Maybe Cindy Stickline-Rose Can't Read...Data

NOTE: We found additional issues with the data after we initially presented it here. It turns out that a number of the calls (~54 of them) that came from FCPS High Schools were for the SAME INCIDENT, though calls were logged to multiple agencies on the same day, and at the same time.

So we dug deeper into these data to more accurately reflect how many INCIDENTS were called in to ECS from FCPS High Schools. 

We have added this last piece at the very end of the post. Thanks again to all the folk on the social medias who in one way or another led to the lightbulb going off over our heads here... 


The Rank Stranger


On April 20, 2018 (which happens to be the last time we posted here at The Stranger's Almanac. Yeeeesh. Been busy), one candidate for Frederick County School Board posted the following to her Facebook page:

Let's be honest: 11 shares and a combination of 22 Likes, Wows, and Loves from the Book of Faces probably shouldn't alarm anyone. However, I cannot help but cringe at the idea that if someone such as Cindy Stickline-Rose is elected to the Frederick County School Board - along with her "slate-mates" (who some have unaffectionately dubbed "The Hate Slate"), at least one of whom [cough-cough-Jonah Seth Eisenberg-cough-cough] also shared and commented on these numbers - that her/their inability to understand how to analyze data, or "crunch numbers" if you will *should* sound alarms from here to WashCo., MoCo., & CarrolCo. 

There is more to an Excel spreadsheet with multiple rows and columns than simply counting things in one single column. For example, when I saw the above numbers on Ms. Stickline-Rose's Facebook post, I thought "Oh, man - I bet she is just looking at the total calls associated with each high school. I bet she didn't delve into any further nuance about *why* those calls were associated with those schools."

After that thought...I kept scrolling. But, like most things with this FCPS School Board candidate slate: it stuck in my craw.

So we put in a PIA for the same information and decided to dig in. That said, in this post we take a deeper look at "all the calls at High Schools in Frederick County processed by the Frederick County Department of Emergency Communications" between April 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018 (no joking). [note: the italicized text above was copied/pasted directly from the email I received from the Frederick County Director of Emergency Management Services. So I am not going to use the language of "911 calls" as Ms. Stickline-Rose does above, because I am not 100% sure that is accurate].

The Raw Number of Calls Associated with FCPS High Schools

So here is something I will only get to say once in this post: Ms. Stickline-Rose is correct about the total number of calls at FCPS high schools processed by the Dept. of Emergency Communications for the noted schools above. Have a look below at Table 1 to see the raw number of calls processed for each FCPS High School.

Table 1. Total Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from each FCPS High School, April 1, 2017 to April 1, 2018

Yes, there were a total of 3,620 calls made to dispatch some Frederick County agency to one of the high schools above. She got this number by counting all the calls from one column. Also, yes, there were 721 calls made for Brunswick High, and 549 made for Frederick High. So this shows a little understanding of how to spreadsheet. Ms. Stickline-Rose also notes that of the calls "most [were] for police." Red flag here, folks. That seems like a LOT of burden on Frederick Police. Maybe her 'spreadsheetin' ain't as good as I thought.

If your first question wasn't "WHY WERE THESE CALLS MADE?" and your second question wasn't "WHICH AGENCY WAS DISPATCHED AS A RESULT?" then you're in luck - because they *were* my first two questions. We're gonna answer them below.

A Note on the Data:

Once I got these data, I cleaned them, and combined them into one sheet - while preserving the original data sent to me by the County; included on separate tabs in the workbook. I also added some categories to the combined dataset. For example,  I combed through the records and created a "Call Type Category" because many of the individual call reasons could be binned together - such as those dealing with routine patrolling or "Community Talk/Presentations." Next, I created a dichotomous variable notating whether the call was "criminal" or "non-criminal." This is coarse language, but it helps separate out those calls for Rape/Attempted Rape ('Criminal', clearly) with those that are for "Medical/Injury/Sickness" reasons (non-criminal). Finally, I created one last dichotomous variable (1/0) to determine which calls happened during 'normal' school hours (a generous 7:00 AM til 5:00 PM) and which did not. The reason behind this is because Ms. Stickline-Rose wraps her post up with "There is more going on in your children's schools than you know." Sure. But let's be sure that we're looking at those data that reflect *when* our children are actually *at* school. Because who gives a shit if old man McGillicutty gets slapped with an "indecent exposure/micturation" charge for pissing on a school bus in the parking lot at 1:00 AM?? Oh, and check it:  You can download all the data used in this post here

"Most Were Police"


Each call is logged by the responding agency. As you can see below in Table 2, there are nine (9) agencies that were dispatched to FCPS High Schools in response to the 3,620 calls made between April 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018.

Table 2. Total Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from each FCPS High School by Frederick County Response Agency

There were calls to the police; 541 to the Brunswick Police, 654 to the Frederick Police, 2 to the Maryland State Police, and 29 to the Thurmont Police. But what about ALL those calls to the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, Rank Stranger?

I'm glad you asked.

