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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Equity Matters

This blog post is a direct response to all of the questions I've now heard about "why should we have a goal of equalizing the % of low income students?" on my blog and privately. I've got to say, having to justify this as a goal is a bit shocking to me ... since I'd assume that if we were starting our schools from scratch and someone proposed, "let's put most of the low income students in one school all together," it would seem pretty unreasonable. But somehow, if that is the case that a district has (and it is the case in our district), this type of status quo seems ... ideal? So, I'm gathering data that has convinced me this goal of creating schools with an equal % of kids on free/reduced lunch is in the way to go.

Do low income kids do better in schools that are predominantly middle income?

A lot of research on the benefits of not clustering low income kids at one school has been conducted by Richard Kahlenberg (you can google and find him and read this research yourself). Briefly, this research points to a number of academic benefits to low income kids of not being in schools with high percentages of low income kids, including:

-Among 4th grade students, for every 1% point increase in middle-class classmates, low income students improve .64 points in reading and .72 points in math (David Rusk study, 2002), and

-Low income students at schools that are 85% middle class students show a 20 to 32% improvement in scores compared to those in a school that is 45% middle class (David Rusk study, 2002).

Here I'm quoting from the Century Foundation's report, “Rescuing Brown v. Board of Education”: some forty school districts nationally have turned to income as a basis for student assignment. Using factors such as eligibility for free and reduced price lunch, these districts have had considerable success in raising student achievement and indirectly promoting racial integration as well. In Wake County (Raleigh), North Carolina for example, the school board adopted a policy goal in 2000 that no school should have more than 40% of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch or more than 25% of students performing below grade level. Low-income and minority students in Wake substantially outperform comparable students in other large North Carolina districts that have failed to reduce concentrations of poverty. And Wake County’s middle-class students continue to thrive academically.

Wake County’s plan has the additional benefit of providing racial integration indirectly, which is desirable because we want schools not only to raise test scores but also to produce tolerant citizens. The socioeconomic integration plan produces almost as much racial integration as the district’s prior race-conscious integration program and it does so in a manner that even conservatives concede is perfectly legal.

For years, American education has tried to make separate schools for rich and poor work well, to little avail. The program in Wake County and other districts pursuing integration by income suggests that Brown doesn’t need to be buried. It needs to be reinvented.

This seems to me to be a pretty clear statement -- reminding us that maybe separate just isn't ever equal?

Why do low income kids do better in schools that have a higher % of middle income kids?

Kahlenberg proposes three reasons:

1. Peers are different: turn-over in high poverty schools is great, discipline issues are more common on high poverty schools, peers in middle income schools are more likely to do homework/less likely to skip class, middle income kids tend to have bigger vocabularies and are more academically engaged which is beneficial in terms of exposure/modeling.

2. Parents are different: middle class parents are more likely to be involved in school activities, can volunteer more, can help fundraise more effectively.

3. Teachers are different: curriculum is more challenging in middle class schools than in predominantly low income schools, and expectations are higher for all kids.

Here is what the Century Foundation Report notes:

While it is true that blacks don’t need to sit next to whites to learn, segregated schools in America almost always have high concentrations of poverty. These high poverty schools—even when equally funded—lack other critical “resources” that matter even more than money: supportive peers, active parents, and great teachers with high expectations.

Any parent knows that children learn a great deal from their peers, and research confirms that it is an advantage to have classmates who are academically engaged and aspire to go on to college. Peers in high poverty schools are less likely to do homework, more likely to cut class, and about twice as likely to act out. It is also an advantage to go to a school where parents actively volunteer in the school and hold school officials accountable. For a variety of reasons, middle-class parents are far more active in school affairs; they are, for example, four times as likely to be members of the PTA. If life were fair, low income students would get the best teachers because they need them most, but in fact the opposite occurs. Teachers in high poverty schools are less likely to experienced and licensed, to teach in their field of expertise, and to have high teacher test scores. Expectations are also dumbed down, so that the grade of “C” in a middle class school is the equivalent of the grade of “A” in a high poverty school, as measured by standardized test results.

So profound is the effect of concentrated poverty that middle class kids in high poverty schools perform worse on average than low income students in middle class schools. The paucity of middle-class children explains why cities like Washington D.C. and Hartford Connecticut outspend their suburban counterparts but still fail to provide the kind of quality education provided by middle-class schools.

Significantly, all of these resources—positive peer influences, active parents, and good teachers—track more closely with the economic makeup than the racial makeup of the student body. Forty years ago, the well-known Coleman Report found that “the beneficial effect of a student body with a high proportion of white students comes not from the racial composition per se but from the better educational background and higher educational aspirations that are, on average, found among whites.”

I'm not going to retype all of the material Kahlenberg describes ... but you can go to the Century Foundation website and check out the very thoughtful and detailed report entitled "Rescuing Brown v. Board of Education: Profiles of Twelve School Districts Pursuing Socioeconomic School Integration" for a look at how other districts have tackled drawing lines in pursuit of socioeconomic integration.

One more thing: we have closed a school and are going to draw new lines. The only question is whether we should draw these lines to maintain a single school that is composed of a large % of kids on free/reduced lunch (approximately 50%) and two schools that have substantially fewer kids on free reduced lunch (24 to 33%). If this community feels that the right thing to do -- educationally, morally -- is to maintain such massive differences in school population, then you need to make your opinions known loudly and clearly to the School Committee. But my own view is that once again, we need to look to the outside world and what the research tells us: separate schools for low income versus moderate/high income kids reduces achievement in low income students for a variety of reasons, which is why many other districts are now pursuing strategies to integrate schools around socioeconomic status.


