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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Does a School Board Control Curriculum? Yes!

There has been a lot of discussion about what decisions are within the domain of the School Committee -- closing a school, choosing curricula, etc. So, I am devoting this posting to just let readers of this blog understand the power that School Boards actually do have to choose curricula. The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee voted in January 2008 to eliminate the option for any 9th graders to take biology, and instead to require all 9th graders to take ecology and environmental science. Whether you agree or disagree with this decision, this decision was made and voted on by the Committee -- had a majority voted "no," 9th graders would now be allowed to take biology (and let me be clear -- not a single person on the committee voted to allow interested 9th graders to continue taking biology). This is one example of why who is on the School Committee really matters.

Although Amherst is the only district to my knowledge that has faced controversy for requiring students to take ecology/environmental science, science instruction is certainly part of controversial School Board votes in many districts. You might remember a controversial school board vote in Cobb County, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta): in 2002, the Cobb County School Board adopted a policy requiring stickers to be placed in biology textbooks which stated, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” (This decision was then overturned by the courts). You might also remember a controversial decision by the School Board in Dover, Pennsylvania: this district became the first in the United States to require teaching “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power. This change was seen as a veiled attempt to require students to learn creationism, a biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, or at least to present this view as on the same level as the more scientifically-validated theory of evolution (this decision was also overturned).

Don't worry -- I'm not suggesting that the Amherst-Pelham School Committee push for adding stickers promoting intelligent design on our biology textbooks or providing instruction on "intelligent design." But I am suggesting that School Committees in Amherst and elsewhere have real power to influence what is being taught in our schools. The reality is that schools matter a lot -- even for those who don't have kids in the public schools. Schools consume approximately 2/3rds of the Amherst Town budget ... and the quality of our schools impacts housing values. Amherst residents should therefore take the time to educate themselves on who is running for School Committee seats at each election, and should vote for candidates whose vision best fits what they would like to see in our schools.


Ed said...

The ID & Creation decisions are interesting. One could argue that environmentalism is every bit as much a religious value as are the aforementioned.

There *is* legal precedent - from a logging case if I remember correctly - that worship of the environment is a religion hence raising church/state issues.

It also would be interesting if some parents were to refuse to let their children attend this course on political or religious grounds. Even outside of Amherst, this could be an interesting case.

Anonymous said...

There was a short but interesting article in Parade yesterday regarding the mulit-age level approach for elementary and middle school. I was wondering what your thoughts are on this concept. I found it particularly interesting because my 11 year old had just asked me on Friday why classes are not done this way!

Ed said...

Multi-age is the way we used to do education - back in the day of the one room schoolhouse. In the early 20th Century we went from that to grades and a standardized curriculum. We also introduced universal high school and subject segregation where one teacher taught one subject as opposed to the universal education model of the elementary school.

Back then, an educated person (who had gone to college) was considered qualified to "teach school" and many young people did until they either got married or figured out what they wanted to do with their lives -- John Adams taught school in Worcester as a young Harvard graduate not yet into law & politics.

The multi-age, multi-ability model works well if education ends at the elementary school and if there are no knowledge fields necessary for high school. However.....

Ed said...

An interesting question -- if there has to be this massive heart-wrenching process to close Mark's Meadow, if there have to be multiple hearings and notifications and such, with some arguing that there needs to be a townwide referendum to do it.

If it takes all this, then how can the Selectboard just decide to close Lincoln and Sunset Avenues without even telling those affected first?

Could it be that some in town have political power while others don't? And if the Selectboard can act this arrogantly, then why can't the School Committee?

Just close Marks' Meadow next September and tell Charlie Scherpa to go arrest the protesters....

Rick said...

My feeling on this is that the School Committee is to the Superintendent of Schools as a Board of Directors is to a President of a corporation.

It can vary all over the lot as to what level of detail BODs get into.

And there is a balance between overseeing policy, strategy, etc. and micromanaging the President and his/her management.

The ninth grade science thing is a fairly major item that probably deserves a vote by the Board (the SC). An example of what probably would not be is a decision about what textbook gets used for what class.

Nina Koch said...

actually, there is a policy that states what the role of the school committee is supposed to be, in regard to curriculum:

Curriculum Development Policy

Of course there are different ways to interpret a policy, but in my reading, to say that the school committee "controls" curriculum does not jibe with the policy as written. I guess it also depends on your definition of the word "control."

Joe said...

I think the "Curriculum Development and Program Evaluation" policy is actually quite good. Although this policy never uses the word "control" it is clear in a number of places in the policy that the School Committee "formally adopts" or "acceptance of these reports..will constitute adoption" (making it clear that the School Committee could decide not to accept reports on changes).

Yes, the Superintendent has the "authority to approve new or modified programs and courses of study", but this doesn't imply the Superintendent has final say. The Polices are clear that the School Committee has the final say.

Ed said...

actually, there is a policy that states what the role of the school committee is supposed to be, in regard to curriculum

Written by who -- the School Committee. Which can grant its authority to anyone it wants to (even me) but still retains it. And the last line about how their approval of the Supts Document constitutes *their* approval of the curriculum says volumes. Why does the SC need to approve anything unless IT has the authority to need to give approval?

Go to the law - Ch 71, Sect 1, and after what every school must teach, there is this:

"Such other subjects as the school committee considers expedient may be taught in the public schools"

With the exception of the stuff that the STATE has mandated, anything that the SCHOOL COMMITTEE wants to teach can be taught. Now I am not a lawyer but that looks to me like a fairly clear grant of authority over curriculum to the SCHOOL COMMITTEE.

Rick said...

The “SC authority debate” is red herring material. Although Catherine’s post starts out with “There has been a lot of discussion about what decisions are within the domain of the School Committee…” it goes on to mainly say that, in her view, the SC has made at least one bad decision – regarding ninth grade science.

So this is really not about whether or not SC has authority to do what it’s doing, but rather is about whether or not it is making the right decisions.

If we want to debate something we should get back to debating whether or not:

a. Ecology / Environmental Science are good new options compared with the previously offered Earth Science.

b. Ninth graders not being able to take Biology is a bad thing.

My opinion on “a” is that Ecology / Environmental Science fantastic. The curriculum looks great to me:

and who can say Earth Science was something to get all excited about?

My opinion on “b” is: I’m not sure. What was the rationale for that? That all ninth graders should start out taking the same science course? If so I’m not necessarily against that, especially since Ecology / Environmental Science seem like such great courses, and there is an honors option. Partly related to this is whether or not 10, 11 and 12 graders can take more than one science course at once. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that they can’t. If so, I tend to think that is not a good thing. I don’t see anything wrong with taking Biology and Chemistry at the same time, for example. Maybe at least for 1 out of those 3 years they should be allowed to take two?

In an earlier post (March 13), Catherine said this:

“9th Grade Science - the first-year high school course for students varies considerably. Several schools require physics of all 9th graders (Brookline, Cambridge, Newton). Others require or offer biology for all 9th graders (Framingham, Northampton, East Longmeadow, South Hadley). Hatfield and Belchertown require earth science/physical science, and Hadley requires an integrative science course. Amherst is the ONLY district that requires ecology/environmental science.”

The fact that Amherst is the only school “that requires ecology/environmental science” is not a bad thing in my mind for the reasons stated above. We should not automatically say that something is bad just because other schools don’t do it. In fact, I would like to say Amherst does things differently to be better than the others.

That is NOT to say we should not look at what other schools do – we certainly should – it’s just to say that when we do that, let’s not just say “they do it so we should” let’s try to do better than that.

BTW I don’t get “Physics First” at all. You really have to have some level of calculus to do dynamics in physics – acceleration is the second derivative of a distance equation for example. And statics requires trigonometry. But I must be missing something about how Physics First programs work I guess.

Thanks Catherine for providing so much info and the space to post stuff like this. Hope the above makes sense.


PS: On Evaluation

I know Catherine wants to get data to prove that ninth grade science change is good or bad – maybe that is doable, or maybe not. The “Feasible evaluation” method discussed in the letter Catherine posted on March 17 sounds kind or problematic to me as you are comparing two different groups of students, where there could be all kinds of variables that differ, not just what they took for ninth grade science. Maybe those differences can be accounted for, maybe not.

As an alternative, its not rocket science to just look at this:


A + B = C

B has not changed I assume.
A is the thing that changed.
So just look at A as compared with Earth Science, right?

