Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Outcome is Not Disproportionate

By Charlie Mas, a Washington Middle School parent.

[Posted with the caveat that this is based on the superintendent's preliminary plan to which changes are likely.]

There has been a lot of talk about the closure plan having disproportionate outcomes for students of color, students living in poverty, English language learners, and special education students. And that is true if you compare the demographics of the set of students in terminating programs with the demographics of the district as a whole. The district as a whole is 41% White, 40% qualified for Free or Reduced Price Lunch, 12% bilingual ed., and 9% special ed.

But we're not going to close a school that is full when we're trying to reduce excess capacity just because it has a lot of White students and that will balance the racial mix. Do we want academics and real financial considerations drive these decisions, or do we want them driven by race-based politics?

Since we're really only talking about terminating programs with excess capacity, we should compare the demographics of the closed schools with the demographics of schools with excess capacity to determine whether the outcomes are disproportionate or not.

One way to look at excess capacity is to find the buildings with the lowest percentage of their seats filled. If you were to identify the neighborhood elementary schools with less than two-thirds of their seats filled, you get this list: High Point, M L King, T T Minor, Leschi, Viewlands, Whitworth, Fairmount Park, Cooper, Emerson, Olympic Hills, and Broadview-Thomson.

These schools have capacity for 4,638 students but only have 2,482 students enrolled, an aggregate fill rate 54%. If we define excess capacity by the raw number of empty seats, and we were to identify each of the neighborhood elementary schools with at least 130 empty seats, we would get the exact same list in a different order: Broadview-Thomson, High Point, Emerson, Leschi, Whitworth, Cooper, T T Minor, Viewlands, M L King, Fairmount Park, and Olympic Hills.

So how do these schools break out as far as race, income, ELL, and special ed?

The enrollment at these schools is just under 20% White. About 68% of the students at these schools are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. 13.5% of the students are special education of one type or another, and about 20.5% of them are English language learners.

Not surprisingly, a number of these schools actually are on the list for closures. The school programs to be closed, consolidated or relocated are: The New School, Emerson, Fairmont Park, Viewlands, Graham Hill, E. C. Hughes, M. L King, Orca at Columbia, Whitworth, and John Marshall. Of those ten, only six programs, Emerson, Fairmont Park, Viewlands, Graham Hill, M L King, and Whitworth, are actually being terminated. The New School is being relocated. They aren’t getting the building that they wanted, but I don’ t see how the district can justify construction of a new building when they are closing schools. E. C. Hughes is just an interim site, so there are no students being directly impacted by that closure. Orca is moving to Whitworth, so that’s a relocation rather than a closure. Like the New School, the program will continue, just at a new location. Same for the various programs at John Marshall; they are being relocated, not terminated. Not to downplay the negative impacts of a relocation, but they aren’t anything like those associated with a program termination.

So what are the demographics of the programs being terminated?
White: 18.15%, FRE: 66.72%, SPED: 11.80%, ELL: 20.73%.

It appears that the demographics of the students being directly impacted by closures closely resembles the demographics of the students in buildings with excess capacity. Consequently, I think we can conclude that the outcome is not disproportionate.


Dan said...

Charlie, I have enjoyed your perspective and thoughtful comments in other areas of Beth's excellent blogspot. However, the the rationale supporting the conclusion in this post is uncharacteristically muddy, convoluted, and contrived.

The Superintendent's closure and consolidation recommendations clearly do have an effect on African American students that is disproportionately higher than their share of the enrollment. This is true not only District-wide but also in each and every one of the four quadrants. The "north end" quadrants have particularly egregious disparities between the general population and the impacted population demographics.

It's downright silly to be so dismissive of "race-based politics." What was it if not race based politics that resulted in Manhas' removal of Montlake, Sacejewaya, and TOPS from the CAC list? I know there were quite reasonable proximate causes for each removal, but the root cause was that these schools have predominantly white, relatively affluent, and highly active parents who invested time and money making the successful case for the removals.

District-wide: African American students account for 23% of the District-wide elementary school enrollment. African American students account for 37% of the affected students.

NW Quadrant: African American students account for 12% of the District-wide elementary school enrollment. African American students account for 28% of the affected students.

NE Quadrant: African American students account for 24% of the District-wide elementary school enrollment. African American students account for 80% of the affected students.

SW Quadrant: African American students account for 17% of the District-wide elementary school enrollment. African American students account for 19% of the affected students.

SE Quadrant: African American students account for 40% of the District-wide elementary school enrollment. African American students account for 43% of the affected students.

Incidently, the overrepresentation of African American students in the affected population is balanced by an underrepresentation of affected white students district-wide: whites are 42% of the enrollment but only 29% of affected students.

Anonymous said...

Race had nothing to do with TOPS, Montlake or Sacajawea being taken off the either the CAC or Super's list. You do have it right; they are mostly white, noisy and active. (And, from reading e-mails from Graham Hill, it seems apparent that people believe being noisy works.) But, when Thurgood Marshall was taken off the list, the whole TOPS/Montlake thing fell through as no school was being closed to make room for another program.