Migdalor Guy said...

Migdalor Guy said...

All of these idealized and theoretical concepts are well-intentioned but wrong-headed, because they miss the most crucial part of what makes successful schools: communities.

The cry I hear from families with students on reduced or free lunch is "keep our communities together" rather than "equalize the percentage of reduced/free lunch students at each school." Community, more than anything else, creates successful schools. Destroy that, and you destroy any chance at success.

Once again, the ivory tower intellectuals are trying to solve problems they simply don't face in their own lives.

Rick said...

This is great, thanks Catherine. Please reconsider this though:

“I've got to say, having to justify this as a goal is a bit shocking to me ... since I'd assume that if we were starting our schools from scratch and someone proposed, "let's put most of the low income students in one school all together," it would seem pretty unreasonable.”


a. We’re supposed to be using data to justify everything, right? Someone saying that this is self-evident without data is a little like science teachers saying the new ninth grade since course is self-evidently better than Earth Science was. The fact that so many reasonable people believe this is important leads me to say “OK” without data, but I am not sure that is a 100% good thing - to go with opinion and not data.

b. We are not starting from scratch, thus there are costs involved to move. There would be no cost if we were starting from scratch. If we were starting from scratch we might well be building only 2 elementary schools, not 3 or 4 – but we are not. Even if there are costs, we should of course move to whatever we are sure is better in the long run, but it’s not the same as starting from scratch.

c. If reasonable people are asking for this info, what’s wrong with giving it? Why resist? This is a little like asking ARPS for info and getting stonewalled on it. You don’t like that right?

But you are giving us this info and nobody else is so thanks for that!

Only people reading this blog will have this info so I agree with Meg it would be cool if something could be handed out at the meeting.

Finally, the research presented is all about places outside of Amherst and I’m still confused, for example, why FR and CF MCAS English scores are so close when the % FRL are so far apart. The math scores are not close, but as I said somewhere else on this blog, is that because of low income % or because the math program at CF needs improving, and if because of low income, why is English not that way? And the MCAS data shown is for all kids in the school – wondering how the data compares for low income kids in each school - perhaps it is a larger variation. But at any rate, I assume we have that data and can see if it improves after the redistricting – say 2 years out.

Thanks again. I know we have arguments, but good stuff comes out of it all. And you sure work hard at this!!!

Rick said...

Adrian, if you don’t like the SC’s decision to close MM, you need to tell us exactly where you would cut $700,000 instead. The “enemy” is not the school committee – they made the best of the bad choices. If there is an enemy it’s the State of Massachusetts that has so drastically cut aid to towns since 2002 – well over $15 million for Amherst compared to if it kept pace with inflation. MA won’t to raise income taxes back to where they were before 2002 cuts – and instead tried to eliminate income taxes altogether. And Amherst doesn’t like overrides. So there’s the problem. If either aid to towns had just kept to 1/3 the inflation rate or if Amherst had passed the 2007 override, we wouldn’t be discussing any of this. I am not arguing for either here, I’m just saying it’s a fact.

Federal income taxes cut (Bush), state income taxes cut (Romney), no local tax overrides. No wonder government is having trouble funding what it does.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm still not convinced that we need to bus some kids out of the CF district in order to equalize FRL% among the 3 elementary schools. Seems like we should be providing the support and educational structure to these kids no matter what school they go to. Rick makes a good point that the MCAS Enclish scores are quite close for FR and CF even tho the FRL@ are far apart. What does that mean? What do CF's low Math scores mean? Could it be, as Rick points out, that the low scores simply means we need to beef up the math instruction at CF?

If all kids went to their neighborhood school (no CF district islands) would there be enough room at CF to fit the "island kids?" Would we have to go back to the drawing board do re-do the lines again?

I would really like to hear from more "island" parents about the current re-districting proposal. Do they want to be bussed out? Are the ones who are at CF happy with the school? Are the ones who are currently bussed out want to continue to be bussed out? Wish their kids could go to the school closest to them? Do we know what the "island" parents think? Does the SC care about what they think?

I think there are still alot of unanswered questions.

Rick said...

I do want to be clear that although I question the data and/or lack of it, I respect all the people who think this is important and so that weighs a lot with me. That would be people that Catherine mentioned in another post:

“I was on that reorganization committee, as were many in town (Ray Sharick, Mike Morris, Andy, Clare Bertrand, Mary May, Meg Rosa, Claire Hamilton, Derek Shea, and many others I'm forgetting to name). The belief was pretty strong in this group, which was formed at the request of the SC, that it feels pretty bad to have such unequal schools -- which I believe.”

Now if some of those people started to say they are not as sure now because of what they have heard, that would be different. But I have not heard anything about any of those folks thinking differently now, so I personally I am still OK with “they think this is good, I respect them and so I believe them”. Especially if the Principals of these schools think so - that weighs a lot.

I do think it’s a bit too bad that these public forums didn’t happen a bit earlier so there was more time to see if maybe something comes up that all these folks hadn’t thought of. But my understanding is that nothing had come up that they didn’t know would come up.

