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.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Education matters: It's summer, so crack the books

Amherst Bulletin, August 7, 2009
By Steve Rivkin and Catherine Sanderson

Alice Cooper's lyrics capture the euphoria of the final day of school and onset of those carefree summer days. However, a growing body of evidence shows that the summer holiday comes with a cost, as students lose some of what they learned during the school year. And critically, such summer fallback is not distributed equally among all our students: economically disadvantaged students typically experience much larger declines than do children from higher income families with college graduate parents who tend to read more and enjoy more opportunities for academic enrichment during school vacation. In terms of race differences, some research suggests that summer fallback accounts for virtually the entire growth in the achievement gap during the elementary school years. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the specific factors that widen the achievement gap, evidence indicates that children from lower income families without college graduate parents on average read less and experience less academic enrichment at home over the summer.

So the question becomes, how well does Amherst live up to its social justice commitment in terms of its effort to reduce summer fallback? A recent report from John Hopkins University's Center for Summer Learning finds that simply reading four or five books during the summer is large enough to prevent a decline in reading scores. This study along with other research suggests that mandatory summer reading as well as work in other subjects can help reduce summer fallback, and many districts have put such programs into place.

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School District is one of three Massachusetts districts that are members of the Minority Student Achievement Network (along with Brookline and Cambridge). Interestingly, both of the other districts require high school students to complete summer reading, whereas Amherst Regional High School has no such requirement. At Brookline High School, students are required to read "Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living." In a letter sent to all high school students, parents, and guardians, students are told, "You should be ready to discuss this unique book with your peers and teachers in English and science classes, as well as in community forums when you return in September." At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, students are required to read at least one book in the summer, and to keep journal entries on their reading. Ninth-grade students read "The Contender," 10th-graders read "Colored People," 11th-graders read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," and 12th-graders read "The Kite Runner."

And it is not just the schools near Boston that require middle and high school students to complete summer work. In the Hadley Public Schools, rising seventh-graders are required to read and write summaries of four books, complete math worksheets and memorize all states and capitals. Rising ninth-graders read "Scorpion House," complete math worksheets, and come up with 10 ideas for science fair projects. Hadley's required summer work even extends to all elementary school grades, where students are required to complete math review packets and read grade appropriate books. The elementary school handbooks states that summer assignments are designed to lessen "the regression in student understanding of math concepts/skills and reading comprehension/vocabulary that typically occurs during the summer break." The handbook also urges parents "to continue their role as active learning partners with their children during the summer months."

The reluctance of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District to assign summer reading may come in part from a concern that some children have fewer resources at home to support this work. However, given the evidence that the absence of summer assignments disproportionately hurts precisely these children the most, current practice would appear to be at odds with our commitment to social justice. Summer assignments are an inexpensive and potentially quite effective tool in the efforts to raise achievement and reduce the achievement gap, and it strikes us that such a fiscally and morally responsible policy merits serious consideration.


Steve Rivkin and Catherine Sanderson are Amherst College professors and members of the Amherst School Committee.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Catherine

In full agreement with summer assignments.
but a bit confused over the first part of this statement...but totally agree with the second part
"The reluctance of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District to assign summer reading may come in part from a concern that some children have fewer resources at home to support this work. However, given the evidence that the absence of summer assignments disproportionately hurts precisely these children the most, current practice would appear to be at odds with our commitment to social justice. Summer assignments are an inexpensive and potentially quite effective tool in the efforts to raise achievement and reduce the achievement gap, and it strikes us that such a fiscally and morally responsible policy merits serious consideration."
Where do we lack the resources and if we do how we we help the people who cannot afford the books or get to the library, can the schools make the books available.
I hope you can make the summer assignments work. Growing up I always had summer reading.

Anonymous said...

I am really tired of hearing the connection to 'low income' and underachievement. Nothing like saying poor people are dumb!

Anonymous said...

And exactly what were you supposed to be contributing to this blog?

Tom G said...

Does Jones Library still run a summer reading program for school age kids?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:50

You sound a lot like Anon 7:58
in the 6th Grade in Motion thread.
Do you have some sort of role on this blog that involves identifying what you consider to be naughty posts?

Anonymous said...

