On June 2, 2008 The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education adopted a new Equity Policy (policy here, minutes here, video here). This policy requires a two-part annual report on equity, described as follows:
Administration will report on an annual basis to the Board of Education the extent of progress on specific measures in eliminating gaps in access, opportunities and achievement.
Administration will develop an annual report that will provide data on the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools.
In six days, a year will have passed since this policy was adopted. By the end of that six days, the annual equity report is due.
After all of the work of the Equity Task Force and all of the disappointments — with the Board of Education never even discussing important portions of the Task Force work (and here), and with the Board’s confused and inattentive dropping of the implementation portion of the draft policy (and here) — the only clear victory for the Task Force and Equity was the annual report requirement.
It is essential that this report be issued, be substantive, and be given a thorough examination by the Board and the public.
Although it was an open secret and a common complaint that the previous Equity Policy was never followed, I’m going to take it on faith (for now) that the required report will be issued. I can’t control how the Board treats this report, but I will do my best to raise public awareness and facilitate an examination. That leaves the substance of the report and I have some ideas I would like to share.
In part, as a response to NCLB and state laws, The MMSD administration already issues reports on achievement and achievement gaps. A report on access and opportunities would be something new, and would get to the heart of some of the concepts of Equity put forth by the Task Force and adopted by the Board:
- The district will eliminate gaps in access, opportunities, and achievement by recognizing and addressing historic and contemporary inequalities.
- The district will recognize and eliminate inequitable policies and practices at the district level.
Ideally, the first annual report would provide a baseline to assess if progress is being made in access and opportunities.
I would suggest that this portion of the report be as comprehensive as possible, broken down by school and demographics, and place a particular emphasis on access and opportunities for advanced programs or individual work. Evidence of disproportionality is the key. Under state statutes, the district already reports on disproportionality in special education referrals and placements (link to the PowerPoint presentation because unfortunately I can’t find an actual report on line). This could serve as a model.
The report should include both opportunities (by school) and participation in fine arts programing, world languages, technical and vocational education, remedial and other support opportunities — did you know that at least three elementary schools have no Reading Recovery –, honors, Talented and Gifted (TAG, including In Step referrals and outcomes), accelerated programs, AP, really anything and everything that is outside of the core, basic curriculum. All of this should cover curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities and access.
I said above that special attention needs to be given to advanced opportunities. I was twice recently reminded of how important this issue is. The first time was the complete absence of African American and Hispanic students taking the qualifying test for West High School Accerelated Biology. The second time was in an Capital City Hues interview with long-time Madison educator Tenia Jenkins. Ms Jenkins had this to say:
So you set up a mechanism that targets one group and the other groups obviously benefit from it. But there are some groups where that doesn’t happen, for example, the gifted and talented classes in the district. They’ve been around for 20-25 years. And most Black children are still not benefiting from them, only a few here and a few there. So what we are simply asking is for the district to set up the same kind of thing for Black children that they are doing for White students in terms of gifted and talented classes.
The perception and reality is that TAG is (mostly) for “White students.” This must change. One way to start is by forcing the administration, the Board, and the public, to confront the stark data on disproportionate access, opportunities and participation.
The other part of the report involves resources. There is one breakdown of resources in the annual budget, but I don’t believe that this is sufficient for Equity purposes.
There are three things I would like to see incorporated into the resources analysis: an assessment of needs, staffing descriptions, dollar and FTE allocations.
The first would involve some version of the Equity Resource Index/Educational Needs Index developed by previously by the district to distribute resources based on factors that have been demonstrated to negatively impact academic success.
The second should be along the lines of this being a user friendly look at school staffing prepared on Middle Schools in 2006 (link corrected, previous linked document here — TJM, 5/28/09).
Last, budgetary resources need to be considered in terms of both Full Time Equivalent (FTE) and dollars per student. One the most important recent lessons on Equity is that experienced teachers tend to be in lower needs schools, dollar figures for staffing capture some of this inequity because more experienced and better trained teachers rise higher on the pay scale. An example of the latter from 2006 can be accessed here.
These differing versions of looking at resources need to be presented in a manner that makes the relationships among them transparent.
There are other things I would like to see in an Equity Report — such as demographic breakdowns of classroom assignments by school, demographics of requests for inter and intra district transfers and transfers granted — but these fall outside of the report requirements in the policy. You take what you can get.
I’m looking forward to the Equity Report, the discussion it prompts, and (I hope) the actions that come from that discussion.
One last note. I know that much faith has been placed in the current Strategic Planning process, but it would be a mistake if that process supplanted, not supplemented the good work on Equity (and other things) that came before.
Thomas J. Mertz