This typical of how it can be hard for the SC because no matter what there will be people who don’t like something about this. If you think you are doing the right thing, you tend to try to just “get it done” and not let the effort get derailed, and that can look like “not listening”. So it’s a balance between really listening – in case you missed something – and trying keep what you think is a good thing from getting derailed.

Meg Rosa said...

Thank you for doing this posting!!! I think it will help people who read your blog. I still feel that something needs to be given to the families who come tomorrow night, or even to the families in each school. I think people need to understand why this is an issue and many of those people may not read your blog.

Can you make a request for this info to be given to families, or is this something that could come from me or some other, non SC member? This is not a new conversation, so there must be someone who can put together an info sheet for people.

Thanks again!!!

Tom G said...

Given Amherst's seemingly universal embrace of social justice as a fundamental educational principle, I too am surprised at the resistance to the idea of placing a balanced number of low income students in the three grade schools, a plan called school 'equity'.

I consider the Amherst grade school district reorganization plan one of Amherst's first opportunities to walk the talk of social justice.

Rather than disparage the principle of school equity and the science that backs it up, we might recognize that it is the evolution of an idea we pursued in the 60's about equal opportunity for all people regardless of race, now understanding that income is a significant underlying factor in educational progress and educational opportunity.

I recognize the value and necessity of Catherine's efforts to engage stakeholders and provide them with an opportunity to review the studies that indicate why we should apply this principle of equity in our district plan.

While it may seem late in the process for the public to be asking for the rationale for school equity, it is not surprising for the public to focus on the details only after they recognize that it affects them directly.

Another factor worth noting is that 'equity', more than other factors in the district reorganization plan, is what stakeholders identify as the reason their children will go to a new school rather than the one they've attended up until now.

So they approach 'equity' as an enemy of their preference and not an educational benefit to their student.

I wonder if a tool like surveymonkey would allow the SC committee to tease out actual reasons for discontent with the plan. In addition, good surveys provide contextual information that might help educate.

I am confident that once the plan is settled and implemented Amherst school administrators and teachers will help foster a sense of identity and community in each of the three grade schools.

Once the plan is settled interested parties can get on with the curriculum related effort to make our schools great.

Catherine's process, which includes opening it up to comment and criticism and relaying feedback to the committee is extraordinarily valuable, extraordinarily generous and a good indication of her commitment to an extraordinary result.

TC said...

Thanks a lot for posting this info! I'm 100% convinced that redistricting to equalize is the right thing to do, but it seems that a lot of people in town wanted more info as to why it's important. I agree with Meg that this should be distributed to the public.

Migdalor Guy said...

If improving student performance is what this is all about, then why, exactly, are we closing the school with the most demonstrated success in this? Where's the logic in that? It seems to me that saving a successful school is worth finding a way to cut $700k elsewhere, or finding more revenue sources. I imagine MM would be ripe for a study of why it is so successful, and there's a potential source of funding.

Caren Rotello said...

Migdalor Guy,
I found Catherine's earlier post about the relative performance of the 4 elementaries on the MCAS quite illuminating. Her point was that MM appeared to do better than the others only because its class sizes were too small to allow a break-out of the sub-categories of students reported for the other schools. Thus, the comparison wasn't apples-to-apples. Looking at the apples-to-apples numbers, the schools look more similar (and in some cases -- if memory serves -- MM looked worse than the others).

If you have an idea of how to save $700k, then post it. Don't just say "find the money," because that wastes all of our time.

Ed said...

There is a really big logical fallacy in all of this that everyone is missing - the adjective "MIDDLE" in income.

I agree with all of Catherine's data and actually could cite other things that come to the same conclusion, which I share. But this is when you put low income students into classrooms largely containing students of MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME.

The median family household income for Massachusetts is somewhere in the $55/$60K region, for the valley it is $50/$55K or so. Remember that median is half above, half below and *not* average, also that this is HOUSEHOLD which may include both parents (and maybe a child) working.

Exactly how many households in Amherst with K-6 aged children have a household income anywhere near $55K? I suspect damn few because everyone in that income bracket bought a house in Belchertown or Shutesbury during the easy credit days.

Now my stats professor is going to freak, but I am just using an arbitrary line of 6 figures. That is two adults each getting $50K and that is not uncommon at UMass. And with a household income of $100K, these aren't middle income families anymore.

So what you are doing is setting the low income kids up for failure. The only thing you are going to do is teach them to sell drugs to the rich kids, aka Mill Valley....

The income differential is just too great. Unless you wish to subsidize the low income children and restrict what the high income children can spend on their children (and I know there are some on the left who would like to do both), you are going to have problems.

Say you are teaching a 4th grade class on the Romans. If half of your students have BEEN TO Rome, and the other half have been to the local pizza place, do you see how you have a serious problem?

And I will tell you exactly what will happen - those whose parents couldn't afford such enrichment will immediately resent those whose could and you will immediately have discipline problems. It is one thing when people have a little bit more, but when you have disparity on the level of Amherst, well this isn't going to work....

I know the intent is well, but the income gap is so great that it can't work....

Ed said...

Mill Valley -- That actually is a good example of what my concern is.

It was built as a "mixed income" community, with about half the units (maybe less, I never really did the math) kept "affordable" with the rest being market rates. Except being new, they are the most expensive apartments in town.

So you literally have very rich college kids (the only people who would rent an apartment at that price in this town) living next door to the single mother with five kids, she living next door to the woman who doesn't know who fired the 9mm bullet through her wall into the other woman's apartment. (True story, btw...)

