Saturday, August 20, 2016

Some Real (Estate) Data for Education Reformers

Education reformers love their data. It is the desire for data that has driven the entire test and punish reform movement from the outset. The idea seems to be that if we get the right data we can identify the problem and if we identify the problem, we can fix it. And so we get more and more standardized tests being used for high stakes purposes like promotion, graduation, teacher evaluations, and school closures. The data extends down into the hallways of schools where "data walls" show student test scores for the world to see, in a mean-spirited attempt to shame students into doing better work.

All this data, we are told, provides us with the information we need to fight the "civil rights issue of our time": the failing urban education system.

As a public service, I would like to offer some data to the education reformer that they seem to be ignoring. This data will tell them more about the plight of urban schools than any test they can give and any data wall they can post.

Each week my local newspaper, The Trenton (NJ) Times, runs a list of real estate transactions. The list includes the sale price of properties in Mercer County, NJ, divided by community.

Here are this week's prices of homes sold in the poverty ridden city of Trenton, a city with very low test scores: $32,000, $32,000, $119,000, $64,000, $44,500, $13,900, $30,000, $39,500, $63,000, $80,000, $315,000, $35,000, $32,000, $38,500, $51,000.

Next on this listing was West Windsor, an affluent suburb 10 miles from Trenton, with very high test scores. Here are the prices of West Windsor homes: $652,000, $362,000, $612,000, $333,500, $676,000, $525,000, $410,000, $845,000, $999,000, $335,000, $270,000.

It seems to me that any neophyte statistician could look at these numbers and determine that the major issue facing public schools in urban areas is income inequity and all the attendant issues that come with that inequity: poverty, deteriorating infrastructure, drugs, crime, violence. All things that have a devastating impact on a child's ability to learn.

Any sensible reformer would look at this data, and also look at the lack of positive results that have come from more than a decade of test and punish, and determine that a reform movement must target income inequity in order to make an impact on student achievement.

Three years ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post suggesting that the best way to provide school choice would be to provide inner city families, not with school vouchers, but with real estate vouchers. With the real estate vouchers, families could buy a home in any community they chose and then take advantage of the public schools there. Perhaps reformers would like to consider this type of choice, instead of offering choice options that maintain segregation and lead to no appreciable educational improvements.

I would challenge education reformers from the highest levels of federal and state government and the wealthy philanthropists who prop up these reform ideas to read this telling data and come up with a plan that deals with the real issue. You don't need to subject kids to test after test to determine this one data driven truth: a full frontal attack on economic and social inequity is our best hope for improved educational opportunity for all.

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