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Closing the Comparability Gap

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Closing the Comparability Gap"

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The idea has gotten out there that efforts to ensure that students from poor families have access to effective teachers is somehow a form of “teacher-bashing.” When you think about it, the reverse is true—the real teacher-bashers out there are the ones insisting, contrary to the evidence, that teaching is irrelevant to the learning process. At any rate, as detailed by Saba Bireda the Obama administration’s “blueprint” for replacing No Child Left Behind would tackle this issue in a variety of ways. This is one of the least-understood outside the realm of specialists:

NCLB: NCLB includes a provision requiring districts to offer “comparable” services at Title I and non-Title I schools. The current NCLB language does not require districts to compare actual expenditures, and teacher salaries—one of the largest expenditures at the school level—are exempted from any comparability calculation.

Blueprint: The administration’s proposal addresses the oft-ignored “comparability loophole” that allows districts to receive federal funds while ignoring gross funding inequities between high- and low-poverty schools. Districts will be required to show that their state and local funding levels—measured by personnel and relevant nonpersonnel expenditures—are comparable at high- and low-poverty schools. States will also have to measure and report on resource inequities.

Under current law, the Yankees and the Royals would be said to be fielding “comparable” teams since they both have a full roster of professional baseball players complete with some pitchers, some starting position players, some utility guys, etc. when common sense says the fact that the Yankees have a vastly larger actual payroll is relevant to the situation. Clearly, in both baseball and K-12 education we find that organizations don’t always use their payroll capacity in the most effective possible way. But in either case, having money to spend is an advantage and districts serving a high-poverty population deserve a fair share of the funds.

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