The middle-aged middle-income families with children not only don't want to live in that kind of environment, but also found it a whole lot cheaper to have a mortgage (with tax breaks) and buy the house in B'Town.

And what you then wind up with is rich college kids with lots of money living next to poor kids with business ambitions and the place becomes an open-air drug market at times.

This is what I am afraid will happen....

Rick said...

"Catherine's process, which includes opening it up to comment and criticism and relaying feedback to the committee is extraordinarily valuable, extraordinarily generous and a good indication of her commitment to an extraordinary result."

You can say that again - really fantastic!

Rick said...

Ed makes an interesting point, but not sure we know if it’s the case there would be the large gap in incomes that he mentions.

”The median income for a household in the town was $40,017, and the median income for a family was $61,237. Males had a median income of $44,795 versus $32,672 for females. The per capita income for the town was $17,427. About 7.2% of families and 20.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.3% of those under age 18 and 3.5% of those age 65 or over. The reason for the large population living below the poverty line is because of the large number of students that live in Amherst.”

“These statistics include some but not all of the large student population, many of whom only reside in the town part of the year.”


Meg Rosa said...

Typically 3rd grade in MM does not do so well, but the upper grades get some of the top scores in the State. 5th and 6th have had recent #1/2s in the State. So yes, the results can be mixed, but there have been some top scores in the State in recent years.

Abbie said...

because MM is so small a very small number of kids can really change the average. I believe that there were a couple of extraordinary students who were in 6th grade last year and 5th grade the year before that (who I could name but don't to protect their privacy).

Anonymous said...

i teach on the college level and
citing wikepedia is not is not a good source nor a factual source of information go to the bureau of statistics or the secretary of state's web site and get real data

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Migdalor Guy - Hi, Adrian! I think we disagree about closing MM, obviously, and have for a long time. I understand you think it was a bad decision--I still think it was the only one we could make, but I know that you disagree.

Migdalor Guy - I certainly hear the cry of "keep our families together" from some corners, and if you look at the map as it currently stands, every single apartment complex is kept together, so that kids within one complex are going to school with kids from that same complex. Now, that is NOT what is occurring now, when kids from East Hadley Road are being divided into three schools -- 91 going to CF, 38 going to FR, and 47 going to wW. So, do you think we should keep splitting the apartments like that, as we are now, or do you think we should keep the apartments in only two schools, as has been discussed on my blog? Do you think we should create communities in which there are MORE kids on free/reduced lunch (which will happen if we stop busing kids to WW and FR from the CF area, as we do now)? Where do you think we should put the MM kids? Again, it has been proposed to me that we just divide the MM kids into three groups and send those kids to the three schools so that we don't have to break up communities and all other kids stay where they are now. Would you be in favor of this proposal? Again, tell me how you'd like the lines to be drawn, don't just criticize where others have drawn them.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Rick - it is hard for me to believe, and I'm acknowledging this is my limitation as a human being, that anyone would say "in an ideal world, we would cluster low income children at one school." That sounds to me like ... segregation! I fully believe, as much as I hate to admit it, that many people in town would be fine with this idea -- it would frankly make the other schools richer and that probably has assorted benefits. But this feels wrong to me. Maybe not to others, as I'm acknowledging.

Ummm, in terms of the 9th grade science example -- there are actually other districts who are integrating based on income ... and ummm, exactly ZERO other districts doing 9th grade ecology!

We, in a sense, are starting from scratch, in that we have to redistrict somehow since MM is closing. We have three choices:

1. Keep the same exact three other districts and just divide up MM into three chunks however those kids fit -- that would keep 87% of the kids in the same school.

2. Redistrict based on proximity to where one lives to a school. That would pretty much be the current map as proposed, but without the islands. That would move a fair number of kids (mostly WW kids needing to move out of WW to CF to make room for MM kids). And it would likely create a 50% low income school (CF) and two other schools that are higher income (25 to 30%). We could totally do that.

3. We could redistrict into three schools and consider income as a variable (along with transportation, etc.). That is what the current map does.

But those are the three choices -- and all have pros/cons. The easiest one in terms of not disrupting the most kids is just to divide up MM into three groups (and this has been suggested to me on the phone by parents in the last week). Does that feel right? It doesn't to me, but sure, it would avoid having to officially redistrict!

Finally, I'm totally giving you this information -- and I've asked for it to be presented tomorrow night, but again, that's just not only my call.

In terms of your question about why certain scores are so close/others not -- one thing you can't see in MCAS scores is how much it takes to get the scores. So, because CF has a highly low income population compared to the other schools, there are smaller class sizes and I'm imagine more intervention support. So, it may be that the scores end up to be the same, but the COST of providing additional resources to CF means it's not an efficient way to spend limited school dollars. For example, in 2008-2009, CF had an average class size of 17.7, whereas the other schools all ranged from 19.1 to 19.7.

Rick said...

Here you go:

The median income stated there is $61,237 (families), same as in Wikipedia, but Wiki did not say what year it was for and it's the 2000 census.

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing echoes of one of the more famous and controversial remarks ever made by a candidate in a presidential campaign: Jimmy Carter's 1976 comment that "there is nothing wrong with maintaining ethnic purity" in a neighborhood. For that, he was roundly attacked by Jesse Jackson and others.

