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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Effects of School Closure

Read a good article in the Seattle Times today on the effect of the MLK closure on other Central area schools: Closure affects nearby schools.

"The district says it's taking the opportunity to learn from its enrollment-planning mistakes before attempting next year's challenge." I sure hope so.

22 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reading the article closely, Madrona got 16 kids from MLK. The real problem was that the district did not believe all the kids who registered for Madrona would show up and they did.

The more interesting part of the article was that several nearby schools, Montlake, McGilvra and Stevens, had to take in more students. This is because both Madrona and Gatzert are on the NCLB list and parents are offered new schools if the school their child is in is on the list. So several parents took advantage of this offer to get their kids into those smaller schools with smaller classes. Parents at Montlake and McGilvra are angry over raising money for lower class sizes (basically buying a teacher) and seeing class sizes go up (somewhat) anyway. The article does mention that McGilvra has some sort of contract with the district guaranteeing its raised monies go to lower class size. I'm guessing that's because the PTSA money can be used for any non-teacher thing but once you get into teacher contracts you have to deal with the district.

Anonymous said...

I found the impacts to schools where PTSAs have bought lowered class sizes really interesting. Will the fact that their money now no longer reduces class size cause private school flight? Is this a good thing in that the disparity between these schools is being reduced? Is this a good result of NCLB - that students in a suffering school have a chance to go to a terrific school with wonderful parent support? Could a crafty parent enroll a child in a school nearby to a great school and wait for it to be labeled failing and then jump to the desired program? (New school comes to mind)
Finally! The Times writes a good article on schools rather than spouting unfounded accusations and advocating for a takeover.

Charlie Mas said...

Weren't we told by the Superintendent that school closures would not cause higher class sizes? I seem to remember people saying that, but as I look around today I can't find it anywhere.

Isn't there some way that the Times can blame the Board for the increased class sizes while making it appear that Mr. Manhas, who controlled the outcomes, did something noble and heroic?

Anonymous said...

Note that the article doesn't say what the current class size is now at Montlake, Stevens and McGilvra. Is it 28 or fewer? If fewer and there are waiting lists, I say that is a crying shame calling them public schools.

How did McGilvra get such a contract? How is that legal or ethical?

How much of the class size issue is school closing and how much is NCLB?

And 30 kids triggers benfits, eh? Perhaps it is actually better for the kids to have 30 in the classroom and funds for instructional assistants than 28 and just one teacher?

Anonymous said...

Note that the article doesn't say what the current class size is now at Montlake, Stevens and McGilvra. Is it 28 or fewer? If fewer and there are waiting lists, I say that is a crying shame calling them public schools.

How did McGilvra get such a contract? How is that legal or ethical?

How much of the class size issue is school closing and how much is NCLB?

And 30 kids triggers benfits, eh? Perhaps it is actually better for the kids to have 30 in the classroom and funds for instructional assistants than 28 and just one teacher?

Charlie Mas said...

Dorothy raises an important issue. Again, it speaks to the authority of private money in our public schools.

The District needs to establish policies regarding private, non-competitive grants, whether they are from The New School Foundation, TAF, the Alliance for Education or the local PTA. The District needs a policy that determines the limits on how this money can be spent and the limits on the authority for donors. Whatever those limits are determined to be, the District needs to decide on them in advance and apply them equally across the board.

Can an elementary school with 12 regular education classrooms (2 per grade) decide that their capacity is only 240 instead of the contract maximum 312? Can they only do so if they pay for two teachers? Do they have to pay for two portables also? Where is the price list? Can the PTA be contractually obligated to raise the money each year? How would that contract be enforced? Who signed the contract with the PTA? If it is Mr. Manhas, is the contract void upon his resignation? Does the Board have a role in this decision or not? Lots of questions, not many answers.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...
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Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Unforunately, we can't just look at one variable in a multi-variable problem. Let's say Affluent School X has funding for 3 classes with 30 students each. If some parents pay their own money to hire a 4th teacher (that the district never would have paid for), then they can have 4 classes of 23. And better than sending their kids to private school, these parents have made a contribution that helps everyone at that school--not just their kids. Do we think the parents will continue to pay that money if they must now have 4 classes of 30?? And it seems more likely that some or all of those parents will take that money to a private school. Is that progress? I totally understand the fairness argument, but I wish the focus were on getting more funds to the schools that need it rather than taking away funds from the schools that have it. More should be done to look at parents who donate to one school as an OPPORTUNITY for the district rather than an enemy. I've been told that Medina Elementary in Bellevue raises the most money for their own school, but also raises the most money for the whole district.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Andrew's comment 1000%

My daughter attends one of those small class size schools and I know for a fact that taking that away would result in losing a large number of families to private. I know this because I hear the parents talking - the small class size is what they sign up for and why they donate the money and time to the school.

