Monday, August 24, 2015

Did Opting Out Have Any Effect?

I've been irritatedly waiting for some enterprising reporter to do an analysis of the effects of opting out on the 2015 test scores, if only to settle a bet. I was absolutely sure that test scores would go down, because I was convinced that Opt Out was a classist collusion of soccer parents of gifted children with no clue or caring about the original intent of 3-8 testing as a means of determining whether students of color, students in poverty, or students with disabilities were being underserved by their schools. Paul was sure that scores would go up, because he felt that parents of kids who regularly did poorly on standardized tests would be the ones to keep their kids home, in an attempt to bolster their otherwise potentially diminished self-esteem.

Leaving aside how boring our marital spats are, or how obnoxious it is to attempt to second-guess the motivations of other parents, I was pretty surprised when I finally gave up on locating any enterprising reporters and ran my own numbers.

I took the Syracuse paper's nice informational database and drew some quickie graphs. I selected two schools for which I had opt-out data: Dryden and Lansing. In both districts, Opt Out was minimal in 2014 and between 20 and 25 percent (subtracting out the small percentage of students with disabilities who regularly opt out) in 2015. Here are the results.

Leaving aside how different these passing rates are from district to district, which is a topic for another day, I can't really draw any conclusions at all from a comparison of the data from year to year.

Now, Dryden and Lansing were about typical for NYS: About 20 percent of students across the state opted out. In a place like Dolgeville, where the opt-out rate was closer to 90 percent, you're likely to see some effects. We already know that districts with richer students were more likely to have higher opt-out rates. I thought a 20 percent opt-out would have some sort of effect. I was wrong. I don't pretend that a sample size of two is nearly enough, and I hope some enterprising reporter will follow up. Statewide, it sure looks as though the scores were consistent with last year's. Not the result I expected, but at least Paul didn't win, either.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

GOP a Toxic Brand, at Least in Dryden

When I moved to Dryden in 1991, it was pretty much a Republican town. We had a Democratic town supervisor, and the village had a Democratic mayor, but on the whole, the voting population was heavily and historically Republican. That year, the supervisor ran unopposed, but chose to run on a second ballot line (Dryden Independent) to allow Republicans to vote for him without qualms.

In 1995, we elected our first Democratic town board member since I'd moved here. In 1999, she won again by running both as a Democrat and on the Livable Dryden line. She was lonely, though, and by 2003, Republicans held the entire town board and supervisor position.

Then things started to change. As Simon St. Laurent pointed out on Living in Dryden, suddenly in 2007, 9 out of 11 districts proved more willing to vote Democratic than in 2003 or 2005. For the first time in living memory, the board tilted 3-2 Democratic (although one candidate was an independent running on the Democratic line). By 2011, the distance between Democrats and opponents was substantial. Even in districts where more Republicans voted, Democrats won.

A number of things happened to cause this change: Demographics shifted slightly. Anti-fracking sentiments crossed party lines. And locally, Tea Party Republicans started to scare the bejeezus out of old-time Republicans, to the extent that we Democrats started to hear complaints from the opposition about their committee leadership.

Now we find ourselves in a presidential race where Republicans favor Donald Trump, believing that "he's one of us." To most Dryden Republicans, that's just crazy talk. When you look at "What's Important" on the Tompkins County Republican website, you find that it's "suing the president." I doubt that for the majority of Dryden Republicans, suing the president ranks anywhere near their Top Ten of Important Things. The Republicans of Dryden are not the Republicans of talk radio.

The upshot is that we have no Republican candidates in Dryden this year, save for the Town Clerk. There is a slate of candidates running on the Independence line, which is frequently used locally as a second line for Republicans (and in the case of our sheriff, for Democrats). The candidate for town justice, a 20-year incumbent, turned down the Republican nomination, changed his registration to independent/blank, and is running on the Democratic line. The last time I checked the Dryden Republican website, it had been hacked by "a Muslim."

I'm not going to pretend that I see Dryden as representing the nation at large. It's just one little corner, where some people feel that their Party has left them, and some of those people are choosing to return the favor. The Democrats have a strong ticket in Dryden this year. The Independence Party (which has a kooky left-wing platform in NYS, by the way—I wonder how many people running on that line have read it) has a fairly strong ticket, too. My guess is that the two slates will talk local issues and find that there's more common ground than they might expect. They won't be talking about the Pledge of Allegiance, or suing the president, or who's a better Christian, or any of the pseudo-issues that got in the way of sensible discourse a few years ago. Sic transit stultitia mundi. Or if not mundi, at least here on the local scene.