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Rick: I have a real problem with allowing ninth graders to sign up for multiple tech ed classes, multiple computer/business ed classes, and even multiple PE classes but not allowing them to sign up for multiple science classes! (Or, for that matter, multiple English or Social Studies classes.) Is this where the priorities for our high school lie?

Rick said...

Alison: Good point - although I would argue that science is harder than those classes. What about math, can you take 2x math? And if it is the same situation for English and Social Studies then it seems like an across the board policy, that somehow Tech Ed (and others) got excluded from? I doubt that ARHS is pushing Tech Ed as a priority over other things.

So what was the rationale for not allowing 2x science (and other classes) in nine grade (and all grades) - does anyone know? Are there budget reasons for this?

I would not assume that anyone is purposely trying to have a "wrong priority" here. Maybe there are reasons we don’t know about (yet). Let’s not get all worked up until we find out.

Nina Koch said...

Here is the worksheet students used this year to sign up for courses, grades 10-12:

Registration Worksheet

It includes instructions on requesting "Double Academics" and states that those requests are granted on a space available basis. It is definitely related to budget constraints.

Alison, I understand that for you, the priority is on the courses that are traditionally considered core academics. But you might want to learn more about our elective programs and also talk to some parents about them more. The elective courses provide really powerful learning experiences for many of our kids and often serve as a strong motivating force for particular kids.

For my teaching, the most important thing is to get kids to think for themselves and to be able to communicate what they understand. Those goals can be accomplished in many different settings. In fact, I would argue that many of the skills developed in an elective course (e.g. planning and executing a long-term project; dealing with setbacks; meeting specifications) are extremely valuable in today's world of work.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Nina: I agree with you that many of the elective offerings (especially in the upper grades) look amazing. And, for some kids, that will be where they find their true passion. What I am struggling with is why students are not told they can "double up" on electives "on a space available basis" whereas that is what they are told about the academic classes. Yes, having just gone through the sign-up process with my daughter, I realize that not everyone might not get their first choice elective (or even second choice), based on enrollments, but they are still able to take as many electives as they can fit into their schedule, whereas the same is not true for academics. I would just like to see the same standard applied to both academic and non-academic classes.

I would also like students to have the ability to SEE the master schedule so if there were an underenrolled class during their mandatory study hall blocks, they would then have the option of choosing that class instead. A student might not have had room for textiles, for example, when originally choosing classes, but once the master schedule was available, they might check to see if textiles was being offered during one of their study hall blocks and then they could swap. This would help get students out of study halls without causing any additional pressure on the master scheduler. Publishing a list of underenrolled classes by block in the late spring, for example, should be possible and would increase the options for our students.

Ed said...

You really have to have some level of calculus to do dynamics in physics – acceleration is the second derivative of a distance equation for example. And statics requires trigonometry.

Not all of the physics curriculum was ever taught - it is impossible.
My guess is that there is a shift away from motion and energy to light, electricity & colors.

We aren't into missiles and rockets the way we were in the 1950s, and imagine if a teacher was to shoot a bullet (from a rifle) into a log in front of the class today...

By contrast we have the electronics and the digital photography and the web stuff and hence the push toward light/electricity most of which you can teach if you have already have taught algebra. So if you are teaching that in the 7th & 8th grades then maybe I could see Physics First. Maybe...

I would discourage concurrent taking of biology and chemistry because of the different thought processes involved. Now Biology and the Ecology/Environmentalism, that would make sense....

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My reactions:

Ed - I do think Ecology/Environmental Science has a sort of political agenda ... although not one that could be seen as offensive/inaccurate (which seems like a key difference).

Anonymous 10:56 - my understanding is that this approach became VERY difficult following MCAS requirements (because kids in different grades have to demonstrate mastery of different things).

Ed - I actually think the SC could act "arrogantly" and close MM. But I think the goal is to hear the community concerns before a decision is made. But I do believe we have the "right" to NOT hear the community concerns (or at least not for months and months).

Rick - I think your analogy of Board of Directors/CEO is a great one. And you are right about our "power" -- we don't vote on textbooks, we do vote on new curriculum (e.g., 9th grade science course).

Nina - thanks for that link, which in my read does indeed give us the power! Here is the key language:

The School Committee will consider, and formally adopt, new programs and courses when they constitute an extensive alteration in instructional content or approach, or when significant new resources are required.

The School Committee wishes to be informed of all new courses and substantive revisions in curriculum. They will receive reports on changes under consideration. The acceptance of these reports, including a listing of the secondary program of studies, will constitute adoption of the curriculum for official purposes.

The School Committees consider the comprehensive and objective evaluation of the effectiveness of curriculum to be of primary importance. Program evaluation reports will be provided to the School Committee for review.

Joe and Ed - yes, agreed. Thanks for pointing out your own interpretations, which agree with my own.

Rick - in all honesty, my post was designed purely to focus on what the SC does ... including voting on new curriculum. I do believe the vote on ecology/environmental science was a bad one, but the fact that it happened is a clear sign that the SC does indeed have that power! But in terms of your second point (e.g., was it a good decision), I sort-of agree and sort-of don't. On the one hand, I think it sounds like a good course, so that is good. On the other hand, I think the course is likely to have negative consequences for most students. For students with little interest in science, they will take ecology/environmental science and then biology and then be DONE with all science (only a two year requirement at ARHS). In the old system, they would have had earth science (which includes physical sciences, not life sciences) and then biology, so they would have had at least an introduction to all aspects of science (this is the rationale for taeching these two types of courses 9th and 10th grade years in other districts). So, these students will have a REALLY thorough intro to biology (of which ecology is a subset), but that's it (they are missing A LOT of other science). For high achieving students, they are in essence being forced to take an elective science instead of getting to move right into biology, then take chemistry, then have the option to take any number of other classes (physics, AP environmental science, etc.). So, let's say the ecology class is a good class and we think students should all HAVE to take it. Do we also think "the Holocaust" is an important class? Or psychology (of course this one)? Or economics? I just think it is a very slippery slope to require something, particularly when no other districts feel the same way about this particular course. I believe -- and I've heard this from science professors at Amherst College and U Mass -- that this class will delay our kids introduction to "real science" and thus leave them behind their peers in other districts -- who will arrive at college with a strong background in fundamental sciences. And I guess I think if we decide to do something that is fundamentally different from what ALL OTHER HIGH SCHOOLS ARE DOING, at a minimum we have a requirement to engage in a serious evaluation to see if our approach is working. That hasn't been done, and it seems pretty clear that it won't be done. I also don't see why all our kids HAVE to take the same science in 9th grade -- we don't require them all to take the same math or the same language. So, why the same science? Finally, I heard GREAT things about the biology course for 9th graders -- so, why in the world wouldn't we see if the new course is better than THAT course?!? I don't have an answer to your physics question -- except that OTHER districts are doing it, and are having great success with it. I at least think it would be something that our science teachers should have given serious thought to, given that this is an approach now being used in many districts, and one that provides kids with a very, very solid background in all core sciences.

Alison - I agree about how odd it is that kids can take multiple electives, but not take multiple core courses.

Rick - I think it is indeed budget. And I also agree that two science courses, or two math courses, is pretty tough (at least for first years, maybe less so later on).

Rick said...

Thanks Catherine,

I’d like to try to separate out the issues re: ninth grade science. I think they are just these:

1. Is it bad that there is no longer a choice of science courses in ninth grade? It used to be Earth Science OR Biology. Now it is the one choice of Ecology / Environmental Science.

2. Is Ecology / Environmental Science a bad replacement for Earth Science?

Doesn’t it really boil down to just those two things?

The answer to #2 seems easy – just compare the two curriculums. Ecology / Environmental Science is on the ARHS website. Anybody know where the curriculum is for the old Earth Science?

The answer to #1 is not as easy. You have said what you think is bad about that. I’d like to hear from somebody who thought it was good and why they thought so. Apparently all the SC members at the time thought so. Why did they think so? Let’s try to understand what the thinking was. I may not agree with the thinking, but I haven’t even heard it yet so I can’t say.

You said: “For high achieving students, they are in essence being forced to take an elective science instead of getting to move right into biology, then take chemistry, then have the option to take any number of other classes (physics, AP environmental science, etc.).”

So really the problem is that prerequisites for elective science courses like AP Environmental Science (biology and chemistry) cannot be gotten out of the way sooner, so that AP Environmental Science has to be taken senior year (presumably alongside Physics). Is that really a bad problem? I am not sure I see a problem here:

9: Ecology / Environmental Science
10: Biology
11: Chemistry
12: Physics (+ maybe AP Environmental Science)

Unless high achieving students are really better off taking Biology instead, but they would be missing what is in Ecology / Environmental Science which seems like good stuff to me Note there is an honors version of the course also.

