We’ve had a couple of posts here and here the past few weeks about the implications of leveling funding for all schools in DISD — neighborhood, TAG and magnet — as well as discussing how the funding inequity came about in the first place.
The DISD board is considering how to address that issue under the cover of what appears to be a federal requirement that all schools in a district be funded relatively equally (within 10 percent plus/minus of the average, to put it in simple form — and remember that nothing about federal funding requirements is actually simple).
What appears to be at stake is more than $100 million in federal funding; what DISD is being told needs to happen is that $16 million needs to be shifted away from 31 TAGs and magnets.
And at the risk of antagonizing the parents whose students attend TAG and magnet programs, this is a move that needs to be made.
For one thing, DISD’s own studies prove the additional funding for TAG and magnet programs isn’t increasing the academic achievement of the students, at least relative to comparable schools with less per-pupil funding. Overall, the schools may score better, but that’s because they tend to collect DISD’s best students; they aren’t raising the bar as much as they’re stacking the deck. That’s pretty cut-and-dried reasoning — as just about every educational study nationwide shows, additional money doesn’t automatically boost test scores or achievement.
More importantly, though, the presence of magnets and TAGs in DISD fosters a two-class system in the district. Some kids (and even moreso, their parents) who attend the schools believe they’re special; after all, they’ve been "selected" to attend schools that are perceived to be "better" than the other comparable schools in DISD. The application process for many of these schools can be competitive, further fostering the "special" label.
When a group of parents think their kids are special, the kids — and I mean all kids in DISD — start believing it, too. And before you know it, the two-class system is institutionalized.
But suppose there were no TAGs or magnets, or suppose that parents didn’t perceive those schools to be better than their neighborhood schools, or suppose those schools worked under the same funding system as other schools. What would likely happen is that DISD would lose some kids to private schools, some would stick with the TAGs and magnets, and the rest would attend neighborhood schools, helping those schools boost their achievement and probably raising the tide of achievement for everyone at the neighborhood schools.
A disclaimer: Our sons attend their neighborhood DISD high school (and attended neighborhood elementary and middle school, too). I understand the allure of the "better" schools; we gave the option some thought each year. and I like to think our sons could have qualified to attend those schools, had we wanted to go that route. But my wife and I decided that attending a neighborhood school gave our sons the best opportunity to learn about all kinds of things, academic and otherwise, so we didn’t apply for a TAG or magnet. And to be honest, we’ve never regretted that decision.
I’m not going to shed any tears if DISD’s board equalizes funding for the TAGs and magnets. It’s time to even out funding for all DISD schools, and let the chips fall where they may.