The Frederick County Sheriff's Office has a program being implemented with the FCPS to allow uniformed police serve in FCPS schools as "School Resource Officers" - or SROs. This is not unique to Frederick County. Nor is it unique to Maryland. When I taught at a charter high school in the Natural State, we *always* had two uniformed LRPD officers at our school to help maintain order...and my school only enrolled ~140 kids.  Thus, the *majority* - if not ALL - of the calls to the "FC Sheriff's Office" above are likely calls to the in-house SRO which, of course, get logged. The SROs at my school were in touch with superiors for routine checks - and for when a fight broke out. I don't think that it was unique to my old school. And, ss I am sure you can imagine in 2018 America, if any uniformed public servant does anything involving a citizen, they should be logging it, yes? Yes. 

So if we imagine - or assume (correctly) that the 2,143 calls associated with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office are by in-house School Resource Officers, then we can probably toss those calls out of the "most were police" assumption.

If we do - and we should - that brings the number of calls logged for police to 1,226 - or 34% of all calls. Newsflash: 1/3 is not equal to 'most."

Remember - we're talking about ALL calls here. These include "patrol" (where you might imagine Officer Hardass calling in to say "all clear"), or "911 Hang-Up/Disconnect/Open Line" - which is also a non-emergency, non-criminal call. 

What I Need is a Good Defense, 'Cause I'm Feelin' Like a Criminal

As noted above, we took the data and created a dichotomous "criminal/non-criminal" variable based on the category under which the call was logged (i.e., alcohol/drugs; fighting). Here is the breakdown of the two categories (Criminal v Non-Criminal calls):

A different kind of 'Apple' for the teacher...

Total Calls ('Criminal"):  558   (15.4%)
Total Calls (Non-Criminal):  3,062
Total Calls (ALL Calls): 3,620

If you've downloaded the data, you can call me out on how I categorized items under these two headings. I was mostly spit-balling, but it didn't seem too difficult. That said, next we crunched the number of calls made for each 'criminal' category, the results from which are below in Table 3.

Table 3. Total Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from each FCPS High School by 'Criminal' Category

Total Calls by 'Criminal' Category.png

When we remove all the "fluff" calls, only 558 were for reasons one might deem 'criminal.' We include two percentage columns above in Table 3; the "% 'Criminal Calls'" column uses the 558 'criminal' calls as the denominator in the percentages; whereas the "% ALL Calls" column uses ALL 3,620 calls as the denominator.

When we categorize the calls dichotomously as 'criminal' and non-criminal, the 558 'criminal' calls only represent 15.4% of ALL calls in to the Frederick County Department of Emergency Communications over the April 1, 2017 to April 1, 2018 period. The majority of these calls were for "School Alarm" - which could be a student pulling a fire alarm, or leaving through/accidentally opening a "DO NOT EXIT, ALARM WILL SOUND" door. We have reason to be concerned about the ~16% of 'criminal' calls for property damage/vandalism...and the 15% of 'criminal' calls for suspicious person/activity/vehicle. And I am sure that Cindy Stickline-Rose and Jonah Seth Eisenberg think that the 13.4% of calls for alcohol/drugs is the sign of End Times (though, dig deeper, and you'll find that only 27 of those calls were for "narcotics" - most were just drunk/disorderly folk - not even students - wandering around aimlessly on the school grounds. Hell, growing up, they used to bust ol' Maynard Plum for this ALL the time).

But consider these individual category totals as a percent of ALL calls (where we used all 3.620 calls as our denominator). "School Alarm" barely eclipses 3 percent of all calls. And if we only look at the 27 "Narcotics" calls as a percent of all 3,620 - we're talking a fraction of one percent!

For fun, we broke down the percentage of 'Criminal" calls at each school. These numbers are displayed below in Table 4. 

Table 4. Total 'Criminal' Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications by FCPS High School

Nothing really remarkable to present here other than yes, even when we only look at the 'criminal' calls, Brunswick HS still has the most calls, followed by Frederick High - but to assume that the problem is as hellfire and brimstone-showering as Ms. Stickline-Rose would have us believe...well, that's just false. 

Time Is On My Side...Yes It Is...

More nuance, friends! These data came with a TIME STAMP!! Why is this important? Recall, Cindy Stickline-Rose's quip that "there is more going on at your children's school than you know..." Well, we looked at the time stamp of these calls to determine which calls came during 'normal' school hours - which we considered to be the generous window of 7:00 AM til 5:00 PM. Our reason for this is that the language used above in Cindy Stickline-Rose's post is there to stoke fear in parents. Fear is a powerful motivator. It's also a shitty feeling. Luckily, if you're a parent, teacher, staff member, or otherwise associated with FCPS, we at the Strangers Almanac are here to remind you that FACTS > FEAR!!!

That said, we took these data and created one more dichotomous variable - a 1/0 for "School Hours." More specifically, if a call was recorded between the time of 5:00:01 PM and 6:59:59 AM, we coded it as "0" - all other incident times (7AM til 5PM) were coded as a "1". Then we filtered out our data to include *only* those calls from 'Normal' school hours.

