Friday, August 6, 2010

The disconnect between voters and schools

Second in an occasional series

From the poll posted yesterday, almost half of all voters have never sent their children or grandchildren to schools in the Pomona Unified School District. Therefore, out of the 68% of voters who are age 35 and up, about a third of them, and probably more, have no experience whatsoever with the school district, other than as a student.

Attendance is declining. Average daily attendance, the measurement used for State funding of schools, has dropped from a high of 33,976 in the 2002-2003 school year to 26,538 in 2010-11, a 22% decrease over the span of just eight years. PUSD's ambitious bond program opened many schools in the last couple of decades, and as attendance has dropped, year round schooling has been eliminated, portables have been disassembled, and programs that consume additional space beyond the classroom have been implemented.

But does that mean that the population of school age children are dropping, or that parents are consciously deciding not to use the services of PUSD? Surprisingly, despite the anecdotes that people hear, there is not a wholesale shift of the student population to non-PUSD schools. The Census data shows that in 2008, there were 34,332 children enrolled in school. Average daily attendance was 30,150 in the 2007-08 school year, for a "shrinkage" rate of 12%. Some of that 11% went to private schools, some were home schooled, others went to schools in other districts, and a few are simply dropouts. The difference is greatest in the high school ages, with 11,832 high school age students and about 7,521 high school students in PUSD, with a shrinkage rate of 37%. Even so, this is better that at, say, Pasadena, where there are 28,268 school age students and an average daily attendance of 18,765 - a shrinkage rate of 34%. In Upland, the shrinkage rate from school age population to actual enrollment is 31%, so Pomona (and Diamond Bar residents) are keeping their kids in local schools.

The difference is really individuals without school aged children at all, rather than families with kids who consciously decided to not send their kids to PUSD schools. Here's the challenge. With only 36% of voters having children or grandchildren in the district, that means that advocates for the parcel tax will have to reach the 64% that don't. Voters, especially those registered Republican or Decline to State, will be literally swamped with information from Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina as they attempt to buy their way into office. Other traditional forms of local communication, such as ads on local cable television, are in decline as viewers switch to satellite and FIOS, which do not have local insert commercials in their programming. Door to door communication has become less and less effective as voters lead busier lives and refuse to answer the door to solicitors. How will the pro-tax forces overcome this disadvantage?

Incidentally, one of the side effects of this disconnect is that there is no organized opposition either. Will an organized opposition form, and take out a statement in the ballot pamphlet? Without an opposition, the pro-tax side can easily buy all the slate mailers in the area - Republican, Democratic, and decline to state. Although most voters seem to know that slate mailers are just paid advertising, they are surprisingly effective. As a veteran election worker, there is a large percentage of voters that take slates into the ballot box with them. They are especially effective on low-information elections and nonpartisan elections.

In the next installment, I'll look at where the voters come from, and past support for school district bonds - will Diamond Bar residents step up to the plate again?


LinknPark said...

Not to sound too negative, but a number of Pomona schools are mostly atrocious as far as creating an atmosphere for productive learning and positive socialization….as I have personally witnessed and have been privy to the information from friends who are teachers, substitutes and parents who have sent students to the schools. Maybe not the elementary schools, but the middle and high schools for sure.

Regular gang fights, thefts on school property, student and teacher intimidation, distractions and outbursts by individuals in class and a generally low interest in academic performance and excellence. It has gotten better since the early 1990’s when it was absolutely untenable, but its still far, far lower than what I would expect from a school that I would want my children to attend. Are we sure that a parcel tax increase will fix all of these problems?

According to several of my friends in school administration throughout Southern California, the California public education system is in for major, major changes in the next several years….some think it will end in the demise of the school system as we know it in favor of magnet, charter and other forms of schools which have greater flexibility to foster positive academic environments that aren’t at the whim of potential corrupt and ignorant local school boards.

Just my two cents, but it is it possible that we are throwing money on board the Titanic as it is slowly sinking?

calwatch said...

In Pomona, the voters and the parents of the kids in school are often two different populations. In Diamond Bar and Phillips Ranch, it's a different story. Not only do voters there have a higher turnout, but there are more voters that have direct connection with the schools. One of the first points of the ballot measure is to "preserve excellence" in PUSD schools. Well, the excellence is found in one corner of the district. The rest of the district is average at best, atrocious at worst.

Ed said...

Welcome to the reality that your parents' income level is a wonderful predictor of academic achievement. Gee....... have you looked at Pomona's median income lately!

Sorry LinknPark, I can't really see a major change away from local school boards, since the wealthy districts will be the first to complain. Do you really think Claremont will give up local control or move to charter schools? Alameda? Malibu? In the lower performing districts, you will see more emphasis on choice, and I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but you're already seeing the magnet schools popping up in PUSD. PUSD is putting together some wonderful educational opportunities, but many residents (particularly the white, middle class) are too busy running the opposite direction.