Rick said...

Just some info:
I was asking my daughter about this as she is home from college. She said that when she was in ninth grade (2002) you could take Biology in ninth grade but it was not easy to do so – you had to get permission to do so and it was not easy to get permission. She also said that if you wanted to take AP Biology you couldn’t take regular Biology in ninth grade – it was either take Biology in ninth grade (if you could get permission) or wait and take AP Biology in tenth grade. She thought taking AP Biology in ninth grade would be too much.

Rick said...

I found the minutes of the Regional School Committee meeting where the new ninth grade since programs was voted on:

January 8, 2008

There is a long discussion on that page. Also if you search the ARPS site for “ninth grade science”:

you find other pages that discuss it, including other meeting minutes like these:

November 20, 2007

December 4, 2007

I have not read any of those yet but they surely contain rationale for the new program.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick -- I appreciate all your thoughtful questions and pondering ... but the reality is, I think basically you and I just disagree, and that is OK! First, I don't know what the situation was in 2002, but as of 2007-2008, when kids could still take biology, about 1/3 of kids were doing this (the requirement was that they had 8th grade algebra). I hear great things about that course, and I think it is a shame that it is no longer an option for kids who really got excited by that material (evolution, genetics, cancer, AIDS are all taught in biology classes). I think your daughter's report is probably wrong -- AP biology requires chemistry, so there is no way that a sophomore could take AP biology (after having only had earth science in 9th grade). Maybe you mean as a junior (with taking earth science first year, then chemistry second year?).

I was at each of the meetings in which the ecology class was discussed -- I'm probably minuted. And I did hear their rationale -- but I don't want to paraphrase what they said, so read those minutes.

I come back to the big issue for me -- in your plan (in which students take physics and AP environmental science senior year) ... WHY are we requiring ecology/environmental science?!? It is not that this isn't a good course. It is not that the teachers aren't good. It is not that some kids won't find it interesting. It is that a requirement means we value this course above ALL others -- we don't require biology. We don't require chemistry. We don't require physics. We don't require geometry, algebra II, calculus, etc. We require ONE science course -- it is the ONLY one we think it is essential for all kids to take. And it is one that NO ONE else in the country requires of their students. That is just it for me, and I find it problematic.

Sure, we could, if budget permits, allow students to take two really hard sciences in 12th grade -- AP environmental science and AP physics (which is a very tough schedule, and frankly means kids aren't getting to use their electives on things like art/music, etc.). Or we could allow students to take biology in 9th grade, chemistry in 10th grade, and then ONE science in 11th and ONE science in 12th. This is what ALL other high schools in the United States do. It makes sense to me. And to good and dedicated science teachers across the country! That would be my strongn preference ... and I wish that the School Committee last year had made this exception a part of their vote for the new 9th grade course.

The new course seems to me to be emblematic of what I see as the greatest weakness in our school district -- we don't care what anyone else is doing (in fact, we pride ourselves on doing a different course than what anyone else is doing), and we don't evaluate the effectiveness of the course (other than pointing out some kids who like it -- which is anecdote, not empirical/objective evidence). I continue to be very, very troubled by the motivation for this course and the extreme resistance to a thorough evaluation. I am hopeful that other School Committee members who have now been elected share my concerns, and that Dr. Rodriguez will insist on a rigorous review of this course so that we can in fact figure out whether it is working well for all kids.

Nina Koch said...


I am still curious as to how you were able to infer what the entire country (and as I recall "likely the world") is doing. There are 23,000 high schools in the US. I believe your sample included around 40 or 50?

Also, I think that you may not realize that there is a movement toward integrated science, both at the secondary and the collegiate level. The integrated courses typically focus on a theme, such as the environment or energy or evolution. So it is not true that ARHS is doing something that no other school in the entire country is doing. This kind of data can be tricky to gather because you need to know what to look for. Check out Integrated Science I in California, where the primary emphasis is "how Earth is a unique system that supports life."

The movement toward integrated science would be even stronger had not the funding for reforms dried up. During the 90s, there was a strong push from NSF to move toward integrated science and mathematics. The original MCAS tests were designed to drive school districts in that direction. There have been many governmental and professional organizations pushing for reform, based on a lack of satisfaction with the current level of scientific and mathematical literacy in this country.

I would also be careful about assuming that the rest of the world does what the United States does. It's just not true. You might want to check out the "Changing the Subject" book I sent you a reference to.

And finally, I would ask you to avoid inflammatory language. I don't think it furthers the dialogue. In fact, I am not yet convinced that we are having a dialogue. Suggesting that the 9th grade course is not "real science" is only going to serve to misinform some people and to flare the tempers of others. When you look at the curriculum map for the course, does it not look like "real science" to you? I don't see what you accomplish by the statement, and it is one more example of something that is simply not true.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina: I know you like the new science course -- that's fine! But again, I have a right to my opinion as well, and that opinion is going to be expressed on my blog. In fact, that is why I have a blog!

I never said it was not a real science. I said it was not a CORE science. And it isn't -- ecology is a subset of biology.

I contacted 50 high schools, and each one I asked if they knew of anyone who taught this as a required class in 9th grade. They did not, and they were surprised that we were even considering it. If you can find a high school in the United States that is doing it -- publicize that on my blog. I can't wait to hear what school that is. The high school science teachers last year also weren't able to identify one.

I understand the move to integrated science -- and have talked to many college professors who teach core sciences. They felt that it would be impossible for students to really understand environmental science WITHOUT having an understanding of core principles (biology, chemistry). Again, you may differ -- but most science teachers in high school settings believe starting with biology or physics makes sense. We don't -- that's odd to me.

But again -- here's my only point, which I keep saying, and saying again: I don't care about this particular science class. I care DEEPLY that we believe we can come up with a new class that isn't being done anywhere (and I'm going to keep saying "anywhere" until someone finds another district doing this) and that isn't being evaluated. I don't care if you like or love this class or hear great things from kids in it. I do not believe we should be teaching a required 9th grade science class that no one else is doing and that hence there is no evidence supporting. I don't. But if we DO teach such a class, I believe we have a strong burden of proof to demonstrate that it is working -- and every single indication I have is that there is NO INTEREST in doing a rigorous evaluation. Because the easiest way to shut me up (and there are other parents who fully agree with this view) is to PROVE IT WORKS! But that isn't being done, which frankly speaks volumes.

Rick said...

I Googled "environmental science course in high school ninth grade" and these two were on top:

I don’t know if those two schools are evaluating their courses. But really that's not the issue – how many highs schools do one thing versus the other.

And let's take it down a notch.

Catherine: I don’t get that we disagree – at least not yet. In my post above I said:

“The answer to #1 [why no Biology?] is not as easy. You have said what you think is bad about that. I’d like to hear from somebody who thought it was good and why they thought so.”

So I was just looking for more info – trying to understand what the rationale was.

I should not have posted the comments from my daughter as that is just one person and a while ago – and yes AP Biology is grade 11 not 10.

Geez too much blogging today – I gotta get some work done.

Nina Koch said...


if you scroll up to your comment at 10:46 am, you will see the remark you made about "real science." Here it is:

this class will delay our kids introduction to "real science" and thus leave them behind their peers in other districts

Malia Hwang-Carlos said...

I think that Alison and Catherine are confused about the electives and the doubling up on academics.

The 9th graders will take 2 electives, at the most, not "multiple" electives. The reason they cannot double up on academics is that the budget over the last few years has created overenrolled classes. Room for additional students rarely exists, alas, much to my chagrin. Would that all interested readers and writers could take a third English class, as when I first began teaching at ARHS a decade ago.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

With all due respect, Malia, I don't think I am confused. I am actually looking at both the ninth grade preregistration worksheet and the ninth grade program of study right now. The requirements are:
--Directed Study (aka study hall): Must choose 2
--English (required)
--Physical education (required
--All students must request a minimum of 24 credits and exactly 15 blocks, including 2 directed studies.

From the above direct quotes and looking at both the worksheet and program of study, it further appears that ARHS recommends that students take one math, one science, and one social studies in addition, as well as one language. For the science, they have no choice but Environmental Science/Ecology. For the social studies, their only choice is World Civ. There are multiple math choices and multiple language choices.

As I read it, however, students would be free to take many more than the two electives you state they can. Yes, if students take all the available academic courses and a language, they would only have room for two electives. If they don't take a language, however, they would be free to take four electives, etc.