As you will note in Table 5 below, this reduces the total number of calls down to 2,186.

Table 5. Total Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from each FCPS High School by Frederick County Response Agency 7:00 AM til 5:00 PM

Percentages are mostly the same - but the sheer volume of calls is reduced when we don't include those made when students are not at school. Sure, perhaps there is the random after-school event, but the main idea here is we cannot parse out when Smitty got in a fight with Spaulding at the sportsball game over who likes Brucie Melvin more versus those times when old man McGillicutty took the aforementioned piss. Either way, I think we should concern ourselves less with what happens when students are not legally required to be on school grounds, and focus more on times when they are. 

Here is the breakdown of 'Criminal,' non-criminal, and ALL calls made during 'Normal' school hours (7:00 AM til 5:00 PM):

Total Calls ('Criminal"):  356   (9.8%)
Total Calls (Non-Criminal):  1,830 
Total Calls (ALL Calls): 3,620

We further break down those pesky 'Criminal' calls by call category during 'Normal' school hours below in Table 6.

Table 6. Total Calls Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from All FCPS High Schools by 'Criminal' Category During 'Normal' School Hours (7:00 AM til 5:00 PM)

Y'all - we;re talking fewer than 10% of the calls made during 'Normal' school hours to the Frederick County Department of Emergency Communications were made for 'Criminal' activities at FCPS high schools. Come ON! We son't even eclipse 2 percent in any one 'Criminal' category for ALL calls made during 'Normal' school hours. [Note: to compute this, I am taking the 356 'Criminal' calls during 'Normal' school hours and using the TOTAL CALLS over April 1, 2017 to April 1, 2018 period (3,620) as the denominator].

If time *really* were on my side, I would get data to compare FCPS to other school districts in Maryland. But then again, I am not running for FCPS School Board - so instead, let's ask Cindy Stickline-Rose to provide these comparison data!

But Wait...There's More (Addendum: 5/15/2018)

As we noted above, several folks chimed in on the social media after we went live with this post on the early evening of 5/14/2018. Some of the response was semantics (Frederick Police, not Frederick County Police), and some of it was a challenge to the numbers presented. Special thanks to Ms. Tina Thompson Foertschbeck who, on facebook, correctly noted an error in our numbers. We set out to correct it at once and re-post everything with the proper information. 

But while we were digging into this, we noticed that there were cases where, for example, the Brunswick Police Department and the Frederick County Sheriff's Office (SROs) were notified on the same day at the exact same time. In other cases, we noted that two different agencies logged the same "Call Type" on the same date but with only an hour-ish time gap between them. It is more than likely these are the same INCIDENTS...though there may have been calls to multiple agencies.

Thus, we went back to the main spreadsheet and concatenated the "Date" and "Time" columns to create a unique identifier for each call. Next, we filtered out ONLY those calls we termed "Criminal" and were left with 558 incidents. We then removed any duplicates from the dataset (this removed 28 cases  and left us with 530 unique cases). Lastly, we combed through these 530 individual records sorted by date and time of call, and notated those calls which occurred on the same date, same time, but within roughly an hour and a half of one another. This is an arbitrary time gap based on how long it might take an agency to respond, assess the situation, and the possibly call in another code on the same incident. After coding these, removing the duplicates, and filtering out those incidents that did not happen during 'Normal' school hours, we were left with calls responding to 302 unique incidents. The unique "criminal" incidents during 'Normal' school hours are shown below in Table 7.

Table 7. Total Calls from UNIQUE INCIDENTS Processed by the Frederick County Dept. of Emergency Communications from All FCPS High Schools by 'Criminal' Category During 'Normal' School Hours (7:00 AM til 5:00 PM)

Once again, this doesn't change much, but the number in nearly EVERY category above dropped as compared to those numbers in Table 6. The only constants were Trespassing and Truancy at 10 and 5 incidents, respectively. The number of Overdose incidents during 'Normal' school hours numbers 3 (down from 8 total regardless of time stamp and whether it was part of a 'multiple' call). 

But recall, the initial post that started this deep dive noted that there were [GASP!] 3,620 emergency calls from FCPS high schools - "most for police." When really, only 302 of these calls - or 8.3% were for 'Criminal' incidents that happened during 'Normal' school hours (7:00 AM to 5:00 PM).

So What?

At a recent meeting of political minds and politicians (involving booze for the majority of those of us around the table), I was told that "Frederick County voters don't care about facts. Using data and numbers to make a point makes you look like an elitist."

I reject this premise. Because candidates like Cindy Stickline-Rose and Jonah Seth Eisenberg, and poor Edison Hatter and Chaz Packan (who seem like innocent kids roped in with the wrong crowd) PRETEND to use facts. But they're just meaningless words. Invalid points. False naratives. This is the stuff of charlatans. I think voters in Frederick County should deserve candidates who can back up their claims and campaign promises with facts. And I think that voters in Frederick County want these types of candidates in office.