Tom G.
Yes the jones Library still runs a summer reading program. It may too late though for this summer, but check it out. They even give a 'party' of sorts at the end of the program celebrating all the books read and reports made. What a delighful way to entertain children!! Kudos Jones!! =)

Anonymous said...

Catherine, respectfully, you are wrong here.

What part of riding a "free" (paid for by UM students) bus to a "free" (paid for by Amherst taxpayers & the state) Jones Library do underprivleged children not have the money to do? Exactly what would be the charge to *them* to do it????

The Jones Library is an incredible resource - even with full access to all of UMass, I still go there. As to reading on the K-12 level, exactly what are they not going to have - or be quite willing to give to low income (any income) students????

Now I am not a fan of manditory busywork summer assignments because reading needs to be FUN or it won't happen. And as to the boys, it would be nice if we could actually find a few things that would be of interest to them, not this girl-friendly "kid-lit" that we have been buried in for the past 2 decades.

But I digress.

What part of hopping on a no-charge bus to go to a no-charge library can these kids not do? It isn't like they can go everywhere else in town (Puffer's pond...) on the same bus service....

Anonymous said...

I think the differernce is that summer reading at Jones Library is voluntary. The summer reading that would be assigned by a school would have a list to choose from, with a couple books being mandatory reading. The mandatory reading would be something the kids would discuss when they start school again. I love what Jones Library does, but it's voluntary. Sometimes kids need a little nudge to read at least one mandatory book over the summer. There are plenty of rainy days over the summer when they can sit inside and quietly read. So many public school districts require it, it feels like it's just not that big a request of the kids. Ali Burrow

Anonymous said...

Do you realize the large insult it is for a person to sit and read, over and over, in your editorials and on this blog--the direct connection, as though newly found by you, between "low" income and the struggling student?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:43 - I think the issue is not resources here ... many districts, including Newark (NJ), assign summer reading (and that includes math packets provided free by the school district and free or reduced price copies of a few paperback books). If the district decided summer reading/assignments was a priority, this could begin immediately -- and we could offer free books to anyone on free/reduced lunch (this would seem like a very inexpensive way of reducing the achievement gap).

Anonymous 8:36 - this isn't what the research is saying at all - it is saying that some kids are more likely be exposed to enrichment in the summer than others -- and that enrichment leads to academic advantages. It isn't smart or dumb -- it is having advantages and opportunities to engage in learning over the summer, and people with more money are more likely to have those advantages than other people. That's it.

Anonymous 8:50 - good point!

Tom G - yes, I think the Jones Library does indeed still have that program -- but of course it is optional.

Anonymous 9:07 - again, I think the point of Anonymous 8:50 is lets talk about the issues -- is the earlier poster tired of hearing that low income people have fewer advantages, or does he/she think they don't, or does he/she think summer reading is a bad idea? Again, what's his/her point in the post?

Anonymous 9:12 - definitely kudos to the Jones library!

Anonymous 11:11 - it is not about having access to Jones or to a bus to get there ... it is about the school district specifying certain books/assignments that ALL kids of a certain grade will do to make sure that less summer drop occurs. The Jones is a great resource (but it is optional) ... and thus it is NOT the same as the school district saying ALL kids are required to do particular work in a particular grade.

Ali Burrow - exactly -- well said, and thanks!

Anonymous 3:16 - first, it is totally optional to read this blog and my editorials -- stop both if they cause you pain. Second, do you believe that there isn't a correlation between low income students and struggling students (and thus the research showing this link is false), or do you not like being reminded that it exists, or do you not like discussing solutions to reduce this achievement gap? And I can't think of a single time in which I've suggested, on my blog or in the paper, that I've discovered this link ... simply that is exists, and if we as a district actually care about reducing it, we should do something. Do you disagree?

Becky Demling said...

