kitchen table math, the sequel: what do parents want?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

what do parents want?

Parents everywhere should send this article from the New York State School Board Association website to their school boards and administration.

Why did your budget get defeated?
Intel finalist from Long Island finds clues
On Board Online • Volume 8 • No. 4 • February 26, 2007

By Sheila Carmody
Senior Writer

When the Plainedge school district’s budget failed to pass in 2005, Kaitlin Duncan, 17, decided to produce a case study to find out why residents of her Nassau County community opposed the spending plan.

The study, which resulted in Duncan being named a finalist in the 2007 Intel Science Talent Search, revealed some surprising results, including:

  • Non-parents were more likely to approve budgets than parents.
  • Voters were not influenced by the previous year’s budget referendum outcome.
  • Having a winning football team didn’t influence voters.

Rising test scores, offering full-day kindergarten and Advanced Placement participation rates played more significant roles in voter approval of school spending plans than anything else, according to the Plainedge High School senior’s research.

Duncan asked 318 Plainedge voters who responded to an Internet survey how they would vote on 10 fictional school district budgets. Each of the 10 districts varied by tax rate, test scores, Advanced Placement participation, football record, extracurricular activities, the type of kindergarten program offered and the number of private schools in the area.

Each scenario also included programs targeted for cuts in the event of a failed budget. Survey respondents rated each scenario with a number from 0 to 100, with 0 representing strong opposition for the budget and 100 representing strong support.

Duncan collected demographic data such as voter age, education level, length of residency and number of children in school. She found demographically similar respondents didn’t necessarily vote the same way.

She concluded that budgets have a better chance of winning approval if school boards gather data on what programs residents consider the most important and customize budgets to give those programs priority.

Traditionally, when school districts develop their budgets they listen to people who attend meetings or find other ways to be vocal, said Plainedge Superintendent John Richman. For instance, residents who support athletics tend to speak loudly around budget time, he said. But there’s a silent majority out there that has to be considered, he added.

“We cannot provide everything for everybody,” Richman said. “You have to be better informed when you make decisions about the school budget.”

NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said Duncan’s study holds lessons for all school boards. “Kaitlin’s findings remind us how important it is for school boards to be in tune with constituents’ spending priorities,” he said. He noted that NYSSBA provides expertise on surveying through its AdvisorySolutions consulting service.

in a nutshell
  • budgets have a better chance of winning approval if school boards gather data on what programs residents consider the most important
  • school boards listen to the people who are the most vocal
  • school districts have a silent majority & they vote, too
  • rising test scores
  • offering full-day kindergarten
  • Advanced Placement participation rates
It's amazing how accurately this reflects my own experience, with the possible exception of the finding that boards listen to people who are the most vocal.

I'd say that here in Irvington even highly vocal parents have had a fairly difficult time being heard. I also believe this has begun to change since the bond defeat, so I wouldn't be surprised to see this principle now to become true here.

It's absolutely the case that a "silent majority" defeated the bond.

The one really successful intervention I recall happened a few years ago when the super wanted to increase class size. The Board meeting was mobbed by furious parents & class size remained small.

I don't know the history of people's efforts to get the athletic fields repaired & built, but I gather that prior to the fields bond finally being put to a vote parents who were working on it experienced a fair amount of frustration (before and, now, after the vote, of course).

What's powerful about this list is the glaring reality effect: people don't want to pay for stuff they never wanted in the first place.

Every time I've ever looked at our Strategic Plan (scroll down) I've instantly felt violently unhappy about my taxes. Differentiated instruction, portfolio "implementation," data analysis, 3-year Technology Plan, character education ---- it's an ed school dream: everything you've ever wanted your district to buy you, wrapped up under the Christmas tree waiting for you.

I don't want to pay for it.

What do I want to pay for?

Increased achievement for all students at all levels of ability.

Which is pretty much what this high school senior found.

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