the board and administration should interact. See this Press-Citizen opinion piece about that (here) and this blog post on the topic (here).

But, like many others, I also strongly believe that socioeconomic status must be taken into account in order to deal with the challenges we face as a district (see here for an argument about that). Other approaches considered independently of socioeconomics (e.g., using English-Language Learner status, race, and/or standardized test scores) have significant problems that I won't go into here. I'm happy to talk about that in comments or later, if need be.

But this made me wonder how to address socioeconomic status without using free-and-reduced-lunch status? Here's my tentative answer:

First, take the average household income data that is readily available. Unsurprisingly, there is a strongly positive correlation between household income and FRL status. This is a graphic from the 2013 Dejong-Richter report on demographics in the ICCSD. We may need a slightly more fine-grained analysis of average household income (that is, smaller blocks and also taking into account great wealth, too).

Second, take the student density maps (here). If the average household income was as fine-grained as this density map, then you could easily draw pretty good redistricting lines that would take into account socioeconomic status. 

Third, I don't think it is wise to specify exactly how socioeconomic status should be equalized through redistricting. As I mentioned above, I think we should characterize our goal in terms of an educational outcome, and then give the administration latitude to realize that goal. 

But how might such a method work: first, you take the density map. Let's say that the block with 234 students on the density map is going to Grant Wood. Then we could multiply 234 by $50K. And let's say that the block  with 37 students near Shimek is districted to that school. Then, we multiply 37 by (at least) $100K. Now, we can see what we'd need to do with redistricting in order to bring the average household income closer together at those schools. In fact, this method could very well be a significant improvement over using FRL status, since it would take into account the uber-wealthy and some low-income persons who choose not to apply for FRL.

Of course, I'm assuming that the average income information would basically be true for the population of families with school age children. I think that assumption probably holds well enough presently for us to use something akin to this approach as a tool in the overall approach that the administration would take. I think the assumption may not apply in all circumstances, and that's another good reason for the board to focus on goals and allow the administration to use this tool among others to accomplish those goals.

Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. I don't think this should be the only means for redistricting. Nor do I think that it is a cure all for what ails our district. Rather, socioeconomic considerations need to be in the administration's tool belt for addressing the barriers that low-income persons disproportionately face, which is exacerbated at school with high concentrations of poverty.

What say you? Is this approach sufficient to take socioeconomic status into account? Or do we just have to use FRL status?