The CF PGO and Friends of the Jones Library sponsored a Summer reading Program entitled One Book, One School specifically to address this issue. Each family was given a free copy of Trumpet of the Swan in English, with those who needed it also getting a copy in Spanish. The books were paid for by the Friends, Amherst Books and Food For Thought Books. The PGO developed and provided each child with a reading guide, enrichment activities and a Summer Reading Program sign up. To better support families, the Jones and Munson Libraries held weekly story times and enrichment activities.
The CF community will celebrate the program this September at their Welcome Back picnic with small prizes being awarded to those who read the book.
This collaboration has already proved fruitful. The Munson is reporting a large increase in the number of CF students participating in the Summer reading program and we have already heard from many families that their child who would not normally read over the summer has already finished the book.
My point in sharing this is that there are ways to promote reading without assigning it. Making it accessible, convenient, social and rewarding can encourage one to pick up a book more that being told to will.
The PGO is already planning to do it again and invite all Elementary Schools in the district to participate. If there is a demonstrated need, it is always best if multiple groups take action to solve it together.

Anonymous said...

Only in Amherst would people want summer reading to be optional. Go figure? That's why I pulled my kids out of the Amherst Schools.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is why families with school-age children are flocking to Hadley. They have a waiting list a mile long for school choice slots.

Nina Koch said...

Becky,

It sounds to me like you put a lot of thought into that program and that you worked hard on it. You and the people you worked with are to be commended.

I have worked at a school where summer reading is required, but there was no way to determine if the kids had truly read the book. So what does it mean to say that it is required? How would that actually be enforced?

If other people want to use your thoughtful approach as an opportunity to make snarky comments, that just reflects on them.

Nina

lise said...

Nina - You "enforce" a summer reading requirement like any other homework - with class discussions and/or in class assessments. Summer reading is not a new or revolutionary idea. There are many districts that do this successfully, in fact see it as an integral part of how to build community woithin ta grade at the beginning of the school year. I am sure we could find some models to positively encourage compliance

Becky - Sounds like a great program at CF. Just the sort of thing that should be organized as part of the curriculum - and supported by the PGO.

I think summer reading should be one part of a district-wide expectation that students be independent readers. It should also include independent reading requirements during the school year. In the district where my kids went to elementary school there was an independent reading requirement starting in fourth grade, and assigned summer reading starting in sixth. This not unusual, and is a great way to help kids get in the habit of reading and become life-long learners.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Becky - thanks for sharing that -- sounds like a super initiative from CF, and one that it would be great to have all schools participate in. I do think this type of program is different, however, from separate required reading/assignments by grade level - -and I'd love to see the Amherst schools do BOTH.

Anonymous 10:24 - yes ... seems amazing to me, given how many districts do have required summer reading/assignments (like Hadley, and Newark!).

Anonymous 11:49 - Hadley seems to be doing a great job of finding ways to educate all kids ... at a relatively low cost. Seems like this might be an opportunity for the Amherst schools to learn?

Nina - some districts include required writing/summaries/tests on the books -- and there are grades given, which reflect on the first grades given for the year. I would think this could be enforced quite easily ... but even if it was not enforced ... what a message it would send that we expect ALL students to do such work, right?

Lise - well said. Thanks.

Rick said...

Anon 8:36 said: “I am really tired of hearing the connection to 'low income' and underachievement. Nothing like saying poor people are dumb!”

It’s not whether you are rich or poor that matters for success in school. It’s whether you come from a home that values education and whose parent(s) or guardian(s) really take an interest in their kid’s education and encourages them to learn.

The stereotype is that poor homes do a worse job than rich homes at encouraging the education of their kids. Whether or not that stereotype is true is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that – rich or poor – there are students who are not encouraged to do well in school at home and so they fall behind the others who are. And the evidence is that they fall behind a LOT more during the summer than during the school year. Motivated students don’t lose anything over the summer, because they read or do other things to keep level with where they were at the end of the school year. Unmotivated kids lose a lot.

To be blunt about it, educational systems have had to step in to make up for homes that do not encourage education – which stinks but is a fact of life – and there is evidence that summer programs do more good than anything in this regard.

This program has been a huge success: http://bellnational.org/education/

But it costs money to run.

Catherine you say “I think the issue is not resources here”. I don’t agree. If you assign summer reading, the motivated kids will do it, and the unmotivated kids won’t. I would argue that would actually increase the achievement gap, not decrease it. That doesn’t mean don’t do it – definitely do it – but in no way is that automatically going to help the kids who need it most.

The resources are needed to pay for a “reaching out” to those unmotivated kids and getting them into a summer program that is supervised, not just a reading list – or at the very least, have some kind of a regular “checking in” on how the kids are doing on their reading (or math) during the summer.

