By Derek Black
September 24, 2018
A month ago, I tried to show how school quality and school discipline are intertwined. I talked about my prior research, put up a fancy color-coded map of school funding and achievement gaps from Bruce Baker and another fancy color-coded map of school suspensions by the ACLU and UCLA Civil Rights project.
A rough mashing together of these two maps showed that the funding and achievement gaps had substantial overlap with school suspensions. But of course, it would take a much more sophisticated analysis to make any firm conclusions. And the average reader or parent might very well start to feel their eyes glaze over with all the numbers if we did that.
For a lot of people and policymakers, simple examples rather than sophisticated data are better. That's what makes this new story out of Nashville Public Schools so helpful (and disheartening).
The Nashville Public Schools have been operating under a grant from the state that funds trauma informed services in 10 of the district's schools. That grant is up and local advocates are worried about what comes next. They are asking the school district to replace those funds out of their own budget and increase them.
The Tennessean reports that "[t]he increased support for students has helped almost every school see a reduction in office discipline referrals, helping keep kids in the classroom." The first school to implement the trauma informed practices saw "the most promising results, with a 97-percent reduction in discipline referrals."
All but one of the other schools also saw impressive reductions:
- Fall-Hamilton Elementary — 97 percent reduction in year one and a 53 percent reduction in year two over the previous year.
- Eakin Elementary — 73 percent reduction.
- Waverly Belmont Elementary — 29 percent reduction.
- Napier Elementary — 15 percent reduction.
- Hermitage Elementary — 60 percent reduction.
- Inglewood Elementary — One percent reduction.
- Tulip Grove Elementary — 52 percent reduction.
- Meigs Magnet Middle Prep — 37 percent reduction.
So if someone asks what money buys, it buys district and school coordinators for the program, reduced suspensions, and more time in the classroom.
And for those keeping score, it doesn't look like Tennessee schools have enough money as a general principle. The national School Funding Fairness report card shows that Tennessee ranks 43 in terms of school funding levels (even after making regional and cost based adjustments).
The level of effort it exerts to fund its schools (based on available resources in the state) similar ranks in the bottom, earning it an "F" on the report card. And Bruce Baker's study of what it would cost to achieve average outcomes shows that even the wealthiest districts are under-funding education in Tennessee. The poorest districts are short about $3,500 per pupil.
But when you understand the connection between school quality and student achievement, this might very well be an investment that Nashville needs to make no matter where the money comes from.