I've yet to figure out why people seem so afraid to call "bullshit" on political candidates when they speak? Maybe it is because folk think "such-n-such is running for X office, so CLEARLY they know what they're talking about/doing!"??

Say it with me now: BULL SHIT!

Challenge EV-RY-THING you hear coming out of the mouth of a current - or aspiring politician. These individuals are making SERIOUS decisions with YOUR money. You have EVERY right to question their abilities, knowledge, credentials, words, thoughts, behaviors, and intentions. 

That all said: Cindy Stickline-Rose, your interpretation of "911 Calls" from Frederick County High Schools over the period April 1, 2017 to April 1, 2018 is BULLSHIT. You GROSSLY misinterpret these data, and are spewing FALSE FEAR through the unfortunate bloviations on your Facebook page (and god help us, elsewhere). Your inability to analyze and interpret these data should give ANYONE considering casting a vote on your behalf SIGNIFICANT PAUSE. Because if you can't correctly analyze and present information about emergency calls coming from FCPS high schools, how should ANY of us expect you to adequately and equitably analyze the county school budget? The only thing here that is "very telling" is that your election to the FCPS School Board is a NIGHTMARE scenario.

You said "there were calls for ...assaults," Sure. There were 63 calls made during 'Normal' school hours for 'Assaults/Disturbance/Domestic' reasons. But when you look at how many calls came in for the SAME incident, the number drops to 55 - that's FEWER than 2 percent of ALL 3,620 calls.  You said "there were calls for...thefts." Sure. There were 31 calls categorized under 'Burglary/Theft.' But when you remove multiple calls for the SAME incident, that number drops to 27 - which is LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of all 3,260 calls. Overdoses? THREE calls out of 3,260 (after removing multiple calls). The above spreadsheet rounded up to 0.1 percent when it tried to calculate the number of overdose calls during 'Normal' school hours out of the 3,260 calls so that it wouldn't be displaying a big fat ZERO. 

And lookit - I've adjusted these categories which likely still INFLATES the numbers. So in all, those figures above are pretty liberal estimates. 

See? That's how you do it. Gather data. Analyze it correctly. Make sound points. GET FEEDBACK FROM OTHERS AND INCORPORATE IT INTO YOUR ANALYSES. If you don't know how to do this - then not try. Or learn how before you take to the Internet with your false and damaging knowledge. If you *do* know how to properly analyze data, then join our chorus in calling "BULLSHIT" on those who don't know what they're doing; and who only spread fear with their inaccurate, dime store analyses.

If this makes me - and anyone else who agrees with me - "elitist and out of touch with Frederick County voters..." well, then.

Vote with the Facts, folks. They're stubborn things. And they'll wind up winning in the end. 

"How Many More Young Students Are You OK With Over Dosing in FCPS Parking Lots"??


Now, don't get me wrong here, as the acceptible number of students overdosing in FCPS parking lots is - and always should [shall?] be zero (0).

But more than a handful of posts from my favorite internet pinata and FCPS Board of Education Candidate Jonah Seth Eisenberg seem to be suggesting with greater fervor that the parking lots and open air sectors of FCPS school campuses are electric with drug dealing and drug use. Basically, FCPS campuses are "Hamsterdam."

Before we look at some numbers and pick this argument apart like Bubbles rifling through a dumpster, let's at least acknowledge that there are events we can prove with evidence and data...and there are assumed events with no evidence to prove they ever occurred. You know the whole "If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it" adage, yeah??

When folks make statements suggesting that rampant drug use is happening in our schools...but then offer NO numbers, percents, or aggregated instances of that claim, my hackles raise up like woah.

Also - before we start providing numbers so that folks like Seth Eisenberg will actually 1) learn something and 2) maybe start sharing accurate information with voters, let's first have a look at his grasp of an FCPS Boardmember's role in this back-and-forth with Board President Brad W. Young:

Bless his heart, y'all...

 Kudos to him for using the word "childern" in his final post. Makes me feel like I am back down South for a minute.

Suffice to say Mr. Eisenberg may not have the best grip on the role of a Board Member for it is no real stretch that his grasp of the issues facing our schools is also fairly loose. But such rhetoric strikes at the core of this post. Let's dig in, shall we?

"Or The Drug Dealers in Your Schools Selling Openly in YOUR Schools"

Statements like the above are why I created this blog. As I have noted in each post to date, the fear-tactics being used by certain wings of political parties is exhausting. If you interpret the above statement like I do, you would think that you cannot walk into an FCPS school without some seedy individual looking at you, asking if you're "holdin" or better yet, if you "wanna go to the moon!" Or, you know, basically Charlie Sheen's character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off waiting outside every school to sell drugs to your kid.

But this isn't least not on a wide scale. And...wait for it...we have DATA to back up this claim.

The Maryland State Department of Education collects data on school discipline - including those incidents that lead to in- or out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. [Stranger's Note: BULLY on the MSDE for only having these data in PDF format! Converting them in to something more usable was a bear!]. So we analyzed these data for the 2016-17 academic year to see, to what extent, Charlie Sheen's character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off is hanging out at your kids' school and selling him or her sacks of dope. 

