Equity & Diversity

Meals-Eligibility Option May Complicate Data Collection

By Charles Edwards — October 02, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The rollout of a new “community eligibility option” for federal school meals programs has gone smoothly, but one of the new option’s major advantages—the elimination of family income-eligibility surveys—has generated difficulties for other federal and state education programs in states participating so far.

Historically, the ready availability of free- and reduced-price lunch counts has made such data a favorite tool for allocating poverty-targeted federal aid among schools, as well as for disaggregating achievement of low-income students for accountability purposes. In fact, some states use school lunch data in their own education funding formulas.

Under the new option, being used in 10 states and the District of Columbia so far, schools are barred from collecting income-survey forms in conjunction with the meals program. That’s proved troubling for the federal Title I program, which directs money to low-income schools to provide additional services for low-achieving students.

Only ‘Directly Certified’ Children

School lunch data play no part in determining how much Title I funding each district receives, but play a critical role in how districts subdivide their aid among individual schools. Although districts are allowed to use other types of poverty data for that purpose, “it’s next to impossible to get that [data] for a school attendance area within a district,” Montana’s state Title I director, B.J. Granbery, said at a conference of state Title I directors held in Washington this summer.

See Also

For more on how USDA rules are affecting school meals, see “Rollout of School Meals Option Popular, Report Says.”

A similar difficulty involves disaggregation of student-achievement data for “economically disadvantaged,” students, a key subgroup that must be tracked for accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In a school participating in the new option, only children who have been “directly certified” as eligible because

they already take part in other federal need-based programs can be identified with certainty as economically disadvantaged.

That provision will result in a mismatch with low-income data derived from traditional school lunch counts in other schools, and it may pose problems for “growth models” that depend on tracking individual students’ achievement by demographic characteristics.

A More Direct Approach

Some states have adopted a more direct approach to obtaining comparable income data: conducting a separate family-income survey divorced from the meals program. For example, in 2012-13, Kentucky and Michigan went that route.

The U.S. Department of Education issued preliminary guidance in 2012 suggesting work-arounds, and it is preparing comprehensive guidance for release later this fall.

At the summer Title I conference, Todd Stephenson, a grants management specialist for the department office that oversees Title I, emphasized that the agency is determined that data issues will not inhibit adoption of the community-eligibility option.

“If there is only thing you take from what I am saying, it is this: We do not want, nor do we think, that Title I should be the reason a school does not select [the option],” he said. “We believe that Title I can work as well with the school lunch program ... as it has previously.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as USDA Rule Shift Throws Data-Collection Curveball

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Teachers Say They Have Little Influence in Curriculum Debates
New survey paints a complicated picture of where teachers stand in debates over instruction of topics of race and gender.
4 min read
Conservative groups and LGBTQ+ rights supporters protest outside the Glendale Unified School District offices in Glendale, Calif., on June 6, 2023. Several hundred people gathered in the parking lot of the district headquarters, split between those who support or oppose teaching about exposing youngsters to LGBTQ+ issues in schools.
Conservative groups and LGBTQ+ rights supporters protest outside the Glendale Unified school district offices in Glendale, Calif., on June 6, 2023.
Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register via AP
Equity & Diversity Spotlight Spotlight on Inclusion & Equity
This Spotlight will help you examine disparities in districts’ top positions, the difference between equity and equality, and more.
Equity & Diversity The Battle to Drop Native American Mascots Goes On, as Some Communities Reinstate Them
The larger trend to remove Native American mascots and logos comes from a national racial reckoning after the death of George Floyd in 2020.
6 min read
A woman plays a drum during a "No Honor in Racism Rally" in front of TCF Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs, Oct. 18, 2015, in Minneapolis. The battle to change the use of Native Americans in logos, team names and fan-driven behavior has often been in the bright spotlight due to major sports teams. Protests are being planned at the Super Bowl once more in response to the Kansas City Chiefs.
A woman plays a drum during a "No Honor in Racism Rally" in front of TCF Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs, Oct. 18, 2015, in Minneapolis. The battle to change the use of Native Americans in logos, team names and fan-driven behavior has often been in the bright spotlight due to major sports teams. Protests are being planned at the Super Bowl once more in response to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Alex Brandon/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion You Should Be Teaching Black Historical Contention
How to responsibly teach this critical component of Black history instruction —and why you should.
Brittany L. Jones
4 min read
A student raises their hand to ask a question before a group of assorted historical figures.
Camilla Sucre for Education Week