Let’s face it - there is no money for this. I would love to think a volunteer effort could do this, but afraid it’s too big for that.

Anonymous said...

Rick, why can't our district assign reading books, written questions about the books, and math review sheets and then require that they are turned in the first week of school for a grade? Isn't that one way of requiring summer work and doing the best to make sure it happens?

With Becky's idea, perhaps the Jones could team up with the schools by stocking extra copies of the assigned books on hand and by offering monthly "book club meetings" for kids to come in and discuss the book they are assigned if they want.

Bottom line, our schools need to start focusing more on academics for everyone and reducing the achievement gap. Especially given the fact that some of our high school students have a HUGE gap of time between instruction in academic subjects (due to the teacher-driven trimester system), I think it is vitally important that all students are assigned work during the summer.

Anonymous said...

Hadley seems to be doing a great job of finding ways to educate all kids ... at a relatively low cost. Seems like this might be an opportunity for the Amherst schools to learn?

Amen! And they have a sufficient tax base, i.e. commercial property, so that they are not continually wining about an override. "Dumb like fox" as my mother used to say.

And did I forget to mention that they don't have an "attitude" about it?

Anonymous said...

To all those who think that the trimester system is teacher driven- I suggest you check out the two student run groups on Facebook in support of the system.

Also-comparing Amherst and Hadley schools is just ridiculous. If Amherst had only 672 total students in pre k-12 then maybe we could compare. Hadley also has many fewer low income, LEP and SPED students.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:23, you are right, it is much better to have decisions about education be driven by teenage students posting on Facebook!! Last I heard, both the school committee and the principal recommended a return to the semester system but the teachers voted to continue with the trimesters.

Rick said...

Anon 11:37 said: “Rick, why can't our district assign reading books, written questions about the books, and math review sheets and then require that they are turned in the first week of school for a grade?”

They can. But without teachers or other support around to help kids who need help doing the work, the motivated kids - whose parents will help them (in lieu of teachers) - will do the work, the other’s won’t.

If we are trying to help the motivated kids do even better, than that’s a great idea.

But if we are trying to help the kids who are struggling (close the achievement gap) it’s not likely to work. A lot of those kids don’t need “extra” work – they need remedial work – stuff they didn’t really get during the previous school year.

The Jones budget is slashed like all the other budgets:

http://www.amherstbulletin.com/story/id/152972/

There is no way they are going to do more than they are doing already – unless a bunch of big donors come along.

---

There seems to be a fundamental difference here on what is needed to close the achievement gap, and what that even means. I view closing the achievement gap as bringing up the low achievers, not raising the higher achievers even higher (although that is fine also). On these two items:

1. Extra work during the summer would help – I think all agree.

2. Extra support for the underachieving kids who need help to do that extra work – there seems to be disagreement on whether this is necessary. I think it is.

In no way does this mean I don’t think extra work should be give during the summer – go for it. I just think it’s a joke to think that alone is going to close the achievement gap.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 1:25

Yes- let's just ignore those silly teens. They couldn't possibly have anything of value to add to the conversation about something that directly effects them!

lise said...

Rick,

Sounds like you are describing good old fashioned summer school. When I was in school low achieving kids went to school in the summer to catch up. Often it was a condition for promotion to the next grade. That definitely costs money, but maybe not as much as it costs to try and catch kids up during the school year?

Anonymous said...

The point of my posting here is that whether or not you realize what you are saying it is being said. You are making a direct correlation between poverty, disadvantaged, low-income, call it what you like, and underachivement, struggling students. Of course I believe in summer academic continuum, but when you say things like the disadvantaged student doesn't have the same access as the advantaged one may, or imply this in your editorials etc. you are saying poor people are connected to disadvantages! Don't you think we know this? Don't you think we see it every day, in the schools, in the markets, in the streets? What are you attemtping to convey or get done by stating it over and over? Your research may state these findings very clearly with recorded statistics, but our lives record and live it daily.
How about coming up with some solutions like a dress code in the schools, or a plain simple uniform so that the differences in the classes is not so evident with all the designer clothes the kids wear whose family can afford them that aren't as easily accesible at the Survival Center? How about 'giving out' (I am sure this is an affordable expense) the same backpack to ALL kids...just plain maroon and white ones...(the school colors) Do you know what a hardship it presents for the poor parent to stock up with school supplies each year? Never mind being able to buy the latest designer brand for their kids...
I find it insulting to infer that, the fault of the schools not meeting their minimal requirements to equally educate ALL kids is somehow being excused here because of their home situations....Am I reading this wrong? I don't think so.

