Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Haves and Have-Nots

Two years ago I took an evening class at the Piedmont Adult School. My teacher was also a longtime faculty member of Piedmont High School. He told us this story.

The year before, some kid’s father walked into the school’s main office and casually handed a $100,000 personal check to a student who was working there. He told the student, “Here, give this to the principal and tell him to buy laptops for the teachers.”

This is just a tiny peek into another world.

For readers who don’t know the Bay Area, Piedmont is a small, affluent community completely surrounded by Oakland. Many locals are under the impression that it seceded from Oakland because it wanted to protect itself from such a poor, skuzzy city, but this is not the fact.

In the late 1800’s, Oakland was not completely covered by highways, streets and buildings like it is today. Rather, much of Oakland consisted of numerous village-like community districts scattered across a rolling East Bay landscape. Between the communities were small farms, grazing lands, and orchards.

The Oakland hills were a popular summer vacation destination for residents of San Francisco. Some owned summer homes here. Some would come across the bay and stay at one of Oakland’s many resort hotels. One such hotel was the Piedmont Springs Hotel which later burned down in 1892.

After the earthquake of 1906, the population of Piedmont quadrupled as families left the devastation of San Francisco and moved to the East Bay. Residents living in the district of Piedmont voted to make their district its own city in 1907, long before Oakland was suffering from its current reputation. By the 1920’s, Piedmont had more millionaires per square mile than any city in the United States and was known as the “City of Millionaires.”

Today, the Piedmont City Unified School District has three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. It also has a small alternative high school and an adult school.

Here are Piedmont Unified’s 2007-08 demographics:

Total enrollment = 2,552 students
  • American Indian or Alaska Native = 0.3%
  • Asian = 17.4%
  • Pacific Islander = 0.2%
  • Filipino = 1.1%
  • Hispanic or Latino = 2.7%
  • African American = 1.8%
  • White (not Hispanic) = 67.3%
  • Multiple or No Response = 9.2%

►Total number of English Learners = 94 students (3.7%)

►Participants in Free or Reduced-Price Lunch = zero students (0%)

►Average Parent Education Level = 4.47 (The average of all responses where "1" represents "Not a high school graduate" and "5" represents "Graduate school.")

In addition, the 2000 Census found the following for the City of Piedmont:

  • Median family income = $149,857
  • Per capita income = $70,539

Now, here is information about those Have-Nots in Oakland next door.

Oakland Unified's 2007-08 demographics:

Total enrollment = 46,431 students
  • American Indian or Alaska Native = 0.4%
  • Asian = 13.7%
  • Pacific Islander = 1.1%
  • Filipino = 0.7%
  • Hispanic or Latino = 36.6%
  • African American = 36.2%
  • White (not Hispanic) = 6.2%
  • Multiple or No Response = 5.1%

►Total number of English Learners = 13,933 students (30%)

►Participants in Free or Reduced-Price Lunch = 29,716 students (64%).

►Average Parent Education Level = 2.34 (The average of all responses where "1" represents "Not a high school graduate" and "5" represents "Graduate school.")*

The 2000 Census found the following for Oakland:

  • Median household income = $40,055
  • Per capita income = $21,936

It may interest you to know that Piedmont Unified’s 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) is 919. Oakland Unified’s 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) is 674. The state's desirable goal for an API is 800 and over. The maximum number of points that can be obtained is 1000.

Some people might explain that the difference in achievement is due to a different quality of the teaching, one of the most common explanations for the achievement gap in some circles.

Do you think that the Piedmont teachers are really working that much harder and smarter than the Oakland teachers? What would be the result if the Piedmont teachers switched places with the Oakland teachers? Would the API scores soon be switched, too?

*Let me repeat this so you can absorb it. OUSD is responsible for educating – and feeding a government subsidized lunch to – 29,716 students, plus educating 16,715 students more. Piedmont Unified is responsible for educating zero students in this category. To put it another way, OUSD feeds free or reduced-price lunches to more than 11 times (11.6) the number of students who attend Piedmont's public schools altogether.


The Perimeter Primate said...

If a magic wand was waved and the demographics of the 46,431 students in Oakland's public school district were changed to those of Piedmont, OUSD would then become responsible for serving:

8,079 Asian kids (rather than 6,366 of them)

1,254 Latino kids (rather than 16,986 of them)

835 African American kids (rather than 16,819 of them)

31,248 White kids (rather than 2,875 of them)

1,718 English Learners (rather than 13,933 of them)

OUSD could also abandon its Free or Reduced-Price Lunch program because the 29,716 students who had once participated would no longer qualify.

Once again, consider if OUSD's API that year would change.

If you haven't figured it out by now, just take it from me: The achievement gap is NOT caused by the teachers. So why are they so frequently blamed?

The Perimeter Primate said...

And as that magic wand was waved it would turn Piedmont Unified's 2,552 students into students with the demographics of Oakland Unified. Wouldn't the teachers of Piedmont schools be surprised the next day as their students arrived to class?

They would see:

350 Asian kids, not 443 of them

934 Latino kids, not 69 of them

924 African American kids, not 47 of them

158 White kids, not 1,718 of them

766 English Learners, not 94 of them

Piedmont would also have to suddenly create a Free or Reduced-Price Lunch program because it would have 1,633 hungry children arriving from homes that aren't stocked with much food.

Piedmont Unified's communication to its families would be immediately restricted because a sizable set of its parents would be non-English speaking so they couldn't communicate with most of the school personnel. Many of them would also be illiterate, or near-illiterate, so they couldn't read things that are sent home from school. Of course, many of the parents would also be computer illiterate or have no access, so email and online information would be totally out of reach to them. They also couldn't attend many school meetings because of ultra-long work hours and transportation options that are limited to public bus schedules and old cars that frequently break down. And that would be just the beginning of Piedmont Unified's new challenges.

What do you guess would happen to Piedmont's once stellar API?

The Perimeter Primate said...

Whenever I hear Michelle Rhee or others blaming low student achievement on the teachers, I realize that they are deluded, or just plain dumb.

They remind me of someone who focuses on a blemish on their forehead while ignoring the fact that their entire body is covered with oozing sores.

Anonymous said...

Based on your data, are you just saying that poor kids that eat subsidized lunches are dumber than rich kids?

Your effort to correlate isn't broad enough, and based on what you posted, I could come up with the above conclusion as well.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Anon: We seem to view things quite differently and I am not going to bite at your simplistic bait.

Have you read "Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap" by Richard Rothstein, or "Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life" by Annette Lareau? If not, may I suggest that you do?