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From the field: Teachers thoughts on ESSA and achieving equity in Arizona schools


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  • Kaitlyn Secor/classroom teacher and graduate student at Arizona State University

Blended Learning HP

New federal mandates in The Every Student Succeeds Act have been implemented in Americas’ schools, but some Arizona teachers are concerned these new requirements may not lead to equitable changes in how school districts’ allocate resources to help students succeed.

ESSA is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act enacted in 1965 to offer equitable educational opportunities to the nation’s disadvantaged children by providing additional financial resources to schools with Title I federal grant money, according to a 2005 article by Janet Y. Thomas and Kevin P. Brady in the Review of Research in Education.

However, disparities among students and inequities in schools have continued for decades, as the nation has struggled to close the achievement gap.

“Some schools are able to spend more money for some students and (do) not have the same money or opportunities for other students at a different school. This is unfair,” said a teacher in Maricopa County. “For example, the technology that is being bought for one school might be different from the technology being used at another.”

Most teachers have heard of ESSA, many have considered how it will affect their students and now 12 Maricopa County teachers have shared their thoughts on it. The teachers lead classrooms at schools in the Glendale, Phoenix and Agua Fria union high school, Buckeye and Liberty elementary school and Mesa Unified school districts as well as Teach for America.

When asked if they noticed equity issues at schools in their district, one teacher said, “Absolutely. I think of accessibility of resources and I feel like that’s not equal among schools. Our students would be more successful if they have more access to resources.”

Another teacher said, “I don’t think it is transparent enough for me to know if money is being spent inadequately.”

Several requirements have changed in ESSA, including a provision that Annual State Report Cards now provide per-pupil expenditures of federal, state and local funds to the public. This includes both personnel and non-personnel spending for teachers, access to programs, supplies and additional resources.

“I think this requirement is fine and transparency is important when it comes to taxpayer money. We should be doing what we can to eliminate inconsistencies,” said one teacher.

Another teacher said, “I think it is pretty fair, because I have always been concerned with inequities in schools.”

The provision should help schools identify resource inequities and local education agencies compare expenditures between schools in districts to determine if money is being spent equitably. Yet, there has been push back at the state and national levels.

While some are eager for districts to report expenditures at the individual school level, others feel it encroaches on a school district’s authority, according to an article by Andrew Ujifusa published in Education Week on April 12, 2016.

Arizona’s Classrooms First Council, created by Gov. Doug Ducey, focused on improving education results and reforming school funding in Arizona. Their December 2016 recommendations for equitable school funding included using school level reports to provide parents a school level accounting of resources, showing that this is being discussed at both the federal and state level.

On Jan. 9, 2017, Arizona’s Department of Education adopted a state plan as an initial response to prepare to meet the requirements of ESSA. As defined in the Arizona Department of Education’s educator equity plan, Ensuring Access to Excellent Educators in Arizona (2015), the state has vowed to partner with research based groups to assist LEAs in ensuring that high-needs students and diverse learners have access to the most quality education. The plan also identifies recruitment stipends as a strategy to be used to promote equal distribution of effective teachers and has set state wide goals to reducing the equity gap.

In addition, HB 2385 referenced as Schools, Accounting, Budgeting and Reporting, has been read by Arizona’s legislature. The bill recommends revising the statutes related to school budgeting, and its’ passing could create a uniform financial record system for the state. The body of the bill states that by the 2018-2019 school year, schools across the state shall be required to identify per pupil spending data, allocations of federal, state and local money, the total money spent on teachers and benefits, and the money allocated to district office and administration at the school level. The bill also states that each LEA report card shall include a comparison of each school to other schools in the district.

Some Arizona teachers said they were concerned the data would show evidence of inequities in their schools.

“I feel like the data will show that an inadequate level of money is being distributed per pupil in our schools,” said one teacher.

Another said, “My guess would be that we are not spending money that we are supposed to be spending and that Title 1 funds are being used to supplement the lack of resources from the state.”

More than 40 percent of schools eligible for Title I funding based on the high levels of poverty in their students’ families received less state and local funding for instructional and other personnel costs than non-Title I schools in the same districts at the same grade level, according to a U.S. Department of Education report in 2011.

While equity might include reassigning teachers, none of the Maricopa County teachers interviewed were averse to this possibility. Relocating teachers is a potential side effect of ESSA, because the best-funded schools with the highest percentage of experienced teachers are often in the most economically advantaged neighborhoods, according to a report by The Schott Foundation for Public Education in 2012.

Some teachers are concerned with how federal money is being spent and want to know if it’s being used for what state and local funding should provide, according to an article by Andre Ujifusa published in Education Week on April 19, 2016.  However, most agree that transparency is a step in the right direction and that they want to know whether there are concrete examples of inequities where they teach.

Once the data is made public, teachers said they remained concerned that it could go unnoticed community members.
“Someone will need to have a marketing campaign to get this information to the public, outside of education,” one Maricopa County teacher said.

Another teacher said, “I think districts already have this information, it comes down to community members speaking up.”

“It’s about politics too, as a district if you say it needs to be public, they will find a way to somewhat hide it,” a teacher said.

Arizona teachers said eliminating inequities within school districts is important. Some said the new ESSA requirement moves the state closer to an equitable education system, but others remained skeptical.

“To be more equitable, students who are at a disadvantage need more resources provided to them,” one teacher said.

“As a nation, we don’t spend enough money on schools, and requirements such as these are an attempt at trying to fix symptoms instead of causes of major problems,” said another teacher.

Two Maricopa County teachers were not convinced that local education agencies would use the data to make changes to make schools more equitable.

“I don’t think they will,” said one teacher. “Districts are run by people with bias and agendas and education is run by politics. Education is not about students, and people are not what’s doing what is best for the students, but instead what’s best for stakeholders. We are keeping these students in the cycle of poverty because others don’t want them rising out of the lower class.”

Another teacher said, “Yes. They probably could but they probably won’t. Political reasons might stop a district from make necessary changes.”

Research indicates that the practices of schools and the allocation of school resources are deeply embedded in school systems, and districts may not make changes despite evidence that these practices and allocations hurt students and schools, according to report by Marguerite Roza and Paul T. Hill published in The Brookings Papers on Educational Policy in 2004.

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