Why does school equity matter?
Some Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have passed the “Tipping Point.” The “Tipping Point” is often defined as the boiling point, the breaking point, the threshold. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have defined the “Tipping Point” to be when a school provides 40% or more of its students with free or reduced price meals (F/R meals) due to their financial circumstances. This 40% is directly related to the concentrated poverty level of the school.
In July 2013, FCPS released a technical report they commissioned entitled Socio-Economic Tipping Point Study of Elementary Schools, that “showed that when schools exceed 20 percent poverty, there is a dramatic drop in reading achievement. This drop tends to level off when school poverty reaches somewhere between 40 to 45 percent, meaning that performance does not continue to drop steeply, but it remains lower than schools below the 20 percent poverty level.”
- FCPS staff boundary changes prior to and after this study’s release coupled with complacency from the School Board have allowed certain schools to increase their poverty rates and far exceed the 40% “Tipping Point.” In addition, parents of higher socio-economic means have been able to move their students out of their assigned base pyramid school by taking advantage of inconsistent interpretations of FCPS Student Transfer Regulation (2230).
- Parents of higher socio-economic means also use alternate methods, beyond FCPS test screening, to have their students identified for AAP( Advanced Placement Program)/Level IV instruction. These alternate methods are outside of the FCPS system and require additional time and costs. This practice increases demographic inequities in both base schools and AAP/Level IV Centers, which continues into the middle and high schools.
The technical report recommends among other things:
- Reducing Poverty at Schools:
- New schools: Assigning students to new schools may be considered towards the goal of balancing or minimizing the level of overall school poverty.
- Special academic programs at school sites: Higher poverty schools may be considered as host sites for programs that traditionally attract higher socio-economic populations.
- Under- or over-filled schools: When student membership at schools considerably exceeds or falls short of expected levels, explore the opportunity for moving students with the goal of maximizing the number of schools with poverty levels below 20 percent.
- New neighborhood construction: Work with county agencies that influence socio-economic integration of neighborhoods to create natural distributions of socio-economic levels.
- Maximizing School Conditions:
- Teacher quality: Ensure that higher poverty schools have equally experienced teachers and as stable a teaching force as the rest of the division. This would include the recruitment and retention of highly experienced and committed teachers.
- Leadership quality: Ensure that higher poverty schools have equally experienced principals and assistant principals as the rest of the division. These principals should be able to leverage changes in the division that impact their schools’ success.
- Best Practices: Ensure that all schools have systematic and ongoing access to successful practices based on the experiences of other FCPS schools or research.
- Resources: Ensure that higher poverty schools understand how to access resources, including central office staffs, and consistently make best use of all resources provided.
- Parent and Community Engagement: Ensure that higher poverty schools understand how to build effective family and community connections.
Lastly, the study recommends “Stakeholders and decision makers should be engaged in conversations about the opportunities for action related to the tipping point findings. Such discussions could solicit opinions about how else this information could be considered, including the opportunities described for Areas 1 and 2 above, as well as communications, resources, and other policy and funding issues.”
FCPS commissioned this study based on their concern for the demand that school poverty places on schools with higher a higher % of poverty
as FCPS seek to educate ALL students at high levels.
FCPS has been slow to implement any of these recommendations. In the interim, many FCPS schools continue to drop in enrollment resulting in the loss of curriculum rigor and teacher/parent / community support.
In July 2016 One Fairfax Resolution was adopted by the Board of Supervisors and School Board, calling for the development of a racial and social equity policy to be applied in the planning and delivery of all public services.
In November 2017 the One Fairfax Policy was adopted by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board in order to recognize equity as an economic imperative and commit the county government and FCPS to intentionally consider equity when making policies, planning and delivering programs and services.
If the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax County School Board and FCPS staff do not begin to implement these recommendations- quickly and in a visible way- many FCPS schools will continue to drop enrollment and show sub-par academic performance.