I am not clear whether or not all ninth graders are actually REQUIRED to take environmental science but that IS the only option for ninth grade science. It is not clear to me whether students could skip taking science in the ninth grade and take electives instead. The graduation requirements only state that "8 credits in laboratory science" are required (8 credits=2 years). I am clear, however, that they are not required to take math (only two years required--no specific courses) or social studies (three years required, including U.S. History) or language in the ninth grade. Leaving plenty of potential room for more than two electives.

Anonymous said...

CS wrote:

"I don't care if you like or love this class or hear great things from kids in it."

Well, this speaks volumes about your attitude and ego Catherine. But, at least you admit that you don't care. However, your unpleasantly confrontational approach to your role on the SC does not serve Amherst, or its children well.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:28, it helps if you aren't always looking for the negative. I understand her comment. Kids can love a class that may not be the best for their education.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:28 Sorry, but you are wrong. Kids often are the best judge of how rigorous a class is, how engaging a class is, and if it will help them to get into the college they want to.

Also, CS was adressing this mainly to the parent. As far as negativity is concerned, I find CS to be the one of the most negative, hubristic school committee members.

The negativity can be turned around if CS starts actually "working for all kids" or whatever it is she has claimed. "Not caring" about the opinion of kids or the parents of those kids who don't happen to agree with her is quite negativie and divisive, and I srongly believe CS should be called on it.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Rick - thanks for the info on the two schools. As it turns out, one of those courses is actually earth science (study astronomy, geology, etc.), and the other is in a school in which the Physics First model is used in 8th grade. So, I'm going to say those aren't really examples doing what we are doing. I still don't see why depriving kids of the option to do biology makes sense, but the following cases were made (to the best of my recollection a year ago): first, only SOME kids got to do biology (e.g., those who had had algrebra in 8th grade), second, it would help prepare kids for the biology MCAS (but not the chemistry MCAS, obviously), and third, it is an important field of study. The first two points again consider ONLY the kids who would have taken earth science -- they ignore the kids who would have taken biology. The third point strikes me as dangerous in its precendent -- do we really decide what is and is not important in science, and if so, is this the ONLY thing we think kids need to know? I'm not convinced at all of that -- nor are high school teachers in any district that I'm aware of. If there are other rationales, I'd love to here them -- but they weren't presented at the meeting. Hope you got some work done today!

Nina - I put "real science" in quotes, because that is how many parents feel ... that is why it is in quotes. Ecology is NOT considered a core science, nor is environmental science, and, yes, I should have noted "core science". Astronomy is also a "real science" but not one that we require, as is genetics, etc. I remain puzzled about why the ONLY science we believe should be required is ecology and environmental science.

Malia - thanks for your posting. And yes, I agree that we need to work to make the budget realities work for kids to take an elective science/world language/English. Is this really just a budget issue (e.g., teachers, class space, or what)? Thanks for sharing your observation that this has changed over time -- do you know when (or was it gradual)?

Alison - good question. Thanks.

Anonymous 11:28 - you obviously don't like me and that's OK. But I am not sure that your response helps moves this, or any, dialogue. Here's the reality - my kids would love to eat potato chips and ice cream all day. I don't let them. I teach at a college -- I recognize the downside when kids come to college with dramatically different levels of preparation. That matters in terms of options. I took calculus in high school, and I hated it. And I was pretty bad at it. But it helped me when I got to college because I had had that class -- not because I enjoyed it or liked it, but because I had some exposure to that material before sitting in a college classroom with other kids who also had that exposure. If our kids don't graduate with AP chemistry and are sitting in a college classroom with other kids who have had AP chemistry, our kids are disadvantaged. But high school isn't just about enjoyment -- it is about opening doors so our kids have real options. It is super if our kids like ecology/environmental science AND that class prepares them as well as another class for future success in science. But we don't know whether it will allow for this future success BECAUSE WE ARE NOT EVALUATING AIT. That seems to me to be essential -- if they like it while taking it, but they aren't ready for the next class (e.g., chemistry), that is a problem in my opinion. But maybe not in yours?

Anonymous 12:57 - thank you -- this is exactly my point.

Anonymous 3:01 - I think it is factually untrue that a 9th grader is in the best position to tell how well a class prepares him or her for higher level science. You can (from your safe anonymous perch) call me names and accuse me of not caring for kids ... but I think the number one way a School Committee truly cares for kids is by creating a school system with high expectations for all kids that allows them to succeed in any college and in any major. There is NO WAY that our high school is providing the strongest preparation for all our kids right now. If that feels negative and divisive to you, I'm sorry. But to me, that is caring about all kids. And if you believe that the best way to care for all kids is to allow them to determine what classes they like and just take those, I think you should leave your name so that the community can also learn your opposing view - and maybe you could run for SC next year on this platform!

Anonymous said...

My child HATED Ecology but I certainly wouldn't expect that to be used to determine if it should be required! There are much better ways to evaluate it.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Sanderson,

Is this abusive, SCREAMING WITH CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCESSIVE PUNCTUATION attitude how you manage the rest of your life and your classroom? How would you feel about one of your children’s teachers taking the same approach? Do you even notice how much you do it?

Have you heard the term netiquette? It addresses how tone is presented in email, blog and such. And your tone is really intense. Try not to scream so much and see what kind of results you get.

It appears that you aren't really working for the schools or the children at all, but rather that you are working hard to create some serious rifts in the school community.

Have you ever said anything at all positive about our schools' curricula, our teachers, our principals, our counselors, librarians, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, or the custodians?

People thought strongly enough of this rag tag bunch to hire them. Could all those people be so wrong?

Have you ever actually visited the school you want to close? How would it feel if someone like you was pushing to close your child’s school? What sacrifices will your family be making to help with the budget crisis in the schools? How will your children’s lives be turned completely upside down as will the lives of those whose school may be closed?

Do you have any idea how good this school system is? How would you rate the Amherst school system on a scale of 1-10?

And how effective do you think you’ll be if you continue with your abusive approach?

I really wonder why you are on the school committee at all. You seem like a very angry person, who needs to be on the attack all the time.

Where does all this aggression come from?

Please, Mrs. Sanderson, consider resigning your school committee post.

p.s. Ask your friend the economist who studies data what numbers people think about shallow research? Most parents, most schools: what does that mean? How many is most? Clearly, your “research” doesn’t begin to study the American high school.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 4:07 - exactly ... if we chose to continue classes based on what students "like," I shudder to think about what a high school curriculum would look like.

Anonymous 5:55 - I''m glad to talk to you anytime about your concerns about my behavior (on this blog or at a meeting). My office phone is 413 542-2438, and I'm there most days, all day. Call anytime, and we can have this dialogue. But you are raising highly personal attacks anonymously on this blog, and I don't therefore feel that I have any responsibility to engage with you. Use your name on this blog, or call me if you are not willing to have others see your name. I stand by everything I've said on this blog and at meetings -- I've done so using my name. I find it interesting that you are willing to be so very highly accusatory towards me, but anonymously -- surely you can stand by your comments with your name, right, since my behavior is so obviously egregious that everyone is recognizing it?

However, here are my thoughts in response to your post. First, if you don't like my tone -- don't read this! It is totally optional to read this, so again, don't bother and save yourself the annoyance. Second, if you read this blog, you'll notice that I say positive things all the time about members of the school community, including teachers, principals, and the superintendent. I hear from many teachers who say to me in private "keep blogging" and are thankful to communicate with me this way. Teachers have called me at home to express their frustration with aspects of the school, and their appreciation for my work. You are obviously annoyed that I feel we should close Marks Meadow -- but if you read these postings, you will see that I make my case that doing so protects the quality of education for all the kids in Amherst. You may disagree with this view -- I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you are a teacher at MM -- but the reality is, keeping this school open will HARM all kids in the Amherst schools because of the cuts that will have to be made. It would sure be easier to just sit back and shut up and watch all the cuts being made ... but that isn't doing my job, which is in fact to look out for all the kids in Amherst. My own kids will be moved from the only school they've ever known -- but that isn't a reason for me to fight redistricting because it is not about my kids. It is about all the kids. And I don't think my kids are going to feel ANY better knowing that some kids still get to go their old school and they don't -- it doesn't matter that their school is OPEN -- they aren't attending it! And I would say my family is making a huge number of sacrifices -- including me going to meetings many, many nights, and doing free evaluation research for the schools, and helping get grants, and having Amherst College students run data analyses. I also built the playground at Fort River - funded largely by grants. And I fought hard (with my own time and money) for the override two years ago. Although you may not believe it, I think I'm having a major impact in a good way on the schools -- and that is probably why you are so angry at me -- you see that I'm making progress at making change, and that scares you. Change is scary -- I understand that. And that is precisely why I'm on the School Committee -- to move our schools in a direction that works for kids. All kids. That might be why over 2000 people voted for me last year -- so for me to resign because an anonymous poster dislikes me (for reasons that seem largely to do with the perception that I'm angry?!?) would be pretty irresponsible, yes? Again, I'm glad to have any sort of a real dialogue you want -- even anonymously on your end. But start a dialogue -- not just accusations and personal attacks. Tell me what you'd like me to do and why -- and if it is keep MM open, you tell me how to pay for it.