Rick said...

Lise:
Yup pretty much that’s it, except more than just "failing-student needs-to-re-take-a-class" – also should be "student-lagging-behind get-extra-help" or better yet, "just getting-ahead". I recall a huge stigma attached to going to summer school - probably still the same - and it should be viewed as more of a "I can gain an advantage by going" thing.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 7:58

Uniforms, standard issue backpacks you can do those but they don't change the original point of this post which is summer slide. No matter what you make standard or uniform some children and some families are going to have more than others. It is a basic reality of life.
What we can change is the quality of the education that students in Amherst receive both during the summer and the school year. I think that Catherine and Steve make some great points in the orignial post and we should seriously think about making some work mandatory for students 3rd grade and up for next summer to prevent summer slide.

Anonymous said...

I agree...as a matter of fact I thought summer reading was 'mandatory'. Every summer I have ever spent with my kids we have had a book list from one of their teachers for summer reading and happy to read trough the summer. There is a school out there, not sure of the details on the name or anything, reported to have dedicated an hour each day to students reading with them at young ages and this contributing to the students in this group becoming scholars in later life. I think the schools around here have just gotten lazy in their approach, or too used to the writtien curriculum--assignments, xeroxed sheets, etc....Maybe we need more creativity and less ridgidness...summer or not...

Ed said...

If the district decided summer reading/assignments was a priority, this could begin immediately -- and we could offer free books to anyone on free/reduced lunch (this would seem like a very inexpensive way of reducing the achievement gap).

Ummmm.... The law is clear - anything you require must be given to ALL students. You can't charge students for textbooks. And if it is a mandated book, then you gotta provide it to all...

the earlier poster tired of hearing that low income people have fewer advantages

The issue is NOT money. The issue is the household value on education, which includes such things as household stability and such - all of which have a strong relationship to income.

BECAUSE the adult(s) in the household are disfunctional, they are poor. Poverty and poor educational outcome are both symptons of a larger issue that can be best described as screwed up adults who really are in no position to be responsible parents. Lets get real here - look at the households from which these kids come.

If you didn't have the single mothers with a new boyfriend (father figure for the children) every 16-18 months, if you didn't have the drugs and the violence and the cops and the general bedlam of the household, if you had something resembling a stable home life, something resembling respect for authority and education, if you had something resembling middle class values, then you would have (a) adults who could hold down middle class jobs and thus wouldn't be poor and (b) children who didn't have the gap.

It isn't money - if you add up the cash value of all the support programs and include the boyfriend's unreported drug income and everything else, they have more money than many middle class families. Every one of them has a television set bigger than my car...

.

Ed said...

it is about the school district specifying certain books/assignments that ALL kids of a certain grade will do to make sure that less summer drop occurs.

I have three specific problems with this. First if you have a specific book, who gets to pick it? Think there might be a few parents upset regardless of what it is -- people are dropping out of the UM Honors College because they don't like the books picked there.

Second, it is educationally unsound to go with just one book because at least a third are going to hate it. They probably will pick a book the girls like and the boys will hate it and the untold scandal is not the girls slight gap in math skills but the much greater boy's gap in literacy and reading skills.

Reading, like physical exercise, has to be fun and you are no more going to get a child to read a book not of interest to the child than you are going to get an adult to play a sport that the adult isn't interested in. You have to either want to do it or see some actual reward out of it, or it ain't gonna happen...

And third, if you only have one book assigned, you will have one kid read it and give the answers to the rest of them. I don't like to be told to do things - I probably would read the book and then post the answers on the internet. Prove I did it...

You can not mandate performance over those whom you do not have custody. You can encourage this, but not mandate it -- and mandating a specific book is going to be a really bad idea.

it is NOT the same as the school district saying ALL kids are required to do particular work in a particular grade.

