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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Clusters are not illegal; respectfully revisit redistricting

Amherst Bulletin
By KEN PRANSKY
Published on November 13, 2009

Amherst was once a school system many communities with diverse populations envied. In the last couple of years, though, much has been abandoned. Especially with the changes being made in the name of redistricting, the heart and soul of our schools is shifting with regard to how we will go about educating some of our most vulnerable learners. And while reasonable people can differ on ideas, I fear these decisions have not been as transparent or informed as they should be and that the students and families most affected by these changes deserve.

One example concerns the end of our longstanding language and culture cluster programs. The School Committee and central administration have stated flatly on multiple occasions that they are illegal. Many of us tried to tell them that they are not illegal if done as English language learner programs.

We were not listened to. I thought, I'm not a lawyer, maybe I'm wrong. But I recently got a hold of a copy of the legal opinion from the firm of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane that was sent to administration in response to their queries about the legality of our cluster programs. I quote directly from the opinion: "If the district believes that grouping its students based on their language of origin is the fastest, most effective way of teaching English, such a policy would be permissible but not preferable under (state law)."

An email from School Committee member Catherine Sanderson to me confirms that this is well understood by the committee (and thus by implication, the administration as well). Well, all our cluster programs - the Cambodian cluster, Latino cluster and Chinese cluster - are English language education programs. Thus, they are quite legal after all. One is left to draw one's own conclusion about the School Committee's and administration's unequivocal pronouncements about illegality.

Later in the opinion, the lawyer responded to a specific question about "the grouping of students by ethnic group who are fluent in English, and therefore not ELL students." We have no programs like that, so why that question? How could all this misinformation have gone unnoticed for so long, and repeated so often in public, accompanied by such a negative, accusatory tone? What is going on?

This whole process has been shocking, and tainted. I feel particularly bad for the parents who came out to plead for those programs at the public forums, only to be falsely told they were illegal. Given the clear legality of our language/culture cluster ELL programs, and now that the School Committee and administration know, I respectfully ask that they revisit their decision to end them.

But maybe the School Committee and administration do not believe that clustering is, in the words of the legal opinion, the "fastest, most effective way of teaching English."

There certainly can be ideological disagreements and that's fair - just be honest and say so. At least then, supporters have a chance to show MCAS, graduate rate and other data from our ELL programs' excellent 20-plus year track record that makes their case in support of the families that may not be able to advocate for themselves. The schools belong to our whole town, and we all deserve transparency and honesty about whatever agenda is driving decisions about them - certainly not least, the communities most affected.

As someone who served for 20 years in this district, often with populations of very struggling learners who were able to surmount many obstacles because of the support provided to them, I am sad about a lot of what is going on now.

I also wonder why teacher voices are increasingly unheeded in this district, especially in these times when their perspective is so badly needed.

That is one of the saddest things of all.

Ken Pransky has been teaching in the ESL field for more than 30 years, 20 of those as a teacher at Fort River school. For the last couple of years he has been on leave, doing teacher consulting and training in districts across the state, specializing in ESL and student underachievement issues.

A note from Catherine: Since Ken specifically refers to me as stating that the clusters are legal, I want to clarify exactly what I said, and where I disagree with his statements in this piece. First, all of our cluster programs are not in fact ELL programs. We have students who speak English fluently who are being clustered based on their culture in a given school (and receiving free transportation to those schools -- this is what is in fact illegal). Second, if we were to keep the clusters, children who became proficient at English at some point during the 7 years of elementary school would then need to return to their local school -- they could not remain at the school where they were clustered (meaning these children would then have a major change to a school in which they didn't necessarily have friends/know teachers; it could also easily mean that families could have children in different elementary schools). That doesn't sound ideal to me. Third, the School Committee doesn't in fact control how we provide education to particular groups of kids (e.g., how we provide service to ELL students, how we provide service to kids with autism, etc.) -- that is the role of the school administration, so it is up to them to decide how best to educate ELL kids. However, the state does NOT recommend that kids are clustered by language (precisely because such an approach has not been shown to be the most effective way of teaching kids English), and thus I believe the administration is wise in following state recommendations and ending the clustering program. Nonetheless, this is not a School Committee decision -- as evidenced by the fact that the SC never voted to continue or discontinue the language clusters.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could post a link to the opinion itself. Also, it would be great if you would link to the original source articles, not just cut and past them. Thanks.

