Since writing my book, Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks, I have become much more sensitive to how media, in its many guises, lets slip some of the facts that show how wealth, poverty, economics, and politics all have a place in the education policy being controlled by those with the money. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and put pieces of the puzzle together. That happened over the past two days.

 

Yesterday I received my monthly copy of Westchester Magazine, a high end, high gloss, celebration of everything money can buy in Westchester County, where I live. This month’s feature was devoted (as it is annually) to highlighting education. To its credit the magazine spotlighted  fabulous student-teacher relationships from several schools in the county. Then there was the “centerfold”. Literally! Every year the centerfold is a chart (spreadsheet) comparing all the high schools in the county.

 

Very comprehensive, with an eye towards real estate values, it includes columns for median income, mean SAT scores, APM (Aspirational Performance Measure) rates, Students who qualify for free lunch (the poverty measure), Gross expenditure per student, the 4 year graduation rate, the percentage of college to go to college, average class size, student-teacher ratios, percentages of AP test takers and scores of 3 or above, extra curricular participation, and % of teachers with Masters or above (required within 5 years of hiring to gain permanent certification

 

-Note: (APM: The percent of students in the cohort who graduated with a local, Regents, or Regents with Advanced Designation diploma and earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents examination and an 80 or better on a math Regents exam (note: this aspirational measure is what had been referred to as the “college and career ready” graduation rate in February 2011; it is now referred to as the “ELA/Math APM”). -NYS DOE)

 

With all this information, not only can parents see how their schools are doing, but perspective home buyers and real estate agents figure out how houses are priced and what districts are in high demand.

 

However, a student of the relationship between education and economics can discover other things, such as the relationship between wealth/poverty and success/failure in high school.

 

The second thing I read, that connects politics and policy to this data was a column by NYT writer and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman entitled “America’s Taxation Tradition (3/28/14). In it, he compares Republican wealth based policies in the early 21st century with those of the early 20th century. He quotes the famous socialist Obama loving “pinko”, Theodore Roosevelt, who in his famous New Nationalism Speech of 1910 said,

 

“The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power…”

 

Krugman then compares that “radical Republican” statement with the “new Republican” standard bearer, Mitt Romney, who said in the 2012 election campaign,

 

“If one’s priority is to punish highly successful people, then vote for the Democrats.”

 

So here we are, in 2014, with Democrats who are far to the right of Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who continuously reward “highly successful people” especially when it comes to education policy while they ignore the major issue that separates schools and students in this country and that is economic inequity and wealth distribution.

 

Now, back to the particular county of Westchester New York. Falsely stereotyped as a bastion of wealth, it is in reality a bastion of opposites as the high school spreadsheet points out… if you look! Not only does it have some of the richest school districts in the country, it also has firmly established middle/working class districts, integrated districts, and some of the poorest districts in the nation. This provides a wealth of data to show the distinct relationship between wealth and educational success. We know that the two biggest indicators for educational attainment, whether measured by GPA, SAT, APM, AP scores or acceptance into college, are family income and mother’s educational attainment levels. We also know that, for the most part, these go hand in hand.

 

What do the numbers show us? Unfortunately the digital version of this chart is not available. More unfortunately, not all districts are forthcoming with their numbers. Here are some examples.

 

School

Median Household Income

APM

MEAN

SAT

College Acceptance

AP

3+

Free Lunch

ESL Students

Horace Greeley

(Chappaqua)

$213,000

85.6%

1936

97%

N/a

1%

N/a

John Jay (Cross River)

$186,000

77.7%

1747

97%

N/a

2%

N/a

Scarsdale

$165000

76.4%

1917

99%

94%

0%

2%

Ossining

$76500

34.9%

1487

89%

N/a

22%

N/a

Peekskill

$60800

17.2%

1338

67%

40%

52%

8%

Mt Vernon

$64500

11%

1199

76%

N/a

60%

N/a

Gorton

Yonkers

$57000

9.7%

1181

49%

9%

86%

12%

 

Equivalent schools (income and free lunch) that have freely given the AP and ESL numbers follow the same pattern…

 

School

Median Household Income

APM

MEAN

SAT

College Acceptance

AP

3+

Free Lunch

ESL Students

Briarcliff

$165500

88.2%

1771

99%

90.8%

4%

0%

Ardsley

$155300

73%

1767

99%

96%

3%

1%

Sleepy Hollow

$75000

33.8%

1462

92%

70%

35%

12%

Saunders

Yonkers

$42800

29.7%

1315

88%

28%

74%

2%

  

Regardless of the “n/a”s, we certainly see a pattern here.

 

Two neighboring schools, Ossining and Sleepy Hollow are examples of integrated districts, ethnically and economically.  Their numbers reflect the fact that they have pockets of wealthy, middle class, ELL, and poor families.

 

The three wealthiest of these districts clearly outdistance not only the three poorest, but also the middle class (and most diverse) schools in SAT, APM, and where information is available, AP scores.

 

The clearest indicator, even in “tony” Westchester is that as the percentages of students with free lunch (the poverty indicator) increase, the scores and the college acceptances decrease.

 

It is as clear as the numbers on pages 88 and 89 in Westchester Magazine’s April 2014 edition. Pick it up and see for yourself, if you dare.

 

As always, I leave the conclusions to you.

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