Now, we seem to be reaching a similar conclusion, but cloaked in the interest of "maintaining communities". In the context of a political campaign, such a rationale for sending low income kids disproportionately to one school over two others would be seen as being just a little too clever. And out of nowhere we get this vision of the Town as somehow made up of balkanized enclaves. Where's the proof for it? If we had such wonderful, vibrant "communities" within the Town, wouldn't we have far bigger slates of Town Meeting candidates competing to represent the interests of them?

The kindest thing that I can say about this perverse logic from the redistricting opponents is that it seems to be a product of blind rage about the closing of Mark's Meadow, which makes it a little more understandable and human.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more:

Rick (at 9:56) - well said in terms of how else to save $700,000! Again, I hear so much criticism and so few solutions.

Anonymous 10:14 - We certainly don't have to bus kids out of CF to equalize FRL ... we could decide as a community that we feel comfortable having one school at 50% FRL and the other two at 25/30%. If that feels good/right to you, you should come to an SC meeting and say that, or email the whole committee using your actual name. We are currently providing more support to CF than the other schools ... smaller class sizes, more intervention support. And it isn't working, for all of the reasons that it describes in the Century Foundation Report. This is just not a problem we can fix by throwing more money at it, as nice as that would be for all the parents who don't want their kids to change schools!

But the ironic thing is that we are CURRENTLY busing apartment kids out of their neighborhood school, which is CF ... we bus 38 to FR and 47 to WW (and 1 to MM). Yet no one has been concerned about this at all?!?

If all kids went to their neighborhood schools, we could certainly fit all of the kids now being bused out of the East Hadley Road area to CF (and again, have a largely poor school). We'd also need to take some kids from WW to CF, however, to make room for the MM kids.

I have heard from exactly ZERO "island" parents who are currently unhappy with their children being bused out of their neighborhood school ... so I guess I'm not sure why the busing will be more problematic next year than it is now? We are already doing it ... and in fact, in the current plan, we will be busing FEWER kids out of the apartments than we are now to a non-neighborhood school and we will be busing them all to the SAME school. Doesn't that sound better than what we currently do?

Finally, in terms of caring what parents think ... let's say some parents who were middle/high income came to the SC and said that they'd really prefer to be in a school with mostly middle class and wealthy kids, so they would prefer if we kept the district as it is now, so that the low income kids are mostly clustered at one school. Should we take that view seriously, because we need to be responsive to parental concerns? I'm asking a serious question -- because I certainly know of families who feel exactly this way.

Anonymous said...

I think Ed needs to be heard and I only wish that the focus here and elsewhere was more on the curriculum and less on who is eating what kind of lunch! I am a teacher aide and I can speak from a different point of view. I have seen the child who the teacher caters the whole class lesson to because s/he can do the work and understands the directions/curriculum first hand. Interesting because more often than not this child is from a high income two parent household....maybe some of this 'data' CS has dug up represents some bits of reality. But--the emphasis needs to be redirected and the efforts and energies need to be put on teachers and how they teach and what they are teaching--I can't stress this enough...And thanked for doing this work!!
I believe regrets will soon enough be felt when MM is closed--great regrets when it finally becomes realized just what a foolish move this is. And how on earth can anyone seriously ask the common layperson to come up with a way to earn/find $700,000??!! And this figure continues to rise...
But back to basics--Catherine--has the SPED department been investigated/evaluated yet? Will there ever be another opportunity for open enrollment? And where will Building Blocks be placed for the 2009/2010 school year? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Catherine - a few thoughts... It may be presumptuous to assume that people are fully aware or fully understand where the redistricting process currently stands.

"But the ironic thing is that we are CURRENTLY busing apartment kids out of their neighborhood school, which is CF ... we bus 38 to FR and 47 to WW (and 1 to MM). Yet no one has been concerned about this at all?!?"

Isn't this current situation due to language clustering and the continuation of a long history of certain neighborhoods attending particular schools? It seems likely that people with kids don't have time to complain or might not have ever thought that there would be a possibility to change. Now, when faced with having to make a change, which is disruptive to varying degrees, people are more likely to be "concerned." Being bused to WW when you have been bused to FR for years already or vice-versa isn't the same to people even if YOUR perspective is simply that they are being bused out of their neighborhood.

"I have heard from exactly ZERO "island" parents who are currently unhappy with their children being bused out of their neighborhood school ... so I guess I'm not sure why the busing will be more problematic next year than it is now? We are already doing it ... and in fact, in the current plan, we will be busing FEWER kids out of the apartments than we are now to a non-neighborhood school and we will be busing them all to the SAME school. Doesn't that sound better than what we currently do?"

Again, aren't people more likely to accept what has been going on for a long time- they don't have to think about moving their kids? Do you really think that everyone in town is aware of what's going on and has time to communicate in as timely a manner as people who are keeping up with this blog? Obviously busing next year will be more "problematic" for people who are making a change if they are happy/used to their current situation.
Similarly, despite what is currently happening, it is striking that a new, "better" plan suggests that families who live in apts should be treated differently than families who live in houses.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if the difference in performance at CF, despite "..currently providing more support to CF than the other schools..." could be due to a higher number of students for whom English is neither their first language nor that language spoken in the home? Because it would seem redistricting might in that case only serve to dilute those students (and their test scores) among several schools without doing much to actually help them succeed individually. ??

I realize there are students who fit this description throughout the 4 schools, I'm just wondering about the actual numbers/percentages as well as how this might affect test scores.