I agree it's "not fair" but we should be looking at ways to bring up funding at the other schools rather than taking things away from good schools which also have very high WASL scores which very well may be related to the class size.

Beth Bakeman said...

I think some shared PTSA fundraising would be a good idea --- maybe 70% to the school that raises it and 30% to a district fund that is shared among all schools in some kind of need-based way.

Anonymous said...

small class size => better wasl? nope.

the only reputable study I know of that measures the effect of class size on performance (including long-term), randomizing teachers and kids (so controlling for teacher abilities and the kids' backgrounds) showed that there is a effect, however it is only statistically significant when the small class size = 16 kids.

_Children_as_Pawns_, Timothy A. Hacsi. when I read this, the Seattle Public Library didn't own a copy, however interlibrary loan was very fast. I highly recommend the book.

Anonymous said...

It looks like a really interesting book....

I'd be curious if his findings on class size was broken down by age groups. I can where a class size of 20 vs 28 would make a much bigger difference for kids learning the basics of how to read and write, pay attention and follow directions, etc etc in the early ages K - 3rd than older kids. I'm no expert but my hunch is there has to be a difference there - the amount of times my daughter is "assessed", broken down into smaller reading groups, etc. etc. I would have to think having 7 less kids in her class would make a significant difference.

Anonymous said...

A little late here, but as a McGilvra parent who lives in Madrona, I can answer some of the specific questions raised above:

The contract mentioned in the Times article does not put a cap on class size or limit how funds are spent. The District can bump up class size any time it wants (as it has shown!). The contract simply limits the use of the portables purchased by the PTA. If the District increases class sizes, the PTA could easily decide to stop paying for the extra teachers, but it would be tough to undo the purchase of the portables--that's why the PTA asked for the agreement before buying them.

It's also important to note that McGilvra, Stevens, and Montlake haven't achieved smaller class sizes by turning students away. In fact, since McGilvra's class size reduction started seven years ago, the school's enrollment has increased from 225 to 260. The building, which has a maximum capacity of 250, used to house 9 classrooms. Now the school has 12 classrooms, achieved by clearing out a storage area and the PTA buying two portables. At the same time, test scores have improved (it's true!), the achievement gap has narrowed, and neighborhood market share (vs. private) has increased. Again, the District could choose to undo this by bumping up class sizes, but then we'd be back where we started.

I don't disagree that there are serious equity issues raised by the District's (lack of) policy on private funding. There are too many important points to address them all here; I think Charlie Mas covered them really well in his "Equity" post on the CPPS forum. The bottom line is that all our schools are underfunded, and you can't fault some well-intentioned parents from doing their best to overcome this at specific schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Richard raises some great questions. Namely, we say we are a district with all kinds of schools and kids of many different backgrounds (ethnic and otherwise). But when we get to saying that we also have schools that are supported in different ways by parents/community, then may be considered "not fair". I can't forget the outrage in a woman's face at a recent Board meeting when she challenged Darlene Flynn on this issue.

It's a central issue to our whole American society. We don't have classes per se (a la England or India) but money is still a great divider. And, it's getting to be a greater and greater division.

My own husband thinks it unfair to buy down class size (or however you want to think of it). He thinks it makes schools quasi-private. I don't agree but I see his point. McGilvra (from my little experience on the CAC) was one of the few schools that offered solutions and not anger or threats. I'm not going to damn any school for what some parents wrote but there was a consistency from some schools.

I have always said bless parents who step up to help their child's school, no matter what they do, big or small. It is doubly hard for parents that don't live in areas where business/community can add support. Parents always think of their child's school first, it's just human nature. I think there's room, as Beth has said, to figure out a way to support schools with little or no PTA and keep faith with those who can do a lot. We need all kinds of parents in our district. We can't lose any more of them and, in fact, need to get back some of those private school parents.

Anonymous said...

Beth's fund-sharing idea might sound fair in the surface, but there are other issues to take into account. For example, many schools which raise private funds still have significantly smaller budgets per capita than the schools which don't fundraise. Looking at the annual reports on the District's website, Montlake had the lowest per capita budget in the central cluster at $4,804 per student in 2005. TT Minor was tops at $11,223 per student, and Leschi received $7,367. Leschi is an interesting case, since it is the closest elementary school to Madrona K-8 and was also on the list of destination choices in the NCLB reshuffle. It has a Spectrum program, and, since enrollment is so low, the class sizes are probably not too large. But none of the families chose to move there.

Charlie Mas said...

I want to be very clear. Like Andrew, Richard, and Mel, I am delighted when families contribute to schools - time, money, work, whatever. I'm not saying "no fair" or looking to prohibit or inhibit contributions. I'm just saying that we need to have some rules that apply equally to everyone and the rules should be posted so everyone knows what they are.

