My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

January 20, 2009, Regional Meeting

This meeting began with public comments. Steve Rivkin asked a question about the status of the review of the new 9th grade science curriculum. A review was completed of the entire science program (I can't find a link to this report on line -- but I have a copy so if you want one, email me privately and I'll send it to you), but this report was not designed in a way to answer basic questions about whether the new required ecology/environmental science course is in fact effective. Instead, the report provides information on student liking of different sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), and includes no information that will allow a true evaluation of whether the new required course is meeting its goals. I echoed the concerns raised by Steve Rivkin about this evaluation, and was discouraged that other members of the School Committee seem not to have read the evaluation and/or are not concerned by the lack of rigor in this report (which the school district paid to have completed by an outside source). Marianne Jorgensen then noted that Principal Mark Jackson is responsible for the evaluation, not the School Committee, which seems to me to be very unfortunate -- it really isn't the principal's job to take care of evaluations, and it seems to me that we should have such evaluations be conducted in a thorough way through the superintendents' office. Once again, I see no sign that a rigorous evaluation of this new required course will be done.

The rest of the meeting turned to a report presented by the Student Services Office, including information on English Language Learning and Special Education. I've consistently heard concerns from parents regarding special education services in our district, and thus was glad to hear that a parent survey will be conducted this spring. I'd like to see such reports of parent views presented to the committee, and posted on the web, so that we can have a sense of how well parents feel we are meeting the needs of kids who receive special education -- and so that we can learn how we might do this work better.

We then heard a preliminary report of the budget--which frankly seems rather grim (but I'm going to hold off on the details of this, because the real information on budget cuts was presented at the next meeting).

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Concerns about special education? I have concerns about special education. Specifically, the increasing amount (proportionally both to the budget as a whole and to the number of kids in special education versus regular education) of money that is going toward special education at the expense of regular education. I know this is not a popular thing to say, but most of our kids are regular education. Why can't their needs come first? And don't tell me because all of those special education classes, teachers, and programs are state mandated. Only a proportion are. Let's be honest about this.

Neil said...

Thank you. Were you pleased with the agenda of the school board meeting (if not the quality of the study of the new science course)?

Anonymous said...

Parents of kids with IEPs are allowed to ask for and receive ANY and ALL services needed for their child. That is the Law about this. Please remember that it is much cheaper to give these children the services they NEED in house, as apposed to having them go to an out of district school. Why do these kids deserve to succeed any less than kids who don't need services?

Anonymous said...

Last night we heard from a gentleman who talked about his daughter who was highly skilled in multiple languages. His point was why was SHE (and others like her) not also entitled to ANY and ALL services to meet HER needs?! Where are the IEPs for kids who might be so gifted that they are also outside the mainstream flow of education? Don't ALL kids have special needs of one type or another?

Anonymous said...

That is a valid point. I do understand and appreciate that. When we are talking of serious budget cuts and there are children who are advanced and don't need extra help learning the basics, then I am sorry, but the kids that need help with the most basic of things, need to come first. What would it look like to see a classroom full of all level kids, being pulled down because a few of them can't keep up and there are not enough SPED programs and teachers to help them? I agree that the kids who are excelling need to be challenged, but at what expense to the kids who need help to do basic things, like write and read, communicate with other kids? If you do not teach these kids the basics and you were to look at that multi-leveled classroom, those kids that need the extra help with bring down everyone's progress in the class. How would that be fair to the kids that excel? These are priorities we really need to look at when we are talking about budget cuts this severe. Do we hold back the kids that need help with absolute basics and let them fall through the cracks, or do we focus more on the kids who are not challenged enough and will succeed, regardless? Do we want all kids to have the chance to graduate? Do we want to potentially increase the drop out rate of these kids that need help because they are so frustrated with not understanding that they can't even go to school anymore? Again, just priorities of everyone involved. This is hard. This may not be fair. But we need to make sure that EVERY child has a good chance at simply GRADUATING!!! THAT MUST BE THE PRIORITY!!!

Rick said...

Whatever else one thinks one way or the other on 9th grade science, this is bad:

"...other members of the School Committee seem not to have read the evaluation and/or are not concerned by the lack of rigor in this report (which the school district paid to have completed by an outside source)."

Why does this happen? Is it that that other SC members didn't really want to do the study to begin with?

Ed said...

BRAVO!!!!

---
Last night we heard from a gentleman who talked about his daughter who was highly skilled in multiple languages. His point was why was SHE (and others like her) not also entitled to ANY and ALL services to meet HER needs?! Where are the IEPs for kids who might be so gifted that they are also outside the mainstream flow of education? Don't ALL kids have special needs of one type or another?

Anonymous said...

Again, I will ask the question:

Don't ALL kids deserve the chance to even graduate?

If we're talking about these kind of cuts, we need to make sure they don't take away chances for ALL kids to be able to graduate! That is bigger than someone having a chance to learn multiple languages. It has to be.

