Education Week Does it Again: Please STOP!

Posted on January 14, 2010

Education Week has again posted the problematic QUALITY COUNTS indicator system including grades for school finance across the states. And again, Education Week has paid little attention to producing high quality indicators for measuring …quality? Why doesn’t that surprise me? But, they’ve made my life easier because I can simply refer you to my critique of last year’s Quality Counts School Finance Indicators:

Here are a few quick summary points on issues that occur year to year:

  • Ed Week uses “range” measures and “coefficient of variation” measures in its equity analysis – measures which capture overall variations and high to low variations in current expenditures across school districts. The way that Education Week calculates these measures actually penalizes states which target funds to higher need school districts, including higher poverty school districts or very small remote districts. That is, if a state actually makes efforts to accommodate cost differences across districts, they get a lower equity grade from Education Week. THAT’S JUST WRONG! Education Week uses some “cost adjustments” including a regional wage index and a nominal (and completely arbitrary) poverty adjustment. But, states like New Jersey actually provide more poverty-based support than the Ed Week adjustment, resulting in a reduction in the Ed Week equity measures. Ed Week makes no adjustment for costs associated with economies of scale or population density – major factors affecting spending variation across school districts within states.
  • Ed Week continues to use peculiar (though traditional) school finance measures like the McLoone Index to evaluate the share of children within the state who are in districts near the median spending level. This was originally conceived as a within state relative adequacy measure. But, without appropriate consideration for needs or costs, a state can score well on the Ed Week McLoone index by simply having all of its low income children clustered together in one or a handful of districts that spend at the edge of the lower half of the distribution.

Education Week staffers – Please Stop! Quality Counts is very unhelpful because of the extent to which it misinforms. There may be, and in fact are, some good and useful indicators in the report, but there are at least equal numbers of indicators that are entirely misleading. One cancels out the other.

These indicators can have a serious negative policy impact because of the way in which and extent to which they misinform. Drawing from a forthcoming technical report (referring to both Ed Week and Ed Trust indicators):

To illustrate the potential negative impact of these two reports, in 2003 in the context of state school finance litigation in Kansas, attorneys defending the State submitted in defense of the school funding formula, both the Education Trust finding that higher poverty districts had higher revenue per pupil and the Education Week finding that Kansas showed a good McLoone index. The state’s attorneys and local news outlets did not understand why Kansas received good ratings on these indices nor did they care as long as those indices were from highly publicized, publicly recognized sources. Plaintiffs pointed out that Education Trust finding was not a function of systematic poverty related support, but rather a function of small rural school support which left out the poorer urban and large town districts and that the “good” McLoone index was a function of having nearly half of the state’s children and nearly all of the state’s poor minority children attending six districts with below average revenues. These points were difficult to make in the face of media accolades for state’s supposed achievements regarding school funding equity and adequacy. The district court and eventually Supreme Court of Kansas declared the state school finance system unconstitutional, but not without at least a few vocal critics chastising the judges who would give the legislature a failing grade for a school finance system that had received a grade of “B” from a leading national media outlet.

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