Subsidized-lunch eligibility is an inaccurate measure of family poverty, argues researcher Susan Dynarski in an interview with The 74.
Half of Michigan students receive a subsidized lunch, but only 14 percent have been eligible since they started school, her research found. “Persistently disadvantaged” children have much lower scores than occasionally or never disadvantaged classmates.
Many states, districts, and the feds, use this measure as a proxy for the disadvantage of the school to target resources to them. What we found in Michigan is that if you compare schools that have the same shares of currently disadvantaged kids, they have vastly different shares of persistently disadvantaged kids. We’re masking real variation in the needs of schools and the needs of kids.
Students in “deep poverty” have much greater needs, says Dynarski.
Since 2010, schools with at least 40 percent of students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch can make all students eligible, writes Matt Chingos. Schools are required to track the performance of “economically disadvantaged” students, but there’s no reliable way to tell who’s disadvantaged.