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April 2010

Don’t let unfounded privacy concerns keep you away from the census

Don't hesitate to answer ten easy questions from a 2010 Census taker

Soon, census takers will be spreading out across Detroit neighborhoods, knocking on doors to get the answers to the questions that people were either too reticent or too apathetic to provide on the mail-in questionnaire. While people have always had a host of reasons for not wanting to participate in the census, one that has been consistent over time is that the government already knows too much about our business.   

Honestly, it’s not the government that knows too much about your business—it’s business. People don’t seem to realize that they’ve already shared tons of “private” information in the course of everyday commerce. Why balk at answering ten easy questions for the 2010 Census?  

I began my career as a demographer with the Census Bureau in Detroit.  I was with the Bureau for the 1980 and 1990 Censuses, and, while I was working with Wayne State University in 2000, our Census-State Data Center coordinating function kept me well in the loop.  I know that extreme measures are taken to make census data secure.

The information is aggregated, so that individual data are not available. Census employees risk heavy fines and jail for misusing census data. The Census Bureau does not allow residents to answer the questions online, significantly lowering the possibility of security breaches.

Plus, this year’s census questionnaire is the shortest in decades, with no questions about income, occupation or education level.  You give more information than that to your average credit card company.

Allow me to make my case a little stronger with a story that just came through my email box. Titled, “Web Coupons Know Lots About You, and They Tell,” the article describes how online coupon “clipping” (as opposed to the old cutting of paper coupons packed in with your daily newspaper) is taking advantage of the shoppers.

“A new breed of coupon, printed from the Internet or sent to mobile phones, is packed with information about the customer who uses it. While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place.  While companies once had a slim dossier on each consumer, they now have databases packed with information.  And every time a person goes shopping, visits a Web site or buys something, the database gets another entry.”

So if you’re having second thoughts, have them about providing information online, not about providing information to a census taker. The information that you give to the census will help support important, federally funded services in your community like hospitals, transportation and HeadStart programs. Can you say the same for the information you just provided while Googling?

2009 MEAP: Public school reading scores outshine the charters

It has been said that a child learns to read up until third grade, after which he/she reads to learn. The ability to read at an early age is critical for academic success across all subjects in the years to come.

The State of Michigan recently released results from the Fall 2009 MEAP.  Table 1 presents a summary of the third grade reading results (the earliest grade tested) for the Detroit Area – Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties.  The results are tabulated across districts and presented as county totals.  The City of Detroit district is pulled out separately from Wayne County, and the remaining Wayne County districts are summarized.  In addition, public school districts have been tabulated separately from charter schools.

Table 1 presents results over the last five years so that trends can be readily identified.  Among the findings:

  • The results were clear – all districts, both public and charter, experienced improvements in the percent of children reading at grade level over the last year. The percent of children not meeting standards dropped from 13.6% to 10.2% across the State of Michigan.  Those meeting standards increased from 86.4% to 89.8%.
  • Macomb Public Schools, after two years of decreases, experienced an increase in the percentage of children meeting standards from 88.5% to 91.6%. For the first time, less than 1,000 third grade students could not read at grade level.
  • Oakland Public Schools’ 2008-09 improvement was extended, and increased. The share of students testing at grade level grew from 91.2% to 93.6%. As was the case with Macomb, this was the first time that less than 1,000 third grade students could not read at grade level.
  • Detroit Public School students showed the greatest improvement. By the 2008-09 school year, the percent of Detroit students that were reading at a third grade level had fallen from a high of 75.5% to 71.7%.  But in the 2009-10 school year, Detroit students rallied to 79.1 %, representing a 10.3 percent improvement.
  • Out-Wayne County Public Schools also showed improvement after two successive years of losses. The Fall 2009 tests showed a grade level reading rate of 90.0 percent.  This was up from 86.0% in Fall 2008.
  • The percent of tri-county public school students reading at a third-grade level increased from 85.8% to 89.8%.
  • Charter schools continued to have significantly lower rates of students meeting reading standards than their public school counterparts (though DPS is still slightly lower than each of the county charter averages).
  • Macomb charter schools produced a grade level reading rate of 80.0%, a marked increase from 76.2% in Fall 2008.
  • Oakland Charter schools showed similar, though slightly less, improvement than did Macomb. Student grade level reading in Fall 2009 was 79.7%, up from 76.6% in Fall 2008.
  • Wayne County charters (charters located in the City of Detroit were not pulled out separately) showed the largest improvement across the tri-county, as the grade level reading rate increased from 76.25 to 81.0 %.


A second trend that the data reveal is the decreasing public school population of 3rd graders[1],[2] resulting from a combination of out-migration and decreasing births.  The number of 3rd graders tested statewide (including both public and charter) decreased by 2,216, or 1.9 percent.  Macomb lost 314 3rd grade students (3.2%) between 2008 and 2009 (when public and charter enrollments are combined), while Oakland lost 106 students (0.8%).  Both experienced decreases in public enrollment (3.6% and 0.8%, respectively), with very small changes in charter enrollment.

The number of Detroit Public School third graders taking the test has fallen by 2,142, or 23.7 percent, between Fall 2005 and Fall 2008.  Much has been written about decreasing enrollment in the district overall.  Such large decreases in the early grades provide strong evidence to support the general enrollment forecasts of a district that will drop to about 50,000 by 2015[3].

Table 1.  3rd Grade Reading MEAP Results


[1] The numbers also reveal a movement from public to charter schools, as the population of charter school students increased significantly in Wayne, slightly in Oakland, and held steady in Macomb.

[2] The assumption must be made that the numbers are not affected by an increasing number of parents opting out of having their children tested.

[3] The City of Detroit is adding children through births, at a rate that has been dropping since 1990.  The forecast for attracting families with young children to the City in the near future is not there.  As a result, increased enrollment will only come through an increasing market share – attracting a higher percentage of current residents at each grade level.