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Report card data fosters further analysis in U-46
The third story in a series reflecting on District U-46 ISBE report card data.
By Seth Hancock
“Poverty does not create our social problems; our social problems create our poverty,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
School District U-46 Board of Education member Jeanette Ward reflected on that quote after the district presented its report card data from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in October.
The report card, which showed declining academic scores in U-46 despite spending increasing beyond the rate of inflation, included data regarding the district’s demographics. While U-46 showed a high number of low-income students, Ward said poverty should not be viewed as an excuse as she agreed with Rubio’s statement.
The data showed that 59.1 percent of U-46 students were deemed low-income, a slight decrease from 61 percent the previous year. The number of limited English students has steadily increased from 25 percent in 2014 to 31.5 percent in 2018, the number of students with an IEP (Individualized Education Programs) was 13.5 percent which has been relatively flat the past five years and the number of homeless students was at 1.2 percent which fell from 2 percent the previous four years.
From 2007 to 2018 regarding ethnicity, the most significant trends have been with Hispanic (an increase from 41 to 54 percent) and white (a decrease from 42.7 to 26.7 percent). The percentage of Asian (8.3 percent), black (6.5 percent), two or more races (3.5 percent), American Indian (0.9 percent) and Pacific Islander (0.1 percent) students have been relatively flat.
Matt Raimondi, coordinator of assessment and accountability, said there’s a “strong relationship between the percent of low-income students in a school” and academic results when looking at performance scatter plots on standardized testing.
Ward said she understood “that’s true” when looking at some of the scatter plots, but it’s “not really well correlated” on others. Raimondi agreed that there was a “much weaker correlation” on student growth.
Speaking to The Examiner, Ward later said: “Some of the data indicated that there’s correlation but like some people like to say, correlation is not causation.”
“I grew up in a low-income house myself, and I graduated the salutatorian of my class,” Ward added. “So being low-income does not mean that you cannot score well and do well in school.”
The correlation between poverty and academic performance has been used as an excuse and a crutch turning government schools into social service agencies rather than institutes of education according to some educational researchers including Paul Peterson, Harvard University’s director of the Program on Education Policy, and Robert Peal, a history teacher and assistant head of teaching and learning for the West London Free School.
Peterson wrote in an Education Next article titled “Neither Broad Nor Bold” that “the unique effects of family income on student achievement are only modest” and the government schools are not equipped to deal with a student’s social problems and should rather focus on education.
That article was in response to a coalition called the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education which in a policy statement explicitly labels students as “disadvantaged” based on “poverty, racial and linguistic minority status” who need extra “educational supports.” The coalition’s position is that there needs to be “a campaign to either redistribute income or expand the network of social services.”
For Civitas, a British-based educational think-tank, Peal wrote a 2014 report titled “Progressively Worse: The burden of bad ideas in British schools.” He wrote: “Britain and America are the two nations with the richest histories of progressive schooling, but both now share an unfortunate combination of high education spending and poor pupil results.”
Peal described the government system as promoting the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and over the last four decades “it has become an accepted truism in education debates that the overriding determinant of a child’s success will be their socio-economic background.”
“When teachers and schools take on the belief that certain social groups can only be expected to achieve so much, such crude assumptions inevitably fulfill themselves in reality,” Peal wrote. “Teachers cannot spend their whole careers waiting for family breakdown, social inequality and unemployment to end, whilst underestimating their own potential to be agents of change.”
Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said for U-46 they need to determine which schools need more resources redistributed to them to improve their scores.
Board member Melissa Owens asked how many elementary schools were Title I, those with higher low-income student populations which equate to more federal taxpayer dollars, and Johnson said: “I believe it’s 22.”
Owens said the student growth showed that “there’s more schools falling below that line than just our Title I schools,” and Johnson said the district needs to ask: “What should be support that is expected and is going to be provided for all sites in U-46, and then what is done in addition to that for Title I?”
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said in response to a question from board member Sue Kerr that Title I funds can be spent at non-Title I schools in the district, but “you can’t take them back down once you start providing that as a core for every site.” Sanders said next year’s report card will provide a further breakdown of how money is spent in U-46 based on the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Owens asked: “We’re looking at additional resources as far as things, right?”
“We’re looking at a wide variety of what we can offer schools not just from, as you say like things, but programs, different types of interventions,” said Josh Carpenter, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “But we’re also really considering what’s going on within the classrooms and how can we actually deepen the capacity of our classroom teachers as opposed to just saying we’re going to go buy this thing that’s supposed to provide improvements to our classrooms.”
Kerr said that the district should get feedback from individual schools because “what one school needs another one might need something totally different,” and Johnson said: “To that point, noting that we have some very successful sites. So one of the celebrations is that we have a number of sites where we are seeing larger than expected growth for students.”
Sanders said that in recent years the district has put in resources “with some urgency,” and “maybe we pushed a little bit too fast in some of our rollouts.”
How much will this cost the taxpayers? That question will be addressed in the final story of this series of articles regarding the ISBE report card data.