The national Appleseed organization’s February, 2011 release of “The Same Starting Line, How School Boards Can Erase the Opportunity Gap Between Poor and Middle-Class Children” was cause for celebration in Hamden’s public schools. Connecticut Appleseed had looked closely at Hamden during 2010 in a comparative 5-state study on how school districts allocate their resources to provide opportunities to both poor and middle-class children. Our finding – that Hamden can be proud of its commitment to fairness – was featured in The Same Starting Line.
Policies and priorities of school boards can make a big difference in the distribution of academic success within each district. Appleseed’s collaborative study therefore looked at resources such as teacher experience, building upgrades and the availability of Advance Placement courses and tutors to compare how students in schools from relatively poorer and middle-class neighborhoods are being treated. Hamden Board of Education Chairman Michael D’Agostino sits on Connecticut Appleseed’s Board of Directors and volunteered his district to be a part of the study.
A Diverse Town Committed to Fairness
In Hamden schools, students are 47 percent white, 33 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic and just over 6 percent Asian. The district’s eight elementary schools include five which serve high-poverty neighborhoods and three which serve middle-class neighborhoods. The study included questions like “Are veteran teachers typically found at the wealthier neighborhood schools?”
While about 35% of children in Hamden schools receive free or reduced-price lunch, the district makes a deliberate effort to be equitable. Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz’s “All Means All” vision for the district puts equity squarely on the table. In a district as diverse as Hamden, “All Means All” is implicitly redistributive in terms of resources. Under Fran’s leadership, Hamden changed its method for choosing students for the elementary talented and gifted program to ensure a more balanced distribution that ensured program participation in each of the eight elementary schools.
Measuring Resource Equity in Stratford, CT in 2011
With support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, research for The Same Starting Line was the basis for development of a “Resource Allocation Measurement Tool” that any district could use to measure equity. Connecticut Appleseed was fortunate to secure cooperation from Stratford Public Schools Superintendent Irene Cornish to apply the tool within her district. After using the tool to examine the resources provided by the district to its two high schools, two middle schools and four of its eight elementary schools, as well as interviewing the principals from all 8 schools, we similarly found impressive fairness in the district’s internal allocation of resources.
A Broader Round of Testing in 2012
Interest in Appleseed’s work on resource equity, including the measurement tool that it has developed, was sufficiently high that analysis of intra-district fairness was the subject of a workshop at the National School Board Association’s April, 2012 conference.
Here in Connecticut, we are seeking to deploy Appleseed’s measurement tool in at least three large school districts, and are in active dialogue with Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport about such a possibility. Ideally, we hope to gain district concurrence to invite parent groups and community organizations to concurrently employ the same tool – but from their respective vantage points.
If we succeed in gaining cooperation from two or more of these districts, we will consult with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) about how to urge larger numbers of Connecticut districts to address equitable resource allocation. Possible future steps include development of a training module on resource equity for newly elected school board members and programs using Appleseed’s measurement tool for Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) classes.