Laurel Dickey said...

I was very interested to see Ken Pransky's article in the Bulletin concerning the implementation of language clusters in the elementary schools. He provided clarity to my own concerns regarding the statements of language cluster illegality that were made throughout the redistricting process this past spring and fall. It would be very helpful at this point if the school committee would provide clarity on why they chose to make statements concerning illegality and how they will proceed now that this clarification has been made.

Rick said...

Do we have these numbers?

1. The number of kids currently being bussed to out-of their-district schools for ELL programs.

2. The number of none-ELL kids currently being bussed to out-of their-district schools for other reasons.

And if I understand correctly, #2 is definitely ending, and that is what is illegal, but #1 is up to the Superintendent (thought it sounds like it is probably ending as well, as it is not recommended by Mass Department of Education).

I do agree that we heard the “illegal” argument (not just from Catherine) more than we heard the “that’s not the best way to teach ELL kids” argument, which is too bad as that is certainly a valid argument and frankly one I am more interested in hearing about.

Anonymous said...

The issue of clusters was muddied early on when they were described in a broad-brush way as illegal. That was probably just carelessness.

Anonymous said...

I think alot of people are using selective hearing. I heard many many times the clarification that the BUSING of certain kids for this clustering is illegal. I know many white kids who are school choice and have to be driven to their school.

Anonymous said...

I believe Mr. Pransky is the one who muddies the waters by saying that all clustering in Amherst is for ELL. That is not true. Any child of the right ethnicity is eligible for free bussing and specialized school choice, even if their first language is English and they don’t speak a word of Spanish or Kmher. This type of clustering is illegal, even if there are some ELL students that get mixed in with the group.

Anonymous said...

Could the overuse or misuse of the word illegal benefitted the SC in making this decision? I certainly was under the impression that what the schools have been doing--clustering groups of ELL students within the same school building was indeed "illegal" according to them(SC members)--even though this has been going on for years and years...If it is illegal, the question begs, then why wasn't the district made to pay a fine or held accountable....Seriously--I can't imagine anything illegal about teaching children in the most effective ways possible and I believe this is what Ken is trying to get across in his article...

Abbie said...

I recently caught a story on NPR where a study was discussed about spanish ELL HS students in California. Unfortunately, I don't know the primary study/data but the conclusion was that kids learned much faster and better in a English only environment than their peers in a comparable school that used the bilingual approach. I wish I could access the primary study, but if this study is valid, it raises the issue whether this is correct "I can't imagine anything illegal about teaching children in the most effective ways possible and I believe this is what Ken is trying to get across in his article" and whether Ken's perception reflects reality.

Anonymous said...

Abbie: is this the link?
http://hotair.com/archives/2009/10/30/new-study-confirms-that-long-term-esl-programs-trap-students/

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:29 - if you'd like a copy of the decision, you can request it through the public records act. I'm not comfortable posting information that was given to me in my role as a member of the SC on this blog. I am considering new ways of posting articles, and may well start to just post links.

Laurel Dickey - I am not sure if you attended any of the redistricting forums, but it was stated multiple times that the clusters were illegal in that (a) non-ELL kids were clustered based on ethnicity, and (b) once ELL kids reached proficiency with English, they continued to be bused to their out of district schools. Both of these aspects of the clustering are illegal (a point Ken just ignores in his article), and this point was made at numerous meetings. Thus, there is no need for the SC to clarify anything -- since what we said all along was accurate. Perhaps it would be, however, appropriate for Ken to publish a clarification of his article?

Rick - I don't know the numbers of kids currently being bussed to out-of their-district schools for ELL programs. However, we are NOT busing ANY kids (unless they have special needs) to any out-of-district schools UNLESS they are ELL currently or previously or have requested placement based on their culture/ethnicity (the last two would be the violations of the law).

Could we continue to bus ELL kids to a given school? Absolutely. But that is not the SC's decision. I too wish that there had been more focus on why one would choose not to teach ELL kids by clustering.

