Thursday, July 12, 2007

Clarke County School District AYP '07 (reprise)

In this post, I am following up on the debates concerning the Clarke County School District’s annual AYP debacle, graduation rates, and per pupil expenditures.

Here are the graduation rates for Cedar Shoals High School and Clarke Central High School for the last five years:

Cedar Shoals
2003 53.0%
2004 49.2%
2005 65.7%
2006 69.7%
2007 55.7%

Clarke Central
2003 53.4%
2004 51.4%
2005 56.5%
2006 62.3%
2007 62.3%

Cedar Shoals experienced a two-year spike in graduation rates, but has since plummeted back into the depths of mediocrity . On the other hand, there appears to be a general upward trend at Clarke Central, however slight. Nonetheless, I think complaints about the AYP standard for graduation rates increasing from 2006 to 2007 miss the point (the purpose of raising standards being to raise standards) because even an “improved” dropout rate of 37.7% is patently indefensible.

I’ve reviewed the AYP reports for each of CCSD’s schools. While the District’s claim that each met the academic performance goals for “all students” may be true, a closer look reveals significant shortcomings. Several schools did not meet academic standards based on the performance of certain subgroups - and a big problem is looming regarding those subgroups.

The demographic breakdowns are telling. Asian/Pacific Islander and White kids do okay in Clarke County, but Black and Hispanic kids do not. Apart form the immediate concerns raised by this dichotomy, it bodes very poorly for the future. The graduation rates in 2007 were 90.0% (18/20) for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 75.9% (145/191) for Whites, 60.9% (14/23) for Multiracials, 47.4% for Blacks (173/365), 43.8% for Hispanics (39/89), and 19.4% (21/108) for Students With Disabilities. I am using the categories per the AYP reports, so don’t jump on me about terminology.

My recollection of something that I read not too long ago is that the CCSD’s student population is mostly Black (almost 60%), despite the fact that Blacks make up less than 30% of the county’s population. The next largest group is White (at a little more than 20%; despite being a majority of the population, there are no majority white schools in the District), and then Hispanic (also a little more than 20%). Asian/Pacific Islanders make up a miniscule percentage of both the District’s student population and the population at large. In the very near future, though, Hispanics will overtake Whites as the second largest demographic group in the District, with the overall academic performance and graduation rates probably declining as a result. And no, that is not a racist assumption.

As to the CCSD having to ratchet up spending due to a lack of funding from the state, I have my doubts. Here are per pupil expenditures for the state and the District for the last few years:

State Average
2002 $6978.87
2003 $7279.82
2004 $7261.37
2005 $7425.53
2006 $7896.50

Clarke County
2002 $8225.14 (+ 17.86% of state average)
2003 $8740.89 (+ 20.07% of state average)
2004 $8902.00 (+ 22.59% of state average)
2005 $9038.05 (+ 21.72% of state average)
2006 $9616.96 (+ 21.79% of state average)

The problem is not that the state is inadequately funding Clarke County’s schools; it funds them to the exact same extent that it does those of other counties. The problem is that the CCSD spends significantly above the state average, a gap that appears to be widening, and has increased local taxes to compensate.

Anyone can verify this information; it is all available directly from the AYP and Finance and Business Operations sections of the Georgia Department of Education’s web site.

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hillary said...

James, as ever, just because the amount of funding Clarke County schools receive in total is above the state average does NOT mean it is adequate. It does not mean they're being funded according to formula. It does not mean they have enough money to do things like purchase updated textbooks. Where do you think this extra money is going/being wasted?

james said...

I realize that the state's school funding is not in line with the QBE formula derived back in the 1980s, but that is not my point (and is actually irrelevant to the issue of legitimate adequacy, which should concern the amount of spending and its results rather than the source of the money).

The expenditure reports from the Georgia Department of Education give per pupil expenditures in seven categories (Instruction, Pupil Services, Staff Services, General Administration, School Administration, Transportation, and Maintenance & Operations). The CCSD outpaces the state average in every category and by some wide margins.

You asked where the money is being wasted – just pick a category. For example, why is per pupil transportation 76% more expensive in Clarke County, the geographically smallest in the state, than the state average? Because of how much money we choose to spend and how we choose to spend it. The same goes for the other categories.

Assuming the state kicked in more funding, what would change? We would merely be doing at the state level what we have been doing at the local level for years - a strategy that has proven to be a miserable failure.

My concern is what constitutes "adequate" in a meaningful sense. This year's budget will put per pupil spending at over $10,000 - and yet somehow that is not adequate? How much more funding would it take to positively affect Clarke County's schools? How much money per pupil would result in adequacy? $12,000? $15,000? $20,000?

If the CCSD cannot purchase updated textbooks with a mere $10,000 per pupil, perhaps the remedy is not more spending, but rather some changes in the District’s policies and priorities.

hillary said...

You do have a point about the transportation thing. The excess of school choice in Athens certainly leads to that.

If the CCSD cannot purchase updated textbooks with a mere $10,000 per pupil, perhaps the remedy is not more spending, but rather some changes in the District’s policies and priorities.

Such as? Other than modifying the amount of school choice at the elementary level for Athens-Clarke County, which I probably wouldn't have a problem with, what do you suggest we cut? With the number of unfunded mandates the general assembly has handed down, there's not a lot of flexibility in school budgets. It would help, admittedly, to know a little bit more specifically what something as large as "pupil services" covers. Basically, I have a fundamental attitude of trusting people who work for the school system, partially because I have a trust of government social services (clearly an area where we differ, which is fine; I know I differ with a lot of people there) and partially because I have friends who work in it. It seems to me that, when they say, "it's not adequately funded" that that generally means it's not. They're not just complaining about their own pay. I don't know what the magic number is for per-pupil funding, but it's not my job to come up with it. It's the job of people who know what it takes and know the system, and they're the ones suing the state for not providing enough money.

Anonymous said...

There is not too much choice in Clarke County, but too little. Parents can not choose the school their children will attend, but may simply order their preferences as to which school their children will be bused to. This does not constitute meaningful choice.

Meaningful choices would allow parents to choose from a variety of schools which differ in both their curriculum and their pedagogy.

It is certainly the case that Clarke County's program of administrative assignment has resulted in Clarke County schools being very well integrated. And if the primary objective of our schools is integration, Clarke County gets an A+.

Of course most parents care more about their children's well being and educational outcomes than they do about socio-economic and racial integration. And they do not want their children going to school with violent gang members and other children who, reared in an atmosphere of neglect and abuse, exhibit a wide variety of undesirable social behavior ranging from noisy classroom disruptions to drug use and rape.

Many parents have thus withdrawn their children from the Clarke County school system and enrolled them in other schools that prioritize education over integration. The students who leave Clarke public schools tend to be the higher performing students, and so the Clarke schools will continue to spiral downward, relative to other local school systems, as the better students leave.

No amount of spending will reverse this situation.

hillary said...

No amount of spending will reverse this situation.

I'd agree with that, which is why I believe in far less school choice than ACC has. What I'd prefer is a combination of social and racial integration, education, and well-being for everyone. This requires better funding for the schools and elimination of opting out. As I've said before, though, I don't think it's super likely this will happen, and I do understand I'm in the vast minority when it comes to that view.