Summer reading should NOT be at any uniform grade level, the advantage of independent study is that it can be at the child's ability level. I was reading 4-5 grade levels above my actual grade level and it was one thing to force me to conform to a uniform curriculum during the school year due to the logistics of the classroom, but you are going to do this to me during the summer too?

See above about posting the answers on the internet out of spite. Actually, what I probably would have done was to post not only the answers but a detailed summary of how stupid I thought the questions were, on my own web page, and my understanding of the most recent SCOTUS decision is that the district couldn't do anything.

You folks have got to understand that much as the best way to get a young person to do something is to tell him he can't do it, a love of reading can not be nurtured through fiat and force.

do you believe that there isn't a correlation between low income students and struggling students

I no longer believe that there is a correlation as to the former causing the latter. No more than the fact that those killed in auto crashes are licensed drivers driving licensed vehicles means that it is safer to be in an unregistered car driven by an unlicensed driver.

Or just because the few perps who have shot up colleges have had serious mental health issues means that every college kid with a mental health issue is going to go commit mass murder.

I do not believe that there is a direct causual relationship between low income and poor educational outcome. I think that both are caused by the same thing, which I so unscientifically refer to as "screwed up parents from hell." They are low income BECAUSE they are disfunctional, their children don't do well in school because their home life is disfunctional BECAUSE of their disfunctional parent(s).

And then they will get arrested or pregnant (or now, both) at 17 and the whole thing will continue right into the next generation. We have been handing out cash for 40 years now, and we are three generations into this disaster, going into the fourth.

I used to go into a thousand low-income homes a year - I have seen this with my own eyes...

Ed said...

I find it insulting to infer that, the fault of the schools not meeting their minimal requirements to equally educate ALL kids is somehow being excused here because of their home situations

And I find this insulting. And unrealistic. And obtuse and stupid.

The issue of materialism and the spend-spend-spend culture is real and schools should address it the same way they address racism and homophobia. And this is to teach tolerance - not to mandate uniforms and in a place like Amherst you KNOW that the ACLU is going to get dragged in to that.

And a decade ago I would have included access to computers - not now - and Erin O'Connor has an interesting review of _The Dumbest Generation, How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future_ (Mark Bauerlein, Penguin) in the Spring _Academic Questions_.

Poverty does not preclude children from learning. I was on the reduced lunch list, and it didn't preclude me from learning.

Screwed up home life and disfunctional parents DOES preclude learning. The home situation, not in terms of economics but stability and values taught, DOES matter.

A high ranking Federal Dept of Education person said something at a conference once: "All parents home school to some extent." He is right - and as much as I hate to defend some of the schmucks in K-12, if the parents aren't doing this, even competent teachers aren't going to accomplish anything.

Anonymous said...

So Ed, given the original posting's comparison of Amherst to Hadley with summer work, would you think that Hadley parents are, in general, more committed to the education of their children than are the parents, again in general, of Amherst? I am truly curious. I have seen a surprising disinterest in education among parents I have encountered in Amherst, a low turnout for PGO meetings, low percent of parents contributing to fundraisers, etc.

Anonymous said...

"They are low income BECAUSE they are disfunctional, their children don't do well in school because their home life is disfunctional BECAUSE of their disfunctional parent(s)."

Ed, I think your spelling is dysfunctional.

Anonymous said...

Dysfunctional spelled with a "Y" seems to refer more to family not functioning well. Look stuff up before you start dissing other people.

Abbie said...

Ed,

I can't stay silent in the face of your xenophobic tirade/trash. To remain silent would suggest agreement. I don't think your views/opinions are helpful to any discussion and are inflammatory (but maybe that's what you want).

Folks and families with limited incomes come in all flavors just like those with low-middle to wealthy come in all flavors. You paint all "poor" folks with the same tar brush. I say "SHAME on you" here but use stronger words in my head!

You suggest minorities have the same opportunities in life. That is Bull****. Every study shows that's not reality. Sure it can (sometimes) be overcome with tremendous effort, but that's more effort than an equivalently skilled white guy would need to succeed.

I leave with this thought, which applies to all kids and families. "KIDS SHOULDN'T HAVE TO SUFFER (or receive less) IN OUR SCHOOLS BECAUSE OF THE POOR CHOICES MADE BY THEIR PARENTS."