Anonymous 10:25 - the clusters AS THEY HAVE BEEN PRACTICED IN AMHERST are 100% illegal. Again, they are illegal because they are not based on ELL proficiency and kids are allowed to continue going to a given school after proficiency has been reached. That is illegal. This point was made at the meetings -- as well as the point that we could continue to cluster kids for a few years to teach them English, but that was it (and I don't think that would have been seen as preferable). My kids have friends at Fort River in the Cambodian program who speak fluent English -- this program in particular was not serving many ELL kids.

Anonymous 1:21 - I do believe this point was made ... that we can't bus some kids and not others UNLESS the student is truly ELL. That point is entirely missed in this article.

Anonymous 1:31 - you said it perfectly, so I'm just going to quote you: "I believe Mr. Pransky is the one who muddies the waters by saying that all clustering in Amherst is for ELL. That is not true. Any child of the right ethnicity is eligible for free bussing and specialized school choice, even if their first language is English and they don’t speak a word of Spanish or Kmher. This type of clustering is illegal, even if there are some ELL students that get mixed in with the group." Exactly!

Anonymous 10:24 - three points. One, the district bused kids based on ethnicity EVEN if those kids only spoke English. That's illegal. Two, the district continued to bus ELL kids based on ethnicity EVEN after the kids reached proficiency in English and were no longer ELL. That's illegal. Third, the state believes that it is MORE effective to NOT cluster kids by language in order to teach them English faster -- so, we were also NOT using the recommended ELL practice! So, it is not illegal to use a less effective strategy ... but some people might say it isn't a great idea. It certainly isn't the case that clustering by language is seen in the research as the best approach to use.

Abbie - thanks for the link. I just found a LA Times piece on this, which I posted on my blog.

Anonymous 3:31 - thanks for that link as well. It sounds like the same story.

Ken pransky said...

Excuse the longish post, but I want to clear up some mischaracterizations and misstatements about my op ed piece. At least, I am glad it has generated interest.

Catherine, you are 100% WRONG that our ELL programs are not based on proficiency level. I told you that in an email already, and you acknowledged that while the state may not prefer clustering as we have it, it is NOT illegal to do so, if the program services are based on learning English--which ours ARE. I may have been in a fog for 20 years and completely unaware of what was going on around me in the program I devoted my professional life to, but I'd like to think I was at least semi-conscious. (The exited student open-enrollment issue is addressed below.)

Lest anyone remain confused, Cambodian ELLs do not have a separate program from the rest of Fort River's ELL students. ALL ELLs regardless of ethnicity are duly assessed and enrolled into the ELL program as per state law. Every year they are assessed to establish present levels of proficiency, as per state law. Not all ELLs at the school are Cambodian (most aren't), and ALL ELLs regardless of ethnicity received the same ELL services based on their degree of academic language proficiency. As per the law (Chapter 71a) ELLs are entitled to first language clarification, and a Cambodian para provided this as needed, most often in a classroom setting. We've had Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Cape Verdean and many other students receive the same type of (very legal) native language support. Within the overall context of the VERY LEGAL ELL program, the clustering of Cambodian students allows for closer family connections through outreach and years of continuity with teachers, the more efficient use of Cambodian staff, a Cambodian after-school club, etc. While these may all be horrible things that should be stamped out immediately, NONE of them are illegal.

The open enrollment issue about the VERY SMALL numbers of students who were allowed to remain at the school after they exited the ELL program is a red herring. Those students had attended the school for years, and sometimes had younger siblings there, and administrators were generous enough to allow continued open enrollment because they figured that one or two children per busload was not going to significantly increase gas consumption or wear and tear on the buses that were coming to the school anyway. I still appreciate that generosity by our schools on those students' behalf. But even if that was "wrong"--it is absolutely bogus to claim that this makes the entire program illegal! (We're talking situations that probably can be counted on the fingers of one hand over a 10-year period.)

3 years ago during their Coordinated Program Review of the Amherst schools, I spoke with a Department of Ed interviewer in my roll as ELL program coordinator over an hour, describing our programs, including our cluster programs, and our our Cambodian cluster, especially, in great detail. Not only were we not cited as being out of compliance for running an illegal cluster program, the interviewer praised the Amherst schools to me directly for having such responsive and excellent ELL programs.