Anonymous said...

Don't ALL kids deserve the chance to even graduate?

No, they don't.

If we're talking about these kind of cuts, we need to make sure they don't take away chances for ALL kids to be able to graduate! That is bigger than someone having a chance to learn multiple languages. It has to be.

No, it isn't.

First, there are finite limits on what we can spend on one child. Clearly we can't spend the entire school budget on one child and have the rest sitting in the parking lot.

Second, while it *is* cheaper not to outplace, and while *SOME* of this is legally mandated, laws can and do change. Ever notice how a 19th Century school has *two* front doors - we used to have a "boys" and "girls" door. Along with segregation and the rest, an upset populace arose and changed those laws....

Third there are some very real costs in dumbing-down the curriculum and in ignoring the needs of the more able students. (A) they tend to flunk out of college because they never learned how to study, (b) they get bored in school and tune/drop out and (c) their human potential is being wasted not unlike that of the SPED student, which is the argument for SPED in the first place.

Resources are finite and at some point we have to make the tough call of saying no more to one so that thirty can have.

And as to "deserve to graduate", a diploma is EARNED, not an entitlement. We can say that everyone "deserves" a PhD, too....

Anonymous said...

Yes, how much DO we spend on one student? We are adding over $120,000 to the middle school budget for the Bridges program. Apparently for students with "severe special needs." How many students does that $120,000 represent? And how much money was going to Bridges before that? How many total kids will be in the program next year?

The cost to get our students to graduation is vastly different depending on which, if any, special services they received along the way. And some students, through no fault or lack of hard work on their part, still will be unable to graduate, no matter how much money you throw their way. Just as most of our kids will be unable to play professional sports, no matter how many teams or private coaches we sign them up for. Everyone has different abilities and potential.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked recently, when I counted the number of regular teachers and the number of special needs teachers at Wildwood. Have a look yourself. Approximately half of the teachers are focused on a very small number of special needs children. (And the dollars we spend on those children far exceed the state requirements.) Meanwhile, there are no gifted programs, and no consistent interest in challenging more advanced children. While one might argue that those gifted kids don't need help, I think that's quite naive: they can and do become exceptionally bored with school, and therefore don't always succeed. Bored children also tend to develop behavior problems, which affect everyone in the classroom.

Now is clearly not the time to start a gifted program at the elementaries (though I dearly wish it were possible), and that's not my point. Rather, I write to agree with Anonymous, who voiced concerns about special ed costs. I share those concerns. It simply isn't clear to me that our current spending choices maximize our (Amherst's) children's long-run contribution to society. Why do the needs of the few so dramatically outweigh the needs of the vast majority?

Alison said...

I did some research on graduation rates for ARHS versus other nearby districts (Belchertown, Frontier, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, and South Hadley). The only other district that is a regional district is Frontier. The latest graduation rates available on-line by special and regular ed are for 2007(Source: http//:profiles.doe.mass.edu/). Rates by regular and special ed for Hatfield were surpressed because of small numbers, so an overall graduation rate was all that was available for that district. This is what I found:

--Amherst had an overall graduation rate of 87.2%, 92.6% for regular ed and 64.7% for special ed.
--Four districts (Hatfield, Granby, Northampton, and Belchertown) had higher overall graduation rates than Amherst. South Hadley had the same graduation rate of 87.2%. Only Hadley and Frontier had lower overall rates.
--Three districts (Granby, Belchertown, and Northampton) had higher regular education graduation rates than Amherst. South Hadley, Frontier, and Hadley were lower.
--Five districts (Hadley, Granby, Northampton, South Hadley, and Frontier) had higher special education graduation rates than Amherst. Only Belchertown was lower.
--Taking a look at the discrepancy between graduation rates for regular ed and special ed (where a smaller discrepancy is better...i.e. both groups of students have the same rate of graduation), five districts (Hadley, Granby, Northampton, Frontier, and South Hadley) have a lower discrepancy in rates than Amherst. Only Belchertown is higher.

Granted, graduation rate is only one measure of assessment, but since the anonymous poster (Feb 25, 2:10PM) suggested that graduation be a district priority, I decided to focus on this measure.

Looking only at this measure and comparing Amherst to its nearest (geographcially) districts, I would conclude that for all the money that Amherst is putting into its special ed programs, it is not doing any better (and, I would argue, doing worse than many) than other local districts in helping special ed students graduate. If that IS a priority of our district, we are not meeting our goal!

And in case anyone is interested, the proportion of students who are classified as special ed in these same districts are:
--Amherst: 18.6%
--Belchertown: 15.6%
--Frontier: 22.8%
--Granby: 17.6%
--Hadley: 12.2%
--Hatfield: 13.2%
--Northampton: 21.8%
--South Hadley: 16.0%

Anonymous said...

There was a time when having more than 10% of your students in SPED was a red flag that you were doing something wrong.

Call me insensitive, but only 10% of your students truly will be SPED....