Apples and oranges?
City and school officials question results of Youth Master Plan survey
By André Coleman 03/04/2014
A Pasadena City Councilman and the president of the Board of Education are questioning the methods used to gather information during a survey of local private and public school students.
Last year, 239 local students ages 11 to 18 living in the Pasadena Unified School District and nearby La Cañada Flintridge took part in Pasadena’s efforts to develop a Youth Master Plan, which aims to bring together the city’s leaders to help improve the quality of life for children and teens.
So far, more than two dozen cities have adopted such plans. Nashville, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Berkeley are in the process of completing similar efforts this year, according to the National League of Cities Web site.
The city’s plan addresses everything from land use to economic development with hopes of setting in motion a community process of shared objectives for children and youth.
The survey was broken down into six categories: home life, health and wellness, violence and safety, transportation, employment status and trusted adults.
Most of the respondents were an almost equal number of sophomore and junior students — 22.1 and 21.1, respectively. Eighth and ninth graders made up 32.9 percent of the respondents — 16.8 and 16.1, respectively.
Only 13.2 percent of the seniors chosen responded to the survey. Seventh graders made up 7.1 percent and only 3.1 percent of the sixth graders chosen bothered to respond. Fifty two percent of the respondents were male.
The results of the survey were presented on Feb. 24 to members of the Pasadena City Council and the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education during a joint meeting at City Hall.
Everything seemed to be going well until Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh revealed that students ranked race and ethnicity, followed by gang affiliation and sexual orientation, as the top causes of conflict on local campuses.
School Board President Renatta Cooper and Councilman John Kennedy immediately began questioning the methods used to gather the information. For instance, Kennedy pointed out, the survey does not reveal the percentage of students of each ranking and instead just numbers the issues in descending order from one to seven without defining “conflict.”
‘The sampling does not talk about margin of error or the format of the questions which could lead the answers.” Kennedy said. “Was it an empirical-based instrument that one could make meaningful extrapolations from? That is a question mark. I believe the sampling is so small it cannot give you a representative result. The work that needs to be done, the other issue for me, is there a correlation between the spending and the increase in test scores and graduation rates? If there is not, we should stop spending money.”
Kennedy cited his own high school experience at Blair High School, now Blair International Baccalaureate School, and called for immediate intervention by adults if race, gang violence and sexual orientation are top student concerns.
“If this is a problem, the adults have to intervene,” said Kennedy. “It is very troubling for me. When I was at Blair High School 35 years ago I would not have ranked race this high as far as campus conflict.”
According to one student who took the survey, all of the students may not have been referencing events that happened on local campuses, primarily because not all the students used in the survey were from PUSD.
Cooper told the Weekly that she had been in attendance at an earlier meeting in which some of the students that were surveyed reported on campus conflicts. One student began talking about the horrible events he had encountered, including a friend who had committed suicide.
“I felt like there was some skewing in the results,” Cooper said. “One kid was very dramatic and was talking about all these things that happened to him. He is a student at Pasadena High School and the implication was this happened at PHS. When I talked to him afterwards to let him know people care, I found out he had not been in our district very long and that these horrible things happened to him before he came to Pasadena High School. Most of the people did not know that.
“I am not afraid to find out bad things in the survey,” she said, “but what I want is for the results to be accurate about our district.”
Walsh answered inquiries by Cooper and Kennedy by explaining that hard questions can sometimes lead to uncomfortable answers.
“When you ask hard questions you get tough answers,” Walsh said. “You have to be committed to make hard strides to fix what we have to find.”
“I don’t mind tough answers,” Cooper said. “I just want them to be accurate.”
Seventy percent of the students said that they were living in a home with someone that has gone to college, and 44.5 percent reported that their parents have divorced or separated. Ninety-two percent lived with their parents and 89.1 percent said their family is supportive of them. Sixty-eight percent reported they were in very good health, and most students said they did not participate in sports because of the financial cost.
Of the respondents, 2.9 percent identified themselves as bisexual and 2.2 reported they were gay.
Drug use was also high among respondents. Twenty-seven percent of the students said they regularly smoke marijuana. Nearly 3 percent use meth, 7.2 percent use ecstasy, 13.4 smoke cigarettes and about 7 percent have tried electronic, or e-cigarettes.
Almost half (44.2 percent) said they eat vegetables twice a day, and 56.7 percent said they did not eat fast food daily.
Most of the respondents said they would go to a police officer for advice before a local minister. Those respondents also ranked parents, extended family members and teachers very high when it came to people they would seek advice from. School administrators came in sixth, just above police.
“Whether it works or not depends on the city’s commitment,” Walsh told the Weekly, “and what the city officials do with the information from the survey.”