Brewer’s office claims there is minimal correlation between poverty and academic performance

by David Safier

Tucson-school-score-mapThe map couldn't be clearer. In greater Tucson, state school grades line up with family income. (For those more familiar with Maricopa County, take a look at a map showing the same correlation in the greater Phoenix area.) National and international research indicates that the correlation holds true across the country and around the world.

Yet Governor Brewer and Craig Barrett, Brewer's educational mouthpiece and the head of her Arizona Ready Education Council (AREC), want to create a performance funding program that rewards schools with high test scores and punishes schools with lower test scores. It's a reverse Robin Hood scheme, robbing from the poor students and giving to the rich.

Of course, Brewer & Co. deny that would happen. In an article in The Republic, Brewer spokesman Matt Benson claimed an analysis done by her office "showed minimal correlation between poverty and performance." If Brewer's staff truly has an analysis with that conclusion, they should share it with the educational scholarly community. They could use a good laugh.

Clearly, Benson was lying in an attempt to refute a study by Dr. David Garcia that was discussed in the Republic article (Garcia is running for AZ Superintendent of Education). His study demonstrates how closely students' family incomes and standardized test scores line up, and how that means performance funding would flow disproportionately toward schools with wealthier students.

Garcia is a reality-based thorn in the side of Arizona's conservative education establishment — one of many attributes which would make him an excellent state Superintendent of Education. His name and his analysis keeps showing up. For instance, at the beginning of a meeting of AREC's funding taskforce on March 1, 2013, Craig Barrett asked Dale Frost, Brewer's education policy advisor, about a presentation Garcia made for the Arizona Business and Education Coalition [ABEC] using the data from his study. Frost didn't try to refute Garcia's conclusion that more performance funding dollars would flow to the highest income areas. Instead, Frost took it upon himself to explain the nature of statistics to a university level education researcher.

"I was trying to explain [to Garcia] the difficulty of using statistics in the past with any analysis assuming it will be the future when we are expressly trying to change the incentives."

In other words, Frost thinks we should ignore the current educational landscape, because the Brewer/Barrett Performance Funding plan will change all that. I have a suggestion for Mr. Frost. If he, Brewer and Barrett really want to move forward with their ill-conceived Performance Funding plan and it's clear the plan favors wealthier areas, in the interest of fairness they should change the formula to remove the built-in favoritism. There are a number of ways that can be done. I suggested a few possibilities in an earlier post.

But fairness is not part of their education agenda. Arizona conservatives join their colleagues around the country in promoting a reward-the-rich, punish-the-poor education agenda. They're not about to let factual research get in their way.

5 responses to “Brewer’s office claims there is minimal correlation between poverty and academic performance

  1. The govrrnor has a new proposal out which was presented at the Arizona School Board’s get together which is a substantial rewrite. It weights growth much more heavily. Still wont work, but at least it doesnt directly disadvantage low- wealth districts.

  2. Thucydides, I would really like to see the governors’ office findings. Apparently you’ve seen them, and it would be a service to all of us if we had something concrete to discuss here instead of a statement from a Brewer spokesman paraphrased in The Republic.

    Let me give you the context of the quotation I used, from the Republic article (the link is in the post). If the Republic reported inaccurately, I’ll gladly correct the record. The Republic passage is below.

    “You’re rewarding schools, not necessarily because they are doing better things, but because they have better performing children. That seems disequalizing and counterproductive to helping all children,” he said.

    And that’s exactly what SB 1444 would do, said David Garcia, an education professor at Arizona State University. Garcia analyzed the relationship between the proposal and students’ family income using grades from the previous two years.

    He found that the proposal would disproportionately hurt poorer students. Districts with 75 percent or more poor students would get about $24 less per student than those with fewer than 25 percent poor students.

    Benson said the ASU professor “cherry-picked” his data, choosing to use only the largest schools in his report. Brewer’s office did its own analysis, which showed minimal correlation between poverty and performance.

  3. Thats not the point they made. The governors office found very low correlation between student growth percentiles and poverty. Student growth percentiles are not test scores. They are the performance of schools,not the performance ofvteachers.

  4. movingazforward

    “I was trying to explain [to Garcia] the difficulty of using statistics in the past with any analysis assuming it will be the future when we are expressly trying to change the incentives.”

    This is quite possibly the biggest load of crap response I have ever read. Not surprisingly, Brewer’s Education Policy Advisor has zero expertise or credentials in the field of Education.

    Statistics, maps, and studies, no matter how crystal clear, will be ignored if they do not fit into the Republican ideological framework, i.e. they do not make the rich richer.

    Please keep us updated on Dr. Garcia’s campaign. Thanks!

  5. Good post, David. I’d like to see the “minimum correlation study” too. It would refute a mountain of scholarly evidence to the contrary.