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3 posts from July 2010

July 27, 2010

Gifted and Talented, Especially in District 2

Using Gifted and Talented test data posted by InsideSchools, I created a map that shows the concentrations of aspiring G&T Kindergartners in New York City. The numbers next to each dot represent the district in which the student lives. Scroll over the dots to get the percentage breakdown of the number of students that qualified for district G&T programs, citywide G&T programs, and who scored in the 99th percentile on the test. The gray layers under the map correspond to the median household income of those zip codes. No surprise here that the largest number of G&T test takers resided in the most wealthy districts - but districts 15 and 30 seemed to also do well. As always, I would love your feedback on how to improve this map.

July 20, 2010

Follow the Money: UFT’s Political Fundraising Highest in Ten Years

In a recent article in the journal EducationNext, Mike Antonucci  reviewed the finances of the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He found teachers unions in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Montana spent several hundreds of dollars per teacher for political campaign spending on candidates and ballot initiatives. New York, according to Antonucci, spent only $5 per teacher.

But this is only part of the picture. Another source of political spending can be found in financial documents that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) filed with the federal government.  According to this "LM-2" filing, the UFT spent around $31 per teacher, or a little over $2.4million overall, out of a $202 million budget, on political activities during the 2008-2009 school year.* The UFT membership, however, consists of more than just teachers. If you included total UFT membership—164,462—spending on political activities would be around $16 per member.  (To be clear, Antonucci only considered active teachers in his calculations.)

In addition to this spending, which includes things like lobbying, buses to events, and phone banks, the UFT has a political action committee (PAC). The PAC is a stand-alone group whose specific purpose is to dole out money to politicians, groups, and ballot measures that the union supports. The UFT's PAC, known as the Committee on Political Education ("COPE"), is funded by voluntary member contributions as well as other sources.

COPE spent $187,411 in 2008-2009 on donations to politicians. The fund’s balance—that is the amount that can theoretically be given away—has also dramatically increased, to $1.35 million in July 2009, from an average of $124,000 during 2000-2005.  Furthermore, contributions to the COPE—that is, the amount that members decide they would like to contribute to the union’s political activities—have reached their highest level in ten years. In contrast, the amount the UFT spent on political activities independent of COPE has remained relatively constant at around two and a half million dollars annually.

Much of the increase in political giving could be due to the pressure that teachers unions around the country have faced. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today, charter supporters outspent the UFT during by about $100,000 during this same period. Last year spending could have been particularly high due to the mayoral race, although the increase in COPE’s political spending pre-dated the race by several years.

Although the dues for UFT members vary by job type, teachers are required to contribute $47.27 of their paycheck semi-monthly to the UFT. This means that around 3% of a typical teachers UFT dues is spent on political activity. UFT members can also elect to send part of their paycheck to COPE. According to the UFT handbook, this voluntary contribution is usually around $5 per paycheck.

The UFT’s LM-2 also lists the amount of time that UFT employees spend on various activities. My analyses found that 61 of the 623 paid UFT employees, or around 10%, spent more than a quarter of their time on political activities. Overall, around 7% of all UFT employee activities are devoted to political lobbying.

The majority of the UFT’s funds were spent on benefits for members, consultants, and lawyers. However, the UFT, like the AFT and the NEA, also spends a significant amount of its funds supporting liberal causes. The biggest donations were to groups like ACORN and the National Action Network. The UFT also contributed small sums to a wide number of community organizations and to a number of religious, political and ethnic organizations like the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, Empire State Pride Agenda, Inc. and the Hispanic Federation. (A full breakdown of the UFT’s contributions is available below and in this spreadsheet.)

Salary-wise, 85, or 13%, of the 624 UFT employees made over $100,000, with the highest salary paid in 2008-2009 being $228,705. The average UFT salary was $51,215, however, since many members work part-time, the numbers may be somewhat distorted.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions and encourage any UFT members to share their understanding of the UFT’s finances in the comments.

*I arrived at the $31/teacher figure by using numbers provided to me by the DOE and contained within the UFT filing: According to the UFT’s filing, the union spent $2,404,820 on political activities during the 2009 fiscal year. Documents provided to me by the DOE stated that the active teaching force as of January 2009 was 78,728 teachers.

July 08, 2010

Discipline Data: Suspensions at Charter Schools & Traditional Public Schools

On Tuesday, the Daily News published a report on the rising rate of student suspensions in New York City’s schools. Since charter schools in New York often have discipline policies that differ from their traditional public school counterparts, I was curious to compare suspension rates in charters to those in traditional public schools. Looking at the Basic Education Data System (BEDS) filings for both charter schools and traditional public schools during the 2008-2009 school year, I found that both types of schools suspended, on average, around 8% of their student body. (BEDS data asks schools only to report on the number of students that were suspended, not the number of overall suspensions, which is the number that the Daily News article cited.)

Since school demographics can be correlated with suspension rates, I looked at charter school suspension rates as they compared to their traditional public school counterparts. I found that the results varied by neighborhood. In Harlem and the South Bronx, charter schools suspended a lower percentage of their student body.  In Central Brooklyn, charter schools suspended slightly more students. A breakdown of suspension rates at co-located charter schools is available in this spreadsheet.

Overall, suspension rates among charter schools varied widely, with some suspending no students and others suspending close to 40% of their student body. Out of the 77 schools that were open in 2008-2009, 18 suspended no students and 21 suspended 10% or more of their student body. However, as with all BEDS data, these numbers are self-reported by schools and thus could be unreliable. (This is the same as the traditional public school data, although there the data includes more severe superintendent’s suspensions, which are corroborated by a second person outside of the school itself.)

I did not disaggregate the data by type of school—that is, elementary, middle, or high school—since I didn’t see any noticeable difference in suspension rates between middle and high schools. (Elementary schools had slightly lower rates.) Furthermore, this data only looks at suspensions, not expulsions—a key difference, since expelling a student might be easier at a charter school, where the board only has to approve a principal’s recommendation. At a traditional public school, a student cannot be expelled unless he/she is 17 years of age. If the student is younger than 17, the most severe form of discipline allowed is an extended suspension for a year or an involuntary transfer, both of which can only be given with the consent of the regional superintendent and/or the Director of Suspensions.

For more on traditional public school discipline policies, see this primer. For a sample of charter school discipline policies, see this folder. (N.B. I plan on updating this folder after I look at more charter applications next week.)

As always, I welcome your feedback on ways to improve this data, as well as other questions you might have.