Ed said...

Abbie said...
I can't stay silent in the face of your xenophobic


"Xenophobic"??? I know we live in the through-the-lookingglass world where words mean what we say they mean, but "xenophobic"?

Folks and families with limited incomes come in all flavors just like those with low-middle to wealthy come in all flavors.

Yes, and some of them are actually functional and their children behave themselves and are interested in learning. I come from such a family.

You paint all "poor" folks with the same tar brush.

I do no such thing. My point is that you have poverty and dysfunctional/disfunctional families and poor educational outcomes. And further that simply throwing money at the issue won't help...

I say "SHAME on you" here but use stronger words in my head!

You suggest minorities have the same opportunities in life.

They do. And you are a RACIST and a BIGOT and worse.

Sure it can (sometimes) be overcome with tremendous effort, but that's more effort than an equivalently skilled white guy would need to succeed.

Unmitigated Bullshit.

"KIDS SHOULDN'T HAVE TO SUFFER (or receive less) IN OUR SCHOOLS BECAUSE OF THE POOR CHOICES MADE BY THEIR PARENTS."

Unless we are willing to abandon all concepts of parental rights and to say that children are the sole property of the state, then they *do* need to suffer for the bad choices of their parents.

And the sad thing is that there is really nothing that can be done about it - unless we want to go back to orphanages and far more aggressive DSS child protective actions....

Anonymous said...

Ed:

I have never agreed with anything you have ever said on Catherine's blog...in fact I usually vehemently disagree with you.

But I gotta say, you hit the nail on the head with your posts on August 18th. This is a very complicated issue with no easy answers, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Jones and the branch libraries offer summer reading programs.

Another one is at Barnes and Noble- Kids read a number (8 or 10?) of books (DON'T have to be purchased there!) Fill out the form and bring it to the store- Kids get to chose a free paperback from a list (info, forms, and book list is on their website)

Do schools share info on these summer opportunities? (my kids are now young adults- but we loved participating!)

Anonymous said...

Ed,
Although I appreciate your vigor and a lot of what you say is good I will try again to say what I have observed with the schools to be true. The 'average' Sped child is from a low-income, single parent, family of color. This is an undisputed fact. Has been in Amherst for oh, 25 years, maybe longer. So, no matter how dis or dys/functional the adults in their lives may be these kids are suffering and the results are spilling over into the schools.
You can call my observations stupid, obtuse? anything you choose, but the kids are still suffering. I've witnessed the gang-style toughness of some of these kids come across in bullying the child from the family where education and authority are both respected.
You seem to have a very strong voice--why aren't you using it to come up with some solutions for these targeted kids on both sides of this dilemma...

Anonymous said...

I think what Ed says may be hurtful to some people, but it's true. I used to substitute teach, and I won't name the teacher, but she said it was a given that the kids in the Special Ed program were ALL discipline problems. Every one of them. I dont know which came first, the discipline problems, or being put in with a group of other discipline problems. But all the SPED kids were a handful to deal with. And yeah, most of them were from single parent homes. No one's being a racist talking about it, it's just a glaring fact. Maybe if we can look hard at some of these glaring facts, we can come up with solutions. Altho I doubt it. None of these single moms asked us if we minded if they create a burden on society and would we mind paying more in taxes for their mistakes.

Rick said...

We should not be focusing on what type of household an underachieving student comes from. What matters is what we do to help underachieving kids - wherever they come from.

Maybe most of the underachieving kids are poor or have lousy parents; I don't know, and it’s irrelevant – at least for this discussion. We are not going to be able to make poor kids rich or give them better parents. We are not talking about that here; we are talking about helping kids learn, period.

So back to the original topic:

1. Assign summer work – reading or whatever – seems good to me.

2. How to help underachieving kids get that work done. This is the problem to be solved.

Why #2 is so important:

It’s been true ever since we’ve had public schools that they can be a “great equalizer” helping to level the playing field in a very unfair world.

If you are a kid born with lousy parents, where else are you going to be able to climb out of that hole but in school? There are many stories of kids from lousy households (rich, poor, black or white) that are motivated by a teacher to climb out of the hole by diving into schoolwork – sometimes sports also.