Thank you.

Rick said...

“ Rick - it is hard for me to believe, and I'm acknowledging this is my limitation as a human being, that anyone would say "in an ideal world, we would cluster low income children at one school." That sounds to me like ... segregation!”

1. Is that what I said ("in an ideal world, we would cluster low income children at one school.")? Geez…that sounds like Fox News talking about what Obama said.

2. If that I what it sounds like, why are we not redistricting by race instead of by income? Please don’t compare the two – they are not equivalent.

Anyhow, as I said before I am sold on the idea of moving toward 33% - just because so many other people who’s opinion I respect say we should do it. I wish there was more data presented on it, but there isn’t.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Rick (at 10:42) - to the best of my knowledge, none of the principals oppose distributing low income kids -- certainly I've heard no such concerns from any principal, and I haven't heard anyone who was on that committee say that they now believe having a poor school is the right way to go. I know people glossed over it in the spring, but my motion to close MM (which was EXTENSIVELY DISCUSSED AT 5 DIFFERENT FORUMS) specifically stated "and redistrict into equitable schools" in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch. So, our expectation, I believe, was that families who opposed the principle by which we were going to redistrict (e.g., by socioeconomic status) would have spoken at that time. Two maps were drawn and presented at all the forums, and posted on the web, and yet NO ONE at that time said "oh, there's an island and that's bad" or "I don't think we should distribute low income kids." Thus, I think the SC felt that after five forums last spring in which the idea of redistricting based on socioeconomic status (and no opposition to that idea), we had provided a lot of opportunity for people to talk, and again, had heard NOTHING about any concerns regarding this plan.

Meg - thanks for the support! I have made this request to the SC ... I think others may not agree that this information will be helpful, but I'm hoping some will speak to it directly at the next forum. Certainly you could speak to it if you are coming tomorrow night?!? Thanks for the good idea -- I agree it would be important.

Tom G - thanks for the nice remarks about my process -- and I agree with all that you have said. This seems like a great opportunity for us to do right by all kids in the district ... and I am quite confident the principals and teachers will work hard to make each school work well for ALL kids.

TC - I believe it should be distributed, and have asked for something to be distributed and/or said at the forum tomorrow night. I am hopeful that will occur.

Migdalor Guy - just to be clear -- Marks Meadow failed to make AYP in English Language Arts this year, whereas students at Fort River (the largest of all the schools) made AYP for all students, and for each of the sub-groups with adequate numbers for comparison (special education students, low income students, and white students). Among white students, the only sub-group with adequate size to be counted at MM, Fort River students received an average of 94.2 (an increase of 1.8 from the prior year), whereas Marks Meadow students received a 91.0 ( a decrease of 1.2 from the year before). I hope you will now encourage people to look to Fort River to see what is going so well in this very large school!

Anonymous said...

Only nine months ago, town Superintendents were opposed to moving too quickly with potential restructuring:

"In summary, it is our recommendation that consideration of restructuring the elementary schools not be pursued at this time, but that the work of the restructuring committee last week, as well as the original study, be given to the new superintendent for possible inclusion in his or her strategic planning with the School Committee in the years ahead. Amherst’s children, families, and staff need not be rushed into a reorganization plan that may well be more disruptive than beneficial at this time."

The Supers apparently understood the value of acting mindfully with respect to the hearts and lives of so many.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Caren - well said on both points. Thanks!

Ed (at 1:17) - I certainly think it is likely many Amherst families have above the median income. But I still don't see what you are proposing ... have an entirely low income school so that the kids who've been to Rome are totally separated from those who haven't been (in which case my kids are in the low income group!). What's the practical solution here?!?

Ed (at 1:26) - also not sure how the schools can approach this issue?!?

Rick (at 1:31) - thanks for the compliment!

Rick (at 1:38) - again, I'm just not sure how we are going to deal with the median income thing and whether some people are higher. I don't know of any research that suggests a big income difference is bad ... just that having above 40% low income isn't helpful. So any remarks about this income would be highly speculative and potentially wrong.

Meg - Marks Meadow kids may be doing very well ... but again, there are lots of ways to explain this (small school is one, but there are many others). I looked up 6th grade scores in MM and FR (largest school) -- in 2009, 81% of MM kids got advanced or proficient in English, compared to 80% for FR. Similarly, 72% of MM got advanced or proficient in math, compared to 71% at FR. A lot of kids at both schools are doing very well.

Abbie - yes, good point ... a few kids have a much bigger impact on means at MM than the other schools ... and MM doesn't have enough kids in any of the subgroups, which is where a lot of the other schools are having trouble on AYP.

Anonymous 5:43 - OK! Good point.

Rick said...

”I haven't heard anyone who was on that committee say that they now believe having a poor school is the right way to go.” - OK good to know.

I understand this was presented long ago in closing MM forums, but probably at that time people were solely focused on closing MM and nothing else, in part because the vote to close happened after the forums, so until then it was theoretical. I do think the detailed reasons for redistricting based on income were glossed over, and there still is not enough data about it on the website or presented otherwise. But that’s beating a dead horse and again I get that people-in-the-know are sure it’s a good idea, so that’s fine.

I think an area that ARPS (not just SC) is getting better on, but can improve still (and I know its one of the stated goals that just got voted on last night) is that ARPS often has knowledge as an “insider” that it doesn’t get that “outsiders” have no clue about. I hope ARPS can foster a culture where they are always thinking this:
“what do we know that those folks out there need to know – and – is it important enough that we need to beat them over the head with it”.

