On June 1, Louisiana submitted its application for the second round of Race to the Top and on July 27 was named one of 19 finalists. In the first round of the grant program, Louisiana was named a finalist but failed to win any funds, as Delaware and Tennessee took home all of the winnings. (Check out Alex’s analysis of why we lost Round One here. And if you want an analysis of the latest RTT application, start with Nash Molpus’ on the Cowen Institute’s blog. Read it here.)
28 of 70 school districts and 56 of 59 independent charter schools signed onto the application. This represents 47% of the state’s students and 58% of the state’s minority student population. 72% of the students in the districts qualify for free or reduced lunch.
So, we know that RTT funds would go to a predominantly poor, minority student population. This is good, because the purpose of the RTT competition is to close the racial and socioeconomic “achievement gap”. In order to do so, these funds would not only have to go to poor and minority students, but to those in the lowest-performing schools and districts. Is this the case?
(Of course, the question of whether the reforms encouraged by RTT would indeed contribute to higher achievement for poor, minority, and/or low-achieving students is a source of contention and is much too complicated for me to get into right now.)
By looking at district and school performance scores, we can see whether or not the students who would be served by RTT funds are indeed attending failing schools. First, we can look at the districts themselves, using the state’s District Performance Score (DPS). The DPS is a composite score of student test scores on the LEAP, iLEAP, and Graduate Exit Exam (GEE), plus attendance and drop out rates and graduation outcomes. Districts’ DPS scores translate to a rating scale, from Academically Unacceptable (a DPS below 60.0) to 5 Stars (a DPS above 140.0). We can weight districts’ DPS by their student population, so that we can see what percentage of students are served by high or low performing districts. In theory, RTT funds will go to a proportion of low performing districts equal to or greater than the state average. Looking at the data (Figure 1), we can see that this is this case:
Statewide, almost 30% of students attend schools in 3 Star districts, while only 10% of students in RTT-participating districts do so. (No districts in the state are rated higher than that.) At the same time, significantly more students in RTT-participating districts attend schools in districts rated 1 Star.
This plays out when we compare the RTT-participating charter schools to charters statewide, using the similarly-formulated school-specific metric, School Performance Score (SPS):
58% of students in RTT-participating charters attended a school rated Academically Unacceptable or 1 Star, as opposed to only 45% statewide. Additionally, 8% of students statewide attended schools rated 4 or 5 Stars (with an SPS above 120.0), while no charters participating in RTT were rated this high. 15% of charter students statewide, and 21% of RTT-participating charters’ students, attended schools that were too new to have SPS data.
Finally, at the school-specific level, among all schools, both charter and district-run, we see the same pattern, with almost 30% of schools statewide rated 3 Stars, versus just over 15% for RTT-participating schools. At the same time, over 35% of schools in RTT-participating districts, versus 25% statewide, are rated 1 Star. At the “Academically Unacceptable School” level, it’s 6.58% for RTT participants and 3.66% statewide.
To sum up all of these data I’ve been throwing at you here, we can conclude this: LEA participation in RTT is such that, if Louisiana indeed wins funds this time around, they would go to districts and charter schools serving those students most in need. The students who would be affected by RTT funds are, in general, in many of the lowest-performing districts and schools.
Now, it’s even more crucial that we have an honest and open conversation about whether or not the reforms prescribed by RTT will contribute to creating more equitable school systems, or if the excitement surrounding it simply masks the need for deeper or different reforms. We’d love to know your thoughts on this via e-mail or the comments section.