Really good summer programs – like the Bell program (bellnational.org) – basically do the same thing with large numbers of students. That costs money.

Yes, if all parents were wonderful and encouraged their kids in school, we would not have to spend (much) money on this. But why should the rest of us have to pay for this in our taxes? Before asking that question, ask yourself if you were born lucky. I was. If you pay a lot of taxes, chances are you were – don’t take that for granted.

This is important. Education is the single most important thing to keep the USA from flushing itself down the toilet, which is where it is heading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rick.

For thoughtful comments AND for bringing this conversation back to something reasonable and potentially useful to talk about.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think that both Rick and Ed make important points. Despite all the best intentions and politically correct thinking, there are realities about the lifestyles and homes of many of the lower income families. We can't wish this away or pretend that it doesn't exist because our liberal thinking.

However, the children that come from these homes deserve the best education possible. Summer reading programs, a rigorous academic curriculum and attempts to involve parents/guardians are crucial.

One final thought, I for one am so tired of faculty/staff at my kids elementary school telling me that they won't assign more homework, long term projects, set up science fairs or other similar kinds of programs because its not fair to the lower income families at the school. Its just nonsense. That kind of thinking is illogical and hurts every child.

Anonymous said...

Be aware that kind of thinking goes beyond the elementary school. It is in the middle and high school. And if you think your kid stands a chance of getting into a competitive college, think again. So many other school districts and private schools offer rigorous academics, and your kids will be competing against kids with a more rigorous academic background for the same slot in a college. Who do you think is going to get accepted to the college?

Rick said...

"One final thought, I for one am so tired of faculty/staff at my kids elementary school telling me that they won't assign more homework, long term projects, set up science fairs or other similar kinds of programs because its not fair to the lower income families at the school."

Since you are posting anonymously, can you tell us specifically who (faculty/staff_)told you this?

Rick said...

"And if you think your kid stands a chance of getting into a competitive college, think again."

Huh? You should look at this:

http://www.arps.org/hs/Offices/Guidance/Planning/SchoolProfile.php#colleges

Anonymous said...

I did name someone once specifically and it was eliminated from the blog. Sorry. Here's a link to Longmeadow. They actually offer lots of AP classes, and are unappologetic about challenging their kids academically. Congrats to the kids who did get into excellent colleges, but it's one or two here and there. There should be no barrier for the kid who wants to push above and beyond. And that's the difference between here and other towns. Don't tell me to move. I already pulled my kids from the schools here a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to Longmeadow's school stats: http://www.longmeadow.k12.ma.us/lhs/media/guidance/LHSprofile0809.pdf

Rick said...

Longmeadow gives better stats on SATS (for example) but worse for colleges attended (they don’t give numbers). Not ideal for making comparisons.

As for “…it's one or two here and there”:

ARHS Class of 2008:

Amherst College 1
Brown University 3
Cornell University 2
Princeton University 1
Yale University 3
Etc….

Anonymous said...

Rick,
All that given--your defense in Amherst kids being accepted to colleges...What might you suggest the classroom teacher do differently to avoid the Sped/Underachiever kid from being funneled out of an education that might lead him/her to college? Summer reading is most definitely a great start. Like I've posted before I actually thought all kids got a summer book list...Must just be the targeted child who receives such a list...further isolating and separating him/her from her peers....How do we equalize the education field?
Especially when there are teachers out there who have resigned to this notion and continue to present the curriculum almost in robotic ways, skipping over any queried faces in front of them?
Does the SC involve themselves with this? Does the teachers union give a hoot? Do parents have to scream and yell at SC meetings to get this done? Do parents have to pull out their child because the teacher in the next grade up is one s/he doesn't approve of? How do we equalize the education field for ALL kids? It seems most of what I read here is criticism and bantering between adults....I am looking for some real solutions that teachers can put into practice now and ways for them to do this without feeling threatened or insulted. An earlier poster stated that s/he was told by a teacher that ALL Sped kids were disciplinary problems...I know this to be true and it is an issue of deep concern. One that needs great mending. Once a child has been routed into this field--and I am not referring to the physically challenged child here, it is common knowledge among the teachers that this child presents a "problem." It is the same as marking a red X on his/her forehead and sending them off.
You make great points in your comments but I really do not see any direction given. Thanks.