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

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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
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
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

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 The Ongoing Challenges, and Possible Solutions, to Improving Educational Equity
Schools across the country were facing major equity challenges before the pandemic, but its disruptions exacerbated them.
4 min read
v42 16 sr equity cover intro 112322
Illustration by Chris Whetzel for Education Week
Equity & Diversity 5 Big Challenges for Schools in 2023
Book bans, teacher retention, climate change, and more.
3 min read
Image of a classroom.
tarras79/iStock/Getty
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
Equity & Diversity Whitepaper
A New Way of Thinking About Expanding Equity
Discover how Lexia is expanding the definition of equity in education into a new framework that includes instructional, cultural, digital...
Content provided by Lexia Learning
Equity & Diversity What Researchers Learned From Analyzing Decades of Civil Rights Complaints Against Schools
Large, segregated districts are more likely to have OCR complaints filed against them, a new report shows
4 min read
Image of papers on a desk.
smolaw11/iStock/Getty