My "waters" are quite clear. It's the misunderstandings, misstatements and falsehoods that have been spread around as fact--and quite astonishingly to me, continue to be--that muddy the waters.

Anonymous said...

This is the problem I have with the clustering: I don't know if they are legal or illegal. The problem I have is that at FR the only other than American culture that the kids are exposed to is the Cambodian culture. There is nothing wrong with learning about the Cambodian culture but I would like my child to learn about other cultures as well. I would like her to learn about the Latino culture for example..a culture she has no contact with because of the Latino clustering at CF.

It's all Cambodian all the time at FR, all Latino all the time at CF and all Chinese all the time at Wildwood. This may or may not be good for the Cambodian, Latino and Chinese children - I don't know. But it does not seem educationally sound for the rest of the kids in the school.

Joel said...

Hi Ken,

I'm confused. Are you saying that the only kids being bused at present to ethnic/language clusters are not proficient in English? I don't think that that's what's going on at FR.

Also, are you saying that all the Spanish-language kids bused to Crocker are not proficient in English? I hadn't heard that before and certainly the community leaders quoted in the Bulletin as opposing the change haven't said that.

Ken said...

Joel,
I will speak to the Cambodian program as it was while I taught there and as I am told it still is there. As I wrote in my op ed piece and reaffirmed in my blog post, the Cambodian students attending Fort River from out of district for the purposes of the cluster program have all--I repeat, all--been identified as ELL students according to the definition of ELLs under state law, and assessed according to state law. The only students who this does presently not hold true for are students who have been allowed to remain as open enrolled students after they exited the program (a very small number), which means they originally came as ELLs, not non-ELLs. I just don't see how I can be any clearer. Anything else is just a rumor based on misunderstanding, guesswork, or deliberately serving some agenda or another.

When parents enroll their children, there is a form to fill out on which they indicate whether another language is used by the child in the home/community. If another language is indicated, that automatically triggers ELL testing under state law. Students are assessed in listening, speaking, reading and writing, and if one or more of these skill areas of language is not assessed at native speaker proficiency, under law that child is eligible for ELL services. Parents are then duly notified and may decide to opt our of those services if they so choose. Each year, students are reassessed to determine their present level of proficiency. This continues until they basically test at grade level in all 4 skill areas. Just because a student has some conversational fluency in English on entry into school does NOT label them as "fluent in English" or not eligible for ELL services either in the theory of our field or under state law.

Anyone who claims any different about any of this is making stuff up, period. It really is shocking that people just will not let this incorrect preconception go, and even continue to make fraudulent claims of illegality based on heresay and rumor, as if none of this information existed. But frankly, it's time for it to stop.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My comments:

Ken - a number of responses to your post:

First, I have heard from central administration that your views of our clustering programs are in fact inaccurate: we are indeed busing kids based on ethnicity to a school of their choice. That may or may not have happened while you were working in the district. It is happening now. I don't know how widespread it is, but it is happening now.

Second, once a child reaches proficiency in English, the law requires that they return to their home school (since we are providing free transportation to these kids and not others). It doesn't matter legally if this is just a small number of kids or if these kids have ELL siblings. It is illegal because we do not bus kids of other ethnicities who are opting for particular schools based on preference and not special services.

Third, let's say that we stopped violating the law in the way that we are now doing (as noted in 1 and 2 above): we could absolutely, positively choose to cluster all ELL students at a given school for as long as they needed in order to reach proficiency. This could certainly be done, which is what I conveyed to you in an email some time ago.

And what I also conveyed in this email was that the School Committee has nothing to do with whatever ELL services are provided. NOTHING. Right now, at any point, the superintendent could recommend any approach to teaching ELL that he wants -- those kids could be bused to learn English in the portables in Marks Meadow, bused all to the same school, bused to different schools, or bused to whatever school they are districted to attend. The SC doesn't control this choice anymore than we control how we educate kids with autism. So, if you believe that clustering ELL students in a given school is the right way to teach English, you should convey your thoughts to the superintendent directly, as it is his decision.

Ken said...