Do the middle or junior high schools underperform? Yes, but look at the scores for any school district and you'll find they ALL underperform. Although PUSD is keeping some traditional middle schools, they deserve a lot of praise for embracing the K-8 option. As Calwatch actually pointed out in an earlier post, PUSD does quite well when you look at similar school ranks, which is a testament to the effort of the teachers, administration, parents and students. Ironically, Calwatch is now tossing out the word "atrocious" when describing some of the schools, but he didn't shed much light on that comment, besides pointing out a dichotomy.

Hmmm.........let's take a look at that dichotomy. How about we compare Lincoln Elementary and Golden Springs Elementary. One of them has 91% of it's student body classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged and 49% as English Learners while the other one has only 20% socioeconomically disadvantaged and 6% English learners. Any guesses which one probably falls into Calwatch's opinion of the excellent corner of
the district? You'll see the same correlation between parent income and school performance in the Claremont school district. Does parent wealth always predict student success? Nope, but on average, it's pretty gosh darn accurate.

In the end the wealthy will always have the advantage. They can choose where they live, where their children go to school, and can pay for tutors if their child needs additional help. Wake up folks, the reason some of you can afford that house is because it's in a poor community. Before you bash the school district, I hope you've already volunteered at your local school or given a monetary donation to help out that school that you feel is below your standard.

Just as an aside, anyone know how Claremont Unified pays for its art program?

I've had my children in four different school districts and six different elementary schools. In my personal experience, PUSD has some incredible teachers and some less than incredible teachers, but I haven't seen an appreciable difference across school districts. I may not have said that 10 years ago, but from everything that I've seen, the PUSD of today isn't the PUSD of a decade ago. And do we really think the current Board of PUSD is ignorant? Really? I only wish our city council was so educated.

Sorry for the snarky comment, but I've been quiet recently and had to speak up.

Ed said...

Here's a comment that more directly relates to Calwatch's post rather than the previous comment.

If the survey results are accurate, it appears that voter support is already near the two thirds majority. If we agree with your suggestion that parents or grandparents are more likely to vote in favor, the real factor influencing its passage may be whether PUSD rallies the "unlikely" voter who is a parent or grandparent to show up at the voting booth and not the 48% with no PUSD relationship. Given that Hispanics represented only 39% of the respondents, but probably make up a higher percentage of the registered voters, the "unlikely" voter is the low hanging fruit.

Let's not forget that the survey already shows two thirds support, so unless voter sentiment changes, the hurdle for passage isn't all too high.

LinknPark said...

Honestly Ed, Malibu, Alameda and Claremont may not have a choice in the matter of their centralized control of public education. Anyone can open an school and get public funding as long as they meet standardized state criterion....and many schools are popping up in all types of socioeconomic neighborhoods. I guess we will wait and see, but ultimately entities that are as unwieldy as say the LAUSD are slowly folding under their own weight, inefficiency and incompetence, and many more districts will follow.

This "two-tiered" system of education is exactly why the public school system is failing in this state...and trust me, I have more than a few friends in that state assembly that assure me things are a-changing. Lower socioeconomic schools shouldn't have to deal with a second class education for their children, and that's exactly what they are receiving. Districts are unable to provide a safe, academically focused environment for students, and because of that, parents of all socioeconomic levels are reacting.

It will be interesting to see what ultimately happens, but just because school districts in the form that we know them today have been the status quo, doesn't mean that they are effective, or that there isn't a better system that needs to be explored.

calwatch said...

Ed, I think 39% of registered voters as Hispanic is about right. Remember that many of the Hispanic parents who have their kids in the district aren't citizens, or even legal residents. Also Diamond Bar, as I stated, has more voters per resident than Pomona, again a function of demographics - the Asian immigrant population there is smaller than the Hispanic immigrant population in Pomona.

As far as my "average" and "mediocre" comment, look at the test scores yourself. With the exception of Palomares, which was in the process of being converted into K-8, all of the middle schools are at or below average, even while grading on the demographic curve. Lincoln is still at a 4, while grading on the curve. While PUSD may not be as bad as some of the other urban districts, "excellence" it is not, to the majority of the student population.

Jim on Alvarado said...

I'd really be interested in hearing what Wong and Rothman have to say on this matter; they're the dissenting votes. Being that if you look at other districts' parcel and other taxes, it's usually unanimous. I'd really like to hear it, although Rothman is notoriously short-spoken (I've heard from several people that he's polite, just doesn't say much), and I have a feeling that Wong is just voting no for the sake of being conservative (if you look at his voting records, he ALWAYS says no to these types of things). Still I wonder what will become of this issue in the upcoming election.
Does anyone else around here know what's going on with these two?

gilman said...

With all due respect, how are we to know what any of the Board Members think on the issue of the proposed parcel tax?
No public and open meetings were ever conducted to discuss the issue, instead the Board held a series of illegal closed session meetings to deliberate upon the matter.
Finally, the matter was brought up in a public hearing requesting a vote to move forward. The public was denied the right to observe their elected officials deliberate on the who,what,where, why and how a parcel tax would be needed or used.
While the Board may not be "ignorant", their actions have displayed a level of ignorance towards the requirements of open meeting law in California.

calwatch said...

It is definitely arguable whether it is closed session qualifiable or not, but short of hiring your own Brown Act attorney, there is no way for the public to enforce it.