So its two things: recognizing there is something to communicate, and recognizing when it’s important enough to publicize the heck out of.
The income gap issue is Ed's point, not mine. All I was doing is showing what census says the medium income is. I am not sure whether that makes Ed's point valid or not. Personally I don't think it's a problem as I don't think that many elementary kids go to Rome. ;-)
Anon 12:30:
A lot changed after that note from acting Supers in January – state aid got cut further – and no way could “making careful cuts, increasing revenue by considering school choice, and possibly instituting user fees” that they mention be enough – the savings of $700,000 to close MM was needed – or else cut $700,000 of something else, and it was unanimous by the SC that would have been worse.
PS: Fantastic stuff at last night’s SC meeting; really going in great direction. Great job! Really this is night and day from a year ago.

Anonymous said...

Current 5th graders who will move schools next year will really take it on the chin. They will move to a new school for 6th grade, then to another new school when they go to middle school.

Is there anyway to allow these 5th graders (those slated to move next year) to stay in their current school if their families (or neighborhood carpools) can provide transportation? It could be a one year expemption to the redistricting just for those kids.

How many 5th graders would this involve under the current plan?

Xenos said...

Just a quick comment from a parent of three kids at Fort River under open enrollment, who lives in a part of the Wildwood district that will be assigned to Crocker Farm under the proposed redistricting:

It is fine. I don't mind. My kids don't mind. My fifth grader is thrilled to be going to CF next year with his neighborhood friends and three friends from FR who are also there on open enrollment.

I think the plan would work well and will be as good of a solution as any that can be worked out. Let's do it.

Anonymous said...

There is a vocal *minority* who think that the equity is not a good goal. I for one STRONGLY support the redistricting and equalizing the schools. There shouldn't be a poor school and rich school. Period. It is just that I don't have the time to attend the meetings and have my voice heard.

Rick said...

Anon 6:09 – I wouldn’t worry, it’s definitely happening.

This really has been talked about for a long time and if you look back at the documents distributed around the time of the MM closing forums, there is a lot in there about redistricting based on income.

My guess as to what’s going on is that back then, many people just didn’t pay much attention to it because they were focused only on the question of closing MM: YES or NO. That is all I can think of to explain what seems to be a disconnect between people who think there has not been an opportunity for input, and those who say we’ve been talking about this forever.

At tonight’s forum it was nice to see that some adjustments had been made to the map to address some of the concerns, so that shows the forums have helped to some extent.

Anonymous said...

great turn-out and so many excellent points raised at tonite's forum!

there should be more data presented with respect to the value of social capital on academic performance.

Margaret Burland said...

Yes, I would like to add a word of appreciation for the adjustments that were made to the map between last week's forum and last night's. Clearly the SC, the redistricting subcommittee in particular, is not only listening but also responding. I also thought that Irv Rhodes and Steve Rivkin both expressed real understanding and sympathy in some of their comments at the forum last night, which must have been hard to do sitting in front of what felt to me like a hostile crowd at certain points. I left the forum feeling more at peace with the School Committee and with other parents in town. I still don't like the island that remains in south Amherst, and I still plan to move out of it before next fall. But I want to give the SC full credit for offering some compromises on the new map, because until very recently it had sounded as if they were determined not to compromise on anything. I believe that the changes they have made are for the better and will have lasting positive effects, these are not just short-term fixes to appease today's parents. The new map is a compromise that maintains -- no, enhances -- the credibility of the School Committee as a representative body that remains true to its stated objectives while also responding to the concerns of its constituents.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who were not there - can someone summarize what happened at the meeting, and specifically, what line changes were made to the map between last week and last night's redistricting forum meetings?

It is nice to see that the SC is responding to feedback and making quick changes in the map for a forum just a week later. This will help the community better understand that the SC is sensitive to the community's needs while maintaining what is best for the district as a whole (which means that the SC can listen to what everyone says, but cannot please everyone).

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why people were more happy about the map from last night regarding the island. Because those kids will now only be "bussed out" to one school instead of to two? The fact remains that those kids alone will be bussed out of their home territory, even though they will now all be going to Fort River (which will now be at 40% poverty). The man who spoke about living in the island but not being on free/reduced lunch but his kids still having to be bussed out made a very good point. I don't blame Margaret for wanting to move out of the island!

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:41: I think some people are saying that they are happier with the new map because (and only because) they see it as a sign that the SC is responsive to feedback from the public forums. And they obviously worked very quickly to incorporate the feedback into the new map just a week later. That in itself is apparently a big deal compared to how the SC was before CS was elected. (ha ha, should we call that era "BCS"?)

I don't think these people in general think the map is particularly improved or optimal; it's just such a refreshing sign to see some response from the SC to the public. And really, will there ever be a time when the general public agrees the map is optimal? I think that is an unrealistic expectation.

Abbie said...

to anon@9:41:

I hope that you were a loud voice that opposed the current islands of bused kids out of that area. Some to FR (a true island), some to WW (more an isthmus). I don't think the proposed map is perfect, but in many respects it is an improvement, in other respects at least it isn't worse (changing two islands into one). If we only settled for perfection we would never have any change for the better.

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good".

Margaret Burland said...