JWolfe said...

To Anon 11:28, 3:01 & 5:55 (who seem to be the same person):

I am not a scientist, I am a historian. I have taught as a tenured faculty member at private, elite places and now at a wonderful flagship state school. Here's what I know about student attitudes and course evaluations (and this relates to college students whose opinions I trust more than those of teenagers):

What a student feels about a class when he or she is in it or has just completed it is much less informed and valuable than their later thoughts on the class. I have done as a senior faculty member evaluations of untenured faculty teaching at Williams College & Rice University. It is clear really beyond debate that student evaluations are most helpful several years AFTER they have taken a class. Entertaining and popular teachers receive wonderful evaluations at the end of the semester, but in interviews after graduation *some of them* are seen as intellectual and pedagogical lightweights. (Wonderful and challenging professors can and really should be engaging, but that is different from the entertainment factor found in many end of the semester evaluations -- though certainly not all.) Some extremely popular teachers are later downgraded in post-graduation evaluations for failing to challenge their students. Given time to reflect and with more maturity (i.e., as college graduates who are now young adults), former students usually provide much more positive evaluations of tough teachers in core classes. Teachers who really challenged them and gave them core skills. Trendy classes are often like trendy clothes; they quickly feel outdated.

Before you blow your stack with counter examples, there are of course wonderful teachers who score well at the end of the semester and years later as well. They are the gold standard in teaching. My point is that you should never trust just those immediate reactions or evaluations at the end of the semester without the later evals for context.

So, the fact that this or that HS student feels engaged in a new trendy class is of little value to me. I really don't think education can or should always be fun. Think back, if you did it, to flash cards as you learned how to conjugate verbs in a new language or studied new vocabulary in another language. That's old fashioned, rote learning. That's how you learn to speak another language. It isn't fun, but it sure is effective. Speaking those languages, living in other countries are wonderful experiences. The fun of that is gained after the hard work of tough language instruction.

How exactly can anyone do Chemistry without learning the periodic table of the elements? I think that it is technically impossible to study Chemistry without knowing the elements. It's also boring memorizing the elements, but HS isn't supposed to be Sesame Street. It is supposed to have hard parts that are hard in part because they are boring. That helps prepare them for life too. Not every activity is fun. HS isn't youth soccer. You don't get a trophy for showing up.

That isn't a clarion call for a dull education, but seeking student approval strikes me as a recipe for mediocrity. The above is a call for the creation of a curriculum that includes lots of hard, challenging classes that eschew entertainment for rigor.

As to "Integrated Sciences" vs. more traditional fields, do yourself a favor and look at the degrees of all the folks doing integrated science. The head of Environmental Studies at UMass is a Microbiologist. I think you'll find that Integrated Science is a bit like Latin American Studies (my field). It's a multidisciplinary program filled by people who have mastered traditional disciplines. LA Studies is filled with Historians, Political Scientists, Sociologists, Economists, Anthropologists, language and literature profs, and so on. We are highly influenced by works by folks in other disciplines, but we are also experts in our fields. That does matter.

The point so many of us make in response to the ways the Ecology curriculum is discussed is that the kids would benefit greatly from knowing some Biology and Chemistry *before* they go into the woods to measure things. How can they really understand those measurements if they don't have any biology or chemistry?

Rick said...

Anon 5:55: Just go away. Posts like that add nothing of value.

Catherine: I want try again to narrow down what the real problem is here.

I suggest that this ninth-grade-science issue just boils down to what you said here: “I still don't see why depriving kids of the option to do biology makes sense…” I get your concern there.

You point out what you recall as to the reasons, and there is info about the decision in the links to meeting minutes (posted way above) and in the Bulletin article here:

But I think some clarification is needed so let me try:

I don’t think you have any problem with the new Ecology / Environmental Science course, and I haven’t seen anyone say it’s a bad course and in fact many say it’s a good course. So I suggest that really the only problem you have is not being able to take biology in ninth grade.

So, when you talk about wanting to measure how this course is doing (which is fine) I think maybe what you really want to measure is not that, but the effect of taking away the option of taking biology in ninth grade, right?

Here I am no agreeing or disagreeing with the removal of the ninth grade biology option but just trying to refine the problem. If we can agree that this is the real problem, we can narrow the discussion to just focusing on that: biology or no biology in ninth grade.

Interested parent said...

I have some questions that I would like real answers to. When the numbers you are using about how much closing Mark's meadow will save us, were given to us, they told us they are not accurate. Yet, every time you talk about closing Mark's Meadow, you say they are. This number has also been averaged up quite a bit.

How did they all of a sudden become accurate numbers?

Until Rob Detwiller gives us an ACCURATE number of how much we will save by closing MM, we should put a hold on that option.

How can we know the accurate numbers if we do not have a line-by-line of the Mark's Meadow budget ANYWHERE?

Without a line-by-line budget pf Mark's Meadow, there is NO WAY to find out how much it will "save" us each year.

Can you please ask for that budget to be done, then we can talk about how much it will really save?

Title 1 funding? Anyone have an answer yet if we can still receive it if we close MM or even just redistrict?

Language learners who are currently bussed to specific schools, do we know if this will continue to happen?

Do the principals of each of the other elementary schools feel they can accommodate the 180 children who will be relocated to their schools, and feel like they can give ALL of the children an education equivalent to the current level? Has this been asked of the principals and teachers in the other schools? Do they feel that they can adequately educate the additional children and the current specialized programs each school has?

On a different note:

How do you intend to fix the Regional budget? That is much worse than elementary and yet the elementary budget has gotten more attention. The only thing we hear about is Language and teams from the MS being cut. This budget is MUCH worse than that and again, looks worse for years to come.

How will this be fixed? I would like to hear specifics ideas of how to fix that budget. To me, that is more important to talk about than a science course. At least there IS a science course, but at the rate that budget is going, we will be lucky to have the upper ed schools at all!!

We didn't hear any specifics from the two new SC members about how they plan to fix this either. Curious. Seems like the elementary schools got more attention in this election than the regional schools and the regional budget is MUCH WORSE with little room to cut.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

Rick - yes, this is pretty much the key issue -- why was biology removed as an option for some 9th graders? That course was widely seen as successful -- and is much more standardly taught in HS. I think it was taken away largely (entirely?) because of the concern that some kids could take it (those who had 8th grade algebra) and others couldn't. There was also a sense that a common 9th grade science curriculum would be beneficial (like we have a common social studies course and English course). I'm not convinced by this "common" experience point -- kids take different math classes and different world language classes and different electives. I don't think having an "honors" version means anything. I would have been very happy with either of two solutions: first, allowing the option of taking ecology/environmental science OR biology, and second, requiring all 9th graders to take biology (and either changing that class so that it didn't require biology OR increasing the rigor of math K to 8 so that all 8th graders took algebra). So, basically I think (again, this is my instinct, NOT data) that the new course is probably better (in multiple ways) than earth science. I am not at all convinced it is better than biology (which was said to be an excellent course). So, since we have removed biology as an option, I think an evaluation should show the course is better THAN biology (not just than earth science) -- and if an evaluation showed this (a real evaluation), I'd be happy! Does that help? You've done a great job of sticking with this and pushing me to clarify the issue, and I do appreciate it!