Catherine,

I understand completely that the Committee does not make ELL policy. The Committee does make statements about their legality, however, and that's what I've been addressing. The semantic games being played are exhausting. After this, my energy is gone to respond.

First, you're calling the entire program illegal if a student who is NO LONGER in the program is using the bus to remain open enrolled. That is not an ELL program decision--so, this line of argument is bogus. In fact, Adminisistration can stop that from happening anymore--today if they wanted!

Second, it is untrue that any students are being bused PROGRAMMATICALLY to Fort River based solely on the basis of ethnicity. That's the program I am still very familiar and the one I will speak to, and that claim is false no matter who has made it. I will say this emphatically one last time--the PROGRAMMATIC DECISION on which Cambodian students are brought to Fort River is for the purposes of conducting a legal ELL program under Chapter 71a, according to the regulations therein.

But for the sake of argument, let's say there's a non-ELL who somehow has been allowed to take the bus. They are using the bus as an open-enrolled student completely outside the parameters of the ESL programming which accounts for that bussing. That is not an ELL program decision and it is not a question of PROGRAM illegality no matter how words are twisted to make it so. Moreover, the Administration must know who this offending family is, otherwise, how could they make that claim? So--they can just say no, today if they choose! Instead, to call the entire ELL program illegal?

Finally, there's "semantics" in your saying "we could choose to" cluster students for language instruction purposes, like it would be something new. The question is, and I would assume that as a member of the Committe steering this district you would want to ask it, should the district need to justify its decision to dismantle programs which can be proven to be highly successful using MCAS, graduation rate and other data, based on more than just a guess that another way to do it is better, or a different philosophical predisposition? I thought data was important. At least, I read a column to that effect a couple of months ago somewhere.

But all that is totally separate from the issue of program illegality, which is absolutely bogus, as confirmed by the REALITY of our ELL programs under state law and the lawyer's opinion, no matter what semantic games are played, or false claims made, or agendas pushed.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ken - let me be as clear as I can be.

1. The ELL program as we are currently operating it is illegal -- because of all the reasons I've stated repeatedly (we are allowing kids to ride the bus to out of district schools even when they are not in need of ELL services). That is illegal. It doesn't matter if that is one child or 10 children or 100 children -- it is still illegal. You seem to feel it is one or two children only. My information suggests that this is much more widespread (and you have much greater familiarity with the Cambodian program at Fort River than with the program at CF -- which is much larger). But regardless, it is illegal to allow free busing based on ethnicity to non-ELL students, and we are doing that now. I agree with you that it should stop immediately.

2. Next year, we have ended open enrollment for all students -- that is a SC decision. That means that non-ELL students will not be able to choose which school to attend. There are certainly non-ELL students currently attending FR and CF because they prefer to attend these schools based on their language clusters (some of these students are being driven by their parents, NOT using the bus). It is currently legally for these, and any, students to attend a given school. Next year it will not be legal, and therefore children will not be able to choose this option. That is a SC decision (to end open enrollment). It would be illegal to allow, as some have suggested, students to open enroll based on ethnicity.

Similarly, next year EVEN if the ELL clusters were to continue, we would have to require students to return to their home schools after they had reached proficiency. This would be a change over our current policy.

3. In terms of what the district could do to teach ELL: the district could choose to continue exactly what it has been doing and therefore cluster ELL kids in a given school. This would NOT be something new -- it would be a continuation of exactly what has occurred (and we have seen that our ELL kids continue to struggle on MCAS even after 4+ years in our current ELL program). I share your belief that the district should use data to make a decision about how to teach ELL and all students ... and to me, the data in our district shows the ELL clustering hasn't worked, and the data in other districts suggests that other approaches to teaching ELL have been more effective than our approach. But again, that isn't my job - that is the job of the superintendent to make decisions about how to implement programs/services, and if he believes that the data shows that the best way to teach ELL students is to cluster them in a given school, I'm quite certain he will recommend such an approach. If you have data you'd like to share with him or the SC on the effectiveness of this approach, you should do so.

Ken said...

Since I've pulled out so much of my hair already trying to get my point across to you, I might as well go bald and try once more. You're very clever in how you keep insisting that I'm ignoring the points you make, while I have actually answered them each time, but you just twist or misrepresent them.