Real quick - why are we looking only at in- and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions? Because if you get busted at school for using or selling drugs, it's doubtful that Principal McGillicutty is simply gonna slap you with detention. You're gonna suffer a more stringent disciplinary action for this type of thing. 

That said, this particular discipline data set has eight (8) categories of offenses. And each of those eight offense categories has no fewer than three (3) sub-categories. Indeed, for our offense category of interest (Dangerous Substances), there are six sub-offense categories (the #'s included in this list are just the offense codes):

  • 201 Alcohol
  • 202 Inhalants
  • 203 Drugs/Controlled Substances
  • 204 Tobacco
  • 891 Sells or Solicits Sale of Controlled Substance
  • 892 Possesses or Uses Illegal Drugs

Table 1 below includes district enrollments, total number of offenses (district-wide), and total Dangerous Substances offenses for each district across Maryland. Unfortunately, these data do not separate out the number of offenses by sub-category, but even at the aggregate level, we can still call out Citizen Seth's statement as utter bullshit.

Table 1. District-Level "Dangerous Substances" Suspensions and Expulsions  as a Percent of Total Suspensions in Each District, 2016-2017

In the 2016-17 academic year, there were a total...a TOTAL of 120 suspensions or expulsions for Dangerous Substances out of ALL 2,576 logged suspensions (school districts are ranked by most total suspensions to fewest). Less than 5 percent of all logged suspensions in Frederick County Public Schools last year were from Dangerous Substances. And recall, one of the sub-categories under Dangerous Substances is "Tobacco." Unfortunately we don't know for sure without the data for sub-category offenses (which I may try to procure eventually), but how many of these 120 in- or out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were likely an infraction for students having cigarettes? I can't say, but it's a worthy rhetorical question, methinks. 

Even if every one of these infractions was handed down for the the type of carnage Citizen Eisenberg dreams up in his fear-mongering,  this is still a pretty low percentage of all suspensions. In fact, though Frederick County Public Schools has the 9th highest number of total suspensions in Maryland, when you look at Dangerous Substance offenses as a percent of total offenses (4.7%), we rank 13th in the state; put another way, we fall right in the middle and are only slightly higher than the statewide average (4.4%).

Now, in the spirit of conservatism (something that makes us want to take a long, hot bath here at the Stranger's Almanac), we're going to play a game and use some conservative estimates to further our point. First, know that each of the 120 offenses noted above are not necessarily single offenses by 120 individual students. I am sure in a few cases, "Crazy Phil" got bored and decided to go light up a cig in the bathroom AGAIN! And then Principal McGillicutty caught him...AGAIN! And he got In School Suspension...AGAIN! So to think that these data are telling us 120 students were busted for Dangerous Substance offenses is not quite accurate (and again, this is not possible without student-level data which I don't have, nor *should* any of us not working for the district or state have).

But let's be conservative and suggest that the 120 offenses are individual offenses from 120 unique students. Here we can look at the total Dangerous Substance offenses as a percent of the district's total enrollment. 

Table 2. District-Level "Dangerous Substances" Suspensions and Expulsions  as a Percent of Total Enrollments in Each District, 2016-2017

When we look at the number of Dangerous Substance offenses (120) in FCPS as a percent of the TOTAL ENROLLMENT (41,317), we drop even further in the rankings to nineteenth (where we are tied alongside Saint Mary's and Dorchester Counties - drug dens, both of them!). Again, if we were to suggest that each of the 120 Dangerous Substances offenses were from unique students, less than one-third of one percent of the FCPS student body were suspended in 2016-17 for a Dangerous Substance offenses

So What?

As I have noted, something that really sticks in my craw is when would-be, or actual politicians latch on to farcical statements that they then blast out via social media, or at candidate meet & greets, or at forums, or in press releases, without having the numbers to back up the statement. What is worse is that the average voter or citizen probably doesn't have the actual information floating around in their head to say "no, Seth, actually only 4.7% of the total suspensions in FCPS were under the "Dangerous Substances" category, and it is entirely possible that not ALL of those offenses were from the type of drug use/dealing you are suggesting here." Nor do they have the time to go grab the raw data and develop a cogent rebuttal.

But hey, my abject nerdiness is your gain! Now you *do* have information for such a rebuttal. And I hope like hell SOMEONE uses it, because I cannot stress enough how important it is for those who will lead us - specifically those whose trust we place to make the best decisions for our children [well, your children, but I want your children to do well because they're gonna have to care for me when I am put out to pasture here in a few years] - to make sound, data-driven decisions. 

Fear-mongering using farcical statements that most folk cannot challenge is for the birds. Here at the Stranger's Almanac, we're trying to provide a more substantial source of seeds [or, you know, knowledge] than horse droppings for the smart birds that don't have the patience or stomach to sort through shit. 

You can start by saying "Seth Eisenberg's characterization of drug use/dealing in FCPS schools is WAY off-base! And here's why..."