An interested parent - I will do my best to provide real answers. The numbers about closing MM that were given in February were estimates ... and I've seen an updated version (which will be presented in mid-April). This number was ran by Rob Detwiller -- and it shows that the savings estimated in February were actually LOWER than they are actually are (meaning closing MM saves even more money than we had thought). There is a line-by-line budget of Mark's Meadow, but that actually isn't relevant in terms of the cost savings achieved in closing it, because those kids don't disappear -- they still have to be educated elsewhere! So, closing MM doesn't just automatically eliminate this school and all its costs ... the costs (e.g., teachers, buses, etc.) would have to be transfered to the other schools. The number that has been determined by the superintendent's office takes this into account - the cost of educating 1310 kids in 3 schools versus 4 schools. The report in mid-April will give an update on Title 1 funding as well (short answer -- it doesn't have a big impact). I do NOT know about the plan for language learners who are currently bussed to specific schools -- this is an important issue, but it is separate from the budget (because this could continue in 3 schools or in 4 schools, or be discontinued in 3 schools or in 4 schools). The principals at all of the schools have indeed been asked both how well they feel they can educate an additional 180 kids (again, about 60 per school -- more in CF, less in the others), and how well they feel they can educate the kids currently in their building if we continue to maintain four schools and thus have to make major, major budget cuts. You'll get this answer in mid-April as well.

The regional budget is indeed very tricky -- and there are less easy solutions (and I agree that this is more important than a science course). The one bit of good news is that the enrollment projected in the regional schools is actually dropping pretty dramatically -- from 1764 this year, to 1539 by 2013-2014. So, in a sense, this is good because fewer kids means you don't need as many teachers/teams.

I also was impressed with the strategy discussed by Mark Jackson and Miki Germacki -- focusing on eliminating courses with traditionally low enrollments. This seems like an appropriate strategy that would at least minimize the impact. I think somewhat larger class sizes (especially in the high school) woudl be appropriate. My 5th grader right now has 26 kids in his class -- the HS aims for 22 kids in a class. That is a great ideal, but it may not be sustainable in very tight budget times. I also noted the elimination of a vice principal from both the HS and the MS -- that seems like an appropriate decision, in these very tight budget times. Finally, I think it is appropriate to focus on what is the core of our schools -- and I believe maintaining the required courses (science, math, English, world language, social studies) may need to take precedence over having such a rich array of electives (e.g., art, music, techology). I know those opportunities are valuable, but we also need to think about whether they are cost effective and whether their absence would dimish our kids' ability to keep doors open to both get into college and succeed in college. This may be a place we could cut in tight budget times, and then expand when/if times are better. I agree that the regional schools got much less attention in the SC race, which is too bad -- and if you, or others, have suggestions for the regional budget, please send them my way!

Rick said...

Catherine: OK perfect. That narrows done the problem to just whether or not it’s bad that Biology is not an option in ninth grade. So we can just talk about that, which is easier.

Let’s look at (some of) the options. Below I assume that 1/3 of the kids used to take ninth grade Biology because I recall that from somewhere – but the exact number doesn’t matter for this comparison.

So, which is “better”?

A. The current system

9: Ecology / Environmental Science
10: Biology
11: Chemistry
12: Physics (+ maybe a science elective)


B. The old system (with Earth Science replaced by E / ES)

9: Ecology / Environmental Science (2/3 of kids) Biology (1/3 of kids)
10: Biology (2/3) Chemistry (1/3)
11: Chemistry (2/3) Physics (1/3)
12: Physics (2/3) science elective (1/3)


C. The current system (just another example for higher achieving science students)

9: Ecology / Environmental Science
10: Chemistry
11: AP Biology
12: Physics (+ maybe AP Environmental Science)


D. A system that many other high schools use:

9: Biology
10: Chemistry
11: Physics
12: Science Elective

Also in the above I assume kids take science all four years – I know they don’t have to.

So, I guess I see it this way:

While it can be argued “why not give students a choice” is reasonable, that can also be argued for English and other subject areas, and one can also argue that “we think kids need to take this course(s)” is also reasonable – even colleges still mostly have required courses that you have to take in first 2 years or so, depending on your major.

I don’t really see a problem with A. Part of the reason why I don’t see a problem is that high achieving kids can do option “C”, and anyhow higher achieving kids would probably not have taken biology in ninth grade anyhow because then they can’t take AP Biology (you may think that is wrong, they should be able to take Biology + AP Biology).

I also like “D” with Ecology / Environmental Science being an elective science course.

But I think I prefer A over D because Ecology / Environmental Science is a more relevant thing for kids to know about than just pure biology, and it is perhaps a better course to “turn kids on” to science in general. And anyhow they will probably get biology in later grades so it’s not like they are missing it.

Can you measure which is better?

Boy I don’t see how. It seems like by senior year, kids will have learned the same stuff no matter which system you use. The kids who would have chosen Biology in ninth grade surely would choose Biology in 10th or 11th grade – so they get Biology. Perhaps the one downside is if that if want to take a science elective, they have to double up (i.e. Physics + Science Elective in senior year) and also because of prerequisites, science electives can only be taken in senior year under A (I think – am I wrong on that?)

I can see arguments in favor and against all of the above, but I don’t see it to be a big factor one way or the other. I’m sure we disagree on this but at least we can know more specifically what we disagree on. Also I am not closed and open to continuing to hear other arguments.

Rick said...

Switching topic for a moment: to me the whole excellence thing is not so much about the discussion on science curriculum, where to me it’s tough to see which is better. It’s about one thing and one thing only TEACHERS. Ask your kids what courses they took are good, and why, and the reason why will be the teacher 99% of the time. Show me a school full of great teachers and I will show you a great school. If you ask me 99% of efforts on quality should be:

a. Attracting and retaining great teaches.
b. Removing bad teachers.

How you do that, I don’t know. Maybe we should be talking more about that.

Those of you who have gone to Open House at ARHS and/or gotten to know your kids teachers know that there are some fantastic teachers at ARHS. I know for myself that every time I came away from an Open House I said “wow I’d like to have that teacher”. Not all teachers at ARHS are great, but many are and that’s a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I too feel CS you are being a bit harsh in some of your postings. This blog allows one to post anonymously and so be it. Why do you always try and call one out. It feels like you are asking to dual or some such nonsense...
You keep saying ALL KIDS--I can not understand how Marks Meadow kids do not fit in this equation.
I am the one who posted that I have seen this scenerio many times before. When I marched on the state house steps fighting for women's rights and even in Washington DC, we were resented by other oppressed people, ex: the working poor, while the big money holders drank their $5 cups of coffee looking on. The oppressed fight the oppressed while the oppressor victors.
I did not mean that the children at MM are oppressed nor the ones at CF. I was referring to the way our community is rising up and attacking each other while private schools, administrators in particular, do not even recognize this kind of fight, never mind engage in one.
I don't have the answer as to where the money can be found to save MM. I only know it is there.

Anonymous said...

"You keep saying ALL KIDS--I can not understand how Marks Meadow kids do not fit in this equation."
It seems to me she is trying to give everyone, including MM kids, the same opportunities they have now. Music, educational assistance, etc, etc. So they wont be in the same Building they are in now. Is that building worth ALL the Amherst kids, inclucing them, losing those things? She has repeatedly asked for other ways to save that money and I have yet to see a post answering that. All I see is anger.

Anonymous said...

It seems more so to me that while she may be trying to give everyone the same opportunities, music, educational assistance etc. at what expense will this be accomplished?!
Why don't you look at or make easily public the payrolls and positions of the administrators? Could you then post them here in this blog? I believe we would see many, overlaps and salaries that most would find shockingly high. This is where the cuts need and should be made first. How can anyone in good conscience destroy a neghborhood school? Yes--this raises anger--it's only natural that one would be angry and sad and upset over such an outrageous decision.
I must say here that the recent picture in the Amherst Bulletin of CS and SR with beer and drink in hand are not exactly my idea of the kind of people I would want entrusted with my children's education.

Rick said...

I agree with Anon 1:06AM, and to Anon 6:21PM this is really not helpful: “I don't have the answer as to where the money can be found to save MM. I only know it is there.” OK where is it?

We shouldn’t be angry at people – like Catherine – who know there are only bad choices and are trying to make the best band choice. Instead we should be thankful that people like her are trying to make the best bad choice. I don’t agree with her on everything (as you can read above) but on MM she’s has clearly laid out all the options in a pretty objective and transparent basis and determined that is the best bad choice.

There is not as much money for the schools as we would like…duh. This is primarily the fault of the state, who decided to cut back on aid to towns starting in 2002, but it is also the fault of the citizens of Amherst who voted down an override (53% to 47%) in 2007 ( So guess what? We voted for what is happening now – both at the state level and the town level – not all of us, but the majority of us.

So if you want to get angry, get angry at yourself, the voter.


Anon 9:07AM (same as Anon 6:21PM?):

You really shouldn’t assume this:

“I believe we would see many, overlaps and salaries that most would find shockingly high.”