1) The lawyer's opinion says that language clusters can be legally formed if they are ELL programs. ALL of ours are.

2) The lawyer's opinion said programs formed for non-ELLs based on race or ethnicity are against the law. We have NONE of those--zip, zilch, nada.

3) If some student or students is open-enrolled using district transportation and not in the ELL program, that is NOT an issue of illegality with the program, because the program was not formed for the purposes of that student/s.

If there really are such students, the Administration could stop them from using school transportation tomorrow. The fact that they don't stop what is clearly a very offensive practice to them and the Committee, tho which they could very easily do with one just phone call per family, makes one wonder why not.

I believe that School Committee members, once they are elected, represent the entire town. I would imagine that the ability to listen to others and try to understand what will often be different views, opinions and experiences from one's own, especially in a very diverse community like ours, is an important trait to have.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to read that according to Catherine " the data in our district shows the ELL clustering hasn't worked and the data in other districts suggest that approaches to teaching ELL have been more effective than our approach." Is this DESE data based on MCAS scores or is there other data you are referring to? According to Ken, the DESE lauded the Amherst program at the last Coordinated Program Review. These two views seem to be at odds.
The School Committee requested an outside evaluation of the Amherst elementary and secondary ELE program last spring and was to hear the results of the review by BU professor Julie Coppola this fall. Can you say when ELE will be on the agenda of the school committee? Perhaps her outside evaluation may shed some light on these discrepant views of the Amherst ELE program.

Anonymous said...

Mr Pransky has no idea whats going on at Crocker. Can you imagine the uproar if you stopped bussing non ELL kids tomorrow? The protesters would be out in full force.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Ken - here's the warning -- this may not help your hair situation.

I'm going to respond individually and specifically to each of your points (my responses are in CAPS):

1) The lawyer's opinion says that language clusters can be legally formed if they are ELL programs. ALL of ours are.

YOU AND I DISAGREE ON WHETHER THESE PROGRAMS ARE OCCURRING. ACCORDING TO DISTRICT STAFF, THERE ARE KIDS NOW BEING BUSED TO ELL PROGRAMS BASED ON CULTURE AND NOT LANGUAGE NEED. HOWEVER, YOU AND I AGREE THAT ELL PROGRAMS THAT CLUSTER BY LANGUAGE ARE LEGAL.

2) The lawyer's opinion said programs formed for non-ELLs based on race or ethnicity are against the law. We have NONE of those--zip, zilch, nada.

AGAIN, YOU AND I DISAGREE ON WHETHER THIS IS OCCURRING. BUT I THINK WE AGREE THAT IT IS ILLEGAL IF IT IS OCCURRING.

3) If some student or students is open-enrolled using district transportation and not in the ELL program, that is NOT an issue of illegality with the program, because the program was not formed for the purposes of that student/s.

SORT-OF TRUE ... BUT THE DISTRICT HAS TOLD ELL STUDENTS THAT THEY WOULD CONTINUE TO BE ABLE TO ATTEND THE SCHOOL IN WHICH THEY ARE CLUSTERED AND RECEIVE FREE TRANSPORTATION EVEN POST-ELL, WHICH SHOULD BE LESS THAN 7 YEARS! SO THIS IS HIGHLY TIED WITH OUR ELL PROGRAM SINCE FEWER FAMILIES WOULD AGREE TO BE CLUSTERED IF THEY KNEW THEIR CHILD WOULD HAVE TO CHANGE SCHOOLS AS SOON AS THEIR CHILD MASTERED ENGLISH.

If there really are such students, the Administration could stop them from using school transportation tomorrow. The fact that they don't stop what is clearly a very offensive practice to them and the Committee, tho which they could very easily do with one just phone call per family, makes one wonder why not.

THIS IS LIKE A TOTAL NO-WIN FOR THE DISTRICT. I DO BELIEVE WE SHOULD STOP BUSING THESE KIDS RIGHT NOW -- AND FOR THE RECORD, ACCORDING TO A PRESENTATION LAST DECEMBER TO THE SC, 13 FORMER ELL STUDENTS WERE BEING TRANSPORTED LAST YEAR. BUT THAT WOULD MEAN THESE KIDS COULD EASILY TRANSITION TO THREE SCHOOLS IN THREE YEARS, AND BE SEPARATED FROM SIBLINGS, AND I THINK WE'D GET A HUGE AMOUNT OF GRIEF ABOUT THIS.

