Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inside Bay Area: Public schools: Is California's middle class heading for the exits?

This from Inside Bay Area:

It's the hot topic outside the kindergarten room, at fundraising tables and after morning drop-off. Parents are asking: How much more can California lop off public education before they bolt for private schools?

For public schools, 2011-12 could be a turning point.

In recent years schools have endured incremental cuts and annual angst. But with dramatic reductions to the school year, program and staffing expected, many families are contemplating a deposit on a private school.

Local private schools report this spring that inquiries and enrollment are up, and one school that closed several years ago, Calvary Christian Academy in San Jose, even plans to reopen in August.

Bellarmine College Preparatory received a record 1,000-plus applications, most for its 400-member freshman class. Several other schools estimated that inquiries and applications are up 25 percent. That includes Valley Christian, which hopes to increase enrollment 5 percent annually for the next few years, Admissions Director Scott Wessling said.

At St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Saratoga, inquiries and applications are up 40 percent over last year, Head of School Harry McKay said. Although many private schools have closed admissions for 2011-12, some still have openings.

Read the full story


  1. Did you know that California ranks 49th in the nation in its staff-to-students ratio? This is the title of Ed Source's most recent release on education statistics in California. Parents are looking for the exits from public schools as we just read.

    But here in SFUSD enrollment is increasing despite the class sizes increases of the last three years. We know that private school tuition doesn't come cheap and fewer can afford that price tag nowadays in a city that has the second highest cost of living only after New York.

    In SFUSD class sizes are increasing or decreasing, depending upon your school and these disparities in class sizes have reached historical proportions in the last two years. Students in most schools are seeing their classes grow to the bursting point, while the Superintendent Zones are experiencing declines in class sizes as a result of our administration's funding scheme, which is largely discretionary.

    On top of SFUSD's homegrown inequities that pit races and regions against one another, the District's total intake per pupil last year was $10,828.00, yet it allocated just under $5000.00 per pupil, as per Ed Source data, which filters out some of the data from specialized higher cost classrooms such as those in the Superintendent Zones. Considering some believe SFUSD to be a lean machine (I'm not one of them), there's still an awful lot of money unaccounted for until you realize that they used that money to drive down class sizes in those zones.

    Equity, access and accountability - those are the three pillars of Superintendent Garcia's Strategic Plan - "Beyond the Talk, Taking Action to Educate Every Child Now."

  2. We bolted for this very reason. And no, we could not afford private school -- we got aid and will be eating a lot of top ramen. But at least we know our kid will have art, music, PE, and pencils.

  3. "We bolted for this very reason."

    So what issue(s) if fixed would give you enough confidence that things were at least headed in the right direction and keep you in public schools? Obviously to fix everything will take a long long time but I am wondering what is the bare minimum that would need to happen in order to restore a little of your confidence that public education in San Francisco is headed in a positive direction.

  4. "We bolted for this very reason. And no, we could not afford private school -- we got aid and will be eating a lot of top ramen. But at least we know our kid will have art, music, PE, and pencils."

    My kid at their non-trophy public school has all those things.

    Please stop whining about top ramen too. It's just dumb.

  5. "My kid at their non-trophy public school has all those things."

    Very happy for your kid. Not all kids in SF are as lucky. Curious, are some of these things paid for by a well funded PTA? If so, how much money are you projecting parents will need to raise/contribute (essentially private funding) in 2012 or 2013 and beyond to "keep the boat afloat" as school budgets continue to get cut each year?

  6. This fantasy about parent fundraising taking up the slack has got to be debunked. At a minimum $150,000,000 is allocated to SFUSD for compensatory education - State and Federal Categorical and Title programs and the like. edMatch is trying to match $6-7 million the amount they claim is the approximate total of privately raised funds for all SFUSD schools. They have a long way to go be able to provide even a portion of the reduced class sizes and student supports made available in the Superintendent Zones courtesy of compensatory education, not including the $45,000,000 SIG grant.

    If 40,000 families, a little less than two-thirds of our district enrollment, each gave $4,000.00 that would just about cover it. But even if everyone did donate that amount to SFUSD there is no guarantee that your child would get any of the benefit. If you give it to edMatch they claim that it will be distributed evenly on a per pupil basis. Then again 4 grand would pay about half the cost of a parochial.