…since you don’t know the facts. But I agree with you that it would be nice to more easily be able to find the facts as you say:

“Why don't you look at or make easily public the payrolls and positions of the administrators?”

It should be easy to find an org chart of the whole school system (and the entire town for that matter).

Catherine: maybe the SC could look into posting that on the ARPS site. To me, it doesn’t need to be complicated and list the salaries of every position, just the top ones and in most cases just average salaries. For example, an org chart could just show “X teachers at ARHS (ARMS, Wildwood, etc…) at average salary of $Y” and maybe “X guidance councilors at average salary of $Y” – like that – perhaps listing the actual salary of just top potions like Principal, etc… That would give us all an idea of how many people are in each job category and what total $ are spent in each category.

Also, there is apparently a study coming out soon about whether or no there is waste and overlap:

Finally: SC members can’t drink? Come on.

Anonymous said...

Please--what kind of front news story shows people drinking it up in a bar who have just been elected to represent how our schools will be run, how our children will be effected by the decisions they make? You come on...
SC members can drink all they like, but if this is a picture of how they commune, around just doesn't shed a very good picture on what their idea of a social gathering should include and therefore it leaves too much to the reader to think about how or what may help them to reach their decisions.
I would be embarassed, to say the least, to be represented to my public in this manner. A bar....couldn't they have gathered in a less 'drink to your delight' atmosphere? Did you see all the bottles of liquors in the background? Poor choice, very poor choice. How many other poor choices will they now make?
And I am not angry at myself one bit as I did not choose or vote for any of these people.
Cut administrative positons before you cut up children's lives.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Rick - I agree that the ecology/environmental science option seems like a better choice than earth science, overall. But I'd also prefer for the HS to have coupled this new requirement with adding a year to the overall science requirements (to three years, from two year). Most high schools require three years (I did an earlier post on this), and that would help increase the number of our kids who would get SOME exposure to physical sciences (e.g., chemistry, physics). In the old system, some kids took earth science and then biology, and others took biology and then chemistry. In both of these cases, kids got exposure in TWO YEARS to both types of sciences -- life science and physical science.

However, I do agree that the bigger issue for me, and many, is the absence of the biology option for 9th graders. You lay out various options, and that you like Option A (our current system for some, probably most, kids). I like this option more IF we required 4 (or even 3 years) than we do now. But I think Option C (which is what the kids will do now who would have taken biology in 9th grade) may well be problematic -- this is one of the things we just don't know because we are now the ONLY high school I've been able to find in which chemistry is taught as the first core science. I believe there are three potential problems with option C (and again, this option is a forced option for those who would have taken biology in the old system). First, virtually all other districts, chemistry is taught AFTER biology or AFTER physics, and hence there is some knowledge about one of these other core disciplines FIRST. It isn't clear to me how well our kids will do in chemistry when they don't have that exposure first -- that is one of the reasons why I think the evaluation is important. Second, the chemistry MCAS is what these kids will take as their science MCAS. And this MCAS has the highest failure rate of any of the science MCAS tests. That seems problematic to me -- especially because 10th graders who take the chemistry MCAS in other districts will have had not only chemistry but also biology OR physics, whereas ours will have had ecology (can't imagine that is going to help on the chemistry MCAS). Third, I think the best way to get kids excited about science is to let them choose what science electives they want to take. Sure, for some kids, that is ecology. But for others, it might be anatomy/physiology or astromony. In the old system, the kids who now are forced to take ecology/environmental science are not able to take another elective -- if they want to take the core sciences (biology, chemistry, physics). In the old system, they had a year in which they could take one of these other courses -- or the AP Environmental Science class. And although doubling up is theoretical possible (e.g., by senior year), it again means we are requiring these kids to double up to take classes that interest them -- meaning they then aren't taking some other elective (e.g., music, art, language, whatever). But at a minimum, I'd like a plan for an evaluation that includes how well are our kids in 10th grade chemistry doing NOW (as in next year) compared to how they would have done if they had had biology first (and this should not be hard to test).

You raise the point that "Ecology/Environmental Science" is a more relevant thing for kids to know about than just pure biology, and it is perhaps a better course to “turn kids on” to science in general." I think that is possible - but I don't think it is definite -- thus the need for us to test this! I think you absolutely could measure this. I had asked the superintendent and school committee to offer both biology and ecology/environmental science courses this year as options to 9th graders, and then measure interest/enjoyment/likelihood of taking future science, etc. That would have been an easy (not perfect, however) way to test this. There is data now that has been collected that would allow us to test whether the new course is seen as turning more kids on than the old course -- but no one has looked at the data (survey report from kids). I've offered to do so, and have been told I can't. Again, I'm curious as to why we aren't getting this data -- which has been collected (it is NOT hard to test -- it is just means for kids in different classes from last year and from this year). That would help us know whether the new course is indeed, as one would hope, turning more kids on to science.

Again, you may be right, I may be right ... and the ONLY way to tell is to do an evaluation (people do often have instincts/intuitive feelings that are wrong)! That is really all I'm asking for -- and it would help us know how this new system works for all our kids.

Rick - in regards to the new topic: yes, the teacher matters A LOT. There was an interesting New Yorker piece a few months ago which described how the quality of the teacher is the best predictor of student outcome -- more so than class size, even. I have no experience with MS or HS teachers, but I've seen many fabulous teachers at Fort River -- including both highly experienced teachers and new (first or second year) teachers. I'd say one of the key things we can do to help attract good teachers is to pay well -- and I know that is controversial in this community in tight budget times, but if we are a community that cares about education, we should be willing to pay teachers well for what is clearly a hard job. But I also think it is important that teachers are teaching a particular curriculum - that is horizontally and vertically aligned (e.g., so that kids in one class in 6th grader are getting exposed to the same material as those in other 6th grade classes, and so the kids arrive in 6th grade having learned in 5th grade what they'll need to know and so the kids leave 6th grade knowing what they'll need to know for 7th grade). Curriculum also matters ... and I hope our new superintendent can focus on increasing both horizontal and vertical alignment (something that has been acknowledged by some as a weakness overall in our schools).

Anonymous 6:21 - two things. First, I think it is fine if people have questions they want to ask and ideally get answered anonymously or if they have suggestions they'd like considered. I think vicious and personal attacks delivered anonymously are just inappropriate -- I'm owning everything I say, and I think you should write your name and stand by your comments if you are posting on this blog simply to criticize me. That seems frankly only fair -- your hiding as anonymous seems cowardly to me. Second, I have no idea what you mean about the oppressed/oppressors. All the kids in all our schools deserve the best education we can provide. It is pretty clear that we have two choices: we can provide an excellent education to all kids in three buildings, or we can provide a less good education to all kids in four buildings (because we will have to cut $700,000 out of the budgets to keep four schools). I am voting for the first choice -- which keeps an excellent education for all kids, including those now at MM. I'm on the SC ... I'm pretty aware of how we spend our money. And I don't see an extra $700,000 just sitting around.

Anonymous 1:06 - thank you. This is precisely what I am trying to do. I don't think the physical space in which one attends school is the key thing ... I think it is class size and librarians and music and intervention, etc. Closing MM lets us sawe many of those other things for ALL kids.

Anonymous 9:07 - I guess I just don't see the "at what expense" -- ummm, some kids will have to move schools (including my own). That just isn't a big deal. On the other hand, if you reverse it -- keep MM open -- at what expense? Well, at the expense of music, librarians, small class sizes, etc. That seems like an easy trade! In terms of the administrators issue -- I don't know what is public about salary so I'm not posting stuff until I've checked. But there are exactly 7 "administrators" in the elementary schools -- four principals and 3 assistant principals. At a recent SC meeting, the salary of a to be cut assistant principal in the HS was given as $80,000, so this is public information. Let's say that all 7 administrators in the elementary schools were cut -- that would save 7 X $80,000 (assuming they make about that, which is probably at least a reasonable guess - though I think HS staff get paid more than elementary staff) = $560,000. That would be LESS than the cost of closing MM ... and that assumes that we could run all four elementary schools without any principals or vice principals, which seems .... unlikely?!? It is easy to say just get rid of administrators, and certainly we should carefully consider how many administrators we have and whether some could be eliminated. But again, at the cost of $700,000 a year, we'd need to find 7 to 10 administrators that aren't needed -- at the ELEMENTARY level. I just don't think this is a realistic way to keep MM open. You say "How can anyone in good conscience destroy a neghborhood school?" And I'll ask you the same question: "How could anyone in good conscience ask to keep a neighborhood school open at the expense of small class sizes, music, and intervention teachers?"

