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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Parent Survey Results – More Spin, Spin, Spin

In her posting on this site on September 8, Leonie Haimson reported several of Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference comments following the DOE’s release of the Parent Survey results. In particular, she noted the Mayor’s statement that, “By a majority of two to one, parents would rather have you spend more money on enriching the programs rather than reducing class size,” an assertion that was, to be charitable, disingenuous. The Mayor followed that one up with another, claiming that the survey results showed that, “When somebody stands up and says, ‘I speak for all parents and we want smaller class sizes,’ that’s just not true.” The actual Parent Survey data for every City school, only recently made publicly available, tells quite a different story than the one spun by the Mayor.

Let’s begin with the number and percentage of schools whose parents chose smaller class size versus more or better enrichment programs as their most desired improvement.

Borough ------ Class Size #(%) ----- Enrichment # (%)
Manhattan ------- 123 (47.3%) ----------- 102 (39.2%)
Bronx ------------- 143 (43.6%) ----------- 138 (42.1%)
Brooklyn ----------178 (42.2%) ----------- 154 (36.5%)
Queens ------------155 (54.6%) ------------ 114 (40.1%)
Staten Island ------ 43 (71.7%) ------------- 18 (30.0%)
TOTALS ---------- 642 (47.4%) ----------- 526 (38.8%)

The Mayor and Chancellor reported that smaller class sizes were chosen by 24% of parent respondents overall, the single highest frequency among the ten options presented in the Survey (more enrichment was next, selected by 19% of parents who completed the Survey). By comparison, the results shown above indicate that parents at nearly 50% of the City’s 1,354 general education schools opted for smaller class sizes over any other improvement option, a number substantially more dramatic than the 24% figure.

But the story gets even more interesting when we consider the size of the student populations represented by these schools. (Note: Because of ties at some schools, these enrollment totals exceed the City’s total public school enrollment.)

------------------Enrollment at ---------- Enrollment at ---------- Enrollment at
---------------Class Size Schools ---- Enrichment Schools --- All Other Schools
Manhattan -------- 87,180 ---------------------- 43,966 ---------------------26,080
Bronx ------------- 112,633 ---------------------- 72,453 --------------------- 35,774
Brooklyn --------- 157,637 ---------------------- 90,981 --------------------- 76,722
Queens ----------- 165,271 ----------------------- 78,392 --------------------- 27,612
Staten Island ----- 48,358 ----------------------- 13,779 ------------------------ 938
TOTALS --------- 571,079 ---------------------- 299,571 -------------------- 167,126

The schools where parents deemed smaller class sizes as their most desired improvement represent 58.8% of total public school general education enrollment and account for more students than every other choice combined!

How about the City’s largest schools? Among the 241 schools with enrollments of greater than 1,000 students, parents at 49 (20.3%) of them, representing total enrollments of 60,793, chose more enrichment as their most desired improvement. Compare this result to the overwhelming 175 (72.6%) large schools, representing total enrollments of 305,718, whose parents chose smaller class size. In schools with over 1,000 students, parents see smaller class size as their most desired improvement three and a half times more often than their next highest option, constituting an enrolled student ratio of 5 to 1!

How about the 1,012 NYC schools with more financially disadvantaged student populations, defined by having more than 60% of families qualifying for free lunch? The story is similar, although somewhat less dramatic. Parents at 417 (41.2%) of those schools, representing 321,513 students, selected reduced class sizes as their most desired improvement. More or better enrichment was preferred at slightly more, (433, or 42.8%), but those schools represented 246,751 students, 23.3% fewer than were represented by the schools whose parents desired smaller class sizes first and foremost.

How about the schools on NY State’s list of Schools Not in Good Standing? Of the 371 NYC schools on that list as of January, 2007, parents at 108 (29.1%) of them, representing 80,954 enrolled students, opted for more enrichment while parents at 205 (55.3%) such schools, representing a whopping 265,917 enrolled students, voted for smaller class size as their most desired improvement. Once again, we see that parents at over half the schools not in good standing with NYSED chose smaller class size over the nine other improvement options. Furthermore, parents at nearly twice as many Schools Not in Good Standing, representing over three times as many students, chose smaller class size over the next highest choice, more enrichment.

The evidence is clear, the conclusions obvious.

(1) Class size matters to parents more than any single alternative improvement in the public school system.
(2) The larger and more needful the school, the more likely that parents place smaller class sizes at the top of their wish list.
(3) It is Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein who consistently fail to recognize and speak to the wishes of parents regarding improvements to the public school system.

Public school parents are smart enough to recognize the Mayor’s and Chancellor’s vague misdirections about enrichment, coupled with their incessant drumbeats on (parent-disempowering) empowerment, accountability and more and more standardized tests, for what they are – good, old-fashioned plate spinning. Just remember, the more plates you try to spin, the harder it becomes to keep them all going.

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