Good neighborhoods, mediocre schools

Parents pay a premium to live in a “nice” neighborhood, assuming the public schools will be good. But hundreds of California schools in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods are Not As Good As You Think, concludes a new book by the Pacific Research Institute.

In nearly 300 schools with few low-income students, a majority of students in at least one grade level performed below proficiency on California’s state exam in 2006.

In Orange County, California — where home prices range from $600,000 to $1 million — in more than a dozen schools located in areas such as Newport Beach, Capistrano, and Huntington Beach, 50% to 80% of students failed to test proficient in math at their grade level.

In the Grossmont area of San Diego—where the median price of a home is approximately $500,000—in seven high schools, 50% to 70% of students failed to test proficient in English at their grade level.

In the New York Sun, co-author Vicki E. Murray says middle-class parents need school choice, including vouchers and charter school options.

The book includes the Upscale Home Guide: Buyer Beware listing California neighborhoods with high housing prices and mediocre schools.

You can Order here from the Pacific Research Foundation.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. “In the Grossmont area of San Diego—where the median price of a home is approximately $500,000—in seven high schools, 50% to 70% of students failed to test proficient in English at their grade level.”

    That is, bluntly, not credible.

    PRI is a conservative think tank on education, as I recall, so agenda is probably involved.

  2. RiShawn Biddle says:

    Actually Cal, it may not be a whole lot of horse. In Indianapolis, where I cover education, some of the highest-cost school districts also do poorly in educating students, especially minorities. If 50 percent-to-70 percent of your students are minorities — and that’s possible in even wealthy California districts — then the schools may be performing less well then you would think.

    And if the numbers are coming from NAEP, then it’s extremely likely that few students aren’t testing proficient. Why? because most of the nation’s students don’t rate proficient or higher in English. Just 41 percent of the nation’s 4th-graders performed proficient or higher on NAEP English; a mere 34 percent of 8th graders do.

  3. I think Jay Mathews’ opinion piece on schools that have the “high income” blahs is relevant to this discussion. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/27/AR2007032700953_pf.html

    I live in a small suburban city and many people move here for the “good schools” but if you look at the data, we are doing a lousy job educating low income/Latino/Black/disabled students. I’m disappointed that local middle schools and high schools have so many restrictions on who can participate in challenging classes. To take a foreign language students have to have a B+ average, at one high school, students who study Japanese are not allowed to take the textbooks home to study, even though they have to pay book rental fees. None of the local schools are listed in Jay Mathews’ Newsweek “challenge index” list of schools– offering IB or AP to a broad range of students. None ofthe local schools use a program like AVID, that would help low income/minority students prepare for tough college prep classes. I feel like a lot of suburban schools simply don’t choose to do what’s necessary to educate the students that need it most, but then they brag about their “top 10%” of students, to prove they are “good schools.”

  4. Having grown up in the Grossmont school district to which they refer in the article, I can attest to the fact that half to two-thirds of the students are not proficient. While the homes may be worth as much as a half-million we are not talking about upscale housing. These are the houses that a few years ago would have sold for around $100,000 but due to the economy and the boom in the area the homes are now worth significantly more. So while the homes in this area might be worth a lot money-wise, they are not worth a lot home-wise.

    The schools in this district tend to be about half to more minorities and immigrants.

  5. > PRI is a conservative think tank on education, as I recall, so agenda is probably involved.

    At least I don’t have to be burdened with an overabundance of evidence.

  6. Not to mention the study was paid for by the pro charter group Korat Task Force.

  7. I’ll post what I posted at Ken’s blog:

    “This factoid doesn’t mean what it appears to mean.

    I live in California, in Silicon Valley, which is one of the more expensive parts of California. I live in Mountain View, which is probably a *bit* on the expensive side for Silicon Valley, but not anywhere close to the most expensive city.

    Median sale price for single family houses in Mountain View is almost $1M. This probably gets you about 2000 square feet, and a bit of back yard.