I believe that School Committee members, once they are elected, represent the entire town. I would imagine that the ability to listen to others and try to understand what will often be different views, opinions and experiences from one's own, especially in a very diverse community like ours, is an important trait to have.

I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH THIS -- HENCE I HAVE A BLOG AND COMMUNICATE AT LENGTH WITH MANY PEOPLE (INCLUDING ANONYMOUS PEOPLE) WITH DIVERSE VIEWS. I ASSUME THAT YOU ARE ALSO HAVING IN DEPTH CONVERSATIONS WITH THE OTHER FOUR MEMBERS OF THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE, BUT PRIVATELY, SINCE THEY TOO ARE ELECTED OFFICIALS? CAN YOU GIVE READERS OF MY BLOG AN ESTIMATE OF THE NUMBER OF EMAILS YOU'VE EXCHANGED WITH EACH OF THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE SC?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More again from me:

AND ONE MORE THING, KEN - HERE, THANKS TO RICK WHO POSTED THE LINK ON ANOTHER ONE OF MY BLOG POSTINGS, IS THE LINK TO THE RELEVANT MA LAW: MA Law, Chapter 71A: Section 4. English language education -

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/71a-4.htm.

Here is what it says regarding ELL guidelines:

"Subject to the exceptions provided in Section 5 of this chapter, all children in Massachusetts public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms. Children who are English learners shall be educated through sheltered English immersion during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one school year, provided, however, that kindergarten English learners shall be educated either in sheltered English immersion or English language mainstream classrooms with assistance in English language acquisition, including, but not limited to, English as a second language, so-called. Local schools shall be permitted but not required to place in the same classroom English learners of different ages but whose degree of English proficiency is similar. Local schools shall be encouraged to mix together in the same classroom English learners from different native-language groups but with the same degree of English fluency."

I take two key things from this, both of which we violate in Amherst: first, the recommendation is for only a single year of ELL instruction (we have many students in ELL instruction for 3/4/5 years), and second, the recommendation is for ELL instruction to combine kids from DIFFERENT language backgrounds (which is the exact opposite of what we do now!).


Anonymous 8:05 - I haven't heard of the program review that Ken describes. Perhaps he could post a link to that report. My statement was based on the very problematic MCAS scores of our LEP students - and again, remembering that no one takes the MCAS until 3rd grade, it seems odd that with nearly four years of experience in the Amherst schools for many of these kids, the scores aren't higher if our current approach is so effective.

Ummm, I've been on the SC for 18 months, and I do not recall ever having the SC request a an outside evaluation of the Amherst elementary and secondary ELE program nor do I recall that the district hired BU professor Julie Coppola to do such a report. Could you provide some support for this assertion (e.g., a link to the relevant SC minutes)?

Anonymous 10:15 - yes, exactly. I believe it is very clear that many people would be furious if the free busing stopped (in part because this is what families were promised when they agreed to go to out of district schools), and it doesn't seem right to change the rules now -- especially when many kids will be making a change to new schools next year.

Anonymous said...

This debate about how we educate ELLs in Amherst is interesting and brings up important issues and differences. I wonder why the pros and cons of language clustering and open-enrollment (and busing) weren't being debated before the redistricting decision. (Maybe they were.)
In any case, I'm glad that the School Committee is looking at data and outside evaluations as it forms its opinions. Perhaps the Amherst ELL program isn't "shameful" or "segregation" after all. The Coordinated Program Review that Ken referred to was done in 2006-2007 by the DOE and does not say that Amherst was doing anything illegal. The outside evaluation of the ELL program was NOT requested by the School Committee but was a self-study initiated by Dr. Geryk and Dr. Guevara and was conducted in the spring of 2009. The report was submitted this summer. Some members of the School Committee expressed interest in seeing the report at the School Committee meeting of December 2, 2008. (See 4. Reports ELL Update) at www.arps.org/node/669