    I challenge the Superintendent to cite any scientific study that has proven that large infusions of cash over short periods of time, like the kind he is employing, have significant long term benefits to student achievement. There is precious little evidence to substantiate that even long term infusions have an salutary achievement effect over time. Considering the large chunk of the educational pie that society has reserved for decades for underachievement, we should NOT have substantive underachievement at all if indeed larger per pupil funding is the way to remediate it, as is the premise of compensatory education.


  7. continued

    Sure, money is necessary to run the system, but it is not the answer to underachievement when there is the minimum sufficient funding to provide quality staffing and programming. If it were the answer then the lack of money would not explain why students suffering under the budget cuts at the higher end of achievement scale are doing as well as they have been right up to the present. The administration points to this and says, - See,they don't need to be well funded. They're doing just fine. So let's continue to raise their class sizes and transfer the wealth to lower class sizes elsewhere. This is the new equity of Carlos Garcia, excellence through expropriation. But, strangely, the only ones doing excellently are the ones undergoing expropriation.

    We are coming up on the last part of the 5 year strategic plan. We have had central office retrenchment and reorganization every year for the last 3 years - gaffs and missteps, improper K class sizes increases, central office embezzlement, policy driven community disengagement, negligible achievement gains, strategic plan failures and monumental assignment redesign oversights, all of which are given a pass by the somnolent mainstream media.

    If the Superintendent does not reconsider his financial policies that rely on starving out middle class students without private school alternatives, it may be time to consider a new way forward. Despite the Strategic Plan's Performance Matrix which relied heavily on the notion of transferring successful strategies from one school to another, the principals and administrators from the Superintendent Zones no longer hold their meetings with the rest of the successful portion of the district, thereby turning a blind eye to their own strategic plan. The only thing they have managed to transfer is money. Maybe it is time to give the Superintendent Zones, district status, for Mr. Garcia has surely abdicated his responsibilities elsewhere within the District. Given the Board's support for his radical policies, it is time to consider a measure to split the District in two. At the very least we must unseat the current Board.

  8. Don

    Given all that you outlined, can you remind me why any middle class student that has the option to go private, shouldn't take that option? I understand the longer term ramifications if ALL middle class students with options left the public school system, but given all that you described, why would they?

  9. Immersion will draw a family that could otherwise go private. I know several going private because they didn't get into an immersion program.

  10. I don't think this characterizes middle-class families in SF as much as on the Penninsula (to which, ironically, some families move for the "good schools"). $20-30K/year/child is an awful lot to may for some extra enrichments.

  11. Immersion is certainly a magnet, but it's not a panacea. I don't speak any of the languages offered by SFUSD immersion programs and am not comfortable with that. Also my kid has learning issues that make one language hard enough without adding a second. I've also met more than one person on the playground who has pulled their kid out of immersion after 2nd grade. I'm not sure if the low test scores (which I understand are normal for immersion at grade 2 but go up later) freak them out, or the looming class size increases, or problems at specific schools. I don't really care whether it's problems at the district officer or problems at the specific school. If I don't feel like the school has the small class sizes and the quality and quantity of art, PE, etc., that I want, or that it's dependent on parent fundraising rather than a reliable funding source like state funding commitments $ or tuition $, I'm sufficiently risk-adverse that I'll find a way to pay for what I want rather than go public.

  12. Completely agree with being "risk adverse" especially when it comes to my child's education. I can understand taking risks on other things. Education seems like something that should come with a little more certainty (not complete) than it does in San Francisco.

  13. 10:41,

    I can't speak for the motivations of others. I prefer for my children to be in public schools. I believe in their inherent goodness for society. I will stay in them until I find them antithetical to the needs of my children in which case I would have to conclude that they are antithetical to the needs of society of which my children are a part. I fear already I am getting glimpses of that. But I don't believe public education is doomed anymore than I believe the country is doomed.

    Most schools are doing great work despite the problems that I see with the district, state and national leadership.

    My family is invested in the system with two children at good schools. They are happy and doing well both physically and mentally, though my younger one has his learning issues.

    Right now the trend is negative and the district is exacerbating the state-induced difficulties. If I were contemplating kindergarten I would have to give it some serious thought. One has to indulge in optimism what with the worsening state fiscal crisis and the lack of consideration on the district level for equity. We are close to the breaking point for many people. When they see the kids spilling out the doors because the rooms cannot fit the kids, this is raising the white flag.

