04 June 2008

Fredonia and Dunkirk Statistics

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 24, 2008

Dunkirk and Fredonia are inextricably linked. It is interesting to see how they compare to each other. In this column, we look at some of the numbers.

Demographically, the towns are similar in some important respects. The following data comes from the 2000 Census. The two are about the same size: Fredonia (14,690) and Dunkirk (16,097). Dunkirk has a more stable population (60% have lived in the same house for five or more years) as compared to Fredonia (49%).

Dunkirk residents are older. Dunkirk residents average 39.6 years versus 25.9 for Fredonia. 7.3% of Dunkirk residents are 80 or older versus 3.1% of Fredonia. They have roughly the same percentage of young people. People 19 or younger comprise 29.7% of Fredonia and 26.5% of Dunkirk. It is not clear to what role the college plays in this.

There appears to be an income difference. Fredonia is less poor than Dunkirk (the 2000 median household income was $37,010 for Fredonia and $29,310 for Dunkirk). Both are not great. U.S. households averaged $47,599 in 2000, when the Census was last taken. In 2000, 6.4% of Fredonia households made more than $100,000 versus 3.8% for Dunkirk. Dunkirk has more rich households. In 2000, it had more people who make more than $200,000 (209 versus 118).

Fredonia has a higher education level. In 2000, 28.4% of Fredonia had a Bachelors degree or higher versus 13.4% for Dunkirk. The former is roughly the current national average. In 2006, for example, 28% of the U.S. population had a Bachelors or higher. On the other end, 12% of Fredonia didn’t graduate from high school versus 25.9% for Dunkirk.

Dunkirk has a much higher percentage of minorities, but both are whiter than the rest of the country. In 2000, 22.4% of Dunkirk consisted of minorities (16.8% Hispanic and 3.9% black). In contrast, only 6.2% of Fredonia consisted of minorities (2.4% Hispanic and 2% black). In the current U.S. (2006 figures), 35% were minorities or of mixed heritage (15% were Hispanic alone and 13% were black alone). Neither town has many Asians (0.3% of Dunkirk and 0.8% of Fredonia) versus 4% of the current U.S. population.

Using 2005-2006 data from the New York State District Report Card, we find that the schools differ significantly. More Dunkirk students are poor. 56% qualify for free lunch versus 18% for Fredonia. Dunkirk also has more discipline problems. It suspends more of its students than Fredonia (8% versus 2%). In addition, more of its students drop out of high school and less plan to go on to a four-year college (38% versus 56%). It should be noted that some of those who don’t complete high school later enter GED programs, so it is unclear whether these numbers should trouble us. None of these differences appear to result from the number of students with disabilities because both have roughly the same percentage as each other and the rest of the state. The two school systems also differ greatly in race and ethnicity. 6% of Fredonia students are black or Hispanic versus 45% of Dunkirk.

The analogous statewide numbers fall in between those of the two school systems. 37% of statewide students qualify for free lunch, 5% of the students are suspended, and 40% are black or Hispanic.

The students also perform at different levels. In terms of 2005-2006 Regents examination among high-performing high school students, Fredonia significantly outperforms Dunkirk. Here are a few of the percentages of students with the highest scores (85-100) on the Regents Exams, with Dunkirk in parentheses: Comprehensive English 31% (25%), Math B 34% (5%), U.S. History and Government 49% (40%), Living Environment 29% (10%), and Physics 39% (6%). It is an interesting question as to what produces the different levels of performance. It is not due to differences in expenditures, class size, or the number of administrators and staff.

The performance differential begins early on. Consider the 2005-2006 numbers. 55% of Dunkirk fourth graders are at level 1 or 2 in math. Level 1 indicates that the students have serious academic deficiencies and level 2 indicates that students need extra help to meet the standards and pass the Regents examination. In contrast, this is true for 22% of fourth graders across New York and the same percentage of Fredonia fourth graders. Similar problems occur with regard to English scores, with 50% of Dunkirk students at levels 1 or 2. Fredonia (34%) scores about the same as the rest of the state (31%).

Dunkirk’s math problems intensify in middle school with level 1 and 2 scores in math and English scores coming in at 74% and 82%. It should be noted, though, that the statewide scores are nothing to write home about at 46% and 51%. Oddly, Fredonia does well at math (26%) but not at English (52%).

It should be noted that in the eighth grade, Fredonia is nothing special when considering high-end scores. It has an average percentage of Level 4 scores (these students exceed the standards are moving toward high performance on the Regents examination) that tie the state average in math (10%) and are 2% lower in English. By high school (using the 2002 cohort), Fredonia students outpace the rest of the state with 20% more level 4 scorers than statewide student population in English and 25% more in math. It is an interesting question as to what explains this gain. Dunkirk’s results are mixed with 16% fewer high scorers in English and 4% more in math. Dropout rates for this 2002 cohort fit the general pattern. When compared with statewide numbers, 18% more of Fredonia students graduate than the statewide average. In Dunkirk, 1% fewer do.

In terms of spending, both school systems spend a lot. For example, from Fall 2002 to the recently passed budgets, Fredonia has increased its spending by 33% to $15,807 per student per year (using 2005-2006 enrollment). Dunkirk has increased its spending by 23% to $17,457 per student per year. The latter is a case study in which irresponsible spending occurs when someone else picks up the bill. Dunkirk residents only pay 28% of the bill ($4,821 per pupil). The overspending is predictable. If restaurant patrons knew that the state was going to pick up 72% of their bill, you can bet they would be more likely to order steak for themselves and fancy deserts for their children.

Overall the numbers are mixed. The area appears to be poorer than the rest of the country in terms of household income. The numbers also show that the towns differ significantly in income, age, race and ethnicity, and school performance.


The Objectivist said...

I wonder if Dunkirk and Fredonia parents had to pay $30,000 for every two children they had in school, whether they would have order so many sports, arts, and vocational programs, administrators and staff, etc., or whether they would exercise more spending discipline.

Any guesses?

The Objectivist said...

The overspending is why it is a terrible idea for the state and federal government to foot the bill. Inefficient spending is likely when some people spend other people's money. Worse, the big spenders don't even say thank you or feel bad about their spending levels.

The Objectivist said...

One of the reasons this area is poor is that it likely has one of the highest taxed areas in the country (Niagara and Erie counties are). When you look at Brian Higgins, Chuck Schumer, Eliot Spitzer (now gone), and the school boards, you are looking at some of the most irresponsible spenders out there.

Higgins got the lowest taxpayer grade in the tri-state area (NY, CT, and NJ). He is someone we should all be ashamed of.