Yeah. Start with that and back it up with the numbers presented here.  You'll do just fine.


The Miseducation (and Misinformation) of Jonah Seth Eisenberg, Cindy Stickline Rose, Chaz Packan, and Edison Hatter

On February 27th, 2018 a slate of non-partisan (cough-cough-*Republican*) candidates announced their bid for Frederick County Board of Education (BoE). This slate of four candidates are choices among thirteen vying for 4 spots on the BoE. 

And they wasted no time in generating eye-roll worthy statements of ridiculousness in their press release.  Right out of the gate, Seth Eisenberg, Edison Hatter, Chaz Packan, and Cindy Rose make it seem like the existing BoE has been actively dismantling the Frederick County Public School system day by day. However, absent in their release (right), there is both little actual policy proposals to "fix" FCPS...and a whole lot of misinformation.

For example, the statement I bumped on most was "11,000 FCPS students are unable to read because FCPS does not have a scientifically based reading program."

Let's not go into how they end this paragraph with the statement "reading truly is a fundamental.', and focus this blog post on the statistic they note above.


It's one thing to to be upset about the state of education in FCPS, but don't bloviate without the correct numbers to back up your claim. Put another way: don't "massage the data" or "cook the books" or "cherry-pick" the data to make for a more compelling story.  Though, kudos to the slate for at least looking at the data to come up with 11,00 student figure. There is some semblance of logic that can bring one to that number...but it is fuzzy logic at best.

PARCC It, Mister!

To dig deeper into this statement, we first have to talk a little bit about PARCC Assessments, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Assessment [Redundant sating 'Assessment' twice isn't it? Yeah, probably. But we're gonna roll with it].

The Partnership (P in PARCC) is a consortium of states + DC, The Department of Defense Educational Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education that work(ed) to develop k-12 assessments in Math and English based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In layman:  PARCC develops tests that assess whether students in K-12 schools have mastered the content we, as a society, believe students ought to have mastered in each grade. For example, the CCSS outline what students should learn in grade 3 - and the the PARCC exams assess whether those grade 3 students have mastered the content such that promotion to grade 4 is warranted. This is why any discussion of "teaching to the test" seems silly to me, because if the test is aligned with the standards...then teaching to the test is teaching to the standards...which is the goal, no?  But *that* is a discussion for another time. 

At one time, there were 21 states, Washington D.C., the Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA), and the Bureau of Indian Education participating in PARCC. This list has shrunk to 6 states, DC, and DoDEA. I say this to note that PARCC has not been without its criticisms (and, as an advocate of standardized testing, I have my criticisms of PARCC as well).

Criticism aside, students who take the two PARCC subtests in math and literacy earn a Scale Score in each subject area (based on their performance on a number of sub-areas within each subtest: i.e., in elementary math, mastery of topics such as fractions, decimals, factors, multiples etc.). These Scale Scores are then categorized into one of five levels of performance: 

  • Level 5: Exceeded Expectations
  • Level 4: Met Expectations
  • Level 3: Approached Expectations
  • Level 2: Partially Met Expectations
  • Level 1: Did Not Yet Meet Expectations

For more information on interpreting PARCC scores, you can download the handy score report released every spring.  Things get a little nuanced in Levels 2 and 3. But we'll address that below.

So...Are There *Really* "11,000 Students Unable to Read" in FCPS?

Short answer? No.

Best answer? Awww hell naw!!! And here's why...

It all comes back to Level 2 and Level 3 of PARCC performance. Recall that each subtest (math and literacy) correspond to the CCSS standards. At each tested grade level (3-11), there are ten (10) standards in English Language Arts (ELA) that students must master - to some extent - in order to "meet" or "exceed" expectations. For example, the standards for grade 5 involve quoting accurately from a text, drawing inferences from a text, determining the theme of a story, determining the meaning of words and phrases, describing how a narrator's point of view influences how events are described, and more. There is a *lot* of nuance here. And there is more than simply "reading" being measured by these PARCC assessments.

This nuance is why the  statement "11,000 FCPS students are unable to read..." is utter bullshit.

Here are some numbers to consider for the paragraphs below (note: all data are publicly available on the Maryland State Department of Education website):

Table 1. Frederick County Public Schools 2017 PARCC Proficiency Rates in Literacy, Grades 3-8; Grades 10-11; Three 'Not Met' Categories

Looking at Table 1 above, it appears that our four candidates  came up with their 11,000 students not meeting the PARCC Literacy expectations figure by combining Levels 1 through 3 at each grade level (except grade 9, as there were not enough students sitting for the exam to post results while maintaining mandated levels of student privacy) and sum them. Our main focus here is the four right-hand columns (Met+Exceeds; Not Met*; Total Tested; and % Not Met). Here we combined the raw numbers of students that were categorized as "Exceeds Expectations" or "Met Expectations" (i.e, in Grade 3, 166 students were in the "Exceeds" category and 1,388 were in the "Met" category for a total of 1,554 students in the "Met+Exceeds" category) into one column and Levels 1-3 in an second "Not Met" column. In this dichotomy, if I am interpreting the 11,000 student figure in the press release correctly, the slate of BoE candidates categorize the "Met+Exceeds" group as those who are at or above grade level and the "Not Met" group as those students who are below grade level.