    *BUT* … we also have a bunch of *relatively* poor people living in Mountain View. These people live in apartments. A lot of these people are Mexican or recent immigrants from Mexico. Their kids tend not to do as well on the reading and math tests as the kids whose parents can and do afford the $1M houses.

    But I don’t think we can conclude much from the fact that these kids live in apartments in a city with expensive houses. The demographics of the two groups are very different, even if they go to the same public school district.

    The kids in the apartments are *not* middle class (not for California) even though the nearby houses are expensive.”

    -Mark Roulo

  8. Mark –

    Having gone to school in a neighborhood similar to the one described in the report, I can totally believe what it states. In short, the instruction was sub par, kids were able to get A averages on homework alone, and kids just didn’t learn, which was evident come test time. However, because these schools shipped off a bunch of kids to college with good GPAs, they were considered “good schools”. How many of those kids *finished* college? Not many.

  9. I assume you missed this part of Joanne’s post, folks:

    “In nearly 300 schools with few low-income students, a majority of students in at least one grade level performed below proficiency on California’s state exam in 2006. ”

    They define “middle class schools” as those with fewer than one third qualifying for free lunch.

    The test is the California state test, not the NAEP. Not that the NAEP is worth much.

    But they rigged their results. Look at the Prospect High “horror story”.

    I wrote about it here, but you can easily read the details for yourselves at greatschools here. 66% of students were proficient in geometry in 9th grade, which would be when most college bound students take geometry. The only kids taking it later are the ones who failed it–or who weren’t at age-level ability to begin with.

    The algebra 2 story is a bit more complicated, but Prospect tested higher than the state average. Besides, if 87% of students *beyond* algebra 2 pass the advanced math test as proficient or beyond, then it’s simply dishonest to argue that the students aren’t getting a good education. More likely, the algebra 2 test isn’t in line with what’s taught in schools.

    PRI is trying to gin up support for choice by scaring middle class parents. But they cherrypicked their data by choosing years that would only see low income, low ability students testing.

  10. This is off the topic but GOOD GRIEF!! How can anyone afford to buy houses in California?

  11. Pasadena has lots of expensive houses, a sizable tax base and dreadful public schools. Why? Because most people who can afford to do so, opt for private schools. Pasadena Unified gave up trying to lure back the upper middle and middle class, and have been content to barely educate everyone else.

  12. Talk about cherry-picking data!

    66% of 2007 students test at proficient or above in geometry? Must’ve been some serious differences between 2006 and 2007 then since the “proficient or above” was 40%.

    There’s hardly a single area in which “proficient or above” hits 50% and not that many in which the percentage is above 25%. In fact, there’s only “High School (Summative) Mathematics (Grade 9-11)” in which the “proficient or above” percentage was 84%.

    Since “High School (Summative) Mathematics (Grade 9-11)” is defined at greatschools.com as:

    “Students in grades 9 and 10 who had completed Algebra II or Integrated Mathematics during a previous school year, and grade 11 students who completed one of these two courses anytime prior to the beginning of testing, are required to take the Summative High School Mathematics CST.

    … it’s hardly representative of math attainment in the general student population, is it?

    But since you dragged GreatSchools into this, maybe you’ve maybe you can explanation how 3% for General Math is a good thing. Or why Biology/Life Sciences, in the same year, managed a stellar 92%? Is California Biology/Life Science instruction onto something momentous, California math instruction execrable, both or is there some fourth, as yet unmentioned possibility?

    You haven’t been paying any attention to the beating Mike in Texas gets every time he extrudes a bolus of his “data”, have you?

  13. In San Diego, the neighborhoods with $500,000 houses would be where the poor kids live. For even worse numbers, see burbed.com, which covers housing in the Bay Area. Every day, there’s a new bombed out looking house for around $600,000, generally backing to the freeway. On the bright side, things should be much cheaper in a year or two.

