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Theses Doctoral

Do Equity and Adequacy Court Decisions and Policies Make a Difference for At-Risk Students? Longitudinal Evidence from New Jersey

Cornman, Stephen Quin

The question of whether increased funding pursuant to equity and adequacy court decisions has improved academic performance of at-risk students has sparked a lively and spirited debate. The landmark New Jersey case of Abbott v. Burke has been at the center of this debate.

In Abbott, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that students in twenty-eight (28) “special needs” districts must receive the same funding per pupil as students in the two highest socio-economic district factor groups in the State. 149 N.J. 145 (1997) (Abbott IV). The question of whether the redistribution of State aid pursuant to Abbott IV has been efficiently and effectively managed has dominated public policy debates on education in New Jersey for the last two decades.

The research questions are:
1. Did the court orders in Abbott v. Burke and subsequent reform policies adopted by the state in response to these orders increase funding and resources for economically disadvantaged students in the Abbott districts?
2. Have increased resources from Abbott v. Burke directly reached students in the classroom through enhanced instruction and student support services?
3. Have Abbott v. Burke and ensuing State reform policies improved the academic performance of economically disadvantaged students as compared to analogous low socioeconomic and working-class students in districts that are not covered by the court decision?
4. Have a specific set of programs and reforms, including intensive early literacy programs in the elementary grades mandated by the State pursuant to Abbott v. Burke been effective for at-risk students in Abbott districts?

My study proceeds from descriptive analyses of revenues by source and expenditures per pupil by function to quasi-experimental models. My primary causal analyses involved applying a difference-in-differences (DD) approach using expenditures per pupil, student teacher ratio, state standardized assessment scores for fourth, eighth, and eleventh grade; SAT Verbal and Math district averages; and Graduating with the Class as outcomes. My secondary causal analyses entailed a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) approach using state standardized assessment scores for eleventh grades, SAT scores, graduation rates, and post high plans as outcomes.

After an exhaustive study, wherein I built one of the most comprehensive district-level databases in the nation and utilized over twenty-five measures, I find that Abbott v. Burke as an intervention has strong positive effects on education spending, student performance (in the early stages), and the learning environment. Abbott v. Burke had a strong positive effect on education spending from the time the seminal case was decided in 1997 up until to the present date.

The fact that Abbott districts are expending more on student support services per pupil in FY 17 than all other socio-economic districts across the State in raw dollars ($2,477) and on a percentage basis (12.7 percent) indicates that increased resources from Abbott v. Burke directly reach students through enhanced student support services.

In New Jersey, increased funding and reform policies pursuant to the line of Abbott v. Burke court decisions has improved the academic performance of economically disadvantaged student in the Abbott districts as compared to low socioeconomic and working-class non-Abbott districts. The DD model suggests that Abbott IV increased the proficiency levels on fourth grade reading assessments of Abbott districts as compared to low socioeconomic districts between school year 1997-98 and 2001-02 (p<0.01).

The DD model suggests that the IEL program increased fourth grade reading proficiency scores of the Abbott districts who were “high and medium implementers” of this policy as compared to low socioeconomic districts. In a confirmation that the IEL program is effective, the DD model also implies that the IEL program increased fourth grade reading proficiency scores of the Abbott districts who were “low implementers” of this policy as compared to low socioeconomic districts.

Abbott IV increased the number of students in Abbott districts enrolling in two-year colleges as compared to low socioeconomic or working class districts between school year 1997-98 and 2001-02 means that Abbott students are more cognizant of the opportunities to attend college.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 23, 2021