In response to the question a few posts back, two changes were made to the proposed redistricting map in a revised map handed out last night.
1) the new map shows The Boulders, New Hollister and Mill Valley Estates (apartment complexes off of East Hadley Rd in near south Amherst) as going to Fort River as one big island within an otherwise Crocker Farm part of town, whereas in all previous redistricting maps, The Boulders had been districted as Wildwood and Mill Valley Estates and New Hollister as Fort River. Because of all the Marks Meadow students entering Wildwood as a group, there was no way to make room for all these apartment-dwellers together at Wildwood, but they could (just barely) all fit as a group into Fort River, so that is what the new map has done.
2) to take some pressure off of Fort River, add a small number of additional new students to Wildwood, and realize the goal of sending all previous Marks Meadow students to Wildwood, the northeast corner of Amherst around Leverett Rd (and East Leverett Rd?) has now been changed from a Fort River area to a Wildwood area. In terms of equity, the impact of this change is that it shows the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch at the new Fort River to be 9 percentage points higher than it would be at the new Wildwood, with the new Crocker Farm in between, just a few points below the new Fort River.
Those were the only changes I saw, but someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Can someone (Catherine?) give us an update on how many students will be leaving their current schools (5th grade and below) next year, based on the new maps?

Specifically, how many WW students will be leaving WW? How many FR students will be leaving FR? And how many CF students will be leaving CF? (We already know that ALL the students will be leaving MM). And what percentage is that of each school's population?

Anonymous said...

So Fort River now becomes the "poor" school. How do the Fort River parents feel about now being the school with 40% FRL? How will that impact the education of the FR students now? As the parent of a rising FR kindergartner I am not very happy. How will this impact my child's chance at a quality education? Will the staff at FR now be stretched to meet the needs of struggling under-performing FRL kids? Will Building Blocks still be housed ad FR?

How has this solved the FRL problem - it feels like the SC has just switched the problem from CF to FR. A 9% gap between Wildwood and FR does not sound like an equitable distribution. Why doesnt the SC just let the children in the apartments go to their own neighborhood school. All this moving kids around has not solved anything - except to move the problem from one school to another. I can't believe the SC thinks 40% FRL at one school is ok.

Anonymous said...

What is the plan for figuring out which teachers move where next year? Is it assumed that all MM teachers with enough seniority (more seniority than the current WW teachers) will get the classroom position at WW, or at the school of their choice? And than the WW (or FR/CF) teacher with less seniority will have to move (to CF presumably?, since that is where most of the WW kids who leave will be going?) And of course I assume that WW teachers with enough seniority will get to choose whether to stay at WW or move to a different school? (And same at FR, CF). Last year there was enough upheaval with reading/computer specialists who had "tenure" taking classroom positions when their specialist positions were cut (and in effect, "booting" really good young teachers).

Will there or can there be a formal method to advocate for amazing young teachers who do not have tenure, or do union rules dictate that seniority always takes precedence?

Anonymous said...

You know I have to ask this. Everyone is so upset now over the redistricting plan, but you all knew this was coming last year when everyone was pushing for Mark's Meadow to close. Where did you all think those 200 kids would go? A magic school that none of us knew about? Seriously here!! A school is closing. The almost 200 children who attend that school have to go somewhere. With the powers that be, at the moment it looks like they will go to Wildwood.

So is everyone ok with keeping all schools as they are and just adding almost 200 kids to Wildwood and not have the rest of the Town affected by the school closing?

100% of families in this Town are affected by the decision to close Marks Meadow. Every single child will feel this closure in some way. They may go to school in a new school, their best friend may move to a new school, they may have to drive across Town to get to their school, and the list goes on.

The one thing that won't change is we have to close a school and add those children into the 3 remaining schools somehow. This is not easy. People are working extremely hard to make it happen. It won't please everyone. Try to be respectful, honest, and open.

Rick said...

Anon 11:03: well said.

Again what may have happened is that when this was all discussed during MM closing discussions, people focused on the closing part and not on the redistricting part. Also, perhaps way more MM parents paid attention then, than parents of kids in other schools, thinking that it would not affect them as much as it does.

Also, really great comments from Margaret Burland above.

TC said...

To anon 10:39 AM: If it's not Ok to have 40% FRL kids at Fort River, why is it OK to have more than 40% at Crocker Farm (the situation we have now)? We come back to the original goal of the redistricting process. We need to make the 3 schools more equitable. I couldn't go to the forum yesterday, but it seems that many people are happier with the new map. What I'm worried about is that the new map could create a situation in which we're only transfering the problem to a different school (or at least people like anon 10:39 can claim that's what's happening). However, I don't think we should do what anon 10:39 is suggesting (leave all kids where they are). I think we should try to keep the % of FRL kids in each of the schools as close as possible. In that sense, the first map did a better job. I'm not saying I'm against the new one, but only that the School Committee should be careful with the proccess priorities

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.39 here:

I don't think its ok to have 40% FRL at any school. - CF, FR or WW. I do object, however, to moving the problem from one school to another. Why are we bussing kids out of their community district to simply create a problem at another school. With the new maps we now have bussing with no net gain. This is not ok. If bussing is not fixing the problem, simply moving it, then we should not be bussing.

And no, I am not happy with moving CF's problem to FR. I liked the maps better with the schools were more equitable - 33% FRL in each.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I am working on a blog posting about all of this. Will be posted later today -- it is long.

Thank you, MARGARET, for summarizing it all!