Quality education is eroding in the Poway Unified School District
By Kimberley Beatty
This past June, the San Diego County Grand Jury took time away from investigating citizen complaints and government malfeasance to issue a three-page report commending everyone associated with the Poway Unified School District for its “significant accomplishments over the past ten years.”
The Grand Jury report began with the question, “What is a quality education?” This 19-member panel of mostly retirees cited: increased API scores for the past 10 years; very low dropout rates; high passage rate for the California High School Exit Exam; National Blue Ribbon Awards; and the unique collaboration between the teachers’ union and school district as testaments to a quality education.
Poway Unified is an awesome district. We have some of the smartest and most dedicated teachers in the country. We have many wonderfully dedicated and involved parents and community members. But the quality of our children’s education has been decreasing in the last decade, not increasing.
In 2002 our elementary school had physical education classes, kindergarten through third-grade classes of no more than 20 students and before-school programs in reading and math to help “boost” struggling students. Since then PE has been eliminated, kindergarten though third-grade classes can have 35 students and the boosters program is gone. In 2008, my ninth-grader was in an Honors English Class of 18 students. This year, my daughter’s ninth-grade Honors English Class had 35 students. There are fewer core course offerings, like chemistry, AP literature and foreign languages in the high schools because of reductions in staff. This means fewer opportunities for students to have a well-rounded, challenging education.
But what about those increasing API scores, generated from state standardized tests? Family education and income are the biggest determinants in student achievement and in the last decade we have witnessed the growth of affluent communities: The Heritage in northern Poway; the estates of Santaluz and Santa Fe Valley, gated communities in Del Sur and 4S Ranch and the many higher end homes west of the 15.
According to the California Department of Education (CDE), statewide API scores have been consistently increasing every year. The majority of Poway Unified schools are ranked in the top 10 or 20 percent as compared with all schools across the state. That’s impressive, but PUSD also has a relatively low number of economically disadvantaged students, as measured by those families enrolled in the national free and subsidized lunch program. In California, 56 percent of students are enrolled in the program. In Poway Unified 13 percent are enrolled.
In order to compare apples with apples, the CDE compiles a “Similar Schools Rank” where “schools are ranked compared to 100 other schools with similar demographic characteristics, educational challenges, and opportunities.” In 1999, 13 of 28 Poway Unified schools were ranked in the bottom 50 percent compared to 100 similar schools. Beginning in 2001 that number started to steadily decrease until 2007 when only six of 33 Poway Unified schools were in the bottom 50 percent of their peer group. But then the trend reversed and the number of Poway Unified schools ranked in the bottom half of their peer group started to increase: eight in 2008; 14 in 2009; 15 in 2010; and finally, 22 out of 36 Poway Unified schools in 2011 were ranked in the bottom half of their peer group.
What is causing this backsliding that started five years ago? Many other districts have cushioned state budget cuts by passing school parcel taxes. More research is needed. But, clearly, if standardized test scores are being used as the benchmark of a quality education and our district’s relative ranking based on those scores is dropping, then our educational quality must be eroding.
Beatty, a Sabre Springs resident, is legislative vice president of the Palomar PTA Council.
Short URL: http://www.pomeradonews.com/?p=27322