    I have two years before my boys go off to high school and middle school. If at that time I feel the situation is untenable, that is when I will bail. But it is my last choice. And I will speak out and do everything that I can as an individual to express my view and make what small difference I can. Turning around this runaway freight train will require the concerted efforts of far more activist parents. And I don't pretend to consider that everyone has the same concerns and issues that I do or the same perspectives. But whatever dreams people have for the education of their children, public education will not be saved with a whimper.

  14. "So what issue(s) if fixed would give you enough confidence that things were at least headed in the right direction and keep you in public schools?"

    Knowing that from year to year, the basics -- art, PE, music, drama, recess, and language instruction as well as academics, and no, these are not frilly little enrichments to me -- would be in place. Knowing that good teachers would not be summarily fired and maybe rehired or maybe not, and that teacher salaries and benefits were enough to attract and retain good people in the field. Facilities that didn't leak, peel, lean, or sag. Something besides asphalt and chain-link fencing. Class sizes of 20 or fewer, with a teacher plus an aide. An end to NCLB and the drive for standardized testing. An end to the privatization of public schooling via PTAs while the public money is either mismanaged or dwindling, depending on who you listen to.

    That list, I realize, is a tall order. But it seems to me to be basic to quality public education.

  15. Don, if Superintendent Zone schools have all the bucks and perks that you desire for your children, then why don't you transfer your children into those schools? There are plenty of empty seats and lots of services.

  16. He's off his meds, again; just ignore him.

  17. I would not characterize the funding differences between schools as differences in "perks", but rather very substantial and essential differences in services. I checked out one SIG school and considered the possibility of applying. I went to the school, asked a lot of questions and finally decided on the advice of staff at our current school that it would be counter productive to move my child at this stage of his elementary education. He is a very social little boy and moving him to a strange environment in an entirely different community would be very counter productive, despite the services he would receive there. Of course it is a judgment call and I cannot know for sure how it would work out unless I did it, but parents know that it is usually not a good idea to take a child out of his or her comfort zone.

  18. People seemed to be bored with this conversation at this point. From the look of the new topics that have been created lately, the attention has turned to fundraising events so schools can have art, PE, music, librarians, etc. This dependence on private funding makes no sense to me at all when the (dwindling) public funds are available are not being managed properly.

  19. "My kid at their non-trophy public school has all those things."

    Your kid was lucky enough to get an assignment to a "non-trophy" with these things. a) Please don't pretend all non-trophies have these things. b) Please don't assume all families are fortunate enough to even get an assignment to a non-trophy school that most parents wouldn't have reservations sending their kid to let alone one that meets their very basic needs (start time. commute, after school, etc. among other basic things).

  20. Sadly, after almost a decade of being either an SSC chair, member or PTA president in SFUSD, we are probably going to go private for high school given our kids needs and the school we were assigned to.

    We don't think for our youngest this will be the case and will hope for Lowell or SOTA, but if you don't get assigned to Balboa, Galileo, Lincoln or Washington, things are very iffy. I hold out hope for Mission and Wallenburg (entrepreneurial parents I know are sending their kids there) but the others I fear would lead to our son never pursuing college.

  21. "My kid at their non-trophy public school has all those things.

    Please stop whining about top ramen too. It's just dumb."

    But you know if the trend continues, all of these things will be in question every year along with good teachers having to be let go and class sized continuing to rise. We will see who is "whining" at that point.

  22. @10:12p.m. have you considered Gateway H.S. for your son? Our child is currently a senior there, college bound like the majority of his class. We could not be happier with the education he's received.

  23. 5:58 If it does happen -Nope probably won't whine because of a choice I made. Like the choice to go private and eat ramen.

  24. @11:11

    Fair enough.

  25. Our (white) kid got placed where most of our friends kids got placed: John Muir. The others, Cobb.

    Like most of them, we're going private. Others: East Bay & Marin.

    I can't help but wonder if that is the intent of the school board.

    All the Chinese people I know got their 1st or 2nd choice.

  26. 5:18pm

    Did you have any mostly chinese schools on your lottery list? Maybe they have more space? Also, one of our chinese friends was assigned John Muir last year. They got the school of their choice in the second round. Currently, New Traditions and Grattan tend to have a lot of K movement in the beginning of the year. Dianne Feinstein usally has a lot of movement at the beginning of the first grade. Many people (probably Irish) use Dianne Feinstein's K as an extended year of pre-school then go private once their kids are old enough.