Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It is so frustrating to me that research and reality are ignored in favor of anecdotal NIMBY. It is to be expected that some families in the community will be ruled by the emotion of self-interest instead of logic, but when the administrators and board join in, it leaves me shaking my head.

Here's the article from the Freeman. Those savings are awfully hard to reconcile and decipher, aren't they? This seems like the worst of all worlds to me: increasing class size as well as the number of transitions! How is this defensible? Whose agenda is being served here? Oh, I guess this must be who:

Here's exhibit 1, from a parent in the district. An approach which has been labeled "bookend" is favored. It keeps all three elementary schools open, but chops them into two K-3 and a 4-6. "This model is superior for our younger children and changes the age at which the transition is made to a more demanding social and academic environment."

Hello! What evidence is there that this approach is superior? Transitions are not good for students, and the so-called bookend approach increases the number of transitions in the district from one to two. Transition is obviously not the only significant factor for achievement, or even the most important one. But the research is a concern: "Every transition from one narrowly configured school to another seems to disrupt the social structure in which learning takes place, lowering achievement and participation for many students" (Howley, 2002). Alspaugh (1998) found that "an increase in the number of school-to-school transitions within a school district is associated with an increase in the high school dropout rate."

Here's exhibit 2, from another parent. The bookend approach is also supported. "A couple of years ago, when First Steps enrollment was way, way down, I may have bought the "freefall decline in enrollment" concept. But the 2011-2012 year has seen, far and away, the most kids I’ve played to in the four years I’ve gone there. These kids and others will be arriving on Onteora’s doorstep next fall."

Oh yeah? An anecdotal story about a nursery school is supposed to be persuasive? Take a look at this, from the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics. The trend is crystal clear. Also this from Cornell. The list of districts is long, so here's the data on OCS:

Census 2000ACS 2005-2009ChangeChange (%)
Total pop16,11215,372-740-4.6%
Age 0-173,3872,528-859-25.4%

It's pretty clear that population ages 0-17 is plummeting dramatically -- more than 25 percent in a decade. Using the middle range projections in the first Cornell link, enrollment is projected to be 1382 in 2019. Moving to two schools plus one school in '12-'13, using 2009 figures, that means 54 students per school in Kindergarten (same a closing one school entirely), and 120 in Grade 4 (using 2009's first graders). Two sections per school of 27 students each for Kindergarten, and X teachers for Grade 4 in one school. (How many? 5 @ 24 students per class? 4 @ 30 students per class? 6 @ 20 students per class?) Elementary enrollment is currently 47 percent of K-12, and Kindergarten is 14 percent of K-6. Fast forward to 2019, it will be 91 students in Kindergarten. Divided into 2 schools, that is 45.5 kids per school, too many for one class. So it would be 2 classes per school of 22.75 kids each. In Grade 4 in 2019, where enrollment is also currently about 14 percent of K-6 enrollment, so another 91 students. I can't imagine the thought is 3 teachers per grade with 30 students each in grades 4-6? I know that was common during the baby boom but it isn't something I see very often now. There are far too many special needs. So that means it must be 4 teachers per grade (same as closing a school?), but in one school. Again, how is this beneficial? Just because it keeps all the buildings open?

There is no sound academic argument for taking this approach instead. It obviously isn't class size, and adding in an extra early transition isn't beneficial. Personally, I see potential value in having only two elementary schools. The kids would get to know each other very early, in Kindergarten. They would go to school together always. It might help to decrease the factionalism that is, and has been pervasive.

Gathering this information wasn't difficult. It should be a no-brainer for the administrators and board. Or do they have it and are ignoring it?

I repeat, I see a future where one central campus is all that is needed. It's sad, yes. (Except for the decrease in factionalism which I predict would be the outcome, even more so with one central campus.) Whenever buildings are shuttered it is sad. Yes, I fondly remember the way the district was when I was a kid, four elementaries feeding the 7-12. (I have to add, though, that the transition to junior high wasn't easy at all.) However, delaying the inevitable by draining resources to serve the agenda of the board and a few parents is not beneficial to the district -- including, and most importantly, the students. Buildings are going to have to be shuttered, and eventually wings removed at the 7-12 as well. Quit procrastinating and start planning.

Something I came across while browsing is this very clear and nicely done powerpoint from NYSED.

On a completely unrelated topic, today's column is great. I don't have one of these coffee makers, but I do have a Black and Decker cup at a time. I love it. About 10 years ago, Bob gave up coffee, as part of his alternative therapy for RA. He was a big coffee drinker and always made it. I have only consumed one, or (on rare occasions) at most two, cups of coffee per day so a traditional 10 cup coffee maker was useless. I didn't like microwaving day-old coffee, and I didn't like throwing it away. So I got a cup at a time. It uses any kind of coffee you want (I prefer Maxwell House) and it has a permanent filter. I love it! Well worth $10. But, the point about making multiple cups is definitely true! I have to keep an old 12 cup model that I dust off when I have guests.

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