Thursday, December 13, 2012

From the mailbag, part II

I posted last week an email from a listener who took exception to what I said about majority-black public school districts on the radio last week.  The same person sent these emails prior to sending these emails. Enjoy.

"Your data seems to indicate that the better the teacher to student ratio is, the better the outcome. I agree. But you most definitely have a lot of other factors to consider starting with, are the costs per student due to administrative costs or facility/maintenance costs. That is very important to consider isn't it.

You can not simply take a number like costs per student and deduce that because the white districts have lower costs per student that they are managing money better or are more efficient. I will tell you why. I will however concede that the ones with higher costs per student could also be being mismanaged. I will just say if you want to be fair with the data, you will consider the following.

1.The more affluent districts, typically the white districts get the parents to subsidize a lot of the additional costs that go along with education that the smaller/poorer districts cannot. My son is in the Rankin County School District and we are often asked to pay additional fees for supplies or class/lab fees. We also participate in a heck of a lot of fundraisers for education and athletics.

2.Did you even consider that it costs more to maintain and operate and old rundown school as opposed to a newer facility? I am absolutely sure that it costs more to run one of those rundown schools in a place like Heidelberg as opposed to one in Petal School District. These poorer districts do not have the tax base to go out and build new schools as often as they need them.

I have probably been in far more schools in my lifetime than most, including you and I know that some schools and districts are asked to make due and others get new. That is life, but it has to be factored into the equation. Natchez had a “separate but equal” school district until 1990. So, I saw first hand a system where there was a white school and a supposedly equal black school. It did not work out that way. I attended the all black elementary, junior high and high school; whereas, my mother worked in the white counterparts. The schools were not treated or maintained equally. I would suspect some of that behavior may still be going on today.

Just looking at the numbers in the way that you have, there is no way that you can come to the conclusion that mismanagement is the cause for the disparity because you have not included enough factors.

A few things to consider,

I generally don't engage in email debates but here is my short response:

"Humphreys county. 38 percent of employees are teachers. No excuse."

He replied: "

I agree. But if you have to spend money to fix the building that is falling in around you, I would think you have to handle that. Im just asking you to think and be mildly scientific. If that does not fit your agenda, so be it. But it should be about improving conditions and education for the kids. The only way to do that is to really understand the situation, which goes deeper than numbers you see on a page."

and I wrote:

"as usual you are missing the point. I compared TEACHERS v. TOTAL NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES.that has NOTHING to do with buildings. That means how many teachers are part of your workforce.

The good districts have a higher number of teachers, the bad one's don't. The black ones have several that are in the 30's. That means barely over a THIRD of the employees are teachers. The white ones are at 50% and have a B average. See a problem? "

and he wrote:

"You got down to cost per student. That being the case, all costs are relative. Like trying to compare public and private costs per student when private dont have transportation costs. You dont have to look at numbers to know that fewer teachers per student has a negative effect. Number of teachers per total employees mandates you look at other issues that may require non-teacher employees.


Anonymous said...

You are a patient man, Kingfish.

Anonymous said...

Schools are a local matter, run by the folks in that district. The State House and Senate want the Gov to go in and fix all the problems. That gives them cover. Most people in the House and Senate are scared to death to do anything in their own home towns. In some towns the school is the largest employer in the town, possibly in the whole county.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I can see,having lived in old houses and new ones and having grown up in the construction industry, how a district maintaining a full maintenance staff that could address electrical , plumbing,roofing, carpentry, keeping buses running etc.( if that is what is happening) would skew the numbers in not only the ratio but costs per student. I expect it would be cheaper and more practical than contracting for maintenance and repairs.

A district with newer buildings would probably contract services as needed or maintain a smaller central maintenance staff.

I could see needing more kitchen staff in an old cafeteria as well...including that's it's harder to keep an old kitchen and building clean. Are they providing breakfast for more children?

I could also see needing more office staff if you aren't computerized. It use to take one administrative secretary and a pool of secretaries to do what one can do today with modern equipment.

Fund raising shouldn't explain ratios though it would affect costs per student. Bands are one place where funding raising can be key. I know I donated to buy band instruments for a school as many students can't afford to buy their own, even in some private schools.

Do these districts need more counselors and health related staff?

It should be pretty easy to find out what the employee positions are.

Indeed, I noticed in the reports you provided, KF, the part time employee differences. What those part time positions are might be revealing.

I suspect you will find that a lack of modern equipment and buildings do skew the numbers but not as significantly as the person who wrote you suggests.

But, the details do matter. If we are going to solve problems , we have to identify as many contributing factors as possible and prioritize addressing those factors.

I very much liked this exchange including the tone. I found both of you to be thought provoking.

We do need to look past " excuses" and " opinions" and political rhetoric and get to the facts.

That also includes identifying , not just the problems but the key factors in success.

Anonymous said...

You can't argue with ignorance. It's been pounded in their head for too long and it's all they know. They think it's that way because they have been told that all their life by the people who want them to think they are being oppressed. If he/she were so smart they would know it's all lies.

Anonymous said...

Having easily attended 100+ high school football games all over the state over the past 7-8 years one would be hard pressed to determine if a school was rich or poor based solely on the quality of their football facilities. Many of the most disadvantaged and academically underperforming high schools in our state have top notch football fields, weight rooms and team buildings.

It is about priorities. The people who want to waste previous time blaming academic deficiencies on school buildings are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Anonymous said...

I very much liked this exchange including the tone.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Anonymous said...

curious that someone obsessed about education would write like a sixth grader.

Jack said...

"You can't argue with ignorance. It's been pounded in their head for too long and it's all they know. They think it's that way because they have been told that all their life by the people who want them to think they are being oppressed. If he/she were so smart they would know it's all lies."

The notion that blacks in MS have been oppressed is a lie? And you say you can't argue with ignorance? Good God almighty. I'm so blinded by the irony here that I'm not sure I can properly finish this po skelj kjdfslst fsfd.

Anonymous said...

That entire email exchange = #facepalm

Burke said...

Excellent comment, 8:36. Poor old 8:47 has trouble with courtesy, but he adds the crudeness we need in order to better appreciate comments such as yours.

Anonymous said...

A newer building may be less expensive to keep up, but shouldn't the bonds to construct an old building be paid off? How does that affect the balance of payments for districts with old buildings vs districts with new facilities?

It's like trying to decide how long to keep repairing an old car vs finally buying a new one.

Anonymous said... need to be able to qualify for a loan and make the payments on a new one 2:15pm.

Ignorance is a lack of knowledge that can be remedied, but not by just telling the person they are ignorant but by respectfully sharing factual information and being persuasive.

It is not persuasive to put someone on the defensive by name calling , being flip and dismissive, and simply restating in various ways, " you're wrong and I'm right".

If you are right, you should be able to back up your opinion with supporting facts.

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