The Numbers Game in Research

This is a rel­a­tively old item by now (all of 3 weeks), but I thought I’d bring it up any­way. This Wall Street Journal col­umn dis­cusses just how flimsy the re­search ba­sis for some sup­pos­edly re­search-based be­liefs re­ally are. The be­lief high­lighted is about the im­por­tance of fam­ily read­ing on aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment. The “study” that’s the ba­sis for this is based on 24 low-in­come kids and ex­actly 1 mid­dle-in­come kid.

Timeline for Portola Relocation Affair

Our dis­trict has been tied up in knots about what to do about Portola Middle School, which was to be ren­o­vated and now has to be moved. A par­ent, Mark Woo, is or­ga­niz­ing a group of par­ents to make sure that, now that things have been restarted, a fair and ob­jec­tive process is used. As part of the prepa­ra­tion for the first meet­ing of this group, he sent around a time­line to re­cap what’s hap­pened so far:


Many of the doc­u­ments dis­cussed in this time­line are posted at:

Videos of the School Board are at Youtube, just search “fang­wood” and you will find them. Unfortunately there is a ten minute limit on videos, so Board dis­cus­sions and staff pre­sen­ta­tions are bro­ken into mul­ti­ple videos

May 2006
The District sought to re­build Portola Middle School. One of the re­quire­ments for such a project is ap­proval from the State Architect. The State Architect sent a let­ter in­form­ing the District that “… it is opin­ion of DSA that there is sig­nif­i­cant risk of earth­quake in­duced land­slide. The po­ten­tial for land­slide is such that the health and safety of the pupils is at risk and must be cor­rected.” The let­ter and a map of slide zones from the City of El Cerrito are posted on­line. I have re­quested (but not yet re­ceived) the 2002 seis­mic analy­sis of the Portola build­ings so that we can bet­ter un­der­stand what would hap­pen in an earth­quake even if there is not a land­slide.

October 2006
The District holds for the first set of two pub­lic meet­ings to so­licit ideas for re­plac­ing Portola are held at Harding Elementary. Staff ex­plains that mak­ing the build­ings seis­mi­cally safe is too difficult/​expensive and that the lower sec­tion of Portola and Cerrito Vista Park are not vi­able lo­ca­tions be­cause of the slide zones (the State wants a 50’ set­back from the end of the slide zone).

November 2006
The District holds the sec­ond set of two pub­lic meet­ings. The District presents var­i­ous op­tions for re­plac­ing Portola. District staff in­forms par­tic­i­pants that the Board’s Facilities Subcommittee has in­structed them not to study K-8 as an op­tion and that they are fo­cus­ing only on District-owned prop­erty.

January 10, 2007
Because of com­plaints from the Castro Elementary neigh­bor­hood about the District’s poor no­ti­fi­ca­tion process, an ex­tra pub­lic meet­ing is held to dis­cuss the op­tions.

January 17, 2007
At its reg­u­lar meet­ing, the Board dis­cusses the pend­ing op­tions. Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg agree to re­move Castro from con­sid­er­a­tion and agree to have Oxbridge (a pri­vate real es­tate firm) ex­plore the avail­abil­ity of non-District owned land in El Cerrito.

April 4, 2007
At the Board meet­ing, dis­trict staff pre­sented two pro­pos­als, the Fairmont Elementary School site and a com­bined middle/​high school at El Cerrito HS. The meet­ing dis­closes that Oxbridge found no other vi­able lo­ca­tions (copies of the re­port have been re­quested, but not re­ceived as of yet – ap­par­ently Oxbridge ver­bally pre­sented its find­ings to the Board in a closed non-pub­lic ses­sion). The Board votes 3 – 1 (Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg aye, Brown nay, Miles not present) to se­lect Fairmont as the “lead” pro­posal. No ex­pla­na­tion of why they are se­lect­ing this op­tion is pro­vided. Of note, the staff pre­sen­ta­tion for the Fairmont site shows the new mid­dle school’s foot­print to in­clude seven res­i­den­tial parcels, a pub­lic street and the El Cerrito Senior Center and li­brary. No bud­get fig­ures for the project are pro­vided. Also, the staff pre­sen­ta­tion does not dis­cuss what would hap­pen to the Fairmont Elementary stu­dents. The Fairmont pro­posal in pre­vi­ous pub­lic meet­ings had been to move the el­e­men­tary school stu­dents to the Alvarado Adult School site. When asked by some­one in the au­di­ence about the stu­dents, Ramsey re­sponded that they would be re­dis­tricted to other schools in the area.

June 6, 2007
The Fairmont com­mu­nity does a pre­sen­ta­tion for the Board on the pro­posed mid­dle school re­lo­ca­tion and clo­sure of Fairmont, not­ing the im­pact on the seven res­i­den­tial parcels that are needed for the ex­panded mid­dle school site, the in­ad­e­quate size of the site and the im­pact of the loss of the el­e­men­tary school. Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg ex­press con­cern about the de­ci­sion they made in April.

June 20, 2007
The Board of­fi­cially re­scinds (5 – 0 vote) their de­ci­sion to make Fairmont the “lead” op­tion. The Board agrees to a new process for de­ter­min­ing Portola’s re­place­ment. It in­cludes the will­ing­ness to be open minded and ex­plore all vi­able op­tions (in­clud­ing K-8), set­ting of cri­te­ria for mak­ing a se­lec­tion and pro­vid­ing pub­lic no­tice by post­ing fly­ers at schools and in the West County Times.

July 25, 2007
The first meet­ing to dis­cuss se­lec­tion cri­te­ria is sched­uled for 5:30pm at DeJean Middle School in Richmond.