The District can try to ignore the Capital Hill/Eastlake/Montlake capacity problem but it is simply not going away. The day of reckoning will come for Montlake and they simply dodged a bullet. As for TOPS, well, last time the staff recommended that all K-8s become regional and that TOPS would be the Central area K-8. So, if the next shoe to drop is enrollment/transportation plans, you may see this come into play and many TOPS parents will again be unhappy.

Sacajawea was a capacity problem (and, by the way, if they had remained on the list, being a fairly diverse school, it would have increased the numbers). The capacity was in alternative schools, not traditional schools, hence Sacajawea was saved.

Anonymous said...

When making a determination of disproportionality, you need not only the outcome that you are measuring, but a benchmark against which to measure it.

Dan, and others, are using the whole district or the whole quadrant as the benchmark. I don't believe that those are appropriate benchmarks.

The closures are the result of excess capacity, so I believe that the appropriate benchmark is the demographic of the schools with excess capacity.

Here's an analogy. Let's say that testing turns up lead in the drinking water a number of schools. As a result, the District turns off the drinking water in the schools with the lead. Does that sound like a reasonable plan? Is there any hint of racism in that plan?

Now let's say that the demographics of the schools where the water was shut off don't match the demographics of the District as a whole. Does that mean that we have a disproportionate outcome and is it therefore proof positive of institutionalized racism? I fear that some would say so.

Should the district therefore shut off the water in a few other schools, schools without lead in the drinking water, or leave the water running in some schools with the lead so the demographics will match?

Continuing in this example, suppose that during the summer, the district replaces the water pipes in the schools that had lead. Again, the demographics of these schools don't match the demographics of the district as a whole. Does that constitute a disproportionate outcome? Should the district either replace the pipes in a school without lead in the water or elect NOT to replace the pipes in a school that does have lead so the racial demographics will come out right? Of course not.

The schools that don't have the problem should not get the remedy. When testing for disproportionate outcomes in the remedy, we have to compare the results to the demographics of the schools with the problem - not all schools.

In case of a flu outbreak in a number of schools would you administer flu shots to every student in the schools with the outbreak or would you administer the shots so that 41% of them go to White students?

In this case, the problem is excess capacity, so the appropriate benchmark to test for disproportionate outcomes is the set of schools with excess capacity - not all schools.

Otherwise, consider the path that we would have to follow: We would either have to close a school that is full (such as Sacajawea) to bolster the number of White students impacted. How do you explain it to the students, teachers, and families that their school had to close - not because they were contributing to the problem we are trying to solve, but because we had to make some White students share the impact and they were selected as the sacrificial lamb. How does that benefit the students, help us with our problem, or make any sense? What kind of social justice is that?

If you truly believe that this plan is racially biased, then why don't you propose a closure plan that is not?

Dan said...

Interesting points, Charlie. I better understand that you’re not really arguing that there isn’t a disproportionate racial impact using the commonly accepted benchmark of area population or enrollment. Instead, you argue (1) that different/better benchmarks exist and (2) in any event any disproportionate impact of the closures doesn’t amount to institutional racism.

In the example you raised about water contamination, I would say there is indeed a problem with a racial component if the district has lead at schools with a decidedly higher ratio of affected black students compared to the area's black enrollment. The problem in your example doesn’t lie with the district’s decision to shut down water only at those schools. Rather, the problem is the district’s pattern of deferring maintenance and shoddy construction practices over time. This at least is one very plausible explanation for a racially significant pattern of school contamination instead of a a race-neutral pattern. I'll certainly allow that there are other possible explanations.

But frankly, the more I mull it over, the more your main premise seems off-base. The object of the closure/consolidation process isn’t to close schools with excess capacity. The object is to save money. Excess capacity is one but certainly not the only way to gauge whether the district is going to save money by closing a school. For instance, take School A at 50% capacity in Building A; move same School A’s students, teachers, principal to a smaller (and for this example unoccupied) Building B such that capacity is now 100%. Yes, district might have saved a few bucks on utilities, but it might cost far more to bus the more students farther, the facility could require significantly capital upgrades to accommodate special needs of population, etc. On balance, solving the capacity “problem” doesn’t necessarily even trend towards solving the more fundamental problem: reducing operating costs.

If the object is to save money – and I trust we’re in agreement there – then many other considerations besides just excess capacity should be considered. And your argument for a substitute benchmark becomes even less palatable.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but the object (at least as I have been told, repeatedly) is not save money. Saving money is a by-product. The district is trying to streamline and direct more resources to more kids. And, having too many buildings to oversee isn't good. The district needs to show the taxpayers, the legislature, the editorial boards and others including parents that have a focused plan and can follow through.

People are focusing way too much on the money issue. I liken it to a sports analogy (probably bad but it's how I think of it). People always argue the financial benefits to having a major sports team in a city. You can cost out the pros and the cons but in the end, how do you really know? It's like that for school closures. You can cost it out (once you know for sure what schools are closing) but what are the costs to parents and students versus the benefits? Hard to know for sure.