Vermont's figures in education equity don't match that of nation

WESTMINSTER GT;GT; There were no attendees at a public meeting hosted by the Vermont Agency of Education at Bellows Falls Union High School on April 7, but that didn’t stop two women tasked with filing an educator equity with the federal government from going over their talking points anyway.

Amy Fowler, the deputy secretary of education, and Annie Howell, an educational consultant working with the agency, went through their typical presentation at BFUHS and highlighted the 2011-12 data they have accumulated. Regional public meetings are being held throughout Vermont to gather input regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s call that all states must examine to what extent schools that serve students from historically underserved communities (poverty and high-minority populations) are enjoying the same access to quality educators as those at schools of greater privilege (wealthy and low-minority populations).

Fowler explained Vermont sees statistics that are the opposite of nationwide standards. She said students attending a high-minority school have less exposure to first-year teachers than students at low-minority schools, educators in low-minority schools earn about $3,000 less per year, and low-minority schools see higher turnover rates in their staff.

Fowler said the notion of high-minority schools being disadvantaged is not showing up in the state data she has gathered. She also said poor schools have the same turnover rate as low-minority schools.

The deputy secretary also said teachers in high-poverty schools throughout Vermont are paid less annually, by about $1,000.

“The federal government believes, based on research, that if you have better quality teachers and better quality principals, then students can learn more and, of course, that makes sense to all of us,” Fowler said. “And what they’re asking us to do is what’s called an equity analysis. In November, they alerted us that we needed to prepare this plan that is due on June 1.”

Fowler explained to get federal funds through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, each state must have an educator equity plan.

“In the early days, when they gave it they said, ‘Here’s money. Go do what you want,'” she said. “Over time, it’s had a lot more restrictions associated with it and this is one of those restrictions.”

Fowler said all plans must meet requirements that include finding equity gaps between, poor and wealthy schools (based on the percentage of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunch) and high-minority and low-minority schools, explaining the gaps, making a state plan to close them, determining how to know the state plan is working, and reporting the results to public. Agencies must also meet with the public to get people’s ideas and input.

Fowler planned to give the same presentation at Rutland High School on April 8 and at Bennington Elementary School on April 9.

Contact Domenic Poli at 802-254-2311, ext. 277.

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