If Poverty & Financial Hardship Affect Cognitive Function, Then is the Opportunity School District a Good Idea?
The Opportunity School District is a plan by the Governor’s Office in Georgia to take over “chronically failing” schools across the state. To be voted on in the November 8 election, if passed, schools will be selected by an OSD Superintendent (Czar), from a list of schools that fall at the bottom of a rank ordered list of schools across the state based on state-mandated multiple choice achievement tests along with other factors such as progress to round out a complete score called CCRPI.
A school’s CCRPI is an over all score and values are used to rank order schools from high to bottom. Schools producing CCRPI scores below “60” are on a list called “chronically failing” are eligible to be pulled out of their local district and pushed to the state Opportunity School District with administrative office presumably near the governor’s office.
It might be better for the OSD to rent a hangar at the Charlie Brown Airport, in Fulton County. As I mentioned in an earlier post having a private pilot’s license might just be the ticket to get folks to visit OSD schools spread across 59,425 square miles.
Oddly the Georgia Department of Education is not privy to the OSD, meaning that there will be two independent state-wide administrative bodies competing for the same pool of resources.
Seems to me like a bunch of bull promoted as a vanity project to make Governor Deal look righteous.
Many (perhaps all) of the schools eligible for OSD have very high percentages of students living in poverty and/or economic hardship. To remedy this fact, the Governor is going conduct mass firings of principals and up to half the teachers and support staff. So half the teachers that have worked and may have lived close to the school community will be given the boot.
The evidence based on experiences in New Orleans is that the teachers who replace the fired educators will be non-certified teachers from the temp agencies, Teach For America and the New Teacher Project.
Free or reduced lunch is not a perfect measure of the poverty level of students attending a specific school, but it the best measure we have that we can use to predict how well kids will do in school, especially on state mandated achievement tests.
Many of the students whose school will taken by the OSD are living in poverty and face some form of economic hardship.
A longitudinal study (1985 – 2010) of 3,400 young adults was carried out to investigate the relationship between poverty and economic hardship, and cognitive function. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, in advance of Volume 52, Issue 1 (January 2017). In this report, “Sustained Economic Hardship and Cognitive Function: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, by Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, et.al. the authors collected income data over the period of the study, and in 2010, tested the participants using three cognitive aging exams.
Four groups of participants emerged:
- Never in poverty
- Less than 1/3 of time
- From 1/3 to nearly 100% of the time
- Always in poverty
The results showed a strong and graded association between greater exposure to economic hardship and worse cognitive function. The researchers concluded that poverty and economic hardship may be important contributors of cognitive aging.
The lead investigator, Dr. Zeki Al Hazzouri, said that maintaining cognitive abilities is a key part of health. He made it clear that poverty and economic hardship most likely contribute to premature aging.
Not only that, there is clear evidence that poverty has a direct association with performance on academic scores and other school measurable (Graph 1 & Graph 2).
Using data from the Georgia Department of Education, Graph 1 plots CCRPI and percent poverty. For these data there a strong relationship between CCRPI scores and student poverty. Lower test scores are associated with higher poverty rates. The same relationship is true when we plot achievement scores and poverty percent (Graph 2) (CCRPI and Achievement Scores and Percent of Poverty, Georgia Department of Education).
Graph 1: CCRPI Score and Percent Poverty
Graph 2: Achievement Points and Percent Poverty
Are charter schools the answer to the problem of chronically failing schools? Is it a valid idea to replace public schools with charter schools and expect the outside force of a charter school to do better than regular public schools.
The OSD is a misplaced idea simply to give a few politicians a feel good experience at the cost of thousands of Georgia parents and their children.
We have already dismissed the idea that charter schools are miracles falling out of the sky. In the last post I showed how P.L. Thomas put this to rest with his analysis of the charter school sham.
Secondly, and perhaps even more important is the fact that charter schools foster a re-segration of schools. In Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA. Ed. By William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo. Charlotte: Information Age, 2016, Gary Orfield, in his chapter entitled “A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education, 279 – 313 provides critical information for policy makers about charter schools, race and civil rights.
Orfield makes it clear that so-called “choice” in education (ergo, charter schools) leads to a stratification of educational opportunity, and in my view, the Opportunity School District is a perfect example of stratification.
Charter schools do far worse than regular public schools. In earlier posts, I’ve cited the research of Michael Marder, at the University of Texas. He has examined the relationship between poverty concentration and percentage of students meeting SAT criterion scores across all Texas Hugh Schools. Take a look at the chart below. We see here that Marden’s graph is similar to the Georgia graphs. The higher the level of poverty, the lower the test scores.
Charter schools, irrespective of poverty level, are at the bottom of the graph. They form a straight line, showing how ineffective they are compared to regular public schools.
The schools that will be part of the OSD will most likely be in metropolitan areas of the state (Atlanta, Athens, Columbus, Savannah, Augusta). Most of the students attending these schools will either be living in poverty, or facing some form of economic hardship. Simply changing a school from a public school to a charter does nothing to improve the economic status of the parents and their children in this schools.
Gary Orfield says that a new civil rights agenda is needed to remedy this and many other problems. We need to understand that identifying each school as chronically failing without considering the context of the school raises serious civil rights issues. Orfield offers this is something to think about:
Educational stratification and inequalities today are basically defined by school-district boundary lines, much more than by problems with on district (or school, my addition), so civil rights remedies must have a metropolitan dimension. This is vital not just for the central cities but to provide stability and block resegregation by race and class in growing sectors of suburbia. Boundary lines and the housing segregation which makes them so significant must be central foci. If opportunity is allocated on the basis of space within a metropolitan area, crossing boundary lines and regional cooperation arrangements in schools and housing become urgent priorities. (Orfield, G. “A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education,” Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA. Ed. William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo. Charlotte: Information Age, 2016. 293).
As Ed Johnson and others have spoken and written, the issues of students in any school need to be embraced within a systems model of education. There is an interconnectivity among schools in a district or region, and separating one from the other because of performance of achievement tests is bogus. But more than that, it leads to a non-solution.
In order to make sure that students have a chance to be fully functioning and healthy human beings, they need to be living in an environment where they see hope and love, and that the community pulls together to help each other. A community based agenda is needed for schools to improve for our students, not one of isolating the school from the community to be run by outsiders.
Deal’s OSD is not only a bad deal, its without merit and is violating the civil rights of the students involved.