That said, I must make two acknowledgements.

First, I am troubled by the use of PTA money to pay for teachers. That is a basic education expense and we have, as a society, decided that we are going to try to be equitable in the allocation of basic education. Rather than break that rule, I would prefer that we honestly change the rule if it no longer reflects our values and priorities.

Second, I have also advocated revenue sharing whereby a portion of PTA contributions - or any other non-competitive grant dollars - goes into a pot shared by all schools and allocated according to enrollment. I don't think revenue sharing, even at the 70/30 split rate that Beth mentioned, would inhibit gifting.

Per capita budgets are not apples to apples comparisons and shouldn't be made without significant context and disclosure. There are some students who cost more to educate than others, the budgets may or may not include grants and may or may not include compensatory education dollars.

I don't think PTA contributions are bad - they're great! I know that affluent families can and will support their children's schools with money and I'm all for it. I'm all for it even with the knowledge that low-income families don't have the same ability to offer financial support. Some may think that is unfair, but I don't. If you're going to object to that unfairness, then why not object just as strenuously to the millions of others. Is it unfair that I read to my children and help them with their homework? Is every support I give my child unfair because there is some other child out there who isn't getting that support? That's crazy talk.

But I don't think it's crazy to ask those families to share a portion of their contribution with other schools. I don't think its crazy for the District to have a policy about the limits of how this giving can be spent and what authority this giving brings with it. If the PTA is paying for two teachers, can the PTA do the hiring? Can the PTA fire them?

I would certainly prefer it if the state amply funded basic education so that that PTA money could go to other things like field trips, assemblies, visiting artists, music and art, play equipment, and library books.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Charlie. I am not against parent support of schools. I am mostly uncomfortable with parents purchasing "empty seats" so the class sizes are smaller when that results in a waiting list for the school. Is this an acceptable policy and if so, is it uniformly administered?

As for the $$ comparisons between schools, does it include teacher compensation? There used to be information on the district website profiling schools with data on years of teacher experience (how many teachers had 1-5 years, 6-10, etc) but I cannot find it now. Last I saw it, there were striking differences between schools.

Anonymous said...

In some cases the school ends up taking more kids off the waitlist by adding an additonal class. You also have to look at who is on the waitlist - in most cases I know of, it is families whom have a different "reference" school who choose the school specifically because of the small class size and otherwise may not be on the waitlist.

Anonymous said...

I agree, purchasing "empty seats" would be wrong, if that were actually the case. But that's not how it works. These schools didn't reduce class sizes by pushing kids onto the waitlist. They did it by adding classrooms in order to dilute the existing ones (and adding new kids in the process, thus filling empty seats!). So, playing devil's advocate here, why not have the District pay for those extra teachers and classrooms, and then fill them (along with all the old ones) with 28 kids each, so that the schools expand, say, from 250 to 320 kids? Ignoring the fact that you would likely never get 320 kids, since some would flee to private school and others would no longer choose it over their neighborhood schools, the reason is that the buildings are already over capacity and can't support any more kids.

This begs the question of why the District couldn't have included some of these elementary schools on the BEX III list, but that's a different kettle of fish...

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

I think Dorothy is correct that school funding numbers don't take teacher salaries into account (Marguerite Roza of the UW Center for Reinventing Public Ed, who was also on the Superintendent's Committee has raised this issue a number of times publicly.) If you believe teacher quality is the most imporant factor for students, then it is unfortunately that the more affluent schools (despite less "budget funding") have teachers with more average seniority (and thus higher pay). There's no simple solution: you can't just fix this problem by reassigning teachers since there are many factors that contribute to teacher retention & we don't want to lose these great teachers by forcing them to move if they do not want to. But, as Marguerite Roza has suggested, it might be effective to offer financial incentives for the best teachers (not just most senior, but most highly regarded) to teach at schools with more in-need, at-risk kids.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm still researching the BEX III list. I can answer the question as to why no elementaries appear on it. The Board (via the Operations Committee, I think that was the one) decided that no schools considered by closure and consolidation be on the BEX III. First, this plays right into one of my objections to the current list. If the district wanted real buy-in for C&C, they would have taken a school that is a likely candidate for student in-take from a closing school and renovated it. That would have sent a signal to both schools that the district is serious about making the remaining schools better and able to provide the best academics possible. Two, the CAC considered K-8s, alternatives and elementaries, none of which are on the BEX III list. But wait, there's one; New School which oddly, according to different sources in the district, is both an alternative and a regular elementary, soon-to-be K-8.

Charlie Mas said...

McGilvra WAS on the BEX III list. It was included in the Option 2 set of work along with Rogers and a couple other elementaries.