Saturday, February 10, 2007

An important comment on Fair Student Funding

Dave Weiner, Principal of PS 503 at 330 59th Street in Brooklyn ( and 718-439-0435), sent me the email below about Bloomberg and Klein's recently announced Fair Student Funding proposal.  He had experience with a similar plan that was implemented in San Francisco and, based on seeing the results there, is a strong supporter -- and has some great ideas for how to modify the current FSF proposal in NYC:

As the Principal of PS 503 in Brooklyn, I have closely followed the Chancellor’s school reform efforts. I have had a particular interest in the Fair Student Funding (FSF) proposal. A funding formula similar to the FSF was implemented in the San Francisco Public Schools when I was a principal in that school district and I served on the initial funding committee. The proposal for the new funding formula in San Francisco caused some anxiety among educational practitioners, but by the end of its first year, there was almost universal support for the system from teachers, parents, and the school community, as the formula helped create equity for the students and schools in San Francisco. I believe that the proposal for the NYC schools will have a similar effect.

The formula has the potential of supporting schools and children that have been traditionally short-changed in funding and most of the initial DOE proposals have been well conceived and are excellent.

Although districts and schools have often focused reform efforts on under achieving children, they rarely come with permanent additional funds to support the reforms. FSF would be able to provide the funding that is needed to provide equity for the system. I believe that the only limitation for the proposal would be a slow implementation of the FSF. Although it would be difficult for a full implementation next year, the FSF should be introduced at a rate much faster than it has currently been proposed. Due to the long-term inequalities that the FSF seeks to fix, it seems likely that FSF will have a limit on the amount of money that a school could potentially lose or gain (and it should). In SF, we also created a "hold harmless" provision. I believe that the limit must be placed at a level that will actually be able to benefit a school – a $200-$300 gain or loss per child. If a school has been short-changed $500 per child for the past 10 years compared to demographically similar schools, the school must be able to equate its funds in a short amount of time (Less than 3 years).

I believe that the FSF must be have a fast implementation – it should be fully implemented within three years. Some of my proposals below (and throughout the FSF) may appear to provide a perverse incentive for schools to limit the achievement of students (i.e. providing additional money for low achievement). We had a similar concern in SF when we implemented the program. As we analyzed the formula through the first few years of implementation, however, our concerns were unfounded. We could not find any widespread misuse of the formula by schools to limit the achievement of the children in order to increase the amount of money that a child brought to a school. As we hoped, schools focused more on using the new funds to raise the achievement of the children, rather than increasing the funding for a specific child. Maybe it was due to the accountability measures of NCLB or the state, but we did not find that schools kept children in special education, attempted to keep test scores low, or prevented ELLs from learning English in order to raise school funds. I have briefly detailed below three of the more specific items that I believe need to be implemented for the formula to have the greatest effect on the students in need in NYC.

English Language Learners (ELL) weights:

The current formula recommendations provide all ELLs with the same weight at similar grades. The difference between the weights used for grades is significant (at least double for a K-5 ELL versus a

9-12 ELL and possibly three times as much). Although I support differing the weights between grade levels, I do not think that the weights should be as dramatic.

Rather, I believe that the weights need to differ for ELLs who are in their first five years in the school system versus ELLs that continue to remain ELLs after four years. Most ELLs who have been in the system for five years and have not reached the proficient level (which makes a child no longer an ELL) need the most support, no matter their grade level. The ELLs who are unable to achieve proficiency need to be provided with a significant intervention and support in order to achieve the next level. The funding for these "long-term" ELLs should be double the funding that "short-term" ELLs receive.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE):

According to the current recommendations, SIFE is not being considered as part of the initial formula.

Basically, I believe that these children need to be included in the initial formula. Children who have been in situations where they have not been continuously enrolled in schools are some of our most at-risk children and they need significant support, especially at the middle and high school grades. A significant weight should be provided to these students in the first year.

Achievement Weight:

It has been proposed that children who score at lowest levels qualify for an additional weight.

However, the weight has been proposed for only grade 6 through 12. To support children in grades K-5, it has been suggested that the poverty weight be increased.

Although there is a large correlation between achievement and socio-economic status, it is not fully correlated. If an achievement weight is provided for a middle or high school student, the weight must also be applied for an elementary school student. An increased poverty weight should not be exchanged for an achievement weight. The state test scores of the third, fourth or fifth grade students in the school could be scaled down as a prediction for the Kindergarten through second grade students or the FSF could look at assessments that are currently used in the lower grades (ECLAS, Brigance, or DIBELS).

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