Finally, I'm 40 years old, and drinking is legal. If you believe you don't want people who drink to make decisions about your children's education, you should ask this of all candidates. And I hope you find some who don't eer drink to vote for.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Rick - thanks for the support on not "shooting the messenger" ... I think people are often angry at me for saying things they don't want to hear, but the reality is, we are going to have to make some tough choices, and at least I'm letting people know about the choices I think we should make and why. I think your idea of a chart showing some positions and average salaries is a good one -- I will bring it up at a SC meeting and see if this can happen. I know there is concern about administration (number and pay), and this might be a way of helping answering those questions.

Anonymous 10:58 - I am guessing you are the same anonymous poster repeatedly ... but again, I'm 40 years old, it is legal for me to drink, and I see nothing wrong with adults choosing to celebrate a victory with a beer. If you see a photo in the newspaper with SC members drinking while making a decision about the schools and/or drinking before a meeting -- that would seem problematic. I've answered the administrators point in my earlier post.

Anonymous said...

Anons 9:07 AM & 10:58, thanks for the laugh. You are really grasping at straws now complaining that these are "not exactly my idea of the kind of people I would want entrusted with my children's education." I guess we had better start giving the ax to all the teachers that have a beer to celebrate a red sox win at Rafters. Please, stick to the important issues.

Anonymous said...

Don't respond to the crazy people. I'm serious! Save your time. You'll never convince them or make them happy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

It should not be assumed that all anonymous posts on this blog are by the same person.

Also. If CS wants to remove the anonymous posting option then she should. She could require that all posts be approved by an "administrator" before allowing them to appear.

I would also say that given CS's position of privilege as an Amherst College professor, a member of the school committee, and a person who has an over confident attitude about her understanding of secondary eductaion and herself in general, there is good reason for people to want to voice their displeasure anonymously. CS is, in many people's eyes, one of the "crazy people", not just the pissed off cranks who post here anonymously.

This is why we all are given the opportunity to vote anonymously. Even those of us who only voted for CS because her opponent in that particular election appeared, well, a bit odd.

I ALSO believe that one of the reasons Rivkin got fewer votes than Rhodes in the most recent election is that the voters are starting to doubt the wisdom of electing the intellectual elites in town who think they understand what is best for everyone. Their true constituency are the residents of the wealthy neighborhoods in town, not the full spectrum of the community. Those are the people who got them elected, therefore that is who they will most seek to please in their expressions of policy. A simple drive through Amherst Woods prior to the most recent election, with its prolifieration of Rivkin lawn signs, confirms this.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 3:12 - thanks! great point.

Anonymous 8:39 - thanks! good advice.

Anonymous 12:56 - I choose to allow anonymous posters because sometimes people have legitimate questions/concerns they want to ask/share, and they feel more comfortable doing so anonymously. As far as I can tell, you just want to criticize me, and Steve Rivkin, and in fact my opponent from last year! And if you are right, that most people in this town see me as "crazy," it seems really odd that you don't want to sign your name to your postings, which would clearly have so much support and agreement across town, right? You may not like any of us ... but here's the reality -- you can't win an election in Amherst by winning Amherst Woods. Steve had broad support (winning first in 1 precinct, and second in 6 others). I won all 10 precincts. Some people like us. But even if you don't, you are stuck with us for 2 more years (me) and three more years (Steve). So how about telling me what you'd like the schools to be like, or what the School Committee should do? How in the world can you know who I would or would not listen to if you don't even try?

JWolfe said...

To Anons 9:07 & 10:58 on April 5:

You are stupid, stupid people. You really do need to loosen up. Have a drink.

BTW, Irv Rhodes was celebrating at Rafters, making him a bad, bad man too.

TO ANON 12:56

Yes, smart, highly educated people are the problem. This country flourished, flourished I tell you when we had a good guy without a lot of fancy thinking running things. God I miss that George W. Bush. He was one of us. Now we have those snooty Obamas. He went to Columbia and she, that snob, is a Princeton alum. Princeton! You know what, those "intellectuals" both went to Harvard Law. I just hate them, don't you?

I bet they would live in Amherst Woods if they lived here. After all, they're in that big fancy house, using those big fancy words, and throwing around all that logic and reason. Don't you hate that?


Anonymous said...

I just heard about a group A.C.E.

Was that Amherst Classit Elite?

Anonymous said...

When ACE first started I thought they were classist elite too. There wasn't much public information for the rest of us. Since then I have read about them on the web, in the paper and listened to CS at meetings. Boy have I changed my mind! What on earth is wrong with wanting the best and expecting the most we can get? I can see that this attitude will be the only thing to help my forgotten middle class kids here in Amherst, but only if we finally get some ACTION! (sorry for yelling)

JWolfe said...

To Anon 10:03

Do you mean "closet" elites or "classist" elites? I want to know exactly why you hate me.

BTW, I'm a card carrying union member who worked his way through college driving a bus. I don't live in Amherst Woods and I drive a 1999 Honda Civic. What exactly is my class standing? How am I an elite? Why not use a funnier word? Just call ACE members "plutocrats."

Doesn't excellent public education serve everyone, especially the kids who don't come from wealthy families? Why do you hate poor kids? Why do you want to deny them access to an excellent education? Why are you so elitist?

Anonymous said...

Anon April 7, 2009 10:03 AM:

What on earth is elitist about wanting all children to be challenged academically? After years of hearing how wonderful the Amherst schools are, I must say I have been deeply disappointed with the elementary schools. There is a lot of emphasis on multiculturalism, and relatively little on core topics like math and science. I've seen essentially no interest in challenging children who are performing above grade level, and absolutely no interest in advancing such children (grade skipping). You may say that those kids don't need any help, but I would disagree. To stay interested and engaged in learning, *every* child needs to be challenged at an appropriate level, and the challenge needs to occur in school (not just at home).
That's the whole point of ACE, to make sure *every* kid is challenged. Given that it's the motto of our schools ("every child, every day"), shouldn't we actually try to live by it?

Anonymous said...

Multiculturalism in our elementary schools is a joke. They are segregated until middle school.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Anon 10:53: I disagree, although my family's only elementary experience has been Fort River which is very multicultural and places a great deal of emphasis on multiculturalism and social justice. Perhaps it is different in the other elementary schools.

Anon 10:47: Although I think multiculturalism is a great thing, I would agree with you that, at least in my family's experience, there is more emphasis placed on that in our elementary schools than on core academics. For example, I had to teach the kids multiplication tables at home but they are very familiar and comfortable with Cambodian traditions such as the celebration of the New Year, the dancing, and the food of the culture. I would like to see a strong emphasis on both.

Anonymous said...

"Multiculturalism in our elementary schools is a joke."

Really? My second-grader has read books on the accomplishments of black women, but not ever about white men (or women, for that matter). There have been numerous field trips for Asian drumming performances and the like, but never a field trip for any traditional western music, dance, or theater. There has been in-class discussion of non-Christian religious holidays, but never of Christian ones [for the record, I don't think any such discussions are appropriate]. There is a huge annual celebration of Chinese New Year. My child's music classes have taught him lots of African folk songs (with words that are never explained), but no traditional American folk songs. His class has learned a lot about Native Americans, but nothing at all about pioneers. I could go on, but I think you see my point.

It's fine to teach all those things, but there should be some balance. And there should definitely be more (and better) math and science.

If your comment reflects concerns about the demographics of schools, then you should be happy about the redistricting that will occur when MM is closed. But I don't see that we have segregated ("white only") schools now.

Anonymous said...

I think if we focus on the "Multi" part of the word this is true for the individual schools. Of course there isn't a "white" school but there is a Spanish, a Chinese, and a Cambodian where that is the main focus for culture study. You're right that there isn't a sense of balance. I've seen it asked before, will redistricting create a balance or will they still separate with busing?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

From me, again:

1. I'm going to do a separate blog posting on ACE soon, so I am not going to respond to these issues here.

2. Multi-culturalism is complicated i our schools -- some feel there is too much, some feel there is too little. I think the very best we can accomplish our district's focus on social justice is to make sure each and every child receives a rigorous, engaging, and challenging curriculum, is held to high expectations, and is given the support needed to master that curriculum.

3. The busing question is a good one -- I don't have the answer to it, but I believe this policy is being examined. This may be something that is fully reviewed next year, under the guidance of the new superintendent.