When we treat Level 2 and Level 3 as students who are "below grade level" or worse, "unable to read" the press release makes sense as 11,039 students - or 47.9% of the students assessed on the PARCC Literacy exam "did not meet expectations."

But this is misleading.

Students placed in the Level 2 category of "Partially Met Expectations" or the Level 3 category of "Approached Expectations" may read splendidly. However, they might have struggled in the more nuanced areas of the standards such as describing how a narrator's point of view influences how events are described. Not meeting grade-level standards on these specific standards is *not* evidence that students are "unable to read" or "below grade level" - and to suggest as such is foolish. 

To rectify this foolishness, we decided to look at the same table of numbers with a more accurate categorization of "at-or-above" and "below" grade level. Thus, in Table 2 we only categorize those students who were categorized as Level 1 - Did Not Yet Meet Expectations - as being below grade level in literacy as measured by the PARCC exam.

Table 2. Frederick County Public Schools 2017 PARCC Proficiency Rates in Literacy, Grades 3-8; Grades 10-11; One 'Not Met' Category

As you will note, this more accurately reflects student performance in Literacy on the PARCC across grades 3-8, grade 10, and grade 11 in Frederick County Public Schools. By this measure, only 2,254 students (9.8%) are below grade-level in Literacy as measured by the 2017 administration of the PARCC exam. [And though it is not illustrated here, the number of students below grade level has declined over the past three years (perhaps we will do another post on longitudinal performance on the PARCC in FCPS next)].

So what?

Data are fickle things and how one presents and interprets them are tantamount to making data-driven decisions - which is a practice being used in more and more corners of society. But I would argue that there is a *right* way and a *wrong* way to present and interpret data (and I am not alone in this argument). In this case, labeling students scoring at the Level 2 and Level 3 PARCC performance categories as "below grade level" or "unable to read" is a false statement. 

Making "broad brush" sound-byte seeking statements such as "11,000 FCPS students are unable to read" is careless, and does a disservice to the voters whose trust is trying to be earned. Such farcical statements stoke unnecessary fear and anger in students, teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders in Frederick County - when that fear and anger is wholly unwarranted. 

We should all be wary of those seeking  seats of power who are unable to interpret the very data necessary to make sound policy decisions that will ultimately affect the 42,000+ students counting on our teachers, school leaders, and community to set them off on the best path for their success.  From the look of the attached press release, Cindy Rose, Seth Eisenberg, Chaz Packan, and Edison Hatter have a LOT more to learn before they should be placed in a decision-making chair.


How Much Do Maryland Teachers *Really* Make???

If you have been following the news lately, you would know that there has been some unrest in certain states regarding teacher salaries. West Virginia teachers recently went on strike for nearly two weeks, gained national media attention around the trending #55Strong hashtag, and eventually were rewarded with the five percent pay raise they were demanding.

Now other states are following suit; namely Kentucky and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, teachers are protesting budget and salary cuts. In Kentucky, the issue is possible cuts to teacher pensions. These uprisings have teachers and Teachers' Associations in other states perched on their toes, as well as re-examining their own salary schedules and contracts.

Attitude Adjustment 

In the midst of the West Virginia Teachers' Strike, Corey Turner posted an article to NPR titled The Fight Over Teacher Salaries: A Look At The Numbers. Despite an otherwise bland headline, Turner's piece contains an incredibly important component when talking about salary of any kind: Adjusting for Cost of Living

Turner's article includes a bar chart that notes each state's average annual teacher salary - as well as that salary adjusted for the cost of living in their state as calculated by Ed Build. For example, the average unadjusted salary for a teacher in Washington D.C. is $75,810. However, as one may imagine, the cost of living in our nation's capital is quite steep. Thus, when adjusting this salary for cost of living, that D.C. teacher salary is really only worth $57,432.

Other states with a similar, and nearly $15,000 salary gap between unadjusted and adjusted average salaries include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Hawaii. Conversely, Oklahoma ranks 49th in unadjusted average teacher salary - but when adjusted for cost of living, their ranking jumps to 40th.

What about Maryland?

In Maryland, according to EdBuild's numbers, our unadjusted average teacher salary is $66,482; however, when we adjust that salary for cost of living, it drops to $60,937 placing our state sixth in the overall adjusted average salary rankings. In short, we are doing pretty well overall before - and after adjusting teacher salaries for cost of living.

But this won't answer all the questions and issues that we are hearing within the state. For example, as a resident of Frederick County, one may often overhear teachers say "I live in Frederick, but I teach in Montgomery County or Washington County because they pay better."

Is this true? Is it true for other neighboring counties as well?