  14. “But since you dragged GreatSchools into this, maybe you’ve maybe you can explanation how 3% for General Math is a good thing. Or why Biology/Life Sciences, in the same year, managed a stellar 92%? ”

    I did. Are you incapable of understanding? The only kids taking General Math in 9th grade are those who didn’t take algebra or geometry–a very low performing group. In contrast, the kids who take Biology as freshmen would be the high performers.

    ” In fact, there’s only “High School (Summative) Mathematics (Grade 9-11)” in which the “proficient or above” percentage was 84%.”

    Yes, I know. That’s because they are all clumped together in the junior section.

  15. Cal said, PRI is a conservative think tank on education, as I recall, so agenda is probably involved.

    Fortunately, liberal think tanks on education have no agenda. Right, Cal?

    Cal also said, PRI is trying to gin up support for choice by scaring middle class parents. But they cherrypicked their data by choosing years that would only see low income, low ability students testing.

    Gee, a liberal think tank in education would never try to gin up support to deny parents choice in education, would it Cal?

    Introducing politics where it doesn’t belong is always the last (and many times the first) resort of the education scoundrel. Why not wait until the PRI’s data are peer reviewed? Then, let’s see if the data can be replicated. After awhile, we’ll see where the evidence converges. The quality control mechanisms of the scientific method. You know, the ones that are rarely used in education to adjudicate disputes. Instead, education adjudicates its disputes through politics and power. And, nothing positive is ever accomplished.

  16. Nothing about the Grossmont Unified area would be considered well off or upper middle class. Looking at the demographic and SES data would be a far better indicator of what Grossmont high deals with on a daily basis than home prices in SD, which went up dramatically during the hi tech boom of the 90s and 00s. Median home price of only 500k in San Diego indicates a poor neighborhood, not a well off one.

    Wikipedia states:
    The Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) is a public school district located in eastern San Diego County, California, and serves high school, adult school, and Regional Occupational Program (ROP) students in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Santee; and the unincorporated communities of Alpine, Casa de Oro, Crest, Dehesa, Dulzura, Jamul, Lakeside, Mount Helix, Rancho San Diego, and Spring Valley.

    Not one of those areas would be considered upper middle class. The rest are low and low middle class, and nearly all of them have huge hispanic communities, and no doubt, have huge ESL learner populations. They are some of the oldest neighborhoods in San Diego, and have the most social problems. Some of them are also border communities.

  17. “Fortunately, liberal think tanks on education have no agenda. Right, Cal?”

    Fortunately, using the word “conservative” doesn’t make you a liberal. That way, all sorts of bozos go running to their Big Book of Political Platitudes for the prescribed response, type it in eagerly in the delusion that it’s a smackdown, and learn (if they’re capable) that it’s a complete waste of time.

    Of course liberal think tanks have agendas. I tend to agree with conservative ones more than liberals. I’m not in favor of school choice, but I’m even less in favor of crappy data. I didn’t introduce politics. They did, by making their agenda blatantly clear in using dishonest data.

    As for it being “peer-reviewed”, anyone is perfectly capable of looking up the data on their own. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe myself as a “peer” of these guys, though, because I might be doing them too much credit.

  18. > I did. Are you incapable of understanding?

    What’s to understand? That the school does a fabulous job of educating kids who are easy to educate, sucks educating every other kid and is getting worse?

    > PRI is trying to gin up support for choice by scaring middle class parents.

    As long as those middle-class parents are careful not to notice much beyond “High School (Summative) Mathematics (Grade 9-11)” grades they’ve got no reason to be scared.

    Maybe in the interests of honesty some of the math curriculum could be renamed “Car Wash Math” seeing as how it’s only the college-bound who do well. That would go a long way towards mitigating the confusion about who’s being educated and who’s being warehoused.

  19. Cal,

    With all due respect, I think that you missed the point of my post. Politics, conservative or liberal, has no place in determining the truth of whehter something is true or false. Politics involves personal opinions and beliefs. Only by using the scientific method and the three quality control mechanisms that I cited can truth be found.
    And, no, anyone is not capable of looking up data independently. I wish that were true. It would save me a lot of time in my own work.