Not Usual

He is a senior silicon valley executive.  She is an analyst in a governmental agency.  Their third grade daughter cannot read.

He is an abusive deadbeat dad who hides his assets and pays no child support.  She is a low wage earner barely scraping by.  Their eighth grade daughter is one of the top students in the state in mathematics.

These are real people.  The third grader is not poor, not an English learner and not a foster child.  She needs lots of extra help, but the supplemental Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) money is not designed for her.  The eighth grader is considered poor, but flourishing academically.  The LCFF extra funding is designed for her, but she does not need it.

Yes, I know, these children are not “usual” for their circumstances.

It is true that poor academic performance is associated with impacted students (poor, learning English, or living in foster homes).  So allocating extra funds based on counts of such students is a way to distribute resources in a more or less fair way.  Let’s not confuse an allocation method with an instructional plan, however.

The LCFF is a workable substitute for an impossibly costly individualized needs assessment for every student.  Such an individual assessment would identify each child’s needs, calculate what it would cost to meet those needs, and then allocate funds accordingly.

In his book* Models.Behaving.Badly.:  Emanuel Derman states:

Models … are metaphors that compare the object of their attention to something else that it resembles.  Resemblance is always partial, and so models necessarily simplify things and reduce the dimensions of the world.  Models try to squeeze the blooming, buzzing confusion into a … box, and then, if it more or less fits, assume that the box is the world itself.

This idea was more clearly demonstrated to my twelve-year-old self in the brilliant (cartoon) book Colonel Pewter in Ironicus by Arthur Horner, now sadly many years out of print. The colonel takes his great-nephew on a grand adventure.  They get lost.  Consulting a map, the nephew declares “We are here, by the ‘S’ in swamp” and points to the curve of an enormous “S” on the ground.

If you want to see the recently adopted LCFF regulations, they are here.  A fabulous soporific and a political compromise, they are written to dull the senses of even the most motivated of readers.  However, perhaps surprisingly, the regulations are generally lauded for striking the right balance.  Here John Deasy responds to their adoption.  After months of hearing impassioned pleas on all sides of this issue I am now very excited to see how school districts proceed from here.

* This book gets mixed reviews, but Nassim Taleb gave it five stars, which is recommendation enough for me.  I grabbed the quote from Amazon’s “Look Inside This Book” feature.  It is now on my reading list.

3 comments on “Not Usual

  1. Tim
    January 23, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    We don’t have the same cost allocations here, and I don’t have a child as yet to be able to comment from first hand experience. But what you say just makes common sense – and the quote from Derman is perfect, because it isn’t just a small amount of areas that are put into said ‘box’ – the world as a whole now finds niches and says ‘that is close enough, and if it doesn’t fit, force the remaining parts.’ Completely useless to promote any growth. Try the same thing with a pot plant and see what happens. I will give you a hint – it dies.

    • Fiscalshare
      January 23, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Love your blog, btw.

      • Tim
        January 23, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

        Thanks, you too.

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