I came across a video on Facebook the other evening where Frederick County Teacher's Association President Missy Dirks discussed how despite some higher-paying districts, some teachers are still working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Indeed, as a bachelor living in Frederick City, long past the days of having roommates, If i were a teacher starting out at step 1 with a bachelor's degree fresh out of my undergraduate institution, I would likely have difficulty paying rent in my city (rents and housing costs in Frederick City is worthy of its own post, by the way)!

So in the spirit of EdBuild's analyses using cost of living adjustments to look at *actual* teacher salaries, I decided to create a similar comparison looking at county-by county salaries and cost of living by county in Maryland.

Maryland Average Annual Teacher Salaries: Adjusted and Unadjusted

To begin, let me note that my average Maryland statewide annual teacher salary figure differs slightly from that used in the EdBuild data. I pulled average annual salary figures from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) report Analysis of Professional Salaries from October 2017.

Next, I sought out a county-by-county cost of living index for Maryland Counties. I found a county-by-county Cost of Living Index on the Maryland Department of Commerce Website (Note: these data are from 2010, which may soften these numbers. But I cannot find a more recent index for MD Counties. I have a call out to the MD Dept. of Commerce to see if I can't get something more recent).

Here is what I found after juxtaposing average unadjusted teacher salary by county in Maryland with the cost of living-adjusted salaries by county in Maryland:

Figure 1. Average Teacher Salary by Maryland County, Adjusted and Unadjusted for Cost of Living

Click the image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, the constraints of this blog are not as friendly to large photos, but if you click on the one above, you will see actual, unadjusted salaries (grey bars) by county compared to the average cost of living-adjusted salaries (green bars) by county. 

Counties are in order of highest average unadjusted salary to lowest. Not surprisingly, Montgomery County tops the list with an average unadjusted teacher salary of $81,823. Yet when you adjust the 'MoCo' average teacher salary for cost of living, the $17+K reduction drops the county from highest paid, to 19th highest paid (out of 24 counties). Frederick County drops 4 spots from 6th highest average unadjusted salary, to 10th highest paid average teacher salary after adjusting for cost of living in the county. 

For teachers who work and live in Allegany, St. Mary's, Washington, Dorchester counties, you're actually earning more bang for your buck as your adjusted average teacher salary is worth more than your average unadjusted salary that is most often reported. 

Maryland Minimum Annual Teacher Salaries: Adjusted and Unadjusted

As the heading suggests, what if we look at minimum annual teacher salaries by county? One reason for doing this is that it will remove any inflation in average teacher salaries that may be caused by an overwhelmingly veteran teaching staff in certain country districts. Indeed, most public school district "salary schedules" include a step-and-lane schedule that outlines the pay for a new, first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree; or a bachelor's-level teacher with X years of experience; or a master's-level teacher with Y years' experience. Veteran teachers who have 20+ years' experience will inflate the overall average salary, so looking at minimum teacher salaries by county may paint a more complete picture.

For this analysis, I pulled data from the MSDE on minimum salary for a new teacher holding a bachelor's degree in his or her first year and then applied the same county-level cost of living index adjustment to see how much first-year, bachelor's-level teacher's in Maryland school districts were really earning according to where in Maryland they teach (and presumably might live).

Figure 2. Minimum Teacher Salary by Maryland County, Adjusted and Unadjusted for Cost of Living

Click on image to enlarge

Once again, counties are ranked by highest minimum salary to lowest (grey bars) and are juxtaposed with the cost of living-adjusted salary for that county (green bars). Here, Montgomery county once again leads the pack with the highest minimum salary for new, first-year,teachers holding a bachelor's degree. But after adjusting for the cost of living in MoCo, the value of the $49,013 starting salary is diminished by over $10k, and places Montgomery County at the rank of 24th among the 24 Maryland counties.

Indeed, Allegany County also comes out on top for new, first-year,teachers holding a bachelor's degree. The value of a beginning teacher's salary is worth roughly $6,600 more dollars than the unadjusted minimum salary. 

So What?

So why is this important? I don't know that it really is all that important to most folks. However, as the national conversation around education and teacher salaries continues, these data are worth considering...not only in Maryland, but in every state. As campaigns for midterm elections, as well as local and statewide elections start to kick into gear, it is my hope that candidates for office will consider and value information that seeks to tell the most complete story. 

This is not to say that I believe the above analysis is telling a complete story; however, it is telling a more complete story than simply looking at average and minimum teacher salaries as reported my the MSDE. 

So if Maryland teachers decide to strike for more pay, have another look at your salaries after they've been adjusted for cost of living. Maryland's cost of living index is 128.7 (compared to the U.S.index of 100). So we Marylanders are already living in a state that is a more expensive than others (i.e., per a state cost of living index provided by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center with 2017 figures, the cost of living index in Maryland [128.7] is higher than our neighboring states of PA [102]; WV [95.9]; and VA [102.2]). 

Hopefully in the coming days I will be provided with a more updated county-by-county cost of living index, so that I can update these figures. In the meantime, let these data be a proxy for conversations we ought to be having surrounding teacher salaries in Maryland.