Education Week - May 22, 2013 - (Page 24)

ress ion G. S KEY. OTE) ed S KEY. OTE) 24 EDUCATION WEEK n MAY 22, 2013 n COMMENTARY The ‘How’ of Equitable School Funding By Cynthia G. Brown I n its final report released in February, the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission issued a clear and powerful charge: Efforts to improve our school system “must start with equity”— particularly the equity of resources. To achieve this goal, the commission, of which I was a member, instructed all levels of government to improve or redesign their methods of funding schools in order to adopt truly equitable funding systems. In calling for equity in funding—which the commission defines as providing sufficient resources “distributed based on student need, not zip code”—the report tells policymakers the “what” of school funding reform, laying the groundwork for improving school quality. Missing from the report, however, is the “how”: How should or could the federal government, states, and local districts implement this bold principle of funding equity? Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the report “compels us to act,” but how should each level of government do that? Leaving it up to each level to figure out is a recipe for inaction. Here’s what I think needs to be done. At the federal level, Congress should remedy Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act’s complex and often unfair method for allocating federal dollars to schools with children in poverty. It should follow recommendations from my organization, the Center for American Progress, on reforming Title “ The time has come to strongly consider the need for larger systematic reform of funding systems.” I’s four funding formulas to create one formula that better targets schools with high concentrations of students in poverty. This honors the law’s intent of providing additional education resources for children with the greatest educational needs. At the local level, funding inequity is found in the unequal distribution of resources among schools within the same district, with high-poverty schools often receiving less funding than their low-poverty counterparts. To address this inequity, districts need to change the way they allocate resources to schools, adopting the practice of allocating actual per-pupil dollar amounts, weighted based on the needs of students in that school. Currently, most districts allocate teacher slots to a school— that is, one teacher for a specified number of students. Teachers are not all paid the same amount, however. Treating them as if they were paid equally masks the fact that a school with five 20-year veterans receives more dollars overall than a school with five first-year teachers. Larger questions surround what states should do to address funding inequities between school districts. Most states have adopted funding formulas aimed at ameliorating differences in the ability of districts to raise funding from local property taxes. Property-wealthy towns are able to raise more dollars at lower tax rates than property-poor districts, leading to inequities in per-pupil funding. Yet, as the commission report points out, prior attempts to address these inequities, such as through state funding formulas, merely patch a broken system and fail to redress inequities or to produce the kind of academic achievement Designing Learning Spaces for a New Age of Discovery By Jim Childress A lbert Einstein was 26 when he published his special theory of relativity. James D. Watson was 25 when he and Francis Crick discovered the architecture of dna, arguably the greatest scientific achievement of our lifetime. Steve Jobs, another early bloomer, believed that you couldn’t trust people over 30 to come up with radical innovations. Working for decades with Nobel laureate Jim Watson and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York on developing that research campus, I learned that the road to scientific achievement is not a straight line between two points, but rather a meandering, eclectic journey that should encompass the arts and humanities, interdisciplinary collaboration and sociability, and even sports and outdoor pastimes, including bird watching. Now in his 80s, Watson still plays a mean game of tennis. He is also an accomplished writer with an af- fection for the arts and is no slouch when it comes to architecture. Science does not thrive in a vacuum: The broader the interests of the inquisitor, the better. This bias toward precociousness and intellectual diversity makes the job of designing science and math facilities for nascent Watsons all the more challenging and important. Today’s students are our future, and that future is near at hand. We get a few short years to inspire them so they can go out over the ensuing decade and nudge the world in the right direction. How does one do that? Well, in part, you have to create excitement about science, math, and engineering by designing places not simply to impart facts and figures, but flexible spaces where young people want to be, hang out after class, share ideas, and test what they have learned through real-world applications. Think of a garage where you do projects, where a messy vitality inspires enlightened tinkering. Rather than purveying only “pure” or theoretical math, engage students, for example, in using formulas to calculate the volume of various greenhouse gas emissions and how to mitigate them. Educators and architects now realize that formulaic, old-school classrooms are not the only place where learning flourishes. At one independent boarding school in Connecticut, the new biomass heating facility was designed to perform double duty as an ancillary teaching lab, exposing and documenting how the technology works and how the fuel is connected to a cycle of responsible stewardship. Students get to observe infrastructure in action, up close, and calculate what the plant means to the school in terms of the cost savings of wood-chip fuel versus fuel oil. They also explore how the plant affects the larger world through reduced emissions of various kinds. Math and the sciences are partners in these inquiries. At another Connecticut school, the goal has been to make the campus carbon-free and self-suf- ficient so that it can produce clean energy onsite, as well as harvest its own food and clean water. This ambitious effort encompasses not just math and science, but also ethics and philosophy: How does one define and live “the good life” today? Based on the Watson paradigm, learning is a nonlinear exercise. The blurring of lines between disciplines is reflected in contemporary academic spaces, which also need to be flexible enough to accommodate the many-splendored ways that teachers teach and students learn. At yet another independent school, this one in Missouri, the design of a new academic building positions math and science classrooms to encourage collaboration, alternating them so students and faculty regularly mix. Its large classroom/laboratory spaces are 30 percent bigger than what is typical for a high school, enabling teachers and students to move seamlessly between the whiteboards and research benches in large or small groups. “ Students want to feel that they are an active part of the learning process, and that learning engages not simply their minds but their hands and bodies, even their emotions.” The humanities, too, can benefit from the proximity and contact with their math and science fellows. At this Missouri school, spaces for science and math are integrated with those of other disciplines, including an 800-seat forum which the entire student body uses. Throughout the building, transparent classrooms and public spaces where students can

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 22, 2013

Education Week - May 22, 2013
District Bets Big on Standards
FOCUS ON: EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: States Stepping Up Mandates for School Safety Drills
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Schools Facing the Expiration of Windows XP
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Debates Roil Over Control of Schools in Baton Rouge
Study: Teenagers’ Brains Are Wired for Peer Approval
Analysis Calls for Dual-Language Pre-K for Young ELLs
PROFILE: Brian Pick
PROFILE: Dowan Mcnair-Lee
PROFILE: Mikel Robinson
States Tighten Disclosure of Teacher Evaluations
Blogs of the Week
NRC Framework Seen as Valued Resource for Educators
A Spec. Ed. Twist on Common-Core Testing
K-12 Colors Campaigns in Virginia, New Jersey
Policy Brief
CYNTHIA G. BROWN: The ‘How’ of Equitable School Funding
JIM CHILDRESS: Designing Learning Spaces for A New Age of Discovery
JEANNE ZAINO: Teaching the Metric System: A Cautionary Tale for the Common Core
Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
LISA HANSEL: The Common Core Needs a Common Curriculum

Education Week - May 22, 2013